Friday, October 22, 2021

This Autumn Whiff

Behind my life experiences.  Beyond what I project on the outside. Below this clutter.  Underneath this trauma.  On the other side of this fear.  I’m still there.  As always.  I never left. What I notice most about the autumn season is the smell.  This dank scent that instantly takes me back to simpler times.  Jumping.  Rolling.  Hiding.  In these fallen leaves.  Laughing.  Living.  In the moment.  The fall season always seems to reawaken memories of my childhood.  That young boy growing up near Boston in the early 70s.  Oftentimes, I wonder how different I would be today if my family had never moved back to Canada in 1976.  How would I look?  Would I be riding bikes?  Would I have a family?  Would I be eating the same foods?  Would I be reading the same books?  Would I be writing the same words?  Would I still have the same values?  Would I still be me?  Even if pondering things that could have been is in essence pointless, I still find it fascinating to contemplate such scenarios.  My interest has nothing to do with regret.  It’s more a way of making me realize who I really am by showing me who I am not.  Revisiting the early years of my life brings me closer to the blessed state of pure beingness into which we are all born.  A time before we were broken.  A time before we developed all of these hang-ups in order to survive.  A time before the emergence of our ego.  A time before we started playing these social characters.  A time before assuming these grown-up roles.  A time before all this loss.  I’m not sure how, but for some reason, the aroma of these fall leaves make me feel closer to my true self.  Closer to the pure consciousness that I am.  Closer to the untamed me.  Can you smell it?  This autumn whiff.


Thursday, October 14, 2021


Both knees gently resting on my yoga mat.  Both buttocks firmly seated on my meditation bench.  Simply staring into this abyss.  Noticing the textures and nuances of the darkness behind my eyelids.  These ripples.  Gently unrolling with each and every breath.  I feel like I’m sitting in a pool of water.  Submerged up to my lower lip.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Let it all come up.  Let it all move through me.  Things have been a bit rocky as of late.  My anxiety getting the best of me.  Simply sitting with these feelings.  May I be happy.  May I be healthy.  May I be safe.  May I be at peace.  Ever so slowly I begin to feel it all trickle down into the floor below.  The water level slowly subsiding.  My breathing less labored.  My shoulders that much lighter.  Grounded.  Ready to tackle this weekend.  I long to get out there.  To taste the spaciousness of these quiet roads.  On the cusp of this autumn peak, the tree tops are on fire.  Reds.  Oranges.  Yellows.  Breathtaking.  Much cooler than it was the day before.  The wind has changed.  Blowing from the north east as if it is trying to extinguish this treetop color explosion.  103 kms, a metric century on Friday.  51 kms of gravel on Sunday.  And 31 kms on the mountain bike in Fundy National park on Monday.  So very much to be thankful for on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.  Health.  Family.  Friends.  My yoga mat.  My meditation bench.  And of course my bikes.


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

This deep cushiony leather chair


“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.”
Gabor Maté

The deep cushiony leather chair is very comfortable.  It’s just that I’m not very comfortable sitting in it.  Staring out the window beside me, I notice the vibrancy of the forest outside, a world that I no longer feel part of.  I’m stuck in this whole other hazy dimension.  This thick fog that just never lifts.  Unable to run away anymore.  In my own personal purgatory.  Motionless.

My psychologist breaks the silence of my vacant gaze as she reaches out to hand me a pen and some paper.  I have come to see her in a desperate attempt to get some help dealing with the fact that my broken brain no longer allows me to ride and race my bike.  And without that, to be honest, I don’t really know how to continue to exist anymore.  She asks me to list the past traumas in my life so far.  My top 5.  Or more.  Whatever comes up she says.  I don’t really get it.  What does such a list have to do with my concussion?  But I don’t have the energy to reason or argue with her.  All that my bruised and battered cerebrum can do is follow her instructions.  I start writing.  As I gently lay my pen to rest, my distorted focus lands on the dust particles dancing in the bright early winter sun beaming on the wall behind her.  The rest of the universe seems to be business as usual.  The sun still shines like it always has.  Why can’t it brighten my days like it used to?  Even these gyrating specks of dust seem more cheerful than I am in this moment.

