CRE­AT­ING SPACE FOR STILL­NESS

Emily Squir­rell’s jour­ney brings her home to Water­loo to open a dogma-free, multi-tech­nique med­i­ta­tion stu­dio

Grand Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY AN­DREA PERRY

Emily Squir­rell’s jour­ney brings her home to Water­loo to open a multi-tech­nique med­i­ta­tion stu­dio

Arow of low, white can­dles flick­ers along the front wall. A freshly steeped pot of de­caf­feinated tea steams from a small kitchen to the side, invit­ing you over to ac­cept a mug on the house as you pe­ruse a colour­ful stand of books – free to bor­row, as long as you re­turn. Par­tic­i­pants for the up­com­ing class ar­rive, one by one, and take their places on the thick, grey zafu cush­ions ar­ranged around the teacher’s seat.

Emily Squir­rell, owner, oper­a­tor and med­i­ta­tion guide, is by the back door greet­ing ar­rivals with a joy­ful smile and one hand on the side of her shift­ing belly. She is many months preg­nant with her first child. “It’s hard some­times to find room in my ab­domen,” she says, as she makes her way to the front to be­gin the class.

Squir­rell’s sin­cere and open pres­ence as well as the phi­los­o­phy be­hind her med­i­ta­tion stu­dio, tell you that – nor­mally – she is an ex­pert at mak­ing space.

Cre­at­ing space for still­ness and guid­ing oth­ers to touch a still­ness within them­selves is Squir­rell’s mo­ti­va­tion for launch­ing The Present, a dogma-free, multi-tech­nique med­i­ta­tion stu­dio nes­tled along the newly re­con­structed stretch of King Street South in Uptown Water­loo (build­ing num­ber 92, if you are look­ing).

If you ask, she will tell you, “Still­ness is the foun­da­tion.” From still­ness comes rest from ¬– and aware­ness of – the ha­bit­ual think­ing mind that prat­tles over all of our daily ex­pe­ri­ences. But still­ness is also about ab­so­lute free­dom and cre­ativ­ity. It is a place from which, rather than con­trol­ling, we can al­low.

Practising what she preaches, Squir­rell’s stu­dio es­pouses a plu­ral­is­tic ap­proach to med­i­ta­tion.

“All paths to the med­i­ta­tive state are cre­ated equal,” she as­serts, mean­ing that you don’t have to be­lieve any­thing in par­tic­u­lar – say, Bud­dhism or Hin­duism – in order to med­i­tate. “What I try to share are the meth­ods and tech­niques to guide you to a place of still­ness. . . . Any­one can fol­low the breath; any­one can be led into their own in­ner ter­rain. From there, you can dis­cover for your­self what you know to be true based on your own ex­pe­ri­ence. . . . It’s med­i­ta­tion and mind­ful­ness without the ide­ol­ogy.”

And so it is, as you find your place on your own cush­ion, take an­other sip of

hot tea and set­tle in to the easy sound of Squir­rell’s voice as she wel­comes the room and in­vites you to close your eyes. “Or not,” she adds. “You can keep them open, if you pre­fer.”

The Present, which opened in Jan­uary, is the cul­mi­na­tion of Squir­rell’s own in­ward and out­ward jour­ney that took her from a back­ground in be­havioural psy­chol­ogy and a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in ad­ver­tis­ing, through a per­sonal cri­sis, and onto an im­pas­sioned search for the real, mean­ing­ful sub­stance that un­der­lies ev­ery­day life.

Born in Water­loo, Squir­rell, 33, has al­ways been in­ter­ested in ex­am­in­ing the human ex­pe­ri­ence. Study­ing and work­ing in be­havioural psy­chol­ogy was a nat­u­ral start­ing point, which she then trans­formed into a ca­reer in ad­ver­tis­ing. She lived and worked in Toronto for six years, us­ing her knowl­edge of human psy­chol­ogy to an­a­lyze tar­get groups for mar­ket­ing; she would then flex her cre­ativ­ity to help de­velop ef­fec­tive mes­sag­ing based on that anal­y­sis.

Though out­wardly suc­cess­ful, Squir­rell came to a cri­sis point when per­sonal dev­as­ta­tion – the pass­ing of her fa­ther and the end of a sig­nif­i­cant re­la­tion­ship – prompted her to start ask­ing ques­tions. “My re­al­ity was rat­tled to the core. . . . It was as if those two events com­bined kicked me off the edge of a full-time quest. I started ques­tion­ing my own life – what is the pur­pose? – and also existential ques­tions, such as: what is the mean­ing of life in gen­eral?”

