Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Interview with Girl Warrior Karen Cooper.

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Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, the wise and wonderful Karen Cooper, entrepreneur, artist, yoga teacher and spiritual guide. A courageous risk-taker, Karen first hit the local scene with her business On Canvas Art Gallery, which was the perfect setting for her Stretch Yoga Studio. It was here that she fostered a loyal, and ever-growing, following of wisdom seekers and creative devotees.

What makes you a Girl Warrior?

I have learned that if I fall I can and will get up and I do.  I have found that I can choose, that I am strong, that I will find a way to get up no matter what happens, I have learned to trust myself.  I can be flexible; I will make the best of whatever is. I know that there is help and support all around me.

You worked in the fast-paced competitive business world for years. How did you get from that to yoga teacher, spiritual guide and fine artist?

My sister died of breast cancer, she was 40, and I was 39.  That was when I chose to live life on my terms, for me, for those I love.  As a result of that choice, I found the right books (which I think really saved my life), I quit smoking (that’s when I found out that I had strength), I spent a year in India (that changed my view of the world and, opened my mind), then I found yoga and spiritual practice (and that opened my heart my mind my body my spirit) and I have never looked back.  It’s been a process, a journey, an amazing ride. It doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes or get scared, it just means that I find a new way to move. I will again take one step then one more and one more.

What has been your biggest challenge so far – personally or professionally?

I believe that my biggest challenge in life has been finding my self-worth, learning to believe in myself, to trust myself and finally to love myself unconditionally.  It’s taken a long time with lots of experiences and just as many mistakes, the key is learning from them.

In my younger years I never forgave myself for any mistake that I ever made and I spent my energy and time trying desperately to never make another.  I was so hard on myself.  I remember thinking that if I quit or lost my job as a District Sales Manager that no one would ever hire me again, they would surely find out that I was a fake.

What obstacles have you overcome and misconceptions have you overthrown?

I have learned to breathe, to be still, and to listen to the whispers of my heart.  This has been a huge undertaking.  My Father (God bless him) believed that a knight in shining armor would come by, one for each one of his daughters, and care for them for life, that we need not worry.  My Mother (God bless her) taught us girls how to be independent so we could rely on ourselves. As a result I had one foot in each thought process. Not to mention that I have lots of energy, and sitting still to listen long enough to hear the stirring of my own heart to find my own answers, to find my own truth, to see what is a misconception and let it go.

What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?

Please sweetheart, be kind to yourself, don’t be so hard on yourself, you are worthy, you are lovable, you are enough.

What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?

Dear Girl Warriors, please above all else be kind to yourself, love yourself for all that you are with loving kindness and compassion, Live well, Love well, Be well. Find your gifts and give them, you do have gifts; remember this, with love.

Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s)?

My friend Karin, has survived 2 rounds of brutal cancer which has left her disabled and yet she is thriving with joy and gratitude.

Boo King, I have watched you over the years, get up from the fall, you do what needs to be done, you look after your loved ones and still manage to inspire us by living your passion.  You do the work!

My sister Sandi and my girlfriends whose love and support never fail me, who make me want to be my best self, to stand tall in this life.

My friend and yoga student Elizabeth Wellburn who has stood by and supported me all these years and has done the same for so many, who gets up from all the falls and keeps going and lives her passions and supports her community living what she believes in.

What’s next?

In November I am going to Spain for 3 weeks with my sister and brother-in-law, a trip of a lifetime.  When I get back I am planning my next big risk and challenge and adventure. I have no idea what that is at this moment but I trust it will come to me and I look forward to it.  Food and shelter for all is a big deal for me, I’d like to do some work in that area.  I believe there is a reason for everything and what we are doing in our lives right now is helping us to learn and prepare for whatever comes next.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In 5 years I hope to still be alive, living my passion, walking my talk more deeply, continuing to learn and grow, to be curious and look up.

What’s your personal mantra?

My mantra, to walk more softly on this planet, to learn and grow all the days of my life, to be a light, to share my gifts.  My favorite quote, by John O’Donohue sums it all up, “May you experience each day as a gift woven around the heart of wonder.”

 

 

 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Get Enough Sleep.

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Girl Warrior. Get enough sleep. Make this a top priority every night. And you will have better days. Guaranteed.

