Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

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Weekly Column: There Should Be Grace And Decency In the Public Political Discourse

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 14, 2019. 

Saturday morning started with a good amount of sunshine and blue skies. I hiked and took in the fresh air and the beautiful landscape, and spent some time remembering Cindy Ross Friedman, whom I got to meet for coffee and chats many times after moving to Kamloops and whose celebration of life service I was to attend later in the day. Gone too soon, she had a spark like no other.

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The Gift Of Time Never Fades

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on November 27, 2017. 

It was on Tuesday evening last week that I deleted (again) all the promotional emails from my inbox; there were a few hundred of them. It is now Saturday afternoon and another load of 234 promotional emails are going to meet the same fate. Many of them have to do with the Black Friday sale, which I choose to stay out of for obvious reasons.

The fact that around 50 or so find their way into my inbox every day is beyond disturbing. I’ve unsubscribed to anything I ever signed up for, unless it’s worth having, and I do not open any invites to shop on a black Friday or any other colour day; I shop when I need to and, as they say, what better way to make the best of a sale then to save 100 percent by not buying anything.

The thing is though, ‘tis the season to be giving and there are things our loved ones need that can be happily gifted come Christmas day. That aside, here’s a thought that is not new or revolutionary in any way, but a humble reminder: set aside time to spend together rather than money to buy gifts.

Last year we had my in-laws over during the Christmas holiday and we made precious memories out of it. I got puzzles from the thrift stores in town prior to, and that meant many hours of afternoon chitchat and laughter while trying to solve them; our oldest son and mom-in-law’s favourite activity.  We played cards and other games too, plus we went out for hikes in the woods in deep, wonderful snow.

My mother-in-law built a gingerbread castle with our little guy; some of the otherwise solid foundation became veritable trenches in the end, and the fact that we all remember it fondly is a sign that it was all done right. We will do the same this year, after we trade our puzzles in for ‘new’ used ones, and we get a couple of board and wooden games that everyone no matter the age can be part of.

We will open (minimal and useful) gifts too, and we will delight in the funny, witty rhymes my father-in-law puts together every year for every one of us. Those riddles remind me of my dad, who was always fond of riddles. There is a fascinating little portrait of the person in each gift-attached missive. Part of the delight is deciphering the ‘code’ in each.

Playing games together leads to silly banter and laughing together, and it leads to togetherness not just because we share the space but because we’re present right then and there. No TV, no phones, just time together as it happens.

We get the games out not just at Christmas time though. We play for no reason on any week day when no evening activities steal any of us from our home, and we play when we have family over or when we visit them. Many years from now when the boys will look back and think of what ‘now’ was made of, I want them to remember the playfulness we built our memories on. The silliness of that chat that games often elicit, the times when you are there not to make ‘quality time’ but simply push everything aside to make room for each other and for that togetherness that is more elusive than anything else because time really is a wild creature that minds its own and cannot ever be tamed. Or stopped.

The cynics among us can argue that time flows just the same whether you play with your kids, watch TV or get lost seeking meaning in the countless scribbles of invisible crowds on social media. I’d argue that if we employ pure physics to prove it, the answer is yes, it does. The reflection of it on our minds and, dare I say, soul, is a different story though.

There is no equation to prove that it is healthier for everyone, no matter the age, to spend enough time with their loved ones. There is only that feeling of fullness of the heart when you do. And when you try to measure the size and money value of gifts against the immeasurable goodness of being fully present where your loved ones are fully present, well, there is a discrepancy that points to the evident.

I spent every Christmas at home with my parents until my late twenties. The only gift I remember is a doll I got when I was eight or so. I do remember that my sister and I baked with my mom every year, and I remember the times my dad pulled my sister and I all bundled up in a sled under a million stars shining bright and happy. I remember the snow crunching under his feet, the tone of his voice as he was telling us stories; I would not trade the magic of those nights and the delicious smells of cooking and baking with my mom for all the gifts in the world.

There is no email warning us that one day it all ends; there is no promotional material telling us ‘just spend time with your loved ones while there is time still.’ Giving out of love is good and it makes us smile. But it will never come close to the one thing that can do what nothing else can: spending time together.

Make it so this holiday season. Fill your heart and others’ with joy and laughter rather than your shopping cart with things. It’s the only gift that matters in the end; if you make it so.

