Tag Archives: God

Enter The Devil

I got into a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about spirituality and faith, and it got me thinking.

Some of the questions I was asked by my friend were:

– do you believe in God?
– do you believe in luck?
– how do you reconcile being born into privilege versus being born into poverty in a third-world country?
– do you believe in reincarnation?
– do you believe in ghosts?

Midway through last week’s yoga retreat in Bali I got into another conversation with one of the students there who had been a teacher and who told me about the fallout she experienced by bringing the first Harry Potter novel into the classroom to read with her students. She told me how visceral some of the parents’ reactions were to having their children exposed to magic and sorcery, and how these parents equated the concepts of magic and sorcery with the devil and with hell.

Our beliefs dictate how we live, what we cling to, and, more importantly, what we recoil from in fear-based judgement. Personally, I believe that the devil, the embodiment and gatekeeper of hell, is simply the mystical figurehead of living a life based in fear, based solely and specifically in the lower chakras, based in attachment to and sole belief in the tangible, the material world experienced through the 5 senses. I believe that living in fear and doubt as a result of being afraid of the existence of more than the physical is literally hell on earth.

Enter the devil. Watch yourself cling to him for dear life. God forbid we should maintain open minds. God forbid we should pay attention to and trust our intuition, or sixth sense. God forbid we should know ourselves as contracted forms of God and reside in that Awareness and witnessing as a seventh sense. God forbid we should let go of the devil we know so that our faith in something else can carry us to a place of awakening, knowing, connection and deep spirituality.

My friend who asked me all the questions mentioned earlier is also a student of mine who has participated in classes and retreats. I understood that despite being privy to my take on things in the classroom environment, she still had some fundamental and relevant queries that needed to be asked to help guide her closer to her own understanding of spirituality and connection to forces greater than us. And so we got into it. God, ghosts, luck, work ethic, life, death, karma, reincarnation… It was a great exchange. We discussed our beliefs and allowed them to be challenged as the conversation evolved, and eventually walked away from it deep in thought and contemplation.

And so I ask you: what do you believe? How would you answer the questions I was asked? Have you ever considered what your beliefs are and what your answers would be about birth, death and everything that happens between the two? What about what happens after death? Do you believe in karma and reincarnation? Is luck everything to do with success or do we earn our glory? Why are you alive today and how do you think your time on earth is supposed to be managed? Is the path you’re on already set out for you or do have any degree of influence on its trajectory?

I bring these types of questions up at every possible opportunity because I know the meaning of life to be the unifying force behind these topics, and I want to help focus others to the issues that matter so they can begin to see past the literal to the symbolic, replete with underlying purpose.

This is an opportunity for you to do some work, work that will matter long-term. Go ahead and ask yourself some of these questions and see what you come up with…and if you feel like sharing, the forum is open!

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Prioritizing Peace

photoOne of the topics I lecture on in classes, presentations and workshops is the reason we practice yoga. Millions of people make their way onto a yoga mat daily, and every one of those people has a motivator informing every step towards the mat, and every motion/breath/thought on it. The most interesting aspect of speaking to people about why we practice is that many of us have rarely wondered what brings the person next to us in class to their practice, and as Yoga is an opportunity to see unity and eradicate division, I like watching that be practically applied in a very real context as students find common ground.

Some of us practice yoga because we want to move and we don’t want to do it in a gym environment. That was my initial motivation way back in 1999 when I grew tired of the testosterone-riddled gym setting that I dragged myself to 3-4 times/week. I found the posturing and obsession on the appearance of things almost as unbearable as the music that was being pumped out of the speakers at distracting levels. And so I started looking for a yoga class in my neighbourhood…and found my first teacher living directly across the street.

Some of us practice yoga because we like exploring how moving the body in challenging/trying/frustrating/exhilarating/revolutionary ways affects our breathing. We want to notice what happens to our breathing when we’re pulled away from our center of calm, because to be able to assess with objectivity how our breathing is affected by what we experience on the yoga mat tells us how we are affected by what we experience off the yoga mat. We start to understand that to be able to control our breathing and maintain a calming breath even when we feel like we might fall out of a posture gives us the tools to control our breathing and maintain a calming breath when we get sick, when things get stressful and hectic, when trauma occurs, when those around us get hurt…in short, when life pulls us away from our center.

Some of us practice yoga because it’s only through this discipline that we find our own unique understanding of a higher power, of light, of energy, of God. The connection that yoga offers becomes monumentally more than the mind-body-intention one. It becomes the connection that shows us that we are way more than our name/job/body/confidence/hairstyle/car/house/watch, and more than the roles we carry out in relation to family and friends. It shows us that we are the embodiment of everything that we have ever hoped and wanted for, and part of something formless and spacious.

