Malas, Earphones, and the Throat Chakra

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I keep my mala in a pocket in my purse. Constant and sure, I always know where it is.

I could take it out every day and sleep with it under my pillow like I have in the past. I could take out the little Siva that keeps it company in that pocket; I could place them both somewhere over my bed where I’d see them right when I wake up, somewhere I would always notice. I could wear my mala around my neck. I could — and wouldn’t this be novel — actually use it during my daily mantra practice instead of counting on my fingers. I don’t do any of those things right now. Instead, I keep it in a pocket in my purse.

I lost it once, that mala. Realizing I didn’t know its location was one of the most panic-stricken hours of my life. When I close my eyes and conjure the image, I can still see the dark purple of it contrasting the charcoal Berber carpet of the Wellington library.

It had slipped out of my pocket while I sat curled around my laptop that day. I didn’t notice until later in the evening. Panicking, I called the library after ransacking my bags, pockets, and living area. They didn’t have anything in the lost and found. I ran down there anyway, retraced my steps, and, sure enough, there it was coiled on the floor where I’d been sitting.

Clutching it, I made my way to the harbour and wept tears of relief as the sun set. A little dramatic for a series of beads strung on a metal wire? Perhaps. I know this thing isn’t what grounds my practice, or my life, but it sure is a palpable symbol.

Today I reached into that pocket to grab my earphones. Oh yeah, that’s where I keep my earphones, too. It’s just Siva, a winding circle of amethyst beads, and my earphones.

I’ve wondered at my decision to store such incongruous items together. It makes logistical sense. The pocket has a zipper so I can keep it secure, and it’s on the inside of the bag. I trust that what I keep there will stay put. The earphones won’t get tangled, neatly wound around themselves with no risk of chaotically unravelling.

Today I realized how apt my placement really is. Hearing is the sense that both rules and is ruled by the fifth chakra. The throat: surrender, discrimination, ether. Can I surrender what’s going on in my brain and truly listen to the world around me? Can I discriminate which messages I want to hear and which to disregard? Can I tune in to another layer of reality?

Mantra runs through my brain. I’d rather listen to it than some of the thoughts in my head: the ones that judgementally tell me I’m too childish and irresponsible compared to my brothers, the anxious ones that say I should sit somewhere else at this dinner function, the insecure ones that worry about my ability to be financially solvent.

Keeping my earphones next to some of my sacred objects makes perfect sense. It’s a gentle reminder of what I want to listen to, what I want to remember, what subtle influence I want to expose myself to.

I’ll use this as a reminder about who I really am every time I pull out the earphones.

I am created by Divine Light.
I am sustained by Divine Light.
I am protected by Divine Light.
I am surrounded by Divine Light.
I am ever growing into Divine Light.

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I Need You

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I’m cat sitting in Victoria. It’s for less than a week. Just me, a 19-year-old cat, a few plants, three water dishes strewn around the house, and the neighbour kid telling me there was an injured racoon in the backyard. Victoria animal control doesn’t respond to racoon calls. I checked.

The heater turns on. Provides white noise to my reading. So do the Ellen DeGeneres videos I impulsively watch on YouTube, one after the other. But by then I put down my reading.

Had dinner with a friend last night. We worked together while I was here in the summer and had seen each other once in Vancouver while she was passing through. We share belly laughs. We share our news. Me, the PTSD I feel when I’m in a waiting room, the endless moving, the freedom this house sitting website gives me. Her, the new (again?) trend of young men refusing to wear condoms, the endless moving, the freedom having fixed her car gives her.

I need her.

I need a reason to get out of the house. I need someone to sit across from and eat Lebanese. I need to hear new perspectives on topics I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to think about, and someone to listen as I word my way through new thoughts of my own. I cannot stay locked in my house of solitude. I need an other that is not me.

I open The New York Times on a different browser than usual, one that doesn’t have my adblocker enabled. I scroll the stories and the unfamiliar ads, interrupting the flow of type. There’s one along the side. It’s a woman with half her face cut off at the top. Her shoulders are slightly up in a shrug as she casually jams her hands in her pockets. Fingers manicured, wrists accessorized with bracelets. Her hair is perfectly coifed.

