Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
A Time of Returning and No Return: in conversation with Indu Vashist, Cecilia Berkovic and Amy Fung
Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Amy Fung

In response to the Spring Equinox, Public Parking Editorial Resident Amy Fung invited multidisciplinary cultural workers Indu Vashist and Cecilia Berkovic to engage in a mindful and honest conversation on themes of cycles, practice, violence, and endurance to mark this year’s Summer Solstice. Meeting and working in the Toronto arts scene in the 2010s, Berkovic, Fung, and Vashist reflect on the present era of what it means to be alive. 


Amy Fung (Amy): Let’s start at the beginning. Ceci, Indu, how do we know each other?

Cecilia Berkovic (Ceci): Well Amy, I met you through Images [Festival] when I worked there designing their catalogue when you were their Artistic Director. We were co-workers that turned into a friendship. I saw you at gay events here and there, and we became friends.

Indu, I met you through Leila. I remember a car ride from Toronto to Montreal that was probably our first prolonged hang out. We were moving in and around the same people for decades though. I think you were moving to Toronto shortly after that six hour car ride.

Indu Vashist (Indu): I had heard of you, Cecilia, from Leila before that trip, but that’s what I remember, too. Maybe there was also Leila’s PhD defense party at the Common. I remember having a detailed conversation with you there, too.

And Amy, you had just started at Images and I remember thinking, I’m going to try to be friends with that person. You were this grumpy grandpa wandering around the hallways and grumpy grandpas are my thing!

Amy: That was when Images and SAVAC were next door to each other in the pre-renovation era of the 4th floor commons at 401 Richmond. That was 10 years ago! I realized that last night, which kind of amazes me at this point in my life. I’ve been shedding more connections than gaining as I left Toronto – and the arts – in a way that left me grieving for a long time. It got me thinking about what brought us together and what keeps us in contact with each other.

Indu: I am going through a really weird time that I can only explain as a form of coming out of a hibernation. So much has happened in these last 10 years, but I’ve come to understand that time, especially my time in the art world as a hibernation, where in particular it felt dead. It’s strange as the gay art world is also the context we know each other from, and one part of who I am and where I’ve been, but I finally feel as if I’m coming back to myself as a whole. What I see in our connections was a commonality in finding dissatisfaction, or at least an acknowledgement and acceptance of the deadness of the art world.

Amy: Can you be more specific in what you mean by “dead”? 

Indu: To give you some background to where I’m at, as I’ve been thinking of dead and alive a lot within the context of this genocide and seeing so many images of dead or dying people as opposed to living in our baby-proofed lives in the West. I started reading Uses of the Erotic by Audre Lorde to counteract the amount of death. I am thinking through necrophilia and whiteness as phenomenons in the world at the moment. The way that Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF)  are not just obsessed with killing, but also obsessed with interfering with the dead, the way that these young soldiers/old settlers look turned on, charged and activated is necrophilia. Whereas Lorde talks about the erotic as touching into what gives us life. She compares that death drive to pornography, which is what the IOF images of death look like to me.

Returning to my first point, I feel like these last 10 years have been a muted time where I have seen a lot of dishonesty, where things went on behind closed doors, and not showing one’s true self. I’m as guilty as anybody as I kept a gigantic part of my activist self quite secret. Toronto nearly killed that part of me in order to search for the parts of myself that could tap into the erotic. In order to work in the art world, I had to compartmentalize parts of myself to be able to function, but now that the white supremacy (in the form of anti-Palestinian racism) is unabashedly peacocking in the art world, I feel like I can more honestly be my whole self.

Amy: It’s so intense, but it’s really heightened in Toronto. 

Indu: I feel like now the activism part of me has to be the most alive because there is so much mass death in the world. It’s not that those 10 years were irrelevant, but it didn’t feel meaningful. Personally I experienced a major relationship and the breakdown of a major relationship, I experienced the death of an important friend, but everything was so segmented. My private life didn’t impact my public life, or it hardly did, so when you meet people you could share a bit of your personal life with in the public realm, it felt like a breath of fresh air. What I mean is that with you both, there was something that allowed me to bring my whole self into the room which was mostly discouraged in the art world. People generally didn’t have space to hear about the actual experience of a racialized, gay person, especially if it didn’t directly benefit them – it usually made people feel uncomfortable.

