So I’ve just pulled myself out of bed after last night’s New Year’s celebrations, and I have to admit that I’m a bit puzzled at what I’ve been noticing over the past 3 or 4 days. So many people around me have told me how horrible a year 2009 was and how 2010 will prove to be rife with all the things that eluded them in 2009. As much as I’ve never been a “New Year’s resolution” type of guy, I’m all for reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to the year to come with hope and the best of intentions. Having said that, it does take me off guard when the only thing that can be used to sum up a period of 12 months is a negative emotion. Regardless of what happens in our lives, however horrible and traumatic, there is always beauty, opportunity, and light to somehow emerge. Call it universal law, call it the play of opposites, call it what you want. The point is that sometimes we need to clear the proverbial table of the things we don’t want on it to make room for those things that we do want, and there’s no other way of getting to the things we want than having to go through the experiences that show us what doesn’t work for us in our lives. Those negative events are necessary to show us the true beauty and light in the people and events that show up when things are going well, and they allow us to truly appreciate them because we remember what it was like when things were not working in our favour. If 2009 was “the worst year in memory” (which is what I’ve been hearing), then look closely at what made it so, and see if there aren’t glimmers of promise, of opportunity and of hope in the wreckage of the events, and walk confidently into 2010 with the wisdom that those events provided. Every single second of our lives holds unlimited possibility…we just need to see it for what it is and not get distracted by that which is impermanent.
I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I often found it incredibly strange that I seemed to be in the minority of people not vowing to change some aspect of my reality and/or behaviour come the start of a new year. My reluctance is not rooted in any type of aversion to wanting to better one’s self, or having the clarity of mind and confidence to illuminate the darker recesses of one’s personality and behaviour, all of which I find quite commendable, actually. I simply found it odd that the majority of those around me felt the need to take advantage of one specific date out of the annual calendar to attempt to bring about positive changes in their lives. As far as I’m concerned, every day that I wake up in the morning is another opportunity to bring about the changes that I’d like to see, taking individual steps towards realizing my ideal self. Despite all this, I am definitely aware of the opportunities that a new year can offer, and so I felt compelled to mention a couple of things for those who are getting closer and closer to the imminent day of reckoning.
My relationship with change has come a long way from where it used to be, which was a place of stagnance and defiance. When I was younger, most of the change that occurred in my life was imposed on me by my parents and teachers, which I eventually bought into (or, as Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements, would say, I made agreements with). Once I found myself in a position where I had control over my life, I found myself waiting for change to happen, at which point I would react in whichever way I found appropriate. Nonetheless, I allowed myself to hand over all of the power and opportunity that was available to destiny, hoping that good things did indeed come to those who waited. I lived like this until a couple of years ago, at which point I realized that my life was not unfolding in the manner that lived up to the standard that I held for myself, and that it was time to take control of the decisions and choices that would determine which paths my life would follow.
Making the decision to actively choose where I wanted my life to go was probably the hardest one I’ve ever had to make, because it involved breaking the agreements that I had made with my superiors when I was younger…and it wasn’t something that happened overnight. I gradually went through the better part of a year making sure that I wasn’t being hasty or irresponsible, while wanting to be able to procrastinate what I knew was inevitable. This incredibly drawn out process resulted in the ultimate truth: putting off any changes that we know will be beneficial to our lives simply because they’re daunting is a far greater waste of energy and time than simply making a decision and sticking to it. The amount of time I agonized over whether I was being foolish and impetuous was monumentally more taxing to my overall state of mind than if I had just decided to step up and do what had to be done. I got there in my own time, obviously, but I am now more conscious of my potential to accomplish what had previously been unimaginably intimidating, even impossible.
There is a concept that states that people lie to themselves constantly about the most significant and insignificant of events and subjects simply because to be 100% truthful would be paralysingly harsh. Due to our tendency to sugarcoat the truth to ourselves, we inevitably end up lying to each other because we are afraid that our imperfections will be evident, that they will be seen in the harsh light of reality, flaws and all. I was responsible for lying to myself about where my life was headed, and must have justified it ad nauseum to those around me simply to make myself feel better about it all. When I stopped lying, when I felt like I had no choice but to take the other available option, a quote by Nelson Mandela soon popped into my head that I had first heard in a yoga class and which stayed with me as a pseudo-mantra. Mandela’s quote is, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” A truism to remember always.
