A little goes a long way

What if we started to break up the big, heaping chunk of love we felt we had to give into little bite-sized pieces? That way, we wouldn’t feel like we needed to exhaust ourselves to the maximum limit every single day and fall into bed at night feeling we have nothing left.

What if we were to simplify and watch what beauty can unfold when we put the most attention (and INtention) into the smallest (and seemingly most insignificant) things?

I had a great heart-to-heart yesterday with the two lovely women who work at the front desk of my dentist’s office. Even as they were both dealing with clients making payments and booking appointments, they would always (sometimes in tandem, which was making us all laugh) lift their eyes from what they were doing to smile, wave and acknowledge any new patients who were coming in for their appointment. I could see the look on the patient’s face light up — even though they may have just been coming in to get their teeth cleaned or a crown fixed, there was a knowledge from the moment they walked in the door that they mattered.

Acknowledging the existence of another human being out in the world is the simplest form of kindness and love we can give to a friend or stranger alike. In acknowledging someone else, we silently acknowledge our own humanity and the ways in which we are all connected in this life.

The little bits of love you think won’t have an impact have the power to grow a heart the most.

xo A.

photo(27)

How the mall taught me about what doesn’t matter (and what does) at Christmas.

Despite my efforts to re-capture my childhood effervescence around the approaching of the holiday season, I’ve found, with each passing year, an increasing sense of pre-Christmas dread. No matter what change or hardship may come, I have begun to cultivate a more profound awareness of how my circumstances are not permanent, and how, oftentimes, the discomfort and resistance I may feel in any given situation is one of two things: an indicator of something new burning its way into my world, or a lesson to be learned before I can proceed to the next chapter in my “Life workbook.”

Even optimists have their down days. Most days, the mess reveals itself to be beautiful design work in disguise. Other days, it’s just…mess.

It pains me to say it, but the approach of the Christmas season this year has brought the pessimist out of me. These last couple of weeks have been marked by unfortunate global and local events that cause my burning faith in the basic goodness of human kind to wane, and my despair over the injustices of the world to grow. I have found myself grappling with a dizzying lack of understanding around why bad things continue to happen, why unhappy, fearful people are giving us all greater reason to be terrified, why souls of all ages go missing and families are left to worry themselves sick…and why oh why has it become acceptable to go out to dinner with your child and have them sit in neglected silence while you give your undivided attention to your phone!?

I thought that was enough of the world’s problems to feel through, but apparently I hadn’t come face-to-face with the tip of the iceberg yet — the place that has, somehow, become as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus:

The Mall.

It was a regular Friday night and I was feeling pretty good about life in general as Joel & I walked hand-in-hand, laughing at our usual weirdo banter. I wasn’t dressed up — jeans, winter boots, a blue long-sleeved t-shirt and a scarf. I very rarely wear make-up, so I certainly wasn’t made up for the occasion. This was meant to be a quick mission — in, out, done.

As we walked in the doors, I felt that familiar feeling of overwhelm ooze over me. Typically, the sheer amount of stimulation from walking into a mall (heck, even the grocery store!) makes me spacey and unfocused, but this was different. Christmastime at the mall is basically the mall on steroids. All I could see were strollers and arms laden with bags. There was a line-up into the jewelry store that snaked around far outside the paned glass entrance into the shop. Men & women alike were crowded over pamphlets, presumably selecting what charms or pieces of jewelry they would be purchasing once the security guard let them past the door. We wandered into a clothing store and I saw a pair of soft, knit leggings that I thought were pretty scrumptious. I checked the price tag, and they were $108. For leggings. A woman nearby stared blankly at the display table, quietly rubbing an over-priced scarf between her fingers. I wondered whether this was, in fact, the kind of gift that would make someone realize how much this person truly loved them.

Maybe my fault was in projecting how valuable these physical items might actually be to a person, or maybe it was letting the tissue paper-stuffed Armani shopping bags and the price of wooly leggings get my goat, but it didn’t take much to spiral from there. I felt a weakening in my spirit as I began to fight back tears and attempted to reign in an increasing feeling of helplessness. We were surrounded by STUFF, all around us, but yet we couldn’t find the small, simple item we were looking for. As we walked the halls from store to store, I reached for Joel’s hand. In one hand, I felt his steady presence, and in the other, any previous shred of appreciation and joy I had for everything about myself and my life when I came in the door began to dissolve.

Nothing felt like enough. I wasn’t well-dressed enough, pretty enough, successful enough, good enough… I even got as far as wondering whether I was completely deluding myself in even trying to make a go of creating a fulfilling, meaningful career for myself… Maybe it was time to banish any insecurity around what I feel other people might think about what I do, jump into the stream of corporate conformity and shelf my quest to bring greater peace, wholeness and wellness to humankind. From this vantage point in commercial mayhem, it was easy to believe that there was more value being placed on finding material things to shower upon family and friends than anything that enriches the grist of who they are. If anyone had cared to count, there were probably more people in the mall at that moment than at every Yoga studio in the city.

As I held the hand of the man I love, I knew that these negative thoughts were the true delusion, but something about this vortex made it harder to see that my thoughts were as false and impermanent as the gussied-up brick & mortar around me.

I truly believe that a Yoga practice is just that — a practice of honing our inner tools to put them into action when we experience challenge out in the world. I am also all for deep breaths and allowing emotions to be felt and honoured as they are coming up, but at this point, Joel knew that the best place for me to re-group and do those things more fully would be at a table in the food court, sharing a Blizzard. (And for the record, the seasonal flavour right now is delicious.)

