Tag Archives: adversity

Why We Should Be Grateful For 2016

2016As 2016 winds down to its last days, social media and conversation is abuzz with how this year has truly been THE annus horribilis, the year that everyone wants to see the back of. It seems like there were more tears in the collective fabric of humanity over the last 12 months than in other years in recent memory. From the deaths of some of our most celebrated artists and musicians to the seemingly relentless terror attacks on freedom and those fortunate enough to live where freedom reigns, from the non-stop sensationalist media frenzy that helped elect he-who-shall-not-be-named to the office of POTUS, to the rising wave of intolerance and xenophobia, 2016 has definitely been chock full of shocks. But instead of looking at all these moments as contributing to a horrible year, I can give you all a few reasons as to why 2016 is one of the most important years in this lifetime of ours.

My year has had some of the most challenging moments I’ve ever been faced with. My teacher of 17 years, Joan Ruvinsky, passed away, my dog got critically ill, I was ill and on antibiotics for over 3 months and my partner and I had a major cancer scare over the last 5 weeks. Serious life events that kept coming like a roll of punches that hit just when you find verticality and can see straight again. And I’m not the only one. Almost every single person I know has had his or her share of challenges in 2016. Financial struggles, serious mental and physical health problems, legal issues, you name it, it’s been occurring in my sphere of awareness. Seen literally, it all amounts to trouble and suffering, both of which anyone with half a functional brain would steer clear of. However, seen spiritually or symbolically, something much more significant than unpleasant moments has occurred in 2016.

We don’t learn anything when things are good. We don’t learn anything about ourselves or about how we operate in the world when the sun is shining, when it’s eternal summer, when we’ve got coin in the bank, when we’re a pound or two below our ideal weight, when we look in the mirror and love what we see, when our relationships and friendships are sailing along smoothly, when we love our work and when we feel like everything is exactly where it should be. And understand this above all else: spiritually speaking, success is not measured by what we own, our accomplishments, the amount of money we have or what we look like. Success, when speaking spiritually, is measured by how much we’ve learned. And we don’t learn anything in times of prosperity and abundance. We learn when we have our asses served to us by what typically gets easily referred to as “the universe.” And whether or not we have liked it, we have gotten more successful in 2016.

I have learned, through all of the challenges that this year has had in store for me, how to really work with my thoughts and stay in positivity, hope, realism and productivity. I have learned what it means to work with fear, with negativity, with pain (emotional and physical), to put into practice everything I have studied and taught over the last chunk of my career. And understand this: I knew, as soon as things got heavy in my life, that I was being presented with the opportunity to respond to and deal with hardship, to make sure that a) I knew what I was talking about when I taught about working with fear, anxiety, negativity and darkness, and b) I could accurately empathize with the suffering of others. My role in this lifetime is to help others navigate their Dark Nights of the Soul. And this year, I was presented with my own, over and over. I was meant to be reminded that sometimes it feels impossible to inhale fully, to inflate the lungs, to really take a deep breath in the face of fear and chaos. I was reminded. And I am a better person, author, teacher, friend, son, mentor, brother, husband, godfather and pet owner because of it.

What have we learned collectively in 2016? That sometimes the unthinkable happens. That sometimes events do not unfold the way we would want them to, that the Hollywood narrative is the Hollywood narrative to keep us entertained and always able to depend on the happy ending. We have learned that we will never agree with each other on some of the most fundamental issues that affect us all, and that that is ok. We’ve learned that the freedoms that we are blessed with on this side of the world are not to be taken for granted, that with the election of certain individuals, those freedoms that others fought and died for could be taken away. We’ve learned that we might need to stand up and speak louder to ensure the freedom of all, not just those that look like us, speak the same language, pray to the same God as we do or align with our political views. We’ve learned that anything can happen to anyone at any time, and that every moment is precious. We’ve learned that when we suffer, we instinctively become more aware of the suffering of others and feel an animalistic need to not inflict further suffering on anyone or anything. We’ve learned that we have a choice as to whether we take care of each other or whether we don’t. We’re still learning that lesson. It will be a long time before we get it. I’m hopeful that we will.

Basically, 2016 was a game-changer for us, on a personal and collective level. And while we may have made our way through the year under low-level pressure and resented having to do so, no one can argue that whatever we’ve learned is essential. We need to be reminded of what matters in life, and for me, that is how I work with my thought patterns. Every single one of us will have an experience of the world that is dependent on what our thoughts are, and I believe that hardship and adversity exist for us to do the mindfulness work, to observe where our thoughts go when circumstances and events get less than ideal. We are meant to look beyond the appearance of it all to find the meaning, the symbolism, and, ultimately, the lessons that are ours specifically to learn.

