Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If you don't have your health...

The I in illness is isolation, and the crucial letters in wellness are we.

~Author unknown, as quoted in Mimi Guarneri, The Heart Speaks: A Cardiologist Reveals the Secret Language of Healing **squeamish alert (not really, but it's not always pretty...)**


Seems like this quote is just the right one for me...remember, sharing to survive?...well, dare I say I'm living proof as of late...

I've been quiet for the last few weeks and have intentionally not been blogging namely because there was really only one subject on my mind and well, I thought it irresponsible to start putting stuff out there until I had a clearer picture of what I was dealing with.


For the last couple of months, I've been actively managing a "health scare". I find it ridiculous how we use these soft phrases when we're trying to be all genteel, attempting to not be alarmist or upsetting to ourselves or our others.

I remember reading something fairly recently that talked about how to talk to children about death. We often hide the significance of death and dying from children by saying things like "passed away", "left us", "gone on" or some other trite phrase. When we hide the reality of things in soft language, we take away its significance or its impact and well, that's just not my style. I have always preferred to use the right words to describe things, like vagina and penis instead of "minnie" and "john thomas", so when it comes to naming things out, let me say this instead...

For the last two months I was scared shitless that something was really, really wrong with me (pun intended...you'll get it in a minute)...

To be genteel, it was my colon. To be blunt, I was bleeding each and every time I went to the washroom...lots...and it was bright red. Why am I blogging about it? I was shocked at how many other women have had managed this kind of trauma and I do believe that we have a responsibility to not hide this kind of dialogue.

Have you ever noticed when an animal or a person is hurt, their initial reaction is to run and hide? That kind of reaction has killed plenty of living souls, two and four legged alike. I'm choosing a different way to react.

...so, I can't tell you how much I've thought of Terms of Endearment over the last few weeks when Debra Winger's character Emma says to her best friend Patsy, "it's okay, you can talk about the CANCER"...

...for the record, I don't have cancer, but up until this Monday, I was really scared that I did.


At first I didn't make a big deal about it (hiding) and thought it could be related to hemorrhoids. It was my darling husband who said to me so eloquently one night, "Welcome to your 40s babe!". Okay, that I could deal with. I've given birth in my early 20s and in my mid-30s and I know that the body totally changes and just doesn't bounce back so readily anymore. Still, I lamented. Was this what I had to look forward to? Creaky, crappy knees and a pink bowl at every sitting?? Crikey!!

When it was still going on about three weeks later and I finally thought aloud "Ya, this isn't going away or getting any better; in fact it's getting worse" I did what only the wife of an oncology certified nurse can do and I called my husband over to look. When you hear noted oncology nurse say, "Ya, that's not good" the gateway to letting in the panic opens.

He took the totally appropriate nurse stance and echoed my oft favourite mantra of late being "you can't do nuthin' about nuthin' 'till it's sumthin'"...but it wasn't working for me...no matter what he was saying, I was already well ahead in my mind and it wasn't looking good as far as I was concerned.

I ventured online to some reputable health sites (www.mayoclinic.com and www.webmd.com ) and the more I read (polyps, diverticulitis etc.) the more I also read about cancer, over and over and over again. The panic was positively palpable at this point. [Mistake: do not self diagnose. Educate yourself, but nothing is for sure until the testing begins.]

So, first I went into practical mode, controlling the only thing I knew I could which was my contingency plan. It comes from my single mom days. Whenever a temp assignment or a contract ended earlier than I had expected I went into full on work mode...food in our bellies, roof over our heads, clothes on our backs...what did I need to do to ensure that we were taken care of...

My contingency plan started simply with this..life insurance (check), first joint to die insurance (check) critical care insurance (check), STD and LTD (short and long term disability; check, check)...that made me feel better, for about a day...

Then it was to the doctor's. Funny how quickly you get an appointment when you tell them you're bleeding from your ass (note to reader: put pride aside when you need action on your health...don't be a dumbass and don't hide things from the receptionist)!! Quick referral to the surgeon and about a week later and off to the scope we go...

So, in between doctors' appointments and my scope I did what I do best...I talked. I reached out and I talked about what was happening to me. With some people I was purposely ambiguous providing a head's up without any detail (i.e. with work...too much information and all that). With others I tried to be ambiguous, but they wouldn't let me and I love my women for that. Then there were others that were my first line of support and I reached out to and told them "I'm scared" and they listened to me cry and be scared. For having a support system like that I am ever so ever grateful...

From someone who has had one broken bone in my whole life and who has never had an type of health issue, I can't tell you how unbelievably exhausting it is to spend hours each day thinking constantly of the "what if"s. No matter what I was busy with or busying myself with, in the back of my head the only word that I could hear screaming at me was cancer, canCER, CANCER!!!! Little issues were still little issues, but they were coloured with CANCER. It coloured everything I did. It coloured every conversation I had and every decision I was making or choosing to not make. I wallowed. Not for long, but I wallowed in the fear and in the fear of the unknown.

Since I had already taken care of the list of contingencies, I then started looking at what other elements I could control. First, there was my fear and my thoughts. I started making a more concerted effort to meditate, workout and be more attuned to my body. How it felt, how it reacted to certain foods, how it smelt; you get pretty banal when you're dealing with one of the most fundamental human experiences lemme tell ya.

Then I worked on my frame of mind. I do absolutely believe in the power of positive thinking and while I wasn't being very successful at being positive most of the time, I was finding my innate dark humour and that helped.

Yup, it was just my luck that I wouldn't get the sexy cancer, not the booby cancer. No.!!...no pink bras and cute T's for me. No, I was getting cancer of the ass!! Fuckers!! I was gonna show them though!! I had a pink thong campaign all worked up in my head already. I'd take those titties on!!

Next, I went back to the basics as I often do when I'm challenged with something and I started looking into more cause and effect. Diet is one of the leading causes of colon and colorectal cancers and North Americans have one of the worst diets which totally supports just these types of cancers; barbeque, meats, high fats...ugh! My family eats pretty healthy, but there's always more you can do.

Then I started reading more about vegetarianism and eating vegan. My best friend is also a vegan chef and a while ago she gave me the book Skinny Bitch to read. My gawd that book makes me laugh out loud, but it also makes me cringe. It's really nothing new for me to read, it's just timely.

For the last while I've also been more interested in the slow food movement and eating locally. I'm lucky enough to live in Perth County in Ontario, one of the richest agricultural areas in the province and I'm happy to support local farms and providers. My challenge is also that I'm a Celt
girl and that means that a meal's not a meal unless there's meat on the table, but I am getting closer and closer to changing that part of my lifestyle.

So, the good news is that in the last week my symptoms had started to subside. Then I had my scope on Monday and I was able to watch the live video feed and both my surgeon and I concur that my colon is pink and healthy. What's wrong, we're not entirely sure but as my surgeon said, "nothing sinister just goes away" so I'm taking it all as a great sign.

Lessons learned...in a very short time, I have grown to have even more regard for the work that my husband does. I've always known that his work is taxing and emotionally exhausting. Now, I have a a more empathetic understanding as to what his patients go through emotionally when they're dealing with the unknown or the known.

You are what you eat. 'Nuff said. I'm converting slowly but surely...

..and most importantly, the best reminder is that the time to act earnestly is now. Life is too short to be petty and insincere and to surround yourself with any kind of misery. Positive change is essential to living well, and living well is the best revenge...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

As I was saying...