The image she presents is perfectly extractable. Woman in her 40s. Thin, blonde, happy, clearly has time to present herself to the world in a way that looks put-together and distinct. (It’s the same, though. The same as every other woman. They’re so interchangeable they don’t even have faces.) The ad hints that I could have those things, too. It’s selling me that image, but I don’t need an image. I need her.

I need her to be a living, breathing being. I need her to embody her values and goals. This ad has stripped her of an identity and replaced it with the clothes and jewelry she wears. The way she stands so relaxed. I don’t need an object draped in cloth and colour. I need a human woman living in this world. I need her.

I heard a story about a dot. Consciousness was all there was. No time, no space, no cause and effect. Just unimaginable consciousness. Because how can consciousness imagine itself? When there is nothing other than something, there cannot be the knowledge of anything else. After so long of consciousness being all there was, a dot appeared. Suddenly consciousness could know itself. With something external to relate to, awareness could tell it was to the left of the dot, beside the dot, not the dot.

Difference is what lets me know myself. I continually muster up the critical mass to go against my natural instinct for solitude. I continually remind myself to get up, go out into the public sphere, have a conversation with something other than the thoughts inside my head.

I need you so that I know who I am.

transit

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Shoes on, jacket zipped, step-step-step down the stairs and turn right. Suddenly, I realize I’m in the street. Sunlight reflecting off chlorophyll-depleted leaves. They diffuse the light somehow, those leaves. They are translucent and the light reaches me; nourishes. Gaze back down to my feet. Step-step-step. Through construction, cursing the cold, across the street just in time. Doors open right in front of me. I step-step. Tap. I’m in. It’s warm. There’s a place to sit. I jostle and heave near other bodies as we move forward. Together.

Slowing down again. Don’t get up yet. Abrupt stop. Okay, now. Doors woosh open and we move forward, a bunch of us this time. All moving to the same place like we’re travelling together. Like we know what we had for breakfast this morning. Like we know the unconscious thoughts that randomly pop into each other’s minds: the floor plan of a house I used to live in, the words of a classmate in grade one, how much I like the taste of cardamom. But this landscape cannot be shared. This fabric of thought is immutably solitary, set apart. We’re separating now. I walk fast, I move ahead of the pack with their thoughts, an entire continent between us, an entire world, an entire life.

 Tap. The turnstile unlocks, briefly. I push through, up the escalator. Others standing like statues on the right, gliding upward. I follow those in movement on the left. Push past bags and elbows. Move this body through space and time. Open doors. Hurried steps. That adrenaline rush of making it just before the doors close behind me. Moving, sitting, waiting. Walking in lines, finding my way, settling back into ground level, getting my bearings. This way is North. This way is to the next bus stop. This way. I keep moving.

Eva lent me her Compass card. She drives to UBC, so I’ve got use of this card that gets me on public transit here in Vancouver. I’ve taken buses, the skytrain, and even the sea-bus. All with a tap of a card. One day I mistook the name of the station I was supposed to get off at for the station name at the end of the line. I accidentally rode the entire length. Good thing I wasn’t in a hurry.

I have access to a giant swath of land I otherwise could not reach simply through this plastic card. I can’t walk that far in a day. I can’t swim across the Vancouver Harbour. All this movement turns this space around me into something that is knowable. A path I can experience, a tea cup I can drink, a tarot reading I can do with a friend. The experience is inextricably linked with the place. Being on the move exposes me to things I otherwise wouldn’t be.

Some days I stay home — at Eva’s, this grace of a landing place I’ve been given. Don’t always go out, yet can go endless places in the possibilities of my mind and my future. Mulling, scheming, manifesting, and planning. It’s exhausting, following the track of all these options and being pulled in the directions they lead. I keep moving. I keep moving.

Out the doors now. High in the sky. Take the empty, frozen escalator down. The groves of each motionless step interweave. My vision blurs them together. Move, don’t think. Step-step-step. My rhythm, my focus, my flow. Rain tonight. Zip up the jacket, pull over the hood. My body pulls me under the shelter of canopies, my legs keep moving. Keep moving. Car lights illumine momentary lines of water. Pools on pavement. Six more blocks. Five more blocks. I look back at the bus coming from behind. I stop beneath an overhang. Then through the open doors. Tap. I don’t sit. In the warmth of this space, I know I am getting off soon. Hang on. Adjust weight. Doors open. I step out onto wet leaves. I walk under trees. Keep moving. I keep moving.

