S-21, And you thought YOUR highschool was bad.

This posting contain several videos.  If you receive this posting by email click on the title in blue now to open the posting in your Internet browser.

I visited Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh with some hesitation.  It is a must see when visiting Cambodia, but you May need to dedicate Day to feeling gloomy.

Originally a high school, it was transformed into prison S 21 when Pol Pot emptied all the cities and banned education.

The incredible amount of barbed wire seemed almost more like an art installation then barricade.  No doubt it was effective keeping prisoners inside.

The long narrow buildings where classrooms had windows on both sides and open air hallways was very similar to the schools I taught in when I lived in Japan.  This made the fact that it was a school made prison/torture chamber very real to me.

20,000 people passed through this center.  Seven survived due to possessing skills that were needed by Pol Pot.  

The first year everyone was murdered on site.  But the volume became too difficult.  From then after being tortured, documented, and interrogated the prisoners were sent to the killing fields.

Click on the image below to view a short clip of me walking past some photos of the deceased.

Video 

it was shocking for me to see this typical looking school transformed into a prison.   Click on the image below for a video of the same.

The main level was made into cells using bricks.

The next level was divided into cells by wood construction.

other classrooms were used as is just filling them up with as many people as could fit.

Click on the image below to view another video of me walking around the school.

Lucky prisoners received a shower once a week by being sprayed from the window.  One survivor said that he received one shower in three months.

A survivor describes how prisoners were moved when they were too weak to walk themselves.

Imagine the shock and confusion of being taken away from your life with your family and being accused of being KGB or CIA agent when you  probably didn’t even know what that was.

Complete insanity ruled.

This structure previously used for high school gymnastics proved useful for torture implementation.

Some descriptions of the torture use

A timeline showing me chronology of Cambodia.

there were testimonies from the survivors and from people who actually worked there.

Click on the image below to play another video of my visit to S 21.  By this time I had read a number of personal accounts and the history was becoming very real to me.   

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A Strategic Ant Farm for People

(This posting has some short video clips. If you received it by email, click on the title in blue to open the posting in your browser so you can view them. Or when you click on one of the video images it will open in your browser at that time.)

The Cu Chi tunnels are a network of more than 200 km of underground tunnels near to the city of Saigon in Vietnam.  They were famous as a unique defense hold against the American military during Vietnam war.  

Here you can see a typical entry point to one of the tunnels.

Click on the image below to see me entering the tunnel through this entry point. This was the original opening size, made so most Americans would not be able to fit through. Only three of us tried to fit.

The Vietcong designed many innovative traps for the American soldiers to encounter.  Most of them involve hidden trapdoors blending in with the ground.

Click on the image below to see this particular trap in action.

The tunnels have a variety of entry points some hidden and not some not.  These were all strategic and caused confusion for the American soldiers.  It would seem that the Vietcong would disappear and reappear in many different places.  This would also cause their numbers to seem expanded.  Their ability to move about underground would have almost seemed magical to the American soldiers above ground.  But not magical in a good way.

 We were told that tanks destroyed where usually buried to be made into bunkers.

The entry of this tunnel would have been made larger for the tourist.  But the tunnel itself was authentic.  I made my way through this one and was very happy not to encounter other people inside.

These huts built into the ground apart from the roof for water drainage were hard to see from any distance.

Thank you for joining my visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam.  

Click on the image below as I look for the nearest exit. The tunnels continue on with many exit/entry points throughout. Although we were told these were authentic dimensions, I have no doubt many tunnels were much smaller. Also, although there was not much lighting, there was some intermittent lightning and they would have had none. Seemed like an ant farm for humans, with chambers and features within, although I didn’t seen any.

I hope you’ll join me next time for more of my Asian adventures! Click on “follow” below the list of entries at the right and enter your email address to receive my posts to your inbox. You will receive nothing other than my postings and you can unfollow at anytime clicking “unfollow” on any of the posts you receive.

Cheers!
Darren

My Autumn Journey, Part Two

The greatest predictor of feeling love
is whether or not you feel worthy of love.

The greatest predictor of belonging
is whether or not you feel worthy of belonging.

Brene Brown.

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This posting contains scenes from my visit to New Brunswick in October, 2014.

