Tag Archives: faith

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!

What We Don’t Know

I am currently studying Islam and the Quran through an online course with Harvard University because I was aware of my ignorance when it came to the religion and belief system that over a billion people ascribe to today. I suspected that what I had been exposed to through media and the opinions of others wasn’t entirely accurate or fact-based, and as someone who believes that all talk of God should be talk of peace, I wanted to investigate.

It turns out I was right. Islam, from my very little time exposed to it, seems to be about compassion and mercy. Aligned with the Judeo-Christian history of revelations compiled into book form, Islam is also very aligned with the Yoga teachings which ask us to place God above all else. Not what CNN would have us believe, apparently.

The first question we were asked in this course is how do we know what we know about Islam and Muslims? A seemingly innocuous question, at least until I really started thinking about it. Which led to asking myself how I know most of what I think I know.

We talk shit a lot of the time. We babble on about topics that we are not properly informed about, and yet we keep on talking.

This week’s classes will bring all of this together by asking students the following questions:

How do you know what you know? About what’s right for you? About what’s right for others? About what’s right and wrong? About what you’re meant to be doing with your time? About how you’re meant to love? About who you’re meant to love? About how you receive love? About money? About sex? About rest? About stress? About health issues?

What is your source of information? Is it Google? Is it your parents or guardians who brought you up? Is it the media? Is it what you overheard from others? Is it through the news wire? And is it viable? Is it a source that speaks from fact or from assumption? Is it based in truth or in fear?

Now let’s look at what you know even though you don’t know how you know it. About the difference between right and wrong. About how to treat others, regardless of their skin color or the language they speak or the god they pray to or who they feel compelled to love. About what your life is meant to represent. About what the lives of others are meant to represent.

1) Know that ideology, on any subject, is dangerous without applying that ideology face to face with the people it involves. One can have a million opinions, but those opinions can also be transformed in a second by seeing the faces and walking in the shoes of those they involve.

2) Trust that if it makes you uncomfortable or invokes fear, you need to know more about it. That sensation or emotion of fear is a messenger begging you to look a little deeper. If we all made the effort to dig a little deeper we would find commonality. Every time.

3) If you’re gonna talk, speak fact. Opinion is already saturating our culture. Opinion is killing us. From the mind-numbing chatter of all the talking heads employed by news media conglomerates to endlessly babble stupidity into our personal spaces to the cowards who sit behind the safety of their black mirrors, puffed-up with their false sense of self-importance, spewing hate and judgement through social media on 140 characters or less. Opinion is harming us. What you put out into the world, whether it be through your word (spoken or written) or your actions, has the potential to heal or to harm. Unfortunately, the default when mindlessness is part of the equation, is harm. We harm easier than we heal. Changing that vibration into one of healing can only happen by speaking fact, not emotionally charged opinion. More importantly, we must be able to say, “I don’t know” when we really don’t have enough information to responsibly contribute to the narrative. Even more importantly? Know when not to speak. Silence, in the proper contexts, is golden. It’s grace, it’s power, it’s action disguised as inaction.

We have got to start taking more responsibility for what we project into the world. If it feeds hate, judgement, separation or fear, then we have to acknowledge that and do the work that is ours to do, a teaching that is rooted in the Bhagavad Gita. If it feeds healing and love, then we are living in alignment with why we are here and what we are meant to do with our time.

We are not here to judge or hate or blame or fear. And why does it take disasters that shake us to the core to wake up to that realization? Because we are asleep. We are encouraged to stay docile and meek because that’s how we can be herded in whatever directions governments and corporations want to us to move in.

Let’s wake up a bit more today. Let’s set an intention to continue waking up a bit more every day. Set that intention every day, and every evening, before sleeping, identify how you’ve become more awake in the day that is ending.

This is up to us. No one is going to do this work for us. For you. For me. So let’s do it. It can only lead to good.

Why?

Why would you doubt your worth?

Why would you pretend to be someone else?

Why would you settle for mediocrity?

Why would you waste this precious time by doing what you’d prefer not to?

Why would you do what everyone else is doing?

Why wouldn’t you ask for help when you need it?

Why wouldn’t you reach for your dreams and wildest ambitions?

Why wouldn’t you assume that it will all work out?

Why wouldn’t you passionately respect yourself?

Why wouldn’t you finally just do it, your way, on your terms?

