Monday, October 28, 2013


What are the masks that we all hide behind? And what is behind those layers? It's Halloween. We get the thrill of putting on a mask and dressing up as something other than ourselves because we love to live out a persona. Especially when the mask is in stark contrast to one's true character: the most docile person in the office dressing up as the Wicked Witch of the West or your mom dressing up like Rambo. We have our laughs, we make the jokes, we revel in the fun. Yet the moment comes later that night when we are alone at the bathroom sink, the wig comes off, we wash off the makeup, and once we've rinsed our face, we lift our gaze and take a good, hard look at the fresh face in the mirror. There you are, staring right back into your own eyes, almost surprised to see that face again. What is behind all those layers?

It's like we are all dressed as mummies, wrapped with layers of things that hide our true form, layers of identity of what I think I am: my profession, my opinions, cynicism, emotions, tensions, attachments, preferences, and prejudices. Those are a mask. To see the mummy in all its bandages is a poor likeness of the radiant being beneath. And yoga is the practice of peeling off the bandages, even just a little, to see what's between the layers. We've all had a look at one time or another. It's brilliant. It's both the most simple and sublime yet natural thing ever.  I believe that I may never get to see fully what's under my layers, but I hope for enough of those small glimpses of the real stuff that I may begin to piece together a sense of what my True Self looks like.  

Sometimes it's hard to take off that mask, especially if we've worn it for a long time and we've come to identify with it a bit too much; the adhesive was a little too effective and it hurts to rip it off. This is the point of our practice: becoming familiar enough with what's underneath the layers that identifying with anything other than our True Self seems as absurd as the ninja outfit we were wearing. And with a little skill, we learn to look at others and see what's behind their mask, because we've seen a glimpse of the same stuff in ourselves. We all have the mask and that's part of the practice, too-learning to see the mask as just that and laugh and enjoy the fun, just like a Halloween party, because we all know there is something more radiant beneath. And somehow we can see a resemblance of it even in the mask.

I love sincere people because I never feel like they are putting on a show. I know where I stand with them because there's no act. At the bottom of sincerity, I believe, rests honesty. Truth. While I love to joke around as much as the next person, I really love sincerity. May we all seek for sincerity in being and learn to see past our own and everybody else's mask. In this way we can show true love and compassion and togetherness. May we all embrace each other, laughing, knowing that something brighter than the mask is dancing beneath the surface. And may we all be brave enough to rip off the mask, to peek between our mummy wrap, and practice seeing our own radiance.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Is Your Heart's Gift to the World?

What is your heart’s gift for the world? What is that thing that you are really good at? Your heart’s gift to the world could be that you are a fantastic parent and are consistently bringing light into this world by the efforts you make in that realm. Maybe you are a writer and your gift is to touch people in that way. You could be a really great teacher or maybe you are funny or compassionate. Maybe you are a great listener, or a therapist, or a scientist, who knows? But everybody has something that allows them to contribute to the brightness and beauty of this world in a way that is unique. Your heart’s gift for the world can be developed and can change over time, sure, but knowing what your heart’s gift to the world is can be a gift to yourself. 

Knowing your heart’s gift for the world helps you to prioritize and organize our energies and attention in ways that are fulfilling and purposeful and satisfying. Could you imagine if Monet was too busy mowing the lawn to bother with mastering his art? And sure, everybody’s gotta mow the lawn once in a while but once you understand what your gift is you find will ways to make your contribution to the world regular and meaningful, you will sign up for that art class, you will start carrying your camera with you wherever you go, you will finally submit your poetry to that literary magazine.

Maybe we are not sure exactly what our heart’s gift to the world is. Practices like meditation and yoga help bring clarity and insight to our minds and hearts about our gifts. And maybe our work is to discover or refine what that gift is. Once you are aware of your heart’s gift to the world, begin to dedicate yourself to the improvement and expression of it. It’s not just about being good at something, it’s your purpose for being here, and everything you do is contribution to or a distraction from that thing. With practice, we can allow the different energies and excitements of our day to further contribute to that gift and the sharing of that gift. You will exit a movie and have 19 new ideas for an art project. You will go on a walk and somehow along the way you will mentally stumble upon the solution to a problem you’ve been having in your science lab. You’ll see a beautiful sunset and the ensuing emotions will inspire you to go home and practice being a loving partner or parent. 

This week, I invite you to take a few minutes every day to sit, close your eyes, and meditate on the question, what is your heat’s gift to the world? Come to yoga with this intention to cultivate, understand, or discover your heart’s gift to the world. Then in the practice of every-day living, allow the experiences of your life to further inspire you to share that gift.

Monday, October 7, 2013


The Yoga Sutras is a book written by an ancient yoga scholar, Patanjali, (200 AD) which outlines much of the philosophy of the practice of yoga. A major principle in the Yoga Sutras is the principle of Avidya, or misapprehension. In Sanskrit, the word Vidya means to see clearly. Avidya is the opposite of clear seeing. Unfortunately our human experience is rife with Avidya, this unclear seeing. I believe that one of our major lessons in this earthly existence is to learn to recognize our Avidya and enlighten ourselves by simply learning to see clearly.  
Seeing clearly precedes good judgment. The world exists. Things just are. We all translate what is and color it with judgment: good, bad, right, wrong. Often, our judgment of the world, our misapprehension, prevents us from seeing what is and makes us see only what we believe about what is.

An old story goes like this: Once, a man was walking through the jungle at night and was very afraid of being eaten by a tiger. He heard something coming toward him and knew that it was a tiger so he pulled out his knife. When the animal stepped out onto the path in front of him, he immediately stabbed it and it fell dead. Only after he killed it did he realize that he had killed his best friend. His Avidya prevented him from seeing what truly was and caused death and suffering.  
With the practice of yoga we can learn to place a little space between occurrence and judgment. With this space we reduce our Avidya by practicing seeing things as they are and not how we judge them. The principle of reducing our Avidya is not about being emotionless and dispassionate, but rather learning to stop our judgment for a moment and attempt to see things as they are before making a mindful next step. 
A simple but effective way of practicing Vidya, clear seeing, is by doing a simple form of meditation which I learned from my teachers and which I call the There Is Practice. You can do this anywhere and while doing anything but one way to do it is by simply sitting comfortably with a cushion on the floor (a chair or couch works nice, too), close your eyes and acknowledge all the things you are currently experiencing with the phrase There Is. "There is the sound of traffic. There is apprehension. There is a 20-pound cat sitting in my lap and licking my big toe." Anything you sense, feel, think, do, point to it with the phrase, "There Is. . ." Try to erase the personal pronoun "I, Me, or My" from what you perceive. This tends to change our apprehension of what is as something that is only in relationship to ourselves. The There Is practice is about seeing things just how they are without our own personal judgment getting in the way. It allows permission for the world to be the way it is and not just the way I think it should be. I like to set a timer and practice until the timer rings. Start with10 minutes and increase the time as you like.
I invite you to practice Vidya this week by coming to yoga and also practicing the There Is practice. With more accurate perception, we will be less reactive and more mindful in our decisions. With practices like yoga and the There Is practice we reduce our Avidya and begin to see the world and what really is.