Monday, April 29, 2013

Neither Guru Nor Saint

I'm not interested in what it takes to be a saint or a guru. I find myself much too busy with the impossible challenge of being human. I suppose I'm t
oo busy learning to listen, to see, to smell, to taste, to touch, to love, to worry about anything less noble. To hell with it! It's about two things: you and me. It's about coming together and sharing this moment of life together. We share all kinds of togetherness. You could all name a few, but the way I love and know the most to experience this unity is by practicing yoga together. Yoga is about exploring ourselves, together, here and now. I don't care who has the shiniest yoga studio or how many people want to come and practice there or who is the guru or who is the saint. Bigger than any of that is the commitment of being real. When all the bullshit is stripped away, magic can happen—the magic of humanity, the magic of this moment. From this firm ground of what's real, we can step past illusion and pretense and into the sacred privilege of being human.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston and Big Wheels

I was about to send out my newsletter for this week but was rocked with the news of the Boston Marathon Bombing which made me want to change my message. At the news of the bombing, I was shaken, dismayed, confused, and worried. In the face of such horror, I think it’s easy for anyone to become reactive with fear, anger, scarcity, and to become insular and closed off. But I think an alternative way of being, a way that speaks to everyone’s higher selves, rather than being reactive, might be to be responsive, a quality characterized with compassion, concern, assertive action, openness, acceptance, and inclusiveness. My deep wish is that such violence never occurs, however if it does, let this tragedy be a catalyst to wake us from mindlessly living an insular life, thinking we are separate from our neighbor, and let’s call upon our higher selves to raise those around us, to open our hearts to a greater capacity of love, and to improve our community rather than perpetuate the negativity of such horror with thoughts of vicious retribution and fear.

It’s natural to feel completely rocked by such a horrific event. And for the sake of personal and collective healing, I invite you to start close in, with yourself. First, ground yourself through affirming practices like yoga and meditation. Allow the introspection of these practices to be the tool to help you recognize all the ways your heart, mind, and body feel about the event. You start by simply acknowledging the fear, anger, grief, prejudice, etc. Rather than ignoring those things, welcome them, recognizing them as a part of you. Then simply position your self-awareness as the witness to those things. Use the meditation and observation qualities of yoga to find the bigger part of yourself, the part that is larger than those reactive emotions, the part of you that can be responsive, and the part of you that acknowledges your own innate goodness, the same innate goodness that everyone has. Then I invite you to expand your practice off your mat to touch those around you. See the world with its beauty, love, and inherent perfection, the way you might look at a 4-year old. Get involved. Send love. Practice compassion. Meditate and pray for not only those injured in the blast but also the neighbor next door to you who is sick or just lost a loved one to something completely different than what happened in Boston.

Viewing people in their innate perfection and innocence is what I wanted to talk about this week. I want to
talk about a monumental race I had. It was the first race I ever “competed” in. I was 4. It was a big deal. Literally. It was Big Wheel race. At this race I remember a whole slew of little tikes on their Big Wheels poised to roll around a course set up just for us. At the starting line, under that hot summer morning’s sun, I looked around with happy curiosity to all the other kids. Some of the kids had shiny, new Big Wheels. Some had rugged and worn Big Wheels, used, but in that cool, tough way. I looked at these worn bikes (a generous euphemism for this three-wheeled, close-to-the-ground, impossible-to-roll, kids-rig) and I imagined these tough kids doing incredible stunts on their bikes, like Evel Knievel, jumping the Grand
Canyon and landing with dust flying, their plastic wheels skidding and making smoke as the crowd cheered and slapped high fives out of sheer exuberance and raw excitement. My brother and I are twins and looking back now I see how appropriate it was that we had CHiPs-themed Big Wheels. Of the totally boss dynamic duo, I was Ponch, of course—no, I was John!—no, I change my mind, I was Ponch. At four years old, the concept of a race didn’t really sink in. And I’m sure our parents felt the same way I did, which was not to see who could roll around the course and be first back to the finishing line, but to have a heap of fun on Big Wheels.