I paused a long time before sharing part two, because I’m feeling vulnerable sharing shame stories and I wasn’t sure if anyone wanted to read about this anyway. Then someone emailed me about part one, with interesting and thoughtful remarks and asked when part two was coming. So If you’re not interested in this, just delete it, no harm done!

My Autumn Journey, Part Two
Learning How to Live a Wholehearted Life

Thank you for joining my journey!

In part one I introduced some ideas from leading shame researcher, Brene Brown, mostly from her book, “The Gifts Of Imperfection : Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life”. In this posting I continue this topic which came onto my radar while visiting Montreal. Issues come up for us when we are ready to deal with them, no matter where we are and what we are doing. Just because I am travelling does not mean I leave my issues on-hold at home. Quite the opposite is true for me, a variety of experiences bring-up a variety of issues.

As I mentioned before, we all experience shame in some form (with the exception of those who are incapable of empathy) so I hope you’ll take some time to examine your own life and the role that shame has played for you, and to see if maybe it’s time to change it’s role. This is about embracing ourselves fully and accepting that none of us are perfect. I highly recommend spending some time on Brown’s website: http://www.brenebrown.com

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As a kid I felt an enormous amount of shame and that tends to come-up for me every year on my birthday. I was ashamed for being who I was. I was ashamed that I liked to colour rather than to play baseball. I felt shame for wanting to create things rather than destroy things. I preferred quiet activities over physical ones. I “knew” it was wrong to like these things, although I had no idea why.

This was my early elementary school years, age 5 to 10. The most innocent years. Society, especially at the time, tied sexuality to things that have nothing to do with sexuality, but most people didn’t know better. There was also the misbelief that pursuing creative things would cause one to become homosexual, so many caring parents would try to guide their kids away from their natural talents with the best of intentions.

My fear of not being good enough (shame) caused me to retreat more and more. Added to this was being introverted (recharging by being alone) and being highly sensitive (overwhelmed by too much noise, light, commotion, crowds) , making school one huge confusion. I had a nice friend in grade three, but I felt unworthy of his friendship.

I befriended a kid on the fringes who I suppose I felt adequate to be friends with, but in so doing I lost my only real friend. I had feared his eventual rejection anyway, I figured it was only a matter of time before he realised I wasn’t good enough, so I hastened the process, around age 9. At that time I also remember feeling ashamed of my body, his body was much better than mine, more what it was “supposed” to be. Manlier. It could have been as simple as he was hitting puberty before me because I was young for my grade and he was a year older even though we were in the same class. My new friend had issues with obesity and I was more comfortable with him even though he tended to be loud and we actually had very little in common apart from both feeling like rejects.

My friend had a tendency to be obnoxious and by grade seven I could not abide his company any more. Knowing him definitely encouraged my introverted tendencies as he was really draining. I didn’t know being with other friends would feel differently. Everything went wrong in grade seven and I would become friendless for some years, although no one knew or noticed. I now know that this was entirely caused by me feeling unworthy to be loved – which translated to feeling unworthy of having friends. Being an outsider and not having any one-on-one friendships became my greatest shame that I spent a lot of effort hiding. Later as I started to notice an attraction to guys more-and-more and not to girls, that became another great shame.

Like so many of us, I still attach shame to my body. No matter what the shape, too. This was the case when I was a fit and muscular rower during uni, when I was very slim during my years in Japan, when I was carrying extra weight a couple of years ago, and still today when I’m an average healthy size. I looked back at photos from earlier years and was shocked to see that I had a great body. I remember being surprised even at the time when I saw the photo of me at a beach in Thailand. I hadn’t felt sexy, so seeing it was like, wow, look at me last week. I shared that photo with friends. I remember wishing I could feel the way I looked, but I still had shame for my body NOT BEING PERFECT. Luckily it was never enough to encourage an eating disorder as it is for so many women. That must be another whole level.

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Even if you are a hundred pounds overweight, that is not a moral issue and there is no reason to attach shame to that. You might feel guilty when you eat too much, or exercise too little because you know that those behaviours are not helping you to lead a happy and healthy life. But lots of people judge others and we judge ourselves based on size. I am well-aware that many of us do attach shame to our bodies and that we may even be shamed by others for our bodies. It is great to be fit and slim and healthy, a worthy goal for sure. Whether you are or not, you are still worthy of being loved and accepted as you are.

That bears repeating.

You are worthy of being loved and accepted as you are. However that is.

