Two years ago a longtime friend invited me into a romance.
Love has always been a complicated thing for me. Historically I have avoided it. Friends would accuse me of being too picky, and although I couldn’t disagree, it was an unconscious survival strategy. Sometimes when I travelled I’d have a brief sexual encounter to fill my need for human connection, safe in a timeline that avoided any longing beyond the time it took me to get back home and into routine.
My family of origin is broken—very broken. I come from a long line of heartache, which is a conclusion I have crafted from the innate ways I have run from vulnerability of any kind, all my life. I didn’t have to learn this from anyone, I believe I came into this world with the stains of ancestral pain throughout my body. So when my friend asked me to risk my heart, I stood with great trepidation, at the crossroads of potential. It could have gone either way: unbearable pleasure or pain. It was both.
I immediately said no. But I’m a middle aged woman with the heart of a child. The woman inside wanted to experience the love being offered by this friend, and she trusted him. The child wanted it more, and trusted him more. It took me several months to come around, but I did and the reward was immediate. Our physical compatibility was undeniable and we poured our bodies into one another with complete abandon.
It’s not the first time I have confused sex with love.
Quickly and wordlessly he was unable, or unwilling, to show up for the emotional side of me. I was starving for affection, perhaps starving for my family’s lineage of missed connection, so I stuffed down my hurt and showed up for the crumbs of love anytime they were tossed my way. Those crumbs were the richest most decadent treats, and I would savour the aftertaste far beyond the time of consumption. The longing that followed was a bottomless pit. I would spend weeks at time in the damp cold dark stink of abandonment, but I’d be ready anytime he tossed down his rope, in hopes that this time, I would be brought to safety.
Somehow I blinked and two years had gone by. Two years waiting for him to fully arrive. Two years blind to my own worth. Two years hoping that this friend was not actually doing this to me. Fuck.
I have blamed myself for every part of it. Why did I take the chance. Why didn’t I demand more. Why didn’t I walk away. Why didn’t I protect and value the fierce woman I was, and am.
They say the first heartache is the worst. I always took this to mean the first venture into chosen love, but my perspective has shifted. Like many of us, my first love happened at home in my family. I have spent my life chasing down that familiar dysfunctional dynamic, in hopes of having it play out differently. This one—my friend—has been the hardest loss. Because it was a cruel disregard for the soft parts of me that I so willingly surrendered.
Don’t get me wrong, I have learned a great deal from this. I am empowered by the further healing of my old wounds. Wounds that had to be scratched and brought to the surface anew. I am reminded of my worth. But perhaps the biggest take-away is the realization that I have allowed toxic positivity to gag me for much too long. The ability to extract the lesson, and reason with my pain—in order not to feel it—has kept me from truly healing some very real hurts.
I am in a deep deep place of feeling right now. I hate it. but I am going to rest here for a bit and see what I can burn away with this fire.
I don’t normally get so personal, but maybe you needed to hear some of this too. Your heart is so special. Take care of one another dear friends.
When was the last time you were aware of your body?
Present in a way that did not include pain? Embodied without some kind of emotional desire?
The workday has been reduced to the screen in front of you: looking upon your face as those on the other end of your meeting are seeing you. Adjusting lighting, background, and turning off the microphone to eliminate the sound of the actual life in your space.
In return, you receive the same false electronic interpretation of your workmates and friends. Unconsciously scanning the screen in search of humanity where it cannot exist.
Missing are the subtle exchanges that take place in a sideways glance, the accidental giggle or sigh that doesn’t get picked up by technology, the toe tapping, leaning in, or slow slouch.
The body has it’s own language AND interprets the language of others, separate from the brain. We have been reduced to images of bodies trying to communicate without being seen. The disconnection is showing up in *your body* as pain, fatigue, overwhelm.
I know this because I touch bodies.
Your body needs to feel connected again.
Move mindfully—without music or video instruction. Touch with the goal of feeling.
In the summer of 2005, having just moved to Montreal, I took the bus to the Eastern Townships for 10 days of silence.
Upon arrival I handed over my pen and journal, my earbuds and iPod, along with the book I had been reading.