Some of us practice yoga in group settings because it’s where we find community. The epidemic of loneliness (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/life-of-solitude-a-loneliness-crisis-is-looming/article15573187/?page=1) seems to be growing exponentially, even with technology capable of keeping us linked at every second of every day. We don’t want to be alone, and yoga reminds us that beneath the appearance of different skin colours, languages, religions, bank account balances, job titles, opportunities and overall appearances, we are all the same, living a human experience and wanting for the exact same things.

Some of us practice yoga for every single reason listed above. And some of us have no idea why we practice. We just feel compelled to do so.

What underlies all these reasons, and what underlies all the differences that present themselves as separation in our communities and the world around us, is peace. We are all seeking peace. Peace of mind, peace in our heart, peace in our soul. We are already the embodiment of that peace, but we’ve lost track of that in many cases, and so yoga helps us find our way back.

As 2013 comes to a close, take a minute to reflect on where you’ve been, who you’ve loved, who has loved you, and who you’ve been throughout and over the last year. And then let it all go. Be here, in this second, with one foot in 2013 and the other lifted, ready and certain about where it will find itself when it steps down. Believe in miracles, and understand that you are more of everything than you’ve ever thought possible…more focused, more driven, more capable, more resilient, stronger, with more capacity to love, be loved, and help heal all the division we seem inundated by. Let everyone around you see that peace that you’ve been taking care of all this time. Let people see through your actions, words and intention that peace is not an option – it’s who we are and it’s why we’re here. That peace will bring us forward collectively, with clarity and community and light. Let these be your cornerstones for 2014 and every year that follows.

Peace.

I am

72_Names_of_God_chartI am light. I am love. I am energy. I am truth. I am expansiveness. I am knowledge. I am everywhere. I am nowhere. I am the molecules forming the clouds overhead and the sound of the tectonic plates shifting. I am the wind racing through the streets and the sun that reflects off the windshield. I am the gossamer web of a spider and the fly that gets trapped in it. I am the awareness of an infant and the wisdom of an aged mind. I am Jehovah. I am Shiva. I am Jesus. I am Vishnu. I am Allah. I am Brahma. I am Buddha. I am Krishna. I am Adonai. I am Isvara.

And so are you.

God Talk

I went for lunch last week to my favourite afternoon eatery in the city, Olive & Gourmando, a place which already felt like home and whose staff are now extended family, and sat down with Jennifer, Dawn M, and Dawn B to add the finishing touches to the Luna Yoga Teacher Training that we will be giving for the next year starting in May. Jenn’s dad joined us, sitting just outside our hub of planning until we had gotten everything taken care of, at which point the inevitable subject that we gravitated to was the massive devastation in Japan from the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that have assaulted them in every conceivable way. We started talking about the footage we had seen online and on TV to bring Jenn up to date, as she hadn’t seen any of it, and once we had driven home the horrors of the events, Jenn’s father looked at us and asked, “So where was god then, huh?”.

There is a lot of god talk in yoga. It’s something that I’ve never been entirely comfortable with, as I have been raised to equate god with organized religion, something I have never ascribed to and find separates mankind more than it unites it. Having said that, I do believe in a higher energy, one that serves as the source of our essence as humans, and one that is the main player when we finally slip off this mortal coil at the end of this life we currently find ourselves living. And so with that as a fundamental part of my belief system, I found myself unable to respond to Jenn’s dad, whose sly grin reinforced his lack of faith in god as it is typically defined. Needless to say, Jenn jumped right in and switched the topic, and it was only a half hour later, as I was on my way home and mulling over the whole conversation, that I found clarity, and here it is:

If I believe that god is light, god is truth, god is energy, that god is the ultimate in cosmic consciousness, and that god is in all things (including us), then I have to accept that the  natural disasters in Japan were embodiments of the true force of that energy. As I accept my interpretation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.23, isvara-pranidhanad va, we need to, as individuals, determine how we define what is commonly referred to as god, and then see that in all things as a thread of commonality. And so my response to Jenn’s dad would be, “God was there for every second of every minute of the disaster.” Which leads me even further – who are we to expect any god-like act to be merciful? Why do we look at horrible events and immediately wonder where god was in the equation? Why does god have to be equated with a person possessing an intention or an agenda? Who said that the only way for god to be present is to be a source of relief and mercy? The bible? I’m sure god is defined as all things, not solely as the saviour. Why can’t we assume that acts of god are simply acts of god, and that to try and rationalize said acts in a way that makes us feel better about them is to be literally living out the definition of arrogance and self-centredness?

