A Mind of Their Own

They come uninvited;
Not one by one, but
All at once, each with its own agenda, shouting
Over each other.
That one over there
Looks new,
But unafraid – he has something to say.

Some are urgent, frantic,
while others meet under golden lights,
unaware of anyone else.
A few are caught in the past,
and tell stories around bonfires
Over and over.

I thought I’d locked the door
But they come in through the back.
“Now focus on the breath,” the instructor says,
“Bring your attention to each
thought, gently touch it –
And then let it go.”

They are startled by the intrusion, and pause
for a moment.
It feels lighter in the room.
I breathe a little easier.

I was never very good at this.


First You Relax Your Toes…

I’m so excited! My all-time favourite meditation teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, is coming to Ottawa on Sep 21 to lead a mass meditation on Parliament Hill in honour of the UN International Day of Peace (“Peace Day”). This year’s theme is TOGETHER and is focused on showing support for refugees and migrants, and to stand up to discrimination and xenophobia.

I was first introduced to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s meditation years ago, when I took the Mindfulness Meditation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course at the Toronto Western Hospital. Jon Kabat-Zinn helps his patients to stay present and pay attention to their thoughts and emotions without judgment. This can be especially challenging if you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or chronic pain. I remember doing the “raisin meditation”, where we were each given a raisin and asked to pay close attention to it, from how it felt in our hands to how it looked to how it felt inside our mouths (slowly experiencing the burst of flavour on our tongues).

Fast forward five years, and I still rely on his “body scan” meditation to help me stay grounded and to bring my awareness to my body, where I can deeply feel any suppressed emotions. We often think that meditation is only useful when going through hard times, but I find that it is also extremely useful during times of joy, to bring some calmness to our over-excited minds. When I hear his voice, I instantly feel at home – it is a voice I’ve come to trust completely.

When I do the body scan, I wear comfy clothes and lay down on my bed or sofa, covered by a warm blanket. I listen to his voice tell me how to relax each part of my body. First my left toe, then the bottom of my left foot, then my ankle, the top of my foot, my lower leg…. you can see how it takes 40 minutes to get through every part of the body. My dad learned this type of meditation when he was 21, and often uses this technique to fall asleep. I find myself falling asleep too while doing this meditation….the ultimate relaxation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, and for the last almost 40 years, has been helping millions to deal with chronic pain and to develop meditation practices that help to deal with emotional/physical pain, as well as nurture compassion, empathy, and love (the natural state of our hearts). I love how he has a PHd in molecular biology and is also a devout Buddhist. His combination of the two worlds is what we need right now – people who can bridge the gap between science and alternative medicine.

Here is his definition of mindfulness:

Mindfulness is about paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgment.

Mindfulness is also about having an inner knowing of who you really are… it is a way of coming back home to yourself.


Home Is Wherever I’m With You

Wow I can’t believe I’m finally getting around to posting this – it feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been on this site!! I wrote this on Dec.3, but then my computer died before I got a chance to post it

* * *

Sitting at the Starbucks at the MARS Centre, listening to Christmas tunes, beside two young women who are discussing careers and gossiping and talking about job opportunities at UHN. Earlier today I learned the dance sequence to Beyoncé’s formation video:

Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay
Slay trick, or you get eliminated

It was a fun class, and I was exhausted and didn’t think my body could take it but somehow I survived it and even had a bit of fun. Like a lot of things these days, things seem to register as fun well after the fact. :-) There was a girl next to me who I would turn to every time I didn’t catch what the instructor had just shown us. Too bad she ended up leaving early! I wish I could post the video we took but it is forbidden for liability reasons. :p I hate that I have to abide by all these rules… I wish I could just write whatever I want, but I guess censorship is part of writing, or at least thinking about others feelings. I don’t know how Malala did it.. makes me admire her even more. Writing anonymously from her little house in the village, knowing that every word could get her in trouble. And yet still managing to keep a smile on her face!

It’s been a rough little past while, as you can probably tell since I haven’t been writing my blog posts which is very unlike me. However I have been walking the 10 KM at least once I week so I will write them all eventually.

Week 45!! It was a memorable one. I woke up early since I had promised Arvin that I would join him for a session at landmark forum. He asked me to be his guest since he is working on a documentary about mental health and addiction – his documentary profiles three people on the streets who deal wih addiction, and shows how they became addicted, their childhood, where they grew up, relationships, etc. I’m meeting with him next week with a few other folks to brainstorm further [Update: this didn’t end up happening – they met all the way up in Etobicoke!]. I walked from the Distillery where I’d been staying for most of November (at Samir and Shannon’s place while they got married in India), past some beautiful churches, up Jarvis, and to the hotel boardroom where the event was being held.

At first I was skeptical – I had heard both good and bad things about Landmark – some of my friends swear by it, and some people say it’s like a cult and they are really aggressive in getting you to sign up. So I went in skeptical, and emerged inspired. It was the stories that did it for me. One girl spoke about how she and her mother were separated for so many years because she held onto grudges and hadn’t fully forgiven her, and then during a Landmark session, she decided to call her and surprisingly, her mother was at a Landmark course just across the street from her! At that moment she realized that her mother had never actually abandoned her, she was always there. Hmmm… as I’m writing this it’s making me realize that I’m not alone either, and even though I don’t see my loved ones all the time, they are always with me. It’s hard to remember these things when you are feeling a little lost and hopeless (or a lot lost and hopeless).

