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A wide open unbeautiful place

It has been 5 months since I have written anything here.  My last post was about traveling to the dark side with the Queen of Death as my guide.  Like Dante’s journey through the underworld with Virgil, the landscape became darker and darker, the light of my guide never bright to begin with… but constant.  Almost a year ago I began this blog and there was this awareness that this was going to be big, that somehow this was going to move some serious shit.  And move some serious shit it has.  It made me move, and in some major serious ways.  It inspired me to reach for myself more often than reaching for another; to reach inside and find what I needed.

This writing paved the way to go on that big bike ride.  That big bike ride paved a way for me to start seeing how I was creating much of what frustrated, depressed or “prevented” me from living my life according to my own voice and thoughts.  The last 5 months have been an effort in truly seeing and hearing myself; hearing the bullshit I would shovel in my own head, seeing the bullshit I casually stepped around and choosing to no longer be blind to it.  In more really big ways, I have seen just how deeply that bullshit has fertilized my life…  It makes me think of Apocalypto, the movie from some long time ago by Mel Gibson about the Aztec tribes and their enslaving of the other tribes of their region.  There’s a scene when someone escapes and, after getting through the corn fields, falls into the pit of corpses left behind from the sacrificial altars.  These dead, murdered and blighted bodies were right beside their primary food source and could clearly explain why the people in the Aztec city were suffering so dreadfully with disease… No better example of “don’t shit where you eat” than that image and I gotta tell ya, I’d been doing a LOT of shitting where I ate and blaming everyone and everything else for my sorry state.

The fact is, I didn’t pick up after myself, didn’t hold myself accountable to myself, and basically waited for some larger-than-me external force to show up and fix everything for me so that I could start living my life.  If there is a bigger pile of bullshit to sit next to while eating my saw dust and ketchup and calling it nutrition, I dunno where it is but I don’t want to meet it.

I haven’t written because, frankly, I’ve just been so in the thick of so much personal heart ache, truth ache, personal change, upheaval, heart break and break through that it simply hasn’t been possible to write for consumption.  My life needs to be digested – at least a little bit – before it can be shared out loud like this.

In the last 5 months I have been disillusioned over and over again, have moved, changed jobs, set goals, created plans to meet those goals and have actually begun the work of meeting those goals.  I’ve been working a LOT, rock climbing a LOT and bike commuting pretty frequently.  My days have ended with nervous exhaustion – sometimes the kind that prevents sleep for many hours and days in a row, sometimes the kind that produces total collapse and near comatose sleep.  Thankfully, lately, sleep arrives more naturally, is something I can fall into without the panic.  The last (for now anyway…) of the smoke screen has cleared, the final veil of ignorance dropped and I can see things so much more clearly.

I am in a field, a wide open field.  A flat meadow like place.  It’s winter but a winter without snow so the beauty that is there requires I look for a long time into the dead brown grasses and naked shrubs and invite it’s appearance at it’s leisure.  This place owes me nothing and it knows that well.  This place has no need of me, not really, and will continue just as well if I lay down and die – my death might even feed a few of the beings here.  But, there’s a small and quiet urging from within me that says you can find your way in this place, you can find your own balance here.  You can add to the rhythm and movement and colour and life here.  This place will not be more beautiful, more elegant, more special because of you.  You will be more beautiful, elegant and special because of this place.  The trick will be patience.  Waiting.  You may be a hunter, but you are a hunter in strange land and do not know yet what is yours to eat, and who may well wish to eat you.  And so you must observe.  Your bow, arrows, knife and cunning will not serve you.  Your silence, your watching, your waiting and your inviting, will.  Allow this place to be.  Allow yourself to learn to eat it’s unfamiliar food; there is no knowing without first being in the unknown.  You can not be wise to what you have not yet been wizened by.

So I sit, patiently, waiting and observing.  Discovering how to meet my needs in this place, what ways it may show me.  The spirits watch and greet my learning with their gifts.

When you go to the deep places

When you go to the deep places, where the dark and the moist and the fetid meet together to Create, something within you stirs.  It is probably nameless, dulled by life in cities of concrete, light, noise, politicians and dirty air.  It probably scares you when this thing turns over and you suddenly catch glimpses of it in the mirror; sometimes too bright to look at, sometimes so dark a shadow you can’t see it if your gaze is direct.  Many of us tend to train our gaze toward the light, keeping buoyant in the ever happy constant optimism and everlasting camp of joy abundance and positive thought regime.  This only serves to press down The Other and the effort of always always looking on the bright sides only fuels the dark fire.

