The Season of Gratitude – Part 2

In my last blog post, I wrote about my difficulties feeling gratitude in the past and how allowing myself to feel all the feels opened up some space in my heart, allowing the gratitude to finally move through me.

In this blog post, I’d like to delve a little deeper into all those murky feelings and then talk about choice.

Back in 2010, when I was in the thick of my struggle with CFS, I remember watching an interview with Karen Armstrong. In case you don’t know her, Armstrong is the author of many books on comparative religion, and during this particular interview, she was promoting her latest book (at the time), Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

I was not paying particular attention to what she was saying in this interview until she openly admitted to feeling bitter. Very bitter about life. That got my attention. An expert on religion, and author of a book on compassion, was declaring herself to be bitter? I wanted to know more.

She spoke about her past as a nun in training in Ireland, and about the Superior who was responsible for her. This nun had had a very difficult life, going deaf at an early age, and then being sent to a convent. She happened to be dying of cancer and was in extreme pain, yet she had still spoken kindly to the nuns under her watch. As Armstrong said, “she had trained herself, through all those difficult years not to become bitter, not to think, why me? Why am I deaf? Why am I wasting my life? And as a result, she has remained in me as an icon of what a good person should be”.

And then Armstrong said, “Becoming bitter is always a choice”. In essence, she was saying that life is a road with two very different paths, both equally valid. The decision you make will determine the quality of your life going forward. You can either decide to be bitter and angry about the difficulties and injustice in your life, or you can choose to be compassionate instead.

Her comment really resonated with me because I was slowly coming to the same realization myself. Stuck in bed and unable to accomplish any of my life goals, I was feeling frustrated, angry, and yes, definitely bitter. But I was also realizing that this was not the kind of person I wanted to be.

I think it’s the same with gratitude.

We are living in difficult times. A lot of people are struggling. In many cases, basic needs are not being met. The climate is worsening. Wars are being fought. Everywhere you go, people are suffering. It is very easy to feel hopeless and despondent at the number of crises surrounding us.

It is at these times – often especially at these times – that we realize we have a choice. We can either choose to become bitter, or we can aspire to something a little more noble.

During my years of difficulty, I would often console myself with the beauty of my neighbour’s garden. I may not have had the energy to care for a garden myself, but I felt grateful that I could still enjoy the gardens of others around me.

I became spellbound by the gracefully arching branches of the tree outside my window, watching its many moods as the seasons changed. I may not have been able to spend much time outside, but being able to watch that tree outside my window was a lifeline for me.

I was also deeply consoled by the laughter of the neighbourhood children as they walked past my home on their way to and from school. I may not have been able to see them, but I was grateful for my ability to hear their small voices, and to feel the bubbling energy of their youthful selves.

I know it’s been said before, but it is often when life is at its most bleak, when we are grasping at the smallest example of beauty or kindness, that possibilities for gratitude are fully revealed to us.

This doesn’t mean we don’t also acknowledge our pains and our struggles. It means that, while still feeling our pain in all its fullness, we make the choice to be grateful anyway. It’s a powerful choice. I can’t promise that it will magically make your troubles go away. What I can promise, is that it will make your heart lighter, and your burden easier to bear.

The Season of Gratitude – Part 1

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve been often reminded about the importance of being grateful. I admit, there have been many times in my life when I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking I am not good enough, that my life is not exciting enough, or that I don’t have enough of the things that I want.

By and large, I think it isn’t just me that struggles with this. We humans have a natural tendency to want more and better, no matter the abundance that we already have. And then, the western economy is also built on this idea of lack – that there is always something more we should have, some other experience we need to feel, in order for our lives to be complete.

In acknowledgement of my problem, I kept a daily gratitude journal for years. In the evening before bed, I would list off 5 things for which I was thankful. On the whole, I think it’s a very good practice. And studies show that when people show more gratitude, they are happier.

But I have to admit, the practice started to falter for me when I noticed that I tended to list off the same things every single day: gratitude for a roof over my head, for my loving husband, for healthy kids, and the regular presence of my furry dog. I began to feel that I had only those 5 things to be grateful for. And even though those are not small things, depression started to set in, as it often does for me. The daily gratitude practice no longer seemed to be helping.

This past week is Thanksgiving in the US, so I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude recently, and those struggles I had with it in the past. I’ve also been wondering why I feel so much more gratitude now than I did then. Why didn’t that daily gratitude practice work for me? And what has changed now?

