Forget Your Perfect Offering

There they are, glaring at me as if to rub in my face that the self-deprecating thoughts around my ‘2015 Writing Dought’ are well-founded.

Little graphics of calendar pages…”May…June…July…August…September…” all blank.

As far as this little statistics widget on my blog is concerned, I’ve done nothing, created nothing, experienced nothing, captured nothing, and shared nothing, when in fact, my silence speaks louder than any words I could articulate. There are stories to share, and despite my own resistance, I know full-well that our “Truth-Stories” need to be given wings, not tethers, if they are to serve their purpose. When they land in the right ears and hearts, they can build bridges, create bonds, and remind us that, though we may seem worlds and experiences apart from each other, there is a very vulnerable, human part of us that is longing to be seen for the beautiful, complex and fascinating creatures that we are.

One such example came across my path yesterday.

I spent the day teaching Yoga in a high school — four classes of grades 10-12 who take this particular course to enhance their athletic performance. The thought of me being the person to teach them (let alone challenge!) these highly physical teenagers was almost laughable, in my mind. (You may understand my hesitation a bit better by reading this post here…)

The early morning hours before the alarm went off found me wide awake, thoughts racing. My fear of not being able to give them what I would assume they were expecting (a workout) was high, but my knowing of what they most likely needed (relaxation) was deep. Even so, I succumbed to doubt, to the useless dialogue of “who am I to do this,” put my pajama-clad self in child’s pose on our bed and cried, all nerves as to how I could serve this group to the best of my ability.

When my tears subsided, I reached for a book on my nightstand that my Mum recently gave me, opened it to a page — any page — to see if any wisdom would surface to reassure me.

There they were — four lines from Leonard Cohen‘s song “Anthem” that reminded me what, all this time, I had been forgetting:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The part about the crack in everything letting the light in always gets the fanfare, but all I saw was that second line:

Forget your perfect offering.

Four hours later, nearly thirty Grade 10 boys who, upon arrival in the room, had been whacking each other with yoga mats, were now sitting in peaceful stillness so deep I was trying to figure out how to make it clearer that the class was over and the time had come for them to pack up, get changed, and move along to their next class. As they began to filter out of the gym, a quiet boy approached me.

“I just wanted to say thank you for the class…I don’t know if you’re familiar with the 12 Steps at all…anyway, whatever we just did made me feel really centered. I haven’t felt this centered in a long time, actually. I really needed that.”

In daring to give me a truthful micro-glimpse of his own imperfectness, what this young man unknowingly offered me in exchange for some simple, strong poses and a quiet relaxation were deeper lessons than he probably realized.

Perfection — in who we are, what we do and how we do it — is overrated. Offer whatever it is you have to share, from whatever experience it is you have to share it from, no matter how deeply you doubt or fear your inadequacy, or the likelihood that you may meet rejection or failure. Turn to your truth; offer it, if you can. Silence and inaction, though safe for a while, only keep us stuck and alone.

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Tending to our “Emotional Hygiene”

My brother recently recommended this TED talk (below) from psychologist Guy Winch — an engaging, thought-provoking look at how our minds deserve just as much TLC as our bodies do.

“We all know how to maintain our physical health and how to practice dental hygiene, right?” says Dr. Winch, “We’ve known it since we were five years old. But what do we know about maintaining our psychological health? Well, nothing. What do we teach our children about emotional hygiene? Nothing. How is it that we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds. Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health?”

“We sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones, injuries like failure or rejection or loneliness.” He continues. “And they can also get worse if we ignore them, and they can impact our lives in dramatic ways. And yet, even though there are scientifically proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of psychological injuries, we don’t. It doesn’t even occur to us that we should. “Oh, you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg: “Oh, just walk it off; it’s all in your leg.” It is time we closed the gap between our physical and our psychological health. It’s time we made them more equal […]”

There are two defining moments in my past that I feel have led me clearly back onto the path towards the practice that I consider to be the most powerful tool in my emotional first aid kit:

In 2007, I came to Yoga (and eventually my highly cherished practice of Yoga Nidra) as a way to process the pain of a twice-broken heart.

In 2011, I became fully committed to Yoga Nidra as my primary practice in the wake of a minor concussion I sustained from falling backwards (while standing completely still, adjusting my toque — so Canadian, eh?) on an ice rink. After that tumble, all it took was a single downward dog to know that my physical practice would be on hiatus until further notice.

Each of these “injuries” — one definably emotional, the other physical — brought up a full spectrum of feelings to wrestle with: grief, anger, frustration, shock, confusion, sadness and pain, to (most unexpectedly) profound and life-altering joy, lightness and gratitude for not only surviving these setbacks, but for finding clarity and meaning in times of upheaval.

