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A year ago today, we woke early and made coffee. We watched men put our things into a truck. We packed our tiny car with what we needed for 6 weeks, we stuffed the dogs in there too.

I remember driving away, whispering farewells to the house we’d called home, to the neighbours we’d called friends, to my favourite tree down my favourite street. When we left the familiar city boundaries, we turned the volume up and sang our sorrow into excitement and bubbly beginnings.

It’s been 365 sleeps (366 to be exact, since it was a leap year), and just as many emotions. Exhilarating days discovering our neighbourhood, our city, and days missing the comfort of the known. There’s still so much we haven’t done or seen, still so much to hold our attention.

I miss the forest and the river steps away from our front door. I miss the wisdom of the wind singing harmonies with the leaves.

But the trees in Montreal are approachable. They’ve been around people so much, they know exactly what to do with us.

And living in French has rekindled a part of me that had been forgotten.

So… here’s to another orbit around the sun.
Here’s to newness and challenge and discovery.
Here’s to transforming a house into a home, acquaintances into friendships.
Here’s to roots breaking through cement.

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(top photo from wehearit.com , bottom from jetpac.com)

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i, cedar.

my face pressed deeply into her bark,
cheek and lips distorted.
her surface is softness and jagged edges.
underneath, she bleeds red.
(like we do)
i’m surrounded by people…
for a moment in time,
completely alone.
entwined.
branches growing instead of toes.
leaves in place of teeth.
sinew forced out by seed.
i smell of sap and musk and earth,
of pepper and dampness and moss.
her woody arms wrap around me.
she whispers sweetness,
heart to heart.
when there is gratitude,
she says,
the universe is limitless in her abundance.

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sourced here

The Time Before Goodbye

5 and 1/3 years: that’s how long my feet have walked the streets of this particular town. 3 houses, 1 home: this is where my occasionally weary, sometimes happy body has rested, or at least tried to. 50 months, so far: this is the length of time I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of an amazing community of yogis in the sweetness of a studio I get to call mine. 11 dwellings and 5 cities: that’s where I’ve lived in my life, not counting the year of travel around the world. 136 to 157 days, roughly: this is how much time my heart has to explore and explode and experience and expand in this neck of the woods before I say goodbye and start over. Again.

f0e9ec0c795d690d0f04a3170186f289I’ve started over a lot. Sometimes I’ve done it because I wanted to, because my heart wanted nothing more than to follow the magic of beginning. Sometimes I’ve done it because my heart wanted nothing more than to follow the thumping of another human’s heart. This time, it is both.

The last few years of being rooted, un-rooted and up-rooted here, have been the hardest of my life. This is where I’ve known isolation and judgment, feelings of disconnect and insignificance, endings and beginnings, chaos and so. much. change. I’ve found myself face to face with demons and leaches, my own and other people’s too. I’ve looked in the mirror and seen morsels of decay left to fester in the corners of multifaceted rooms I didn’t know my body held. At times, I fought so strenuously against the current it felt like I was swimming in place, tethered to imaginary monsters of the past.

tumblr_nxk010GCRi1rpuw07o1_500And it has also been a period of standing over the cauldron of my own swirling light, marked by momentous leaps and bounds of growth, by love that managed to tear my heart open wider and wider and wider still. I’ve stepped in soupy messes with courage I didn’t know I had, leapt wild-heartedly into unknowns, and with a few scrapes and bruises to prove it, learned to fly. I’ve risked my significance in order to eagerly stand (with increasing patience and readiness) by my own genuine self. I’ve stripped down to the bone, shed my snake-skin, stood in the harshness of raw, achy exposure, and emerged a shinier, brighter, fuller me. I’ve been hurled by the universe’s slingshot into depths of knowing, remembering and re-membering.

