Abundance

The harbour seal is what really tipped me off; seals being about as common to see around here as a beaver in the Old Man River – it happens but it doesn’t happen every day. There were Buffleheads abounding, a loon in the distance, and even the seagulls were relinquishing their places on the rocks to troll the sea over the incoming tide. The perfect time for Mackerel fishing.

The first ones we’d caught were when I was pulling in Pea Pod, the transporter dinghy, towards the boat to step in and head into town. “Oh look! A school of Mackerel!” They danced under the surface of the water, beside the algae-dappled side of the small boat. I enjoyed the flashy show and continued to load my shoes and bag in, assuming we were still on schedule to leave. Before I could turn around there’d been a bite on the line that I hadn’t even been aware was deftly dropped into the ocean. A few quick moves and it was in a jar in the cooler, ready for breakfast. The trip into town resumed, this time with the pole in tow, and another was picked up before we docked at the harbour. They were a delicious, oily breakfast.

This morning however, did not see the fish themselves but rather an ocean full of my competitors. I admit, the buffleheads are quite common and really, they’ll eat anything. But the loon? And the seal? I knew I was in luck.

I pulled out the pole, still in easy access from being utilized during yesterday’s potluck on the boat. (seven people eating dinner on a particularly rollicky day in a 28 foot Rozinante? Sure! Why not!) Though it didn’t catch anything then, today I only needed a few casts before I felt a familiar tug on my line. No, this wasn’t a mussel shell, etched with coral like I’d caught on my first cast, this was a real live mackerel.

While I still haven’t taken the step of doing the actual killing of a fish I was about to eat, the process sure does fascinate me. Eating a fish right out the water – wriggling on my line one moment, in my cookstove the next. Does it get much better than this?

Yes, actually, it does. A hike up Mount Battie often has me searching for unpopulated places to sit and reflect in the forest that the hill-top provides. What it also has me searching for are wild blueberries. I had no idea blueberries grew so rampantly around here. I’ve filled my belly and my cup with these gifts from the land. Just like I filled my breakfast plate with a gift from the sea this morning.

I remember a moment, in the thick of the veganism I’ve explored in the last few years, when I said to myself that I could never eat another sentient being again. I guess being a yogi has something to do with being real with myself, and while I take a moment to thank the creature that gave its life for my nourishment, I certainly have been eating sentient beings lately.

How could I not when they are deliciously fresh from the end of my fishing pole? I’m grateful to live in a world of abundance – kind of like the armful of stuff I received at church this week.

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Bumper Stickers

One of the first things I noticed about the place upon arriving in Maine was the abundance of bumper stickers. What is rarer than a car not having a bumper sticker would be that it only have one bumper sticker. The backs of cars are laden with the expression of the owners’ likes and dislikes, political persuasion, favourite coffee shop, and, since it’s Maine, encouragement to eat lobster (I did. It was delicious).

It’s such a wacky difference that what I’m used to. Bumper stickers on cars are striking exclamations of individualism and, not that Southern Albertans aren’t individuals, they simply scream out “I don’t care if I’m the same as everyone around me” in a way that I didn’t encounter growing up in Coaldale. Conservatism means sticking to the old ways of doing things. It systematically represses change or difference. The conservative core in Alberta doesn’t equate to bumper stickers.

Does this mean that Mainers are a more liberal-leaning group in general? The short answer must be ‘yes’ as there aren’t a lot of places in the world that are more conservative than Southern Alberta yet I don’t think that sort of sweeping statement can be made. I am, after all, in America where freedom of speech is touted as a basic right. Not that it shouldn’t be a basic right for all people, but that here it’s been amended into the constitution. Perhaps it’s simply a testament to the American spirit that is quick to assert their independence in thought and, as it turns out, bumper sticker.

Now, anyone who knows me would be able to agree with me when I say that I could a little more of this sort of energy in my own life. The ready expression of my own thoughts is not something that I’ve always been able to conjure up at will. Perhaps I’m here for a little of this to rub off on me, to realize that I can indeed take ownership of what formless contrivances create the estuaries of thoughts in my mind. I can see it now: I’ll be randomly walking down the road and spout off to anyone who will listen my wild conjectures regarding the fuel economy of cars that drive by, my questions as to what happens to people who have booked their ticket to sail on the tourist sail-boats who then encounter rain, and how I don’t actually think it’s appropriate for you to use an altered Aldermere Farm logo for your daughter-in-law’s Christmas present.

