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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Vipassana Diaries: Why I Like to Pee Outside

Kino MacGregor insists that you can’t hurt yourself meditating.

Kino MacGregor can pull her leg all the way behind her shoulder and then her foot hooks under her armpit and it doesn’t seem like this hurts her very much.
 Kino MacGregor and I are different
Kino MacGregor and I are different. Just like Margaret Atwood and I are different. Going into Vipassana, I could sit cross-legged relatively comfortably for half an hour. Still, I was positive that sitting for ten hours a day was going to break my knees, and probably also my hips, and maybe a few other parts while I was at it. When I am not meditating, I masturbate on the internet, inhaling thousands of yoga blogs. I have been devouring Matthew Reski’s series WAWADIA: What Are We Actually Doing In Asana. It’s a qualitative study on injuries in yoga. Of course I have read devoured the whole thing. In one of the articles, Matthew interviews a guy who went to Vipassana. Someone this guy knew there had to do six months of physio for her knee afterwards. And I’d heard of a friend of a friend who had herniated her disc, just trying to meditate.
A phrase from the internet haunted my head, “Many meditators injure themselves meditating on non-violence.”
I was determined that this violence would not happen to me.  I spent my first two and a half days at vipassana frantically obsessing over the best and most sustainable position. Three cushions under my butt, two under each knee. Vice versa. Two under my knee with the bad I.T. band. Oh but then I’m imbalanced, what if I get compensatory pain? Yes, definitely there was compensatory pain. My vacillations went on and on. As for the pain, well, it wasn’t quite extreme, but I did feel some irritation above my left knee on the outside. And often when I got up, my hip felt sort of jammed, so I had to click it back into place. Although the sound of my hip was disgusting, I'm pretty sure my issues were mostly due to my tight I.T. band and probably not because of some surgery-requiring problem.  Even so, I fretted relentlessly. After two and a half days, I thought, the hell with this; I’m straightening my legs. I propped myself up on a mountain of cushions, and extended both legs diagonally in a v-shape with loads more cushions underneath. Smugly, I looked around the room as everyone else creaked themselves into folded legs and anatomically questionable versions of virasana. “Erica,” I thought to myself. “You have the best seat in the house.”
Surely, I’d be spared of both agony and surgery. Well, you’ll see how that went. On Day Four of the course, Goenka introduced the Vipassana technique. Up until then, we’d been luxuriating in Anapana, the delightful task of observing the breath below our nostrils. During this time, I alternated between being very bored, being very sleepy, being very hungry, being very obsessed about how I would starve because there was no dinner, and being very pissed off at a number of people, including Sri W Ham Wrap who once said that my yoga practice was violent and harmful. (I just wrote Hamful by mistake. How funny.)  What a blast. Then the Vipassana technique opened up a whole new exciting world. Instead of being stuck on our nostrils, now we got to move our attention from head to feet.  It was like going from no internet to suddenly getting a U.S. Netflix subscription. I remember walking out of our first session with immense relief. Thank God, I thought almost laughing. No more nostrils. But it felt like my sit bones had punctured through my ass. And I wondered if maybe my hamstrings were being overstretched.
On Day Five of Vipassana, Goenka wanted us to start cultivating adhittana, which means “strong determination.” Apparently the best way of doing this is to endure one-hour sits of extreme stillness three times a day. No opening your eyes, no opening your hands, no changing your legs. Having taken refuge in rules from a young age, I was all over this. Though my legs were uncrossed, I sat like the stillest Buddha in the world. The stillest and the stiffest. It usually took 25 or 30 minutes before my sit bones started to pierce my ass flesh to such an extent that I thought my ass might start to bleed. The rest of my ass wasn’t doing well either. I could feel intense stretching on either side. One of Matthew Remski’s case studies was about an unfortunate Ashtanga yoga teacher who tore all her glute muscles off her hipbone. She had been doing a bunch of hip openers to deal with a knee injury. Then one day after meditating, she did a tiny wide legged forward bend and pop, pop, pop, went all the muscles on her ass. At the end of Day Six, I felt certain that my injury would be even more serious. Both sides of my ass seethed in horrendous agony. Lying in bed around 9:30 p.m., I decided that all my butt muscles were pulling at my sacrum.  It was only a matter of time, likely just five minutes, before the muscles dislocated from my sacrum, my spine went to hell and then Erica’s greatest fear of being in a wheelchair would come true. I sobbed, alone, in my cubicle of a room.
“It’s going to break.” I said out loud, breaking the noble silence to announce my imminent spinal cord injury. My roommates in the other cubicles weren’t allowed to say anything back. I kept sobbing. “Sorry,” I said. I lay down on the floor, stunned by the torture. Finally the day of my Big Catastrophe had come. Ever since I was really small, I’ve been waiting for the day when something horrible and irreversible would happen to my body. Broken spinal cords, esophageal cancer, the flesh-eating disease. I’ve been anticipating my disaster since my parents took me to the Niagara Falls wax museum and I saw the wax statue of Terry Fox who only had one leg. Now my disaster was happening on Day 6 of jolly old Goeka’s vipassana retreat.
Within about twenty minutes the spasms or whatever was going on in my ass finally stopped. Later, I learned that during that night, I’d called out in my sleep. “I knew it!,” I’d yelled. I don’t remember saying this, but I do remember dreaming about Katy Bowman. Katy Bowman is a biomechanist and author who advocates as much natural movement as possible for the benefit of your pelvis and all the cells in your body. And she thinks that almost everyone in the Western World needs a stronger butt.
“Yah, I was at Vipassana,” I told Katy in my dream. “But it was too much.” While I was dreaming, I also remember having the very clear intention of doing a bunch of butt exercises. Sadly, the time and location never worked out. The butt exercises kept getting postponed. (Kind of like Butt Club in Mysore).
The gong rang at 4 a.m. Although I was quite relieved that I wasn’t yet in a wheelchair, I felt absolutely ready to trade in both yoga and meditation for a lifetime of butt exercises and/or anything else.  My ass didn’t hurt as much, but now I felt certain that there was inflammation behind my right knee, the one without the I.T. band problem. Upon careful examination, I realized that the bulge was merely my hamstring tendon.
I dragged myself to the meditation hall late and left when I had to shit. Instead of returning, I went for a walk in the little loop in the forest. It was pitch black. For someone terrified of a spinal cord injury, this wasn’t the most logical behaviour; however, I figured I’d already survived yesterday’s very close call and I wanted to work on my night vision. After a couple of times around the loop, I had to piss and so I pulled up my skirt and peed in the woods. I thought that this was quite scandalous for a vipassana retreat. I did not get any pee on my sandals.
In the afternoon, I went to see the meditation instructor. It was nice of her to view my body hysteria, not as severe, neurotic dysfunction, but rather as my sankaras coming to the surface. Sankaras are deep-rooted mental or behavioral patterns that tend to lead you into the same types situations over and over again. (The yogis often call them “samskaras.”) Some of my sankaras that fall into similar categories include going to the emergency room to see if my ingrown pubic hair is Herpes,  or imagining having to get my esophagus replaced with a piece of my colon, or worrying about getting a foot infection in India that will end with me losing my legs. When I told the instructor about the spinal cord injury scare, she suggested that maybe I was a bit too strict with myself. “Torturing yourself, this is not Vipassana, she said. “Vipassana is not the posture.” She gave the option of a chair, or a back support, if it got too painful. I considered becoming a chair person, but one of my life’s biggest rants is about the dangers of sitting in chairs. It’s up there withpotty training, and sun salutations, and maybe also pubic hair waxing. I decided I would try one more day on the floor. If my sacrum seemed at risk and I had to sit in a chair, well then, so be it. The rest of this story is about how I ended up sitting cross-legged and sort of relaxed for about seventeen minutes. You are probably better off reading this excellent zine that the Boatman bought called, “Why I Like to Pee Outside.” It is so great. I even brought it to India with me and read it to some wonderful Canadians I met in the line-up to register with Sharath.
Zine: “Why I Like to Pee Outside,” by Amanda Stevens,
bent from its long trip to India
The Author Amanda Stevens made the zine at a 24-hour Zinemaking Challenge in Halifax in 2008. “Why I Like to Pee Outside” describes the Unnamed Protagonist’s journey of how she grew to love peeing outside. It is full of informative and compelling diagrams, lists and essential techniques. The unnamed protagonist used to be afraid of peeing on her pants or her shoes. She even considered getting “one of those spouts that make peeing outside easier for people with vulvas.” But she practiced and practiced and now she can do it the way it’s meant to be done.