There cannot be greater rudeness than to interrupt another in the current of his [sic] discourse.
~ John Locke


Okay, when I started writing this this morning, I was pissed. Off. Now, I'm a bit pissed. Up. Somehow, my perspective is a bit better rounded, I think anyway...

So, as of this morning, I had a problem (stop laughing, I know I have many, but let's just focus in on one in particular for today thankuverymuch...)

On the home front, I am in the midst of a good 'ol rarin' to go scrap with my dear husband and from my point of view it's based on one pretty simple notion of respect and regard which is...he constantly interrupts me...and I do mean constantly...

Now, I know I'm putting a killer statement out there by using the word always in this argument, yet it's true...I cannot remember a time where I was able to complete a full sentence or rather a full thought that was not interrupted by him either interjecting directly with his own commentary, interrupting to "seek clarification" or interrupting the flow of my discourse by opening his mouth when I take a breath or insert a natural comma into my commentary. It's as though he's just waiting for his moment to pounce at my pause...


I've no doubt that those who know me, even socially may be saying "...but KSD, you speak so quickly that the only way to get a word in edgewise is to jump at those pauses"...or perhaps the argument in your mind is that dialogue and conversation is based on two parties sharing, interrupting, interjecting and fighting for their voices to be heard.

I agree, but disagree and if you'd be so gracious to read along while I finish my thoughts dear reader, you'll understand why I think the way I do...


Firstly, let's define dialogue...

One definition is "
a dialogue is a reciprocal conversation between two or more entities." ...and another definition is ..."an exchange of ideas and opinions."


On the most banal level when someone is readying to speak whilst another is still in the midst of sharing a thought, it's a clear indicator that the other party is not listening to what the first party has to say; they are merely waiting for a chance for they themselves to be heard. Have I been periodically guilty of this type of behaviour myself? You bet.


So, why is it when my husband does this with me does it affect me so negatively and why do I get so angry? My reaction to these situations can generally go from bad to worse, depending on the time of month or how much I've felt disregarded and how compounded it's been up to that point in the day or week. Yesterday was worse. I slept in the attic.

As someone who fancies herself a writer, someone who absolutely needs to express herself as much as needing oxygen to survive, this is a full and complete assault on my sensibilities; a stifling of my soul, a stiffling of my voice and such a palpable slap in the face that he may as well haul off and knock me out with a punch to face; I feel that deflated and assaulted and I've shared this with him many times in the years of our marriage.


I recognize that my husband's behaviour triggers something within me that's so innate that he's often the uncomely recipient of the backlash that erupts in me for the years of being seemingly ignored (as I've written about previously). This goes back to the exact same reason why I feel like I need to constantly speak at 100 km/h because it's been my experience that I'm not going to listened to or given the opportunity, even in my own haven, my own home to actually finish my thought and fully speak my mind.


So, is it my ego? Am I self-aggrandizing, believing that I deserve to be heard more than my husband does? It does deteriorate and then become a battle of wills, a battle of tongues and whomever has the loudest voice wins...I'm pretty loud...


Then I also start to look at why do I write? What is it that has always drawn me so clearly to this medium and I've figured it out dear reader...it's because this is the only true medium where I actually feel "heard"...


...and my original post goes down a totally different tangent below, but i need to also contextualize my hypocrisy by sharing my experience tonight, a mere 12 hours later...


Tonight, I was with a collective of women, a grouping of souls that I have been waiting my whole life for...and barely throughout my whole night tonight did one of us get to finish a complete thought or a complete story without having to divert to one particular soul that would focus and hear the conclusion of that story...my wish for all of us at the end of us tonight was that in our next meeting of our four souls each one of us would be able to complete a telling uninterrupted, which erupted us all into bellows of reckoning and laughter...


So, how is it I can spend an evening with my women, interrupting, speaking over, doubling the audio with and at the same time completely and utterly resent the same from my husband?...fair enough question, I gather...yet, I don't have a fair enough answer that benefits him...

This all reminds me of another great quote..."A too active mind is not mind at all." ~ Theodore Roethke

When one is not able to share, communicate and be heard, the our minds are simply in a constant state of being a thought interrupted, girl interrupted or constantly transmitting the KFKD (K-F&C*#D) radio broadcast...

What I rail against with my husband is that I have the insights into my reactions, I have the answers that he's seeking, however he doesn't stop interrupting me enough so that I can actually share what those insights are. Then I'm hurt and I shut down and I'm dejected and I run away and lick my wounds. Last night, I slept in the attic.

I think what differentiates that experience from the one I have with my women is that I'm not around them as often as I am with my husband and I expect him to want to hear me more...it's not "equal" and it's not "fair" or "balanced" when viewed comparatively, but in my humble opinion, the dynamic and the relationship between my soul sistahs and my partner are very different in themselves and can't be measured on the same plane...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

So foul and fair a day I have not seen...

~ MacBeth, Act I, Scene III

I went to sleep last night with anxiety and I awoke in my nightmare...albeit, at least it's a minority nightmare...

I'm just pissed today. Pissed at all the apathetic, blameless, sanctimonious, smug, superiority complex ridden twats out there that split the vote or just didn't bother last night (oh, don't take it so personally, I'm just venting!!)...it is truly beyond me how 39% of 59% of voters enable a right-wing, ideologically driven, sanctimonious, smug, superiority complex ridden twat to run this country...foisting censorship upon us, ridding us of rights that have been hard fought for and won, endorsing the emptiest of rhetoric and giving us more empty rhetoric in return..."a strengthened mandate"...indeed...

...and then to top it all off, my hubby's off for ten days to Vipassana. I can't begrudge him in the least because it's his turn to sit in Noble Silence and envelop himself in the quiet and solitude amidst a roiling and fervent stream of consciousness...besides, I signed him up for it...

It's only been hours and I miss him already. Part of my mantra when I was gone to Vipassana myself was to recite first thing every morning, "six more sleeps, six more sleeps...five more sleeps, five more sleeps..." counting down until I was home again. So far, my new mantra is "that's one night" whilst I busily distract myself with laundry, lunches, clean up, Corrie and writing.

I'm sure that I'm much like anyone else out there and that whenever change is afoot, my initial reaction is somewhat reticent. As much as my anxiety was primarily due to my husband's imminent departure (and definitely intensified by the crappy election results of yesterday) the funny thing is part of me is relishing the time alone.

I remember a scene from Hope and Glory, a film about growing up in post WWII England and one of my absolute favourites. Part of the draw is that it was nostalgic and a touch romantic for me as my mum often described playing around in bombed out, burnt out shells of buildings as her playground growing up which was a big part of the setting of this film, so it brought to life for me a part of my mum's history; but one line I clearly remember from that film is when the main character's mother is chatting with her male friend (the undercurrent of the interaction being based on a somewhat unrealized love affair between the two) on a train ride home from the beach one day and she speaks about how she never quite grew accustomed to sharing a bed with her husband (who was at that time off at war).

I know how she fe
els...it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I don't love and lust after my Mav, because in many ways I live for the feeling of rolling over in bed and resting beside him and having him reach out to me and hold me...however...after 10 years as a single mother and only sharing my bed when I really wanted to and then even after being married, giving over to his not being home due to multiple night shifts in a row, I've realized that I usually sleep really well when all alone. I roll over to his side of the bed, stretch out and barely move for the entire evening...truly, barely an inch...