To this community of souls that has witnessed my journey, that has stood by my side, that has taught me to be, thank you. My hands have been warmed by the strength of your hands, my eyes have been seen by the beauty and wisdom of your eyes, my heart has swelled by the expansiveness of your heart. To you who have had the courage to share of your selves, who have trusted me with your secrets, your joys and your struggles, thank you. It is in the witnessing of your blossoming that I have been given permission to bloom. And to those ones that have shut me out, shot me down, turned away from me and chosen not to see me, thank you. You’ve gifted me the audacity to show up, the grit to work through the muck, the determination to stand in my own light.

I have 3264 to 3768 hours left in this place. Here’s to thriving in each of those clock-ticks, to relishing the time left, to being in the untidiness of it all. Here’s to the turbulence of the next moments. Here’s to the not-so-gentle juncture of leaving, to us – you and you and I, in the chaos of parting. And here’s to the brilliant flame of beginnings that follows the disorientation of endings.
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(all photos found on tumblr)

Inhale, exhale

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Inhalation, exhalation.
Bridges and rubble. Tall spiraling staircases and the after-math of bombings. Light so bright it hurts my eyes and dark, moldy, terrifying corners.

Transformation. Death and birth and death and birth and birth and death again. The full moon is in Taurus. Remember to remember, they say. Let that shit go, they say.
It’s the last super-moon of the year. Harness that creativity, they say.

Tap in or tap out. And it feels like chaos.
Inspiration, expiration.
Inhale, exhale.

It’s a whirlwind of destruction. It’s a fertilizing, a readying for the planting, a preparing to receive. Brush the dry skin off. There is beauty in the particles floating in the sunlight…and it is skin – old, dry, decomposing debris. I’ve got one foot (and perhaps half of the other) out the door. I’ve got two hands hanging onto the windowsill, trying to pull myself back in. I can hear the pitter-patter, I can hear the thump-thump-thumping, I can hear the unbridled-almost-ferocious-roaring of my heart.

Inspire, expire.
Space and sweetness. And gasping too. And just a hint of fear. Fear is good, they say. It keeps you moving forward. Fear is bad, they say. It freezes you in your tracks.

And then there are the trees, breathing and reaching, simultaneously shedding and quieting and getting ready to sleep. Earth and metal. Salts and ores and quiet streams. Water so powerful it’s about to break the dam.

Don’t you dare hold back, they say. Be wild and true. Create a container, they say. It’s not polite to be who you are.
Inhalation, exhalation.
Inspiration, expiration.
This room is too cramped. The walls are too tall.
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(top photo by Christopher McKenney, bottom one here)

In Memory of Utah

11392876_10152872908176860_3668522950837520774_nOne of my friends once said that losing a dog was, in some way, harder than losing a loved one. Our dogs love us unconditionally, every day. Our dogs shower us with kisses and tenderness whenever we (or they) need it. They ask for nothing in return, they teach us the gratitude of every moment, the joys of the mundane: sticks and rivers, food and water, warmth and hugs. Most importantly, they teach us to love openly, to give love and to receive it. And even once they’ve left us, they continue to show us how to grow, to move, one tentative puppy step at a time, through the mourning and the grief, through the mud and murky waters, into the clear calmness of remembering and of re-membering. There is an opening that can’t be closed, a widening of the heart that can never be narrowed, a depth of sensitivity and a new understanding. There is an ability to communicate without the burden of words.

22516_10152872908126860_6684168451912576704_nDogs show us how to follow our instincts, trust ourselves, step into our own beauty, and not worry about what others may say. They show us that for every person that doesn’t want to play, there are three others just waiting to share their joy with us. They train us to explore all of our unknowns, to tumble and fall and get right back up again, bruises and all. They show us how to enjoy what we have, to trust the abundance, to find the loveliness that is everywhere, if only we can learn how to see it, smell it, taste it and celebrate it.