The Magic Of Social Conscience

Initially published as a column in NewsKamloops on October 23, 2015. 

HopeThere is something to be said about caring. It brings out the best in people, it really does. The 2015 elections proved it, and there are numbers to show for it, as 68.5 per cent of all Canadians took to the poles to exercise their right to vote.

That is quite a feat, given the lethargy of previous elections (largest turnout was in 1993 at 70.9 per cent) and it shows many things: that social media can work wonders when used the right way, that many people are not ill-intentioned but often less informed and unaware of the importance of their contribution, and that with eno ugh determination to vote, we have built the path towards a new starting line.

Whoever you voted for, it is the end result that counts. We have a fresh start in how we do things. Promises have been made, hence promises will have to be delivered.

If you peruse the press you will get to see a whole range of opinions about the 2015 election results: from deeply impassionate ones celebrating change in leadership and our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to doubtful pieces where the authors wonder if our new PM is up to the challenge.

It goes without saying that the job of guiding a country in a balanced, wise way is no easy deed. Many eyes will be following our PM’s every move, the press and political analysts will be discussing his decisions, the many groups and individuals he met during the course of his campaign will be expecting to see the promises made to them come true.

Many of us expect to see many of the controversial policies and trade deals revisited and the terms adjusted to match our national values and leave our dignity as a country intact, and we expect to have the past and the future looked upon with kindness and respect.

Because there is a lot of work to be done, we have to turn our gaze from the PM’s office at times and gaze inward instead.

Sure we want issues minded, both locally and nationally. The change that Canadians brought on with their vote has to reflect more than just the most visible change of all, which is our newly elected leader. But change starts with each of us.

If only we can become so keen in keeping our own actions and decisions to match our promises to ourselves, to our loved ones and our communities, instead of being focused solely on how our leaders perform their jobs, we’re bound to accomplish more than just applaud or criticize.

In other words, we have to make this new start a start in how we live our lives: at a family level, community and beyond. We voted and we did so with the expectation that our voices will be heard and minded.

We have to make sure that our voices will be persistent enough and our message clear. More than that, we need to focus on living in a way that shows that social conscience, the very thing that sent us to vote, is thriving in Canada.

Weaving compassion and care into our everyday life and into our societal fabric might just be what we need to heal the many wounds we kept on hearing over the last few years, many of which have been deepening as they were ignored.

The strength of a nation lies with every citizen. We need to address the well-being of marginalized groups and seek solutions for poverty, mental illness, and addictions. We need to open our eyes to see around us, and our hearts to feel.

We need to revive communities and reinforce the strings that keep them connected because that will see us all safer and better. We need to infuse our personal lives with kindness and do our best to influence the community we are part of to do the same.

These elections are not and do not have to be just about a change in leadership. They are about change from the roots up. A new beginning is always like that. It fosters hope and the desire to wake up to better days.

The Case of Missing Innocence – A Sequel

Last night I attended Jesse Miller‘s talk about kids and social media: the good, the bad and the ugly. As expected, ugly can get uglier with a click and Miller explained how.

The topic is as heavy as it is complicated. The recurring refrain was the one that seems to be the only viable solution, yet somehow the hardest to apply: dialogue. Children love to talk and they have a hefty amount of common sense which gets diluted with time.

If there was ever a time when parents have to hold on to their kids for dear life, I’d say this is it. The ever expansive social experiment of already gargantuan dimensions keeps on growing and the risk of losing ourselves and our children in it grows with it.

Children are barely prepared for life when they make their debut on any social media, that is a fact. Miller emphasized that. Children have the means to understand tech, they have the firing synapses that allow them to understand how the internet works and, thanks to their parents and a killer set of nag-plea-implore-till-you-get strategies, they have access to the latest in smartphone innovation.

But, they miss life experience. And it shows, sooner than expected. That’s where the parents come in. Ideally, through open dialogue that happens regularly rather than when the unthinkable happens, which is why last night’s talk took place to begin with.

Interestingly enough though, many parents commit their children to the unforgiving forces of social media very early on. The perspective offered by Miller was an eye-opener for many I hope. Parents dump folder after folder of family photos on Facebook and Instagram; instances of their children’s life milestones, from the trenches of potty training to the glamour of graduation, and everything in between.