So, although I did advise myself that I should not in my foul and fair day mood write anything for publishing today, I'd say this is rather tame...so, I'm bemoaning my quiet somewhat (along with this crappy same old $300 million dollar repeat minority government), but I'm going to make the most of this time flying solo with the kiddies and having the late hours to myself alone...

Monday, October 13, 2008

On being thankful...

Being Thanksgiving, I am thankful for...

...this incredibly beautiful weather, sitting outside on the porch, a glass of sangria, the sound of my daughter playing basketball in the drive and laughing with her best friend, the birds singing, for my beautiful boys sleeping in their beds, for my incredible husband and his love and graciousness, for the cooking and the dinner prep that's pretty much already done, for the memory of my mum and the tears I've shed for her throughout the day, for the incredible colours of the leaves in the trees in my neighbourhood, for my dad and the love and fun and companionship that he has has found with Terry, for my lovely little niece Miss Madeleine and her big, huge, happy hugs, for my sister's new job and all the security and freedom it's given her to have fun and enjoy her life more fully, for the wonderful smells in my kitchen, for my amazingly imperfect home, for my neighbours and the celebration of Jane's 50th, for a job that challenges me and let's me work from home, for my life all told, warts and all, for anapanna and vipassana, for my husband's 10 days away, for my love of writing, for my first non-friend response on my blog!!, for the great music on 103.9FM today that has fully taken me down memory lane, for the chance to sit, for a Thanksgiving in shorts and no sleeves, for the impending excitement of my family coming, for the phone call from my best friend to start my day, for the love I feel, for the blessings I have, for the friends I know and have yet to meet, I am ever so thankful...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A sign of maturity...

A sign of maturity is when someone speaks about their major surgery, and you don't speak about yours. ~ Anonymous

I don't entirely know why, but this is something that I grapple with and I realize that this is something that I've done throughout most of my adult life. I'm not proud of it and my awareness about this habit comes in waves; sometimes I'm super aware and other times, I'm totally oblivious.


Why is it I inject myself into almost every single conversation I have? When I'm delivering any training to the sales team that I support at work I often share with them that the best way to get people to talk to you is to get them to talk about themselves; if you listen to the next five people that you interact with, I guarantee you will hear, "me...our...we..."...why?...because it's all about me, man...it's no wonder that that's become one of the most common phrases to see printed on t-shirts and just about anything else commercial, especially for kids. What are we teaching our next generation about humility and modesty?

What drives this behaviour, this notion? Is it insecurity? Narcissism? A way for me to relate to a situation? A method for building rapport and showing understanding or empathy to my co-conversant? Does every conversation have to have me add a "me too!" into the mix?

I think it's a mixture of all of the above, really...and truly, I hate it. Even when I'm in the midst of a conversation and I'm telling myself in my head to shut up, I just can't seem to help myself...

I've realized after five years of cognitive therapy (aka psychotherapy, where you are basically aided by a therapist to answer your own questions because ultimately, you know what the answers are) that I have spent a ton of energy in my life raising my hand, jumping up and down doing the Horshack, desperately seeking acknowledgement for who I am or what I've done..."look at me, LOOK AT ME!!...can you see what I can do?...did you see what I did?"

It doesn't seem to matter if it really is a shared experience (I have a tattoo too...see how cool I am too??...see??...see?!?!) or if my husband's working through a weekend and then comes home and I show him all the projects I did throughout the day (cleaned this, organized that, replaced this, created this, took care of that), I find some way to highlight myself. A desperate means of seeking validation which really does embarrass me.

I recognize now that I spent a lot of my childhood feeling invisible. My parents are and were great people in many regards and I love them dearly. As far as being involved in my life though, they don't earn any stars for that part of their job. They spent little energy engaging myself or my sister or just being involved in our lives. I of course have taken things to the other extreme when it comes to my own teenaged daughter (much to her chagrin at times I'm sure). I felt dismissed a lot; one of the best examples I can share of that experience was when the song Lean on Me came out in the 80s. I remember turning to my parents and saying to them, "it's like an anti-suicide song" only to have my mother look at me derisively and then have my father say to me, "What the fuck are you talking about?". Hhrrmm. Is it a wonder that I pretty consistently still seek validation in my every day being almost 40 years old now...

This is still part of my journey; part of the me loving myself and accepting myself work that I'm still about. It's recognizing that I'm an amazing person in my own right and that I don't need to make it all about me all the time.

So, to those that I've offended, my humblest apologies...to those that I've annoyed, please abide me with some compassion...and if I keep it up, feel free to do what my family does whenever I start to repeat my stories that they've already heard over and over...just raise your hand, show me five fingers and remind me that you've already heard it all before..."five times Karen, five times..."








Thursday, September 25, 2008

Oh, the elephant is ON the table...

“Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.” ~ Mark Twain

Oh, I had one of those moments this week...

It was a pretty typical workplace scenario. I had a meeting room booked. When I arrived, there were others in my room and I politely told them that I had the room booked and that they were in the wrong room.

So, first they argue. I show them the clear evidence that they're wrong, that I have the confirmation for the right room. Their response? "Well, we're setup already."

I see.

I wasn't asked politely to find another room because they were already set up. They didn't apologize for their mistake. I was essentially dismissed from the room and the onus is left to ME to find a replacement room.

Why? Was it because the person in the room is a Sales Director and I'm a Business Analyst? Is it the typical sales arrogance versus operational support gig; they're revenue, we're expenses? Is it an underlying misogynistic, hierarchical prevalent business attitude?

I dare to say yes on all counts, but nonetheless, none of it goes over very well with me.

Clearly, their behaviour is unacceptable. And (shockingly, I know) I let them clearly know my displeasure...(mind you, being out too late the night before and imbibing perhaps a bit too much of the pinot noir may have contributed to my curt and direct response) however ultimately though, it's me who looks bad perhaps for showing these people up and pointing out their obvious lack of grace and good character. It may not be right, it may not be just, but it is the way it is.

So, I mull it over off and on for a few hours and throughout am asking myself, what was I responding to? What was it that pissed me off so very much at that moment? I called my husband for a dose of loving courage and had already decided to take a deep breath, suck it up buttercup and go and make my apologies for my part in the interaction that day.

And what do I get?...

Nothing.

Nada.

"No hard feelings." ...from one of them at least...

No reciprocating apology, no acknowledgement that they were wrong in the first place and that their behaviour was dismissive, rude and condescending or that they should have in the least aided me in finding another meeting room for my meeting.

Nothing.

*sigh*

So, I realize that what I was responding to was the fact that justice issues have always been a BIG trigger for me. "What do you MEAN you're not going to apologize? What do you MEAN you're not going to do the RIGHT THING?"...when it's not "out there" for all to see and acknowledge that someone did someone wrong etc., well, that's been something for me that I've never been really good at letting go of...but I am getting better...

I left these people knowing that I've done the right thing. I'm managing my own karma and that's all I can really do. That's all I have control over...my own.

I realized later on too that there's also the question of my irreverence. Apparently, from the response of one of these people, although not explicit, I could easily infer that I did not show enough reverence to the offender.

Well, I have never been a person impressed with titles et al, nor have I ever been one to disguise my true feelings or mince words. I've gotten better at perhaps relaying my messaging in a more genteel manner at times, but that too totally depends on who I'm speaking with.

