Happy Mental Health Day. Pun intended.

I was working with my therapist on finding ways to manage failure.
She set the new goal and the system automatically set it to 0% accomplished.
I saw that and this default setting made me feel disappointed… so I clicked edit and I set it to 20%..
Phew. Now that feels like less of a failure.

***

#worldmentalhealthday 10.10.2020

Many people tell me that I am a positive person.
I’m usually smiling, sure.
I have a lot of joy and light in me.. double sure.
I sometimes look like I “have it together”…whatever that means.
Folks, let’s keep it real. please.
I also have a lot of shadow and challenges to work through. We all do.
I also struggle. a lot. I often feel my crazy mind and untamed emotions, just like most of us do.
I also have close family members who have suffered from depression and other, even more debilitating, mental illnesses.

This past year I have been in an intense grieving process after the death of my dad. I thought it would get easier after the first year. In many ways it’s getting more difficult and it’s calling upon reserves of patience and gentleness with myself that I’m not sure I have…

Mental health appears silent and unseen. Yet our attitude and state of mind determine our capacity to be alone, to be in relationship, to work effectively, to sleep well, to enjoy intimacy. How can anything get done if peace is not present?

Mental health is like the air we breathe.

Seemingly invisible, untouchable and yet when the air gets thin or unclean.. we are left gasping for breath, on our knees..

The things I feel that actually work to help balance my mental states?

1. spending time with people that I trust and talking it through. I grab the phone if those peeps aren’t close by.

2. morning practices – there are so many – but the point is to start off the day feeling like I’m caring for myself and my wellness – it can include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises (loving the Wim Hof exercises on YouTube!), morning pages journaling, dancing, singing… and more).

3. gratitude – and shifting perception to what I do have versus what I don’t have.

4. staying away from social media (yes, I know it’s ironic that I’m posting this to social media, but trust me, I set my app limits to no more than 10 minutes a day and I focus on spending my alive time in the here and now as much as possible!)

5. staying away from social media especially when I’m alone (versus with other people) – for some reason that seems to be key for me.

6. watching comedy. humour. laughter. –> long live our wonderful comedians. they change vibrations and gives us lighter air to breathe!

7. being mindful of what I consume in terms of music, entertainment, images and books. our minds and especially our subconscious remembers all of it. ALL. It kind of makes sense right, that I have nightmares after I watch gory or violent movies at night.. come on. I can do better than that. I can nourish my mind with more wholesome vibes.

You take time every single day to shower, brush your teeth. You do your best to eat wholesome food. You make sure you get quality sleep.
Good for you –> that is called physical hygiene.

But what about your mental and emotional hygiene?

  • Who can you forgive today? (what can you forgive yourself for?)
  • What can you let go of?
  • What can you meditate on to get to the root of the issue (usually fear and grief are there lying underneath it all)Where do you need to give yourself and others recognition?
  • Where can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the situation from their perspective?

THAT is just the beginning of –> emotional and mental hygiene.

It’s the daily practices that do it. It’s the check-ins with yourself and others. It’s the love, courageous fear-facing, giving ourselves time to fall apart and to put ourselves together again.
It doesn’t need to take a long time. Brushing your teeth only takes a few minutes twice a day.
I for one rather brush my teeth daily than rely solely on my once a year dentist’s visit. I know that once yearly wont cut it.
Just like a once yearly yoga retreat to “find myself” is not really what it’s all about (not to poo-poo on retreats, but stick with me on the dentistry metaphor…)

It’s about the every day feeling, being, appreciating, understanding and gently moving with the mystery..

Happy World Mental Health Day.
Pun intended.

To all of us heart warriors – I am with you.
We see you. We are as magnificent as we are fragile.

In fact, the truth is:
the more darkness and suffering you can endure (dare I say, embrace…) the greater your capacity to receive joy and pleasure.
Your capacity to love and feel the light deeply is equally proportionate to your ability to stay present with the shadow.

Wishing all of us balance, understanding to self and others and plenty of groundedness.

(featured photo – morning hike – flashback to Haiti 2014)

“Random” Acts of Kindness

I was going for a walk around my neighbourhood today. A pretty typical thing to do especially when you work at the computer. I needed to move the bones around and get the blood flowing. I was less on my phone and more present with my surroundings when I noticed the gate and the car. The two were trying to coordinate their dance of maneuvering and entering, and it was not going so well. I happened to walk by so I held the gate for the car, that is to say, for the gentleman driving the vehicle. We were both shocked. He was astounded that I had helped him (it’s not like I was busy doing anything else!) and I was surprised at how shocked he was. After our “thank yous” and “your welcomes” came to end, I continued on my walk and my musings.

Why should seemingly random help from strangers surprise us so? Do we always need to be in a give-take relationship with someone in order to help them?

What about that wonderful concept of the Universal Bank of Services? I first read about it in one of Paolo Coelho books. Simply put, the Bank of Services is an infinite, cosmic web of people helping people. And those people don’t necessarily know each other or have any particular ties to each other besides their shared humanity (FYI that’s already a big tie, hehe). Simply, we do good for others when we can. In return, when needed, we can also receive help in return. And we won’t always receive it from someone we know or thought would help us… sometimes it’s a random act of kindness.

To me it feels pretty freeing, and oh-so enjoyable.

Plus – when I’m on the receiving end of seemingly random kindness – I’m so much more willing to accept and invite it in. Because I’m regularly paying into the Universal Bank too. Maybe I haven’t helped or been present for that specific person who’s helping me, but I have for someone else and…. the cycle continues. It’s fun to think of how my brain is completely incapable of comprehending the vastness of this web!

Speaking of being present in the moment and simply doing what needs to be done, that does remind me of The Muddy Shoe post (flashback to Haiti! #ayitichéri)

That’s all for me. A miracle indeed that I was able to curb my ramblings to a relatively short post 🙂 I might consider that a random act of kindness too 😉

Judgment detoxification

Folks, I think it’s high time we stop it. We need to stop this foolishness. Judgment. Why are we judging each other constantly? Why am I judging myself constantly? When I know – and I know it deep down – that I am doing the best that I can every day. Yet I’m requiring more, asking more, thinking I should be more, comparing myself to others more… and it’s exhausting. I can barely breathe.

Today I feel like I’ve been trudging up this judgment mountain and I reached the peek. And I’m glad I’m here and I can see out around me but hell I have no desire to climb this mountain ever again. I’m done. This is done. I’ve had enough.

I have no desire to judge anyone any more. I don’t even want to pretend that I think I know why you are doing what you are doing. What the hell do I know? I’m not the one living in your skin and in your head and heart every day. I don’t know if walking outside and going to the supermarket has been the most trying task for you today, or whether it was easy and you didn’t think about it twice. I don’ t know where you’ve been and what you’ve been experiencing. I don’t know who or what you’re grieving for. I couldn’t tell you what the last event was that brought you joy. I don’t even know you. Yet here I sit with judgments about you flitting through my mind. Enough!

And do you know HOW I know that I don’t know you? Because I spend 24 hours a day WITH MYSELF (and have done so for several decades) and I barely know myself! My own reactions, thoughts and daydreams startle me! I recently experienced a panic attack, and that was a new experience. Heck, I even discovered a new vegetable last month (chicory) – ha! So if living in such close proximity to one human being – aka, me – is already rife with so many mysteries, discoveries and question marks – how on Earth can I pretend to know you?

