2020: The Heart of a Decade

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The Heart of a Decade

Truthfully speaking, I’m not one to remember anniversaries, think about dates, or even pay that much attention to time, though its passing sometimes evokes nostalgia, if not outright anxiety in me, someone who often prefers to live in the spacious realm of imagination that defies time until it comes along to bang the door down to teach me otherwise.

As we are about the confront the dawn of the 2020s, however, I cannot help but look back on the last decade, and realize, and even celebrate with some degree of awe, the decade it has been on a personal level (we know it has been a big decade in the social, political and environmental spheres, and I know many of us our grappling with how to move forward based on these cataclysmic changes; I am with you).

At the very beginning of 2010, at 35, I was newly-unemployed, ambiguously enmeshed in unambiguously destructive relationships, and I was freed – or unhinged, depending on my perspective at any given moment. I remember sitting in my now-emptied, soon-to-be former Toronto apartment, near the windows on which my purple sheets-turned curtains were the only remaining décor, a couple of empty wine bottles next to me, Skyping with a dear friend who pointed out how reminiscent of Demi Moore in “St. Elmo’s Fire” this whole scene was. Have you seen that movie? It was a loving comment, but it was not an assessment of how well things were going in my life, or at least the visible parts of my internal landscape.

Another good friend helped me unload my possessions in my parents’ basement in Ottawa, and I was soon off to Thailand, where I’d lived previously for a year. I’d fallen in love with this land so far from my own in every way; this time, like the last time, I had no agenda or future plans. I was older, though. There was a palpable feeling that everything was at stake, and I simultaneously felt like I had everything and nothing to lose. It was one of those rare, crystal-clear moments in a life when I was acutely aware of this edge, that it was a potential precipice… or gateway.

I spent three months consciously committing to self-exploration the main way I knew how, which was to write, though it must be said that doing nothing was also completely alien to me, and a highly subversive and transformative act in its own right, as I realized that not doing the things I was conditioned and expected to do was actually doing a whole heck of a lot more than nothing. I wafted between Thailand, Laos and Indonesia melting into hammocks, eating peasant soups (I love peasant soups; I want to run a peasant soup restaurant), and meeting special person after special person in budget guesthouse after ramshackle abode, many of whom I’m still in touch with today. I marveled at the fact that I never once, for a second, felt lost or confused. I had granted myself a gigantic time-out, and I was not so much making the most of it, as surrendering to the knowledge that life had to be lived right now, exactly as it was, exactly as I was, with no past and no future. Counter to everything I knew about myself, I magically embraced it.

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In Ubud, Indonesia, I was rummaging for books in a secondhand shop (these are sadly all but lost to the wayside in the region now), where I needed to find three to make an exchange. About to give up, I made the strange decision to crouch down and look behind a row of books lodged against the front window to see if anything had fallen – it had. Sri Aurobindo’s “Our Many Selves” was one of many landmark moments of 2010 that profoundly changed things. It is a dense and difficult book, but I couldn’t put it down and I quite honestly felt like something bigger than I am was guiding this almost hallucinogenic (I was sober) reading experience, much of it at the airport, where I stayed overnight before an early morning flight. The book suggested that we can’t transcend ourselves, our egos, until we fully understand the many facets of our personality and character. I took this straight to heart and made it my mission to catalogue as much of myself as I understood at the time.

Everyday for three months, I wrote about one of the aspects of the self that was living inside of me and was my interface with the world. I called them “Little” versions of me: Little Timid, Little Communicative, and so on. I wrote page after page, day after day, surrounded by absolute love and kindness by everyone around me. There was the jewelry artist who suggested I try a Reiki session in Nong Khai (I’ll get back to this life-changing moment), a young Korean musician in Nong Khiau, Laos, with whom there was a language barrier, so that we sat on our neighboring balconies and just smiled, and somehow protected each other. There was a Scandinavian philosopher recovering from food poisoning in Vang Vieng, Laos, with whom I shared so many of those kinds of deeply intense conversations that stay in your psyche long after the content has disappeared. I met a brilliant medical student on the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, who suggested I try a Vipassana meditation retreat when I told her I felt a calling to learn to meditate, but didn’t want anything that was remotely trying to sell me a religion or even hinted of cultism.

