The church bells, clanging through the viscous blackness of the chilled night, their peals travelling through the mossy graveyard and over the rolling back lawn of the Walpole’s house, have just announced the start of a new 24-hour cycle, and, coincidentally, the end of my 36th birthday. I’ve been here in Norfolk visiting my extended family for over a week now, with another few days ahead of me before I return home to the plummeting sub-zero temperatures of another prematurely frosty Montreal autumn. As I get ready to go to sleep at the end of this latest birthday, I find myself more than ever aware of the irrationality and fleetingness of time, and how intently I find myself holding onto the moments and events that are taking place around me. Doing so also serves to offer up a different slant on the life that exists for me here in England, one that lies waiting patiently, yet anxiously for my inevitable return, year after year. I come to England to reconnect with my oldest friend Helene, her husband Kerry, and their two sons Freddie and Wills, the latter of whom is my godson. It seems like whenever I come over to visit, I end up getting sick, whether it be from missing a night of sleep on the plane over, or from being immersed in a household containing two young boys building up their immune systems with bacteria and germs solely on offer on the floors and doorknobs of the local daycare. Regardless, my inevitable decline into feeling less than robust succeeds in setting the tone for my stay in this breathtaking country, one whose history of gothic and medieval tales can easily be forgotten in the light of the blazing mid-day sun, but which takes microseconds to regain its position and influence with the return of a single charcoal-edged cloud. Spending months of my life in this history-drenched corner of the country has allowed me to understand what it must feel like to live among spirits, as every turn of the ultra-narrow roads that wind their way through the English countryside reveals another centuries-old church, cathedral, or cemetery, usually complete with a detailed history retold on a tablet nearby for passers-by. As fortunate as I am to be able to have this magical land as part of my make-up, I’m even luckier to have people here who I feel close enough to to refer to as extended family, and, in turn, whose respective families have become part of that extended network of mine. I’ve been treated, this birthday of mine, to a visit from more UK friends who drove from the other side of the country to spend my 36th with me, to a gorgeous meal in a Thai-themed country pub as well as a pub birthday lunch, all topped off with a full, home-made Indian feast that Hel painstakingly prepared over two days. The food, the company, and, ultimately, the network of lovely people and the mutual affection we hold for each other has left me feeling like the luckiest guy in the world, and I feel the need to acknowledge that…to appreciate how blessed I am in this life knowing how much light I’m surrounded with, and to understand the responsibility I have to reflect and pass on that light to everyone else around me in the knowledge that it will travel the globe through the actions and words of like-minded individuals. Thank you to my UK family for leaving me speechless, for making me laugh until I can no longer catch my breath, and for loving me so generously…I am more grateful than these words can ever express.
An integral part of my yogic journey involves recognizing where my ego tends to appear (and take over) and how to separate it from everyday situations to ensure that I’m not purely thinking of myself, but rather of the more universal Self. At this point in time, checking my ego has been an excercise almost 10 years in the making, and I can’t help but think that it will take many more years to get where I’d like to be with that dissociation. Don’t get me wrong – I am far from selfish or self-absorbed, but it’s amazing how present the ego can be when you least expect it.
With all the changes that have gone on in my life over the past 12 months, I can’t help but feel a little flare-up of pride when I receive good feedback about any of my projects or endeavors. The way I’d been conditioned to learn was by receiving positive reinforcement upon completion of a subject or task, so despite having more personal satisfaction over the past year than I’ve ever had, I’m also hungrier for recognition and more ambitious than I’ve ever been. I suppose this is down to wanting to be the absolute best version of myself that I can be, which seems more loftier a goal than ever considering that a good part of my time now is spent as a student. In the past I’ve never been enamoured by what I was doing professionally, but was more motivated by who I was doing it with and the money I got paid for doing it. My motivation now seems somehow more organic, more of an expression of who I am, but that ends up being more of a double-edged sword, as nothing is more intimidating for me than putting myself out there for everyone else to see. Being that vulnerable and transparent means feeling the feedback ten-fold, whether it be praise or criticism (I must admit than any criticism I’ve received in this new chapter of my life has been solely constructive, for my own good with the best of intentions behind them, and the source of the best information I’ve yet received).