And so, looking back through a different lens or filter, how does 2016 look to you now? Give it some thought and see what arises.

Happy Holidays to all, and the happiest of New Years. Here’s to 2017!

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Giving Up The Ghost

tunnelIt’s been a while since my last post. 2013 has been a year of incredible highs and shockingly raw lows, and we’re only halfway through March, but with that said, I have a very strong feeling that this year will be a watershed one for me. I’ve felt a low rumbling in my gut over the last few months (no, it’s not diet-related); an ever-growing vibration that is always present, and that intensifies without my noticing it. I have seen myself blessed in 2013 by the network of beautiful, empathetic people around me, have agreed to teach all over the country for the first time ever (including a 4-day stint realizing a dream by being included in the faculty of the 2013 Wanderlust Whistler Yoga Festival), and have found solace from the tests that the universe has presented me with through my classes and mentoring. After 5 years of teaching, I have discovered that my most connected moments, to my students and the source of my inspiration and dharma, occur when I completely let go of any semblance of control.

The exercise that I have been forced to practice this year has been one that I encourage others to practice in every single class or lecture I give: to let go. I realized this year that I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to shape events and plans to be whatever it is that I think they should be. Call it planning, call it controlling, call it manipulating…regardless of whatever labels we choose to affix to our habits, we nonetheless find ourselves forgetting the limitations of the words and terminology in the precise moment when we stand face to face with the stark truth of our existence. I have always considered myself to be down to earth, someone who prefers to speak to people on an even playing field. I don’t appreciate being spoken to condescendingly or in language that sounds false and disingenuous, and so I make sure that my interactions with others are devoid of any of that energy. With all that steeping in the realms of my self-awareness, I nonetheless found myself this year being forced to look starkingly and without filters at who I am, what I want, and how I want the rest of my life to be. I was forced to detach from the stories I had created for myself and how I saw my journey ahead panning out, and was forced to stop labeling, manipulating, and moulding scenarios and events under the guise of protecting others and myself from a future that I considered to be threatening to the greater good. What I never took into consideration was that I had created my own impression of what the greater good looked like. I had built my own story, and then assumed it would be the same one that others around me would follow. It was fully subjective, from my own point of view and frame of reference. I believed the story that I knew better than others what the path to happiness was, that my way was the right way. Man, was I ever wrong.

I know I’m being somewhat vague here, but that’s because the details of the past few months are irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make, which is this: I offer tools daily on how to connect to the present moment, how to let go of the intangibility of the past and the future, to focus on what is. I thought I had mastered being able to see things in their own true state of being, without meaningless words reducing them to mere concepts. I found out that I know nothing. I found out that to truly let go and focus on what is is the most challenging and frightening exercise that exists. It’s an ongoing exercise, a lifelong commitment to my Self and to living in a state of pure awareness, one with an ever-unfolding evolution throughout which there is always more to learn and see and absorb and let go of and unlearn.

Throughout the first 3 months of this year I struggled to find the peace necessary to quell the incertitude and struggle I found myself dealing with, and even with countless and incessant “inspirational” quotes being thrown around social media outlets like a random Frisbee rebounding off of invisible walls, I found no answer to my questions. I put my shorts on before teaching a class a few days ago, and when I slipped my hand into my pocket, I found a bunch of crumpled up pieces of paper with notes jotted down on them detailing my class focuses for the last few months. Indisputably, the teachings that I had been blessed to be exposed to and pass on were brilliant, yet even with all that wisdom available to me for guidance, I still found nothing that brought me clarity. Ultimately, I had to let go of trying to control things to find my peace once again, reluctantly giving it up to a higher energy despite having the full knowledge that I would land on my feet, regardless of where that would be. Sometimes the only thing that can truly bring one peace is to live what needs to be lived by letting go of the reins and giving up the control that we’ve spent our entire lives kidding ourselves into believing we had. With full faith in something bigger than us…something timeless and unnameable, subtle and dependable.

