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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Fired

While nobody likes to get fired, because it can feel like a personal failure – sometimes it holds definite advantages.

When I was younger, it was simply a matter of economics. If you were fired, you could apply for and receive workman’s compensation. If you quit – no workman’s comp. Being a bad employee was never my forte, so purposely messing up anything that had to do with the public wasn’t going to happen. I mainly stuck to ignoring mandatory (and what I considered superfluous) activities: staff meetings, company classes, etc. Unfortunately, I was never fired for ignoring mandatory company events – but it was not for lack of trying. The upside was that my jobs actually got better once those mandatory activities were out of the picture, so I didn’t need to quit.

These days, I think that when you want to quit a job, it’s better to let your boss fire you – it gives them closure. Think about it. When you quit, your boss gets angry. They say some nasty things; you say some nasty things back. It’s just not a pleasant situation. But if they have to fire you – the entire thing plays out differently. First, you get to eliminate most of the annoying elements in your job without worrying about whether it will annoy your boss or not. Second, it’s their decision. Third, firing someone is not an easy task. Trust me – been there, done that.

Imagine this….your boss has finally worked themselves up to the point where they can fire you and what do you do? You tell them that you completely understand their position. They feel instant relief because you are making a difficult situation easier. They are happy and you are happy because you achieved your main objective – getting out of that job. It’s a win, win situation all around.

Simply getting up the courage to confront an offending employee is enough to give anyone an ulcer and even if your boss can’t bring himself to fire you, you’re still ahead. Having discarded all the things you hated so much about your work…maybe keeping the job won’t be so bad.

 

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Mandatory

I have always hated the word mandatory. When someone declares an action mandatory, they are essentially declaring that they don’t trust the people around them to be willingly to participate. “Mandatory” is a negative word. “Mandatory” is disrespectful to the participants. I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person in my community who was thrilled to be treated as a child with their freedom of choice disregarded.

I do understand the need for people to work together to make something happen, however, I think that if someone wants me to participate in an action with them, it would be better if they took the time needed to explain their position and how they discerned that our acting together could benefit both of us. The benefit does need to be mutual – not necessarily equal – simply mutual. Also, that the benefit should not include “you get to keep your job”.

Explaining one’s position to a non-participating audience is not a discussion of ideas.  That’s one person basically talking to themselves – not wanting any interaction and not wanting any dissention. That’s a person who needs to use the word “mandatory” to get their way. That’s also a person who has come to believe that their views are superior to the views of others. There are many right paths to a solution and no one path suits all people. The world talks about inclusion and it’s important to remember that inclusion must extend itself in all directions – the directions we agree with and the direction we don’t agree with. The person demanding the participation needs to understand that there will always be a percentage of the group who will not agree with their position. This doesn’t make them the opposition or enemies; they are simply expressing a different set of priorities. If an action needs a certain percentage of participants to be successful, perhaps taking the time to develop that participation would lead to a happier outcome. Demanding 100% participation is not an inclusive policy that recognizes an individual’s right to choose.

When people bemoan the existence of mindless corporations ruling our society, the first thing I think of is that these corporations all share some common elements – and one of those is mandatory participation. Imagine what the world could be like if all organizations took the time to nurture intelligent participation – that leads to shared values and goals. It would be pretty awesome. Everyone wants to be valued. Everyone wants to know that their opinion matters. We just need to take the time and the mental attitude to make that happen.

For the record, I do go to mandatory events – but only to those that I share the ideals and values of the participants. I go because I believe in what we are doing, I go because I have the time and I go because I am curious. I do not go to mandatory events that I feel are frivolous or quite frankly – a waste of my time. I can’t begin to count how many mandatory staff meetings or mandatory company classes I’ve missed over the years. I was never fired for missing these events – although to tell the truth – for a few jobs – that was my intention….but that’s another story.

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