Today I am working with a group of people that have just arrived at the Ashram to take part in the One Month Program. We are working together in the garden harvesting sunchokes. We finish the job just in time and arrive late to reflect with the others.
My mind starts spinning with facts about first impressions and habit forming – about how since this was there first day it would have been better if we had been early so they could have more smoothly introduced to the process.
At the same time my mind starts spinning about how since we are late things will go wrong and how now their experience of reflection is ruined. A dramatic part comes in and starts grasping for evidence that I have ruined everything.
As my afternoon continues I move in and out of the anxiety. Once it has started spinning, it’s challenging to stop completely. I breath deeply and it subsides for a few moments then it comes back.
The rest of the afternoon I spend organizing changes so that I can spend the day at a workshop. A part of me doesn’t believe I deserve to go and as I make the changes the anxiety continues to come up. My anxiety is connected to my self worth.
I write about it in my reflection. I talk about it with co-worker. It continues to spin but as I begin to understand it better it begins to have less power.
And as I write now a part of me is still spinning, still unsettled, but that’s okay.
Anxiety is a part of my life, but it doesn’t need to control my life. And as I see more clearly where it is coming from – a place of shame, and a dramatic place – I can make better decisions about how I want to live and work.
I would easily call myself a feminist. And yet there’s a part in me that hates women. It cringes when certain women speak with confidence and gets annoyed when certain women take control of a situation. Women, that this part for some reason, doesn’t think deserve to speak or have power.
When I realized that this was in me, I was very startled and saddened. How can I be an advocate for change in others and at the same time harbour this part within myself?
And as I begin to look at it more closely, I am realizing that it is an old pattern in me and that it’s easy to indulge. It’s easy for me to slip into annoyance or disgust and in some ways I feel like I can’t help it. But on another level I know I have choice and when I realize what a destructive part of me is speaking it makes it easier to step back and not indulge.
Some people say that spending time at an Ashram is running away from the problems of the world, running away from the real work. In an article on living in spiritual community Bo Lozoff writes that most people who come to his Ashram want a life that’s easier and when they arrive they realize really it’s harder. Most people don’t last more than three months.
At the Ashram I live at we are asked to genuinely look at ourselves and to take responsibility for our actions – including our thoughts. And sometimes it’s totally ugly – like this part of myself that hates.
But if I’m going to advocate for change in the world, I have to start with myself. And to start with myself I have to take the time to really see what’s happening for me.
And so I’m taking the time – finding out what’s really happening. And as I do I can work for change within myself, live what I believe in and at the same time work for change in the world.
 Lozoff, Bo. “Life in Spiritual Community,” Ascent Magazine, Issue 11, Fall 2001.
I’m trying something different – writing fiction. Writing about things that I think are fun and funny instead of writing about my personal process. The novel I started while sick in bed las week quickly evolved into a screen play and I’ve decided to share a scene. It’s always a little bit scary for me to post and this one’s extra scary because I’ve never done it before. Here goes nothing…
The premise is two university students decide to drop out of school to take a shadow puppet show about climate change on the road.
School gymnasium. A projector is set up. There are 18 dancers dressed in black. They are all clustered around the screen projected on the wall. Using their hands they create a school of shadow puppet feather fish. The fish are moving together in unison. Some dancers are on other dancers shoulders to get their fish high enough. Someone moves the screen (the projector is on wheels) back and forth gently and the fish move in unison with the screen
A group of grade three students sit in front of the projector watching the show. The lights are turned off so the only light is on the projector screen.
A violin player plays soft sad music to the side of the projector.
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Feather fish travel in schools, moving in unison together to lower their chances of predation. They feed off the algae on clam shells.
Shadow clams (cut out of card board) appear and shadow fish begin feeding on algae off the clams.
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: As the water temperatures change algae can no longer survive where the clams live. The feather fish find less and less food and eventually starve to death.
The shadow clams slide out of view and one by one the feather fish move slower and slower and then exit the screen sliding off at the closest edge.
The violin music becomes tragic and then stops. The lights come up.
A child puts up their hand.
CHILD 1: Why did the fish all die?
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Because it got too hot for their food to survive so their food died and then they had no food.
CHILD 2: Why did they have no food?
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Because it got too hot.
A child is crying softly.
CHILD 3: I don’t want all the fish to die.
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Me neither, you know, me neither. And do you want to know what you can do to help?
A CHORUS of CHILDREN: Yes! Tell us!
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: You can drive your car less.
CHILD 4: How will I get to school with no car?
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: You could walk, or bike, or take public transit.
CHILD 4: What’s transit?
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: The bus, you can take the bus.
