What I do as a teacher is try to steer students towards the unteachable. The path is woven with teachings, pathways and route markers. The destination is absolutely unteachable. If I, as a light bearer and guide, can, by the grace of what’s holy and sacred, direct students properly, using the most concise and effective language and tools, then I’ve accomplished all that I possibly can. Once the student finds that space of epiphany and realization, the experience is uniquely his or hers, and could never have accurately been predicted or described. We are all seeking our truth, and only once we find ourselves irrevocably immersed in it will we be able to know the unteachable.
I remember having a discussion with a friend of mine whose daughter was less than 2 years old and asking him what the best part of being a father was. He told me that he loved seeing his daughter evolve, day by day, bit by bit, and seeing what morsel of character or personality she would display. Every day was a new discovery, and with every discovery he got to know who his daughter was turning out to be. Her talents, likes, dislikes, and sense of humour slowly unfolded, and he never knew when it would happen or how it would manifest. All he knew was that every day was a new opportunity to see his daughter’s personality emerge that much more. I also remember having a very close friend 15 years ago who was truly in the inner circle. We were incredibly close, true friends…until he started behaving oddly. Behaviours I had never seen from him started to emerge, starting off as what I believed to be a one-off occurrence to occurring regularly. I remember thinking how out of character he was being, and ended up pulling away and allowing an awkward distance to settle in between us until the friendship ended and we lost touch permanently. I’ve since learned that with age and a sense of independence comes the unconscious assumption that we’ve got everything figured out, that our past experiences are so vast and varied that we’ve lived it all and can start to live in a world of absolutes. We know the people in our lives to be who and what they are, we know ourselves to be who and what we are and we’ve got a pretty good handle on the world we live in. And you know what? We’re wrong. We need to understand that regardless of how many of the highs and lows of life we’ve been privy to, there’s more to know. We never stop learning. We never stop absorbing and tweaking what we already know to be true. We never stop learning that truth is subjective and that it is changing. Until we’re simply corpses lying on a slab, we are changing and evolving and finding out more about who we are, who the people around us are, what the world around us is all about and how we relate to all of it. When we peg the people around us as simply being the sum total of who they’ve been in the past, we limit them. When we peg ourselves as simply being the sum total of who we’ve been in the past, we limit ourselves. When we peg the world around us as being the sum total, and nothing more, of what it’s been in the past, we forget the most important thing we’ll ever learn. The only absolute is this: there are no absolutes except one. Everything is changing. Everything and everyone is changing. We have to stop labelling and discriminating and trying to wrap everything up in a nice, tidy, gift-wrapped box so that we can put it on a shelf and refer to it as being what it’s been in the past so that we can feel a sense of stability and control. The greatest gift we can give ourselves, the people around us and the world we coexist in is the approach to life that my friend had (and most likely still has) with his daughter. Let every day be an opportunity for newness to unfold and manifest. In yourself and those you know best. Celebrate what you’ve never seen before, even if it makes you uncomfortable. That sense of discomfort is most likely rooted in your sense of insecurity at seeing a free agent in an environment you had already assessed as being familiar and dependable. Welcome the unfamiliar and be grateful that you’re around to see evolution occur. Don’t ever stop learning. Don’t ever stop wanting to learn and grow and develop and evolve. And don’t punish those around you for showing you glimpses of who they are now, not yesterday or last year. I’ve made that mistake and it cost me a dear friend, but I certainly won’t make it again…
I have been intermittently traveling for over a year now to bring my teaching, workshops and book (www.theexaminedlifebook.com) all over the country and the world, so when a student asked me when I would be giving workshops in Montreal, I realized that by bringing my gig all over the globe, I was essentially ignoring my home town. The workshops I typically give in Montreal are either associated to teacher training programs or festivals, available exclusively to those who have enrolled in whatever event I’m on the faculty of. And so I began thinking about creating a full weekend of workshops available to everyone and anyone, here in Montreal. And once I started thinking about it, as one would expect, more and more students started approaching me asking me for exactly what I had started planning.
The dates are now set, the location is cemented and I have begun putting together the entire weekend. Most of the subject matter is information I’ve been working with over the last few years on a regular basis, but I have never been bold enough to bring it all together into one cohesive and cathartic weekend…until now.