Peeing Outside, the way it's meant to be done. Watch out for pee splattering off the ground
“It’s a bit of a thrill,” says the Unnamed Protagonist. “It feels slightly transgressive and unladylike, especially when there’s a possibility of being seen doing it. It also makes me feel like I’m getting back to my natural self.” This is how I felt when I peed outside at vipassana. Thrilled, transgressive, and unladylike, and more like my animal self. 

Peeing outside: Thrilling, Transgressive and Unladylike
As fate would have it, peeing outside happens to be excellent for your pelvis, butt muscles included. Katy Bowman recommends peeing outside as often as possible. And I think that she would be happy with Amanda’s squatting diagram.
At the end of “Why I like to pee outside,” the Unnamed Protagonist dresses up as a Girl Guide for Halloween and her friend makes her a badge for peeing outside. Overall, “Why I like to Pee Outside” is a thoroughly satisfying read. I tried to contact Amanda about where people can find more copies. If you’re in Mysore, you can borrow mine.
If you have interesting interesting techniques for peeing outside or a peeing outside story to share, you should email Amanda at redheadwalkingas@yahoo.ca. And/or share them at the end of this blog.
In India, people pee outside all the time. In Mysore, for the most part, you only see dudes.
The End.
I’m not sure how I mentioned so many things in one blog.  Perhaps to some of you, this is not all that surprising.
I don’t have time to edit because my father and his girlfriend are visiting and they are way better tourists than I am.
Oh well, think of all the people I promoted:
Kino MacGregor
Margaret Atwood: Once I wrote a story called, Why I am Different From Margaret Atwood and What I Don't Gain From Humping Duvets. It used to be all over the internet. Now I can only find a version with very strange formatting. Well, if you're dying to read it, I can hook you up, perhaps for the price of three coconuts. Haggling welcome. 
Amanda Stevens, author of “Why I Like to Pee Outside.” I messaged her on Facebook raving about her Zine. Unfortunately, I got the wrong Amanda Stevens. Better luck next time.

And Myself:

The Vipassana Diaries: Bus
The Vipassana Diaries: Day Zero
The Vipassana Diaries: Food Belly
Vipassana Diaries/Ashtanga Memoirs: You Cling To Things Until They Die (Ham Wraps, S.I. Joints Etc.)

Do Not Kill Your Baby

Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
Twitter: @mypelvicfloor
I Let Go, my $2 self-help book
Don't forget your peeing outside stories!!!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Life Is Very Exciting

My Cool Friend From Belgium is very advanced because she inspires the most interesting and original quotes from Sharath.

“No butterfly!” he called at her years ago while she was learning to stand up from a backbend and waved her arms to either side as she was flying up.
No butterfly. No hugging.
“No hugging in the shala!” he said another day when her butterfly arms wrapped around him as she came to her feet.
This trip, when she came into his office she told him that her back was a bit sore on one side and she couldn’t fold forward very easily.

“Oh okay,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Nobody’s perfect.” I thought that was nice.

One morning, Sharath was helping my Cool Friend From Belgium with Supta Vajrasana. She was having a hard time grabbing her big toes. Sharath helped pull her hands forward.
Daylene and Kino in Supta Vajrasana
 “You need auto,” said Sharath.

“Pardon me?” asked my Cool Friend From Belgium.

“Auto. Like Rickshaw,” said Sharath.

“I need two!” replied my Cool Friend From Belgium.

The other day, Sharath was trying to get my CFFB to grab her ankles in backbends. My CFFB squeezed her anus and pressed her femur bones as far forward as she could, but the catching was not to be.