Ceci: That was gorgeous, Indu, there are so many threads to pick up I don’t know where to begin. Covid changed how I think about time into a before and an after. I think the word hibernation is apt, but I’m just going to say those three years were traumatic in the sense that everyone I know was isolated in a way we had never been before. I don’t think we’re post-covid, but I am still thinking through its effects and how this time has changed us.

On the thread of secrecy and the fragmented self, who we are publicly and who we are privately and how those things overlap is something I think people are still grappling with. In Hebrew, the word shlemut meaning “wholeness” or how we bring our whole honest self whether we are in private or public has to do with being open and honest. 

I think I was in a time and place where there were connections that sustained me, whether they were rooted in an inquiry or it was tied to exploring intellectual or spiritual life, there was a wanting to get-into-it-ness that I noticed between the three of us where we can sort of go deep without a lot of the chit chat. The surface chatter has become much harder for me since covid, and even more so in the world right now. 

Another thought swirling in my brain is the idea of “coming out,” not as in gay but as in being god-loving or spiritual and how those things intersect with activism. Aiming to bring our whole selves was something that resonated with me when you were speaking, Indu.

For example, during covid I collaborated on a series of solstice care packages [made in collaboration with Bernie Houde] and you both really responded, and that deepened our connection. As a project, they weren’t made and sent to build new networks, but it was interesting to see who returned

Time moves forward and backward. I've felt this a lot since I’ve entered my “third chapter,” from 10 years ago at 42 to now on the cusp of 53. I’m at a really different stage in my life where my priorities and my orientations have shifted.

Amy: I think we should take a moment to explain what these care packages were as I feel like they were the initial reasons why I wanted to bring you two together for a conversation. I’d like to offer some words in real time to you, Ceci, instead of just emojis and DM’s, would that be all right?

When I got your first round of the solstice ritual mailer at the end of 2020, which consisted of an envelope that folded out into an altar, an instruction sheet for ritual making that was part invitation/prompt/invocation, and a small beeswax candle, I mean, first, I’m a sucker for aesthetically pleasing objects, but the gesture felt like a beacon of light. It felt like a point of connection to help us move through this time of intense solitude and I didn’t know how much I needed a process until that moment. 

Indu: I had gone from a highly structured life before covid to a period which felt like I was just bouncing around in my head all the time, and this package arrived mostly unannounced, and I was given a ritual, a structure that I was missing. It was so deeply meaningful, I felt so connected — not just to you, but to everyone else who was doing this. Cecilia, you were talking about coming out as god-loving or spiritual or whatever words people relate to evoke the thing that is bigger than ourselves, and I kept thinking at the time, this was the beginning of something. I felt so touched to witness that. It really felt like the beginning of something really interesting and to witness in this ride you’re going on.

At the time, I was also doing a lot of leading in meetings and workshops. Covid marked an end point to when I was mostly in reception, especially with the teachers I was working with in person. Maybe it is also middle age and the astrological transits of my own chart, but I feel like I was asked to become more of a leader since covid. Leading doesn’t mean that we stop learning, but the learning has taken on a different form. So it felt like a lot to receive something without any expectation of giving back. It felt good to be in reception.

Ceci: Thank you for those generous responses, definitely better than emojis. My eyes feel a little misty. I was not expecting to feel so emotional about our chat. I do see that project as a form of spell-casting, and I want to pick up on something about leadership I’ve learned through being at Kohenet. I am a shy leader. It’s still a growing edge for me. So it was nice to hear your reflections, but there’s a calling, and with that comes a vulnerability and a chance of publicly failing, but it’s also about stepping into these new roles and trying new things. 

Amy: Can you speak a bit about Kohenet? What is it and how did you become involved?

Ceci: When I was on the cusp of fifty, I wanted to develop a spiritual practice and I knew I needed to do it in community. I had heard of Kohenet through mutual friends who had gone through the program a number of years before. I describe it as a Jewish spiritual leadership program that roots traditional Jewish texts and customs and re-enlivens them through embodied, land-based, and feminist lenses. I applied in March of 2020 and became ordained last summer. Half of the program ended up being moved online, which was not how I imagined I’d learn about embodiment, but in the end, the online Kohenet community became a helpful anchor for me through the structurelessness of how I experienced lockdowns during covid.