As I spooned in mouthfuls of ice cream, my tears of sadness and frustration spilled out. I heavy-heartedly laid my mind’s turmoil out on the table while Joel listened and responded with deep compassion and understanding. The mall was near to closing, the crowds growing thin. If the mall had a sanctuary in that moment, it was the breathing space of the food court, at the small table in front of the DQ where there was Love, and a connection that not even wireless technology can emulate. I thought about a lovely compliment that my future sister-in-law paid me in a text message this Fall — that she admired my ability to keep perspective and see the positive in a given situation. Her words have fueled me to keep my eyes on the big picture as much I can, even if I feel my heart raising its protection level up a notch. Amidst my tears, I knew it was the feeling I had going into the mall, simply holding a hand and knowing I was ok in the world, that was more truthful than any single fear-based thought or doubt that my mind had created in that palace of excess.

As down as I felt, I knew that I hadn’t lost my ability to see the silver linings, or to know in my heart what was really true.

Cliché as it is, I don’t know if we always remember that all the shiny baubles, new technology, or overpriced items of clothing don’t really take us to the heart of what matters, not only at this time of year, but all year-long.

photo(21)Maybe what appeared to me to be disenchantment over the Christmas season (and thus my entire existence and purpose in life, apparently!) was actually a re-framing of what we need to hold onto as truth in a culture that thrives on our fear of not having or being enough; that we need more of something — anything! — just to be happier.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my loved ones to stress out over giving me stuff, just as much as I don’t want to feel that putting something in their hands on December 25th is the only way they’ll know how much I value their presence in my life. That text my future sister-in-law sent me was a gift that keeps on giving. The way my husband looks at me and listens with his eyes wide and soft is something I never ask for, but receive without condition time and time again, even when my gaze drops from the horizon of greater knowing and possibility. The feeling I had as a kid on Christmas morning is now contained in the joyful embrace I share with my brother and his fiancée every time they come home, and in seeing my whole family share laughter and stories around the dinner table. My parents may worry about me more than I know, and love me more than it is comfortable for them to say at times, but I know that they will always see me for who I am. And no matter how much in-laws get a bad rap, I am blessed with a mother-in-law generous to the point that I don’t even know how to say thank you anymore, and a father-in-law who seems perfectly content just to hug & kiss me every time I walk in their front door; a sister-&-brother-in-law who, from a distance, teach me how a passion for the great outdoors is a direct line to what actually matters in life.

All this, without even scratching the surface of the friendships — old & new — that enrich my life beyond measure, the teachers and mentors who nourish my soul, the practitioners who inspire me to give simply by showing up, and all the strangers who, when I’ve smiled at them, have chosen to smile back.

Everything that has allowed me to grow wiser, stronger, more compassionate, joyful and peaceful this year cannot be gift-wrapped. It exists within a moment, a lesson, a touch, a word, a laugh, a story, a meal shared, a silence, a gesture of kindness, a breath, a sunrise, a knowing look or a starry sky.

The true joy and sparkle of Christmas lies in the hearts of those whose hands we hold, of those who give us the truest versions of themselves all year round, and in doing so, aspire us to greater light in our lives, knowing all the while that we always have, and always will be, enough. Just as we are.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m perfectly content to give Love this Christmas, and always.

Hugh thinks about Heathrow. I think about Alivia.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that love actually is all around…”

~ Hugh Grant’s opening lines from Love Actually.

Love it or hate it, few can deny the choke-up-ability of that very first scene in Love Actually.

This world can, at times, appear bereft of hope, and full of too many awful news stories. But if you open your eyes a bit wider, there are, in fact, many hopeful tales of love, and tiny miracles happening every day.

Alivia is proof.

I received an e-mail the other day with a video attached from a lovely Mum named Alysa who I offered Yoga Nidra to in a time of need. I was so touched and inspired to receive this visual update that I asked her if she was willing to have me share this story, and she wholeheartedly agreed.

In April 2013, I came across a desperate message on Facebook from a Doula in Edmonton who was reaching out to the Calgary childbirth community for support. A Mum she was providing some assistance to (after reading a compelling e-mail from a best friend requesting support for this new Mum) needed some major TLC.

Not knowing how or even if I could help, I sent this Doula a message requesting further information so I could lend a hand, or even recommend someone who could.

It was clear that this Mum was in a traumatic, challenging place, and could use something (and someone) to help her stay afloat.

I wrote back to the Doula and let her know that I teach Yoga Nidra (a highly restorative form of guided relaxation) and I felt that, with the stress and tiredness this Mum was experiencing, this practice could not only help her feel more rested, but maybe provide her with a bit of zen and healing in a chaotic place and time.

Alysa and I connected over e-mail, and within 5 days, I was up at the Alberta Children’s Hospital meeting Alysa for the first time.

Alivia’s condition was such that I was not permitted to meet her, but Alysa was quick to show me every photo she had of her sweet little warrior who just kept pulling through, time after time. Alysa and I were relative strangers, but quickly fell into conversation with ease and knew our paths had crossed for a reason. Life in the NICU, day in and day out, was proving to be lonely and hard. She barely slept. She was losing track of eating meals of her own, and forgetting to stay hydrated. Her every waking hour was spent investing energy into this tiny little baby, and rightly so — Alivia was so little, new, and fighting battles greater than anyone her age should ever have to fight.

On this first visit, I managed to draw Alysa out of the NICU for an hour or so. Getting her out of the ward proved more challenging than I thought since this kind, openhearted woman was not only tending to her child’s own diverse medical crises, but also — as I witnessed first hand — providing a steady, listening ear to almost every other family in the NICU who was getting far worse news.

I saw her hold the hands of distraught grandparents whose granddaughter was being removed from life support.

She offered kindness and compassion to parents who were just as traumatized as she was.

She shared with me how excruciating it had been to hear the wails of a grieving mother behind the walls of Alivia’s room.