…and don’t get me started on when I think I know what is best for you (inserts snorting laughter here)… because I have all my sh*t together, right? (ha!) and here I go telling you how to live your life (shakes head)…

The dictionary tells me that judgment is “the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion“.

I want to take that word ABILITY and throw it off the mountain top and lose it forever. Right now I’m thinking we can replace it for a while with the word DISABILITY. A crippling disability that we need to receive support for in order to overcome it.

The support system for our disability would also teach us 3 magic words: “JUST LIKE ME”. They would teach us that these need to be added as an afterthought to every judgment in order to nullify the negative effects of judgments.

Example:

“Wow – that guy is always on the go!”…and adding at the end “just like me

“Crikey, it looks like the government has no idea what its doing”…(clears her throat), “just like me.”

“That lady looks lovely, and she’s obviously been working out,” … (winks to self), “just like me!”

At the end of the day this disability called judgment is probably here to stay, much like covid-19, rats and paying taxes. Except in the case of this particular epidemic we are all already infected. There is no vaccine and there are only two known cures.

1. Stop yourself mid-act while passing judgment on someone else (you’ve got to be really quick on your toes for this one!)

2. Once you do judge… just add the 3 magic words… “just like me”

…and at least that way you’ll be reminded of your own folly and wonder and your humility will stay in check as you remember that hey, you too, are most likely just as messy, fascinating and unpredictable like all of those other people.

Oh yeah, and those three words will help to soothe the heartache. Because when we judge we separate ourselves from others. Did you know that?

Ok. That was quite the mountain-top soapbox speech. I’m done now. I can breathe again now. I’m climbing back down to humans once again now.

Once I’ll get there I’ll have a green juice and I’ll make it official: I’m on judgment detox.

*featured image courtesy of BBC.

The Subtle Art of Relaxation

I gaze at my candle, at my sacred images and objects, a mishmash of cultures and references that are all significant to me. There’s a quote from the Little Prince, my recent Osho card drawn from my deck, a photo of me when I’m four years old laughing over something which was obviously hilarious. There’s a heartfelt letter from me to me up there too (more on writing letters to self coming soon!). And there are other important objects present on the simple, wooden platform that serves as my alter. A Ganesha button from my yoga teacher training, a beautiful rock with purple crystals from Senegal gifted to me by my best friend. A maple leaf coaster lies underneath the candle and incense gently snakes its way around it all while filling the room with the bitter sweet fragrance of palo santo. Kora music plays from one of my favourite Youtube recordings (check it out here, especially the piece that unfolds starting at 38:38!).

I feel myself smiling, relaxing and breathing deeper. Finally, the stresses and overstimulation of the day melt away. Much like the candle flame is slowly melting away the wax.

And I take a moment to muse about the subtle art of relaxation.

So normal for some of us, and so foreign to others. As anything, it is a question of practice.
In my travels I have found that in general (and yes, this is a major generalization), the people and cultures of the South (I’m thinking latinos, the Caribbean, Africans) are far more relaxed than their colder, Northern counterparts. In some ways they are also further along the Zen path of simply being and accepting what is (and goodness do I admire folks like that!) Granted, the heat has something to do with that, because, let’s face it: when it’s hot all you want to do is lie next to (or in) a pool and sip sweet drinks with umbrellas sticking out of them. But what about when we find ourselves far from a pool, in the cool of winter, and in our “daily grind” and with no time or thought allotted to relaxation?

I truly believe that relaxation is as essential to our well-being as good, nutritious food, quality sleep and loving relationships. And yet, how many of us really work at honing this art of relaxation? How many of us can afford to take a moment to breathe deeply, settle into the here and now and enjoy the sights, smells and sounds (and thoughts!) that soothe our souls?

We talk about experimenting with different diets to see what feels good in our bodies. We’ve opened up the dialogue sexually to explore what brings pleasure to ourselves and to our partners.

But what about when it’s just you, and you have some time, even if it’s only 15 minutes, and you want to relax and unwind. Are you able to do so? Honestly, sometimes watching yet another movie or TV show just doesn’t feel right. Certainly, perusing my phone for the 30th time that day and opening Instagram does not feel relaxing at all. Not when something essential inside is prodding me to take time for me, truly to be with me, and to relax and ease my way into an evening.

You may tell me that you are too busy for this. That relaxation is a luxury reserved for few. And indeed, our high-speed modernity has turned anything time consuming and enjoyable into a sought after commodity. Yet, I argue that relaxation, and its art of enjoyment, has its place in our wellness regimen also.

As this on-point article about slowing down to reduce stress from Psychology Today points out: “Many people live in a constant state of high alert and high anxiety—sympathetic nervous system arousal—even though there’s no immediate threat. Three of the recognized causes for this are our fast-paced, never-enough-time-to-do-everything lifestyle; sensory overload (exacerbated by multitasking); and the media’s distorted but relentless suggestion that danger lurks around every corner. The parasympathetic nervous system—the system that produces a calm and relaxed state—is underactive. By stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, we can restore the balance. With that balance restored, we naturally slow down our pace of life.”

Relaxation does encourage us to slow down. It doesn’t mean that if we slow down we’re going to suddenly do everything slower. Fear not, your go-go energizer bunny self can still re-emerge the following day. But in order for bunny to keep giving.. give it a chance to unwind, to breathe deeper, and to allow your whole system – body, mind and soul – to recharge.

Can you visualize that whirling download spiral that spins around when you’re downloading a large file? The one you gaze at absentmindedly while waiting for your document/video/zip file to save into Downloads. Yup, that one. Take a moment to recognize that your system – your mind and body – are also downloading and processing everything that you’ve been thinking and doing and the people you’ve been interacting with during this past day and week. It takes time, you need some time. Ask yourself if you can give yourself permission to slow down, even if just a little.

–> Recognize that every time you take time for you, and for your own self-care, you are also serving the other people around you, those that you take care of,  that look up to you, the ones that need you. <–

Relax. Breathe deep…and start honing the subtle art of your own relaxation practice. Please also take the time to report back and let us know how it goes!

p.s. want to hear about one of the amazing side-effects of slowing down and relaxing? When practiced regularly it opens up space inside of you and welcomes in creativity. Creativity is much like water.. it needs some space and room to flow and move. Relaxation provides that necessary space. While relaxing you may find yourself reaching for your pencil crayons and doodling. Your hips may move involuntarily as you begin to dance. You may want to sing a song. You may reach for your notebook and write down some new ideas for that work project you’ve been stuck on.

Or, lo and behold…

you may reach for your laptop and start writing… which, in case you were wondering, is exactly how this post came to be! 🙂

*** image courtesy of Pxhere.com

Sundays in Dakar

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip the horses’ hooves made echoing noises on the pavement as the thin man with his tired nag trotted smartly forward, pulling a simple wooden platform piled high with cement bricks. The horse-drawn cart was more audible than usual because the neighbourhood was quieter than usual, but that’s because it was Sunday. The most wonderful day of the week.

Practically every day is a day of the sun in Senegal, but Sundays in Dakar in particular were her favourite days. All week long the Senegalese and the expats battled laziness and the heat to move projects forward. For things did move forward here even if they moved forward slowly and sluggishly and with great attention to salutations, politeness and gentle speech. Things moved forward diplomatically, and there was great pride in the local people for their great skill of peaceful, unhurried living.

