In Praise of Puttering

Red hot charcoal briquettes.

Early morning. Still wearing a robe over my pjs, wayward belt ends dangling to the ground. Tea on the table getting cold. I’m bending awkwardly beside the garbage can reaching for the dustpan. As usual, it’s pushed back behind the extra water jugs. My nose is perilously close to pressing into the swinging garbage lid as I lunge into the looming caverns of this space in the kitchen corner. Good thing I have long arms. I reach the dustpan, sweep up the little pile of detritus, and move to put it back. There’s got to be a better way. Of course there’s a better way. Over two years in this apartment and I’m just now thinking to hang up the dustpan. The space is too impossibly awkward to swing a hammer, but there’s a perfect lip I could easily hang a piece of wire. I need to find something I can fashion into a hook. And so I start puttering.

I’ve been on a tapas this week. It’s a Sanskrit word that means heat, though the literal translation doesn’t carry forward the application of the word: a tapas is an austerity or discipline. My spiritual tradition often encourages the practice of a tapas in February. Decide on something to remove from habitual use or action, and watch the pressure — or heat — on the mind when this action is avoided.

I’ve been turning my phone off for portions of the day.

Let me tell you, there’s a lot of things I can get done when I’m not scrolling through my phone checking just one more thing. When I know it’s not an option to divert energy to my phone, I look for other ways to spend it.

Which is what brings me to sweeping the floor before I’ve even finished my morning tea.

Which is what brings me to searching for a paperclip.

I know I have a box of paperclips. I also know that the last time I saw them I thought, now that’s a strange place to put a box of paperclips. I should put them with the office and crafting supplies. In my search through the office and crafting supplies, not only did I discover I did not, indeed, put the box in this very logical place, I also found a number of other things in my quest.

  • I found an envelope full of letters that I will need next week when I start applying for my 10-year permanent resident card.
  • I found a tapestry nicely folded and stacked in a corner that I’d like to hang — all it needs is a few supplies from the hardware store I will grab when I go there later today. It’s the perfect thing to put in a section of the dining room where I’ve been meaning to cover something up.
  • I found a cellphone my old provider gave me when they phased out service on my phone. Just yesterday I was thinking about posting it on the Buy Nothing Big Island Facebook group and giving it away.

I also found, drumroll please, my box of paper clips. One of which is now perfectly shaped into a hook because during my puttering I looked at the bin of tools thinking, why is this even here, it should be outside in the storage room, so I knew exactly where to find a needle nose pliers. Said paperclip is now fulfilling its service to the world placed as a hook to hang the dustpan in a convenient location. No bodily contortions or nose in garbage can required.

So yes, this is a post in praise of puttering, but it’s also a celebration post. (Incidentally, it’s also probably a post about an adult with undiagnosed ADHD, but we’re making lemonade out of these lemons, so enjoy!)

Watching my mind search for something to grab onto when a usual habit is disturbed was an interesting practice. In the space that’s created, something new can emerge. Something of value that can increase my quality of life instead of detracting from it. My weeklong tapas is complete, but I’m going to take what I’ve learned into my life.

I’m going to spend more time puttering.

Social Media: A Transformation

It’s only early afternoon and I’ve already done it a couple of times today. In fact, I probably did it within minutes of waking up. I grabbed my phone and opened Facebook or Instagram and started scrolling down. Swipe swipe swipe. A gentle undulation, like the ocean’s waves in my fingers easing me from sleep to wakefulness.

I don’t particularly like that I do this — look for immediate dopamine hits first thing in the morning — but at this point, my brain is trained to these actions. I’m an addict that needs a hit. I need something new, something to consume, something to focus my leapfrog brain as it hops distractedly, driving unstructured portions of my day. I give in. I watch another algorithmically-supplied video. I settle into the bed. Into the chair. I zone out and I consume.

March 31 2007

I wasn’t always like this. The first Facebook activity I can find as I navigate my way through a labyrinth of ever-changing settings and menus is late spring, 2007. I’d thought of myself as a latecomer. Facebook had officially launched on February 4, 2004 and I ignored the invitations from friends throughout the early years of my undergrad at university. I guess something shifted that March. I was sitting at the computer desk in my fourth floor apartment, the one that overlooked the park. Some days I could see the Rocky Mountains standing tall in the distance. I was probably procrastinating on homework I should have been doing. Aaren Allison, a friend from third grade I hadn’t seen in years, sent me an invitation to join. And so I did.

Those first few years were a whole new world. You know what it was like: sharing entire photo albums of uneventful nights hanging out with friends, uploading digital photos from our point and click cameras we took on trips to the mountains, stacks of images from bachelorette parties I, admittedly, would prefer no one would ever see again. We filled out questionnaires that spread through our friends lists like wildfire. We laboured all day over how to turn that “is” into a witty status update. We collectively rejoiced when they finally did away with that “is”, able to plaster our inner landscape more freely on our walls. We wrote on each other’s walls and commented on all the photo albums our friends posted. We socialized. On media.

The view from my apartment. Winter 2007.

You were there when things started to change. More and more articles appeared instead of status updates. We started hearing less and less from our friends directly, and more and more what they were reading and listening to instead. Ads appeared. More ads appeared. We branched off to Instagram because it was simpler. Just chronological photos and hearts. Then we started writing long captions on those photos. Then ads appeared. More ads appeared.

If you’re like me, you started posting less as more sites popped up. But here’s the thing, I didn’t actually stop using the websites. Over time, I contracted my content, but kept consuming what was being fed to me. And what was being fed to me wasn’t anything my friends were posting at all.