This is what it’s like

2018-10-14 09.22.26when you get denied entry at the border and they take you into one of those little rooms, the ones you’ve heard so much about where terrible things happen to people like how small children are separated from their parents and there’s a cot in one and it makes you feel even more sad and you are left waiting and you have no idea what’s happening and you know when your next flight was supposed to board but you don’t have a clock so you don’t know what’s happening and why isn’t anyone telling you what’s happening and you make your statements under oath, but you wonder what does ‘being under oath’ even mean in this country anymore and there are moments when your mind and imagination get carried away but then you bring it back on track, back to the mantra, which, let’s be honest, has been running through your head all day anyway and especially when you got ‘pulled aside’ and you’re so grateful that you’ve put in years, I’m talking years, of daily practice and effort into training your mind and imagination so that you can watch your thoughts and see where each will take you and decide which you want to follow and what you’d like to create in the endless landscape of your inner being instead of letting them run the show and you wonder why the officer needed to press her nails into your cuticles so hard that it nearly broke the skin when she took your fingerprints, and oh god now they have your fingerprints, and there’s a moment when you’re resting your head on the table – the table that’s in the room that you’re still in, waiting, even though she said you could go to the waiting room because there’s a TV in there but why would you want to be in a room with a TV when you can be in a space with your own self and your stress response is to want to fall asleep and there’s this moment where you suddenly feel entirely and completely alone and it’s such a full and complete notion and you know that this is a little snippet of what people feel who are experiencing true suffering and you feel like you are forsaken and there’s, at first, a rush of panic, because it’s enormous to be so utterly alone like that and you understand that this makes people who don’t know themselves extremely uncomfortable and then suddenly there’s peace. There’s stillness. And you’re in The Big Room, which is that room that you go to when you meditate sometimes. But it’s not really a place you can go, it’s like a placeless experience that happens to you. And then you have this notion you’ve never had that’s not really like inviting God in, but more like God is inviting you in. And you sit there with God in The Big Room in this little room amidst this stress and endless waiting and your heart is just buzzing and the officer comes back to tell you, after she’s finally told you that you can’t come into the country, that your flight back leaves in one hour or two hours and then you overhear that it’s actually in four hours and so you somehow relax a bit because now at least you know what’s happening next and then you ask to make sure the people expecting you know you’re not coming and you’re allowed to use the phone on speaker phone at the front desk and you hear his voice and immediately burst into tears, tears that have been hiding at the edges of your eyes but not yet falling out, and you talk and then you know you need to rest and so you go to the padded bench in the bathroom and your mind whirls and whirls and whirls and then you want to ask more questions and get more information and so you talk to other officers and they’re like actual humans and they listen and they understand and they tell you no, you don’t need to go to an embassy and they give you advice on what to do next, because you know and they know you’ve done nothing wrong and then you feel so much better having had a conversation with someone who understands and your back is so tense it’s causing menstrual-like cramps and you think how that’s certainly an odd thing to happen in a time of duress, apparently that’s a thing now? and eventually the guards come to take you to your flight back and you have to force yourself to not burst out laughing at the hilarity of two armed guards escorting you to the gate and someone asks jocularly if they’re just here watching TV and you say “They’re with me” at the same time one says “We’re with her” and you say “Hashtag I’m with her” and you think that’s pretty clever but no one laughs and you get on your flight and you rest and, as you complete the descent, the flight attendant says that it’s 11:22 and thanks for flying Delta on behalf of their crew based in Phoenix. And then you land. And then you try again the next day. And you bring the documentation that shows you’re doing nothing wrong. And then you get denied again. And then you are bereft.

Learning to change. Changing to learn.

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“I’m sad you’re leaving.” It was Genny who said it. She’d just found out that I wouldn’t be working with her at the grocery store for much longer. “You’re so nice.” She added, in explanation.

I thanked her, in the way I’ve learned to accept compliments from people — because, let me tell you, it’s something one has to learn — and smiled. Leaving is something I know. Leaving is something I do often.

For all my good intentions of staying put in one place, I’ve decided to take the opportunity to go back to Hawaii. I’ve decided to leave where I am. Again.