“Why?” asked Sharath.

“Oh, bad day,” said my CFFB.

“No puja?” asked Sharath.

No Puja?
If you are a keener reading this, please ask Sharath about the backbending puja at conference this week. See what he recommends. I hope it involves Snickers bars.

Last week my Cool Friend From Belgium went to Sharath’s office again to pay for the month of November. He looked at her card.

“Hmm,” he said. He crossed off 4:30 on the Monday Led time and changed it to 7:30. In case you’re not in Mysore and you have better things to do than keep track of other people’s yoga classes, 7:30 is when Sharath teaches the intermediate series instead of the primary series. There are some frightening Led Intermediate legends kicking around and many people fear that they won’t come out alive. My Cool Friend From Belgium figured she didn’t have to worry about it since she’d only just started sticking one leg behind her head and she hadn’t been very consistent about her pujas.

“I come to Led Intermediate?”

“You’re doing Eka pada?”

“I’ve only done it three times so far.”

“Okay. You come.”

Stunned, flustered and rather terrified, my Cool Friend From Belgium wasn’t sure what to say.

“Well that’s very exciting,” she said, her tone a little unconvinced.

Sharath laughed. “Life is very exciting,” he said. 
I was going to bring banners to Led Intermediate to cheer on my Cool Friend From Belgium, but we weren't sure whether or not this would inspire very many excellent quotes. Instead I tried not to make too much noise as I watched from the lobby. This proved to be a big challenge because it was all very exciting.
The End.

I could only find a picture of Sharath with both legs behind his head. Well, you get the idea.

Exuberant Bodhisattva on Facebook
Twitter: @mypelvicfloor
How To Let Go, for $2

Ashtanga Yoga and Pre-school
Do Not Kill Your Baby (not happy)
Day Trip (half and half)

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Do Not Kill Your Baby

During my twenty months working with small children at the Montessori school, I complained extensively and comprehensively. It was the perfect form of birth control. Once a month, I sent emails to myself. “Never ever have children,” they read. “Whatever you do, no kids for you.”

I finally escaped in August so that I could deal with all my shit at Vipassana, and then fly away to Mysore, India. There I would bond with my favourite cult and hopefully discover my life’s higher purpose. By the time I got to India, I missed kids. On the airplane, I felt envious of the mothers and fathers comforting their babies. In chanting, when all the kids are running around screaming, I wish I had a baby to hold, something else to do besides chant about sun gods, peace and elephants.

“Awe, look at this one,” I say to my Cool Friend From Belgium as we pass another toddler on the streets of Gokulam.

“Oh God, Erica,” says my Cool Friend From Belgium (CFFB). “Soon your boobs are going to start leaking milk.”

I’m happy my Cool Friend From Belgium mentioned this, because now I have the opportunity to tell everyone about me and the Boatman’s potential business project called Recreational Lactation (RL). Recreational Lactation means sucking on someone’s boobs for so long that they start making milk. Somewhere the Boatman heard that maybe this is possible. Since breast milk is apparently this magical and nourishing liquid, we thought that we could use my recreationally generated breast milk to make powerful and nutritious smoothies, ice cream and yogurt.  During my early days in Halifax, I had all the time in the world to make this plan materialize. Unfortunately, the Boatman had a pretty time consuming job and so he couldn’t fulfill his sucking responsibilities. My tits remained tiny and dry. Likely they will remain this way for some time as I endure this extended self-imposed dry spell. Regardless, I figured that somewhere in India, there were kids I could hang out with.

A couple weeks ago while wandering around my neighbourhood, I came upon a stone wall with this sign on it.

“Do not kill your baby,” it read. “Leave it here.”
Do Not Kill Your Baby
On one side of the sign was a picture of Krishna. The other side had a picture of Jesus. I walked in, passing a couple of young girls hanging laundry. At the front door, a woman was combing through the hair of a young girl with Down Syndrome. It looked like she was checking her scalp for lice. Inside, a very tiny child with what was probably cerebral palsy lay on a mat on the floor. Her eyes squinting and face disturbed, she bent her legs and straightened them repeatedly while clutching her fists in front of her chest. Two children, maybe ten or eleven were strapped into wooden high chairs. Their faces reminded of Isabelle, the woman I lived and worked with at L’Arche, and Glendon, the young boy my parents and I looked after when I was a teenager. So often kids with cerebral palsy have similar expressions and mannerisms, the same great big joy in their faces. I wondered how much money it would take to put wheels on these kids’ chairs. Or to get them a proper wheelchair.

After a few minutes, mobs of tiny children started wandering through the lobby and into a dark play room. None of them seemed to be wearing diapers, though they looked like they between one and three years old. A sturdier little boy in a red shirt stopped to say hello to me. He gave me a big grin and then started to smack me, laughing at each wack. I had a kid hit me repeatedly at the Montessori School.  At the time, it felt humiliating and insulting to be rejected by a three year old. In this case, however, I felt like I was getting special treatment. Even so, I waved my hands in front of me and shook my head.

“Ah,” I said, since I couldn’t speak one word of Kannada.

The kids kept pouring into the dark dingy playroom. I didn’t see very many adults around, but the house mother finally noticed me. She told me to email the manager and come back later. It took about five days to get a meeting with the manager. She arrived twenty minutes late which is pretty good for India.

“So the police have cleared you to take care of children.”

“Yes. In Canada.”

“That’s good. Some horrible things went down in Canada.”

She was talking about the segregation schools for First Nations people. I guess she herself was First Nations, but in Maine, where she came from, land rights and cultural respect were way better. Although I imagine she realized that I was too young to be directly implicated in the segregation schools, I never asked.

“Well, I think it would be great if you did some exciting Montessori things with our pre-schoolers.” Most of the other kids went to school, including the kids with disabilities. A couple of elders came from the sister nursing home to watch the toddlers, and sometimes some older girls helped out. Otherwise, there wasn’t much programming.

“You’ll be able to model for the older girls how to deal with toddlers without hitting them,” said the manager. 