I was gifted one of only five private cabins just outside of the main house where I could spread out and be comfortable without any concerns for the roommate that those inside the main building would have. I found a pencil under the bed and its tip was worn right down to the wood. I wondered who had been in the room before me, and what they were scrawling on with the exhausted illegal writing tool. I was excited-scared.
As all of the other participants arrived, fifty of us, we casually mingled around the property until the bell called us into the main dining room. Just before the drape was pulled across the thread that divided the space into two halves—men and women—I caught a glimpse of a couple who were returning for the second time. They smiled at one another and hugged, one of them started to cry. Oh fuck. What have I gotten myself into?
I barely remember the structure of the first day, but as the routine of meals and meditation settled in, I wondered seriously, how I was going to get through the next ten days.
There was a brass bell that hung from its wooden handle on the front door frame of the main building. Someone walked the property at 4am clanging that thing so loudly the trees quivered. The first meditation of the day was to begin after the second bell at 4:30. There were days the second bell would sound before I heard the first. It was a special kind of hell, but I was appreciating the challenge having heard so many of my peers rave about their experience at Vipassana. It took me three days to finally get quiet. There were 10+ hours of meditation each day, and despite there being a technique to follow that was meant to bring the mind into the body, I spent much of my time performing a silent soundtrack of music in my head. When thoughts would pop up, I would have a song ready to complete the experience in my mind. I’m not entirely sure I wasn’t also dancing a bit on my meditation cushion. During the short walking breaks, I skipped and kicked my legs out in front of me to get the blood moving through my lower limbs. It was all a bit silly.
Things changed drastically for me on day three when we gathered for the first short meditation of the day—one hour, the short meditation was ONE HOUR. We were instructed not to move. No opening the eyes, no stretching the legs, no moving the hands. Suddenly the music stopped. All I could think was why no one had told me about this!? I wasted the first three days of technique-training and now I was being thrown into the stillness and silence completely unprepared. The method was not difficult and suddenly I was clinging to it as if it were the only grounded thing in a world without gravity. As per the instructions, I scanned my body, beginning at the top of my head on the right side. As soon as I felt sensation, my awareness would move the tiniest bit south in search of my body’s response to the spotlight of my attention. This continued until I felt every bit of my flesh through the cognition of my mind. My God, sitting is painful. The back of my head on the left side began to ache, and then my knees begged for movement as they cramped in their folded position, causing my feet to go from tingling to burning and then numb. A relentless ache settled into the bone as my feet cycled through this sleep-wake-repeat that was unbearable. But the instruction was to continue sequentially scanning the body despite the distraction. It’s really hard to breathe through that kind of unnecessary pain. Every ounce of concentration went into surviving that hour. My breath was shallow and while one side of my brain remained inside, scanning my body, the other was begging for release.
Goenka’s recorded chant broke the silence and I heard the sudden sobs of a woman behind me just as my own also released. Through urgent punching tears, I covered my face with my hands and wept with pain and relief.
We learned through observation that each one of us had a crazy person living inside of our head. The places she goes in the quiet moments are astonishing. She’s an absolute nutcase and I’m humiliated by her existence. I must never reveal her to the outside world. During the evening discourse on day four, the room erupts with uncontrolled laughter as Goenka refers to our internal crazy. How does he know? I’ve never seen this man before in my life, and he’s telling an extremely accurate story of my experience, that is also everyone else’s. The release of the laugh feels amazing.
At lunch I observe others as my form of entertainment. Meals, we learn quickly, are the only thing we can—sort of—control. The mind does all kinds of ridiculous things in meditation when technique falters, and I know for myself, I would let it; until the pain in my body pulled me back. In the dining hall, we could gain momentary comfort from stuffing our faces. I watch as meditators journey from stoic repose to desperate vultures around the food table. Collectively, we came to expect that every second day there would be dessert. I’m not sure if it’s a game of the servers, but the plate of fresh baked cookies would be set upon the table once we were all seated, shamelessly filling the void of personal connection through the comfort of food. One by one meditators abandon their half-eaten meal to grab a handful of cookies. HANDFULS! OMG. The emotional friction just thinking about not getting to the plate before it emptied was excruciating. We were reduced to indulging the crazy person living inside, the one who might actually crack over the loss of a cookie, and no one seemed to care if they were responsible for denying the next person of that last crumb. I just watched. And judged. Watched the vultures and felt my own panic rise. Thankfully there was always another cookie on the plate by the time I finished my meal. I indulged my own smug superiority, rewarding my restraint with an increased sense of pride. This was how I felt good. For the others it was a handful of cookies. For me it was judgment of them. I’m not proud of that.
