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.

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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.

Read more…

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 and 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 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 it’s 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. The feelings of relating were cemented when 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.

I left the transitional Cathedral and made my way South. I instinctively knew it was south because I was facing away from the sun—just another miniscule way I’ve become used to life in the Southern Hemisphere.

The previous day I’d fallen into a heart-felt and spontaneous conversation with the owner of a newly opened organic shop. She told me about a café downtown I wanted to try and we talked about starting fresh, the vibrancy after disasters and brokenness.

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, even though I don’t feel as though I’m in a particularly broken part of my life right now. Instead, 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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Even transitions have transitions

In the slanted light of morning I sat outside this campground’s kitchen, slowly sipping my morning chai, just as I had done yesterday. Only today, the crisp bite of autumn didn’t hang in the air as long and the vibrant blue of this barren landscape’s sky was smeared with patches of warm-trapping cloud.

I’m in Wanaka.

Well, I’m very near to Wanaka and will likely hitch the ten kilometres there later this afternoon as I did yesterday. When I get there I’ll probably again be surprised at just how “flash” the town is. Tourist dollars pour into the village. Young trees have been planted at regular intervals, guided in their quest for the sky by the same monotonous metal casings. Each tree is lit from below by a light in the sidewalk shining upon the underside of their chlorophyll-depleted leaves. Beautiful. And flash.

Maybe today the most striking part of the town will be the newness of storefronts or the precision with which they have been constructed. Each waterfront café tries to outdo the next with elaborate rock walls and signage. There’s something about this place that makes me feel uncomfortable.

It could be the landscape and its eerily similar qualities to Southern Alberta. There are treeless mountains everywhere, like coulees on steroids. The bleakness is startling and I find respite on the quartz-rock shore of the lake—along with every other 20-something wondering what the hell they’re doing with their day life.

Yet there is a peace here for me. It’s in this massive sky; hanging up above me so close I can touch it. I’m held in this mountain-edged bowl. I know this part of the country was calling me to come here. So why do I feel so uncomfortable?

Mentally, I’m still transitioning out of work. My last day was over ten days ago, but going on that tramp filled my days with eight hours of walking and a glazy sort of monotony that replaced the continuity working five days a week provided. Now I’m not wandering in the bush. Now I don’t have a set schedule or structured routine. I have mental space and it’s making me squirm.

As the mighty van Lola galloped over the Canturbury plains into Otago, the region where Wanaka is, we listened to an audio book on Mantra. While the delivery of the subject didn’t appeal to me, there’s just something about the name of the Divine my cells simply respond to. I let my consciousness expand and tumble through the open fields, playing with Krishna. I’d bump into a mountainside, narrowly escaping a handful of butter He threw my way and then crash into one of the lakes, washing His chocolate off my face. Lola hurdled on.

I meant for this time to be my reward for a summer of hard work. I want to leisurely take in the Southern Alps and the space of this country. In typical Guenevere fashion, I worry about money and wonder if playing guitar and roasting a pumpkin qualify as worthy enough pursuits for one day.

I’m getting used to the lack of schedule. I’m getting used to the cold nights. I’m taking this as a wonderful opportunity to sit with any discomfort “being in transition” is bringing me and I’m waiting to see what Krishna will throw my way next.

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Poetry in the Woods

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Photo taken by Camden since I (purposely) didn’t bring my digital device

I went on a five-day tramp last week. To save weight I didn’t bring my journal, just my poetry book and confined myself to writing only poetry. It was a fun exercise—the writing restrictions as well as, obviously, the amazing tramp. Here are some of the fruits.

First night

Dormant in the dorm with
such freedom seeping in.
Freedom for the mountains and creek that
stand guard around me
surround me
confound me
roll out carpets for my feet.
I trod on.
Human, sweating, endless
I trod on
desperate for the thought I left behind,
For the rest that follows
deep rest,
undisturbed, 
for the mountains standing guard.

 

Pass the Haiku

Mountain top summit
Letting go of weight, I rest
Surrounded by You.

Sun lays in patches
Moving swiftly through valleys
Won’t you shine on me.

Peace. Silence. Breath.
I pause, listen with my heart.
Now I find my place.

Rock piled on rock
Patches of grass, of moss, shrubs
Everything in place.

The mountains still stand
They show signs of wear, and yet
They’ll outlast us all.

