I am entranced by a new Master’s degree program and suddenly – like I do at beginning of most of my love affairs – I see the glimmer of beautiful possibility and begin to sprint after it.
This time I find myself on Google trying to find out which key words will identify the best non-profit in the world. No luck. I move onto Twitter and ask one of my current internet heros what her favourite non-profit is. Maybe she will have the key…
This degree can be done while working and you can apply what you are learning to your work. Therefore – a part of me decides – I must be working at the best place ever so that I can apply my learning to the best place therefore creating the biggest impact ever.
At some point I realize it is ridiculous to find the “best non-profit” and what I really need to find is where the best fit is for me.
And as I slow down to a jog I also realize I like working directly with people more than I like working with organizations so maybe the program’s not the best fit after all.
Efficiency is not always what it seems. I am beginning to see efficiency as people doing what they love – using their particular skills and talents to create a better world.
And then I realize this is what I actually want to do – I want to help people to find out what their potential is, to do what they love and fully develop the particular set of gifts they were born with. Each one of us is completely individual and what we have to offer the world is this incredibly unique and beautiful thing.
So what is my gift? What do I have to offer? What could helping people move towards their potential look like?
And as my time living and working in this community that I love (Yasodhara Ashram) begins to draw towards a close, these questions suddenly seem to have an urgency behind them.
And then, at the glimmer of a beautiful possibility, a part of my mind dashes off at full tilt towards what may or may not be a mirage.
The facts are that in this moment I am living my ideal – working with people and plants and developing programming to make this community an even more harmonious place. And the facts are that I don’t know exactly what is next for me and really, at this stage, I don’t need to know.
The planner in me wants a plan, but really it is time for the worker in me to do the work – to show up, one day at a time, and do what is set before me.
I am learning to trust that I will know what I need to know when I need to know it and in the meantime to be grateful for what I already have and to be grateful for what I already know.
The planner in me wants a plan, but the knower in me knows that the plan will only come when the time is right.
Easter Sunday and I eat a delicious brunch, chat with some old friends and some new ones and then spend some time alone on the porch with a couple of books and my journal. I go to the garden blessing but skip out on the Easter hike.
I love holidays at Yasodhara Ashram and I’m beginning to realize it’s because there’s this beautiful coming together as a community but there’s also space for me to do my own thing. There’s space for balance and I’m invited to create a balance that works for me.
This year at Christmas I started my morning with a walk on the beach alone and then made my way to the main building for an incredible brunch. It was my first Christmas away from my family and it was really beautiful. I spent most of the day with the community but the morning and the evening alone. And it was exactly what I needed, by 7 pm all I wanted to do was cuddle up and read my book and there was no social pressure to do otherwise.
A lot of what we work on here is supporting each other to move towards emotional independence, and so when I told a friend I was skipping out on the Easter hike she smiled and told me to have a good time. I felt supported to do what I needed to do and so I did. And there’s a beautiful calmness and a feeling of great power that comes from being able to give myself what I need.
Slowly, I am learning to bring balance to my life, and with this balance I am beginning to become whole.
I sat on my bed, looking out the window for a moment before heading to the Rose Ceremony, a ceremony of commitment held here at Yasodhara Ashram. I thought about renewing my commitment to learning as much as I can in this lifetime. And I thought about how every day I have the opportunity to renew that commitment.
Some days I wake up worried, but choose to use my strength.
I wake up tired, but move forward anyways.
Feel scared, but choose to be courageous.
Every day is an opportunity to practice becoming more fully who I want to be.
Living and working in an intentional community I bump into others more often than when I have been able to go home to my own apartment. I often run into different opinions and there’s no hiding when I make a mistake. It’s definitely challenging and is also an amazing opportunity to learn to negotiate and to learn to admit when I’m wrong. I’ve been living here a year and a half and it’s been the most intense period of personal transformation I’ve ever experienced.
Somehow the pressure and limitations have pushed me to change. There’s no victory unless there’s something to overcome. You can’t be courageous unless your scared. So the challenges have been gifts and the visible and invisible support of the community is what has allowed for great transformation.
And it isn’t over yet.
I am grateful for what I have learned so far here so far and for all the support. And I look forward to what learning the spring and summer here will bring.
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.