What a wonderful idea, I thought. I told her I could come Tuesdays and Thursdays from ten until noon.

The first Tuesday, I arrived, the playroom was full. The only adult in sight was a very old lady who paced in and out of the playroom carrying a wooden stick. Probably there were 12 to 15 toddlers, interspersed with a handful of slightly older girls who could have been nine, but looked 5 or 6. Whenever a younger child cried, the bigger girls picked them up and swung them around. They continued to do this after the little ones stopped crying, yanking them on and off the floor and pulling them by their arms. Often this resulted in more tears. When I walked in the room, everyone swarmed me. They wanted to be picked up and sit on my lap. At Montessori, I was not the most cuddly or nurturing of teachers, certainly not at the beginning. I feel like French teachers are some of the more miserable people on earth. I have a saying that goes, All French Teachers Cry in the Bathroom. At the Montessori school I cried in the bathroom. When the kids cried, I wanted to cry too. I would have preferred to do anything else than deal with their tears. Eventually I learned that not dealing with tears would causes long term damage and thus I made a point of somewhat skillfully comforting children when they cried, even when I was grumpy.

At the orphanage, it was a no-brainer since now I have baby cravings and I’ve gone all soft. Plus these poor kids didn’t have parents. So I picked up any kid who wanted to be picked up. Everyone was allowed to sit on my lap. Nobody was wearing very substantial diapers and it didn’t seem likely that very many of them were potty trained. I decided that it was okay if I got peed on, but if someone shit on me, I could go home. Beforehand, I had rubbed tea tree and neem oil onto my hair to prevent lice. Within seven minutes, I realized that this was a lost cause. If anyone had lice, I was getting it.

“Aunty! Aunty!” some of the older kids exclaimed, waving at the ceiling. “Aunty! Camera! Aunty! Camera!” Apparently the house mother or someone was watching over the children from the office. How nice. One of the five or six year old girls in a frilly purple dress grabbed my hands. She had fierce fiery eyes. I could tell that expecting her to have any impulse control was unrealistic. She started crawling up my legs. Then she wrapped her hands around my neck. She was a little old to get picked up, but again, no parents. I decided it was okay.

“Yes, yes,” I said before putting her down.  By now someone had brought out an old rice bag full of broken toys and dumped everything on the floor. There were a couple dozen mega blocks, fewer pieces of lego, three or four dolls shedding their cotton insides, some broken trucks and airplanes, and two notebooks to go between all twenty kids. All this was being mixed with the inevitable pee that was only cleaned up after several requests.

It was an evolutionary race to see who got which toys. Just like in Canada, the most popular activities were building with blocks and chewing on everything else. Fiery purple dress girl was more interested in me. She wrapped her arms around my waist again. Aunty appeared in the doorway.

“Do not pamper her,” she said. “She always kicks other children.” I didn’t think there was much chance of anyone being pampered in that room, but I nodded my head.

My favourite toy was a notebook. Inside someone had written the abc’s. On the front inside cover, there was a blue and green advertisement.

“Not all chemicals are bad,” it read. “Without hydrogen and oxygen, there would be no water.” One of the older girls pointed to these words and over and over again, I read them to her.

At the Montessori school, I felt like the children spent way too much time washing their hands because they’d stuck their fingers in their noses. Some of the kids could never leave the sink. And the staff spent way too much time spraying tables and blocks with Lysol. What do you prefer, folks, the flu or cancer?

That said, as soon as I returned home from the Lysol-free soap-free orphanage, I saturated every inch of my body with thick layers of soap, and I scrubbed.


On Thursday, the room seemed a bit calmer. Seven or eight school aged girls were scattered around amidst the toddlers, and an older woman was sitting in a chair in a corner rubbing oil onto each child’s hair.

“Songs?” the older house mother asked me. During my Montessori days, I used to dread circle time. Whenever I whined about it, the Boatman would make fun of me.

“Sounds so stressful,” he would say. Well, it was. If the kids didn’t like the song, which usually they didn’t, they would start rolling around on the floor and being obnoxious. Then I would have to try and reel them in speaking only French, which they didn’t understand. Hopeless and humiliating. All French teachers cry in the bathroom. But at the orphanage, the kids were really into it. Although it took half a century to get everyone into a circle, once we figured it out, everyone belted out the ABC’s like their lives depended on it. I also taught them the chicken dance. It was pretty adorable. The older girls went through their repertoire of Indian songs with tons of actions while the smaller ones watched in awe.

 One girl called out, “Exercise,” and I made up a bunch of exercises on the spot. Then the bigger girls left and it was just me and the little ones and the old lady with the oil. A young mother came in with her new baby. I don’t know if she worked there or not. All the kids sat around her and looked at the little baby sitting in her mother’s lap. Seemed like a brutal tease to me. There was such a noticeable difference between the baby with the mother and the orphans. Their eyes were so different. Suddenly, the mother got a really angry look on her face and wacked the little boy who was sitting beside her in the back. I’m not sure what he did. He wasn’t more than three. He started to cry and I put him in my lap. After the lady left, the kids started playing with broken toys again. Another old lady joined the room. She hit a couple of kids with her stick. I’m not sure why. I really wanted to leave, though somehow I made it until noon. When I got home, I still missed kids.


The following Tuesday, the weather was cooler and I wondered if maybe I could take the kids outside. Because of their fragile health, the manager had told me she didn’t want the little ones out in the hot sun. She said that they went out in the morning and evening, but it’s hard to say. Nobody’s gross motor seemed particularly awesome from long hours playing outdoors.  I tried to ask one of the elder ladies if we could go out, but she seemed confused.

“Songs, dance, ABC’s,” she said. “Children like.” Dirty dark room it was. Before I could start my brilliant circle time, I saw that one of the tiniest kids was standing in a puddle urine. The oldest he could have been was eighteen months. His shorts were super wet and the pile of toys was just a couple of inches from the puddle.

“Wet,” I said to one of the staff. She was sitting in a chair eating chapatti and rice.

