A New Year, A New Start

Happy New Year everyone!!! Hope your 2018 is off to a wonderful start. Have you set any new year’s resolutions? Here is my list of ten resolutions for the year:

  1. Visit 10 hot spots in Ottawa with my friend Hetal
  2. Be more like my Mom (this may take many years!)
  3. Get a job I love, pay down debt, be financially savvy
  4. Complete my Creative Writing Certificate at U of T (it’s my final year!)
  5. Turn 39 (LOL I have to make sure I achieve at least one of these)
  6. Travel to a place I haven’t been before
  7. Take part in Walk In Her Shoes in Ottawa (perhaps Sophie Gregoire will be there again this year?!)
  8. Read lots of good books
  9. Dance, smile, and laugh a lot… and learn to let go
  10. Visit my friends in T.O. as often as possible

Also here are a few foundational things that are important to do on an ongoing basis, that set the stage for accomplishing any goal, and ensuring that I live healthily and happily.

Tools/Ongoing Practice:

  1. Eating healthy and cooking lots
  2. Regular yoga practice
  3. Spending lots of time in nature
  4. Facetiming my grandparents
  5. Lots of laughter!

I’d love to hear your resolutions if you have any!! It’s always easier to get things done with the support of others, and especially knowing that the universe has your back. And finally, even if nothing gets done… there is always rebellion. ;-)

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Cattle Call

I received the nicest email today, from a friend Catherine in my online poetry class. It’s amazing how you can feel connected with someone you’ve never even met. I’d initially been reluctant to take an online class since all of my in-person classes have been so amazing, but I have to say that it was a wonderful experience. The class started out with around eight students and dwindled down to just four of us. We shared our poems, critiqued each other’s work, and offered lots of support and encouragement. The timeline was pretty hectic (one poem per week, and a final portfiolio at the end), but it was actually just what I needed to get my creative juices flowing. The course was taught by George Murray, a published poet and a very thoughtful, supportive teacher.

As we were wrapping up the course, Catherine posted something about a poem of mine, ‘A Mind of Their Own’, which she had said reminded her of a herd of cattle (haha!). The poem is about meditation and how thoughts run wild in our heads, and I guess when she read it, she pictured cows storming in. She said she harboured a big secret – that she had re-written the poem, using cows instead of thoughts. So cool!

You know, I was thinking, after the thoughts about my cat poem and the little old ladies… well, this may sound crazy, but when you say they come in, not one by one but all at once… I imagined a herd of cattle. Don’t laugh! If you read it again imagining cattle, it kinda works, don’t you think?

That’s what I love about poetry, and creative writing in general – it sparks new ways of thinking and sometimes the person reading it imagines something totally different than the writer. Every art form is actually a two-way process; it exists as an interaction between the creator and the consumer. And between the two, there is magic.

Here are the two versions of the poem – mine and then hers:

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

Cattle Call

They storm in, unhinged
not one by one, but
all at once, barreling toward
an unknown end –
snorting in the stirred up dirt.
calling over another;
That one there – he looks
unafraid yet bellows in distress.

Others are urgent, frantic –
they jostle toward their fate,
unaware of their collective
doom. A few are caught
in the past – meadows, grass,
lowing in the afternoons,
over and over.

The gate is locked – the herd
still surges – steaming clouds
of panicked breath –
dull roar of hooves in muck.

Dusk settles on the
restless herd – the cattle
call is over and they
all breathe a little easier.

I think her poem works so well with cows! I can just picture the cows storming in, not knowing that their death soon awaits them. As a vegetarian, I have actually thought of this scenario often – how animals often know that they are going to be killed when their friends in the field don’t return.

It’s nice that the four of us from the class have decided to stay in touch. It’s always hard to say goodbye to people when a course comes to an end – thank god for technology!

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.

 

What If God Was One Of Us

I’m at the Jimmy’s Coffee across the street from Raju’s, and I just adore this place! Three floors, mostly full of hipsters… definitely not 9-5ers. I’m sitting here with my latte and book (If Nuns Ruled the World), at the long wooden table on the second floor. I love these tables because it makes me feel like I’m part of a group. Ok, it’s not like we talk to one another (the girl across from me has her headphones in and is texting away) but it just feels nice and connected somehow. I love the natural light in this place, it fills the floors and lifts my spirit.

