July 2010


 When I was going to university at Simon Fraser, just outside Vancouver I was also going out with a guy who lived at home with his parents.  They were in Coquitlam, an upper middle class white suburb of large homes perched on the side of a big hill.  I’d go to his house after our long day at school and we’d hang out, watch some TV, drink some beers, you know, live the student life. 

One night at 2:00 a.m. I was driving home from his place and the neighbourhood was dead quiet.  I drove down the back of the hill toward the Fraser River. A women was standing in the middle of the road waving me down.  I stopped and she promptly got into the passenger seat of my seat without saying anything and waved ahead like she wanted me to drive. 

She was agitated.  She was nicely dressed. She was a native woman and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing in the middle of the street in this neighbourhood in the middle of the night.

She was also very drunk so when I asked her where she lived she pointed but her words were slurred so I couldn’t understand them.  I said, “it’s ahead here?”.  And she nodded so I drove.  I headed into the city because that seemed to be where she was pointing.  Not long in the warm car she fell asleep. 

I couldn’t figure out what to do.  I’d shake her awake to ask if we were getting closer and she’d nod and point or slur a few words and then go back to sawing  logs in my passenger seat.  After a while she was sleeping too deeply to wake her up at all.  So I drove for a while longer and got to the South Granville area which is  a safe ‘Restoration Hardware’ and trendy health food store kind of shopping neighbourhood.  

I was frustrated.  I didn’t want to go right downtown Vancouver because that might have meant letting her out in a more questionable neighbourhood.  So I stopped at a bus stop, shook her awake, opened her door and said, ‘I’m sorry, this is as far as I can go, I don’t know where you live but I hope you get home ok’.  She looked at me and grunted and got out.

I drove home fighting with myself.  Should I have done something different?  Could I have somehow found out where she lived?  Was there somewhere else I could have dropped her?  Did I do enough?  Why didn’t I ask her name?  How did something so weird just happen?

A long time later I heard that a man named Robert Pickton, a pig farmer near the Fraser River in Coquitlam was being charged with multiple murders of women.  He would go to the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood in a van and pick up groups of women, inviting them to party at his house.  They were often addicts, sometimes native and usually sextrade workers.

They found remains and DNA of missing women all over his farm.  I turned off the news whenever they got into details of what he did to them because it made me sick.  It’s said that he bragged about killing 50 women.  His farm was down the hill from where I picked up my passenger that night long ago when I was in school.  I’ve thought about it a lot.  I know that night years ago,  she was at that farm.

I wonder what she saw that night.  She was too healthy to be a hardcore addict and not dressed like a sextrade worker.  Is that why she got away?  Did she leave friends behind that night?  Did she see them again?  Whatever she encountered it made her hightail it out of there, walk a long way up a steep hill and wave me down for a ride.  No wonder she was agitated, she must have been terrified someone was going to come after her.

I did some Women Studies courses at the time and also worked at the student newspaper at SFU.  I’d heard about women disappearing from the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.  People were angry that  the cops didn’t seem to care about yet another sextrade worker and addict disappearing from a rough neighbourhood.  

The Downtown Eastside lifestyle isn’t known for helping one’s longevity, I get that, but their attitude seemed to be that these victims were second class citizens not worthy of their attention.  Most of the women were  far from home and out of touch with their families, their friends were other addicts, they had no one to fight for them.

Pickton only got charged with 6 counts of second degree murder.  The prosecutors had proof of another 20 but the 6 were enough to lock him away for the rest of his miserable life.   He must spend his time in jail alone, he wouldn’t survive long in general population.

Yesterday the Vancouver police issued an unqualified apology to the families of the women who were murdered by him.  The deputy chief said, “We’re sorry from the bottom of our hearts that we did not catch him sooner and protect more women from being harmed.”  He said they should have done better so that more lives could have been saved.

When I think about the passenger in my car that dark night a long time ago, I’m so grateful she got away.   I still wish I could have gotten her home.  I hope she’s having a good life with people who care about her, wherever she is.

The other day I was struck with the most incredible feelings of sadness.  I just felt dead-eyed and uninterested in anything.  There wasn’t any major crises going on.   So I had to really dig in to think of what might be bugging me. 