For an answer, I turned to my herbal studies and its discussion of feelings. Interestingly, in Chinese medicine, feelings of all types are held in greater regard than they are here in the west. In fact, they are considered such harbingers of illness that, for thousands of years, doctors treated people by helping them to resolve their feelings with counter-feelings, rather than prescribing herbs or acupuncture.

Here in North America, feelings are given nowhere near that amount of respect. If anything, feelings are thought to be a problem, an obstacle that gets in the way of forward progress. We are advised to ignore them, stuff them, or push past them. People who dwell on their feelings are considered soft and weak.

But feelings have a seriously negative effect on your health. In Chinese medicine, it is well known that anger congests your liver, sadness constricts your lungs, worry weakens your spleen, and fear depletes your kidneys. Before you dismiss this concept, understand that western medicine is starting to come around to the same conclusion. Gabor Mate, a Canadian physician with particular expertise in the treatment of addiction, trauma, stress and childhood development, has written a number of best-selling books on the negative effect emotions can have on your health. When the Body Says ‘No’ and The Myth of Normal are the two most recent.

In the intervening years since I kept that daily gratitude journal, I’ve done a lot of work with my emotions. I’ve spent hours sitting in meditation, I’ve discovered the power of restorative yoga for processing my emotions, and I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking through my triggers and trying to heal the emotions behind them. Although scary and difficult, I have found this work to be transformational.

Liver and gallbladder flushing can also prove tremendously helpful and many of our customers have testified to this. Your liver stores a lot of your emotions. Anger, frustration, envy, moodiness, and depression are all common emotions for people whose livers have become stagnant. When herbs are taken to clear away congestion in the liver, these emotions tend to leave too. It’s a fascinating process.

Once all those negative emotions are cleared away, a space is created for more positive emotions like gratitude, compassion, and love to take hold. An important discovery I’ve had as I continued my healing journey, is that emotions are things. They are not ephemeral nothings; they have weight and space and can’t just be shrugged away. If you avoid feeling them, your body will just hold on to them for later processing. And the longer you hold them, the sicker you can get.

If you’re struggling with gratitude this holiday season, consider the possibility that you’re holding on to some difficult emotions. It’s not unusual. We all have them. I know it’s scary, but the next time you feel them, recognize where the tightness is. It’s often in your chest, but it can also be in your belly or your shoulders. Try to soften into those places in your body, and when the emotions arise, allow yourself to really feel into them. But be gentle with them. Show these feelings kindness. They are there to take care of you.

One good practice I learned is to go to a quiet corner where you won’t be disturbed, and then purposely feel the emotion in all its intensity – really push it to the limit! If you feel anger, allow it to build and build and feel it to its completeness. Welcome the anger. Really revel in it. If you stop this process and still feel a residue of anger inside you, it means it hasn’t been fully spent yet. Cultivate it even further! Trust me, if you take the time to feel it fully, it will disperse.

Emotions need to be felt. Pushing them away only makes them toxic. So, try accepting them with kindness and grace instead. Allow them more space. By accepting them and allowing them, they usually start to shift a little. And into that space, amazingly, there will be a possibility for more joy and gratitude. And who doesn’t need more of that?

Boat-fruited Sterculia Seeds

Sterculia Seeds

According to Chinese medicine, autumn is lung time. This is the time of year when the lungs need to be strong. If they aren’t, health issues related to the lungs are more likely to be felt. If you regularly struggle with allergies, or asthma, or chronic bronchitis, you know what I mean. Symptoms tend to set in each year when we descend into fall and the air turns cold and dry.

The lungs are delicate. They are the only internal organ exposed to the outer environment through our breath. This is by necessity! We have to take in air in order to survive, even though this does expose us to smoke, chemicals, and other contaminants, all of which can injure the lungs over time.

The lungs are even affected by the air itself, becoming more parched in dry air, or more moist and heavy in damp air. It’s no wonder they are considered the “princess organ” in Chinese medicine. They are incredibly vulnerable.

Western medicine doesn’t provide much help for the lungs. Doctors can prescribe you an inhaler, which will relax the muscles of the airways into your lungs, making it easier to breathe. Or they may prescribe a nasal spray, which reduces swelling in the airways and dries up mucus. Both can be useful for short periods of time when you just can’t catch your breath, but neither will get at the root of the problem, which is often dry lungs, weakened by the presence of phlegm.

