Monday, January 31, 2011

The Winter of Listening

What does it look like to close your eyes, to go inside your head and to go inside your heart and really take a look at what’s inside there? I’m talking a deep knowing of your own soul, away from the chatter of our every-day business. The process is as easy as closing the door, turning off your phone, sitting on the floor and closing your eyes. Yet, Sometimes we’re afraid to go inside and turn off the chatter because we’re afraid of what it might look like in there. We’re so accustomed to the noise that we don’t know who we’d be if we turned it all off. And indeed we have to prepare ourselves to take that big look inside and confront whatever might come to the surface, sometimes a well-spring of grief or loneliness or hurt. Sometimes we find a world of doubt, worry, ennui, or maybe the worst of them all, The Shoulds—that damning list of expectations about our life which is not fulfilled nor is it on track to be.

With a little practice and maybe a smidge of direction, what’s possible is to apprentice oneself to the true and deep knowing of Self. What’s possible is the ability to see yourself for who you are, a radiant, conscious, sentient being with beautiful complexities that might include sadness or loneliness or worry but seeing that who you are is fundamentally whole. I may have worry, but who I am is larger than worry. So, it’s the ability to hold and even love the complexity of our own being, to somehow embrace and love what feels like the damaged parts of ourselves, knowing we’re deeper than that.

Here’s my invitation: today, right after you read this, maybe, or sometime today, go into a different room or turn off the computer and sit. Close your eyes and do what I call the “There Is” practice. This is where you simply point to all the things you are aware of or become aware of with the phrase, “there is” in a way that puts you as the observer rather than the subject. If you were to hear my thoughts do this practice it would sound like this: “There are closed eyes. There is semi-comfortable sitting position. There is worry about responsibilities later today. There is a cat licking my toe. There is a feeling of sadness. There is business in my head. There is peacefulness creeping around the corner.” Notice there are no personal pronouns: I, me, my. This enables us to observe the world as it is on its terms rather than from the egocentric realm of “me.” Or, if you want to go deep, it helps me see that who I am is all of these things. Another form of simple meditation is to notice what comes up and if, say, an emotion emerges, say in your mind, “I have worry, but who I am is larger than worry,” or “I have a busy mind but who I am is larger than a busy mind.” This inevitably invites us to consider the larger concept of our being.
This is exactly what I’ve dedicated to this year’s Winter Yoga Retreat happening this Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon in Woodland, Utah, near Kamas. It’s the opportunity through meditation, yoga, fun, storytelling, snowshoeing and ceremony to put us back into conversation with the True Self. There is so much I want to share which takes a few days and some time away to set in. I have a couple spots left and would love to have you join me for this remarkable weekend. Here is some basic information. Click on the link below for more details.
February 3-6. Show up around 5 pm Thursday evening and leave Sunday 12pm.
$345 Cozy, dorm-style log bunk bed

$375 Each for you and a friend to share a private bedroom with a queen-size bed

$295 Couch spot, (1 spots left).

• Amazing all-levels yoga, and meditation
• Breathtaking winter landscapes, pines and juniper trees and fresh air!
• Cozy lodging and sleeping arrangements
• Native American sweat lodge ceremony
• Snowshoe hike
• Gourmet food prepared by chef Amanda Gooch.
• On-site massage therapist
• Stars like you've never seen in the city
• Thee of the happiest dogs you'll ever meet
• Poetry, music, stories
• People meet their best friends up here
• Deeper practice in body, mind, and heart.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The "E" Word

There is a new four-letter word, the "E" word. This word is "The Economy." Strangely, it's neither four letters long nor even one word. Regardless, hearing the phrase (brace yourself), "The Economy" probably conjures worry and a knot in the stomach. Analysts on NPR say we’re on the slow train up. Regardless, whether directly or indirectly, we are all being effected by what's happening with (here it is again) "The Economy."

Unfortunately, hard financial times often makes us feel like we need to circle the wagons, draw in our resources, and look out for our own interests. The scarcity of financial means sometimes leads to scarcity of good will toward each other.

But despite what is happening on Wall Street, there is another form of abundance we can all cash in and rely upon. This resource is each other. Us. You and me. Instead of shielding ourselves from others, we can enrich ourselves and others during this tricky financial time by investing our sincere humanity (our love, compassion, trust, and laughter) into the reservoir of well-being and happiness of each other. We are each other's bail-out plan in the essential economics of human capital, a resource without a deficit and yes, one that is even more vital that dollars. We are each other's interest and will receive an immediate return on our investment each time we share a little of love and care from our endless account of humanity.

This is yoga's (read:union) true meaning. One-ness of all.

Tough financial times is an opportunity to draw together and build friendships and communities because sometimes that is all that is left. Community is what's essential. Community will get us through. Ask your grandparents who may have lived through the Great Depression. We can help each other out in myriad ways. Give each other rides. Share job opportunities. Even just making the effort to come to yoga and give your best effort is an investment into the energy and spirit of everyone else who came to class. We feed each other. Plus, tough times moves us toward fun creative solutions that we'd otherwise never have discovered.