You live a busy 24-7 life. Always on the go. You’re stretched to the max most days. Demands are flying at you from every direction. You put others’ needs before your own. You’re on stress and strain overload. Worry, anxiety and pressure greet you at every turn. Everyone wants a piece of you.

And quite simply, you are running on empty.

When you get to this exhausting place Girl Warrior, it’s time to re-fuel. Truth is, this isn’t really an option. Not when your health and wellbeing are at stake. It’s time to shut it all down and take good care of yourself. And the best place to do this is in the bedroom.

This is your sanctuary, your peaceful retreat, and most importantly, your recovery refuge. Think calm, serene, tranquil and relaxing. So feather your nest in a way that fosters these feelings. Make it comfortable and cozy, safe and snug. Free of all distractions and disturbances. Make this a place for you to rest your weary bones and leave all the cares of the day behind.

Hang a Do Not Disturb sign on the door of your mind.

Begin a ‘get ready for bed’ ritual. Make this a habit you can’t live without. This is personal so it won’t look the same for all Girl Warriors. This matters not. What does matter is that you make it a nightly routine that helps you prepare for sleep. Start by slowing things down. Dim the lights, do some gentle yoga stretches, drink herbal tea, take a warm bath, listen to relaxing music, read a book, meditate, say your prayers and give thanks for all your many blessings and the abundance in your life.

Slip into your divinely inviting bed and allow the healing of your body, mind and spirit to begin. Sweet sweet dreams Girl Warrior.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Yoga.

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In many ways yoga has saved my life. Or at the very least kept me from being a total train wreck. My daily practice has taught me how to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. And my spirit ever reaching for heaven. It has opened my eyes to the exquisiteness of my life in its domestic ordinariness. The beauty of the day-to-day. The rhythm of regular rituals. The well-crafted commonplace I love.

For I am an ordinary woman.

My yoga has aged with me. I can no longer do the poses the way I once did. But I can still bend and fold and breathe. And allow grace to gently do the rest. I surrender to a higher wisdom.

I salute the sun and whisper thank you to the morning light.

These photos were taken by daughter, Melissa Adams in our living room where I do my yoga every morning.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Fountain of Youth.

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Dear Beautiful Sarah Jane,

You saw my photograph and asked me, “If I found the fountain of youth?” On the one hand I took this to be a wonderful compliment, but I also saw this as an earnest question worthy of thoughtful reflection and consideration. It is however, a bit like asking, “what’s the secret or meaning of life?” The short answer is, “I don’t know.”

The Fountain of Youth is something I’m not in search of. Perhaps that’s the secret to finding it. Stop looking. What a gorgeous paradox this is.

I am now safely on the other side of young. But it wasn’t necessarily an easy journey getting here. Learning to accept that I am aging. Growing older in this Earth Suit that will one day expire. Accepting the changes to the way I look has at times been difficult. I’m still startled and spooked by the old woman who stares hauntingly at me in the mirror. But thankfully I’m less preoccupied these days with hanging onto the young “me” I once was. I am now more interested in being well, in particular, well in my soul. Could be another secret Sarah Jane.

This is who I am now.

Today, in this photograph, I look like this. Some days I look worse. Tragic even. Rod Stewart put it best in his song Maggie May, “the morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.” It’s true. Morning light can be a real buzz kill to an old broad like me. Ah, but afternoon light, after a good night’s sleep and a cup of chai tea with someone you love, works miracles. One more secret maybe Sarah Jane.

I have always looked younger than my age. Possibly because I’m physically small and spiritually large. I look inwards more than outwards. I explore fearlessly my interior world and let the exterior grow out of that. I meditate and do yoga every day. Is there some clue in this practice Sarah Jane?

I eat well and wisely most of the time. But then I also devoured a big bag of Lays potato chips last night. I never go to bed with makeup on. I brush my teeth three times a day. Take vitamins. Drink gallons of water daily. Laugh out loud a lot. I burp like a pig. I play music. Sing in the shower. Sit in the shade on sunny days. Go for long walks up country roads. I take tons of pictures on my cell phone. Read books and write something every day. I keep my mind open to the possibilities. Pursue wisdom and knowledge. I never stop learning. And most importantly, I hang out with dogs and good people of all ages. A secret there perchance Sarah Jane?

