Nothing Is Yours

It was one of those moments of sudden inspiration, and clearly, I was not in a position to do anything about it immediately.

My lower back, nestled into a folded, Indian cotton blanket.

Both hands grasping a long, purple yoga strap looped around my foot, gently stretching my extended right leg.

My breath, deep and slow. My eyes, softly closed.

Silent, grateful bodies on colourful mats all around me.

My mind… instantly awake.

CRAP.

I had come to this Yin yoga class to be as fully present as I could be, and here I was, being tugged far out of the room…by an Idea. Rather than each thought drifting consciously into my awareness like clouds and swiftly leaving, one thought became another, and I was decidedly in the midst of a brainstorm. I had become the example that yoga teachers use — that I, too, use! — of the person who is drawn out of the practice by the so-called monkey mind.

But THIS felt different.

This felt like a moment that Elizabeth Gilbert referenced in her TED talk, where an interview with Tom Waits revealed to her that she was not the only one who had ever been struck with inspiration out of the blue and wasn’t in the least bit ready to receive what was coming down the pipe. Waits admitted the inconvenience of songs emerging from the ether while he was driving with no way to capture it. Creatives will recognize this plight — when you’re hoofing up a hill and are suddenly struck with insight, without a pen, or the good old iPhone Voice Memo function, and you just PRAY that it will come back to you again…

Was this what this was? Had I been chosen, in this inconvenient yoga moment, to be visited by a muse?

Was this my miracle minute of receiving the idea (or a potentially valuable one) that could determine the purpose and direction of my life? The skeleton with which to make a body of work that could have a positive impact on the lives of others? And if I just held on tightly enough to that thought (and this thought! Oh, and THAT thought!), could I make it to a piece of paper in time? Could I remember the buzz words, the key phrases, elements & messages that made up the initial pieces of what I thought could be something really big?

After we chanted our final ‘OM,’ bowed down and closed the class, I became THAT PERSON — the one who breaks out of a mindful practice and starts half-hurriedly gathering her props, nosing her way to the prop shelf a bit quicker than she should. I made a mental note that I would either have to admit to the teacher that my hasty departure was due to riding a wave of inspiration that needed an outlet ASAP, or simply acknowledge my enjoyment of the class and give as sincere of a thank you as I could without letting on that I was clearly in what felt like labour… with an idea baby.

I am fairly confident I did the latter. (My conscience feels, however, that this teacher probably deserves a little note of extra thanks, just to be sure.)

I promptly ducked into the book shop next door and bought a notebook that had an inspirational saying on the cover that (coincidence?) was in perfect alignment with my idea. Somehow amidst the brain storm, I managed to daydream, “This notebook could become legendary. It could be the one that contained THE IDEA that started it all…”

What a thrilling thought. (And somewhat embarrassing to admit in hindsight.)

I restrained my impatience as a teenaged boy at the cash desk began to reveal to the clerk that he ‘actually didn‘t like Tolkein’s The Hobbit.’ Knowing that Peter Jackson couldn’t even fit this 300 page story into just ONE feature-length film made me grey. I was going to be stalled here forever.

Please just notice that I am GIVING IDEA BIRTH!

Yes! It worked! Eye contact and a nod from the clerk. “I can help you over here.”

Money, on the counter. Receipt in my hand. A thank you, a wish for a pleasant evening.

It was past 8:30 at night. All I could think of was getting what I could recall of this FREAKING idea out of my head and onto paper, and then my belly rumbled.

Shit. Dinner. I am STARVING.

My mind was made up. Cooking something would delay this process to the point of actually losing it altogether, so I zipped across the street to a Mexican restaurant, asked if they did takeout (yes, they do), and ordered the first thing I saw on the menu (chicken tostadas)…and asked to borrow a pen.