I think that when you feel worthy of being loved and accepted, you actually attract people to love and accept you. You can also send a signal of worthiness or non-worthiness. Twenty years ago, I came-out publicly after I had pushed-back the shame and fully accepted that I was gay. (That was a very long and difficult road for me.) I am sure that my own self-acceptance was instrumental in how people reacted.

I expected acceptance and most people lived-up to my expectation and accepted me at a time when few people around me even knew of someone being gay in Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Except my church community – I was completely rejected there. I was expelled from the quartet, banned from the youth choir, cancelled as a soloist, and asked not to attend the university-age youth group. I would be allowed to attend as long as I didn’t “talk about it”, but people acted like I was highly contagious. Former church friends would cross the street just to avoid saying hello. Suddenly turn the opposite direction when they had been coming towards me at the market. I didn’t afflict my discomfort on them (not theirs on me), I never attended that church again. Nor any church for a long time.

This was before Ellen, before Will & Grace, the only icon I knew of was the late Liberace, who only added to the misconceptions.

I had learned that being gay was not something to apply shame to, but I continued to apply shame in other areas of my life.

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As for my birthday? It’s embarrassing for me to admit this but I am practicing vulnerability so here it goes. People hide behind pride and it only separates them from others. The specific yearly shame came from not knowing friends who I could invite to a birthday party, so I only had family birthday parties. Actually, I feared no one would WANT to come – I did know lots of people. I feared and expected rejection. This was from as young as I can remember until about age twenty. So when my birthday came-up each year, I felt embarrassed – and ashamed – that I didn’t have any one-on-one friends. I kept it a secret, I didn’t want anyone to discover my pathetic reality. And on the actual day I feared that someone might notice and point-out that I wasn’t doing anything with friends for my birthday. In high school I looked like a popular kid; no one knew how differently it looked from my angle. I should have felt like a popular kid too – I just didn’t know it. Apparently people liked me but I couldn’t believe it because I didn’t like myself.

This year I felt very loved sharing my day with mostly new friends in Montreal a few weeks ago. So thankful was I that I decided to write each one a thank you note that I gave out at the end of my birthday dinner. I put myself on the line being vulnerable, expressing honest love and affection to each person who attended, writing completely different notes for each person.

Everyone responded to my notes of flowing affection, thanking me for my words or expressing their fondness in return. Except for two. I had the feeling of dropping the “L-word” and then the other person awkwardly looking away because they don’t feel the same. All I needed to hear was, “thank you for the note” so as to not feel awkward about what I’d written. In my insecurity, I needed to know that what I had written was okay. This was highlighted by most people replying, so that those who didn’t stood out.

A number of days passed before I dropped the mental ball, eventually misinterpreting their silence about the notes as non-reciprocity of affection. I was no longer in Montreal, but we had a few casual texts. It blew-up in my head until I decided I must have shared too much and offended them. Why else would they not mention them like everyone else did? It seemed like the notes were something we would have to put behind us rather than the affirming expression of love I had hoped for. I regretted the whole day.

Notes to Self:
-Turn down the affection a bit.
-Work on reducing my insecurities.
-Don’t be so fast to anticipate rejection.
-Don’t interpret something from nothing.

I finally addressed the issue in the manner it had grown in my head and discovered my complete error. No, they hadn’t responded to the notes for any reason except that they hadn’t. We were totally fine. They also didn’t say anything because, of course they liked the notes, how could I think they wouldn’t? They’d shown affection by their previous actions, why would I think that suddenly changed? (Answer: Because of my insecurities. Because for many years, I saw myself as someone unworthy of friends.)

Notes to self: Turn down the affection a bit. Work on reducing my insecurities – don’t be so fast to anticipate rejection. It was a mistake for me to interpret something from nothing. My insecurities kicked in – my brain said, “You were wrong. The only person feeling love at your birthday was you – you only thought they were feeling love because you were.” My brain wants to repeat the same old pain story rather than change the record. I WILL change the record. It will just take more work than I thought.

My mantra:
I am worthy to be loved and accepted, as I am.

I know there are LOTS of people who would benefit from making this their mantra. Repeat it especially when you feel it’s untrue, because then you need to correct your thinking.

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And the struggle to live wholeheartedly continues.

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More scenes from the province where I was born and raised, New Brunswick, Canada.