Sometime after day five, wondering how I’m going to manage even one more day of silence, I start thinking about how I can get out of the mandatory don’t-move meditations that were scheduled three times each day. I wondered if I got the hiccups if someone would kick me out. The thought has me chuckling silently as I settle onto my cushion trying to remember which knee should be folded first to keep the pain from beginning too quickly, as if it mattered. Scanning my body, acknowledging and ignoring the burn in my knees, the silence is broken by a sudden chirp from somewhere behind me. Then a giggle. Chirp. Giggle. Chirp. Shuffle.
A woman near the door has the hiccups and she is being kicked out of the meditation hall!
Someone close by is giggling. I can’t believe what is happening. There is so much unexpressed emotion inside of me, I’m not sure I can hold it down. The giggler runs from the room, I can hear her bounding down the stairs, and just then from the far end of the corridor, another loud hiccup. I completely lose it. I have my head in my hands and my body is heaving with laughter. I’m snorting, and tears are running down my face. I cannot make it stop. The deep rumbling sound of suppressed hilarity in my throat is making things worse. I’m laughing at myself for predicting the hiccups and then laughing again because the crazy person is also psychic and she’s now shamelessly exposing herself. I’m surrounded by several dozen stoic meditators, but I’m all alone inside this comedy scene. Why haven’t they kicked me out yet?
The meditations begin to blend into one another. The first sit of each day is two hours, and on day seven I’m so exhausted by the busyness of my dreams at night that I find myself unable to stay awake. My body keeps slumping. Over and over again I awake just before my head hits the floor. It’s worse than the laughing fit. I break the rules, go to my room and sleep until breakfast.
Day nine is my 33rd birthday and the sunset is spectacular. I’m starting to appreciate the rhythm of silence. I’ve learned that alleviating the pain by repositioning my legs is ineffective. The sensation comes back with more force only seconds after the adjustment. If I remain still, the intensity peaks and then disappears for good. So many lessons in this one tiny exercise, and the resistance to learning it is astonishing.
Our final discourse is delivered in two groups: one in the meditation hall, one in the dining room below. A man in the other group has what resembles a psychotic break initiated by Goenka’s constant repetition of a single word throughout the talk. He is quietly ushered outside and I hope that the event is just the momentary emergence of his inner crazy and not anything more serious. But I’ll never know. Apparently psychotic episodes are not unusual during these courses.
Following the discourse we participate in one last meditation. This one is only 30 minutes but it feels as lengthy as the two-hour 4:30AM sit. I feel anxiety rising inside as I abandon the technique in anticipation of social interaction. As the subtle white noise of the recording fades out and meditators stretch their legs, one by one exiting the hall to join the buzz of conversation on the first floor, I am frozen on my cushion.
For ten days we have silently journeyed together through the rough terrain of our internal grounds. No one is going to understand how I feel right now better than these people, yet I’d rather remain alone inside the bubble of all I have just experienced. After another twenty minutes of self-inflicted isolation in the meditation hall, I creep down the stairs to join the group, but I don’t want to. Immediately I am embraced by a stranger and the emotion I was avoiding escapes in one heaving cry of relief. And I’m fine.
I am glad I experienced vipassana when I did. I would not do it again now. No way. Those ten days were among the hardest I have ever experienced, and the most worthwhile. It took ten days to learn the lesson of avoidance through the wisdom of my body. TEN days. It’s so simple I’m not sure if that amount of time is unreasonable, or a pithy.
I feel the looming challenge of the post COVID re-entry. If it doesn’t arrive for another year, I have that much longer to anticipate how I am going to make myself want to crawl out of my shell and join the world again.