That said, despite the nature of the injury — physical or emotional — I found something in this practice that I couldn’t quite seem to get anywhere else:

Peace.
Intention.
Something to hold and walk me through the challenges rather than just get over them.

Having successfully recovered from both of these upsets, as I continue to explore and share the practice of Yoga Nidra alongside women and men of diverse ages and backgrounds, it has been a real revelation to hear the stories — the “whys” that explain the reason these students are finding themselves outside of a more physical yoga practice and actually craving what Nidra offers — quiet, stillness, relaxation, intention, and an expanded state of awareness that transcends all the limitations and clutter we impose on our physical being. are seeking a way to not only stay connected to the steadiness and peace the time on their mat brings them, but to also find alternate ways of taking care of their physical and emotional well-being; a way to take an active part in their own healing process, whatever that may be.

Though there are many students that come to practice who are experiencing a hiatus from activity due to injury, what tends to emerge in time is that, even more so than (or in tandem with) the physical, there is usually an emotional challenge that is taking centre stage, or some variation of stress that has surfaced as a result of being put out of commission by unexpected injury or illness.

I hear from students quite frequently that they are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, high personal/work-related stress levels, or trying to cope with major transitions in their lives. I also see a lot of ‘caregivers’ tuck eagerly into their long savasanas as a way to give back to themselves when they’re not giving tirelessly and selflessly to their children, to ailing family members, or to the patients they see in hospitals and clinics around the city.

To be clear, I am not a medical professional, or a “healer,” or a psychologist. What I am sharing with you is my observation from being around some truly remarkable human beings who grant me the privilege of hearing why they are seeking respite in this stillness and how, in doing so, they are finding what they need — whether it’s a deep rest, a profound revelation, or simply a community environment to bring them out of loneliness and isolation. It reminds me that, behind the masks we wear to help us brave our crazy, chaotic world, there is a dire need for safe spaces where we can be just who and what we are; a permission of sorts to seize any opportunity for our tired minds and hearts to be refueled, and our perspectives significantly shifted.

Dr. Guy Winch is right — we are taught to instinctively tend to our physical wellness, but our emotional wellness is just as important in ensuring our ability to function in society, in our places of work, and in our families. Even then, so many of us are prone to prioritizing our workouts over “work-ins.” (After all, how many calories could we possibly be burning lying on the floor for an extended period of time? ;-)) We are a chronically exhausted, burnt-out culture that stubbornly insists on pushing forward, over-committing, over-giving and self-sacrificing, even in the face of strong, physical signals that tell us to back off and take better care of “number 1.”

If the body is the dumping ground of the mind, then how long have our minds and hearts been begging for our attention when the body finally gives out?

Maybe it’s just me, but given 30 minutes of zero distractions and a yoga mat (or just a comfy piece of floor), I’d be Nidra-ing without fail. I wouldn’t be so gung-ho to share this practice as much if I didn’t feel I had found a life preserver I can always reach for when I need it. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t take will to commit to being consistent and actually do the practice (especially in tougher times), but it’s that soft, intentional focus on both my physical and emotional wellness that allows me to be a much better wife, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, and human being.

Now if only we could find a way to use relaxation and meditation to floss our teeth… ūüėČ

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.

Clich√© 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 fianc√©e 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.

Will this make you squirm? Or will you accept the challenge?

Today, I’m bringing you into what very well may be a realm of discomfort for you.

What¬†I’m asking may mean¬†you have to shift your perspective. Part of this¬†is just as uncomfortable and as much of¬†a stretch for me to accept as it may be for you, so before you even hear¬†what I’m asking, I want you to know that I feel¬†you. I acknowledge¬†you having to swallow harder, your thoughts to race a little faster as you narrow¬†your eyes, half-grimacing at me with skepticism and a touch of fear of the unknown. I know the feeling of having to choose the ‘harder’ path, to give your deeply engrained beliefs and your fist-bearing ego a run for its money. But life is¬†pretty short to stay stuck in our patterns, so…

Are you with me? 

First, Weather (again, the local fave topic!). Today¬†is¬†beautiful, right?¬†Spring-like, sunny, blue skies, birds chirping, above 0 degrees (hallelujah!)…¬†It’s hard to be grumpy when the sun’s shining, isn’t it? It’s easy to feel all is well¬†on a day like this one…

On the same token, it’s a day¬†edging ever-so-closely to¬†the end of a month where we are all poring over receipts, spreadsheets and slips of paper that sum up the last year in our financial lives.

Yup, Tax Time.

Last night, we did our¬†due diligence of trading time frolicking in the evening sunshine for sticking our¬†butts in a chair and gettin’r done.

