you are irreplaceable

“You’re replaceable,” a colleague said to me last week.

These words, seemingly harsh, were delivered with fierce caring and passion upon my return to work after being away for back pain. “I’m replaceable,” she continued. “If I die tonight, my job will be posted by Friday. But I’m not replaceable to my family and loved ones.”

I’d just expressed that I felt ‘bad’ for having missed so much work, after only recently starting in my current position. “Let me tell you right now,” she responded. “Nobody is thinking that but you. Nobody cares. I mean, we care…but we’re all too busy and wrapped up in our own little worlds.”

It was clear I had limited mobility and was still in some pain. “Don’t push yourself,” she cautioned. “Nobody is going to take care of you, but you. Are you taking care of yourself?”

This is perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning from back pain: the need for self-care. I had been pushing myself, but didn’t recognize it. ‘Pushing myself’ was just so…normal.

The emotional root of low back pain, I’ve read, is feeling unsupported. There were many factors leading to my injury. I didn’t take enough work breaks, I sat improperly and for too long, my yoga practice had lapsed. But the emotional explanation resonated. I’d long felt I was ‘going it alone’ in life: I was misunderstood, my financial situation was a bomb, relationships with men were painful, God was disappointed in me.

But was any of that actually true? Or was it that I felt deeply unworthy of receiving support?

I know this is about my experience of being a woman. I haven’t wanted to be a burden on others, to take up too much space or be seen as too demanding. I’ve tried to be independent and accommodating. On the occasions I have been called ‘selfish’, it’s kicked me right in the gut. For a woman, there can be so much loaded in that word.

Hence the compulsion to people-please, to over-accommodate. The all-consuming worry about what others will think, the inability to make a decision because I’m weighing in so many voices. These aren’t conscious behaviours; they’re deeply ingrained, woven into my cells after many years – probably generations – of conditioning.

My body had long been giving me warning signals, straining against the push to live up to expectations that were largely my own. I felt so responsible to do a good job, and guilty when I let others down. Breaking my back, bending over backwards. How bad does it have to get?

stop and notice the pink

There have been many blessings inherent in this pain. I’ve had to be vulnerable in relying on loved ones for help with everything from cleaning to driving to putting on my socks. I’m physically vulnerable to strangers. Walking to work on the downtown sidewalks, people barrel towards me. I see how fragile this body can be; one random bump could re-trigger the pain.

I’m used to being the one rushing, becoming impatient with slow walkers. I’m now one of them. I’ve discovered that it’s a relief not to rush – to have no choice but to go slow. Some people give me space, and sympathetic smiles. These are small things…but they’re not.

I hope I can hold on to all this, as my back heals. I like being vulnerable. I’m self-protective, but not on the defence. I feel softer, more raw and trusting. And my vulnerability gives others, particularly my loved ones, the chance to show kindness to me.

In receiving this care, I’m realizing that I’m the only one who saw myself as a burden. And I no longer wish to carry that belief. I’d rather be irreplaceable.

burn the journals

I moved a couple of months ago, and my box of journals followed me. I’ve carted this box around for several years, unsure of what to do with it. A part of me wants to burn these diaries, all at once, in some ritual release ceremony. But if I do that, I want to read them first – and this would take a while, given the sheer number of them. And the fact that it would be an emotionally exhausting process.

Why am I holding on? I’ve written about this in a previous post, and I’m still facing the dilemma. For the most part, my musings weren’t happy. I certainly don’t want anyone else reading them. And I don’t feel particularly joyful when I look at that box; if anything, it makes me anxious. I think of it whenever I hear the safety announcement on a plane. What if I died suddenly? Do I really want my innermost thoughts just floating around?

the box

I know what it is. I have this sense, this hope, that the diaries might provide a clue. A clue about what, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll contain a hidden gem that will give me some heightened self-awareness. A lightbulb moment. A traumatic memory unlocked, the key that brings missing pieces together.

Or maybe not.

In my last post, I wrote about it being the time of a full moon and an opportunity for completion. That weekend, I found myself going for a long walk, unexpectedly winding up in my childhood neighbourhood. I walked past the apartment building my family lived in at two different times; once when I was 4 and again at age 8.

