My Skin Hurt

Contentment: the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things just as they are; peace of mind

A few years ago now and for decades before that, I had this awful phenomenon that would happen to me.  My skin would hurt if I perceived that I had eaten too much or not exercised enough in a given day.  I would have this feeling overwhelm me, born of guilt at not fulfilling my compulsion to perpetually under-eat (and I LOVE food)  and / or to not exercise every day, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, hunger pains and sore muscles.

I have stopped the madness over the past three years, spawned by the need to take medication which causes weight-gain and, have slowly begun to just be okay with looking like a normal 53-year old menopausal woman.  I have come to the sad realization that it doesn’t matter so much what your Earth Suit looks like, if you don’t let it matter.  It is the ‘not letting it matter’ that is the tricky bit, especially if your brain is wired for approval like mine. ‘Sad realization’ because of all the time, preoccupation and wasted potential due to being ignorant to the reality that how your body ‘looks’ doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think, in this Western world. And, as another friend told me her mom would say, ‘dear, your body size is the least interesting thing about you.’

How about we make these things more important than the shape and size of our body:  enthusiasm, zest for life, helpfulness, kindness, compassion.  How about we stop telling little girls that they are so pretty and focus on how kind they are?

Over the past three years, I have been so much happier, it is profound.  (Okay, I have had moments of uncertainty, but they were fleeting, comparatively).

I was walking with a friend the other night whom I hadn’t seen in ages, and this post was imagined.  Due to my Earth Suit looking a lot plumper these days (which I am totally fine with), she asked, ‘So, are you still doing a lot of yoga, M?’  I chuckled in my head at this.  It is inevitable, this question.  Just like last week at the physio, he goes, ‘so, any thyroid issues these days?’  ha ha!  No, actually.  Just eating like a grown-ass woman, as one of my fave podcasters says: Summer Innanen. Of course, I didn’t say that, I just said, ‘um, nope’.  To my friend I tried to gently express the shite I have been through.  Knowing her to be a dieter and she having already poked fun at her ‘fat’ (of which she has none, oh friggin geez).  I explained that yoga had been a dozen year obsession which was all about ego and not really about zen at all.  It was a compulsion when it should have been a path to peace.  It was the opposite, and it made me skinny and very muscular.  (See for yourself: https://youtu.be/9lSU9I-ZPbk ).  Oh excuse me: lean.  The new word for skinny.  It also made me cra-cra.

I have had a new thing happen for the very positive, of late.  I have had all this energy and yearning to be athletic again (like I was as a girl).  So, I have taken up tennis lessons and just loving the feel of my body as I strive to hit that effing ball.  (It’s amazing how much I just want to hit that effing little ball.)  And, with a tennis court right behind my house, well, I’m set!  Pun intended.

The other day, out of the blue, I had a yearning to go for a bike ride.  I was able to adjust my son’s bike to handle my shortness and off I went.  It was fabulous.  I tried frisbee-throwing, swing dance and archery at the #tryitinwolfville initiative. I just have this energy and wish to move my body and it has nothing to do with being fit.  It’s just about joy this time, folks.  And, on the other end of things, sometimes I’m just tired and I take a nap in the middle of the day.  Lucky as I am to be able to do that.  Yo Universe, thanks againLife just keeps getting better as I strive to be like that little girl in the image above.  Not a care in the world and certainly no thoughts of dieting, restriction or gym time, just free to be me.

Any comments would be welcome, as always and I love to hear from you!

(The picture is of my little brother and I when we were kids at the camp.  Taken by our eldest sis.)

Yo! Universe, Thanks Again 🙏🏻

You can’t always get what you want but, if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need*

I was just telling a new friend of mine about how many times it has happened to me, in my life of 52 years, that the Universe has basically provided me exactly what I need…I mean, what I need has just dropped into my lap.  Pretty cool.  This post is about a few of those instances and how they happened and just how cool it is…

The most profound instance of this was the meeting of my husband.  At age 22, I had just driven solo across Canada from Comox, BC to Borden, Ontario to join the Basic Army Logistics Officers’ Course.

Day one, October 1988, I arrive at the school hallway with its long line of hooks under a very long hat shelf to hang up my Army Issue gabardine rain coat and to shelf my beret.  It was a wet and cool day.  I was trepidatious.  I didn’t know a soul on this course.  There were about sixty other young officers from all over Canada.  I am hanging up my coat facing left when a tall, dark and handsome green-eyed young officer hangs his coat beside mine. Catching my eye, he says a simple, “Hi” with a cute grin.  I completely melted and saw stars right then and there.  A feeling enveloped my being.  I knew that this guy, whatever his name was, would be very important to me.  Then he scored a perfect 100 on the opening placement exam and I gulped.  He was intelligent and gorgeous.  When I saw him kick a soccer ball and I realized that he was also athletic, oh my god

A year or so later, even though I did not ask to be posted to Germany (when everyone else did ask), both he and I got posted to Germany, same battalion, same company, working side by side as platoon commanders.  Coincidence?  I think not.  We have been married for 26 years.  Thank you Universe.

But what is amazing about this story is all the shit that had to go down before we actually met on that day at Logistics school, hanging up our coats.  You see, I had been at Waterloo University when my summer job money ran out and no one was able to help me.  I fetched about for a way to attend higher education. I wanted to qualify for a good career.  My mind came to the idea of joining the army and the many and in-depths steps that had to occur to get in and then take, tolerate and pass the brutal training…then the nightmare of military college…then a short posting to Comox…then the drive to Ontario then hanging up my coat beside my life-mate, enduring months of training and then a posting over-seas…together.  Jeezus.

So, many other much less spectacular things have happened too.  Just this week at a friend’s house.  She gives me a random book to read saying I will love it.  The next night at book club, finding out that that very book is the one we shall read next.