Many children who are now tweens and teens – the high risk category for offending, are becoming offenders or victims – have had a camera pointed at them since they can remember. Miller aptly points to the obvious: What are they going to do when they are given their own device? That’s right: Click and post.

The question that is always left unanswered in my opinion is this: Why do we feel the need to share so much detail with strangers? I am challenged by the notion of friendship of Facebook, I said it before. How did we become comfortable with the idea of sharing life bits? Why do we allow hundreds of people, Facebook friends, Instagram or Twitter followers, peek at our life events while still insisting on pulling the curtains at night?

There were a handful of take home messages last night, such as:

  • Establish some good boundaries that will allow you to set a good example (no touching the phone while driving for example, no phone at the dinner table, and disconnect during family time)
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of sharing personal details with hordes of strangers (a couple of high school kids in the audience confirmed that many of their peers take photos of their driver’s license and post it online)
  • Everything (or almost everything) that one posts online stays somewhere online. Scary to think about now that so much of your life is out there? That’s the point. Privacy is no longer to be expected.

There wasn’t a lot of talking about the sensible topic of inappropriate ‘selfies’ (the word of the year in 2013, and yes feel free to cringe) which caused an uproar at the South Kamloops Secondary School, but these share the same fate with the rest of things shared: They’ll be somewhere out there long after one wishes they’ll be gone. what’s worse, they become grounds for cyber bullying, shaming and, as seen over the last few years, they can push young people to commit suicide.

A chilling fact shared by Miller last night was the high number of views Amanda Todd’s You Tube video got after she died. In the millions that is. Sadly ironic, she was trying to attract attention to her case so that bullying would stop. It didn’t, until she took her own life.

‘Trending’, another strong social media term, makes no distinction between good and bad. if it gains audience it trends. Children should not be expected to make fair judgment calls about the content they see. Social media where information, questionable or not, piles up like a hundred avalanches a day, will keep being what it is: A repository that may or may not contain your child’s life bits, photos and opinions about life.

That’s why parents need to step in and provide guidance. it’s a learning experience for parents and children, but clumsiness makes both parties endearing to each other rather than resentful, so indulge. let loose, show that you’ve never done the social media thing before but maintain the one thing every parent should: That you know more about life and that puts you not in the friend seat but the parent seat. it’s a privilege and a challenge, and believe it or not, children know it and expect it.

For now, it comes down to this: boundaries and common sense have to be there. They have no expiration date because no matter where you are in life, if you make them your allies, you’ll be on solid ground.

I left the room last night with a lot of questions, and with an enhanced perspective over an issue that has been with me for a long time now.

in 2012, following Amanda Todd’s death, I left Facebook. I did not want to be a bystander. I knew, just like I know today, that children younger then 14 are allowed on Facebook when they should not be and that is akin to allowing them to drive long before they have the skills or maturity to do so. I knew, just like I know today, that in some parts of that virtual space someone is being bullied and someone might just decide to end their life to stop their suffering and the public shaming.

More than a year after that, I made my appearance on Facebook again, with the sole intention of sharing my writing, which, I was told, might just be a shame to miss if the issue is worth sharing.

My personal page though, which I need to have in order to have an author page, has been stripped to almost nothing. I took down the few photos I shared back when I thought Facebook to be a connection tool with faraway family and friends because I find no reason to share life bits like that. Sure it takes effort and time to maintain correspondence with those who matter, but then again, such efforts are nothing but an illustration of our caring for them, and the other way around.

I don’t expect anyone to share my beliefs, and I also fear that pending lack of engagement on the said platform over issues that I write about and I consider important, I might opt out again.

The thing is, there is a lack of strict boundaries that troubles me. One could argue that the plethora of social media platforms makes the denial of one almost insignificant. True. But I would like to take one of the messages from last night’s talk and solidify it: Do as you expect your children to do.

I have an open dialogue with my sons. To a fault, one could say. Yes, that close, and I am nothing but grateful for it. There is nothing we shy away from when it comes to talking and debating. To listening. I want to keep that alive: the openness, and the gratefulness attached to it.

But I also want to set boundaries that I hope will inspire my sons to think that in all the craziness of hurried, privacy-robbed times, our living space maintained enough common sense to spill into their decisions as they grow up.

