Lucky 13

I am in Paros once again, giving the annual yoga vacation that, as of this year, has morphed into the now-annual yoga and meditation vacation. Once again I feel my soul land here. Once again I find myself at home, this time with a very rudimentary grasp of the basics of the Greek language. Once again the group that has assembled is beyond beautiful, as a micro community as well on an individual basis. Once again our senses are oversaturated by the air, water, sun and sand that feel like nowhere else…by the food that never tastes as good elsewhere in the world…by the smells of oregano, salty air, cooking food and sun-soaked skin…by the sounds of the wind propelled by the Anemoi, the crash of the waves, the fizzle of salty water bubbling when one’s head goes under the water in the sea…by the spectrum of blues that beg us to reconsider the color wheel and the soft pink that illuminates the horizon as Eos opens the gates of heaven for Helios to begin the process of streaking the sun through the sky.

This trip is the 13th I have given, marked today, the 13th of September, and reinforced by the endless signs, graffiti tags and digital readouts of “13” that are all over the island. The fifth journey to Paros, the thirteenth overall. It’s a milestone. One borne of luck, good choices and hard work, and which was described to me today by someone here with us as, “the trip of my lifetime.”

Here’s to the years and years to come, replete with more lovely people filled with shared intention, traveling across the world to experience these events that can barely be described, but leave us speechless once living them. And thank you, to every one of you who has been a part of our jaunts, is here in Greece now, and will be with us on future travels.

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To The Queen Of All Things, On The Eve of Her 60th Birthday

It was the summer of 1994 and I was in the office of Liz Rosenberg at Warner Music in Manhattan.

“Do you want this calendar?” she asked me.
“I’ve already got it, but thank you!” I replied.
“What about this poster? Or this issue of Billboard magazine? She hasn’t hit #1, but you can have it.”
“I”ve already got it, but really, thank you.”
“Do you want me to get her on the phone?”

My heart stopped.

“No, please. I’d sound like an idiot and I don’t want to sound like some gushing fool.” I replied, my mouth dry and my heart racing from the point where it had stopped.

Liz was Madonna’s publicist and press agent for over 25 years, and I was already dumbstruck to find myself face to face with her in her office (thanks to my cousin Carmela who worked with Liz at Warner Bros), so you can understand why I declined the phone call. I wouldn’t have been able to find the words that I am now able to convey to express what Madonna has meant to me since 1984, and why I am writing this piece now.

Madonna represents the freaks, the geeks, the outsiders, the artists, the ignored, the streetsmart, the rebels, the ambitious and the courageous. Anyone who has ever felt on the fringe of what was considered normal can identify with Madonna, and can also thank her for expanding our understanding and acceptance of what is now considered normal. Through her example, she has taught us all, and trust me when I say that I have been watching, listening to and being inspired by her since the very beginning.

Raised in a family with strong women, Madonna made sense to me. She was in charge, even in an industry and time when record companies controlled it all and when women’s rights had a long way to go (they still do, and she is more vocal than ever about what needs to change). It was a given that she was calling the shots because it was her name, voice and image being released into the zeitgeist, and she was going to have the final say. I took notes.

Within a year of becoming known, Madonna was branching out into other avenues of artistry. Films, tours, plays, books… Actress, author, director, producer, singer, mother, wife, dancer, record company executive, activist, beauty line creator… She showed me what it looked to diversify, to do all things, and to do them even if you might not get accolades for them. She taught me to try. I took notes.

The Madonna we have seen in interviews, on stages, in the pages of glossy fashion, music and current events magazines has been reinvented so many times it boggles the mind. I remember my grandmother coming into my room when I was 19 and my walls were plastered with posters, postcards, magazine covers and newspaper cutouts of Madonna.

“Who are all these women?” she asked.
“They’re all Madonna.” I replied with a massive smile.

Madonna taught me that you could reinvent and reinvent and consciously change, all the while keeping your private self private. Yes, we have seen details of her private life splashed on tabloid shows and magazines for 35 years, but I know that none of us really know the woman who, like the Wizard of Oz, has been the architect of it all. I am still taking notes.

Madonna fought tirelessly to educate us about the facts that we were not getting through mainstream media in the very early days of HIV/AIDS as she was losing her best friends to the disease. This mattered to me as a young boy who believed that if you were gay, you developed the disease. She brought the LGBTQ community to our collective doorstep in 1991’s tour documentary Truth or Dare (titled In Bed With Madonna in Europe and Asia) and helped elevate the community to the mainstream. She continues to tackle our taboos, gender stereotypes, sex and what is deemed acceptable, even after thirty-five years. And because of that, she has survived in the spotlight, in her own words, “in the face of blatant sexism and misogyny and constant bullying and relentless abuse.”

