Here you will find writings that give some insight into Trinity’s programs.

Compassion- Speaking it and Practising it

Compassion. These last two weeks have been so heavily focused on the concept and practice of compassion. With a conference this week dedicated to addiction and substance use and abuse, I couldn’t help but confront my own biases about people who struggle with addiction in their lives. There has been so much energy, time, money, and politicizing put into demonizing people with addiction issues that so often the general public forgets that there are people under the addictions and they are all around us, in fact they are most of us. In one way or another, we are all reliant on substances- whether it’s caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or something else- yet we so often stand and point fingers at “those” people who are “addicts” and fit our socially acceptable image of the “addict”.

What research has discovered however, is that addiction is a mental health issue. It is not that these people choose not to control themselves with certain substances. We must make a concerted effort to practice the compassion that we preach to our youth and change this stigma, standing up and acknowledging the prevalence of substance use, reliance, and addiction. It is not shameful to be an addict, it is a cry for connection, for compassion and I hope that in the near future we can all step up to support our fellow citizens in a less judgemental manner.

Highs and Lows

Ups and downs. Successes and failures. Highs and lows. Contrasts… We are told these are, in fact, healthy and necessary in our development, our ability to adapt, and to become resilient. I heard this recently in a webinar, and that we actually shouldn’t want everything to be even, the same, flat-lined – because then we’d be dead.

Glad to know it’s necessary, and even healthy – because there always seems to be some ups and downs going on for us here at Trinity. Take this past weekend…

The high?: “Youth are always engaged, it’s just a matter of what we are engaged in.” – Abigail Laulman, Trinity peer leader alumnus

We attended the People for Education conference “Making Connections” on Saturday. Two of our Peer Leader alumnae were on a “Building Student Engagement” panel in an afternoon session. What a thrill to witness the articulate and passionate voices of Saarah Tennakoon and Abigail Laulman as they expressed the need for “honest connections (between adults and youth in the school community), and comfortable spaces where youth can feel heard.” Their poise and wise counsel swept the adult audience away.

Their main messages?

Relationships with teachers really build students- so make connections on a personal level.

It’s extremely important that teachers don’t underestimate their power – students need to know that teachers are there for them.

Every interaction is internalized – use that power to inspire.

Teachers are like second parents- let the students know there is someone who cares for them.

And don’t underestimate the students! Believe in them. Connect with their experiences.

So very proud to be able to say Trinity had a hand in engaging these empowered young women to learn and grow.

But in the very same weekend that we were feeling so elated, we also were brought face-to-face with the low. While perusing Facebook to check for postings from the People for Education conference, I came across a reference to one of our Peer Leaders in a post referring to how eloquently she spoke at a funeral. A quick Google search revealed that the funeral this Peer Leader gave a eulogy at was, in fact, her own mother’s. My heart sank so quickly. How is it that between our Training Day at her school in early October and this weekend in early November, such a sorrowful event had happened? We knew from working with her during the summer Leadership Lab that her mom lived with ALS. We knew that she carried a body of lived compassion and wisdom, borne out of her day-to-day caretaking role at home. But I wished we could have been able to let her know during the dark days of death, arrangements and funeral that she was in our thoughts and prayers… I quickly sent off a message of condolence via Facebook Messenger, followed by a card by mail. I look forward to the next workshop training – so I can give her a hug.

Alan and I at Trinity advocate practicing sympathy, empathy and compassion. It’s one thing to talk about it – and quite easy when you are on a ‘high/up’ at a conference, swelled with pride because of our Peer Leader presenters. It is quite another to actually know what to do, when you want to show compassion, when you want to know how to truly support someone who is ‘low/down’ and is grieving. Few of us experience the loss of our mother when we are in our teens. What do I say to this Peer Leader? I don’t think we have to know what say – certainly not platitudes. I always figured what Trinity best upholds is that we be there for one another and that we be kind.

So after a weekend of contrasts, I want our Peer Leaders to know that they will always have our love and support as they draw upon their innate resilience and go forward in their lives – through the ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and failures.

