Sunday, November 27, 2005

Gratitude: Part 2

Gratitude is the intention to count-your-blessings every day, every minute, while avoiding, whenever possible, the belief that you need or deserve different circumstances - Timothy Miller

I first wrote about gratitude back in August. As I continue my journey through Network Spinal Care, my gratitude also continues to grow. A nervous system expanding? A spiritual flowering? Who really knows? All I know is that the experience of gratitude grows deeper and richer for me everytime I touch it.

I have come to believe that the struggle to understand gratitude is a defining theme/karmic lesson in my life.

It is becoming clear to me that the days when I am farthest from gratitude are the hardest. They are the days when I question everything. The days when I wonder why life isn't different. Why things aren't moving faster? or slower? They are the days when I doubt myself and my place in the world. The days when I feel like I'm reaching, grabbing, striving and pushing, but still coming up empty-handed. They are the days when I feel like it is never enough.

This morning I attended my first yoga class with a group of good friends. The breath work inherent to yoga is supposed to connect you to your inner spirit, and to the wider energy of the universe. I think it worked. Because today, I am gifted with endless amounts of gratitude. I lay in bed after yoga and brunch, trying to catch a little rest. I closed my eyes, but could not sleep. All I could think, see and feel was blessed. All I could think was: My life does not have to be anything other than what it is. And I felt profoundly complete. I cried tears of true joy.

Later, I attended the Yamato Drummers concert, and it was truly amazing. The drums pounded through my body like thunder. It was so primal, I felt like screaming a whoop of joy! I was breathless and wide-eyed. And because I was still in this state of gratitude, my eyes filled with tears again. This time, I felt the surge of gratitude wash through me like a wave. It was so strong that it threatened to overwhelm me. I felt like weeping. I felt like I would collapse onto the floor. I felt totally out of control.

I forced myself to disconnect. I took a step back and forced myself outside of it. I rationalized it.

Another reason we turn logical with our gratitude is that it is terrifying. The wonder of a moment in which there is nothing but an upwelling of simple happiness is utterly awesome. Gratitude is so close to the bone of life, pure and true, that it instantly stops the rational mind, and all its planning and plotting. That kind of let go is fiercely threatening. I mean, where might such gratitude end? - Regina Sara Ryan

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Tiffany & Co on Ice

We had our first snowfall last night. As usual, the pretty white flakes melted by morning, leaving behind grey slush, and sheets of ice as evidence. Toronto can be treacherous in the wintertime, with sidewalks turning into skating rinks very quickly. Most of our corporate citizens are VERY good about shovelling the snow and salting the sidewalks in front of their stores...not to mention that it's a liability issue.

I've worked here in the heart of the snooty retail district for over 2 years. I walk past Dolce & Gabbana and Tiffany & Co everyday on my way to my office. I have noticed over the last 2 years, that these stores NEVER bother to shovel the snow in front of their stores. This irks me to no end. Can't they afford to hire someone to do this? Or better about if the staff took the time to ensure their customers don't slip and fall on the iceslick growing in front of their beautiful marble-entombed entranceways? How about a little gravel or salt on the ice, so I don't feel like I'm gonna faceplant everytime I walk by there? Who knows? Maybe it's for their own amusement? Maybe they're all inside taking bets on who'll fall first.

Twenty bucks on the statuesque blonde in stiletto heels! Fifty on the granny with the walker!

Or hey, maybe they're just worried about breaking a manicured nail...

The Two Bums by Frypan Jack, as told by Utah Phillips

The bum on the rods is hunted down as an enemy of mankind
The other is driven around to his club, is fatted, wined, and dined

And they who curse the bum on the rods as the essence of all that's bad
Will greet the other with a winning smile and extend the hand so glad

The bum on the rods is a social flea who gets an occasional bite
The bum on the plush is a social leech, bloodsucking day and night

The bum on the rods is a load so light that his weight we scarcely feel
But it takes the labor of dozens of folks to furnish the other a meal

As long as we sanction the bum on the plush, the other will always be there
But rid ourselves of the bum on the plush, and the other will disappear

And make an intelligent, organized kick - get rid of the wasted crush
Don't worry about the bum on the rods - get rid of the bum on the plush

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


"Where are your scarf and mittens today? It's freezing outside." the security guard in my building says, as I blow through the door. He's right. It's DAMN cold outside, with a typical Toronto combination of humidity, galeforce winds and tall buildings. I am wearing a moderately thick jacket.