We can do anything we set our minds to. Granted, there are some that have higher obstacles to overcome, but regardless of where we’re starting from, the only person we have to answer to is ourself. In the coming weeks, and throughout the rest of our lives, the changes that we feel are inevitable, those that we’re afraid to incorporate into our lives but that we know are beneficial and that will bring us closer to our ideal selves should be actively pursued. We need to stop beating ourselves up about why we haven’t already taken these steps, and just take them. Nike’s motto “Just do it” is possibly the best advice anyone can ever be given. Think about flicking on a light switch – it’s that easy. Make the choice, take the decision to bring change into your life, and then stick to that decision until you see your life flourish as a result. Don’t get defeated and never take “no” for an answer. From my experience, taking the initial steps towards truth, beauty and light inevitably result in opportunities presenting themselves to help out along the way. If, for whatever reason, the end result is not what was initially desired, then at least an attempt was made and the rest of one’s life is not littered by “what ifs” and “I should have.” And if we end up living our lives in control of what happens to us as opposed to being ricocheted from event to event like a pinball, then we’re already a step ahead of the game. At least we did our best. That’s yoga 🙂
There’s no better time than the next couple of weeks to really put into practice all those concepts, ideas and philosophies we’ve been discussing in my classes over the past 6 months. The Holiday season is so multifaceted, and as non-dual as we try to be, there more often than not seems to be both beautiful and not-so-beautiful things about this time of the year, depending on our day-to-day existences and what we are exposed to and surrounded by. The uglier side of this time of the year was made glaringly obvious to me when I worked in retail, where I was privy to stressed out shoppers battling each other for merchandise to buy as gifts with money they rarely wanted to part with, all of which was exacerbated by having to line up to pay for said gifts while their parking meters ran out. I have also lived vicariously through the tales of familial woe relayed to me by friends who have grown to associate the Holidays with inevitable blowups between themselves and their parents/siblings/children/etc… Running into obstacles and conflict is par for the course at this time of the year, if only because almost everyone is living the exact same reality simultaneously, which is bound to result in chaos. Enter Yoga.
Yoga is described by millions of people as millions of things. I personally view Yoga as the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves possible, and to be able to project that version for anyone and everyone to see and be inspired by. The Yoga Sutras define Yoga as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”, or for those Sanskrit lovers out there, “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.” Using both these definitions, we can go into the craziness that typically is the Holiday season and practice equanimity, in the hopes that the way we approach, manage and reflect back on these opportunities to come together emerge forever changed.
Many of the Yogic texts and literature that I’ve come across speak to the impermanence that we live with, the ups and downs that we live through and which affect us all differently, based on our individual upbringings and adopted defence mechanisms. The Western approach to life is largely dictated by these events, which typically shape us and imprint themselves on our psyches, feeding the Kleshas that we are attempting to break free from. Understanding that life is inevitably a series of ups and downs is the first step in understanding how we can affect change in our own lives, and to those around us. When these events occur, whether they be negative or positive in the manner they imprint themselves on us, the best thing we can do is take note of what’s going on around us, and try to see it all from an objective point of view. I like to suggest seeing the events as if they were written down in a newspaper, as if they were happening to others…this gives us the opportunity to check ourselves before our egos and emotions get the better of us, and allows us to connect to our inner selves in order to deal with them. This does not mean that we don’t participate in what’s occurring, nor does it insinuate that we’re not affected by the events, but it does give us the luxury of assuming the role of observer, however temporary we adopt it. Understanding and recognizing the events that are fleeting, that are impermanent (regardless of whether the repercussions are permanent or not) also provides the opportunity to recognize that which is not fleeting, which is permanent and to which we should be directing our attentions to. The ties that connect us all to each other are permanent. Our innate, collective energy and essence is permanent. Love is permanent. Tuning into all of this through whatever form one’s meditation assumes is what will see us through life with the least amount of chaos and wasted energy, and is also the instrument that will change the way we see the Holiday season.
I’m not sure if it’s due to the first snowfalls, the opportunities to present each other with gifts, or the impending closure of the current year leading into a new one, but this time of year always seems magnificently energetic. The change in acoustics provided by a generous layer of snow definitely adds to that energy, but there really is such a vibration of peace all around us leading into the beginning of the new year. For myself, it most often takes the form of silence, the purest and most primordial silence in which I search for OM, the vibration of the universe that exists in, underneath, and in the absence of silence. The opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and inject the next 12 ones with hope and love also plays a role in that magical energy. Recognizing all the possibilities for beauty and hope that exist throughout our lives becomes so much more tangible as we move from one calendar year into another, and it is therein that lies the permanence that infuses our existence. Tapping into that allows us to recognize the stresses and traumas, and, conversely, the joys and triumphs, that occur in our lives as simply that: occurring. They do not define our lives, which is a very important distinction to make. These moments are temporary, and remembering and understanding that is what will get us through them with grace, humility and compassion.