“Pee? Cloth?” I asked. Already a couple of kids had walked through the puddle and were tracking urine on the floor. The woman put her chapati down, ripped off the little boys shorts and used them to wipe up the pee. I remembered the rules I’d set about pee and shit. The little boy kept continued to play with no pants on. Within three minutes he was shitting on the floor. It wasn’t Delhi Belly poop, but it wouldn’t have been a breeze to pick up with a plastic bag.

“Um, clean?" I asked, pointing emphatically. The kid kept walking around with his dirty bum. The woman with the chapati yelled something at a young girl in the kitchen. Maybe she was twelve or thirteen. She sighed, yanked the little boy by his hand and dragged him to the bathroom.  There she hosed him off without looking at him. In a nearby bathroom stall, a three or four year old was squatting while excreting liquid diarrhea. This boy did have Mysore’s version of Delhi Belly, and I wasn't sure he was old enough to hose himself down properly. There was a sink outside the bathroom but I didn’t see any soap.

“Sick?” I said, pointing to the little boy in the toilet. There was still poop on the floor so I pointed to that too. The girl who’d hosed down the little boy went to the kitchen and came back with a pile of newspaper. She handed me a sheet. What was this for? Was it some sort of toy? Then she knelt down and cleaned up the poop with the newspaper. Only newspaper. I think maybe in India, there is some sort of social stigma surrounding cleaning up shit. Having cleaned up shit professionally for the better part of a decade, I feel no shame and minimal disgust while taking part in the process. But not with newspaper and not when there is no soap anywhere in sight

I used to have this big rant about how kids in the west wear diapers for too long and it is horrible for everybody’s pelvis and for the environment. Now this rant is dead.

I paced around the pee spot, the pooh spot, and all the broken toys.

“Sit,” said an elder with a stick. I didn’t understand how anyone could be in this room and sit down. The kids continued to eat the broken toys, rotating around the room like bees in captivity. A little girl, even smaller than the boy who had pooped on the floor wet her pants. The elder knelt down and gave her a huge wack. She was about to get dragged across the room when I walked out. It was 10:15.


I could have made a meeting with the manager, but then what? Judge her life’s work, buy some Lysol, make a big batch of play dough and then go home for Christmas.  I really liked that kid who shat on the floor. He was one of my favourites. Maybe he’ll be okay. It seems that once the kids start going to school, they do a little better. In the meantime, I really can’t watch toddlers get wacked, for any reason. And going twice a week won’t change much long term. Perhaps this is a cop-out, a way to justify my blissful experience here, which consists of one indulgent leisurely activity after another. Or maybe it was just too much. 

I regularly devour podcasts by Buddhist teacher Michael Stone. Over and over again, he says, “We are all happiest when we serve.” He says that we can’t keep doing our practice just to make us feel good, keeping our blinders on, oblivious to everyone else’s suffering. I am not oblivious, and yet, I am not doing a hell of a lot. Often when I hear Michael’s spiel about service, I cringe and think, please no. I can’t serve. I served when I was nineteen. I’m all done. I’m not happiest when I serve. I would rather stay home and blog about my pubic hair. Let’s hope this doesn’t affect my chances of getting my own orphan when the time comes.

“Who am I and what should I do?” Michael Stone says that everyone who goes to a psychologist is asking one of these two questions, and usually both. Coming to India is the equivalent of going to about seventeen psychologists, and at least a few yoga students here in Mysore are asking themselves these questions. What should we do? Some students are tutoring school kids with special needs. Others volunteer at a centre where young people were rescued from human trafficking. My friend fostered five little kittens, only three weeks old. Already four have died.   Yesterday there was a photo shoot raising money for the kids at the orphanage.  This is a kind initiative and I’m sure it won’t hurt, but I just don’t see how the money will prevent kids from getting hit when they pee on the floor.

All my life, I’ve watched my parents take care of people. They met at a group home for kids whose families were in temporary crisis. Often, my father would bring home young teenage boys. I remember them coming camping with us. At Christmastime, we always had people with nowhere else to go around the table. When I was sixteen, we started providing respite care for Glendon, a young boy with cerebral palsy. Four years later, when his mother could no longer take care of him, my parents took Glendon in as a foster child.  Even after they separated, my dad kept Glendon at his house for four years, while he was working full time as a schoolteacher.
Glendon. Rocking out on Lakewood Road
My mom has a bit of a Mother Teresa complex. She feels responsible for fixing everything and feels guilty when she can’t. Glendon is now 21 and almost as big as her. Every week, my mom goes to take him for a walk. But she can’t take him overnight like my father can, because she is too tiny. I always say that nobody loves Glendon the way my mother does. My father takes care of Glendon in a way that doesn’t seem to overwhelm him. As long as my father’s in town, he has Glendon overnight, feeding him, bathing him, and taking him for long walks or for swims in the lake.

I didn’t go to the orphanage to serve, or to be the change I want to see in the world. As I said, I just felt like hanging out with kids. Maybe if I was staying longer I would have done more than just walk away. I keep thinking about what constitutes a reasonable contribution. And how to make this contribution without inheriting my mother’s Mother Theresa Complex or becoming an arrogant and obnoxious white saviour figure. Until I figure this out, my contribution is postponed.

“Let God take care of the world, you take care of your anus.” Pattabhi Jois said this once. It is not one of his most beloved and frequently referenced sayings. He is talking about squeezing your anus until moula bandha works its magic deep inside your pelvis and everything becomes beautiful. Probably he was trying to cure Mother Theresa Complexes. My mother doesn’t know about moula bandha, but she always says, “Let God take care of it.” She has to tell herself this or else she worries constantly about Glendon and all the kids in the world like Glendon, and how she’s not fixing everything for everyone. Bless my mother, and bless everyone out there who is raising money and saving kittens. Bless those little kids eating dirty, broken toys, and you know what, bless the ladies watching them. Whatever blessing means. I conclude with no wisdom, and no real solution. People shouldn’t kill their babies, and I don’t know where else they can leave them. I could say something cheeky about the pull-out method, but I will almost surely end up sounding insensitive and obscene.

