Holding the Sacredness of Life

Whether she’s latched to my breast, curled up on one of our chests, or whaling and screaming as we bounce her in our arms while pacing the length of the house, entry into motherhood (parenthood) has been an awakening to the sacredness of life. A sacredness that we now hold. We hold it literally in the palms of our hands but also in our hearts. We hold our attention on her breathing. We hold space for her little being. I inhale wholeness. Hold. Exhale gratitude. Hold. I have the privilege of being a we. She has the privilege of us being a happy and well-resourced mom and dad.

A lot has happened in the last year. Not just in our lives, but across the Globe. More than ever, I’m aware of my privileges as a gainfully employed White Canadian female who has a full maternity leave, benefits, a comfortable home, a loving partner/co-parent, and a huge community of family and friends who have means. I write this to acknowledge all the parents out there who are doing their best with so much less. Shout out to the single moms, single dads, single non-binary parents. Shout out to the foster parents, the adoptive parents, and those who stepped in when the person who gave birth couldn’t play the role. Shout out as well to those who brought a child into this world unplanned and/or who are stuck with less than ideal circumstances in which to raise a child. Shout out to those who have to figure it all out without having had the opportunity to yet heal their own wounds.

Less than three years ago, I began to hold an understanding of the sacredness of life not through the embracing of birth but through grappling with the sorrow of more than one tragic death. I spent a year studying the law of impermanence with daily walks in the woods. I allowed myself to become undone, unravelled. I became more introverted – withdrawn from the social mechanisms of today’s world. I lost my voice for a while, but gained a new way of listening. I focused more clearly on my best friends and family. I fell back together and came back home to myself. Past wounds washed through me. I learned to cherish every fleeting moment of life, knowing how quickly it can be lost. In the mornings, I meditated on keeping my heart open to counter its desire to shut down. In that process, I practiced dying every night. Literally – a practice prescribed to me by my yoga therapist and teacher: spend one minute lying on your back on the floor before bed and let go of everything – let go of your body, your mind, your ego and surrender to the Earth completely. In that process, I also met my love, Matt, who is now the father of my child.

When I was 36 weeks pregnant, we finished putting the nursery together. Once Matt had slowly but skillfully completed a wall repair, we painted the walls, ceiling, and baseboards. He put together the new crib, which was gifted to us by his mother. I set all the new and used books people gave us in an old wooden tool box that belonged to his grand-father and placed it on the floor next the heat vent and our newly acquired rocking chair. Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I Love You Forever and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes are among the twenty or so cardstock books I can’t wait to read to my child. The diaper pail was the last thing to arrive at the door – one of the remaining items I had initially put on our baby registry, then purchased online myself. All the hand-me down and new little onesies got tucked away in the drawers. Miscellaneous items found their home next to the diapers on the lower shelves of the change table. When the bulk of the work was done, Matt told me that every night that week, he had turned on the light of the nursery and spent a moment taking it all in before coming to bed. I laughed. “Me too,” I admitted. We are more than blessed. I vowed, right there and then, to not let myself forget how abundant our life is.

Holding the Sacredness of Life is not always easy. It’s a practice just like lying to die by your bed each night. When my daughter is peacefully sleeping in my arms or when I set her down and she looks up at me with her beautiful blue eyes and her slant smile, it’s very easy. It’s naturally contagious even. In those moments, I’d go as far as saying that she’s the one holding space for me. In the not so easy times of each day, however, when my shredded body parts are in pain or my nipples bleeding or when we can’t find the equanimity within, it’s a whole other ball game. Reactivity has the potential to bubble up; we ourselves need some some tender love and care. For me, those moments, when nothing we do seems to comfort our daughter, I need to consciously remember that holding the sacredness of life means holding it all: the love, the discomfort, the anxiety, the warmth, the fear, the physical pain, and often the relief that she came out beautifully healthy and whole. She’s here and breathing – a little miracle that grew inside me and whose spirit is widely pure. We love her madly. When I consciously connect to the sacredness of it all, in whatever shape it shows up, my heart melts back to love. I can breathe calmly with her screaming cheek pressed up against mine.

