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What would it be?

I think mine would sound like this:

Have you found your soul-sound yet?  Share it with me?  Let me know you in the place beyond words.

All my love,

Tabitha

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falling_through_the_sky_by_aeylita_9-d4qgxqb

 

I first noticed it a short time ago while on retreat – I don’t like feeling empty.  This plays out in a number of interesting ways.  For instance, on this day, I realized that I never fully swallow my food before I reach for the next morsel, or place food in my mouth.  There is always something that remains in the space; it is never completely empty.  It’s been months since I made that discovery and still, every day, I catch myself doing this same thing over and over again.  Never empty.

I also do this in my daily practice.  I find myself not fully releasing the breath.  I begin to move towards the next pose or sequence before I’ve finished my full exhale.  I’m contemplating what comes next instead of being with what is in the moment.  Never empty.

Last week I handed in my final paper for my Yoga therapy training.  I waited on tenderhooks to hear back from my teacher, fully expecting to do revisions, almost hoping for them.  Nope.  Instead, I was congratulated on accomplishing the task and that was that.  There was nothing left to do.  No more reading assignments.  No more case studies.  No more exams or presentations or written reports.  Nothing other than the pure joy of going in to the studio to attend class, but that’s not work.  All my work is done.  What does that mean?  That means S  P  A  C  E.  Emptiness.  Great blocks of time with nothing in them.  It means the freedom to do as I wish.  It means…………panic.

Panic comes after the grand question, “So, what now?”  Sneaky beggar, that one.  It takes me away from my experience, away from how I’m feeling, and it provides me with the illusion of taking up space.  Instead of floating in the pause, as I often encourage my students to do, my mind goes straight into planning mode.  According to Overactive Mind, if we do not plan and pursue and strategize, why, we’ll end up being a Masters student working at Harvey’s.  *sigh*  And my Wiser Self says, “Oh dear.  This again?”  It’s not like we haven’t been here a bazillion times before.

Reaching into the future instead of easing into the uncomfortable sensation of floating into space.  Reaching for that morsel of soul food to fill the gap. Creating a new project so I don’t feel the deep sadness that comes with this ending, the loss, the fear, the loneliness, and the sudden sense of isolation. My heart is broken.  The future is full of possibilities that I have yet to realize.  There is no ground beneath me and I am aching to fill up space.

I caught myself in the midst of this yesterday, pacing around my room, unable to settle into any one task, and I had to smile.  I was at it again – creating illusions in order to avoid my fear.  For the first time ever, I found myself softening to the experience.  I heard myself say, “It’s okay.  I’ve got this.  I’ll take care of you.  I’m not abandoning you this time.  Let’s just breathe together.”  All the things I would say to a beloved student, I finally said to myself. I committed to caring for my own fear….and anger….and bitterness….and any other emotion or sensation that I dislike and wish to banish. Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart:

To stay with that shakiness – to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge – that is the path of true awakening.  Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic – this is the spiritual path.  Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior.

I’m not certain I would ever call myself a “warrior” but I am getting the knack of catching myself, and staying with myself, when things feel tough. It’s still an awkward and uncomfortable experience but how can I not do this?  If not for me, then for my students and for my loved ones.  How could I ever sit with them through their grief and fear and discomfort if I continue to abandon my own?  We’re all in this thing together.

May we catch ourselves running away, and invite ourselves to stay.  May we catch ourselves when we cling, and invite ourselves to loosen the grip. May we cease trying to fix a situation that is not broken.  May we stay with ourselves in all situations.  May we float gently on the current of “being”. May we be free.

All the best, friends!

Tabitha

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regal queen Aggs

This is Aggs. Aggie in full. Agnes in her later years.

I was 18 years old when I separated myself from the Catholic church, the church of my upbringing and my family.  In all honesty, I never resonated with Catholicism as it was presented to me.  I never understood the concept of God, the Supreme Being, as an angry, vengeful, spiteful entity.  Atoning for sins, being born essentially evil, condemning people for coupling and living in love differently from the mainstream, never made any sense to me.  This felt like fear-mongering and I, for one, could find no solace in the teachings.