The weekend will start off Friday evening with Intro to iRest® Yoga Nidra and will kick the weekend off with basic spiritual teachings as well as the opportunity to simply be with whatever is for each and every participant. The basic outline of this inquisitive and informative modality will be presented along with worksheets for participants to get down in black and white what their experience is. We will examine everything from intention to emotions to core beliefs, and we’ll do it from a place of pure witnessing, where nothing needs to be judged, changed, suppressed or aggressively expressed. A 30-35 minute practice will follow, and we will finish up this introductory module with conversation and observations from everyone wanting to share.
Saturday afternoon will kick off with a module I’ve long wanted to present but wanted to wait until I felt I had the necessary tools to do so – Shedding Fear, Insecurity and Anxiety Through Yoga, Meditation and Spirituality. This incredibly informative and helpful module will carry over from the iRest® module from the previous evening with concepts such as limiting beliefs, mindfulness and intention, while drawing from ancient yogic texts like the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (allowing us to transition into the workshop that will follow this module). Exercises setting intention as well as mindfulness meditation will be included, and participants will leave with very real, helpful tools to make their way forwards through life with clarity, strength and an accurate and inspired sense of Self. This module will also include a 45-minute asana class incorporating specific postures that assist in the shedding of all that weighs us down so we can move closer to personal and collective freedom.
Saturday will end with The Practical Application of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This is a module that offers insight into how to realistically apply the ancient teachings of Ashtanga Yoga to a modern world where energy and unity are disregarded in place of the appearance of things and attention to the temporary and superficial. This segment of the weekend delves into how even after thousands of years, teachings that could easily be brushed off as archaic are actually more relevant and useful than ever, all of which bring us closer to dis-identifying with pain and suffering and give us real tools to prioritize direction and peace in our own lives.
The only morning module (and the only posture-focused module) for this weekend takes place late Sunday morning with Activating The Core Body in Asana, an opportunity to lead students through a flow of yoga postures incorporating the basic principles of core strength and stability. We will look at what the core of the body actually is from an anatomical perspective and how engaging the core helps avoid injury, increase stability, strength and balance and play a part in our long-term health and posture. A short lecture/introduction will be followed by the class where we will take time to break down postures and apply what we’re learning to deepen the asanas and the practice.
To end our weekend together, we will explore Applying the Yamas & Niyamas to Modern Living. Picking up where we left off Saturday afternoon with the Sutras, we will explore the restrictions on how we treat others and ourselves in a modern-day context. We will look at how our words, actions, and existences in real life and through social media often completely disregard these guidelines on ensuring a peaceful existence, and we’ll delve into how adherence to them changes the energy we emanate in a simple and immediate way.
In just revising my notes and adding to what I want to communicate over the course of these 5 workshops, I feel a real energy growing. I’m SO excited to bring all this information to everyone, and really grateful to the students for pointing out to me that I was essentially forgetting to bring the teachings to the same community that has and continues to elevate me to a place where I’m being heard. I have reserved the studio space at Happy Tree Yoga (4010 Ste-Catherine St. West, suite 200) for this weekend of information, exploration, intention and manifestation, and registration for the event is in full swing already. For more information or to register for any or all of the workshops, visit my webpage at bramlevinson.com/news.htm.
I really hope to see you there for this weekend of delving into more profound levels of spirituality, insight and personal development. We’ll be doing work and exchanging ideas that really, truly matter through conversation, exercises and worksheets, and of course, movement, breath and intention. Bring your yoga mat, notebook, pens or pencils and an inquisitive mind, and be prepared to expand what you believe to be true about yourself, the world around you, and what your place is in that world.
See you there!
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.33.
I was a quiet kid. Very cerebral (shocking, I know), VERY sensitive and hyper-aware of how I was perceived. Book in hand like it was an appendage I was born with, I was comfortable in my own world, a steady stream of words at the ready to draw me into other realms and imagined realities. Soon my love affair with music began as the pop-rock, punk and alternative anthems of the late 70’s and early 80’s started to resonate with me, and I soon found myself a helpless (and willing) victim to the artistry that period was rich with.
As I mentioned in The Examined Life, once you have things you own, you end up having things to defend, and when I began to fall victim to my ego-self, as all kids do, I saw how different I was from other kids. I wasn’t out playing sports, I wasn’t hanging with the popular kids, and because my inclination was to not do what the kids I held in the highest esteem were doing, I soon began a serious relationship with inferiority as I felt like I had to defend who I was.