Will that really happen? It’s unlikely. Sure, I could use a little more chutzpah when it comes to asserting myself but there are particular reasons that I like myself just the way I am, meekness and all. Beyond being simply a personality trait that I’ve picked up from various overlapping layers of my socialization (youngest of four, and boys no less, no money for after-school programs as a kid to build self-confidence…yadda yadda) The truth is I like being who I am. I like being able to focus that energy which would otherwise be directed towards externalizing random and useless thoughts into refining the thoughts that I do find as useful. I like being introspective and thoughtful, not sharing every random association or memory that churns through my consciousness. I like to be aware of them, yes, but to express them aloud is not always going to be helpful to me.

All these bumper stickers are another layer of visual ballast that makes up our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather have it known and visual than in the depths of the unconscious. As I said, I like to be aware of these concepts that fly through my grey matter, but I don’t necessarily understand the medium. Maybe I’m just a status-quo toting hillbilly from out West. Or maybe I just like my quiet. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll change my mind on all of this tomorrow. Regardless, it’s unlikely you’d hear about it.

Enter Fog

Hydrogen and oxygen bind precariously together, hanging in the air, creating a barrier between me and the clock at the top of the Baptist Church that sings out each hour. This church, built in 1837 when the thought of Canada was still a gleam in Britain’s eye, expounds its hours. The estate-turned-insurance-company-office next door boasts “1799” over its doorway. What kind of building in the West has that kind of longevity? I can’t even imagine. Pictures of downtown Lethbridge in the 1920’s are enough of a novelty. I’ve been to exhibits at the Galt with items from the 50’s. New England is old.

As exemplified by the clock that reassuringly tells me on dark star-lit evenings that it’s not nearly as late as I thought it was, or on mornings I watch the light expand from the the sun rising fresh from the water’s edge that it’s ok to sleep a little bit longer. No need to grope for my watch or a cell phone. I can know the time simply by counting as I listen.

When the fog drifts in it’s not the same. As if the world of sea and land become even further apart. Being on the other side than most of the western world on the running water divide makes my experience of sea life unique as it is. Yet when we’re on full sail we’re running on water. Dipping my hand to the sea I feel it rushing past, rising and falling with each ocean swell. I like this kind of running water.

When it hangs in the air in an opaque smear and clings to my flyaway bangs as I sit on the bow in morning meditation I can’t hear the time as readily. Do I need to hear the time so readily? “Hear the time” What a strangely accurate and at once convoluted sentence. I watch my mornings turn into frenzied rushes, attempting to get places on time in a way that can include a 20 minute row to shore. I watch my energy dissipate in all directions: to community events I volunteer at, to ensuring other’s mornings go smoothly, to communication with people far away. My new practice is to reign it in. My ear infection tells me I need to do this, the best medicine being placing plantain-leaf poultice’s soaked in oregano oil in affected ears. Me, with my dominant sense of hearing being what feeds me the most information from what I perceive of what goes on around me. ‘Shut out the outside world a little bit’ I am told with with malady, ‘turn energy inwards.’

This isn’t in a solitary, secluded sort of way, other than the fact that I’ll need a little more rest to recover from the slight temperature increase. No, this is in a way that continues to interact with that world around me and the people in it but in a way that directs energy to myself. It means I’ll put extra care into making my lunch. I’ll rifle through the cooler for every single sandwich topping I want instead of listening to the quiet voice inside that tells me it takes too much time and I should focus on doing necessary things in order to leave right away. It means I’ll put my money towards things that I need to sustain or improve my quality of life. It means I’ll pull the rusty, off-key guitar out of the bow and put the effort into tuning it before I belt out some tunes, wondering how I’ve gone so long without accompaniment as I sing.

The clock measures out the time as I mull over these thoughts in the morning. The morning time is when I get to feel boat-life utterly and completely. I don’t want it to turn into a frenzy. Waking early lets my sleeping consciousness spill over into the sunlit day, I putter around, breathe, make breakfast, and feel the forward movement of time. More of it passes and I once again become one of those land-dwellers, content to step on solid ground, making it unnecessary to heave to and fro with every swell. Regardless, my body does it anyway, unable to give up the habit.