Alright let’s see if I can remember the walk from October 6 (week 40!). I left my place at York & Queens Quay around 11:30 AM, walked up Bay and through Nathan Philips Square, and got to the Duke of Somerset at around noon. I met with Steve, my old manager at CCO to discuss a potential role as a Senior Analyst. It was so good to see him and I have to be honest, it brought up so many old memories. Good ones and painful ones. He is as passionate and clever as ever, and when I looked over the role and said that I didn’t think I was qualified, he said “Of course you are. You are smart and capable.” We chatted about work and how important it is to pick the right people to join your team (he has a great knack for that). I had a veggie burger and I think he had a burger too… we were a little pressed for time because he had to run for a 1:15 PM meeting, but he pushed it back a little further so that we had more time to talk.

Then I went over to 525 to see Jasmine and get my eyebrows done by her lovely colleague. She took me into the boardroom that she’d booked and cleaned them up for me, gave them a little more shape, and it all cost only $3. Wow! I normally pay more than $25 at La Main Dor Salon, but Shahla is a goddess and she’s been doing my eyebrows for years. She plays the most beautiful Indian classical music or Spanish guitar or haunting Persian songs. Sometimes we talk, but sometimes I just lie there and take it in. I fall into deep relaxation on that table.

Oh I forgot the main event of that day – I got a job offer from CAMH!! So the whole morning I was reeling and informing everyone. At the time it wasn’t final, still dependent on reference checks, but in my heart I knew that it was and I think I just couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I’ve been applying there since 2012 when I left CCO and I just didn’t know if/when it would happen. When I set my New Years resolutions for the year in January, for #10 I had originally written “Get a job at CAMH” and then I changed it to something more general. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess! Anyway, I’m still feeling overwhelmed and I can’t believe that I start on Monday! Holy moly. What a crazy way I’ve been living… not even “on the edge”, but “at the edge” as my Dad says.

I continued to walk to University College, where I meandered through the Harry-Potter like buildings (my favourite is King’s college) and I went up to the second floor where they were setting up for that weekend’s book fair. The year before I went with Gosia at Victoria College and it was a magical experience where we picked up lots of one-of-a-kind books. The lady there told me that it wasn’t actually open yet so I had to leave. I found an almost abandoned classroom with two girls working away, and I sat down and worked for a bit. It was an interesting afternoon since my phone had died earlier on (that’s why I don’t have many pictures in this post).

Ok I have to stop for a second because Colin just messaged me and said that CAMH called and he provided the very last reference check. I love that guy.. he has really been looking out for me lately. I told him I owed him a drink (and he gladly accepted). Hmmm.. the most amazing song is playing right now at Jimmy’s, and it’s giving me goosebumps:

What if God was one of us?
Just like a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

I feel like my writing has been like an episode of Family Guy lately… it seems to be following a story, and then goes off on a tangent. Well that’s how my mind works lately. In fragments. In memories. In bursts of laughter. In confusion. In poetry. In emotions so deep that sometimes I beg that I won’t feel them. In drama. And hopefully if all goes right, in peace. In groundedness. In love. In compassion. In expansiveness. In freedom.

I carried on and came across this poster for Mindful Moments at U of T – every Monday and Thursday they offer meditation classes. Hopefully I can go for free with my U of T card!

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U of T Campus, Kings College Circle

Then I went to the Eaton Centre, standing in the line at Shoppers listening to two young girls (teenagers I think) chat about Angelina Jolie and how she has no soul and isn’t as nice as Jennifer Aniston. I joined in the convo and defended her, saying that she has seen a lot of suffering in her life through her humanitarian work, and I’m sure she carries that with her. My two cents haha! I went to Canadian Tire and bought more boxes, and dragged them home on the subway, knowing I had a full night of packing ahead of me.

In If Nuns Ruled The World, I read about Sister Madonna, who made a wager with God: If she couldn’t complete this 2012 Canadian Ironman triathlon, she wouldn’t try it again. But she did it. And at age 82, she has run more than 366 triathlons!

Running not only helped me solve my problems, it reduced my anxiety and cleared my soul, taking away any brooding darkness that took away my positive attitude.

When I got home, I had a message from Mandeep who sent me a quote that I totally needed to read. (picture above). That Dr. Seuss was a wise man.