I can wriggle and repeatedly adjust my way out of discomfort, but until the embers of disquiet completely burn up, there will be no final relief. The choice becomes impossible: feel, watch, experience the thick unwieldy texture of fever until it evaporates, or fight it. Run, deflect, deny. Live as best I can in the blissful moments between that looming avoidance, until the fatigue of the fight forces the sensation upon me anyway.
In the first six months of the pandemic while struggling to acclimatize to the uncertainties that lie ahead, I began walking. It was the most effective way to fill my day. I didn’t listen to music or talk on the phone. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone along the way. For hours at a time I put one foot in front of the other marking a giant perimeter around my centretown neighbourhood. My walk route would change from time to time, but inevitably I would find myself tracing the waterways of my city and the glimpses of nature provided there. I walked until the blisters on my feet oozed with infection, but I could not bring myself to take a day off. I needed the movement, the fresh air, the distraction.
Historically in my younger life during times of unemployment, I would use the time to nestle wrestle more deeply into my yoga practice. It was a tough discipline to get myself to the studio and sweat out my boredom and frustration, but I had nothing else to do and a single class could occupy me for two hours or more—depending on how quickly my legs carried me to and from. The practice has always been a love-hate thing for me. The love was for the release of hormones and the surge of endorphins that made me feel so alive. The hate was for the anger and frustration that frequently bubbled up through my body as the heat began to rise from the physical challenge. I never knew which sensation a practice would bring—love or hate. The fear of not knowing, or not being able to control the outcome, pulled at me strongly and it was often a fight to get myself to the studio. When I succeeded it was because the threat of boredom was stronger than the ominous emotion that lay beneath the dullness of my life at the moment.
This fight has been ongoing for the past 22 years. The toughest were between years two and ten. How did I do that? Eight years of wrestling my way through a practice I love? What do I love about it? These are very difficult questions to answer. I guess it’s the lightness that I feel in my body after having tangled with the demons of my emotional self. Win or lose, there is a general satisfaction in having engaged. On the days I opt not to fight it out I feel comforted by my melancholy. Like an old friend, I can snuggle up with her, allowing her weight to ground me in the stillness and rest that comes with inaction. It’s wonderful to have the relief of life’s pressures for a time. But then restlessness propels me back to my mat. The tick-tock of these two extremes has been very tiring.
I brought my practice home early on, but relied greatly on the community of the studio to keep me engaged. I identified with a mostly made-up social pressure that demanded evidence of my advancement in asana, which kept at least one foot in the studio struggling to keep up with my peers.
Yoga destabilized me. It knocked me down over and over, bruising my ego and embarrassing me into action. Fuck I hate yoga–but I know it has saved my life.
I haven’t done a full yoga practice in months.
My mat has been undisturbed in the closet since sometime in the summer. The vacuum cleaner beside it has gotten more use, and I feel great.
When I get down on the floor for a downward dog randomly during the day, I experience a delicious stretch that reaches into my fascia and travels deep beyond a single muscle. It’s a sensation I have not experienced in forever. If I am inspired to complete a sun salutation, the breath is more fulfilling than I recall it ever being, but I’m not compelled to do more than two. My joints feel strong and the sensation is reflected in my mental and emotional state.
The exhaustion of having to continuously dust off the assault of my yoga practice has forced me to get stronger. Or is it softer? I suppose it’s something in between the two. I no longer bruise as easily and my boundaries are more defined but also not as sharp as they once were. I feel stable for the first time in decades.
I don’t think this is the end of yoga for me, but I don’t know. Walking has been amazing. I am appreciating the view of the nature around me over the obsessive focus of the climate within. The steadiness of my step sprouted from my yoga practice and I’m going to continue walking while the roots lay beneath the earth unseen for a while.
This was my mantra as 2020 was prepping to unleash all its glory upon us. It’s a strong statement, one that has escaped my lips on several occasions in relation to various aspects of my life. Unfortunately, I actually can’t recall more than one discarded item as I prepare to draw a symbolic narrative on how freeing it has been, and I doubt that it has been so successful as to have erased my memory of those attachments, but it has been a hell of a year. This has been the kind of year that demands more of the present because reflections on the past are too painful when we consider all that has been lost, but this was not my goal when I put those words onto my private 2020 bucket list.