With all that steeping in my thoughts, the ultimate point I wanted to initially grasp, and then pass onto you all, is that perhaps god’s role in the act of the disaster is secondary to the way that we humans react to the events. Perhaps horrors like those Japan recovers from serve as catalysts for the rest of us to latch onto, to channel into and infuse with our words, actions and intentions that drip with the universal consciousness of kindness, of love, and most of all, of light. Perhaps these events occur to show us how when the chips fall, all the inane squabbling and in-fighting we’re all guilty of on a daily basis get relegated to the perimeter of our awareness, where they should have been all along, and the opportunity to step up as warriors of truth and solace presents itself. Perhaps god is not only in the action, but in the reaction. Perhaps. And perhaps not. Who’s to say? I would never force my beliefs on anyone in the same way that I would never be receptive to someone trying to force theirs on me. It’s up to each of us to decide.

And so…do you? Do you decide? Do you choose to believe something? And if so, what’s your take?

Universally Speaking

Living my life in Yoga has brought me many things including an overall sense of peace coupled with the desire to know and be able to pass on all insightful information, but one of the greatest things I’ve found myself enriched by is the need and ability to process and deconstruct said information and be able to contest what I find questionable. My first couple of hours in teacher training in 2009 found me ready to abandon my plans as a teacher simply because some of what I was hearing from those leading the course conflicted greatly with what I then felt strongly about. I brought my concerns to friends, who reminded me that regardless of my eagerness to start a new chapter of my life and wanting to absorb as much information as possible, I always had the right to take what information I deemed relevant and leave that which I felt didn’t serve me. It was with that ambitious reserve that I threw myself back into my training with abandon and into my career to date.

There is a lot of information to process from the Yogic teachings, all of which can discombobulate the most grounded of people. Filtering through and processing it all may indeed prove to be exhausting, but allowing yourself to challenge what you consider true is always enlightening and more often than not, illuminating. One aspect of Yoga continues to this day to challenge my beliefs, and I believe that it poses some of the same questions for others as it does me. The Yogic scriptures and teachings bring everything back to one thing: union. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to unite or to yolk. We refer most often to the union of the mind, body and breath…the aim of which is to return or reunite with the source of all life, which is most often referred to as God in the teachings. This poses somewhat of a problem for me.

I am not a religious person. At all. I was raised in a Jewish environment, being brought to synagogue for all the High Holidays throughout my youth until I absolutely refused to continue participating in what I felt was a ridiculous farce to mask superficiality and ego in the shroud of tradition. My experience with synagogue was being surrounded by men and women dressing up to the nines boasting about their possessions and accomplishments, all the while gossiping about each other and then “humbly” returning to their seats to mumble through the prayers. I played the game myself, bringing my own reading material to hide behind the prayer-book so that I wouldn’t go out of my mind with boredom listening to what I felt was an incredibly archaic system of demonstrating one’s faith. I have since heard similar experiences being recounted my friends from other faiths, which reinforced my aversion to religion. All of that combined with the knowledge that mostly all religions across the spectrum are exclusive, telling us that we are the chosen people, that others are somehow “less than” we are, completed my break from organized religion. Yoga teaches that we are all connected, that there are no levels of worth and that the ego is our greatest enemy, something I have believed from the time that I first learned to think for myself.

With all that said, I do believe in a higher power from which we all derive and from where the essence that we all possess resides. I understand that it is this power and essence that is referred to in the Yogic teachings, but I still have a problem with that word which has been appropriated to many of the world’s greatest organized religions…that word God. It is with this aversion that I find myself passing on my teachings carefully and with full awareness of my words. Yoga is often mistaken for a religion by those who have dipped a toe or two in the teachings, and who have subsequently ran away from the unbelievable possibilities that yoga can bring us. I firmly believe that before the word God is brought into a class, a workshop, an article or a teacher training, it needs to be redefined and clarified as having nothing to do with religion.

I believe that despite there being many common teachings throughout Yoga and religion (restrictions as to lying, stealing, coveting, etc…), I have found that Yoga endorses laws of the Universe, those that apply to all, as opposed to those that apply to some which are proselytized through religious laws. The notion that Karma guides us all, that everything you do has a consequence, that your words and deeds carry immeasurable weight…this all falls under universal law. Yoga encourages love and gratitude…for oneself, for all others, and for everything around us. It allows us to be as spiritual as we want to be with absolutely no association of fear or guilt attached, and allows us to become more than we ever thought possible as opposed to feeling suppressed and repressed. Again, this is what I believe based on my life experience, and I would never insinuate that those who are finding light and love through religion are misguided. Whatever works, as far as I’m concerned.

For those of you who find yourselves sharing a yoga class with me, please keep all this in mind when I relay the Yogic teachings. Understand that the word god can be replaced with light, or love, or energy, or a million other all-encompassing beauty-laden words. Understand that if it separates us, it can’t be good. Understand that we are one. We always have been and we always have been. These are the teachings that we’re born with under the guise of intuition and that get smothered by conditioning and conformity. Allow yourselves to tap back into the source of all things…back into light, back into love…back into God.