CHILD 3: My mom says I’m too little to take the bus.
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Well, when you get bigger you can take the bus.
CHILD 2: Why do cars kill fish? You mean they hit the fish?
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: No, no, the cars make pollution and the pollution goes in the air and then it traps all the heat from the sun and makes everything hotter.
CHILD 1: Don’t worry. We never ever drive in the water.
CHILD 3: Cars are not that hot. We have air conditioning. Soooo coooool.
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Yes but its not the cars it’s the pollution.
CHILD 4: The cars make the water dirty and the fish die. Oh nooooo…
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Well it’s not quite that…
CHILD 5: I’m going to tell my dad to throw the car in the garbage! Eww. Gross. Car. Fish killer. I like fish. I have one fish. But it didn’t get sick from the car yet.
CHILD 1: Yeah, yeah! I’m going to tell my dad too. And my mom – she has a car too. To the garbage!
PUPPET SHOW NARRATOR: Well it’s not that you have throw your car out – just limit your use. Drive less.
CHILD 2: The fish are soooo pretty and then they die. Throw them out!! Throw them out!!
All the children join in: Yeah, throw ‘em out! Save the fish! We want fishes! Cars are bad bad bad! They’re going to squish are all the fishes! Put ‘em in the garbage!
CHILD 3: I don’t think they’re going to fit into the garbage.
Teachers are all looking worried – looking at the kids and then at the presenters and then at the kids. The Puppet Show Narrator also looks worried.
CHILD 4: We need a GIANORMOUS garbage can for ALL the cars!! Yeah!!
All of the children cheer! And continue to yell out there ideas: Yeah so big!! For all the cars!! We love fishes!!
One of the teachers comes forward.
TEACHER: Well, thank you so much for your presentation. The children are really engaged. We hope you’ll be back. Can we clap for the presenters children?
She shakes the Puppet Show Narrator’s hand.
Children clap and yell out: We loves fishes! No more cars! Cars are bad! Stop killing Nemo! Yeah Nemo!! We love Nemo! Nemos so cute!
Presenters begin to shuffle out.
Brian quickly catches up with Jaine who was in the audience and now is on her way out.
BRIAN: So… what did you think? Isn’t it beautiful?
JAINE: Yeah… the shadow puppet part is really beautiful. But do you do the same presentation for every age group?
BRIAN: Yeah – I mean the dancing fish are so beautiful. It speaks to all audiences.
JAINE: I don’t think the kids got it actually.
BRIAN: You heard them. ‘No more cars!’ Fantastic. That’s what we want right? Less fossil fuel consumption.
JAINE: But they didn’t understand the concept at all. That was just as much brainwashing as the commercials on TV.
BRIAN: Woah. Hold on. It’s the first time you see the show and now you’re calling it brainwashing. Not cool.
JAINE: Brian, I said it was beautiful but I don’t think it was appropriate for that age group. Don’t you think the concept of greenhouse gases is a little advanced for grade threes? Those kids are going to go home and say to their parents – the cars are killing Nemo by squishing him and polluting his water. I think we need to come up with something different for the younger groups.
BRIAN: Well – what do you suggest?
JAINE: I don’t know Brian, let me think about it. I just don’t think that that was a fit. It’s a great presentation. Really. But I think it’s better for high school students or adults. And maybe we could add some slides to help explain the greenhouse gas concept.
BRIAN: It’s so simple and beautiful the way it is. Low tech. And we like it that way. We’re artists – not computer geniuses.
JAINE: Adding a couple of slides doesn’t make it not art. And it doesn’t make you a computer genius either.
BRIAN: Woah. When did you decide it was okay to attack me?
JAINE: I’m sorry, Brian, I’m not trying to put you down.
BRIAN: Thank you.
They walk in silence for a couple of steps.
BRIAN: Okay. So you wanna learn how to make the fish? You put all your fingers together on one hand – making a tear drop shape. Jaine follows his instructions. Yep – okay – you got it. That’s the head. And then your other hands open like in a high five and bring your wrists together. Yep – you got it. That’s the tail. Okay now wiggle your fingers a little like the tails moving delicately in the water. Beautiful! Beautiful! You got it Jaine. You totally got it.
JAINE: So if it’s only me and you on this travelling road show – we’re only going to have two fish?
BRIAN: Yep. Two fish. Hey. Jaine – lets go back. I have an idea.
JAINE: I don’t think the teachers were super happy with us. Did you forget something?
BRIAN: No. Come on – lets go back. Trust me on this one…
I’m the type of person that when I find something I LOVE at a restaurant I order it every time. And its something that I believe in – sticking with what I know works.
