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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Past Now Love

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There is no part of our land
that has been left untouched
by the ravages of our violence
and the blessing of our prayers,
existing together, all at once;
it can be the work of a lifetime
to sit with everything we know.
There is no life without history,
and no body without memory.
To walk is to walk with ghosts,
to breathe is breathe the story
we’ve brought to waking dreams.
Fear drives dark excavations,
Wonder brings back the light.
What’s dissolved, what remains,
what brought tears, our hope,
the fluid emblems of our lives.
May we find the love within us
to seek all those sacred spaces
marked with all of experience;
the silken threads and wisps
singing to us our past laments
as we find in them everything
we need to remember about us,
and our will to make it better.
 
– Tammy Takahashi

Your Small Gestures Matter

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Sometimes I think that if we had even
the smallest notion in our wily minds
that keep spinning the same old stories
for us day after day, year after year,
of how many other ways it can always be,
we would immediately look for this door.
We would stop thinking we have to make
the greatest journeys and grand gestures
to make the profound changes we seek.
Have you ever tried to smile through tears?
It feels at first like an alien invasion, strange,
unwanted, until the body responds in kind,
ignites from deep within, bearing lightness.
The smallest hand gesture, brilliantly new,
and suddenly we are carrying ourselves
as a different person, with a purpose,
perhaps, we didn’t know had been calling.
Have you ever seen cherry blossoms bloom?
Without ever leaving its one sacred place
In the world of cycles, seasons and Time,
it does the only thing it knows how to do,
but does it with all the effort of its being,
which is not effort at all, but fulfillment,
and for the briefest moment in our history,
because every single blossom did the same,
we have a tree that moments ago was bare,
and is now grander than any work of art,
and the blossoms have not arrived to stay,
but to live out their short symphony with grace,
and leave the tree stronger for their presence,
and leave a world that will never be the same.
 
– Tammy Takahashi

Our Freedom

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To see, and not know what

We are so terribly seeking,

What profound simplicity

There can be between the eyes

That are gazing and the world,

The gazed upon, the beloved,

If we let it. If we let it be.

What a pure, unfettered love

It can be, this relationship

Between we who want to know,

And the eternally, sagely known.

Let us forego the violence

Of our need to cast ourselves aside

To be in the arms of love.

Let us instead turn the gaze inward,

Unflinching, even when it hurts,

And throw so much love here

That we cannot help but come awake,

Trembling, excited, for we are here,

In the exact way we need to be,

And we have welcomed ourselves,

So we are finally free.

A Prayer, A Soft Place to Land

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Our prayers are not for we and they;
We pray because we want to know,
Finally, that the soft and loving places
Where prayers land know no division.
There are places all over the world,
Across the entirety of the map of one heart,
Where we can travel to, wayward at first,
But with increasing sense of purpose,
That will greet us like the loved ones
We now, after ages, know that we are.
They are shrines large and small
Decorating the most modest of habitats,
Honouring the dead and reminding us
That we have never walked alone;
They are the colours, sounds and textures
We can finally recognize for what they are,
Unique as the moon to our stargazing hearts
To our experience of being human,
So that we will never overlook them again.
We close our eyes, join hands together,
We stand where we are, in silent tears,
And know the prayer has brought us here,
The prayer is all around us, ancient, wise,
That it created the conditions of our lives.

– Tammy Takahashi

Beautiful Handmade wallets from Japan!

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My Japanese mother-in-law, fondly known as “Mi-chan”, is immensely talented at everything artsy and craftsy, and her sewing skills are second to none. Look at this amazing wallet she has designed/made – completely stitched by hand! And using amazing Japanese fabrics,  mostly fine cotton, traditionally hand-dyed … so great and compact for cards.

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Do you want a Mi-chan eco-wallet of our own? Please email me at tammystonetakahashi@gmail.com!

xo

Tammy

 

 

The Invitation

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At first glance,
coming into the space,
there is bright light
casting darkness within.
The luminescence overpowers.
It is alluring, mysterious, it blinds.
We can stay here for a moment,
either terrified of the shadows
or subsumed by a desire
to merge with the light.
But everything changes,
And here is the invitation:
to sit,
(there is a seat waiting for you)
and look through the fiery frame,
to watch the parts slowly appear,
to witness life unfold.
To gaze outward,
with the clear and deep memory
of how this light first penetrated you,
to feel this illuminated self
and the outer spaces as one,
to feel the power and grace
of bringing self to world,
to do what’s needed,
to make things right,
to honour the shadows
and to find the light.

– Tammy Takahashi

Our Beating Heart

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Passing through,
deep-down reckonings with
our place in a world
made perfect with
our humble imperfections.
The sun, which does not dim
in our darkest days,
the sky, never once lowering
as we dive into our every shadow,
the view, always changing,
the light speckling magic
where we least expect it
before it continues its dance
across the spaces
we inhabit,
between us,
passing through,
moving toward what stills us
past change,
past commotion,
in our truest space:
our beating heart.
 

For the Living

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For life and for the living,
for the choices we make
on the side of life
that keep us cushioned
in earth’s warm embrace,
breath springing from breath,
heaving, mounting, rising,
majestic being coursing through us
when we feel it, and when we don’t,
and all we have to do
is know this to be true,
to bring our feet softly to ground,
feel life playing with our skin,
and we are gazing ever upward,
taking in with curious eyes
what the heart already knows,
as we begin our journey there.
 
– tammy takahashi

Petals Fallen in Spring

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Petals fall lush to ground,
not yet dried or decayed,
unsullied by wind, sun, rain,
handfuls of spring snow
tethered still to this life,
where we train our eyes
on what comes before
the last, the spectre of this
dancing alongside our joy.
Beauty gathers everywhere
before we have a chance
to discriminate and fear,
pierces though every want
we might begin to have
for things to be different.
Imbibe before pleasure
divides into pain.
It is here in this space
that miracles are born,
that the ways of seeing,
ways of our sacred being,
outnumber anything
we could possibly know.