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.

2014


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.

2015


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.

2016


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.

2018


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.

beach


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.

2020


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.

On Prosecco and Parties

IMG_20200212_150807_resized_20200229_034442391.jpg

In February a housesitting opportunity comes to us and Phoenix and I pack our bags to stay down the road for ten days.

It’s a grandmother’s house, with pictures of children and their art scattered throughout the high-ceilinged rooms. I usually love house sitting, but something feels off here. There is an outdoor cat that we let in for thick and aggressive strokes. He’s handsome and male and cautious, turning toward every noise with flexed legs, crouching close toward the floor.

Phoenix and I are still not used to one another, or to spending so much time with another person in our personal space. Perhaps the “offness” is our own inability to reconcile these facts. Relationship forces me to confront elements of myself.

I want both more space and more closeness. I want him to absently reach for me when we walk past one another, the separate aspects of our days intermingling through a random intersection of the house. I want to know in every moment that he cares for me, that he read my subtle features and pledges to offer me comfort or hope or a wink or anything. My insecurity and neediness confound me.

I tell him Valentine’s Day is his responsibility this year and to come up with something for us. Our inspiration is the bottle of prosecco and blanket I brought to the beach two years ago, delineating our regular afternoon routine of a water bottle and a park bench from something special and out of the ordinary.

Screen Shot 2020-02-29 at 5.50.24 PM.jpg

The 14th falls on the first day of our housesit. He follows precedent and packs a light picnic before we head to the beach. Only, we can’t decide which beach to go to and end up going to our regular one, where all our friends are.

Suddenly I feel silly for having changed into a cotton dress and put on a hint of mascara for this regular event in our lives that we are turning into something special.

A version of panic hits and is followed by shame. Shame that I ask that a random Thursday mark this day just because society told me to. Shame that my friends see the darkened colour along my eyelashes and judge the simplicity of our romantic gesture. Shame that we act with a hesitation, a second-guessing of sitting, as usual, with them, or taking our picnic basket, already commented on, and stroll further. Stroll to the lava rocks closer to the water for the privacy a roaring ocean gives us in a public place.

We take the bag and walk. The panic recedes, though still manages to confuse me. I am tense in the way that this bottle of prosecco cannot fix. Water fills the crevices of eroded rock, dramatic shelves that fill and empty at regular intervals like the bubbles in my glass.

IMG_20200215_191908_resized_20200229_035117448.jpg

Days later, we have a dinner party at the house. A vision of the preparation for the evening unfolds in my head: a set table, a nourishing menu, relaxation. I make a cake during a break from work in order to fill the external world with these images I see. I go back to my computer to work and am swept into distraction. I open another browser window for some “online shopping”, placing holds on more library books written by women of colour. I reserve too many. More than I can read, yet I know I’ll somehow end up reading them all.

I finish my work and go to the kitchen to continue putting form to the previously formless plans for the evening. I make a salad, place the bowl in the fridge, and gently wash the dishes.

I am a caricature of myself, absently grabbing the towel to dry my hands as I turn to survey the counter top with a furrowed brow, thinking of what need be done next.

As I glance sidelong out the window at the betel palm tree.

As I anticipate the arrival of friends and question aloud if there’s time to gather flowers for a centrepiece.

As I live in this house in this body doing things that people with houses and bodies do.

Love of the Fight

IMG_20191231_175550

I love to fight with Phoenix.

I love how it starts low and gentle, like a deep bass drum advancing across a tract of space. How the hum winds around and up and over and into me. How it builds. Our words missing each other until misunderstanding takes root. I love how free and open such a simple emotion as anger can come pouring out of me.

In the past, I’ve struggled with expressing my anger. The first time I encountered Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom, I had to intermittently stop reading while tears sped down my cheeks and my body racked with sobs. It wasn’t a sadness that made me cry. I couldn’t even put my finger on it. It was the simplicity of being understood.

In the section on polycystic ovaries, she spoke about unexpressed anger. I accessed the truth of her words as if looking into my cells with a microscope. Years of accumulated anger compressed into tiny balls in my consciousness just like the tiny cysts dotting my ovaries. I didn’t let it out because I didn’t feel safe enough to express anger.  

Now I love it. I love watching it rise and directing it out into my life in productive ways. I love the wide and strong base inside myself that can handle if it sometimes gets the better of me. I love the life I’ve built upon that base that can withstand its humble wrath.

I move the extension cord out of the way and step forward, bracing up against the new counter. The measured birch rests on its support beams. I hold it in place as I anticipate which section Phoenix will next fasten on. Something isn’t working. He hesitates, grabs another section of the soon-to-be counter. “Move this part here,” he says.