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Here’s an old photo! I’m around 26 in this photo, in Ko Samui, Thailand.

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I hope you will join me for part three of this series of working towards living a wholehearted life.

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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Feeling the Love in Montreal!

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Where’s the Kitty? Oh, there he is!

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Kitty likes to remind me that he’s here.

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In case you missed it in an earlier posting, I was cat-sitting for two weeks in Montreal during month two.

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“Oh Good, you’re awake. I’ve been waiting for you. On your chest.”

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“I brought some of my food into your bed to share. You’re welcome.”

Is part of why we love our pets so much because we feel their love and acceptance no matter what? We don’t feel judged by our pets. We don’t feel shame with our pets. They love us as we are and we love them. All we have to do is share a bit of affection and all is perfect. Our pets don’t care about what flaws we have. If we feed them and love them that’s all they need. Our shortcomings don’t matter to them.

Why can’t we do this with other humans? I think we can. I don’t care how much money you make or what you have achieved, I only care about how you interact with me. I don’t judge you if you suffer depression or anxiety, I’ve had those human experiences myself. I hope you won’t judge me for having more than you or less than you, but I can’t worry about that if you do.

Most of us carry shame that is not serving us. We let it needlessly separate us from others. Sometimes we may be too proud to reveal a weakness. Or we fear judgement if we are too open.

Montreal became a place where I have practiced being more open. I have often over-shared. Sometimes it has been a bit messy. But in the end, it has felt good.

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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I’m healing my life one building-block at a time. Thank you for joining my journey.

I came to Montreal for four weeks on August 13 and I eventually pulled away on October 8th, making a total of eight weeks to the day. I didn’t want to leave, but it’s not where I live and it’s not where I want to live. Maybe someday, after studying French somewhere else, but not now. I developed some really great friendships and was having meaningful experiences so I just didn’t want to drive away. Home is where the heart is and I am leaving a lot of my heart in Montreal.

I always knew that I suffered a lot of shame growing-up and carrying into adulthood, but in Montreal I really looked at that and faced it head-on. I have carried a lot of shame for a lot of things, none of which was deserved or warranted or served much purpose.

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I was very fortunate that these issues surfaced for me while visiting new friends in Outremont and that I was able to dedicate as much time as I wanted reading and researching about it. I had heard shame researcher Brene Brown through a Ted Talk and I knew that her work was where I needed to go. “The Gifts of Imperfection – Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life” would be my guide for this segment of my life journey.

The following ideas are not my own, but are things that I gleaned through presentations of Brown. I highly recommend this Ted Talk and I will recommend another later. Click on this link to open in your browser: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame#t-1313554

To be happy, Brown concludes, people need to LOVE and BELONG.

She also discovered that the greatest single predictor of whether one feels they are loved and belong is whether or not THEY FEEL WORTHY OF BEING LOVED AND BELONGING.

That is the magic trick! To find love, feel worthy of love! To belong, feel worthy of belonging. Simple! Now we should all be happy! Yay!

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This raised a major question for Brown. If people need to feel worthy of love and belonging to achieve love and belonging, what are the blocks causing so many of us to feel unworthy? She found the main answer and ended-up dedicating the next eight years of her research, with thousands of case studies and interviews, to SHAME.

SHAME is basically the FEAR OF BEING UNLOVABLE. The fear that others will reject us. The fear of not being good enough as we are. It’s cousin is perfectionism- attaching being good enough with our actions being good enough and taking it to the extreme that only perfect is good enough. We can be ashamed of being fat, of not accomplishing expectations, of not being perfect, of not having a nice enough or clean enough house, ashamed of where we come from. We can even be ashamed of how successful we have become, of having more than others, and we can even feel shame of our greatest talent. It knows no bounds.

Shame is a nearly universal emotion, the only people who don’t experience shame are our sociopaths and psychopaths – those who also do not have the ability to experience empathy. Imagine Dexter except in his case he was taught to focus on “those who deserve it”, his own code of right-and-wrong. For most people, the shame of having killed someone (by their own volition, I’m not talking about war) would be pretty strong.

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Shame differs from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that I DID SOMETHING BAD. Shame is the feeling that I AM BAD. So guilt is about our behaviour, and it serves us well to not repeat poor behaviour, not to repeat a mistake, not to intentionally cause harm. Shame is about who we are and it does not serves us well. I AM A BAD PERSON BECAUSE I CHEATED ON MY TEST, is not a healthy response to cheating. IT WAS BAD THAT I CHEATED ON MY TEST, I SHOULD NOT DO THAT AGAIN, is much more appropriate.