Needing a sleeping cot for my visiting family…verbalize this need to my hubby, (the same cute guy from Logistics school) while driving on a country road.  Thirty seconds later, my eye catches something on the side of the road.  It’s a perfectly fine sleeping cot. We pull over and put it in the back of the car.  Thank you Universe.

A competition is announced at Paddy’s Pub where I worked for a couple of years upon moving to Wolfville.  ‘Whomsoever signs up the most folks for a loyalty card shall win an IPOD.’  Those words were said and I knew in my being that I would win that IPOD.  It was the latest technology.  Friends were digitally storing their music and photos on them.  A month later I walked home with that new IPOD, feeling like it was a million bucks.  Thank you Universe.

At a high school basketball game, I paid for a 50 / 50 ticket and again that whole body feeling enveloped me.  An hour later I was called up to collect $90.  I know it was just 90 bucks but, what the hell.  My friend Layla is ALWAYS winning contests.  Me, not so much.  But, it’s that feeling of potential good fortune that I love.

I fell in love with our little bungalow while walking to the first day of school with Leo.  The feeling enveloped me again.  I knew that one day, we would live there.  Eight years later, after the previous owner had raised his family, we did.  It is quite the story, but, we are happy as clams there with its ample open space, closeness to trails and proximity to everything we need.

For over a decade, I practiced yoga by attending group classes, eating up as much mat time among community members as I could get.  Sometimes this got expensive as I was paying over $60 ++ per week on yoga classes.  When my new office was directly above a yoga studio again I felt the Universe providing for me.

I began to toy with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher.  My friend Melanie had gone to the Bahamas to study at the Ashram on Paradise Island.  Over a glass of wine and a hot tub soak after yoga at Daisy’s house, she told us of her experience being immersed in yoga.  Not once did I think I could do something like that. My search for a teacher training continued.  I tried out a lot of scenarios that would fit my family’s lifestyle.  One day, late in the afternoon, Melanie showed up at my office with her bike helmet.  It seems she had forgotten her bicycle after class.  She asked me what I was up to.  I told her I was on the hunt for a good, affordable yoga teacher training.  She said, ‘Why don’t you just go to the same Ashram I went to in the Bahamas?’

There is was again…Melanie forgot her bike after class (who forgets a bike while walking with their helmet tucked under their arm, right?), comes back, recommends this place to me.  The full-body feeling is there…this adventure will happen.  And so it did, twice, in fact!  The story is at this link.  Alas, I didn’t end up maintaining the teaching aspect of my yoga practice.  But, studying yoga in depth was incredible.  I learned that yoga is a lot of things, the least of which is attaining a yoga body and doing poses on a mat.

Said realization led me to the epiphany of the damages of self-loathing due to the pressures on mostly woman to achieve today’s body aesthetic.  That whole body feeling happened when I reached out to find help and it came in the form of a podcast called Life Unrestricted.  Thank you Universe.

Last one for ya…

At a wedding for my niece up in Ontario.  Dean, Leo and I have just driven for two days to Hunstville.  We prepare for an amazing wedding by two foodies where everything is over-the-top wonderful.  We dress and take the bus to the Summit building.  Suddenly I feel my head begin to pound with a headache.  If I don’t get an extra strength something soon, I will have to bow out of the festivities and I really did not want to do that!  You see, I adore dancing and socializing and being with my big fun family.  So, I began to quietly but frantically ask around.  There’s no jumping in a car to get to a drugstore.  Remember, we had bused to a remote area.  No one could help me.  Then my eyes fell on my sister.  I whispered to her that my head was aching and asked if she might have a pill.  She was carrying a tiny little black clutch purse.

She opened the purse.

There was nothing in there. Nada.

Except one little red pill.

An extra-strength pain-killer.  She plucked it out of her clutch purse and happily handed it to me with as much surprise on her expressive face as was on mine.  What possessed her to put one pill in a purse and carry it to the wedding?

There was that feeling again.  Thank you Universe.

universe

(Pictures found in google images…thank you!)

 

Remember to take a moment and leave a comment.  Comments are awesome!

 

*Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
You Can’t Always Get What You Want lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

Connecting Moments

As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

This post is a guest submission from my friend Sarah who is an incredible young mom of two beautiful children and wife of a lovely man.  At one time she was headed to be an astronaut!  Life took a turn, as it is known to do, and now she helps students as a Councillor at Acadia University.  Sarah is also an incredibly gifted yoga teacher who has studied under a Guru in India.  She is one of those friends who is so good, you hope it will rub off on you.  As you can tell, I cherish her.  Once I was speaking to her Dad who was in yoga class and I pointed out that he was visiting again from Ottawa, how nice.  He told me he needed to get his fix of his Sarah.  He missed her so much.  I think a tear rolled down my cheek when I returned to my mat, I was so touched by that.  A good Dad.

A couple of years ago, Sarah took up a pen and began to write.  Here is a submission which includes, in part, a tragedy that has just rocked this sea bound coastal province of Nova Scotia.

Almost a decade ago, when I had a horrible set-back with psychosis, after yoga class one evening I asked Sarah, whom I barely knew then, if she would come to my house and sit with me because I was feeling very badly.  She came and sat quietly by me while I tried desperately to quiet my mind.  I remember thinking that she was an angel.

Here is Sarah’s story:

            I actually just tasted my coffee. Like, tasted the taste of it. Since beginning my new job counselling in September, I have been drinking coffee routinely as I start my work day; I’m not sure I’ve even been tasting it. Now, its delicious: hot, smooth, with a slightly heavy and bitter finish. Can I really taste the rose that’s described on the tasting notes on the bag under the fist being pumped into the air: Viva La Resistencia! coffeebag.pngMy partner visits these grower co-ops and walks the steep mountain sides to pick the berries after being awoken at 4 a.m. when the women rise to begin making the tortillas to fuel the next day’s harvest. How does that raised fist live in them? Do they ever taste their coffee?

