You Had It All Along

When you look up into the immensity of the night sky filled with stars, maybe a planet visible, what importance or meaning do you put there?

When you look at a happy, giggling baby, what do you see and feel?

When you look past the shore of an ocean out to the horizon where the sea meets the sky in an indistinguishable line of blues, what do you envision?

When you hear the chanting of Hindu sadhus, of Muslim imams reciting the Koran, of rabbis, cantors, priests, bishops and cardinals bellowing out prayers, what response do you observe in yourself?

When you walk through cemeteries or participate in the burial of a loved one, what significance or meaning do you put to the scenario?

We put whatever importance we want to any given moment in time, an importance that somehow fulfills a need in us. A need to defend our beliefs, to change or alter them, to lay them to rest and to adopt new ones. But we see and interpret what we want to. The world as you know it is a construct of your own mind.

Consequently, whatever you fear is in large part a construct of your mind. It is adaptable to change, as adaptable as it was when that fear first landed into a mind that had not associated fear with that particular experience or stimulus. You want change? Then look at your situation differently.

You can look at the night sky in all its splendor and see the impossibility of infinity and oblivion, randomness and chaos just waiting to swallow up this earth and all its inhabitants, or you can see the miracle of what we can barely grasp and the beauty of that not-knowingness.

You can look at a smiling, gurgling baby and feel the fear of the responsibility associated to ensuring the well-being of something so helpless and vulnerable, or you can see the possibilities associated to this beautiful bundle of joy and its potential to grow, learn, lead and inspire us all.

You can experience a funeral ceremony as the grief-drenched ending of the beauty your relationship with the deceased has been, or you can see it as the transformation of what was into what is, with the excitement of seeing what will follow, as no cycle ends without another one beginning, holding the promise of beauty to come.

This entire dream of “life” is just that, a dream. If you don’t like the dream you’re dreaming, change the filter you’re seeing it through. All you need is the knowledge that you have always been able to do it, but you were never told. I’m telling you. Now you know.

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Authoring A New Year

As the cycle that was named “2017” comes to its end, and “2018” makes its entrance, here are some intentions to commit to instead of relegating to the realm of the forgotten after a few weeks into the new year.

1) Do your best, as often as possible, to focus on what’s going well instead of what seems to be going wrong. Do this more often when things seem dismal or hopeless. This is it. It’s now. The good and the bad, the uplifting and the horrifying, the light and the dark. It’s all occurring simultaneously. Despite everything that we object to, we have the choice as to whether we spend all our time obsessing over the infuriating or whether we remember to also focus on what co-exists with the infuriating, which is the beauty, the kindness, the connection and the love we all seek.

2) Balance out the time you spend doing with the time you spend being. This means letting yourself have the down-time, or “gap-time” (to quote my late teacher Joan Ruvinsky), necessary to change your thought and behavioural patterns from the constant rhythm they are used to. Let me clear here, this does not mean incorporating some practice you think you should be doing, like meditation or yoga, if that practice will simply be something else you do, but which does not facilitate unplugging from everything else you do. Let yourself simply be, as yourself, with nothing else to do, with nothing else to fix.

3) Make more and more time in your schedules to put your passions ahead of your obligations, and do this consistently and unwaveringly.

4) Welcome all adversity and fear as the life lessons in which you are meant to learn what you’ll need to be armed with for future stages of your journey. Instead of putting the blinders on and just trying to survive through life’s darkest moments, infuse light into them by understanding that you have a choice as to how you respond to them. You do not have to be held hostage by them. Take a deep breath, face what has manifested with your head held high, and keep asking yourself, “What am I meant to learn from this?”, because there is always something to glean from what induces suffering.

5) Disregard what other people believe are “best practices.” Best practices are for sheep who want to conform to other people’s structures and rules in order to attain what is deemed as success in other people’s eyes. Do it your way, how you feel compelled to make it happen, whatever it is.

6) One of life’s truths is that not everyone does their best to be kind, to be generous, to uplift and inspire in the name of the betterment of the world. Some people are just hell-bent on contributing to chaos and destruction. Recognize these people, especially when they present themselves as part of the solution in order to get more power with which to destroy. Recognize them, call them out, speak up against them, keep a watchful eye on them, and then disregard them. They would like us all to focus on them, because any attention is better than no attention. Don’t let them disrupt your peace, your contentment, your intention to be part of the solution.