 

Hut Culture

silence filters through
muscles and sinew of those in the huts,
enabling relaxation.
silence after wind whistling through trees,
after water racing feet downhill
silence
silence and space
as if there weren’t enough in the 
air that rests on its shelf above a lake
or the triangles
between the triangles
of strongly rising earth

all of that can be forgotten now
ups and downs
wedges of flat edged with root where feet can press
and pull up bodies

these images release
with each cord of tension
with each unknotted thought
the silence seeps through

dinner hour lets murmuring return
water boils. utensils scrape.
trampers share their inner worlds
thoughts as majestic as a sunset
as a sidewalk

food unites, sustains
while light dissolves to dark
soon candles burst forth
in that fading between time
details jumps under thin spotlights
wanting to be seen
cards emerge
silence no longer reigns. 

 

Looking forward and looking back: Ten years after my wedding

I unfurl my mat on a patch of grass of my backyard under pressing dusk. I’m making an effort to do more activities that nourish me and realize I’ve gotten out of the habit of a physical asana practice. My body asks for backbends and I am happy to oblige, turning my gaze up at the swiftly shifting sky as I breath and move stagnant muscles. Seagulls fall sideways, glazing effortlessly in currents above. Just before savasana, the first two stars poke through the blanket of light that is the sky, blazing courageously. I love watching the stars come out after sunset. I love seeing the sky transformed by Divine Mother’s jewels.

To celebrate what would have been my tenth wedding anniversary, I’m taking myself to a yoga retreat centre this weekend. The retreat I’ll be participating in is centered on kirtan and cooking—something I love and something I want to learn how to prioritize in my life. I’m going to spend time reflecting on that part of my history and the lessons I’ve learned.

Whenever I think of my marriage, I invariably think about its end. I remember the first few weeks of separation, borrowing my brother’s car and going on trips alone. It was the first time I did things like that by myself. Day hikes in Waterton’s Rocky Mountains, camping in the sacred Writing-on-Stone Park—I was learning about the person I was on my own and what it was like to spend time with her.

One evening on the sandy shore of the Milk River, I lay down on my back and looked up at the sky. Light blue faded to dark as the water churned swiftly beyond my feet. It started small; I saw one or two stars popping out and eventually began looking for more. Soon stars in the shapes of familiar constellations formed. I saw blinking flashes making up the Big Dipper, and by the time my eyes searched for Cassiopeia and came back, each star of the Bear was shining bright. I looked for more. They came. I couldn’t count them all.

It wasn’t even spring, it was cold and too early for camping. I slept in the car wrapped in blankets, doing my best to keep out the chill that invades a body still learning to sleep with only its own warmth.

I remember the space of those trips. I remember how the silence made a soft bed for my thoughts to rest in. I’d finally spoken what I’d needed so much to be spoken—I was alone, left with my confused mix of grief and relief, and could be quiet now.

Maybe those trips hinted a foreshadowing that I could not yet see, that one day I would know myself enough and fill with the courage to move across the country alone, and eventually another hemisphere. Maybe they were like stars revealing themselves after dusk.

I cut my savasana short amid an orchestra of buzzing mosquitos. Not everything that comes out after dusk is as awe-inspiring as the stars.

I’m excited to see what comes of the weekend, if only to sing kirtan, eat great food and spend time with amazing people.

Happy ten-years.

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Couldn’t find any wedding photos on this computer so here’s some from a couple previous anniversary trips. Cuba, year four.

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Petra, Jordan. Year three

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And this one because of its epicness. I’m the little speck trying to get in the door.

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Hiding in the frozen foliage. Fairmont Hotsprings, year two.

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There I am!

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Apparently I used to take selfies. You can tell I was trying to be fancy because I straightened my hair. Driving to Calgary, year one.

Light

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One of an endless amount of footpaths winding up and down the hills of Nelson

Fresh sunlight reaches sideways over the tree-filled mountains into my eyes. The days are getting shorter. The light is lower than is used to be at the early hour I bike down the hill to work.

Later, I’ll pedal home and the sun will have made its swift track around the sky. Now my path is shaded over. I am freed of the burden of the sun’s intensity by friendly, leafy trees. The mountains around me are tall. Not too tall, but tall because some days I dip my toes in the sea and they lift out of that, starting at zero and rising, rising up to give me a view of the whole city from my front porch.

Since moving into my sleepout—a room in the garden of a woman’s house with shared kitchen and bath inside—what I’ve noticed most is the light. Rays ricochet off my bedframe from the overhead light and splay across the walls. I’m startled by the sparkling array of diamonds encrusted on the bathroom sink until my head covers them in mysterious shadow and they disappear.