When I was 19 years old, I worked for the Insurance Bureau of Canada in their PR/Media Relations department. This is before the days of the Internet and part of my job was to collect local and national media coverage in the newspapers regarding insurance issues, copy them and then distribute them to senior members of the IBC Management team. I did this on a daily basis and therefore, I was usually in the office before most other employees so that the media was on their desks first thing.

The President of the IBC at the time was also usually in the office first thing, and each morning as he did his walk about he would pass my desk and say, "Good morning Karen!" and I would respond with "Good morning Jack, how are things?" Jack was old school. A lovely and kind English gentleman with the bow tie to boot and whose secretary was very much his "secretary", even though the new titles of Executive Assistant were just starting to make inroads into Canadian corporate culture.

So, one morning I'm dropping off my media package at Jack's office and I say to his secretary, "Good morning, this is for Jack." She turns to me and says, "That's Mr. Lyndon!" My response was "Well, when Mr. Lyndon feels compelled to call me Ms S_______ then I'll do the same" and I walked away.

It's not that I'm trying to be rude. If Jack was bothered with me calling him by his first name, then he would have or should have told me. To me, he's just a "Joe", just like we all are. For me, reverence is meant for icons like Mother Theresa and her ilk (who I had met and was blessed by, but that's another entry), not the privileged, white, all-male establishment that rarely does much to earn their seats.

So, besides my irreverence, I'm also the kind of person that doesn't just point the elephant out in the room. My special talent comes from putting the elephant on the table. I recognize that that's not going to make me a popular person a lot of the time as most people are not very good with such direct honesty. I don't know how to live any other way. Actually, that sounded a little grandiose and passive. I choose not to live any other way and have long ago accepted that I'll never be the CEO of a company because I don't spend my energies pandering to others' egos.

So, when I apologized and left these people this week, what I did was irreverently show them their elephant on the table. I have a clear picture about the kind of people they are and I do recognize that in one sense, I am standing in smug judgment of them now. May not be the best characteristic of my good karmic move, but it's only one part and I'm still working on it all...

So, my suggestion is if they want to start working on their own karma, perhaps they need to start eating that elephant.

Monday, September 15, 2008

No, it's not okay

There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.
~Madeleine K. Albright

A week ago Sunday my daughter and I were discussing the first school dance of the year. She's always excited for school dances and totally unlike my 80s school dance experiences (which were more about Benetton, Polo, putting the nuns' or brothers' noses out of joint, screwdrivers in mini milk containers and who was zoomin' who), she and her friends will often get dressed up together in a theme...the first dance of this season, she started to share with me, she and her girlfriends were going as "Bro's and 'ho's"...you know, she was going to be the Bro and her friends, the 'ho's....

uh...


No.


As an unapologetic, ardent, active and vocal feminist, a former single mother AND a woman that went to Uni for a double major in Economics and Women's Studies (so I could be a feminist bitch with an attitude about money...TOO...) I was disappointed and a bit more than surprised that my daughter would think that this would fly with me. It's just wrong and on so many levels and so, I reacted to this proposed plan rather...pissily...and absolutely forbade it too...


A couple of years ago, CTV was planning on airing "Pimp My Ride" during the summer months...I was appalled at the title of the show when I first saw it via MuchMusic and MTV and was really disappointed that my station that I watched probably 50% of my TV time, would choose to air a show with such a tasteless title. So I wrote to them (yes, I'm the happy typist that equally writes the "I think you're wonderful" feedback emails, like I did with H&M when they publicly apologized for a Vancouver store's shuffling of a breastfeeding mother to a back room like a criminal as much as I write the "here, take back your membership card, I'll never fly/travel/eat/sleep/acknowledge your company again" feeback emails, which are too many to recount here, but we can start with Radisson Hotels)...


What I got back from CTV was distressing; a phone call where the man on the other end of the phone couldn't even pronounced "SUBJUGATION" let alone read my email properly. "It's not a show about SUB-Ga-Ju-subnation...it's about someone's old car getting an overhaul."...he left his phone number and I left him a message in return much along the lines of "perhaps you should read the email more clearly and look up words in the dictionary that you don't understand before you return calls to your public; I know what the show is about! I'm appalled that CTV would support a show whose title CLEARLY celebrates women's continued SUB-JU-GA-TION, which means keepin' 'em down...brutha."


Sigh...

Later that Sunday, thanks to my good friend Kayla and her husband Bill, Rae and I went to go see The Trojan Women at the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford (beautifully led by Martha Henry). The story was written by Euripedes about 2500 years ago and is about the survivors of war, namely the women of Troy.

"From the ancient roots of drama comes this powerfully moving testament to the endurance of the human spirit in the face of adversity. After 10 years’ siege, Troy has fallen to the Greeks. Now King Priam’s widow, Hecuba, and other women of the ruined city are to be the slaves [and concubines] of their conquerors. But even as they lament their present calamity, they hear predictions of tragedy still to come. "

You see, the story of women hasn't changed much in 2500 years. Although it's still mostly men that fight the wars, it's the women that must survive when they're gone. It is the women that must carry the sorrow and the grief of an entire community. It is they that must recall and pass down the stories and the histories of their dead. It is they that through their survival are further punished by subjugation, tyranny and torture; horrificly, contemporarily it's systemic rape (see Bosnia and Darfur). It is the women that are traded and defined by their physical value, as much as in the time of Troy as it is now. What a bunch of 'ho's and bitches, eh?...


In 2006, there was a documentary/debate show on CBC hosted by Avi Lewis titled The Big Picture and I was lucky enough to get tickets and take my father to its inaugural airing. I was more than impressed with the format and content of the show (and was extremely disappointed when it was cancelled prematurely). The theme of the show that we attended was based on a film The Human Behaviour Experiments and the panel that was in the room discussing the issues that day were beyond impressive. The debate and dialogue was focused mainly on the notion of how evil flourishes when good people do nothing, particularly how the atrocities in Abu Graib prison in Afghanistan were enabled, supported and permitted to happen and how that situation was possible in the first place.

There were many themes and tangential elements of debate that night and although they were all exceptional and notable speakers, the simplest and most impacting dialogue for me came from Barbara Coloroso, a renowned speaker and educator on parenting, teaching, school discipline and non-violent conflict resolution. She spoke of the bullying that's allowed to happen in the schools and how that may ultimately result in people growing up with a lack of a moral compass when adults and authority figures fail to admonish such bad behaviour. When it came time for questions or reactions from the audience, I know I'll shock many a gentle reader when I share that I put my hand up to say something...


What I shared that day was that it starts with US, the parents in the homes; the responsibility lies squarely on our shoulders. I shared that when I've heard my (then 14 year old) daughter blabbing with a couple of girlfriends in her room and they're negatively commenting on a girl at school who's a bit overweight, a bit gawky and different, that it's MY job to walk in the room and tell them that it's NOT okay to pick on someone because they're "not as cool as you all think you are". I did go on a bit from there, but you get the picture...[my ego doesn't permit me to not share that my commentary got the biggest round of applause from the studio audience and Avi Lewis told me as we were leaving the studio that my comment was "The" crystalizing comment of the show.]


...when my daughter is complaining about how a girl at school with big boobs acts all "slutty" it's MY job to remind her that that girl is just trying on a persona that she thinks is right, rather than what really is and that it's our job to be kinder, gentler and less judgmental...it's my job to call her and her girlfriends out when they use younger kids as fodder for their entertainment...it's my job to remind them that guys that boast about how many blowjobs they've had are probably NOT the guy to be wasting precious teenage romantic energy on...

