June 23, 2013
Today’s class was an early Sunday morning hot yoga class at Moksha here in Victoria, BC. I arrived early and had about 15 minutes on my mat before class started. It was a fantastic opportunity to totally let myself unwind and when class started I felt like I had just woken up again. It was an intense workout and my trembling legs and arms regularly reminded me of how long I’ve been away from my mat, the long bike ride I had with my son yesterday. I was also reminded of how much I love the feeling of sweat dripping off my nose and how beautiful my skin looks in the glow of enhanced blood flow and prespiration.
Near the end of class, we were asked to pause and take a moment to notice what we might be seeing or what we want to see through new eyes. I realized that it had been a long time since I paused and looked around at how truly blessed my life was…and that it was time to look at my life with new eyes.
In the busyness of raising twins, running my own business and preparing for the launch of my new book, my life is full and I have not been pausing and reflecting as often as I would like to be. Part of the reasoning for this commitment and blog. What I have come to know is that when I do not pause, reflect and offer gratitude, I get grumpy, less flexible and less open to receiving opportunities.
Today I decided to see my life through new eyes. To take time and reflect on how extraordinarily blessed I am. Blessed to be healthy, in a loving relationship, mother to healthy and beautiful twins, blessed that both my parents and my sister are alive and healthy, blessed… oh how I could go on and on. Choosing to focus on gratitude and speaking kind words of gratitude help define me. Tonight as I lay in bed, I will close my eyes and say a prayer of thanks for oh so much!
I left class remembering that I have a responsibility to those who have gone before me and those who are yet to come, but I can choose how I honour that responsibility. I see this responsibility today through new eyes.
I encourage you to consider what or who you might want to see through new eyes.
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Human resiliency is like a willow tree branch. It can bend to make the ribs of a sweat lodge or bend to create a full circle to create a dream catcher. When we bend that willow tree branch and then release it, it bounces back to almost it’s original shape, but not quite. It is changed forever. We as humans are the same. When life deals us challenging times, we bend like that willow tree branch and are changed forever.
Indigenous worldviews and the importance we place on relationships naturally compliments fostering resiliency in children. Resiliency requires a concentrated focus on positive and nurturing relationships with family, caregivers and community members. It also requires a focus on fostering relationships with all aspects of the child’s world.
It is through these relationships that children will develop and strengthen their sense of self and security in their world, thus strengthening their resiliency and ability to adapt, grow and change throughout childhood and the rest of their lives.
To learn more check out new educational resource: The Ripple Effect of Resiliency: Strategies for Fostering Resiliency with Indigenous Children.
The change is in the air and my children are beginning to talk more and more about going back to school and we are starting to ponder the idea of routine…regular bedtime, packing lunches, up early, etc. This brings to mind my school experiences, both positive and not so positive and of course the teacher’s who were so instrumental in those experiences. Below is one of the chapters from Hope, Faith & Empathy in which Tilly describes her experience of a teacher who had a profound impact on her life…in more ways than one.
If you like this chapter and would like to purchase a copy of Hope, Faith & Empathy visit http://www.littledrum.com/news/book.html or Amazon
“Oh no, you have Mrs. Murphy for homeroom,” she said. The horror on Anna’s face, my best friend’s older sister, frightened me. Who was this Mrs. Murphy? And why was she to be feared?
The next day was the first day of grade eight and, of course, my first homeroom with Mrs. Murphy. She wasn’t a very popular teacher. I think it was because she expected the best from her students and didn’t tolerate typical high school antics in her classroom. She didn’t seem so scary to me. I actually thought she was kind of funny.
She introduced us to Harry, a small goldfish who lived in a round circular bowl. She informed us that each of us would have our weekly turn of feeding Harry and that his life was in our hands. She’d had more than one floating goldfish in her history as a teacher, and she made it clear that she did not want Harry to be added to that list. We all had our weeks where it was our responsibility to feed him. For those who sometimes forgot, there was always someone in the class to remind them that we didn’t want a floating Harry.
When we came back from Thanksgiving long weekend, Harry was now swimming in a larger bowl. When we came back from Christmas he was in a larger bowl again, and after spring break we came to find Harry living in his very own aquarium. Few of us had noticed the changes in bowls until the aquarium, and even fewer had noticed that Harry had grown. After all, we were in grade eight and too busy noticing each other.