It moved me deeply to see how much she gave in her own deepest hours of need.

Clearly, one of the greatest gifts I could give Alysa was one of peace and quiet, if even for 1/24th of her day.

A kind nurse provided us with a few blankets. I brought a Yoga mat, bolster & eye pillow. I set Alysa up on the floor in the Sacred Space on the upper floor of the hospital and guided her through a relaxation. Though it would be impossible to undo the countless hours of sleeplessness and stress she had accumulated since Alivia’s birth, this time in relaxation did wonders.

Two weeks later, I returned, mat, bolster & eye pillow in hand.

Alivia was doing better. Alysa was still just trying to get through each day, navigating each twist and turn that came with Alivia’s condition, which was no small feat. It was clear this little baby could feel the intense determination and hope her family had for her recovery. She just kept on pulling through.

The last time Alysa and I met up, she was awaiting confirmation on next steps, which would most likely involve Alivia being airlifted to Edmonton for open heart surgery. I had a feeling that I would probably not see Alysa again, or at least for a long while, but we promised to keep in touch.

Alivia

From time to time, I send a message Alysa’s way to check in, and she always sends the most beautiful photos of her sweet little girl. Alivia turned One in April, and Alysa put together this short video of the courageous path she traveled to get to that point. She encouraged me to share Alivia’s story in the hope that it could help someone who is going through a tough time, and to remind us all that “miracles DO happen.”

This is Alivia’s journey.

Why I Retreat (Part 2)

(…the ‘to be continued’ from Why I Retreat Part 1…)

As the saying goes, “Leap & the net will appear.”

I leapt.

To be honest, I felt like I was falling for some time.

Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I’m not exactly sure I knew where I would land, or when. The period of time of nearly a whole year that I was ‘looking for It,’ did not always run smooth, but I persisted.

What I didn’t always see at the time was that I was planting seeds.

One of the seeds I came to nourish, develop and fall in love with during that time of transition was with a group of yoga teacher friends. My dear friend Anita and I tossed the idea out there that it would be cool to try our hands at putting together a retreat. Fueled by the idea that we could share this transformative experience (as in Part 1) with others, I saw beauty in this organic formation of a group of good-hearted people who would come together in a magical place to unwind, practice and grow. Whoever these people would be, I knew they would be joining us in a similar manner to how I dove into all my own retreat adventures – by feeling a strong call to be there, whether to heal, to rest, to have fun, to get re-inspired or to simply feel reprieve from the snow and cold.

Inspired, we approached our  yoga teacher friend Jeff Mah with our idea. The intention was pretty clear: a yoga getaway in a place that would take your breath away, opportunities for people to practice, eat amazing food, soak up the beauty of nature, re-connect with themselves (and some new friends!), and return home feeling like a million bucks.

One year after Bali, One More Breath Retreats (a team comprised of Jeff Mah & his partner Hilary YoungAnita Athavale, me and our incomparable chef Brett McDermott) brought a group to Maui. Bringing this dream to reality involved countless hours of e-mailing, phone calling, coordinating and gathering around Jeff & Hilary’s kitchen table, or (one of my most favourite ‘tasks’) sitting on Brett’s living room floor sampling the kinds of foods he envisioned serving up to our guests. (Drool.)

When the retreat arrived at last, I remember stepping off our flight and walking out into a classic, balmy Hawaii morning. The sight of the palm trees and feeling of the soft, warm, humid air turned us all into mush. We had only been on this island for a matter of minutes when Jeff said, “Guys, we’re totally coming back here.”

And we did.

As we had expected, the nicest, down-to-earth group of people came together and willingly agreed to be our guinea pigs for two very different experiences that I am positive none of us will soon forget. No matter how each participant chose to spend their time, our hope was  that each person who joined us would leave on departure day feeling that they had found even a sliver of what they needed.

Our first retreat (in 2012) fell over the Leap Year and one of our cherished retreaters celebrated his leap year birthday half way through our week together. That night, I remember looking around at this big-hearted group that had banded together to kick off John’s upcoming year with laughter and good cheer. As this community-away-from home celebrated their new-found friend, I saw another layer to this Leap Year celebration.

Each and every one of these amazing people had seen themselves in our dream as vividly as we had seen them in it. They saw us jump, and had whole-heartedly jumped in alongside us.

P1050196

P1050193

P1050041

P1050874

 Still flying high from the second Maui trip in 2013, a new opportunity to retreat presented itself in our own backyard.

My Dad had been raving about his multiple return experiences to a hidden gem called Maurelle Island off the coast of Vancouver Island, BC. Go With The Flow Adventures is the luxury kayaking dream/brain child of a wonderful couple named Brody Wilson & Cristina Fox. Brody was keen to marry the meant-for-each other activities of Kayaking and Yoga. We would paddle the calm waters of the Discovery Islands during the day, have daily yoga practices both at the luxury base camp and out in nature on our paddling trips, eat delicious home-cooked food (again, good food — very important!), and allow ourselves a week to simply, well, go with the flow.

We were SO in.  Kayak + Yoga = Kayoga! Then Mother Nature threw an unexpected test our way.

Just over a week before we were due to leave, Southern Alberta was hit with a devastating flood.

Our hometowns of Calgary & Canmore declared a state of emergency.

No matter whether the flood affected our own neighbourhoods directly or not, we were all in shock.

Our hearts were torn. Was this really the time to skip town when the entire city was putting on gumboots and venturing down into the affected areas to help out with the clean up?

Two of our guests who were to join us on the trip were feverishly working with a host of volunteers to save their family home.

The highway between Calgary & Canmore was a mess.