Thank you to everyone who joined us in celebrating her entry into this life and who showered us with food and gifts and presence of heart. To all of you who do this (birth and raise a baby) with much less, so much respect is owed. More than ever, I’m in love with life itself. It’s a privilege and a gift to be our little girl’s mom and to hold her life so sacredly in our arms.

Why Ignorance Is Bliss

IMG_9164 “Ignorance is bliss” is quite a common expression – mostly used in one of two contexts: 1) some use it to explain their own conscious choice of ignoring, as in not seeing something as it is in order to preserve a more ideal or optimistic perspective on the world; or 2) some use it to describe, often resentfully, how they feel negatively affected by another person’s choice to “burry their head in the sand” or to “turn a blind eye”, or to “push something under the rug”.

Why is ignorance bliss? On the surface, it seems simple. The expression is self-explanatory. The choice of not seeing something as it is, of not understanding, of turning our attention away, is a choice that protects us. Or so it seems.

To remove the judgment that may be implied with the use of the word ignorance, let’s define it as not knowing. To not know protects us from the adverse affects of living in the knowing. To live in the knowing of something, that is – to stay consciousness, to keep paying attention once something is known – requires being responsible… which takes courage, which can be confronting, and which raises the bar of a life worth living. To wake up out of ignorance demands bringing awareness to areas of incompetence we have within our way of being. The type of incompetencies I’m referring to include areas related to grieving well, sitting still, letting go, staying present through discomfort, accepting, managing disappointment, swelling rejection, not personalizing actions of others, and so much more. Whatever your incompetency is where likely lies your patterns of ignorance. There is nothing more naturally human, however, than circling through cycles of awakening and dormancy.  Ignorance can essentially manifest as any of the typical psychological defence mechanisms we consciously or unconsciously resort to in the face of new information that has shaken the ground under our feet: denial, projection, regression, acting out, dissociation, repression, intellectualization, rationalization, displacement, compartmentalization, among others. We get comfortable seeing the world in a certain way. It allows predictability, which can feel safe and stable. Even just a glimpse of an alternate reality from the one we know can, in fact, be too much to process. This is especially true when we know that accepting certain types of new information as valid will require that we be: a) willing to feel things we may not want to feel, and b) that we be willing to face everything else that will unfold from leaning into a new truth.

I’m speak vaguely, with intention. The examples are so vast. Ignorance pervades our relationships – with ourselves, with one another, as well as with our environment. On the daily. Our defence mechanisms come up often. Relationships are hard.

The problem with staying ignorant – choosing to not know certain ultimate truths – is that we end up missing out on connection, growth, and wholehearted living. Ignorance and all the defence mechanisms it expresses itself as keep us in delusion, disconnection, and suffering. When love dies in a relationship and we stay. When violence has occurred and we fail to acknowledge the impact. When our actions are causing harm to our planet and we keep their harmful habits. When our health is at stake and we pretend it’s not. When we’ve harmed another and we blame.

What are you unwilling to feel? A question Tara Brach often poses in her retreat talks and teachings. If you answer this question, you’ll open the door to the areas in your life where ignorance has been bliss. The illusion of bliss, that is.

Prayer for the Ending of your Suffering

Somehow and with no clear direction or vision of the future of my expression, poetry has been speaking the language of my heart newly. Through circles of grief and love, and inspiration from those who wrote and mused poetry before me, I’m allowing the direction and vision to unfold naturally. Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Kim Rosen, Wendell Berry, Tara Brach, Leonard Cohen, Mark Nepo, and so many more have become my teachers.

It has been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been writing plenty but more for personal processing and it’s felt as though my mind has been adjusting to a new way of placing words down to say the things that seem to lie behind life’s mystery. I read poetry. I sit in meditation. I prepare for my meditation through study and movement and pranayama. Then, I just write whatever comes out of me and I look at the paper and think “who wrote that?” as I’ve been allowing an opening for a language that was previously unfamiliar to me. When I write lately, something becomes propelled from a force that doesn’t exist in my day to day realm of cognitive operating. So, here I risk sharing with you an example of this language of spirit we call poetry.

Prayer For The Ending Of Your Suffering

I wish I could set your heart

free form the entrapment of its cage.

