Friday, January 30, 2009

What's in a Name?

A strange sort of shift has taken place in my awareness around my new name. A month ago I received an email from a woman who runs a community center where I used to teach infant development classes. Have I told you I used to work with infants? much you probably don't know about me. Not sure it matters. I digress.

It's been almost three years since I stepped away from my own business doing the infant development thing. So, this woman contacts me and asks if I'll come and teach a few workshops for her parents and facilitators. I agree to do the workshops, wondering if my brain still remembers infanty-type stuff. I'll find out next week. Anyhow, it struck me that my business was built on my given name, the one I left behind when I adopted Anya at my naming ceremony last September. This woman only knows me by that name. And since it is still my legal name, the cheque she will inevitably write me for my workshop teaching services will be to that name. So, I had some decisions to make.

I sat with it for awhile. I breathed with it. And then I laughed. A lot. I realized what people call me doesn't matter so much. I know who I am (most of the time anyhow) and it's simpler just to allow people to call me by the name that fits the context. For business, I'm legally still my given name. My friends call me Anya. It's all good.

It's funny that most of the time when I have conversations with myself, I speak to someone named Anya. And yet, there are certain contexts where my self-talk is directed to my given name. I'm both. And I'm neither.

The most intriguing conversation though takes place in the mirror with the woman I see looking back. She has no name. She's just pure energy sitting quietly behind eyes of blue.

tall penguin

Edited February 26 to add: This week, I had someone write a cheque to Anya and deposited it in my bank account. The bank doesn't seem to care one way or the other, so Anya it is. For life, for business, for all of it. I am Anya. Hear me roar.

To See and Be Seen...

I often wonder how language shapes our connection with others. Does how we greet another affect how we interact with them? I remember when I was a teenager grappling with chronic health issues, I would cringe at the formal greeting of others, “Hello, how are you?” I never knew what to say. My life centered around pain and ill health at the time and it was all-consuming. To answer honestly usually brought an unsavory response in the asker. In general, people don’t really care to know how you are. The reality I learned is that our common English greeting is a formality with little actual meaning. It’s just a gateway question on the road to any other topic for conversation. I knew I’d matured into societal “normality” once I learned to smile and reply, “I’m well. And you?”

Occasionally I trip across greetings from other parts of the world. This excerpt about how people greet one another in particular South African tribes is from The Fifth Discipline by Peter Serge, as quoted in Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott :

“Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to “hello” in English, is the expression: “Sawu bona.” It literally means, “I see you.” If you are a member of the tribe, you might reply by saying, “Sikhona” or “I am here.” The order of the exchange is important: Until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence.”

I wonder how this very basic exchange and the intention behind it sets the tone for the interaction of these tribes people. It feels different to me than the greeting I’m used to here in North America; somehow it is more soothing, more honoring. I wonder if people feel soothed and honored as both the giver and receiver of this greeting or if it becomes a formality like “Hello, how are you?” has become here for me.

And then there is Namaste, a greeting that has become popularized by the yoga crowd. Commonly held to mean “I honor the Divine in you” in Sanskrit, Namaste has become a popular way to address those in the “spiritual” circles. While I love the greeting and it’s meaning, it feels contrived. Every time I use it, I feel as though I’m putting on something that is not authentic. It’s as if I’m trying to show the world just how “enlightened” I am.

Perhaps it is not the words we use when greeting one another that matter. Perhaps it is the presence of the person greeting you that makes the difference. There are people I’ve met along my life’s path that have said volumes to me with eye contact and a smile, without ever opening their mouth. It is as if they utter a silent Sawu bona. They see me. I see them. What more is there to say?

tall penguin

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To be human...

My favorite moment from today's Presidential Inauguration? When Obama fumbled the words while taking the oath of office. Why? Because it reminds us all he's just a man. He's human. I like human.

tall penguin


Sometimes, I cry out of joy. Sometimes, out of sorrow. Sometimes because my heart feels empty. Sometimes because it is so full it feels like it will burst. Sometimes, the tears sting like the sun on my face. Sometimes, they soothe like balm. Sometimes, the water gathers beneath the surface for days before erupting into waves. Sometimes, months. Sometimes, years. And sometimes, the tears are new, like snowflakes on the first day of Winter. Sometimes, they stream like waterfalls. Sometimes, they drip slowly, intermittently, agonizingly slow. Sometimes, it seems like there is only one tear that just goes on and on. And sometimes, there are tears that never take form. They sit behind my eyes like silent strangers.

I would not trade any of my tears. They have created an ocean for me to swim, the vast waters within which my life has emerged. I am these tears. I am this ocean. I am.

tall penguin


I overheard a group of 12 year-old boys coming out of the movie theater:

Young man turns to his friend: "When I grow up, I wanna be a Mall Cop."

His friend says: "Ya, me too."

tall penguin

Penguin Awareness

Today is National Penguin Awareness Day. As a semi-aware penguin and a penguin who is interested in bringing awareness to other penguins, I honor penguins everywhere.

My brother recently toured the Galapagos Islands and commented on the smartness of the penguins there for choosing a warm-water environment. So, on this day, I salute said penguins. Here's a few of his photos. He even got to swim with them!

Sing with me:

"Penguins, penguins, rah, rah, rah.
Penguins, penguins, hah, hah, hah.
Ooooooo...I love penguins."

Okay, fine. It's the Turtles chocolate song but it still works. Have a swimmingly good, penguiny kinda day!

tall penguin

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The tree that is me...