I felt both light and heavy. When we lived in this small place, my family had not been in the country for very long. So many years later, I could more fully appreciate the trauma and uncertainty that my parents must’ve experienced during those early years. My heart exploded with love for my mother and father, and my childhood grief that I couldn’t make them feel better.

I love that this building is still there, but I have a feeling it will be gone soon, as the whole area is being redeveloped.

Somehow the timing of all this feels pertinent. If the full moon a couple of weeks ago was about completion, we’re now in the birthing period of the new moon and total solar eclipse. Given that it’s Mercury Retrograde too, it’s the time for inner reflection. Whatever we’re intent on releasing, whatever new thoughts we want to implant… it’s a cosmically potent opportunity to do so.

The little girl in the apartment, the teenager writing in those journals, the woman on her spiritual search…what is she ready to let go of?

The need to apologize. The need to people please, the fear of rejection, the feelings of not enough, the ancient pain in feeling so responsible for others. Letting go of those physical reminders, those powerful words in written form, frees her to experience more of the real her: the woman unbound by old self-definitions. The woman who laughs more, who truly values herself and doesn’t needlessly worry about others.

Perhaps there is no more auspicious time to set those journals aflame. Instead of fearing what I might lose – my childhood, my identity – I can imagine the space created from releasing those (mostly sad) words. My being extends far beyond the letters on a page.

As I walked past my old apartment that day, it occurred to me that I never knew the building’s name. I went up to the main door. “Le Chateau.” The Castle. Seeing that made me smile. It seemed very fitting.

the fires of kali

It’s curious that the things we most love to do often get pushed to the back burner during times of stress. This post is my attempt to reconnect with blogging, a bright spot in my life – but one I’ve neglected these past few weeks!

Like many others, I’ve experienced some big life changes and it’s taken most of my energy to keep up with my day-to-day routine during all the transition. Last month, I moved homes yet again. Those who know me will probably find this amusing, as I change addresses more frequently than anyone I know…but these particular circumstances were unsettling and threw me off center. The silver lining? I’ve discovered that I’m getting tired of being a gypsy. I’m craving a real sanctuary, somewhere I can land at the end of the day and truly call ‘home’. I’m intrigued at what this realization might bring!

The past is certainly coming up for re-evaluation and reconfiguration. An old flame recently returned to my life, and the relationship is evolving into something new. Is it resurrection or completion? It is hard not to ask such questions, but of course only time will tell.

technicolor kali, sonja picard

Through all of this, I’ve been feeling goddess Kali’s strong presence. Kali, the destroyer of all that is old, tired, and decayed. Her sword slashes my ego to the core, over and over again, making it excruciatingly uncomfortable to remain in habitual reactions and beliefs. She asks me: Is this really what you want? How uncomfortable does it have to get? What are you sacrificing? Is it worth it?

This all sounds intense, and it is. But there’s also been so much beauty and healing these past couple of months. My external situations are no doubt mirroring the shifts on the inside, and while this often feels stressful and exhausting, I welcome it. Things have to get completely shaken up to settle in their new and rightful places. (I’m seeing snow globes.)

Kali asks: What do you want? I usually go blank at this question. Is it because I don’t know, or I don’t feel worthy of having it, or because it’s never been about external things? Probably.

What I want is to feel my connection with my source, my creator – God – more than ever before. To use the collective chaos and turmoil as the catalyst for delving deeper into my own Self. And that means trusting my own guidance and authority, something I’ve written about before, and is more crucial than ever.

Having said that, perhaps it’s also time to start creatively dreaming about those externals! I’m feeling renewed excitement in reviving plans and projects that I shelved a while back. Doing things for the sheer enjoyment they bring, like writing and blogging. Perhaps these times present a golden opportunity, a fruitful time to plant seeds that will grow into something big. The old hardened roots have to be dug up first, leaving what looks to be a huge mess…but it’s actually the fertile soil for great beauty. Summer feels ripe for the picking.