«You have wrist watches, and we have time» Africans were quick to chide Westerners. And yet the dark continent is far from immune to the capitalistic drums of progress. All week long offices filled, countless emails were sent and the relentless traffic expounded fumes and frustration. Civilization always felt like an improvised dance in Senegal; haphazard beige buildings reflected neither good architecture or Arab aesthetics but attempted to imitate both, with no more than square cement bricks and sweating, thin black bodies to erect them. The too narrow roads were shared by lorries, horse-drawn carts, motorcycles and cars alike with the occasional herd of cattle passing through. Dakar was like a village. Actually, it was like multiple villages that happened to come together and call themselves a city. Once the French administration brought in their language, bureaucracy and paperwork they then began to call it a capital.

Sundays in Dakar felt to her like a respite from the pretense of looking busy. The sheep bleeted as they always do, and at this time of the year, approaching a major Muslim holiday, there were several living on her neighbour’s rooftop terrace. The stupid, helpless «baaaahhh» sounds they coughed up carried therefore even better on the gentle breeze. She wondered how long they had to live before their throats were deftly slit and the meat divided among family and friends. They did this at the shore by times and little rivers of blood would merge with the waves.

The ocean was only a few hundred feet away, in fact, they were surrounded by it on many sides. It gave her the sensation that she too was like one of the many falcons soaring above and come to perch for a rest just inside the shore. She had come to stay for a while, to find refuge in the warmth, the sand and the easy-going smiles there. She ruffled her feathers and sank a little deeper into her perch with a gentle sigh.

«Kraawww, krawww» huge ravens circled together with the ravens on the terrace just one story above. From where she was sitting on her balcony, her feet on a small wooden table and her knees curled up to her chest she admired the scene. The clip-clop of the horse going by was a regular addition to the symphony of sound. Only two stories separated her from the music. Men and women, but mostly women, moved up and down the street this morning, heading towards one of the small boutiques perhaps to buy some bread slathered with a bit of mayonnaise from a huge container or some Kinkeliba herbal drink doused with sugar, or both. They called «Salam Aleekum»s and «Na nga def»s to each other as was custom here. With amusement she would perk up her ears and observe two people walking towards each other on the street below. They would begin with the preliminary hellos as mentioned while still across from each other, and then they would pass, without missing a beat in their conversation, and continue walking forward, away from each other while asking more questions and sharing greetings «Naka waa ker gi» (how are things at home) and «Yann gi si jamm» («are you in peace» translating to another way of saying «how are you») with replies of «jamm rekk» («only peace» essentially meaning «I am fine»). The distance now grew greater between these friendly exchanges, their voices slightly rising. This seamless action of moving, flowing, speaking and greeting was unhurried and uninterrupted. There was a satisfaction in speaking, in making sound, in adding ones voice to the ambient noises already present. It was a confirmation that one was, one was present, one had risen, one had been reborn from sleep to see another day. Alhamdoulillah! As the falcons screeched, the sheep bleeted, and the horses clip-clopped, the people added their own throaty Wolof to the mix. A car engine brought a punctuation as the vehicle turned into the pavement in a cloud of sand. A man below had begun to chant Muslim prayers and his strong voice carried far. This was the unhurried babble of a Sunday morning.

Her other senses thus nourished, a sumptuous breakfast added now to the satisfaction of her stomach. Fried eggs, fresh baguette and a tomato salad were rounded off with a big cup of coffee and a pain au chocolat. She had fetched the pastry for herself in the morning glad as always to slip on her sandals and take a walk in the warm, sandy streets and admire the blooming flowers and bougainvilles. Stray cats and dogs meandered about the low-rise buildings and small villas in a detached, friendly fashion. She took the side ways which meant little to no honks from passing taxis trying to catch a fare and no begging children approaching her with outstretched hands. That, in itself, was respite.

Her breakfast finished, she checked the time. It was a little past 10:00am and the neighbourhood was slowly waking up around her. She wondered with satisfaction if indeed all that was needed for a moment of happiness was a full belly and warmth in her body. Reaching for a good book and the cup of coffee she thought to herself that life really was quite comfortable, quite enjoyable, and that clichés about people and places were very silly. «We certainly have the good life here» she thought to herself and settled into her chair just an inch deeper. «But best we not spread the word about it too far and wide» she added to herself with a playful half-smile.. «otherwise they’ll flood this place with tourists and we’ll have no more peace on a Sunday.»

Clip-clop, clip-clop another horse trotted up the street once again, this time with more oomph and purpose to her step. The people were up and the day had begun.

***

Image courtesy of Talk Foreign to Me.

Africa is born within you

I’m going inside.
The cold means an internal and an external “turning within” – to fire and hearth, to bundles of scarves and wool. There’s a subtle tenseness to the skin, as we turn towards our innermost thoughts.
Good thing I’ve made inside of myself a safe place to be.
The first cold we feel is the crisp, too-cool air in the plane. I’m seated in an aisle seat somewhere above the Sahara by night as we move from South to North.

It makes the skin turn inside itself searching for the warmth of the pumping veins.
The Heart is first and foremost an instrument of survival.
It’s a sensation I had forgotten. This crawling of cold on skin.
It is familiar,
yet unfamiliar.
there is a newness in this re-experience of the bite.
I choose to welcome it. Explore its layers.
Finding solace in an involuntarily pumping organ distributing warmth throughout the body.
The end of my nose had not been cold in many moons.
I hesitate to make my next request, but I don’t hesitate for long.
Hot tea and a blanket please.
The warm liquid and the covers wrapped close help the cold nose, and overall, the situation. I push my body deeper into the seat.
One needs to ease the tropically adapted self back into Northern realities.

“We are not born in Africa, Africa is born in us.”

I’ve heard this before.

The fire that burns through my veins today is not the same as years before.

It is fueled by the human, sun warmth of the dark continent where bodies relax, sink closer to the Earth and ease into each other.
This mighty talisman is the gift I carry out of that life school of several years of patient studies. There are no certificates given, no external accolades.
…but it’s towards this light that my skin turns inward now to seek nourishment from this far deeper layer of warmth. The only warmth that can soothe right up to the soul.

I find that my blood serves me better now that it is connected to the very cradle of life. It pumps my True North.

The Pancha-what? First trip to an Indian Ashram.

How does one summarize 2 weeks  experience of a first-time in India, first-time in an Ashram and first-time doing a Panchakarma program?
With a first-rate smile, I hope.

First, let’s define the terms we’ll be referring to:

1. India, in this case the deep south-west, the province of Kerala. After flying into Trivanandrum (also known as Thiruvananthapuram – I dare you to say that 10 times fast) we take a one hour taxi ride to a village where there is a Sivananda Ashram sitting next to a gigantic river that looks like a lake and where apparently crocodiles abound and tigers can be heard roaring in the surrounding lush greenery. Inside the Ashram everything is peaceful, safe and very orderly. Schedules are set and almost everything is repeated twice daily – morning and evening satsang (which includes meditation, chanting, lectures and more chanting), morning and evening meals, and morning and afternoon yoga (asana) practice. In between our Ashram schedule our group follows the Panchakarma treatments. The Pancha-what? Pour yourself some warm drinking water and read on.