It feels good to be finished, with all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. What doesn’t feel pleasant, however, is¬†having that bomb dropped:

“Looks like you’re going to owe this year.”

It’s cause for celebration if we get a refund, but if we owe? It’s¬†astounding how¬†fast this can kill¬†your mojo, overpower you with panic and fear, or¬†make your heart feel as¬†though it¬†will stop altogether..

It was seconds into¬†that sinking feeling of ‘Crap…well, there go¬†some of my hard-earned dollars!’ where I caught myself.

How is my feeling¬†defeated, ‘victimized,’ and seeing this from the standpoint of ‘lack’¬†going to change anything, make me feel ANY¬†better, or furthermore, make¬†my financial reality ANY brighter?

As I gave my not-so-mathematically inclined brain a break from numbers and receipts, I saw that¬†the Weather page on my phone was showing ‘snowflakes’ for later on this week. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have long accepted that the¬†weather is something I have ZERO control over.¬†Despite my attempts to be as glass-half-full as possible on this subject,¬†it doesn’t seem to stop anyone in our fair city from cursing Mother Nature like she was doing this to us on purpose.

I hate to break it to you, but¬†it’s tax time, AND¬†it may snow/[insert any other unpleasant weather phenomenon geographically appropriate to where you live] this week. Just FYI.

And therein lies my challenge.

It would be EASY¬†to turn to your collective Facebooks, Twitters, friends, loved ones, pets, houseplants, the gods, or whatever you choose to vent or curse to, and say “F*** taxes. F*** snow in April. F*** my life.”

(For added emphasis, you could also¬†add a single “F***” at the end of the previous¬†rant. Some people really like that.)

Sure, F-bombs feel awesome to say sometimes, but here’s something HARDER:

Can you be grateful (yes, I said grateful) for taxes? Can you be grateful for blizzards (and I don’t mean the Dairy Queen kind)¬†in April?¬†I mean, ACTUALLY grateful. Not just glossing it over in an attempt to be Suzie Sunshine¬†about it, but REALLY TRULY grateful? As in gratitude that comes¬†from ALL of your¬†HEART, even if it feels a bit outside of your norm?

So, who’s with me? If you’re still reading, yahoo, because that might just mean¬†you’ll join me in doing the unthinkable:¬†I am unabashedly choosing¬†GRATITUDE.

I choose to feel grateful that I have had ONE WHOLE YEAR of being gainfully employed, and of learning and growing in the process. Even more to the point, the portion of income I owe tax on is one where I have spent time doing work that not only fills my cup but is, I feel, the highest form of service I have to offer.

 I have the luxury of paying taxes because I am working towards my own wild and crazy dream, no matter what that may look like. And after I pay those taxes, what do I do? I live in a house, where I woke up in a bed, with someone I love that I married out of my own free will (and who is currently eating toast that I can smell wafting up from our kitchen. Yes, even when I have to pay taxes, I will still eat, and so will he). And even if things got really sticky, I would still have people in my life who would catch me if I fell. That, in itself, is its own form of wealth.

And if/when those snowflakes start to fall as this¬†week ends, I promise not to¬†wish they were green grass and lilacs and see them for what they are. They’re snowflakes they are both beautiful and the epitome of impermanence, and they WILL make the grass greener in their own time.¬†We live in the Northern Hemisphere. Snow and cold WILL happen here.

Even in a freak Spring snow storm, I will see, above all things, that we live in a country with more space than we can handle, with human rights and freedoms, where I can walk outside and share a smile and a simple hello with our neighbours. I say these things not to brag or boast, but because this is most of our realities. If you are reading these words, it means you own a piece of technology, and no matter how essential our smart phones, computers and tablets have become, your smart phone is no substitute for a winter coat. For many of us, we see those snowflakes on the bright screens of our weather pages from the comfort of our homes, with either food in our bellies or a knowledge of where our next meal will come from. Others will only know a cold front is settling in when they see the snowflakes start to swirl around their shivering bodies as they huddle under an overpass.

So… can you do it? Can you thank your lucky stars that you have taxes to do/pay, and that there may soon be Spring snowflakes to catch on the end of your tongue?¬†Can you be deep-down-from-the-centre-of-your-heart grateful that the way you feel and react to these upsets¬†are just another indicator of your humanity? Can you recognize them as a¬†reminder that you are still being treated to the gift¬†of being ALIVE? Can you see that these things¬†are fleeting, and may offer their own form of blessing, even if, at first, they don’t appear to hold one?

When clouds cover the sun, and the wind starts to blow, and even that refund cheque has slowly dissolved into the ether…can you still be grateful?

Can you? Will you?

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