When parents use shame to teach children what’s right and wrong they are teaching their children that they are inherently not good enough and not worthy to be loved. This was more common in the past than it is today, many parents today are much more aware that they should address specific behaviours in isolation. “I am very disappointed that you hit your sister,” is not a great way to teach but is much better than the crippling, “I am very disappointed in you,” said in a very stern and serious tone. Or, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” (WRONG – you should be ashamed of something you did, not of who you are, of yourself.) Add to that, “now go to your room and think about that all evening, I don’t want to see you again today,” and you have a kid focusing on the fact that they are a disappointment to their greatest source of love. Nurturing the fear of being unlovable. Shame.

(Side note to parents, when correcting behaviour it is often a great opportunity to teach empathy or consequence, “Think of how your sister must feel”, or “What would it look like if everyone made a mess and didn’t clean-up?” and actually have them describe the mess. Guilt has a role but don’t teach the child they should feel shame. Separate the behaviour from the person. Because when a person identifies as being a bad person, guess what happens on top of being set on a miserable path of low self-esteem – behaviour does not improve.)

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Some sights around Montreal. I cycled past this old warehouse often.

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“If we paint cute things on the bridges, maybe no one will notice when they collapse!” Good idea! Spend your money there!

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I thought it was cute, a pig encouraging you to buy more pork at the butcher. It would be like McDonalds having a cute animated cow character as their mascot. Hmm.

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“I found you!”

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part Two of my Autumn Journey. This will be a four to six part topic I feel is important for everyone to think about and talk about.

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The Real Reason I Came to Montreal

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I’ve shared on my blog a number of times that in May, 2012, I crawled away from the rubble that had become my life in Winnipeg. I had a good life there for some years, just by the end it had all come crashing down around me. I literally couldn’t breathe. I had completely isolated. I was going down a very dark path and I had to get off of it before it was too late. I would have drowned when at the last minute, flailing uselessly as my lungs started to fill, I was thrown a life saver. What was my life saver? Sudden knowledge that I could lead a different life- that I didn’t have to cling-on anymore to the one that no longer felt like mine.

Back in Toronto I decided not to resume life as usual. I decided to take the broken pieces and rather than rebuild right away, I decided to fix each piece. I decided that the next time I build myself a life, it’s going to be with some really great building blocks.

Thus began my current life adventure. I am a work in progress. As are we all.

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I have long been a lover of travel and the personal growth that can spring from going outside one’s usual comfort zones. Many of my most memorable and life-changing experiences have happened during travels, from age 21 when I left New Brunswick for London, England, it was exhilarating to create a life starting with a suitcase and a CV, discovering who I was and who I could be along the way while having few ties to who I had been. I guess travel has become my comfort zone for periods of self-development, I feel so free to grow without the constraints of the familiar around me. It is true that not living somewhere in particular can also become my new comfort zone and eventually I may need to break that too in order to settle down. But, for now, travel presents me with situations and opportunities and meeting people that feels right.

Wherever I go my issues come with me, you can’t run away from yourself. But I want my issues to come with me, so I can work on them. In my travels, I happen upon people who become part of my journey. Notice that I don’t happen upon THINGS that become part of my journey. Life is not about things. I’m not about the sights and museums. I do like to look around me and smell the flowers and yes, even to notice the rotting rubbish and experience passing through all manners of lives. But in the end, I have no interest in writing a travel guide. My interest is in sharing personal experiences.

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I am working on my writing, I hope to more and more be able to share authentic experiences with a fun and entertaining tone. Some photos thrown in for context, looking around where the experiences are happening. But history and place are not the theme of my travels.

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to spend some time in Montreal. I figured I’d find some stories to practice my writing and that I’d study and practice some French. But that hasn’t been my direction. I started with listening and repeating language lessons in my headphones everyday but then I got pulled away. Again and again. No, language is not why I’m here. In Montreal the life building blocks I am mostly working on are friendships. This is an area of my life in which I have always felt inept. No doubt that is surprising to many who know me (I am good at fitting-in), and unsurprising to others who also know me (fitting-in is not the same as belonging.)

