Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wabi-Sabi: Finding Our Place (Away)

As you may recall (and as outlined within Wabi-Sabi: Explained), blog posts entitled "Wabi-Sabi" will be dedicated to moments of self-acceptance and calm.

Can you imagine: I was granted not a sheer moment of wabi-sabi, but a full triumphal weekend.

May this story serve as a testament to the promise of internal prosperity. An attained fulfillment that lends itself to no interpretation but my own. This stretch of wabi-sabi challenged my self-consciousness. Within its span, I initiated a quest for self-acceptance.

Let us firstly look back and review:

Wabi-sabi refers to a Japanese philosophy or aesthetic that is founded on acceptance. It is centred on three simple truths:
  1. Nothing lasts (beauty within the impermanent)
  2. Nothing is finished (beauty within the incomplete)
  3. Nothing is flawless (beauty within the imperfect)
I deem any moment to be wabi-sabi when all above laws are present, acknowledged, and accepted. The result that arrives is swift and twofold: security of self and blessed joy.

Now for the story... 

It was the fall of 2013 that Graham and I found "our place."

We hadn't taken a vacation together since Cuba in May, and I was awaiting a break in contract from the Canadian Coast Guard. Each one of us, eager road trip aficionados, in a flash began launching adventure schemes in our minds. Pondered and said (simultaneously, no doubt) were the words:
Let's get away!! 
But very little interest did I find to have in designing our little vacation.

I digress: I am a planner.

I plan everything in my (our) own life (lives).

I can only wish I were speaking to style of organization that amounted to studying of great scope, nutritious meal preparation, and a weekly yoga routine. If only. Regrettably, I am speaking to an effortless tendency I hold to begin thoughtfully planning and arranging, as I drive, the immediate steps I will take as I enter my home.

Silly and unnecessary? Perhaps. Anxiety provoking? There are times. Efficient? You bet. Well...

There is however a lustrous silver lining - a sudden break in the clouds - in this planned tale that I call my life: I am remarkably good (and impressively so!) at going with the flow.

In fact, I crave it.

On rare occasions, I am called not to plan, but only to be present for an impromptu getaway or activity. And I must admit: these are often the times I love the most.

(I could have freely replaced all of the above with: Graham planned our little getaway. But what little insight that would have provided...)

And so. Off we went.

Away in the County 

Graham manifests a profound ability that I cannot neglect to describe. He can quite honestly catch my dreams - pieces of my imagination, lingering mid-air and floating away - and he is able to give them new life. Some of which I have yet to share, even with him, yet lo and behold, there they are. Right in front of my eyes. I find my most sacred dreams and far-fetched illusions. Suddenly tangible, wholly authentic, and celestially so.

Nestled among the tranquil shores of East Lake, surrounded by natural gardens and magically overgrown brush, we found it (our place), in the village of Cherry Valley.

Away in the County would serve as the matchless bed and breakfast we would never forget.

Our first afternoon was enchanting.

The interior of our retreat was elegant, simple, and somehow gentle. We strolled along a marble terrace and greeted an exceptional suite, named The Gardener's Room. We crossed an intimate art studio, flawlessly positioned to overlook the shore. We revelled in an expansive view, provided by a private balcony. What a blessing it was to behold the whole and sweeping property. Exquisite artwork, that owed itself to encaustic painting, was found throughout the entire residence, only adding to its character and charm.

Side note: for our next visit, we plan on reserving The Artist's Room, which showcases the work of emerging, mid-career in addition to well-established, local artists. I can hardly wait!

A short drive from the ravishing beaches of Sandbanks Provincial Park, how could we resist making the trek? We playfully taunted one another until we ran hand-in-hand, fiercely shivering as we entered the late-September tide. We dried off, only to hurriedly traverse and explore (not to mention, trip and fall all over) the spectacular sand dunes nearby. Upon our return, we wandered the gardens, until we came upon a hidden patio by the lake. A basket of fresh peaches from a local Farmer's Market in my lap and Graham by my side (camera in hand), I felt completely at peace. I felt beautiful.

As we returned from the garden and approached its handsome quarters, I found myself fully cognizant of a first truth: This is our place. This is where we are meant to be. This getaway will not last forever (beauty within the impermanent). But with God as my witness, I do so fully accept it.

On our second morning, it rained ceaselessly. I did not, even for an instant, wish for it to stop. I am able to summon, ever so accurately, two moments in particular. The first occurred while brushing my hair: I found my reflection in a solid antique mirror. My gaze unyielding (a rarity!), I was provided a glimpse into the soul of young woman. Once afraid and insecure - and all too quick to glance away - but today she beamed right back. She stared fixedly into the eyes of her very being. There she found confidence, dignity, and an outlook afresh. She did not rush or worry.