More words upon words. And then the meanings of the words start to annoy me. Slowly they crash upon themselves into a tsunami of I can’t believe he thinks that I can understand the difference between when he says “this is the problem, not this,” punctuating each “this” with the exact same gesture and intonation, pointing toward the board trim.

It is unfathomable that he thinks I would understand what he means. And even more unfathomable that he not understand what I’m trying to explain, that this is where the board should go in order to line up at a 90 degree angle, perpendicular to the counter top with the half round edging. 

Home renovations become exhilarating. My patience withers to the delicate point of a pinprick and I get So. Very. Angry.

It’s an anger that flows through me. That raises my voice and probably throws in a few ‘fucking’s. That escalates into a concentration of fury that crosses an invisible line in my mind. A point of no return. I am furious.

And then, suddenly, it’s gone. Like a wave crashing on a lava rock. It recedes and is an entirely deflatable anger. This fight becomes so mundane. So ordinary in its construction. It’s the most mainstream suburban thing we do — fight with one another like this. During home renovations no less.

 We breathe. We look at each other. All anger fades. I ask him what he means, he tells me, and I explain what I am saying. Turns out we’re talking about a different section of the board. We’re both right.

We continue to affix the counter to the wall. It looks so beautiful. Phoenix has dreamed up an elegant and simple kitchen for our tiny jungle shack.

 I once fought with Mark over home renovations. True to our style, the fight had zero raised voices and angry words. It was a conflict full of silence and deflection, standing in the curtain rod aisle of Canadian Tire. There was very little anger on my part and much more genuine confusion and incomprehension, our disagreement turning into a silence-match. We returned home from the store empty-handed. It wasn’t long before I left him.

Each instance of anger is now a passing wave in a life encapsulated by so much more. Not sequestered into a cage, never to be expressed, it walks alongside me, secure. It has a place and a purpose, teaching me what boundaries and value are, what safety is. Teaching me all the ways in which I am no longer afraid.

Letters to Devin

IMG_20191208_081735.jpgSubject: I’m in the calm before the storm

For weeks now, any thought I had about this day and crossing US immigration immediately dumped a shot of adrenaline into my veins. Do you ever get that thing when you’re really hungry and you’re about to eat something and then as you put it into your mouth a huge deluge of saliva come out of your salivary glands? It’s almost painful. I had this happen to me the other day. I have been staying at Eva’s in Vancouver, being generally relaxed and hyping up for today’s adventure. We had a late dinner one night and gooosh, my mouth filled with saliva at the first bite. It’s like my entire mouth aches when it happens. She said she’d never experienced that before. I thought it was a normal thing. That’s how my adrenals feel — like they’re pumping out juice and the stress of it is putting undo pressure on the gateways. Adrenal secretion fatigue. It’s time for a new paragraph.

I’m at a cafe near Gordon’s work downtown. We had brunch and then I stored my rolling bag at his office while I wander the city, waiting for my flight. There are women speaking stilted, accented English, talking about the exam they just took. There are giant plastic Christmas trees with LED lights smattered around the streets. There are people walking briskly.

I went to a contemporary art gallery, but it was a little too close to my reality: one of the exhibits was commenting on migration. There were foam figures leaning on chain link fences, slumped over the edges, straddling two worlds. The other exhibit was an exploration of a changing climate with rudimentary nature scenes burned into thin wooden panelling that hung from the ceiling to the floor. It was beautiful. Accents of the scenes were sparsely beaded adding hollow hints of colour — those squirrels and birds that won’t be around for long. The last panel had a red-winged blackbird on it. My favourite.

I think it would be hard to be a barista. It’s one of those things in society that we all take for granted but yet the entire structure of our organization is based on it. Like free wifi. What would these bankers do if they had to make their own coffee at home? The entire system would collapse.

After the art gallery I sat on the steps for a moment staring at the looming abyss before me. Really though the abyss is always there, we just get to ignore it, lulled unto the false sense of security our routines and patterns offer us.

We went for brunch at the Fairmont. It was fancy and delicious. They put us in a table near the back, tucked into a booth that can close off to the rest of the floor with a thick curtain. Only later did I realize I have been wearing the same mountain town clothing for four days and that breakfast at a fancy hotel in downtown Vancouver usually means people are dressed accordingly. My hair is frizzy with humidity and I’m wearing runners. Thin sheaths of shame part as I walk through Nordstroms, trying to keep my head down and make it look like I belong. I talk too much during brunch. I am holding onto the vestiges of a shared history with Gordon, but can’t get to the level of familiarity that living in a spiritual community with him brought when we used to know each other. I am doing the wrong thing, suggesting the wrong activities. The thin sheaths cloud my vision. I brush them aside and watch women with straight blonde hair and high-waisted pants stride confidently out the correct doorway. When did I start slouching so much?