And no, I can’t taste the rose…but I can taste berries.

Plus, I got the amount of milk perfect: it’s the exact shade of my mother’s and grandmother’s tea.

“Shall we put the kettle on?” was always their way of coming together, of making time, of soothing the fatigue of so much caring; a moment to offer something back to themselves, together. I wonder how often they tasted it?

             Before making my coffee, I was meditating on my purple kidney-shaped cushion, my grey tea-cosy-shaped toque on my head, my grandmother’s light blue knit afghan on my lap.  The fire crackled. I felt my breath—short, ragged—and I couldn’t get my head into the right position. Translate: I felt a lot of unpleasant sensations in my neck and where the back of my skull meets my spine. I experimented with small adjustments: it didn’t really change. I lifted the eyebrows above my eye and ears (if there were ones there too), and the muscles on the top of my head lifted off like a helmet: relief! Then they immediately returned, as though they needed to protect my head, in case I randomly tripped and fell.

            And yet, it felt so good to be sitting, early in the day, quiet. And it felt good because of what preceded it: three snow days in a row, a busy weekend, my partner leaving for a conference, and my parents-in-law taking my son, so that I woke up in bed with my daughter curled up tightly behind me, almost pushing me off of the bed this morning, got her on her bus, and then on a Monday, I find myself alone at home with a day to myself.

teacup

            With my perfect cup of coffee beside me, I sit down to write, and a bird lands outside my window, just out of sight, and when it ruffles its feathers one of its wings appears in the window. I stand up and lean over my desk to press the side of my face to the window trying to see it. It’s gone. When I look down, I see a little dead army of lady-bug-look-a-likes that appear on the window sills in the top floor of our house this time of year– smaller, more spots than their famous counterparts — some of which have curled up in a ball, some rolled over, some with their wings spread as they colonize the sill.  Why are there so many dead insects in my writing space? Because writing time is too precious to spending vacuuming them up.

            I sit back down. Outside, a chickadee hops, flutters, from frozen broccoli plant to frozen broccoli plant, then onto the bare kale stalks in the next bed that look like mini palm trees, but in the snow. I ate one of the frozen baby heads of broccoli that were still left on the plant yesterday: soft and sweet. Beside the broccoli are three frozen heads of cauliflower, bowing down towards the snow with their frozen weight. How could I have missed them?! Not to mention the garlic, which is still sitting in a silver bowl in our back hall, waiting, waiting, more patiently than I, as I raked the snow off of the bed yesterday hoping it might melt more quickly. I may have to use precious greenhouse space if it doesn’t melt.      

            I have just finished co-writing a chapter of a about succulent sustainability: how does making use of precious greenhouse space for garlic make any sense? As I drove up the mountain to my friend’s house, to edit the final chapter, the CBC reporter on the radio announced, “Grief councillors are recommending people reach out to talk to each other for support.”

            “Mom, can you turn the radio off?” my nearly-seven year old daughter asked from the back seat.

            “Of course,” I said, looking back in my rearview mirror to see her serious face beneath a grey slouchy toque that’s standing straight up. I suddenly remembered that she also absorbs the news, only the holes in her sieve are bigger.

            “It’s just so sad all the time,” she says.

            “I know,” I say, looking back at her again. Our eyes meet.

            “Did you hear the part about the little girl?” I asked.

            She nods, “What happened?”

            “Well, she was at the Santa Claus parade and she was running beside one of the floats, and she must have slipped and fell and got hit.” I paused. “Like hit by a car, and she died.”

            She nodded very seriously.

            “What also feels really sad to me,” I said, “Is that there were so many people who saw it. They were right there, but it happened so fast that no one could do anything about it.”

            The weight of the non-reversal of time, of finality, hovered between us. In a little over 24 hours later, when she found herself stuck in the washing machine, while I pulled on one of her legs, trying to birth her from it, she might feel it again.

            “Who was it?” she asks.

            “I don’t know yet. They often don’t release the name until the family has been able to tell others on their own time. Once we know, do you think we should send the family something?” I asked.

            “Do you know them?” she asked.

            “No, but it would be nice to send them a card just the same.”

             Two weeks ago, I sat down with five students in our weekly mindfulness group at Acadia in the basement of the chapel.  We are facing each other in a circle, sitting on bolsters, cushions. I am sitting on a block, hard under my sitting bones. We have sat for 20 minutes, walked for 5, and sat again. My instructions are body-focused: how do we come into direct contact with the body? Can we feel particular sensations without constructing a narrative; can we feel directly rather than through an image?

            My students have asked me to speak about positive body image in relation to what we’ve been practicing.

            I’m not sure I’m the one to do this. The person I think of as being qualified stands in the mirror, praising themselves with how they look, satisfied, content, untouchable by self-doubt, self-consciousness, social pressures. I laugh. I did feel like that once, but that version of myself was perhaps the most confused, and could never speak to this or imagine the place that I am at now.

            This has been a major area of practice for me. And, for the first time, it feels like an invitation I can meet. The night before I had an initiation dream: metal pikes pierced through my toes.

            Fifteen year before, I rolled out my orange yoga mat on the tatami floor of our Shikoku apartment, four patches of my mat worn thin where my hands and feet landed in downward dog. Part of my practice was driven towards maintaining my body at a particular size (in a determination, I see now, to avoid painful feelings of shame, which I also now appreciate as a measure of how deeply we care), and simultaneously I was seeing, really seeing, painfully seeing, and experimenting to figure out how to work with the way controlling my body in this way was impacting me. The practice was simultaneously co-opted by my patterns, while also letting me see them….actually, I think that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work: entangled and healing, at the same time. This practice was it for me: learning to see what was happening, feeling it directly, so that I could attend to what was happening.