Live in love, and be guided by kindness

 

FINDING YOURSELF PART FIVE

More guidelines for “Finding Yourself…”

Recognize and deal with self limiting behaviours – no habit or mindset is set in stone, believe you can change and you will change

Fear of life is often disguised as fear of death – which translates in our everyday behaviours as avoiding risks

Abandonment is a fact of life – we run away from this fact by thinking having friends can replace not being a friend to ourselves

Learn to be alone and enjoy your solitude

Do not stop in your spiritual pursuits at the door of ‘ pictures of God’ in established religions- think of your birth and the many miracles of biology that make up the human body- or look at the night sky full of stars, and know that to fulfill your life you must connect with that awesomeness

Live in love, and be guided by kindness

Working Remote and Rural

This week we are in Sault Ste Marie, working in Central Algoma Secondary School and preparing the way to work in Elliot Lake Secondary School in the new year. Thanks to funding support from Health Canada Anti-Drug Strategy Initiatives, we are developing on-line training resources for retired educators and other adults committed to working with youth so they will be able to deliver our programs in their school communities. The on-line certification program is being tested in ‘rural and remote communities’ in and around Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay and adapted to meet the particular needs of youth living these circumstances. Thus the trip to Thunder Bay a couple of weeks ago, and now the Sault.

It is a great experience to get out of the ‘Big Smoke’ and find out what others are doing by way of social-emotional development support in other parts of the province, and country. I’d hate to think that we would ever become city-centric with our work and our way of seeing things. Having the opportunity to work in these Northern communities has made a big difference.

The partnerships forged by people, agencies and community groups in the North to support their youth are enviable. There is ease of access to people at various levels of school boards and other agencies, which makes the whole process of supporting youth easier – and this too is enviable.

We‘ve been made to feel welcome and our work in their schools has been well received. We are grateful.

The Inner Voice and Externals that Alter It

 

FINDING YOURSELF PART FOUR

Your thoughts determine how you react to externals

Because they determine how you see these externals

But I’m of course not talking about every thought

I’m talking about those thoughts that have gathered

Themselves within you in the form of assessments

Judgements and interpretations for instance

“I like this” and “I don’t like that”

“I am the kind of person who”…”I’m a person who doesn’t”…

All those self-defining patterns that are

Prompted by a deep sense of ‘I am’

Of being a ‘one of a kind’ phenomenon

And that keeps asserting itself in our lives

In restlessness when we know our lives are stuck

In knowing that even though there’s nothing

Wrong with our present circumstances there is

Something else we should be doing – if only we knew what

Which brings me back to where these notes began

Your thoughts determine how you react to externals

But they also determine how you hear this inner voice

Do you hear this deeper sense of ‘I am’?

Are you too busy to listen? Have you decided

All such ideas are grandiose or unreachable?

Are you afraid, as Nelson Mandela asked,

Of your own greatness?

Witness to your patterns of thought and behaviours

And take back control of your own life

Why to Become a Peer Leader

Alan and I spent several days last week up in Thunder Bay working at St. Ignatius Secondary School. Working with these fine peer leaders and their staff advisors Joanna Lacaria and Jaymee Martin is what we consider a “journeyman’s holiday’.

When asked why it is important to have peer leadership in the school, some of their responses were…

“Peer leaders can help other students to realize their full potential.”

“They can have people around their age helping them instead of adults.”

“The youth community needs to be empowered and inspired by peer leaders… It isn’t about leading from in front, but from behind instead.”

“High school can be a very challenging place at times and that even though we experience high school differently, we all always need someone we can talk to or someone to lend a hand when you need help.”

“Peer leadership is important because it promotes a healthy environment, leadership, safety and the ability to feel comfortable in the school. We learn respect. High school can be challenging and this helps ‘unchallenge’ it.”