In my severe and painful personal disconnection on leaving Winnipeg, connectedness soon after became a life focus that I realise needs to be life-long. First I had to deal with blockages. These were mostly anxieties and fears that had gotten out-of-control and were a large part of my isolation. These days I look for all sorts of meaningful activities I never would have before. In Montreal, meeting groups of strangers for dinner has been especially interesting. One thing leads to another. Suddenly I find myself drawn to Cape Breton after meeting a Cape Breton enthusiast. Bali reignites interest from hearing stories of adventure. Someone spends their winters in Panama. There’s no telling where an evening might lead. I didn’t use to be open to such evenings. Hardly ever with friends let-alone with strangers.

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After leaving Winnipeg I focused on regaining my health, which I had let deteriorate over some years. I started feeding my body the nutrition it needs, and giving it the exercise it needs. Today I’m 43 pounds lighter than I was in May, 2012. It’s not as easy as I make it sound, I often want poutine but more often choose salad as I’m walking the streets of Montreal. But I sometimes let myself have poutine. I try to nourish myself first, and then I crave the junk less. But if I want to indulge in ice cream, I probably will too. But I try to find balance. I’ve talked about food before and I will certainly talk about food again because we all eat everyday and our food system is a disaster. If it were a machine, it’s like it’s been set to “harm” rather than “nourish”. The world’s abundance is at our disposal and yet it takes a lot of self-direction to eat healthfully.

Food is our biggest drug. (My Mom said that so it must be true.) It is all processed by our body. Our body breaks it down and tries to use the nutrients to supply all of our functions, including our brain functions which affect how we experience the world. Your body needs various elements in real food to operate properly, if you’re not supplying it with some real food (especially fruits & vegetables that look like fruits and vegetables) you are punishing yourself. Think about your body trying to break down dozens of different chemicals that are foreign to it when you eat processed food from a box. Your body looks at Butylated hydroxytolueine and thinks, okay, what should I do with this? Hmmm. Maybe I’ll just try . . . Food affects our mood and energy and life in ways we often don’t recognise or accept.

Our body is constantly rebuilding and it needs the right materials. Just like I’m trying to create healthy building blocks before using them to rebuild my life. No, in creating them I am rebuilding my life. My life doesn’t look like a house and a job. My life looks like a collection of healthy and loving relationships and meaningful life work. That’s what I’m building. Because too soon the pretty house became meaningless and eventually the work became without purpose except to earn money.

When I can eventually pull my journey into one story, that will be my book. First I plan to collate a book of short stories. Learning how to write – practicing writing and studying writing – is also a part of my journey. I am a work in progress and my work is also a work in progress.

If you’ve followed my blog you know that I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone a lot over the past two years. There have been successes and failures but an overall movement forward. I’m always carrying about some self-help books and listening to audio books and as much as possible having authentic conversations with the people the universe puts in front of me. Which brings me to Montreal.

If you had told me that in Montreal I would make progress and healing to my friendship blocks, I would have told you that when your Mother dropped you on your head, she forgot to pick you up. She left you in a little pool of your own blood, the family dog licking where it was still coming out your ears. And then your Dad stumbled in reading a newspaper while he was walking and tripped over you, knocking you down a flight of concrete stairs, your delicate body tumbling end-to-end completely smashing your cute little face and skull and any chance you ever had for even a semblance of a normal life. In other words, I would have suggested you were possibly somewhat mistaken. But that your parents were probably to blame. As all parents are. Yours particularly though. That was pretty bad.

Before coming to Montreal, I had one friendly acquaintance here, and one casual friend who I knew with my former partner. So I did not imagine this to be a location where I would end-up focusing on healing when it comes to friendships. It felt right in coming; it had long been on my radar to see what it would be like to live in this major Canadian city and to do so while it was still in full swing with summer festivals and street life. I had expected to find a few stories and work on my French. Nope. My purpose of being here has surprised me.

Author, scholar, researcher Brene Brown agrees that we humans have an essential need for connection. She ties it in to spirituality and she breaks it down further. As people, we have a fundamental need for love and to belong. I spent most of my week studying her ideas. This will be my topic next time.

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Some views wandering around North of Mount Royal.

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This interesting roof is below the height of the overpass, so I look at it at length as I am walking to the gym inside the large building you can see in the background.

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I like urban graffiti. And it is proliferate in Montreal.