In my journey to the dark in me, I discovered a small, broken and withered thing fueled by pain, fear and a bitter angry hatred sour enough to rot my own insides.  She stirred and pointed wordlessly at The Truth In Me as I read this article. She wept and screamed and howled as I visited the Witness Blanket in the Hamilton Public Library, an installation to bear stark witness to the plight of the Indigenous children, and their ruptured families upon their forced entry into the Residential Schools where many of them would die or break and I could not unsee.  She shuddered with rage and the understanding that I, a good white woman, stand in a position of elevated and unearned privilege built on the broken backs of Anishnaabe men, women and children.  I am here in my very sick culture because their very integral culture was broken to pieces.  And that is my heritage.  It is not possible to be me without their blood staining my feet, their bones tearing my soles.  The grief of this unwanted inheritance and the overwhelm of “what do I DO about this?” is enough to be deafening… If not careful it is enough to be defining too.  Striking a balance within the cacophony of the cognitive dissonance these two seemingly opposite truths creates is one that can not be done without understanding the nature of The Dark one.

Many fairy tales and myths, likely every major religion, has a story or fable about The Dark Twin.  For my purposes, I will share in brief the story of Inanna’s Descent and the discovery of Erishkegal.

Inanna is the Queen of Heaven.  She is exalted by her worshipers as the most beautiful and all who meet her or even hear tell of her are instantly in love with her.  She is powerful, intelligent, clever, beautiful, kind and wise.  In the story of Inanna’s descent, she meets her twin, Erishkegal. Erishkegal is the Queen of the Dark, Queen of Death, Queen of the Underworld. She is Inanna’s other half, her true soul mate.  Inanna is called to the underworld by some curiosity or instinct to know where Death goes.  As she descends, the guards at the various levels of the Underworld tell her she must leave behind items of her identity; jewels, her crown and robes are left behind as she descends until she is completely naked, only herself, free of the mantles bestowed upon her.  Here she discovers her other half, Erishkegal, who is angry; she has been repressed. The people above, who worship Inanna, have lost their respect for death, have lost the understanding of the value of death, of the careful balance that exists between life and death.  In their bewilderment of Inanna’s glory that have lost sight of the other side of that glory, the dark and cold of the Underworld.  The place where Death goes. And so… Erishkegal has become wretched with the burden of collecting death, the chaff, the waste, the cast off, turning it over into the foundations of life and renewal, but without any of the recognition or gratitude worthy of her.  Upon meeting, Erishkegal is angry that Inanna has arrived, for the living can not come here, especially the Queen of Light, Heaven and Life.  This is the land of Death and Life can not come here without becoming Death.  Inanna understands and comforts Erishkegal.  She see’s her plight, she see’s what has become of her, and in Inanna’s own ignorance, the land of Death and it’s Queen have suffered terribly.  She understands the necessity of the balance and so her life is given/taken to fill the hole left behind by all the taking of her people, to keep the balance between the worlds. When it comes time for her to return to the surface, she ensures another takes her place, to keep the hole filled.  It is decided that for a portion of every year, the Queen of Life will descend to the Land of Death to break bread with her sister, to ensure that Erishkegal is remembered and her task is honoured; during this time the one who hangs in Inanna’s stead is free to return to the land of the living, thus ensuring the balance is maintained, no hole left unfilled.

This story is similar to the mythology of Sedna who, in her pain, recalls the ocean animals to soothe her and so the Inuit Shamans must descend to Sedna and pay her homage, honour her and bring her their love and compassion.

Recently I watched a documentary called Griefwalker about a man named Stephen Jenkinson who also discusses this hole. This hole is how the Queen of the Underworld becomes The Wretch.

Within ourselves, the repression of the dark, of death, of anger; the repression of desire, of instinct, of the WHOLE SELF turns this magnificent being into the whining, scared, raging, bitter, resentful, frigid, paranoid, mistrustful, doubting and pity-begging voice that keeps us small. It stops us from making that piece of art, or truly seeing and accepting all of it and loving it for the mistakes; it stops us from taking that trip because of the worry; stops us from wearing that string bikini because what if no one will love me in it; it stops us from living our full selves because, obviously, our full selves are not good enough. The other side of our moons are not worthy of praise or being seen. The other side of our selves are not palatable and so better left buried.

Steven Jenksinson says you can not love until you can love the whole of a thing, including it’s end.  You can not love until you have learned to love the things that do absolutely nothing for you.  Loving the stuff that gives you pleasure is easy; loving the lovable is easy.  Can you love the ugly? The broken?  Can you love Death?

I have been swimming deeper and feeling the heavy blanket of depression that is the signature of The Wretch’s presence and this time, I am able to see her. For all of her. As my other half. She is The Guardian of The Dark and needs restoration to her proper station. She is the source of all life, and the place where death goes. She turns over what is left and makes it anew. And she is unable to return to this status herself because she believes herself unworthy of my whole self.