Madonna has always been the example, even when the superficial, judgemental, gossipy public has been too triggered by the appearance of what she was doing to understand. If the content has rubbed people the wrong way, their error was in dismissing her instead of looking past the content to the process, because the process is brilliance itself. She has kept herself in Olympian shape ever since the mid-80’s, and, coincidentally or not, is the last of the 80’s icons to survive this long, thriving the whole way. Her songs have always uplifted, dragging us out of the mire and drudgery into positivity with pro-social and pro-love messages. Her tours, of which I have seen every one except for the Virgin Tour in 1985 that did not make its way to Montreal, are more theatre than rock show. She has been using her fame responsibly to speak for those whose voices are not being heard, and she has put her money where her mouth is, donating and raising tens of millions of dollars throughout the years to various organizations, as well as starting her own, Raising Malawi, which cares for children orphaned in Malawi. Her everything has captured our attention since 1983. She has that ‘it’ factor.

Do I regret declining the offer to speak to Madonna on the phone all those years ago? Nope. They say that you should never meet your idols. I disagree. I will meet her, even if I die trying. But that wasn’t the right time. I needed more time to find the words to express why I wanted to meet her. 24 years later, here they are.

Thank you, Madonna. Happy 60th Birthday! You have changed my life for the better, you have changed our world for the better, and you’re still going. And for that, I am grateful.

Start Your Next Chapter Now Weekend Workshop Aug 11-12

For the vast majority of my career, I have worked on projects and endeavors on my own because I a) felt that what I wanted to convey was deeply personal and had to be expressed as my own unique expression, and b) needed to feel a deep connection with whoever I collaborated with, because without it, I would lose connection to the inspiration that motivated me to share my offerings. I can count on one hand the people I have collaborated with over the past nine years, and it has been a while since the last time. I’m happy to announce that it will happen again in a few months, and I’m beyond thrilled to be working with one of my closest, most inspiring friends, Christelle Franca.

I have known Christelle for almost 15 years, and in that time I have seen her incarnations as sound artist, DJ, healer, Masters student, and so many more that words would only diminish. She has worked in Lebanon teaching students how to express, contextualize, externalize and shift the energies of trauma from living with/in war on a day-to-day basis. She has grown into a woman who shares my belief that there is no greater purpose for any of us than to accompany others through their suffering, through their moments of stuckness. And so it only makes sense that I would team up with my true soul-sister for a weekend workshop of transformation, movement, contemplation, discussion, creation and actualization.

Start Your Next Chapter is a co-creation that Christelle and I have worked on to facilitate whatever changes you may be aching to incorporate but feel too paralyzed to initiate, while also being an opportunity to be exposed to tools that can alleviate the suffering of dealing with changes occurring that are not self-imposed or chosen. Bringing psychotherapeutic tools together with movement, meditation, energy work, writing, discussion and deep contemplation, this weekend is truly going to be the most brilliantly beautiful opportunity to get the ball of change rolling with certainty and clarity. Christelle referred to us both, months ago, as “les gardiens du passage” (the guardians of transition, of change), and this weekend workshop will be exactly that for all in attendance.

This event will take place at Equilibrium Yoga (4812 blvd St-Laurent, suite #101) over the Aug 11-12 weekend, 9h-16h30 both days with a one-hour break for lunch. Space will be limited to 22 people so that we can properly give appropriate time and attention to everyone, and registration is now open, all payment types accepted. See you there!

Start Your Next Chapter Weekend Workshop

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Use Your Words, My Love

This is not a time in history to fuck up in the public forum. Across the world, and even more specifically, south of the Canadian border in the country that tenuously holds onto the “land of the free and the home of the brave” title, a wave of intolerance has been gaining momentum over the past few years. A few months ago I watched the CNN series “The Sixties” and was somewhat educated on how politically unstable that decade was, and how volatile the fight for human rights made the 1960’s. I was pretty shocked to see that regardless of how far we think we have come since then, many of the issues people in the US were giving their lives for to see colour barriers come down and have all humans treated equally seem to be as present today as they were then.

With the current administration in America doing its best to divide people and their opinions, and in an age where those opinions have countless platforms through which they can be expressed, it is no surprise that the US is splintered and fragmented. Those whose history is made up of overcoming hate, genocide, slaughter, slavery, discrimination and dehumanization have every right to be on guard right now, as they do for the rest of time. There are those, goaded on by the president’s apparent refusal to out-rightly condemn hate and intolerance, who take to social media outlets with the sole purpose of instigating conflict. There are organizations with social media bots whose sole purpose is to do the same, resulting in human beings with the best of intentions ending up in Twitter wars with bots designed to amplify the conflict until emotional reaction erupts. We have every right to staunchly stay on guard and be as vocal as the troublemakers so that we continue to fight the good fight and ensure the freedom and happiness of all people.