The day I made the decision to leave and never go back was an unusually sweltering day.  The Catholic school I attended had monthly masses at the local church, so off we went, scratchy woollen uniforms sticking to us, to sit in a super-heated, poorly ventilated building and have “holy” shoved down our throats.  As the mass went on (and on), and the building became hotter and hotter, several students became woozy and started to pass out from being overheated.  Our minds were foggy and our egos were as fresh and shy as our teenage years, so our responses to the priest’s call-out were timid.  This was not up to the priest’s standards so he went on a tirade telling us we would not leave until we responded appropriately.  Over and over and over again he called-out and we responded, louder and louder until we were practically shouting in the name of God, and not in a good way.  That was it for me.  I had no intentions of ever again being bullied by some out-of-his-mind “representative of God”.  There was no peace there for me, so I shot the building the bird as I left and never went back until a few years ago when it was a Christmas present to my mother.  I still don’t feel comfortable there.

I walked out of that building and away from established religion, and walked back towards what had always made sense to me–finding the face of God in nature and in animals.  I could find peace there and peace was what I needed.

Fast forward almost 10 years and you will find me deep in the pit of the belly of the beast–the dark night of the soul.  My grandfather was dying and was moving to and from ICU and the cardiac ward at an astonishing pace.  My 3 1/2 year relationship disintegrated before my eyes and out of the blue, leaving me shocked and breathless.  My cat was diagnosed with cancer.  I was beginning to seriously question my sexuality.  I was unemployed and had no idea what path to take.  A number of friendships hit the rocks and drowned.  And my parents weren’t quite split yet but they were certainly heading there.  To say I was a train wreck would be a gross understatement.  I was unanchored, unhinged and drifting through fields of pain and confusion.  In the midst of all of this, I decided I needed some time and space on my own.  I needed to breathe.  I needed to see if I could drag my bloody stump of a Self back to some sense of peace, so I rented a family friend’s cottage for a week.  I packed my car with every spiritually-based book, every art supply, every tarot card, and every journal I owned and off I went to find my mind and to heal my heart.

What happened instead was that I got sick.  Unbelievably sick.  Out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a Muskoka chair, staring off into the Bay of Quinte, I felt a scratch in my throat.  The scratch progressed quickly to a throat full of razor blades and a deliriously high fever.  I was beyond miserable; I was wretched.

While I was on my own, the cottage was closely surrounded by other homes.  One of these homes belonged to Russell, an interesting man who always seemed to be picking up and adopting stray animals.  The day of the fever, sitting like a lump on the deck, I happened to glance over at Russell’s and saw a tiny orange kitten sitting on his deck.  Russell and his wife had gone out so I decided to steal a moment and to say hello to this creature; I needed some animal time.  Reaching Russell’s deck, what I saw before me was a perfect mirror for my own Self and it made my stomach drop.  This tiny handful of a creature was a wretched soul as well.

She actually looks better here.

She actually looks better here.

There was green goo coming from her nose and her eyes, she was emaciated, and her ears were full of mites.  She was sneezing. She was coughing.  She was very obviously dying. And my heart hit the dirt when I laid eyes on her.  Her saving grace, I thought, was that Russell had found her.  Knowing how much he loved his animals, I knew he would take good care of her.  I knew he would save her.  I spent a bit of time with this beast and then, feeling like crap again, I turned back towards my cottage and walked away.

Following me, tail high and at a good clip, was this wretched little soul.  I didn’t want her getting comfortable at my location since it wasn’t my place so I marched her straight back to Russell’s.  Again she followed me.  And again.  Three times I attempted to return her to her home and three times she followed me back to the cottage.  By the third time I had had enough.  I gave up, sat down on my chair and stared off into space again, only this time I had a dying orange cat on my lap.  We made quite the pair.