England wasn’t working for me. I went into the situation thinking that I would get a job in my field — communications, writing, editing — and a flat and a cat and friends and a life. I knew it wouldn’t just fall into my lap (well, expect maybe the cat). I knew it would be hard, that I would have to work at it. But I didn’t expect to realize that I didn’t actually want it. I certainly didn’t want it in England.

England is cold and I’m the person who goes to the Southern Hemisphere at the first signs of autumn frost. England colonized much of the world and has a history of aggressive expansion embedded in its DNA. England “voted” to separate from the European Union and assert its independence. England has been undergoing a political policy of austerity for a number of years, resulting in disenfranchised populations and cut-back social programs.

England was not the place for me.

So I thought I’d move to Victoria. “This is really it,” I’d tell people. I’ve tried to move to Victoria a couple of times. “I’m going to move there and get a job in my field.” I was so resolute. So sure of myself. That alone should have tipped me off.

I’d started applying for jobs before I left England, even though I knew I’d be taking some time travelling with family and wouldn’t really be able to start anything until September. Things, as they tend to, changed. And I’ve always been a woman of change.

Change is hard. Sometimes. Humans astound me as being one of the most adaptable species on the planet, yet also so resistant to change. Our behaviours become engrained and markers to change them are forgotten. It’s a brain thing as much as it is a mind thing. As synapses become accustomed to firing, deep neural pathways are created in our brains.

I’ve read enough books about the brain through my lifelong experience of depression to know how negative thoughts can affect our brains. We get into patterns and it’s hard to get out of them. Like literally pulling ourselves out of deep ditches we’ve dug with simply our own thoughts.

That’s one reason why learning is so integral to brain health. It supports the creation of new neural pathways, thereby sending life energy to parts of the brain that may have been neglected.

But damn, learning is hard. First, I’ve got to admit that I don’t know something. Then I’ve got the step aside and allow for new information to make it through my sense perceptions. Then, even though it’s all new and possibly confusing, I’ve got to implement it again and again until I understand it and can utilize this new information when I’ve discriminated it’s appropriate.

So this is the first step: I don’t know how to come up with scintillating stories that editors want to publish (and that they want me to write). I just don’t know.

I got a second compliment at work today. A customer came through with a black shirt that read The summer of Isaac. “Is your name Isaac?” I asked.

“Oh, the shirt! No, Isaac was one of my employees and another employee made these shirts for his going-away party. No one’s ever asked me that in the ten years I’ve had this shirt. You must have a curious mind.”

I smiled and said how I do and I accepted the compliment in the way that I’ve learned to accept compliments.

Things is, I’m curious about everything. I research and over research and put things together and know way more about way too many things than makes any sense. But what can I say, I’m curious.

It’s a fabulous trait to have. The only problem is that it makes it somewhat challenging to know what others will be interested in. Just because I’m interested in everything doesn’t mean that people will want to take time out of their days to lap up all the information that I would.

And so I have a learning curve when it comes to knowing what stories to pitch. If I follow my own timeline for learning up there, I know that I have to let go of what I know so that new information can come forward. I have to step outside of my comfort zone and integrate the information that is all around me telling me what people are interested in reading about. And then I need to practice it. Just like I need to practice the actual writing.

My love of change intersects well with how learning is such a require trait in life. Change is a fabulous thing. It’s a value I’ve built my life around.

I’m leaving Victoria next week. I thought I needed a shift and I thought that it was supposed to look a certain way: namely, staying put in one single place. But that’s simply not who I am. I do need a shift, though. I need to use my skills and contribute to this world and learn about what stories others also find interesting. But I can’t stay in one place. Because I am a woman of change.

This Post is About Time

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I’ll never forget the way the tide came in on the Maitai River. Small fanned out rivulets fighting salty wet. Then one rushing wave pushing back strong. Too strong for the river. It whelped in retreat, obliterated by the ocean’s force. I had no idea the tide could do that — moon tugging at water in regular cycles. Hold an entire river hostage.

This post is about time.

I was walking along the shore today at low-tide. First, on the promenade. Monotonous cement. Lanes to keep me separate from the bikes. I ran out of cement and veered right, south toward the water. The endless stones broke and I edged to the sand: rippled. Uneven. Random.

I wanted to get further though, closer to the water. Where the seagulls stewed in gentle waves to their knees. Do birds have knees?