I had a 5-minute wait  & a black ballpoint in my hand. As I opened the “notebook that could change it all,” I briefly contemplated whether I should leave the first page blank…

Screw that. I’m going for it. How much could I get down on paper so I wasn’t desperately clutching my brain bladder all the way home!? I opened the valve I had consciously put a stop on during yoga class and let whatever came flow out onto the page. It wasn’t even close to all of it, but it was enough for me to last the 10-minute trek homeward.

Front steps.

Keys in the door.

Watch for escaping cats! No cat? Good.

I’m in.

I didn’t even put my dinner on a plate. Just a fork in one hand, a pen in the other. Takeout box on the left, journal on the right. While one hand wrote, the other shoveled in chicken tostada. Whatever was still left in my brain, whatever was coming, I scribbled away, no censorship or judgement allowed…

I paused and took a breath.

I had a ‘hashtag‘ (or handle, I guess it’s called?) come to me in class that I felt could be associated with this ‘project.’ It wasn’t revolutionary, but hey, sometimes even the simplest things haven’t been explored. Or have they? I consulted what my friend Liz calls ‘The Oracle’ (yes, Google) to see if this handle was being freed up by the universe to house what was the beginning of a project that, as far as I felt, could really grow into something beautiful… 

The inner soundtrack soars, my heart pounds and hope burns brighter than ever… This…could…be…

Friggin. Eh.

Sure enough, it’s been used. The general concept of my Idea has been done.

FAAAACK.

I followed a weblink. This gal seems lovely. There are pictures of her doing yoga. She keeps a blog. She fulfills her purpose by helping people find theirs…

In an instant, I felt my rosy pink Idea balloon (whose gradual but anticipatory inflation had consumed 80 minutes of head space in a yoga class where I just wanted to be present, dammit) shatter into a pile of listless, rubbery bits. It may have been an inspired woman that came into this room, but a sad one eventually dragged herself to bed for a night of restless sleep.

Now, I’m under no illusion that original ideas are hard to come by. My Dad always said that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, and there is nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else, but I don’t think there are many people who purposely want to be generic and have the same ideas as everyone else does, do they? How colourful would our world be if we all did the same thing, or were the same person?

So why did this idea come to me out of oblivion if it had already come to someone else…someone else who followed through…

 I was instantly struck down with discouragement. I felt the increasingly saturated nature of the self-development world, that I was just one of many tapped into the universal mind; my hopes of having something unique to share, or offer, quickly dashed. I felt that, no matter what my experiences had been, I really had nothing, and I would just have to accept that at face value. My fear I had expressed to my husband a few months back — about being just another yoga teacher with a blog who wants to share realness, inspiration and create deeper connection in the world —  was being broadcasted to me in real life, real time, and I frustratedly saw myself willing to toss in the towel. All that was left of my optimism was 3 pages of messy notes in a $9.50 impulse purchase of a notebook. I had almost double that dollar amount in Mexican food in my belly, and it wasn’t even sitting that great. Oh, and 80 minutes of peace of mind that I really could’ve used…gone.

 (Wow, talk about glass half empty, huh!? I promise there’s a point. Please keep reading.)

 Which led me to think: why do multiple people have the same ideas? Besides my soul sisters who I know I share virtual head and heart space with (i.e. three of us had the same idea for our wedding invitations which, surprise surprise, already exists on weddingpaperdivas.com, which means TONS of other people have had — and used — that idea before!) Why did THIS idea come to ME — this idea that had already come to somebody else, without my even knowing it was already out there?

With the internet being such a public free-for-all, is it possible to say that we really own anything? And with all of us out there thinking, creating and being at the same time, is there any wonder that we may all be just recycling each others’ thoughts, concepts and dreams? And if this idea hit ME like a, well, maybe not a Mack truck, but an F250…does it mean that I should say no to carrying this through? And if I do, will anyone who feels this idea is rightly theirs be territorial or competitive? Will they insist that they came up with it first?