God may or may not help. Only taking care of my anus will probably not yield fruits beyond narcissism and neurosis. I wanted all the yoga students to read about the orphans in the hopes that it might cure some of their self-absorption and sacro-iliac angst. This is what the psychologists call projecting. When I was a grumpy French teacher, I used to believe that I was totally dead inside. My experience with kids in India and the orphanage has shown me that there is more in my heart than cynicism, sarcasm and neurosis. I suppose this is somewhat of a relief.

At the yoga shala, our chanting instructor has made some very subtle hints about not bringing loud children to chanting. So now we can chant about sun gods, peace and elephants without being disrupted.  As serene and spiritual as this is, I feel like something is missing.

I still think about kids the whole time.
The End.
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Wednesday, 29 October 2014


“2-9 it is today. Somebody’s birthday. I don’t know them.”

Jadwiga used to announce this every morning at breakfast as she stirred milk into her coffee in the mug with the cat on it.

“B-b-b bir-day, shanana nana. Cococococa.” Cococococa was Marc's name for me. Whether or not it was my birthday, Marc liked to chant B-b-b bir-day, shanana nana. Cococococa this all day long. On the toilet, while he was shaving, and while he was slicing his breakfast banana. Birthdays were a big deal at my L’Arche house where I lived with five adults with intellectual disabilities. Weeks ahead of time, Nathalie, our head of house, would make sure the L’Arche workshop was preparing a beautiful homemade card for you, along with a Happy Birthday banner. You got to invite your favourite people, request your favourite meal and pick the kind of cake you wanted. My favourite food is Indian, and from her years living with Muslim families in Madagascar, Nathalie knew how to make it from scratch. Homemade samosas, papads, chana masala. Eight, nine years later, I can still remember how delicious it was.

Before cake, it was L’Arche tradition to have a birthday prayer. If you weren’t into Christianity, then they wouldn’t read anything from the Bible. But at the time, I was trying to get a thing going on with Jesus and I didn’t mind. For my twentieth birthday, Nathalie picked a verse from the Beatitudes, in the Gospel of Matthew. The line went, “Blessed be the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Since my twentieth birthday, I have definitely drowned myself in cynicism, negativity and self-deprecation for days, weeks or months on end. During such periods, it is nice to remember that somebody once looked at me and decided I had a pure heart, and that I would see God.

After the bible verse which was short and sweet, Madeleine read a poem that Judith, one of our assistants had helped her write. Madeleine came to L’Arche when she was in her early fifties. Coming to L’Arche, she had all these big dreams. She wanted to learn to read and write, and maybe get a boyfriend and learn to take the bus by herself. Whenever we went to church, she would hold the hymn book open and concentrate so intently on the words, dying to be able to understand. It took her a long time to accept that not all her dreams would come true. Still, she wrote really wonderful poems.

Madeleine’s poem began with, “A twentieth birthday is a special day, and you are a very special person.” I will keep it forever. Another L’Arche tradition during birthday prayers was to pass a candle around the table. When it was your turn with the candle, you gave thanks for the things you loved about the person. Some people gave thanks to God, and some people just gave thanks. It all sounds so cheesy and yet, it ended up being pretty perfect.

Madeleine always gave a big speech that was similar to her poems. And thank you, Erica for taking us to the library. And thank you, Erica for that time we walked all the way from… Usually we had to tap her on the shoulder to get her to wrap it up.

Jimmy, a new L’Arche member liked to make speeches too. He was obsessed with Power Rangers, and with me as well. At every birthday, he made fun of me about the time I was having dinner at another L’Arche home and I stuck my hair in my mouth. “Remember, I asked you if you wanted ketchup? I have to tell your mother about that.”

“B-b-birday, cocococoCA, shanana-na-na,” Marc would say a few times. Then he would take my hand and whisper, “Cococococa,” one more time.

Isabelle loved Jesus and prayers. She was the same age as me. Born with cerebral palsy, Isabelle doesn’t move or talk that much, though she laughs and smiles a great deal and says yes and no with her eyes. At my birthday, Nathalie held the candle in front of her face and she broke into hysterics. Over and over again, her eyes looked up.

No matter whose birthday it was, Jadwiga said just about  the same thing. "Awe, what should I say? Same as Madeleine. Happy birthday. Keep up the good health. Keep up the good work in L'Arche."

These days, it seems like some of the cool people don’t like birthdays. People are too cool for such frivolous celebration. Oh well. Too bad for them. I’m still alive and I’m happy.

When it was a child’s birthday at Montessori school, we put a brass sun in the middle of the Circle time floor. Polishing brass is one of the Montessori activities. The children polished the sun with diluted all natural licorice -flavoured toothpaste.  Sometimes this made the sun shiny and other times the sun became encaked with greenish chunks. In any case, the child with the birthday took the painted globe and carried it around the sun.

“Isaac is one year old,” we’d say when he completed the circle.

“Isaac is two years old.” The child would walk around the circle as many times as the earth had rotated around the sun with him on it.

“Isaac is five years old." Then we would sing happy birthday in as many languages as we knew. English French, and Spanish.

More than once, I teared up as I watched a child walk around the sun. What a surprise.

In Halifax, I picked up on a tradition of doing the same number of sun salutations as the age you are turning. Some people also do this many backbends. I tried this tradition for a couple of years and it was fun. Here in Mysore, you can hardly expect the crowds to wait for you as you whip off your age in sun salutations and backbends. But although there is no official birthday tradition, Mysore is just one big birthday party anyways.  In most cases, I would advise you that not everyone is as happy as they appear on the Internet. And yet, here I am, and my face and the insides match.

Fake Rebellious Yoga Selfie I
The joy is real.

Fake Rebellious Yoga Selfie II
Some of the joy must be attributed to the Fanny Pack
Also to the Spiritual Pants

And to my dear friends

Got this from the Boatman this morning. It's our friend the moon.
The Boatman is going to be the moon for Halloween

Wish you were here, babe.
Otherwise, I am the luckiest girl on Earth.