I love fashion. But ironically hate to shop, unless I’m with “my girls.” Then it’s fun. Especially if we stop for lunch and gossip. I do love clothes though. I’ve learned that if worn well, they cover up a whole host of not-so-pretty issues that develop as you age. Some people probably think I dress inappropriately for my age. I say fuck them. Or that I’m too old to wear my hair so long and dye it red. I say fuck those people too. I swear. And I’m unapologetic. I don’t know if there’s a secret in that Sarah Jane.

Then there’s just plain old luck and good genes. My mother was Italian. She was small physically, spiritually large and had beautiful flawless skin all the days of her life. She also dyed her hair jet black right up until the very end when she was too ill to do so. She taught me all the things I have just shared with you. Except she didn’t swear.

One last thing Sarah Jane, my sweet butterfly. Stay fierce about life in all its colors and complexities. Never let go of your curiosity and always stay close to the ones you love.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Letting Go.

tom and boo on the rocking chairA few weeks ago I gave up. Surrendered. Let it all go. Threw a private tantrum. Held a pity party for one. Screamed silent rage.

What exactly brought me to this place? What triggered it? How did I go from, life is pretty good to life is fucking shit? Why did I switch stations? Which straw broke the camel’s back?

I don’t know.

I wasn’t exactly blindsided but I didn’t see the point tipping either. Nor the stubborn brick wall that refused to budge. I only knew that I was too tired and weary to figure out a way around it. Or through it. Over or under. The gloves were off. I threw in the towel.

I’m not talking about your garden-variety physical tiredness, the kind that takes well to sensible homespun cures. A long hot luxurious bath. Lazy afternoon nap in the sun. Curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Or simply getting a good night’s sleep with nothing but candy-coated honeysuckle dreams.

I’m talking about a malaise that at times appears so dark and impenetrable. So suffocating yet seductive. Like a Dark Hero who feeds off the tiredness deep inside my soul. The relentlessness of daily life becomes intolerable. The path is overgrown with thickets and prickly thorns. Abandoned by my guide, I grope for a lifeline. I struggle to keep my head above water.

The dove does not appear with the olive leaf.

Little back story. Two things happened in my first year of University. I got pregnant. And I made a conscious decision to be a better person. Partly for my son’s sake, but mostly for mine. I wanted us to have a bigger life than the one Ma and The Old Man lived. This notion, along with a burning desire to prove that I wasn’t a total loser, fueled my passions. Colored my every move.

I was highly motivated. I became a triple, possibly quadruple, Type-A Person. I had much to prove. I was a driven woman on a mission to change everything about myself that I deemed unworthy. Nothing worse than that.

With this ambitious desire for self-improvement came a lifelong pursuit of all things spiritual. I not only walked away from Christ Lutheran Church but I kicked any form of Christianity to the curb. I didn’t walk away from God, just the institution of religion and all that it entailed.

I wanted a deeper, more authentic relationship with my higher power. I wanted something real and meaningful. Personal and gritty. Truthful. No holds barred. I also wanted to feel better.

I became a seeker. Not just of wisdom. But of peace and beauty and truth. And the cynosure, my everlasting muse, love.

Along the way, I discovered my personal gurus and motivational mentors. Everyone from pop-psychology writers to spiritual superstars. Philosophers to fiction writers. Kindergarteners to Doctorates. From famous television hosts to an intimate circle of girlfriends. Colleagues and classmates. Poets. Artists. Musicians. Healers and helpers. All wise, witty and wonderful.

I voraciously read the books. Listened to the audio tapes. Recited the positive affirmations. Attended the lectures. Filled countless pages with lists of things I was grateful for. Gave thanks for everything, and everyone, from Gandhi to Mother Goose. I kept careful watch over my thoughts. Fearful that any negativity might manifest some really bad juju.

Thoughts become things. We are the creators of our world.

I smiled serenely. Like Buddha. Bowed my head. Breathed in the good and let out the bad. Walked barefoot. Sat silently. Practiced yoga and meditation. Got in touch with my body, mind and spirit. I did the cha cha cha.

All these things helped.

But there are times when it is exhausting. Bloody hard work. Being good, and constantly striving to be better, possibly vying for sainthood even, is downright taxing. Every now again it makes me cranky. Just like the two-year old lying on the concrete floor in the middle of the frozen food aisle at Walmart, I throw one hell of a tantrum.