Scarf? Mittens? Hat? I scoff. Not for me, no way. I hate being encumbered. In fact, I hate carrying anything extra at all. I didn't buy a purse until I turned 28. And now I realize it's because I didn't want to carry it around. It's only absolute necessity that forced me to buy one. I can't wait for the day when all our necessary information is stored in a chip in my arm. At least I won't have to carry around ID.

This even goes as far as transportation. I don't have a car and I'm relieved that I don't. The stress of always looking for parking, and paying for gas...well, it makes me feel weighed down.

Yes, I have a mortgage. But only because it costs me less than my rent did. One day, I will live in a hotel, where I won't have to worry about housecleaning, doing laundry or a kitchen. All that food demanding to be cooked. Yuck!

This feeling extends to children. I'm sure they're lovely creatures, but I don't want them. Never did. Maybe it's selfish, but woah, that's a serious encumbrance. How am I supposed to jet off to France, let alone go for a coffee, if I have a bundle of joy hanging off my arm?

It's not that I'm lazy, it's just that I like to feel free.

By the way, I am on a roll. More free Starbucks coupons today. Unfortunately it doesn't have much to do with my skills. It's all about the near total incompetence of the Starbucks staff at King and George in Toronto.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I think I first did it because I wanted to feel something other than rage, bitterness and numbness.

It worked for a while. Actually, for about 2 years. Those 2 years were beautiful, blissful, happy and free.

It turned in on itself eventually. I couldn't be in the world without it. I didn't know how. My self-doubt grew. My guilt grew. And I woke up one morning, to find that the rage, bitterness and numbness were back.

I searched around for substitutes. I tried everything. But nothing worked. And the numbness flourished. Until it was all I could see. That's all there was.

It took years, but I woke up. I learned to feel. Gratitude. Sadness. Happiness. Even Rage. And Bitterness. But they pass through me now. They don't have a hold on me.

I don't do that very often anymore. But when I do, I feel that numbness again, deep inside my brain.

PS: I must have lucky planet Jupiter smiling down on me. I got two more free coupons from Starbucks today, because they were cleaning the espresso machine!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Free Starbucks

We are all familiar with the Starbucks system. You place your order at the till, they call out your latte, or Americano, or whatever, the barista calls it back, you pay, and then you move down the line to the counter where your drink is waiting for pick-up. The system works very well, most of the time. When it breaks down, it breaks down.

This morning for instance, I entered my neighbourhood Starbucks and walked into a serious traffic jam.

I placed my order, "2 tall Americanos please," and took my spot in sequence behind a tall man wearing a strange earpiece, a middle aged lady wearing a faux fur coat and a young woman in pointy green heels.

The chaos started like this:

"Excuse me, I've been waiting for my drink for 10 minutes." Earpiece said.

The ditzy girl behind the counter looked at him blankly, "What did you have?" Turning to the pointy nosed gay guy behind the till, accusingly "Did you call it?"

Pointy nose harrumphed, "I called it."

Earpiece, in near panic, "A caramel something. Frappucino? Latte?"

For godsakes! He doesn't know! Ditzy girl starts crushing ice.

Earpiece turns to faux fur coat, "I think they're making the wrong drink."

Faux fur coat to ditzy Starbucks girl, "I think you're making the wrong drink for this gentleman."

Can the man not speak for himself?

"Yeah, it's supposed to be a warm drink." Earpiece says.

Pointy Nose says icily, "A frappucino is a coooold drink."

Intimidated, Earpiece says, "I'll just take whatever you're making there."

Is this man insane? It's below freezing outside, he paid $5.00 for a coffee, and he'll just take whatever they're making?!?

Frustrated, Ditzy Girl says, "I'll make you a caramel latte."

Earpiece says nervously, "Fine, fine, that's fine, whatever you make is fine."

Relieved, he finally picks up his coffee and we all move up 1 in the sequence.

Faux Fur leans over the counter, "is that drink for me?"

By this time, ditzy girl has been pulled off the espresso machine, and been replaced by Too Precious gay guy.

Huffily, Too Precious says, "The Tazo Chai latte, yes, I'm making it for you now."

Faux Fur, "It's just, I have a cab waiting, and I've been waiting all this time, and it's getting really expensive."

Is this woman crazy?! She's been waiting for 15 minutes for a Chai Latte with a cab fare running outside, and she's being nice. Now it's a $10 latte!

She picks up her drink, and rushes out the door. Pointy green shoes picks up her venti latte. No problem.

