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COLUMN: What drives you to reach your personal limits?

In her weekly column, Cynthia Breadner discusses setting goals on your emotional journey

“Sometimes it takes only a few kind words to transform someone’s day. How can we be too busy to tell the people we most cherish what they mean to us?” Paul Stutzman Author.  Book: “Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail”

Do you ever get lost or feel so alone in the world it feels like the world has swallowed up any and every person or contact in your life? Feel like you are unsure of where to reach out to or to whom? This quote from Stutzman’s book seemed to speak to me as I read his 2008 account of his five months covering 2,176 miles through 14 states in search of peace and a renewed sense of purpose. His play-by-play account of his journey touched my adventuring soul as I look at my life and wonder what it is I am to accomplish. What is my calling and why does it feel so lonely at times? Do you feel that way too? 

Being an adventurous hiker and a person to push the limits of a 62-year-old body, I find I could not put this book down. What drives some people to the edge of personal limits and what causes goal setting that might create pain or challenge that can weary the heart. It is often said, “what the soul wants…” is the call from the deep. Do we have seeds planted requiring our life’s purpose to be the water? Seeds of adventure, seeds of safety, seeds of kindness, seeds of desire? All calling for a piece of our attention. Looking to be watered, fertilized, and nurtured. 

This quote speaks to the work I do. As a front-line care provider, I can speak to the loneliness that can be felt and the way the work can drain the soul if it is not protected. The nurse, the doctor, the PSW, the housekeeping staff, the maintenance, the ambulance driver, the firefighter, the triage, the clinical staff, the curbside delivery person, the chef, the server, the bus driver, the …. Need I go on? Over the past 18 months, anyone serving anyone is struggling with a loneliness that may be hard to explain. I can only speak for my own soul and say that as I travel along bringing spiritual care and emotional support to those I work with, I am watering the kindness seeds that are within my heart. I am nurturing the need for me to provide compassion and empathy wherever I go. The interesting observation is: I water the seeds, grow the tree or the vine, produce the fruit, and it is in the eating of my own fruit that I reap the benefits of what I sow. I am gifted with wonder and awe watching others shine under the kindness I am so desperate to share. It is sharing my fruit with others and asking for them to be kind to me I can survive.

This past week, I sat face to face and heart-to-heart with more than 20 different people. The challenge often is to protect myself energetically, as the deep well of compassion can run dry if one is not tapped into the abundance source. Some would call it prayer, meditation, source energy and, some call it God. Whatever is our root connection, without it we are spiritually bankrupt and unable to continue to provide help to the world. In the serving, one opens themselves up to giving and receiving on a deeper level. In all serving professions, the server is consistently faced with a client in need, and protecting and connecting with the endless abundance is the only way to survive. 

Compassion fatigue is a real thing. All our frontline people, whether in the medical field or beyond, have limits, and when so much compassion is needed anyone who cares for another must protect themselves from compassion fatigue and empathy draining by having someone care for them. As I sit with the elderly, I also am called to be present to the workers who provide hands-on care every day and all day. A friendly gesture of genuinely asking, “how are you?” and truly caring to hear the answer will go so far. Most people answer quickly, “FINE” and move on with their day. Asking for embellishment and caring more deeply gives permission to truly answer. FINE can be an acronym for Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional/Exhausted. Asking someone to explore FINE with no hidden agenda gives permission for another to lean on someone as they allow others to lean on them. 

As I sit with the aging, I listen to hear the emotion and the truth in what they are saying. Listening with no agenda goes a long way. It is called “active listening” when we set aside our own agenda to hear what someone else has to say. Active listening is when we listen to hear, not to respond, and to let what is said simply be said, with no fixing or commenting. Active listening allows for another to empty their cup of emotion, so they have room to begin again. Have you practiced active listening with your loved ones? What do they want to say without judgment or response? Are you able to listen without responding? This is love.

Some days I am tired of listening and need someone to listen to me. That is when I turn to my loved ones and there are days, they are just not able to be there for me, so I turn inward to prayer and meditation because for me, my soul’s source of energy, can hear my cries and what I get in return is endless love. No judgment and no advice. As I sit with myself, I find I am restless, and this is when I, like Stutzman, push my physical self and set goals. Tangible physical goals that make me sweat and cause me to push, empty my cup of emotion. While I may not cover 2,176 miles over five months, I do ask of my body to partner with my soul as an outlet for that which I cannot fix, understand, or cure. Setting physical goals and tangible outcomes help with the emotional journey. Stutzman was within 200 miles of finishing his hike through when he realized he had not considered what is next for him as he finishes. Fear gripped him because getting up each morning to continue the hike kept his fears, losses, and grief at bay. The toughest miles were the final ones. I guess you will need to read the book to know how he finished. Find it here

Giving, kindness, and compassion are everyday actions that we all should practice and work alongside our physical goal setting and task completion. Partnering these in life ripens the fruits of our labour and keeps us healthy. If you are a giver, a caring person, and feel compassion for others, then remember to have all the above for yourself. Stop each day and look at the horizon. Where will you be when what you are doing is complete? Do you have short, and long-term, action items on your life’s to-do list? Are you present and plugged in to the ultimate source energy you need to draw from? Do you ask in return for what you give to others? Like the old game of electricity … when you squeeze with your left and give to another is there someone on your right giving to you? What will you do when you reach the finish line? 

Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist and bereavement counsellor, a soul care worker and offers specialized care in Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy with special attention as a cognitive behaviourial therapy practitioner and trauma incident resolution facilitator.  She volunteers at hospice, works as a LTC chaplain and is a death doula, assisting with end-of-life care for client and family.  She is the mother part of the #DanCynAdventures duo and practices fitness, health and wellness.  She is available remotely by safe and secure video connections, if you have any questions contact her today!


Cynthia Breadner

About the Author: Cynthia Breadner

Writer Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist and bereavement counsellor, a soul care worker providing one-on-one support at
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