I love my job. I love it because I am constantly feed by your generosity and your human capital. One of my treasures of what I do is connecting with you on a personal as well as group level. I am often allowed a sneak peak into many of your hearts and get to see first hand how yoga has effected your lives. Countless times, I have looked into your eyes as you've spoken volumes to me by the tender tears rolling down your cheeks and perhaps mixed in a few words to describe some of your unspeakable challenges. You've shared with me your immense peace and joy and your stunning moments of clarity. You've shared with me the ways in which yoga has been your lifesaver, an island, an oasis. I'm deeply honored to play a small part in your unfolding.

I love these emails. For one, I can practice being vulnerable, something I'm still learning. You all know much more about me than I think I'd normally be comfortable with, but you know, it's only in that vulnerability that connection can happen. This is part of my growth. Unfortunately, you don't see the tears in my eyes as I type this jazz. I also love these emails because I often get responses back from you in which you share your personal stories, insight, and appreciation for these principles and thoughts. Thank you.

I communicate with you. You communicate back to me. But I feel a little selfish. There is a missing link with this connection--your connection to each other.

In this community that we're building by practicing yoga together, I feel I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to see who else might be feeling the same way you do or what other insights others might offer each other.

Therefore, I encourage you to visit my Facebook page or my blog where you can both read this same message, review past emails, but perhaps more importantly, comment on the message and share your experiences (either anonymously or publicly, you have a choice on the blog).

I also invite you to check out my Facebook page as a way to see how big your yoga community really is. You may be pleased to see that you have several friends who are coming to other classes. You may make new connections and friends. One dear friend predicts 3 marriages from this idea. We'll see. Maybe you can find friends with whom you can carpool to yoga. If you know your friend is going to pick you up for 6 am yoga (coming soon to a Studio near you) it's an added incentive to do 'Get-'Yer-Butt-Out-Of-Bed Asana.'

Please don't stop sending me your personal emails. But you may also want to consider posting a comment for others to read. To see this same message on my blog and to post a comment about this or another message, check out my blog (see the link below). At the bottom of the blog, you'll see "comment" where you can click and leave a comment and see what others have said.

Please know that all of the information you send me is private. You are in charge of what you post. I will not post anything you say unless I have your permission.

Click on Add Friend. If you're not a member of Facebook, it'll ask you to join. Don't worry, there is no fee, no hype, and its fun.

Now, I know that this invites more technology mayhem into our lives but if managed with mindfulness, I feel this can be a great way to connect to each other during difficult times. And, it's free. Possibly priceless.


I asked one of my private students to write in her journal what she feels about yoga. She's a woman who I'm so proud of, a woman who has seen immense personal growth since she's started to practice yoga. She gave me permission to copy it here.

I Love Yoga!

Recently when I was planning out my week, looking to see which days I could attend a yoga class and which days I would need to practice at home, it suddenly came to me: I LOVE YOGA. The truth is, I love almost everything about it. I love thinking about it, talking about it, practicing asanas, meditating, learning from my teachers, going to the studio, being with my yoga friends, putting on my yoga clothes, reading yoga books, studying about it...You get the idea. For whatever reason, yoga just does it for me. I'm addicted to those yoga "moments" - when I'm in a pose and I feel completely weightless and at ease, when I'm meditating and I lose track of time and place or when I'm consciously breathing and I feel it in every inch on my being. I started practicing yoga about 2 ½ years ago and I was hooked from the beginning. I'm a fairly straight-forward, no nonsense person so I feel a bit silly writing this. But truthfully, I feel like a five year old who's found the hidden candy jar. I love yoga and it has changed my life.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"Don't Make Me Come Down There!"

Radical creativity is crucial in order to live in a world where “freedom rings.” It’s changed a bit, but racial and other discrimination still exist in this country. Yes, there are some complex political and social issues tied to our country’s discriminatory tensions, but what it boils down to is compassion and respect—love for self and for those around us. The very first yogic principle of Ahimsa helps us practice expanding our vision of what’s possible for social equality.

Ahimsa, or nonviolence, written about in the Yoga Sutras almost two thousand years ago, addresses our current social problems squarely. If I truly understand the lesson of nonviolence, I learn that I must refuse not only to harm someone (including ourselves) but I also must refuse to hate that person (paraphrasing Dr. King). The ultimate evolution of the principle of nonviolence is love. With love, nothing is impossible, not even a solution to this country’s immigration issue, or gay rights issue, or gender inequality issue, or religious tensions issue. Certainly it was radical creativity that gave Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. his dream. And whether we know it or not, the Glenn Becks and Jon Stewarts, the Sarah Palins and Gabrielle Giffords, as well as all of us, we are all a part of Dr. King’s dream and we all have a responsibility. Wherever we fall on the political spectrum, our responsibility, as I see it, is to pay forward the gratitude for the sacrifice and work of people like Dr. King (and Ghandi and Nelson Mandela and others) by perpetuating this radical creativity and dreaming of a country driven by love, where all people receive complete and abiding respect regardless of that person’s ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or financial or legal status. First dream, then act.