Or can we start to work together from a place of collaboration vs. competition and think, “Hey, my people dug this idea, but my people aren’t your people. And if you can reach more people that aren’t my people, then maybe we’re onto something here… World awesomeness domination!”

photoLE. SIGH. (By the by, for a while, I believed I had coined this expression… Turns out I’m apparently just a copycat who combines my French & English language skills into one super-language like everyone else.)

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a desire to have a ‘thing.’ I was protective of my relationships to my nearest and dearest, and still can be, to an extent. I value my one-on-one time with my bosom buddies deeply. I may still be sharing them with the world (and now in the case of many of them, their babies!), but when I’m with them, I’d rather not split my focus if I don’t have to (cute babies exempt, of course). When it came to activities, in High school in particular, I remember inadvertently stumbling into Drama and getting the sense from my Drama teacher that I was alright at it.

It quickly became my ‘thing’ — My joy. My happy challenge. My creative outlet.

Where others pursued their strengths and passions on swim teams, in soccer fields, art studios or in church youth groups, this was my much-needed time for me. It gave my 14-year-old self a sense of individuality and purpose amidst the burning desire to just make it through high school in one piece.

When a friend announced one day that they were taking up Drama, I felt my heart sink. My ‘thing’ felt lost to me in an instant, no matter whether I kept going or not. To further that point, if they ended up being good at it, then I would clearly have to admit defeat and let them shine instead. This is, of course, a really poopy attitude linked so intimately with the fear of not being enough, but it was genuinely how I felt. I would get good at something…then someone would be better…and inevitably, I would let it go because it was clearly their arena to shine in, and not mine.

Maybe them seeing me loving this ‘thing’ was what lead them to THEIR purpose, or THEIR gift. Come to think of it, this friend who jumped on the Drama bandwagon back in high school makes their career in Theatre to this day. Maybe if I hadn’t blazed the trail, they wouldn’t be where they are right now…Or maybe they would because we had just both had the same initiative to try it.

But here’s the bottom line:

We may all share the same ideas, thoughts and dreams. We all share this world. At the end of the day, we own nothing. Nothing is truly ours. But part of what makes our lives purposeful is the decision to listen to the inklings of our hearts. If you’ve been visited by a crazy muse, HONOUR IT. If you weren’t meant to be visited, you would have been left to stretch your hamstrings in peace! Maybe this muse is a trickster who gets her jollies from whispering the same ideas to different people, in different parts of the world…but it’s an IDEA, and IDEAS. MAKE. CHANGE.

If you asked 1000 children to draw a tree and a cat, no two would be exactly the same.

Maybe the seed of my idea looks like any ordinary seed, but depending on who chooses to plant it, one comes up an Orchid, the other a Sunflower —  both beautiful, both completely different in appearance, but intentionally the same in their purpose. If we didn’t have both, we wouldn’t be able to choose which one enhances our own unique lives the most. Our ideas may not all be unique, but the body we will inhabit for this time on earth, and the soul that it contains, are.

In this moment, I can’t say what will become of my elusive Idea that kept me from fully appreciating my yoga moment. I can say, however, that what you are reading right now is the result of waking up when I wanted nothing more than to sleep in peace, of pushing through the weight of defeat & discouragement, and of being challenged to connect when it seemed more worth my while to withdraw. Perhaps this Idea was really an opportunity in disguise for me to encourage you (as I have had to do for myself) to question why any thread you feel called to follow is worthwhile if you deny yourself the opportunity to even TRY.

Shine your OWN light in the junkyard of recycled dreams and the bleak landscape of ‘sameness.’ Defy your own long-held beliefs that someone we will be better, or more deserving of this honour, than you.

If you’re going to own anything, at least own that.

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Sharing, Lotus & Brahma

A couple of months ago, I was asked to share a tidbit of writing in the Bodhi Tree Yoga Centre‘s monthly newsletter.

Here’s what emerged from my exploration of the Hindu deity, Brahma (“creator of the universe and all things”), and the idea of creativity as being more than just something we explore through paint, clay, or the camera’s lens.