2. Panchakarma, is an Ayurvedic (a sister-science to yoga, Ayurveda is India’s branch of traditional medicine) detoxification program which goes in 3 steps. First, for 5-7 days, you go through a series of daily massages, scrubs and steam-bath treatments all meant to drive toxins into your GI tract for further elimination. Starting from Day 1 we all go on a twice daily calorie-limited, veggies and rice dominant, gentle meal plan. We drink herbal teas twice daily, and in between meals, if you’re like me, you feel empty, light and hungry. Which is fine because you meander your way over to yoga practice, attempt a headstand, do some meditation, have a scrub and then lie down for a nap. After the first week starts the elimination of toxins from the GI tract and this is achieved primarily through: one day of drinking castor oil + medicine (easily the most disgusting thing I have ever swallowed in my life) which cleans your gut out thoroughly, followed by several days intermittent small-oil enemas and larger-herbal enemas. Yup, that’s right, this involves having various fluids put up your bum and running quickly to the loo. The third part of the cleanse happens outside of the clinic (and in our case, the Ashram) as you follow up the treatment by keeping to a restricted veggie diet, and do your best to avoid coffee, wine, cheese, bread and all of the other culinary joys that life holds for at least 2 weeks to a month*.

3. The Ashram. Is a place of peace and spiritual retreat. They also run a tight ship with a strict schedule. See point no. 1 for the general schedule.

We were lucky in that several days after our arrival there was a separate dormitory space designated for us Panchakarma ladies, and since many of our fellow detoxifiers had private rooms, these dorms were pretty empty and peaceful and just for us. That put me at ease for the shitty part of our program because at least in this way I didn’t have to disturb my fellow yoga vacationers with my personal orchestra of sounds and smells.

I would recommend spending time at an Ashram for anyone looking for a place of retreat far from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Requirements: adaptability to a strict schedule, open-mindedness to questions of religion and faith (if you’re singing “Jaya Ganesha, Shree Ganesha, Siva Guru etc.” and feeling at odds with the God of your own religion, then this is not the place for you) and a general good, positive attitude. The Internet is limited, the lush-greenness ever present and the opportunities for meditation and reflection abundant. You’ll also need to get used to doing yoga in loose-fitting clothing since tights and what we in the West would normally classify as yoga clothes are not allowed.

I loved being there and soaking in the meditative vibes (except for the evening satsang and meditation which was misery for me as I would consistently fall asleep!) and some of the realities of the Ashram life were also quite amusing:

– while at morning meditation, in my attempts to practice Ahimsa (non-violence) I transformed myself into a living mosquito buffet as I was besieged by our buzzing brothers. They went for many of us seated there that morning, undiscriminating in their choice of breakfast. Initially, I hesitated to slap and squelch. While my survival instinct is strong I admit there was something that felt very sacrilegious about killing anything in an ashram temple surrounded by the smiling images of the divine (wave hello to Krishna!). So I grinned and bore it, that first time, and 40 mosquito bites later I abandoned all pretense at meditation. Every time after that I doused myself in deep forest mosquito repellent beforehand in order to save my exhausted mind from early morning philosophical dilemmas

– our Ayurveda doctors strictly forbade the consumption of sugar and caffeine, a restriction that was made troublesome by the offering of morning post-meditation masala chai tea (oh heavenly beverage!) and crunchy cookies and other goodies coming fresh from blessings at the alter, then offered to the participants. Many a time we would go up for our cookie and receive raised eyebrows in return since some of the staff knew that we were following a Panchakarma program. We would then have to convince them to hand the cookie over while reassuring them that we were fully aware that the cookie was not allowed. I savoured every little morsel of that forbidden sweetness! I’ve never felt less guilty about breaking the rules since I considered this treat my reward for waking up so darn early.

– while attempting a dynamic sun-salutation during asana practice and tripping over my loose-fitting pants between lunges. I’ve found a new appreciation for my lululemon leggings which, alas, were obliged to lay peacefully in my backpack for the duration of the trip.

In other news, here’s a snarky tidbit written during our flight back to Paris while enjoying airplane insomnia:

Ah, the wonders of yoga. I knew it would have practical, real-life applications. Ever mindful of my sleeping neighbours, squished as I am in my seat between dozing Indians somewhere between 4 and 5 am flying above Saudi Arabia, I tap a friend in the seat diagonally up and left of mine so that he evacuates his spot. I then am free to perform feats of flexibility as I crawl above seats and sleeping passengers to release myself from my human sandwich and go pee. And Stretch. I’ve been watching an excellent French comedy and while I’ve been chortling at the ludicrous situations the movie characters are playing out I’m reflecting on the past two weeks and seeing my own hilarity much more clearly. Panchakarma, the Ashram and all of our personalities combined have written quite the screenplay.

I hear a tinkle of glasses in the elite class in front of the plane and imagine the Champagne pouring. Good thing we’re not flying business after all since we are not allowed to drink a drop of alcohol for at least a month after our Panchakarma detoxifying program. The Panchakarma treatment is quite restrictive in what we can and can not eat and do. Mostly they recommend lots of rest and napping. Once you digest the instructions you start to wonder at the irony of actually paying to travel to India in order to:

– eat bland ayurvedic food instead of delicious Indian cuisine (just kidding, it really wasn’t that bad, but just a bit repetitive)

– avoid the sunshine and sunbathing (not allowed in Panchakarma). Five extra points to us for travelling to India during rainy season.

– avoid swimming in cold water and taking cold showers (well, quite frankly, I wasn’t too sure of the local crocodile population in the river anyhow, so…)

– have medically induced diarrhea

(yes, you read correctly, I traveled thousands of miles to a tropical country to pay a doctor in order to get the runs, on purpose). 

The lip-curling, ironic parts of this trip are dripping like honey on my coconut chapati. I actually burst out laughing a few times startling my fellow airplane passengers out of their sleep. Oops.

As I watch the minutes count down to our descent into Paris I wonder just how well our group will do with keeping to the doctor’s orders of no-meat, no-alcohol, no-caffeine and no-bread. I remember nodding keenly during our final consultation and swearing fidelity to the program for the 14-days following our stay in India, as prescribed. But with every minute we speed towards the land of savoury wines, fresh baguettes and over 1000 varieties of cheese. How on Earth will we see our Panchakarma through to the end? Since Pancha means five, in sanscrit, and karma means action, once we land I’m counting to five and taking action at the first boulangerie that I see*!

* It’s 6 days post-Ashram and I’m happy to report that our entire group has failed spectacularly in this last step. Sorry Doctor Vishnu, but the realities and temptations of France were too much to handle! Nevertheless, for me personally, keeping a mostly caffeine and meat free diet and continuing with daily yoga and meditation still keeps my mind and body feeling very good.