All around me minuscule springs flowed out of the slope toward the ocean. That’s what we do. That part of us inside that is compelled, by a gravity-like force, to lose ourselves and merge into consciousness. A drop becomes again the sea. Rippled sand became patches of water, flowing. It wove around green, algeaed rocks stubbornly jutting above the water line. Suddenly more water than sand.

The best way forward became obvious. Head down, momentum kept: stride along the rocks. No time to think, just do. Action outweighing the logic of scanning ahead, finding out the best route, the best way to keep above the three inches of water.

Metaphor hitting me like a dart. Have faith the next step will appear, don’t worry about three steps ahead, just keep moving forward.

***

At an appointment in Brighton to get a National Insurance number. The bland civil servant filled out a form with my particulars. “Ever gone by any other names?”

Oh. This question. “Yes.” I feel resentment rise that the state be so involved in the details of my life. Certain aspects of the past revived in official ways, never allowed to settle.

I’m reminded of the courthouse one August. Mark already engaged again, his eyes moist as I walk up, packet of papers in my hand to make official what we’ve known for years. We hadn’t even seen each other for over 18 months. Life and circumstance kept us from filing for divorce right away. We wanted to do it jointly instead of involving lawyers more than necessary. No “serving” one another. Only, we needed to be in the same province, which rarely happened then. Such annoyance at the process. The high-heeled clerks painstakingly reviewing the forms. Why couldn’t I will it away? Simply decide to be divorced and then it be so. What is this monolithic entity that can decree the category I fall into, tell me what box to check on forms. I resented it.

I still do.

“My name used to be Fast. F-A-S-T,” I spell out to the British man.

“The name you were born with?”

“No. My married name. I’m divorced.”

He continues to fill out the form, turns the page, smooths the binding to lay the packet flat.

“What was your husband’s name?”

What? Why does that matter? I enunciate the four syllables.

“Date of marriage?”

Crikey! When was that?

“And date of divorce?”

Now that’s a date I remember clearly. The last day of the Mayan calendar.

We were told it would take up to six weeks. October rolls by and nothing. November. Finally, Mark calls the courthouse. They’ve lost the paperwork. It was processed in Ottawa, but on the way back to Alberta it got misfiled. They found it, thank goodness, and push it back on track. We were told that once we each get the official letter the divorce is final exactly one month later — just in case anyone changes their mind. I wait. The letter arrived in late November.

Return address: The Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.

I rip open the envelope, greedy for closure. To let this part of my life rest.

It’s all there, exactly what I wanted to see. The official certificate of divorce. Signed and dated for November 21, 2012.

I’m startled by the timing of it all. A mislaid form offering me a new beginning at the end of an ancient measure of time. Exactly one month later, December 21, is the last day of the Mayan calendar.

Yet here I am, nearly six years later (and it feels like so many more), still drudging up the past with all these forms. I can’t help but think how my youthful blip wouldn’t have been detected if I hadn’t changed my name. How Mark remains free from this drudging.

We finish the process. The officer hands me back my passport and I leave the grey building, full of its empty greetings from wandering security guards.

***

Walking home from the beach I realize the irony of my married name. Fast. My last name used to be Fast. I’m obsessed with the illusion of time. It follows me everywhere.

I’m crossing the bridge over the train tracks. I see the overgrown lilac bushes. Their wild glory wafting delicious scent my direction. My favourite. 

Why does time so often arise as a theme in my life?

I came to England with this visa now because I was running out of time. I was aging out of eligibility. With a fresh new passport I’d been impatiently waiting for I applied a week shy of my 31st birthday. And then flew to Hawaii. Living in England was a thing I was planning on doing soon. But was it ever something I actually wanted?

Sometimes I feel like the ocean tides, pulled compulsively by the moon. Subject to her whims as I flow around this globe. Marking time. Can’t my life be like incoming tide on the Maitai River? One decisive wave. Obliterating all else. It’s clear-cut and focused. Nothing in the way of its goal.

I’m trying to figure out what I want.

I’ve still got time.

The Plight of the Polite Woman

The Tattooed Buddha was gracious enough to publish this piece of mine after I’d submitted it and neglected to make suggested edits for nearly half a year. It’s another example of finishing unfinished things.

The Plight of the Polite Woman

My work day was over. Dinner time.