I have been seeing a lot of wretchedness in our world. It comes in the shape of police brutality, racism, classism, sexism and homophobia. It comes in the shape of destruction of nature, that thing that we are inextricably part of. It comes in the shape of rape and domestic violence and child homelessness. And this wretchedness is born of the lack of knowing who we really are in our fullness, a lack of embracing The Wretch as The Guardian of The Dark.  It is born of the hole vaguely shaped like a soul within ourselves.

And so now, I am poised to begin the process of further integrating her. How gently I must handle her! The offal I have dumped on her, with only shreds of light and love, has eaten away at her. She is sick with loathing and terror. She is hungry for so much love and acceptance. To make space for her at the table is to eat graciously with the stink of rot filling my nose. To sleep with her in my bed is to cuddle next to the damned and the dead and share my warmth with her. To embrace her is to learn to love all the things about myself I’d rather murder and leave in the grave at the bottom of the ocean…

She is ready to rise, and I am ready to bring her up. I can sit with her and hear her moans and keep her company and let her know that she is seen, heard and respected. A space has been made for her at the table.

Are We There Yet?

You think that it will happen in an instant.  The nanosecond the decision erupts into your brain and you pin yourself to it with all the determination and confidence you have that it will be done.

Last year, November 24 2014, I turned 30 and I decided that I was 0 years old now and was going to start over and make everything fresh and that I would be better.  That 30 year old me would take 0 year old me by the hand and start caring for this infant self and nurture it and grow it and watch it blossom into the me I have always wanted to be.  This would be my childhood do-over and I would reclaim the life I hadn’t had the chance to have.  I would submerge myself in the experiences of freedom and laughter and play.   This included yoga classes, rock climbing, mountain biking and road cycling, having a rocking new business that would just sky rocket me to financial security and the love of my life securely in my arms, the two of us and the whole world taking life by storm.  I think maybe I have forgotten what being a baby is like.  I suspect it has a lot more to do with not knowing what the fuck is going on and being covered in various kinds of stinky and sticky and a lot of strange people getting all up in your face to talk nonsense at you.

Life rarely unfolds according to our plans.  Life unfolds the way life unfolds, in response to itself.  And as beautiful a concept as starting over on my 30th birthday may be, and as lofty an idea I had it out to be… You just don’t get to by pass smelling like a diaper full of baby shit for a little longer than is comfortable until the adultiest of the adults shows up to clean you up and give you a cuddle.

Life is more circuitous, life flips and folds and churns and takes detours and there’s fucking MONTHS of road work so you have to detour like every god damned day through the same dilapidated neighbourhood, turning the music up a bit louder and pretending not to notice it because it’s all ok, everything else is going according to plan.  Flat tire.  Fuck off.

It is now mid August, 7 and a half months into the year and 30 year old me is looking around going uhhh… ok, this isn’t what I had planned for you 0 year old me.  How you doing there?  And 0 year old me just says gurgle.  Smiles.  Waggles fat fingers around and points, aimlessly, at the shitty diaper, the mess on the floor, the windows with the amazing view and things we have done.  Forget about the fact that the money ran out for those rock climbing classes, it happened just in time for SPRING and CYCLING.  Forget there never was money for yoga classes, you’ve been doing yoga on your own at least once a week pretty steady.  That’s basically the same thing.  And so what if you’re not rolling in the cash, that’s one of those “it’s coming” type deals.  There’s some tidying up you have had to do – and have done –  before that money really has somewhere to land anyway.  Besides, you rode 300km in three days to the land of your most favourite place from childhood and raised some big money for an excellent cause.  The detours are simply where you have to go to get to where you intend to go.  You can pick the destination and that will determine the general direction but where your feet get planted are influenced by where the actual road goes.  And besides, this shitty diaper was a clean diaper not too long ago so it’s not like I’m bathing in my own offal.  In with the nourishment out with the waste, right?

It can be hard to not get bogged down with frustration and disappointment but I have learned something valuable.  Frustration can be a sign of two things; either you need some help with something and need to ask, or you are trying to do something that pulls you off the path.  It’s amazing how much more irritating and difficult and time consuming tasks are when they are not aligned with the direction you are going.  It’s amazing how good it can feel to be dead broke for the forseeable future but with a clear(er) view of where you are going, watching your debt dwindle in significant ways.  It’s amazing to witness how the struggle of the “rough patch” genuinely does bring lovers closer together.  And it’s exquisite to look down at 0 year old me and suddenly realize I’m 7.5 months older and 30 and a half years wiser.  It’s intoxicating to finally feel myself approaching the doorway to the whole rest of my life (for realsies!!) for the first time and actually be able to see what is on the other side waiting for me to glide through the gate.