For a moment there, it was hard to see how this was going to happen as we had hoped. But something inside me told me that the timing of this trip couldn’t have been more perfect. We were all emotionally drained. Stressed. Exhausted. Our city had been working around the clock to get life back on track for its citizens. As I visualized the quiet, island oasis that I knew Maurelle would absolutely be for us, I couldn’t help but feel that our perception of Mother Nature right now was a bit skewed, and that all we needed was to be reminded of the healing  forces of nature .

I searched  for a sign to validate my feeling that getting some reprieve from the stress and chaos of a city in crisis was actually a good thing and not something to feel guilty about.

Hallejulah. I found this quote (and promptly plastered it on top of a beautiful image that Brody had sent me).

nature restores

It was hard for every single one of us to not feel guilt-ridden about getting away, if only for a week.

P1060194 P1060230 P1060232

 It turned out that a week was all we needed.

Maurelle was pure magic.

There was laughter and tears.

There were groans as shoulders and hips were stretched.

There were sighs as we settled into Yoga Nidra and relaxation.

We couldn’t get enough of the quiet and stillness there, being out in the fresh air all day every day, rolling our mats out overlooking the water, the incredible food, the hot tub, the paddling, the fluffy white bathrobes, the stars that lit up the night sky…

It was the best medicine. 

When we saw the relaxed faces, bright eyes and contented smiles on our guests as they (somewhat reluctantly!) began their journey back home, it became clear to me why the retreat experience holds a value that can never be quantified:

When we give ourselves the opportunity to rest, relax, heal, and brighten our own inner light, we have SO much more to to give to the world. 

The photo below shows one of the most painful sunburns I have ever had the privilege of sporting. More than that, though, I snapped this photo in Bali as a reminder of why I retreat, and now, why I have felt inspired to share this experience with others. What I can see in my own eyes and face in this picture speaks volumes — that I took a leap and gave myself permission to let go, unwind, take care of myself, have fun, be quiet, rest, get grounded, explore, connect with my own heart and re-fill my tank so I could be a better person in my day-to-day life.

Call it cliche, but Morocco, Mexico, Bali — and then eventually Maui and Maurelle Island — have all changed the way I love, think, and live.

In each of these places, I have gotten to know myself better just as much through the exhilarating moments as I have through challenges on my yoga mat, or recently, in the kayak!  When I retreat, I dig deep. It isn’t always easy, but every time, I feel I have found strength and energy to make my life and world more meaningful.

Isn’t that what it’s all about — how well you lived, how well you loved, and how you shared your light to help illuminate the world?

P1030645

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

Image

Use [insert scary phrase here] today and find more love

Ah yes, Valentine’s Day.

It’s no secret that there isn’t just ONE day to celebrate Love. If we lived for one day of Love out of a whole year of days, chances are we’d all shrivel up, our hearts reduced to puny raisins in our chests. Love has the power to turn an ordinary day in the direction of extraordinary, a blue day into one of sunshine (even if it’s cloudy out). In fact, it has the strength to fuel a lifetime of days, and the infinite power to expand all of our horizons and hearts…if we let it.  

Maybe this is just me (though I’m pretty sure it isn’t), but I find there are 3 small-yet-scary phrases that sometimes require near-Herculean effort to say:

I’m sorry.

Thank you.

I love you.

Further to the point, they may fall out of our mouths effortlessly with some, and with others, they may stay in the holding bay of our hearts as yet another feeling left unexpressed.

Saying you’re sorry means you have to admit you were wrong, made a mistake, or maybe said (or did) something you didn’t mean that caused hurt. 

Saying Thank You means you fully accept someone else’s generosity of spirit or otherwise… (It’s easier to say thank you when a stranger holds open a door for me than when my mother-in-law decides to drop a bunch of groceries on our doorstep.) 

And then there’s one of our faves… I Love You. 

Three words with a myriad of different meanings depending on who you are and what life experience has shown you so far. I will fully admit that ‘I love you’ falls out more easily with my closest girlfriends than it does with my dear parents. (I love you guys more than I could ever say, by the way.)

Think of a time where you were just falling in love with someone. I bet you reached that semi-awkward point where, every time you parted ways, with wistful gazes, hearts pounding and violins cinematically underscoring the whole scene (naturally), the only words you felt expressed the beautiful butterfly-storm inside were “I love you”…

But you didn’t say them. It was too risky. It might ruin things. It might scare the person off. There was a time in the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband where that awkward silence, and the fear of risking saying ‘I love you’ too soon (is 1.5-weeks in too quick??), was filled with the next best thing I could think of:

“You’re my favourite.” 

Cute, but did it REALLY mean what I meant?!

Sorta. Kinda.

No, I guess not.

I have a lot of ‘Favourites’… things that I really love a whole lot, like Pho, Yoga, dark chocolate with sea salt… hugs, babies, peanut butter on a spoon, Downton Abbey, pancakes (ok, pretty much ALL food), the mountains, wearing Pjs as much as possible, and John Mayer (yes, despite his shortcomings, he is still one of my favourites)… 

I think Mary Beth Bonacci said it best:

“What am I saying when I say I love pizza? Am I saying that I care deeply about pizza? Am I saying that I have a relationship with pizza? Am I saying that if pizza had a problem, I would be there for the pizza? (What? Not enough pepperoni? I’ll be right there!) Of course not. When I say I love pizza, I’m just saying that I enjoy eating pizza until I don’t want any more pizza.” 

Yup, ‘You’re my favourite’ had a quickly-approaching expiry date, because what was hiding behind it wasn’t the ‘Pizza’ kind of Love. It was Big Love, the kind of love that I knew I would always want more of, even when I was full.

Naturally, it was terrifying. Sometimes, it still is. Knowing that it’s about ‘forever’ can feel like both the biggest safety net and one of the biggest assignments you’ve ever given yourself. Being your ever-changing, ever-growing, imperfectly perfect messy self and trusting that another person will love and accept you for all of it…that’s kinda scary shit.