I wanted to see what would happen if I softened my grip on the shadows of the passions that have actually been fading for years. Some of these practices have defined me for decades and as their images shrink in my rear-view, the feeling of loss has disarmed me to the point of not being able to truly let go.
When I retired from teaching yoga in 2016, I was exhausted from trying to meet my own expectations of success, and retirement gave me permission to stop wanting embodiment for everyone else. At some point I realized that all those years of teaching had kept me at an imperceptible distance from my own embodiment and I had to leave it behind in order to reclaim my own mind-body connection.
After leaving the dissection lab in 2019, I committed to taking a year off to write. The revelations my yoga practice exposed following my retirement were so profound I wanted to see what a year of reflecting on dissection would uncover. Turns out, a lot. And I’m not sure I need to cut into another cadaver as long as I live.
That’s a tough statement to swallow.
Chances are if you think or speak of me, the words yoga and dissection are probably present. So you know how huge this is.
This past weekend I cleaned out all of my drawers, cupboards and closets. I came across the first book I wrote. I hand wrote it during the years of 2007 though 2009. It’s about my journey into yoga and teaching —and it’s really bad. I pulled it out months ago as reference for the current manuscript, but couldn’t stomach more than a few pages.
It’s not that the writing is bad. It does perfect justice to the young woman I was when I wrote it… but I’ve come a long way.
I knew this volume would not survive me to live on in my absence, but didn’t know how to dispose of it properly (and completely). I thought of throwing it in a campfire, but I only filled 200 pages of a 488 page hardcover journal —that would take some time to burn. I could take it to Staples and pay for it to be shredded, but that would mean trusting someone else to complete the task. I had to do it myself.
This week I had a brief text conversation with a friend from the lab. She had a scalpel in her hand carving her way around the shoulder, neck and skull. 2020 has unceremoniously closed her business and she confesses to be nearing her limit on dissection; aimless and wondering what to do next. I respond in support of her sentiment, like one foot is in the familiar, while the other is already marching forth into something new… but neither of us really know yet what that is.
I pull out the scissors and begin tearing pages out of that first book. As I do, my eyes are taking in small snippets of the manuscript that wasn’t destined for anything greater than this moment. As the words flash through the blades of my manual shredder, I see exactly what 2020 has taken. Taken in terms of denial; all the things we had to forfeit. But also taken in terms of what it has required; all the ways in which we were or were not prepared.
This pile of paper on my coffee table is the past. It’s all the hurt my young self carried along to the point of finally saying: Leave the past in the past.
I took a stunning picture on one of my walks along the canal on day 7 of this craziness. It was a particularly difficult day for me as I wrestled with the uncertainty of what lay ahead.
Over the past four months I have walked that route repeatedly while struggling to recreate the photo as the seasons changed. I have a thing about documenting the passage of time, and it seems as though that moment has refused to cooperate.
I live in a very vibrant part of town. I have an amazing apartment with a huge area of outdoor space that looks over a quiet residential street. Looking for this apartment nearly 10 years ago was an enormous stress. I had moved back from Costa Rica the year before with $2000 in my bank account and decided to return to school for massage therapy. I was born and raised in Ottawa but fled as soon as I could (it took me nearly two decades to return for good). It was a difficult landing, and I spent my first summer in Toronto teaching yoga and doing thai massage to raise my tuition fees. I settled on an apartment in Westboro that really wasn’t my style, so when I gave my two months notice, I was insistent on ticking just three boxes: laundry onsite, centretown location and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space, (not a concrete balcony). Two and a half weeks before moving day I still had not found my home. I started lying about my income (which was zero while I was in school), and it became a full-time job cycling around the city looking at potential places to live. They were all dumps!
Stressed to the max, I scored my now home just two weeks before moving day, and have not budged since. It ticked all of the boxes and at the time, was the priciest place I had seen. I didn’t care.