Luckily, there are herbs that can help with this! This is where sterculia seeds come in. The pinyin name for sterculia seeds means “big, fat sea”, which describes both the seeds themselves, as well as what they do. Julia also used to refer to them as “Expanding Seeds” because when you add hot water to them, the seeds will start to expand and soften, looking somewhat like a strange sea creature.

But what do they do? Firstly, sterculia seeds cool and moisten the lungs. This can feel incredibly healing in and of itself. If you’ve ever dealt with a chronic dry cough, a parched throat, and tight chest for any length of time, you know you’ll do just about anything to relieve it. Sterculia seeds will help. They act just like the sea, moistening the lungs and soothing your throat, while also healing a hoarse or lost voice.

Secondly, they dissolve phlegm. This is what causes that tight sensation in your chest – the presence of hot phlegm. As sterculia seeds moisten your lungs, they also start to break down rubbery, difficult-to-expectorate phlegm, loosening and healing your lung tissue in the process. Again, magical relief!

You’ll know that sterculia seeds are helping when the phlegm starts to come up. You may notice that you need to blow your nose more frequently as phlegm in your nasal passages starts to loosen. This discharge will likely be sticky and yellow, green, or even brown in colour, depending on its age. You may also notice phlegm coming up from your lungs into your throat, causing frequent throat-clearing or coughing. While uncomfortable, these are all good signs, indicating that old, rubbery phlegm is finally being discharged and brought up to be expelled from your body.

Ideally, you will continue to prepare sterculia seed tea until any discharge is thin and clear, your chest no longer feels tight, and there’s no longer any phlegm in the back of your throat.

A customer recently asked me how to cleanse the lungs. I told him that you don’t usually cleanse your lungs. However, upon reflection, it is true that your lungs can easily pick up toxins from the air, which can irritate lung tissue, and then cause the formation of phlegm. I’m now thinking that it certainly can’t hurt to spend a few weeks each year drinking sterculia seed tea to bring up whatever has gotten stuck down there. And honestly, it’s such a relief when it comes out! Autumn is a great time to do this.

As a side effect, sterculia seeds will also help dry constipation [1], and have been shown to lower blood pressure [2]. They have even been used to successfully treat children with acute tonsillitis [3]. I would consider those potential effects a bonus. Really, their lung-moistening and phlegm-dissolving properties is reason enough to use them.

If you are interested in trying sterculia seeds, you can find them in the tea section of our on-line store.

  • 1. Chang Yong Zhong Yao Xian Dai Yan Jiu Yu Lin Chuan (Recent Study and Clinical Application of Common Traditional Chinese Medicine), 1995; 468:469
  • 2. Ibid
  • 3. Zhe Jiang Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Zhejiang Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1966; 5:180

Remembrance Day

“I’m not a hero,” said the old man, a veteran of the Korean War. It’s a moving refrain you often hear from soldiers who feel guilty for having survived something their comrades-in-arms did not.

“Yes, you are!” assured the reporter beside him. And the old man shook his head and looked like he might cry, even all these years later.

I was profoundly moved by the annual Remembrance Day services this morning. Maybe it’s because of what’s currently happening in Gaza, or because of the war in Ukraine, but I seem to finally understand, now, that we will never be at peace. There will always be conflict somewhere.

I grew up in the 1980’s, during the time when there was a Cold War between the US and Russia. I think we really believed, then, that the next war could never be fought because it would mean the end of all humanity. And yet, here we are. Still at war. Still maiming and killing one another. We just took a step back from the nuclear option so we could keep on hurting one another without the mutually assured destruction that inevitably comes with it.

Yes, I know that there have been many wars fought since the Second World War – roughly one every decade – and many more fought without the involvement of the US and its allies. I suppose I just thought that these were “smaller” wars that would eventually play themselves out as humanity continued to mature as a species. You can call me naive. I’ll admit to that.

What I feel now is sadness. And also profound empathy and remorse for those who are currently caught in the familiar snare of hatred and violence. There doesn’t seem to be anything we can do to stop this regular flaring of vengeance.

I’ve been reading a lot about trauma recently, and so I can’t help but think about how much pain the victims are in and whether it’s even possible to heal them. If it’s true that hurt people hurt people, then how do we ever stop the hurting?