Somewhere along the way these social media sites changed. They stopped being a place where I went to exchange updates with friends, and more a place where I lose hours watching videos of dominos falling in intricate patterns, men digging away dirt into elaborate underground dwellings, hand-laying tiles in gorgeous patterns, craft “hacks”, cooking shortcuts, must-have gadgets, up-do ideas, and unexpected cross-species animal friendships. Snippets of video content has surpassed English as the international dialect.

These sites are now voyeuristic entertainment where I check out and mindlessly consume content. Someone is reaping the benefits of this activity — the algorithm infinitesimally refined with every second I spend watching, all the better to target ads to my exact moods and desires — it certainly isn’t me.

August 2016

In 2016 I’m living back at Yasodhara Ashram during the construction of the new Temple. The Transitional Temple is about to come down and a local Indigenous Chief and Storyteller is here conducting ceremony. One evening at dusk we gather on the beach of Kootenay Lake and listen to him tell the creation story of the Ktunaxa peoples.

As he speaks, he structures atoms with his words. He builds a universe with each sentence. The space between listeners and storyteller holds all of creation. I know that humans understand the world through symbol and metaphor, but after listening to his stories, I experience it. I participate in mind’s creation of reality.

The beach on Kootenay Lake at Yasodhara Ashram. © Yasodhara Ashram

Storytelling has been humanity’s form of entertainment since we gathered around fires each night. Since before that. It evolved with technology: written words and serials, radio shows, television, movies, and now streaming. The medium was different but the basic tenets remained. We watch stories of the hero’s journey, coming-of-age arcs, all the usual tropes and tales that cross cultures.

Stories unite us and allow us to step into the experiences of another in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Stories allow us to connect to the essential nature of what it means to be human, no matter where you live or how you were raised. They work out our emotional muscles. They remind us what it is to be alive.

Streaming video content is now one of the main ways we entertain ourselves. This content is often short snippets lighting up reward centres in our brains, without delivering anything of substance. We are becoming disconnected from our stories. What will happen to a society that no longer relies on communal stories, but instead squirrels away alone with a laptop and noise cancelling headphones in a corner of a giant house to watch whatever Instagram reels the algorithm serves up?

What is happening to society? We somehow think everything we learned in kindergarten isn’t relevant anymore. No more emphasis on kindness and truth-telling. Exploitative capitalism erodes the usefulness of the digital tools we have come to rely on. We’re inundated with attention-seeking distractions just so growth projections are met and shareholders increase their investments. As we scroll through video after video of the endless ways in which to tie a scarf, we lose connection to our stories; we lose connection with what it means to be human.

I have no solutions to this conundrum other than to throw my phone in the ocean. This would not be a practical decision. So instead, I delete apps and block websites and otherwise support my feeble brain in detoxing from this madness. I read books and do spiritual practices. I think of how to best live deliberately, how to embody an ideal of presence.

The best advice I can give myself is to create, don’t consume.

And never take for granted the power of story.

Every Child Matters

Image from the Globe and Mail

This weekend at Yasodhara’s AGM, we reflected on the word resilience.

That word continues to roll around my awareness through the discovery of the mass grave at Kamloops and these residential school facts that everyone with ears and eyes and who knows how to read history knew.


I am heartbroken for the individuals and their families that continue to live through the depths of these traumas. The parents whose children were stolen, the child-mothers whose babies of rape were thrown into furnaces, the medical malnutrition experiments using children as guinea pigs, the systemic, unending abuse on all levels. The pain and the suffering inflicted by authorities in the most horrendous acts imaginable in order to “Kill the Indian in the child and save the man.”

But guess what?

It didn’t work.

We have so much work to do to heal, and yet not even this extreme level of suffering could succeed in fully stamping out these cultures.

It didn’t work.

I know it didn’t work because one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had was facilitated by ʔaq̓am Chief Joe Pierre of the Ktunaxa Nation. We gathered on a mountain by a lake and he shared stories that felt older than the land itself.

He didn’t just tell stories. He’s a Ktunaxa Storyteller and weaves culture, values, and education into ancient narratives passed down from…well….from forever, I guess. Because listening to his words on the mountain by a lake made time stop.

Listening to his stories that night I realized I wasn’t just listening to a creation story, creation was happening because he was telling the story. It’s an unfathomable thing to describe and my words can never do it justice. He opened a book that we all fell into. A collective inter-dimensional adventure, where the vibrations he spoke turned the mountain into stone and the water into wet.

You can’t tell me residential schools succeeded at their goal because I’ve felt the drum beat as Indigenous dancers shaped their bodies into song. I’ve seen the Dene Hand Games in Fort Providence — games that the Canadian Government had banned in the past, along with other foundational cultural practices. I’ve prayed to my ancestors in a tipi carpeted with cedar boughs and participated in a Peace Pipe Ceremony with a Dakota Spiritual Leader and Sundance Chief. I’ve sat on a mountain by a lake as creation unfolded around me.

In spite of all the trauma, in spite of all the suffering, these cultures were not killed.

I am humbled by this truth.

Wab Kinew told a story at the International Peace and Justice Studies Conference in 2016. He spoke about his father’s time in residential schools and his path to forgiveness. I don’t remember if it was Wab’s father or grandfather who told this story, or someone else entirely, but the message stuck. I’ll paraphrase into my own words:

The white man was moving into Indigenous territory and taking over what wasn’t theirs. Children were being snatched and brought to residential schools. Cultural genocide was in full swing. An Elder spoke with his son about the evils going on. They walked through their home under the open sky. It was night and the stars shone. “See up there,” the Elder said. “No matter what they do to us, white man can’t take away our culture, it’s right there in the stars.”