On that first day back after spring break, Mrs. Murphy began telling us that goldfish grew as big as their environment would allow. So if a goldfish lived in a small bowl they would always remain small; when put in a bigger bowl they would grow until they fit that bowl to the maximum. She walked over to Harry’s new aquarium and asked us to have a good look and see if we noticed anything different. Mrs. Murphy paused as she watched each of us ooh and ahh over Harry as if we were seeing him for the first time.
“He’s bigger,” said one classmate.
“He must have taken ‘roids over the break, ‘cuz he got really big really fast,” said one of the jocks in our class.
Mrs. Murphy laughed at this response and said, “Actually, Harry did not take steroids over spring break,” with a smile and giggle in her voice. “Class, every time we moved him into a bigger bowl, he grew. Most of you just never noticed.”
She told us that each of us were exactly like Harry. We will grow into whatever size goldfish bowl we allow ourselves to create. She clarified by saying, “Each of you will have experiences in your lives that will expand your goldfish bowl, and a few of you will search out experiences in life to either consciously or unconsciously expand your goldfish bowl. The more risks you take to grow and learn, to try new things and have new experiences, the bigger your goldfish bowl will be.”
Consciously? What did that mean? I really didn’t know what Mrs. Murphy was talking about, but the same sense of excitement and thrill of anticipation was pulsing through my body as being up to bat with bases loaded. I knew one day I would have to ask her what she meant by ‘consciously,’ but not today. Not in front of the class.
Two years later, I had Mrs. Murphy for grade ten English. One day a couple friends and I shared a joint at lunch. It just so happened that my first class after lunch was English. Mrs. Murphy instantly knew that I was high. I could tell by how she looked at me. I tried to avoid her eyes, but they did meet at one point and she closed her eyes and shook her head. I was sure it was in disgust.
Once she had given the class the work for the afternoon, she came over to my desk. “Oh crap” was about all I could think as I slithered down into my seat. She wasn’t having any of that. Instead she motioned with her hand to the hallway. I got up and went out to the hall, followed by the sneers and giggles of my classmates. I leaned against a locker, looked down at the linoleum floor and put my hands in my pockets. I was trying to act cool, like she didn’t scare me. Truth was, I was terrified. I liked Mrs. Murphy, a lot, and was afraid I had disappointed her.
“Look at me, Tilly.”
I slowly raised my head to meet her gaze.
“Oh, Tilly, why’d you do this?” she asked.
The tone of disappointment was all too familiar to me. I had heard it in many voices before, but in Mrs. Murphy’s it felt even more shameful and humiliating. Did she really want to know why I had come to class stoned? I could give her a whole long list of reasons.
Instead, I simply shrugged my shoulders. She took a deep breath and exhaled as she leaned beside me on the locker. I kept waiting for her to say something more, to send me to the principal’s office, or even worse…the counsellor’s office. But she stayed quiet.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her head and shoulder were resting on the locker and her eyes were closed. Shit, I wished she would say something. Maybe it was my paranoia, but that silence was freaking me out. After what seemed like hours, Mrs. Murphy finally turned her head to look at me.
“Tilly,” she said, and I sheepishly turned my head in her direction, but barely raised my eyes to meet hers. “Now I really should be sending you down to Mr. Peterson’s office, but I’m not going to.”
I had not realized I had been holding my breath until it escaped from my lungs.
She continued. “I know that you have a lot going on. I see it in that faraway look you have and how your grades have dropped. But that doesn’t make it okay to be doing drugs.” She stood up straighter, no longer leaning against the locker. “I’m worried about you, Tilly.”
Worried about me? She was worried about me? No one even seemed to notice me lately, let alone be worried. My eyes filled with tears and it felt like someone had just sat on my chest, making it difficult to breathe.
Mrs. Murphy gently touched my arm. “Listen, I’ve been teaching for a long time, and I know when I have a special student in my class. You’re one of them. So please, do not go wasting your future by doing drugs or whatever else you are up to these days, Tilly. That path can lead you into serious trouble.” She paused as if I needed a moment to process the many ways that serious trouble could take me.
“I know you are going to make the world a better place. I see that in you. I see so much in you. You are a good person, Tilly, but somehow you need to find a way to see all that good in yourself. You need to believe it. Lots of people can tell you how precious and gifted you are, but until you truly believe it, their words will only be words.” She pulled a tissue out of her sleeve and handed it to me. “It’s clean.” I hadn’t realized tears were still rolling down my cheeks.