I am introverted by nature and spend a lot of time at home. My home has to feel like an oasis, and often people entering my space comment on how great the energy feels… this is not unique to my current apartment, it has always been the case.
Like everyone else, I have ridden the wave of the COVID ups and downs. Overnight we all experienced drastic life changes. I slumped right into the victim roll exclaiming, “at least you still have a job,” and “be thankful you have a partner by your side.”
It was a lot.
I learned quickly about the role my work plays in my life. Massage therapy brings me social connection through the tiny snippets of small talk to the deeper heartfelt conversations with my clients. The physical aspects are just as healing for me as they are for you. I was feeling the loss of this more than anything. But I have a lot of experience with introspection and I got right down to it.
I walked 10K a day. I devoured book after book, completing one every few days. I wrote. A lot. I explored new territory on my bike and rode farther than I ever have in a day. I drank a lot of wine too (and beer, and gin and moonshine -maple, if you’re wondering). I did all this, not because I am disciplined (or an alcoholic). I did it because I had nothing else to do.
The hardest part was hearing my friends who were also struggling —but in very different ways— tell me how lucky I am to live alone. How lucky I am to have this beautiful outdoor deck. How lucky I am to have time to get out on my bike and go for long walks. How lucky I am to be able to afford to live on the $2k a month offered by CERB.
I want you to know that my feet have never been so constantly blistered and sore in all my life. My neck is in perpetual spasm from poor reading posture and I need glasses now from the screen (I read on my iPad). In the spring on my walks, my mind was consumed with finding a decent place I could shelter myself to empty my bladder, (which makes for a lousy walk). Now that it’s hot, a migraine might blind me while I’m barely hydrated 30k from home on my bike (despite the water I brought with me). There is not a lot of perfection going on. But my home? Thankfully I made that happen a decade ago.
My favourite are the yogis. The ones spouting words that I cringe to admit have been my words also: “this is a wonderful opportunity to dig in and do some deep emotional work.” Can you hear the sugary patronization of that tone? It’s not intentional, but it can come across as lacking in empathy.
I am so sorry for ever condescending to you like that. Apart from maybe your therapist or partner, no one has the right to allude to how much work you have yet to do.
The BIGGEST lesson I have learned through all of this is to let go of comparison. Your struggles, that are the thing I long for, and my struggles, that are the thing you long for? They feel the same amount of crappy.
And you’re right. I am lucky, (but really, I made those choices and luck had nothing to do with it —for better or for worse).
I got to return to touching people this week and it has been more glorious than you can imagine. I am in an industry that has allowed me to resume a somewhat normal life. I feel so greatly for everyone who is working from home, longing for the day they get to leave the house for their morning commute. I have no advice for you… do what you have to do. No one knows when things will change, and I hope that if you are out there getting blisters on your feet, obsessing about where to pee and fighting off a migraine, you’re doing it with authenticity.
In the dissection lab we cling to one another in unprecedented ways. All that we are seeing and cutting into cannot be shared with those who are not present. It’s a grave imposition to ask anyone to hold space for what we are looking at. Beyond the tissues of a human cadaver we are excavating intricacies of our own existence as we penetrate the layers that make up the skin to eventually dive into viscera.
It’s thought provoking and exposing in unexpected ways. The light as it enters the spaces normally shrouded by the busyness of life, is brilliant. We take it in stride, but are keenly aware of the impermanence of this moment in time. Once the donors are neatly reassembled and laid to rest in their boxes, we must leave one another and continue the work from the still mysterious spaces of our own bodies. The lab provides a tiny amount of x-ray vision, but there are so many blanks to fill. I can name the structures of anatomy but still cannot find the link between it and my emotional awareness, which seems to deepen following a week of dissection.
We keep each other on speed-dial for a few days or weeks, comparing the revelations of sleep or lack there of. We laugh about the ways in which dreams link the most fucked up sections of our psyche with the mundane bits of our home routines and connections. Eventually these things fall away and life goes on as usual. The dreams fade and the phone is quiet. The work however, continues at a low murmur behind the scenes.