The resilience of Indigenous Peoples is awe-inspiring. To pass down the remaining elements of a culture after organized, systemic, and aggressive legislation of abuse is, to me, the very definition of resilience. They couldn’t completely stamp out these cultures. These cultures are embedded in creation, one and the same with the earth and the water and the air and the fire.

As we confront the actions of the Canadian government, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and others, let’s take real action to create healing of these wounds and preserve Indigenous cultures. Let’s work to stop the continued atrocities committed against Indigenous People. Let’s support one another during this process of collective grief.

Donate to the Residential School Survivor Society.

RSSS (Residential School Survivors Society) Emergency Crisis line is available 24/7 for Indigenous Peoples that may need counselling support from today’s announcement. 1-800-721-0066

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.

Great list of resources from Mayor Nenshi.

Support and resources from RoseAnne Archibald.


I memorize routes and roads in the places I inhabit, in the places that I go. Maps of intersecting cross streets laid like a grid over folds of synaptic neurons firing. Up Saint Laurent on the right past Roy and Napoleon to Duluth. I burn these names into the fingerprints of my memory.

Down Murphy Street where it merges with Emano and then a quick jag to the left on St. Vincent into town.

It seems a miracle that I should find myself right here on this exact spot in the entirety of the universe. How is it that I overlook this miracle in the cataloguing of my days and moments and life. Right here.

I’ll join all of these locations in my mind. They’ll form a singular now where space and time won’t matter.

Cross the train track on Broadwater. Pass Langton and then left on Northcourt.

Years ago, I begin to astral travel, hoping this will take me to a place that seems more real. Soon, I would be in a place I’d never been, but that a dream had shown me. The hostel’s computers are just near my room. I search in simple terms, “how to astral travel” and commit the words to memory, like a roadway I’ve yet to see. Each night on my back before sleep, a moldavite in my navel, relaxing my entire body as I try to bend out of it. Later, weeks later, after I sit on a bench and a Turkish cat tells me what to do next, after I say yes to the wine and have no memory of flying over an entire ocean, and after I’ve bought the house and sponged the wall in too-monotonous stamps of blue, I hear a noise like a pop. I am leaving my body. I lay in the bedroom but am in the kitchen. Then I am in the bedroom and pop in the kitchen again. This is not where I expected to go.

Left on Yates and right on Blanshard until Pandora.

What is a place? Is it not soft and mutable like time, dependant on our subjectivity, or on whether we are paying attention as it passes? The place this body inhabits changes. I am an electron, baffling my observers. I am a walking theory, reckless in my quantum ways. I am in one single place, where I have been for one whole unit of time. I am challenging my nature, taunting all my ways and staying put. The sun is setting on my skin. The cat sneezes. (Take the stairs up Hall as far as you can go. Go farther, through the green space and up and up to Carbonate, then left until it zags on Park. Stay on it just a little more.) Birds are marking the end of a day, but really they are telling me about place. They tell me home is in this body. They tell me where the light comes from and that we’ll meet again, after darkness and rest. After the oblations, and after the words in my mind are stilled so that the real words that run like an undercurrent through everything, stitched in all my cells, can come forward. After all the jewels are spilled onto the sky.

They are telling me how to understand that we turn and turn in constant rotating movement and it’s what’s outside of us that stays still. That we are not the centre here.

Pass Lako then Seaview and turn left on La’aloa. Go way down the hill. Watch the turquoise sea invite you home, the sailboats far toward the horizon. Watch the waves crash on the shore — foaming white looking permanent from this distance, like geometric stillness on the edge of oblivion — until they surrender to their true form and settle back into the sea.


I leave things around the house in the places I inhabit. Dioramas of of my day strewn in the living room: two empty glasses, one with a few more sips of water. A yoga mat, medicine ball, and book in the bedroom.

They’re for the archeologists who will come after these end times become beginning times again. I tidy them up anyway, mentally navigate Costco runs in my mind, think to write almond milk on the list, and then forget. And then remember again.

Today the breeze blows firmly off the sea. It brings the voices of the painters outside, the ones because of whom I’ve shut the bamboo blinds. I do not want to be seen. I am lying on the floor, trying to coax my spine back into place after another uncomfortable and sleepless night on an insufficient mattress. I am looking at myself in the mirror, wondering what it means to have a body and be a person that walks and breaths and moves through time. I am reconciling all the parts of me that contradict.

I used to keep a mental list of things that make me laugh. Thoughts and memories that were so vividly humorous that they still elicit a smile or an involuntary spasm of my diaphragm.

One of the entries on the list took place in the desert. And one of the entries on the list took place on the sea. One of the entries involves a tea bag and a rear-view mirror. I have given up trying to share them with people. Invariably, all it does is confirm that my sense of humour borders on the absurd and is perhaps my favourite part of myself that I share with my mother.

The pinned emails at the top of my inbox are from the Canadian Embassy in San Fransisco providing information for those traveling in America right now, a law firm indicating I am part of a class-action suit against Facebook (did you get one, too?), a swami whom I still haven’t replied to, and the latest from my visa card regarding the fraudulent Airbnb charges that still aren’t cleared up. Can these mostly official missives legitimize a life in which I am still attempting to derive a singular cohesive meaning. Can life be reduced to a singularity?

The waves are big today. Sometimes they shake the house.

Yesterday’s startling thought was that I can no longer blame a childhood of poverty for the fact that I am lazy and unambitious. I missed out on so much I would whine. Middle-class children got social skills and the means to make and achieve goals in their respective fields of interest. They got conversation around nightly dinner tables, internships and opportunities from friends of friends. Vacations to far-away places that exposed them to different ways of being that helped inform their own identities at impressionable ages. Just look at the resentment I hold. How much longer can I cling to this? Not much, apparently.