Once those ques­tions be­gan, Squir­rell no longer felt con­nec­tion and sat­is­fac­tion with the life she had been liv­ing. “It was as if I was go­ing through the mo­tions – went to school, got a job, worked in down­town Toronto, lived in a condo. . . . But I sensed that life was more mean­ing­ful than I was let­ting on, and that my time spent on this Earth could have far more value – to me, and to oth­ers – if I turned my en­ergy to­ward some­thing else. . . . There was some other sub­stance in life that I sus­pected to ex­ist, and I needed to go fig­ure out if it was real and true and what that was.”

In pur­suit of this sub­stance, Squir­rell

be­gan to ex­plore med­i­ta­tion. In what she calls a “smor­gas­bord of spir­i­tu­al­ity,” she joined a num­ber of med­i­ta­tion cir­cles and stud­ied with a va­ri­ety of teach­ers in the Toronto area. “I was con­sum­ing ex­pe­ri­ence . . . be­cause I didn’t know what I didn’t know. How do I get to the thing un­der­neath it all?”

In 2015, after some time bal­anc­ing this new ex­plo­ration with her ad­ver­tis­ing day job, Squir­rell left for Bali, In­done­sia, on a six-week yoga in­struc­tor cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course at Bloom­ing Lo­tus Yoga. In line with her quest, it was a yoga that fo­cused on knowl­edge and wis­dom, ori­ented to­ward med­i­ta­tion and in­ner know­ing.

The six weeks ex­panded into an­other six months when Squir­rell ac­cepted a full-time con­tract to run the re­treat cen­tre. How­ever, al­though she was clearly mak­ing great strides along the new tra­jec­tory she had cho­sen, she con­tin­ued to feel a sense of in­ner dis­cord. “Out­wardly the ex­pe­ri­ence was hugely ben­e­fi­cial. I got tons and tons of ex­pe­ri­ence guid­ing med­i­ta­tion to be­gin­ners and ex­pe­ri­enced med­i­ta­tors and teach­ing yoga. But there was still a sense of dis­con­tent­ment go­ing on in­side. And I found that re­ally hard to rec­on­cile.”

Re­turn­ing from In­done­sia, she con­nected with Adyashanti, an Amer­i­can-born spir­i­tual teacher whom Squir­rell con­sid­ers to be her core teacher. Un­der Adyashanti’s guid­ance, she spent time at silent re­treats where she con­tin­ued to ex­am­ine the ques­tions that pro­pelled her.

Squir­rell’s mo­ment of trans­for­ma­tion came when her quest shifted from di­rectly seek­ing an­swers to an open cu­rios­ity.

“It was only when I gave up my own ideas of what was there that I truly be­gan to feel into what re­ally was. When we drop our ex­pec­ta­tions, we can start at No Mind, or Be­gin­ner’s Mind – where you come in with so lit­tle in­for­ma­tion that you’re able to no­tice what’s there more nat­u­rally. You’re not look­ing out for what you al­ready think to be true.”

This trans­for­ma­tive re­al­iza­tion forms the essence of the phi­los­o­phy be­hind The Present. Of her own jour­ney, Squir­rell sum­ma­rizes, “What I was in search of tran­scends be­lief sys­tems; tran­scends the mind.”

No one could tell her what she was look­ing for be­cause it is unique to her and is not eas­ily com­mu­ni­ca­ble in words. By ex­ten­sion, as Squir­rell brought the stu­dio into be­ing, she could not en­deav­our to pro­mote a cer­tain ide­ol­ogy or a par­tic­u­lar path to oth­ers. She could only cre­ate the space and of­fer the guid­ance that would al­low oth­ers to have their own ex­pe­ri­ences.

“I re­al­ized that rest­ing in still­ness and si­lence, that was the bedrock of my en­tire spir­i­tual life that never seemed to wa­ver. That as­pect of med­i­ta­tion and still­ness, and invit­ing peo­ple to be in still­ness to­gether is the one thing I felt re­ally con­fi­dent about. Other spir­i­tual knowl­edge and teach­ings

Emily Squir­rell and her part­ner, Vin­cenzo Cheru­bino, are ex­pect­ing to wel­come a child into their fam­ily this sum­mer.

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