I clomp over the boardwalk toward the dining hall and, drop my bag in the coatroom, and slide toward the dining room. Sole, Roasted Potatoes, Local Corn, Green Beans and Plum Cake says the menu board. White fish—yech. That always creeps me out. I’m slightly irritated for no reason at all today—restless. I turn the corner to the buffet lines and see a crowd by the plates. I’ll get a glass of water first.

Click here to read the rest…

On Blinds and Other Familiar Things

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Yes, this is an actual picture of my new cupboard. Yes, those are travel mugs.

I was sitting in my aunt’s living room on my latest Whirlwind Tour of Western Canada. Comfortable couches, soft lighting, great art and fabulous company. It was the day before I would catch my flight for Another Adventure and I was absorbing the experience of familiarity.

Reclined in the chair, I rolled my tea cup lazily between my hands. Judy sprawled to my left on the love seat, feet dangling over the arm, precariously close to my tickling fingers. Peggy on the right, nestled in a blanket over her lap. A coziness existed in the air. The type that is present when women who share the same blood are sitting in a room together speaking about their inner worlds, about things that are important.

Late afternoon sun was shining on the houses across the street and I looked at the edges of the windows. Judy has these elegant vertical blinds. They’re a soft, neutral colour made of sturdy fabric. Delicate chains loop the panels together along each side on the top and bottom, where they gracefully nearly touch the floor.

Judy has lived in this house my entire life. (Needless to say, we live a very different type of existence and often talk about the steadiness of her external life compared to my own. She’ll pick me up from the airport as I launch from or return to YYC, with uncountable Adventures in between.)

Now let me tell you a little about Judy. Judy is my mother Peggy’s younger sister by ten years. Given the age difference, and how famously we get along, as I tottered close to adulthood, Judy came to feel like a sister to me as well as an aunt. We’ve stayed that way for over half my life now. She’s endlessly creative and hilariously fun. She can conduct whole conversations using only words that start with a single letter of the alphabet. In fact, she can do that with each letter of the alphabet. Sequentially. Well, with plenty of breaks for fits of laughter.

Judy’s creativity has revamped her living room design a number of times in my life. But you know what? Those vertical blinds have stayed the entire time. There’s something there about the timelessness of elegance, a characteristic trait that both her and the blinds have in common.

Mulling this over a couple of things came to mind.

One: that I’m terrified of commitment. No surprises here, folks. When I owned a house (which I only agreed to because it was promised that we’d be moving West in five years) I changed things all. The. Time. I moved furniture and painted walls and never had any sense of permanence in design choices. Why would I? I’d be moving within a few years, anyway. It’s what helped me and my aversion to commitment make it through. There was no other way that I could have accepted such stagnancy unless I changed the parts of the house that I could.

Two: that Judy made a pretty great design choice to last through the changing interior design fashions of over three decades.

In conclusion: my utter incomprehension over something like having the same blinds for decades is not shared by the rest of the world. There are humans who create their lives to include this kind of permanence. I simply can’t understand it. I’m blind to the rationale. (Couldn’t help it!)

Sharing these thoughts I was struck, yet again, by how similar and yet how different I can simultaneously feel compared to my family.

That evening, before snacks and a romantic comedy and the three of us cuddling under blankets on the couch downstairs (I’m sensing a theme), I’d finalized the packing of my luggage. If there was anything I didn’t want to take, now was the time to bag it up and send it back to BC with Peggy. She’d take it and store it in her basement along with all my other things a 31 year-old doesn’t need when she spends her time frittering around the globe.

In that bag was my travel mug. Travel mugs are pretty easy to come by. People tend to collect them in their cupboards. (People who live in one spot, anyway.) They get handed out at events, branded with logos for free advertising. They’re a common sight in our consumer world.

Yet as I passed that bag over to Peggy, something in me was hesitating. Judy could see my indecision. “I’ve taken that travel mug all over the world with me,” I explained. “From Las Vegas to New Zealand and Hawaii, it’s been a constant in a life otherwise filled with change. But I bet when I get to England and find a place to live, I’ll open the cupboard and my flatmate will have a shelf full of travel mugs.”

“Take it,” said Judy. “It’ll be your blinds.”

I looked her in the eyes. Eyes of warmth and quiet wisdom. Eyes that know, despite our vastly different ways of being in this world, the human need for comfort. I smiled.

I took the mug out of the bag and returned it to my luggage.