            Sitting with the group, my chest is fluttering, and my mind is trying to take the reins, but I keep coming back to my breath, to the firmness of the block..

            In these moments, my own struggles are a gift. The same way that my perfect cup of coffee came together this morning, so did these struggles. All of these conditions make it impossible to control, and hard to find somewhere to place blame; all of these conditions are so helpful because there are so many entry points to healing.

            Two weeks ago a dear friend wrote on her facebook post, on her 22nd birthday, about her struggles with eating as a teen. When I wrote her a message about how I deeply admired her courage, she wrote back thanking me for being a support towards healing. At that time, it took the form of coming over to snuggle with a baby and drink chamomile tea while wrestling through pre-calculus problems at our kitchen table.

            Now, it’s a group waiting for me to begin.

            “So,” I began, “I was asked to talk about positive body image and how it relates to what we’ve been practicing. And, what I might suggest, what if we’re to leave the image altogether? What if, instead,we use this practice to help us cultivate a relationship that’s curious, caring, mutual, attuned? What if we notice and make space for pleasure?”    

             Thomas Merton said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them”.

                As I sat this morning, a faint squeaking of metal and scuttle of little feet arose. There was a mouse inside the bottom of the stove, shitting and storing food in the metal runners of the bottom drawer. I opened my eyes and banged on the floor three times: “I’m here!” my banging proclaimed, asserting my presence.

            It was silent for a few minutes. I realized how loud and terrifying the sound must have been to the mouse. I settled back on my breath feeling annoyed about the mess under the stove and ashamed for my reaction. A few minutes later, I heard it again, but without the metal clinking. I opened my eyes and saw its tail hanging out of a little crack beside the dishwasher. The tail bobbed up and down once, and then disappeared. I smiled. I closed my eyes, settled again. When I got up a few minutes later and put on the kettle for coffee, I got down on my hands and knees to look for the hole. It’s only about 3 or 4 mm wide. How did it do that? I looked around at the floor under the overhang of the cupboards. Ugh. I’d have to clean the floors, but for now, I stuck with making my coffee.       

By Sarah Smolkin

penny beach (2)

 

 

(Photos by moi, except for the fist on the coffee bag which is from JustUs Coffee Roasters in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia and the coffee cup is from google images. Thank you!)

 

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Amy’s Men ♥️

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips are sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She got Bette Davis eyes
She’ll turn the music on you
You won’t have to think twice
She’s pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes
…Kim Carnes

My beautiful sister Amy…where do I begin.  She was always a guy-magnet with her long blond hair and huge, kind, blue eyes.  She has an aquiline nose and peaches and cream, skin but even with those attributes, it is her character that the guys fall for in a big way. She is sweet-natured, generous, thoughtful, fun, kind and hard-working.  A guy gets a whiff of that, and game over.  Trust me, I have witnessed this phenomenon my whole life.

Amy was born second in the Player family line-up.  She was born ten months after Eva, in 1955. She is eleven years my senior and a very close sibling and friend to me.  I could tell Amy absolutely anything and she would nod in a kind and understanding way and with non-judgement would do her best to see my reasons why.  And then, she would join me.

Ike

One of the first men I can remember who LOVED Amy was Ike whom she met thru the A&W in Walden. They were quite young when they met and it was the days of free love, peace, drugs and bell-bottom jeans.  Amy and Ike spent every waking minute together, that they could get away with.  It wasn’t long before Amy found herself in the ‘baby’ way. Of course our parents did what any good Catholic parents would do.

They hastily and by cover of night, sent Amy off to Toronto to live with the Nuns.

For months we barely saw or heard from Amy.  Suddenly she had been ripped from my life and because I was just a little girl (I was six), it really really hurt.  Amy came back once to visit and I remember my older siblings behaving strangely.  Of course they didn’t want me to notice her baby-belly because how would they explain it to me.  We all lived in such a tight-lipped manner back then.  I can still remember this wonderful black velvet, embroidered, baby-doll blouse she wore on that visit and how pretty and rested she looked.  Her cheeks were a healthy pink, her hair was lustrous and thick.  A couple of months later and she was back with us, as if nothing ever happened.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I learned the truth.  One night, Mom and Dad had friends over and Dad had too much to drink.  I had been sleeping in my bedroom down the hall  from the living room but had awoken upon hearing Dad’s voice raised in anger.  He was talking about how his blond daughter (whom I knew must be Amy) had had a baby with ‘a club foot’, ‘out of wedlock’ and had given her up for adoption.  My little brain began to spin.  I was an Aunt, but not an Aunt.  Where was my baby niece?  I did not sleep that night and at the crack of dawn, pounced on my siblings for answers.

Poor Ike, a few years later, lost a leg in a motorcycle accident.  Their daughter grew up, married and had a child.  They all found each other after thirty years, but, alas there were many challenges in the relationship between Amy and her daughter, Kassie. Kassie was raised with different values.  She had serious health issues, addictions and, of course, mobility issues.  She had a wonderful sense of humour but she was needy and was always asking, inappropriately for a hand-out from her biological mom, Amy.  Now, in the way of money, Amy survived and did okay because she worked bloody hard as a hair-stylist and a single-mom to Josh, who was still in middle-school at that time.  She routinely pulled twelve hour days, eating poorly and barely sitting down.  No matter how kind and generous Amy was, it wasn’t long before, with sinking heart, she realized that her daughter was a user.  Amy suffered with guilt and self-doubt but, she finally told Kassie that there would be no more hand-outs.  Kassie was rarely seen again for about fifteen years.

She is now back in Amy’s life and is no longer the free-loader.  One ironic thing about this story that niggles me in the back of my mind is this.  If Kassie were to stand beside her biological father, Ike, you would see a remarkable family resemblance. She was her father’s daughter.  AND, they both have just one leg.