This One For Matty

The past couple of weeks have been interesting for me in that I have found myself practicing yoga more frequently than I typically do. If I can get 2-3 classes in a week, I’m happy, but over the past few weeks I’ve found myself practicing 4-5 times a week, and what it has brought me is beautifully informative. With more practice has come more strength, more awareness as to when in each individual practice I feel my body begin to respond, open and warm up. I have found myself in a new phase of relationship with my practice and my body, and as a result of the observations I’ve made, I have also found myself compelled to pay more attention to what I’m eating, when I’m eating, if I’m eating. The same applies for rest: I find myself resting when I need to, saying no to things that will interrupt that rest, and being active when typically I could just keep on resting. I am in awe of my body, how it works and responds and, ultimately, the relationship I have with it.

Last week I was notified by a friend that an old friend of ours with whom we worked years ago had been hospitalized and was currently in the Intensive Care Unit. Mathieu Leroux is the epitome of an artist: he is an actor, an author, an avid fan of music and has staged his own one-man shows. He is a creator, taking the intangibility of thought and inspiration and making it manifest into his art that he shares with the rest of the world. This man who uses his body, his movement and his words to continue to give to the world has been rendered physically immobile by a syndrome that goes by the name of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Now, I don’t know what brought it on in Mathieu’s case, but at this point it doesn’t matter. What matters is what is, and what is is an almost-total state of paralysis. Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs when the immune system recognizes the cells found in the sheaths surrounding the nerves in the body as threatening, and then targets them. This is a very rare syndrome that, in some cases, occurs after one has recovered from a viral infection. Regardless of what causes it, all I know is that I went to visit Matty in the hospital this past week and found him asleep, intubated and in a state that I want him to recover from quickly. The good news is that he will recover, as the recovery statistics with this ailment are great. But it’s going to be a long road, one full of highs and lows. I know, however, that Matty has what it takes to come back from this and let it inform the rest of his life.

I teach yoga and meditation and write the books I write because I am firmly convinced that we all need more education in mindfulness. We need to have more conversations about what the nature of the mind is by default and how it, in many cases, does us a disservice by honing in on that which is most extreme. If yoga and meditation, in certain traditions, are about deprogramming initial response, then we need to work on being present enough to recognize when the mind is focusing on, obsessing over, something that is not helpful, that is allowing tensions to wriggle their way into the body’s musculature and make themselves at home. One of the key Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (from the Ashtanga Yoga System) is Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam, which translates to “in the presence of negative thoughts, think of opposite ones.” An almost childishly simple piece of advice, but wiser and more effective than you can imagine. The root of this teaching stems from the knowledge that in any given moment, we have a say in what we point our mind to. In the most extreme of circumstances, we have the ability to not fall victim to them and be at their mercy. We have the ability to focus on areas of least or pleasant sensation when there is physical discomfort or pain. We have the ability to point the mind to a hope, a dream, to faith. We have the ability to direct our thoughts to that which is useful and serves us, especially when our thoughts would get pulled into the chaotic and unpleasant, which is usually what happens. We typically spend our time mulling over what brings us pain and suffering, and so in these moments it is our duty to deprogram initial response and re-point our mind to that which allows us to maintain calm, stay in action and not succumb to fear or pain. That is yoga.

Mathieu is currentFullSizeRenderly in a situation where he has two choices: to either succumb to fear, visualizing how all of this could go even more horribly, or he could re-point his mind to healing, to faith in that healing, to the community of family, friends and loved ones who have gathered around him like protective parents, to getting through this and emerging stronger, more informed and more galvanized than ever to bring this experience with him as he continues to spoil us with his art. His situation is an extreme version of what I discuss in my teachings: moments that we wish would pass quicker than they do and what tools to use to navigate the passage of those moments wisely, in action instead of in reaction. We breath deeply when that’s available, but more importantly we take control of what the mind is focusing on and we refocus it. To light. To faith. To healing. This is his yoga practice.

I have spoken to my students this week about what’s going on with Mathieu so we could dedicate our movement, breath and intentions to not only him, but to others in our lives who could use a little infusion of light, of love, of energy, patience and resilience. I hope and pray that a fraction of all that love has landed with those to whom it was directed.

Matty’s recovery will no doubt be longer than any of us would like it to be, and despite his community having banded together over the past week to raise money for him to not have to worry about living expenses as he gradually makes his way out of this moment, any and all donations will not only be appreciated, they’ll be essential. The only thing we want him to expend energy on is coming back to a fully mobile state, and so I’m including the link to the crowdfunding site where all donations are going. Visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/soutenir-mathieu-leroux#/story to donate whatever you can. Think of Mathieu, even if you don’t know him, and send him your thoughts and good energy. Be grateful for that which we typically take for granted in the pursuit of our goals and dreams: these bodies that allow us to make our way through life, these voices that allow us to express ourselves, this community that we are blessed to be a part of.