It's also my job that when my daughter and her girlfriends are planning a "Bro's and 'ho's" themed dress up for the school dance to clearly remind them that right now, around the world and right in our own backyards, there are women sucking and fucking and carving away at their souls because they have to to survive, or they've been told that their only value is physical and that their own worth is their pussy.

I know that women all go through a phase in our lives, usually when we're about 18 years old where we define ourselves through our pussies...some grow out of this and some don't. Sadly, many aren't given the choice.

In 1996, I used to work with a man who at age 23 converted to Orthodox Judaism from Catholicism for his wife (including the snip!), and we used to have great conversations. One day I challenged him and said, "yeah, Mike...I have an issue that you wake up every day and say a prayer thanking God that you're not a woman." He stopped and said, "...let me get back to you on that one." The next day he said to me, "Okay, it's not that we just say a prayer thanking God we're not women, we also say a prayer thanking God we're not in bondage or slavery..." and I interrupted him and said, "...so rather than changing women's lot in life, you just thank God you're not one of them?" The purpose of me being so direct was the fact that Mike had two daughters. It did make him stop and think. So when our conversation continued and I shared with him that there was not ONE woman that I have ever known that has not been assaulted in some way, be it physically, verbally or emotionally, he took pause and asked me what we should do for our daughters...I told him..."Teach them to fight."

I continue to fight the good fight; with my daughter and her friends, at work, at family gatherings, whenever I see injustices and people choosing the lazy way, because "it's just a joke!"...because to me and to every other woman that has been made to feel small and insignificant or vulnerable and weak...it ain't no joke...


Let me end by saying this.. in 1993, there was a TV movie called A Woman's Guide To Adultery and while I don't remember much about the movie, one thing has stuck with me 15 years later which was when Theresa Russell's character (I think!) spoke about the first commandment of being a woman... which was simply...

Though Shalt Not Hurt Another Woman.

Using the phrases "pimping" and " 'hos" in any kind of familiar and joking context is certainly against that commandment and I won't abide it.


Amen, sistahs!

Post-script...

..and just as I was about to post this, I received this news alert in my inbox...


All charges dropped against soldier blamed in Somalia death

All charges against former Master Cpl. Clayton Matchee have been dropped, the Canadian military announced Monday. Matchee was charged under the National Defence Act with torture and murder as a result of the 1993 death of Somali teenager Shidane Abukar Arone, at a time when Canadian troops were deployed in Somalia. Matchee suffered brain damage in an apparent suicide attempt while being held in a military cell for the crime.

So, the abdication of responsibility is still rampant in our government...and in our homes it seems...


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

...welcome...

Years ago...many years ago, I used to send out a Quote of the Day to a pretty big list of friends and acquaintances and along with it I'd typically add some commentary which would range from musings on the big life questions or just timely observations based on incidental occurences in my every day...


I've been thinking about those days a lot lately and I've been really missing the time I used to spend in constructing those thoughts, sometimes motivated by a quote, sometimes motivated by an event which would enable me to connect with my like minded souls out "there"...


So, I've decided to start again via a slightly different medium this time and while I may not be able to commit to writing each and every day, I'll try to be as frequent as I can...with a full-time career, a loving and supportive husband, a mini-me 16 year old daughter and almost four year old twin boys, that may be more difficult than I'm anticipating, but I'm willing to try...


I was one of those keener geeky kids right from the get go...yes, I used to program Commodore 64s in the Gifted Program in elementary school, I was using email in 1994 and for being in IT and Telecom for the last 10 years it does somewhat surprise me that I've never really availed myself to the realm of blogging, especially since I always fancied myself a writer (can you really fancy yourself a writer though when you've rarely written anything in the last number of years besides the odd short story or commentary or Notes on FB??)... nonetheless, whenever I go back and read some of my musings from (WOW!!) ten years ago I realize that I still enjoy reading what I had written then and more times than not the people that were included in my list responded positively to what I was sharing as well, so it couldn't have been that bad...


WARNING TO THE READER: I am honest to a fault at times. I most certainly share too much information at times too. I was reading a book a couple of years ago on ADHD in women and while that characteristic of one's personality can sometimes lead to one being diagnosed, for me it's really more about sharing to survive...that's the way it's always been for me...


So, in an attempt to keep my ego in check, I'm actively accepting the fact that you may not care one way or another about what I have to say or what I have to share...in that sense, this blog is more for me than for anyone else. This is me being self-full and sharing because I've always needed to and now I've found the the strength to be really open...if you find some affinity or some commonality, or if I bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye, then great...and if I piss you off, ...also great!!!...I've never been one to shirk away from a bit o' controversy and intellectual dialogue...what I will avoid all together though is flaming, name calling, finger pointing et al...it's just not my gig...


So, why Siddhartha's Daughter?...


About 25 years ago or so, I clearly remember my father and I driving eastbound together along Sheppard Avenue in Toronto. I think it may have been around the time that my parents were separated briefly so I may have been around 12 or so...which also means that we were probably having a pretty open and direct conversation about his and my mother's relationship...


My father was more or less my friend growing up; not so much an authority figure, but someone that I could hang out with and spend time with or watch sports with (I was the son my father never had in some ways) and once in a while he would drop these prophetic, hugely impacting little zingers in my lap, usually to be realized well after the fact...


In his typically non-chalant fashion, my father turned to me and said, "you know Karen, there's this book called Siddhartha and I think you'd really like it"...


It was many, many years later that I was hanging out at Book City in the Annex and I saw this little blue covered book and I recalled my father mentioning its title to me, so I picked it up...and quite simply, it changed my life...


Siddhartha is one of the most beautifully written stories I've ever read. Hermann Hesse, in my humble opinion, was one of the most lyrical, astute and insightful writers of the last century. His simple story of one man's journey towards the discovery of himself left me speechless and touched me on many levels. I had no idea then how influential or resonant the book would really be in my life.


It was years after I had first read Siddhartha when I started to really investigate and explore Buddhism. At the time I was in a relationship with someone who was the perfect Buddhist muse; he was shallow, self-serving, narcissistic, manipulative and emotionally immature (did I mention that he was also an actor...?!). I don't say these things to be cruel, for I truly hope for his sake that he's changed since. Throughout my relationship him, I challenged myself to be as altruistic as I could be. How much of myself could I give for the development of someone else's soul? How much of my ego could I put aside for the betterment of someone else's life and personal growth?


The answer, at the time, seemed to be ...quite a lot actually...


Unfortunately, or fortunately (however you may look at it and I've looked at it from both perspectives over time) I'm not a Buddhist nun and the reality is that I had my own growing and discovery to go through and was certainly not in any position to be "all that" for someone else without totally losing myself in the process. Another reality is that there are people that will use you and abuse the gifts that you give them; the abuse of my gifts was something that I was not emotionally able to handle well and it has literally taken me over a decade for me to forgive myself for allowing myself to be so poorly treated and to heal the emotional wounds left behind...but I'm working on it...actively...hence, Siddhartha's Daughter...


I relate it to being much like when there's a rock 'n roll, fashion, writing or film icon, and then their offspring participate in the same mediums as them...the parental influence is obviously there, but there's not usually a ton of pressure on the children to be as iconic as their parents...which is great, because as you'll clearly see if you care to come along and join me in some discovery and observations that I ain't got nuthin' on Buddha...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On the right path...

Originally posted on FB via Notes in August 2008...