I was pretty much left alone by other kids, with a few exceptions. I had friends, absolutely, but what I now look back in hindsight on as being left alone because I was confidently doing my own thing was then interpreted as not being good enough to hang with the others. And yet, on the rare occasion, someone would step out of the fray and approach me or befriend me, and that one act of kindness and friendliness changed everything. That one act, of what I considered bravery, served as a tiny beam of light that would intensify every time I found myself accepted by others.
I obviously now know that the acceptance of others is a by-product of living a life of authenticity and truth and should never be the desired goal that one seeks to attach to, but back then, in those formative years, it came as a huge relief. A drop of friendliness felt like an ocean of acceptance, and I was so hungry to be accepted.
I’ve always been aware that friendliness is a choice, one that many overlook as the selfishness of the ego acts as the decision-maker. I don’t take any act of kindness for granted, and in the majority of my waking moments, I do my best to channel kindness, friendliness and compassion, as a choice. I know full well how far kindness and friendliness go, and as far as I’m concerned, as a student of yoga and one who endeavours to live a life according to its principles, the sutra from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras mentioned above needs to be expanded to include:
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, gratitude towards the friendly/kind, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.” – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.33.
This sutra is said to be the one to take with you, even if you don’t remember any of the other ones, and I realize it’s somewhat pompous of me to tweak ancient wisdom, but in my opinion and experience, I felt the most peace when kindness was shown to me. It brought me back to centre, to peace and well-being.
For more information on Sutra 1.33 check out this interpretation…
I’m lying on the bed in the hotel room in Berlin that’s been home for the last 9 days, sun streaming through the window pane, bathing me in a sunbeam that only my pup Willow could truly appreciate as much as I’m doing right now. I’m feeling reflective, as I always am at the tail end of the yoga trips I hold. The last of our bunch left this morning, and as everyone slowly trickled onward to wherever their next destination was, I started to feel that pang again. I feel it every time a retreat ends, but the sensation is not solely relegated to these specific trips we take.
I know how blessed I am. I experience moments of connection and brilliance and pure, undeniable light on a daily basis. Every now and then one moment in particular occurs and elicits a high in my brain and my body that could easily instigate an addiction in the attempt to relive it, and I feel such connection and awe that I’m stunned into a state of muteness. And as measurable as the high is, the withdrawal from it as it recedes is equally as stunning. From eating a meal that redefines taste and texture to spending time with people who reflect truth and life amongst and between one another, from connection through a sexual experience to simply standing in one geographical location which emanates an energy that undeniably reconnects us to something bigger than ourselves, I believe these moments are miracles. I believe that they are literally moments where the veil that separates us from the source of the energy that animates our bodies falls away. These are peeks into the divine, into the source of all things, into comfort and light and peace and ease. So it’s no surprise that watching the passing of these moments like tendrils of grass in a running stream can be remarkably traumatic.
Through my so-far limited understanding of Kashmir Shaivism, I have gleaned that we as human beings are simply an extension of divinity, but in contracted form. The energy we typically attribute as being god or god-like is the same energy that sparks us into consciousness and motivates us into the world, and that energy is a ray of divinity contracted into the human shell. From my own observations, when I experience moments of connection so pure that their withdrawal from the present moment leaves an ache of absence and sadness, I understand that I am grieving, on some level, for the yank back into contracted form. After the light there is darkness. And I find that incredibly fascinating.
I understand that nothing ends without something brilliantly beautiful being born of it, but I think that what I’ve stumbled on in my philosophical musings is that thing that binds people together initially as they couple, that bonds a parent to his or her child, that is the source of an addict’s endless and relentless pursuit and that we are all, ultimately, seeking. We go through this life seeking connection…undeniable moments that push the boundaries of what it feels like to be alive, hopeful and happy. When we experience them, we’re brought down to our knees in the presence of such timeless wisdom and beauty. And when we start to contract back to our natural human state, that ache starts to present itself again. Post coitum omne animalium triste est, indeed!
I believe it’s our responsibility to constantly bring ourselves back to perspective and focus so we can experience these moments when they are available to us. I also feel like it’s my responsibility to share with you all when they occur as reminders to keep slugging through the mundane until you get there, because you will. I’m also, at this point in my studies and life, awake enough to be able to see the experiencing and passing of these moments from a place of awareness and distance so that their regression doesn’t leave me traumatized.
With that said, I miss our group 🙂 With all the personalities and backgrounds, our Berlin 2014 gang left their imprint on this beautiful city, and I know that they’re now leaving wisps of the energy we shared here in their wake as they hop around the globe. I couldn’t have more love for them, for this city or for the gratitude I feel being able to create these events and give people the space to experience moments of pure and unadulterated bliss.
