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.

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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

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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.

Meeting Myself

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It’s a cool, still day. Sun made some attempts at appearing this morning, but was overtaken by various types of clouds. There’s the dull grey haze, smearing over most parts of the sky, but also the depth provided by layers of clouds covering layers of mountains as they stand behind one another. That mountain is visible. This one behind has a patch of cloud obscuring it. That other one down the valley is only making itself known in faint outline. There’s mystery here that sun would be oblivious to.

The person who said you can never go home has never considered home to be an ashram.

That’s where I am now. I’m home.

I always loved the Ashram when it’s cloudy. Another reminder to bring my focus inward, to let go of external concerns.

Rocks press into rocks under my feet and I’m at the lakeshore, staring at my favourite mountain. It’s the one that’s visible, jutting out where the lake takes a quick turn to make the West Arm. The first day of spring. And Swami Radha’s birthday. There are many reasons to celebrate.

Sections of the sky release their interlacing of cloud to create a patchwork of light and dark above the water. I’ve seen this before. No, not this exactly, but something like it. I’ve seen this person, standing on this beach looking at this lake. Only sometimes she’s roaring with fire, throwing in rocks to get it out. Sometimes she’s singing, deep in reverence. She’s got a guitar in her lap or a harmonium at her knees and she’s singing, oh Lord is she singing. She’s hoping that the breath her voice is carried on will carry her, too. I’ve seen her too in calm stillness. With a notebook and pen, or with nothing at all. Just there, beside the lake.

Today all these selves were there with me. Eight years of her, all rolling into one, into this precious moment. Such a funny thing, place. Is there a way I can be all these people all at once and still be who I am now?

Believe me, I’ve tried to go home. I’ve been to Alberta, where the wind rushes over shoots of wheat as desperate in its rush East as I am for something to cling onto. The roads are too wide there. The cars leave too much space between them like an invisible force. I try to enter into the spaces I find. In brother’s homes or long-forgotten favourite coffee shops. Everything’s different; I am seeing with new eyes and those wide streets look strange to me now. Something just doesn’t quite fit in the space.

An ashram for a home has none of those concerns. It has its own similitudes and constant flux of change just like me. No pigeonholing me into past versions of myself or expecting I’ll be anywhere but where I am. I’m grateful for the freedom in that.

I stood on that pebbled shore as wave after wave of previous selves I’ve been washed over me. I was surprised. I may not be those selves anymore, not held to their limiting beliefs and crippling concepts, but they’re still a part of me.

Smooth and dark like thick chocolate the lake offers itself as an example. I’ll rest into its stillness that resides in me. I’ll gather all my selves in sacred ceremony and hear them out. I’ll step forward as the person I am now, choosing the best qualities of each to carry me on.

Returning

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Awake early. The rest of the house still quiet in their rooms and my eyes are drawn out the window.

I observe the moss-covered trees without leaves and the occasional bird before realizing I’m taking in clear sky.

Hints of cloud make weak attempts to conceal the blue. It pours in the large picture window, only slightly obscured in spots where plants sit on the sill. And by Nataraj, dancing in central glory between two plants, graciously — ruthlessly? — destroying my obstacles yet again.

I’m in Vancouver. My trip to Hawaii is over and I’m processing with friends, cups of hot tea, sitting on cozy carpets near the fire, and playing Bhajans. It’s a heart-focused time.

I woke today as if I’d been submerged. It was the blue sky that did it — that shocked me into reality. No, not the intensity of dreams or the languished sleep of jet-lag (I recovered nicely from that with a seven hour nap yesterday). It was the pale blue that lifted me. Made me notice I’ve been underwater. And only by lifting out of it am I able to see where I’ve been.

I’ve been snorkelling. Oh, the fish I’ve seen! They’ve swirled after each other in intricate patterns and moved as if one, listening to that extra sense telling them all exactly when to curve a fin.

I’ve seen dolphins — close enough to touch — and sea turtles that I’ve almost stepped on.

I’ve seen whales propel their massive beings out of their ocean home for a moment of airborne freedom and a thunderous return.

Now the temperature-controlled fireplace turns on again. I drink cooled, re-steeped tea. My mind flits over all I’ve left in that watery paradise and, briefly weighed down by thoughts of “what-if,” I breathe in deep like I haven’t had air in months.

Nataraj, Siva in the form of a dancer, still stamps in a ring of fire on the windowsill. He danced the whole world into existence so I trust He’ll be able to help me sort out my next steps. His symbol is the crescent moon — he wears it on his forehead and from it flows the holy river Ganges.

I now wear mine on my heart. This moon, this constant reminder that every time something ends the only things taken away are my illusions.

Besides, low tide is the best time to hunt for treasure. And it’s such a sunny day.

The Peace We Build

Originally published on yasodhara.org/blog

Helicopters were recently flying near the Ashram to replace the cones that hang off the power line in its wide stretch across Kootenay Lake. For four days their constant hover invaded the tranquil space of the grounds.