So when we say goodbye to our friend, our number one secret-keeper, our protector, our calm, tender, wise boy – it hurts. Badly. And we are reminded that as the pain begins to subside (and it will), we will find solace in the memories, and even more gratitude in the gift of each day.11011011_10152872908296860_8587589940910800863_n

“There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of animals. It is a cycle unlike any other. To those who have never lived through its turnings or walked its rocky path, our willingness to give our hearts with full knowledge that they will be broken seems incomprehensible. Only we know how small a price we pay for what we receive; our grief, no matter how powerful it may be, is an insufficient measure of the joy we have been given.” ~Suzanne Clothier

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Love’s Year

The moon will show herself one last time this year. She begs me to do the same, calling my name in that sweet soul-whisper only she and I can hear. It is a hushed riddle she requires me to answer before opening the door to the unmistakable truth. She only uses it to beckon me when I’ve been hiding too long. She’s quick to remind me it’s been a while.

Don’t worry, sweet one, she murmurs. We’ll wait for you if we need to, and we’ll love you voraciously all the same. But it’s been long enough now.

I can hear the indisputable thump-thump-thumping of my heart… or is it hers? There is no difference, 491ef5df644db602d3142dd48662a3acI feel, but I cannot know for sure. There is an unambiguous anxiety that builds as the clock tick-tocks it’s way to a new calendar. The moon has orchestrated a mesmerizing rhythm of waves crashing over each other like the days of the past year, muddled and messy and powerful; and this cold, salty air pleads me to look back as though it carries all of my secrets, disappointments and revelations. I can feel it right down to my marrow. I’ve been stretched in a way that cannot be unstretched. I’ve learned things impossible to unlearn. I know it is a good thing – it’s been a formidable few months. I’ve taken giant steps only to (momentarily) fall back tenfold. I’ve brushed myself off and seen the ferocious beauty of my universe-sized soul only to hold a mirror up to where I’ve conveniently been hiding a small speck of darkness. More, always more, she urged of me. Each time, managing to force me into deeper knowing, added forgiveness, and continually expanding grace. So now this head of mine begs for some spacious silence, a patch of warm ground to rest on for a while, a few spotless moments to piece together the puzzle of sagacious wisdom gained and not yet fully understood.

I will draw a bath in these last hours of the year. The salts will leach the worries out of my precious bones, one by one. The water will soak away the impossible expectations I’ve come to have of myself. I will replace them all with lists of laugher and smiles and sweetness past. As the hourglass drops her last grains of sand, I will set the unresolution to just be. I will deepen all of my cracks and wrinkles until they become grooves, prayers that hold an infinite capacity for love. I will meet your eyes with unconditional softness and trust that you will do the same for me.
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How to Starve the Soul

mirror_messageI started school a few weeks ago. It has been quite a transition, getting used to reading and studying and retaining information again. Some days it hurts my brain, but I’m excited about the material and even more excited to start putting it into practice.
The thing is, I’m feeling a little vulnerable too. You see, I’m taking Holistic Nutrition.

My relationship to food has never been an easy one.

Apparently I was a picky eater as a kid. I didn’t like veggies, I didn’t like meat. I still remember sitting alone at the table after everyone else was done, trying to finish those last few bites. Rules were rules and I had to finish what was on my plate!

When I was old enough (14 was old enough, according to mom), I took the leap and became a vegetarian, but no one told me how to do it. I just ate whatever was served, minus the meat. It was the first time I was making my own rules around food, and that appealed to me. I started to experiment with tofu and veggie burgers and soy-dogs. And I started getting chubby. Those extra few pounds were only a small part of why I felt left out and alone in high school. I spent my days wrestling with this feeling of sadness I just couldn’t quite shake (or understand for that matter).

By the time I was 18, I was carrying around an extra 50 pounds. My self-esteem was shot which just seemed to exacerbate my food choices.

When I moved to Montreal, things continued to spiral. I was living in the most beautiful city in the world, surrounded by the most beautiful people (Montrealers are seriously HOT)! Inundated with beauty, all I could see in the mirror was ugly, fat, not quite likeable and just not smart enough. I hid behind baggy clothes. Every time I sat down with someone, I lifted my 5643293149_5c5fb85bdf shoulders up to my ears and forward a little so that my shirt would fall in the perfect way that would hide my stomach rolls a tiny bit. It didn’t matter what they looked like or how much they liked me, my friends were always thinner, prettier, smarter than I was. Always. And I still couldn’t shake the sadness that hung over me like a cloud.