I’ll leave the city tomorrow with a heart so full of wonder and love it might just burst. Life is beautiful and dark and moving and silent and chaotic. It’s everything I could ever have hoped for and dreamed about, while at the same time never being enough. And so I choose to simply be in the eye of all that vritti activity.
With love from Berlin,
A few years ago I had to miss a workshop being given by local Yoga teacher Allison Ulan that focused on Yoga and activism, and I was gutted to miss it. From my point of view, there seems to be a growing divergence between the physical-only focus of the practice, emphasizing solely how the body is being placed in any given pose from the non-physical byproducts of asana. While I absolutely do not want to minimize the importance of proper alignment and body awareness in the practice to avoid injury and to promote longevity in the practice, I also take issue with yoga being taught with little or no illumination of where the physical practice brings us emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.
The asana practice does a few things: it allows us to release the tensions that have landed in the body by moving the frame in ways that are atypical of a regular 24-hour cycle of movement. Areas that we may not have even been aware of that had been carrying tension on a somatic level are suddenly manipulated to work and gradually release whatever was being carried there, either spontaneously or more gradually. The practice also allows us to breathe consciously for an extended period of time, teaching us that to focus on a deep, nourishing breath throughout a period of physical movement and potential challenge is to teach us that a conscious breath is all we need to navigate moments of challenge, fear and adversity outside of a yoga class. It allows us to detach from external stimuli and spend some time with our bodies, and ultimately, with our Self to check in with whatever is in the moment. There are countless other ways that asana benefits us, but all those benefits, as far as I’m concerned, all lead to the same realization: that we are fully-formed, powerful beings with unique voices and points of view, and that it is our responsibility to speak up, to act, to pursue relentlessly what we believe to be right and true and fair, not just for ourselves, but for all beings. Yoga shows us how unity presents itself as separation, and once we clue into how far we’ve strayed from acting in the best interests of ALL of us, we find our words and the right language to speak up louder and clearer and more peacefully than we ever thought possible.
The philosophical, emotional and spiritual epiphanies that await every person who begins a yoga practice, even if that practice begins for the sole purpose of exercising the body in a non-gym atmosphere, need to be emphasized. Movement and breath and alignment are absolutely essential, but if they’re not partnered with guidelines and insight for spiritual evolution, then they’re no different than a gym workout. Yoga is everything, and it’s my hope that all teachers, instructors and light-bearers understand this.
What I want you to know is this: You are not allowed to have rights and squander them by not knowing how they were hard-fought for, by being indifferent, lazy or dispassionate. It is your responsibility to know who fought for what rights you have, especially those you take for granted, for those that you think are normal in this day, age and geographical location. If your skin colour is anything other than what’s considered “white” (but which is, in fact, more of a pinkish-beige), you better pay attention. If you’re a woman, pay attention. If your sexuality is anything other than 100% hetero, pay attention. If you fall into ANY visible or audible minority, pay attention. In fact, you know what? Pay attention, every single one of you.
Yoga is activism. It is a call to what is and a call to right action in the face of what is. It is finding your voice and then using it to ensure that no one feels excluded or inferior, and to make sure that the freedoms we are blessed with at this point in time are never snatched away in the name of power and oppression. Freedom should never directed towards some, it should be the right of all.
There are moments where I struggle to find inspiration to channel and pass on, but I definitely find it on occasion. I want to thank Allison for inspiring me all those years ago. I want to thank Sharon Gannon & David Life for creating the Jivamukti community and inspiring action, change and freedom for all. I want to thank Seane Corne for living everything I’m trying to express, for being the example, for being an inspiration and for the teachings, past and future, that I have been graced with. I’m doing everything I can to inspire and awaken, and will continue to do so until I can’t find the air to propel my words from my body. Until then, I’m focused on being awake, and on waking everyone else up.
Stay alert, stay together and stay awake. We are changing the world, one unique voice at a time, and, occasionally, as a collective roar of peaceful warriors. Let’s keep it going 🙂
The longer I live, the more I recognize history repeating itself. I have observed myself date the same kind of person over and over until I understood what I was doing and why I was doing it. I have recognized patterns in my behaviour related to eating, exercising and spending money. I have seen others close to me repeat patterns and behaviours as well, as we are creatures of habit which feed off of familiarity. And, as infuriating as it has been at times, I have also had front-row seats to the Québec language issues and the “will-they-or-won’t-they” issue of Québec separating from Canada.
