Excerpt from Exhilarated Life: Discovering Inner Happiness
It’s What You Make of It
This book is about self-actualization. It is a singularly individual and
independent process and integration. The end point is fairly well
described by the title, Exhilarated Life. What that means and the
evolution to that point are different for me than for you. This is not
a well-meaning handbook about how to live happily ever after on an
idyllic Greek island. It is about living a life fully realized so that each
day—whatever you are doing and wherever you are doing it—is one
of health and vitality, intuition and clarity, and the freedom to create
every day anew.
The time and experience that these stories span begins in King City,
near Toronto, a year after my husband’s death, and ends on the island of Aegina five years later, just after securing my Greek visa and embarking on a whole new adventure with my new love, Athan.
I didn’t choose this period for its obvious illustration of dramatic
change, but for a single pivotal moment just weeks before George’s
death that shifted my perspective completely and forever, and set these
years on an unforeseen trajectory.
In that profound moment, the quest for a deeper knowledge that
had fired my whole life transformed from the ineffable to the real.
Outwardly I was accomplished, but inwardly I was a quailing mass of
insecurity. This changed everything.
It was the moment when George and I accepted that he was about to
die, soon. I made a promise to help prepare him for that passage. I also vowed to myself, with George as witness, that I would—from that
moment—prepare for my own death. Far from being maudlin, it was
emancipation: A single beam of light shining through the darkest skies.
I would live every day of my life to its fullest.
George’s love was an immense love. It flung open the door to life so
that I could be all I was meant to be. And, as it turned out, his promise
made twenty-seven years before to love me until I loved myself was
fulfilled. I was catapulted into that new life and it is for this reason that
the collected stories start there.
Too soon to make any kind of sense of it, another love came into my
life. I was having dinner with a friend when I mentioned that I had
been “out of my body” for so many years, holding the energy through
George’s illness and death. “I want to dance,” I said. “I want to learn
Salsa.” My friend smiled in an odd way and said, “I’ll ask Athan. He
has just started Salsa lessons and said he needed a partner.” She went on
to describe Athan as spiritual, respectful, creative, and one who would
never do another harm. Somewhat charismatically, she ended with,
“And if anything happens—it happens.”
“Nothing is going to happen,” I rejoined. “My husband just died!”
Athan entered my life as a friend. He took me gently by the hand
and together we walked through the years of my mourning. Not long
ago, I had the clear awareness that it was not too soon after all, but
rather it was the only thing that kept me from going insane with grief.
Because he was my friend and of a very loving and open nature, I
could share my stories about George.
There were many odd similarities and coincidences between the two of them—though a half-generation apart—the same neighborhood growing up, the same homeroom teacher who told them not to sing, but hum the words in glee club, the same fish and chips hangout. And when Athan ordered a hotdog with just mustard and red onions, I knew something was up! But probably more interesting was their dissimilarity.
Friends on either side of us would have described Athan and me as chalk and cheese; a most unlikely pairing. But the soul knows a great deal about matches that mere convention misses.
Athan had lost his mother in his teens and so was sensitive to the
relationship between my sons and me, respectful of their relationship
with their father, and very clear with me he was not an acting
replacement. Our friendship had time to grow and eventually flourish
to the deep bond of love that it is today. Indeed it was Athan who
planted the seed for this book.
The year after George died, it was clear that I could no longer afford
to keep our house. It was in the aftermath of the global financial crises
that saw real estate drop like a stone. I had moved my fledgling business
to a nearby town, which I thought would be more vibrant but that,
also, became too costly to maintain. My vision of an Internet-based
holistic foundation crashed when it was discovered one of the partners
in the website design company had embezzled hundreds of thousands
of dollars. I had spent most of my capital on a very comprehensive
website, which had never quite worked as designed, and now all the
software coders were gone and my site was unusable. I began to take
courses in Internet marketing and open source web design. I was
determined to see my vision through and ended up wrestling with the
web design company to reclaim my own domain name.
In the months before George’s death, the roof of our beautiful house
had begun to leak badly during a storm and, before the day was over,
it had collapsed in several places. Water flooded all floor levels. The
damage was everywhere and we called in contractors. We had to
move out of the house for a week while they worked. It was as if they
sensed the weakness and stress in the household, because acting as one,
they tore apart their sections and, when everything was in disarray,
demanded more money to finish. We had paid the general contractor
in advance and when we challenged him, he walked off the job.
By this time George was in such critical condition that we just left
the house unfinished. I would experience the unscrupulousness of
contractors again and even end up in court with one. Then I had to
use our little remaining capital to fix the house in order to put it on the
market the year following George’s death. The house would be on the
market for two years before its one and only offer.
In the meantime, a wealthy businessman in another city offered me
a position. We had met during the negotiations of the sale of our
company when George was alive. He had bought a business and said
he just knew I would be the perfect one to run it. I was naïve enough
to think this was based on my marketing expertise, to which he was
witness, rather than my recent widowhood. However, I demurred each
succeeding year until the third time he asked and added the offer of
partnership. I was on very shaky ground financially, the house still
hadn’t sold and so leapt at the opportunity.