We see our world through our thoughts and projections. A friend said once, "Your thoughts about a tree are not the tree." Yes. I see the world through the lens of my experience, projections of an illusory past or projected future. The more time I spend in the now, the more "real " I feel; alert, present, alive. And yet, strangely disconnected. How can I ever know a tree? How can I ever know what it is to be tree? Perhaps the form does not matter. Maybe there is something that connects us all beyond form.

I can sit in a room for hours with someone and never really feel like I'm connecting with them at all. How can I really know another? What does it mean to connect? I can tell you about what it's like to be me. But that is changing constantly. And words will never suffice. It's all story. Is there something beyond words that we all share? Is there a way I can truly be with you, truly understand what you are? Perhaps it comes back to me. What am I really?

I have spent a lot of time with babies. They seem to know something I have forgotten. I wonder if it is the acquisition of language that changes everything. That once we begin to have words to weave a story about who we are and what the world around us is, the sense of oneness dissolves. Whenever I look into an infant's eyes, I see a purity, a deep wisdom and knowing that I can't explain. Is it possible to return to that state of innocence, that state of wonder, that state of purity, where words dissolve and there is only what is?

tall penguin

Monday, January 12, 2009

Epiphanous Moments...

2008 ended with some momentous shifts in my relationship with my parents. If you've been following the saga, you know that my relationship with my folks, who are still Jehovah's Witnesses, has had its challenges since my leaving the "faith" three years ago. I am blessed in that my parents have never shunned me, as their religion would have them do, but it was obvious that our relationship was strained once I no longer held the same beliefs. This was more an issue with my mother, who has tended to be more hard-line in her devotion to the religion (somehow it feels strange to call it a cult now...not sure what that means).

Life gave me plenty of opportunity in 2008 to heal my hurt around my upbringing and move into greater love and acceptance of myself and my parents. I recognized that it is their journey and, as adults, they have the right to choose their own path. The child in me still wishes I hadn't been dragged along for the ride but it's okay. I'm stronger for it. All of it.

Towards the end of the year, my mother had surgery to have her thyroid removed. She had developed a cancerous lump. She called and asked me to be there with her the day of the surgery. So, I went. I sat with her in pre-op as she confirmed with the Anesthesiologist her wishes as a Jehovah's Witness not to be administered blood products in any circumstance. And it didn't trigger me. I realized that it's her life and she can do with it as she pleases.

While Mom was in surgery, my Dad and I had lunch and hung out in the waiting room. I helped him program his cell phone. He'd been carrying a list of important numbers on scrap paper in his pocket, not knowing how to put them into his phone. He was so happy to have those numbers put on his speed dial, he couldn't stop smiling.

Mom's surgery went well. They got all the cancer and the doctor later gave her a clean bill of health. She's adjusting to life without her thyroid now, sorting out meds, etc. and is doing well.

Something shifted after all of this. I'm not sure precisely why it did, but it did. Remember my long rant where I said I would not grieve if she died? Well, that was a very angry child talking. So, I gave that child some love and attention. And then I gave my mother some love and attention. And somehow, things are better.

My mother even spoke of how she feels her thyroid cancer may have had something to do with years of not speaking up, as though all that unspoken emotion literally festered and ate away at her. She said to me, "Please, make sure you speak up for yourself in this life." And I sat with that for awhile. Maybe that was her way of saying that she actually respects my having spoken up for myself by leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses, that she sees the value in speaking your own truth and living your own life. I don't know. It doesn't matter. It is what it is. Regardless, I'm happy for her, that she's finally learning to speak up. It's been long in coming. For both of us.

And remember during that rant how I thought that the only way I could have a relationship with my father was if my mother was out of the picture? Well, that's shifted too. My Dad and I have been going on "dates" pretty regularly. We go for coffee, lunch, hang out and watch movies.

My father came over to do some fix-ups in my apartment a week ago. And then, he gave me a gift I've waited 34 years to receive. When he left, he hugged me and said, "I hope you know how special you are to me. I am here for you always." Ya, you can cry. I did.

I just called my folks to say hi. My mom answered with a laugh, "Your father and I were just talking about you." I smiled.

tall penguin

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

"For all that has been: Thanks.
For all that shall be: Yes."
~~Dag Hammarskjöld

I took my blog down to reflect. There was nothing pressing for me to say here and it hit me that some of my rants betrayed the "terrible" two-year-old in me that was desperately in need of attention. Rather than share that with the world, I took some downtime to nurture that child, learn some lessons and wait until I was back in a space where I felt I had something truly of value to say.

This blog has been quite the journey. It started off as a means of unclogging my brain and the only consistent way I could communicate with my then-boyfriend. It then turned into a therapy tool for venting, questionning and processing my post-cult experience. Then it evolved into a very raw exposure of what it means to be a human trying to understand what it means to be human. I wanted the blog to stand as a testimony to the struggles of self-realization, the view from inside the cocoon as the caterpillar attempts to become a butterfly. This made me incredibly vulnerable at times. It's dark, gooey and frankly, a little grotesque inside the cocoon.

I appreciate the safety you've all given me to be vulnerable here. You saw me. You listened to me. You challenged me. My friend D takes the old adage It takes a village to raise a child and spins it to It takes a village to live a life. Yes. Thank you all for being part of my village.

As I begin 2009, my intention for the blog is to continue to reflect on the questions of life, what it means to be human, and to continue to radiate a sense of wonder for the seemingly small delicacies of life that bring a smile to my face. I hold 2009 in my consciousness as a year of great change, great growth and deeper knowing. I wish you all radical gratitude and acceptance as the next twelve months unfold.

tall penguin