Late last month, one of my childhood heroines, Roseanne Barr, posted a tweet that read, “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj” to her Twitter account, referring to Valerie Jarrett, who, among other accomplishments, was a senior advisor to the Obama administration. Rightfully so, within days, Roseanne’s career was over, and within weeks the show she had created and which was in a successful reboot was rebooted once again, this time without its namesake having anything to do with its new incarnation. I decided to boycott anything to do with her, and chalked it all up to her being one more casualty of this period of carte-blanche xenophobia that emboldens even celebrities to spew hate.

Today I listened to an interview she gave to her spiritual advisor, Rabbi Shmuley, in which she talked, among other topics, about her spirituality, how inexcusable that tweet was, how she didn’t know Valerie Jarrett was African-American when she wrote the tweet, and how sorry she is about making herself the poster person for hate, or, in her own words, “A hate magnet”. And as inexcusable and horrific as her tweet was, I found myself contemplating the concepts of forgiveness, right speech (written and spoken), the literalist global society that social media has fostered, and these hypersensitive times in which we must be vigilant to hate and intolerance, and in which, for the first time in my lifetime, we need to censor ourselves for any nuance, sarcasm or double-entendre that might get lost in how our words are received.

A few days ago Madonna posted a doctored photo to her Instagram account of a still image from Beyonce & Jay-Z’s new video, Apeshit. The image, taken from the inside of the Louvre where the power couple were looking at a wall of paintings from some of the masters throughout time, had album covers from Madonna’s body of work replacing the works of art, and the caption below written by Madonna was, “learning from the Master…lol”. Fans of Beyonce and Jay Z immediately took to social media to accuse Madonna of being racist by using the word “master”, alluding to its roots in slavery. Madonna removed the word from the post when the backlash began.

Now, anyone who knows anything about Madonna knows that she is anything but racist. But in this moment in time where we are all super sensitive and dealing with the free-floating anxiety of a US administration using its influence to set human rights back to where they were in the 1960’s, it is only normal that we hold each other to stauncher standards in how we communicate. It is only normal that we ensure that our celebrities be held accountable for how their words may be misconstrued or damaging to the communities and cultures who have suffered intolerable mistreatment and are now afraid that history seems to be on the verge, if not the cusp, of repeating itself.

Let me make something crystal clear for anyone who has the intention of taking my words and misconstruing them: I am not defending Madonna or Roseanne Barr. If anything, their examples exist so that we learn from them, so that we understand that we need to adhere to right speech, using words that successfully convey their intention. To not do that, in today’s social climate, is to invite in a tsunami of rage and indignance, understanding that whether or not we applaud or condemn it, this is where we are in time today, this is where we find ourselves.

Do I think that we tend to overreact to judgement these days? Absolutely. Do I think it’s sad? Yes and no. If I were African-American in today’s social climate, you better believe I would be alllllll over that shit, looking for the slightest bandwagon that the troublemakers could jump on to then use a celebrity’s name and influence to jump onto. I get it, and I think it’s an occupational hazard of all this turmoil that has risen to the surface of our collective consciousness. However, yes, I think it is sad that our ability to receive and appreciate sarcasm and deeper meaning is dormant. Yes, I think that it is sad that we are quicker to sling hate towards those who have transgressed instead of realizing that by doing so, we end up contributing to the energy that we object to so indignantly. Yes, I think that it is sad that forgiveness seems to be a concept of the past. Yes, I think that it is sad that we conveniently forget how timely the, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” passage from the bible is. Every single one of us has fucked up. Every single one of us has said things we immediately regret. None of us are faultless. Yet we attack other people from this high horse of superiority when they have a weak, human moment. I remind myself constantly that when I judge others unfairly, I open up the spiritual channel for others to do the same to me.

So what can we learn from all of this? I think that what we are meant to learn is to take greater responsibility for the words and energy we launch into the world, especially through social media channels. We need to mean what we say and say what we mean, and we need to consider how our words have the power to traumatize. We need to speak and write with right action, not emotional reaction. The same way sending that drunken text at 3am is a bad idea, so it is to express ourselves in the forum of public scrutiny irresponsibly, with no regard to how we may be negatively impacting others and making their load harder to bear.