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Along Van Horne perhaps still in Outremont approaching Rosemont station. Outremont is actually an upscale Montreal neighbourhood but none of the fancy bits seem to have caught my eye.

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Yeah, this isn’t one of the fancy bits either. It’s just that the “fancy bits” look a bit normal and not so photogenic.

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This is my first view every morning while cat sitting, very cute! I moved to a friend’s place in Outremont for a couple weeks after my month in Le Village which was on Rue Ste Catherine near Metro Beaudry. KittyKins likes to make sure he’s the first thing I see when I wake-up. He does this sometime before morning by sleeping-on and clinging-to my chest as you can see in this photo – I was very careful to hold my phone out and to the side to capture this rare wilderness moment. This evening I cut his cute little toe nails to reduce the marks he leaves when I surprise him by waking up, as I tend to do every morning. Like most humans who didn’t die in their sleep that night.

Although his name is KittyKins he seems to prefer me to call him Mather Theresa. Which is bit of a girls name and quite similar to someone else’s name too, but it’s hard to explain that to a cat. You can’t expect a kitty to know who Mother Theresa was can you. And try explaining that although she did want the ill to die in peace, which is lovely, when there was a simple known cure she withheld treatment because she didn’t actually want her patients to live or to get better. So that’s not quite as lovely. You can see my blog postings from Calcutta (Kolkata) by looking through my blog index to the right, although I don’t remember what I said in them.

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My Deep Inner Life in Montreal

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A view from wandering around Montreal.
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Efforts to Make Friends in Montreal, and My Deep Inner Life

I am feeling a bit lonely and am excited to make some local friends my first week in Montreal as I walk through an open door labelled 309. To the left of this door is 309A. I am looking for 309B. The lights are off. It’s an odd place; I can’t tell if it’s a business or a residence. For sure it has served both purposes and it’s in a commercial/residential area.

I’m standing in what is like an open concept, basic, urban kitchen. To the right of the door is about an 8-foot span of wall with makeshift open shelves, a basic counter and sink, a stove and a fridge. The usual details for preparing a meal but not really cooking so much. The shelves are fully stocked, colourful boxes and packages and dishes and cooking implements. Otherwise the room is grey. Grey industrial carpet, grey walls.

There are several tables with chairs pulled around. I feel like this would have been a small living room. It’s an odd space. Do people work at these tables? Are there bedrooms made into offices and this is the common area? I notice a cycling helmet and a jacket have been tossed onto the table closest to the entrance. I can’t say why, but it seems like they were just tossed there moments ago. Perhaps I perceive settling of the jacket but not consciously. Where is everyone?

“Hello? . . . Allo?” I call into the darkness. I hear a stirring but no one answers. “Allo?”

A middle-aged man pokes around the corner, friendly and curious. He is not expecting me. “Roberto?” I ask. “Qui?” “Um, I emailed with Roberto and he said the group would be meeting here?” We stand for a moment, staring at each other. He’s clearly thinking. Who is this Roberto and why would he be having a group meet in my space?

“Oh, you want that one!” he says after a moment and amicably, turning me around and pointing to a third door outside. It is labelled 309B, but was not noticeable when facing the direction of these doors, it corners the left side of 309A.

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Door 309B leads directly down a staircase. Seems to be the same grey industrial carpeting as in the previous unit. I can hear laughter and friendly voices. It seems more obvious now that this is a commercial space that had perhaps previously been residential. I go through a living room cum storage room following the voices around the corner.

Four large brown rectangular tables are pushed together making one big work surface. The room is brightly over-lit by fluorescent tube lighting so I choose and dawn the appropriate eyewear before even entering. (I am highly photosensitive.) Around the tables sit naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt.

“I’m here to volunteer?” I say with some uncertainty to the first person who looks towards me. A stocky, well-built shorter man wearing a green t-shirt and blue jeans jumps up to introduce himself. He is happy to try a bit of English and I am happy to finally try the only French I know, which is only a tiny bit. Oh, and I was kidding about the naked illegal immigrants measuring and packaging what looks like some kind of exotic sea salt. I mean, how would I have even known if they were legal or not.

“I’ll take him over here,” someone calls over, “I’ll show him what to do.” The first guy looks unsure, he was happy to welcome me too. But this other fellow wins-out with English fluency, calling again until the first guy relents and gestures me to go ahead. I have no idea how this works so I just accept being called over. He seems to be the guy in charge.