In the last conversation I had with my grandmother, she told me that I was trying too hard. I wanted to have the perfect job and life and I wanted everything tied up with a neat little bow.

“But if I don’t try then what if I don’t get what I want?” I asked.

“What if you do?” She said. I don’t remember if she actually said that. I just remember the gist of the conversation, the “you’re trying too hard” part. The striving and the strain. Why not slow down and allow things to come to me. Why not pay attention to the signs and follow the natural flow instead is asserting my will so strongly. I’m trying to apply that wisdom to my life.

I also remember her saying, “We have to keep living.” We were talking about the shutdown and about the virus and about the way life seemed to be nonexistent. This was before she got diagnosed with it, before all I could do was leave messages on her answering machine that I hoped she could hear.

We have to keep living.

Okay, grandma. I’ll keep being present in each moment the way you taught me. I’ll keep feeling into my body. I’ll keep creating and connecting.

I randomly redesign my website. I try to focus on projects and plans I feel drawn to. I cannot blame my childhood for anything that is challenging about my current life situation. I need to update. I decide to instead blame my mental health.

I guess it’s a step.

Reasons I Don’t Do Hatha Every Day


  • My current mat is too slippery. It slides around on the tile floor, which is very dangerous when I’m walking around and step on it. Also, my hands and feet can’t find their grip when I’m using it for it’s actual purpose. Also very dangerous.
  • I’d rather sleep in. And I just feel better when I do yoga first thing in the morning, rather than later in the day.
  • I’d like to do hatha outdoors. But I always get distracted when I move my body into a pose with the natural world around me. On my deck there’s the rustling of the palm fronds (delightful!), the crash of each ocean wave (oh, I will never tire of you, sweet ocean), the innocence of birdsong (so piercing, so uplifting, so unexpected), and of course the bugs.Don’t forget about the bugs.
    Ants crawling too close to my ears in window stretch, mosquitos attacking every piece of flesh they can find. Unknown beetles getting precariously close. Too. Many. Bugs.
  • I just had a snack. Can’t do asana with a full stomach, that’s for sure.
  • I’ll be in my heart centre more. I wouldn’t want to verbally spar about each and every topic imaginable with anyone within listening distance. I wouldn’t come up with endless “what-ifs” about the state of the world and what’s going on in it.I wouldn’t conjecture about why a thing is the way it is. Everything would simple be. That judging, analytical, measuring voice inside my head would be quieted, shushed by the deep hum of my precious heart.
  • ….

Read the rest on Elephant Journal.

The Art of Being Alone

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 6.29.05 PM.jpg

Summertime is for reading Octavio Paz. For trees deep-rooted yet dancing still. For a river that turns, moves on, doubles back, and comes full circle, forever arriving.

Summertime is for listening to the palm fronds chatter with one another, pressing close to whisper secrets in the wind. For glimpses of a family of francolins — a ground bird and the herd of tiny babies that waddle after her. The father stands guard nearby. He ruffles and shifts. He watches. I am lost in the sound of wave after wave hitting the shore. I have forgotten how to be alone.

                                   the calm course
of the stars or an unhurried spring,
water with eyes closed welling over
with oracles all night long,
a single presence in a surge of waves,
wave after wave till it covers all,
a reign of green that knows no decline,
like the flash of wings unfolding in the sky,

                                               *  ~ Octavio Paz Sunstone

Wintertime nine years ago in a large dining room full of warm-coloured oak tables. Windows line two walls of the room — large windows with pine trees, clouds, and eagles on the other sides. I am on a mountain overlooking a lake.

Breakfast is just finished. I bring a warm beverage to an empty oval table in the silent room. The sun catches hold of the tips of mountains across the water. I see the reflection of the crystalline chandelier above me on the flat surface of the liquid in my cup.

“How are you doing?” I ask myself. And then I sit in the silence and answer. I follow the conversation in my head, as if I were with a friend. I am present, engaged. I have half an hour before my next commitment. I am taking myself out for tea, a months-long daily ritual in that dining room on that mountain overlooking a lake with just myself and my beating heart. With all the magic held therein.

I am remembering how to be alone.

                                 life is never
truly ours, it always belongs to the others,
life is no one’s, we all
are life—
bread of the sun for the others,
the others that we all are—
when I am another, my acts
are more mine when they are the acts
of others, in order to be I must be another,

leave myself, search for myself
in the others, the others that don’t exist
if I don’t exist, the others that give me
total existence,*

Suddenly awake. It is the middle of the night. Mantra starts up in my mind, floods my brain as automatically as breath fills my lungs. I try to rest in its power. How I create its vibration inside of me and then watch it arise externally, too, like I’m calling it to me and suddenly the inside and the outside meld. How I latch on to this union and become it. A cloud of mantra. A sea of mantra. I am a drop of water. A wave. But why isn’t it working? Why can’t I hold onto that vibration like I usually do? All I know is agitation. Choppy water and whirling wind. I cannot reach its cloud. I cannot leap into its sea.

There is a dull haze of light above the Pacific out my window. I have been dreaming about bombs. I readjust my blanket, let the mantra slip out of my awareness. I am wide awake. I feel far from the magic of my heart.