Think of Matty and join me and all his network support in gunning for his recovery. We love you Mathieu. You will get through this. We will be here to make sure that happens.

Musings

On the eve of my 41st birthday, I find myself reflecting on how simple it would be to move from the chaos that seems to be sweeping the globe to perspective, peace and purpose. Based solely on my own experience and observations, here are some reminders to help maintain clarity and meaning, especially in the moments that would ordinarily send us into a downwards spiral:

1) Don’t let feelings of inadequacy steer you away from showing up in the world in the manner that you feel compelled to.

2) Support others.

3) Love, play and work hard.

4) Do your best, as often as possible.

5) Fess up to and own the moments where you fuck up instead of passing blame onto others or trying to protect your image due to pride. These moments are essential to evolution and learning.

6) Your dreams, the words trying to work their way through your voice and the urges that motivate you into the world are yours specifically. Pay attention to them and allow them to guide you forward. Trust they will bring you where you are meant to go.

7) Your intuition is the voice of the energy that animates your body. Listen to it. It will never steer you wrong.

8) Rise up with as much light as you can summon to meet the darkness that presents itself.

9) Take accountability and responsibility for what you put out into the world. It will outlive, outlast and represent you when you’re no longer here to do that for yourself.

10) Be kind to yourself. If you don’t know what that feels like, you won’t have any idea how to offer it over to others.

hamsa

Dealbreaker

fvfIn recent asana and iRest® Yoga Nidra classes I have been very focused on the role that our core beliefs play in the paths our lives travel down and how we show up in our own lives and the world around us. In my quest to awaken students to their greatest potential through the examination of sensation and emotion en route to acknowledging what they believe to be true about themselves, I have been emphasizing how what we believe to be true will become true in each of our own lives, as truth is subjective. What we believe will become, as I wrote in The Examined Life. Our beliefs inform and set the level of our self-esteem, and if you really think about it, we do everything at the level of our self-esteem. We hang out with people who treat us at the level of our self-esteem, we marry at that same level, and we eat and sleep (if and when we’re doing it) at that same level as well. As my teacher Seane Corn mentioned to us in the vinyasa training I took with 60 other students a few weeks ago, “How you are with anything is how you are with everything.”

I was up late last night reading The Anatomy of the Spirit, a book penned by medical intuitive author, teacher and doctor Caroline Myss, and one concept stayed with me after I put the book down and started to fall asleep. As she states in the chapter The Second Chakra, “…our internal conflict between faith and fear is often buried underneath the survival issues that dominate our thoughts: Can I earn a living? Can I find a partner? Can I take care of myself?”

In the mentoring I do with clients and students, in the individual iRest® Yoga Nidra Dyad sessions I do and in the counseling I offer to friends and family members when they need someone to help keep them propped up and motivated, I have found myself coming to the same realization over and over again: people are either paralyzingly terrified that things will inevitably go awry and they will suffer, or they believe that everything will always work out, regardless of the ups and downs along the way. Both my father and I share the core belief that things will always be ok, and that belief has served us well, and continues to do so. When I work with imagery in individual session with clients, that imagery, in 9 out of 10 cases, always comes down to the same thing: there is a mass of light and a mass of dark, literally an entity of dark blackness and one of illuminated whiteness. Those that are truly suffering believe that the darkness is stronger than the light. The rest believe that the light is stronger. What you believe will become. We are either living under the weight of heavy darkness threatening our ease and well-bring, or we are channeling light. We are either reacting to every possible threat and marker that has the potential to reinforce our fears or we are keeping our gaze lifted, hurtling over small bumps in the road instead of stopping and quaking in fear at each individual potential obstacle.

The survival issues that are referred to in The Anatomy of the Spirit are at the heart of every single one of our core beliefs. If our foundation is one of faith, believing on a heart, soul and gut level that there are forces greater than us at work and that every single thing that happens to and around us in this life is intentionally being brought to us as a messenger to learn from or to teach to others, then there is light. We live in it and it keeps us going, especially in moments of darkness that have the potential to bring us to our knees. If our foundation is one of fear, living our daily lives looking over our shoulders with apprehension as to what might not go according to plan and take away whatever happiness we have, then we are literally living hell on earth, constantly getting beaten down by the fear that we are not capable enough and don’t have what it takes to survive in the world today. It’s the difference between feeling self-worth and feeling worthless. It’s the difference between being able to handle whatever life brings to our doorstep with discriminative wisdom and faith that we will land on our feet, closer to light, even if the moment itself feels dark, versus walking around with the shadow fear of not being good or capable enough and believing that we’re cursed and constantly being threatened by that curse.