The stillness that follows is welcomed at first, but eventually turns to boredom. There is comfort in the friction of an unsettled mind. It propels me forward into tasks that either avoid (in this case), or feed what is rising. Either way, I am productive and creative in satisfying ways, and it works. Now that I have done all the domestic tasks I can stand, my habitat is clean and well prepared with sustenance, I sit down to enjoy the space. Sounds a little like COVID isolation, no?
The disquiet inside surfaces just as the last bit of a well earned sigh is released. I know better than to busy up the mental space the pause from my daily routine has offered, but I do it anyway. I come home from the lab ripe to explore my own insides but an old habit makes me pick up as if nothing transpired the week before while I was literally cutting open a human heart.
I go back to work following the same bike path. I stop at the same spot for my coffee and once I arrive at work, I eat the same breakfast. I problem solve the body and its aches with my clients. The comfort of routine envelopes me like a soft but impenetrable armour. Months pass and the seam around the neglected revelation of my scalpel has mostly bonded again. The moment will come when some benign event, a popped tire or expired coffee cream, (a pandemic), will rip open the vulnerable tissue that had been ripe for healing a short time ago. The once clean incision is now frayed and raw at the edges demanding immediate attention.
That avoided thing, be it physical, mental or emotional, is taking up precious space. How do you recognize when to dig in? There are times when it’s so obvious it hurts. This is probably one of those moments.
“It was raining on Parliament Hill as Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act on April 17, 1982. Marks left by the raindrops as they smudged the ink can still be seen as physical reminders of the rich history of the act.”
More than ever, I am proud to be Canadian today. As the second deposit of the Canada Emergency Care Benefit has reached my bank account, today bears a deeper meaning on many levels for me.
The quote above is taken from the Library and Archives Canada website, and I remember the rain that day. I was 9 years old and had gone to my ballet teacher’s house after school to rehearse for my role as Cinderella in our upcoming recital. I was called home early, and recall skipping through the puddles and around the worms bathing in the wet of the sidewalks. I’ve always loved the rain.
My father had left the house that morning to take pictures of the Queen, as history was being made on Parliament Hill. He didn’t make it far before a cardiac arrhythmia stopped his heart.
I had to piece it together for myself because I didn’t quite understand what my mother meant when she said he “collapsed at the wheel”. The days following were full of ceremony and logistics. There was a lot of emotion, but not much expression of it.
My mother immediately began working long hours to support three kids. I didn’t know anything different, and did not immediately feel damaged by the tragedy of these losses. I learned how to navigate the tangible aspects of life quickly. I became what those who knew me described as, strong and independent (qualities I am now trying to outgrow), and by the time I left home, I knew how to stretch a dollar.
This day, 38 years ago, shaped my life of today in so many ways. There is sadness for all the things that were missed, but also so much gratitude for the ways in which life has prepared me for this time of chaotic stillness.
The father of our current Prime Minister laid the foundation for the funding that so many of us are relying on right now.
I have never in my life used social assistance, and in my gratitude, I cannot wait to start giving back.
The first time I “ran away from home” was when I was in my mid-twenties. Struggling to make my way in the world and carve out an identity for myself, I gave very little thought to the move before I packed my things and took up residence in downtown Toronto. I had one friend in a house of six others, all roughly my age. It took me two years to settle into a routine and I remember well, the sensation of loneliness and boredom while I wandered the city looking for work and purpose. I lived solely on credit for a long time, but I didn’t care because I was young and I was doing it on my terms. At the two year mark I wasn’t working at anything fulfilling but, I had found yoga, and it was breathing new life into me.
In all, I stayed in Toronto for 8 years before moving to Montreal. I followed a boy there, but that didn’t work out. Actually we had already split up but I moved anyway, because I committed to an apartment, and was ready to leave the big city.
Montreal welcomed me warmly. My yoga experience allowed me entrance into the city’s largest studios, and I soon gained a tiny following of students. I loved the slower pace of the city and would spend hours each week in cafes, writing in my journal between classes or thai massage clients. But I was lonely.