And it’s something that I sometimes forget.
Recently I’ve been feeling a dissatisfaction with my life here and have been dreaming about other possibilities. About truly being an artist and living in this place without these rules. Breaking out and being free.
And then tonight at Satsang I was overcome with the feeling that I long for when I go to a music show. And I had this realization that I could spend $100 on a concert ticket and not walk out feeling like this. And the essence of this “art” a part of me is searching for and longing for is here.
I love where I live. And I know that it works.
I love that we believe in the potential of each person to find out who they are and struggle/grow/evolve into who they want to be. I love that we’re asked to take responsibility for ourselves. And I love that singing together brings us together as a community.
The teachings work.
It’s not always easy or fun but they work.
So I’m sticking to it the way I stick to green curry at Thai Kitchen. Yogic pioneer Swami Sivananda Radha says don’t dig a lot of little holes, dig a well. Find something that works and go deep. That’s the only way you’ll ever hit water.
I know that I’ve found it, so I simply have to keep going. I get distracted and I get back on track. And one day, I know, I’ll hit water.
I am reading Julia Cameron‘s The Right to Writeand feel like I’ve made a new friend who keeps urging me to write. In her chapter titled “The Time Lie” she writes,
“If I had a year off, I’d write a novel,”
Maybe you would. Maybe you wouldn’t. Often the greased slide to writer’s block is a huge batch of time earmarked: “Now write.” Making writing a big deal tends to make writing more difficult. Keeping writing casual tends to keep it possible.
And literally she read my mind. I had thought, “Maybe, I’ll write a novel… but I really don’t have time. I’ll stick to poetry.”
Later in the chapter she writes,
The “if-I-had-time” lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time. Sentences can happen in a moment. Enough stolen moments, enough stolen sentences, and a novel is born – without the luxury of time.
So I decided to try it. And the past couple of days I’ve been sick in bed so in between napping I’ve been writing down sentences shooting for a novel. And it’s funny I’ll get going a little bit and then stop – not knowing where to go next. And as soon as I stop I start thinking. Oh no! Am I ever going to be able to finish this?? Is it going to be any good??
And I realized yesterday that all the art I’ve ever done has taken no more than a couple of hours. I haven’t taken on projects that take weeks and months to finish. I write a poem, I finish it, and I immediately decide whether it is any good. So this concept of writing something that will take weeks or months to finish is in some ways terrifying. How will I know if it’s any good until I finish? And how can I trust that it’s good enough to keep going?
So I’m heading into uncharted territories – and some parts of it are amazing as funny ideas spring out from no where. And the characters emerge from the page taking on quirks and heading in directions I hadn’t planned for them. And other parts of it are scary.
And so I’m learning to lean into the discomfort of not knowing where it’s going and somehow when I am able to do that, is exactly when the characters surprise me in amazing ways. And it’s kind of like life – I don’t really know where it’s going and the more I am okay with not knowing the more interesting opportunities emerge.
So slowly but surely – a sentence at a time – I am learning to live, and I am learning to write.
 Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write. New York: Penguin Putman Inc, 1998, p. 13.  Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write. New York: Penguin Putman Inc, 1998, p. 14.
Since I was a child, I’ve hated scary movies. And as I grew up I learned to avoid the genres of action, adventure, crime, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller and science fiction. I am a sensitive person and so I would get so caught up in the film it would feel like I was a participant. For example – when I was in high school I chose to stop watching The Amazing Race because I would get so wrapped up that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep afterwards.
Last week I went to the movie theatres to watch the relatively calm film Inside Llewyn Davis and as usual there was a preview for an action film before the movie started. And I had the realization that if I focussed on breathing deeply while watching the preview – I didn’t get caught up in it. I didn’t get carried away into thinking that I was actually the main character in a fight for my life. My body didn’t go into fight or flight mode. And I could relax even while watching the preview.
Now this might not seem like that big deal but this has been a huge paradigm shift for me. Instead of avoiding all the things and all the people that make me tense (which ends up being A LOT of things and A LOT of people and gets quite complicated) – I can shift the way I interact with them. By connecting to my breath and to myself I can change the experience of the situation.
And now there are a lot of opportunities for me to practice :). Living and working in a shared space means I end up bumping into others and into myself. So what helps me stay connected to my breath in the midst of conflict?
I am practicing and I am finding out. And I am learning to change how I experience the challenges in my life.
In the Yoga Development Course I took last winter we studied the Bhavagad Gita – an ancient yogic text. And we read the entire text out loud in groups in four days. Then wrote a couple of papers.
And I’m realizing now that it’s a text that I could spend years studying intensively. That the initial four days was only dipping my toe in.