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How I am old

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Ashtanga Yoga and Pre-school

I always thought that Montessori was like the Ashtanga of preschool. Just like students in the Mysore room, children are only allowed to do the lessons that the teacher has shown them and the teacher only shows the child a lesson when she feels the child is ready. Lessons have pre-requisites. Spooning beans from one bowl to another comes before pouring rice from one jug to another. After pouring rice, if you don’t leave the floor in a total catastrophe, then you might get to practice pouring water which is very exciting. Spooning beans is like the sun salutations for the practical life section of Montessori work. There are sun salutations for every section of the Montessori curriculum. For sensorial work, the first lesson is the pink tower. After the pink tower, children learn to build the brown stairs. Before learning how to write letters, they learn the sounds that letters make. Before writing them on a chalkboard they practice tracing them with their fingers. Lessons become increasingly complicated, but only at a degree that the student can handle.  

Pink Tower
Once children have received a lesson, they can take it out to work with it. We refer to all their activities as “work.” Taking out work and putting it away, this is the practice for a Montessori child. As with Ashtanga, transitions are very important in the Montessori classroom. Before taking out new work, children have to push in their chairs and put away their other materials. I call this the Montessori Vinyasa. Vinyasa stems beyond just tidying up; it’s about taking care of the world, making the world better for your friends, and at the very least, not hitting anybody. Your work is important, but so are your friends, and your friend’s work is important too. It is the same with Ashtanga yoga. Vinyasa is way more than floating in and out of postures. All the stuff about your friends and your world, this applies to the spiritual people too. You and your practice, these are not the most important things in the world.  
Sharath and Sambhav having love and laughs at conference
Photo courtesy of Josh Pariah Yoga
Last week at conference Sharath said, “No one is greater. Everyone is great." He also said, "Everyone is special but at the same time you are all equal." Some of the three year olds I worked with used to think they were so special that they shouldn’t have to follow the rules. To this, the Montessori directress used to say, “You are very special, but you need to follow the rules like everybody else.” Even though we are all special, most of us do better learning slowly, one step at a time, whether we’re figuring out how to build the pink tower or how to stand up from a backbend.

Of course, almost all parents feel as though their children are exceptionally gifted.

“He’s so smart, he knows all his letters and he speaks three languages. Shouldn’t he be learning advanced math? Long division? Should we hire a tutor?” The child is three years old.

Parents know best. Probably the child is highly special and gifted, but hiring a tutor for a three year old is ridiculous. He’ll be doomed to catch Gifted Child Syndrome.  I caught Gifted Child Syndrome when I was six years old and it took me decades to recover.  Taught carelessly, both Montessori School and Ashtanga yoga hold some risk of Gifted Child Syndrome. In both cases, it might take decades to recover.

I say, of what use is long division, if kids can’t line up at the door without pushing their friends? Speaking of line ups, the children at the Montessori School were terrible at lining up. Everybody wanted to be first and every day they would push and shove and cry. It was the most irritating part of my job. Usually, I would get so frustrated that I would start speaking English instead of French.

“Everyone can be a leader, even if you’re not first.” None of the children believed me.

“When I go to the Superstore, and Sarah is in front of me, do you think I push Sarah so that I can go first?” Sarah was the other Montessori teacher. The kids thought I was little bit funny. Still, they kept pushing and crying if they lost their spot. I regret misleading the kids into thinking that adults don’t push each other in line, or fight to be first. I’d forgotten about that poor person who got trampled and killed in the lineup for Walmart on Black Friday. Also, I’d never experienced the line up at KPJAYI.* As fate would have it, line ups are also the most irritating part of Mysore. People say, we’ve travelled so far, we want the Shakti. They’re afraid the magical star inside of their pelvis won’t ignite if they don’t score their magical special spot. I say, of what use is Karandavasana if you can’t line up without pushing your friends? And why is your magical star inside your pelvis more important than everyone else’s? One of my Canadian friends thought that maybe we could instate a single file policy. I told her that probably this would be shot down immediately.

The good news is that in twenty years, when my Montessori children will come to KPJAYI to release the trauma inflicted by their grumpy French teacher, they will absolutely rock the led class line up. For immediate good news, tomorrow’s Butt Club has moved to a new shala. The space is slightly larger with plenty of room for all. No need to push and shove. In case of a crowd, please line up in a single file. And please be mindful that our instructor, La Reine Des Fesses has recently adopted baby kittens and so it is especially important that you don’t trample each other on the way in. Nobody likes a dead kitten.
Nobody likes a dead kitten.
The End.

See you at Butt Club, 4:30 P.M., shala time.

*Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute

p.s. If anyone was dying to know how the Knitting Club is going, it couldn’t be going any better. My Cool Friend From Belgium found some wool.

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Day Trip

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Day Trip

A couple Thursdays ago, I woke up and my vagina was bleeding. Since I am very advanced, I don’t practice yoga when I first start menstruating, not even in Mysore. The day before I had maxed out on lying around, masturbating on the internet and eating very strange ice cream. So I decided it was time to take a little Day Trip.

According to Google, there was an interesting little town called Srirangapathna that I could visit in less than a day. I wandered down to the shala to see if anyone wanted to come. People seemed busy looking for tiger balm to rub into their hamstrings and buying curd for their morning granola. On practice days in Mysore, the quest for tiger balm can be more than enough excitement for one day. People applauded my ambitious plan to catch a bus in Mysore city, but no one was feeling my sense of adventure.

Oh well, I figured it could be sort of fun to hit it up on my own. I went to the main road to see if I could find a rickshaw driver who could drive me to the bus station. One seemed particularly delighted to see me.

“Where you going?” he asked. His name was Sri Brahmanam or something spiritual like this.

“I’m a guide. We go to Big Century, Temple, Museum. 500 rupees. Good deal. Good guide.” I didn’t know what Big Century was, but, what the hell. It sounded like a pretty good deal. In Halifax, 500 rupees can’t even get you from one end of the city to the other.