My turn! Finally! Hurray!

Too Precious puts 2 drinks on the counter, "2 tall decaf Americanos"

"These are not supposed to be decaf." I say without smiling. Precious sputters, "...oh....really..." and checks the labels, "Sorry. I'll make you new ones."

I glare at him.


Waving his hand around, "Can you get this lady a service coupon." Precious says.

Success! Free Starbucks!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Losers on Bloor Street

I survived. I should've realized what I was getting into this morning, when a girl I barely know, rushed into my elevator at work, all aglow with flushed cheeks, and breathlessly proclaimed, "You should go!"

What was she talking about? Go? Go where? I looked down and saw a black shopping bag inscribed with loud white block letters. WINNERS ON BLOOR STREET! I gasped, as I felt the first wave of consumerism wash over me. I ran out of the elevator, and into my office, and grabbed my friend S.

We actually LEFT WORK to run across the street. In the 3 block walk to the store, we passed TV trucks from CITYtv and CTV, gaggles of girls running (no joke) towards the store arm in arm, and a woman waving her baby around in the air as she pointed frantically at the entrance to the store. We were greeted by hot men in suits, saying good morning and quietly ushering us in with the rest of the hens crowding the door.

The calmness ended there. Inside, was sheer pandemonium. Everywhere I looked, there were women (and gay men), tossing around sweaters, pants, shoes and jackets. In between the racks of clothes, people were in various states of undress as they tried on a silk blouse or pulled on a pair of boots. They rushed the jewellery counter, like teeny boppers in the front row of an N'Sync concert.

I glared at someone pushing a shopping cart through the aisle. I watched in terror, as a mother desperately shielded her baby from the flailing arms of the women around her. Watch out! I thought, as a red sweater flew by, nearly hitting her in the head.

I turned to my friend S. and mouthed, "We gotta get outta here," and we turned and fled, running for our lives.....

...but not before I picked up the cutest little silver bag!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Opposable Thumbs

My left thumb has swelled to double it's size. It feels stretched and taut, like there are layers of fluid trapped under the skin. I want to take a pin and pop it like a helium balloon, so that it will release some pressure, and give me relief. It's so swollen that I am more than a little worried that it will explode and leak mucous and pus all over this keyboard. At this point, I think it would be preferable. I feel like my nail bed is going to rip away from the delicate skin surrounding it.

It started Sunday afternoon. A slight bump next to the knuckle, like a small mosquito bite minus the itch. I ignored it. Yesterday I went to my Network Spinal Care entrainment, and Lynne my doctor told me, that it was a clearing out of my joints. That this spot on my thumb would have turned into arthritis in the future. Well, I certainly don't want arthritis, so I guess I'm glad it's clearing out now. I have a newfound respect for people who live with arthritis everyday. This is crazy.

When I woke up this morning, I found a completely useless thumb.

"Having opposable thumbs is what separates us from the rest of the animals." my roommate says with pity, as I try to zip up my bag.

And he's right. Getting ready for work this morning was a serious struggle. Washing my hair took twice as long. Pulling the lid off my bottle of face cream was cause for a yelp. Doing up the button on my pants a long and painful (and humorous) task.

Fortunately touch typing rarely requires use of the left thumb.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Sense of Entitlement

I'm back in good old Canada, and happy to be here. I missed my friends. Home really is where the heart is. I guess the real beauty of travel is that it gives you a sense of perspective. It allows you to look outside the patterns you have grown accustomed to and see it with new eyes.

One image that will be stuck with me forever is that of the homeless in Prague. There weren't that many - only 4 or 5 in the five mile radius that we traversed from day to day in the old town (Stare Mesto). The streets in Stare Mesto are covered in rough cobblestone. The homeless there would kneel, motionless on these cobblestones for hours at a time, face down against the stones, arms outstretched with a cup in their hands. I could only imagine the pain they experienced in this position, and tears filled my eyes many times as I looked at them. I don't know, maybe this was some elaborate scheme to earn free tourist dollars, but I don't think so.

These men - and they were all men, looked like they were doing penance. They looked ashamed to be begging for money. In fact, they would not even look up when I put change in their cups. I never saw anyone's face. They would only mumble something, and bob their heads up and down against the cold stones as if in prayer.

I can't say that I know too much about the culture there, but I think that these people really had no other alternative...unable to work, and with no families to take care of them, they resorted to begging. And they are ashamed that they cannot contribute. They are ashamed that no one cares enough to love them. And so they kneel on those hard, cold stones. They beg for change. They beg for respect. They beg for love.

