One Foot Forward

 

long roadI’ve moved many times; almost too many to count. I like to think I’ve developed a few reasonable tools: the art of getting lost, the dexterity of being alone, the talent of turning bread-buying into daylong adventures, and the okayness of feeling isolated, sad, confused. This last set of skills is doubtlessly the most important.

Today is the last day in this city. Today is the last day in this community, in this part of the country. Today is the last chance to pack boxes, to whisper secrets into the walls of this old house, to run fingers along the mortar and the windowsills, to plant feet into the dirt of this particular yard. Tomorrow morning we’ll wake early. We’ll strip the bed, walk down the stairs, let the fur-kids out and make a final cup of coffee. Men will come with a truck to take our things – furniture and plates and shoes, memories and stories and truths. We’ll walk through our empty home, vacuuming the dusty corners as though gathering our tattered ends, tidying up the technicolour residue of our joys and of our tears. We’ll leave behind a beautiful and nameless edifice, ready for someone else to know love in. They’ll hang frames and find hiding places for their most private hurts and pleasures.

I’ve moved many times; almost too many to count. This time feels different. Momentous. All of the regulars have shown up, as if on cue: doubt, anxiety, excitement, uncertainty, willingness, readiness and unreadiness. There is a bubbling cauldron of magic too, a witch stirring in strands of hair, dirt, and possibilities. I can see her in the corner of my eye. She’s playful and coy and testing. If I try to look at her directly, she disappears; she is building my trust and my confidence. She is measuring my tenacity. She is teaching me a dance. It doesn’t start with fear or attachment. There is a pause as the music begins, and I move one step back on the second beat, grounding the left foot, then the right. There are a few quicker, harder to master steps moving into joy, a swing of the hips to shake off the ashes of who I used to be, a mammoth jump, and the promise of sweet release on the landing.

I’ve moved many times; almost too many to count. I’m at a fork in the road and this time I know which path to take. If you hold my hand, I will hold your heart.

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(both photos found on tumblr.com)

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Roaring Waters

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The water is roaring. The riverbed can’t hold her in. She’s rushing… flooding… running… trickling way past her usual edges. Like a delirious child, madly colouring outside the lines. Her container is no longer suitable. It’s too constricted. But here’s the beauty – she doesn’t try to fit into it. She just builds a new one.

I put one foot in front of the other. I can’t tell if my hair is made of snakes. I’m not sure if that’s the sound of my heart, or the wild thumping of the core of the earth. And I don’t want to know. My skin feels soft and loose, yet I’m bursting at the seams. There is rage, and power, and excitement. There is magic, unbridled joy, and the deepest trust in all the things. There is mourning also. Sadness. Disappointment. Fear, trying to hold me back. But the current is tenacious; it’s way too strong now. My vessel is too small. It’s time to build a new one…

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It’s not always light and love…

(This post was spurred by an intelligent and thoughtful discussion with a fellow yogini and friend following the unbearable news about what happened in Charleston and why/how it’s important to talk about it. What follows has been modified from my response to her)

There is a lack of conversation in the yoga community (and elsewhere) about the racism and discrimination we are experiencing in North America. I believe is it linked to the distorted (and, if we are being transparent here, appropriated) culture of yoga, guided by the beautiful wishes to always be inclusive, to move toward oneness, to continue to walk in (seemingly) constant peace and love – or at the very least to project that image. It is misguided, unfortunately, and based in fear of being rejected or labeled as being too harsh, too abrasive or non-inclusive. It is a product of a culture that, at least in the parts of Canada and the United States I have witnessed, is dominated mostly by white people (and, lets be honest here: it is, in my experience, still dominated more accurately by white men – though I admit this is changing. Slowly).

In the last few years, I have been working with what it means to be authentic – truly authentic. The yoga world is a very easy place to hide behind one-love-paradigms, too-sweet-too-accepting facades that, as practitioners and warriors of love, we end up believing are true, even when they are not. I have seen myself convinced (truly believing – not in denial, but honestly convinced) that I wasn’t stress, wasn’t hurt, wasn’t frustrated/angry/lonely/insert-whatever-‘challenging’-emotion-here because I was (and still am, though working on it) so practiced in gracefully being yogic, knowing the “appropriate” way to act or to respond. Instead, after years of hiding behind the yoga mask, I am allowing myself to speak in honour of my true voice, my true feelings, my true thoughts.  And I am also learning to speak in honour of the truth of the world as it is right now.

Everything is not light and love. Some of it is, yes. And if we want to walk truthfully and authentically into light and love, we have to openly, loudly, fearlessly denounce darkness and hatred.