The weather turns quickly on the Bay of Quinte and it wasn’t long before the wind picked up and the afternoon sky began to grow dark with storm clouds.  Russell had yet to return home and this left me in quite the quandary.  Not knowing whether the owners of the cottage allowed animals inside I was reluctant to take this creature in with me, but I certainly couldn’t leave her out in a raging storm.  When the heavens opened up and still there was no sign of her people, Sick Orange Cat came inside.  I laid out for her a bowl of water but no food; again, I didn’t want her to get too comfortable.  I knew she would be going home.

At the height of the storm, when the windows of the cottage were shaking from the force of thunder, I heard Russell’s car crunch up his driveway.  With a sigh of relief, I packed Sickness in close to my chest and made a run for it across the grass.  Soaked, sick and holding this equally soaked and sick bundle, I knocked on Russell’s door and met them with, “Here’s your cat.”  Except, it turns out, she wasn’t theirs.  She was from a barn up the road, a barn I had seen before, packed with pathetic, uncared for, disease-ridden cats.  The sight of them had always broken my heart.  This little stray had shown up on Russell’s porch and out of the goodness of their hearts, they had fed her and had intended on sending her back up the road.  Which is what they did.  Taking her from me, they drove her to the barn, and to certain death.

I can’t say I understand what happened next.  Free from the waif cat, I was in the shower hoping to steam the sickness out of me when I was suddenly rocked by violent waves of the most hideous sounding, gut-wrenching sobs. They took me over and brought me to my knees.  Naked, vulnerable and kneeling on the bottom of the bathtub, with snot running from my nose and hot water streaming over my skin, I begged God, the entity I had not named in nearly a decade, to bring her back to me.  “Please, God,” I cried, “bring her back and I promise you I will do everything I can, I will use every last red cent I have (and I didn’t have many) to either give her a good life or a good death.  Please.  Please bring her back to me.”

No more than a half hour after the shower collapse, I was sitting in my chair, alone and terrified as the storm outside intensified.  It was black as pitch with the wind heaving and beating up against the cottage walls.  In the midst of all this mayhem, I thought I heard a different sound outside the patio door.  I thought I had heard the tiny meow of a cat.  I also thought the fever had made me nuts.  How does one hear a tiny kitten meow when Nature is waging war outside?  I have no idea, but I heard it again and proceeded to walk towards the door.  There she was, Sick Orange Cat, staring at me through the glass, soaked to the bone having run down a country road in the dead of night, during a psychotic thunderstorm, and back to me.

I kept the promise I made to God that day.  For the next 16 years I did everything I could to give this little creature the best possible life, and in the end, I almost used every last red cent I had to give her a good death.  No words can ever explain the connection I had to that cat.  She was more than a cat, more than a companion, more than an animal–she was my pathway back to God and she showed me, without a doubt, that “someone” is always listening and loves me enough to respond.

When I met God, She was wearing a red fur coat, and my life has never been the same.

lounging Aggs 1999

I miss you, Aggs.  Be at peace.

All my love,

Tabitha

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This is a man’s world

But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing

Without a woman or a girl.

James Brown “It’s a Man’s World”

I’ve been thinking about Vipassana training ever since I read the hilarious description of it in Sarah Macdonald’s book Holy Cow:  An Indian Adventure. Vipassana is like Survivor for the spiritual seeker.  Touted as having been discovered by the Buddha over 2500 years ago, Vipassana is a hard core mind-training regime with the aim of burning off all the impurities in the mind that separate the seeker from “the truth”.  Without this separation, the seeker is on the high road to enlightenment.–Ontario Vipassana Centre

Who wouldn’t want that?  Lord knows I relish the idea of someone or something cutting in on this infernal dance I do with my ever-changing mind! Peace?  You offer peace and liberation?  SIGN ME UP!  My initial excitement, however, quickly turned to stomach-twisting dread as I began to research the process.  10 days in the company of strangers where not a word is to be spoken except during a participant’s meeting time with her spiritual advisor.  Silence.  Okay, I can handle that.  You are not to connect with other participants at all.  This means no physical contact, not even a light, supportive touch on the arm if someone appears to be emotionally distraught, no facial expressions and no eye contact with anyone around you.  You are to move around one another without acknowledging one another.  No pens.  No paper.  No cellphones.  No music.  No external distractions.  This is a 100% commitment to spending time with nothing but your own mind, and it is done through hours and HOURS of seated meditation.  When you’re not meditating you’re learning about a meditation technique.  And when you’re not learning, you’re meditating some more.

