When you are quiet, you are the source of peace.

zen-509371_1280

I believe we are genetically programmed to want enlightenment.

We are bliss-seeking creatures, and we’ve heard good things about nirvana.

The absence of suffering and confusion.

Absolute clarity.

But clarity sorta sucks. Sometimes it brings the suffering of others into excruciating focus. You’re hit with a barrage of emotions, and then clarity is gone.

You have to learn to be still amid the chaos, to avoid stirring up all the shit, to look life in the eye and say, “okay,” and let go.

So that’s why I meditate.

Because I am a shameless spiritual junkie. Because someone said life is suffering, and I’m the kid trying to prove them wrong. Because I know if I am still, right here and now, I can find quiet. Because I just got back from a week-long visit with my family, and I didn’t fight with my dad or anything! Because I was looking for truth and someone said, “inquire within,” and it’s by far the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever been given.

In just a few days, I’m offering my first Introduction to Meditation workshop at Shakti Studio in Arnold, MD, and I would love beyond words to have you there.

Here’s how you register:

Go to this link. You will probably be prompted to create an account. Do that, and then you’ll see the class schedule, etc. Click the “Workshops” tab at the top of the page, and you’ll see several workshop descriptions including the “Introduction to Meditation.” Click the blue button that says, “Sign up now!” Follow the instructions from there.

Also, join the Facebook event for the workshop so we can get in touch. There, you can ask me questions if needed or get in touch with other workshop participants.

If you have any trouble signing up, please send me a note or just show up early so we can get you all squared away.

xoxo

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If You’re Afraid of Disappointing People

A Prism of Shadows: Self-portrait in Front of A Brick Wall

If you’re afraid of disappointing people
come here.
It’s not your job to make them happy.
If they can’t be happy, it’s not your fault.
And by “they” I mean your parents.
And your priest.
And God.
Because if God can’t be happy then who the fuck can?
You don’t need to worry about disappointing God or anyone.
You’re not the only one who ever failed.
In fact, you are just like everyone else.
We all fuck up.
We are all lost.
We are all on a very big adventure.
Decide your life is something you’d like to enjoy.
Decide that you have the right to enjoy it.
Take the appropriate actions.
Go to a fucking yoga class.
Go to therapy if you’re too uptight to do yoga.
Do not drown your sorrows.
They need air.
Catch your breath.
Get grounded.
Imagine growing roots through your feet.
Stand like you believe
you are someone.

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Yoga Sutra 1.2: Quieting the Mind

Yoga Sutra 1.2

YOGAŚ CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

I’m studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali again these days because sometimes I need to remind myself of why I practice yoga and why I teach it. Although I’ve been steeped in yogic practice and philosophy for nearly half my life, sometimes life gets chaotic, and I lose focus. On this latest return to the sutras, I’ve been moved to write some reflections on them. I’m no sanskrit scholar or philosopher, but the great thing about the sutras is that you don’t have to be those things to learn from them. They have something to offer us at every stage of our practice. I’ve written before about sutra 1.1, so today I want to share my reflection on sutra 1.2.

Yogas citta vritti nirodhah.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

The mind is a busy thing. It is always moving. Even when we sleep, the mind is fluctuating, making up little stories, tossing flashes of color and light around, reenacting or inventing conversations and scenes that feel like reality while we’re experiencing them. Only when we wake up do we realize our dreams were “just dreams,” no matter how real they felt. We’ve all heard of lucid dreaming, right? Some people learn to recognize that they are dreaming while it’s happening, and that changes the dream. Similarly, we become lucid in our waking life when we learn to tell the difference between what is real and what is just mental noise.

If I experience anxiety, I might have all kinds of crazy scary thoughts. I might think the world is a terrible place, no one loves me, and I’m doomed to be a failure. But the practice of yoga is about cultivating the awareness to ask, “What’s really going on here? I feel panicked but I don’t know why. The thoughts I’m having are unreasonable. They’re not an accurate reflection of reality. Perhaps I could choose to think something else.”

The same practice can be applied to many areas of life. If you’re driving and someone cuts you off, you get mad, right? You think, “Wow, that guy drives like a jerk! Why didn’t he look where he was going? And then he had the nerve to honk when I passed him! I hate people.” But you know the way someone else drives doesn’t have anything to do with you. And in reality, you probably don’t hate everyone. The truth is, we may feel and think a lot of different things depending on our circumstances, and while we can’t always control our circumstances, we have a choice about how we respond to them. We can choose to indulge negative, fatalistic, and panicked thoughts, or we can let them go.

