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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Falling In Love in the City of Love

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It all started one morning as I lay on the makeshift bed, trying to plan my day. Metro stops, directions from here to there, frantic notes taken in my book and on my phone, all to ensure I wouldn’t get lost.

photo by Myriam Khouzam

I realized I was wasting precious moments, my mind slowed by the fear of being disoriented. It was enough to move me out of doubt.  I slipped into my favorite jeans, wrapped my heart in my scarf, and headed out the door.

The magic opened up before me. She found me instantly. She guided me through winding streets, reminding me patiently to trust my intuition.

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There I was, lost among the crowds of tourists. They were missing the beauty, their noses so perfectly buried in guide books. There I was, found in the beauty of my surroundings.
For a few days, I learned what it felt like to be truly present, one breath, one step, one bite at a time. The past and the future chose to forget me and I saw myself reflected in windows and flowers and beautiful eyes looking back at me.

I ate croissants and watched lovers kiss. I felt the sun, and later the rain, tickle my cheeks. I navigated the streets of Paris waiting for my heart to be swept away, searching for romance.

And I found it.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the company I kept. We made the most of those few days we had alone together, lost in time for a while.

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We took each other on long walks, talked to locals as though we were one of them, and they believed us. We sat for long, delicious meals, allowing the wine to go to our heads and mesmerize us by our collective beauty. We told each other fairytales and they melded so perfectly with reality that we could no longer separate the two.  We teased each other and laughed. We learned the language of soul-speak and without a single word, absorbed the history around us, communing not only with our own selves but with those who had taken these very same steps before we had even inherited these bodies. We looked at old photographs and tombstones and knew we had been here before, many times.

At night, we shared our discoveries with our beloved and her smile became a reflection of our own.

We were me, and I am all of us.

I know, with the cells of my soul, I am in love with each of you and with the moon reflected in our eyes.

 

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*all photos by me. see more here

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

The Shape of Love

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They sat by the water, watching the sun sparkle on the clear surface, telling stories with the rocks on the bottom of the lake. They played with beach rackets, throwing their heads back and letting the wind catch their laughter. The dogs, almost as happy as they were, chased the balls that got away from them. They relished the quiet magic of this place: the soothing sounds of the waves hitting the dock and the cool breeze that was just another reason for them to take refuge in each other’s arms. They had no neighbours peeking at them, no one to check up on them except the night sky like none other they had ever seen. The stars spoke of their ancestors and guardians, the ones that told them they were exactly where they needed to be. They went for walks in the woods. They stepped into the water, covered their calves and stayed as long as they could bare the shivers that ran over their entire bodies. But mostly, they allowed themselves to just be, to bask in the warm embrace of the land, sunkissed on the deck, reading, writing, holding hands. They were on their honeymoon after all.

They were me. Me and my wife, that is.

I didn’t think I would ever write those words. I didn’t think I would get married, though perhaps somewhere deep inside, the idea wasn’t so far fetched. At some point in my childhood I’m sure I imagined myself in a beautiful white gown with my handsome husband carrying me out into the sunset. I don’t remember dreaming that dream, but surely it happened. Every little girl dreams of being a bride, right? Barbie and Ken taught me that.

And then in high school I felt different from all of them. I wanted to be loved, liked. I wanted to belong and yet I wanted to stay different. The mold was attractive but so uncomfortable to try to fit into.

University came and I fell in love. We made a life together. We travelled the world, moved often, learned to be adults together. I thought that was it. For sure. He looked good on me. We looked good together. They all liked us so much. Twelve years later we bought a house and moved to where our “real life” would begin. You know the one – the one the adults live, the one that is settled, the one where you go to the market on Saturday mornings, the one where you garden and cook and keep the house clean. You know, the life you’re supposed to have. The one where she feels a little sad and lonely. The one where he works a lot and tries his best. The life in which they love each other dearly but wish somehow things were just a little different.

And then it all changed. That’s when I met her. That’s when the Universe reminded me of the lesson I’m still learning, the lesson we all have been learning our whole life. Things change and though you have the ability to choose, happiness doesn’t always come in a pretty pink package. Sometimes happiness comes in the shape of chaos, at least for a while.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And the easiest. The bomb went off and the trees fell down, roots exposed, sap bleeding out a little. 563013_516474015098660_962157212_nShe scooped me up, nursed my bruises and, with the kind of patience only love can provide, she kissed each of my scars and turned them into butterflies. We broke each other’s hearts open, kept waiting for them to stop growing, but they never did. Our hearts as vast as the sky. We held each other’s hurt and turned it into songs. She helped me find my long lost voice.

We didn’t want to spend a minute a part. When distance separated us, we texted sweetness. Early on, she drove with her windows down, music blaring, wind in her hair, and I wrote that I could marry her. I tasted the richness of happy, the warmth of gratitude, the thrill of new love. We kept waiting for the intensity to dissipate but it still hasn’t. Sure, its shape has changed a little. We’ve made a home together, one where we go to the market on Saturdays, a home where we garden and cook and clean. But every day we pause to look around at what we’ve created. We drink our love.

And so we gathered our friends and family. We found a barn and a field. I wore a blue dress with flowers printed on it, hers was red and flowing. The East, South, West and North guided our day. The eagle feather blessed our hands. The sun and the sweet breeze wrapped themselves around our shoulders. The trees and birds whispered their wisdom. And our people, all of them, cheered our loved. The ones that were uncomfortable couldn’t deny what was between us. They smiled and raised their glasses and toasted us with softness in their eyes.

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And here we are together, married to each other, married to the moon and the sky, married to the joys and the sorrows, to the comforts and the challenges, learning, laughing, growing, side by side. Here we are, marveling at the shades of red and purple, the pinks and yellows of our life together. We’re learning and teaching those around us that the light shapes its way in many forms. It will seep through the cracks and fill your beating heart with joy. If you let it.