Running Water

When the water don’t flow the day feels incomplete. I walk around my single room flat with the incense I burn before I sleep and it and the flames of the candles show me imbalance – we have fire but we have no water. Running water that is. Of course I have reserve water. No fool am I and this is not my first water cut. I am the proud owner not only of 100L of reserve tap water hiding about the flat and the balcony in 10 x 10L water jugs, but I am also the proud owner of a sure-made choice. And the choice is this: if I have to choose between a power cut or a water cut I’ll take power cut every time. Obviously having neither is ideal and having both at once is incredibly inconvenient. But the truth is that I kind of like power cuts, as long as my iPhone has a bit of extra juice and my playlists are accessible. I enjoy sitting around candlelight. I loved that one time during a black out that we sat with my friend and her two boys in her kitchen and spent an hour making hand puppet shadows on the wall against the candlelight. I love it when Dakar is allowed in this way to finally settle back into village mode. It’s as if all of the electronic machines and lamps and wifi and computers were all switched on to please the Gods of Advancement and the Deities of Development but once switched off, through no power or choice of our own, we are all finally allowed to be our restful selves and settle comfortably into our soft darkness. We can focus on just being and there is no use of pretending we’re keen on moving because without the electricity there isn’t much doing anyways. Occasional power cuts are a relief and a joy as long as you have some candles on hand and the aforementioned smartphone battery juice.  And they serve as a great reminder of our dependence on all of these modern comforts and gadgets. What’s more, if you’re like me and you don’t even have a fridge or a freezer then you’re doubly unconcerned about your frozen dinners defrosting too soon and icky food water beginning its slow dripping from your appliances. Nope, during a short power-cut, you’re right as rain.

Now a water cut is nothing like a power cut because water is essential to life and you never even realize how often you reach for the tap and sink during the same day until you realize there’s nothing coming out of the nozzle.

When everything stops flowing I think of the ocean just a 5 min. walk away and I’m glad that no one, not the SDE (Senegalaise des Eaux), not the president, the UN, not anybody, can turn the waves off. And I’m somewhat encouraged by the thought that if my 100L runs out too quickly, I would at least be able to shower in the sea. And I’d fill up my empty 10L containers with salt water and traipse back into the well-lit electrified apartment.  It would be a new experience washing my dishes with salt water, but I would think it funny and interesting. At least for a time.

The SDE has announced that it’s a city wide, perhaps even country wide water cut but that it shouldn’t last more than 24 hours. I’m sure they have to say that regardless of how long they actually think that it will take to solve their problem. I use my reserve water hesitatingly because I don’t fully trust that the water will be back on tomorrow. I feel my self switch into a deeper patience mode. This cut becomes another layer of waiting, the layer that’s lathered on top of the current Ramadan waiting game. Now the Muslims among us must wait not only to eat and to drink but to bathe with running water also. God knows that’s asking a lot especially considering the recommendations in the Koran for ablutions to be performed with flowing and moving water. There are specific instructions to steer clear, if possible, of stagnant water. Maybe one Muslim can run alongside another one with some stagnant water while the dude washes and they can call it running water and they will laugh about it and it will be OK. Maybe God will crack a smile and show his sense of humour too.

All I know is that when the water don’t flow it’s as though my own blood is flowing more slowly and my own life is on hold. I feel like sitting down for a very long meditation and practicing my patience. I sure as hell don’t feel like doing anything creative or original. I think twice before breaking a sweat knowing a bucket shower would follow. Aint enough flow in my bones to come up with any half-decent, half-cooked or half-baked idea at this point anyways. I go to sleep with fingers crossed that the water will flow again in the morning, and when I wake up, move to the bathroom and turn on the tap, it splutters and gurgles out, and a warm sense of contentment and reassurance trickles over me.

We’re back in the flow.

No, Thank You, I’m allergic.

Just found this little pearl of a personal note from the end of last year, when I was clearly experiencing a classic case of Africa-fatigue …a malady which manifests in my person every so often with symptoms of abundant and exasperated sarcasm.
17.10.2018 – Thiès – Day 3
Because you’ve heated up water on the stove which you’ve then poured into a 10L water jug as you drag it to the bathroom where the cold water drizzling out of the shower head makes a stream so pathetic that you can barely wash your body and you definitely can’t wash your hair in it…hence the 10L water jug.
Because you’re still disgusted by roaches, but by now you just grab your shoe and smash the bastards when and where you meet them in the kitchen. Walls, countertops or the floor : you name it, I’ll smash it. I usually keep one shoe handy close to the kitchen.
Then again, I impressed my Senegalese roommate once by smashing baby roaches with the soft underside of my fist. A shoe was not handy but my fist sure was.
Side note, if you paid me money I wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night to go to the kitchen because I know very well that darkness is when those beasties are on their biggest prowl.
OK, fair enough, it depends on how much money 😉
Because everything is slow and inconvenient.
Because people don’t understand the concept of customer service. I’m sure the term doesn’t even exist in Wolof.
Because you try to be friendly with the locals and you’re taking so much time and effort to learn their local language (deprived though it may be of terms relating to customer service), and you’re still getting nowhere.
And when every dose of friendly is construed as flirting and turns into questions about your husband, you sigh.
Exasperated.
It is just so annoying.
I liked my reaction today when I refused the free, hot (and very random) milk they were giving out in the street. Milk?
Like, is this a new, NGO milk campaign???
I told them I was allergic.
I’m not allergic.
I used to be allergic, but I’m not anymore.
but the thing is that allergic is an excellent reminder of a high-quality excuse.
“hello, would you like some goat meat now.”
me: “No, thank you, I’m allergic”
Which is not true. I’m almost vegetarian. We haven’t had a free street campaign on that yet, so it takes a long time to explain what it is. The concept of not eating meat is about as foreign here as wall-to-wall carpeting. I say that I’m not actually a vegetarian, I’m more like a vegephile.
What’s a vegephile?
It means that I really love vegetables.
Almost more than I love my future husband.
Sarcasm generously dripping.
“hello, do you have a husband yet”… now I’m thinking I’ve found a new answer : “No, I’m allergic.”
I make a tight fist with my right hand and poke my left index finger into the fleshy side while admiring how firm and soft it is.

Knock knock

When you work for an African NGO in a small town where all of your colleagues are your only social circle and thankfully there are a few who you actually want to be friends with.

I hear a tentative knock-knock on my bedroom door around 10pm. Sure we have been roommates now for close to a month but we keep to our privacy. To our semblance of a normal life. We try to keep our crazy laughter and endless discussions to the kitchen and the living room. This bedroom knock knock is a first.

I invite her in throwing a casual “I don’t bite” in French to encourage her tentative entry. She holds out a neatly pair of folded thongs. My own thongs. She tells me “I found these in my laundry”.

Peels of laughter ensue. N. continues. “Actually, I found them one time, but then I put them away and when the cleaning lady returned she put them in my laundry again. So I took this as a sign that she thinks they belong in this house. So I figured they must be yours.”

Me, in my head, thinking to myself that the only other roommates we have had here have been men, the CTO and a Development Manager, folks who come and stay for a week or so at a time. They certainly don’t wear pale blue with white speckles thongs. At least I hope they don’t.

P.S. I’m also secretly relieved that it’s my pretty panties she’s found not the faded, grey grannie bloomers that I also like to wear on an I’m-feeling-icky day. Phew.

Two silent minutes ensue.

Knock-knock I hear again on my door. I ask N. what the trouble is this time.

“I’m wondering if perhaps you have any of my panties?”

Considering she’s a specialist in data quality and audit it makes perfect sense that she found one anomaly in our laundry stacks and then prudently checked to see if the reverse might be true also. But I had to find my breath again after our laugh attack before arriving at that intelligent conclusion.