                           I am not,
there is no I, we are always us,
life is other, always there,
further off, beyond you and
beyond me, always on the horizon,*



My fragile heart continues to balk at today’s confluence of destruction. At the world revealed in the documentaries we stream at home on artificial intelligence, climate change, plastic, info tech, and surveillance capitalism. On the books we read aloud to each other about the future of work, late-stage capitalism, and our shifting society. We’re huddled on the couch eating dairy-free chocolate ice cream with big, sugary chunks of fudge. I lick my spoon clean and try to savour the flavour, a moment of reprieve in a world my childhood self doesn’t recognize. I balk and shiver at the mess while facing it all.

And isn’t that the solution? To stride forward into the collective unknown with our eyes as wide open as our hearts? This is how I want to live. Open and aware. It takes strength and a fortitude we are not often taught. It requires being able to be alone in one’s heart.

Swami Radha tells us to be alone when we worship in the temple of our hearts. I’ve been unpacking that sentence for over a decade now. I think it holds clues for how to move forward. I use it as my road map through this storm.

The heart: the here and now, the total acceptance of what presently is, a calmness and a sense of focus. Complete intentional presence.

But alone? What does it even mean to be alone?

To me, it’s those mornings with just myself and my thoughts and my tea after breakfast. Or it’s sitting by my altar, it’s my single-pointed focus on the sensations in my body as I move it through asana, or the repetition of a mantra as I lay my head down on the bed.

Aloneness becomes a verb. An active rather than a passive process. It is learned and not to be taken for granted.

It’s being able to follow the thoughts in my head and relying on only myself to create them. 

It’s being able to worship in the temple of my heart.

I didn’t learn to be alone until I understood how my head was being infiltrated by other lines from other stories. I wondered what my in-laws thought, or how my actions would impact others.

I was compelled by infinitesimal comments from childhood that had lodged into my brain: my brother says I’m acting too much like a girl. My junior high social studies teacher says my mother’s not a real Buddhist. A classmate I work with at Dairy Queen asks if my family is poor. I deny it, horrified at being found out.

Without a solid base inside of myself for these words to bounce off of, they coalesce and form a lumpy version of me. All the pieces of life I graze against rub off and implant feelings of shame and false identity.

Slowly, at those oval dining room tables in the quiet morning, I extricate myself from all of these thoughts. I learn how to be present with myself. I learn how to be present in my heart while facing what arises around me.

I still forget sometimes. And then I feel awkward and lonely. I forget there is a still small voice within me and I get overly distraught at all the suffering in the world until I’m unable to do my part to affect change.

The antidote to my grief will always be to make space inside myself to confront it, not hide away. I use the power of the heart to worship what I find, exactly as it is, knowing any response to this current madness is complex.

Connecting to my heart will always be something I do alone. I am surrounded by a slew of people. I am having an intimate conversation with a beloved. Yet I am alone because there’s only one heart.

I slough off my separate identities and tune into the cosmos. I am alone when I am in my heart centre because the heart exists right now, that precious moment where all time and all space is one. All one. Alone.

Sometimes everything in life stops completely. Becomes like gossamer and silk and all I do is follow threads that are freely falling from the sky. And then sometimes it’s hard like stone and I’m tumbling between it all with heavy shoes.

Sometimes I remember that in my heart is a solitary place and I find peace amidst the turmoil.

Sometimes I take myself out to tea. Slowly and deliberately, I bring my mind back again and again when it wanders or gets stuck in games, decades of thoughts, what-ifs, fears, desires. I come back to the moment. And there I am, waiting.

                                                     they crumble
for one enormous moment and we glimpse
the unity that we lost, the desolation
of being man, and all its glories,
sharing bread and sun and death,
the forgotten astonishment of being alive;*

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 6.33.13 PMIMG_20200801_121524


How can we see if we’re not looking.


Just outside my window is the flat, wet sea. I watch it at all hours of the day. Even from my office, I can hear the water turning to waves. Submerging bubbles call me. The sound keeps me on alert. I want to be out there, watching. I want to see the ocean.

I’m out in late afternoon and I see a small dark fin. Suddenly a sleek body is propelling upward, spinning through the air. Dolphins. I haven’t seen any in months. I call inside to Phoenix before my mind tells me to. This requires to be witnessed. This is something to share. This is wonder and presence all encompassed in bodies and waves.

An entire world is out there. I get close and feel the spray on my body as a wave collides with the wall of lava I sit on. I keep my gaze on it, watching. But I can’t watch it all the time. How many sea turtles have swum past without me knowing? How many dolphins have surged through the air? How can I see unless I’m looking?

I am feeling hopeless. I’m looking under all the rugs we’ve been sweeping our collective debris. I’m watching people murdered for the colour of their skin, authoritarian rulers detain and disfigure journalists and peaceful gatherers. I’m watching the way our ugliness twists and turns when exposed to the light of awareness and how it doesn’t want to be seen.

Closing my eyes is not an option. My sleepless nights in a warm, soft bed are an inconvenience. Sleeping while Black is a death sentence. Walking while Black. Playing video games while Black, running while Black, living while Black. Being scared of an unexpected visitor knocking on your door late at night can kill an Indigenous person.

All this looking breaks me. And yet. And yet systemic racism will not stop if I simply stop looking at it. We’re being called to witness it, to share the burden, and to root out our own moral inconsistencies that lurk under the water, surging forward in unexpected moments. The only way change is possible is to know where we are. And how can we see unless we’re looking?

My eyes dart to that band of water. It starts turquoise in the morning and melts to the brightest blue I can imagine. When the clouds drift in, it turns to shades of blue, purple, and grey. It changes while I’m watching it. I can see because I’m looking.