I read a book recently about the World War II bombings in London. In it, a bookshop owner says to the young protagonist (who is struggling with what to do with all the suffering around her): “Just do what you can, when you can, whenever you can, and don’t worry about the end results. It’s all any of us can do”. I found that really inspiring.

And so, I will keep on trying to heal people, through herbal medicine, and through yoga. I will continue to remind them to inhabit their bodies and feel their emotions, and in that way, to begin to alleviate their suffering. It may not make a great difference to the world at large, but it may prove helpful to someone in their time of need.

In the coming weeks, we will have a new offering at our humble yoga studio. One that I hope will remind us of our similarities to one another. That will help us to feel more connected. After all, we are essentially all the same. We all suffer, we all have people we love who we don’t want to see harmed, we all want to belong. We all know pain.

It is my fervent hope that we learn to know our connectedness better than we do our separateness. That when we feel most hurt and alone, instead of lashing out, we learn how to lean in instead. It may not be realistic, but it’s a vision I will keep fighting for.

Trust the Flow

Rainbow over Niagara Falls, Canada

Recently in my yoga classes, I’ve been focusing on flow. The flow of your breath, the flow of energy in your body, and the flow of your emotions. It’s so easy for this flow to become stuck.

This can happen due to stress, when we tense our muscles and hold our breath, allowing energy to become constricted. Or, it can happen if we hold on too tightly to an idea of how the world should be, rather than allowing life to play itself out as it is. We can also become stuck in our emotions, refusing to let go of sadness, resentment, anger, or frustration.

I know I’m regularly guilty of all of the above. In recent years, I have experienced stuckness all over the place, and seem to have lost a basic sense of trust. Trust that things will generally work out, trust that certain people will come through for me. I don’t believe any of those things anymore.

And yet, if I allow myself the time to sit still, I can still sense the flow. I can still feel that my breath is a wave. That air flows in, and it also flows out. There is a natural exchange in that flow of energy. And it’s beautiful. I’m trying to trust in that.

A couple of weeks ago, we said a final goodbye to my father-in-law as we spread his ashes in the Niagara River. We gathered in a park by the water, and my husband and his brother took turns emptying the contents of his urn into the river. The sky was a slate grey above us as we watched the proceedings in silence.

His ashes were an interesting tan colour, lighter than the dirt around us, and as the waves gently washed in, they mixed in with my father-in-law’s remains and carried them out to sea. Accepting them, diluting them, spreading them. My father-in-law is now one with the river.

On that day, I looked out at the horizon beyond the water, and then turned back to look at the pretty autumn leaves all around us, and felt that my father-in-law was at peace. He’d always loved Niagara-on-the Lake, and had visited this place regularly during the last few years of his life. I could feel his approval of our choice for his place of rest.

The next day, as we were heading out of town, we decided to stop by the falls. It somehow seemed wrong to leave the area without taking a look at what has always made it famous. As we stepped out of the car into a sunny day, with a clear blue sky, we noticed a big rainbow over the falls. One of the biggest and clearest rainbows I have ever seen.

As legend has it, the rainbow is a Biblical sign of God’s promise, that He will never flood the earth again. But it’s also a sign of hope. Of beauty. Of impending good fortune. On that day, it also felt incredibly fragile, like we could lose it at any moment. So, we all grabbed for our cameras and took plenty of shots, trying to capture the moment forever. Holding on. Blocking flow, as we humans tend to do. Knowing that this moment may not last.

And then, as we slowly walked back to the car under the shadow of the trees, the wind suddenly picked up and showered us with red and gold leaves. They fell all around us, dropping lightly, and swirling, like feathers to the ground. It seemed to me in that moment that the trees weren’t losing their leaves, they were giving them to us as a gift. It wasn’t loss. It was reciprocity. Unlike us, they weren’t trying to hold on. They were giving back to the earth. The natural give and take of life.

In that moment, I could really feel the flow of the universe. The flow of the water that carried away my father-in-law’s ashes, the sudden appearance of a rainbow above the mist the falls, the shower of leaves as they cascaded over our heads – it was all movement. Nothing was stagnant here, except perhaps myself.

The universe was showing me how to inhale and exhale. It was showing me how to trust in the flow. It was reminding me that, even though we may lose things, we can still gain them too. The world will go on – if we let it. We just have to keep breathing, keep moving, and keep watching for that rainbow in the sky.