I’ve had a lot of inquiries as to where I went in the beginning of July 2008 and a number of people have been asking me specifically about my experience at the Ontario Vipassana Centre, so I’ve decided to write this note to share with everyone via FB. I am simply going to share MY experience here and I do not intend to debate any of the issues (if any) that I bring up or share…I am simply…sharing…so, that’s my caveat…

Also, if you've been tagged in this note on FB, it's because you've either asked me directly about the course, have shared time at the course and (while I believe that truly every single soul would benefit from this course) there are friends of mine via FB that I believe would appreciate the course as well...

A number of months ago, my best friend Johanna told me about this place where she was going to meditate for ten days. Her brother Tor had already been through the experience and because of his feedback she was going to go as well. All I knew was that it was up north (relatively speaking) and that it was “free”..well, much like everyone else, that made me skeptical enough, but as I am with all of my friends (or in the least I try my best to be) I was open to being open and waited to hear about her experience before passing too much judgment…

When Joh returned, she shared with me that the course was undoubtedly one of the most difficult things both she and Tor had ever done, but that it was also an incredibly beautiful experience. For being as verbose and chatty as I am (there IS a reason she’s my best friend), she surprised me by not sharing a ton of detail about her practical experience or how her day by day actually went. I didn’t press her on this and I was to realize later that there was a reason for her ambiguity. I will be honouring that herein…

After visiting their website, (www.torana.dhamma.org) and reviewing the tenets of the practice and their Code of Conduct, I discussed the opportunity with my husband as he was going to be the one that had to carry the entire load of our every day at home. I am exceptionally blessed to have such a loving and supportive partner in my life and therefore I signed up on their website. The opportunity to remove myself from my every day stressors reminded me of a TV show that ran for two years and was cancelled last year titled “Starting Over”; the premise of which was a residence in LA that housed up to 6 women at a time who were given access to life coaches and therapists and were given an opportunity to work on their lives and “fix” their major issues through individual therapy, group sessions and specifically designed exercises. When I was experiencing some pretty tangible post-partum depression after my twin boys were born, I spoke to my husband about going to a place like that and since “that place” didn’t exist anymore (as far as I knew) the Vipassana Centre sounded like the next best thing…

I’ve been remiss in the days since I originally signed up, referring to the ten days as a “retreat”…because it’s no such animal…it’s a course…it’s a lot of work as I was to eventually find out.

As the day to leave neared, I was experiencing a ton of anxiety. When you read through the Code of Conduct you need to accept that there is no contact with the outside world for ten days…no books or reading materials, no radios or music, no journals or notebooks for writing… and no speaking or communicating for ten days…

Most would think that my anxiety was due to the not communicating, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Most people who heard that I wasn't going to be speaking for ten days responded with “YOU'RE not going to speak for ten days??...good luck!! hahahaa!!”…I understood that response, however internally, I resented it… (learning to let go of that)...I work from home mostly and spend many days in total silence and when you live in Stratford and commute to Toronto either by train or by car, there are umpteen further hours of solitude that add up in a month. Silence in one’s day is something that I relish more times than not…but of course, most wouldn’t guess that from the speed at which I generally speak on any given day (and that’s a different insight)…

My anxiety was predominantly driven by the idea of being away from my children, especially the boys because they’re so young. I feared being forgotten or shunned by them when I returned…it’s amazing what insecurities the mind can stir up. Regarding Rae, in being totally honest I thought that being away from each other for a little while would actually be really good for us...she's 16, we cycle at the same time...do I need to elaborate??...

So, while I was tangibly anxious when I thought about actually following through and attending the course, I also looked at this as an opportunity in my life to do something that was outside of my norm and my comfort zone and really challenge myself. I may be frightened by something, but I’ve rarely actually backed away from that something. So, I took the final step and then booked my vacation time from work.

As the day approached, my anxiety was more and more palpable and I wasn’t handling it very well at home. There were other “issues” arising both at work and at home (when are there not?) and more than a few times, I started quietly leaning towards the option to just cancel and bail. As I mentioned before though, I’m not one to back away from a challenge or a fight too often.

Tangent Alert: (‘cuz you should all know I’m pretty good with tangents)…So, as the day drew closer my husband kept encouraging (read: nagging) me to make an appointment for laser acupuncture to quit smoking. I was resisting (passively mostly) even though my father had done the treatment six weeks prior and had stated that “it was like smoking was never a part of my life”. After 26 years of smoking I was again skeptical (to say the least) that laser acupuncture could lessen the cravings and the desire I had in me to smoke…AND I WAS SOOOO WRONG!!! I owe my cousin Kathy a huge thank you for putting this side of the Schulman clan wise to the procedure and to my husband a HUGE debt of gratitude and another HUGE apology for resenting and resisting his attempts to lessen my burden while at the Vipassana Centre course. His rationale to me was “Karen, give yourself a fighting chance and don’t spend ten days there battling cravings”…and he was SO right! Victor, I’m so sorry that I resented your intentions and I thank you for your diligence (just like you promised on our wedding day). As I’ve shared before via FB, I am a standing testament to the fact that laser acupuncture completely worked for my cousin, my father and for me with regards to smoking cessation. I haven’t smoked or have had any physical cravings since my session on June 29th, 2008. It may sound like it’s early days yet, and it is, however I have no desire to smoke…not through an evening of pints, not through a 2 ½ hour drive on the 401 in the midst of commuter traffic and collision slowdowns, not first thing in the morning…the monster cravings are just not there. In fact, the smell of smoking really puts me off now. No fear of me turning into a non-smoking nazi, but if I mention it to you or encourage you to investigate, I'm just coming from a place of liberation and freedom and hoping to share that with others (there's a theme here...hold on)...last note on this is that I also had the weight management points included in the laser acupuncture session and after six weeks of not smoking, I've not gained any weight...some say it's mind over matter...I don't think it's that simple. There's a reason acupuncture has been around for 5000 years....

Back to the course...so I quit smoking on the Sunday and over the next three days, due to my anxieties et al I have a couple of small meltdowns ("small" of course would be relative, depending on if you were me or my family members) before I was packed, prepped and ready to leave early Wednesday afternoon. Honestly, I wasn't sure if my family was sad or happy that I was going for ten days (probably the latter if I'm being honest, or relieved to say that least to have some reprieve from my heightened sense of everything). I had my Google map ready to roll and I was off for an almost 2 ½ hour drive to Egbert, Ontario. I've done the same drive a few times over the last couple of years heading up to Collingwood for work and mini-vacations with my husband, so I was somewhat familiar with my route and my surroundings. I do love driving through the countryside and if ever given the option will always choose to avoid major highway systems. I had a giggle out loud driving by Super Burger (pronounced "Soooper Berger" by the SD clan) which was a familiar landmark for my family whenever we drove from T.O. to Wiarton and pretty much settled into a state of palpable melancholy as I neared my destination. The unknown can be a very unsettling place.

My Google map was bang on and when I arrived at the Ontario Vipassana Centre I stopped at the front gate, met Josephine, gave her my name and then drove my car around to the women's residence so I could take my luggage into my assigned room. As we were to find out during the welcome meeting, the genders are totally segregated throughout the course, saving of course for the introduction and welcome to the Centre on the first evening and the last day. There are separate residences, separate walking areas and separate dining rooms; the only space that is shared is the Meditation Hall and the genders are still segregated there. So, I took my things to my room, returned my car to the parking lot where it was not to be seen or visited for the next ten days, returned to my room, unpacked and then headed to the dining hall to register, have a cuppa and hand over any valuables that I wanted secured.