Have you ever tried to sit on the floor for several hours at a time?  When in India, we spent our days seated on the concrete floor of the ashram’s meditation hall.  It took one day of this for the most fire-poker hot agony to set in on the body.  People were writhing and shifting all day long. By day three people were losing their composure altogether and started crying.  I was popping Advil like candy, something I do only in the most dire situations, and people were rolling around on hard sponge balls trying to work out their muscle cramps.  But in India we could talk to one another.  We could process and journal and hold one another if we fell apart.  We could connect as we crumbled and that made all the difference in the world.  In Vipassana there is none of this connecting and comforting and I began to wonder why we would need to be so harsh in order to reach enlightenment.  Surely the Divine, the most compassionate force in existence, wouldn’t expect us to torture ourselves in order to be free!

Somewhere in the back of my head I began to hear James Brown singing, “This is a man’s world…”  Images of hair shirts, self-flagellation Easter rituals, and women climbing holy steps on their knees crossed my mind.  I know Catholicism like the back of my hand, having been immersed in it (and trying to recover from it) my whole life.  It is a male-dominated religion with a focus on suffering as the path to liberation.  I suppose somewhere in my naivete I thought Eastern religions and spiritual practices would be different somehow.  Could it be Vipassana also falls into this “man’s world” spirituality where we push ourselves to extremes in order to free ourselves?  I have to admit the idea of creating suffering in order to free ourselves from suffering has always baffled me.

There is another way. There is woman’s way. This woman’s way nurtures the body instead of strains it; Life stresses our bodies enough.  It involves community and connection and if you think it’s less challenging to be vulnerable in the company of others, ask anyone how they felt when they broke down in front of a group of people.  It involves yielding to what is, softening and embracing what Life throws our way.  I have always had a strong sense of this woman’s way in spirituality but I could never put it together the way Judith Duerk does in her magical book Circle of Stones:  Woman’s Journey to Herself:

How might your life have been different, if, as a young woman, there had been a place for you, a place where you could go to be among women…a place for you when you had feelings of darkness?…And, what if,…you knew that the [women] would come to be with you?  And would sit quietly by as you went into your darkness to listen to your feelings and bring them to birth…So that, over the years, companioned by the [women], you learned to no longer fear your darkness, but to trust it…

How might our spiritual practices be different if we began to weave more of this into the fabric?  I’m not saying one way is better than the other.  I am certainly saying that the women’s way settles more easily into my spirit; I am Woman after all.  But what amazing new things could come into our spirituality with a merging of both the feminine and masculine ways?  Imagine a spirituality based on balance.  Maybe that is the road to liberation!???

I don’t have the answer and maybe I never will.  I do think, however, I’ll leave Vipassana to the “cool kids” and give it a pass.  I think I’ll just settle my overworked mind and stressed-out body into the comfort of my women’s circle and work it out that way.  In the end, all roads lead to god anyway…right?  😉

Many blessings and much love,

Tabitha

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I have often thought a garden reflects the keeper’s state of mind.  I imagine that an overgrown, stressed-looking garden is kept by someone who has very little space in her life, or who is not coping well with the circumstances she faces.  A professionally tended, manicured, “perfect” garden belongs to an uptight, image-oriented man, or perhaps to someone who is prone to handing off responsibility for his life to someone else.

Recently I stepped out into my yard and could almost hear my heart break.  In the middle of May, autumn leaves still lay on the surface of many of the garden beds.  Weeds were throwing a party in there.  Grass had swarmed the edges so I wasn’t really sure where the lawn ended and the gardens began.  Every angle of this picture told the story of a woman who has been too long away from her land, too involved in other things, and not grounded in her work. It has been a tough year establishing my yoga business and working to understand who I am and how I operate within this business world.  Like the dense, compacted soil beneath my feet, my spirit has hardened making it difficult for new and beautiful things to grow.