The point is, all of these challenges and learning how to move through them gracefully and with ease is called Character Building.  Some time ago I wrote in my journal about the person I want to be.  One of the qualities she had mastered was being responsible for herself.  Paying bills as soon as they arrive, setting aside money for the forseeable future (hello taxes) and also for the unplanned future (vacations?  illness? New bike?), and allotting her time so she can comfortably earn money and create things and ride bikes and climb rocks and sit in nature and garden and be with her loved ones and go on adventures.  The first steps to becoming this person have meant cleaning up the shitty diapers, making sure clean diapers are available at all hours, learning how to truly take good care of myself and accepting that, at least in the very beginning, it’s really grass roots.  Grass roots like broke as broke gets, but able to manage and keep putting the other foot forward.  Grass roots like eyes on the target, head up scanning the route ahead for those snags and roots and crap that could trip one who isn’t looking forward.  Grass roots like one ear pressed up against the walls of my heart listening for those thin whispers that say so gently go here, go there, this way, that way, listen carefully to this person because what they say is important to how you choose to respond.  Grass roots like taking 7.5months old me and saying ok, we are half way through year one and no one is dead yet, we are making that headway and all those other things we want and need are gonna have some place to land.

You can’t fledge the nest if there isn’t a nest yet.  Are we there yet?  No baby; we are just about to take off.

Blue Heron Woman Hunts/Swimming to Sedna

Everybody tells me that I think too much.  They only tell me this when I am in The Dark Times, swimming deeper and deeper into the rotten creepy things at the bottom of the well; when I am poking at The Sadness that lurks there, turning over empty turtle shells to discover where the long slow wail is coming from.  This work casts a shadow over my brow and the light of my heart gets dim and it frightens them.  They don’t like to see me like this.  Yet they fail to understand, This is Necessary.  This deep digging, this overturning of that which has settled to the bottom, this prodding at the wounds is important.  they also fail to understand, that when I return, I always bring up some sunken treasure, some lost jewel and when it is cleaned up and put on display for them to see, their applause is not for the treasure but for the hard work they told me I did too much of.

I understand their discomfiture.  They love me and dislike seeing me sad.  Depression is frightening to many.  It is linked with things like self harm and suicide.  Some are lost in the Dark for a very very long time and some lose their way and don’t know how to come out.  It happens to many and the fear it will happen to me enters the minds of those who love me.  But they don’t know… I have danced in these woods, in these swamps, my whole life.  I have sunk to the very bottom of my own ocean over and over and over again to save the parts of my self that are drowning down there.  This work is more than necessary.  It is the maintenance of the foundations of my life.  I am a Blue Heron and we live in the swamps, our feet submerged in murky water, delicately picking through the mush and the muck to find the nutritious gems that live there to feed ourselves and our young.  This dark place is where I find my fuel.

I am hunting now.

Just under the skin, the bottom layer of the lake swirls the unshed tears.  Like whale song my sorrow sings out, vibrating through the currents of my life.  And I swim deeper to find her, to soothe her.  Inuit speak of a sunken goddess, Sedna, thrown to the bottom of the ocean by her father, her fingers and hands severed from her.  These parts became the ocean mammals and fishes that the Inuit hunted.  When Sedna became angered, or forlorn, the animals of the ocean would flock to her, to grieve with her, leaving the Inuit hunters empty handed.  It was the job of the medicine men and women to journey to her and comb out her tangled hair, to rub and stroke and kiss the stumps where her hands used to be to ease her pain.  To love her, share kindness with her because she had been so wounded by one who was supposed to protect her but betrayed her so cruelly.  And so… Her wailing falls into my ears… And my job is to dive down to her and hear her sorrowful song, share the burden of her grief and soothe her so that I may return to the surface, my gems in hand to share with my kin.

The song I am hearing is of my own failure to know myself, and the resultant value system that has developed.  It is a shallow system, one that goes only so far as skin and muscle.  It is a background program that devalues myself and my kin.  It is the place where systems of hate are born and fester; racism, homophobia, classism, sexism, ignorance of the mentally ill(equipped), child abuse, spousal abuse, police brutality, disrespect and willful destruction of the environment, factory farming, poisonous agricultural practices… the list seems nearly endless and it is the root of the disease that runs so rampant through our culture.  And when I say “our culture” I refer to us, white people, as a group.  I sit with her at the bottom of the ocean and I can’t help but add my voice to her own because I see these things in myself, I see this background programming in myself, and in my kin, I feel this illness in me and how horribly it feels and I see it in the people around me and how sick they are too and I weep and wail with her because I know it comes from the same place… We do not know who we are.  Not really.

