I came to Montreal at a time when I needed compassion and understanding. With a freshly broken heart and an acceptance letter to graduate school, I was in the midst of a transition.
It’s been over a year and only now do I really understand that I haven’t encountered much of those things here, especially because I wasn’t very generous with handing them out.
At the 2014 annual yoga festival, a month after I arrived, I sat with some yogi friends just after the Yasodhara workshop. One of the organizers was there, another Yasodhara yogi I knew, as well as a woman who had just taught a session in another room. The conversation came to a lull, someone went to grab a tea and others had places to go. I was left with the other teacher, someone I didn’t know, and attempted to make small talk.
I hate small talk. I especially hate it when I’m anxious and nervous and in a building I’ve never been in a new city and everything in my life is different.
Another momentous event of 2014 had occurred two nights before—when fire ravaged through the Temple of Light at the Ashram. The most sacred physical place I know had been damaged and would subsequently be dismantled. It weighed heavily on my mind.
We sat at the small round table, this teacher and I. She was an older woman with wisdom in her eyes and dark hair. She made movements to wrap up the statue of Nataraj she’d just used in her workshop. Nataraj—a form of Siva, the God of destruction, dancing around a ring of flames. The symbolism was not lost on me.
I struggled to find things to say to this stranger, wanting to find some common ground or form some semblance of connection, wanting to be able to relate to someone, anyone. Here, in this room of yogis there must be people I share values with. “There aren’t a lot of booths here.” I said. There, some random comment observing the world around us ought to open up a conversation. Good work, Guenevere.
“Hoping to do some shopping were you?” she asked, peering at me from the corner of her eye.
I sat with my mouth slightly ajar, bringing my bottom lip up to meet the top but still unable to come up with a response to the criticism I detected in her voice. “No,” is all I could say. I forget the rest, we must have uttered a few more words to each before we parted ways and I eventually took my broken self home.
I didn’t need to take her comment so personally. I could have entirely been making up notions in my head that she immediately wrote me off as some materialist in need of the newest yoga gadget to fulfill my life and subsequently didn’t want to say much to me. But that’s what I did. And that’s okay, too.
It was one of those moments that stuck with me and now, a year later, I’ve encountered lovely people from Montreal or who have been transplanted here; had meaningful conversations with individuals; had opportunities to practice loving compassion and acceptance; and also had some of the same feelings come up as that day when I showed up shell-shocked and thirsty for yoga.
Montreal is a hard city in a lot of ways. It’s artsy and creative, vibrant with culture and celebratory, but it’s also been hard for a soft-hearted person like me.
I’m hoping to extend compassion and understanding out as much as I can for the next months before I leave and I’m grateful that even in the midst of all that’s been happening, I’ve been able to discover those traits hiding within me. And who knows, maybe I’ll go the this year’s yoga festival and have an amazing conversation with the same person.