“By compassionately witnessing my experience through
writing and meditation, I have learned to celebrate the joys,
bear the difficult, and hold myself and others in a space of
tender care and open-hearted attention.“
Dr. Ahava Shira
Journal Writing, Poetry & Spoken Word Performance
When I was 20 years old, I bought my first journal to take with on a 4-month solo backpacking trip to Europe.
My second journal was written in Israel, where I lived in Jerusalem for a year while studying at the Hebrew University.
After a few more years of travel and study (at Esalen, Omega, Naropa), I left my hometown of Montreal and moved to the west coast of Canada, landing in Vancouver, where I started writing and performing poetry about the incest and unhealthy relationships I had experienced in my childhood home and the post-traumatic patterns I was encountering as an adult, from disordered eating to self-picking.
Writing helped me give voice and meaning to things I hadn’t had words for, to tell about what happened to me, to free myself from guilt, shame and self-doubt.
After self-publishing my first book of poems, Weaving of My Being, I wrote and acted in my first one woman show, Chelo.
I performed my next two one-woman shows, Ahava, Alive and Aloud and Ahava in Wonderland after moving to Salt Spring Island, BC in 1999.
Five years later, I produced my spoken word CD, Love is Like This with Andy Myers at Allowed Sound Studios, and started to host a one-hour weekly radio show called Love in the Afternoon on CFSI FM, which ran for three years.
I co-developed and facilitated an award-winning school-based violence prevention program called “Respectful Relationships,” from 2000-2007.
After 3 years, wanting to reflect on my experience as a facilitator, I found a graduate program in writing and narrative inquiry. During my Master’s of Education in Curriculum Studies (UVic, 2005) I wrote poetry and stories exploring what I was learning about my own relationships as I taught the program to youth. I was becoming aware of how much self-judgment and criticism I still carried and I wanted to understand how to reverse these negative patterns and engage more kindly toward myself.
I also became more committed to meditation practice and started to attend weekly meetings and weekend retreats in vipassana or insight meditation.
After graduating from my M.Ed., I dove even deeper into narrative inquiry and other arts-based research through a PhD in Language and Literacy Education (UBC, 2010). Although I loved what I was studying, I also struggled with intense fear and anxiety, and wondered if I would be able to “pull it off,” This pressure was building up until my supervisor advised me, when I was in the middle of writing my thesis, to “relax and take the summer off.”
Determined to create a gentler experience for myself as a learner, one where I could be kind and loving with myself while I worked on my thesis, that summer, and the ones that followed, I attended several week-long meditation retreats, which helped widen my understanding of how to cultivate a loving relationship.
This led me to call my methodology Loving Inquiry and to write poems, stories and take photographs exploring the qualities of relationship that supported this more compassionate way of being. The central metaphor of my thesis was the gate:
“For many years I have been teaching myself and others to love, to move through the barriers that interfere with opening our hearts to each other.”
Then I moved to a farm and everywhere I went I had to open a gate.
“As I practice Loving Inquiry on the farm, I observe a similarity between my experience of opening and walking through the gates and my experience of opening and entering into relationship. Both require me to pause and to listen to what is happening inside myself as well as outside. Both need me to practice letting go of anything that is keeping me from being present. Both demand my sensual, embodied awareness, and invite certain contemplative, spiritual qualities of attention.”
After graduating, I created a 12-month transformational mentorship program A Year to Love based on my thesis in Loving Inquiry, helping women to “walk through the gates” of their own hearts and focus on their writing and creativity within an environment of kindness and self-compassion.
Writing Alone Together
The same year I started my PhD, I also started meeting and writing with two women who were also passionate, long-time journal writers (by then I had been journal writing for 20 years).
In 2014, after seven years of creative collaboration we co-published Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection.
Since then, I have facilitated hundreds of Writing Alone Together workshops and retreats for diverse populations including women with fused spines, youth in middle and high schools, and clients of a mental health drop-in centre.
With the support of Connecting Generations and its fearless leader, my colleague and co-inspirator, Sarah Hook Nilsson, I received several grants from the Salt Spring Arts Council and BC Arts Council’s Artstarts. I also co-edited and published six collections of students’ writing.
From 2017-2019, Sarah and I developed and facilitated Home Words, in which we trained educators, counselors and community members to facilitate the four practices of Writing Alone Together with their own clients and students, with the support of two Arts-Based Community Development grants with the BC Arts Council.
Woman in Mirror
Ever interested in exploring my challenges through writing, in 2015 I started to work on a memoir exploring some health and relationship issues I was having. Through writing my stories, this time with a focus on learning the form and craft of creative non-fiction, I was able to deepen my understanding of the traumatic events from my past, and develop more awareness of boundaries and other relationship skills I needed to support myself and heal my body in the present.
Once again, anxiety and fear were constant companions. Fortunately, my meditation practice along with other embodied practices of dance and yoga supported me to access joy, ease and peace in the present as well as working with a writing mentor who gently guided me through the process of editing and shaping my story.
I am now facilitating online memoir writing journeys for those who want to learn how to use writing to heal themselves and develop a loving relationship with themselves and others.
At the start of the pandemic, the world as I knew it collapsed. My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the farm we had called home for 14 years went up for sale and sold in a matter of days, and I found myself in the unfamiliar role of primary breadwinner, while moving to a new house and learning what it means to be a loving care-partner for my husband of 21 years.
In mid-2021, as we were preparing to move, amid all the uncertainty and my fears and doubts about the future, I said to my husband one day “I wrote my way onto the Farm, I will write my way off the Farm.”
This became the impetus for my second memoir, Touching Wood.
A year later and I am still living, and writing, the changes. And I have noticed so are many other women in my classes. Needing the support to commit to their writing time, I created Immerse Yourself, a month of daily writing.
Enter the Garden
Committed to creating a culture of kindness, respect, and compassionate witness through the transformative act of writing our stories, our way,
We enter the garden because we care about the planet, the people and all beings.
We enter the garden to care for ourselves, our ancestors, our children, and our children’s children.
We enter the garden to connect and listen, honour and respond, value and bear witness.
We enter the garden to write and share our passion and dedication to our lives and the earth.