Jai, Kali Ma.

the sword of the feminine

A few years ago, during my first Ayahuasca journey, I was shown the image of a sword. I’d never seen anything like it before. It was a work of art, beautifully silver and encrusted with jewels and crystals. I understood that this was not a weapon of destruction; it was the sword of love, cutting through all illusion. The sword of the Feminine.

I think about this sword often. Sometimes I feel it as an etheric presence behind or above me. The image was/is so pristine and powerful, merely remembering it brings me comfort and relief. The sword itself is a remembrance of something I intuitively understand but can’t quite articulate.

It’s interesting to think about the sword now, because my perceptions of the Divine Feminine and Masculine are shifting. I’m realizing that I don’t actually know what the Divine Feminine and Masculine are. It’s kind of humorous and humbling to admit that, because I’ve written about these concepts numerous times on my blog.

shakti's garden by sonja picard

shakti’s garden by sonja picard

For several years, I took part in women’s circles and gatherings. And during my Kundalini Yoga teacher training, I had many ideas for women’s workshops. But something happened earlier this summer. I went off most social media and entered major hermit mode. I had no desire to participate in or facilitate women’s gatherings. I actually felt hostile to the idea. I found myself going within to what seemed like a very frustrated, depressed place. Was this self-sabotage? Fear of change? Remnants of ancient patterns? Addiction to familiar emotions?

I realized that despite all the work, at my core I didn’t feel anything ‘Divine Feminine’ about myself.  How could I then encourage the divine in others, or see the divine in men? It’s not that I felt like a fraud…but ‘Divine Feminine’ and ‘Divine Masculine’ had become concepts I’d used and heard so many times that they no longer held meaning for me. I had thought that these spiritual principles, and others, transcended duality – but perhaps they just reinforced it.

I do believe in a Divine Feminine and Masculine essence within each one of us, which we project outward to co-create reality. But experiencing our essence is a deep and personal journey that goes beyond ‘spiritual’ or new age concepts (e.g., idealized depictions of gods and goddesses). And it takes time. Humanity has run on certain archetypes and beliefs for eons; some are loving and some are not. Can we create new archetypes, and are we ready to?

There is tremendous power in women’s circles, and I know these will re-emerge in my life, in some form, when the timing feels right. I know I don’t have to have all the answers, because I never will (and that’s so not the point). I also think more men’s groups and retreats would be very helpful. The men I know who’ve participated in such groups embody something that is truly…well, ‘divine’ is the word that comes to mind.

I believe the sword of the Feminine is guiding me to her truth and essence, which is in harmony with the Masculine. That harmony creates something new, beyond the labels and categories of duality.

We have seen so much of humanity’s darkness coming to the surface this year. I have my thoughts on the force of patriarchy, but I don’t want that to keep the ‘us against them’ dynamic alive in my psyche. I have observed the darkness within myself and, as uncomfortable as it’s been, it does feel like my process is creating more space within.

The challenge for me is to remain open and trusting in this space, not wanting to immediately fill it with anything, even ‘love’ or ‘light’ (which can be further conceptualizations of the mind). The space itself is highly intelligent, and from this place we can create relationships beyond what we’ve ever known.

pleasure and paradox in paris

At the Musée d’Orsay, pressing my face close to a Monet painting, practically inhaling the brushstrokes, I felt a mixture of profound gratitude and nostalgia. The pale pinks, lavenders, and yellows were indescribably soothing. I wanted to merge with the work. Escape into it.

I was mesmerized by the art of Paris to a degree that surprised even me. I’d studied Art History many moons ago at university, but standing in front of certain works – I could easily touch them, were it not for the ever-present security – left me deeply affected.

Until that point, I’d felt somewhat ambivalent about my impromptu trip to Paris. Though I had the time off work, cash saved in the bank, and a great deal from Air France, I questioned my decision to travel to the City of Lights. Surely there were more responsible things to do with my money.

In my hotel room that first night, I tossed and turned as the jet lag (and in-flight wine, no doubt) sank in. Habitual thoughts about work, relationships, and family pounded in my head. Paris, I thought. Why am I here? What can I learn from you?

Pleasure. Presence. Enjoy life, she answered. Be in your body, not your head. You already know this…but I can help you. In fact, you need me to. That’s why you’re here.