I urge everyone to make the most out of the coming weeks…to appreciate what and who we have in our lives, to look for and find the common threads that unite us all, and to let the brightest, purest, least blurry version of ourselves to shine through for everyone to see. Live consciously and let yourselves be present in every given moment, and, most of all, don’t expend unnecessary energy and time on those “fluctuations of the mind.” It is in this mind-space that we can transition into 2010, and into another year filled with hope, love and spirituality. Happy Holidays to everyone, and the Happiest & Healthiest of New Years 🙂
I never graduated from college, nor did I even dip more than a toe into the proverbial university pond. As a student in high school I was bright and competent, graduating with honours and figured that I would continue to excel throughout the rest of my studies, which obviously would include at least one degree. Then I found myself in CEGEP, and everything I thought I had figured out for myself was turned upside down.
I enrolled in Creative Arts, which basically meant that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life and was content studying everything from English to Religious Cults and Sects. I liked what I was studying, without question, but the fact that I seemed to be going through the motions for no apparent reason aside from making my parents happy started to take its toll, and I found myself attending fewer and fewer classes until I eventually dropped out at the end of the first semester. It all boiled down to one thing: I felt like I was wasting my time. Nothing in my curriculum stood out as something that I could envision myself pursuing indefinitely, and so I took some time off to process the direction my life had veered off on, and then decided that I was being too self-indulgent, that no one loved what they studied and that I should just focus and get back to school. This time I figured that I should choose something more specialized, so I enrolled at Lasalle College in Fashion Marketing and Merchandising. Once again, I found myself mildly interested in the world I was being exposed to, and once again, I was feeling like I was wasting my time. This sentiment finally came to a head (once again at the end of the first semester) when one of our teachers announced to us that at the end of the 3-year, $12,000 program, we would be qualified to be a retail store manager. I wish I could have seen my face, because I literally heard brakes screeching in my head, and the first thought I was aware of after being granted that lovely tidbit of information was that I was once again wasting my time, and that if I wanted to be a retail store manager, I could do it on my own the old-fashioned way…by starting at the bottom and working my way up. So that’s exactly what I did. Looking back on it, I find it interesting that I had absolutely no interest in retail, but I suppose that I felt like I had been presented with a challenge and that I was going to do what was necessary to become a retail store manager. Once I had achieved my goal, I was approached by a head-hunter from another retailer and I went to work for a new retail company, where I stayed for 12 years. All because I wanted to prove something to myself.
So many emotions are intertwined in my past as a student as well as that of my past career. Because I never completed a program at a higher level of education, because I never got that ever-elusive degree, I always felt “less-than.” I felt like I had somehow failed, and it became my Achilles heel. Despite growing in my career and laying the foundation for the life I always wanted to live for myself, I always felt like the odd guy out, and it naturally became part of my psyche, allowing me to cast myself as inferior and with a minute, yet ever-present chip on my shoulder. I also find it fascinating that only now when I look back at the experience can I clearly see how incredible it was that I was so confident in my capabilities that I literally walked out of school, preferring to work my way to where I thought I should be as opposed to getting some sort of formal training. I have said before that I have an enormous amount of compassion for myself as a child and teenager, but this is the first time that I feel a sense of admiration towards who I was back then. Against everyone’s advice and at the expense of my own security, I did what I believed was right for me, and I was successful as a result of that.
Last month in teacher training (and shortly after my 36th birthday), I found myself in a familiar place – sitting among my teachers and fellow students, discussing postures and theorizing about philosophies and some of the yogic teachings. Participating in the exchange of ideas and experiences is such an integral part of this training that I was really taken by surprise when I heard my own voice in my head say, “This is my classroom.” I’ve been hearing it reverberate ever since. I never thought I would find that educational forum that I had been desperately lacking in my earlier existence, and I had absolutely given up on it, knowing that an academic life was not within the realm of what I wanted for myself, nor was a career as a business person. With those four words, I suddenly felt a great weight lift, and as much as I’d like to say that I can completely detach from my ego and not allow myself to react to the exterior factors Patanjali speaks about in the Yoga Sutras, I felt a rush of awareness and happiness wash over me, and I’m still somewhat recovering from it.
