Living with Intention and Gratitude Even in Hard Times – Getting Spiritual in Durham Region

“Wake Up Every Morning with the Thought That Something Wonderful is About To Happen,” – Winston Porter

Living with intention and gratitude is something I choose every day, even when the days are hard, when the silver lining is hidden so far back behind the clouds you doubt that you could ever find it. Here’s how a trip helped drive this new mindset.

My visit to Durham Region was hosted by Central Counties Tourism, Durham Region and the Hive Bee and Bee through Toronto Bloggers’ Collective.

Travel changes you in many ways. Sometimes it’s a relaxing, restorative, experience after a visit to the beach or a hike. Or perhaps, it’s a trip that draws you closer to family or friends.

Plane, train or automobile? The mode of travel doesn’t matter. It might just be a quick drive, a weekend or a two-day trip in the middle of the winter. But, travel changes you if you let it and if you are open to experiencing that possibility.

Photo Credit Barry Best Photography for Durham Region

Getting Spiritual in Durham Region

Months ago, if you’d have told me that I’d be having a spiritual travel experience in Durham Region, just an hour north of Toronto, I’d have nodded my head and most likely gone on my way without giving it another thought. Sure, I’d scoff under my breath.

credit – Barry Best Photography for Durham Region

See, most days, I alternate between sarcastic skeptic and gullible dork. Occasionally, I fall for the silliest things, the tricks and pranks of my teenage girls for instance. I like to think that I keep an open mind while also maintaining a healthy dose of skeptic. If you can prove it with science, then I believe you.

living with intention and gratitude bloggers in durham

So, where does that leave spirituality? Somewhere in between the two actually. I know what I believe and I feel comfort believing that my Mom and my Uncle and Aunt who passed away a few short years ago now, are watching over all of us here in my home. Can I see that? No. Do I believe it? Absolutely.

I am as far from a fanatic as possible. There are also many things that I cannot explain, too many in fact, for that to be simply shrugged off. Signs of something else at work. Nature has for me, become a space where I find all the evidence I need of spirituality. Being outside, skiing, hiking, walking – that’s my respite. My family’s respite too, actually.

So, where am I going with this? Well, whether you are deeply spiritual or not, I think most of us agree that travel has a deeper impact and a deeper purpose than relaxation. It can be an adventure or an attempt at trying to build a new experience, or a challenge to create a stronger body. Perhaps, it is a means of keeping family close and building memories. Always, it is worth it. Rarely, have I met someone unchanged by their travels. Travel leaves your spirit changed for the better.

In February, I took a short trip with a group of travel writers to Durham Region and I stopped everything for ice fishing on Lake Scugog, conscious eating, a smudge ceremony, forest bathing, art, and educational plant-based learning. We also did a brews cruise, shared a campfire, participated in a sharing circle and set intentions. The experience was facilitated by Elsii and Kevin at the Hive Centre and Durham Region as well as Central Counties Tourism, just an hour outside Toronto. 

Exploring Nature Nearby

At the start of the two days, we each set intentions, talked about living with intention, and then went off to visit area breweries after a day spent ice fishing. We connected with nature on multiple levels over the two day visit. And then after a campfire we retired for an evening inside The Hive Bed and Breakfast.

The next morning, after a healthy, organic breakfast of smoothies and locally sourced conscious meals, we took part in a spiritual circle and learned about the healing properties of plants and did artwork with natural materials while having our Mayan Calendar signs read.

For your information I am a number 6 and a serpent in the Mayan calendar. Flow, time and space and ultimate stability are all adjectives that describe that sign. The serpent sign carries life force energy from earth through the physical body and up to the heavens.

What is Forest Bathing?

Shinrin-Yoku, or Forest Bathing, is a traditional Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. During the 1980s, Shinrin-Yoku surfaced in Japan as a pivotal part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

On the grounds of The Hive, with Kevin leading, we each explored the concept of forest bathing. With snow still on the ground and a babbling, trailing stream, we opened our senses to the sights, sounds and smells of the forest, slowly living with intention, moving purposefully, with gratitude close at hand.

The experience was rejuvenating and relaxing and calm. Spending time immersed in nature is never a bad thing.

Travel is My Respite, Our Respite as a Family

I parent two kids with unique challenges. One has anxiety disorder and the other has FASD. We also have ADHD, a learning disability and Crohn’s Disease. In an average month, I find myself often putting out 🔥 fires, running through days, then weeks on end. Write faster. Advocate louder. Email that teacher. Update that IEP, fill the prescription. Argue with insurance. Doctor’s appointments. Parent teacher meetings. Team meetings. Specialists. Assessments. Therapists. Chase that invoice. Pay that bill. Repeat.

Many days throughout the last decade I have dragged myself out of bed. Morning arrives as an insult when you are bone weary and dreading how everything is a battle. Was I living with intention? No.