I have been avoiding caffeine but ordered a soy London Fog in a fit of fuck-it-all-ness. It was not a wise decision.

Alex and I went for Ethiopian last night. There are two Ethiopian restaurants near Eva’s, but one is between her and Alex’s place. I’d never been to this one. It was large and boldly decorated: dark paint, large canvases full of colour, even Christmas decorations. We sat down at a table for two. The booths were full and the other section of the restaurant was half hidden behind a partial wall. It seemed busy. The table next to me had a man and a woman. It was one of those tables that are five inches away from the ones next to, like we’re actually sitting at the same table. The woman’s name was Jessica and she and her boyfriend were leaving the next day for a trip to Indonesia. She’d packed up her belongings, sold her furniture and was going on an adventure. I didn’t find this out last night, though. I found this out on Sunday because we were in the same ride-share from Nelson. In the car, when she’d told me she was flying out on Wednesday, I said that I was, too, and jokingly said that I’d see her at the airport. A part of me knew the world is crazy enough that we really would see each other at the airport. Turns out we didn’t. We saw each other last night instead.

Maybe I’ll just write emails to you and then post them to my blog.
Love,
Guenevere

IMG_20191214_161342.jpg

Subject: Another instalment

Devin,

I am volatile and emotive on the Big Island, utterly caught off guard by my groundlessness during this transition. I paint my toenails my first day in Maui but go somewhere before they dry and they smear in my closed-toed shoes. I tell myself I’ll fix them later. I don’t.

When spring came in Montreal, the melting snow revealed dozens of mangled abandoned bikes along my walking commute. All winter tiny motorized plows rode the sidewalks, the driver’s of which couldn’t really see in front of them. When I saw them coming I learned to quickly get out of the way. One year four pedestrians were killed by plows; three in one day. They were mostly elderly.

The plow drivers didn’t watch for things like abandoned bikes shackled to rails and poles. What was only a mess of parts and pieces sticking out of the snow in deep winter become bicycles in gradations from full to partial as the sun heats up. I want to take photos of them all and create a series. I assume most of them were stolen. Many are missing wheels or their seat. They are covered with the dirt the plows threw off to provide traction in the receding snow.

Here there are lines of cars on the side of the road by the post office on an empty section of space. They are missing doors or tires. They are covered in vines. The jungle is growing over and around them, taking what is left. Some of them have items inside the cabs or truck boxes. A large orange gatorade water thermos. A blanket.

Today Phoenix and I get takeout and bring it to a beach in town to watch the sunset. It’s the beach we went to one of the first days we met when we were furtively flirtatious and playful. Today we are testy and hesitant. His anxiety mixes uneasily with my volatility. We haven’t yet found our thread of togetherness, the one that we lose with our frequent months of separation. The breeze lifts off the sea, the heavy air brings memories.

I am a Venn diagram of memories. My consciousness is the central, unchanging factor as past experiences surround me in cascading spirals. Walking in Vancouver, I see a pawn shop and suddenly I’m in Napier, New Zealand at a curio shop with Kate looking at endless British antiques. The trucks pulls to a stop at the grocery store and I’m watching Cy eat frozen yoghurt from the newly opened store on Bay View Street in Camden, Maine. I watch the sunset at the Old Airport Park in Kona and suddenly I’m in Tel Aviv. Someone is leaning against the broad pillar of the pier, meditating in the sand. A restaurant nearby sells amazing falafel, says a man with brown dreads. He’s reading “The Tenth Insight” by James Redfield in Hebrew — a book I just finished — but in English so I recognize the cover. I watch two ends of a cresting wave meet. Phoenix rests his head in my lap. There are rocks in a glass-flat pool that the raucous waves don’t reach.

It’s early, but I’m so tired. I’ve been getting up at 6, which still feels like 8 so is actually luxurious. I play Spelling Bee throughout the day, long enough to get the highest score, and then I stop. I make plans to plant flowers along the pathway to our room. I take my supplements and try to make myself remember to check if I can buy the same brand here. I think about all the things of which I am afraid.

Love,
Guenevere

IMG_20191227_172216

Subject: All Together Now

I begin to get used to the roosters. Not at night — not at 3:00 am when they start calling to each other from across the neighbourhoods and for which there are earplugs — just randomly. When I’m on the phone with a colleague or my boss, but not a client and so I don’t need to go into the bus-turned-office, the roosters crow. They fade into the blur of life. Like my sticky skin and rain that follows sunshine that follows rain.

I empty the dishwasher every day. It’s a politically motivated action. It’s mundane and boring and in the middle of the kitchen so everyone can see that I do it, that I’m helpful and contributing.