I make sure that my colleague does in fact have clean underwear for tomorrow (sometimes I find that I push my HR duties just a little too far), and I let her know that I haven’t yet found clothes or underclothes in my laundry that don’t belong to me.

I’m not fussed, as long as no one gets their knickers in a knot.

Sweat and Smile more: it’s October in Senegal

It’s that month of the year in Senegal when we all secretly wish we could exit the country – it’s October. It’s our month when we endure the heat and humidity of the rainy season but without the welcome breaks that come with the coolness of the rains. In short, it’s hot and humid all the time, no exceptions. Average daily bathing frequency increases to 2-3 times although considering that your skin is constantly sticky it’s hard to tell the difference between wet-just-came-out-of-the-shower and wet-I-just-woke-up-in-the-morning. I’ve always admired the people who look cool and collected during this time, as I myself feel like a soggy sponge. I can only assume these cool people live in a universe of air-conditioners while the rest of us have to make-do as best we can. You can fight it or you can embrace it. Here is a handy 6-step guide on how to meet the heat head-on: just sweat more.

1. Are you of Eastern European origins (aka. Polish, Russian) and/or you love drinking hot tea every day regardless of the season? Well, you’re in luck. Someone, somewhere once said that drinking hot beverages in hot weather actually cools you down (ummm.. ok..) but while that theory remains questionable rest assured you will sweat more with a mug of hot tea between your hands and in your belly. You’ll pay for your tea addiction however with a follow-up shower.

2. Turns out in fact just eating and drinking alone is enough to make you sweat more. Are you hungry? Option one is to bring a towel to mop up your face as you tuck into your breakfast. Isn’t it fascinating how you can literally feel the droplets of sweat appear on your skin as your metabolism churns and burns and extracts all of the lovely caloric energy from what you ingest? Yay for you. Just don’t lean in too far over the breakfast table and drip sweat from your chin into your coffee mug. Option two: fast. You can always tell people you’re making up a few of your fasting days that you missed during Ramadan.

3. Are you without A/C at night and eager to feel a fan’s gentle breeze on your naked body as you lie down in a subtle pool of your own sweat? Unless you’ve found that wonderful, silent fan (which every time I call the sellers in Dakar they tell me is sold out…) equip yourself with ear plugs if you’re not used to the fan noise. But, rest assured, you can always turn it off and splash along happily and silently in your sweat as you attempt to get some shut-eye. Waking up with a cold, tired, clammy feeling on the back of your neck and in your hair is a unique, character-building experience that should be lived by everyone at least once.

4. Do you love working out? Me too. and it just so happens that the best time to work out right now is at noon or 1pm when the sun and heat reach their zenith. Bring a towel (or 3) with you to the gym as you mop up your face, arms, and any exposed skin regularly every 30 seconds. You may even want to bring a second set of workout clothes as your first set will quickly be wet to the last stitch. Going pee between cardio and weight-lifting never took so long as you unroll your tight work-out pants down your thighs, do your thing, and then roll the soggy material back up  your body. It’s so sexy. Also, make sure you consume several liters of water while you workout to make sure you’re not drying up on the inside.

5. Get used to giving and receiving sweaty hugs with your friends. If sweaty hugs make you embarrassed you might even sweat a little more. Yay!

6. Do you love yoga? So do I! The great thing about October in Senegal is that Bikram yoga is free and it’s everywhere (and some might say it’s somewhat unavoidable). Enjoy your scorching rooftop yoga practice as you slip and slide around on your mat. Hold that side plank for 3 breaths now. Don’t mind your downward facing dog if your hands and feet slip beyond the edges of your sloppy mat. Never practiced Bikram before? Me either. But they tell me it’s done in 35-38 degrees Celcius conditions which sounds really cool and refreshing right now.

Cheer up folks. Sweat is 99% water (and 1% other stuff?) so as long as you stay hydrated and humble you’ll move through this phase of living in a wet and humid world gracefully. It’s a special time, so let’s enjoy it. Cold showers never felt so good. Face towels will save your face (literally and socially speaking) and shaving your head if you’re a woman sounds really appealing right now. Just keep your patience and your hair on, and this too shall pass.

Making inside of yourself a safe place to be

As I embark soon on a new adventure to a new place, one which is very likely to be less comfortable and entertaining from a Western perspective than my previous home base, I feel completely at peace with my decision. Driving around Calgary yesterday morning I imagined chatting with a local teenager about my choice and explaining to them the amenities that I will soon be without as I settle into typical town life in a West African country. There will be no shopping malls, no cinema, very little diversity in restaurant food and certainly no luxuries such as Apple Stores and Cirque du Soleil. I’m visualizing instead sunlight, warmth, a simple home with a simple office and some dusty roads to get from one to the other*. These images brings ease to my heart. I could imagine however that it would make my hypothetical teenager cringe in distaste. She would then turn to me, bewildered, asking “How the hell are you going to survive out there ?!?” wondering why on Earth I would choose to move to a place like this, and do it willingly.

When I think of the many forms of entertainment and distractions that my Canadian reality currently offers me, I consider why they exist in the first place. For some reason, ever since I’ve arrived back here from Africa earlier this summer, the topic of mental health here in Canada has often been on my mind and shared in discussions. I am told that after an economic downturn when Calgarians were earning the big bucks working for oil & gas firms there has been a slump, many lay-offs and consequently many people moving from a place of personal financial power to what can be seen as a fall in the ranks. They are dealing with life’s ups and downs, as we all do, and some are letting go of how things used to be with less grace than others. Depression and its extreme cousin, suicide, have already been present for a long time, and now, or so I am told, they are finding a stronger foothold. Calgary has been an economic powerhouse for many Canadians (and many immigrants) and has drawn people from outside of the province for a long time. Migration for the chance of better economic conditions happens all the time and everywhere, and it can also bring with it a lacking sense of community and belonging. If so many of us are from somewhere else and we have all essentially gathered here in the pursuit of the dollar, does this common purpose actually bring us together in any real, community-building way?

Human beings desire meaningful and lasting relationships with other human beings. No amount of facebooks, instagrams or facetimes can ever substitute our basic human needs as the social creatures that we are. If you think they can then I think that you are kidding yourself. Yes the online tools can be useful in so far as we can share basic communication and ideas with those who are far away, and with those who are nearby, at least in my humble opinion, they can serve to plan an actual face to face meeting.

Art, literature, entertainment, great food and beautiful shows can add richness and beauty to our lives, yet whether or not they can be a part of our long-term happiness depends on why we reach for them in the first place. Our own emotions and experiences of life can feel so overwhelming at times that all we want to do is to escape, and for that, I am unhappy to report, we have already found a million and one solutions. Consider every addiction ever heard of and every experience where we are stimulated and lose all sense of time – and therein we have found an escape. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m saying we need to be aware of it, and to be aware of why we are doing it. Escape once, escape twice and continue reaching for something to numb that which is alive and real in you and you are in many ways cheating yourself. This can be a calculated cheating and please believe me when I express my heartfelt empathy for all those facing huge losses and traumas in their lives. Nevertheless, my attention comes back to whether or not what are doing is done with awareness and if, with that awareness, we can begin to glimpse the consequences of these escapes. The less we feel safe with what is present now in life, the less that we can trust in a mysterious unfolding of events that so often we can not comprehend, the less we feel safe within ourselves.