And in myself, it is part of the other thing people always tell me.  “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Jennifer.  You don’t see how valuable you are to those around you.”  And it’s true.  I am blind to myself, to the way others experience me.  This blindness creates the “body-centric value system” to which I measure myself.  It is what I can see of myself, and I mistake it for myself and measure it against what I have been wrongfully taught to see as The Standard of Human Value.  And, sadly, this system is based on just one thing: appearance.  What does this body look like?  Does it look like it came from the pages of a magazine? How do I measure up against it?  It is difficult to articulate this and not feel horrendous.  I’m a massage therapist!  I don’t really believe in any of this shit, I know that the people within the bodies are of greater importance, that the body is but a tool, a vessel, the box that contains the gift… And yet, in the background… the yardstick slaps against my thighs.  There is nothing to blame.  I am an adult and am capable of addressing this deficiency in myself.  I am capable of seeing deeper – I swim to the bottom after all.  I am capable of un-learning this system and adopting a new one.  and it starts with learning how to truly see myself.  I can not see you, clearly, if I can not see from within myself.  The seat from which I engage with the world, at least of late, has been from the outside of who I truly am.  And thus, I can only engage with the outside of who you truly are.

When I sit from outside myself.

As I write this, I am getting closer and closer to understanding the need for this journey down.  I have been living from outside myself since at least mid June with a frequency that is more than tolerable.  Leading up to the big ride, I was focused, I was centered, I was dedicated to something that had sprung from my heart, from a place of great pain, and turned it into something beautiful.  I spun something incredible, something I thought I could not do, could not have accomplished, but did anyway and it was beautiful.  And I was full, over full, over flowing with the beauty and magnificence of riding along the shore of Lake Ontario.  And when I got back, I dallied in the current of of that experience for a while until it’s tide washed out again.  And on the naked shores I sat with this jewel, this gem, born of that experience.  And looked at it… slipped it into my pocket because I felt I did not know what to do with it, was not big enough to really carry it to where it needed to go and the weight of that pulled me out of my inside.  My disbelief in myself, in my inner self, landed me firmly on the outside where I could only see and interact with the superficial material world.  Raw to the disease that manifests when we do not live fully within ourselves.  Naked eyeballs seared by the witnessing of white police murdering men and women and children of colour.  Government officials selling off the Sacred Earth as if any of us really own it.  Men and women at each others throats because none of us understand each other.  War.  Lives being bought for a year’s salary only to be snuffed out, murdered, for the thrill of committing a sin no one will really do anything about.  Raw to the value system of flesh as a commodity to be used, abused and eventually thrown away.

I recall last year being caught in this mess for a very long time and it drove me, almost daily, to hike in the woods.  In the woods I could find myself, I could hear myself, I could sit with this agony, I could swim to Sedna and comb her hair and be in compassionate pain with her, safe and guarded by the trees leaning in, the rocks holding me up, the wind calling me home.  I could journey to her and listen to the whale song of our pain and weep with her and rub our hands and stumps together, allow our hair to tangle together and separate with the pulling of the tide.  And when I came to understand, to see clearly the way to myself, her weeping, my weeping, our weeping, subsided.  The pain ebbed and the steps became clearer and clearer.  And I returned to myself in a way I had never done before.

They tell me I think too much.  They tell me I lose sight.  But what they don’t understand is… I was already blind and am relearning how to see again.  I am hunting for fresh eyes in the bottom of the swamp.  I am swimming to Sedna where pain is safe and commiseration is a tool for healing.  I am gathering strength and clearing out the bullshit as I go.  And I will return with my jewels and tools to engage with this next phase.

First Step

My Dear friends, patients and colleagues,

Professionally, for almost the last year I have been very quiet. Not even mouses are stirring in my houses. Well no that’s a lie, my houses have been turned upside down. I turned 30 last November, and in the summer before I realized some really big, scary, painful things and understood that some really big, scary, painful changes were needed to fix the big scary painful broken parts I had unearthed in my life.

My first point here is to say thank you to anyone who managed to stand by me through the hurricane of my personal life renovation. It saw me move 3 times in the span of 6 months, close one business endeavour… and then another… and relocate my practice to Ancaster ON (patients… THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PATIENCE!!!). I can’t really begin to express the gratitude I feel for those of you who stuck with my practice, with me, through the chaos. In school, you’re taught to keep your personal life from your professional life. Honestly? I dunno how to do that. My professional life is personal to me. I care so much about you and the practice we have together. I do bring you all home with me every night and think about you, analyzing how my work is effecting you, if we are reaching the goals we have identified, if there is perhaps something we are missing and generally how I can improve the service I bring you to. I think about your stories and wonder if you are doing ok. I celebrate your victories when you share them with me. You have no idea how many times I am nearly jumping out of my professional costume to give you hugs and squeal with delight when you tell me that you just did that thing you were afraid to do and got through it better than fine. Actually, I’m pretty sure I do squeal.