What do you believe, at the core of your being? Do you believe that everything happens as it should to bring us closer to discovering who and what we are? Do you believe that we are meant to learn, and in some instances, teach from the moments that we come face to face with, that also have the potential to stop us dead in our tracks? Or do you believe that life is just a series of events that are meant to be suffered through, and only the strongest of the strong emerge? Is everything random and some of us get more of the dark than we should have to deal with, or will every moment bring us where we need to go, even if it’s not where we would have chosen to?

On a fundamental level, do you have more faith than fear, or vice versa? And how is that answer dictating every single second of your life?

 

 

 

Ritually Rich

IstanbulI’m writing this post lying in bed in my hotel room in Istanbul. I’m up later than I have been on any other night, as our retreat here has come to an end and most of the students have left on their return journeys home. As is typically the case, I’ve been very reflective as this experience winds down, and despite staying here for another few days, my reality in Istanbul as I have become accustomed to it is changing. The community we created over the past week was a very special one, insular and bonding, what with the coming together of and unifying like-minded people, as these retreats always end up doing. We ended up practicing yoga, obviously, and we did more sightseeing and touring than I previously thought possible in 7 days, but what proved to me most refreshing about this voyage to Turkey was the immediate connection we all felt to its people.

This city is older than almost any other I’ve ever traveled to, but unlike what I witnessed in Rome or Athens, there is a basic undercurrent of faith amongst its inhabitants who live their religion and faith in every step taken and with every gesture made. That faith doesn’t just manifest in the clothes worn here or the hauntingly seductive call to prayer booming from the minarets five times daily. The faith these people live their lives infused with is visible in how they touch each other, how they go out of their way for perfect strangers, how they have a smile waiting to break at the first opportunity, how they meet as a community to discuss spiritual matters before witnessing their devout enter the room to begin whirling in place with the intention of foresaking their egos and connecting with the oneness of existence. None of us were expecting to be consistently treated with kindness and generosity of spirit by every single person we came into contact with. None of us were expecting to be charmed by the warmth of the people here, in fact, I can honestly say that I expected to be treated curtly and dismissively as a western tourist here. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After thousands of years, this city still emanates energy…an energy that runs deep in the streets, one that resounds through speakers and is visible in the eyes of the most heavily veiled women. What we were blessed to see this week was a people rich with rituals, rituals that take precedent over all else. Regardless of what any of us may think of the Muslim world, one thing I know I’m taking away with me from this city is that everything I’ve ever assumed about Muslims was wrong. There is a deep and ancient humility demonstrated by people here, a true Bhakti, or devotion, to a higher energy that is recognized as the source of all that is. These are a DEEPLY spiritual people, and after being here for only one week, I can say that I have a deep respect and affinity to them. Now before some of you jump at the chance to get all Western on me, let me say that I am aware that Istanbul is very progressive for a Muslim city, but nonetheless, the beauty I and the other 17 people that were here on retreat with me saw was unexpected and incredibly moving.

What I feel meant the most to us a yoga group was the fact that we came here to bring our ritual to a city already ritually rich. We weren’t expecting it to be so, but as the universe typically does, we were shown how little we know. We brought our faith in yoga and its powers to change, uplift and inspire to a city where faith is as common as kebab restaurants and traffic jams. We ended up not only meeting like-minded spirits in meeting each other as retreat participants, but we ended up realizing that we share more with this side of the world than we ever thought possible. This city has shown me just how deeply my own faith runs, and by doing so, it has touched me on a soul level, a heart level, as no other city ever has.

I will come back home in just under one week, more aware and sensitized to those whose culture differs greatly from the one I’m more familiar with. I will come home having attained greater depths of beauty and humanity, all because I was shown just how little I know, but how much I believe. As demonstrated to me by the whirling dervishes I was blessed to witness this evening as they expressed their devotion, I will not bow down to the city of Istanbul in reverence, but rather, I will leave with one hand uplifted to receive the blessings of the higher power that led me here, and I will place my other hand palm down to pass on those blessings to you all.

With only love, Bxx.