What I felt like saying yesterday in this conversation with the Canadian teenager in my head, is that what allows me to live in places devoid of what some people might consider good living and good entertainment is that I have created – and I continue to create – safety within myself to be with myself. I realize now that any practice I have ever practiced in being gentle with myself, in being kind and considerate with myself in any struggle that I am facing has created a place of softness and relaxation within me. This softness allows me to breathe, if even just a little or for just one second more, and to be with myself as I am and to be in peace. If a situation still feels overwhelming I can choose to escape into a movie, a book, take a trip or grab a bottle of red and go dancing (yup, sometimes it’s the best solution!) then I do so consciously and not without acknowledging that I have taken the time, sometimes nothing more than a short minute, to practice finding safety within myself first. Practice, practice and practice more and what unfolds is a mind and an internal universe which is a place of comfort. It is a place where I happily go and I visit it not to judge, hurt and scream at myself but instead it is where I retreat inside to find understanding, to connect with peace and, as is often the case, simply to breathe, accept and to let it be. This place has become sacred and, over time, even enjoyable so that when I’m done connecting within and I’m reaching for entertainment I reach much more often now for that which will add beauty to this internal universe as opposed to reaching for something or someone who will help me to escape it.

Up to now I never fully considered what all of the readings and teachings in buddhism, yoga and meditation – everything that I learn and practice which rings so true in my heart about surrender, acceptance, non-violence and non-stealing – would really mean when put together. What I have recently discovered is that this trust in the Divine, the trust that I have in my own path and the understanding of how things truly are coming together to form an internal place of safety and light that serves me in any time and through any storm. And because this special place is within myself and always present I take it with me everywhere that I go.

I can only add that I would wish such a place of safety would be uncovered and accessible inside each and every person.

**

*That’s not to say that markets and musical concerts and shows in my African town don’t exist, because they do, but they certainly won’t be presented in the same way as we would expect it in Canada. This makes them interesting, yes, but rarely restful.

Image: practicing a 3-legged dog at yoga teacher training in Canada, summer of 2018. Photo credit to Inspired Yoga Institute

Look up, look deep and tell me what you see

I’m fixing up my résumé, and it’s not for the first or the last time. I also realize that what I want to write is not necessarily what I should write. They tell me that I’m meant to list, yet again, my education and work experiences. I want to write the whole truth. I want to show that the capacity to dream, to visualize and to see what is not really there is what has seen me through every change, every move and every downfall. That when I see the uplifted wings of a bird in flight in a passing cloud and I draw inspiration from it, and when I feel the wind in my soul that to you is only rustling the leaves of this birch in front of us, it is then that I realize that this lifelong friendship that I have cultivated with my imagination is my greatest ally. This faithful companion of all of my travels, real and imagined, can take up the space of the whole Universe and also fits easily, light as a feather, into my pocket or in the cusp of my hand. This breath that brings a smile to my lips when no smiles are warranted is the real reason for anything that I have the right to call my success.

I wish I could tell them that.

I wish I could explain that to them. That it didn’t matter so much that I was in a remote village then with no one to trust because I had white paper and my stories to write. And yes, there were also the mountains and sunrise climbs up to the top (because, obviously, mountain tops are even better for dreaming). That later on when I got home-sick I could go to the island and paint a maple leaf on a canvas. That in every colleague and every employee and every person what I first see is pure light and potential. That with near religious observance I dedicate at least several hours to my every Sunday for simply gazing into the deep blue sky and dreaming.

My imagination is my salvation.

The attitudes of all of the characters of all of the books and movies that I have ever loved live together there. And we romp alongside those people I love and who the world tells me are “real”. Tigers can backpack through Africa and grizzly bears are free to roam India. The elderly dare rock-climbing while toddlers ponder philosophy. Nonsense can be common sense if I want it to be. What is impossible in this world is an every-day cup of tea in mine.

I would describe how lonely I could feel except that I never do. Because with a deep breath and a look up I again connect with everything I see and everything that you can not. I could try to explain it to you but you see how crude it looks just by reading this post. Perhaps you see and you feel your own magic, I don’t know since I’m not living in your skin. Then again some of the time I’m absent from my own since this capacity to go so far beyond the body allows me to travel when I’m traveling and when I’m not.
They tell me that there are people who only see the here and now and the crude realities. My own imagination balks at the very idea; stops dead in its tracks. It and I are so close that it’s hard for us to imagine that other families can be broken.

With a blink and my intention I can also easily come back to this seat and the firmness of the laptop. Imagination is the least demanding of all of my loved ones, never asking for more than I need.

In my résumé I would quote Imagination as my education and also as my most influential and supportive work partner in all of my professional experiences. I would work its ideas and colour into every line of my whole life history. I would sit back, smile and admire my own daring. Then, in my final act of impudence, I would replace it for my street address and see if they understand my understanding of home.

***

Image source: http://wallpapercraze.com/wallpaper/Imagination-Realm/

The day that I became a Millionaire

“To get the price in Euros, take the local price and remove the last three zeros and then multiply the remaining number by 1.5”, it was my first day in Dakar and my boss was sharing some Dakar life tips with me. Like most people who first arrive in Senegal it was initially sluggish work converting the local currency of CFA French francs to a more familiar currency like Euros or Dollars. His mathematical trick was very useful and relatively accurate too. I considered the room rentals I had seen for 100,000 Francs and realized it was equivalent to about 150 Euros. I practiced too with our current taxi fare: I took 4,000 Francs and arrived at 6 Euros. With some more practice during the next few days I was quickly seeing through the numerous zeros to values more readily understandable to me.

With the passing months in Senegal I enjoyed new meetings with expats and locals some of which developed into great friendships. We lived in the same neighbourhoods close to each other and would often meet for surfing or drinks at the local beach. Dakar being more like an overgrown village than a city you can easily bump into people you know without ever using your phone to message or call them. While observing and enjoying our colourful, African surroundings one Sunday afternoon a friend and I began musing on wealth. It clearly isn’t just about financial comfort. What good is money flow in an environment devoid of the pleasures of life, namely friendships, peace, sunshine and free-time ? What does wealth mean to me ?

We both agreed that living in Senegal we felt very wealthy in regards to human relationships, for friendships and for the sense of community. In Dakar you can easily be with people and engaging with people and surrounded by people all of the time. If you want your private and alone time you can carve it out for yourself (or learn surfing like I did and hang out alone in the peace of the ocean!) and when you’re ready you can go back to the people. In a tropical climate we spend more time outside anyways, so we’re constantly  seeing each other. We were seeing the same smiling faces and growing in our sense of community. This difficult to measure feeling of belonging and unity was real and present. I was mentally counting all of my good friendships, like gently shifting precious jewels in a vault, and feeling very wealthy indeed. And I was rarely considering the realm of Facebook “friends” measured not by true friendship’s real weight in gold but by the penny hundreds. Few of these were close friends, many more were simply acquaintances. Facebook friendships converted to real-life friendship in a similar way as the local Francs shifted in my mind to Euros.

We counted among our other measures of wealth our physical good health and the abundant warmth and sunshine, these last undoubtedly adding to our mental health and happiness. I looked to a new painting I had created a few weeks earlier and considered my artistic wealth. I had done my morning practice of yoga and meditation that day and felt abundant in peace of mind. We dove into a delicious dish of fresh fish and rice and our bellies rumbled their own feelings of wealth and contentment.