I am finally back to a place of peace. This process has been exactly that: a process. One that had its own beginning, middle and ending, all of which I acknowledged and respected by invoking the essence of the holy trimurti from Hindu mythology and their female aspects: Brahma & Saraswati, Vishnu & Lakshmi, and Shiva & Shakti. I have let the process run its course, and by the grace of a higher power, had the strength and support of my friends and beautiful family to lean on when the going got tough. And so with all that said, with the greatest year of opportunities and “firsts” lying in wait just around the corner, I feel more prepared than ever to go forward and inspire people by drawing on my own experiences and incorporating the brilliance and simplicity of the yoga teachings. I have never felt stronger or more connected to my soul and my own path than I do now, and that has only happened by barreling forwards through the face of fear, doubt and uncertainty. I believe that this time in my life has not been for naught – it has occurred to increase my compassion and ability to empathize with others, and to be the light at the end of the tunnel for those facing dark passages. I am not responsible for that light – I am a vessel for it, as is each and every one of you reading this. Despite feeling like the light went through a dimming phase of late, it now burns brighter than ever, and so I now reflect its warmth and glow onto you all. Take it in, and pass it on. Let’s go forward together and be there for each other with silence when necessary and words of encouragement when appropriate. Most importantly, understand that everything is happening at the right time and for the greater good. Write THAT down and put it in your pocket, and it will hopefully be there to inspire you when you need it.

Onwards and upwards 🙂

Addendum: Immediately after writing this blog post, I found this post from Swami Satchidananda, a constant source of wisdom and light for me and millions of others..once again, he has managed to put his words together flawlessly, and essentially sums up the intention behind my post:

Ultimately the Higher Will is the final authority. In the case of human beings, free will has been given with certain limitations. You are not free to do everything you want. You can’t fly like a bird. There are many other such limitations. Your will is limited, but within those limitations you are allowed to do certain things freely. Those things are: to be helpful to other beings, to be serviceful to other beings, and to live a harmonious and useful life. You are free to do that. At the same time, you are also free not to live that way. By your own free will, you will face the result of whatever you do. You are even told what is right and what is wrong, but nobody interferes with your free will.

 It’s been that way since the very first person. According to the Bible Adam was asked not to eat the fruit. But God had given him free will, and Adam chose to eat the fruit. Did God stop him? No. That is where your free will comes in. You are free even to do wrong things, but you cannot escape from the guilt of having done something like that. That’s why Adam felt guilty.

 Was it God’s intent to make him feel guilty? No. Through that guilt, God wanted him to learn a lesson. Learning a lesson is more important, so you are allowed to commit the mistake, feel guilty, and from that learn the lesson. Experience is the best teacher. That’s why free will is given.

 Those who really want to use free will in the right way would choose by their own free will to give themselves into the hands of the Higher Will. With your free will you say, “Lord, You have given me free will. I know it has limitations. I can only do certain things, and if I try to go beyond those limitations Your will comes and stops me. So what is the idea of having my free will? To have fun? It’s better not to use my free will because ultimately You are the boss. Your Will is the final one, so I give my free will into Your hands. You gave it to me; now please take it back and do whatever You want.” With your own free will you give yourself into the hands of God. We never lose by giving ourselves into, those hands. By giving ourselves completely, we gain more of God. We get all of God, if we give our all. Then there is no destiny, and there are no problems.

 Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi

Defining Happiness

If I told you that I could provide you with everything you’ve ever wanted, how do you think your life would be once I delivered on that promise? Down to the smallest detail, what you seek and covet would be yours, no matter how valuable or rare or even humanly possible…you’d have it all. Initially you’d probably be in heaven…enjoying and soaking up all the riches and beauty and comfort that one can hope and wish for. After a while, however, I’d put my money on you growing bored with what you have. Regardless of how out-of-reach the things you’d been granted may have seemed before you acquired them, regardless of how complete you thought you’d be with everything you could ever desire, you’d grow bored.

Why?

When we are given things, when they come too easily, on some level we feel that there’s a catch somewhere…an ulterior motive, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, too good to be true. Hand-outs, in theory, are great, but when they actually materialize, they can end up feeling inauthentic, tainted…like charity or pity to some, laced with a simple sense of unease to others.

The fact of the matter is this: we feel happiness when barreling through obstacles and adversity in the pursuit of happiness. Overcoming the hurdles that we find ourselves facing in the pursuit itself brings about the goal. Our quest for happiness brings about happiness. As we attempt to find truth and insight into who we are and why we’re here, we feel like we are accomplishing something real, something relevant…we end up feeling responsible for our own happiness and that in itself produces happiness.

If I gave you the perfect yoga practice, would you still do it? If nothing challenged you, if you never felt like you were accomplishing anything, no matter how important you may or may not have considered it to be, would you still feel the way you currently do about your practice? About your job? About your marriage? About your health? About your relationships?

It’s not about the end result. The end result may come beautifully packaged and endlessly dazzling, but the glass and sheen eventually fade. The struggles, the challenges, and the moments of accomplishment are what it’s about. That’s what makes us happy.

With this concept now slowly sinking in, what does it change for you and your world view?