Full disclosure: I’ve written about window treatments before.

The Timeline of an Ashram Visit


Somehow through that which is grace I was lucky enough to encounter, however peripherally, an author, a healer, a teacher, a self-described soul self-care coach, a lovely being named Kate Bartolotta. She passed away in April. I imagine if all the hearts she touched joined hands we could reach far enough to hold Mama Earth as lovingly as She held Kate for far too short a time. What I learned from Kate is to always finish something I began writing. Here’s a post I started a while ago. Sending gratitude for her lessons and hopes that Divine Mother hold her children, her family and all that loved her close.
Choose Joy

 

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The Timeline of an Ashram Visit

So you’re in Western Canada for a short time as you continent-hop over this precious Earth and planning to stop at Yasodhara. Here’s what you can expect from a short visit if you’ve lived there for three consecutive years in your 20s. Plus that weird year later when you were incredibly depressed.

Day One: The Arrival

You’ll arrive while daylight still permeates through the trees and buildings. You’ll take your time walking into Mandala House, breathing in that scent of pine and oxygen and Light. Everyone will be thrilled to see you and you them. There’ll be a lot of open arms and smiling faces. You’ll see old friends you weren’t expecting and others you’d been looking forward to catching up with. This is generally an easy-going time.

With a magnetism you’ll never fully understand, you’ll visit the Temple first, then maybe chant in a prayer room and spend some time at the beach. Depending on the length of your stay you’ll unpack your suitcase to various degrees.

As you wander the grounds you’ll get feelings of familiarity and change all at once. You’ll know each tree and shrub. You’ll have waves of memories wash over you of every season that has gone before that matches the season of the current visit. Yet you’ll also be different. Your concerns will have changed. The immediate life situation you’ve left behind will be different. You’ll hold these gently as you re-enter this precious place. You’ll breathe in. You’ll breathe out.

Day Two: The Settling

There will be a few more enthusiastic hellos from people who’d been in town or sick in their rooms the previous day, but generally people won’t be ecstatic to see you. They saw you yesterday. You’ve given them the 50 word spiel, edited and refined more and more with every telling about what you’re up to lately and what you’re doing next. You’re settling into the routine and your familiar face fits in. Haven’t been back in six months? More? It doesn’t matter, in some ways it’s already as if you never left.

You help with dishes and quickly adjust to the slight changes in the kitchen. Plastic containers go there now. Pyrex lids go in the drawer beside the sink.

There will be times, in those snippets of a moment between organized routine, that you’ll wonder just what to do with yourself. You’ll feel a little lost — should you go to the beach? Play guitar in the mat room? You only have half-an-hour. Oh gee, 25 minutes actually. You’ll relax into it. You’ll choose the right thing.

You’ll get these waves of yearning for a feeling that you’re in the midst of feeling. You’ll be in satsang or walking down the gravel path. A sudden peace will seem to enter your very being and you’ll want it closer than that. Closer than right next to every cell. And you’ll realize that it’s impossible to get closer because it’s not next to each cell. It simply is each cell. You’ll keep walking.

Day Three: The Opening

You’ll feel guilty for not waking up for morning practice. It might be chanting in the Temple or morning hatha. You’ll compare the expectations you had about yourself during this visit with the reality of sleeping until breakfast. You’ll forgive yourself. You’ll be gentle, kind and accepting.

Dim light filtering in through the trees will catch you off guard. In a moment of heightened awareness, you’ll feel your entire body relax, your mental acuity focused vividly on the reality around you. You’ll experience moments of blissful presence. Your whole body will vibrate in gratitude. It will be as if the veil is shimmering, showing you a glimpse of something beyond this known reality.

Day Four: The Revealing

You’ll be riding those waves of bliss from the previous days but a nagging feeling will have started. Maybe you’ve had a medium-gauge negative interaction with someone. Or you made it to a hatha class and a mass of tension in your hip released as you concurrently realized another layer of self-judgement you hold. Another place in which you aren’t what you imagine yourself to be.

It’s okay, this is normal. If the whole thing were comfortable then there wouldn’t be much use of an Ashram, would there? No one said personal growth was easy.

