Shut Up And Meditate

Posted: May 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


Mother thinks I have gone absolutely mad…again. Off gallivanting in hopes of discovering the meaning of life, my purpose… again. “Poor thing”, echoes my older, more responsible and rational sister, “she is just taking this life thing way too seriously”.

I am certain the two of them are plotting a scheme to halt me from my potential addiction to self-healing. Them, and everyone else I have ever encountered.

Ashley” mother beckons “I worry you know… I just don’t want you to get caught up in one of these things… you promise you will come home? You promise?” I can taste her worry and it has left me with an aftertaste as wretched as rotted milk settling on the tip of my tongue on a hot summers day. Mostly because it is that very worry in me that has driven me to Vipassana in the first place.

Mom, why the hell would I stay after a 10 day meditation? And even if I did, it’s only 2 hours away? But really mom, I’m going ten days without talking… the last thing I am going to want to do is stay, in fact, I think they literally kick you out after the meditation is over”. I get angry, reactive, unsettled.

I shake my head. You would think after reporting from a Honduran coup, drinking ayahuasca tea in the valley of Peru, devoting my weekends to the Landmark Forum, taking a midnight bus from Ecuador to Colombia and proceeding to wander the ex-guerrilla landside of Colombia popping yoga squats in highly militarized public parks that mama’s anxiety would have subsided by now. Alas it hasn’t, and it is for this partly genetic but fully my own anxious, neurotic, melancholic state of mind and the quick wit that emerges when I am tested, that yes, I am embarking on yet another attempt at figuring this whole life thing out, of settling this mind down, of getting out of fear, out of incessant doing, and back into being.

Vipassana starts in 24 hours. I remain uncertain as to precisely what this is. Aside from the fact that I will be abandoning all of my vices, addictions, afflictions – that includes everything from love to coffee to sex to writing to yoga to talking. Yes, talking. I am about to attempt ten days of absolute silence in the woods of my sweet homeland.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done… in my life” – says the old friend I encountered spontaneously as I began to ache with anxiety about this decision I had made. He tells me that this won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. The ease of knowing I will figure something out about myself hardly surpasses my incredibly overbearing fear of what is to come. Silence. Stillness. Aloneness.  I am already starting to see things about myself that I so delicately concealed from the world.

Vipassana means to see things as they really are, and it is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. The concept, though complex, is simple. Sit in silence, uncover self-awareness. In their own words:

“This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.”

Worth a shot isn’t it? I mean, considering all the time and invested in physicians, naturopaths, therapists, acupuncture, yoga, Chinese medicine and who knows what else, I wouldn’t mind if healing actually did come from witihin – from doing absolutely nothing, but sitting with myself.

I pop in and out of jitters the week previous to attending. Partly because I don’t have a meditation cushion and partly because I chose the english as a second language course so I wouldn’t be tempted by interesting looking people to break my silence vow. Though I have half-successfully integrated one-hour meditation into my daily routine for the last month, something about the rigidity of it all irks me.

“What are you afraid of?” Asks my best friend. I stall, considering my reply. “…Me” the response shocks us both. “I am afraid of being alone with me”. Ah yes, it appears we have some work to do.

According to the website, “on day 10 you will learn a new meditation of Metta, loving kindness, and then the rule of silence will end.”

So heres hoping that my fear of me, and what appears to be a fear of nearly everything else, an unruly worry and anxiety and an inability to accept, love and cherish myself truly subsides and I come home with a little more love to share with the myself and lot more to share with the world.

Until then, Namaste.


In knowing im going im already slowing

Down the thoughts and the rocks that keep me trapped in my knowing

Of whats right and whats next and whats then and whats now

Today I abandoned my neurosis in exchange for this vow

Playing on beaches with babies to be

And mothers and grandmothers who have seen more than my dream

Sand cracking through my toes

Sun seeping through my skirt

Today I was present

No longer adrift, no longer on alert

To business proposals and hasty cash hustles

In erratic schedules and the commuter bustle

In relationship woes and expectations alone

Today I just was, me in my home

This body, this temple, this wild little mind

Unchanged and unchanging but awake and off time

And tomorrow I depart from the addictions I crave

Into my own minds eye and my souls darkest caves

Bare All: Life Overhaul

Posted: March 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

Women's retreat

Sometimes in life, in the darkest of our days, we stumble upon a light so bright that everything that has past, all the suffering that has been felt and the hope lost is reignited in a single moments glow. That moment for me happened in the midst of a breakdown. When my heart, once so open and fiercely exuding love, was shut down and shut up when the words “I don’t love you anymore” pierced my listening ears. And as those words echoed throughout my emotional and physical body, I felt, I really felt, the sharp jab of being fallen out of love with by what my naïve heart thought was indeed my soul mate. And all the preaches I had preached and the hope I had held onto subsided as he rolled over in the bed, sighing in sweet relief for his long overdue admission to me.