I’m not gonna lie. When I allow myself to get emotionally caught up in Quebec politics, it ain’t pretty. I’m a passionate person, much like my fellow Québécois (and for those of you who believe that if my mother tongue isn’t French, I’m not allowed to call myself Québécois, I offer you this: I was born and raised in Montreal. Montreal has always been geographically situated in Quebec. I’m Québécois, born and raised. If you don’t like it, bite me). I have had moments of such utter despair at the mismanagement of our city and our province and the seemingly deep-rooted need for our leaders (and I use that term VERY loosely) to promote division and hatred that I’ve often spoken to those closest to me about the possibility of just getting the hell out of what I considered to be a sinking ship. All because I felt like my home was under fire.
I visited New York City for the first time in 1989 and immediately thought that I could live there. It felt right. I’ve had dozens of moments like that in my global travels, finding countries that feel right. When I’ve spoken to my partner Stephane about possibly moving, he’s always been more reticent. He has roots that run deep here in Montreal and Québec, and once pointed something out to me that I found fascinating: I was born an Anglo in a French province, I was born gay and grew up fundamentally believing that there must be something wrong with me because I wasn’t seeing my sexuality mirrored by the people around me, and I was born into a Jewish family and went to Hebrew school for my primary education, taught at an early age that I belonged to a religion whose people had been kicked out of every place they had ever tried to settle in and had to have a state created for them so that they could simply call somewhere home. I have grown up believing that roots don’t grow very deeply, even in a place I’ve called home for what seems like forever. And then yoga found me. Directly across the street from where I was living in 1999, I stumbled across my first yoga teacher. And my roots started sprouting.
I travel around the world teaching yoga now. I’ve just returned from Calgary and Canmore in Alberta and can tell you that there is love there. Whether it’s my brother and his beautiful family with whom I stay during my trips over, whether it’s the blinding generosity and beauty of the studios and communities that welcome me so unconditionally or whether it’s seeing more of the beauty that Canada has to offer, I now know something that has previously eluded me: home is wherever there is love. And those roots that began sprouting when I started practicing yoga have created an interconnected, global web of “home” that I could never have predicted.
I can land in Paros, Greece and be home. I can run my fingertips through the clear waters of Croatia and be home. I can quietly walk through a moss-covered graveyard in England and be home. I can find myself at a Hammam in Istanbul and be home. I can be leading a class under the blazing Santorini sun and be home. I can be teaching at festivals around North America and be home in every location. With all that said, I know this: my truest home is Montreal, and it’s home for the very simple reason that it’s my epicentre of love. It’s where I have the longest history of loving and being loved, and that has created one hell of an imprint.
I know love and love knows me. Well. I often find myself a wee bit overcome at how much love there is for us to observe, engage in and experience. Maybe I’m delusional, and maybe I’m blessed. Doesn’t really matter, to be honest. I’m choosing to focus on Montreal and Québec as an epicentre of love. I refuse to be dragged down to the bottom of the human condition by politicians that have absolutely no consideration for our well-being. I refuse to be affected any longer by the hate that is spread first by the politicians, and then by people via media (social and otherwise). I’m smarter than they are. I’m smarter than that. And so are you. Montreal is my home and there’s room for all of us. I choose to understand that the political landscape will always swing like a pendulum on a grandfather clock, and will continue to travel the globe teaching love, teaching truth, teaching yoga. If, one day, I find myself somewhere with an undeniable pull calling me to uproot from Montreal and make this new location home, then I will. And the more time I spend there immersed in love, then the more that place will give Montreal a run for its money as my primary home.
For now, I’m here, in Montreal, home, with love as a constant in my life. It is with this motivation and intention that I am asking every single one of you to go out on April 7 and vote. Be smart about it, vote with your gut instinct, but understand this: you’re not voting for the party leaders. You’re not even voting for the parties themselves. You’re voting for love. WE are voting for the love of our city and our province. We have been complacent for too long, allowing irresponsibility and corruption to seep into our home.
On April 7 we will stand up together and vote for the love of our city and province. And on April 5, make sure to come out to my classes at Lululemon Greene Avenue (9-9:50am) and Luna Yoga (11am-12:30pm) for Yoga Votes Saturday to participate in a moment that will further empower and galvanize everyone in attendance to use their unique voice to effect change. All for love.
All for Montreal and Québec. It’s time to begin the healing and bring our home back to what it once was, what it will be again.
Stand up with me.