With effort, this jungle shack eventually becomes more of a home. We paint the ceiling. There are still spots of white on my glasses, which I’ll scrape off eventually, and my shoes, which will always bear the remembrance of this time. White dotted on black. I take lamps from the basement storage. I pull out matching rugs for in front of the couch, the sink, each side of the bed. I wash the curtains and lose momentum to rehang them properly so they remain bunched on their nail hooks, waiting. Wrinkled.

Actions, thoughts, and speech stack around me. My own and those of others. I fall into an old habit of weighing each into piles, and often sift through the leave pile, wondering if there’s enough ballast for critical mass. I do so love to leave. And then as soon as I do this — this categorizing and shifting and rethinking of things that are said and done and expressed — I become free of all my ideas of what belongs in what pile and suddenly it’s just life again, piled up around me. Then I go for a walk or watch the sunset or feel the cool breeze on my sticky skin and I breathe as a butterfly flits past.

I trawl over lava rocks to watch tide pools near the waves. Water pours in, filling a pool through a narrow valley of rock, then collectively recedes and the flow switches to the opposite. At a class in the Beach Prayer Room with Swami Matananda she had us go off and shoot short videos to analyze in reflection. I took one of a piece of wood floating in the rhythm of Kootenay Lake’s waves. The wood was trapped by a couple of large rocks. When I looked at it, I saw something that was stuck. “What else do you see?” asked Matananda. I was adamant. The video showed me only constriction. Later, I realized the broader symbolism. The screen was filled with the fluidity of the waves, movement and flow. Why could I only see the stuckness? The earth turns the horizon closer to the sun. The waves rush into the tide pool with a ferocity that seems unending. And then the water leaves with equal persistence.

We sit on the couch and do word games together on my phone. Or Phoenix pulls out his guitar and plays folk hymns from long ago, perfect for harmonizing with. I want to spend every evening in creativity. I want to be showered in attention, as only a youngest child of many is. I want to be surrounded by kindness and compassion. I want my action, thought, and speech piles to be consistent and orderly. I want a cohesion that is inescapable, but really is only a fear of movement. Phoenix works through a new song repeatedly “One, two, three, four. Can I have a little more? Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, I love you,” his voice catching over the words. “All together now.”

“All together now,” I sing out in reply.

Further Evidence That I Exist

20181212_120955.jpgAcknowledgements:

Acknowledgements are usually a paragraph that comes at the end of a novel rather than the beginning of an internet article. Nevertheless, there are things for which I must give thanks. Thank you to anxiety. Without you I would not know the bliss of your absence. Thank you to friends that teach me what unconditional love and acceptance are. Thank you to art, to a wall of originals behind me, to an altar in the corner, guitars strewn around the house, and a fresh cup of hand-delivered tea. Thank you.

Further Evidence That I Exist

  • Leaving the bathtub plug dismantled after investigating the source of the clog during a shower.
  • Using reflection cards that are not my own. Without permission.
  • Asking for an extra blanket even after I’ve ascertained there are no extra blankets in the hall closet, nor bedroom closet.
  • Not immediately returning a book I’ve pilfered off the shelf.
  • In fact, keeping said book on the couch armrest where it might get in the way of others’ living.
  • Repeating not one, but two things that had either been said to me, or had happened in the presence of others to the person they were either said about, or in whose presence the events occurred.
  • Drinking tea.
  • Not being excited to use something that I have no idea how to use.
  • Having the same conversation with everyone I talk to in a certain period of time because, clearly, this topic is on my mind a lot. Continuing to wonder how many of my decisions I make on my own, and how many I make at the mercy of big data.
  • Quickly clicking back to this word document when the bathroom door opens so others think I am being productive instead of getting distracted on the internet.
  • Remembering back to a time when ‘internet’ was capitalized. How young we all were. How full of fresh innocence.
  • Going around in circles at the grocery store. Dodging the same woman with her cart full of organized goods. There she is again referencing her shopping list. I wish I would have thought to bring a shopping list. What am I going to get? Oh golly, why has the procurement and preparation of food always been so difficult for me?
  • Refining what it means to be feminine.
  • Refining what it means to be in relationship.
  • Drinking more tea.
  • Waking up from a dream in which I was surrounded by a sea of people — some I knew, some I didn’t know — and being struck by hearing a friend’s voice calling to me, but not seeing him in the dream. Thinking about how fascinating sense perceptions are.
  • Creating a mess in the kitchen.
  • Cleaning up the kitchen.
  • The deliciousness of relief upon getting a subluxation in my spine removed.
  • Feeling like I’m home.
  • Wanting to stay here.
  • Knowing that I can.
  • And being content.

Malas, Earphones, and the Throat Chakra

20160208_203428.jpg

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.

I Need You

20181030_212339.jpg

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

20140624_170455(0)

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.