I’m sure you’ve heard that much of the gold in our lives lies on the other side of Fear. I guess what I’m trying to say is that what exists on the other side of these ‘terrifying’ phrases is Love — a depth of Love we often yearn to experience, but that is held back by our own self-created fears of surrendering to what that might mean for us, and how it might change the status quo. A kind of love that requires us to put our own BS to the side or just wade through it, throw away our pride, put our ego in the kennel for a while and eat a heaping slice of vulnerability pie…together. It means that we admit that we were wrong, or sorry, or confused.  It means acknowledging that we are human. It means taking out the filter that keeps us from experiencing wholeness and letting it ALL in.

So if you’re a cynic who thinks Valentine’s Day is yet another commercial holiday to make people who don’t have a ‘special someone’ in their life feel like they should hole up in their apartment and eat take-out alone, try this on for size. If we’re all living in the same world, I’m pretty sure each 24-hour day gifts us with at least one opportunity to use one of those ‘scary’ phrases, right?

Maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t just about the chocolate (though we do love the chocolate). Maybe it’s a good excuse to use [insert most-feared phrase here] and see a beautiful unravelling of one, love-filled day that reminds you why Love isn’t just something you have for a spouse, or a friend, or your pet gerbil, or how Love isn’t always what you get from somebody else. It comes from inside.

One taste of that and you may just find yourself reaching for more. 

                     Image

Slow/Fast Balance

Image

It was in University when I somehow subscribed to the idea of moving quickly. I had to move fast. It was what took me from the Fine Arts buildings over to my English classes across campus. It got me moving, my heart pumping, my legs working, even if for only a few minutes, in between long periods of sitting, listening, reading and learning.

Walking fast mattered. Keeping aside completely the fact that there is probably a bit of a tendency in my family to walk swiftly, when I walk, I don’t just saunter. Oh no.

I dash.

For those with long strides and quick gaits, it is like finding a soulmate. I am always surprised at how joyful it is for fast-walkers to discover the pace with which I approach a walk and hear them say, “YES! Can we walk together EVERYDAY!?”

For those with shorter legs, or with naturally stroll-y ways, or even worse, my poor pregnant friends (you know I love you and will walk slowly for you anytime!), it must be, well…annoying? Disappointing? Frustrating? A challenge? When my fast-walking-ness came up in my father-in-law’s ‘welcome to the family’ speech, it really gave me pause. It was no secret to me that he enjoys picking on this endearing habit of mine — he is 6-foot-4 and has legs for days, and still, I could really get his head shaking by walking 30 paces ahead of him, then doubling back, and walking another 30 paces forward… Now THAT would be annoying.

WowWalking swiftly has become one of my identifying traits. We live in a culture of speed, of efficiency. We are, in fact, so fast that we don’t feel fast enough. We are so efficient, that we don’t feel we can get everything done. In fact, we are so adept at multi-tasking that we don’t even realize that we are eating lunch, answering e-mails, responding to an incoming text, and thinking about all the things that we need to do today, tomorrow, this year…all at the SAME TIME.

One of my Yoga teachers shared this piece of wisdom and I haven’t forgotten it: ‘You teach what you need to learn.’

I never anticipated becoming a teacher. I resisted it. I still, on occasion, hesitate to call myself a ‘teacher,’ unless I am talking to someone who really just needs some sort of identifier to know with a bit more clarity what exactly I do, goshdarnit, and then I can say, ‘Well, I teach Yoga…currently, twice a week.’ I have designated those two classes as the classes that people can come to when they want to move slowly and mindfully, to breathe deeply and more fully than they do all day (or perhaps all week), to be still, to get inside their own experience and not worry about anything else if they can help it.

There is no coincidence that I teach a practice (Yoga Nidra) that involves lying as stalk still as possible for a substantial period of time; a practice that encourages breath, quiet, relaxation, visualization, creativity, imagination, and cultivating clarity by working with a single, solitary intention.

The truth? I teach this because it is one of my greatest lessons. The ‘speed-walker’ needs stillness and quiet. Craves it, in fact. And the speed-walker, when faced with having to move more slowly due to illness or injury, well, it disappoints me just as much as it does anyone being stopped in their tracks. Even more so, it is the idea of achieving that balance that appeals — of moving quickly and efficiently when we need to and enjoying the ride…then, just as fully, allowing ourselves to really slow it all down when we can, and tap into to the heart of who we are.

No clutter, no noise. Just US, at our core.

I am inspired when I hear students tell me that they have come to class as their first class back after rehab-ing from a head injury, or post-pregnancy, or because their doctor has prescribed yoga and meditation to them for anxiety. I could tell you a good handful of stories, but from where I sit, let’s just say that I have seen both personally and with those near and dear to me, that our desire for speed and to ‘do it all’ — whether physically, or through intense periods of stress, or both — can often lead us to some hard knocks and falls, especially when this is sustained and pushed through over long periods of time with little-to-no respite. The little cosmic joke in all this, of course, is that what is needed to get us back on our feet…is — you guessed it — to move slowly, or sometimes, not at all. To take care of ourselves. To listen to ourselves. To rest.

In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, I took a walk with a dear friend of mine out in the countryside. It was bitterly cold out, but stunning with the snow all around, the ink-black sky filled with stars. As the cold nipped at our skin (and at the feet of his very patient puppy), I felt it…that need — let’s face it, that habit! — to move quicker…But then I realized what I had to gain from this moment, and the answer was ‘EVERYTHING.’ 2 AM, spending the first hours of a brand new year bonding with a great friend under the vast night sky, chatting about where life was taking us, how big the universe is, and how small we are in it… Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great conversations while speed-walking, but this was one of those moments where all I could do was stop, take the moment in, and realize how lucky I was to be standing still just where I was.

