On Faith Friendly Communities

Urban sanctuaries, Bandung Indonesia

Urban sanctuaries, Bandung Indonesia

When at home, conversations about Islam, the sight of other people praying and the sound of the greeting assalamu alaykum (peace be upon you) are commonplace. But when I travel, or am in an unfamiliar environment more generally, encountering the same moments become vital for personal health. I need a quiet place to pray and meaningful conversations about faith to process my surroundings or to decompress from frequent questions about my background.

On December 14th last year, I stood waiting for the light to change at a downtown street. As I waited, I played absent-mindedly with my phone before flipping it on and turning to Twitter. But instead of retweeting messages about the event I had just left –  lunch at a downtown hotel where I had been celebrating the work of staff members whose secondment was coming to an end, the news that greeted me was that a massacre had taken place in Connecticut, killing 20 young children in the school.

Nearly a year later, I still remember that moment of feeling dizzy and shaky on my feet. In those seconds I couldn’t breathe, and all I wanted was a mosque, or any quiet place to sit and pray. But I was downtown, and there was no multi-faith space to be found. And so instead I rushed to the Vancouver Central Public Library, spread out my coat, and prayed behind a stack of books once I arrived.

As cities we have physical health strategies, strategies for a food secure city, programs and strategies to improve economic health, but we lack non commercial spaces for quiet and reflection.  In moments like that, we need spaces that offer refuge and solace in times of crisis. We need spaces without stimuli – not religious spaces necessarily, but places that nurture and nourish the spirit. We need spaces and services that help us improve our spiritual health in ways that resonate with our personal spiritual and philosophical traditions. We need cities that facilitate reflection.

A few weeks ago I experienced such a moment of reflection.  I was visiting University of British Columbia – Okanagan in Kelowna BC and when I arrived, I was delighted to discover that the Health and Wellness office offers a multi-faith room for the use of the campus community. The room isn’t big, but it has plenty of natural light and beautiful hardwood floors. In the cupboards in the back there are prayer mats, but the room itself does not have any religious imagery, making it accessible to individuals from a variety of religious and philosophical backgrounds. The best part of the Centre is its accessibility; it is centrally located on campus. And because the campus is small, the prayer centre is 5 minutes away from any of the other main academic buildings. (More information about the Multi-Faith space can be found here)

In my last visit to the Centre before I flew home, another student was already there when I entered. We exchanged a few words, I confirmed the direction of prayer in the room, and then we prayed together.  That combination – being greeted with kindness, the joy of hearing some of my favourite verses beautifully recited, and praying in a beautiful space brought tears to my eyes, and that moment is perhaps my favourite experience from my trip. It is, to use Karen Armstrong’s words, a ‘spot of time’ that I will return to again and again in my memory.

That moment, and that prayer space reminded me of the University of Toronto. I attended to the University of Toronto for graduate school, and while no school is perfect, U of T serves as an important model of what a faith friendly community can look like. In an interview with Sun TV, Mark Toulouse of Emmanuel College says the following:

“Three to four thousand Muslim students go to the University of Toronto in the St George downtown campus. In a thriving international city like Toronto where the evidence of a rich tradition of faith expression are all around us, it makes sense to work intentionally to create forums where we can have conversations and learn more about one other.. In many respects religious practices are private, part of one’s personal devotional life or personal beliefs. But religious practices across the world are also often public and rightly so… Religion is one of the most important forces that shape an individual’s life, and whenever people engage the public, they can only engage it with what the fullness of their life is. And part of fullness of that life is what shapes and forms them, and religious practice is among those things that do that.  We believe it is very important to encourage dialogue, to have conversation with one another.”

The University of Toronto is exceptional (and I’ve outlined some of the ways that they support a faith friendly campus below) but they are not alone. Across Canada, more and more universities are recognising that any robust health and wellness policy needs to consider spiritual health as well, and support the pastoral needs of its community members.

Research

The University hosts the Religion in the Public Sphere Initiative that “examines how religion manifests in public spaces, institutions, and interactions, and considers the challenges and possibilities of religious diversity in Toronto and around the globe.”  They hold events, curate religion related news on their website, and host a ‘religion themed’ service learning course.