That's where I first met Natalie, the female manager for the course; easily the hardest working woman that I encountered at the Centre. She's a lovely, soft spoken woman that was to become my only source of communication at the Centre for the next ten days, except for the five to ten minutes you could book with the teacher (between noon and one o'clock each day) to discuss either your practice or the philosophical aspects of the Vipassana practice. One thing that is pretty spectacular about the whole experience at the Centre is that everyone that works at the Centre is there on a total volunteer basis. In fact, the entire Centre is run on the premise of service and donation, known as Dāna (generosity, donation). One of the reasons that the Centre runs on the premise of donation and service is that if you're paying for your time there, then you come to the Centre with expectations and demands, which is wholly against the tenet of the practice of Vipassana. I was to find out later that Natalie is working at the Centre from May to October this year. That's an incredible amount of work and I am humbled by her commitment as well as the other servers that made our stay comfortable and so rewarding.

The women's residence is a really lovely building. My bedroom was small and clean with a comfortable bed, warm and clean bedding, a small shelving unit to hold my personal items, a chair and a small bedside shelf with a lamp. My bedroom was private and I shared a bathroom with another student. (I can get a little OCD when I'm outside of my comfort zone and I kept repeating the name of the manufacturer of the half-flush/full-flush toilet in my head, day after day...caroma, caroma, caroma...) I can easily relate that sharing my living space with the woman that I did was unequivocally at the time my greatest misfortune, however in hindsight she was also my greatest blessing. When I've shared this with people they often retort with, "you weren't speaking for ten days, how could you have issues with someone?"...well, I may get lambasted for saying this out loud, but there are a ton of subtle passively aggressive actions that women can execute and that other women can pick up on. She executed them. I picked up on them...and I wasn't the only one...

I've got nuthin' on Buddha, that's for sure. Although essentially throughout the course you're living nun-like (or monk-like) for ten days, I have since readily accepted the fact that I'm indeed no nun, and it's not likely that I will ever be. One of the many things that I learned though this course was to accept my foibles and my flaws and learn to love myself with all of these things as a part of me. I am doing that, or rather I am working on that. That was really the impetus to me attending this course.

Many people who have observed me would say that I am or have been angry, but the reality is I've been hurting for a long time. I went to the course because I really just wanted to give myself a chance to love myself again and appreciate my life more actively; be more present and be more aware. I went because I want to be a better mother, a better wife, a better sister and daughter and friend and colleague. A happy, lighter me. Actually, the truer me. The real me; effusive and soft and wanting the world to be a better, kindler, gentler place without being scared of being vulnerable and possibly hurt or taken advantage of anymore. That's the real truth. That's my truth. I live feeling a lot of grace and the time has come for me to show that more actively.

So, to continue with my experience with my challenging roommate (who one of my fellow students referred to as SexiYogi which will forever be my moniker for her now), not only did I share my living quarters with her, but I sat right beside her in the Meditation Hall as well. I felt I had no reprieve from this woman. My reaction to her was that she was incredibly ungracious to "live" beside. I recognized right away that that was me judging her. I accept that that was how I was feeling at that moment in time and those feelings and reactions existed in me for a reason, or rather many reasons. She was an affront to me on many levels. Because there is no communicating between students, she had Natalie speak to me about being more mindful of closing doors on the second day. I thought I was being mindful, so initially I was a bit affronted but then I quickly thought "okay, perhaps I'm not as mindful as I thought..." so I made a point of being more aware (which of course is the whole point of the course). Then, later that same day SexiYogi literally slammed the door to her room twice (my gut reaction??...shockingly it was "alrighty bitch, bring it on you hypocrite!", a total affront to my sense of "justice").

Then things started to compound for me; SexiYogi would leave the fan running and the bathroom door wide open during meditation hours and in that utter silence it sounded more like a not too distant airplane's engine by day three. We were asked to specifically not bring any perfumed items to the Centre, yet she had her little collection of Rosemary and Mint scrubs and lotions from Aveda (I kept thinking, "how come SHE gets HER lovely smelling items when I'm using the least smelling Dove items I could find?!"). Living up to her monker, it seemed as though she would pose at every opportunity; small, very purposeful strides when she walked, doing the Yoga prayer hands entering the Meditation Hall and doing the deep Yoga cleansing breathing at the beginning of each group session (we are explictly guided to not mix practices or rituals of any type). And she was pretty much ALWAYS the last person in the Hall so that we all had to wait for her to sit before the Discourse (more on that later) or the guidance from the teacher would begin. She would wait outside and then stretch on the picnic table in direct eyeline of the men before entering the hall at every break (we sat as a group three times a day at least). I felt that she was just that...a poser. She also reminded me of someone from my past in the worst of ways, so that wasn't helping me in being gracious in response to her at all! On the rare occasion that she entered the Meditation Hall on time with everyone else, she would hold onto the handle of the entrance to the Meditation room from the foyer while taking her shoes off, ensuring that no one could move until she was done and ready to move herself.

I also witnessed other women responding to her much the same way I was silently lamenting her. Again, because each student is supposed to be practicing as if we're in isolation, it is accepted that there is no direct eye contact and that when you pass another student, you reverently look away or at the ground so as to not challenge anyone directly. Difficult when you're sharing an eating and sleeping space with almost 30 women, but not impossible. A number of times I witnessed her walking by someone and staring at their faces the entire time it took her to pass them. Once as I was walking behind another woman on the path leading to the Meditation Hall I watched as SexiYogi continually stared at the woman and then I almost laughed out loud when that same woman that she had just passed spoke silently to herself with her hands, raising them up a couple of times as if silently asking, "WTF?"...It was reassuring to know that I wasn't the only one...strength in numbers, and no one likes to feel like they're the only one...

The last straw for me was SexiYogi's absolute disregard for anyone else's space, particularly my own. Not only is there no speaking during the course's ten days, but there is NO physical contact whatsoever. So, when you're moving in and out of rooms or buildings, working your way around the meals tables, you have to be very aware of where people are around you without looking them in the face directly and manage what you need while respecting the space of others. Many times in the Meditation Hall she would whap me with her blanket when I was already in meditation or when I had my legs stretched out in front of me (because of my knees and my one real lament the whole course) she would stretch out and rest her feet on mine and then not move them...at all...

Oh yes, she hit every trigger, every front I have. Internally, for days I was SCREAMING!! AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!...No reprieve, no reprieve...so much so that one day I actually went to the teacher, distraught, in tears, struggling with my anxiety and missing my family and feeling so scared and isolated and I asked to me moved...of course, I wasn't. I knew she was my challenge and I voiced that to my Assistant Teacher, Marsha. She agreed with me and so my struggle continued. Dammit!! :)

So, I felt abused and attacked at almost every turn. I felt that I had no safety net and some days I was able to manage her as my distraction and some days I just wallowed in it/her. I was really happy to share this frustration with my dear new friend at the Centre on the last day and I was relieved to know that I wasn't the only student that had a hard time showing Mettā (compassion, love) towards this woman. There is a relief in knowing it's not "just me", juvenille I know, but right or wrong, that's how I felt....and still do (in being truthful). I will say that once I had the opportunity to interact with this woman (as we do on the last day of the course), unfortunately my notions of her while silent were validated and it did actually show me that she was someone that I have no desire to know and keep in touch with in this lifetime. Happily, I was very wrong about many, many other things.