Sharing, Lotus & Brahma

Originally published in Bodhi Tree Yoga Centre’s February 2014 Breathing Room Newsletter.
PHOTO: I snapped this gorgeous ‘Rainbow over Field, BC’ when we pulled over on the side of the road en route from our engagement to a surprise celebratory dinner party with family & friends.

These Imperfect Works of Art

I always thought that “tapping into my creativity” was meant to look like a piece of art, with an end product I could hold in my hands, or read, or listen to, or look at and say, “Wow. I made that.”

I’m coming to find that a creative act does not always have to end up looking like a painting, a piece of music, or a perfectly choreographed dance. The time, energy, work and amount of heart invested is just the same, but the end product is something that cannot — and will not — ever be contained between the palms of my hands.

Slowly, I begin to see what is being created. It is a collection of experiences and opportunities to be fully in the world, in who we are.
To live.
To explore.
To marvel.
To learn.
To laugh.
To cry.
To be challenged.
To change.
To be connected.
To grow.
To transform.
To love.
To be.

These imperfect works of art hold the promise of all those things and more, if that is what is desired, if that is what you seek…

I do the work. And when the time comes, I allow the work and inspiration of the moment to move through me and through the steady, trusting, gentle souls who have graciously come along for the ride.

These are imperfect works of who I am, what I have learned and have yet to learn, and what I have in me to gift to a willing recipient.
I cannot, and will not, hold these in my hands. I grow them in my heart until the time comes, and when it comes, there is nothing to do but close my eyes and unlock the gates, trusting that what is waiting there is what is needed now.

Yes, I might fail.

But you have failed too once. You have made mistakes. I can only hope that, in my faltering, you catch a glimpse of yourself and know that you, too, can risk your heart. You, too, can bare your soul. You, too, can make mistakes and still be ok. You, too, can create.

These imperfect works of art make me as excited as they do nervous. If I could reach out my hand and touch them, I know I would feel their warm, steady hands meeting mine in a reassuring reminder that they will be, and that they will be as they are, not exactly as I wish them to be.
They are no longer mine.
Their beauty and magic can only truly come alive when they are held in the hearts of others.

You see, dear ones, I make these imperfect works of art because they make me come alive, and in my coming alive, I know…

I know that I am making these imperfect works of art for you.

Painting by Vladimir Kush

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Why the dancer in me (who yearned to dance) loves Yoga

Yoga videos. They are everywhere.
Sped up, slowed down, jazzed up, stripped bare, Hollywood glamorous, or iPhone masterpieces that capture the building up to, or getting right to the heart of, that one elusive shape that justifies why we call Yoga a “practice.”

Yes, that one holy grail of a pose that makes Yoga skeptics, pooh-pooh-ers and naysayers affirm to themselves once and for all that placing one’s feet on top of one’s head (regardless of which direction they may be coming in from for landing) does not make world peace any more attainable, rent any cheaper, or credit card debts any lower. As someone very near and dear to me once said, “the world would be a much better place if people stopped twisting themselves into pretzels!”

For the record, this person is now one of the greatest Yoga enthusiasts I know, and can frequently be found taking in an upside down view of the world…in a headstand.

But for the sake of generalizing here, don’t worry. I’d be the first to gently offer up thoughts from the other side of the coin:

No matter whether you are putting your feet on your head, standing upside down on your hands, backbending yourself into a rainbow, sitting quietly cross-legged, or lying motionless on the floor in savasana, Yoga has the ability to deepen who you are if you let it. It has the power to shine a light on the qualities in yourself that you have buried away because, somewhere along the line, you lost faith in their capacity to flourish, whether through your own self-judgement or the criticisms of others. Yoga has a different impact on each and every life it touches. Some are unchanged by the practice because they forget or deny to take on the part where ‘the practice’ moves into the world beyond the short rubber runway beneath your feet. Others are transformed in the most positive ways, and for good — softened where they were hardened, opened where they were closed, inspired where they were once searching for their spark…

I took my first Yoga class at 17. It was one of the most physically challenging things I had ever done…but amidst the awkward downward dogs, something clicked.