You think you’ve lost your intuition, she continued, but you haven’t. Don’t focus on my image or the tourists or the incessant honking and police sirens, or the camouflaged men with machine guns standing on the corner. There is an essence of me that is much deeper than all these things. Be with it.

I didn't make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I didn’t make it to the top, but I had to get the Eiffel shot!

I spent a week exploring various neighbourhoods in the city. I walked along the Champs-Élysées and the Seine. Apart from food (and chocolate presents!), my only purchase was a 4-day Museum Pass, which I’d picked up at Charles de Gaulle airport upon my arrival.

Viewing the paintings of Monet, Degas, Manet, Cassatt, Morisot, Seurat, and Renoir (and so many more), I felt deep nostalgia. Nostalgia for the time in my life when I initially studied these works. Nostalgia for historical periods of great art, music, and beauty. Most of all, nostalgia for an era where artists truly sat with their inspirations. Focused and present, devoting hours, days, even years to the execution of their visions.

What must it be like to have that kind of patience? It is hard to imagine. My attention span is much shorter than it used to be, a deterioration I blame on technology. All around me, people flitted about with iPhones, snapping photos and selfies. I tried to take some pics, but they never did the moment justice. And trying to capture that moment would just take me out of it.

Jardin des Tuileries - I couldn't resist including this

Jardin des Tuileries – I couldn’t resist

I wondered what these artists would think of this modern world. Would they be disturbed, fascinated, inspired? Life cannot be as it was in nineteenth-century Paris, of course. And even then, things probably weren’t as idyllic as the dreamy vistas suggest. Still, I long to sit in front of a landscape or sunset, or at a cafe, for hours, just absorbing my surroundings. Not thinking about work or emails or how I should be doing something.

Paris reminded me of India, in that it’s a paradox. The Divine Feminine presence, which surely exists and spoke to me that first night, was accompanied by a rough, almost aggressive energy throughout the city. It was an interesting, and often unsettling, experience.

But visiting Paris was very, very good for my soul. In recent months I’d been feeling some grief for so many lost years where I didn’t trust myself as my own authority, where I sold myself short. This last decade in particular – I don’t know where it went. Paris reminded me to be gentle with myself and look ahead. Not everything in life has to happen at once, and my process won’t look like anyone else’s. Nothing is lost. There is still time.

The art, the red wine, the Autumn sunshine, the walks along the Seine…that’s who I am. Sitting in front of a canvas and feeling where the colours take me…that’s who I am. Doing my best to heal resentments, forgive, and live in divine love…that’s who I am. Willing to learn, be humbled over and over again, and create grand adventures for myself…that’s who I am.

Thank you, Paris, for reminding me who I am.

 

full moon eclipse: lightening the load

A couple of weeks ago I received the results of an Ancestry DNA test I purchased earlier this summer. I was pretty sure the test would confirm I’m all Indian, but I was intrigued nonetheless. My family hasn’t actually lived in India for the past four generations, so it seemed possible that there could be a surprise or two!

The results estimated 95% South Asian DNA, the remaining 5% being a mix of Central Asian (2%), European (2%) and Native American (<1%). That last one is quite implausible, given that my family didn’t come to North America till the ’70s, but the test analysis does acknowledge that such trace percentages are likely due to chance.

Me, first day in India, 2010

Me, first day in India, 2010

Whatever the results or their accuracy, taking the test was yet another step in embracing my roots. As I wrote in my last post, this summer has been all about my ancestors. As I continue to read about the lives of Indian women, I see with more clarity and self-compassion why I’ve struggled with the things I have. It just makes sense. This has mostly to do with the denigration of the sacred feminine. Deep pain and trauma has been locked inside for generations…and no one’s had the key.

All this is somewhat hard to put into words; it’s largely an intuitive process. From the outside, my ancestors’ lives could not be more different from my own. It would appear that I have choice, freedom, and control that they could not imagine. But the internal programming does not change overnight. And clearing the ancient patterns held within my psyche has been my life’s work.

Having said that, there must be space for celebration. Life has always been so serious and I’m wanting to shift that. I think many of us on a spiritual path become so used to ‘the work’ that fun seems indulgent and frivolous – and unfamiliar.