DICK TOE-SHIT

Next up was a guy Amy actually married.  Dick was a quiet and haunted seasonal mason. In the off-season, he was basically a full-time stoner.  It wasn’t long before we got wind that Toe-shit was physically abusing Amy.  Our oldest and second brothers, Matt and Mark went to their flat and moved Amy out of there and brought her home.  Toe-shit was an asshole.

BUZZ

Buzz was this short, dark-haired, crooked smiled cowboy who was a farrier (horse-shoer) by trade.  He suffered from short-man’s syndrome.  Buzz knew it ALL, and then some. Name a topic and then just sit back and listen to him spout the bull-shit.  It was incredible.  He would come up to the camp with Amy and wear this teeny little noodle-bender Speedo bathing suit and yes, he would hope that you glanced down to check out his stuff.  He was quite proud of his manhood.  WhatEVER.  Bottom line was that the guy was completely bad news.  As soon as the Player family met him, we wanted Amy out. He was a user and he was verbally and emotionally abusive.  We are still not sure what Amy saw in the Buzz-ard.

BLAIN ROBERTS

Blain was a car salesman.  Tall, blond and a real talker.  He had a Great Dane named Thor (compensating for something?) and fidelity issues.  Enough said.

PHIL

Phil was from the village on Eight Mile Lake.  He was constantly in bare feet with a smoke between his teeth, of which a couple were missing.  Phil was a nice enough guy and we all liked him but, he was completely passive aggressive.  Everything had to be done his way. He was also without a driver’s licence and often without work and therefore a bit of a drain on the finances, especially considering that welders can make big money any day of the week.

Amy came out to visit me for two weeks in August 2013 when Phil was still living with her and we had one wonderful vacation together. It started with a weekend yoga, herbology and belly-dancing retreat entitled:

The Juicy Goddess Retreat at Windhorse Farm  done by two of my friends, Daisy and Lucy.

The retreat was such a great time.  We did lovely yoga led by the highly skilled teacher, Daisy.  We ate wonderfully prepared, catered meals that the caterer continuously told us proudly were ‘vegan’.  I would then say, that’s nice, but no need to go through the trouble because we aren’t vegan.  The next meal though, she would announce the same message again: I hope you enjoy this meal.  It’s vegan.  I was left wondering if I had imagined the previous conversation. So I told her again: that’s lovely but, please don’t trouble yourself, we aren’t vegan.  When she announced it a third time, I took a look at her face to see if she was joking.  She stared back at me rather vacantly and smiled.

Ooookay.  Stepford Wives much?

Yoga retreat
We hiked all over the property of Windhorse Farm and were given a herbology talk by my lovely friend, Lucy.  The weather was hodancer on the fallen treet and dry.  It was an incredible day and we learned all manner of wonderful tidbits from Lucy. Next, we put on belly-dancing costumes and makeup, had white wine, and were given a lesson.  We then walked through the peaceful lush forest of the farm and did yoga moves on fallen logs taking photos and such.

The next item on the agenda popped up out of nowhere.  Lucy had mentioned to us that she had a tooth that was bugging her and that probably just needed to be filed down a bit so that it would stop irritating her cheek.

Amy says: ‘Morgan can do it!’ And, with that vote of confidence, so I did.  I put my reading classes on, and in belly-dancing attire, filed down Lucy’s problem tooth. The pictures were hilarious. I asked Amy later why she nominated me for such a task. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘because you were in the ARMY.  You can do anything.’ Ooookay.  Just checking. (The other day, my teenage son said something similar. I was asking him to show us how to download a free movie.  He says, ‘come on Mom.  You were in the ARMY, you should be able to download a movie.  Geesh.’)

Leaving Windhorse farm, I took Amy to Hirtle’s Beach.  I wanted her to experience the vast, white sand beaches of Nova Scotia.  We got out of the car and barefoot, took the

boardwalk Hirtle'sboardwalk over the dune to the beach. Amy gasped at the sight of Hirtle’s.  So vast, so empty, so perfect.  Arm in arm we walked the beach and Amy told me then the sad tale that she and Phil were not going to last.  Up until that point, I had thought Phil was the ‘one’.  Amy had not told me her struggles with Phil.  She told me then, on Hirtle’s.  I will never forget that exchange.  Sadly, Amy told me that she thought she would end up alone in her old age.  Fat chance of that, I thought.

Bayswater Beach
The gorgeous Hirtle’s Beach, Nova Scotia

 

Upon leaving for a Cuban vacation, our second brother, Mark told Phil to be moved out by the time he and Amy got back, or he would move him out himself.

OTHERS

At my best-friend Flo’s wedding to the asshole she finally just got rid of twelve damaging years, but two beautiful sons later, comes this proposition.  I had just finished saying my speech about Flo.  It had gone over well. I was especially glad to see Flo’s Dad, a retired cop, laughing so hard he had pushed himself away from the table and bowing down between his knees.  He found the story about ‘get out before she blows’ (from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp) quite hilarious and the fact that he never had heard about it, was also funny.

Anyhoo, I was pleased to be done. I walked to the back of the room and there was Amy speaking to Flo’s mom who then turns to me and says, ‘Morgan, your sister Amy is a remarkably beautiful woman’.  Like I didn’t know this?  She carried on to another group of folks and Amy and I then chatted and laughed and were anticipating a great evening of dancing.  Then, over walks Flo’s brother Sam and begins a friendly conversation with Amy and I.  The next thing you know we are all chuckling and enjoying ourselves with recalling fond family memories.  Sam had been our youngest brother, Luke’s best friend. During the course of the conversation, it came out that Amy was now single.

Sam leans in, ‘So, Amy, you’re single now?’