In the text Krishna says, “By the delusion of the pairs of opposites arising from desire and aversion, O Bharata, all beings are subject to delusion at birth.” And ‘the Pairs of Opposites’ was something I was beginning to understand then, and as I continue to reflect I am able to understand more fully now.
Last week I went on vacation from Yasodhara Ashram, where I work and live. It was beautiful and special. It was spacious. I spent lots of time outside, with people I love and alone. I went to a few dance classes and helped my sister look for jobs in the non-profit sector.
And suddenly I was seeing the world outside of the Ashram as a beautiful place and almost immediately after this realization began to see my world inside the Ashram as a place of limitation and pressure. One was good and therefore the other must be bad.
Now that I’m entering back into the Ashram, I’m seeing the tricks of my mind. Yes, there are limitations and challenges living here, but there are also supportive aspects and beauty. There is an amazing team of passionate and intelligent women who run the place and who I get to work with.
And so it’s not that one’s good and therefore the other must be bad but both experiences – living at the Ashram and living away from the Ashram – are dynamic. In both experiences I have choice of how I work with the supports and limitations that exist. And in both situations I am in control of my life.
And for me – for today – that is transcending the Pairs of Opposites. Things are not black or white but grey. And wherever I am I can take responsibility for how I experience my life.
I am on a vacation from the community that I live in – spending a week skiing and hiking and sitting in coffee shops. And as I stepped out of the flow of community life, the first thing I noticed was how a pressure was lifted.
Suddenly I’m in a town where people don’t know my story – my habits and my background, my strengths and my weaknesses. And suddenly I can breath more fully.
So what is this pressure? Where does it come from? What is the source? And what is the cause?
In community living there are a lot of pressures. I get into disagreements. I get feedback about how I could have done something better. I give feedback about how I feel like something could be done better.
And there’s a pressure that comes with being seen by my community. There’s no hiding my habits or choices. Everyone knows and everyone is free to comment.
I’ve been in situations before where someone is trying to put the pressure on me – convince me to do something in the way that they would. And it’s easy for me to step out, to let go, to breath, to not take on the pressure.
So how can I do this where I live and work now? How can I notice the pressures but not take them on?
The first step is where I am now – to see the pressures and to acknowledge that they are impacting my life. And the next step is learning to step out when I don’t need to be in them. Taking a deep breath and realizing that what is happening doesn’t need to be taken personally. Acknowledging the facts and at the same time to not say it’s “all my fault.”
And my life in the community is the perfect place to practice this. Pressure will come up and I have a choice of how to work with it.
So Tuesday I step back, into the community, into the flow and into the pressures. By stepping out I could see what was happening. Now I can step back in and make a change.
I’m not quite sure where it starts. But at some point I realize there’s a voice that’s questioning every decision that I make. “Is that really a good idea?” “Do you really need that?” And the hidden message is really – do you really deserve that? Are you really worthy?
And right now is one of the moments. As I sit in my bed typing I have this sinking feeling in my chest. I want to sleep. I don’t want to be seen. I want it to go away. This voice tells me to hide and keep all of my actions secret so others won’t discover “what a horrible person I truly am”.
And when it gets to this stage it affects all my choices – from what to have for dinner to whether or not to buy a Macbook Air.
And I’m amazing at coping. It’s happened before and I know how to ride it out – putting off making important decisions or getting a level headed friend to help. Pretending I’m totally fine and thinking that other’s don’t notice my edginess. Smiling. Getting the work done.
But I want to do more than cope. I want to get to the roots and pull them out. I want to find out where this shame is coming from. And I want to be free.
This time it started with a busy day where people were sick and didn’t let the office know. I was coordinating the work schedule so spent a lot of time trying to figure out where people were and to find coverage for them. And then I called a community meeting to explain the importance of communicating if you can’t come to work. I also had a disagreement with a co-worker. And then talked again later to resolve the issue.
I was mad and I was tired and I was stressed. And then it was like this anger came up and then at some point was turned on myself.
The voice emerged – “Does everyone dislike me now that I called them out?” “Did I really need to say anything?” “Was the disagreement my fault?” “Am I good person at all?”
So I’m practicing believing I have worth even when it’s at its loudest. Trying to take baby steps towards shameless living. Buying the computer even though the voice thinks I’m not worth it. And using the car to transport boxes of magazines even when the voice says:
“You should walk. Do you really want to pollute the environment with that gasoline? Are you just being lazy? And what if someone else needs to use the car? Someone doing something more important. Someone more important.”
And I think its working even though it’s far from perfect…
Step by step.
Inch by inch.
I am stumbling towards freedom.