It wasn’t until I considered the abysmally low Senegalese wages that I converted my own salary in Euros to Francs and realized with a start that I was in fact a millionaire. Ha! I had some savings and together with my monthly income I was quite literally rolling in the millions! I could take this a step further and consider my access to credit in Canada which would bump me up into the category of multi-millionaire. Of course these were millions of Francs and not millions of Euros and we already know how these two relate to each other. It gave me a giggle all the same and half in jest, half in earnest, I wrote down on my daily to-do list that day “become a millionaire”, and then crossed it off. In that moment it wasn’t about the financial disparities shared between the relatively poor and the relatively rich in Senegal (that would require a separate blog post/novel of its own!)…it was about an additional break-down of the so-called Western and capitalist values. “Make my first million” is on the minds and the milestones of many entrepreneurs these days. If I were to play by their rules then my mission was accomplished. Without meaning to, I had arrived. I observed another facade shatter. With a laugh and a sigh we went back to our lunch and our sunshine and greeted a new friend come to join us for the meal.

The day that I fully realized all of the measures of my wealth was the same day that I stopped converting the currency of my own values to those of another world.

***cover photo: Praya de Arrifana, Algarve coast, Portugal

Disconnect to Reconnect: about Wifi’s fuzzy reminder

“We invest our time and energy into who and what we value.” Morning meditation and conversations at the Offline House can go real deep, real quick.

I’ve been happily resting and rejuvenating my body, soul and mind with surfing, nature, yoga and great books at a concept-Hostel in the south of Portugal called the Offline House. The concept is simple: we put our smartphones and computers away in lockers and lock them up. We then enjoy experiencing life without our gadgets. “Disconnect to Reconnect” becomes our daily mantra.

Turning off the Internet and data functions of my phone is not difficult for me. I happily put my iPhone in airplane mode during my work days and weekends too. Any time I want to have some time 100% for myself I do not hesitate to close off the Internet bridge connecting me to the outside world. I imagine a sentinel on that bridge blocking the way for those trying to get through. The various demands, shares, likes and questions sent via Whatsapp, iMessages, emails and social media quietly and peacefully line up and accumulate before the sentinel until it (I) decide that it is OK to let them through again – and there they flow, in an even tempo of beeps and vibrations – right to my phone when airplane mode is shut off again.

What I didn’t realize before and what has been a kind of revelation to me during my first week at the Offline House is the trade-off that I make every time that I look at and use my smartphone in my “regular” daily life. The trade-off is simple yet profound: I am trading the present moment for an interaction with my phone.

“Ah – gah – stop!” you may cry out. You will argue that you are not interacting with your phone, you may very well be interacting with another person, with a friend or a family member! Or you may be working on a new blog post! (haha, how ironic ;-). Well yes, but the medium of communication is still cold metal in a place where I have living, breathing human beings around me, not to mention beautiful nature, the breath in my lungs and my ever present heart beat. I’m choosing a device over living life…and that is totally OK…as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing.

It turns out there is nothing more valuable than the present moment. As someone who has spent plenty of time in my head musing and thinking about the past and wondering about the future I can assure you that I’ve tried to find peace and happiness in moments outside of right now. At best I have found neutrality. At worst I have found great confusion and many fears. The best feeling ever – the feeling of being fully alive – I have only ever found in the here and now.

I shan’t bore you with more Here and Now talk – this is a subject discussed and re-discussed and re-played many times these days. Simply, I wanted to share that I recently found this trade-off with the usage of my smartphone.

There are ofcourse many positive aspects of the Internet and of technology. When we are wise users of these tools I believe that we have the opportunity to become brighter, better communicating and wiser people. The problem is that this tech and Internet connectivity is all quite new for everyone, so that few of us actually know how to use these tools in a way that is good and healthy. Coupled with our minds’ tendencies for addiction and obsessiveness and tools like email and social media can quickly become a problem to manage, an annoying mosquito buzzing in our ears night and day never allowing us a moment’s peace.

I have a small hammer in my home in Dakar. I’m a pretty handy gal (or so I like to think) but I tried and tried and couldn’t hammer in a simple nail into the concrete wall of my living room. The carpenter happened to stop by and quickly picked up the hammer and put the nail in its place. It’s the same tool, but we obviously have very different capacities with it. What’s more, used wrong, a hammer could easily smash my finger and hurt me. A hammer is a tool, albeit a very simple one. The Smartphone is also a tool, albeit a highly complex one. Both have the capacity to serve us when used correctly or to hurt us when misused. It’s up to us to make the difference or to call on someone who does know how to use it right.

In my two weeks of Internet and smartphone-free days I’ve realized that I use notifications and notes way too much. It’s almost like I’ve distrusted my own capacity to remember basic things to the degree that I set up daily, weekly and monthly reminders for every little thing. It’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but in my opinion if this kind of behaviour comes from a belief that I’m not able to remember and manage my life and the direction I want it to take on my own then it’s potentially a problem.

In general:

If the Internet fulfills the same function for us as a bridge would for a city, our connection to the outside world, the question is what is the healthy relationship to have to this bridge? For starters, is the bridge an extension of the city? Can the city be defined on its own terms without the bridge? The paradox is that the city and the bridge co-exist and without each other have no real purpose. What’s the point of a bridge leading from somewhere to nowhere? What use (or joy) can we find for a city disconnected from the world? When I think of the smartphone and the Internet as the bridge I can see that all of us, at one point or another, have stopped on this bridge and have become so engrossed in the shiny lights and bright jewels encrusted into its fancy woodwork that we’ve forgotten about where we come from and where we are going. I’m all for pretty bridges, and God knows some of those beautiful pictures and engaging Apps are really fun, but once I nudge the imbalance and realize that I’m using the bridge with no real objective in mind…I take a step aside and re-evaluate. You can choose to hang out on a bridge with no real agenda if you want to, but I intend to keep using it for its primary purpose which is to get from one place to another. It’s in the real places where I find real people and real moments and real life which I want to engage in.

Call me old-school but I still feel that it’s rude to sit down for a face-to-face conversation with someone and check your phone and messages at the same time. Especially if you only have a short period of time to share with this person. It sends a clear message “I value more what other people, known or unknown to me, are communicating to me now than I value this one-one-one time with you”. Yes, I get it that we are busy and we have many priorities that we need to juggle at the same time. I also think that having so many people making demands on our time forces us (in a good way) to evaluate our priorities and stay very honest with what we do and do not value in our lives and what we allow and do not allow into our space. “I don’t have enough time” is a sad excuse, not a reality. We all have the same 24 hours and guided by what we prioritize in life we choose how to spend that time. The responsibility is ours. The capacity for misuse and wasted time is tremendous. The trade-off is extremely significant: an exchange of the present moment for an interaction with a device. By all means, let’s continue using (and learning how to properly use) these great tools. But for goodness sake let’s not just talk about how much is gained. Let’s not forget the real value of what we are giving up.

*Cover photo credit to Offline Portugal

I’m happy to share that although we enjoy Internet-free time at the Offline House we are also accompanied by the house dog named Wifi. It makes me smile every time to hear a guest ask “Where’s Wifi?” or to hear someone looking for and calling out for the pooch. If they ever get a speckled dog I’m keeping my fingers crossed he or she will be called Spotify 🙂