As the morning continues on the fog begins to do the same. I’ve been watching wafts of it pass by and eventually open up to blue-lit skies. These, too, are old. The fog, the sun and sky, all of it. They may not have the prestige of elegantly engraved year-markers above their bowers yet, nonetheless, continue to captivate. Noticing them helps me to be within myself, helps me to remember my own sphere of influence and remain correctly under it rather than succumbing to that of another’s. Moments of time taken for myself have the wonderful effect of expanding into more moments for myself. I re-group, re-centre, and am able to step forward with the right amount of energy directed outwards versus inwards. As with the lifting fog.

Recognition

The woman in the kitchen looked like a cross between my paternal grandmother and Swami Radhananda, the president and spiritual director of the Ashram. What an odd combination, I thought, as usually it’s my maternal grandmother who I get reminded of in association with things Ashram. This woman wasn’t the only person I seemed to recognize walking through that kitchen. It was the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Merryspring Centre, one of the places I volunteer. Usually I’m rummaging through lavender plants looking to root out weeds and undesirables when offering my time and energy to this organization but today I was playing “hostess.” Eight houses in the area were being offered up for nosy neighbours to buy a ticket to see and wander through. Restaurants in the area jumped up to get their name out there, supporting the centre, and feeding the hoards. This year’s annual Kitchen Tour seems to have been a success.

I was stationed near the back entrance of the loop in a 1820’s house. It wasn’t necessarily my idea to be placed so inconspicuously though, in working with the dynamic I tend to have with middle-aged women, I wasn’t about to overpower my co-volunteer and respond with any domineering ideas of my own. (Oh wait, isn’t that exactly what I’ve recently resolved to do? Oops. Old habits die hard.) So as the people wandered through the kitchen, clutching their tiny rations of mock-tails and gumbo in disposable dishes, I caught their eye in order to direct the flow. They would wander out and gaze at the old pictures along the wall, some people recognizing the local area and others simply oogling the amount of trees that used to be in the area they inhabit on their vacations.

As I looked through the crowds of people that would ebb and flow throughout the three hours or so I was there I couldn’t help but see people I “recognized”. Is this a sign I need to amp up my social outflow? I’ve been meeting people more and more lately and settling into this side of the continent, yet all day I saw people that reminded me of others.

I took it as an opportunity to bring forward the best in myself. Sure, here I was directing botox-filled tourists through a lazy summer’s day activity, but there’s no need to judge. I can treat every person the way I would my grandmother or teacher.

There are so many different ways to be in this world. We can all be searching after different things like money, fancy houses (such as the one I found myself in), fast cars or trendy accessories, and we all have to answer for ourselves what makes life fulfilling. For me it’s being a kind and considerate person. Those are the traits I wish to bring forward and that is where my energy goes. Sure, I’ll fall short and then I’ll keep working on it. Life is, after all, a succession of moments rather than a single sliver of time.

Watch and Learn

At five years old, moving from Coaldale to eight miles out of the small town meant that not only did I have two 50 minute bus rides to and from school, but I also had long car trips where I could spend time doing one of my favourite things: reading. I would read endlessly as a child. Anything from the back of my cereal box in the morning, the books I would get out from the library – which were sometimes way over my head as a young’un, – to the signs on the road during a drive. It’s as if I came into this life with an unquenchable yearning for information.

I’ve always wanted to absorb, to gather. The practice of yoga shows me I do this by utilizing my five sense and hoping that my mind can interpret the information as it exists. Instead of bumping reality down a notch by exchanging my own associations or judgements of what I perceive, I want to experience what is really happening. One way I do this is by noticing.

I’ve been hung up lately on how it is that learning happens. A now-familiar question I’ve (ironically) learned to ask myself is “How do I learn?” That process itself suggest that habit plays a large part and it certainly does. Not in a memorize to learn sort of way but in a steady, persistent sort of way. Like how cells can absorb consciousness and intention thereby recreating that intention continually. So how is it that I learn? The types of learners, as dug out from the depths of memories lodging my high school Career and Life Management class, seem to be visual, auditory, kinetic, and learning done by teaching. Most people gravitate towards one of those categorizations. Categorizing is something I’ve been working with lately, attempting to free myself from the self-imposed shackles that enable me to understand the world at the same time they chain me to one particular way of comprehending. And so I don’t want to label myself as being any particular type of learner, I simply want to learn. I do so by watching, listening, doing, and showing and most of all I do so by reading.

Reading doesn’t just mean words on a page, sign, book, or cereal box. Reading means absorbing information as it passes through the sieves of my senses. This type of reading truly does utilize all the types of learning and is something that I’ve also always done – that search for the stuff of life being ever present.

