Ubud

Ubud overwhelms me.  It feels crowded.  There are too many people swarming the tiny sidewalks, there are too many colors, there are too many smells and there are way too many people invading my space; “You want a taxi?” “You want a taxi?”, “You want a taxi?”…Every fifty paces, “You want a taxi?”

Every inch of the long streets are crammed with humanity:  A shop, a temple, a guesthouse, an atm machine, a shop, another shop, a restaurant…for blocks and blocks and blocks.  Trees and plant life fight for every possible gap of space with their branches and fronds reaching towards the street and towards the sky. Parked motorcycles squeeze into every available nook between the buildings, spilling out onto the sidewalks.  Handmade prayer boxes by the hundreds litter the sidewalks in front of all the small shops.

Monkeys hang from the tree branches; they maneuver between the buildings jumping from balcony to roof, roof to balcony and precariously scramble across the overhead wires above the street.  One male jumps to a lower branch that dips under his weight until his back legs reach the street.  He briefly stands on his hind legs and puffs out his chest, challenging the cars screeching to a halt to hit him.  The standoff lasts barely a moment before he drops his front legs down and struts across the road.

Sound follows me constantly.  From the yells of the taxi drivers, the whistles of the police, the beeping of traffic vehicles, the laughter of uniformed school children, the clatter of plates in the restaurants and the chatter of tourists, speaking every imaginable language.  Everywhere there is sound.  Even back at my little hotel, there is no silence.  The air conditioners hum, the din of distant conversations waft over the walls, traffic is a constant yet softer drone, the fountain in the courtyard is perpetual dance of water play and there’s music that is always playing somewhere.  And then there is the rain, with downpours so violent that it sounds like you are in a tunnel filled with passing locomotive trains.

Walking along the streets so many different scents assault my nose.  Fragrant, earthy, pleasurable, sour, heady, rotting. There is a familiarity to them and yet I can’t seem to identify them.  Sometimes a smell catches me off guard with it’s such an enveloping and enticing aroma that I stop and breath in deeper.

I’ve had to relearn walking.  The sidewalks and paths are mazes of uneven paving, potholes, broken tiles and sudden level changes.  Gigantic puddles form from the daily rain storms, creating impassable abysses where the choice becomes: step into the never ending chaos of traffic or wade through the water not knowing if one of those hidden dangers lie beneath the water’s surface.  Even when your footing seems secure, there’s no guarantee.  My sandals slide over a thin glaze of mud left by the last torrential downpour.  My sandals slide over the slime of new mossy growth on rough stones.  My sandals slide over the perpetual accumulation of fallen leaves and flowers.

Every inch of Ubud is vibrating.  I look to my right and see an empty field of reeds. There’s a solitary path running through it, dotted with beautifully lit lanterns, leading to a restaurant.  A wide-open space.  My Canadian heart breathes a sigh of relief.

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Bali

Travelling alone is a mixture of unease and thrill.  For the super introverted person like me, it’s the supreme isolation within humanity.  I am unseen and unheard unless I make the first contact and even then, the easy flow of banter isn’t a skill that I have developed.  During my twenty-eight and a half hour journey to Bali, the delight of conversation presented itself only once…with a Filipino senior from Los Angeles whose manner was open and enveloping.  I wanted to know more about her life.  On the other and, my conversation with a fellow yin trainee that I discovered in the Taipei departure gate was stilted and awkward. The generational gap and the life experience gap were obvious.  She wrote me off as a crazy old lady and I felt no desire to engage with her.  She felt too two-dimensional to me.

This month, beyond the obvious benefits of training with two very knowledgeable people, is about changing habits.  About pushing outside of my comfort zone or simply going in the opposite direction for a while.  I think the one thing that I fear the most is living a small and safe life.  Habits lead to complacency, complacency leads to inertia and inertia leads to death.

Some changes are small, yet delightful.  I am drinking coffee for the first time in years.  The flavor is both subtle and fulfilling.  I can feel the texture of the ground beans on my tongue, my cheeks and the roof of my mouth. Each sip encompasses my senses.  What a treat to have the time to savor a long forgotten taste.

I went for a two-hour walk along the beach this morning.  Anyone who knows me knows that I bitch about having to walk the dogs around the block that takes less than ten minutes.  And that includes all the time I have to wait for Fergus to pee on practically everything and for Poppy to stage at least one protest stop. I carefully walked barefoot on sand made of chunks of coral so rough that each step threatened to rip up my soft feet.  I wandered into the waves for smoother footing.  I marveled at the pieces of coral, some pieces whole and some so jagged and broken that they resembled the bottom of a fish tank.

Groups of beach cleaners passed me with their rakes and bags, picking up all the discarded plastic.  Plastic either left by late night revelers or washed up from the ocean.  I stopped for a while and watched two-dozen surfers bobbing in the waves, waiting for the perfect swell to ride towards the beach. There was a large event happening in the distance.  Banners were waving around a makeshift stage and I could hear emcees yelling into their microphones while the surrounding crowd cheered.  I decided to go see what was happening.