How many did you write down?  Her words startle me as if I’m lost in a deep trance.  I got five.  After handing her my list, I look for her reaction as she’s reading it, still trying to figure out how this is supposed to help me accept the reality that I am sinking deeper and deeper into this dark hole as my bikes are gathering dust.  She repeats the second one on my list.  Sexual abuse. Hearing her say it out loud makes me fidget.  This deep cushiony leather chair has suddenly become even more uncomfortable.  How can something that happened close to 35 years ago still have so much power over me?  Literally only a handful of people know that I am a sexual abuse survivor.  My parents.  My wife.  And a couple of psychologists.  This skeleton in my closet.  My deepest secret.  Always there.  This hidden truth.  This lie that I keep telling myself over and over.  

For as long as I can remember, bikes have meant freedom to me.  Freedom to roam.  Freedom to explore.  Freedom to feel that in the end everything is going to be OK.  Heartfelt freedom.  This life-giving freedom that has been taken away from me by this head injury.  Maybe its purpose is to shine light on this secret that I have been holding onto for so very long?  If the saying “the truth will set you free” is indeed true, then maybe working on healing my sexual abuse trauma is a first step in reclaiming this lost freedom?  Authentic freedom isn’t about half truths.  It’s an all or nothing deal.  Maybe my broken brain will only be able to fully heal by putting the parts of my fragmented true self back together?  Maybe the only way forward is to put an end to this lie and finally rid myself of all this guilt and shame embedded inside of me?  Maybe it’s time to start embodying my truth and stop living this half-life?  Every single thing has changed along with this new cloudy brain chemistry that I am now floating in.  I figure all I can do is give in and let it change me.  I follow my psychologist’s lead.  Let’s do this.  As much as I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, strangely I feel like I’m finally ready to go there.  I’m all in.

For the next two years, every three or four weeks, I sit in this deep cushiony leather chair.  Revisiting the past.  Shedding these timeworn tears.  Kicking.  Screaming.  Recalling.  Feeling.  The chair doesn’t change, but somehow it slowly becomes more and more comfortable.  This work isn’t just in this chair.  I also begin devouring books that inspire my true essence.  I meditate.  I practice yoga.  I start journaling.  And ever so slowly I also get back on my bikes again.  I’m not sure how, but verbalizing the details of my sexual abuse in a safe setting enables me to let go of the emotions attached to it.  Psychotherapy somehow lets the buried and denied parts of me born from this trauma come up to the surface.  The bulk of each appointment isn’t about my concussion even though the symptoms continue to linger.  It’s about revisiting these traumatic events, allowing myself to feel what I wasn’t equipped to feel when it happened and mourning what was lost.  The more I open up, the more healing momentum I create.  Unblocked from my past, breaking free from these shackles, so much positive energy now flowing without any resistance.  The physical healing of my injured brain fueled by all the emotional work that I am doing.  Being healthy isn’t just about getting enough exercise and eating the right foods.  It’s also about our bodies being in balance with our psyche and our emotions.  This equilibrium is the key. 

Fast forward five years later to 2021, my physical brain has mostly healed.  I can ride my bike comfortably again without any post-concussion symptoms.  But I’m not the same person that I was before my accident.  I’m more content.  I’m more at peace.  I’m more true.  And I’ve become very comfortable being alone.  So comfortable, that I crave it.  Alone on my bike.  Alone in nature.  I’ve really come to enjoy my own company.  One of my basic needs.  As September expires into October, I load my bikes and gear into my truck and head north.  This Xperience Kouchibouguac cabin providing the amenities to enable me to host my own private gravel cycling meditation retreat.  The national park trails leading directly into the parking lot of the cabin complex.  Three days.  Two nights.  And three amazing rides as well as a few hikes.  Something about the vibrancy and stillness of the forest that reawakens the life breath inside of me.  This cool moist air.  Purifying.  These forest trees.  Mesmerizing.  No hidden agenda.  Simply living fully in the moment.  Pedaling through this protected forest, I ponder how far I’ve come since first sitting in that deep cushiony leather chair.  How did I get here?  The truth is that I was never the lone occupant of that seat.  The young greasy-haired naïve teenager in me was also there, sitting right next to me.  My inner child.  He needed to be there.  He needed to finally be heard.  He needed to finally be held and hugged so very tight.  He needed to be healed in order for me to become whole.