My heart broke as I sat unloved in the crisp chill of a winter’s eve. It broke the same way it did when I was just sixteen losing my first love. The same way it did when my best friend passed away suddenly. The same way it did when my parents split. The same way it has and will continue to break time and time again. Alas, my passionate and poetic self remains unable to grasp this concept of detachment and un-love. Rather, I like to believe in something closer to unconditional, unquestionable love. The kind that never wavers. The kind that a mother bestows on her first born. The kind that a grandmother weaves into the lives of her grandchildren. Yes, I wanted so hard to keep believing that it was there, but as I waltzed about my life after he and our love had all but died, I began to fall out of hope and out of time to crawl out of that dark hole and back into that life of mine.

Alas, the universe has a cheeky way of resolving our deepest sorrows, and though the pain seemed undying, the presence of thirteen open-hearted women transformed me out of a state of sorrow and into a song of self-love.

When my colleagues and I created the concept of “Bare All” women’s retreats, we had no idea the power of the community we would facilitate, not only in their beautiful worlds but in ours as well. And when months of planning a weekend for young, inspired, brilliant and beautiful strangers to unite in the heart of cottage-country – a decadent home on Lake Muskoka, aptly named “Muskoka Soul” – came to fruition, I found myself again, just moments in their company.

Before we bloated our bellies with the delightful tastes of homecooked goodness by our new honorary Bare All soul sister, Annette from Well Fed Deli… before we delved deep into the sexual, financial, physical and emotional pasts, presents and futures of these women, I was granted with the company of what became so quickly, my soul sisters.

And though my role that weekend was to facilitate, to teach, to inspire, to motivate and to help them, I relearned the lesson that seven years of development and non-profit work around the world taught me over and over again – it is they who are helping me. It is you, Original Gangsters, who freed me from the heartache in which I sat. And your open minds, open hearts, laughter and play, your words of wisdom, your stories of strength, guided me through my own vicious cycles of pain. And so as we move forward to plan yet another soul awakening adventure together, I want to send you my deepest deepest gratitude. For baring all. For being that light that took me back to me. Because when you open your hearts, so does the rest of the world.

See you this summer at Bare All Bootcamp for Round 2 of awakening.


Ashley Holly

David And Manny

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

David And Manny.

He digs big-assed babes from the 1970s and wears his hair long to disguise his the decade late that he was born. It was that long hair and flawless confidence that drew me to him at a yoga studio grand opening months before.  “Of course you met a stranger at a yoga party and asked him to be your roommate, of course you did”, remarked my best friend as she shook her head.

“I will know him,” I told a friend, who has been staying over at my place far too often for the extent of our friendship since he moved in. Hardly unsurprised he declared that his roots were the plains of Saskatoon and that he would be moving to Toronto in January. “I need a roommate” I insisted. “Hey, me too”. His dispositions reminded me of that turtle from Finding Nemo, and that was enough to convince me that indeed, he would be my new partner in crime.

A few days pass and we agree to meet at a café, with the support of his older, more responsible sister. “She got the looks and I got the talent,” he laughs. He takes her everywhere, she adds responsible and “if he fucks up I got his back” to his otherwise charming persona. Adrienne is the perfect big sister. She is soft, pure, caring, genuine, blonde and seemingly driven by family and success. She suggested we meet at a Starbucks. No chance. I sent them both on a wild goose chase to the west end, to a little Argentinean café called El Almacen that served Yerba Mate by the gourd.

“Uhh so, I haven’t really lived with a girl before, just dudes, and my parents”. I questioned my intention here. Could he possibly a stand up roommate? The ones who told me that they didn’t want to live in a fishbowl of my creativity. They were not comfortable with my writing about them. I was having second thoughts. So, like any good woman would do, I Facebook stalked him, only to learn that he and his friend hosted a website called “babewatch”, where they meandered through bars and beaches looking all sly and cocky while asking a certain breed of women questions about everything from the occupy movement to existentialism. Shit! I thought. I had already signed a lease with this douchebag. I called him.

“Manny. It’s Ash. I need to talk to you about something.”

His name was not actually Manny. It was David Thompson. He had selected Manny as his “stage name”, but he went back and forth on the appropriateness of it, especially after moving to the big city and noting how many Manny’s graced his new gyms contact list. He was going to be a famous director; I would hold him to this. Most people found his fake name odd, but, considering the frequent appearance of my own alter ego, the lust filled Anastasia, his stage name actually made me more comfortable.