In Vancouver, Simon Fraser University has been a leader in interfaith understanding. The Interfaith centre at the University has its own interfaith mission and charter that outlines how the university will meet the pastoral, educational, bridge-building and worship needs of its members. It’s a forward thinking, impressive set of principles that recognises that spiritual health is a core part of personal wellbeing and success.  There is also a Dispute Resolution proposal that is clearly outlined on the website. In addition, the University is continually offering dynamic, relevant programming through the Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures that is available to the students and non-students alike. Within the History department, it is possible for students to pursue a concentration in Middle East and Islamic History. Over the past year or so, I’ve been so grateful for the presence of the CSMSC and the breadth and depth of the scholars they have brought to Vancouver to give public lectures.

2) Faith Based Perspective to Services/Student Development

At the University of Dalhousie, spiritual wellness is an important part of how health and wellness is understood.  The  Dalhousie Multifaith Centre features the events of diverse groups (including a group that looks at Women and Spirituality) and in general aims to provide “a complete education (that) addresses the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.”

Like Dalhousie, most universities have some sort of chaplain system in place. In one of the most interesting projects in Canada, students at the University of Toronto, fundraised over $70,000 in Sept 2012 for Canada’s first full-time Muslim chaplain. The Muslim Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto offers classes, counselling and dialogue programs and is a project that offers fascinating possibilities of how student affairs can provide indepth pastoral care. It is a project to watch, learn, and benefit from.

c) Athletics

Women in headscarves feature on the U of T athletics marketing materials and signage. On a personal note, seeing myself reflected in materials reminds me that exercise and athletics matter. There are ways to exercise and swim while still being covered, and health and faith are not incompatible. The Athletics facility also offers one hour of women only time daily in the weight room and reaches out to different populations at U of T to encourage them to prioritize their physical wellbeing.  (Their postcards advertising their classes and pooI for instance, feature Muslim women). In 2014, the U of T Multifaith Centre will also offer programming about the connection between spirituality and physical health.

The meeting of food and spirituality.

The meeting of food and spirituality in Kelowna, BC

d) Food

I lived at New College at the University of Toronto for a year, and the daily cafeteria menu at New College offered halal options every day. There were clearly marked signs and separate pots when a halal version of a dish was available. When the same item wasn’t available, an alternate menu item was offered and prepared separately.  At the cafeteria I visited at UBC -O, there were signs posted frequently indicating that halal, vegetarian, gluten and vegan options were available on the menu.

At UBC-O, I was impressed to see how halal, vegetarian and vegan food was clearly marked in the cafeteria, giving visitors many options for lunch, regardless of their faith background.

A moment of peace, Kelowna BC

A moment of peace, Kelowna BC

Seeking direction, Kelowna BC

Seeking direction, Kelowna BC

3) Space

There are multiple prayer locations at the University of Toronto and since the 1960s, there has been accommodation at Hart House for Friday prayers for Muslim students. There is space at Robarts, (the main campus library) prayer space at OISE for education students, prayer space at the Multi-Faith centre, prayer space at Bahen for engineering students, and prayer space at Emmanuel College.  There are nine prayer spaces in total at the University of Toronto, and these multiple prayer locations ensure that students are able to access prayer space easily, regardless of their field of study. Out of respect for the students and the needs of their prayers, the room at Hart House where Friday prayers take place has abstract art – no faces or figurines are present in the room.

At the University of Victoria, there are also multiple prayer locations on campus, and a variety of groups are engaged in spiritual practice on campus. At Simon Fraser University, each of the 3 SFU campuses offers easily accessible, bookable prayer/meditation spaces.

4) Dialogue

Through informal and informal programming at the Multi-Faith Centre, there is also ample opportunity to meet other students from different faith backgrounds. One of my favourite programs was called Muffin Madness, and featured tea, wonderful muffins and students from different faith groups. Any faith group that books space through the Multi-Faith Centre is required to co-host one Muffin Madness and one multi-faith experience, and the diversity of multi-faith programming offered over the course of the semester is impressive. For the most part, the programming is intersectional, and emphasizes the connection between spirituality and other aspects of identity or programs on campus.

 In September 2012 the U of T Religion in the Public Sphere began the “Religion Diversity  Leadership Project” a 3 year, $500,000 project with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to “build networks of communication, inquiry, and action around the problems and possibilities of living in a religiously diverse society.” The project offers religious diversity youth leadership training, service learning projects that focus on religious diversity, and  public forums and community research workshops.

