The Cortes Portraits: Sasha Cooke
Sasha has an effortless elegance about her. It’s the way she moves with gentle awareness, harnessed through years of ballet training. But it’s more than that too. Every word she speaks, every decision she makes, is measured against her heart. When the two of us visit, it feels as if nothing in the whole world is more important to her than holding the space between us. It’s remarkable.
It was Sasha who suggested we shoot at Smelt Bay today. This place holds a special significance for us. We ended up here last summer, after hiking in Háthayim Marine Provincial Park on the northern tip of Cortes Island. We had hauled sixty pounds of camp supplies between the two of us. My dog, Striker, carried eight pounds of water, all for himself. Sasha and I were keen for a full day immersed in the coastal rainforest. We planned to hike up to Robertson Lake, where we could slip naked into the cool freshwater, and then set camp for the night. I took the lead. Sasha opened the conversation.
“I’ve been practicing The Work of Byron Katie,” she shared, “and it’s really shifting my perspective. Her series of four questions really unravels the personal narrative we create about ourselves. Would you like to try it?”
Her question reminded me of a few weeks earlier, when our common friend, Manilai, asked if I would try Dyad with her. I said yes. In Dyad, the goal is to make direct eye contact with a partner as they speak continuously for five minutes. You aren’t allowed to respond. No smiling, no nodding. At the end of five minutes, you switch, and the other person speaks. It’s an intense forty minute exercise. I cried. The process uncovers our thoughts and emotions hidden beneath the surface. It was scary for me at first. It felt too raw, too close. But in the end, it was extremely cathartic. It was good to be seen, really seen, without a single ounce of pretense.
Curious after my experience with Dyad, I agree to give Byron Katie a try.
Sasha instructs me to make a statement, a belief I’ve been holding deep within. After a moment, I shrug and decide to go for the jugular. “I am too much,” I say aloud, “I’m too bossy, too needy, too rigid. I’m just always too much in relationships.” I don’t look back at her. I’m embarrassed. I already feel warmth spreading to my cheeks.
“Is that true?” She inquires softly.
I nod and she asks again, “Is it absolutely, unquestionably true?”
And suddenly, I’m not so sure. Before I know it, her series of questions has dug down deep into something I hadn’t expected. This idea I’ve attached to myself, that I’m “too much” isn’t true. And yet, I’ve let it dictate the partners I choose. I actively seek men who need to be taken care of, so that being “too much” feels justified. I chose men who can’t support themselves, men who can’t hold a job, men who don’t really want to be in a committed relationship. It’s as if I’m trying to balance being “too much” with someone who, for me, is not enough. So I keep casting myself in the same role in the same tired story over and over. I’ve spent so many nights providing support for emotionally unavailable men.
This is the type of conversation Sasha’s authenticity invites. We never talk about the weather. “Your turn” I say, and we step into Sasha’s narrative with gentle intention.
We hike for hours, but we can’t find the lake. We are lost, big time. After six hours on foot, still lugging an extra thirty pounds each, we make our way back to the parking lot. I’m disappointed, but know we made the right choice to turn back. It’s already starting to get dark. I drive us all to Smelt Bay, where we picnic under the sunset. It’s brilliant hues cast a golden light across our tired, happy faces.
Today, we are just twenty feet from that picnic spot. Sasha glides gracefully in front of the camera, the warm light bounces off her golden skin.
“That’s great Sasha,” I say, “turn your face little more toward the light. Yes, that’s perfect.”
I’m delighted that she is back from Chile, where she spent six months speaking Spanish, swimming in the cold waters off the coast, and taking in beautiful rural views. One month, Sasha’s boyfriend visited her, and together they travelled the Chilean and Argentine Patagonia in a camperized Subaru Outback. She recounts every detail. It all sounds amazing.
So much has changed since our hike last summer. I took our conversation to heart, and eventually left a relationship that just wasn’t working. A few months later I met Charlie Hughes, who became a good friend, and then a real partner. Sasha quit her job (two actually). Sasha tells me how critical it is for her to work in an organization with integrity. Otherwise, she feels split between her values and her responsibilities and can’t push through. She leans back, sitting on a piece of driftwood. “Do you remember when I said how much I wished I had your job?” She stated. “Well, I’m going back to school! I’m taking Communication Design. I can’t wait to be creative again - painting, drawing, designing. Eventually I want to mix in arts funding somehow, you know? Work with creatives who want to bring something meaningful into the world.”
I love that idea. I aspire for that too, in my own way. No matter what Sasha does I know it will bring meaning into the world. It’s simply who she is.
Sasha bounds over to a bush of wild blackberries. She weaves through the thorny bramble as if dancing. The berries are so sweet in late summer. She picks a few for herself, then carries a handful back to me. We savour them knowing their season is coming to an end.
The sun starts to slide behind the peaks of Vancouver Island. The sky becomes a blend of magenta, purple and blue. Sasha wraps a shawl around her shoulders, as the temperature dips with the sun. The sky shifts again. It transforms into a sea of brilliant red. We move side-by-side and take in the very last of summer.