Once I had gotten in the habit of checking my ego at the first sign of an appearance, I started to notice how other people’s ego manifested themselves in their words and actions. Most of them time, the people seemed oblivious of it, but in other cases, it seemed to be the motivator behind those words and actions. What I observe daily is that people who work in different sectors display different degrees needing to have their ego fed. This need is obviously also affected by different upbringings in different environments, but where people end up spending their professional lives is sometimes a very telling marker of how they need to feel appreciated and how intensely their ego needs stroking.
The most obvious example of this would be people in the entertainment industry. The most successful performers of our time, the greatest entertainers who are the most at ease on a stage in front of tens of thousands of people, are very often the biggest egomaniacs of our time. I sometimes think that these people are also the ones who were missing some key element in childhood, some opportunity to bond with a parent or loved one that proved elusive. As a result, the rest of their lives are spent looking for that bond and the person attached to it. Having a stadium or arena full of people adoring and paying to see an entertainer of this caliber would definitely be the most extreme version of an ego getting what it thinks it needs, but this is not always the case. If you speak to or listen to any of these entertainers talk about their experience, the most commonly discussed issue that arises is that instead of walking away from the experience sated and nurtured, the opposite occurs, leaving the entertainer feeling more alone and isolated than ever. Nothing can ever take the place of the bonding that occurs in early childhood, and so some of the most successful, egomaniacal people are simply looking for that bonding.
Obviously, not everything is black and white. There are highly successful people who love what they do and perceive financial compensation, adulation and praise as by-products of the gig, but not necessarily the motivating factors. The ego probably plays a role in somewhere in the equation, but the benefits of helping others often serves as the imprint that keeps them going. There are doctors, lawyers, spiritual advisors, and countless others that walk away from clients knowing that they have aided in changing people’s lives for the better, and now that I’ve been teaching yoga and living all that it encompasses, I can see how why it keeps people going. I had always heard the expression, “To help others is to help yourself,” but I always thought it sounded like a contradiction – if the aim is to help others, then I shouldn’t be concerned with helping myself. I now, however, understand it.
Most of the literature I’ve read about spirituality, be it Yoga, Kabbalah, Buddhism, Hinduism, all of it points to the fact that despite being separate waves, we are all still individual components that make up the same ocean, and we all share the same source. From that perspective, it makes sense that if we all are from the same source, sharing the same energy, then to help someone is to help oneself. And to help oneself is to help everyone, thanks to the thread of continuity that binds us all together. Tthe satisfaction and contentment that comes from helping others has allowed me to be more at ease in my career now than I ever was.
Teaching a yoga class is proving to be the best way to remove the ego from my environment. Giving it all up, my words, my breath, my energy, my intention, and seeing the manifestation of my instruction take shape through the students’ postures leaves me with a feeling that only reinforces my belief in what I’m doing. As meditative as their practice is, I’m finding an equally meditative aspect in teaching…the cadence and inflections of my words and voice and the vibrations that are produced in my body by the continual stream of instruction is proving to be a greater teacher than I ever could have imagined. It’s in these moments that I realize the value of removing the ego from the equation, when I sense the truth at the base of our collective existence rising up, making a rare appearance. And so I keep on going, becoming more and more comfortable teaching and practicing, more and more certain of the value of what I’m doing (all the while knowing that I’m simply managing something that works through me without being deluded into believing that I own it). And so I’m grateful 🙂
I’ll admit it. I was checking out Perez Hilton’s website last week. Even yours truly gets an infinitesimal kick out of reading what goes on among the A-listers of the world (and some of the D-listers as well)…So there I was, going page by page when I came across something that got me thinking for the next couple of days: Perez had written a letter to his younger self. I didn’t read what was written in the letter…I instead kept looking for the celebrity dirt. What stayed with me, however, wasn’t the latest “breaking news” about the cast of Twilight, but rather that letter, or to be more exact, the idea behind the letter. I started thinking about what I would write to my own teenage self…what words of advice, or compassion, or warning would work their way into the letter? So I started writing down the ideas and messages I would have loved to have heard during my adolescence, and I thought I’d share them here…so here goes (and I apologize if this takes the form of all those chain letters that my mother forwards on ;)):
– Understand that nothing ever ends up being what you thought it would be.