7) Be kinder.

8) Laugh more and laugh harder.

9) Speak your truth and speak up if you’re not being heard.

10) Consider that these days are golden. Appreciate them, regardless of everything you may believe is going wrong.

All the best for a happy, healthy year ahead!

We’re Still Here – One Night Only with Bram Levinson at the Rialto Theatre

I am beyond excited to finally announce that I will be doing my own show/speaking engagement at the historic Rialto Theatre in Montreal! After years of lecturing in yoga studios, convention centers and festivals, I’m proud to bring what I do to the theatre, especially one that has played a part in my life and is a Montreal landmark and institution.

Event description:

For one night only, Montreal-based author and teacher Bram Levinson is taking his wisdom, irreverence and humour to the stage. Join him for an evening of insight, laughter and exploration into life, family, love and what it means to be spiritually awake in today’s world. Brandishing his usual refreshing, deeply personal, edgy approach and sense of humour, stories will be told, wisdom will be shared through his experiences and perspective, and inspiration will be what’s left after everything is said and done. Don’t miss this one night with Bram at the historical Rialto Theatre!

Date: Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Doors Open: 19h/7pm
Show Time: 19h30/7:30pm

Box Office/Tickets: $40+taxes, available through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/were-still-here-one-night-only-with-bram-levinson-tickets-38155077865

Special thanks to Mandy’s, the sole sponsor for this event!

Photos courtesy of John Dabarno Photography,
https://www.smashingpixel.com/blog/rialtotheatre

Paros Musings Pt 3

I just woke up after the deepest sleep I’ve had here over the last two weeks, and as usual, the dogs are barking in a call and response manner, the roosters are crowing (don’t get excited, they do it all day, every day…even a broken clock accurately tells the time twice a day), and the birds are chirping. But instead of just taking it all in, the thought, “It’s the last day” came hurdling through my mind, and with it the onslaught of emotions.

This year’s group of people is a special one. Every year I fall right into the community we create, and every year I feel all the big feels when it’s time to splinter apart and go back into the world to resume where we left off just over a week ago. My hope is that those people who join me for these trips around the world find something unique and worth integrating into their lives, and then go back home and do exactly that. Last night one of the students here texted me to let me know that, “Need you to know this experience has changed my life.” And I couldn’t reply because even though that’s my intention in putting myself out into the world, I get so emotional when it actually happens that I can hardly put into words a response that conveys my gratitude and emotions.

For those of you who are still here, sleeping for the next few minutes before you get up to take our last yoga class together in Paros for this year, I want to thank you. Thank you for taking a risk and coming here for this event, because I know every single one of you did. Whether your risk was a financial one, whether it was related to leaving your family or your kids for this length of time, whether it was related to asking for time off, for yourself, to travel and get some introspection time, or whether it was related to joining a group of people you didn’t know to share an experience you couldn’t have envisioned, I thank you. Know that for me to execute my dharma in this life, I need other people to be on the receiving end of what I put out into the world, and your presence here closes the circle for me and for us all. Thank you for taking your risks. I hope that it either continues the pattern of doing so, or instigates a new one that reminds us all of the glory that is possible when we jump beyond our comfort zones.

I’m going to be the most unprofessional mess of emotions and childish “I don’t want this to end” thoughts today. But I know that although it may feel like the end of something, in actuality, for every single one of us, it really is a new beginning of sorts. I hate to sound like a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. I wish you all the highest of life’s highs, the wisdom to navigate the lowest of life’s lows, and the presence of mind to know your Self and your potency as you make your way forward. Know that I am here for you all, wherever we may be in any given moment, and always remember this time we had. No one could know exactly how beautiful is has been, and still is. Only us. Take the energy of our community and the beauty of Paros and bring it back with you.

With gratitude and so. much. LOVE,

Bxx

Paros Musings 2017 Pt 2

It’s 5am and I’m awake listening to the roosters and the dogs calling their existences into the pitch black night. Students and friends have begun to arrive for our yoga event that officially kicks off tomorrow, and after showing one of them around last night and hearing her constantly remark about how peaceful it is here, I flippantly remarked how there’s always one night every September where a wedding occurs in the area. And it’s a full-on Greek wedding. The music starts blaring for allllll to hear around 9 or 10pm and lasts until the wee hours of the morning. That conversation occurred at 10:30pm.