This last year has had me take a long look at myself, my direction, and apply some of that analysis to my own goals and the action plans I have laid out for them. To be honest, the biggest most important truth and change I realized was that much of my life plan had been dependent on what other people thought, wanted or needed of me. Little thought was put into what I think, want and need of myself. Personally and professionally. I made many personal life changes, and some of the professional life changes I needed to. Mostly, I just needed to step away from the helm of running a ship I didn’t have the energy for. It’s a lot for one little person to run a whole business. Truly, it’s like 2 full time jobs and a few part time jobs too. In the wake of my personal life shake down, my professional life had to change too. I needed a rest, so I moved my practice to a place where someone else did all the worrying and I could just show up and do what I love.

This has given me the time and space to collect myself and really start putting thought into my professional direction. What do I want to practice? How do I want to practice? And who do I want my practice to serve? When I first ever in my life thought of being a massage therapist I was probably 14, standing in my kitchen with my mom telling her “I just want to help people feel good.” Much of my life I struggled with depression and the constant feeling of just barely keeping my head above the water. Never totally drowning, but never getting to put my feet down on solid ground. It’s strange when you realize that solid ground is actually scarier than treading in the deep water. You see, I’m a stress addict. I thrive in chaos. When the bleep hits the fan, that’s when I shine. I can tread (metaphorical) water for years. Give me stability and I get sea sick. This last year I have been learning how to stand on solid ground and be ok with that. Surprisingly, it is difficult. I suppose people who spend a lot of time of boats know intimately what I am talking about. Anyway, learning how to stand on this solid ground has given me a lot of perspective and the space to really start considering those questions, and ultimately, what do I want?

Stress, anxiety, depression, these things, these states of being… they suck. They absolutely serve important purposes, and over time I’ll talk about that but for now, we can all agree that feeling stressed, anxious and depressed most of the time just plain sucks. You feel sick, lethargic, irritable, foggy, your guts are always a mess, your body hurts, and emotionally you’re exhausted. Waking up can feel like an accomplishment… and maybe even a disappointment. When I said to my mom in our kitchen 15 years ago “I just want to make people feel good” I meant that; when we touch each other, when we share physical support with someone, we feel better. That connection inspires a sense of hope, trust, and togetherness. Touch reminds us that we are not alone, that there are people around who can and will support us. Touch is the very first sense our body’s develop. I suspect that even in utero, touch exists. Touch is important because it helps us sense the world around us, interpret it, and decide what to do about the things we encounter. Our bodies are basically gigantic nerve endings intended to receive information, and then respond. The information I intend to send when I give a massage is support, care, attention, compassion, safety. These are the building blocks for calm and relaxation. At least, in my opinion. When we feel supported, cared for, that people are paying attention to our needs and showing us compassion, we can feel safe. And when we feel safe, we can start to consider how to conduct ourselves to build up and out of wherever we are.

I realize that all that maybe sounds a bit wishy washy, or that I’m giving a lot more credit to massage therapy than perhaps it is due. But I ask you to consider children and the very elderly. What one thing do they often seek when afraid or sad? What one thing has been shown, over and over in research, to improve the quality of their daily lives, even improve their physiological health? Touch. Feeling connected to another person is such an ingrained part of being a human being it’s nearly inescapable. That’s why massage therapy is such a powerful tool. And that’s why I practice it.

I can do the rehabilitative stuff, and it’s important work.  It’s important to know how to assess, analyze and apply correct techniques to an injured body to help him or her grow to the physical state s/he seeks. But it is no longer what I want my practice focus to be on. My focus has always been, how do I improve your life experience? Injury and physical pain are stressful, so to treat stress absolutely I work with physical injury and pain with direction to rehabilitate. But my work is not just for the physically injured. My work is also for those of us who, like me, are trying to learn how to get out of the deep water and walk on dry land. My work is also for the stressed out and depressed.

Together we can rise.

That is where I am going.

Here marks the first entry in my journal and the first step to building the kind of practice I have always wanted. My vision is clear, my goals are set and the steps are identified. It’s only onwards and upwards from here.

Fleeting

IMG_2200 copyMoments are so fleeting.  They really do pass, march on into history while I pursue the future, transient through the present moment as it passes, marching into history.  Moments are so fleeting.