On Competitiveness

We all know competitive people. They’re frankly annoying. Whatever you do, they will try to one-up you. They will interrupt you, or block you as a way to get ahead. They can often be found grandstanding in front of a crowd, laughing at themselves in a self-deprecating way so as to appear charming.

They certainly don’t care about you – unless they think they can ride on your coattails. In that case, they will shower you with compliments, sticking as close to you as possible to catch any benefits that may trickle down. But they’ll throw you under the bus as soon as your talents are no longer needed, and without a hint of remorse. Because in the end, they really only care about winning.

Those are the really competitive people. But then, we all compete to a certain extent, don’t we? We are all trying to appear better than we are. We are all trying to impress.

I recall being in yoga classes and trying to do all the poses perfectly. I swear, the bend in my front leg in Warrior II pose was completely horizontal! My lunges were deep. My Triangle pose was a model of symmetry. In short, I was using yoga (of all things) as a way to compete. I was trying to impress. What I failed to notice was that no one really cared, except for me.

The real question is: why did I feel the need to do this? Looking back, it was because I felt inadequate in so many ways. Suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I felt weak and sick and useless most of the time. But if I could do a perfect Extended Side-Angle pose, it meant I still had some value. In the yoga studio, I was faultless – or, at least, I tried to be.

I’m reflecting on this now because of a discussion I had with a customer this week. When I mentioned the yoga classes I teach, she immediately felt the need to tell me that she did yoga for years and can still do a perfect Headstand, as well as a Handstand. She wanted me to know she was no slouch, and didn’t need any help.

In that moment, I saw myself. And I felt so much compassion for her. I can still remember that old ‘me’. The ‘me’ that used to try so hard to be perfect. The ‘me’ that tried a restorative yoga class just once and declared it pointless. As far as I could tell, everyone was just lying around. Where was the benefit in that?

At the time, my idea of exercise was that you needed to strain and sweat. If you weren’t pushing yourself in some way, you weren’t getting any stronger. You weren’t getting any better. And I was in the habit of pushing myself – hard – in all areas of my life. If I wasn’t putting in 110% effort, I thought I was slacking. When I look back, it’s no wonder I got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In fact, it’s a wonder I didn’t get it sooner!

Which brings me to my point. In Western culture, we are taught that we don’t have value unless we have achieved something important. Unless we have produced something of value. We work all day in offices, in workplaces, and even in our own homes, trying to prove to ourselves and to others that we have worth. That we matter. That we are deserving of love.

I’m here to tell you that you are already deserving of love. You already matter. You don’t have to do anything. The people who truly love you already love you, without condition. You don’t need to prove yourself to them. That was a lesson it took me a long time to learn. Ironically, it’s a lesson you start to learn when you do restorative yoga – precisely the type of yoga class I regularly steered myself away from.

In restorative yoga, you learn that there are supports beneath you that you can rely on. You don’t need to do it all yourself. You can rest. You learn that you have value even when you are still. Even when you are doing nothing.

It’s a very important lesson for all people who suffer from fatigue, burnout, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which I see as an extreme version burnout. Really, it’s an important lesson for everyone who lives in our culture.

If you can see yourself in anything I’ve said here, know that you don’t have to try so hard. Know that you are valued just as you are. Understand that anything you do or create will be of better qualify if it comes from a place of peace, rather than desperation.

And then come visit me at Together, we’ll restore your nervous system and help you remember what you were like before competitiveness got hold of you. Before you felt you needed to prove yourself in order to be loved.

Chinese Wild Yam

When I was growing up, I never ate yams or sweet potatoes. Nor had I even heard of them! As a Mennonite girl of European descent, such vegetables were completely unfamiliar to me. The only potatoes I knew about were plain, white ones, usually boiled, sometimes mashed, occasionally fried for breakfast.

The white potatoes we ate were also always peeled. Then, butter or cream would be added to mash them, or they would be fried in vegetable oil. If boiled, they were always smothered in gravy.

All no-no’s, according to Julia, the undisputed authority on all dietary questions in my new, Asian family.

In Julia’s home, potatoes were never peeled, as most of the vitamins and minerals are to be found in the peels. “By peeling them, you lose most of their nutritional content!” she would scoff.