Our perception of reality is strongly colored by our choice of thoughts. This is one of the simplest truths in the world and one of the hardest things to remember when the going gets tough. That’s why we have our yoga practice to use as a tool. Asana (poses) helps us create the link between mind and body. This helps us to stay present in the moment and to gain control over the fluctuations of the mind. As we create a state of ease and health in the body, we also create a sense of peace and quiet in the mind. Only when the mind is quiet can we begin to experience true yoga or union.

So … How can I apply this to my life right now? Having recently been struck with a sneak attack of the flu, I need to slow down and be quiet for a while. Rather than pushing harder, teaching more classes, perfecting harder poses and so forth, I need to reconnect with that deep well presence. I’ve been pursuing the career side of things, the outwardly visible trappings of so-called success rather than focusing on my own basic wellbeing. That’s essentially the opposite of what my yoga practice is all about, so even though it may look like I’m doing tons of yoga, keeping up this pace for too long can become counter productive. Luckily, this little virus came just in time to put me back in line without doing too much damage. Now, it’s time for more self-care, rest, and quiet reflection.

Peace!

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Spiritual Anarchy and Fallen Gurus

Anarchy Flower (detail)
Yep, we’re going there.
The yoga community has seen an awful lot of corruption in the past few years, and I know I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

Bikram Choudhury was recently accused of rape, and his teachings in general have long been a source of conflict in the yoga community. Kausthub Desikachar has been revealed as an abusive sociopath and disavowed by his teachers. John Friend has apparently committed fraud and alienated most of his students. Some would say these are sad times we live in, but I say: Welcome to reality.

Yoga teachers or any other type of teachers are not enlightened beings sent to earth to show you the way. We experience lust, fear, confusion, and all those other complicated human emotions. And we can be corrupted. Absolutely anyone with any amount of power or influence over others is capable of becoming too comfortable and too greedy.

We know that the practice of yoga can give people incredible mental and physical benefits, that we feel more peaceful when we practice and so on, but that doesn’t mean we become perfect. Never assume that anyone, even the most saintly teacher, is perfect. Never blindly follow. Open your eyes and consider what you are being told and reject what doesn’t ring true.

Lots of leaders and teachers in every field (politics, religion, and even science) try to boost their own authority by essentially invalidating your perceptions. They say, “I know better than you, and you should listen to me without question.” That way of teaching is dangerous because while it may impart some valuable ideas, it also invalidates the student’s primary source of knowledge — herself.

The Catholic church says if you don’t accept all the official beliefs of the church you’re not really Catholic. Of course, I know plenty Catholics who pick and choose which of the church’s teachings are most helpful and applicable in their lives, and I think it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do. They practice birth control. They accept their gay children. They don’t go to church every Sunday. That’s ok in my mind. It’s their religion, and they get to practice it the way they want.

Yoga is the same way. You get to decide what you believe and how to practice it. If a teacher tells you some philosophy that doesn’t jive with your reality, ignore it. If you’re asked to do a pose that doesn’t work in your body, simply decline. This is your life, and you get to live it.

I guess you could say I believe in a certain kind of anarchy. We participate in society to prevent mob rule, but it’s essential that we do not become sheep, too easily lead to slaughter. There is no person who has real moral authority over you. No teacher, preacher or political leader has any moral authority that you cannot have over yourself. All of them can be wrong and should be subject to frequent questioning.

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Weekly Assignment: Meditate

meditation

Meditation is both easy and hard. It’s easy because all you have to do is sit there. No training or talent is required to get started. It’s hard because your mind will be bouncing off the walls, and you might really feel like you’re going to lose it. Sound fun? Ok, now sit.

Find a comfortable place, sit up straight without any strain in the body. Spend your first few minutes just settling in to how it feels to sit there. Tune in to the breath, relax the belly, relax the jaw. Smooth the point between your eyebrows. Take this moment to be fully present in your own body and your own experience.

Sit for as long as you can. When you’re ready to move again, take a moment to acknowledge your effort and maybe even set an intention for yourself for the day. Take your hands to your heart in prayer pose or Anjali mudra, and give a little bow to yourself and to the universe in gratitude for this very moment. Then let it go, and go on with your day.

Now, do this every day for a week. It doesn’t have to be for any particular amount of time, but you might find that you enjoy sitting for slightly longer each time you try. You don’t have to do it at a certain time every day, but you might find it easiest or the most beneficial if you do it every morning before starting your day or every evening when you finish your work.

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