Just 2 days ago I was standing under the lighthouse that marked my final destination at the end of a three day journey along the coast line of Lake Ontario.  I’m uncertain that I have ever lived my life with so much presence, immediacy and simple joy as I did for those three days.  Untethered, total freedom from worries or concerns.  Most of the time, much of my mental space is filled with worry about how my body looks, am I eating the right food, calorie counting, how much money I am making or not making, bills I remember, bills I have forgotten and then suddenly remember, family ties, my closest relationships, am I “showing up” properly with the people around me, am I in my integrity… am I doing this right?  Mostly I can either ignore the chatter or observe it.  Sometimes I am carried away.  But traveling by bike for 3 days brought all my attention to the exact moment I was in.  More of the thoughts were quite simply weeeeeeeeee! as I rolled along the waterfront.  Sometimes a burst of wow as a truly beautiful view emerged from around a bend.  The very rare this is so hard usually followed by this is so fun!  Day two saw a lot of my crotch is uncomfortable but even that was fleeting (if not frequently reoccurring) and unable to detract from the wow and the weeeee.

My mind, body, spirit, time and purpose all felt exactly mine.  No demands placed on any of these vessels of experience other than my own.  I don’t think I have ever been so liberated in all my life.  I was free to determine my pace, when to stop, what views I wanted to pause at, how hard my body worked, and where my thoughts would roam.  Slave to my mind no more, to be honest, I mostly thought about nothing.  Even the monkey in my head was content to just enjoy the view and taste the wind.IMG_2329

Day one, passing through Oakville, we came across a dead woodpecker.  I stopped beside it’s body and wished I’d brought my bone collecting tools but, then again, didn’t want to travel 3 days with a dead animal in a plastic bag.  So I satisfied myself by plucking some of it’s feathers.  Symbolically, woodpeckers carry the meaning of going to the beat of your own drum.  Finding your own rhythm.  What better omen for a self powered trip?  We were truly existing out of time, moving to the rhythms our hearts chose without much regard for the thoughts, feelings or concerns of others.  Toronto came and went with some beautiful bike lanes and interesting views.  The Scarborough Bluffs happened upon us rather suddenly with a very steep climb we had to walk up and then… were gone.  Pickering was brief.  Petticoat Creek was brimming with nostalgia and I wish we could have lingered a bit but the open path called and the trumpet to adventure was ringing in my ears.  Petticoat Creek is a day trip all on it’s own.

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The trail from Scarborough to Port Hope is a cyclists dream.  Pickering, Ajax, Whitby and Oshawa have all done a fantastic job of manicuring their water front trail, with beautiful cycling lanes.  I don’t remember ever really having to ride with traffic until we left Oshawa and then it was merely on some country roads.  The views of the lake were stunning; in Hamilton and Toronto, for the most part the water is considered disgusting, unsafe and the lake as a whole gains this reputation as being a sewer pit.  Granted, in the GHA, and likely much of the GTA, the water is unsuitable for swimming due to the contaminants that have been dumped into it.  But away from the GTA, the water is beautiful.  I have wonderful memories of swimming in Lake Ontario at the old cottage in Brighton, one of the stops we made on day three.

The road from Port Hope to Brighton saw us climb many hills, pass through some beautiful, small town city centers at which I could have spent an entire day, and detour to The Big Apple.  An apple product lovers dream.  We ate pie, had coffee and took some goofy pictures.  I bought some silly memorabilia and then… on the road again.

We detoured through Brighton down to where my family used to have a cottage.  Nostalgia rose with a wave of grief.  I had not been to that land in… A long time.  I can’t really remember, perhaps 8 years.  Much of it has changed.  The view is still the same.  The sound of the lake on the rocks below is still the same.  The water level is still as high as usual this time of year.  The quiet was still the same.  The trees in the woods behind the lot… the same.  Scattered around the property were wild turkey feathers.  I had never seen a wild turkey there before though there must have been some.  These were collected and stowed away in my pack, with the woodpecker’s gift and a pair of Grouse feathers I found before reaching the Big Apple.IMG_2271

And then a short spin to Presqu’Ile.  Up until this point it hadn’t really hit me how far we had traveled, where I was, where I was going, where I had been.  Everything was so present moment that crossing this threshold rather surprised me.  I became emotional as I kept repeating to myself… I did it.  I actually did it.  Me.  I can’t think of many times in my life I have felt any great pride in an accomplishment.  This was comparable to finishing college and receiving my final grade.  This is the second time in my life that I have made a very clear statement to what I can truly accomplish if I just determine to do it, no holds barred.  As we passed the first sign indicating that Presqu’Ile was just ahead, I wept, my eyes brimming with tears.  I looked around at the marsh as it looked back at me and heaved several big sighs.  When I looked down at my Garmin, we had just covered 300.5km.  I did it.  I rode more than I had planned to.  For longer than I had thought.  And I felt great.  A lovely woman on a bicycle saw us arrive at the gates and offered to take our photo.  A great moment of pride captured by a kind passerby.  We rode into the park, and to the lighthouse where I walked the last few meters with the Garmin in my hand right out to the very edge.  I did it.  The ride was over, the moment passing, marching into history as I rolled into the future on the vehicle of a transient point in time.