– Don’t be so hard on yourself…just because you aren’t making the same life choices as almost everyone around you doesn’t mean those choices are wrong.
– Always do your best.
– Every time you feel that you stick out like a sore thumb, every time you feel criticized and scrutinized, understand that it’s all a story you’ve created…it has nothing to do with you.
– Keep laughing even when you feel like bawling your eyes out (but allow yourself to bawl your eyes out!)
– Don’t pick up that $100 bill.
– Understand that everyone around you is doing his/her best – people display behavior that they are taught.
– Recognize the power of your breath – it will keep your mind quiet and focused.
– Understand that what underlies everything and everyone is what really matters. The rest is just noise.
– You’re never alone.
– You’re already the person you want to be.
– Don’t be afraid to show people who you are.
– You were right when you told Mom that you would never stop swearing 🙂
– What you find mind-numbingly embarrassing will one day be the best material a comic could ask for.
– Recognize how good your life is and be grateful for your body, your family and your friends.
– Even though you don’t know what it means, you want to practice Yoga.
What would you write to your adolescent self? How do you feel about who you were and what you went through to get where you are? Let me know if you actually get down to writing a letter or even a list of messages like I have…and when you’re done, go back through your list and see what messages or advice is equally as valid now as it would have been back then…after all, we are creatures of habit…and, really, let me know…I think this could be an incredibly eye-opening, cathartic exercise!
I have many things to be grateful for in this life. My health is good, my body allows me to pursue my dreams (however physical they may be), I have someone in my life who I love and who loves me. I am blessed to have a wonderful family surrounding me including two parents who haven’t stopped loving each other after more than 40 years of marriage, and that family has slowly grown with the addition of my brothers’ wives and my younger brother’s daughter. What makes me feel like the luckiest guy in the world, the one ingredient that without which I would feel less whole than I currently do, is the circle of friends I have in my life. I literally feel surrounded by friends who support, amuse, inspire, and love me, much in the same way I do them.
I understand the concept of seeing what one emanates be reflected back at them, I understand the universal law of cause and effect..nonetheless, I often find myself in awe of how much I appreciate and admire my friends. One of my oldest and closest friends, Sonia P., relayed something to me this week that she had discussed with the man in her life. They were pondering the need to stop living in a place of “I can’t” and “I don’t have.” When she casually mentioned this to me, I was floored. Sometimes I hear an idea or a philosophy verbalized in an almost inconceivably concise and efficient manner, and this was one of those times. If we (I’m referring to the collective “we”) tweaked our conditioning to bring our awareness to what we’re capable of and to what we have surrounding us in our lives, I’m sure a massive amount of suffering and chaos would be eliminated. Our confidence levels would skyrocket (which alone would bring about a major shift in consciousness), and we would be able to consider ourselves more “awake”…more plugged into the meaning of life, into loving ourselves the way we all should, and consequently, each other. The yoga classes I’m teaching over the next week or two will have Sonia’s pearls of wisdom incorporated throughout the practice, so any benefits that arise from those classes can be credited to her.