Amy nods.

Sam inches a bit closer, turning his body slightly toward Amy.  His eyes riveted on her face.

Picking up on the body language, Amy cocks her pretty head to the side, blond hair cascading, smiles and asks, ‘So, Sam, how OLD are you…..?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT me to be?’

We laughed uproariously, bent over double at his sweet attempt to entice Amy.

****

Just the other day, I was on the phone with Sue, the guy (yes, Sue is a guy) from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp 🎣 (18).  We were talking about all the members of my family that he had met over the years and especially at the camp.  It wasn’t long before Sue asks, (and I wasn’t one bit surprised) ‘So, what is Amy doing these days?  Is she single?  Tell her I said hi.  I always thought she was so nice and pretty, even though she made me clean up her car after I got sick in it.’

At the next opportunity, I told Amy that Sue had asked after her and was saying he was interested.  Amy says, ‘Oh that’s sweet, he was always such a good head.  How OLD is he, Morgan…?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT him to be?’

Total Guy Magnet.

(Credit for the feature image at the top goes to my other big sister…the ever talented, Eva Player)

~Remember to leave a comment below.  I love your comments!~

Ashram Rant 🕉

I did the 500 hour yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas in two one-month stints separated by a year. I am still confused about my time there.

I arrived in the Bahamas and caught the wee boat over to Paradise Island but only after a tall cold Kalik from a little place on the dock.  I was heading into my second turn at thirty days of certain austerity.  Surely I could have one last beer?  This was five hundred hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training or ATTC at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (I had completed the 200 hour teacher training course or TTC the previous year).

ashram beach
Paradise Island Beach facing West.  Beach Platform is visible on left.

The Sivananda Yoga Retreat is situated on five slowly eroding acres on the tiny Paradise Island which is just a couple of minutes across the water from Nassau.  The ashram enjoys two waterfronts, the South side facing Nassau and the North side facing the Atlantic.  Over to the East is the huge resort of Atlantis and to the West, a few private properties.

ashram beach 2
This is the view facing West.  The tops of the Atlantis Resort are visible.

There were about three hundred people at the ashram for the two months I was there (Dec 2013 and Jan 2015) and the whole place was run by about six monks, a dozen disciples, a few dozen volunteers, guest instructors and local staff who were mainly cleaning staff.  The volunteers did an amazing job when one considered all of the work involved in running a business of that size.

yoga at ashram
Advertisement for Yoga Teacher Training.  This is the Beach Platform which we did NOT use.

So for the yoga teacher training we had a tough schedule:

  • 4:30 wake up
  • 5:00 Pranayama (advanced breathing techniques)
  • 6:00 Meditation
  • 6:30 Chanting (or once per week meditative beach walk and chanting)
  • 7:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 8:00 Anatomy
  • 9:00 Asana Practise (Yoga)
  • 10:00 – 12:00 Brunch* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine)
  • 11:00 Karma Yoga (chores, like dish washing, garbage collection, temple preparation, meal preparation)
  • 12:00 Raja Yoga Study or Sanskrit
  • 2:00 Vedanta and Bhagavad Gita teachings
  • 4:00 Asana Practise (Yoga and how to teach)
  • 6:00 Dinner* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine, no alcohol)
  • 7:00 Homework
  • 8:00 Meditation
  • 8:30 Chanting
  • 9:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 10:00 Lights out (often, the speaker went late and so lights out was really more like 10:30)

When I showed my teenage son, Leo, the schedule his one remark was: ‘That advanced breathing techniques must have been tough, eh Mom?’  Actually, the morning pranayama was likely my favorite thing, as well as learning to read and write Sanskrit.  Yoga asana was also very enjoyable but, the vedanta teaching and raja yoga were barely tolerable.  A lot of it was very hard for me to grasp as I am more of a concrete person.  Anatomy was interesting but, did I really need to study exclusively the Central Nervous System to be a yoga teacher??!  How about a few hours on say, the spine?

We were up at 4:30 for the full thirty days (The previous year, for 200-hour teacher training, we awoke at 5:30 and did not have pranayama practice).  On Friday’s we were given a few hours off in the middle of the day.  It was my time to walk way down the beach and then to do laundry, shower and a concentrated effort at home-work.STUDYING IN THE GARDEN

Pranayama practice took place in the dark on a deck by the bay.  The water lapping at the deck footings and the breeze off the bay lent the experience a surreal quality.  We lined up our mats along the edges of the dark platform and sat cross-legged, facing in, forming a large u-shape.  Our teacher stood at the opening of the U and guided us through the seven types of pranayama for an hour.  It was completely rhythmical and meditative bringing a

dock-at-sivananda-retreat
The is the Bay platform where we had Pranayama at 5:00 am

deep sense of relaxation, wellness and calm.  The only trouble was, at the end of the hour we were hastily dismissed and had to tear off, silently, to the temple for morning satsang.

Satsang started with thirty minutes of silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the large garden platform which had been transformed into a temporary temple due to the large numbers at the ashram (a couple of dozen yogis sat in chairs due to various injuries.  I myself sat in a chair due to my army-worn knees which would pain badly after about 20 minutes of cross-legged sitting.  How I envied the knees of the younger yogis).  Chanting took up after meditation and was wonderful especially when it came to twice daily Jaya Ganesha which was fun and musical and small instruments were passed around to make it even more so: bells, tambourines, small bongos and shakers. Now, all of this was taking place before breakfast, so again, there was this lazy kinda of dream-like quality to it.