Sensitive people especially can feel so responsible for clearing, healing, being accountable and in integrity. And while those are all good things, we also need to relax and acknowledge ourselves. (And let go of the gripping fear that as soon as we let down our guard, something horrible will happen.) The point of this heavy work is to lighten the load.

If my ancestors are watching me now…do they want me endlessly re-living their fears and traumas, their guilt and shame? I doubt it. I can feel them lovingly drumming their fingers. Okay…you’ve worked really hard. And we so appreciate it. You’ve done more than you know. Now please start having some fun. For all of us!

They want a new story: one of self-worth. They want me to take our rich history and do something even more beautiful with it. They want me to put my own creative twist on life, without approval-seeking or apology. They want me to stop seeing muck where it’s already been cleared. They’re prodding me to step out of my comfort zone of familiar old feelings, and stand on new ground. It’s safe here. You will not be abandoned. Trust us.

I am the living manifestation of my ancestors dreams and wishes. My life is not random; I am seen. The highest service to my ancestors (and to myself) is to continue to forgive and love, and enjoy life with gratitude. There is no greater gift to, and from, my lineage.

the summer of my ancestors

Well, we all know we’re living in intense times. It has been said that 2016 is the year of purification, but it feels more like the decade of purification.

A couple of months ago, I began a 40-day practice of Kirtan Kriya, a Kundalini Yoga meditation designed to clear subconscious patterns buried deep within the psyche. About halfway through my 40 days, I went off Facebook and most social media. I rediscovered my love of fiction, reading books mostly about Indian women and their historical and current lives in India and in the west. I’m obsessed with learning more. It seems this has become the summer of discovering my ancestry.

IMG_1012

As the first generation of my family born in the west, and very much steeped in western culture (aka a ‘coconut’), I’ve vacillated between rejecting my heritage and embracing its more western-approved aspects (e.g., yoga). My Indian ancestors have felt very distant, even non-existent. I haven’t known much about my female ancestors in particular…maybe because I never asked. I viewed them as probably repressed and somewhat backwards. Silent, and living in a less evolved land.

Now I can’t stop thinking about them. Who were these women? What were their lives like? What dreams, desires, and talents did they harbour? What did they suppress in themselves, in order to stay alive? Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam…I think about conquests and conversions. How did they feel about God? About caste and karma? Were feelings even acknowledged in a world of immovable roles and responsibilities? What brought them joy?

I can feel that I hold memories of being restrained, constrained, burned. I see where I’ve felt like a burden, not wanting to ask for too much or take up more than my ‘fair share’ of space…somehow apologizing for my existence. I can feel the bitter resentment of unlived desires. I can also feel the patriarchy and misogyny embedded in my own psyche. In this female, brown-skinned body, I see where I’ve idolized the white male.

I’ve written on this blog about the Divine Feminine rising. Truly embracing Her means owning how deeply we’ve denigrated Her. I’ve uncovered a new layer of this within myself. All I can do is sit with it.

‘Purification’ used to mean cleansing myself of everything I thought made me inferior. But I now view it as the inner and outer distillation of all that is not resonant with highest truth: love. And that means witnessing and experiencing all that is not love within ourselves, and in the world around us.

This entire process requires trusting my intuition and feelings. I do question if I’m making it all up. I doubt my role, if any, in the healing of my lineage. I wonder if ‘purification’ and ‘divine feminine’ are just more new age concepts that distract. I catch myself in spiritual shadow (superiority/inferiority) all the time. I don’t know what a woman’s life is like in present-day India; I don’t want to speak on anyone else’s behalf.

During my 40 days of Kirtan Kriya, I experienced some very dark and hopeless states. But I see now that the meditation did exactly what it was designed to do – bring to the surface what longed to be healed. Though it hasn’t been comfortable, it feels like what I’m here to do, and that brings me peace. I am very grateful for my opportunities to choose and to heal.

If we are in times of purification, then darkness and chaos will continually rise to the surface until every last corner is exposed. I don’t know what will become of humanity, but I know that right now, I must listen to the long lineage of voices rising from within. I’m trusting my feminine instincts on that.