I wish I could sow wings or gills

on this vessel you embody.

I wish I could invent an eraser for your memories.

And I wish I had the capability of traveling you into

a time when you’d know

the possibility of healing.

 

I watch you

and I hold your spirit

with this prayer

for the ending of your suffering.

 

I wish I could set your heart

free from the entrapment of its cage.

And I only know

of this one…

perhaps seemingly contradictory,

way.

 

I will sit here, by your side,

opening my heart to yours

to give space for you to recognize that

your heart has gone on beating

and pulsating life force

through this vessel you embody.

 

You need not grow wings or gills

to fly above earth

or breathe in the drowning.

 

Instead,

I am here, by your side,

in silence, listening,

opening my heart to yours

to give space for you to recognize that

your heart has gone on beating

and pulsating life force

through this vessel you embody.

 

You need not an eraser for your memories.

Instead I am here, by your side,

in silence, listening,

opening my heart to yours

so that the confines of those memories

may disperse into ether

where you have space to recognize that

your heart, like mine,

 

and the hearts of the whole Universe’s creations,

 

has gone on beating

and pulsating life force

through this vessel you embody.

 

I am here.

I sit here

by your side,

in silence, listening

to your heart beat.

And I’m witnessing

the pulsating life force

through this vessel you embody.

 

There’s no need to skip over

this moment in time when the healing is happening.

I hold intention for you to choose

to be here ,

awake,

alive,

and with me.

Let’s not time travel over

the miracle unfolding.

 

I see you, simply, and I hold your spirit

with this prayer for the ending of your suffering.

 

And I wait, patiently,

for you to release your own heart from

the entrapment of its cage

and to witness with me

the miracle that

the same heart that endured atrocity

has gone on beating,

reliably,

consistently,

persistently,

pulsating life force

through this vessel you embody.

 

Breakfast with Phippen

IMG_5560I hadn’t laughed that hard in so long. My belly hurt and coffee came up my nose. So animated was his story of irony – in this commercialized world of yoga festivals, where preachers bring together young souls in an era of spiritual deprivation. We suffer from our phones, social media, and ego-driven practices aimed at waking us up from what isolates us most. And so – I laughed that hard at my own judge: that part of me that knows the empowering feeling of thrusting my hips, chanting OM, in unison with house music, wearing tight pants –

We. Will. Be. Free!

I nearly spat my coffee out across the table. Poached eggs, bacon bits, and too many pieces of ciabatta-bun toast, oozing with margarine – the yellow plasticky kind. Nothing but the best at all times. A friendship of the nourishing type. Where catching up isn’t only a reminiscence of a shared past. Philosophical conversations are infused with reflections on personal and interpersonal growth. Humour and kindness add value to intellectually stimulating, mind-provoking thought.

Love always,

xo

A Year of Plenty – Yoga has 8 limbs

img_3335 A year has shed its skin, yet again. The dark days have reached their darkest and are now gaining light each morning we wake. Some speak of resolutions. I prefer to set intentions.

Drink water. Take rest. Eat well. Love wholeheartedly. Why then, if the answers are so simple, do we meander down paths of suffering?

The human heart is only complicated by the intricacies of our minds. 2018 came with challenges that were circumstantial as most challenges are for me. Some of you may have gone through a similar spin around the sun over the last 365 days. Some of you may have had a year of plenty and are now entering circumstantial challenges of your own. Either way, yoga reminds us of the impermanence of it all. The outcome of any state of suffering can be a return to yourself if you choose it to be that way; a return to self, to your heart, to a place of deep self-love and respect. Which in turn implies a return to the practice and to an understanding that the practice has 8 limbs/ components. Yoga is not the physical practice. It is not meditation. It is not the pranayama. Those are simply the tools, which are part of a whole system of self-care. Like any other system that is made up of parts that require one another for the intricate workings of the whole, being in a state of yoga (fully awake, open, non-reactive, and responsive to life from the loving-kindness of your heart) is something we come home to by cultivating and maintaining all the working parts. I speak of: the Yamas, the Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. If this is jargon to you, let me explain.