Was I fully coming to understand myself after three months? Certainly not, and certainly not in any direct or concise way. Looking back, though, I can see a woman on the cusp of something that felt huge, even if it couldn’t be touched or tasted. I was most definitely earnest. I thought I was earnestly looking to know myself better, but I can see now that more importantly, I was willing, maybe for the very first time, to start regarding myself with an attitude of love – not harshness, not self-judgment, not recrimination, but kindness and love. I was finally ready, and even desperate, to come back to myself, to treat myself with the same kind of compassion I naturally felt for others. It was (is) a long, harrowing process of meeting myself with curiosity, openness and a real sense of caring.

At the end of those three months, I found myself returning to what would become – and still is, and will always be – the home in my heart of Nong Khai, Thailand. Nestled into a little pocket of heaven in Northeastern Thailand overlooking the Mekhong river is a guesthouse called Mut Mee, where many tourists come to stay for a night on their way to the border city of Vientiane, Laos, and where many fall in love with the serene quietude and the kindred spirits they meet, and don’t leave for months. It’s where I was recommended, months earlier, to have a Reiki session with Beatrix of the Nong Khai Alternative Center, tucked into the same little alley as the guesthouse, an oasis for healing, soul-soothing, learning and self-awareness. That one Reiki session was so powerful that I knew I had to start studying this healing modality – and so I returned, and this return felt like the first step of a path with direction, leading back to myself. This Pantrix center, established by two brilliant yogis – and artists, and so much more – Pancho and Beatrix, has grown over the last decades to become a true home, a mecca, really, for people interested in developing as yogis, healers … and humans. Pancho and Beatrix are as true as true yogi can come, and they’ve have become the dearest teachers who have helped and guided me in ways I will never be able to express in words. Beatrix is also a Reiki master and teacher and a stunningly insightful astrologer, and Pancho is a master-of-just-about-all trades who brings wisdom, joy, a generosity of spirit and an interdisciplinary approach to the teaching of yoga. Pantrix offers free daily meditations with Pancho, seven day Intro yoga classes and intensive one-month courses and special workshops, and an overall welcoming energy that I couldn’t recommend more to anyone looking for a cleanse of mind, body and spirit. Silvie, a long time resident of Nong Khai, does amazing CranioSacral therapy and Shiatsu sessions and dance workshops just down the alleyway, and Aey, proprietor of the Hornbill Bookshop, has make her shop more than a place of commerce; she has welcomed us into her home over and over, and has transformed her beautiful space into a coffeeshop and restaurant, where she serves food, smoothies and love in equal doses.

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Here in Nong Khai, I began studying Reiki and yoga, and almost immediately met my now-husband, Takeshi, who had just arrived for the first time after his visa run to Laos. I had recently completed my first 10-day meditation retreat, and it turns out and he had already done several in this style. We eagerly talked about everything that falls under the rubric of life. I told him I’d cancelled my 10-day stopover to Tokyo on the way back to Canada to stay in Thailand a few months longer, and joked that now Japan had come to me. Our connection was strong and quick, and it wasn’t long before we were making plans to do one of Pantrix’s one-month yoga intensives, and then journey on to India. We ended up doing several more of these courses and retreats over the next few years.

Ten years on, I can’t believe I have been with my love for a decade. I’m not surprised, though, to find that who I am today is so much of an ongoing product – project? Result? – of the seeds that were planted in 2010. Our journey took us to India, back to Thailand regularly and to Japan, where we made a home for six years. We have been through ups and downs, heartaches and joys, have found ourselves meeting each other and ourselves anew over and over, even as we met the challenges of feeling lost and wayward as often as we found ourselves gently touching what feels like life purpose.

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We have recently moved to Canada – not only Canada, but my hometown of Ottawa, where, to be truthful, I never, ever thought I would live again once I left at the age of 23 to pursue my Masters degree in Toronto. It felt like the right time to be near family again, but being back here, where I so unceremoniously dumped my life’s possessions a decade ago, is doing quite a number on my emotions and sense of self. I feel in many ways like I’m “back where I started”, as though the last decade never happened. At the same time, as I look into myself, I’m not sure what is left of that woman-on-the-edge of 10 years ago.

At the heart of it, we, and everything around is, is changing all the time, every single second. Time does not wait for us. We can’t really look at the numbers like 2020 and neatly package our goals and expectations into a new year or decade. Still, though, we are human, and big numbers like this are a beautiful chance for us to tap in and check on our state of being. I am tremendously grateful to have given myself a chance, back in 2010, to try out a new way of being in the world that immediately brought me more profoundly closer to my heart than I’ve ever been. The challenge – and joy – is to know that this journey does not end, no matter where our life’s circumstances take us.