“As I said, I am not going to send you to Mr. Peterson’s or even let anyone know about this, but I want you to check out the Indian Student room. I think it would be a good place for you to hang out at lunch, instead of where you have been spending your lunch breaks.”
How did she know I was Indian? Before I could ask her, she continued on. “And I need you to promise me something, Tilly.” I looked up to meet her eyes, “Promise me you will never come to my class under the influence of drugs, or anything else, ever again.”
I didn’t have to think about it. “I promise.”
“Now you go back into that classroom, and hold your head high,” she said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Murphy,” I humbly muttered and began to reach for the door.
Before I could open the door, she gave me a quick hug. “You’re welcome, Tilly.” I was too surprised to hug her back.
As I opened the door, I felt all my classmates’ eyes on me. Everyone knew Mrs. Murphy’s reputation, and I think some of my friends were scared for me. I wanted to shrink, but Mrs. Murphy’s words echoed in my head: “hold your head high.” I sat down into my desk, wishing I was invisible, and I promised myself that I would not disappoint Mrs. Murphy. I never did go back to her class stoned or drunk, but I did check out the Indian Student room as she suggested. It became a safe place for me to hang out, somewhere I felt like I fit in and could be myself.
Over the next few years, school continued to be hard for me. The drinking didn’t stop. Actually it increased, and so did the challenges in school.
About four years later, after upgrading and receiving my grade twelve equivalent, I was sitting in a chemistry class at Cariboo College when I heard a familiar voice a few rows behind me. I turned around to see the smiling face and warm eyes of Mrs. Murphy.
On the break I made my way up to her, and before I knew what I was doing, I gave her a big hug. “Mrs. Murphy, it’s so good to see you.”
“It’s really good to see you too, Tilly.”
I couldn’t help myself; my curiosity got the best of me. I asked her, “What are you doing here in chem class? I thought you retired.”
She smiled at me. “Oh, Tilly, you are as precious as ever. You always were so full of questions. Yes, I retired, but I’m not dead.” She giggled and continued. “My husband, George, isn’t as healthy as he used to be, and we want to do some more travelling. We still have so many places in the world we want to see and experience, but the doctors told us we cannot travel unless he is accompanied by a nurse. So I have come back to school to do my pre-nursing courses, and in September I start nursing school.”
I leaned against a desk. “Wow,” was all I could get out.
“I can’t remember you ever being lost for words, Tilly.” We both laughed. She was right.
“That’s amazing, Mrs. Murphy. You could write a Sunday night Hallmark movie about that.” I smiled at her, absolutely in awe of her.
“Well, I don’t know about that, Tilly. What I have come to realize since retirement is that I want to be happy and have a life of good memories and good times. So this is all part of continuing to make sure that is what I have.”
As I took in what she had just said, I looked at the blackboard. All the chemistry equations somehow seemed less intimidating.
“What are you taking this class for?” Mrs. Murphy asked.
“In January, I start psychiatric nursing school down in New Westminster.” She raised her eyebrows. “I know, hard to believe, eh?”
She told me that it wasn’t so hard to believe and that she always knew I was smart. “You just had so much going on that got in your way. And you often got in your own way, too.” She looked over at me and smiled. “I am glad to see you’ve made some changes.” We were both quiet for a few moments. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking about, but I was remembering our talk in the hallway all those years ago. I didn’t know it then, the word dignity, but that is how she treated me that day—with dignity.
Mrs. Murphy was the one who eased us back to reality. “You know, Tilly, I don’t live far from you. If you’d like a ride to class, I’d love a carpool partner.”
“Uh, umm, sure, thanks. That would be great.” Even though I was a bit hesitant at first, I loved the idea of not having to ride the bus.
The following Thursday morning I waited out on our stairs for her. The loud roar of a sports engine came up the cul de sac, and into view came a beautiful candy apple red Mustang. The top was down and the driver…the one and only Mrs. Murphy. My mouth fell open. I don’t know what I had expected her to drive, but not this!
“Come on, Tilly,” she yelled. “She’s even more beautiful on the inside!” Her whole face lit up with joy. This was a whole new side of Mrs. Murphy.