The fortunate thing these days, few witness the thrashing and kicking and wailing at the top of my lungs.

No. No. No. Life’s not fair, I whimper.

I don’t want to be good, better, best. I don’t give a shit about my higher self. I want to hang out in the Dark Side. Amongst the shadowy villains. Monsters and miserable men. Mess around with Lucifer and his gang.

I don’t want to play nice.

It’s at this humbling and spirit-siphoning dead end that I surrender all. Every last bit. I just let go. Hand over the reins to God, the universe, Mother Earth, my Guardian Angel Franny and her sister Zoe.

It usually takes about a week to release the sad, frightened, angry, resentful, jealous, lonely, toxic little child that sometimes grows insidiously within the grown-up me.

To finish this business, I don’t go anywhere exotic. I don’t check into a hotel under an assumed name and have an exorcism performed. No bed rest nor hospital stay is required.

I just stop. Listen to the quiet voice within. Cut myself some slack. Then let go.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: How I Learned to Meditate.

boo on the rocking chairI learned to meditate while Ma was dying. If she had died suddenly. Or in another place. At a different time. I’d probably have a different story to tell.

As an enduring student of yoga, I made countless attempts over the years to learn the nebulous art of meditation. But I just didn’t get it.  Stilling my mind was impossible. Sitting cross-legged for anything longer than a minute or two just about killed me. Om aside, staying focused on ‘nothing’ was a ridiculous premise at best. Stopping the endless chatter inside my mind was frustrating.  All of it made me uncomfortable. Pain, pain, pain. That was my mantra.

I also tried meditating while in the corpse pose. This just put me to sleep.  Within minutes I was dead to the world. A gaping mouthed drooling transcendental disaster.

Ma used to say that God works in mysterious ways.  I didn’t get that either.  I’ve always expected God to be more direct.  Obvious. Straightforward.  Shoot from the hip. Strike with a bolt of lightening. Flood the earth. And part the seas. Regardless of their color.

Who knows. Maybe Ma and I were talking about different Gods.  Despite all those Sunday mornings sitting side-by-side in the ass-numbing wooden pews of Christ Lutheran Church. Hers was an enigmatic deity filled with paradoxes, parables and puzzles. And with an inexplicable and absolutely unfathomable approach to running things. Mine was simple. He/She spoke my language. Read my letters. Understood the complexities and subtle nuances of the word fuck. And why it was part of my daily vernacular.

Then Ma had a heart attack.

I thanked God for not striking her dead instantly.  Which He/She most certainly could have, especially if He/She was in a particularly angry mood on the morning of Ma’s heart attack. Remember all that scary shit from the Old Testament?

Instead we got another 18 months to enjoy Ma’s presence on Earth. And what a gift that time was.

Most of the last six months of her life was spent in a hospital, on the West Coast.  She came for a visit a few months after the heart attack and never left.  By this time The Old Man was living, and I use this term loosely, in a dreary Senior’s home back in Northwestern Ontario.  They died 5 weeks apart, and 3 thousand miles away from each other.  They hooked up in heaven though. At least that’s what I believe. That notion brought me comfort then. It brings me comfort now. Then, I’ve always liked stories with happy endings.

We held vigil by Ma’s bedside. 

ma + aimee + abbyAt times there were enough of us to form a small crowd. We clustered around Ma’s frail sheet-draped declining body. Her little flock of fragile birds. Still hungry to be fed. We took turns holding her hand. We laughed. Cried. Prayed. Told stories. I’m guessing there was nothing unusual about our good-bye time with Ma. We weren’t the first family to experience this.  But this was our first time. Our first rodeo.

My heart was fractured. Armor chinked. Equilibrium faltered as the earth beneath my feet shook. I was standing on a fault line with nowhere to go. With my lifelong safety net lying in a bed dying.

This was also a time of transformation.

My favorite time with Ma was when it was just the two of us.  Not just because it was precious mother-daughter time, which was slipping rapidly and elusively away. But because it brought me peace.  In the midst of family chaos and emotional gut-wrenching wringer days, this quiet alone time with Ma became a place to escape. A safe haven. A sanctuary. It was the sheltered harbor where I moored my heart and allowed my spirit to rest. Next to hers.