I couldn't help but contrast it to Canada, where the young homeless man outside my local Tim Hortons tried to place an order for an iced cappuccino with me, as I entered the store. We have such a sense of entitlement here, like we are owed everything and anything...we take and take and take without contributing, and we feel that it is owed to us.

All I can wonder about this guy is, "Why doesn't he feel ashamed that he is not contributing? There is nothing wrong with him."


Monday, November 07, 2005

The Blue Roll

The strangest thing about Prague was the coloured toilet paper. It was all over the place. In my hotel room. In public toilets. Everywhere. Even the paper towels were coloured in some places.

Perhaps this was more of a statement about North American society than I thought. What? Did the asses of Canada and the US collectively decide one day that coloured toilet paper was unhealthy? That it wasn't good for us? That we could only use white paper products for the highly important task of ass-wiping?

"Let's ship all that coloured toilet paper over to Eastern Europe. No one will complain about it over there."

I watched the blue paper cirle it's way down the toilet, with a feeling something like revulsion, and thought, God things are antiseptic over in North America. But I guess maybe we like it that way. Even when we're wiping our bums.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Crappiest Job on Earth

After a 7.5 hour overnight train ride from Prague to Vienna, desperate to go to the bathroom. I ran off the train, towards the closest washroom, and stopped dead in my tracks. 52 Euro cents to use the toilet. Damn!! No money. I ran back, grabbed some cash, and ran back.

This poor old woman took my money, lifted a big heavy key from around her neck, and unlocked a giant lock on one of the stalls.

This has got to be the worst job on earth. She sits inside the bathroom and inhales other people's crap and urine all day, just so she can unlock these stupid doors for people. Give the woman some dignity for god's sake. Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with the world.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Perspective in Prague

I've been walking around this incredibly beautiful and complex city. There's so many contradictions here. A lot of wealth and a lot of poverty. I guess it's growing pains, but it's frustrating sometimes. Last night for instance, we went to this club called Mecca. Good times. Llorca from France was spinning, and the music was great. Getting to and from the club was another story. Cabbies are mafia controlled in the Czech Republic, so there's no simple hailing and hopping into a cab like in Toronto. Our pension owner had to arrange a cab for us, and then we had to call her to arrange one to get back to the pension.

We're standing in the middle of the tram tracks waiting for our cabbie at 3:30 in the morning as directed. We're looking out for a Triple A Cab as directed. 5 minutes later, a cab pulls over, and we get ready to hop in.

"A cab for J to the Pension Bilban??" J says, with his hand on the door.

"J? I don't think so." the cabbie frowns, looking confused.

"But you're here to pick up some people for the Pension Bilban, right?" I say, thinking, there's no one else on this godforsaken corner. Who else would he be picking up? Does he think we rolled someone for the cab?

"One moment. I must make phone call." the cabbie says in his thick accent, and drives 500 metres up the street.

We stand on the corner in the freezing cold and wait. 5 minutes later, he pulls the car back around and lets us get in, presumably because he has somehow verified that we are in fact the right people. So, one 4 minute cab ride, and 150 Kc (about $8) later, we finally arrive safe and sound at the Pension. Craziness.

I can't even begin to describe the nightmare of the rail and bus stations. That, I'll have to save for a later post.

The Last Bastien of Starbuckslessness

I think Prague may be it. Not a single Starbucks in sight.

The good thing is that the lattes here are FAB-U-LOUS! I'm up to 3 a day!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Beautiful, Glorious Prague

Well I've been in Prague since yesterday...and it is just awe-inspiringly, stunningly beautiful. I wasn't really feeling Vienna...not even after a week, but I am already totally in love with Prague.

Prague has the energy of a city on the brink. There's so much energy here, some of it not so positive, but it's all awesome. I guess the Czech Republic is a "recovering economy," and you can feel it. Everyone's trying to get ahead, everyone's trying to make their mark. There's huge contradictions all over the place. Super fancy Diesel and Gas retail stores juxtaposed with sketchy schillers trying to lure you into the many strip joints on the main drag.

"Please be careful in the tourist areas, there are master pickpockets in Prague. Even though their hands are cold, they are still very fast." the pension owner warns me.

As foreigners, we are obvious marks. I grip my purse tightly as we pass through the main square, but I love it. I love the chaos, the craziness, and the edge. I want to soak it all in, but I've only got 3 days. So off I go!!!!!