Every single one of my life experiences live inside of me.  Every single one of my former selves make me who I am.  And they accompany me everywhere I go.  At work.  At home.  And on each and every one of my bike rides.  Befriending, supporting and nurturing every single one of them is how I continue to heal and live a full life.  Comfortably by myself.  Peacefully alone but never lonely.  Reassured and comforted by all of my former selves.  That’s why this work is so important.  My life’s work.  My longing to reach my expiry date empty.  Nothing to hide.  Nothing more to say.  Nothing more to do.  Nothing to let go of.  We are the only ones that can save ourselves.  It took me a while to understand this, but once I did, everything changed.  

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Is this suffering optional?

I suffer whenever I believe that there exists a point in time when I will no longer suffer.  The promise of a future nirvana started with the fairytales that I listened to as a young child.  “And they lived happily ever after” is how they all seemed to end.  As I got older, and life became more complicated, it was a matter of “if I can just finish school”.  That became “if I can just graduate from university and have a career”.  But even with that first real job, I still had to pay my dues.  Underpaid.  Overworked.  Push through it.  It will be worth it in the end is what I was being told.  The cure for the lack that you are feeling is to work your way up the corporate ladder.  Life gets better the closer you get to the top.  Such a believable illusion manufactured by our capitalist society.  That dream job.  Does it even exist?  Peace and salvation from our suffering always seems to be right there.  Just around the corner.  The next thing.  After we finish this thing.  This never ending cycle of broken promises.  Middle age.  And still agonizing.  Uncomfortably sitting in this painful void.  What can save me now?  Retirement.  Is that when I will finally be free from this suffering?  Is that why they call it the “golden years”?  So much of our suffering happens in our minds.  When how we think things should be don’t match what they actually are.  Tormented by our expectations.  Will I ever be able to drop my attachment with a certain outcome?  Is it even possible to live in harmony with reality?  It seems like there simply will always be something.  The eventual breakdown of our physical bodies.  Sickness.  Aches and pains.  Trauma and loss.  Maybe our fear of this pain is what makes us suffer most.  Endlessly afflicted by this human condition.  Strangely, whenever I fully accept the fact that there will always be suffering in life, the less that I suffer.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Truth and Reconciliation

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of god.  It fell, and broke into pieces.  Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” – Rumi 

I remember seeing a swastika hand written on a desk in middle school before knowing what it really meant.  I remember learning about the holocaust  a few years later.  At the time, these stories didn’t seem real to me.  It felt more like a fictional horror movie .  Surreal.  As the reality of it all sunk in, I remember thinking how ashamed I would feel if I were German.  Even if I were not alive during the second world war, how could they live and walk on the same soil that these unthinkable atrocities took place on at the hands of their ancestors.  But I wasn’t there.  It wasn’t me.  And things like these would never happen in Canada.  When I first heard about Canadian residential schools from my daughter a few years ago, I didn’t understand what it really meant.  They still existed when I was her age, so maybe that’s why I didn’t learn about them when I was in school?  Or maybe I did but didn’t really understand what it all meant at the time?  As this reality slowly sinks in, my heart breaks into pieces for all the trauma suffered at the hands of my ancestors.  On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I pause to recognize and honor our First Nations, Inuit and Metis brothers and sisters.  Even if there is no way to undo all the unthinkable wrong that has been done, please allow me to also feel even a tiny bit of your pain and know that I stand by you as you mourn all that was lost.  Some things in life can never be fixed.  They can only be carried.  At the very least, please know that you are not alone to carry this burden.