If I had a memoir, it would be called Breathe Write Run: One Woman’s Search for Everything in the City of Toronto. Maybe not as exotic as Liz Gilbert’s spiritual chronicle of her time across Italy, India and Indonesia, but every bit as enlightening.
And cheaper. Much cheaper.
Over the last 4 years, I’ve been towing the line between busy working mom and spirit seeking soul. I have four kids – in 8 different activities and soon to be three different schools. They range in age from 5 – 13, each of them with unique personalities and needs requiring the wisdom of a child psychologist, the knowledge of a pediatrician and the patience of a monk, none of which are skills I naturally have.
I also have 2 businesses.
A yoga studio in the beach neighbourhood of Toronto, which I run with an amazing and inspiring business partner, and a life and leadership coaching business. Either would likely do better with full-time attention, but I am inspired and passionate about both so do my best to balance it all.
I am still married despite our ups and downs. (Did I mention the four kids?) Our relationship could use less chaos and more downtime, but we’re a decade away from that at least. So, short love-emoji text messages sent during the day, and high fives outside the children’s bedrooms in the evening, will have to do for now.
My father recently passed leaving my mom in need of both financial and emotional support. The family I was born into has challenges of its own, but getting into them would exhaust the word count of this article.
Let’s just say, life is busy but good. My days are filled with love, purpose and meaning but also a high level of stress and chaos.
To give you an idea, the other day there was a gas leak just outside our yoga studio. Following police instructions, I gathered all staff and clients, preparing to evacuate them safely. Imagine 30 pairs of eyeballs on me, everyone trying to figure out the safest way out of the gas-reeked building, while my 5-year-old (who was in the kids yoga class at the time) repetitively tugs on my arm, asking me if she can have a gumball.
Managing it all is hard, and I very rarely do it gracefully. I am human. And a deeply flawed one at that. Yet somehow, on some level, I knew there was another side to me. A part of me that was always whole, loving and connected to something bigger.
The stoics called it pneuma, which is our breath, our vital force, our soul. They saw our pneuma as a fragment of the whole. Our breath connected to the whole breath. Our soul connected to the whole soul.
This is what I woke up to.
For the last four years, I have risen early, most days between 3:30 – 5:00 am. Truth be told, these early mornings were not something I started by choice. I didn’t willingly get out of bed. Instead I was dragged out of it.
I heard once on a podcast that Kali – the goddess of death and time – does not care about your comfort; she cares about your spiritual development. I think that’s who found me. Not matter what time I went to bed or how restlessly I slept, she would jolt me awake and guide me down the stairs for a morning routine that can take me nearly two hours.
First coffee. I’m a seeker not a saint. I turn on the machine and let the heater fire up. Then right in front of the machine, to the sound of warming water, I meditate.
I’m not fussy about my meditation. I like to change it up. I focus on my breath. I cultivate love, but mostly I tune into the sensations in my body, shifting my awareness inside to everything that happens in there. I read once in a book that this inner word can feel like going upside down in a kayak. Tuning in is hard. There’s a whole world of sensation inside that’s like cold, violent river water slapping you in the face. But tuning in has also brought me a world of deep knowing, and so, despite the discomfort, I keep doing it.
After meditation, I write, stream of consciousness style, to flush out all my mental nonsense. No censoring. No re-reading. I write and purge, scraping the most mundane and repetitive of thoughts from the surface so my mind can be clear.
Then I run, which is always my favourite part. My ego wants me to have a fit body and my spirit wants truth. So both of us win when I put on my running shoes.
Running releases me. I am blessed to live a kilometer away from one of Canada’s five great lakes. The sights of the soaring birds overhead and the sound of the water’s lapping waves, both perfectly capture the feeling I have inside when I run. Liberation, transcendence and freedom.
Together all three work like salve to my small self – the part of me that is scared and likes to pretend it can control everything. Meditation gives me wisdom, writing gives me clarity and running releases me. Today, the above routine is something I choose willingly. I go to bed early. I avoid heavy drinking. I let very little interfere with the routine that has brought me wisdom, grace and ease.
It’s a ritual that’s uniquely my own and far different from the Catholic customs I was raised on. I’ve traded in wooden pews for stately trees and holy water for Lake Ontario. But the biggest shift for me was realizing that I didn’t need an ordained, black-cloaked man to decide whether or not I was pure enough to commune with God. I could go to Her directly, and what She told me was that I was always worthy.
No matter how many times I messed up, no matter how many times I yelled at my kids, or let jealously get the better of me or otherwise gave into my egoic fear, I could always come back to Her, to my practice. To the part of me that was a fragment of the whole.
And so, every day that’s where you’ll find me. At the holy place I can access through Breathe Write Run.
Liz is a mom of four who lives in Toronto