For the first time in my life, I love what I’m doing. I now understand what people mean when they say that there aren’t enough hours in the day, because I now am trying to accomplish so much with an apparent shortage of hours to do it in. I now understand ambition, whereas I used to think that ambitious people were simply motivated by something in their youth which propelled them to never give up, which inadvertently would result in their success. I feel like I have never been more comfortable in my own skin and that my path has never been more brightly illuminated, and I’m a little stunned that this has happened. Elated, but stunned. And, now, insanely empowered.
I want to see more guidance for those who find themselves in a situation similar to the one I slugged through when I was younger, trying to find my way. In a world replete with options, I found myself overwhelmed by the possibilities, which ultimately resulted in my withdrawing from that world. The more visible we are as a yoga community, the more chance there is of helping someone like who I was to find his or her calling and to steer that person towards their ideal classroom. Don’t misunderstand me – I would not change one thing about where my path took me, because I discovered monumentally more about myself that I would have in school, and that has allowed me to grow into who my ideal self was when I was younger. However, there were moments when I was crying out for someone to help me out in a way that would give me the direction I craved. I want to be that person who helps someone else out, and I want to be responsible for creating a movement or organization of like-minded yogis and yoginis who are able to band together and work towards a common, collaborative goal to illuminate the paths of others.
It has been 20 years in the works, but I have finally achieved a degree of achievement in my studies, and I think that it’s important for people to know that school really isn’t for everyone, at least not the conventional schools that see the hoards of billions pass through every year. I am fortunate enough to have arrived at a point in my life where I can let go of the inferiority complex that dug its way into my consciousness and made itself comfortable. And so I’m more grateful than these words can express.
The Luna Yoga summer retreat last August at Spa Eastman was illuminating for many reasons, one of which had to do with a tidbit of information communicated to us by guest lecturer Eugénie Francoeur, a Radio-Canada reporter and meditation lecturer. She spoke to our group about the patterns of the mind, and to be more specific, the thoughts that jumble around in our minds. 85% of our thoughts are actually useless, which is to say that they do not provide insight, illumination or any help in planning on the path to accomplishing something. Instead of guiding us somewhere productive, these thoughts are spent worrying about what cannot be changed, mainly to do with what is in the past.
This statistic creeped back into the forefront of my thoughts yesterday when I was on my way home from my 2nd-to-last teacher training weekend. We were treated to another lecturer last night, Antoine Tinawi, a specialist in Ayurveda from The Art of Living, a volunteer-based foundation created by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Antoine had many things to tell us, all delivered in an incredibly sweet and pure manner, à la Prabakar (one of the most memorable characters from my favorite book of all time, Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts). He talked to us about the Doshas, about food, about body characteristics and the Gunas, but the thing that stayed with me the most out of everything I heard was, “We live as if we have all the time in the world to obsess over the past and the future.” I’m still recovering from that one. Occasionally I read or overhear a phrase or idea that is the manifestation of my being, something that I consider to be so ingrained in my outlook and life philosophy that to have it exist outside of my being leaves me reeling. That occurred last night, and I’m still thinking about it.
I’ve spoken and written about how I feel our society is moving away from awareness into ignorance through sense of entitlement. About how teenage boys and girls today absolutely need to know where the rights that are afforded to them in today’s world came from, and what it took to get them. Girls need to know who Gloria Steinem is. Gay, lesbian, and transgendered community need to know who Matthew Shepard was. I could go on and on…any sub-culture that has any visibility has had to shed blood, sweat and tears to get it, and the way of the Western world today seems like fewer people are asking questions about the journeys that have led to today. The danger that exists in this complacency is potentially frightening, because, as we all know, the proverbial pendulum doesn’t only swing to one side. What swings to the right will inevitably swing back to the left, and vice versa. What dictates how far it swings is the momentum of ignorance that has built up before it starts moving again.