The Yamas and Niyamas, in Yoga, refer to the social and personal observances – the ethics of our interactions with others and ourselves. There are ten essential “rules” or ethical guidelines, if you will, that are described as a template for how to live your life in a way that frees your mind from self-created anxiety, regret, and all the other mental obstacles that stand in the way of living freely and happily. The Yamas describe the following five approaches to take in your social interactions: non-harm (non-violence), speaking truth (this goes with non-harm), non-stealing (not taking what isn’t rightfully yours), ethical use of your energy (this includes sexual energy), and non-grasping (non-greed/ not taking more than what you need). The Niyamas describe an additional set of guidelines specific to your personal disciplines: purity/ cleanliness (keeping everything clean from the food you ingest to the environment you live in), contentment (acceptance of reality as it is/ serenity without feeling a lack of what’s not there), tapas (discipline in your actions/ purifying austerity), self-reflection (observing and studying oneself), and finally, surrendering to the highest (letting go of what is out of our control and having faith in a higher power).

For the sake of this post, I won’t go in any depth on the other 6 limbs. Simply, they include: the physical postures (asana), the breathing practices (pranayama), the withdrawal from external stimuli (pratyahara), concentration practices (dharana), meditation practices (dhyana), and lastly, Samadhi refers to the experience of “being one with everything” – I laugh at this statement because it sounds silly and cliche. But really, when we drop into a meditation practice so deeply and the mind becomes so clear and pure, there is an unmistakable experience where we awaken to the reality that time and space are illusions and we witness ourselves in direct connection with a reality of things that is timeless, formless, ever-present, and all pervading. It’s beautiful. It’s impossible to stay in that state for we still have tasks at hand and need to live in a place of action to accomplish daily chores and routines. However, to dip into that state for a moment each day allows you to stay connected to that part of yourself that is pure and loving and wholehearted.

If the end goal is simply to live a life that is free from mental suffering; to breathe more freely, to interact more peacefully; to spend less time in rumination, regret, dwelling, and fear. If the goal is to live the next year and beyond with an awareness of the plentifulness of life. Then, the means are the full 8 limbs of the practice. To sit in meditation is very difficult without adequate care for your body through an asana practice, eating healthy foods, and sleeping well. To achieve a state of samadhi is difficult without first learning to concentrate your mind, then to maintain that focus in a meditative state. To move through your body and to then sit (to even get yourself to your mat for that matter) is extremely difficult if you aren’t following the guidelines of the Yamas and the Niyamas.

Like any system, if you only practice parts of it, the effects of the intricate workings of the system will get watered down. I lost connection to my practice in the beginning of 2018, mostly because I neglected myself. I reconnected with it through love and loss, and a return to myself. And this is all part of the ebb and flow of life. It’s like a glass mountain that we climb: at times we get to a certain height and then “relapse” back to old unhelpful patterns – we slide back down the glass mountain and seemingly find ourselves even further down than where we last started. This is where the tapas, the self-reflection, and the surrendering kick in. We bring ourselves back to our hearts. We sit. We observe. We let go. We reflect. We let go some more. And all this with an unmistakable discipline and a trust in the unknown, the unforeseen, and the uncontrollable. We simply climb back up to where we had fallen and then keep moving along, without an attachment to any particular height. We just move forward as there is nowhere else to go.

Here’s to a year of plenty, in whatever shape it comes. Here’s to a return to the 8 limbs of the practice that is so beautiful to me. May you live your intentions as we enter 2019.

 

In the Wake of Solitude

IMG_5468

Each day,

my practice awaits.

The ability to move freely

through time and space

is never quite the same

as it was yesterday.

Some days, I can breathe

without constraint.

Other days,

the only way to breathe

in such a way

is by curling into a ball

on the floor

smothered in the weight of blankets

and cuddled up

next to my dog.

Tears stream down my face

as though every ounce of water

in my body could find

its way out through my eyes.

There is a specific kind of mourning

that meets me here,

face-to-face,

in every wake of solitude’s embrace:

the waking out of sleep;

the waking transition when the work day ends; and

the waking moment at the end of the practice,

when the final relaxation is over

and there is no way to further delay

moving through the world

and all the interactions

that are a reminder that he’s in a different place.

On the better days, I move gracefully

through a dancing synchronicity of my body and breath.