On a more physical plane of existence, I have been suffering from pretty intense back pain since my last Teacher Training weekend over 10 days ago. Luckily I am surrounded by a slew of resources (and resourceful friends who can point me towards said resources), and earlier this week my friend Adriana referred me to an Osteopathic clinic near where I live. I have literally just come back from my appointment (my first ever after 10 years of asana), and I’m amazed at what I learned about what Osteopaths do, about how my body moves. I’m also incredibly grateful to Adriana for directing me to someone who could put my mind at ease about the pain I was feeling and allow me to stop fearing that I had done something irreparable to my body. Referring me to a place that she trusted with her own body allowed me to walk into a new situation and environment with ease and no worry, and am I ever happy I did. After an extensive examination of my posture, my spine, and the tensegrity structure that is my body (that’s for you fellow trainees!!!), I was manipulated gently, but firmly, and walked out of the clinic lighter in spirit and feeling somewhat better physically. We’ll see what the next couple of days have in store for my back pain, but regardless, I feel better 🙂
On an international note, I have to express my gratitude and love for another of my oldest and closest friends, Helene and her entire family who live in Norfolk, England. Helene is mother to two beautiful boys (one of whom is my Godson) and is married to Kerry, a real British bloke who can make me laugh like almost no one else can. I have seen Helene and her clan of boys at least once a year for the past 13 years as I made occasional bi-annual trips over to the UK, and going back before her sons were born, with trips Hel & Kerry made to come visit me here in Canada. This year would have marked the first year that we would not have seen each other, as a family trip for them to come over would prove too costly, and my change of careers this year has seen me start over from scratch from a financial standpoint. Imagine my surprise, if you will, when I got a phone call from Helene & Kerry over a month ago telling me that because they understood my situation and couldn’t spend thousands of pounds coming here, they wanted to pay for my trip to come and spend time with them all. And spend time with them I shall! I’ll be going over again in a couple of weeks, for a couple of weeks, and I’m literally humbled by the generosity and kindness I’m being showered with.
I suppose I’m letting Sonia’s words sink into my being with all this gratitude…essentially, her words created a shift in my thinking and in the way I see and interpret the people and events that surround me…and where I find myself is pretty remarkable. I’d like to believe that none of this is new to me, that I’ve been awake and alert to it all throughout my years on the yogic path, but I apparently lost sight of it all somewhere…thankfully my extended family is there to redirect me back to center, and to remind me that there’s always ground to be covered and humility to be had. And so I’m grateful 🙂
Today is a day to relax and recover somewhat from this weekend, which was the latest installment in my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, and it was intense. As is sometimes the case with yoga, it was grueling physically, mentally and emotionally (breathing through the physical aspect of it usually drums up the mental and emotional issues that define who we are and how we react to different situations). This morning finds me a little quieter and a little more sore than usual (and a tad more humble, me thinks!). Something we discussed over the weekend has kept creeping back to the forefront of my thoughts, so I figured why not try to make sense of it all by posting it up here? An article was read to us on the subject of touch; the role it plays in different societies, and its significance in creating and maintaining bonds that link people one to the other. As a yoga teacher, it is my responsibility to not only be confident with the adjustments that I administer to my students, but to know how and when to touch and to not be irresponsible in the execution of the adjustments. To understand the responsibility that we have as teachers and human beings, we need to understand the significance and the science of touch.
North America is considered to be a “low touch” culture, one in which we are more concerned with the idea of personal space than with how we can assist each other by maintaining some sort of physical contact. In a society where the ever-elusive drives the masses to exhaustion and people are withdrawing from the workplace after having “burned out”, I would have hoped that someone in a position of influence would have bothered to look at what we lack as a culture. But that’s not the North American way. Why would we ever admit to being “less than”? It’s this false pride that has brought our society to where it is, and we need a wake-up call. Now.
The medicinal aspects of touch date back over the last 2500 years. Known to decrease stress and increase dopamine and serotonin levels, touch actually boosts the immune system. More impressive than the benefits of touch are the results of touch deprivation. A medical condition named Marasmus (Greek for “wasting away”) was discovered in the 1800’s after a slew of small infants died of starvation. The cause for this ended up being lack of constant physical contact between the child and the caretakers. The children literally wasted away from not being touched. Ironically for us as Westerners, the first thing that a doctor does when delivering a child is to place the child on the mother’s chest and into the mother’s arms. That initial contact is vital to creating the life-long bond that only exists between a mother and her child.
The power of touch is almost other-worldly. Speech, for all its effectiveness and precision, is sometimes less effective as a communication tool than touch can be. Touch can convey a myriad of emotions and intentions: love, grief, affection, disappointment, reassurance, emphasis, anger, aggression, assistance, defensiveness, instruction, congratulations, therapy, punishment, pity, sexuality, sympathy, and the list goes on and on…What serves as the toll of differentiation behind each instant of contact is the intention behind it. Sometimes touch can convey what words and deeds cannot, and it is in these moments of truth and purity that technology and scientific advances take a back seat to what has existed since the dawn of humanity.