It was in this quiet place that I learned about God and his mysterious ways. It was during these soft murmuring twilight hours that I learned to meditate. Ma taught me everything I needed to know about the stuff that mattered in life. This was no different.

Hours would pass. Time had no meaning. I sat next to her bed in the clinically designed hospital chair, with the hard vinyl seat and wooden arms.  The type fashioned for short visits and good posture. Neither of which applied in this situation.  But it didn’t matter.

Very little was said during these visits.  Words were no longer necessary.

I watched Ma sleep. The gentle rise and fall of her breath against her flannel nightgown. The stillness of her body.  Her peaceful repose. It soothed me. Ma had always been able to comfort me when I was hurt.  Nothing had changed in that regard.

I slipped effortlessly into rhythm with Ma’s breathing. Inhaled. Exhaled. I closed my eyes. I let the world drift away. There was no dying. There was no living. There was just being. Ma. Me. God.

And with the ease of a soaring eagle, I was meditating.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Yoga Saved my Life

376817_10150371557691644_851002701_nI do yoga. Like most things, I do it my way. Kind of like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley or Sid Vicious. The record shows.

Little back story.

I started doing yoga with my best friend B. We were, and still are, kindred spirits. Sisters of the soul. Daughters from another mother. We were introspective, pensive young girls with poetic hearts. On our walks home from high school we spent the time chatting about the usual teenage things that cause angst or butterfly emotions. Boys and clothes and boys and music and boys and books and boys. But we also drilled deep. Explored the darkness and diaphanous shadowy places that sometimes scared the shit out of us.

Somewhere along that uneven lumpy sidewalk, from Hammarskjold High School to our respective homes, we had our first conversations about yoga. Little did we know then, that it would become B’s career, her passion, her calling and life’s work. And for me, it would become a daily part of my life. Like breathing and brushing my teeth.

Sometimes I think it saved our lives. Or at the very least, made it saner. A less troubled place to dwell. Not always serene and tranquil.  But not a total train wreck either.

The mental, physical and spiritual benefits of yoga are incomparable. 

I’m a creative and intuitive person. A writer with an overactive imagination. A sensitive and empathic being. I walk the rutted road.  The pitted path littered with potholes. Equilibrium is not my natural state. Before finding yoga, I was neither calm, cool, and definitely not, collected.

But yoga, and then years later running, changed all that.

Spiritual benefits aside, without yoga, I’m not sure what physical shape I’d be in. I doubt that I could touch my toes. Nor bend like a pretzel. I know with 100% certainty that without my daily yoga practice I never would have recovered from a traumatic injury to my knees.  A double whammy seven years ago that quite literally brought me to my knees. So bad that I never thought I’d run again. But four years on the yoga mat strengthening the muscles around my knees. Listening to my body. Relying on its inner physician. Trusting that it knew how to heal itself. Plus a couple of cocky faulty attempts at hitting the streets, because that’s just who I am. Then another two years of dedicated practice.  More listening, listening, listening. To the inner wisdom of my body and spirit. A year ago I just knew the knees were completely healed.

I laced up the sneakers.  And went for a run.

IMG_1547I’m a largely self-taught. And hardly a yogini, but I do know my way around my own body. Until seven years ago, I never had a yoga teacher, nor a mat, for that matter.  Shortly after my son was born I bought a book called, Richard Hittleman’s Yoga 28 Day Exercise Plan. The poses in this little soft-cover book became the foundation of my daily yoga practice. Later I learned some new ones from The ABC of Yoga by Kareen Zebroff, and her marvelous television show.

After 28 days working through Hittleman’s book, I was hooked. Line and sinker. I was a master. A guru. A wise sage. Enlightened. Transcendent and spiritual. Of course, I was none of those things. I look back on my younger self, and I smile. Like Buddha.

It didn’t take much to bring Ma into my yoga circle. She too worked the book. Then Ma and I discovered Kareen’s Yoga television show. That was another life-changer.

No mats, no gear, no fancy pants.

This was over two decades before lululemon was founded in 1998. Just a mother and daughter in front of a small color TV with rabbit ears in the snug and secure living room at 204.

Here I am decades later. Still practicing many of the same poses from Hittleman and Zebroff.  But with a twist.

I have a mat.  It’s lime green.

Namaste.