I feel connected, humbled, loved;

reminded of his presence as though he was still a permeating living energy.

The wake of solitude inevitably returns,

As does the waking to his love.

 

 

“Blessing for the Brokenhearted” by Jan Richardson

IMG_5499I offer this poem as it brought words to an understanding of what I needed from those around me with a recent loss I’ve encountered. It was the loss of someone whose love reminds me of the beauty, tenderness, and inspiration of the monarch butterfly. Perfectly, he took me strolling through a field of milkweeds on one of our first dates. I love you always. Thank you to Jan Falls, a dear friend and fellow therapist, who gifted me with this poem one morning last week – a morning when the loss struck me; when the abrupt truth of it met my disbelief and there were no words of condolences that felt right for anyone to speak other than to say “I don’t know what to say”.

BLESSING FOR THE BROKENHEARTED by Jan Richardson from “The Cure for Sorrow: a Book of Blessings for Times of Grief”

There is no remedy for love but to love more. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree for now that we will not say the breaking makes us stronger or that it is better to have this pain than to have done without this love.

Let us promise we will not tell ourselves time will heal the wound,                                           when every day our waking opens it anew.

Perhaps for now it can be enough to simply marvel at the mystery of how                                   a heart so broken can go on beating, as if it were made for precisely this —

as if it knows the only cure for love is more of it,

as if it sees the heart’s sole remedy for breaking is to love still,

as if it trusts that its own persistent pulse is the rhythm of a blessing                                                                      we cannot begin to fathom but will save us nonetheless.

 

What if I meditated?

What if when you were driving, your full attention was on driving? What if when you were eating, you were completely absorbed in the nourishment of your mind? While having a conversation, what if your focus was on listening deeply? What if when the sun was shining, you relished in its light and warmth; and when it was raining, you stepped outside to feel the raindrops on your skin? What if during heartbreak, you made friends with your pain? What if your attitude towards the sensations was “these are deliciously sensational” as opposed to “please go away”? What if in the wake of day, you paid more concern to the preparation of your mind than you did of your appearance? What if when your addictive urges arose, you simply observed them and let them pass? And when they were absent, what if you noticed your peace of mind? What if you followed your dreams? What if you trusted the wisdom of your body? What if when doubt was present, you could just name it and grin? What if you had the mental clarity to distinguish between what was personal and what wasn’t? Imagine the possibilities. What if it was easy to let things go? What if you found yourself living according to your true values? What if you spoke your truth in a non-harming way? What if regrets and dwellings and resentments served as messengers toward your growth by prompting helpful reflection? What if you rejected nothing? But instead knew how to work with everything? What if you could sit in silence for hours? What if you could turn to the trees and the rivers and the elements for their teachings? What if you made space in your life; purged and shedded things regularly to feel the lightness in your step? What if you put out in the world the love and kindness you wish to receive? What if you never took more than you needed? What if you climbed mountains, took in fresh air, ate clean foods, socialized freely, and let your mind flow through time and space? What if you trusted the unknown?

What if these were the possibilities? Some say meditation just may ruin your life.

His Vision Carries On

IMG_3805 “I want to live in a world where people are inspired to actively respond to our personal, social, environmental, and economic challenges” ~ Micheal Stone

I was listening to a radio interview with Feist a little over a week after Michael’s passing. She was sharing the inspiration for her Pleasure album, but more specifically the significance of her song “Get Not High, Get Not Low”. Her exact words, I can’t remember. But what I took away from it was that she, as an artist, dreamed and had ambition to find a greater balance between the highs and the lows that characterized her reality and its expression. She used words like “Zen”, “balance”, and “even”, when describing her ideal way of life in which she could discover what living outside of the extremes would be like. And then, the interviewer (I apologize for not having noted who it was), asked whether Feist thought that the very creativity, imagination, and emotion that fuels her art would then die – whether it was possible for an artist to have both: a balanced, zen life and produce works of art that move people to feel and live deeply. And Feist simply said “I don’t know. That’s a good question.”

It made me think of Michael.