Julia also taught me to eschew white potatoes for more colourful varieties, like yellow potatoes or sweet potatoes. The more colourful the vegetable, the higher the number of nutrients available, she would always say. It’s a general rule that I still follow whenever I’m in the vegetable section of our grocery store, always seeking out those with the brightest colours.

I can still remember Julia’s derisive laughter at wealthy Chinese landowners who thought the bland taste and consistency of white potatoes and white rice was superior to the nuttier and sweeter taste of sweet potatoes and whole grain rice – just because white people ate them! They left the sweet potatoes and whole grain rice for the poor, and then ended up nutritionally stunted themselves. “They were so stupid!” Julia would crow. “Greater flavour and texture means they have more nutrients, not less!”

And so began my nutritional education under her tutelage.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, potatoes in all their variety are known to be beneficial to the spleen/pancreas. The same can be said for starchy foods in general, as they provide plenty of natural sugar and energy to the body. Beets and carrots, as well as brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley – all are foods that strengthen the spleen in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I suppose that’s why they are considered staple foods. Even herbal tonics like ginseng root, or codonopsis root – grown deep in the earth – naturally benefit the spleen. The spleen is, after all, the representative organ of the Earth element, so it makes sense that foods grown in the earth would benefit it.

Chinese wild yam is different than most other potatoes. Not a sweet potato, nor brilliantly coloured, it is nevertheless lauded in traditional Chinese medicine for its nutritive properties, and is often added into soups and stews to increase their nutrient content. Said to deeply nourish the spleen/pancreas and stomach, it is also used to improve appetite and lessen fatigue [1].

Recent scientific studies have found Chinese wild yam to be particularly useful for those with high blood glucose levels, lowering it by 10-30 mg/dL within just 10 days of use [2]. This blood sugar-regulating effect was not lost on ancient Chinese herbalists. They used it to treat “Xiao Ke” type diabetes, otherwise known as “Wasting and Thirsting Syndrome”, where patients were thin and consumptive, with difficulty retaining their weight.

Chinese wild yam doesn’t just nourish the spleen/pancreas and stomach, though. It is also moistening and tonifying to the lungs and kidneys, treating dry cough, wheezing, shallow breathing [3], as well as soreness of the knees and lower back, dizziness, light-headedness, and night sweats [4].

It can also regulate bowel movements and balance their activity, stimulating the intestines and increasing peristalsis when needed [5], while also stopping diarrhea for those whose intestines need calming [6]. It is adaptogenic that way.

The one thing Chinese wild yam does not do, however, is stimulate progesterone production. Popularized for their treatment of hot flashes in the 1990’s, wild yam creams can still be found in many health food stores. However, they are not effective as progesterone supplements because the wild yam molecule is too large to pass through the skin. When applied, wild yam creams will just stay on your skin and soften it, so they would be beneficial that way. Just don’t expect any hormone balancing activity.

If you are looking for a progesterone stimulant, we have found vitex berries to do a better job than wild yam creams. I would suggest trying our Fem-Mate tincture, which contains vitex. It has helped many women transition through menopause more comfortably by stopping hot flashes, and also improving sleep. Meanwhile, if you want to try the nourishing effects of Chinese wild yam, you can find it in our Shou Wu Plus tincture.

  • 1. John K. Chen and Tina T. Chen, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, 2004; 860.
  • 2. Zhong Guo Yao Ke Da Xue Xue Bao (Journal of University of Chinese Herbology), 1991; 22(3):158
  • 3. John K. Chen and Tina T. Chen, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, 2004; 860.
  • 4. Ibid, p. 861
  • 5. Zhi Wu Zi Yuan Yu Huan Jing (Source and Environment of Plants), 1992; 1(2):10
  • 6. Hu Bei Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Hubei Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1985; 5:35

On Endings and Beginnings – Part 2

The soon-to-be demolished go-cart track at Centennial Park.

Last night, my husband and my eldest son went to Centennial Park to ride the go-carts one last time.

These go-carts, once a cherished part of my children’s memories, will soon be no more. The City of Toronto has plans to demolish this part of the park. No doubt, something new will be installed there, and perhaps it will be something we enjoy even more than the go-carts, but right now, it just feels very sad. It’s the end of an era. Like so many things in my life of late, the go-carts will soon be part of my past.