The inspirational speaker was usually fairly boring and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed hearing themselves speak.  The swami who spoke for two solid hours per night for several nights in a row about the Bhagavad gita had us nearly crying in boredom. It was literally painful to be that tired and to have to try to listen to her monotonic voice. She did not once check in with her audience.  It was astounding.  A few times over the two months I was there, there was actually a very interesting talk regarding something that I cared to listen to.  Otherwise, I would usually just zone out and slip back into that meditative state.  The best speaker for me was the one about sleep and the importance of dreaming as well as the one about sound healing.  At the end of the sound healing talk, we were asked to close our eyes while several helpers floated around with tuning forks humming and waved them over and around our heads to encourage the healing of whatever may be ailing us, physically, spiritually or emotionally.  It was a mystical experience.

meditation-garden-e1492796503741.jpg
Garden Platform as Temple due to high numbers at the ashram

The ashram experience was riddled with dichotomous occurrences.  I will attempt to explain here:

  • Compostable Waste: a huge amount of food waste was hauled away daily.  Two or three huge barrels of wasted food.  Why not compost it or at least ask those at the ashram to take less food.  How about stopping the use of trays.  People take more food than necessary if given a tray.  Apparently they tried composting the food waste but it caused a rat problem so they stopped.  So, at least ask people to take less.  I saw people loading up their trays and then throwing a third of the food away. Another reason for loading up was the two meals a day routine. People were VERY hungry come brunch at 10 and supper at 6.  Food waste has always been a sore point for me, raised the way we were.  Mom taught us to not waste precious food. So, simply get rid of trays.  Fill a plate, then come back for more, if necessary.  One of the inspirational speakers did a talk about wasted food.  But, nothing changed.  It was weird.  Hire a speaker. All sit and listen, nodding, ask questions, applaud…then….do NOTHING differently.
  • Plastic Bottles of Water on the temple.  This confused me every time I looked at it. There was fresh water available at a filtered tap for everyone in the ashram and it was located just a few steps from the temple.  There were temple workers who kept everything perfect in the temple.  How much effort would it have been to fill a nice refillable glass bottle or jug and glass for the temple?  To watch the volunteers off-loading cases and cases of water in plastic bottles for the monks in the temple was just ridiculous. This could be improved easily and help save our plastic-choked oceans.
  • High-fructose Corn Syrup Products like Skippy peanut butter and crap jam was being served to us in the meal hall at brunch.  That’s fine and good but let me get this straight, we were not allowed to have (gasp) eggs, mushrooms, onions or garlic BECAUSE WE WERE ON A SATVIC (clean) DIET, BUT HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is ALLOWED????!!!  I’m sorry.  That’s just wrong.  One of my classmate yogis stood up and informed us of this because he had been helping to offload the supplies.  We would not have known about the poor quality peanut butter and jam because it was dispensed daily into huge bowls.  The brands and ingredients were hidden from us.  This just seems like a pure business decision. These products were obviously cheaper than the better quality more pure equivalents like the peanut-only peanut butter and the fruit-only jam.  My beef here is that if you’re going to spout a SATVIC (clean / yogi) diet.  Make it ALL satvic.  Don’t demonize harmless God-given, Earth grown mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggs.
  • Beach platform  there were several large platforms around the ashram but the best and most coveted platform was the beach one.  It is ironic that the marketing photo of the Yoga Teacher Training Class in yellow and white uniforms above was taken on the beach platform BECAUSE FOR THIRTY DAYS OF TWICE DAILY CLASSES, WE DID NOT ONCE HAVE YOGA ON THE BEACH PLATFORM FOR OUR CLASS OF ATTC students even when we repeatedly requested it.  Our classes took place in the forest or on the Bay platforms.  The beach platform was ALWAYS saved for yoga classes for guests, not for paying Yoga Teacher Training students.  Hmmm. That was a piss-off because when I decided to do Sivananda Teacher Training, I saw the marketing photos and wanted my classes on the Beach platform, just like the photo.  It is lovely to do yoga while looking out to the horizon over the sea.  And, by the way, the fee for our month-long program was not inexpensive.  We too, albeit yoga teacher training students, were paying customers.
  • Light Pollution at Night lighting around the ashram should be on timers and / or on motion detectors.  There were many lights left on all over the ashram, all night long and for those in tents, it must have been impossible to sleep.  In my bunk, I used a dark cloth to form a curtain to block the light.  But here’s the thing.  One of our inspirational speakers spoke about the menace of light at night and how it can interrupts sleep cycles, hormonal release and production especially of melatonin. Again, nothing was done.

So, after twenty-nine days of our strict schedule, we were given a three hour written exam on the final day.  I had studied hard for my exam, in every spare moment allotted. And you may be getting it that there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and contorting. In fact, there are volumes and volumes of ancient teachings on yoga. From my text: Yoga is the process of uniting the individual soul with the Universal Soul.  Yoga is also the state in which the activities of the mind are restrained.  In a nutshell yoga is really about quieting the mind (chitta-vritti-nirodhah) for meditation in order to one day become fully realized but, only after ages of study (jalna yoga) and devotion (bahkti yoga) asana practice (raja yoga) as well as karma yoga (selfless service).  I was never a scholar, so  some of the material, like: What are the six orthodox heads of the Sanskrit literature? or What is the Sakshi Bhav method of Vedantic meditation? came down to straight memorization.

After morning pranayama on the Bay Platform, we were offered a light breakfast with an open lunch time promised after our exam.  I wrote my heart out and was somewhat pleased with myself that I was the second person finished.  I re-read it and re-read it again then handed it in and walked over to the kitchen.  The first guy finished immediately started asking me about my experience on the exam.  He asked me: Morgan, what did you think of the anatomy questions? I stopped eating, my food mid-way down my throat.

Oh my god.  I didn’t have an anatomy section!!! OH MY GOD.  I somehow FORGOT to do the anatomy section.  But wait, I had re-read the exam and re-read it again.  There was NO anatomy section on my exam.