Dear Michael, I was meant to write you an email after your last visit to Ottawa. With more time and reflection, I will write you an open letter – in your name and memory. For now, I simply hold your vision in mind and trust that clarity will come in terms how to carry the teachings and mental health awareness forward when someone like yourself has gone from the only reality we know.

Perennial Wisdom vs. Evolving Science

IMG_3499If you wish to understand a concept, study the root language and the meaning of the root word from which the modern concept was derived. There is incredible wisdom in this approach to studying and understanding the qualities of our human experience.

It was through my studies in yoga therapy that I began to pay very close attention to the distinction between addressing health and healing through the lens perennial wisdom vs. evolving science. If you google “Perennial wisdom”, you will likely see the Latin translation, “Philosophia perennis”. And the definition of that is “a core of philosophical truths that is hypothesized to exist independently of and unaffected by time or place”. Evolving Science, however, refers to the evolution of what is known to be true. In other words, as scientific approaches, thoughts, measures, theories, protocols, tools, treatment practices grow and change overtime, what is known to be true also grows and changes overtime. Ask any medical professional to point out the differences and the relevance of their studies from 20 years ago to today’s application of medical science and they will tell you that what is known to be factual evidence in terms of the cause and treatment of most diseases has greatly shifted. In the 70s, homosexuality was a proven and published disease with a specific set of diagnostic criteria, for example. The treatment for Schizophrenia and many other mental health disorders involved scientifically sound treatment approaches such as electro shock therapy and commitment to asylums. Not that long ago, in an age when women had no rights and no voice, the treatment for “hysteria” which was a diagnosed disease based on women’s emotional and behavioural hormonal imbalance, was treated by the actual removal of the uterus. All this was done in good faith and profound trust in science. Yet, 10, 20, 30 years later, what is true has changed. And 10, 20, 30 years from now, today’s scientific truths will also have changed. I can almost guarantee that chemotherapy will be something we look back on and say “can you believe we used to think that poisoning the system was the answer?”. The times of giving Ritalin to 5 year olds for the treatment of ADHD will have long passed. And the belief that taking antidepressants as a means of changing brain chemistry will also shift in some unknown direction.

To come back to Perennial Wisdom, Yoga Therapy, and the study of root languages: I don’t reject modern science, but I do base my therapeutic approaches more on philosophical truths that have remained unaffected by place and time and I go back to these truths to inform my understanding of how to support a person who is not seeing results in the treatment they are receiving through a scientifically proven pharmaceutical or pathology-based approach. Please don’t misunderstand me. Our scientific and medical advancements are astounding. They have saved lives and given chances to people who 20 years ago would have died under the same health conditions. What I am saying is that Perennial Wisdom is something we must keep integrating and going back to when what we think to be true is proven wrong.

One of the missing aspects in evolutionary science is the spiritual component of our human experience. This is where root languages come in. In the most simple terms, yoga therapy is 90% working with the breath. In many root languages, such as Latin, the word for breath is spirit. The translation of Psyche in Latin, is also the human soul, mind, spirit. But in our Western Psychology, we have come very far from that concept. In yoga therapy, the root of all suffering is “Avidya”, which in Sanskrit, means a wrong understanding that we are alone and separate – an ignorance of our interconnectedness, our whole and complete nature. In my therapeutic approach, regardless of the person’s culture, religion or non-religion, age, gender, mobility, sexuality, diagnosis, what I am most interested in is their connection to themselves, others, and the world; their relationship to life and death. When the person is willing, we work directly with their breath. There is no need to believe in anything spiritual if what we understand about spirituality is simply that we become free from emotional and mental suffering when we can come back home to our heart, breathe freely, and live in whole connection to ourselves and the world around us. We are free from suffering when we remember and wake up to an experience that we are not alone and separate from one another.

Science may never be able to prove or show evidence for things that can’t be intellectually explained or measured by tools developed through the rational mind. Perennial wisdom is something we can simply trust because it keeps showing up. What was true in ancient times, remains true today. We are not separate from one another. Yet, when we believe that we are, we suffer. Scientific assessment of this would be categorized as depression, anxiety, PTSD, insecure attachment, and medication may be seen as the answer. Let’s not forget the deeper aspect of our human experience and the innate resilience that perennial wisdom can remind us to tap into.