“I am a peer leaders because I think it is important to be a positive role model for the younger students and to give back to the school community. I want to make a difference in my school community by helping grade 9s with the transition from grade 8 to high school. This can be a difficult change for some students, and support from fellow peers can make this transition easier. I think it is important to have peer leadership in schools because it is a good way for older student to pass on advice, as well as grow and develop together throughout the year. All in all, peer leadership is a way to develop a support system for students based on compassion, love and inclusivity.”

“I want to help others see that what is now a huge deal, won’t always be.”

What a rewarding experience engaging with and learning from these enthusiastic, compassionate young people!

Taking Charge

 

FINDING YOURSELF PART THREE


You are in charge

Though most of us find this hard to believe because we are constantly giving away our power

To guilt and worry

To events and random circumstances

To anger (because it’s only human)

To self judgments

You are in charge because your thoughts determine how and in many cases what you see

And so, even though we have no control over most external events

And all our lives we will live exposed to the randomness

Of debilitating events and loss of meaningful attachments

It is, in the end, what we think-

What meaning we put to objective reality

What narratives we create inside ourselves

Out of our experiences-

That determines how we see and

Consequently what we see

Out of our thoughts come

All that we do

All that we value

All that we avoid

All that hurts us

You are in charge

Managing the Monsters of Guilt & Worry

FINDING YOURSELF PART TWO

It has always shocked me how intense my life becomes when I actually ask what I’m doing with it. In fact this intensity makes putting off the question very easy.

But when I’m not avoiding the question the intensity inevitably starts me ruminating on the past and/or pitching wishful projections for my future. And the minute I do that I’m inviting the world of guilt and worry into my life.

Because invariably there’s things in the past I regret or wish were different, that went badly and I could never put right, not now, not ever! No, I did it, I’m sorry. I’m guilty! Period! Or I worry that it’s too late to attempt something new, or I’m not ready, or I have too much other work to do, and my list of worries can suddenly grow all on its own!

But the problem is guilt and worry are two of the most useless emotions we have on the journey to find ourselves!

Guilt is about making sure the past stays in your present. And that makes moving forward with our life doubly hard. The past is past, and there’s nothing we can do to change it. So why attach it like a ball and chain around your ankle? If you want to still have the past in your present there are better ways to do that than feeling guilty.

Feeling guilty is like you were driving a car and got stuck in the mud and you sit there ‘gunning’ the accelerator and your wheels go round and round. With guilt you go nowhere except deeper into the mud!

Why not take the thing you’re feeling guilty about and reflect on it, study it as closely as you can- see yourself in the situation, see any others, see your feelings and motives and the actions of the other people involved, see the issue or problem in its context (like where, when, how)?

Ask your feelings to give you a little space to do this. And then work out how you are going to not do this again if a similar situation arises. There’s no guarantees re the future but at least you’re not stuck spinning in the mud!

And forgive yourself. I stick this in here cause it’s incredibly important that we develop a compassionate approach to ourselves and the events of our lives- but it’s least likely to happen when we’re trapped in the intensity of guilty feelings so that’s a huge topic for another time.

Worry works the same way as guilt in our lives. Only worry is how we bring the future into the present. But we have no actual control over the future so we’re in the mud again spinning our wheels about future events that may or may not happen.

It would be better to get practical again and ask yourself ” What small steps could I be taking right now to bring about the things I want in my future?”

Again no guarantees, but…

Ultimately, the important question here is why do we choose to bring guilt and worry into our lives? After all, we’re already here and just asking for a little clarity, a little direction- aren’t we?

Memory is our bridge to the past, as are expectations our bridge to the future. Both are just pathways to fixed and beyond our control places. That should alert us to the possibility that the sources of guilt and worry actually belong to our present selves, and not the past or future at all.

So what inner narratives and images, what ways of valuing ourselves, and ingrained behaviours are guiding us to choose guilt and worry?

And with that question we enter a territory where we need time for reflection, insight and dialog, a territory that our feelings won’t be happy about because they will get no immediate relief.

But it is every person’s job to integrate their head and heart so that living becomes more than just a rush of sensations and feelings or a rational exercise in assigning meaning (and blame).