The gift of time is really the gift of opportunity, to discover what it is that make our hearts sing, and to create the song, note by note. Happy, happy 2020 and beyond …

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If you happen to be in Thailand, or want to make your way there, these are highly recommended:

Mut Mee Guesthouse, Nong Khai – http://www.mutmee.com

Nong Khai Alternative Center – http://pantrix.net

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Taking the Day

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Without knowing it, I have been sleeping
with tiny branch ends and leaves in my hair,
a tumble of the best of me, and of world
working together to spin life from the dark.
 
Without knowing it, I have fused with the trees,
and we have both marked our passage in time,
though they gave me eternity, wisdom and patience,
and I, what I could of my fragile, fledgling heart.
 
Without knowing it, I have passed the seasons
watching momentous stillness, then rebirth
following with eyes wide open the cyclical rhythms
to their soft sweet end, the finest of beginnings.
 
Without knowing it, I have been taking the day
for the profound lessons each of them extends
and some seep into me like the sun through skin,
and most lay buried, seeds that too, will blossom.
 
– Tammy Takahashi

Day and Night

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It looks like emergence,
a movement from dark to light,
from a midnight moon’s lush wiles
to the redemptive break of day,
and you are sitting on soft sand,
not having slept at all,
and the salt brought in
by each sonorous, soothing wave
has cleansed you so that
you are no longer haunted,
and the sun has appeared,
a revelation each time,
to penetrate you with promise,
glee, anticipation for this life.
And so it is – life after death
every single morning,
an emergence, but not a line.
For we live in cycles,
and the darkness will come again,
to be, always, followed by light.
Do not run screaming
against the doors of night,
or fear the end of day.
The lessons of each are harrowing,
but the cycles are also moving,
round and round, in the direction
of our greatest making.

Nature, Our Teacher

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In time,
we will approach
more quietly,
see less of our own
busy movement
around the trees,
stop feeding our wayward thoughts,
stop circumventing the rivers
or wading upstream,
will instead patter softly
on the mossy forest floor,
still our restless hearts,
will bring the background forward,
see our origins
maybe for the first time,
find our teachers here.

Our Own Evolution

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There must be no
mystery, really, even to
The fathomless depths
Of the ocean that so beguile
(I remember once,
in a vision, descending
and not wanting to emerge),
or where the spiral
of a budding flower begins.
We might be looking for
Creatures of unknown origin,
Ghosts and mirages
Who have seen what
We have not,
Been where we have
Not dared to go,
For source and origin myths
That lift us even
In our quiet unease
Over all we may
Have almost forgotten,
Because we still
Want to dance there;
We have still not
Forgotten our most
Primal desires,
At the heart of which,
Our longing for
All of love’s
Various embraces,
Wrest us from life
As are living it,
Move us away from
Harsh contours to where
To where the flow
From one thing to the next
Reminds us that we, too,
Have this power to become
The unfolding of
Our own evolution.
-TS

I Belong

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Where does
the path begin
and where does it go?
Sometimes I feel
I’ve landed
right in the middle of
an ecosystem
with its very long history
I know nothing of,
and I fear
I’ll never catch up
or be able to
feel my way around,
that I don’t meet
the preconditions
for harmony.
I feel my senses
don’t serve me here,
do not point the way.
It is in the digging deep,
though, the excavating
of my own right
to a history,
that I will lay claim
to what must be
a simple, if profound feeling:
that I belong.
That I am here,
as you are here,
and we are each
finding our way
through the jungle of
our own ancestral histories,
reaching out
with hope and
good intentions,
with one essential,
sacred goal:
to be love.
 
– TS

We Are The Lucky Ones

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How lucky we are
that there is only forward,
a momentum, a development,
evolution.
How wise we will be
when we stop thinking
in circles, turning back
succumbing to remorse.
It is always a new day ahead,
the sun, ancient, our eternal,
is always rising new, the moon,
soaring through skies,
As we soar toward
the future that awaits us,
and this is always progress
and we are always moving
And our movements
will always take us there,
and we are always arriving.
We are always on the way. – TS
HAPPY NEW YEAR! May we find peace, happiness, joy, wonder and courage in the year ahead! xo

Who is Our Inner Witness on the Spiritual Path?