That’s when I took my yoga practice to a new level. Though I still remember my 14 year old self in my very first yoga class, I had never committed to it in a serious way. I finally found a class that I wanted to go to regularly. We were only ever 4 or 5 students, which was enough for me to get over it and twist my flabby self into some seriously compromising poses.

And you know the story from there on… I was inspired to see myself differently, to learn about self-acceptance, to make healthier choices. Ah! The joys and rewards of being a yogi!

Except that’s not really how it happened.

The reality is that I still felt ashamed. I still felt sad. I still felt lonely.
I had already lost a few pounds when I decided to talk to my doctor. She told me I was fat, and I believed her. binging-isnt-a-good-coping-mechanism-so-why-do-i-do-it-21599033So I went to see a dietitian and I wrote down every bite of food I took. I made bargains with myself: have these fries for lunch, eat a pound of spinach for dinner. I ate low fat cheese, fake crab, fat free salad dressings, chemically seasoned rice cakes. I counted every calorie. I became obsessed with taking the weight off. And I did! It was working, and I could measure my worth through my size 4 pants. I was skinnier than I had ever been, and ever would be again…

When I finally ditched the food charts and the dietician, I managed to keep most of the weight off. I (thought I) ate perfectly – in public that is. I made low fat choices all day long. I vowed never to eat poutine or avocados again. But in the privacy of my home, I ate 20 cookies at a time. I finished whole bags of potato chips, walked to the street corner to hide the evidence and promised to have nothing but celery for the rest of the week. I didn’t realize at the time that I was starving my body from the fat that it needed to function properly, but I had enough sense to know that things were out of whack. There was so much shame attached to what I was doing that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it.

After traveling the world for a year eating delicious vegetarian foods, doing yoga in ashrams, orphanages and on beautiful beaches, I decided to make some serious changes. Again.

I moved to Toronto and made some amazing new connections. I was part of an incredible community of yogis, lived in a fantastic neighbourhood, biked everywhere I needed to go. Avocados became my new best friend. I discovered the wonders of coconut oil. I bought local, organic foods as much as possible. I continued to learn about how my food choices affected the world around me. I felt more satisfied. And from what my friends and family could see, I was the picture of happiness. Like a good yogi, I lived on almond milk and kale and hemp seeds.

2294352895_2cc833d639And yet I still felt sad and lonely. I knew I wasn’t speaking my truth. My throat was in a permanent state of tension; never allowing my voice to come through… I didn’t even know what I wanted – what I needed – to say. So I dealt with it the best way I knew how. I hid to eat doughnuts and cheese buns. When we’d buy cookies and they’d be gone the next day, I would lie to my boyfriend saying friends had been over for tea. I biked to places nobody knew me and bought fast food. I ate standing next to garbage cans so that I could get rid of the evidence as soon as I was done. Sometimes I felt full but still had dinner when I got home rather than explain that I’d already eaten. I hid it so well… I didn’t put any weight on because I was doing 3 hours of yoga a day, riding my bike to go to my teaching gigs, and taking spin class with my boyfriend in the evening. I was determined that no one find out. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, the food was a way to (literally) keep shoving down the sadness and the words that just didn’t know how to come out.

My boyfriend and I moved to Guelph. We bought a home. We were excited to start over again. I was opening a yoga studio! More proof that I was a true yogi! In that first year I had the house to myself. He had an interim job in the States, and I needed to be here so that I could make our home and put down roots.
Except the loneliness and the sadness came flooding back, hitting me from behind like a tidal wave. There was no way to escape here. No friends to have tea with, nowhere to hide from myself, and too much pride to reach out. So once more, I did what I knew how to do. I ate. urlI stuffed all of my emotions down with as much food as I could take in, and then I sat alone in the dark, holding my shame, my guilt, my aching belly and my many, many tears. I felt so incredibly ashamed.
I had all the books I needed on my shelves. I had helped students from my yoga classes with their eating disorders. I had pointed them in the right direction, given them the right practices, introduced them to services and people they needed, said all the right things. I couldn’t bare the shame and embarrassment of coming out with my little secret… Until one night, I binged so much I actually threw up. And it scared the shit out of me. That’s when I picked up the phone and made an appointment to talk to someone. The whole process didn’t take long, because I already new what to do. I was already awake, I had all the tools I needed under my belt. All that was necessary was a little push in the right direction. I realized quickly that my little dance with that ‘official’ eating disorder was a final attempt to repress my emotions a little further, to not look at the truth of who I was, the deep hurt I was holding, the feelings of being unseen, unheard. I was trying to push down my truth, not wanting to face what I wanted and needed in my life and what I was erasing about myself in order to fit into the picture of who I thought I should be.

