The Perennial Tourist: Seeing Life with Freshness

BY Parvati

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot
I have had the privilege of being in Montreal this weekend. It is a vibrant city, full of art, culture, vitality and fun. A destination for many tourists who come for the European food, fashion, architecture, it is a city filled with a flamboyant rhythm of living.

For me, it will always be my birth town, a place close to my heart that I love and that means “home” to me. With it comes many memories of a childhood full of imagination, a teenage period abundant in exploration and early adulthood charged with experimentation. It is where I took my first steps, sang my first notes, composed my first songs, experienced my first love, and ate my first croissant and petit “pain au chocolat”.
Though my family was part of the mass exodus from this city during the Quebec referendum to rebuild our lives in Toronto, Montreal is the city to which I returned again and again to study at McGill University, to own my first yoga studio, and to work as an architect and as a lay assistant minister. It is a place filled with life, growth and celebration of being for me. Every part of the cities echoes my past and the foundation of my life today.

This weekend, I came to Montreal for business to support the work of, and for personal reasons: to be the cheering squad for a friend’s son who was competing in the national judo championships. Not having children, I found that being around the teenage zest and athletic vitality was a refreshing and broadening experience. His winning the gold medal was a highlight for us all.
Usually, when in Montreal, I have a sense of walking on ground that my feet have well traveled. It is my home town and turf after all. But this time, I felt, as T.S. Elliot so perfectly describes, that I arrived where I had started and saw it for the first time.
After having spent many years on the road touring, I have come to appreciate the power of perspective to shift the way in which I may perceive the moment. At times, as I move through my work day in Toronto, an inner giggle bubbles up from within, and I see the streets of East York as though they were a borough in Scandinavia. The supermarket where I get my daily needs becomes a Tesco in England or a Carrefour in France. Similarly, I have cooked rice over a camp stove by the back of my tour van in a campground in North Carolina that I had never seen before, and felt welcomed by my natural surroundings. As a young and searching yogini, I slept on rooftops in India, carrying nothing but a backpack, and felt a sense of richness. Any sense of humdrum lifts as I access an enthusiasm for life found when traveling. I can feel in the here and now, wide eyed and receptive, no matter where I may be.
Montreal came to life for me this weekend in a way I had not expected. Though I brought my friends to some of my usual stomping grounds, I had never felt more like a tourist, viewing what I have known for so long with fresh and welcoming eyes.
In this, the weekend nourished my spiritual self, in realizing that I do not need to carry any colouring from my past that may tint my present. In a way, the past never really was. It is only a perception of the moment – the way I saw life through the lens I carried at that time. If I were someone else, I would have another past. If I were a Buddha, it all would simply be. Each moment would arise in an expansive field of isness. There would be no “this is good” or “this is bad”. In the face of praise or shame, there would be no identification with life happening to “me”, inflating a sense of either conquering or being defeated by the moment.
For years, I have focused on inner healing. I have perceived much of my past as a series of memories to be released and the notion of my future as something to build with the choices I make today. Through this process of healing, I have come to see the value in resting in my cultural roots, without identifying with them as being who or what I am. I can accept them as a part of me, without them being me. They are what have made up the story of my life, this transitory experience through time. I have learned to cherish the rich colours of my past, savouring the sweetness of my francophone and European upbringing, while understanding that the way I saw them in my formative years was a reflection of my previous karmic tendencies. I feel we have a tendency to push and pull with our experiences, where we think “this experience was bad so I don’t want to think about it” or “this experience was good so I want to hold on to it”. Yet neither pushing nor pulling is needed. We can simply witness them, without attachment or aversion that create resistance to the moment.
Though I am from an English speaking family, all of my education was in a French microcosm at a European lycée, where students, teachers, even our books and paper were from France. There, I was “anglais”, a sub-group of the school, and hung out with other English friends who were in the same category. We were fluently francophone, But when we were out in the city, the distinctly European accent of our French always led others to ask us where we were from. Not Quebecois but from Quebec, I had the similar feeling in the city to that I had at my school – being a part of yet not a part.
My inner healing has been a process of integrating this schism into a feeling of wholeness. Part of how I have dealt with this in the past was by feeling I was a citizen of the world. This weekend showed me that somehow in the idea of being a world national, I had adopted another identity that has kept my past in Montreal somewhat at arm’s length. I can now see that though I am at home on our beautiful planet Earth, I am equally at home in Montreal. I can feel grounded in the colours of my past without feeling attached to them.
I am no more a Montrealer than I am not one. Yet, my physical experience of being in form, and the layers and ripples in my personality have been very much shaped by this city. I welcome Montreal into the totality of my life experience and see it as part of the whole, all of which is transitory.
Through this, I continue to develop the notion of being a perennial traveler, a spiritual being passing through life here, cherishing the moment, opening to what is right here and now with a receptive sense of freshness.
Wishing you the experience of seeing that which is humdrum or habitual in your life with the eyes of a tourist. May you witness the landscapes of your formative years, however they may have been for you, with appreciation, neither pushing them away nor pulling them in. May you experience the light of possibility no matter where you may be.
Until next time,
Love yourself.
Love others.
Love our world.
We are one earth family.