Tag Archives: Joan Ruvinsky

Joan

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Today is one of those days when this blog becomes so much more than some words written for the benefit of others. Today I am using this medium to pay hommage to a woman who changed my life. If my post from last year about my teacher, Joan Ruvinsky, went unnoticed, check it out here.

I got home from Baltimore this afternoon and picked up a voice mail telling me that Joan had passed away. She had announced that she had incurable cancer in January of 2015 and I was in England when I found out. Writing the blog post linked above was how I processed the news, which was traumatic for me. However, in the past 14 months, Joan and I have been in closer contact than we had ever been before, and through her example, texts and the time we spent together she taught me more than anyone ever has in any studio. She taught me how to die, and in doing so, taught me how to live.

I am because Joan was, is and always will be. We will always live in a world where Joan is. I want you all to know how much this woman, this energy, this spirit that was Joan, meant to me and how grateful I will always be for the time we had together on this human, material plane. I have no doubt that Joan and I will continue to interact in other ways and on other planes. For this moment, let me simply say that I love her, that she changed my life and that anyone who learns anything from me is learning from Joan.

Thank you, Joan. Talk soon.

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Of This, I Am Sure

FullSizeRender (1)Three and a half years ago I woke up from having a dream while visiting my extended family in England and immediately wrote down its contents because I knew it was somehow necessary. I then wrote about it in the blog post Repairing My Cabin, but, in a nutshell, I felt that, through the dream, I had been called to India by a sadhu or guru there waiting for me (visit the post from 2013 to read the details of the dream).

I spent some time yesterday with my friend Nadia and our teacher, my guru, the igniter of my mission and life’s work, Joan, and towards the end of the visit we got to talking about India. I’ve never been, and to be honest, don’t really feel the pull to go. Regardless, I found myself relaying the contents of the dream I’d had all those years ago and told them that I suspected that I had been called to Mother India and had so far ignored that call. Without batting an eyelash, Joan explained to me exactly what that dream meant. She explained to me that for whatever reason, my family stemmed from the yoga lineage, and that I had been the one to answer the call. She explained to me that I had been initiated into the lineage on an astral plane. She explained that what the sage had handed me was my mission to devote my life to this lineage. She explained to me that my immersion in the water was my baptism, and that I had answered the call by devoting my life and career to this path I’m on. The second she told me this I understood, with a peaceful certainty and finality, that I really am the vessel for a divine will that is greater than any words could attempt to describe.

I thought I had chosen this path I’m on as a way of doing what I love to do as a career. I thought I was taking a massive risk to pursue my passion and not settle for a well-paying, secure job with benefits that everyone would approve of. I thought it was all up to me. And then I started having moments of teaching where words were coming out of my mouth and I didn’t know where they were coming from, nor where the knowledge they were conveying was coming from. I started to get students coming up to me after class telling me that it was like I was talking directly to them. And this continued to happen. Often. Really often. I began to not remember what I had said after a class was over, hoping the right words came out and I didn’t offend anybody. And then I started to understand my role as a vessel.

The universal law of Divine Proclamation states that “the ability of an individual to express, speak or proclaim in behalf of the Divine Forces is in direct proportion to the ability of the individual to cease expression, speech or proclamation in behalf of the self.” I was living this law. I had stopped speaking on behalf of myself and found myself speaking on behalf of forces greater than us. And it now happens almost every time I teach, speak publicly or write.

Joan’s presence in my life is so profound from a teacher-student point of view that I really can’t find the words to describe it. I have no doubt that there is a transfer of energy, of information, of insight and of wisdom that I get from her, often without a single word being spoken. This blessing of having a teacher for sixteen years who infuses my life with worth, vital information and clear direction is something I will take to my grave with me. I have never felt so filled with purpose, so sure of why I am here and what I am supposed to do with this time. And I have never been so certain that I am carrying out my dharma as a vessel for the divine. Of this, I am sure.

I’m having trouble conveying what is in my heart right now, but I’ll try to do my best here: Joan shows me what a real teacher is. A real teacher is one who awakens the student to their spirit, to their path, to their reason for being alive on earth, to their individual dharma. A real teacher ignites true understanding that is felt on a somatic level, not memorized from a textbook. A real teacher transmits what the student needs to know to then be able to find themselves undeniably aligned with forces greater than anything they could have ever considered as possible. A real teacher gives the student their life, illuminated and brilliantly meaningful.