The sound of swiftly displacing air wound around buildings, entered through cracked-open windows and settled inside of me. The noise was a bother. Conversations centered on it. But for me it was more than that.

The sounds entered my cells and memories of my time in Israel and Palestine during the Gaza War in 2008-2009—a period of heightened conflict in the Middle East—came raging to the surface of my consciousness.

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Exploring Brokenness in Christchurch

Orange vests fill the city of Christchurch. Blaring radios, scaffolding, traffic cones and chain-link fences abound. “Don’t walk there,” they say, “Go this way. Watch out for this falling building.” I’ve never been to a city so devastated by a natural disaster.

On September 4, 2010 the city—at the time, the second most populated in the country—experienced an earthquake with an epicenter in the nearby Canterbury plains. The quake caused widespread damage. The government declared a state of emergency, called in the New Zealand army, and instated a curfew to keep people out of the streets and out of harm from the damaged buildings.

Kiwis are a resilient bunch. Over the coming months, they banded together to rebuild their crumbled city until February 22nd, 2011, just over five months later, an aftershock with a magnitude 6.3 of struck with an epicenter just 10 kilometres southeast of the city’s downtown core.

The devastation was immense. Downtown essentially became a pile of fallen rubble. 185 people lost their lives and Kiwis left the city in droves—what little of it there was left to leave.

Now, five years later, construction continues. The city has been offered a unique opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. The “Garden City” is still there, behind lines of fence and tape, willing itself forward.

***

I arrived in Christchurch with a soaking wet tent strapped under my bag and a dead cell phone battery. Since I’d been camping in the rain and hitched my way to the city, I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to figure out just what I was going to do when I got there.

After numerous failed attempts at couchsurfing, I checked a map for the closest hostel and booked myself in for a night. The Dorset House turned out to be clean, bright and soothingly familiar. Wooden engraved signs told me where to find the kitchen, toilets and other rooms, while helpful posters around the place educated me on the water supply. There was something about the place that reminded me of Yasodhara.

I spent the next couple of days wandering around the disaster-etched town. I knew a friend I met travelling was stationed there, so we spent a day checking out the alternative bookshops and a café co-op. The botanic gardens beckoned me to explore, and the huge park, lined with enormous trees, offered respite from all the orange reflective material in the downtown core.

One of the most significant buildings damaged, and subsequently condemned, is the Anglican Cathedral in the city’s central square. Built between 1864 and 1904, it stood as an emblem for the city for over a century.

As I gazed upon its cordoned off rubble, I couldn’t help but relate to the loss of a sacred space. The June 2014 fire that resulted in the loss of Yasodhara’s Temple of Light is still acutely in my awareness. 

I walked through the maze of closed-off streets downtown to find the transitional Cathedral. That’s right, the Cathedral is housed in a structure using the same language as we call the Transitional Temple. Not only that, but—similarly to Yasodhara’s transitional space—it’s been constructed using atypical building materials. This Cathedral’s A-frame construction is made from PVC pipes, corrugated plastic and shipping containers. The latter being Christchurch’s building material of choice since the earthquakes.

I spent some time at the memorial across the street for the 185 people who lost their lives in the quakes and then made my way to the door of the Cathedral. Marigolds lined the flowerbeds, bursting with other New Zealand flowers I couldn’t identify.

I paused as I rounded the corner to the front. Awaiting me was a massive triangle of colourful stained glass. This may be a transitional Cathedral, but there is thought and quality put into it. Beauty is a generous form of grace offered when the human spirit endures disaster.

As with anything on New Zealand’s South Island, the place was crawling with tourists. Two elderly women stood behind the glass-topped counter of the gift shop, answering questions and joking with one another. Their lightness an inspiring response to tragedy.

After taking in the majesty of the place, I browsed the shop and picked out a postcard, pulling the ladies from their lively conversation.

With the high cost needed for reconstruction, there have been loose plans for the Cathedral’s rebuild, but so far nothing has been implemented for it.

***

Existing like a quiet hum under the city is a layer of brokenness. I’ve come to understand that it was one part of the place that I connected with. Like Christchurch, I feel like I’m rebuilding.

The tenacious spirit of those who stayed in the city is inspiring. I feel a connection with the fragility and uncertain nature of the place. At any moment, everything could change—another earthquake could bring everything crashing down. That sort of knowledge creates an intense sort of appreciation for what already exists. I feel glimpses of how powerful it is to live my life that way.

Eventually, I made my way out of Christchurch. The friend I visited there has spoken to numerous people who see it as some type of vortex—it pulls people in who want to leave but just can’t. I could feel how people might experience the city that way, yet for me it reignited a sense of purpose.

I came up with all sorts of daydreams for yoga classes I could teach there to bring healing to a traumatized people, but ultimately, I left. For now.

I take the momentum of rebuilding with me with gratitude for the connection I formed to the city.

Om Namah Sivaya

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