Walking the Hydro Corridor in Scarborough

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I had worked at the Centennial College for 3 years before I found the walking trail behind my office at Ashtonbee Campus. It’s unbelievable to me now that I hadn’t explored my surroundings in all that time, but just drove to my parking spot, ran to my office, worked away and then drove home. Ashtonbee Campus is in an industrial area of south-west Scarborough, surrounded by big box stores, factories and a whole lot of ugly suburban sprawl. I was engaged and oftentimes overwhelmed with my job, first as a Professor and Coordinator of our Social Service Worker Program and then as an Academic Chair, to take a breath, let alone take a walk.

I can’t remember the first time I walked and found the Hydro Corridor path behind our campus, but I can imagine that something pushed me out the door. I walked behind the campus, across our student parking lot, and found a space of open air to ground myself and breathe. I found a bike path (that I later googled and learned that it goes all across Scarborough), and nature – trees and birds. There are so many birds in these trees – sometimes the sounds of their chirping is deafening. And that one walk felt so energizing, that I have now tried to get out and walk as often as I can. Walking helps me to refresh and recharge in the middle of the day, taking me out into the fresh air, and on an adventure of discovery.


My favorite discovery on my walk has been finding an art installation that is on the back of our Ashtonbee Campus. It brightly says, like a message in a bottle or a fortune found in a fortune cookie: “Read between the power lines. Look up closer.” The message also depends on where you are standing, as the ‘power’ and ‘up’ are on walls going inward, so if you don’t stand at the angle where you can read the full message, but you stand directly in front of the art, it reads: “Read between the lines. Look closer.”


I love this message on so many levels. First, I literally remember to look up at the sky (‘Look up closer!’), which is so expansive and changing, to see the clouds and revel in the nature that is always there above my head. I literally feel like I walk around with blinders on, forgetting the sky that is always above me. The message reminds me that nature is everywhere, between the power lines and industrialization, between the cars and roads. Take notice! Take notice of the plants growing in the cracks between the sidewalks. Listen to the birds living and singing in Scarborough. I don’t need to escape the city to revel in nature.

And at another level, when I stand directly in front and read the message: “Read between the lines. Look closer.”, I am reminded to think differently, to try to understand what is happening ‘between the lines’. This message seems to come at the right time, as I am usually walking because I feel a weight on my heart and mind. I am walking to sort out a challenge or an issue, either work-related or personal (or both). This message gives me hope that I will solve it, if I can think and/or feel differently about it, if I can ‘look closer’, revealing what is happening ‘between the lines’. I need to take my time, not be afraid to ‘look closer’ (and not be afraid to feel how that feels), and not jump to conclusions too quickly.

I have since found out that the Toronto artist, Sean Martindale was commissioned to create this art (along with Centennial students and high school students from Wexford Collegiate), which is called “Between the Lines”, as part of the Pan Am Path Project, connected to the Pan Am Games in 2015. Through this project, there are art installations all along the ‘Pan Am Path’ – trails connecting Toronto’s communities from the west end to the east. You can check out more of Sean Martindale’s work here: http://www.seanmartindale.com and learn more about the Pan Am Path here: http://panampath.org/art-and-trails.shtml and http://friendsofthepanampath.org/.

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Experiencing Movement

I’ve been thinking (and feeling) a lot about what the experience of being ‘embodied’ is all about. We all live our lives, moment to moment, inside of our bodies, and therefore, every experience we are having, is an embodied experience. Or is it? Let me rephrase that: every experience we are having has potential to be a fully embodied experience, if we allow it to be. I have come to the (sad) realization that I have spent most of the past 42 years of my life disembodied, living my experiences separate from my body. What do I mean by that?
More often than not, I treat my body as a platform for my head to get around. My work is ‘head work’ – thinking, at a computer, talking with people. Like many others, I sit all day doing my work. I generally don’t think much about my body, except when some part is broken down and it slows down my productivity. When I am sick or I have a sore muscle, I then think about my body a lot, almost obsessively – annoyed with it, doing everything I can to fix it (drugs, stretching, nose-rinse, you name it). But I must admit, I don’t pay pay much attention to my body when I am well. It’s the understudy, while my mind is the main actor.
Moving one step up from ‘my body as a platform’, I treat my body as my machine. My relationship to exercise has historically been ‘machine-like’. I know that my body needs exercise to continue to be healthy, and as much as possible I want to prevent myself from death, so I have exercised for the utilitarian purpose of physical health. I bring my car into the shop on a regular basis for maintenance, and I bring my body into the gym to maintain it. So I would exercise (and of course do everything I can to not feel my body while I’m exercising – watch tv, listen to music, distract my mind) and then I would be done, check that off my to-do list and move forward with my day in my head.
So I’ve been thinking about what it would feel like to live, moment to moment, being fully embodied, where mind and body are connected, instead of this Cartesian dualistic split. How would I feel if I embraced my body, instead of functionally using it and tolerating it? How would I feel if I centered my bodily experiences instead of my mind experiences? Or found a way to truly bring them together?
I started to meditate again. I started to watch my breath again, witnessing my thoughts floating aimlessly by, feel the pulsing of my heart. One day, it hit me, intensely and at a visceral level (driving in my car, no less) that I am living inside of my body. I realized that my experience of life, moment to moment, is an embodied experience, unique to my experience because I am inside of my body. This realization frightened me at first, as I felt my heart racing and worried that I was having an anxiety attack. And maybe I was. I pulled over and caught my breath. I allowed myself to breathe. And I realized, in my breathing, that I didn’t need to be afraid. There was nothing to be afraid of. And when in doubt or distress, breathe.
So I am trying to live, moment to moment, an embodied life. What that means is that I try to remember, pay attention and embrace my body. One example of my practice in this, is that I am reframing my relationship to exercise and movement. I came across this article about the ‘Movement Movement’, that literally moved me (ha ha!) into action! This article and perspective gave me the permission to move. And once I was given permission, I started to see how I limit my own movement all the time, and how our societal norms constrains movement. With two kids, I naturally spend a lot of time at urban playgrounds, and I realized that these are natural placements to spark my own playful movement. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and checking my phone while my kids play, I started to use the playground equipment for my own movement, playfully climbing, swinging, trying new ways to move and running around. Let’s be honest: my kids at first were mortified by me. Now they are used to it (although they make fun of me). Other adults generally stared. Although a few times, other adults have jumping in and joined me, which has been wonderful.
I have learned a lot about myself through my exploration of movement. I have learned that I love being outside, and I far prefer moving outside than inside. I have learned that my body loves vigorous exercise, so I have started exploring ‘HIIT’ exercise (High Intensity Interval Training). I have made a commitment to myself to sweat every day, to be present while I am exercising, and I now enjoy the experience. I have found and embraced this playful part of me that comes alive through movement, which was dormant for so long. I have been physically playing with my children more, and watching and following their movement which is so alive and free (especially my 5 year-old). In the summer, we spent a day at Bluffers Park Beach with the kids, and I remember playing with K, and pretending to be crabs in the water. I did the crabwalk in the shallow end of the water, showing Kalan how we could walk like a crab, making funny faces and pushing our bodies to move differently. As we were playing and laughing, my own memories rushed to me, as a child, crabwalking in the shallow end of the lake, feeling alive and full of playful joy. I smiled knowing that for this moment, I was blessed to be having an embodied experience of life.