The Warmth of Other Suns Isabel Wilkerson
I’m Not Dying with You Tonight Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Such a Fun Age Kiley Reid
Days of Distraction Alexandra Chang
These Ghosts Are Family Maisy Card
Your House Will Pay Steph Cha
Hapa Girl May-lee Chai

remembering to breathe: reflections on the last 10 years

Ten years ago this winter, I’d set a solid footing, grasped my life firmly at the root with each hand, and pulled myself out of my marriage. The momentum from the strain will bring me to Yasodhara Ashram. I quit my job and, on May 10, 2010, stepped into the unknown.

Nine years ago and I have graduated from the Yoga Development Course and the Hatha Teacher Certification. I am saturated with love and gratitude. I have wrung myself through thousands of hours of spiritual practice. I did not think that this depth of happiness was possible, borne out of the degree I understand and release my detrimental conditioning, my self-created pain. The deepest call of my heart is answered; I have found my spiritual home.

Eight years ago I have lived at the Ashram for two years. I expand my capabilities, write down my dreams every morning, awake before six to walk, chant mantra at lunch, and sing bhajans with Cy, where I experience an intimacy that goes beyond touch or vibration. I facilitate the program I first enrolled in and teach in the YDC. I am the most current version of my best self.

Seven years ago and I am leaving the Ashram, full with deeper understanding and a network of support. I will go to Maine and live on a sailboat in the Atlantic with Cy. My first trip to a grocery store has me overstimulated. This will be an adjustment.

Six years ago, I move to Montreal from Maine. Boxes packed, shipped, and labelled. My first few days with only the essentials I bring on the plane: guitar, yoga mat, and altar items. My antique Saraswati, Maine’s parting gift to me found in a ramshackle flea market, blesses an empty apartment. Red tape trim now fills the space with the promise of a home. I glue a life together from pieces.

“Where are you from?” they ask. The ocean had just swept away shards of my heart from Camden’s inner harbour into Penobscot Bay and out into the Atlantic; the boxes themselves had travelled east from land so dwarfed by sky it bows flat in reverence; a Temple on a mountain cliff overlooking a lake holds the feeling of home, but a month later even that would change, as flames that were fought all night burned Yasodhara’s Temple roof. Where am I from? It is too complicated a question; then and always.

I take the shuttle to the downtown campus and shop at the organic co-op, trawl thrift stores for curtains, and walk through this gaping metropolis. I play bhajans on my guitar and cry. I fall asleep with french words I do not know on repeat in my head, snippets of conversations I’ve heard that day, a glimpse into other realities.


Five years ago, my favourite East Coast Contra Dance band, Perpetual e-Motion, comes to Montreal. They fill the hall with lines of bodies, swirling in perfect rhythmic time, sustained by the notes of the didgeridoo.

Contra dance makes me feel alive. I am a dervish spinning wildly to the beat. This is a place not wrought with the social politics I experience as an Anglophone in a Francophone culture, this is a place where I can feel free. We switch partners seamlessly through each dance in the same way I see my colleagues change languages. I can lose myself in the dance in a different way that I am lost in conversation.

I bike home, my entire being cooled by sticky sweat meeting Montreal’s spring air to the Maison de l’amitié, a community house where I share three fridges and two wings with my eight roommates.

Freshly graduated, I start working downtown at the magazine. My office doesn’t have a window, but I can still see my hair blowing in the wind as I commute to work on the boulevard De Maisonneuve bike path.

I play the piano every day, cycle through the record collection, and interview and write about Olympians, award-winners, and artists. I am thrilled when my freelance pitches are accepted in national publications. I am too busy to become fluent in French. The burden of city life wears on me.


Four years ago, my home is my precious tent. Carried on my back, it is with me as I hitchhike across New Zealand. I love the nights when it is where I sleep, thin porous screens the only boundary between me and the outside. I want to breath New Zealand in. I want to lay my body on its earth. I always forget to bring enough drinking water to these makeshift solitary roadside camps of mine.

I stay for a month at Wilderland. My heart sings in this community as I forage the gardens for meals. My life is music, dirty bare feet, flowing clothing, and possibility.

Late at night we bring shovels to the beach for low-tide and dig a shallow tub in volcanic-heated springs. I pull myself out again and again to step into the ocean’s wet. In midnight’s dark I see outlines of walls push forward. Waves crash their coolness onto me. I hear the voices and laughter of my friends through the sea mist somewhere on the shore. I am naked and alone in the ocean. I am free.

I walk the grassy path back to my tent each night, stopping at my favourite natural bathroom spots alongside the trail. I am made for this open-air life. For these heaps of feijoas, a sweet and sour fruit that is everywhere. For this river that rises and falls with the sea. For early morning moon gazing through ferns and pink.


It’s springtime in the Northern Hemisphere and Rob has died. I’m home at Yasodhara in the mountains and we’re rebuilding the Temple of Light. More pieces of it are assembled each day. I stand in the centre of arcing lines and meet him there. He knew how much it meant to me. He watched from across an ocean bulging at the equator as it rose from its own ashes.

My own dark has been overpowering me. I’m struggling under its weight and I can’t get air. I want to feel the light again. I do not do much teaching.

His death is my catalyst and now I have small white pills with every breakfast and dinner. I start to feel the fog lift as bees buzz in fresh cherry blossoms. My brain transforms itself and new synapses grow. Thoughts of joy and creativity return. I’d been gone and now I am returning.

The Temple has windows now to keep out the cold. The fragile candle on the altar of my heart is safe from the breeze. We are being rebuilt together.

May 2017

Two years ago I’m on the ferry crossing Portsmouth Harbour. I’m meeting Swami Sukhananda for dinner before we each take a train to different parts of the country. She’s been doing her yearly European tour and we’ve just had a weekend workshop at Lisa’s studio. My blissful and bleary state matches the incoming fog.