One could hope.

 

 

Why Be Mindful, Starting Today

It is early morning, the house is dark and quiet and there is no better time to be aware of where I am.

I pull the curtains because it snowed overnight and whiteness makes me feel safe and cozy.

I open the door, breathe in the cold and look at the sleepiness around. Across the street, smoke raises from a smokestack, pointing straight to a sky that’s so clear it squeaks when you look at it. No more snow. I know that from my dad, about the smoke going straight up.

This is the time to be where I am and nowhere else. No planning the day, no urgent this or that, no deadlines.

This is the time to stop.

So much is happening every day, even on those days that seem slow and dull. They are not. They are life. And we barely acknowledge it, even on the good days.

Why so hurried? Because it’s what we do. Life hurries and we hurry with it. Hurrying is a choice; but you knew that. Or not. Is it really? (yes)

Like heading straight down a wild river that we know for a fact ends up in a waterfall, we ride a raft we barely hang onto. White knuckles scream desperation and a need to stop, a need to readjust here and there and take a look around. We’re moving too fast, we know that much.

Speed enables us to persist in thinking we’re doing it right. And speed even more.

Everywhere we look, white knuckles are interpreted not as a sign of desperation but as an acknowledgement of being on this wild river. It’s what everyone does, right? Very few of us will say otherwise and the ones who do, are on the shores, looking around and telling us to slow down. Can they be believed? How would they know? Why are they there to begin with?

The answer is as simple as it is troubling: Because they know that knuckles are connected to the heart and the mind. Not when they’re white and cold though. They only get warm when we stop. But that’s slowing down, isn’t it? That means losing something? More? Less? Enough? At all?

Where’s the truth? Who has it?

Somehow slowing down does not appeal enough to our competitive nature. Slowing down is a right we don’t want to make much use of. We take odd comfort in saying “But I am not the only one.” And oddly enough, that truly is the weakest argument of them all. It really will not matter who was with you and why when you reach the waterfall. You’ll reach it by yourself. As it’s always been.

Gravity evens things out for us all. Which is why it’s so important to mind things along the way, to stop your raft by shores you deem necessary to see, or to simply stop to see. To listen, to breathe and know of yourself. To make sense of why you’re on that wild river to begin with.

To be grateful.

White knuckles will not let any feelings sink in deep enough for you to feel that. Perhaps that’s the best reason why stopping every now and then makes sense.

Quiet after all...Also because when you stop, you learn how to. And you’ll know how to do it next time. And next. And you’ll be ready for everything that comes. Or for most of the things.

You’ll have made time along the way to know faces, not just see them in that mad dash down a river that was never intended for us ride so recklessly and white-knuckled but we do it because everyone does.

Which is never a good argument to begin with. So learn to stop. Today.

Thoughts For The Road…

The road

To Laura and Nemo, thought munchies for the road ahead…

If you were my kid and leaving today to see and feel and taste the world, this is what I’d tell you:

 

 

 