When I first stepped inside this house I knew I’d live here. Coming over to look at the room for rent, I knocked and entered only to find a statue of Tara, the Tibetan Goddess of compassion stepping out of her meditation to greet me. My landlady Gael led me through to the back garden, which houses my room. As we passed through the main house, a large wooden Ganesh carving looked down at me from its focal point in the living room and Nataraj—Siva dancing the world into existence surrounded by a ring of fire—punctuated the half wall between the kitchen and living room. I knew I was home.

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Down one hill and up another—a view close to my house

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Tahunanui Beach

I work long hours and some days take leisurely swims in the river after work. On days off I might walk over a couple of hills and find the beach, a long stretch of spit that can be full of people yet make me feel so small because there’s space for all of us in the soft, pliable sand. I stand against the ocean, feeling connected to every shore and shark on earth.

I go to kirtans and yoga with workmates. I spend most of my money on upcoming yoga retreats. I plan for the future and spend some time each day with my awareness in my body and on my breath and not the running thoughts in my mind. It tingles then. My body—shimmering with consciousness—happy to be thought of by my mind.

When I’m tired, I prepare for bed. Often, I take a few side steps out from under the covered back porch where my bedroom door leads me. Up a few stairs toward the apricot tree, already loosed of its harvest, I can see the stars. I’ll look up at them for a time and then lay my body down and rest, ready for the next day’s light.

The wisdom of Karma Yoga

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Giggling about life. There are a couple of scooters outside as decoration we take in at the end of the day.

 “Selfless service will make you Divine
          ~Swami Sivananda

When it gets really busy at work—and it’s almost always really busy—one of my bosses says everything twice. “Cutlery to table 60. Cutlery to table 60,” he says as he rushes past with two arms full of dishes he’s just cleared. “Cabinet service only, now. We’re doing cabinet service only.” “Someone follow me with the steak sandwich, please. Someone follow me with the steak sandwich.”

It’s helpful, actually, since I’m not yet fluent in Kiwi—a quick and mumbled language—and don’t often hear something the first time. Or the second time.

I repeat the phrases under my breath, slowing them down and attempting a translation. I’m working on it.

Speed isn’t just in his manner of speaking, Rhys and Leanne are a quick-moving power couple who’ve created a business to match. Lambretta’s is busy, and there are few better settings in which to learn about attachment to finishing a task than in a bustling café.

Whenever I get far enough along in a conversation with someone new to mention I spent three years living in an ashram doing karma yoga, I’m always quick to define exactly what that is. Karma yoga: doing the work that needs to be done without attachment to the various outcomes and watching the mind in the process.

In popular culture, karma, the Sanskrit word meaning action, means something akin to you reap what you sow, but that definition feels incomplete to me. It turns life into something linear rather than something cyclical, or better yet, the spiral it truly is.

Karma isn’t just about our actions being mirrored back to us; I see karma as the interaction of our mental/emotional, physical and spiritual selves. These interactions are not necessarily a conscious choice, nor are they limited by a linear understanding of time. They emanate outward, vibrating with the world around us as we create it. What will we encounter in the world? Well, depends what we’ve created in our own.

Turns out I’ve created working in the front of house in a café in Nelson, New Zealand for a few months. It’s there I keep catching myself hoping for a task to be completed. Okay, I think to myself, I’ll roll this last batch of cutlery into napkins and then be done. But it’s never done. There’s a line of 15 people at the counter who will use those forks and knives, requiring another dishload to be wrapped.

The same mindless tasks repeated throughout a shift clear my mind of wanting to receive praise or congratulations for having done them. For starters, that’s what I’m paid to do, but deeper than that is part of my mind that wants to finish something.

I pull a stack of empty plates from various tables, walking them to the dish-pit to be cleaned. Later, I’ll take those same dishes full of food to new people to eat off of and continue the cycle. The part of me that wants a task to end forgets there is no end.

It’s not what I do that is important in life, but how I do it. If I am doing a task with attachment to the end in mind, then I will carry that expectant energy into other areas of my life and into other lives. Instead, I want each moment to be created with its own fullness. I want to be free of karma—both good and bad.

I’m grateful for these lessons, glaring at me in the churn of a busy café. Grateful I know I have a choice in where my mental energy is directed, that I can let go and be free.

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Wall art

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Forget about work, this is where I spend most of my time 🙂