At the University of Calgary  Faith and Spirituality centre, the Student team organises events (including an interfaith bookclub!) and holds weekly meetings for community members interested in Faith and Spirituality community work. Its weekly event calendar  features a variety of events, weekly teas and a program called the Communal Table that focuses on “building community around cooking and eating together.”

Effective public spaces are accessible, comfortable, sociable spaces with activities (source: The Project for Public Spaces). These four characteristics define great public spaces, and the same is true for vibrant faith friendly spaces and communities as well. Any organization or community that holds diversity as an important community value, must take spiritual health and faith friendly environments seriously in order to remain relevant.

A Community is Made of Men and Women

Men's prayer space/our Arabic classroom in Carrolton, Texas.

Men’s prayer space/our Arabic classroom in Carrolton, Texas.

As much as I love Vancouver, there are moments when I want to move. There are moments when I miss spaces where the educational experience of men and women is equal, such as the SeekersHub in Toronto, where I always felt welcome, and never felt like my gender was a barrier to furthering my Islamic education.  I miss interfaith prayer spaces such as the MultiFaith Centre (and other prayer spaces) at the University of Toronto that were physically beautiful, and did not barricade women in a corner.  And more recently, there are moments when I want to return to Dallas, where I spent a month in a mosque learning classical Arabic grammar this summer, and where class was held in the main prayer space, and structured in a way that men and women were on opposite sides of the room, and equally able to learn from our teacher. Aside from the learning benefits, knowing your teacher means that you can model their behaviour. From the ways a teacher interacts with you, you learn what appropriate gender interaction looks like, and can extend those principles to the rest of your life. Knowing your teacher means that you have someone to ask questions and seek advice when you are unsure what to do. It is essential.

In Vancouver however, we’re not there yet.

Two nights ago, the founder of the Bayyinah Institute (the same institute that offers the Arabic course I did in Dallas) came to Vancouver for a lecture on stories in the Qur’an. Though he wasn’t my teacher in Dallas, during one of our class days he came to help us review for an upcoming exam, and I was looking forward to a small way, reconnecting with what was a very special month of learning for me.

Unfortunately, I never heard him speak. The hall where the lecture was held was large, but the women were in a different, crowded space, with no video link. So after waiting for a bit and seeing if I could sit outside the lecture hall, my brother and I left. The teacher was surprised as well I think, and mentioned that ‘he wasn’t used to women not being in the same space, would do a Q and A session after the event with the female attendees, and would stay as long as women wanted him to stay.”

I appreciate his attempt to address an inequitable situation. But it’s not up to a guest teacher to find some way to include everyone; equity needs to be thought of at the outset of the planning process. To give an example from urban planning, when the floor plans of housing developments and community centres do not consider the needs of the multiple communities and cultures, it is a message that only the dominant culture matters. When transit users with wheelchairs experience horrendous delays, poorly lit and dangerous transit stops, and systems that do not account for their needs, those barriers of access signal that their needs are not valued. We send messages about who does and does not belong in the ways we structure spaces and places.

As long the learning experience of women is not valued, the education of women, communities and families will suffer. As long as the learning experience of women is not valued, it becomes difficult to invite friends and colleagues who may be interested in learning more about Islam and wish to fill in their own gaps of knowledge. As long as the learning experience of women is not valued, it sounds hollow to talk about how gender equity is something inherent to Islam.

And so, rather than running away to another city, below are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to create better spaces. These are not new ideas, but they make a real impact.

1) If you only have one space available that is large enough for all your attendees, have the men and women share that space, and set up tables that are side by side.

You can have an aisle separating both sides of the room for ease of movement. If you don’t have a classroom available and you’re in a mosque, use the men’s prayer room.  In Dallas, the women’s section of the mosque was on the same floor as the men’s section with a one way mirror. During our evening classes, if anyone from the larger community wished to sit separately, they could still see into the class easily, but nobody could see them. (95% of attendees sat in the main section of the mosque though). A few years ago I was on a study trip called the Rihla, and spent a few weeks with teachers from the US and UK in Saudi Arabia. We sat on the floor in our classes, on opposite ends of the room. In Toronto there is a week long retreat held annually with incredible teachers from around the world, and again, that event happens through side by side seating, with a section in the middle of the room for families who wish to sit together.