Sprinkled in throughout the days are moments of pure heart-stopping joy. But, sometimes it’s hard to see them when you are consumed by lists plodding through the fog or distracted by worry over the future. This is what I wrote and what I was thinking before Covid-19 struck and the world shut down. And then the word pandemic became as common in the daily news as the word breaking, or news, or lunch.

The Hive

My time at The Hive Centre and Bee and Bee in Leskard, Durham Region was brief, but also impactful. This space, owned by a husband and wife, who changed their careers after a dramatic health issue, is more than bricks and hardwood.

Next door to the Hive Bee & Bee is The Hive Centre, a charming heritage church used for private events, retreats, gatherings, special occasions, conferences and groups. The Hive is located on an 18-acre nature reserve, with a stream and forest.

Forest Bathing and Living with Intention

Living with intention, forest bathing, goal setting, practicing gratitude all landed their mark, but would this be a trip that changed me?

My Word of the Year this year was positivity and I decided to embrace being positive, and look for the silver lining in 2020. I was fully aware that this takes work. Sometimes you need to acknowledge the negative and move past it. That’s what I had been working on even before we did this Durham Region trip. So, I was already in the right frame of mind to receive what we learned and grow from it.

Back at Home

Ultimately, I made the choice to start living with intention and gratitude immediately after leaving The Hive and Durham Region. For me, it just felt like the right choice and a more positive way to start viewing life again. The right choice, the right message at the right time.

I woke up in my own bed again that first day and the next and I made myself set intentions and reminded myself to express gratitude. Then the next day, I did the same thing and again. And by the ninth or tenth day it became a habit, at least until the Covid-19 pandemic.

How Do You Find Gratitude in a Pandemic?

Two to three weeks after leaving the region, the pandemic upended our travels, and our lives here, closing schools, cancelling kid’s sports and threatening lives. We went through the whole range of emotions. It was hard to find that footing again or recall why living with intention and gratitude mattered.

So, how do you find gratitude and set intentions when you are living through a pandemic? Same as you did before actually. BUT, you remind yourself every single morning this is temporary and one day at a time. Occasionally, you force it, but setting intentions matters, even more now.

What were my takeaways?

1. Start Each Day with Intention.

Too often I wake up groaning: I’m exhausted. Here we go again. No more. 

2. Define an Intention.

Goal setting vs. list making. 

3. Express Gratitude Physically.

Wake up and give thanks for something. Thank you, water and thank you, sun.. Thank you for hot water and snow. Maybe right now that’s thank you for giving us another day.

4. Get Outdoors More Often. 

Of course, right now this might look different every week as the situation changes. BUT, try your best to get outside for a walk, while also remembering to follow the guidelines. Fitness and being outside are clearly tied to mental health.

These simple things have made a dramatic impact already.

So How Does Any of That Fit with Social Distancing Right Now?

Living with intention and practicing gratitude, I have found, is like a muscle. You go to the gym four or five times a week, and your muscles remember as they stretch and grow. You have occasional setbacks, but you return and try once more.

For the first two weeks of Covid-19, like many people, I questioned every morning what there was to be grateful for and how to set intentions. And yet every single morning I continued to do it again. I choose that for myself every day because it helps me to keep going, to define my day instead of letting the day, or the weather or the mood win. Even now, perhaps more than ever now, I am grateful for the time we spent there at The Hive in Durham Region.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Daniel Sierra

    What a nice way to stay mentally healthy. It must be great to be able to just enjoy nature and wander around trying to refresh your energy while staying positive. It is very important to keep a healthy mind during these dark times.

  • Beeb Ashcroft

    Our brains need to stay healthy during this time. So many things right now can be overwhelming.

  • littlemisadvencha

    I love this post. Even though we are going through difficult times, there are still a lot of things to be grateful at. 🙂 I am happy that you share some positivity here . We need more of this..

    • Paula

      Aw thanks so much for the kind comment. I am also adding more meditation and gratitude exercises to my morning routine while social distancing.

  • Emman Damian

    We really need social distancing right now. It’s really a must! Also, observe proper hygiene and also declare your correct health status! Help flatten the curve!

    • Paula

      Emman: I am embracing that and also reminding myself daily to bring it all back to gratitude and intentional living. Right now, that is vital for my mental health while I do my best to protect others via social distancing and physical distancing.

  • blair villanueva

    I had experience doing forest bathing and it was an amazing experience, hard to explain in words you just have to experience it. I guess it is one of the ways to pay respect to nature.

  • Donna Hanton

    I love that building in the photos!
    Yes, gratitude is an important skill. Not always easy to remember in these times, but as long as we come back to it, it gets easier

  • Elizabeth O

    Yes, Gratitude is a big asset skills that we have. Even in hard times. Getting much often in outside makes us feel so relaxed.

  • Rezmin

    This is trying time for all of us. To stay calm in such a situation, we need to take a spiritual way for keeping our mind clam & healthy. Doing a bit for the society is one way to stay positive and be blessed.