Car rides were always a time rich in reading. Yes, it sometimes meant reading in the traditional sense with my near-addiction to young adult series’ such as The Baby-Sitter’s Club, Animorphs, or Sweet Valley High; the recounting of these titles bringing back floods of decade-plus old memories. Yet it also meant reading the blades of grass, the kitties on the acreage a mile south of the Brown’s house, the one past the long row of tall poplar trees. Reading included deducing the state of my fellow bus-mates. How that girl sitting across from me was already wearing make-up at our young age! And she even a year younger!

What is it that happens when I combine learning and reading in this way? With a view of including the implicit and explicit occurrences currently passing through my realm of experience? What happens is that I can re-create what it is I see around me. This re-creation can then be translated to what I am doing and, as well as the potential to lose my own sense of self, explains my ability to complete tasks when I can simply follow an example that I see around me.

Is that, then, what learning is? The following of examples of what we perceive? Certainly there have been countless rants against institutions of learning purporting this concept: that we care more about the regurgitation of information than that of new ideas birthed by free-thinking individuals. I’m well aware how much of a curse this kind of learning has been in my life. It’s not that the curse comes by itself, it’s that, when coupled with a strong desire for harmony around me at the cost to myself, I tend to sway towards that direction.

I’ve become an expert at watching people and doing things their way. Sure, there could be entirely appropriate times and places to being forward this skill.What immediately jumps to mind is when training for some new jobs. Yet the reality is I’m sick of it. Sick of wasting my own creative energies with the false assumption that the way other people are doing things is the better way. This false notion comes out in many different ways. It could be as subtle as the placement of items in a fridge that, once I’ve removed and returned my desired item I also return any impeding items back to their original positions. How odd! Who says my way of arranging perishable items isn’t the preferable one over another’s? I endeavour to assert myself more often. To take a stand and do what I think is best, even if it means blatant disregard for the ways things used to be.

I’m struck by how, at its core, this is what innovation is. Change happens because someone else sees another way of doing things. I am holding myself back, holding myself to old ways of doing things if I am unwilling or unable to come up with the required elements needed to commit to a new way.

It’s as if all those hours of placidly watching the world run past me on trips to and from town have quieted my sense of innovation. Am I to be content watching the world go by? Or will I stand up and create something entirely my own? Yes, I am capable of understanding the way things are done, and I trust the compass within to guide me towards doing things in ways that are truly beneficial to myself and, according to my own understanding, to others as well.

Home

Someone asked me where I live the other day. Well, that’s not necessarily entirely accurate to say it quite that way now is it? I get asked this question quite a bit. Living in a tourist town such as Camden the odds are about two out of three that any particular receiver of this question does not, in fact, live in Camden. The particular incident I am referring to, however, was at a semi-private gathering (being the home of a dance instructor in the area who opens her dance space to blues dancing on Wednesday evenings. Never heard of blues dancing? Yeah, neither had I) which afforded people of the mid-coast Maine dance circuit a place to boogie mid-week. Was the question intended as a friendly conversation starter? An attempt to be on more familiar terms than we already found ourselves? We were already spending time in physical contact, swaying to music easing out of the sound system, and had seen each other enough to reach the point of extending greetings when spotting each other in random public places. It made sense we would expand the understanding we had over each other’s lives.

Now, the accuracy of the question can fully come out. It was not, in fact, where I lived that the person was, politely or genuinely, interested in. Those types of details and my initial draw to Maine having already been recited at previous encounters. The full statement of inquiry dealt more entirely with where it is that I call home. In response, I pointed dutifully to my heart. Yes, a seemingly cliche response yet, when travelling and with one’s possessions in various locations in multiple provinces across the continent in a different country than one finds oneself, a cliche that nonetheless becomes startlingly accurate.

Perhaps it is necessary to point out that the whole concept of living in one’s heart has only become possible for me through the dedicated and systematic application of the science of yoga. Because really, what the heck does living in the heart mean exactly? Is it some airy-fairy way of justifying a callous and whimsical responsibility-free lifestyle? Or is it an opening to clear and direct interactions with others through knowing one’s self to the best of one’s ability? (On a side note, I’ve been out of the ashram for over three months now can you tell? One of the starkest indicators is my inclusion of the word “one” in subjective reference to a possible experience. I’m not taking ownership of it and saying “me” or “I” but hey, it’s a step from saying “you” the way I’ve tended to in the past giving broad, sweeping generalizations for thoughts and ideas that, for whatever reason be it lack of confidence or insecurity, I was unable to take personal responsibility for in the past.) Living in the heart invokes, in my experience, both a terrifying and freeing feeling. It’s what makes me go into small caves when the thought and opportunity strikes, and what urges me to finish the thought I’ve half vocalized before stopping in paralyzed fear of how it would be received. It’s the trail of expansion and openness I follow when, in moments of quiet reverie or devotion, I can pause and feel connected to something greater than myself.