So, reader, you may be wondering why I was panicking so much over this.  Well, I had worked really hard for thirty days of austerity and spirituality.  I did not want to finish this with the PARTICIPANT Certificate.  I wanted the full 500 hour Yoga Certificate. Yoga Acharya.  Call me crazy, but I wanted to finish with the full designation, and, it wasn’t my fault that a page of my exam was left out.

I ran to find the teacher of anatomy and report this error.  There was no way I was going to just keep quiet about it.  Better to tell them.  I found Isaiah in one of the nearby buildings and with pale face and furiously beating heart, told him what had happened. He said, okay, stay around here.  I will speak to Swami B about it and let you know what he says.  Four hours later, he still had not told me what was going on.  My hands were visibly shaking now.  I read in the central garden and I helped in the kitchen.  Finally my Asana teacher found me and told me, All is well Morgan.  I was there when the Swami marked your exam, he said it was very strong. You can go now.  All is well.

 

OM
This is the symbol OM.  It is said that Om is the first sound of the Universe. That it is the sound of creation.

So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went for a long walk way down the beach and into and around the Atlantis Resort, which, by the way, was like walking around Mars in it’s opulence.  I looked at the price tag on a simple summer dress in the boutique: $5000 U.S. I looked down at my simple skirt and cotton blouse. No comment.

When I came back to the ashram, I helped again in the kitchen and then one of the younger disciples came up behind me and said, Are you Morgan? You need to go see Isaiah, he was looking for you earlier.

FOOD PREP ASHRAMWhat the hell.  Oh my god. This wasn’t over yet at all. My heart started to race.  It had been a long, stressful day.

I found Isaiah and he told me he would test me orally on Anatomy.  I was to meet him in the south garden at 7 pm.

I was basically a basket case by this time.  I looked over my notes but my eyes were blurry and my pulse was all over the map.  From my learning about the Central Nervous System, the very topic I was to be tested on, I knew that I was having a stress response. And, that is pretty much all I knew. Ironic. Consequently, the oral test did not go well.  I could barely remember my name let alone the parts of the cell, nerve and brain. In fact, I had one nerve left and it was frazzled.

Finally, the oral test was done and I was free to go to my room and prepare for graduation.  First, I asked Isaiah if I had passed.  He said he wasn’t allowed to tell me. Wonderful. You may be getting a feel for just how torn I was about this place by now.

ashram grad
Graduation Ceremony

As it turns out, I passed and Isaiah apologized to me.  He said that the mistake was theirs and that I should not have had to be tested on Anatomy.  Thanks a pant load, Isaiah.

Now I couldn’t wait to get home to wintery Nova Scotia and just chill and have my own time to do what I liked. It’s funny, I went away to a yoga retreat to do something that most people would think of as relaxing.  A month at a tropical beach-side ashram (I swam twice in the month I was there) to learn something I was already pretty good at.  Most of the time I was there, though, I was stressed, and I wasn’t the only one.  My roommates complained about the scheduling a lot.  They were not getting enough sleep and they were very over tired. People were always falling asleep during Satsang and lectures.  During yoga classes (asanas) several yogi classmates would lay in sivasana (corpse pose – laying flat on their backs on their mats) for the whole class, sleeping.  Every part of the day had Attendance takers for arrival and dismissal of the section of the day.  Too many lates or abscesses and the disciple in charge of discipline would speak to you.  One could even be sent home for too little discipline.  The first time I was at the ashram, in December 2013, a young woman had taken to walking around the ashram during part of the Satsangs because the Hindu teaching confused her as she was of a different faith.  She was sent home.

Uniforms were to be worn for most parts of the day, as seen in the photo: white pants and yellow t-shirt.  We had two uniforms and only a few machines for laundry to share amoung 300 people.  A slight problem for getting laundry done.

Before arrival at the ashram, I had asked for a Doctor’s note about my mental illness (I am Bipolar 1).  I was worried about sleep deprivation and its effects.  Sleeping from 10:30 – 4:30 was just not enough sleep for me.  My doctor insisted that I get at least seven hours per night or eight if possible.  So, I had a get out of jail free card for the final speaker at Satsang every night.  BONUS.  My roommates understood and I was honest with them about how bad it could get if I had an episode but, it was hard on them because of the perceived favourtism I had arranged for myself.  At this time, I was managing my bipolar disorder with lifestyle.  I was not on meds (which I know now was a very large risk and, with Bipolar 1, was actually stupid).  So, one day, early in the month of the second time I was there, one of the disciples confronted me on my leaving of Satsang at 9:00 every night.  He asked me if it was truly necessary.  I asked him if he wanted me to contradict my doctor’s instructions.  That shut him up.  I left Satsang at 9:00 every night.

ASHRAM PATH

So, yes, I was happy to have completed the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training course but, I am really not sure if I could recommend it to anyone. It would be best to go into it knowing all the seeming weirdnesses.  One more thing, it was slightly cult-ish. What do I mean by that?  Well, it seemed that with all the strict rules around little sleep and with feeling hungry all the time and then attending teachings twice per day as well as the chanting and such, I would worry that some poor souls would be pulled a little too far into the vortex of Sivananda.  I personally met and spoke to several full-time, somewhat tight-lipped and therefore mysterious volunteers (karma yogis) who DO NOT GET PAID to stay there and perform their trade or profession (like marketing and videography) for months and years at a time.  Ooookay. You gotta ask yourself, where are the revenues going?  They are definitely NOT going into salaries or peanut-only peanut butter or fruit-only jam or washing machines.

IMG_1998

***

But, even with all the inconsistencies of this ashram, I will always love yoga and will always have it in my life.  I will always invite people to join in yoga because it is a wonderful practice which brings calm, wellness and peace.

On that note, here below is a pumpkin person exploring dancer pose in order to bring you a smile…Namaste.

pumpkin head