This past weekend I waded through the piles of things stored for winter in the back of the garage, pulled out my favourite garden tools, and made my way to the patch underneath the now massive honey locust tree in the centre of the backyard.  I began digging and fluffing the earth, and pulling at the weeds, looking for signs of health and life within the soil.  With the sound of birds laughing overhead, I surged with joy at the sight of a fat earthworm; there was hope for this garden.  Did the same hold true for my heart?

As I continued tending to the patch of earth, my mind wandered and I began to realize how very much gardening is like meditation.  When I garden, I pull weeds and nourish the soil so that the new and beautiful life growing there has a chance to flourish.  I edge the beds drawing clear boundaries between what I want to happen in that space and what I don’t, and I move things around so they make better sense.  I notice the plants that have encroached on my garden from other yards and I decide which I will adopt and allow to remain, and of which I will dispose.  I create space for beauty to flood in.

The same holds true when I come to my meditation practice.  How long I’ve been away will tell me how many weed-thoughts are likely to have encroached on my mind.  Breathing in and out, I begin plucking at the thoughts that have overwhelmed my personal space, choking out any real possibility for clarity and evolution.  Like my garden’s plant invaders from other environments, I notice thoughts in my psyche that are not mine, seeds that have been planted by outside forces like family, friends, work connections and the culture-at -large, and that have taken root in my mind.  Which do I allow to stay and which do I remove?  In what way shall I edge and boundary the beds of my mind?  The choice is entirely mine.

By coming to my practice over and over again I become the gardener of my existence, creating an environment that allows the winds of enlightenment to blow through, and the colours of creation to light up the sky of my mind.  Gently inhaling and exhaling, I nudge out the dense thoughts that keep me downtrodden like cold, unmanaged soil; it is so much easier to do when the weed-thoughts are still small and less established.

The soil beneath the tree in my yard now looks fresh and fluffy, tender loving care having prepared it to properly sustain new life.  The boundaries around what stays and what goes are a bit more defined.  Bright pink and white flowers planted in the openings add colour and zing to the previously drab, sad space.  The splash of colour beneath the tree has painted a streak upon my soul.  Stepping forward into my life, I bring breath and awareness, the “earthworms” that signal a renewal and regeneration of the tender earth that binds me.   With a lightness of being, my laughter meets that of the birds and, together, we float through the sky–free.  The garden has shown me there is indeed hope for my heart as well.

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AWAKENING

by Tabitha Kot (2008)

Sitting innocently in my car,

weaving my way through rush hour traffic,

distracted and crunching on a tart Macintosh.

She silently, invisibly, slinks through the

sliver-crack

of my open window.

Gliding across the breadth of my shoulders,

licking Her way up the back of my neck,

She slides seductively across my jawline,

rises up to my ear and whispers, hotly:

Your life

is your sacred space.

 

And She is gone.

I blink once,

slowly,

deliberately.

My eyes open to a

whole

new

world.

She is in everything I see.

She is in everything I hear.

She is in all that I touch,

all that I taste,

all that I smell,

all that I know.

I see the jewel of the Goddess sparkling

in everything I behold.

The world becomes precious to me

in a heartbeat

with Her

in it.

I am home.

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Why have I never showcased my own creative writing in my blog?  It seems strange to have an open space dedicated to writing and expression and to remain in hiding.  So here is a poem that won Honourable Mention in The Ontario Poetry Society’s contest in 2008.

Longing II

I miss…

the north land in the summertime

rising glacial rock

enfolding

like a passageway through time

the ping-scent of pine and cedar

trees lending their needles

cushioning journeys on the land

the aching cry of the loon

haunting reminder of simpler times

I long for simplicity.

the vast expanse of sky

endless, breathtaking

ever-changing portal to mysteries

unknown

the canoe

rhythmically caressing water

cradled in the Ancient Ones’ hands

leading us Home

the hungry love made on the belly of the Mother

sacred energy

uniting

Creation

The absence leaves an echo in my heart.

I am longing.

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