I’d met Lisa at 23. Despite the years gone past and our different life stages, my soul still feels stitched together in seeing her. Another human scattered across the globe that feels like home.

I take the evening train back to my new Brighton home and text with Phoenix, this man I still want to connect with. He’s 13 hours and two oceans away, our nights and mornings exchanged like confused moths frantically flying in daylight.

I work 14-hour shifts and wear my shoes through their soles. They fall apart on ancient barnyard stone that’s been converted to this wedding venue. It’s like every English fairy tale I’ve ever read.

My family decides to spread my grandfather’s ashes in the arctic in the summer. I’ve been waiting over ten years for this trip. I cancel my interview with the NHS for a communications job, and spend the remaining weeks before my return to Canada going to hot yoga, sleeping entire days away after weddings, and walking through cemeteries. England is cold. England is far away. England is not where I want to be.


I’m on a beach in Hawaii. I’m fighting a fever and have taken enough over-the-counter medicine to convince myself I can make something of this vacation.

The American government has let me into their country for exactly ten days maximum. I took a stack of paperwork proving my ties to Canada: job, house, commitments, and reference letters. After enough hours at the border to almost miss my flight, they let me through. When I’d tried to come in October, I was not successful.

I’m still in touch with Phoenix. I’m here to celebrate his birthday and to see in-person this man I attempted to spend another winter with before being thwarted by border control.

Our monogamously casual, mostly long-distance relationship has weathered a year-and-a-half. He’s come to Canada at least four times, each visit wildly different, their only consistencies the fraught first days while we get used to one another again and always get through to the other side.

I wonder what I’m doing on a lava rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I fly away, back to my precious mountain town where I walk the same path every day at lunch. I clutch my phone to text this man who is so far away. I wonder what I’m doing on this lake shore in the middle of a mountain range.

Elephant Mountain rises behind me as I walk up the sidewalk of steps slowly to not lose my breath. Kootenay Lake glimmers in the sunshine. Horse chestnut flowers bloom, their petals falling at my feet. I do not see any of this. I see his face on the screen of our video call. I see our persistence. My own grasping, a hollow, faltered reaching to connect.


The world changed and everything in my life is uncertain. He holds me as I sob. “I don’t exactly know why I’m crying,” I say, muffled into his neck. Vibrations of sadness wrest out of my heart, finally given their chance to move through me.

We’d spent another winter together in Hawaii, but this time I can’t pretend to want the life he lives that he is not ready to say goodbye to. We left his communal home that I cannot accept for a vacation rental in the rainforest, a decision bathed in a pool of love that threatens to dry up. I measure my goals against the current world crises and re-valuate our two-and-a-half-year game of relationship chicken.

The sobbing shifts boulders inside of me. I watch the ocean pull itself back and reveal the same. Underneath, I find a familiar pea, one I know well and thought I’d fully digested and discarded years ago, I don’t believe I am worthy of love. The wave crashes onto newly exposed rock.

I’ve been running on auto-pilot. My heart has atrophied with neglect. I have forgotten how to connect with myself, anything else, him. I miss my grandmother.

My visa for this country expires in one month. I do not know where I will go, what I will do, how I will get there, or if there will be a “we”.

I’ve been rededicating myself to spiritual practice, upping the amount of time I spend in contemplation, adding and re-adding moments of the sacred to my day. All this light shows me the dark places. I sweep out the dust it reveals with my left hand, while my right tries to reach into a bin of engrained patterns of codependency to scatter more. I do not quite know how to stop spreading the dust.

I keep praying. I keep asking. I keep crying with my heart alight, revelling in the massage these sobs give her. She vibrates with a deeper joy than this upturned world can provide. She reminds me that I know what love is, that I know the pathway back.


I want to wipe away the past and rebuild. I want to watch these polarizing societal structures crumble. I want to see what Siva leaves in His wake.

Reflected light filters into my eyes and I imagine I can differentiate between each photon as it passes information to my brain. How can it be a particle and a wave? How can it alter depending on the way we look at it? My imagination shows me light’s true nature as my lived reality tries to make sense of love’s true nature.

I am still here, suspended among both of them, remembering to breathe.

Reta Litwiller May 20, 1931 – April 9, 2020

“You wouldn’t think so, but sometimes you have to darken the light in order to see it.”
~ Reta Litwiller on mixing colours in oil painting, but really on life, too.

I’m looking for you. In every bird that flies past, I’m looking for it to land impossibly close to me. I’m waiting for it to turn its head and look at me, really look at me. It will tell me that everything will be just fine. It will be you.

In every paper that flutters to the floor, I’m looking for a word to catch my eye that I can say you sent me. A whole sentence. A flurry of words. I want them to wash over me in a torrent so I can be sure you are still here with me. So that I can be sure you’re really gone.

In every dream I’m looking for a hint of you, for a message that you’ve sent me. For words upon words; I am looking for the words.

We’re in your kitchen and I’m helping with supper. This is foreign land for me, this intentional process of making a meal, every aspect considered — and being invited to participate. Meals at home are haphazard and bare-bones. Any participation is controlled and my every action criticised.

Here, I prepare the three-bean salad on my own at your urging: open the cans with the electric can-opener, drain the liquid, look for a bowl. Should I slice the large ones? How should I cut them? Do I keep any of the liquid from the cans? What kind of bowl should I use? I am full of questions. I am full of uncertainty. I am a child with no confidence or sense of self, no trust in my own decisions, a mirror of what I see at home.