2) If you are designing a space and you’d like a partition, make it subtle. At the SeekersHub in Toronto, one of my favourite spaces to learn, the men and women sat on opposite sides of the room, the teachers were at the front of the room, and there was a bookshelf in the middle. The room was equally divided, you could see the teacher, but the students on the other side of the room couldn’t see you. It was a beautiful set-up.

3) When you see an uninclusive space, act as an ally. It’s not up to women alone to advocate for inclusive spaces. In our family, we only go to events where I can hear and experience the event properly, and my Dad and brother are my strongest allies in bringing up issues of access. The teachers that I value most: my teacher in Dallas, my teacher at the Hub in Toronto, and other teachers I’ve learnt from in other settings, often speak out about how communities need to view the inclusion and involvement of women differently. The students I studied with at the University of Toronto were men and women who cared about equity, and if I was ever in a situation where I felt uncomfortable, there were lots of people who noticed the same dynamics and worked to address them. It is alienating to be the only person advocating for your learning.

4) Have an ongoing study of the life of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. Sometimes spaces are segregated in harmful ways because we aren’t necessarily familiar with the ways women were nurtured historically in Islam. But when we study the life and character of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the ways in which he created a community in which men and women were equally valued, and the contributions, dignity and independence of his wife Khadijah, the courage of his daughters, the beauty of other members of his family and community, it is clear that gender equity are part of the Islamic tradition. One great learning resource to learn more is the Qalam Institute’s Podcast on the Prophet’s Biography, which goes into the Prophet’s life in a lot of detail.

5) Support organizations that care about their female students. If you can’t find inclusive spaces, still continue to learn. I’ve been remiss this year in organising regular study circles with others, but this is something I hope to do in upcoming months.  SeekersGuidance is a place with wonderful online courses, the Muslim Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto publishes its lectures and classes on its SoundCloud page, and both of these resources are wonderful resources to share, support and learn from.

Role Models Remind Us of What One Person Can Achieve

  • Everything brings me back to compassion.
  • Role models remind us of what one person can achieve. Person who is compassionate draws people like a magnet. People were drawn to the Buddha. Anyone who puts in a regimen of compassion can become such a person (a person that people are drawn to).
  • Compassion is tough. It requires that you put yourself on the backburner. Socrates said that dialogue is about opening your heart and receiving dialogue.
  • Need to make place for another. Need to practice compassion all day and every day. It’s not that you do something and say, “that was my good deed for the day,” and then go back to living lives of spite and compassion.
  • Have to be able to have your own mind changed. Socrates said that at the point that you can say you know nothing, you are wise.
  • We act so omniscient. We say “she does this, because..” But in reality, you have no idea!
  • Mustn’t identify with your opinions, that is your ego speaking. Socrates told us to open our mind and listen to the other person. We need to empty our minds and forget what you think that you know. Go into dialogue willing to be changed. Fight for cause, but be willing to change your mind.
  • There is no good in speaking with spite and anger.
  • A spot of time is something you go back to and drink from. Similar with an unkind word.
  • To become a sage is hard work.

~Karen Armstrong, Toronto Reference Library, Jan 17th 2011

Notes from the Human Rights, Religion and the Law Lecture at U of T (Jan 11th 2012)

In January 2012, the University of Toronto held a lecture called Human Rights, Religion and the Law as part of a series of events with the Ontario Humans Rights Commission (which was updating its policy on creed) and the University of Toronto Religion in the Public Sphere program. Every time I’ve heard Barbara Hall speak I’ve been moved by her warmth and powerful intellect, and that evening was no different. The other two speakers of the evening, Winnifred Sullivan and David Seljak were equally powerful, and scholars who I hope to continue to follow. What was powerful about that night was the widespread acknowledgement that we need to unpack our definitions and understandings of secularism, understand its foundations, and recognise the role of power in constructing what we assume to be natural. Once we do this, it is easier to see that models based on accommodation and tolerance are deeply flawed.

I mostly just listened to the speakers that night, but today I came across my (brief) notes from the lecture, and I’ve included them below.