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This is my greatest take away from this whole thing.  We can only accomplish what we tell ourselves we can accomplish.  The story we tell ourselves about who we are determines how we are in the world.  And that is an important distinction.  How you are in the world is not the sum of your character, it does not define who you are.  Your actions are choices bred by the thoughts you have.  Strung together they create the arc of your story.  I do not believe in fate; I do not believe that there is such a thing as a predetermined destiny.  Our only destiny is choice.  Do you choose to act truly as who you are, or do you choose to act as who you think you are?

For most of my life my story was this; a fat, weak bodied female who had been raped.  Broken home statistic.  Depressive and anxious, mistrustful and suspicious.  Incapable of accomplishing big things.  Unimportant.  Untalented.  Would never be impressive in any capacity.  Unworthy of pleasure, desire of having needs met.

My story has been changing.  I have been coming to truly see and believe that what we set our minds to become our destinies.  What we believe ourselves to be is how we end up being in the world.  I am worthy of having needs and desires, and worthy of seeing them met.  I am the instrument to my own ends and what I set my mind to will be done if I keep my focus and direction unwavering.  I am more than a woman who has been raped.  Rape is hardly a footnote in my life story.  I am capable of dreaming big things, devising plans to achieving them and doing the work, however hard, to  seeing those plans fulfilled.  I am important because I matter to myself.  I am talented by the simple fact that no being can be without a purpose at all and purpose is grown of talent.  My emotional state does not dictate who I am and though I may encounter depression and fear, I am big enough to interpret their meanings, manage them and move forward with or without them.  I can learn to trust and place suspicion where it belongs, in my tool kit for decision making alongside information gathering, analysis and intuition.  I’m a powerful creature capable of things I have not yet even dreamed of.

Life is an open road on which you may travel however you wish, to where ever you want.  So get your story straight and ride.

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Success

Last week, we did it.

Two months ago I finally took a big plunge, stated out loud to a lot of people that I was going to ride 260km along Lake Ontario’s Waterfront Trail and raise $500 for a local sexual assault help center.  The ride hasn’t happened yet (we leave in 4 days!), but the fundraising has.  It was kind of incredible.  We hung around $350 for a while until I realized that we were just $150 away from the goal.  Suddenly the donations came rolling in seemingly all at once.  Like a bunch of people got together and collectively decided that was the day to do it.  As I wrote my Gramma an email about the whole thing, I had to keep updating what the actual sum left was.  By the end of the email there was just $95 left to collect.  I think maybe 2 days later we had the whole thing.

Two days after that another $100 came in.  Not only had we reached the goal I set, but surpassed it.

In addition to all the contributions, people shared the story.  My story.  That was probably the best part.  You see, when i first decided to do this, I choked on the fear of “what if no one cares about my story?  What if my story, my struggle to over come, means nothing?”  It stopped me dead and I probably cried because who can swallow the thought of your life story, the transformation you conduct by your own hands, meaning nothing to anyone at all?  Despite that fear, I pressed on.  Courage really is, only ever, born in the moment of terror.  We really can only be courage when we are afraid.  I mean really, where’s the courage in doing something that doesn’t scare you?  That’s not courage, that’s confidence and they two are different, though not inseparable.  Confidence has it’s roots in courage.  Confidence happens when we do things that scare us, with courage, and discover that we can live through it.  Even if we fail, confidence can be built by getting back up again.

So anyway.  I’ve reached my goal and in 4 days I will be departing from my home on a big journey.  I am a bit afraid, and a bit confident.  So you could say I am experiencing confident courage.  I’m good with that.

There is still time to donate too.  The fundraiser closes on Monday June 22 at 12:59am.  We will have been home, by then, for at least a full 24 hours, probably sleeping and moaning about how sore our legs and back and butts are.  I will be updating, as much as I can, over the 3 days we are out via my cell phone.  And I will do my best to put in a post ride wrap up Monday morning so my followers, contributors and community can be a part of the last stage.

If you want to be a part of the gravy train – as I said, we have reached the $500 goal and now, the rest is a beautiful river of gravy for SACHA, the Sexual Assault Centre (Hamilton Area) – then please visit the campaign page.

Thanks for following me here.  This story of mine is beginning to change.  Every day I feel less and less like a survivor and more and more like someone who is thriving.

Onwards and Upwards…