  1. That you’re never alone. Repeat as often as you need to so you will believe it. It’s true.
  2. That you can always smile. Smiling makes your eyes arch in a way that drains tears. I’ve tried it enough times to know.
  3. That every day, even the ones that seem long and punishing, have 24h, no more no less. Tomorrow is always around the corner. You get to try again.
  4. That you have choices. Always. And you need to be honest with yourself to admit it.
  5. That you can find the horizon from wherever you are.
  6. That you need to believe in yourself. If you want it, you can make it happen.
  7. That you should not spend what you don’t have.
  8. That you learn to listen. Few do. It’s an important life skill.
  9. That when you are joyful, so are those around you.
  10. That you have to own your words and actions. Don’t ever make yourself run away from your own heart. Self-betrayal is a heavy load to carry no matter where you go.
  11. That even when you’re lost, you are somewhere. Therefore, you are never lost.
  12. That when you smile, people smile back.
  13. That idleness is a sin.
  14. Travel light. You already have what you need with you.
  15. That you should not call it a good day until you learned something, or until you brighten someone’s day. Often times that someone is you.
  16. Sometimes all it takes is to ask. So ask. The worst that can happen is to be told no. No is a word. A short one though.
  17. That you should never stop dreaming.
  18. That gratefulness is the road to joy.
  19. That everything seems brighter in the morning. So sleep on it, you will find a solution.
  20. That your mind can make a big problem bigger. Use your mind’s ability to your advantage. Everyone needs a confidence boost every now and then.
  21. That it is better to regret the things you did rather than the ones you never had the courage to do.
  22. That you should not let anyone tell you cannot follow your dreams.
  23. That no one is responsible for your happiness but you.
  24. You cannot force someone to love you, nor can you ask or whine for it. Love is a gift. It should be given.
  25. Don’t be afraid to love and when you do, give it all you’ve got. Might as well. Holding back might lead to “could’ve” and “should’ve.” They are like silent forgotten mines. People’s hearts become minefields and that can lead to hurting.
  26. Being afraid can keep you safe or make you miss out on life. It takes time to learn when and how to do it wise, so learn.
  27. That there is always a way out. With a catch: You need to find it.
  28. That you can learn something from everything that happens to you. It is said that smooth seas never made good sailors.
  29. That when you give you will be given.
  30. That life is fluid. Only make promises you can keep. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  31. That hugs are needed for growth; Soul growth that is. Hug for real, halfway will never do.
  32. That you need to believe in something. The more solid that something, the stronger the rope that ties you to it when you need it most.
  33. That you can only know how you yourself feel, but never how others feel. So express feelings starting with an I. You will find that it makes people listen more carefully.
  34. Those who care will never hurt you on purpose. Have the courage to see the others.
  35. People may not be aware that you hurt. Speak up. But… yelling never makes people understand you better.
  36. Own your past. You are here today and you are you because of what’s behind you.
  37. That pain cannot be avoided sometimes. But like everything else, pain also passes.
  38. Laugh often and heartily. More begets more.
  39. Few things are as bad (or worse) than they look. Most are better.
  40. Truth is peace. Peace of mind that is.
  41. Never settle for broken dreams. They are not called dreams anymore but shards. They will cut your feet and others’.
  42. Sing if you want to, dance, paint or ride your bike. Never be afraid to feed your soul. Feeding your soul is never ridiculous or wrong. A well-fed soul is a happy soul.
  43. Everyone loves to do something. Find yours and make it your job.
  44. If you have the choice, choose a job where you don’t have to count the minutes. Those minutes always seem longer. Emptier too.
  45. Farewells are a part of life. If you’re afraid of leaving you will never get anywhere. Farewell tears help grow appreciation for who you leave behind.
  46. If you care, show it. Guessing games are a gamble.
  47. Speak up. Make sure you are being heard.
  48. Assumptions can take you awfully close to the edge. Use sparingly.
  49. Learn the sound of your soul. Sometimes it’ll be only whispers. Go somewhere quiet to hear it well. It’s the truest voice you have.
  50. Life happens. Embrace it.

You Have Choices. Always. Unless…

The paintbrush ...Unless you are somebody’s slave – slavery has yet to be abolished, unfortunately – you are where you are now because of the choices you made yesterday and continue to make today.

You have choices. Always.

The day turns to night and you have no choice to make daylight longer or brighter, nor do you have the option to stop the rain or bring one around if it gets too dry. But you have the choice to wake up and make every minute count.

You have the choice to make the best use of daylight to see people’s faces, to do the next thing you have to do; to build, to read, to write, to move on. You can choose. Unless your spirit and or body are confined by someone or something, you have choices.

You meet people; some will add sunshine and joy to your life, others will suck yours out. You have choices. It is an honest thing to exercise your choices, respectful too, towards yourself and others. You can choose to love, forgive, hug, or let go. You have choices: To be at peace or not.

You can smile or frown, believe in yourself or choose defeat, you can pity yourself or tell yourself you can do whatever you put your mind and heart to.

With everything you do, with the choices you make, you make a statement about yourself and life, every day. Whether you choose to exercise your right to make choices, you are still making choices, but are they the right ones?

You have the choice to make every day count. If I would ask you to give up the last 3650 days of your life, would you do that? That’s ten years. If you wouldn’t, then why would you give away a day like today?

You have the choice to make today count. You have choices. Always. Unless… You choose not to. Also a choice. Yours.

You paint tomorrow using the colors you choose today…

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