The latter occurred shortly after an impeccable breakfast, and a triumph! I had successfully failed to serve as my own miserly referee: the one who routinely manages my eating habits and judges the creamer that begs for my coffee. He was hushed and put to rest. In lieu of this controller - this evil umpire that exists within many - I implanted in place the young girl I had only just met by way of reflection. How grateful I was for her kindness! I enjoyed scrumptious muffins, fresh orange juice, and an omelette no short of divine.

More often than I care to admit, I am called to persuade this compassionate coach (also known as my inner-self) to visit me at meal times and silence the controller. It only gets easier as we grow in self-esteem.

Our breakfast was a delectable introduction to the second moment I explicitly recall:

While driving a long way to a winery (which we later laughed was closed), I gazed out at the stormy fields of the County. Freckled they were with mature and sturdy birch trees, yet still the land preserved its early farm houses; their histories seemed to linger. Guilty I am a lover of dreary weather. And how romantic it was on this very morning as I glanced away from the taupe-sky of the countryside and turned to Graham as he played a favourite Beatles song:
I feel completely happy.
He did not need to say a thing.

The second truth came upon me. This getaway will never be complete (beauty within the incomplete). No promise of a tomorrow as wondrous as today. But I do so fully accept it. It will live on inside our hearts until we return.

Silly adventures, momentous conversations, and stomach-aches of laughter were had. Mad Dog Gallery, a few wineries (and too much wine!), unique little towns, and the joy of getting lost along the way.

Each evening out for supper, we enjoyed cuisine that could defensively serve as the finest we had tasted (The Hubb at Angeline's and Blumen Restaurant). But any meal we can conceive of is forthwith deemed dull in comparison to the field-to-fork breakfasts we savoured each morning, while delighting in the company of Susan and Glen (owners of Away). And who could forget Oscar, the friendly Bassett Hound, who "supervised" the property?

Did I mention that each breakfast menu was typed on the residence antique typewriter? Seriously. Was this place made for me?

 I simply could not resist purchasing The Art of Herbs (a local art/cookbook) to inspire my reminiscing for months to come.

And then. It came time to return home.

In gratitude and in stillness, our gazes too-cognizant of the farewell in sight, the third truth embodied the very essence of our wistful goodbyes. We, flawed human beings, will never be as perfect as the memory of this place or the God that brought us here (beauty within the imperfect). But we are beautiful for having felt such love and inspiration. And I do so fully accept that.

May you too find your "place." The one that takes you away. The one that sends you back stronger than you were received. It may be a moment, a song, or a place. But connecting with (and accepting) the deepest part of your being is the key to all of its weight.

I will continue to self-search by way of these memories of self-acceptance, until I find "away" again.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Practice: Explained

Blog posts entitled "Practice" will be dedicated to yoga.

Quite recently, the practice of yoga enjoyed its second introduction into my life.

I had taken quite some time off after having served as a devoted practitioner for close to a year. For many months, I entered the Hot Room at Moksha Yoga a minimum of 5 to 6 times per week.

After 11 months of dedicated practice, I felt that I had mastered the art of self-acceptance.

I was able to find joy in extending an unwilling limb, in expressing an ungraceful posture. I had learned to breathe deeply, to silently extend a prayer of gratitude, during a painful stretch.

My passion was stronger than ever before. What was my next step?

I recall a conversation with Graham. We had found ourselves mid-financial suffocation: I, an unemployed student; he, paying our entire rent. So generously respectful my practiced journey, he cautiously shared:
"I think you should sign-up for Yoga Teacher Training. We will find a way to make it work." 
After having committed to my practice for a long while (my one-year anniversary fast-approaching), I pondered the advice of my boyfriend. I was suddenly compelled to explore my deepest dreams. 

One Winter evening, following a 90-minute practice, I mustered up the courage to speak with an accomplished instructor at the studio. I held my breath. 
"I am prepared to sign-up for Yoga Teacher Training."
The instructor, kind-eyed, appeared to have witnessed a miscalculation. Deep love of Practice + Meditation = Teacher Training. Was my equation faulty? My solution premature?
"Am I making a mistake?"
She calmly recommended that I take some time to contemplate my decision. It would be a large investment (in money and in time). Setting goals and intentions breed accomplishments, but only when you are sure.
"There may come a time when you drift away from yoga."
She strongly suggested a yearlong pause to reflect, meditate, and discover the depth of my practice. In the interim, she assured that my devotion would be tested.