Well, he wasn’t in charge, he was just bossy. And interested in me. And he doesn’t want to share. Me. He shows me what to do. We chat in English and very quickly I lose all hope of ever conversing with anyone else in the room. I have found much the same in coffee shops here in East Montreal, people shy away from English. They may speak a little but generally prefer not to. And when I try my little bit of French they also reply that they don’t speak English. In this case they may have made an attempt to communicate with me, had I been the lone Anglo guy in a room of Francophones and happy to struggle communicating in my barely existent French some of them might have playfully interacted with me. The desire to communicate can easily outweigh language shortcomings, I have experienced this all over the world. But not in this case, not with the Brazilian fluently conversing. I very quickly became invisible to the rest of the group. The “welcome” switch flicked to “avoid”, perhaps even, “invisible”.

“Where are we going for a drink?” he asks after we emerge into the urban Montreal street. “I’m still going to Chapters, I don’t want to go for a drink,” I reply. I had told him of my plan to look for some specific books this evening after volunteering. He clearly wanted to spend the evening together but I didn’t. “I don’t really drink either,” he says, ignoring my lack of interest,”you know the village better than I do.” That’s just stupid. I’ve been to two bars and anyway, he doesn’t know how well or not I know the village. “Are you going to Beaudry Station?” I ask at the corner of Rue Ste Catherine, gesturing that this is where we part. “No, I’ll walk with you to Berri.”

He walks with me well past Metro Berri and some distance later we come upon a fashion show around the Plaza Des Arts. We wander in and there I leave him, which I have to do pointedly. I am feeling very crowded by this fellow who, in his head, seems to have already settled down and had babies with me. “There’s a station here?” “Yes, right there.” “Okay, I’m leaving you now, it was nice to meet you,” I lied. We farewell and I continue to the bookstore where I can find travel guides in English. I need to start reading about Southeast Asia.

I felt like my chance to meet some locals was hijacked by this friendly Brazilian. “It’s the first time in months that I came to help-out here,” he had exclaimed, suggesting the destiny of our meeting.

If we were meant to meet, then I guess I wasn’t meant to make some new friends that night after all. A group of friends where I was the token English guy would have been fun. That’s what I was hoping for – accept me in your group even though our communication is limited. I might not want to go to a German film with French subtitles, but there are lots of other activities I would be happy to join. I’m used to being in groups where I don’t understand what most people are saying, being the white guy in China and the only non-Japanese in my schools in Japan, I’d be happy to catch a word or gesture here and there. “Ah yes, a tree, I understand fully. . . ” (Really? They’ve been talking about a tree this whole time?) “Yes, tree, ha,ha, you speak Japanese very well!”
(He thinks we’re talking about a tree?)

Happily I have a “very deep inner life” that allows me to enjoy such situations. Sometimes I even do that with English speakers. Some might call it “zoning out” and see it as a defect of having ADHD, but I prefer my view. My internal world is quite developed and I am someone who rarely gets bored. There are strengths to be found in any attribute. I think my former partner may not have fully appreciated that I substituted, “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, what did you say?” with, “Sorry, I have a very deep inner life, what did you say?”

The men in my family also seem to share a delay in attention change. If you start suddenly talking to us, don’t expect us to have heard the beginning of what you said. Because it takes a moment to shift our focus from our very deep inner life over to you. We need some advance notice that you are about to speak, how else are we to know that we need to listen? You will most always have to repeat the first few lines unless we were already presently engaged in conversation. Except there’s no guarantee in my case, “Sorry, I forgot you were talking to me for a moment.” Don’t take it personally. Unless you want to, I know that some people love to take things like that personally, keeps life more excitingly dramatic or something. I won’t even talk about our inability to multi task. Another time.

I was very much happy to be alone again. Thankful, in fact. Perhaps that was the purpose in our meeting; I had been feeling a bit lonely. And now I’m just grateful. More space for my deep inner life again.

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Some views from cycling around Montreal’s port.

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Click on the videos below to play them.


Cycling across the Jacques Cartier Bridge:


I had one song stuck in my head all day, so you might notice me humming it in these videos. The next one, for sure. (Maybe called, “This Land is Mine”, I might share the video sometime but some might find it offensive even though it isn’t.)

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