Joan has done this for me for almost two decades. I hope that by accepting what was given to me in my dream years ago, I not only honour the example set by Joan, but that I leave at least one person understanding just how deep this student/teacher relationship roots itself. I hope that I affect at least one person as deeply as Joan affects me. I hope I serve as purely as she does.

Thank you Joan.

 

We’re Still Here

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When I was twenty-five years old I lived on a street right next to Parc Lafontaine in Montreal. I was nearing the end of a nine-year relationship that I had held onto desperately because I knew that when it ended, I was going to be faced with me, myself and I, and I was a bundle of insecurity and uncertainty at that stage in my life.

I grew up gay and alone, despite being surrounded by people who loved me. Scratch that. They didn’t just love me. They LOVED me. I have always been blessed with a family made in prime time television heaven. Two brilliantly incredible brothers, and parents who have never stopped showing the world the multifaceted experience of true love. Regardless, as far as I was concerned, I was alone.

Growing up gay in the 70’s and 80’s was hellish. The only depiction I had of a gay male figure was Jack Tripper from Three’s Company, a character who was straight, but had to pretend he was gay to be allowed to rent an apartment with two beautiful girls. The comments made to him or about him by unsuspecting side characters were less than kind, and so as you can imagine, all I knew as a kid was that I was the bona fide real thing, and so all those comments made about Jack were basically about me. Being in my skin as a child wasn’t my favourite place to be, and yet I had no alternative. So I did what I had to do and survived.

Cut back to me at 25. No sense of self or Self, the sum total of the years growing up gay and feeling terribly alone. My relationship was not doing well for many reasons, the most glaring of all being that I had no idea who I was. Enter yoga. For some reason, yoga was somehow on my radar at the time, and so I decided I’d start to research it and if see it was something I wanted to learn more about. I remember going to Mélange Magique, which was a store commonly referred to as “the witchcraft store”, but which sold more than Wiccan literature and accessories. The place was great – they sold books on religions and philosophies, sacred traditions and rituals. They had books on yoga, so I’d hang out there reading and eventually bought a box of yoga flash cards. Each card had a different posture on it and was colour coded depending on the type of posture (seated, standing, forward bend, backbend, etc…). I remember bringing the set home and sitting on the green industrial carpet of my then-bedroom. I laid the cards out and started to build my own home practice that I soon started doing a few times a week.

After practicing alone for a few months, I decided I needed to start looking for a proper yoga teacher. My door number on my street at the time was 964. After doing some digging with my soul-sister and friend Nadia (who was also interested in trying yoga), we found a teacher. Who lived across the street from me. Directly. Joan Ruvinsky lived at 987. And she still does. Nadia and I registered for the session along with another friend, and all I really remember is that after the second class I got up from my yoga carpet and felt like I had just ingested something magical. I felt relaxed and alive and peaceful and happy. And so we kept at it. Our friend who registered with us eventually stopped classes, and then I, over the next few years, came to the classes and then veered away, came back and veered away.

The years that succeeded that first session were heavy for me. My relationship did indeed end, my grandmother died, a friend died in the attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001, and one of my dogs died. Every time something happened, I’d phone Joan and leave her a message to let her know that I wouldn’t be finishing the current session that I’d been registered for, as I was so beaten up emotionally that I couldn’t commit to showing up for classes. And it was in 2001 when I called her, post 9/11, that I got her on the phone and she said to me, “Consider the possibility that times like these are when you most need the practice.” She changed my life with that one line.

I also remember booking a private mentoring session with her. I needed to talk to someone about everything that I felt wasn’t right about my life at that point, and she made time for me. I talked and talked, and when I was done she looked at me and matter-of-factly said, “Bram, you just have to get out of your own way!” And so she changed my life again. She also made time for me one afternoon to teach me how to use a neti pot – I’ll never forget her leaning over her sink, tilting her head and pouring water with uniodized salt in it into one nostril and watching it pour out the other. She could not have been more hands-on with her teaching, despite her asana classes being mainly verbally guided.

Over the years I went back to Joan’s school Pathless Yoga less and less frequently, with the occasional session here and there, but she was no less present in my life and in my thoughts. When I left my last career in 2008 and started studying to teach yoga, she was with me in every decision-making moment where I kept telling myself to simply get out of my own way. I used to dream of her as a vision in white, flowing fabrics, light emanating off of her, and when I would wake up I’d laugh because I knew she’d laugh herself silly if I ever told her about it. My class structure, once I began teaching, mimicked hers with a longer dharma talk followed by asana, which I’m now somewhat known for. I unconsciously ended up doing as I’d been taught, and she has Taught me.