I had recently graduated from high school where I had been turned off from anything related to using my body, unless it was acting in Drama classes or the school musicals. Even there, I was self-conscious to a point. In Musical Theatre, I yearned to dance as confidently and with as much grace and coordination as those who probably spent time every day in a dance studio. Oftentimes, it took me twice as long as the other kids to gain my footing with the choreography…

And then there was Gym class.
It’s sad to think that my primary recollections of Physical Education (the time where I should’ve been thrilled to get to know my body) involve the humiliation of having to wear a bathing suit in the presence of unforgiving teenaged boys, being left to partner up with the teacher in tennis lessons (I was, admittedly, HORRID at tennis), and praying that I wouldn’t end up having to Cha-Cha with the meanest (and most popular) boy on the rugby team in Social Dance. Yes, even Social Dance — the part that was supposed to be more creative, fun, expressive… more like Musical Theatre! — became an object of dread. Sure, I wanted to be able to dance like all the dancers in the school musical, but this was the last place I could envision myself finding my inner Gene Kelly, let alone cultivating a single shred of self-esteem.

In short, I hated Gym.

Wait, I re-phrase. Perhaps I would’ve been tolerant of Gym if I didn’t have any reason to be afraid of it. Each sport, each subject area, felt like another opportunity for me to suck at something, and risk being made fun of for it. And even more tragic, it wasn’t just me who felt this way. There were other girls who had all the same reasons to be anxious of being in command of their bodies too.

Enter Yoga.
THANK. GOODNESS. My saving grace.
As awkward as that first class was, something kept me going back. I’ve heard it said that you choose all the players in your life’s story, and I must confess, my choice in a very first Yoga teacher set the tone for a wonderful journey. With her steady, reassuring presence, I had found a place where, no matter how ‘bad’ I was, no matter how much of a confused novice, I still felt accepted. There was no judgement. In fact, better yet, I felt nurtured, and encouraged to continue. It was a refreshing contrast to the old high school feeling of wanting to curl up in a ball and be visible to no one. I could be me, and I could be in my body, no matter what that looked like…and (hallelujah!) that was more than OK.

As I grew more familiar with the sequences and postures, simple sun salutations began to feel like dancing. *Gasp!* I was dancing! When I moved and breathed, I felt graceful. More than that, I felt…beautiful, and strong. It was something I could never have said about myself in a decade of Social Dances. Maybe my body wasn’t open, flexible or strong enough to do all the fancy postures (to this day, there are many postures that remain untouched, barely explored or just highly modified) but I felt ease, and peace. I felt that I could grow more fond of my body because it was doing something that made me feel deeply content inside.

To this day, I see my yoga practice as a form of expression, my dance, with as much to share in stillness as in movement.

Life will be what it will be, but the simple act of sweeping my arms up over head as I inhale, lifting my gaze upward, and then falling, floating forward as I exhale to fold over my legs, touch my toes, a soft smile on my lips… At last, this sense of peace.

I don’t need to be a dancer in this lifetime, but let me have THIS dance.

When I found this video featuring Elena Brower moving through a short, simple sequence in front of a video installation at the MoMA, it took my breath away. Yes, this 5-minute Yoga video on the internet highlighted part of what I see to be the beauty of the practice of Yoga: simplicity, ease, quiet strength, connectedness…the breath, body, mind, heart, spirit, all united in the moment. This is as magical to experience from the inside as it is to witness, something so vibrant, alive and passionate it blows the locks off the doors of your heart; the courageous act of using a vocabulary of movement and shapes to create a story with our one unique body, our own unique breath.

A dance…a deep surrendering to the dance.