It finally came to me that I’ve been having nasty thoughts about taking the summer off.  Taking the summer off has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  What a wacko hey?  Welcome to my world.  I always think that i can’t be *that* Type A because there are always people who push harder than i do.  I  can’t be a real Type A because i’m happy to take a vacation, I’m happy to kick back with a glass of wine.  But i think I need to accept the fact that I, Corilee, am pretty darn Type A.  And taking the summer off is hard.

When I dug into what was going through my head, it went like this.  Every time i did something i enjoyed I’d think – yeah i won’t be able to do *that* when i’m working.  And when something happening that I didn’t enjoy, I’d think, god how long will I be dealing with *that* instead of escaping to a glorious job?  In other words,  I may be out of work forever, blah blah blah, who’ll hire me, nasty negative thought, blah.   I’d locked myself into a spot between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  Whatever it was, good or bad, it totally sucked.  No wonder I felt depressed.

The crazy thing is, I wasn’t fully aware of these thoughts but they were bumming me right out.  Especially the oh-woe-is-me stuff about getting a job.  Who was it that wrote about our Big Self and our Small Self?  My Big Self is the one that is fully rested, grown up, trusts the Universe and absolutely believes that the right job will come around with my name on.  And I believe it for everyone, not just me.  If you seek, throwing your little resume out to the wind, you will darn well find the job with your name on it.

So where was this Small Self thinking coming from?  The wheedling little smarmy fearful voice with the garbage mouth that makes me feel bad?

My Mom gave me a two year old Oprah magazine (gotta love Oprah Mag, they just don’t age like the others) and there’s an Eckhart Tolle interview in the back.  He says that becoming aware of your negative obsessive thoughts is your first step to stop identifying with them.

And yes, as soon as I was fully aware of these nasty job hunting thoughts I went, ewwwwww, like I’d found a dead mouse in my bathtub.  I don’t want that going through my head, I don’t want them anywhere near me! 

I was blown away about how easy it was to unconsciously think my thoughts.  How “natural” they felt just because I’m uncomfortable with the uncertainty around my employment future.

So now I’ve been lying in wait for these thoughts.  When I wake up from the most awesome nap or have a good walk with my baby I used to think – this will be tough to do when I get a job.  Now I think – I will find time for the important things when I’m working.  Let’s just enjoy it, wow I have the summer off, how amazing is this?  I’ll remember this fondly when it’s February and snowing and I’m at a desk grinding out some task.

Tolle says in the Oprah interview that you’re never more yourself than when you’re still.  Who you really are is in that space between the thoughts.  If you can find the stillness, find your breath, let the stream of obsessive thoughts go, then you’ll find that sweet spot.  Relax into that space. 

He says, that’s where the peace and joy is.  Those qualities that are already inside us – not waiting for the perfect experience out there.  They’re not waiting for us to accumulate that next cool thing.  Or find the sexy job.  It’s right here in the present, between the fearful thoughts about the future and the regretful thoughts about the past.

And I’m taking that a step further.  Who I really am is also in the space between jobs.  Often I’ve felt very defined by what I do, which I know is silly but there it is.  This summer is an opportunity to look at who I am without my functions and skills being defined by someone else. 

So, what are my creative urges like when there’s no creative  job outlet?  What are my needs around being with people when I don’t work intensely with folks day in and day out?  What’s my energy like when I can  completely define the activities of my day? Maybe this summer is a useful experiment.

Tolle says that you can use anything for a reminder to bring a conscious presence to your everyday life.  It reminded me of something Frank Jude Boccio, Mindfulness Yoga guy, said.  He moved to a place where he could hear the trains run regularly.  Initially he thought it might be annoying.  Then he decided to use it as his Mindfulness Bell like the Zen monks do.  So whenever he heard the train, he would stop whatever he was doing and take 3 conscious breaths.  Tolle suggests we use everyday stuff, washing our hands, having a glass of water to remind us to check in and get conscious again.

