Friday, December 28, 2012

Sea Change: on leaving East Timor, growing up, and welcoming the new year

Dearest readers, 2012 is drawing to a close. The world didn't end and the solstice has passed, so in solar terms, a new year has already begun. Many have been saying that 2012 marks the end of an era of humanity, and the dawn of a new one. For me, 2013 is certainly going to bring about some major changes.

On December 31st, I am leaving East Timor, my adoptive home for most of the past 8 1/2 years. It's hard for me to begin to write about the significance of this to me. I came to this half island nation when I was just 23 and I am leaving now, 31 years old. How to sum up the changes that take place during a quarter life? In this place I found friendships that transcend all boundaries and will last a lifetime, loved and lost a soulmate, and through this loss learned the meaning of fleeting pure happiness. I have climbed mountains in the sunrise, heard the Old Magic humming, swum with whales and dolphins, dived with a dugong, four-wheel-driven up a rocky escarpment with a flat tire, camped on beaches under the stars, slipped into a career and become a yoga teacher.

I have held babies just born and witnessed the death of a child; I have sat on the floor listening to gunfire while a teenager sobbed with terror, spilling stories of past horrors that he witnessed as a boy. I have been displaced from my home and returned to find it looted, but while others ended up in a tented camp, I still had a roof over my head. I have learned time and time again what it is to be privileged: a well-fed, well-educated testament to the top tier of the geographic and social birth lottery into which probably everyone reading this blog is also born, free to choose my own destiny, to make my own choices, to have any job I choose, to marry and have children if I choose, and only if I choose. I have been constantly humbled by the everyday hardships of the other 80% of the world's population, by the barefooted men who walk miles over the mountains, by the women who bear their babies year in and year out, by the children whose lives are more work than play and who go to bed hungry every night of their lives.  I have seen the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets of my life, felt peace in the midst of chaos, found love amidst the woodsmoke and the flowers.

In essence, I grew up, here in the hot, humid air. Like a migratory bird, I landed in this place to shed the awkward feathers of a fledgling and grow a pair of wings. And now it is time to fly - away from this land I have lived in but that could never be my home, leaving behind great chunks of myself that have bled into the earth, the sea, the sand and the sky. A part of me forever to remain here; a part of here forever to remain with me.

There are no words for these sea-changes, these great transformations. Most of us mark them with life's big events; my tribe, the global nomads, we mark them with entry visas and exit stamps.

So where to next, dear readers? Well, for a little while, I will be returning to Canada, the country of my birth. Living a mere 600 kilometres (400 miles) from my birthplace - the closest I have lived since I was 8 years old! For the next few months you will find me nestled in the mountains in Whistler, British Colombia, soaking up the cold, the snow, and the crisp clean air. From the tropics to a Canadian winter, from the sea to the mountains, from one of the poorest countries to one of the richest, it is harder to imagine a bigger contrast, and I am reminded that in my nature I gravitate towards extremes.

Everything changes and yet nothing changes, dear readers, and I will still be blogging here, about yoga (a lot) and life (a little bit), and probably about skiing, and snow, and the dislocation that only a returning expat knows. About a homecoming to a place that is no longer home, about an affluent society unseeing of its own good fortune. I am trying to go without expectations, but of course that is impossible, so I hope to study and teach yoga, to reignite my practice in the chilly air of winter, to reconnect with old friends and the land of my birth, and to keep blogging about all of this, the yoga of life.

As always, if you're reading this, I am both humbled and honoured that you have taken the time to do so. Happy new year, readers - what changes, big or small, will 2013 bring for you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Good Giving: A Karma Yogi's Guide to the Holidays!

We are into December already and most of us - especially if you are, like me, not hyper-organised! - are probably now dealing with the familiar question of holiday gifts. And maybe you, like me, feel just a little bit fed up with the commercial and material mentality of the whole thing. Maybe you, like me, feel like you don't really NEED any more stuff - and nor do your loved ones. Yet if you celebrate Christmas, most likely you can expect to both give and receive gifts.

There are lots of ways to be environmentally conscious about gift giving. Yet the most truly ecologically and socially positive gifts are those that don't involve an exchange of material objects at all!

Karma yoga, the yoga of action, celebrates DOING rather than giving or receiving. So if this speaks to you this holiday season, instead of or in addition to exchanging material gifts:
  1. Give a donation to a charity that is close to your or your loved one's heart.
  2. Donate a Christmas hamper to a family that is less fortunate than you are, so they can have a hearty Christmas meal (I think many big cities have charities that organise these things).
  3. Think Global: give a gift to someone who wasn't so lucky in the "birth lottery." Check out the fabulous online shops of Oxfam. You can give a gift in someone's name to support a good cause (for example, providing economic opportunities to women, or children's books to a school).  In the UK there is also
  4. Donate your time to a worthwhile cause or pledge to donate time in the future (e.g. run that half marathon for charity).
All of the above are wonderful activities to do with partners and especially (in my humble opinion as a non-parent but as an auntie!) with kids. As they say, if the tradition doesn't work for you - create a new tradition.

Have wonderful holidays everyone. :)