Following Landmark, I walked out to the Allan Garden conservatory which was closed but I love that area so I sat on a bench there and FaceTimed my sister (or maybe she FaceTimed me, I can’t remember). We were both still upset by the Trump win… in fact I think I still am. I can’t believe how hard it hit me!! I had a great time at Sheldon’s election party, and then as I fell asleep, I was hoping that when I woke up, I would hear that Clinton had won, but instead I read that it was Trump. And my body locked up, and I felt SO much anger. Roshni and I talked about how she had been debating with Dad over a few things, but I could’ve told her that there is definitely no winning those debates!! Lol. Chris also felt really upset about the Trump win, because he resonated a lot with Clinton and what she stood for. I’ve noticed that all the leaders have been very positive in terms of making statements about working in harmony (like Clinton, Obama, Sadhguru, my Mom)… but I don’t know if I buy it. Usually I’m so positive but lately I’ve been a negative nancy to say the least. Where has my sense of humour gone?! There are moments it surfaces, usually around people. I miss the kids I was tutoring, I miss my old life, I miss my creative writing classes, I miss my old self. Not that I’m not grateful for my job and where things are heading, it’s just hard letting go of the things you love.

The next part of my day was pretty wild, insane, magical, unreal. In the middle of our FaceTime call, my phone died, which was pretty odd since it had 42% battery, and it normally works even if it’s 1%. I had an immediate urge to go home, charge my phone, make plans, absolutely anything to get escape this anxiety of being in the unknown – but instead I took it as a sign to explore and I wandered into a church at the corner. As I read my book, The Bandit Queen, about Phoolan Devi, my mind started to spiral into depression and I didn’t think I could continue. The words started to blur and not make sense and my mood got so low. And just then a woman came up to me – she had short black hair, was of African descent, very thin, and exuded kindness and warmth. She asked if I was staying for the event that evening, and I said what event, and she said that they were having an International Fair where there would be foods from all different cultures and music and dancing. I asked what time it was at and she said that it started at 5 PM. I glanced at my watch and it was only 3, so in my head I thought I probably wouldn’t stay that long – she caught my look and said vehemently, “You must come” so I agreed, still not entirely convinced.

I tried to read my book again, and that’s when a short man approached me – he had long white hair and a long white beard (he kind of looked like Santa Claus, or a character from Lord of the Rings), and he also asked me if I would like to join the festivities that evening. Now I could hear the universe loud and clear – I was going! In case there was any doubt, he handed me a long paper ticket and said that this would get me in (the cost of the event was $20, all proceeds going to children’s programs at the church). Just as I was thinking, now what am I going to do for the next two hours, he asked if I was hungry and of course I was, so he led me down to the basement and suddenly I felt like I was in another world. It was like I was in one of those black churches from the sixties, back during Martin Luther King days, where everyone was wearing those amazing hats and long dresses. There were people from other backgrounds too, there was an Indian family who had just left, and I would say white was in the minority. The man brought me a plate of yummy vegetarian food, and I heard from the guy sitting next to me whose name I now forget, that that is one of the values of the 7-Day Adventist church – they believe that a vegetarian diet is best for the mind, body, and soul. Similar to Hinduism in that way.

As I ate, I asked this guy so many questions about their beliefs and his own life story. He said that he was the only one in his family that was religious, the others weren’t into it and didn’t really understand his connection with the church. It’s hard going against the grain and doing something that your family doesn’t approve of. It reminds me of this movie I want to watch called Moonlight, about a boy who black and gay and growing up in a poor Miami neighbourhood. So excited to see it with Rhonelle after the holidays!

I told this guy (let’s just call him Evan because I’m going to keep talking about him) that I had stayed at Chris’s parents place the week before and stayed up all night reading The Book of Job, one of my favourite bible stories. Poor Job didn’t stand a chance… yet eventually his faith in God was restored and he was blessed with fortunes far beyond his wildest imagination (probably because like me he figured out that your imagination doesn’t exactly function in times of despair). Let’s hope my story follows a similar path to the other side! Evan’s eyes widened as I continued to share my insights on Job, and he pulled out a booklet from his bag that was a summary/study of guess what – yep The Book of Job! He said that every week in his church they study a different part of the bible and this week it was Job. What a crazy coincidence.

Then Evan started to excuse himself – he said that he had to set up for a workshop about anxiety and depression. That’s when my eyes grew wide. Oh wait, I forgot to tell you about the other amazing person that I met at the table – her name was Candace and she and I instantly connected. She had been through an abusive relationship and suffered from low self-esteem and didn’t have much money to live on. I told her about things I’d been going through too. It is amazing how we were able to be so open with one another. She and I were welcomed by Evan to join the workshop (he could probably tell we needed it!!). We listened to videos by an expert on mental health and addiction, and then did activities around goals and ways to overcome obstacles. Finally it was time to forget our woes and just play and have fun. We went into the adjoining gym for the International Fair, the event that had enticed me at the start to enter this magical place. Candace and I sampled food from all over the world in that little gym – India, Guyana, Kenya, Jamaica, and many more. We danced and let loose. We had ice cream and authentic home-cooked treats, and watched the kids having so much fun running around and being free.

After the event, we took some pics in the abandoned church (picture above). I was wearing my favourite t-shirt that says “Home Is Wherever I’m With You”. I love that T-shirt so much! Then we got to the bus stop and met this cool homeless guy who was sitting there drinking, and who ended up asking me out! He was actually really sweet; he said that sometimes, a person just needs to talk. How right he is.