As a yoga teacher, I have seen many people’s relationships to touching and being touched. Some students admit to the possibility of being touched by the teacher as a major motivator in getting them to class, as it’s the only interpersonal contact they’re getting in their life. Some students feel that being adjusted is some form of criticism of their form and, ultimately, their practice. Some believe that to not get adjusted during class is a form of abandonment, of being overlooked. Others freeze up when they get adjusted, maintaining a rigidity in their alignment, giving me the impression that they are set in their body positioning and in their minds and do not want assistance. These are usually the same people who approach me after class to let me know how much they loved the class and can’t wait for the next one. Everyone has a different relationship with touch, and walking the fine line that links us to each other is the job of the yoga teacher, one that I take extremely seriously but that will not ultimately alter my method of teaching. I believe that with mindfulness and the correct intention, my students will only benefit from the contact I make with them, and that in some cases, that contact can re-define what they deem as a healthy avenue of communication. I’ve always been an affectionate person, a massive fan of hugging and a believer in the power to communicate the intensity of an emotion with the aid of touch. Funneling this aspect of my character into a yoga setting takes some care, but it’s something I’m happy to do. It’s this kind of influence that makes me proud to be able to do what I do. The ability to help (and potentially heal) others brings a validity to my profession that until this period in my life proved elusive.
Let me know what you think about all this…what your viewpoints are on touching and being touched, on and off the yoga mat. And don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who may need that extra bit of affection or support…sometimes simple contact is all that we need.
My partner and I have spent the last week shower-deprived while a contractor re-tiles our shower’s walls and floor, and I have found myself not only having to completely re-organize my daily routine, but having to check myself every time I feel a twinge of impatience in my rush to see the final result. Taking baths instead of showers, throwing my regular daily routine of events completely off-kilter, having construction materials lying around…it’s all proven to be somewhat of an eye-opener.
I’ve always preferred taking a shower instead of soaking in a bath. Despite never having given it much thought, I now can see that I probably preferred the methodical process of showering as opposed to the somewhat stationary, less active process of bathing. Having come to that realization, I must admit that nothing beats a nice hot bath at the end of a long day, especially those days that I both teach and then take a yoga class. It has proven to be a welcome opportunity to wind down and get ready for my night at home.
As the contractor has been arriving earlier in the mornings than my usual wake-up time, I’ve also been rising earlier, something that I’ve never been fond of and that I don’t subject myself to unless necessary (one thing that many of my fellow yogis are probably berating me for 😉 ). I don’t have a hard time getting out of bed earlier, but I do get the feeling that my body wouldn’t mind being guided back to bed for another hour or two. Because I’m rising earlier, I’m obviously tired earlier come evening and find myself falling asleep without my regular lullaby-esque habit of reading myself into my slumber. Although I do love reading right before I drift off, I have discovered that there is a certain bliss in falling asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, and I now find myself looking forward to those minutes with a certain reverence and anticipation.
As for the construction materials lying around, I’m perceiving that whole moment as one of the best tests I could be presented with. I grew up in an über-clean household where my mother always had a cleaning woman coming in at least once a week; the type of household (and the type of mother) where the bedroom needed to be tidied up for the cleaning woman’s imminent arrival and the dishes needed to be rinsed before going in the dishwasher. Everything had a place of its own where it needed to be, and there were lots (and lots) of little things decoratively lying around (anyone with 2 Aquarian parents will understand exactly what I’m talking about). As much as I rebelled against that kind of structure while I was living with my parents, I inevitably found myself keeping the proverbial torch alive once I moved into my own home. Maniacally wiping down surfaces, washing dishes, laundry and, occasionally, my dogs, I found myself suffering from a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome where I (as the victim) begin identifying with my mother (my captor). I know…somewhat of a minor exaggeration (a proclivity I’ve also inherited from my mother), but true nonetheless. Having all the construction stuff lying around has pretty much broken me. I’m not going lie – I still vacuumed the entire floor of the loft this week, but I left all other surfaces dusty (success!!), and I had WAY more time to devote to the rest of my day. I never realized the freedom afforded to messy people. Consider me informed!