I know that these incidents regarding SexiYogi in isolation all sound petty and trite...and they were...but my experience "with" her taught me so very much in such a short time.

"They" say that of course, whatever you're reacting to in someone else is reflective of what you hate about yourself the most. Truth. I can readily see now that I felt her actions were on some level bullying, manipulative and attention seeking. Ouch. There I am. There I have been. I'm working on not so much of that anymore...no matter what the rationale. No one is anything 100% of the time and I'm working on just being the better edition of me most of the time...

Further, as I noted earlier, this part of my experience was one of the great blessings of my time away. SexiYogi and all the anger, frustration, torment, injustices, pettiness and tears that she brought out in me was a big, huge, honkin' mirror for me...look at how much energy I wasted on her!! It was of course during the last day that I had one of my true moments of absolute clarity...look at how much energy I waste on other such pettiness in my every day...look, look!! Awareness....

The frustrations of living with my "fastidious" husband or my challenging daughter (who is one of my biggest mirrors), the petty politics at work, the bitchy woman on the train or the arsehole on the 401...while it's about me, it has nothing to do with me either. It's about how much I personalize other people's actions and how absolutely narcissistic I am thinking that I am the cause or focus or the point for so many other people. The reality is for them it's not about me...yet for me, it's about how I choose to respond...how I choose to react. In that sense, it's ALL about me.

...glaring, shining, blessed mirror and blessed light...

Expectations: I was in part looking to the Centre to be a haven for me. A place where I could go and be safe and be vulnerable and examine the depths of me uninterrupted (a huge commitment from me and my family to be away from them and have my husband totally on duty for those ten days). That supportive environment that I was seeking is called Sangha, a spiritual community. The universe had another way of showing me the way though, obviously! Again, I had gone to the Centre with expectations and my interactions with SexiYogi were interfering with those expectations being met (or so I thought at the time).

Awareness: I was being narcissistic and feeling at one point or another that they owed it to me to protect me, do for me, manage my angst for me...gawd, I can really laugh at myself now and in all fairness I did pick up on the ridiculousness of that thought pattern pretty quickly when I was there too. The Centre is not "Starting Over". The people there are no one's personal support staff. They are voluntarily trying to manage the needs of almost 60 fragile and tender souls and my ego was driving the better part of my anger, frustration and distraction for many days. Not so much different from what I have been experiencing in the outside world for some time now.

Before I go on here, I will share that are a couple of particular days that are very hard during this course. While I would meet with my Assistant Teacher and share with her my experiences and question her about my practice, her response for the first few days was "okay, okay, you're a little ahead...good, good, be present and listen to the Discourse tonight [which happened every evening at 7pm, or whenever SexiYogi decided to show up] for direction from S N Goenka [the teacher that we listened to each night at Discourse via DVD and audio recordings]" which of course satisfied the keener in me regarding performance and acknowledgement. There also were days where Goenka had the answers for the questions and skepticism that was running rampant through my head before I could even really articulate them. Some days, the days that I really struggled, the days that I cried and felt utter despair and spent hours just holding my five year old self in my mind's eye, those days I was pretty much on track with the rest of the world that has practiced or experienced this over the last 2500 years. I'm not going to share which days those are with you here, let's just say I was pretty typical those days. I don't want to set any expectations beyond what I have already.

I don't want to share too much about the actual practice of meditating for 11 hours a day (really, 11 hours a day!!) namely because it's such a personal, individual experience. What I will share is this; Vipassana is about being aware...aware of your breath, aware of the mind-body connection, aware of the poison in your mind, aware of how much time we all spend reliving the past, anticipating a non-existent future versus being 100% present in our every day.

I also now understand why it's necessary to surrender to the process and completely immerse yourself in silence for 10 days. Every culture, every time period has writers that have captured the idea of being aware and being present; those that have written and shared regarding the experience of accepting change as the norm...

It has been my experience (and it's one of the fundamental messages of Vipassana) that there is an absolute difference between intellectually understanding the tenets of the practice versus actually immersing oneself in the practice...going quiet and hearing and experiencing on the experiential level. There is no comparison and no alternate as far as I see it. For years I have the read the books, gotten the quotes to my inbox every day, agreed with the ideas and the ideals, but I haven't had the toolset needed to actually implement the change that I've been seeking for so long.

I believe that I now have that toolset.

I learned so many, many things from my time at the Centre and from my interactions with the other students. Where do I start??

I learned that I can indeed sit entirely still (except for the coughing...I did just quit smoking) for an hour or more...

I learned that I can train my body to pee every hour on the hour...

I learned that I can quiet my mind...briefly...but I can...

I learned that I am a non-smoker finally after 26 years...

I learned that I love being healthy and physically active (as I walked five to six kilometers every day after breakfast)...

I learned that there's nothing wrong with going to bed at 9:30 (especially when you've been up since 4 a.m.)...

I learned that there's a ton of information that can be communicated without uttering a sound...

I learned that I walk around with a TON of preconceived notions that are usually wrong...

I learned that I waste an exorbinant amount of energy anticipating things, bad things, horrible things, sad things that actually never come to fruition...

I learned that I have wasted an exorbinant amount of energy on people or incidents that are insignificant and have no real bearing on my happiness...

I learned that I have spent a lot of my time, too much of my time, not wallowing but reliving the distant and near past over and over and over and over and over again...

I learned that I am so incredibly, to the depths of my soul in love with my husband and that I really did make the right choice almost seven years ago now...(regardless of the peaks and valleys that we often find ourselves in)...

I learned to accept that I am sensitive and fragile...and terrified of being vulnerable...

I learned that I really am brave....

I learned that I judge people entirely too much...myself most especially...

I learned that I am really loved...

I learned that I am natually compassionate...

I learned that I have spent my life driven by one very powerful four letter word that begins with F and it's not Fuck...(...Fear folks, Fear...)

I learned that I'm no longer a reluctant athiest...while I'll never accept the Judeo-Christian definition of "God", I do believe that we are all absolutely connected...call it karma or kizmet, there is something greater than the self...

I learned that the feeling I get from imbibing on intoxicants is in pursuit of a freedom and a liberation to be effusive, loving, sweet and accepting...now I can be those things without having to be high or loaded as my excuse; I just have to continue to be brave enough to be vulnerable enough...

I learned that Metta day is one of the most important elements of the whole experience and that without it, the impact would not have been as enlightening as it has been since my days there...

I learned that I and just about every single human being on this earth reacts to the world that surrounds us through a veil of fear...fear of rejection, fear of not being liked/loved...fear, fear...

So, did I learn all of these things or did I accept them finally because I've always known them?...unequivocally...bo
th...

We all know our own truths. We all have our own answers...that's what I believe anyway.

So, where am I now?

I am FAR more aware than I have ever been. I have realized that the Vipassana practice really compliments the cognitive therapy that I went through years ago...the difference is that rather than "trying" to remember to breathe, I actually find myself breathing a lot easier and much sooner than ever before...

I do have periodic internal struggles with those around me not being as "aware" as I am...not from a judgment point of view, but from a practical point of view. It's hard to impart the learnings and the lessons I have realized without the practical understanding being there as well...

I am less afraid.

I am more accepting of aniccā...impermanence...change...

I am less angry.

I am quicker to compassion.

I am a bit more patient (a bit...step by step)...

...and I am falling back in love with myself...little by little...

www.torana.dhamma.org