Ferris Bueller really did say it best, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

What does your heart say?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to remember the earliest whisperings of our heart?  All the things our hearts told our childhood selves that we had the boldness and bravery to follow through on IMMEDIATELY?

“Come on…you can walk! Do it! Or wait, Yes! RUN!”

“I really need you to eat this dirt so you can learn the meaning of ‘Yucky!’!”

“It’s ok. Just cry. And don’t worry if anyone tells you you shouldn’t.”

I’m certainly not saying that we all lack bravery and boldness now — in fact, I think it is the everyday acts of bravery, small or large, that are the most inspiring to us all.  But we have all seen it as we’ve ‘grown up’ — the ways in which, over time, we become conditioned to be more cautious in our approach, to listen to the voices around us rather than the quiet voice inside. Experience has shown me that choices with far less reason behind them than you would expect (and a healthy amount of buzzing excitement) are typically on the path you are meant to follow, to bring you closer to that elusive P word…Purpose.

I can think, off the top of my head, of 4 things that I have done that were called into question and ended up being undeniably the most powerful choice for my own growth and evolution as a human being:

To travel to Morocco (‘It’s so far! It could be dangerous and they harass women there! It’s expensive!’)

To take a yoga training in Bali (‘It’s even further away! And it’s even MORE expensive to get there!’)

To subsequently [I hear it happens a lot after people do yoga trainings in Bali 😉] leave a job surrounded by people I considered a ‘second family’ in pursuit of a change (‘So do you have another job lined up?’)

Then there was the 4th thing. A choice that, in order to explain the ways this moment changed all areas of my life — creating beautiful,  criss-crossing webs of connection — would take an entire novel. (Or at least a novella.)

11 years ago today, I had a life-altering talk with my now-husband who was, at that time, my not-yet-boyfriend. We were sitting in a field on campus eating falafel and iced tea. He had asked me out on a date and my 20-year-old heart (which was admittedly, at the time, a bit hung up on another fantastic fellow) clearly explained his viewpoint on my ‘heart mess.’

He spoke so calmly and warmly, looking straight into my eyes. Cliche or not, I could truly see the depths of his beautiful soul. I’m sure he didn’t know at that time how his words would change both of our lives, but they did.”I can’t tell you what to do…The only thing you need to do is follow your heart. Wherever you follow your heart to, I know that’s where you’ll be happy. And as long as you’re happy, then I will be happy too.”

In that moment, the fog completely cleared. My heart spoke more loudly, and with more certainty, than I think it ever has:

“Him. It’s Him.”

Even greater than that, his words highlighted for me a scattered trail of synchronistic breadcrumbs. I had been told in acting class that week that when I performed, it unmistakably came from my heart. I had received an e-mail from my high school boyfriend about how I had always made decisions with my heart…and here was this wonderful guy, telling me to follow my heart and to be happy in doing so. It was in this moment that it started to become evident to me that my life was meant to be lived from that place. All the years before that in school, I thought it was about filling your head with knowledge, and trying hard to get good grades. Suddenly, I was being shown my greatest asset. Since then, my heart has not let me forget that it’s there. I am telling you this story today because my heart literally yanked me off my yoga mat, drew me here and begged me to put words to my feelings.

This moment eleven years ago continues to remind me of what the path of Purpose should feel like — a stirring in your heart that cannot be ignored…a quiet nod of ‘Yes’… a gentle nudge…a summoning of courage to take the leap…

It may not always be the easiest path, or the most practical, or one that everyone will understand. As far as I have seen, though, it is the most meaningful, beautiful, exciting path of all.

What does your heart say? Where will it take you today?

Whispered the heart ALG Nov 26 2013.jpg

Thank God for My Broken Heart

If you look at the number of different types of experiences we will be privvy to over our collective lifetimes, I can guarantee that we will overlap on many of them. We will  believe that our experience is unique, which, to a certain degree it is — unique people in a common situation. Because the individuals involved are unique, that can certainly make the situation unique too. In the grand scheme of things, though, our experiences are universal… it’s our ‘take-away’ from our unique view on this experience that holds something strong.  And if we feel so compelled, we may feel drawn to sharing it, in the hopes that it touches someone, teaches them something new, or opens them to hearing something they were ready to hear.

 To be frank, break-ups suck. My heart goes out to those of you who feel you have had one too many of these. My heart has broken and been broken a handful of times when it comes to romantic love, and the depth of those experiences were key in revealing what I was both forced to learn, and chose to learn, in finding my way back to Me.

 I certainly hadn’t anticipated getting married, and then blogging about the lessons I learned in hindsight from the pivotal years I worked with heartbreak.  A 30-something woman who has just entered the doorway of  long-term (and legal) commitment to a man she is, admittedly, in perfectly-imperfect deep love with… who is suddenly delving back into what’s past… Strange? Or just timely.

A big part of the journey towards our marriage — in both the big picture and in the months leading up to the day — was about honoring where we had come from, where we were, and where we envisioned ourselves going.

Most importantly, this wasn’t something that we purely honored as a twosome. It was essential for each of us as individuals. Preparing for our marriage — beyond the details of colours, flowers, the dress, the rings, the venue, blah blah blah– held decisions much more pivotal than what the external shell of our wedding would be:

For me, every step towards being a married woman held this striking realization that, to love someone in the way you truly desire to, there has got to be one mama of a solid foundation in how much you love yourself. Make your wedding as elaborate, fancy or unique as you want. Stress about the details to no end. But when the event is teared down at the end of the fastest-moving day of your life (and it will feel like you blinked and it is over!), what you’ve got left are two people who have made a commitment. For life. And if neither of them has a shred of love and respect for who they are, and a decorative wicker basket of love for everyone else…then it may just be a long road.