By the time I arrived to the crowd, they had moved down the beach and were crouching near the water line.  There were hundreds of people and most of them were carrying small plastic containers. They began to tilt their containers towards the water and from each container came one tiny turtle.  It was a baby sea turtle rescue!  The participants gently nudged their turtle towards the waves, sometimes picking up the errant child that insisted on going the wrong way, and sometimes helping the one that seemed overwhelmed by the survival task before him, moving him even closer towards the welcoming surf.  Some turtles disappeared into the ocean quickly and some kept being picked up by the surf and deposited back at their starting point.  The entire process enthralled a little boy in a bright red t-shirt.  He could barely keep his feet still as he danced in the waves and clapped his hands in excitement.  As the little turtles began to swim past him, he stopped dancing long enough to wave goodbye to each and every one.

The sun started to get stronger, so I decided to leave the beach and head back to my hotel, taking the adjacent road where sections of the sidewalk ran through areas shaded by large fragrant trees. By the time I got back to my hotel, I was soaked with sweat.  People are always baffled that I prefer cold weather countries. The irony that I am doing a training in Bali right as Canada is entering my favorite time of the year is not lost on me. I don’t like hot weather because I sweat a lot and I sweat all of the time.  True, I work in the hot yoga business but that’s more like a nice warm shower.  It feels fabulous and when you’ve had enough, you get out of it.  Hot weather is a constant oppression that is hard to escape. Plus there’s a big difference when it comes to sleeping.  Air conditioners make sound.  All throughout the night there is a low and constant buzzing in the room.  There’s no sound with heaters.  Silence while you sleep.  As I sit in Bali, my thoughts remain with the cool nights of Toronto.

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Genevieve Salbaing

Genevieve Salbaing was laid to rest today and damn – I’m going to miss her. Not because of her contribution to dance or that our meeting changed the trajectory of my life, what I will miss most about Genevieve Salbaing is the surprise of the unexpected. She delighted me because she was an original – in thought and in action. Our last meetings will always stay in my memory.

I was meeting up with Genevieve (or Madam as I called her) and her son Patrick in Montreal one afternoon. We were going to catch up on each other’s lives over lunch and I was late. The one thing that Madam hated more than anything else was when someone was late and I knew that I was in trouble. There was a mix-up over Patrick’s address (where we were meeting). Breathless from running, I finally made it and after repeated apologies, we piled into Madam’s big ass SUV. Patrick was driving.

Madam was originally from France and had a very sophisticated palate. She also loved champagne. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up to a non-alcoholic vegan restaurant. I looked at Patrick with raised eyebrows, but his mother took it in stride and walked into the restaurant. There was a bit of confusion while he tried to explain to her that there was no dairy and what cashew milk was, but eventually something was selected from the menu that she was able to eat and somewhat enjoy. It wasn’t her favorite, but she was usually game for anything new.

Afterward we drove 20 minutes through traffic to reach a small neighbourhood Italian bakery that sold Madam’s favourite cookies. There was no place to park so I took her into the bakery to while Patrick circled with the car. It was obviously a very popular place because there were lots of people waiting to be served. When it was finally our turn, she asked for two cookies – and then changed her mind. She wanted three cookies. Each cookie was the size of a Canadian Toonie. I looked at her and questioned, “Three cookies?” She told me they were very good and asked me if I’d like one. I declined.

Once she had made her purchase, we piled back into her car and Patrick drove us to her retirement building where she had an apartment. She showed me the park where she visited with the neighborhood dogs, she showed me her home, and she showed me her fat kitty cat. Patrick complained about the heat and she ignored him.  Later that evening I reflected on the ways people show love and I hoped that one day someone would love me enough to drive me kilometers so I could buy three tiny delicious cookies.

Six months later, I was back in Montreal. I called Madam and asked her if I could take her out to lunch – to her favorite French restaurant. No vegan this time. We agreed on a date. I went to her apartment, helped her find her keys, said hello to the even fatter kitty cat and we made our way down to the basement of the building to her car. Did I forget to mention that the woman was in her 90’s and a notoriously bad driver to start off with? The very first time she drove me to her place over 30 years ago, she hit the back of her garage and when the car bounced back, she turned to me and said “Oh! That’s a little to close!” My eyes bugged out in shock. In the winter when snow covered the streets, she drove her car up the middle of the street. No lines to follow! Surprisingly, she was never in an accident (that I was aware of) but a lot of us joked about the wave of destruction she must have left behind her as other drivers swerved to miss her. I was wondering how she managed to see over the steering wheel of her big ass SUV when she stopped next to a little Fiat. She had a new car. I sighed with relief. This was a much better fit.