There was a large crowd of people there, my husband said. Everyone wanted to ride the go-carts one last time before they shut them down. While they were there, my son shared his first memories of the place, riding in the passenger seat with his too-large helmet on, my husband at the wheel, driving for the both of them. I was surprised and pleased that he remembered this. My husband was too. And joy was mixed up with the sadness.

I suppose that’s the way life always is. We never experience just one emotion at a time, but a mix of all of them at once. It part of what makes life so heartbreakingly beautiful – that we can see the beauty mixed in with the sadness, and the laughter mixed in with the pain.

The most important thing, as I’ve been realizing of late, is to recognize and feel all of it. The whole mixed bag. In the past, I think I’ve tried to protect myself from all the harder emotions – the sadness and the hurt and the anger and the jealousy. I’ve pushed them all away, thinking it would keep me more optimistic, that it would prevent me from falling into a depression. It never really worked.

Ironically, what seems to help is not running away, but actually leaning in to all those difficult emotions. And so, I’ve allowed myself to feel every nuance of the shock and bewilderment of my father-in-law’s recent, sudden death. I’ve been feeling into all the love and care that my mother showed me before she died, that in fact, she showed me throughout her entire life. Feelings that I’ve tried to hold at a distance from myself, to protect myself from hurt, I’m finally, unapologetically, allowing inside.

My life has recently encompassed a lot of endings. The go-carts in Centennial Park are just a small reminder of that. But when I reflect on things, it has been filled with a lot of tender, life-giving moments as well. Like when my husband told me how proud he was of my courage, or my brother-in-law showed empathy for my tears, or my kids helped out with chores without being asked.

Just before my father-in-law died, my youngest son visited him in the hospital. My son was trying to be cheerful, expressing optimism about my father-in-law’s condition, telling him that things could still get better. But my father-in-law would have none of it. I think he already knew the score. Instead of humouring my son, he said, bluntly, “Try not to be sad about my death. It’s OK. Just go and live your life!”

And so, that is what we shall do. Without avoiding the sadness of the ending, we will grasp hold of the memories that lift us and sustain us, and we shall move on towards a new beginning. The beginning of Rebecca’s Restful Yoga. The possibility of new adventures and new challenges. And perhaps, just perhaps, those go-carts at Centennial Park will be replaced with something even more beautiful and meaningful than what was there before. A place where even more memories can be made, both happy and sad.

On Endings and Beginnings – Part 1

“To greet a lovely morning, we must leave the night behind.” ~Tarang Sinha

I used to have these nightmares as a child. I would be chased by a monster or a ghost, or a group of ghosts. It seemed there was always something evil lurking in the dark, just waiting to pounce on me.

In these dreams, I would be running through the basement of my parent’s house, or the basement of my grandparent’s house (always basements!), with the monster of the night fast on my heels. Unable to get away, I would awaken suddenly, terrified, my heart pounding.

In one memorable dream, I managed to escape my grandparent’s house into the dark of the night. As I continued my escape, running down the road to some imagined safety, I suddenly saw my grandmother up ahead, walking slowly. Relieved, I ran up to hug her, desperate for some feeling of comfort. But as she turned to face me, I saw that her skin was green. She wore a witch’s hat and snarled at me as she reached out with her bony fingers to grab me.

So many terrors.

Many years ago, when my husband and I were first dating, I remember reading something about animal avatars. This was long before the rise of video games. In this article, the female author was describing her personality and trying to choose an animal that best matched her spirit. In the end, she picked a tiger. I thought that so mysterious and sexy .

Intrigued, asked my husband what kind of animal he thought I might be. I imagined he might see me as something equally strong and beautiful, perhaps another kind of cat. But do you know what he said?

A rabbit. He saw me as a frightened, bunny rabbit. Droopy ears, long whiskers, twitching nose and all.

Even then, even through my disappointment, I could see the fit. I’ve always been a frightened girl. I’ve never been described as fierce or courageous. I’ve always been a coward.

Now that you know that, it is probably predictable that these last number of years have found me cowering under the covers, anxiously awaiting news of the next, fresh catastrophe. In my case, it hasn’t just been the pandemic. There’s also been my mother-in-law’s dementia and the uncertainty of running her business without her. There’s been my mother’s Parkinson’s disease, and her slow and steady decline. As each of my mothers approached the end of their lives, they demanded things of me I never felt fully equipped to give.