Every kid and their bike was unique. Some kids had streamers furling off their handle bars, some kids had stickers on their bikes, some kids sported big orange safety flags off the rear of their bikes. Now, my brother and I had something very special about our bikes—something none of the other bikes had, something that distinguished our bikes and us, the riders of those bikes, from ALL other kids in the world (as far as my 4-year old mind knew). We had mounted on the handle bars of our bikes (get ready for this)  . . . battery-operated police sirens. Yep. (I’ll let that sink in a minute). . . So, armed with this unstoppable weapon of awesomeness, I had a plan. When the dude with the flag said, “go!” my plan was to roll around like crazy all over the place, get as much mileage as I could, and from the very first push of the pedal, I would hammer down on that siren and blaze around that course like no one had ever seen a Big Wheel roll. And that’s exactly what I did. And so did my brother. We were Ponch and John unleashed (although I was Ponch). We wheeled, and skidded, and swerved and surely didn’t go in the “right direction” or maintain the designated course. Didn’t matter. What mattered was that I was pedaling my guts out and making that cool sound with my siren. After all, I was Ponch (not John) from CHiPs on a Big Wheel. Eventually the “race” stopped and we stepped away from our bikes, ecstatic with the bliss of our ride, and ran into the loving arms of our parents. And even though I had the coolest siren in the world on my bike, I didn’t feel like I was any better than any other kid. I was completely blissed out in the fact that all of us were out there having a great time. I mean we got to parade our bikes around, and did I mention that siren?!

Back when I was 4, the goal wasn’t to be first, it wasn’t to be the best. It was to celebrate what was unique about myself and let that ring loud and long while having onehellova time. I feel like somewhere along the way of development or social conditioning we lose that. We evolve to feel like we’ve got to be better than the next guy, more affluent, better looking, better at yoga poses, more knowledgeable or whatever. We even compete with ourselves. I do it. I’m about to run a half marathon this weekend and already I’m thinking of whether I’m going to beat my personal best time. The alternative might be to enjoy the run and do my best, try my hardest, and cross the finish line whenever I do, pump my fists in the air and remember the joy in the struggle. Then, I’ll drink some Gatorade and do pigeon pose, cuz that’s what I do.

I’m not suggesting we stop the wonderful trajectory of personal growth. In fact the inverse is true: I proffer that we stop personal growth when we do things to merely compete with others. To be something in relationship to someone else says nothing real about you. There is always someone else better or worse than you. It doesn’t matter. Instead, yoga teaches us to celebrate being where and who you are. I can’t do
Hanumanasana, full splits, and that’s just Truth with a capital T. I continue to practice that pose, not because there is any accomplishment to being able to “do it,” but because I appreciate loosening my hamstrings after running and because it really focuses my mind to experience my comfortable edge. When I started my yoga practice, I couldn’t touch my toes in a forward fold. Now I can and I’m here to tell you that life isn’t any better. Be the best and most authentic version of you. That’s what will allow you to naturally grow. Presence means being willing to step up to wherever your comfortable edge is, regardless of where you were last week or where you hope to be next week.

So this Saturday, as I run the Salt Lake City Half Marathon,  instead of a trying to beat anyone, maybe I could look around at the other competitors and try to see them the way they looked when they were 4, at the starting line of a Big Wheel race. And sure, instead of pimped-out bikes, we’ll be sporting our favorite running shoes and special race-day running outfit. Somehow, there’s not much of a difference, there. Seeing others and myself in this light, there will be nobody to beat, nothing to win. Instead, especially after what happened on Monday in Boston, what if I just supported everybody along the way with encouragement and enthusiasm for the privilege of a healthy body and a strong spirit. As a responsive approach to Monday’s tragedy, I invite you to do the same, go out and support the runners of the Salt Lake Marathon. Help build this community. You might even see me run by your house or neighborhood. Or maybe you’ll hear me. I’ll be the one with the CHiPs siren.