It appeared that her driving had improved with age. She drove slower and with a lot more caution. The line of cars behind us on Avenue Van Horne increased substantially every minute, as we made our way to the restaurant.  When we arrived at the restaurant, she told me to get out of the car while she parked it. There was angled parking in the lot adjoining the restaurant and as she pulled into an empty slot, she misjudged the needed angle and started to take out a Mercedes in the adjacent slot. My mouth dropped open. I slapped my hand over my eyes, shook my head and just started to laugh. Seriously – what can you do at this point? I didn’t hear metal screeching upon metal. When she turned the car off, I walked over to it. She had missed the Mercedes by one quarter an inch. One quarter of an inch. Wow, I thought, there was a guardian angel looking after her.

After lunch, we walked back to the parking lot and she proceeded to back the car out – at a collision course angle. I waved her to stop. When she rolled down the window, I leaned in and asked if she’d like me to take the car out of the lot. She agreed and moved over to the passenger seat. I carefully backed the car out and turned onto Avenue Van Horne. We had barely gone half a block when she yelled for me to stop the car. I thought something was wrong and quickly pulled over. There was nothing wrong. She wanted to drive. I got out of the car, walked around and got back in as she slid back into the driver’s seat. We returned to her residence with the multi-car pileup creeping along us.

I seriously am going to miss this woman. Not just for the unexpected moments of surprise and joy of being a witness to her crazy existence, I will miss her blunt observations on life and honest emotions. RIP Genevieve.

 

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Dedicate your practice to…

One of the things that confounds me in this yoga journey are the empty platitudes that some instructors expound that contradict what is to me the essence of yoga; connecting with our true selves and connecting with others in creating a supportive community or sangha. So every time that I hear a teacher invite me to dedicate my practice to someone, a big question mark starts forming in my brain.

What is dedicating my practice to someone going to do for anyone in this world, beyond possibly giving myself a false sense of activism? It feels exactly like I’m clicking the “like” button of Facebook, which is simply an acknowledgement of notice or attention. Maybe it’s the practical side of me but if I really wanted to help someone, I would roll up my sleeves and physically do something. Hold their hand while they tell me about their troubles, knit a warm hat, work on a food drive, cook a meal for someone, watch their kids, walk their dog, shovel their walks, take in their mail, – well – you get the idea. There are hundreds of things we can do every day that support the community we live in beyond a thought that goes nowhere. Personally, I think smiling at a stranger and saying “good morning” which acknowledges and witnesses their existence is more yoga than dedicating my practice to someone.

On the other hand, I do recognize that there intangibles that are constantly impacting our world. Scientists continue to study the affects that positive and negative energy has on livings things like plants. There have been many testimonies about the power of prayer healing someone half way across the continent. How far can positive energy travel? Do these teachers who invite me to dedicate my practice to someone have information that I am not privy to? Or am I just not deep enough to have faith in some abstract ideal?

The invitation always brings up memories of me as a child arguing with some authoritative figure about a rule or concept that I was not comfortable with and certainly didn’t believe in. Both then and now, when confronted with the baffling, I can feel my resolve (along with my toes) dig into the floor while I wait patiently for the evidence of proof. For a brief moment of discomfort, I acknowledge that my energy might possibly be contradicting the energy of the room and yet it feels disingenuous to pretend to believe something I am not ready to accept or embrace.

Implanting positive energy into the world is an ongoing effort. It’s the breath you take when confronted with aggressive people at the market. They’ve probably had a challenging day. It’s the student who acts up, who probably needs some attention to fill a void in their lives. It’s the whiners and complainers who probably feel powerless in lives, whether they recognize that void or not. It’s the divorcing couples that have simply taken two separate life paths…paths that are like two matching magnetic poles…diametrically opposed. One of the best ways to develop a more peaceful environment is to train yourself to NOT react to another person’s negative force. When that blast of chaotic and hateful energy slams into you, acknowledge it. Also acknowledge that you probably don’t know what the root cause of that energy, acknowledge the struggle that the other person is going through and acknowledge that you might be able to help or that your help might not be wanted. What you can do is not add to their problems by adding your negative energy onto their heads. Simply be their witness or be their support.

So what do I think about when someone asks me to dedicate my practice to someone? I silently pray for patience to deal with the idiots of the world.

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Steps of time

Sitting in a darkened theatre, watching an older dancer walk through their spacing for a performance and writing these words.  It’s ironic that the stage is the place where many of us create our stories, our fantasies and our illusions and yet – you cannot hide on a stage.  Sometimes it shows more than you intended.  It shows us as we truly are.

Steps of time

The steps of the aged are light and tentative.

Does the body not trust the earth it walks upon?

Or does it not trust the legs to hold up the heart?

Do the feet know that there are many hurdles and obstacles that can trip them?

Is it years of memory?

Or does the heart know that slowly the muscles are taking their leave from this body and that support is no longer there.

The steps of the aged are timid and filled with fear.

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