All this rambling culminates in the fact that I’m not the most patient of people, at least not when I’m dealing with myself. When it comes to helping or listening to others, I’m your man, but not apparently when those niceties are solely beneficial to yours truly. Ironically enough, the tests that I find myself currently presented with are of my own doing…after all, I hired the guy to come do the work. We work in mysterious ways, don’t you think? I like the fact that my routine has been turned upside down and inside out. I love observing who I am through the ways I react (or don’t react) to things, and my finding the ability to step beyond myself while looking back at what is visible to others is a feat accomplished solely due to my yoga practice. Being able to focus my attention inwards has resulted in the ability to step beyond myself and see things objectively, mainly myself. Paying attention to my breathing has given my mind something to focus on, instead of impatiently waiting for whatever I’ve imagined the end result in any given situation to be. All this to say that what has been reinforced throughout the past week has been how interesting the journey can be if we’re awake to it regardless of the final destination (even if that involves a sparkling, newly-tiled shower).
Let me know what you think 🙂
It’s been a couple of months now that I’ve been teaching yoga, and after solely being a student for 10 years, the transition has been so organic and natural that I know that I’m finally doing what I’m meant to be doing. It’s taken me 35 years to figure it out, but it’s happened…and I’m so happy that it has, and that I love doing it so much, so I’m just very grateful these days. Personalizing a class with my personality and humour is almost the most fun I’ve ever had, and it just keeps getting better and better.
I never knew what I wanted to do in life. All I knew was that I needed to feel emotionally stable, and yoga was the tool that helped me ensure that I was, that I knew how to balance a demanding career with everything else that goes on in life, that I had a home of my own, a home base. I was seriously envious of the people I knew who had accomplished what they set out to accomplish, those who knew what to do with their careers. I wondered if I would ever feel so ambitious that I would do whatever was necessary to succeed in doing it. I’m now there. And I’m seeing that it isn’t even ambition that I’m feeling – it’s the need to do my absolute best, to understand that the classes that I assemble should be a pure reflection of who I am and what I want to share with others, and to just be the best version of myself possible.
When I look back on where I was one year ago exactly and how much I’ve accomplished since then, it kind of stuns me. It hasn’t felt as massive a transformation as I would have thought. I remember starting to consider leaving my career and taking the massive chance to see if what I loved doing in life could bring enough money to get by. I remember being so miserable in my last job that despite not knowing what I would do to survive, I knew I had to get out of that environment. When I finally did, I was stunned at how things started to happen without my initiation or manipulation, and how if we allow great things to come into our lives, if we continue to take steps towards happiness and peace, we could be happier than was ever considered possible.
I believe that yoga is about joy and I was discussing it today with my friend and boss Jenn, who said something that completely resonated with me…she said that if you start incorporating a feeling of joy into your yoga practice instead of just seeing it as a physical workout, that joy will seep into the rest of your life. And she’s right. That’s what I’ve been doing now for months on end, and succeeding in making my life as joyful as possible…by continuing to laugh whenever I get the chance…to appreciate and acknowledge the people I have around me as I make my way through life…and now to give everything I have to pass on the teachings of yoga to others…to share my interpretation in a way that people can relate to and while keeping them smiling the whole time 🙂
I now understand that the emotionally stable environment I instinctively cultivated was exactly what I needed to take the steps I took and continue to take. And when I look back, I realize that the “transformation” was actually a return to the source, to who I am and who I’ve always been. It’s amazing how simple it’s been – years ago my first teacher Joan Ruvinsky told me to “get out of my own way” when I shared where I felt my life was going at the time, and those words changed my approach to life. My teachers have guided me responsibly and encouragingly throughout the past 10 years, and now that I find myself walking in their shoes, I am so proud and honoured to have the privilege of offering tidbits of wisdom to my students.
This is where I am.