Tolle says that we’re always obsessing about our problems.  He likes to ask – what problem do you have at this moment?   And he’s right.  If I considered my jobless state a problem (which i don’t like to do but let’s say for example sake) am I really experiencing this Problem while I make coffee?  Read the paper?  Feed Leo banana chunks and hear him go MAMAMAMA!! when he’s ready for more? (btw that’s baby for “Yo!  Bitch!  Need more banana chunks ovah heah!” Yes Leo is s stevedore from Joisey some days) .

No there’s no problem.  Any problem is more about what my mind has concluded about the circumstances around me than anything about what I experience moment to moment.  It’s about my thoughts.  And I can be aware of them, and come up with better ones.  You know, so they can stop bumming me out.

Money is a good example too.  I know a few households these days that have money issues, like less coming in than they need, for whatever reason.  Like us. But it’s really interesting to see how people deal with it.  Some don’t even seem to see it as a Problem.  It’s like, well yeah we’re depending on the line of credit these days.  But whatever. 

Whereas other folks don’t seem to be as relaxed about it.  They buy something they consider a necessity but feel guilty about it.  They feel stressed, they feel helpless. I’ve noticed it doesn’t seem to relate to the size of anyone’s debt, it’s all about how they think and feel about it.

So I”ll continue sorting out the “problem” of taking the summer off by seeing how many beaches and farmers markets I can visit over the summer.  I think I’ll also make jam for the first time in a million years.  Maybe ginger peach the minute I see local peaches in the store.  Take my kids on a couple of day trips.  Deal with this “problem” the best way a Type A person like me can.

Lately I’ve been realizing how wussy my workouts have been.  I like to workout.  I like to sweat and love that feeling that my body has *done* something.  I’ve been exercising pretty often lately but I’m holding back.  I read an interview with Jillian Michaels who said she runs stairs holding a 100 bag over her head.  While I don’t want to do that workout it made me think, wow i could push a little harder. 

And at the gym i was stretching and watching what some of the gals were doing in the weight area.  One woman was face down with her middle on the ball and then she lifted both legs, a million times or so. Again, i thought wow, i could be doing a bit more especially if that perky butt is a side benefit. 

A couple of the chicks were setting up a stepper thingy,  making it hip height.  Then they jumped with both feet, bounding up into the air, landing on the step and then they’d step off again  and repeat it a bunch of times.  I’m not sure that’s a workout for me.  I’d catch my knee or foot on my way up and then fall on my head on the other side,  but again i thought, wow i sure could be doing more.

I planned a gym visit yesterday and as I was dressing I made the committment to give it my all, especially with the ol’ glutes.  And my next  thought was, yeah but i don’t want to work out too hard because I don’t want it to impact tomorrow’s run.   And then I stopped myself.  What is this mythical run at some later date?  Why do I need to control the future?  Or sorry, *attempt* to control the future?  

Maybe the run doesn’t happen – i get sick, i lose a pile of sleep tonight, my baby is teething, it’s a monsoon downpour, or heck i get hit by a bus before i get my running sneaks on.  Why am I planning for this run tomorrow instead of focusing on the workout I’m just about to do?

I mean, wouldn’t it be great to be so sore that it impacts my run!  When’s the last time *that* happened?  But really, if my butt was that sore, I could run a flat route, shorten my run, or just walk more – there are a whole bunch of options that could deal with this “problem” that hasn’t even been problematic yet.

It was a total Living In The Moment epiphany, except the workout version.  Because controlling the future is pretty familiar for me which is silly given how useless my attempts are.

So I did a killer workout.  I normally do the machines, so this time i did all free weights and really worked my lower body.  I did squats, 3 kinds of lunges, I laid on the ball and lifted my legs just like the woman with the perky butt. 

And this morning I wasn’t sore.  Sure I felt like i’d done something,  but it was no big deal.  No monsoons or unscheduled buses got in the way so my run happened after all.  I pushed Leo in the stroller for 30 minutes and felt great.

Thank God I didn’t spend a ton of energy thinking and planning and managing for something that didn’t even happen.  I gotta learn to live in the workout moment more often.  Give it all i’ve got - Right Now.  Hmmmm, if soreness is this elusive, maybe I’ll need a 100 pound bag to carry over my head after all.

Just because a thought shows up doesn’t mean you need to make it a sandwich.

Susan Stiffelman