The music just stopped at 4:50am. This couldn’t even be scripted. And, ironically, I only woke up when the music stopped. I think that I may be an honorary Greek, after passing this final initiation stage.

And so I’m awake, reflecting. This kind of late-night introspection never happens anywhere else in the world. It is part of how my soul lands here. I effortlessly begin to look back, something I almost rarely do in this way, one that’s devoid of judgement and which is purely observational. And in these early hours of the morning, I’m taking stock of the people who have given me the breaks that have allowed them to see who I really am and what I’m actually capable of, aspects of myself that aren’t visible superficially.

I’ve always known there was something bigger than what I had been exposed to that was waiting for me, ever since I was young. It was because of that knowing that conventional education did very little for me and seemingly asked everything of me. As soon as I could gauge that whatever I was studying was not going to bring me towards that sense of purpose and greatness I knew lay in wait, I left in pursuit of more illuminated avenues. But we judge each other based on the superficial details that the commonly accepted avenues of our culture guide us towards, and believe me when I say that for the first 35 years of my life, I can count on one hand the number of people who saw in me what I knew was there. I take full responsibility for it, as I didn’t understand what form it would take, and so I couldn’t raise my voice and ask anyone to believe in what I could not name, and so know that I have earned my place in the world, I have worked to get where I am. No American Idol/The Voice bullshit here. I earned it by trusting that I knew better than the pressure I felt to just shut up and get a 9-5 job working for someone else to profit off of. That could never represent security to me, on the contrary. That life would kill me.

There are people who have, however, elevated me so that I could make my way down this winding, often bleak, path. My grandmother, Lillian Berlin, who always reminded me that cream rose to the top and that I was that cream. Danielle Cossette, my 6th grade French teacher, who made me valedictorian as my grade finished primary school and left for high school. Rick Hinojosa, who gave me a job at his boutique Juan & Juanita back in 1995 and allowed me to begin earning financially during a time when I felt left behind by the educational system. Jennifer Maagendans, a dear friend and owner of Luna Yoga, who gave me my first job in yoga and one of the most efficient, on-the-job yoga teacher trainings that could never be offered to the public. Kaeleigh Doherty, a friend and then-Lululemon employee who told me that her store wanted me as an ambassador and that they would wait for me to finish my first training to then take me on. The Lululemon team who got me teaching at Wanderlust all those years ago, and who flew me around Canada for mind-blowing ambassador summits. The Wanderlust team who help me up my game with every gig. Kreg Weiss, who gunned for me professionally and who encouraged me to get in touch with Ruth van der Voort at the Toronto Yoga Conference. And these are just the people that come to mind now, at 5:30am.

To those people who let me do my thing and simply held space for it, know that you have my gratitude forever. You have encouraged me to keep finding my way, and I know there are more massive milestones ahead. Keep an eye out, because some of the stuff I’m working on for the near future, like what has unrolled so far, will be unlike anything that could be expected. Because that’s how I’m supposed to do this, authentically and with certainty.

It’s also how you are supposed to do you. Consider that all these words are meant to reflect back to you what’s possible, to keep looking for the ones who will give you a break as you find your way forward your own way, unapologetically and uniquely yourself. Work hard, earn it, be the best version of yourself possible, and don’t give up. Give others their breaks so that energy can come back to you. Live big. And trust that it’s all possible. Because it is.

Paros Musings 2017

I’m lying in bed at 3am after getting a solid 3 hours of sleep following 36 hours of transit with a full 15 minutes of snooze time getting to Greece. This world traveler couldn’t sleep on a plane if his life depended on it, and so after the coma-like slumber I fell into at 9:30pm wore off, here I am back on Montreal time.