Mysore rickshaw. I thought rickshaws in India were guys pulling and I swore I would never take one. They have rickshaws like this in Halifax. In Mysore, rickshaws are kind of like sturdy black and yellow golf carts.
From the horror stories I’ve heard about driving in India, I’d imagined that getting on the road would mean chronic fear for my life and spinal cord as I scarcely survived one head on collision after another. The reality is much less terrifying. I like riding rickshaws. The wind cools me off and I can look at things without worrying about my horrible sense of direction and driving skills. On the way to Sri Rangapathna, we passed many fields where people work all day in the hot sun. I asked my rickshaw driver what they were growing in the fields.

“Good guide,” he answered. “First we go to Big Century.” And he pulled into the Rangantitthu Bird Sanctuary. Although most of the birds were far away on an island in the middle of the river, it was refreshing to be out of the city. We walked along the path by the river. After about 300 metres, my rickshaw driver seemed tired.

View from Lookout at Big Century
 “Tired,” he said. “No breakfast.” I told him to rest on the bench while I explored. I climbed up and down a couple of lookouts and could sort of see birds. All I could tell is that they were white. Further along the path, a young man was painting an iron fence yellow.

“You need guide, Miss?” he asked.

“My guide’s resting,” I said.

“Come with me,” he said. He motioned for me to go under the fence. Probably this was a terrible idea. But I figured he worked there, so that was somewhat legit. Also, I felt like I hadn’t seen 300 rupees worth of birds. Maybe this guy would show me something interesting. I went under a part of a fence that wasn’t covered with fresh yellow paint. Yellow Paint Man grabbed my hand and led me down a wooded path. I let go, however, my hand still got covered in bright yellow paint. Yellow Paint Man continued to reach for me on the steeper parts of the path.
Yellow Paint Man's Hands, with red flower
“I’m okay,” I said. We came to a clearing.

“Marriage?” he asked me. The Boatman and I have never been married or engaged, except for Indian purposes.

“Yes, I’m married,” I said emphatically.
“Beautiful,” he said. “Photo?” He took out his phone
“No no.” He showed me a red flower, and a bush with fuzzy red sumac like plants on them. Yellow Paint Man mushed the fuzzy part until a red paste formed between his fingers. He pointed his red and yellow index finger towards my forehead.
Sumac Type tree. I am not excellent with plants. Anybody know the tree?
“Bindi?” he said. Bindi are red dots you see Indian women wear on their forehead in line with their ajna third eye chakra. Marriage is one of the reasons women wear bindis and to protect you and your husband.  It is also good for cultivating your third eye chakra wisdom. I love chakras, and suddenly the Boatman and I were married. Even so, I did not want a bindi, especially not one mixed with yellow paint.
“Oh, no thank you,” I said. We continued into the woods. Here Yellow Paint Man reached for my butt and tiny boobs once or twice. 
“No touching!” I said once I was positive his caresses were not accidental.
“Oh, okay mam. Sorry mam.” Well, I guess I had been confusing about my marital status since I had refused the Bindi.  Now we were at a river bank. He motioned towards a bed of dried grass reeds in front of a bunch of bamboo trees. “Lovers, mam,” he said.
“My lover is in Canada,” I reminded him. On the way back, we made one more stop at a grove of bamboo shoots.

“Lovers,” Yellow Paint Man said again, showing me where couples had carved their initials. I did not ask for Yellow Paint Man’s initials, nor did I write Exuberant Bodhisattva + The Boatman inside a heart. Finally we were back at the yellow fence. I climbed under and said good-bye.

Probably the whole ordeal took about twenty minutes.

“You losted! You losted!” my rickshaw cried out when I found him.

“I’m fine.”

“Where were you? You’re my response. 500 rupees there and back to Gokulam. You’re my response.*”
I suggested we sit down the steps leading up to a gazebo.

“No breakfast. Not resting. Worried. You’re my response.” He let out a big sigh. Then he put two fingers in front of his lips and turned to face me.

“Kiss, kiss?” he asked.


“Oh, oh oh. Sorry, miss. So sorry, so sorry. Testing. Testing only. You’re my response.” Anti-harassment activists reading this are most likely horrified that I landed myself in two potential molestation situations within half an hour. Perhaps I should have fired my rickshaw driver, taken the first bus back to Gokulam, and made the non-negotiable vow to never do anything else by myself ever again. Honestly though, neither incident left me very traumatized. Of course crawling under a fence was not consent for Yellow Paint Man to grab my ass, but at least he more or less  understood the concept of no-means-no. And to give him the benefit of the doubt, there might have been some misunderstanding  about the marriage situation. Maybe he thought I said yes, I’d marry him, or maybe he thought my marriage with the Boatman wasn’t serious because I’d refused the Bindi. In any case, as far as horny, sketchy dudes go, I have met much worse in North America. To me Yellow Paint Man seemed like a 14 year old and the rickshaw driver was like a small child. 

Even so, before continuing on with my rickshaw driver, I made sure he got the message.

“Don’t do this again! Never do that again.”

“Oh, okay miss. So sorry.”

“Guides should not do that.”

“Oh okay. Testing, miss, just testing. Good guide, good guide.”

“No, no. Never do that again.”

“Okay miss, so sorry miss. Good guide. Excellent guide”

At the Sree Ranganatha Swamy Temple, he repented by giving his gods several bunches of coriander. Everywhere I went, people stared. I guess they were captivated by my extreme height and whiteness, and possibly my curly hair and biceps.  Several people asked if they could be in a photo with me. If it was women and children, I said yes. When I shook their hands, they got all giddy. It was a little bit sweet. Even hunching, I towered over them in the photos. I hope I didn’t make too many funny faces.
Besides the temple, we went to a jail, the grave of Super Warrior Tippu Sultan, a mosque and a couple of art museums. My favourite place was these steps by the river where people swam and did their laundry. Got the biggest stares here. 
By the river
 At one o’clock, my rickshaw driver finally had some weird deep-fried chip like concoction for breakfast. Then he drove me back to the Gokulam coconut stand.

“Needing good guide. Calling any time.”

I’ll be sure to keep this in mind.

The End.