Athan and I drove the five hundred miles to the city and met a
rather surprised president who was told we were there to “turn the
place around.” I should have known something was up when my
“benefactor” offered me a ride and lunged for a kiss in the darkness of
the underground parking lot. I overlooked at it as a professional towards
a dirty but essentially harmless old man. He had a huge reputation
and I trusted his offer of shares in the business. I would find out later
when I was nearly broke, having spent all our own money, that he had
offered the same thing to three other parties and then went off with his
wife and family to his farm in Tuscany, to watch which group won out.
I really started panicking because the bank had not allowed me to
mortgage the house earlier on, and now all my capital was gone. I
had no income. It was then that a notable artist suggested I would do
well as an artists’ manager. Again I grasped the opportunity, pitting
my marketing skills, confidence and need to succeed against more
sound judgment of avoiding the inherently quixotic art market during
a global financial meltdown.
It was at this frantic juncture that I almost made the fateful mistake
of encumbering my house with a second mortgage, which most
certainly would have ended up with the house in receivership,
and me walking away holding my sons’ hands with only what our
arms could carry. I had my hand on the phone when, in a flash of
instinct, I said, “No!” I also said no to my agent, who recommended
I drop the price. I knew from experience the kind of people that are
attracted to the duress of others, and I wasn’t going to let myself in
for that humiliation. As if the universe had heard, the house sold
within weeks at nearly the asking price—and for the highest price
ever recorded in our neighborhood.
But I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I was so relieved to call the bank
to tell them the good news and arrange bridge financing to hire a
moving firm, and for a down payment on a rental or purchase. To
my astonishment, the bank refused. Once again I had encountered
someone who enjoyed wielding power over others. I had a house with
hardly any mortgage on it, with a sale ready to close in six weeks and
absolutely no money except for food. I was behind in taxes and owed
on the utilities bill. That was it! I was done with being the victim of
the lousiest kind of human nature. I wrote an email to the CEO of the
bank with the subject title, “Slow bludgeoning by bank employee,”
and detailed at length how the global banking system in general and
this bank in particular was responsible for the gradual demise of my
personal financial position. Within hours I had a response from a VP
and the landscape of my life changed dramatically.
I secured the bridge financing, the sale of the house closed, all debts
were paid off and then I faced the next hurdle—where to now? Athan
(a creative marketing entrepreneur) and I decided to build on our
efforts in the art world, and rented a place in the cultural epicenter of
Toronto. We had made meager inroads in innovative art marketing and
sales in an industry that it is an understatement to call “quirky.” We
even created a publishing company and published several art-related books.
Along with wonderfully enduring friendships and associations
with most in our creative world, we encountered corrosive egos and
again found someone we trusted acting behind our backs. Instead of
just parting ways, the aftermath was vicious. It was a costly mistake
both financially and emotionally. People say, “Never do business with
friends,” yet I disagree. I just became much more discerning in whom
I call friend and with whom I do business.
I learned a vital lesson from these two characters, consecutive as they
were at a time of my vulnerability. It was this: When people acquire
power either by wealth or fame, they are often driven by some lack in
their own life, and wielding power over others is usually compensatory.
Those who are attracted to perceived safety under his or her graces
are easily manipulated and exploited. Like any good survival show,
the cross purposes of all those who would gain favor are a tangle of
competing and desperate forces. Pitting one against the other and
watching the play is sustenance for these types of ego. It was only
in blushing retrospect that I saw the game and my place in it. I was
naively drawn in by promises that neither could keep. It was not in
their nature, nor was it their purpose.
Ultimately our successes in the art world were meaningful and fulfilling. However, my heart had gone out of the challenge and a whole new adventure lay on the horizon. One where I would gather up all forces
and influences, lessons and skills, and find myself worthy of my own
professional attention. This book is a result of that trust and evolving
I offer these stories as a bridge of understanding so that you can see
beyond where you are now. There is no single book or workshop or pill
or incantation that cuts out the process. The process is where you get
to love yourself just the way you are. Embrace it. Embrace your Self.
I have deliberately placed these stories in the chronology in which they
were written because it shows a certain progression. On the other hand, as I have worked on this compilation I have found that some of these
were letters to my future self, offering a map of sorts.
Your wisdom is within you now. All I offer is a light to show you the way. Use this book as a companion; one that you can call on anytime and open at
any page. I was guided as I wrote and trust you will hear the words that
you need to hear at any given moment.
This is by no means a claim that this book has mystical properties, but
a conviction gained from experience that, as we clarify our intention
to self-actualization, the synchronicity of the universe conspires to
help us in the most subtle but sublime ways. Songs, a chance meeting,
random words at a moment of need will resonate and assure you that
you are indeed “no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right
to be here.”
Happiness is a state that raises the vibrancy of the physical body and
lets our true nature shine. You are the spark from the brilliant flame of
all that has ever been created and all that may ever be created. When
you know that for yourself, you will find your place in the world and
life will be sweet, happy and, well, exhilarated!
If you enjoyed this introduction, please follow me on Thrive Global as I share Exhilarated Life – Discovering Inner Happiness in chapters, weekly, here on Thrive Global – or you can begin your own journey right away.