Failure to recognize oneself in another is the form of ignorance I call “the autoimmune disease of humanity,” one part of the organism fighting another in some backward way of finding wholeness. Be kind to Self by being kind to others. Through practice, the possibility of yoga is to slowly recognize our true nature by unraveling the layers of ignorance until we truly see. With radical creativity we envision, just like Dr. King, what’s possible with nonviolence, nonharming, and nonhating, by seeing the big picture that we’re all in it together and that we all need to change—but that social equality is possible. That vision gives us the strength and perspective to work and practice tirelessly until it happens. One way of practicing social equality is with yoga. Yep. If Dr. King were alive today, I’m confident he would approve of practicing yoga, practicing Ahimsa, on the day set aside to honor him. This week, I invite you to find ways to practice Ahimsa, nonviolence (therefore love), to self and others.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Ticket Home

Once when I was 21, I saw a guy on the side of the freeway off-ramp with a cardboard sign that said he was stranded and hungry. My heart broke. He looked like a nice, clean-cut guy who just needed a break. I turned the car around and picked him up. I bought him lunch. He said his name was Darren. As we ate together, he told me bits about his life: that he said he lived in San Diego, worked construction and had recently traveled to Nebraska to attend his mother’s funeral. He said that he had a wife and two kids at home but had somehow become stranded in Utah and couldn’t get back home to keep working. Without work he couldn’t get home and all he needed was money for a bus ticket.
Just a week before, I had executed a brilliant plan to quit my lame desk job, take out a loan from the bank, and travel to Europe to spend 5 weeks with Celeste (we later got married, so I guess that it all worked out). I didn’t have much money, most of it was borrowed, but my heart ached that I had the means to travel to be with the one I loved and he didn’t. So, with my travel plans imminent, pressing preparations looming, and two thousand dollars of borrowed money in my pocket, I did what any naïve 21 year-old, eager to solve the problems of the universe would do: I bought Darren a bus ticket home. I even bought the dude a ticket to the movies next door to the Greyhound station so he could kill some time while he was waiting the three hours for his bus to leave. I drove away from the bus station feeling great, like I’d really helped somebody out.
I went to Europe, had an enchanting five weeks in Austria and Germany with Celeste, and came back jobless and in debt but in love and happy to be alive. I immediately began an all-out assault on the job market, desperate to join the ranks of that elite class of society known as The Employed. While driving around looking for anyone reckless enough to hire such an unfledged bohemian, I came off the same freeway off-ramp and to my great surprise, saw Darren standing there—same dude, different sign. And though I felt I might regret it, I did it anyway. I couldn’t help myself. I turned around, picked him up (again) and took him to lunch (again). Darren didn’t seem to remember me. I told him that I was the kid who bought him the ticket to San Diego about six weeks earlier and I didn’t mind telling him that I was a little pissed off that he was still stranded in Utah when I had paid his way home. I asked him why he didn’t go to San Diego. He said he’d lost his bus ticket while at the movies. I told him that I felt that he’d taken advantage of me. He just sort of shrugged and went about eating his Big Mac. We went our separate ways.
In the years that followed, I’d see Darren now and again. His hair would be longer and he’d grown a beard. Every time that I saw him, he looked older. Time on the street was certainly not being kind to him. Still, I couldn’t judge Darren too harshly. I couldn’t help but worry about this guy, this homeless guy I didn’t really know. Darren didn’t seem all the way right in his mind, you know? How could someone who probably needed institutional help be out there at the mercy of the streets? And in some way, in my mind he put a real face to the entire homelessness blight, something which feels bigger than me to help. And I guess that was the deeper realization for this naïve kid who thought he could somehow fix the world’s problems with a little money: that homelessness is bigger than buying someone a Big Mac and or even springing for a Greyhound ticket for somebody. And looking back, I guess I have also learned that it’s not bad to try. Even if the results are different than what you’d hoped for. I guess I learned that the answer isn’t to stop trying, but to try in better ways. How could I not try when Darren in out there somewhere?
And yes, years later, even though I think it’s wisest to donate time or money to the shelter, I still can’t resist giving a few coins to someone down on their luck. And though I wouldn’t do it again, I don’t regret buying Darren a Greyhound ticket to San Diego. And yes, I hope Darren gets what he deserves: happiness, a warm meal, and the chance to be with the people he loves. I’m not the less for trying. Nor am I a saint. Who knows, someday if I’m down and out, maybe some guy named Darren will buy be a Big Mac and a ticket back home.
I believe the entrance into compassion for the outside world is to first develop a ready and familiar compassion for Self. Yoga is the best way I know to honor and nurture all aspects of Self. It may seem oblique, but in this light, coming to yoga practice or practicing yoga on your own is a powerful preliminary to helping solve the world’s problems. It doesn’t preclude us from lifting a finger in other ways, it just helps us lift said finger from the place of a clear mind, strong body, and a pure heart.
Simon Park is visiting from Philadelphia this week and so my classes at Prana will be canceled. But come and have an amazing experience with Simon. He is one of the most amazing presenters I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shoveling Snow With Buddha

This poem is called Shoveling Snow With Buddha by Billy Collins. Perfect for this time of year.

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over a mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word
for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.
In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,
one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,
I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,
me with my commentary
and he inside his generous pocket of silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,
can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk
and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck.
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes
and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.