And to do that we have to increase our capacity to live with stress and discomfort while we work at that integration and let things work themselves out. Cold comfort I know for when we’re in intensely stressful situations, but if we love ourselves, and want to love one another, we have to ask “ Why am I choosing to have guilt and worry in my life?”

But there is a positive side to all this. With these questions we are firmly on the journey to finding ourselves, and no longer spinning our wheels in the mud.

(These few words are in homage to Dr Wayne Dyer and in memory of his recent passing)

Training Peer Leaders

I like working with my Trinity co-director Alan. He never ceases to surprise me. While we both prefer to keep our peer leadership training topical and reflective of our current thinking, I just never seem to be able to keep up with Alan.

Here’s what I mean. Now that we are one month into a school year, we are fully immersed in our One Day Peer to Peer Training Sessions. For the past couple of years, we’ve been carrying out a successful training day filled with engaging activities that encourage self-awareness, sensitivity to others, and compassion – the three tenets of our Peer Leadership practice. So when Alan handed me a script for this past week at Vaughan Road Academy here in Toronto, I thought I knew what to expect. Well, I should have known, after all, I do work with Alan.

While the exercises remain intact, here is how we now will talk about becoming a peer leader…

“A peer leader is a person who is self-aware

and committed to self-development

A peer leader is a person who is engaged in their community

and works for its betterment

A peer leader is a person who is compassionate

and committed to social and environmental justice”

Our training now involves developing self-awareness through acquiring the ability to sit in silence; to reflect on interactions with others; and introspection towards understanding our attitudes, guiding beliefs and self-talk. Peer Leaders learn how to engage in their school community by facilitating workshops that better the lives of students new to high school; and develop a compassionate attitude toward the participants. Peer Leaders will be given guidelines for developing compassion through understanding the continuum of sympathy and empathy; and the internal (negativity) and external (giving allowance) limits to practicing kindness.

Our Peer Leadership training also includes talks on transitions, mentoring, fixed and growth mindsets, and resilience. Peer Leaders have the opportunity to hone their mentoring and facilitation skills by leading talking circles on the various workshop topics, i.e. respect, values and community, handling conflict, assertiveness, gender-based stereotyping and harassment, substance use and abuse.

I wish we had two days to spend with the Peer Leaders. Because the downside of all this brilliant new stuff Alan is introducing into the training is that there are only so many hours in a school day.   Great training exercises get displaced – personal bubble maps, lifelines, challenge wall, telling a story,…   There is so much more leadership development we could/would like to do. And who knows what Alan has gone on ahead to discover…

The Art of Finding Yourself

 

FINDING YOURSELF PART ONE

Finding yourself is the journey of a lifetime.

A journey that will have periods of greater intensity, for instance, in your youth and your senior years, and significant occasions involving birth and death.

It is one of the most heart-breaking, most joyous of journeys you will ever undertake.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as we share our journeys together in these notes:

Be as open to life as you can.

Neither deny, nor reject automatically experiences that make you uncomfortable.

Having said that, always follow your feelings when it comes to personal safety.

The more you can develop the capacity to sustain emotional discomfort until your whole being offers understanding and solutions the more open your life will be.

Know that your life has begun. It doesn’t begin when you finish high school or college or university someday. Nor does it begin when you leave home, get your first job, or start a family.

Despite what any voice tells you, don’t limit your engagement in the present. Your life has begun.

Certain knowledge, certain achievements, certain skills are of course age related. But they do not signify the worth of a life. Your worth as a human being lies in your capacity to love, to grow, to learn and create, and to express yourself. None of these are age related. Nor is your worth as a human being ever actually in question.

Expect that you will likely move through many changes, many transitions, many deaths and many births.

You are never doing only the obvious task at hand but your heart’s work in creating yourself and the world.

Either everything in life is miraculous or nothing is said Einstein- live as though everything is.

Forgive those people who hurt you and move on

Live in love and be guided by kindness.