Years ago, as I watched my sister-in-law deal with one of her young children who was being unruly by kneeling down to his level and saying to him, “Use your words, my love”, I made a mental note to do my best to do the same. It looks like we may all need to take a page out of that book.

Barcelona Musings

I was awake last night at 2am with some residual jet lag on my first night here in Barcelona for the Yoga City Break, and as I typically do, I got to reflecting on how really, truly grateful I am to be able to do what I do for work. I shouldn’t even call it work, but it does fall into the “career” category, so it’s the most succinct word I have for the time being.

I began my yoga vacations in 2011. Since then some of you have joined me in Santorini, Mljet (Croatia), Istanbul, Paros (the fifth trip there takes place September 8-18 later this year), Berlin, Bali, Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, Prague, and now some of you are on a plane on your way to join me here. It’s kind of overwhelming to look back at everywhere we’ve journeyed to, and I find myself feeling emotional about being able to instigate these trips around the world.

My intention in working on the planning and execution of these voyages is manifold. I want to bring people to beautiful places in the world so they can experience those moments that thrill and fulfill in only the ways that travel can offer. I want to instigate the shifting of perspective for others so that they can see newness and remember what that is like. I want to remind you all what life can be like when you take a risk and go do something for yourselves, even in the presence of all the responsibility you’ve signed up for in your lives. I want to offer a group travel structure that those who are too intimidated by traveling solo can find comfort in. I want to remind us all what it’s like to live life fuller and bigger and more awesome than we’re typically encouraged to do.

This may sound wholly benevolent of me, but trust me when I say that there is a need in me that is fulfilled by making all of this happen, and trust me when I say that it can be incredibly demanding, grueling, time-consuming and emotionally draining. My purpose in life is to make the experience of life better, more positive and enjoyable for others, and when I succeed in accomplishing that, I am fed on a soul-level. It galvanizes me to use my resources, time, energy, and accidents of life to the best of my ability to make these trips happen, and run as smoothly as they possibly can given all the free agents that exist in whatever environment we find ourselves in.

I realize that the path to roll these vacations out is more unobstructed for me because of my gender and skin colour. I understand how my privilege plays a role in being able to do this, and I try, to the best of my ability, to use it responsibly and inclusively. I also am aware of how, with one tiny change in this narrative I find myself living, all of this could never have been, and how it could also change.

I don’t take any of this for granted. As I type these words overlooking the rooftops of Barcelona, I count my blessings and pat myself on the back for my role in showing up efficiently and responsibly to have contributed to this moment occurring. I don’t expect people to sign up for these trips, and when they do, and when they sell out, trust me once more when I say that I am grateful. Grateful that hard graft and divine grace continue to work synergistically so that I can continue to make my soul hum by offering you all the opportunity to do the same.

For those of you on your way here, I’m waiting to see you with a massive hug and a week ahead of living life awake and to its fullest. For those of you who have joined me on past trips, I hope that you still have the fondest of memories of our time together. For those of you who will be joining me on future trips, get ready for some beautiful moments of community and connection.

Sending peace and sunshine from Barcelona.

Bxx

When Your Accidents Of Life…

…result in having a face or body that our current culture deems beautiful, be humble.
…result in being far more talented than the rest of your peers, be humble.
…result in being born into a family with material abundance, be humble.
…result in having the privilege of not having to worry about being yourself in the world without facing resistance, be humble.
…result in anything that could be misconstrued as being better or luckier than anyone else, be humble.

The body, gender, family, culture, demographics, geographical location, skin colour, sexual orientation and time in history that you were born into, seen through the lens of some faiths and belief systems, are completely random, “accidents of life”, to quote Joseph Campbell. You can take absolutely no credit for any of it, and none of it is a valid measure of your worth. More importantly, stop judging other people based on their accidents of life. Be humble and consider that we have all been duped into believing that this literal, human experience is the sum total of the journey we find ourselves on. “Don’t be small-minded”, we read in the Ashtavakra Gita. “The universe exists within you”. Don’t be duped by illusion, by the appearances your limited senses can interpret. The packaging is simply the container for what you should really get to know, which is the spark of energy that is, truly, who and what we are. Seek that out in others and you will not only get to know who they really are, but you will be making connections that transcend what divides and separates us.

We’re Still Here – One Night Only with Bram Levinson Now Available On Youtube!

I am so pleased to announce that We’re Still Here – One Night Only with Bram Levinson, filmed last November in Montreal, is now available on Youtube! It was an evening of sharing wisdom, insight, inspiration, personal stories and serious laughter, and I’m so happy to make it available for everyone to enjoy!

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