Now on the other side of it, I realize I have been showing up by participating in and co-leading public rituals. For example, I was invited to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, one of our holiest prayers for our beloved dead, by Jews Say No To Genocide at a procession for Palestinians who have been murdered in Gaza. 

That seems to be one of the ways to put these skills to public use at this specific moment in time. There are private contexts, too, but right now, I feel these skills are most useful to publicly name this genocide that is unfolding in my name, even if it comes at the expense and discomfort of family relations. I’ve found when you orient yourself toward a moral compass and allow a deepening with people who are more in-tuned with shared values, there are always other things at stake, like family. It’s a weird time (sighs).

Amy: That is an understatement. Part of why I wanted to talk to you both was because through this really intense period of time, I feel like I’ve been watching you both pursue a similar journey albeit through different methods. Not everyone leaned into leading and healing, which as processes, I define as challenging our fundamental assumptions about what we know and how we came to know these thoughts and feelings to feel true. 

Indu: I was doing this work privately for the last 10 years. I was pretty burnt out from activism when I moved to Toronto and I just needed to take care of myself. I was practicing yoga casually, but I ended up getting into it quite deeply. When my friend and life collaborator Priya Thangarajah died at the end of 2015, her death was a real jolt in my life and I felt like I didn’t have structure or know how to grieve. I only knew things because I was doing them through my body. I started going into yoga teacher training for structured learning as something I was going to do and could go deep. I had no intention of sharing or teaching, but I came out of this process with a renewed sense of self.

During the pandemic, similarly to Ceci, I started a whole new program with a whole new group of people focused on strength training. I am not a jock (laughs), but this program really changed me in terms of understanding the importance of the body, and not in a hippy dippy ethereal way, but in the material sense. I got really obsessed with anatomy, with the muscular skeletal understanding of the body, or what is often called as the meat sack version of our bodies. In yogic thought, there are 5 layers to the self, and the meat sack version is how I understand the food-body layer. The training I am doing now, and that I am almost finished, is the oldest somatic training on the continent and they are obsessed with the meat sack version of the body as a means to understand the other layers. Their approach to somatics is a way to move with the contractions of the body, to find the pain and go into the pain in order to let go of it, and I think that is a metaphor for everything.

We have to explore the tender pain points in ourselves in order to let it go.

Amy: Can you explain the five layers of the self, please?

Indu: The five layers of the yogic body are the food body, the breath body, the senses (which I understand as data collection), wisdom (which would be data interpretation), and peace, which is the core of us. As we move outside in, we have to peel the layers by getting acquainted with them, not just shooting past them if we want to be in integrity with our whole selves. By becoming attuned to the grossest part of our body, and by gross I mean the most material parts of the self,  gives me such a different sense of the parts of me that are unknown or the more subtle part of our anatomy. For example, why do I sit the way that I sit? Because I had a bike accident 25 years ago that I cannot wash out of my body, so part of what I’m learning is to recognize these habits and patterns and lean into my own pain points, so that I can eventually rest and breathe more efficiently. 

This learning process has influenced how I understand leadership in the art world, especially since the genocide started. I do these exercises at the beginning of meetings and organizing as a way to ground myself and sometimes the group together. A lot of what I do in my day job is working through bureaucratic racism, and there is such intense racism that I just cannot talk about race anymore using the language of racists.

In our current context, I feel more done than I ever have with Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and all the crumbs being offered. EDI recommendations are offered not to change any institution, but for us to assimilate into those institutions. It is now clearer than ever, as our demands for anti-racism and decolonization have been identified as “too much” when it comes to Palestine. All of that has shattered in the worlds I inhabit more clearly than ever. I feel we are at the point where we have accumulated enough experiences of what can be expected –  to be fired, pushed out, defunded – when our demands are seen not to be in service of white institutions. I feel that all the training we are each doing is preparing us to be elders in training or I don’t know what. We have been accumulating experience on how to be whole, not hide or smallen the parts of ourselves that are reacting to the structures and to be learning to be confident in our ability to confront authority in our wholeness.