Day Five: The Shifting

You’ll feel soft and permeable. You’ll enjoy visiting deeper with friends and yesterday’s realizations will have invigorated you somehow. Isn’t is funny how an experience can do that? You’ll think it’s negative at first and then later, once your mind has exhausted itself running possibilities, you’ll see the gift in it. Part of the gift will be in that very process. How we can move beyond our limitations and shift into new perspectives.

You’ll start to think about packing your suitcase. About getting a ride to the ferry or how you’ll get into town. Concerns in the world will creep in to your awareness. You’ll notice them. You’ll ask them to wait, you’re not ready to think about them yet. You want to go deeper, stay longer. You want to chant in the prayer room with the sunlight reflecting off the lake, blaring in so bright you can’t see Swami Radha in the picture frame on the altar. All you’ll see is your own face, reflecting back in the glass. And you’ll find such reassurance in that, like you always do.

Day Six: The Leaving Even Though Part of You Never Really Leaves

The morning will come gently and swift. It will rise up pink over the Selkirks and replicate itself perfectly against the smooth glass of Kootenay Lake. You’ll wonder then if actually you’ll live two days. There’ll be the one in which you can stay here and keep doing the only thing that’s ever really made any sense to you: getting to know yourself, serving selflessly and offering back what seems like nothing in comparison to all that you’ve been given. And that other day, the one where you leave because you know that’s what you need to do right now. And you know that you’ll be back.

You’ll leave just after breakfast for the ferry. You’ll feel solid, strong.

You’ll feel grateful that you know what home is.

Knots

Photo on 2013-09-17 at 6.28 PM #2

Back a number of lifetimes ago, when I lived on a boat and the sea would rock me back and forth every night, I used to keep my eyes open for habour seals.

One morning in particular I spotted a happy seal diving down down down before I’d see it again, its dog-like face smiling fiercely into the rising sun. This was my chance.

Gingerly, I reached for the fishing rod, stepped up onto the slanted cabin and found the perfect spot to sit. You see, anytime a habour seal was about, I knew mackerel would be there, too, and I was eager for a fresh breakfast.

I took a few casts without drawing any fish. Undeterred, I flicked back my wrists as I bent my elbows and threw my hook out into the deep. Well, I tried to, anyway. The line had snagged on itself — got all twisted and knotted and pretty much useless. I hauled it back in to investigate.

The entire line had twirled into itself to become a giant mass of blueish white. And so I sat there straightening it out. I sat there as I heard the town church-bell toll the top of the hour. And I was still sitting there when it tolled again. And again. And again. Eventually, in clear bright tones, it sang out the next hour.

I had been sitting there without a break for over 60 minutes, untangling that fishing line. By the time I finished, the habour seal — and the fish that had drawn it — was gone.

 

I woke up in BC today, arriving yesterday after a week in Alberta. Sleep was fitful and full of dreams.

The night before I’d been in my parent’s basement, rifling through boxes of my old lives. There’s a logical chronology in my stored items that doesn’t exists anywhere else in my life. This section is from Montreal; here’s what I had in New Zealand; those are the items I haven’t touched since getting divorced; that and that are from each time at the Ashram.

Urgency drove me forward, opening boxes and taking items I think I’ll need in the UK. There must be something here to salvage, something I can take from all these lives I’ve lived. I was feeling a little desperate. The last 10 years of my life laid bare on concrete and wooden slats, boxed and bagged to keep out the damp.

That desperation wanted everything to fit together perfectly, for there to be some sort of order to my continent-hopping. I want a thread that ties it all together so I can make sense of it all. I know this feeling. I know this sense of disparate identity. It catches me when I expect it to and it comes from nowhere.

The reality is that material possessions won’t weave together the stages of a life. The thing that ties it all together is me.

Morning lifted after watery dreams, and today my heart felt like a knot. My mind began cataloguing all the reasons why I could feel stressed and anxious — and then I stopped. I’ve dealt with knots before.

With a gentle persistence, I let my heart relax and eased into the knot. I don’t have to apply for every job today. I don’t have to get into town at a certain hour and it’s okay I’ve overslept to catch the bus. There’s plenty of time to sort through the items I gathered yesterday and do my morning practice.

I worked at the knots using what I know, sitting with myself and holding my mind to some accountability instead of letting it run wild with anxious thought. 

Rather than dexterous fingers and keen eyesight, I can use Light, breath and mantra on these twisted lines.

It didn’t take an hour. Eventually I untied the knot.