You look at me when I speak. You ask questions and listen for the answers. Do it the way you think is best, you tell me. You have a place in this world, is what I hear. Your ideas matter. You are valuable.

It takes over a decade for these seeds to fully take root in my unconscious. You do the dutiful work of watering them year after year without fail. You weed out the other messages until I understand this is a task I can take over.

Half of my beginnings were formed in her, my mother’s ovaries complete when she struggled out of my grandmother’s womb. We lost her then, too, my grandmother. As she floated above her body in a mysterious and indescribable peace, she wanted nothing more than to be back with her new baby and child already at home. She came back. She came back for all of us and she came back for me.

What is your experience of being a woman? I ask. I want to mine the legacy of my female line. I want to understand what’s been passed down — her own hysterectomy, my mother’s monthly incapacitation in my youth, my own malformed womb and cyst-riddled ovaries. I want the wisdom of my grandmother.

I hold her pain-filled answers that have never before been spoken into the world. I hear the strength in her voice and see the steadiness of her eyes. I hear her stories and we cry.

Grandma and I are like school girls. We giggle when we should be quiet and we laugh at the same unspoken jokes. We are each other’s confidants. I send her the Divine Light Invocation Mantra and she tapes it to the inside of her nightstand drawer in her nursing home room turned art gallery. She says it every night she tells me.

We lie on her bed with our hands clasped in comforting silence and we breath together, soft and gentle. I sing and tears slip out of her eyes. A healing voice, she says, and my heart surges, full. She says she is tired and I know what she means. I do not think that I will see her again.

I buy Honey Nut Cheerios to eat before I go to bed and imagine I hear the grandfather clock chiming. Even if I rush to Calgary for the 15-person-maximum burial, I wouldn’t be allowed to go. A legally-mandated quarantine awaits any return to Canada.

I wake craving waffles with whipped cream and home-canned peaches, heart-shaped chocolate cakes, eating everyday meals on the fancy Royal Albert China, brain massages, cherishing the moment.

I lie in my bed in the rainforest in Hawaii, but I’m not there. I’m at 59 Maryvale Crescent watching a storm come in. Isaac and I are standing at the kitchen window and the sky is dark. We’re no more than 8 and 10. Trees shake. No rain is yet falling.

It’s impossible that this approach be so swiftly definite, but we see it coming from the left and now there is water in the air between the neighbour’s house and their fence. In one more gust, a column of it begins to fall on top of the swing and fire pit in your yard. Now it’s raining so thick I can’t see clearly.

That’s what this leaving of yours is like. Blowing tree limbs heralding change. It was dry. It was dark with eventual inevitability. And then suddenly, in one instant, you’re gone, another victim of this pandemic. The world remains, sodden and heavy.

My grandmother was an artist and showed me what commitment to creativity looks like. My grandmother taught me to never draw a horizon in the centre of a painting, to group items in odd numbers, and the relationship between balance and beauty. My grandmother was kind to everyone she met. I never heard her say a negative or dismissive word about anyone. She taught me how to make a roast and use the drippings for gravy. She asked me to set the table only once, and then trusted that it would get done. She gave her full attention to the moment and to whom she was with. She had an encouraging word for everyone. She never stopped learning. She used years of challenge and struggle to turn her heart into diamonds. She shared those diamonds generously. Her light will forever shine in their facets.

Reta passed away at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care on April 9, 2020 at the age of 88. She is lovingly remembered by her husband of 70 years, Art; son Robert; daughter Peggy Ann; son David (Cheyenne); son Mark (Bridget); daughter Judy (Perry). She will also be dearly missed by her 13 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. She was predeceased by her great grandchild Dylan.

Reta (Wagler) was born in St. Agatha Ontario. She loved going to school and was an excellent student. In 1949 she married Arthur Litwiller, and while living in Ontario, they had 4 children. Then in 1962 they moved their family to Calgary Alberta, where they had their 5th child. The majority of Reta’s working career was as a receptionist for the Biswanger Health Clinic, a job she loved.

After retirement Reta and Art spent many years as vendors at Millarville and other markets, selling their train whistles and wood puzzles. They met lifelong friends in the Parkdale Promenaders square dance club. These friends became an important part of their lives, sharing square dancing, camping, monthly card nights, and hosting parties to celebrate Halloween and other occasions.

Reta loved painting and joined various art classes including the Parkdale Art club. She became an accomplished artist, and her paintings are displayed in many homes across Canada. Her passion for painting continued for her entire life. She had 3 paintings in progress and her room was like an art gallery.

Reta was incredibly important to her family and friends; she had an abundance of love for everyone and we are blessed to have had her in our lives. She was always a lady but still had a heart for humor and fun, and always had time to “Enjoy the Moment”. Ever the optimist, often saying, “Everything will be just fine”, she made people feel good about themselves and life in general.

Thank you to all the staff at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care for taking care of this special lady for 9-1/2 years, especially during this recent pandemic. Knowing she was loved and cared for during her last days is comforting to the family.

There will be a celebration of life when circumstances permit and an invitation will be sent to all friends and family.


in pink

Grandma with me and my cousin Laura. Our new matching sweaters.

Judy, Grandma and Me

Aunt Judy, Grandma, and me.

Holding a random baby

Visiting my cousin Bobby’s store in Okotoks. A woman with a baby enters. “Can I hold your baby!?”

Apricot Brandy

Grandma kept a bottle of apricot brandy hidden at the bottom of her laundry hamper in the nursing home. The staff knew. They looked the other way. They loved her. Everyone loved her. 

Last Photo

Thanksgiving, 2019. Notice the paintings in all these photos. All hers.