I’ve been stumbling. Badly.

But then, as I’m realizing now, I’ve also been growing. Unbelievably, in the midst of all this fear and sorrow, I’ve somehow managed to complete my herbal training, mentor at a herbal clinic for a year, and also take three different yoga teacher trainings. Maybe I wasn’t as frozen in place as I thought.

For me, the night appears to be lifting. The pandemic is over. Both of my mothers have quietly passed on to the next world, with my father-in-law unexpectedly following them. As I blink and look ahead, I am dazed by the light of a new morning. A morning I never dreamed could one day exist. And yet, here it is.

I am opening a yoga studio on Sunday, October 1st. I will be teaching gentle yoga for emotional issues like depression, anxiety and burnout, three conditions I am very much acquainted with. Classes will be both in-person and virtual. If you are interested, my website can be found at

Come join me as we walk away from the anxiety and fear of the last few years, and create a new beginning. One with presence, peace, and calm. One where connection is valued over competition, and kindness matters more than hate.

“No matter how far you have run , no matter how long you have been lost, it is never too late to be found”. ~ Rene Denfeld

The Meaning of ‘Things’

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

My father-in-law loved kitchen gadgets. I suppose he thought they made his life easier. No doubt, they made his food healthier and tastier, and his ingredients more fresh. He owned more than one food processor, two air fryers, four juicers, a vacuum sealer, and more woks and frying pans than could ever fit in his kitchen cupboards – so he stored them in his study.

He also loved movies, but he loved a good deal even more. So, he would borrow movies from the library, copy them onto a compact disc, and then store them in perfectly organized file boxes, which he kept in a series of shelves in his front hall. He had hundreds of these discs. Thousands, even. The shelves were absolutely packed with them, yet I doubt he ever even watched most of them.

He owned shelves and shelves of books, his closet was packed with clothes, and he was starting to build an extensive tool collection. He also filled more than 15 external hard drives with miscellaneous TV recordings. Why did he do this? What was he trying to capture?

You may have noticed that I’m referring to my father-in-law in the past tense. That’s because he died a few weeks ago. Suddenly. Dramatically. None of us were expecting it. His death came completely out of the blue, on a sunny August day, while everyone else was out on vacation enjoying the superb, late-summer weather.

Perhaps we should have known. Or, at least suspected. He’d been struggling with frequent diarrhea, which then progressed to include uncomfortable bloating. In the end, it turned out to be pancreatic cancer. He died less than two weeks after he was diagnosed, before the cancer oncologist could even meet with him to talk about treatment options. The shock of this quick succession of events required time to process. I did nothing but stare at the wall for two days.

I think most everyone has had the experience of cleaning out the home of a recently deceased relative and taken note of all of their things. The things that were so important to them, that they worried over, that they spent outrageous sums of money on. They are all that’s left of my father-in-law now. Our task is to scoop these items up, decide if we want to keep them, and then dump them into boxes and cart them away.

It all feels so disrespectful, and so sad. You become aware, as never before, of how unimportant ‘things’ really are.

My friend Melissa says something often: “Collect memories, not things”. She probably heard it from someone else, but it still resonates with me now. She spends her money and time on experiences: hikes, concerts, parties, friends, and of course, on time with her children and grand-children. She takes pictures. Countless pictures. She captures smiles, funny moments, memorable times.

Looking around me now at all the ‘debris’ my father-in-law has left in his wake, I think she has the right idea. When I die, I don’t want my children to have to clean expensive clothes out of my closet, or weighty, yet meaningless trinkets from my shelves. For the remaining years of my life, I want my heart to sing, not from any power I’ve obtained or from any things that I’ve bought, but from moments of joy and connection with others.

Once we’re gone – and at some unknown hour we will all go – everything we own will turn to dust. It will just be some junk that someone else has to clear away. All of the countless, precious things we have collected will no longer hold any meaning, to us or to others.

So, why not focus on one another instead? Why not observe and listen to the incredibly unique, multi-faceted people sitting all around us, the ones who are themselves ephemeral, flickering lights in the dark. At least these gems will remember some small part of us when were gone. They’ll have a few stories to tell, they’ll warm themselves with laughter, and drink to the memory of our finest hours.

In the end, isn’t that the most meaningful memorial we could hope for? And as a bonus, it doesn’t add to the size of the city garbage dump.