Continue reading

Celebrating Four Years as an Aunt

Being an aunt is something that is very close to my heart, and though we’re in different provinces at present, I’m celebrating the birthday of my nephew today. Sharing stories over pancake and berries breakfasts, whispering at 4 am during weekend sleepovers, drawing pictures and reading books together, and just generally witnessing a child develop from an infant into someone with speech, opinions, and a definite personality is a fascinating and blessed process. (At the end of this post is a list I wrote for terry.ubc.ca when my nephew turned one of the lessons I’ve learnt during his first year. The lessons are still true, so I’ve reposted them here)

He isn’t alone on the fantastic child list though. During my trip to Singapore last month, I kept running into wonderful kids who inspired me with their curiosity and intellect. I passed by a travel store one day with a giant globe at its entrance, and two siblings who were probably 9 and 11 years old were quizzing each other of their knowledge of tiny countries, and trying to map out flight routes. They were struggling to find a few countries, and we struck up a conversation. The next day I was on the MRT and a mum and her son of about ten years of age were talking about Google, what a googol is, and how that relates to what the search engine intended to do at the outset of its creation.

It reminded me of other kids I’ve met from time to time who have qualities that I wished schools and cities cultivated within all young people: voracious reading, tremendous curiosity, and an ability to figure out answers to questions that puzzle them.  Imagine what communities would look like if we planned them (and budgeting priorities) with the learning needs and experiences of the youngest members of cities in mind. Then imagine where you live at present. Though some places are better than others, there is still so so much that we need to do.

Life Lessons From A One Year Old 

1) Disappointments are to be experienced intensely, mourned briefly, and then forgotten. Failure should not hinder one from trying and trying again.

2) People are fascinating. Seek them out. Be unafraid to start conversations. To smile. To wave hello to your neighbours. Make a habit of constantly expressing your delight that you are in the company of others, and the recipient of their attention.

3) Relish solitude. You need time every day to wander, to think, to explore and simply figure things out. To try new things. Protest fiercely when others encroach on this time.

4) Make amends quickly. When you keep others up at night or leave them exhausted during the day, make sure you make up for it with a contrite smile and a heart softening cuddle.  Have a sunshiny disposition that makes it impossible to remain irritated with you.

5) The world is your playground, discover it actively. In every situation, there are things to be explored and learnt, touched and tasted. Have a healthy sense of curiosity about your surroundings. Be a scientist in the world. Experiment, challenge, test, test again, revise your assumptions, store that knowledge away, and repeat this process continuously.

6) Be heard.  If you have an opinion, share it. If you aren’t understood at first, persist until you’ve conveyed your point of view. Learn new languages to speak to ever widening circles of people.

7) Seek support and comfort from those around you. When you fall and stumble, touch base to feel better, and then return to your adventure-seeking, knowledge-desiring, happy state.

8 Embrace your inner artist. Express yourself, and don’t let limitations of ability and skill deter you from enjoying colours and textures and different art forms.

9) Savour tastes and smells and textures.  Enjoy each morsel. Chew slowly. Explore new foods. Try what others are having. Chase after new experiences.

10) Wake up completely thrilled about the day ahead. Stand up, laugh, and become excited and energised about the big adventures that await you. Nap when needed.

11) Touch the world, and be in touch with nature.  Splash in water. Watch birds. Stop and say hello to puppies. Jump on grass. Stare at trees. Be conscious of the fact that the world is awesome, and spend some time every day marveling at its wonders. Don’t let a day go by without some time outdoors.

12) Don’t hold grudges. When someone trips over you, or makes a mistake, have a good cry, but don’t let bad experiences or moments impact your trust of others as a whole.

13) Laugh heartily. Laugh often.

14) Seek new goals constantly. Be hungry to learn and grow and develop. Be persistent. Spend lots of time with others who are more skilled than you-it creates an environment where you are naturally constantly trying to stretch and increase your abilities.

15) Assert your independence. Don’t let others do things for you too often. Push people away who prevent you from learning.

16) When you make a mess, clean it up.

17) Dance when music plays. In fact, make time for movement every day.  After spending any length of time being stationary, or eating large amounts of food, race around, climb things, and revel in your ability to move and reach and run and stand.