I did not return to my mat.

Shortly after our exchange, my membership expired. Her words, soft echoes, whispered in my ears. Their inaudible significance, however well-intentioned, compelled the decision that closely followed. I did not renew my membership. I resolved instead to explore a new form of exercise. Graham and I, after thoughtful contemplation (he, a lover of hockey; I, a yoga devotee), decided to join a gym.

I have been unfaithful to my mat for close to 2 years (with the exception of the occasional at-home practice). My loyalty has belonged to a fitness institution, one that I am not genuinely connected to, but one that I have eagerly submitted to.

For the duration of my infidelity, I have been unknowingly depleting my self-acceptance. Because of yoga, I had learned to accept and welcome even the least esteemable of features. I had uncovered affirmation in spite of weakness or deficiency. My practice had carved an opening, an opportunity to dig deeper, and I had discovered an aptitude for self-love. A liberation of my life.

And then it was lost (at least for a little while).

I cannot blame the gym for this. I similarly cannot fault a wandering heart that was my own, one that questioned its adherence to long-term spiritual practice.

My relationship with the gym has not been easy. If I were asked to explain it, I would write: I have acquired muscle. I have gained weight. I have witnessed a thriving endurance. I have criticized invisible progress. I have envied the shapes of others. I have never felt like I was enough.

How can my definition of a pastime, extending 24-months of my life, be marked only by progress and not by emotion? Something (everything) is missing.

This is not to say that I have discontinued my personal gym routine. I will continue to exercise in moderation (within a facility, outdoors, inside a Hot Room, etc.). After all, tipping the scale into sole Chaturanga Dandasana territory would not necessarily grant the "balance" I have been seeking.

But on this journey of surrender to imperfection, yoga is my guide.

Vinyasa, a form of yoga, allows for a revelation in each practice. All bodily forms are accepted as impermanent. No single posture can last forever. This is why we let go. During my practice, I discard all preconceived notions of beauty. I leave behind unattainable standards of health and fitness. I challenge a nagging nerve to compare myself to others (in- and outside the Hot Room).

Not long ago I attended two classes at Pure Yoga Ottawa. The first, quite physically intensive, focused on building strength, flexibility, and concentration. It gently pushed my exploration of an edge I had forgotten. The Hot Room cleansed my body (quite literally). By Final Shavasana, I felt completely detoxified... and exhausted.

The second practice, equally as intensive but mentally so, rejuvenated my system and reignited my passion. A close friend by my side, glowing from a similar flame, only further reinstated my joy. Ichih, a deeply inspired instructor, provided myself and my fellow practitioners (and you, if you will receive it) with a gift of information. We were given a choice: we could decide to "know" or we could opt to "learn," the latter granting us truth, happiness, and transformation. To know is to be educated; to learn is to take action. I felt the bubbling beginnings of an awakening as Ichih continued:
"Anything that is not shared dies with you." 
She proceeded to ask, in the midst of a gentle twist to our left, that we reach out and massage the shoulder of our neighbor (less than a mats length away). Did I simply know or had I learned to share?

A beautiful woman, laying to my right, reached out to me:
"I am a community person,"
I felt my shoulder grazed then squeezed, without hesitation or doubt. We smiled together; I reached out in the same instant to reciprocate the kneading.

Sharing this moment (a few breaths of an arm massage) created a simple joy and fostered a connection between two strangers. I have many friends who maintain that they are very private, and I will never judge them for their confidence. But I have become mindful and conscious of a deep-seated desire that exists within me to share.

I must share my journey towards self-love with the world. Why reserve or withhold the part of myself that is transforming the most?

As my second yoga practice came to a close, I felt dissimilar from only 60 minutes prior. I scanned my body for tension, exhaustion, or discomfort. I found none.

With each rise and fall of my abdomen, I became aware of my breath flowing freely. I searched my mind for lingering thoughts, fears, or concerns. I found none.

I began consciously flexing my fingers and toes, my mind remaining calm. I explored my heart for a sense of unworthiness, judgment, or insecurity. I found none.

Each one of us, taking a seated position, our hearts high, chanted Om in imperfect unison.

When I arrived at home, I ran to Graham, breathlessly sharing my inspiration. I may never be perfect, but by the Grace of God, I will share the person that I am.

I ate all of my favorite comfort foods for dinner. I included a decadent desert.

Balance for an evening found and a yearning to share with the world.

This is why I wish to practice.