I co-facilitated my first yoga retreat that year in Costa Rica and absolutely fell in love with the country. I was desperately searching for meaning and connection in my life, but I seemed to keep missing the mark. Sometime after that trip, I made the bold decision to take six months off and travel for three months on either side of the next retreat.
I left on December 15th which was no accident. This time I was not only running away from home, but I was doing it intentionally and without excuse, which made me very unpopular with certain members of my family.
There is so much I could write about that time but it all really comes down to the solitude of travel in a foreign land. I am an introvert who delights in the vast spaces of social withdrawal. But this was extreme!
I did not feel safe to be out after dark, and dark came quickly. Unlike Canada’s long, picturesque sunsets where the sun lingers on the horizon for hours, a Costa Rican sunset is over in seconds. There are beaches all along the west coast of the country, where communities gather to witness the few minutes of dusk at the end of each day. By 6:05 the night sky would have me locked in my room.
There would be times I had travel companions or Spanish classes to keep me busy, but much of the time I was on my own.
Days would be filled with the details of running errands, mapping out my next destination, meals, laundry. It was so dull, I can barely recall passing the time. I did a lot of writing and self-examination. It was intense in all directions and I learned quickly that I could run away from home, but my inner turmoil would constantly be nipping at my heels.
Internet was a treat if it could be found, but everything was slow to load, and I felt farther away from home when I checked in with friends. Introspection had put more distance between us because I was supposed to be having the time of my life, not going deep into my cells to excavate the dark mysteries within. I longed for the distraction of technology.
I wasn’t doing yoga because, by it’s very nature, it is designed to illuminate the internal environment, which I was trying to avoid. I would go weeks at a time without moving mindfully, in fear of stirring the beast.
When I would settle in one place for an extended period, I could allow routine to prop me up. In one town, the monkeys would move through the canopy just once a week, and I could busy myself for hours watching them. I counted down to the day each week.
In an indigenous village, I assisted with washing the laundry in the river, smacking the fabric against the rocks to release both the water and dirt. The physicality of it was refreshing. I made friends with two porcupines in a wildlife sanctuary, where feeding them gave me purpose.
It was half a year of monotony and boredom, sprinkled with tiny revelations from my soul. I was forever changed by those six months. I learned that it didn’t take a lot of doing to fill a day; that the spaces in between were where the magic happened. I learned to taste my food and prepare it anticipation of flavour, rather than hunger. I placed greater value on being spaciously present with other human beings…
It was hard, but so far, it’s cured me of my need to run away.
The more I look, the more insatiable my appetite becomes. I can easily lose track of time with my hands on or in a body. It’s so similar to being in a darkroom that in some ways I have been doing it forever.
In the darkroom, creative use of light is used to expose, manipulate, combine and edit the mood of an image. The negative is an objective template and the light that passes through it is subjective. It is the light that reveals the image, and the light that also has the capacity to hide or reveal finer detail. What I appreciate most about being in a darkroom is perhaps the illusion that I have some control over the image I wish to expose. Either it exists or it doesn’t, and I have been known to spend HOURS attempting to reconcile the image in my head with that on the page. I emerge from a darkroom marathon exhausted and exhilarated. Inspired and planning the next roll.
When I was young, my Dad, who was an X-ray technician by profession, had a passionate hobby in photography. He shot black and white film that he processed in a darkroom he built in our basement. Myself and my brothers were often his subjects, but I took a deeper interest, wanting to spend time with him in the cramped darkroom. I remember sitting on the couch with him, eyes closed, attempting to thread an old film onto a developing spool.
I would eventually inherit his cameras, darkroom equipment and passion for images. The combined work and luck it takes to bring an image from conception to print is simultaneously fraught with excitement and frustration. The entire process is not unlike being in the lab.
I love all photographs. I am interested in what the person holding the camera wants to reveal. I want to know the stories behind the light, the angle and composition. I love how photographs document the passage of time, and the mysteries they hold. I believe that a body also holds the documentation and mystery of time.
The dissection lab is not unlike the darkroom for me. I was good with a scalpel from day one. The precision required to uncover structure satisfied the photographer in me. To me, a scalpel is akin to the light in the darkroom. It’s the tool used to expose and bring to the surface, what lies beneath.