We are so insanely lucky to live where we live in today’s society. To be afforded the freedoms we have to pursue happiness, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender or age. To be able to grow up assuming that those freedoms constitute our rights…that we’re somehow entitled to opportunities, to be able to choose how, where and with whom we spend our lives. On a global scale, we are in the minority, and it’s imperative that we remember this. We need to take every opportunity available to us to be thankful for the lives we lead, for the bodies we have that allow us to follow our paths and for the people around us who provide our safety nets, our extended families. We need to start living in the now, to stop obsessing over what exists in our pasts, and to not put an overt amount of significance in the future. Don’t get me wrong, now…it’s obviously wise and practical to plan financially and otherwise for where we see ourselves in the future, but we must always keep in mind that the future is as uncontrollable as the past. Nothing ever ends up being what we thought it would be, and is we really pay attention to how many of our thoughts consist of harping on what cannot be changed or affected, we’d probably be a lot more focused and productive, a lot less physically and mentally exhausted, and probably more accepting and compassionate of each other.
All I’m trying to say is that we can’t go wrong by living each moment to the fullest instead of looking back at what could have been or focusing on how we’d like to manipulate the future into being what we think it should be. It’s about appreciating and being present, about loving and sharing that appreciation with everyone around us. People will not only gravitate towards that kind of energy, but will want to embody it as well to pass it on, because at the core of that energy is the Truth. About ourselves and the world we live in. Where we came from and where we’re going. If we absolutely have to think about the past, then let’s agree to credit ourselves with having been as conscious and aware as we could have been, as productive, loving and compassionate as we could have been. And let’s agree that that energy is what lies ahead of us. More of the same. We may not necessarily be entitled to it, but we deserve it.
I’ve started teaching an early morning class over the past month, and despite my initial (and ongoing) aversion to alarm clocks and the awkward fumbling along the wall to find the light switch in the darkness of the early hour, I’m surprised at how I look forward to each AM class.
According to the definition used by my friends, I would fall into the category of a “morning person.” I usually wake up before the alarm clock is set to go off, regardless of the time it’s set to do so…I don’t need a cup of coffee to get going, and I’m more often than not cheery and alert upon rising. Never having been a fan of breakfast (despite being fully aware of its benefits), I don’t need to eat to kick-start myself in the morning…I can just get up and go, no worries and rarely without a smile on my face. All of this does not, however, mean that I like doing it. In fact, there are few things in my life that I hold dearer than the fact that I rarely have to wake up before 9am. This reason for this may lie in my past career, where it was not unusual to have to be at work for 7am, which required waking up at 5:15am (something that has since been relegated to catching early morning flights). One of the many pleasures I have encountered since leaving that career behind is catching up on sleep. As far as I’m concerned, depriving one of sleep in the line of duty should be reserved solely for those saving lives…doctors, nurses, our brothers and sisters in the armed forces. As was my situation, selling clothes to people who are buying said merchandise as a form of therapy is unnecessary and will never be part of my reality again as long as I live. Having gotten that out in the open, and now having the opportunity to return from the tangent I found myself forging, nothing has surprised me more since starting the AM class than the overwhelming feeling of tranquility and connectedness that I find myself immersed in at 6:30 am outside waiting for the bus.
Standing outside watching the absence of light recede, hearing the om-like vibration of the silence that descended on the city overnight, feeling the ocean-like sound of my breath as it operates my body’s mechanisms, even making eye contact with my fellow early risers as we pass each other on our respective ways through the murky morning…there’s a certain perfection to being awake at that hour, regardless of all the other factors and how they play a role in creating an atmosphere. If I close my eyes and just focus on my breathing, I could easily convince myself that I’ve tapped into another level on consciousness, some primordial essence of being that has existed long before human beings and will outlast us by eons. It is commonly suggested that yoga be practiced during the wee hours of the morning as there are few distractions and more organic energy to tap into throughout the asana practice, and I now understand why. I have obviously gotten up earlier than usual to practice yoga throughout my years as a yogi, most consistently for my teacher training weekends, but I must have been so focused on getting there on time that I missed all the beauty and purity of those mornings.
Teaching the class also offers a meditative quality that rarely presents itself in my later classes. The tone, cadence and fluidity of my voice takes on a unique quality during those sessions that leaves me feeling as rested as I do after the most restorative of savasanas, and so I look towards these classes with anticipation each week, knowing that not only will my altered state benefit my students, but will leave me feeling like I managed to tap into an energy reserved for the select few, the fortunate ones, the ones who understand the validity and benefits to rising early.
I can’t say that I’ll be rousing myself from my slumber daily, or that I could easily go without as much sleep as I’ve grown used to over the past year, but my intention is to get myself up and receptive earlier, and more often, so that I can partake in that feeling of connectedness to the universe that has presented itself to me. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and feel free to try it out yourselves…and let me know what your observations and findings are 🙂
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.