When I did my iRest Yoga Nidra Level 1 training in 2013 I was happily surprised to meet people who would say to me, “You’re a student of Joan’s! Tell me about her!” I had no idea how they knew her until I put two and two together and realized that that body-sensing thing she was doing with us back in 1999 was actually one of the key components to iRest. She studied under Jean Klein, as did Richard Miller who pioneered the iRest modality, and was part of the iRest tradition and community, leading retreats with the Integrative Restoration Institute and mentoring students doing their full certification. I had chosen a training that once again reinforced for me that all paths led back to Joan.

It’s always been about Joan, for me. I suppose your first teacher (and as far as I’m concerned, she is my first teacher…she is the first person to teach me what I innately knew I would work with for the rest of my life) is very much like your first love. The face time with them may have a set time frame, but they stay with you for every step of the journey, and they both teach you about love.

Joan opened the doorway for me and I’ve never wanted to shut it since. She did it humbly and quietly, leading by example and being a source of support and wisdom when I most needed it. She whet my appetite for the physical practice, and albeit unknowingly to me, planted the spiritual seeds that have grown into the forest of inquisitiveness and seeking that I eat, sleep and breathe today. She gave me the training wheels and the tools to grow into a man who respects and loves himself, a far cry from the introverted gay kid afraid of the world. She taught me that there is just this. No trying, no fear, no forcing…no problem. Nothing to do, nothing to say. Just this.

I spent time in sangha with Joan and our community this weekend and one of the many things I’ve taken from this time we shared is that, in her words, “We’re still here.” As long as we’re still here, we are. As long as I am, and as long as my students are, Joan is. She is still teaching me and showing me how truly blessed I have been and always will be to have had life’s grace bestow upon me a teacher as infinitely everything as Joan is. I aspire to have the quiet grace that she has shown me and the world, and every time I think of her, I feel a recommitment to the essence of the yogic teachings. I am because she is.

There’s a saying that goes something like, “When the student is ready the teacher will present him or herself.” Joan presented herself to me back in 1999 and has kept doing so for other students from all over the world ever since. I need to get these words out now, I need to pay homage where it is so strongly overdue.

Thank you Joan. I am because you are.

Winding Down

I’ve just lay down on the couch with the winter storm wind howling past the windows of my flat and my dog curled up asleep against my legs. Today marks the end of in-class teaching for me for 2012, and the past few days I’ve felt this post taking form in my mind. Now feels like the right time to get it all down and attach the symbology of words to it.

This year has proven to be another massive opportunity for growth and learning, and as each year passes, I realize that that is what’s constantly available to us: the opportunity to view all that occurs in our lifetime as catalysts for growth and change. I do my best to ensure that every class I teach, every student I mentor, and every word I speak or write conveys certain things to those with whom my path crosses: that yoga is a big toolbox that provides us with what we need to live life fully, passionately, with full awareness and presence of mind…that we have the choice as to how we approach and end up living this life we’ve been blessed with…that how and where we find ourselves is exactly how and where we need to be to accomplish and fulfill our goals and dharma. We are each here for a reason – you are not reading this by accident, and you are not alive in this moment in time haphazardly. We each have a mission to carry out, and I believe that mine is to bring people together by waking them up to what matters on a fundamental, heartfelt level.

20121222-171342.jpgWith that said, I would get nothing communicated or expressed if no one thought me worthy of their time and attention. I’ve expressed my gratitude to students before, but this year has brought me to a place where simple gratitude pales in comparison to how I feel about those of you who encourage me to keep teaching, typing, and barreling onwards.

To those of you who have come to my classes, I thank you. To those of you who have joined me on retreats, I thank you. To those of you who have participated in the workshops and teacher training I’ve given, I thank you. To those of you who have followed my blog and taken the time to read my words, I thank you. To those of you who have taken any of my insight to heart and let it guide you closer to a place of truth and light, I thank you. To those of you who have laughed with me, I thank you. To those of you who have let down your guard and shared your stories, your suffering, your hopes and your journeys, I thank you. To those of you who have trusted me enough to come to me when it mattered, I thank you. To those of you who have taught me when you had no idea you were doing so, I thank you. To those of you whom I’ve disappointed and had enough respect and love for me to let me know the error of my ways, I thank you. To those of you who have let me assist in your healing, I thank you. To those of you who have shared your energy with me, I thank you. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and will never stop doing so.