And lastly…be confident.  Babies have personalities. They come into the world with their own idiosyncrasies and habits and little quirks, and when you hear mothers talk about their children, they speak about the things that he/she likes and doesn’t like, prefers and doesn’t prefer, and what their habits tend to be. And yet, a year earlier, the little person didn’t exist. Obviously I’m not the first writer to reflect on the miracle of birth, but it is something to keep in mind as we strive for things and get discouraged and get disappointed at times: that perhaps the simple fact we exist, that we come into the world with such a definite sense of self, means that one must chase and seek and find meaning. We are too astonishing to not seize the day, to not make what we can of our lives and experiences, and to not reach out to others and create social change.

The Myth of Independence

I met a dear friend unexpectedly today, and we had the kind of conversation you can only have with old friends, where you pour out the contents of your heart and you know the other person will help you make sense of it all because they’ve known you for so long. And afterwards I had dinner with another beautiful soul, and it made me think about how strange (and inaccurate) it is to attribute anything you accomplish to yourself. My research project studying mosques was due this week, and handing it felt like the conclusion of months (if not longer) of thought about what I wanted to research. I was battling between different ideas even before I came to Toronto, and so handing it in felt like a significant milestone.

And yet, it is a milestone (like the entire graduate experience) that is not mine alone. When you move to a new place, you realize that no matter how strong and independent you think you are, you require other people to make that experience a positive one. You need kind people to help you move and carry heavy things, to help you find good company, to invite you to their home on holidays when you don’t know anyone, to send you food when you’re homesick, to check up on you when you’re sick, to hear your rants about school, to encourage you when you’re unsure about your decisions, to give you advice, and to send you a note sometimes and let you know that you’re in their prayers. It requires tremendous effort on the part of other people to make the small(in comparison) task of studying possible. And without kind souls to generously welcome you into their family and friend circle, life simply would not be as beautiful. When you’re an introverted person (as I am) it’s easy to stay on your own and forget to seek out company, but Toronto has taught me that community is necessary.  I’m thankful that Toronto has been a place full of kind hearted souls who have made me feel so comfortable here.

And so this is a resolution for the weeks, months and years to come. I’d like to strive to be as kind and gentle as the people I’ve met, to be the sort of person and social planner who people feel comfortable around, and to have a home where people who are new and finding their way feel welcome, and leave nourished and revitalized in more ways than one. I’m curious as Anne would say, what the ‘bend in the road’ will bring forth, but am making intentions that this next chapter is an enriching one.

Love is a Steaming Cup of Chai

It’s been nearly three months since my last blog post. I took a bit of a break to work on my research project, and then the gap grew larger as I started to think about the process of blogging itself and ask myself: Does it make sense to share one’s thoughts and reflections with a wider audience?  I was pondering the question while taking a class about improving the quality and state of one’s heart, and in that context, it felt like chattering about one’s feelings and reflections was indulging in a thinking process that could have just as well gone in a journal. Today though, I opened an almost empty notebook and found an unfinished blog post about falling in love with Toronto that was dated from this past summer. The short entry led me back to the blog, and reading the small number of posts here was a beautiful reminder of moments in Toronto that touched my heart, and people I’ve met here that have left an indelible imprint on my heart and mind. It made me wish I had blogged more often, as it is a qualitatively different type of reflection than the (also important) experience that occurs when I pick up a Moleskine to jot down thoughts.

And since I leave Toronto in about a month for the post graduation chapter of my life, I’ve included it below as a reminder to keep the same joy and peace in my heart as I soak up this last bit of time I have in this beloved city, to have trust that the next chapter will hopefully bring forth goodness and adventures in equal measure, and to remember to blog along the way.

My love for Toronto is a steaming cup of chai with the Roommate, sweet mangoes for breakfast, a late night guitar jam session on the beach, finding the way home using the CN tower, a smile from a stranger on the elevator, new challenges at work, walking the tree-shaded streets of U of T, hearing birds outside my office window, sitting and watching the lake sparkle at the Harbourfront and seeing the Ford Centre full of people excited about the ballet during a evening stroll. It’s  watching trains go by from my apartment window with my nephew and stretching our imaginations to create stories about where people are going.  Even after so many months, my love and happiness with this city still feels like an unexpected gift.

Sometimes the thought of whether something is right or whether you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing is so strong that the attention can be intensely uncomfortable. It is difficult to be completely relaxed and open when you’re analyzing your experiences and emotions constantly. But from first term when I frequently thought about what Toronto meant, without realizing it was even happening, a natural, easy contentment with Toronto has slipped into my life. ~ May 28th 2011.