And so in response to a question of where it is I call home I feel as though I can honestly and joyfully point to my heart. This being despite the fact it requires me to break form in dancing and bring a hand in towards me rather than leaving it open and available should my partner choose to spin me ’round. Though this is blues dancing and separate of the fact that it being ridicules if any dance form prevented such a fluidity of movement, blues dancing certainly does not.

That, however, was not a satisfactory response for the question-bearer prompting my subsequent question, as we languished for a fraction of a second in his unspoken yet not intangible hesitation, of “what is home?” Ah, what is home? Ironically, as I’m thinking about it now I’m remembering a still more recent conversation I’d had about this very topic. Home, in that interlude, being described as a place that is familiar, where one knows the streets and pathways or landscape and geography. I didn’t have the heart to mention how that definition simply wasn’t enough. I can know the space of a place and not have that feeling of home. So what is home? To the first conversationalist in question, home was subsequently defined to me as, “the place where your family lives” which obviously opens a whole new slew of seemingly unanswerable questions. The first being, of course, “what is family?” Rather than bore the poor gentleman with my incessant drive for clarity I allowed my internal mental landscape to silently house the thoughts and associations that danced around the topic for a moment. We continued our own dance, here this well versed and proficient partner’s dancer who, in a self-described way, found every opportunity to dance almost every night of the week, and me. It was my third night ever blues dancing. Luckily I’m a fast learner.

Well, family are those that I grew up with in the same home. It’s my parents and brothers, those that have known me for a long period of time and in the kind of intimate setting that only living in close quarters can provide. Yet what about other forms of family. As quickly as the topic included the word “family” my mind inadvertently jumped to the people I know through the Ashram and not only that, but a particular conversation I’d had at one of my usual wonderful conversation spots. No, this wasn’t in the copy room, with its barrage of comings and goings of ashram folk centering in on the hub of the Ashram, the office, and where personal and private conversations seemed paradoxically to easily flow causing confused faces to open and peek through curiously closed doors. No, this spot was my usual post at the front reception desk in the bookstore. I was speaking with a long-time ashram teacher who brought up the word family. In her understanding it became clear that the connections forged at the Ashram were decidedly not similar to that of family. It’s as if we can be tempted to think that the people with whom we are sharing our lives, reflections, and home with at the Ashram are comparable to the crew that we’ve been born into. While I see her point, I’m partial to think that family is something that can retain fluidity in its definition. Words themselves are like that, able to morph and flow in contexts as needed. They come from culture and therefore are able to respond to the kinds of changes that humans, as the makers of culture, are subject to in what is hopefully an endless stream of growth and evolution.

Family means those that I am biologically connected to and also means so much more. While I can see this long-term teacher’s point, how family simply doesn’t have the same intention behind their interactions that Ashram folk share with one another, my mind immediately encompassed these connections with the mere mention of the word. An Ashram family challenges each other in areas each have space for growth in, either expressed areas or those that are simply understood. This dynamic of relationships is implicitly expected and, while it may seem difficult at times, is actually one part that makes the connection so potent. My experience of my Ashram family is of being known and of all those parts of me being held. There’s an acceptance there that surpasses the amount of acceptance I’m able to extend to my own self at times. Acceptance that can wrap around the personality aspects that are coming to life and trust with patience that everything is happening for a reason.

The phrase that comes to me for these kinds of interactions with other humans is emotional maturity. Having the wisdom to see beyond what is being presented by another person and extend understanding to just why someone behaves the way they do comes with it a call to bring forward compassion. I certainly hope that whatever definition of the word “family” people develop for themselves, it also includes this concept.

These thoughts mulled around in my head as I danced to sultry blues music and, while I didn’t voice all of them, I was able to understand myself a little bit more. “I have family in BC and Alberta” didn’t quite pinpoint just exactly where it is that I call home but was the best I could come up with at the time.