She reached across the front seat and opened the door for me. I slid in and she said, “Tilly meet Thelma, Thelma meet Tilly.”
“You named your car?”I asked.
“Sure I did. I bought her brand new after my first year of teaching, and I’ve been the only driver, ever. Not even my son or husband has driven her.”
I could feel the warm leather on my back. I fastened the buckle around my waist, and we were off with the top down and the wind blowing in our hair.
After a few blocks, Mrs. Murphy asked me, “So what do you think, Tilly?”
“I love this car, Mrs. Murphy. Way better than the bus.”
“Yes, I bet it is, but if we are going to continue carpooling like this, you need to call me Gayle, not Mrs. Murphy.”
I had never known her first name. Gayle. She didn’t seem like a Gayle to me.
“Okay, but it’ll be a bit weird at first.” She nodded in agreement.
“Hey Mrs., or um, Gayle, do you remember what you told us about Harry? How goldfish are just like us—the more risks we take, the more we grow and the bigger our bowl will be?”
“Sure I remember, Tilly.”
I was quiet for a few moments, and the wind blowing through my hair gave me a rare feeling of optimism. “I hope I have a really big bowl someday.”
“You don’t have to wait until some day. Your courage to go back and get your GED, come to college and go off to nursing school…I’d say your bowl is pretty big.”
I wasn’t sure of that, not yet anyways, but I was willing to trust her and believe in her perception of me.
©Monique Gray Smith
This is the intro to my new book Hope, Faith & Empathy. To purchase go on line at http://www.littledrum.com/news/book.html
Hope, Faith & Empathy will take you on a journey, a journey that is loosely based on my life’s story as an Indigenous woman, of individuals who showed up at a pivotal time in my life to guide and teach me and of characters who came to me as I wrote. These characters I believe are gifts from the Ancestors.
Hope, Faith & Empathy includes parts of our collective Indigenous history, and I am hopeful that readers will have a greater sense of the history and how it ripples into the current circumstances facing our people. The mere fact that Indigenous peoples exist in Canada is a miracle unto itself. The fact that we are thriving in the multitude of ways that we are is pure inspiration.
I offer much gratitude to you for sharing your time in reading this book and sincerely hope that you find whatever you may be seeking as you join Tilly on her journey and meet the characters that come into her life.
It is my hope that while reading you will encounter yourself, your strength and your own resiliency. Perhaps, even just a little, you will have a greater sense of hope…for whatever your dreams, ambitions and heart’s desires may be.
This entry is a portion of the Chapter called Our Children Remember from the new book Hope, Faith & Empathy available at http://www.littledrum.com Hope you enjoy it!
One day, about five years ago, when my twins were not quite three, I took advantage of one of their rare afternoon naps to get some housework done. I was washing the dishes when I faintly heard the Women’s Warrior song. In my sleep-deprived state, I thought it was me singing; after all, no one else in our house knew the song that was softly filling the rooms. However, I soon realized that it wasn’t me singing. It was the voice of a child. I turned off the tap and dried my hands, then followed the melodic voice down the hall towards my twins’ room. As I got closer, I realized it was my daughter singing. She was lying on her back, nestled under her comforter with her hands in the air. I stood in the doorway—watching and listening. She used the back of her right hand like a drumstick, gently beating the palm of her left hand in perfect beat, like that of a heart. Her little voice had turned the “y” sound of the song into a “w” sound, “Wah, wah, wahoo, wah, wah wahoo….”
How did she know this song?
A chill ran through my body as I watched her, my eyes wide taking in the preciousness of what was unfolding in front of me.
Although I had sung it almost daily while I was pregnant with them and many, many times over the last two and a half years since they had been born, I had never intentionally taught her this song.
Quietly, I leaned against the doorframe and closed my eyes, her voice and the drum beat of her little hands easing me into a peaceful state, erasing the stressors of my day. My daughter and I were connecting beyond our physical selves, beyond the two of us. It felt like the air danced around and within us, removing negativity and hurts and filling it with strength and courage. I felt the power and healing of this song so profoundly.