We still unanimously agree that breaking up (twice) was one of the best things we could have ever done. Once we got back together after the first break-up, I was so committed to making this deeply seeded feeling of mine (“He’s the one! I know it!”) come to fruition that I did exactly what a woman in her mid-twenties would do for love:

I completely lost myself.

Though I felt more wretched than I had ever felt, it finally hit me hardest when one of my dearest friends (who had just been through a break-up herself) held a mirror up to who I was leading up to “It’s Over”:

“I’ve watched you slowly disappearing over the past year and half, wearing yourself to a shadow over your relationship. I’ve been worried about you, because it always seemed that you were steadily turning him into the centre of the universe. I watched as the sweet, bubbly, always-positive girl I knew started to get bitter and anxious and jaded, and my heart broke for you, my darling friend, because I recognized the same self-destructive pattern I had with [my ex]. That’s the thing with these relationships; we work so hard for the men that we love, we strive and strain to be their dream girl, and it starts to eat away at the person they fell in love with in the first place.”

I know, sounds like I was in the weeds, right?

I was. My heart was in pieces. But I was lucky. I had undying support from friends and family. I also had a tendency to listen to my heart, and a solid guidance in my gut.  When those things became temporarily obscured, my dear friend advised that I momentarily turn my eyes & ears to the loving guidance of those around me who would lead me back into the light. Once I started to see the sun as not just a reminder of another day rising in my heartbroken life, but as a sign of promise for what a new day could hold, I was able to listen to my heart more intently. The guidance I received in that raw, uncertain time was strong and powerful. Some of the greatest things in my present life were born out of that time. I was lead where I needed to be, and my life, in all facets, changed significantly, and for the positive.

This year, in the anticipatory weeks before my love and I officially said ‘I do,’ I began to see the most beautiful things…

I saw a stunning tapestry of experiences had, people met, things that had happened all for a reason. Even the moments of uncertainty, doubt, fear or pain came into view as being absolutely on purpose. I saw the intricate road map of my life not as being all over the place, but as being beautifully connected. The “wrong turns” were right turns. The “pitfalls” were not so deep that I couldn’t surmount them. Whether I knew it at that moment or not, they were leading me in directions I was meant to travel, meeting people that I was meant to meet, that I could never have expected.

I had this ever-growing feeling  that all of the ups & downs were undeniably right. I may not have clearly been able to see what lies ahead (and still can’t a lot of the time), but I began to make sense of what had come before.

The sweet thing about hindsight (besides that it is 20/20) is that you get to actually experience yourself saying things that, years, months or days ago, when you were going through that thing that you just couldn’t envision ever getting out of alive,  you’d NEVER think you’d say. Ever. Or be grateful for. EVER! My 7-years-ago-self that was balled up under the covers sobbing her eyes out with grief couldn’t snap herself out of her saline-coma to assure herself that, years down the road, she was actually going to marry the man she was grieving the loss of. Not only that, she couldn’t have fathomed ever feeling grateful for the world of pain she was in at that time.

“Pre-wedding Allison” had a landslide of thoughts, feelings and revelations, but this one took the cake:

Thank God For My Broken Heart.

I dropped into child’s pose one day in a yoga class, and it came to me from a place of such certainty that I had to stop myself from actually saying it outloud. This phrase was echoing so clearly off the walls of my heart. I then inwardly poured out a list of all the things that I was grateful for that had led me up to this moment. Then even more strange, I smiled…and cried. I knew the reason for it all…

On the day we were married, I felt overwhelming peace. A mosquito bit my face that morning and it swelled into a red welt. I hadn’t put myself through bridal bootcamp. I stayed up late the night before connecting with my incredible friends. I don’t remember what the tables looked like. I had no concept of timing and anything being off or on it. A button popped off my bustle. It was hot and I got sweaty. My hair frizzed. Before I even got that dress on, or ‘prettified’ myself, I knew one thing for certain: the man I would see at the end of the aisle would marry and be married to me no matter what; he had already proven, through breaking my heart, letting me go,  and finding me again, that he loved me unconditionally. What’s more, he fell deeper in love with me when I clearly defined my strength of who I am — not who I am for him. Who I Am. Period. What will always stick in my memory of that day, however, was the feeling of being totally and utterly in love with everyone who has ever crossed my path, and grateful for the roles they have played and continue to play in my life story. I sat amidst the celebrating, the singing, the dancing, the toasting, and I smiled… and laughed… and cried tears of joy.

Thank God For My Broken Heart. Its once being broken has made me whole. 


“When there’s a disappointment, I don’t know if it’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.”

~ Pema Chödron

Have a ‘Nice’ Day

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I made a commitment that I would be honest and, dare I say, more vulnerable in what I had to share. I want it to be a nugget that has been aching to be spilled out, even in the event that only one person reads it, let alone identifies with it. (Bonus!) And maybe, just maybe, what is straining to break through the gate and get out there isn’t necessarily ‘neat.’ A girl I met last weekend joked about the idea of ‘being good at life.’ If we were all experts at life, then my bet is we wouldn’t even be living on earth at all.

So if your mind & heart is totally organized in colour-coded folders when it comes to feelings and thoughts, rock on.

This is for the rest of us who dare to be messy and sort through the tangled threads that help to reveal all the most beautiful things we can find in being human.