In some schools of somatics, there is a belief that we require safety, dignity and belonging to feel like we can thrive in the world. As I’ve been meeting with executives from arts councils and service organizations who are so bothered that we’re not satisfied when they give us EDI crumbs. They want us to accept their crumbs and be appeased. What I bring from my somatics training is that no change can come when they are asking us to contort to their vision of us for us rather than believing that we might know what we need for ourselves. I won’t be distracted by their objectification of my experience any longer. 

So yes, I have spent a long time in hibernation while working in the art world, but things have been percolating to the point where I feel I’m being forced to bring it all together and to inhabit a very different space than I have done before. 

Ceci: I think these percolations start happening across the board when the parts of ourselves become less fragmented. Going back to what brought us here in thinking through cycles of seasons, the time of hibernation is still a time when things are actively happening underground in the dark and alone, and it is followed then by the energy of Spring when we find the strength to push through into the light. It takes a sheer amount of energy to come up from under the ground—

Amy: Spring energy can feel a little chaotic! 

Indu: We are having this conversation in March when Daylight Savings Time is tomorrow and I just want to say I’m not ready. I didn’t get winter. I didn’t get to rest. I don’t want extra sunlight yet. It feels like we lost 2 months of rest.

Ceci: Yeah I think I shoveled only once. All that fog and rain and grey this winter felt strange. Things are now coming up out of the ground faster than they should be, but I still have deep winter chores that I haven’t gotten through.

Amy: In a way, it felt like a West coast winter.

Indu: It did feel like a West coast winter, but we didn’t even have frozen ground. I’m a gardener and every morning as I’m walking through my neighbourhood I can see people already tending to their yards and acting like it’s May. My body is bracing for something really bad to happen climatically, I keep having really bad dreams, because something really bad is happening climatically. Last year was the year of smoke in the summer for us in Central Canada, this year was the year of no winter. How do we prepare for Spring and Summer when we don’t know how the earth is going to react? How do we know there isn’t going to be poisonous mold next?

Amy: I’ll admit the lack of seasons freaks me out. I’ve noticed in myself this anxiety now manifests in overplanning for the smallest things. Our usual cycles have been disrupted between covid and now climate disasters, so speaking for myself, I don’t know what comes next, which has turned me into feeling like a prepper for the most mundane of activities to feel some form of control.

Indu: Last year, I went on a road trip and ended up driving through a forest fire. When I woke up the next day, it was so clear that we couldn't make plans anymore. We have to have so much built-in contingency. My dad is also a gardener who has worked the earth for over half a century and he said to me recently there is no more planning.  

Ceci: We are only four years into the 2020s, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. We make plans knowing we can’t really count on them, that covid cancellations are to be expected now. There is something to be said about coping through ritual and embodiment that I find are ways of grounding us back into the present. Rituals create containers, because containers like seasons and weather that normally can hold us in our meat bag bodies cannot be counted on in the ways we predict anymore. 

Indu: I am part of Ishtar’s International Network of Feral Gardens, which runs every other year, and this is an Ishtar year, but part of me just wants to run a series on grief and fascism instead of gardening. I just want to observe and sit in the volunteer plants (aka weeds) and read about fascism together. I feel the need to be present when there is so much delusion about the present moment. When you are anxious you need to breathe into the moment. There has been a global turn towards fascism and we are in the belly of the beast. 

Amy: It’s been a long time coming, but fascism never really went away.

Indu: I keep thinking about this thing my dad said at the beginning of the genocide. He said, “Don’t these people know you can never kill off a whole people.” I remember I was really struck by that, because there is always resilience. People will endure, they always do.

The above conversation was conducted by  Amy Fung is currently a Public Parking Editorial Resident for 2024. You can learn more about her work at

Indu Vashist is a deeply skilled cultural worker, non-profit administrator AND somatic movement education + yoga teacher, all rolled into one.

Cecilia Berkovic (she/her) is a queer artist, graphic designer, ritualist and ordained Kohenet/Hebrew Priestess. She lives and works in Toronto, in Dish with One Spoon Territory.  

Cover image: Solstice package in use, 2021. Courtesy of Cecilia Berkovic.