AND we have to own our part of the responsibility.
I think that, right there, is the hardest (because it’s fucking hard) part…

I have no idea what it means to be African-American living in the States right now (or even to have black skin in most parts of the world for that matter), and I’m not going to pretend I ever could understand what that means. But I do know, from my own sheltered experience, that it is hard to have a ‘different’ last name and to be discriminated against because of it… I do know that it feels pretty shitty that 95% of the time i walk into a yoga class (as a teacher or as a student), I am the only non-white body in the room…. I do know how awful it is to feel restricted or judged or singled out or called a terrorist (!!) because of my appearance or because of the letters that form the words that were given to me, meant to define me as ‘who I am’… I do know what if feels like to be in a place where I feel unsafe because of the colour of my skin… (and i’m not even talking here about being in a homosexual relationship or simply about being a woman)

But here’s the thing. I have lived, for the most part, a privileged life in which I have been loved and cared for and provided for and accepted. So my experience cannot even begin to be compared to what millions of people are suffering now because of the colour of their skin or because of where they were born. And so it is not only my choice, but my obligation (and i believe it is also the obligations of all privileged people – especially yogis and even more so, white yogis) to acknowledge and speak out about what is going on in the world. It is our responsibility to ask for forgiveness for our mistakes, and with humility, to ask what, precisely, is needed to even begin to heal the deep wounds (and then to respect what is offered to us as guidance and answers, without trying to take the stage).

So. Thank you, each of you who have chosen to, or are choosing to step in. Thank you for the courage it takes to tell the truth of where you are at. Thank you for not shying away, for not hiding behind false pretences (like the hashtag ‘alllivesmatter’ – read more here), for acknowledging your capacity – whatever it currently is at this point, and for the strength it takes to show up and to learn and to move forward. #blacklivesmatter

photo by Blair Ryan Photography(photo by Blair Ryan photography)

I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You


There is something I have been meaning to tell you. If I say it out loud, you’ll know. It won’t be a secret anymore. The hear-me-roar of the tiger’s teeth I’ve learned to wear around my neck won’t deceive you any longer. I’ve taught myself how to trick you, you see. I’ve tricked you into thinking I am strong beyond belief. I’ve fooled you into thinking I’ve got it under control, I’m not easily bruised. I am stillness on the lake at dusk, undisturbed beauty and calm, a three hundred year old cedar.

It’s true. Sometimes it’s not an illusion at all. Sometimes I walk in the skin of a panther. I feel my hips sway to the rhythm of my cool, powerful strut. It’s true. Some days I am fragile like dew dropping blossoms in the morning sun.

I know you understand. I can see your thoughts spill out of your sensitive eyes. You don’t always know you are sharing your joys and your pain. You do it all at once in technicolour codes. I’ve learned how to speak that same love language. Some days I am a crow feasting on your leftovers. Don’t turn away. It is still me, I promise. Don’t be fooled. I am the owl, only my wings have been tied down for a while.
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Perhaps, if you and I no longer hide, we will meet by the riverbed and drink the lovetruth serum. We’ll see our intimate fears transformed into the filaments of gold that they are, pulled up into the vastness by the moon of our eyes. We’ll know that we already are our magnificent selves. We’ll understand that our brokenness is a magic carpet ride that leads us back home to the light.

I am preparing to lose a piece of my body. The puss will be drained, the tissue will be cut out. There will be bleeding and pain and scars.

I will be forced to rest.
And I will be reminded I am not these bones.

I will be asked to choose. I could wrestle myself into un-wholeness. Instead I will step fully into my altered casing. I will learn and relearn and learn again. I am not my breasts or my curves or my sex or my organs. I will know, from the depth of my darkness, from the heart of my heart, from the fire of my belly, I am the universe inside this skin. I will see what I already see. My light cannot exist without my shadow.

And I will continue to try, by and by. I will coax myself into letting you see my fragility. I will ask you to let me in to your secret hiding places, to invite me to play and sing and dance by your side.

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In Between

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Sometimes you sit in sadness.
Sometimes the lines get blurred and you don’t know the difference between your own tears
and someone else’s.
Sometimes the bleeding wound you’ve been running from is exactly where you need to be.
Sometimes the blistering is what points you to the tenderness of your own
breaking heart.
Sometimes it is your aloneness that shows you kinship,
your pain that teaches you gratitude,
your defeat that guides you to the light you’d forgotten.
Sometimes, something gives you the courage to step out of yourself,
and into your self.
And you find your way to the centre of your centre,
to the heart of your heart.
And there you are once more, returning home
fragile and tender and broken.
There you are again,
strong and magnificent, a wild horse running.
There you are,
the universe inside the universe.

Love-d.

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Meet Me Where the Light Rushes In

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Hide yourself from the world.
Wade for a time in the
Murkiest corners of your soul.
Sit in the squalor of your own disgrace.
Know what it is to embody voracious
Greed, ignorance, intolerance.
See yourself reflected in
The eyes of a murderer,
In the hands of a pedophile,
In the mind of a terrorist.

Trust deeply that it is from the
Dregs of your own decay
That the blossom is born.
Accept that,
For you to be only love,
In the heart of your heart,
You must also have tasted disgust.
Acknowledge that wisdom
Can only be birthed out of sadness.
Believe that, within you,
There is a harmony
Of light and dark,
A symphony of sentiments
That allow you to feel fully,
To live with fervor,
To be.

And know.
Fully understand.
Your love is the heart of the universe.
Your fire is the soul of the world.
Your truth is a reflection of the cosmos.
Your muck and your beauty,
A mirror of us all.

Sit with me in the dark of the dark
Meet me where the light rushes in.

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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