“Oh man, everything is ok, I’m not a douchebag, its just fun. I make films Ash”. Now this was before he adopted the name Ashford for me, which I didn’t like for many reasons, the first being that I already had Anastasia, and I liked her. The second reason being that I am certain he got the name from Nick Ashford, the motown musician that died of throat cancer. It was either that or the small town in England that prides itself on its country liveability and the old poem the town council put up in plastic frames:

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

A sword, a horse and a shield, three things I could definitely use here in our humble abode.

A sword, to fend him off all of my female friends that walk through the door with futility.

“Think I’ll meet some babes at the gym tonight?” “That girl you work with has such a nice ass. I’m a total ass-man”. Put money in the doucebag jar Manny, right now. Instead, he puts on his double braided headband to secure his Cat Stevens look, though I doubt Cat would dare slip into a pair of Lululemon quick-wicking fabric shorts.  Cat Stevens or not, he always comes home with a date of sorts.

“So I went home with this guy from the gym tonight, he wanted to show me his art, in his bedroom. It was kind of weird”.

Manny hadn’t considered the obvious. Rather, he joyfully frolicked to said ‘friends’ house until heading to the bed uncomforted him.

A horse – ideally from 4000BC – to help me teach him that the process of domestication is not necessarily a bad thing.

“It’s like being in my parents house, we have a technology area in our house,” he laughs as he crawls around the living room on all fours searching for one of his gold plated earbuds. This is before he returned from the gym, stood hopelessly in front of the refrigerator and asked me, his vegetarian roommate, how to dethaw chicken.  Yes, domestication is ok.

And a Shield. A shield to protect me from the inevitable hormonal interruptions into our perfectly plutonic relationship, particularly when after a month of celibacy we find ourselves curled up on the futon at 3am watching Carlos the terrorist caress the edge of a Latin goddesses breast with grenades. I screeched, curled under my blanket and practiced Ujayyi breathe. Rule #1.

“We both got totally horny during that clip eh Ash?”  leave it to Manny to take it to the next level. As if it wasn’t awkward enough.

Thankfully six months later no terrorist soft porn could break the friendship we sealed.

Through highs and los, storms and sunshine, we supported each other through the coming and going of many beautiful people in our lives. We built a family when ours were far away and laughed at the simple things in life. And now as I head off into my own chapter of domestification and creativity, he heads forth into a beautiful downtown hustle where the gays, the strays and the music loving lays will keep him wired and inspired though so far from home.

Thank you Manny

…And David :)

Earplugs and Milkcartons

Posted: August 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

A little boy reached for the lifejackets meticulously placed on the roof of this human herding mobile.

His four brothers and two sisters screamed louder than the brash yip of the three month old maltese she had taken out of the city for the day. Daddy’s potbelly was blocking the view of the sunset they so patiently awaited… all damn day. It expelled home cooked curry and late night love affairs. oh no.

Through the sound, the chaos, the noise and the nasty pollution… she felt silence.

Soft silence.

And she leaned into him, whispering into his right ear “your love is my earplug…” smiling one of those sheepish and hopeless smiles that new lovers adopt.

It sounded like a line from a Taylor Swift song.

But through his kiss and that look in his eyes the world around them simply ceased to exist.

“Does it ever just stop”? She asked him.


“Everything!” she giggled, scanning the people and their things, imagining their ideas, their histories…

“You just got lost”. He thought for a moment, trying to recover from the absentmindedness of his new lover.

“But sometimes you have to get lost to be found baby”. She jumped to her feet amidst the boat sardined with human and tiptoed in circles singing “all girls are princesses!”

He laughed.. “Of course you do. How else would you get on posters and CP24 and milk cartons”?

Yeah…she smiled.


Wanted: Sasquatch Researcher

Posted: April 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Forty acres of poorly manicured farmland and poorer manicured aunts – my entire extended family co-existed here. My grandparents had built their beautiful country home and severed off the extra land to each of their six children. Some of those children opted out of the offer to live the commune life, but others, like my parents, took pride in building the “compound”. It was a dream come true – an entire corner populated by… us. Throughout the years, our homes all eventually gave way to ponds, garages, small cabins, golf carts, tractors, fire pits, paintball courses, miniature golf courses, snowmobile trails, homemade dams, statues, gardens and garlic, lots of garlic.

Life on the compound was sustained by bologna face sandwiches (carrot nose, pepper lips and canned olive eyes…sometimes sprouts for hair), Lucky beer and obscure hobbies like wire art and “harvesting”, none of which led to any notable health or financial benefits. The family would congregate nightly in someone’s back yard and enjoy the simple life. Needless to say, by twenty five the idea of one more family gathering on the compound in my father garage – “of course we still have dinner in the garage Ashley, its the only place to fit all the neighbors” – coupled with admitting to the aunts that I was still single, not yet famous and without the intention to produce great-grandcompounders anytime soon was the gas in the engine to send me a flying abroad.