I was reminded of that beautiful summer with Mabel and the workshops we facilitated, how she so taught me so much that summer: ceremonies, this song and others…and so much more. Mabel’s words came back to me. “This song is a women’s warrior song, a song of great strength, beauty and power. As women, we have incredible power because we are the givers of life. Being a warrior doesn’t mean we have to fight or force our opinion, beliefs or ideas in an aggressive way. This song talks about our strength and importance of speaking our truth, living an honest and respectful life and honouring the beauty within each and every one of us.”
I am not sure how long I stood in my daughter’s doorway, each breath full of the preciousness of this moment in time. Mabel also taught me that our children remember: they remember the traumas and painful experiences of their Ancestors, but they also remember their ceremonies, languages, customs, and stories. She was right.
This song I was listening to my daughter sing had been sung for generations upon generations, and now I knew it would continue to be sung by future generations, thanks in part to my daughter.
This is a segment from a chapter in my soon to be released book, Hope, Faith & Empathy. It is from the chapter called Tears are Medicine.
Tilly, the main character, is just finishing a counselling session with Bea who is also a wise elder and guides Tilly in far more than her recovery from alcoholism. This sharing from Bea happens just as a session is coming to end. Enjoy! And if you want to read more, please go on line to purchase the book http://www.littledrum.com Mail out in July 2012.
“You need to give everyone you spend time with a present, everyone.” She had instructed me.
“Everyone? A present? How is that possible Bea?” I asked, confused.
“Yep.” She shook her head up and down dramatically. “Everyone Tilly. I want you to be fully present with each person you spend time with. Give ‘em your full attention, look ‘em in the eyes and let ‘em know you are listen’n. People just need to be seen ‘n’ heard Tilly. ‘N you know what?” I moved my head sideways and she said in response. “It takes li’l effort for us to really see some’n or to list’n to’em. You know what it’s like to be listened to and then what it also feels like when some’un prettend’n they listen’n. So your homework is to see ‘n listen to each person.”
“What about like when the Cashier at the Grocery store starts chatt’n me up?” I asked.
“Everyone Tilly, you never know who has a story or teach’n for you or whose day you could bright’n or light’n. So yes, even the Cashier at the Grocery store.”
©Monique Gray Smith firstname.lastname@example.org
On June 11th, 2008 the Prime Minister of Canada offered a public apology for the atrocities that occurred in Indian Residential Schools. It followed on the heels of the Australian Prime Minister’s Apology for Forgotten Australians on November 16, 2009. Both of these apologies and public acknowledgments opened a door for the world to better understand our history as Indigenous people, its continued ripple effect and our desire to create a new legacy for our children and future generations. These apologies have also served to foster a greater sense of empathy towards Indigenous peoples and supported the breakdown of cultural divides and misunderstandings.
The soon to be released Hope, Faith & Empathy is a timely book that bridges the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures and appeals to readers from all walks of life. Hope, Faith & Empathy is a moving and inspiring story of a mixed heritage Indigenous woman (Cree, Lakota and Scottish) and the people she meets along her healing journey from teenage alcoholism to successful business woman, International speaker and mother of twins.
The tradition of teaching and healing through storytelling comes alive in this modern-day story that is rich with Indigenous wisdom, humour and thought-provoking teachings. It provides insight into the Indigenous worldview and unique ways of being, knowing, seeing and learning in the world. Through the resiliency of the characters and embedded within the stories they tell, are metaphors for life that are relevant to all who are interested in creating a more caring, civil and empathic society. It draws readers into a first-hand experience of Indigenous peoples and their inspiring spirit and tenacity to overcome the wounds of Residential School abuse, colonization, historical oppression and forced assimilation. Hope, Faith & Empathy gently provokes readers to look at their beliefs and move beyond any negative stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and communities they may have.
Why the words Hope, Faith & Empathy as the title of the book? Hope that children of this generation and future generations do not have a childhood they have to recover from. Faith that we will learn from our history and work together in creating a future that recognizes the gifts of all children, families, nations and races. Empathy that we will be able to foster and witness greater empathy between the relations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. It begins with each of us. Empathy is the bridge connecting hope and faith.
Hope, Faith & Empathy is an entertaining, engaging and inspiring story to read and learn from. It can also be used as a formal educational tool to raise levels of cultural competency, cultural safety and understanding of Indigenous peoples.
About the Author: Monique Gray Smith is an Indigenous woman, a Mother, Writer, International Speaker and Consultant focusing on the Strength and Resiliency of Indigenous Peoples Worldwide.