Haiku and Photograph by Tammy T. Stone

Haiku and Photograph by Tammy T. Stone

“If we consider the knower independently of the known, it reveals itself as pure witness. When knower and known are not-two, there is no place even for a witness.” – Jean Klein

In yoga and in our spiritual journey, we seek the transcendence of duality, the arrival of unity between ourselves and the cosmos, knower and known, observer and observed.

One of the ways we work toward this unity is through meditation, by learning more about how to tame the mind’s wild and roaming ways. But immediately, a question arises: who is the “we” in relation to our own minds? Who exactly is it that can control our minds, which we so often associate with our very sense of identity?

How are we different from our minds?

Once we start meditating, we learn pretty quickly, through direct experience, that there is a part of us able to “watch” or witness ourselves meditate, and that “something” accompanies us off the cushion and into our lives as we become more mindful and present in our daily lives.

When we are instructed to observe our in-breath and out-breath, suddenly there “we” are, as though from the outside, tracking the breath’s movements. We are also aware of becoming distracted, and we can guide ourselves – our own minds – back to the breath.

This “witnessing consciousness” is also known as a kind of meta-consciousness in scientific terms; it sounds fancy and official, but that doesn’t make them any less mysterious!

When I think of the witness or observer as I normally understand the words, two visions come to mind.

I think of the unobtrusive but interested observer, maybe collecting scientific data (though the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle teaches us that the act of observation changes that which is observed), or maybe sitting a cafe watching life pass by, somewhat aloof, but with great curiosity. The observer seems to be guided by a higher principle or motivated by a desire to reach greater meaning.

When I think of the witness, my mind floods with images of those who have been at the scene of momentous events like calamities, natural disasters, or the terror of war, who make an active decision to record and transmit what is being witnessed, so that the world can become more compassionate and future generations can benefit from the mistakes and tragedies of the past.

As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I have been privileged, and sometimes overwhelmed by becoming the legacy and carrier of unimaginable things experienced and witnessed by loved ones.

As I write this, hundreds of witnesses are chronicling the ravaging effects of the Nepal earthquake, tearing our hearts apart and inspiring us to help. In an age of instant media access, we are all becoming witnesses, with the privileges and responsibilities this entails.

What is the overlap between a “mere” witness to events and someone with feelings and conditionings who experiences the event?

Can any being ever be neutral, whether out there in society or within our own selves?

Until we experience pure One-ness, we are always a little bit “in” and a little bit “out” of things, and this can be a confusing place to be.

It may well be that the common denominator between the worldly witness and the inner witness is compassion, and the merging this allows between a self that is conflicted or divided within the universe.

Grappling with the witness and observer can be a chaotic endeavor, but I think it’s important to understand this special consciousness inside of us, so that we can become more conscious beings in a world that desperately needs this from us.

Rather than try to understand it intellectually, I’ve tried, below, to delve right into the “my inner witness,” using my meditation practice as the basis.

If the goal is to lose the witness altogether and merge into a compassion-flooded whole, then this is a humble attempt to bring the witness into sharper focus. I would love to hear any thoughts regarding this phenomenon!

Who is The Witness?

The witness tells me I’m thinking while I try to clear my mind, and brings me back to my body.

The witness stands guard but does not offer solace.

The witness stands back when emotions overtake me and whispers quietly, “Let this be so.”

The witness observes me “be” as though from afar, while remaining a part of this “me” fabric.

The witness guides me into nature when I need comfort and solace, and disappears when I am in rapture.

The witness points me to the physical effects of my confusion, by way of telling me that I am not my confusion.

The witness asks me if I’m being honest with myself.

The witness doesn’t argue with any other part of me, even as the parts argue with each other.

The witness doesn’t have the same goals for my life that I do, and doesn’t get frustrated when the goals I set are not met.

The witness seems to want what is best for me, or at least doesn’t veer me in the direction of harm.

The witness is not a friend or an enemy.

The witness knows what I am doing but doesn’t make any judgments.

The witness asks for nothing the way other parts of me ask me to tax myself over and over.

The witness is not a master or a guru.

The witness allows me to be more attentive.

What do I do with this attention?

Which part of me is the keeper of my stories and the inspiration behind the dreams I long to fulfill?

Can the witness take me there and beyond … or can it only witness the evolution?