While in training for a summer camp leadership position back in 2006, I was told (very kindly) by the trainer we were working with that he could see clearly that I “wanted communication to be tied up neatly with a nice little pink bow.” This was one of those moments that you know you will never forget. At that phase in time, I was going through a break-up with my now husband. Our 23.5 year old selves had experienced a block in communication, a confusing crossroads. I knew even then, in the deep recesses of my heart, that there was more; this was IT. But at 23.5 and on the threshold of being spat out into the big post-Bachelor’s Degree world (and in the fine arts, nonetheless), our visions of the future weren’t lining up.  Why? We couldn’t see beyond the hood of the car we were sitting in outside my parents’ house in the dark, let alone what the months ahead held for us. We were both nice people capable of a lot of love — we still are. At that juncture, we knew our relationship was on the brink of change. In a strange way, talking about our impending separation had made us closer, but I hoped we would be plunging to a deeper level of commitment.  At 23.5, getting married seemed, well, a bit soon.

In our total confusion as to how to move ahead, we moved apart instead…Nicely. As nicely as a break-up could be. We even tried to carry on as friends, which was a devastating experiment in facing broken love head on just as often as we did when we were together, with the expectation of saying goodbye casually; no romantic undertones whatsoever. Impossible. When he told me he was ‘over me,’ I responded with the hard fact that my love for him hadn’t waned in the slightest, that I had known from day one that we were meant to be. My truth, in a nutshell. In one particularly heart-wrenching night of trying to hash things out and hitting walls at every turn, I finally had nothing left but sobs. He held me in his arms, let me cry, and eventually broke the silence with another truth of his:

“Who knows, Al. Maybe one day we’ll look back on this and laugh.”

Eventually, we did. What got us to that point is an entire blog post within itself, but over the course of a handful more years, we re-built our friendship in a healthy way.  Through that process came many honest conversations which, somehow, led to a re-blossoming of a deeper love than we had experienced before. All in time, we moved in together, then eventually got engaged, and now married…

Last week, I read through my old journal from the year we first broke up. It’s amazing to read about this period from the other side. Our break-ups yielded some of the most direct, honest, intention-filled writing I have ever done. During that time, I messily expressed every confused feeling I felt. I also, very clearly, calmly and purposefully, expressed gratitude for all that was going right in my life, for all the things and people I loved, for every lesson I was learning, for every new person who entered my life and brought renewed light to my world… When it came to Love, I knew exactly what I wanted, and through all the hurt and anger, the part of me that was true to my gut (and my heart) never changed. My words were bold. At the time, his were too: “I’m not in love with you and I’m not getting back together with you.” Ouch.

But here’s the thing.

It was his truth. It hurt me to the very core of my being. (I’m pretty sure I felt the crack in my heart widen hearing those words.) As he would still say, “It was true… at the time.”

My truth was different. Even in the hardest conversations, my truth was that I loved him, and couldn’t imagine loving anyone else in the way I did, or being loved in the way he loved me. If there was any way to dispel my habit of communicating with neatly tied pink bows, it was with him, in this time, that I laid the foundation for communicating from a place of truth. Sometimes, what I had to say didn’t sound ‘nice.’ It would come out in a torrent of mixed emotions, or oftentimes, from a still, peaceful point in me that I had never experienced before. At least I was saying what I felt, what I meant, rather than stifling what I felt I couldn’t say.

I say all this to speak on communication, as well as a general state of being — the stereotypically Canadian trait of being ‘nice.’ I will always find the ‘nicest’ way to communicate a point. I will politely acknowledge a ‘wrong number text’ with a ‘sorry!’ and a ‘have a nice day!’ I will be pleasant in a situation that is frustrating, choosing the perfect words to not disturb any peace, or even just saying how I feel with the intention of being kind. I could argue that this benefits relationships in the long run. I say what I say in the way that I do with a long-term vision in mind: Am I going to wreck a relationship because I reacted rashly to someone else’s rash reaction? What’s the good in two people reacting back and forth at each other? Someone’s got to stay grounded while the other person flies off the handle, right? But at what cost?

In one of the most confrontational interactions I have ever experienced (over the phone, nonetheless), I simply got quiet, took the brunt of someone else’s anger, and then said something so genuinely nice and loving to this person that I was surprised they didn’t break down and confess that they had been horribly unkind. Yes, I chose the high road, but if that had been a fist fight in a dark alley, would I have let this person beat me to a pulp?

As of late, I’ve begun to see that ‘being true to myself’ is not always ‘nice’ for everyone. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel ‘nice’ for me. It can feel a bit like getting snow in the sleeve of your fleece jacket — bracing, uncomfortable and awkward.  It catches me off guard. I’m sure it still will to those who know me best. Like that classic movie scene,  where the lead character has given a passionate ‘call-to-arms’ (with standing-ovation-provoking bravado, of course), and you’re expecting the heinous boss to furiously pick it apart and fire their ass…and instead, they start an epic slow clap that ripples throughout the entire board room…

Yeah, like that. You say it… and then you hover there in nanoseconds of limbo, just waiting for the world to fall down around you, and for the person you spoke to to write you off completely. For.ev.er.

But the world doesn’t collapse. And the person is still there.

My truth is like a shaky toddler, learning to walk. It comes out a bit more raw and jagged than it sounds in my head. If, for some reason it hurts your feelings, I’m sorry for that. That isn’t the intention at all. I’m just learning to stand my ground. At 30. Whether we make it clear to everyone around us, or we just silently wish it for ourselves, we all have a burning desire to just be liked, goshdarnit. To be impeccable, to be everything to everyone, to be NICE and spew out perfection laced with rainbows and unicorns whenever we open our mouths. (Wouldn’t THAT be magical?) But as one of my dear yoga teachers told me once, if you are authentic and true to who you are, people won’t just like you, they will love you.

Go forth, truthful ones.

Be lovable in a way that re-defines the normal ways you aim to be adored.

May you be truthful and authentic to no end, and may you be loved deeply for it.

Image