So I threw out all those stupid magazines. You know, the ones that promise to show you how to ‘loose those pesky last 5 pounds’, or those that help you ‘master vrskchikasana in a few easy steps’. They made me feel like crap. They reminded me that I was never thin enough, pretty enough, organized enough, a good enough yogi… And instead of keeping my fridge and shelves free of temptation, I allowed myself to buy the cookies, the chocolate, the good cheese. And I ate them regularly. Whenever I had a craving I had a little piece and soon enough, I wasn’t craving them anymore. I started to learn – actually no, I started to remember – that it’s ok to have a treat, that there is no need to feel guilty or to hide, and that your body tells you what you need, if you listen. I remembered that the person in the mirror was actually my best friend, I had simply become estranged from her. In this process, I realized how much I had erased myself in those last 10 years, trying desperately to fit into a mold that I thought was ideal. I didn’t even know who I was anymore, I didn’t know what movies I liked, or what music I wanted to listen to… I had been making all these choices so that other people would like me, but I had completely forgotten how to like myself. A yoga teacher who doesn’t know who she is!? Talk about a shoemaker with bad shoes…

I’ve told you part of the story before. The bomb went off, my life changed in so many ways and so fast I could barely keep up. But I started to find my voice again. I started to get to know this sweet woman who’s been hiding inside me. I started to listen to her wisdom and her experience and her guidance. I saw her looking back at me in the mirror and I liked her more and more with each passing day. I allowed myself to do things I’d always held back from. They may seem insignificant to you, but saying ‘I would rather see this movie instead’ felt like an act of freedom and rebellion. I lost some people in the process, but found others that truly love me for who I am: people who support me, and encourage me, and laugh and cry by my side.

So why am I sensitive about the wonderful information I am learning in school right now? I am concerned because I don’t want to lose myself again. Food can be a trigger and a crutch. It has been for me in the past, and it has the potential to be one again. break-the-rules-in-life-quoteYet I know that the knowledge I am gaining has the power and potential to free me even more, and to help others break away from the grips of food and shame. What I have learned is that moderation is always best and when we start to make rules around anything, we inevitably end up wanting to break them. As I learn about the process of digestion and how foods affect us, I feel the pull… that temptation to make rules, to cut out certain foods: never eat sugar again, never drink water out of the tap. But here’s the thing. I know it’s a slippery slope. All I can do is remind myself to look in the mirror, admire my curvaceous body, smile at myself and be proud of the work I do, the studio I own, the words I write (whether or not anyone reads them. Ha!), the life I am creating.

I am still learning to let go of the guilt and the shame. I’m still learning to trust my voice. I’m still learning to get to know myself again. It’s amazing how much we change over the course of time and what an incredible gift it is to make friends with ourselves over and over again… In the process, my throat is feeling freer than it ever has, and the sadness is lifting. It’s still there and likely always will be, but I think that’s a good thing. Pema Chodron said that “the genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion”, that it is only through getting in touch with our deepest sadness that we can feel true happiness and act with loving kindness towards ourselves and others… So I choose to keep it in my heart: that wisdom-sadness, that love-sadness, that I-am-beautiful-in-my-truth-sadness. I choose to trust my darkness and my light. I choose to do the work and piece together my fragmented parts, to stay awake, and to eat kale, and hemp and chocolate cupcakes. original