“I am sorry dad, but I am not coming home for summer this year. I am moving to South America.”

“Ashley, did you forget to screw your head on this morning”?

My dad made me laugh. Partly because his lifetime of marijuana consumption had left him doing quirky things all the time and getting into more trouble the older he got. I had recently been fined for my stay at a hotel with him because they caught him smoking in the washroom. This smoking had triggered two hours of intensive Sasquatch hunting at This was a self-proclaimed “non-profit private group of independent researchers who are investigating the existence of Sasquatch or bigfoot in Ontario. They believe Sasquatch exists and is a flesh and blood animal that is well adapted to its habitat”. Dad was glued to their live trail cam and determined to be the first to find himself a Sasquatch.

“What will you do if you find one dad?” my sister and I asked curiously, only half wanting to know the answer.

“I’ll bring it back to the compound of course.” He laughs. “Imagine that, a real live Sasquatch on the compound. Heck he could stay in the cabin out back”.

We spent the remainder of the weekend discussing the most likely whereabouts of a real yeti these days. Two hundred dollars later all I could do was laugh as he peeked behind each corner in his “Sasquatch researcher” t-shirt I had purchased him.

I had been gone six months now, and as always, coming home horrified me. But never could I have predicted this.

I didn’t know where to look, at the sand covered driveway or the caution tape around it. Dad had ordered sand, dumped it in the driveway and placed plastic cactus statues upon it. “I just want you to feel like you are still down in the South” he smiled as I stood, flabbergasted, sand creeping past my ankles. This was more creative than the previous year, when he strategically placed fake stuffed parrots around the yard, on the truck roof and even upon the blowup mattress he had struggled with all day while preparing my room before burning it in the communal firepit.

Surrounding the sand was caution tape, that blinding yellow kind you see in horror movies. In fact, it framed the entire forty acres. Newsreels chattered fearfully about one thing or another. The Alice Chalmers tractor that had sat on our front lawn for the past six years was covered with scratches that triggered screeching sounds in my head.

My father sat amidst the action. He was smiling mischievously.

He had his Sasquatch researcher t-shirt on. I wondered if he had worn it each day for those past six months.

I could hear the broadcaster over through the bustle.

“Sasquatch hoarder discovered on rural Ontario compound. Elderly man facing charges for kidnapping, court delays for inquiry into how to charge someone for Sasquatch hoarding. Do you think it is a human or an animal? Text your answer to 34324.”

Essential India: A Yoga Journey.

Mayan Beauty

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

It triggered memories of villages visited
hand in hand with Latin lovers
sneaking away from corrupted states
and laying
upon the damp earth
soaking up another affair
if we dare
to challenge history
to challenge

Questions about beauty triggered by new knowledge found that Mayan woman from 250AD dressed with jades and jewels pierced to their lips in the name of pretty. Bodies were painted, costumed and beautified. “These women were found with scars of cosmetic surgery; beauty was always of utmost important to the Mayan woman”. Upon the birth of a baby, the family shaped their heads by tying boards to achieve a forehead that sloped backward.

I turned to two present-day women wandering about the exhibit at the museum.

“My God we are doomed” I declared. “The fight against superficial beauty for us women dates back to centuries I didn’t even know existed!”

The women share shining silver hair with the kind of glasses worn strictly by museum going women. I imagine they are sisters or lifelong best friends, bored with retirement and soon to be bored with museums too. They smile simultaneously “We just gotta keep fighting girl”. It is refreshing and depressing all at once.

I wander to The Written Word section of the exhibit and try to decipher hieroglyphs. I fantasize about sneaking into the Temple of Inscriptions and decoding the secret messages that the Mayan woman left for us – the women of the 21st century.

Surrender to beauty, it reads. Surrender to the expectations. To the game. Embrace the world as ongoing cycles of destruction and regeneration! I begin arguing with the inherent contradictions until I realize indeed, I am only arguing with myself. Somedays I straighten my hair. I just spent 30$ on a makeup powder brush.

I loathe my material self.

So much so that I decide to move onto the Mayan Section about Death. How poetic. It tells me how the Mayans believe that the evil ones are doomed to a urine-infused hell while others (pick me pick me), are reincarnated as fruit trees. They are sentenced to a death on Flower Mountain equipped with incense, jewels and pierced lips.

Sounds like beauty endures death.

Ok. Ok. I surrender.