The balcony doors are open overlooking the sea and the island of Naxos on this full-moon night, and floating directly above the island, in my line of sight from my bed, are the bottom three stars of the Little Dipper. They’re twinkling at me, playing games with my eyes as I try to focus on them, only to have them dance around and have me question the stability of their placement in the universe (as well as my 43+ year vision.) Before I know what’s happening, my index finger has floated up and I’m tracing the line of this constellation, careful not to wake up my husband, who has just fallen asleep, long after I did at 9:30pm. *** TANGENT ALERT*** I find it odd calling him my husband. Male same-sex couples need a new term to refer to each counterpart, me thinks. Boyfriend is ridiculous, as if we’re in the initial stages of dating and are still trying to show each other how much of a keeper we each are. Life Partner doesn’t sit well with me either, as if we’re going yachting on weekends in our topsiders and referring to life as “grand.” I guess husband will have to do for the time being. He’s my husband, and I’m his. I’ll let it lie for now. By the way, this is what the cultural influences of the 70’s and 80’s have resulted in, so maybe I should stop praying for a linguistic revolution and just own my fucking happiness. #thingsnogaymantalksabout ***TANGENT ENDED***

Back to the Little Dipper (no euphemism insinuated.) I’m so happy to be back here in Paros, my soul-grounding, energy-recharging home, that I could cry. And observing the ability to shift that vibration in that way, through tears, has me thinking. There is a cultural belief that real men don’t cry. That no matter what happens, tears are not an option for men. To anyone who actually believes that, I invite you to look at who taught you that, and why.

I cry when grief overwhelms me, when happiness is so palpable that my body vibrates with it, when I’m so afraid that the tension has to shift somehow, when I’m so emotionally touched by someone or a situation that I can feel their emotional narrative, when I laugh so hard that I’m either going to cry or have a heart attack. I believe that boys who are taught not to cry are essentially being told to choose a heart attack over tears, to choose a lifetime of internalized anguish and tension, to opt for physical pain that ends up armouring the body into a hard shell of defence mechanisms, and that, ultimately, might result in a heart attack, or some other life-ending medical trauma.

I’ll choose the tears, thanks. And you can believe whatever you want to believe, but I know that real men cry. Because this one does, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll go back now to my first night back here in Greece, where the roosters didn’t get the memo that crowing is supposed to happen at sunrise, not every time a cricket rubs its legs together, and where the packs of barking dogs have me wondering if they ever sleep. These sounds are new again to me, as they are every time I return to this homeland of mine. In a few nights’ time, I won’t even clock them, but for now, I do. And I’m so grateful I could cry.

In Ways That Matter

I’ve always found the term “mental illness” an odd one, as it insinuates that the mind is only supposed to operate in ways that are commonly acceptable. I’d prefer to use a term closer to “mental suffering,” and I’d prefer we all did as well.
 
Arguably, we don’t discuss mental suffering enough in public forums, as stigmas are alive and well related to such issues and we have a tendency to bypass what elicits sensations of discomfort in our bodies. But the issue is getting more and more exposure as more and more people speak about their experiences and give us faces to put on the dis-ease(s) many of us have only heard about.
 
What we don’t hear nearly enough about is how those who live with, love, support and accompany those managing their mental suffering cope. Yes, the mental challenges must be overwhelming at times for the one suffering. But why aren’t we hearing or reading about the caregivers, the husbands and wives, the friends and lovers who walk alongside them? Their work, their struggles, their exhaustion and dips into mental suffering of their own must also be worth bringing into the collective consciousness so they know they too are supported and not alone.
 
The only thing, as far as I’m concerned, that we are not encouraged to do in today’s society (by those in positions of influence) is take care of each other. And one of the first ways we can do that is let others, perfect strangers and loved ones alike, know that they are not alone, that there are millions of people living the same experience in this same second. This goes for those working with mental suffering AND those that live with and/or accompany them.
 
No one is immune to mental suffering. No one. And those that battle with adversity in themselves or in those they love and walk alongside through life are the brave ones who walk closer to the mental battlegrounds where suffering runs rampant. Don’t ever be afraid to speak up, speak out, ask for help, ask for community, ask for support, ask for time to whatever needs to be done to make your way back to the semblance of balance.
 
For those in Montreal looking for resources for this, visit http://www.asmfmh.org/, http://amiquebec.org/support/ or go online and look for the others that exist.
 
We are all in this together, like it or not, so we might as well start to actually be there in ways that matter.
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