To my teachers who have provided me space in their spheres of wisdom, namely Joan Ruvinsky, Jennifer Maagandans, Mark Darby, Kelly McGrath, Sharon Gannon, and David Life, I thank you. With my head bowed in humility and my heart open to learning, I thank you.

My path has been and continues to be blessed with messengers and bearers of light, and my hope is that in attempting to do them justice by passing on the wisdom bestowed upon them by their teachers, I can reflect and project that light as brightly and brilliantly as they do.

Without them, and without you all, I would merely be speaking words into empty space.

With love and heartfelt gratitude for you all, I wish you the brightest, happiest and healthiest of holidays. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey, and we’ll see where it takes us in 2013!

Up To You

I believe that there are messengers on earth, people whose mission it is to inspire and direct others towards truth and peace, using perception and certainty as building blocks as tools of inspiration. I believe that after 35 years of trying to find my way, I came to a place where I had no choice but to step up and understand that my future was possibly rooted in that role of messenger, and 3 years later, I am certain that I have stepped into my life’s mission. It is absolutely and totally due to this path of mine that I can clearly see the infinite possibilities that exist for each and every one of us, and this is why I feel so determined to convey those possibilities to everyone within reading and/or hearing distance. What reinforces my belief that I’m on the right path is the (sometimes) overwhelming number of people I counsel, encouraging them to lift their gaze up so they can see the endless options that are available to them, options that once chosen, could lead to a better, stronger, more meaningful existence. What comes so naturally to me apparently doesn’t for everyone else, and so I feel that obligation to guide people towards their own truths with that much more conviction.

All the topics I bring up, all the substance that makes up the body of blog posts that I’ve written and the mini-lectures I’ve given at the beginning of my yoga classes, all lead me back to one main point that I wanted to address in this post…one that serves as the foundation for all the insight I have to share: all that we need to do in our lives is decide what we believe in, and then believe. That’s it. Call it a shift in consciousness, call it a change in perception, call it what you want. But it really is that easy.

I first was taught about the power to change my approach to life by my first yoga teacher, Joan Ruvinsky, who has always brought a non-dual approach to the practice, and to life in general. Non-duality speaks to the unity in all things, and in doing so, allows us to accept that divinity is not something we work towards, but rather, something that already exists within us, and all around us. That everything is already connected. All we have to do it see it, or, believe it. And so, in keeping with that understanding, let’s bring it back to the concept of messengers. Messengers don’t necessarily don’t have to be in the form of the luminescent angel guiding us through the dark. Messengers can come in the form of the person standing in front of you in the checkout line at the grocery store. Angels can be in the form of the person practicing next to you in yoga class. Who’s to say that the capacity to be angelic isn’t the missing link between having angels remain in the realm of the other-worldly and having them exist in a very real and tangible way? All the things that we have accepted as being one way because that’s the commonly believed assumption have to be re-examined. Because there are messengers and angels among us. All we have to do is see them. And believe.

Bringing it back to yoga, I hear a lot of talk about enlightenment…students asking how they know they’re getting closer to enlightenment through their yoga and meditation practices. To all of them who have asked me, and to all of you who have the same or a similar query, I have this to say: who’s to say that enlightenment isn’t already right in front of us, asking only that we allow for the shift in consciousness necessary to lift the veil of illusion from our hearts, allowing the beautiful and the sacred to step into our immediate range of vision? Perhaps enlightenment exists in the ability to stop spending time and energy pursuing the abstract, and let our gaze focus on the perfection that exists right now, in this second. Which isn’t to say that we don’t do our best to stay in the present moment as often as we can in the hopes of staying as close to that state of truth as possible, but we allow ourselves to breathe and let go of that dangling carrot. Because we choose to believe. It all comes back to the non-dual concept. We are not separate from all of it…from enlightenment, from truth, from light, from each other. The connection already exists, we just have to allow ourselves to unlearn what has failed to serve us up to now and adopt a different approach to seeing the world through eyes focused on peace and the permanence of all that is.

If we understand that we all stem from the same source, that the most obvious thread of our commonality is our existence, then it’s only a question of time before we allow the dividing walls of hatred, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, government, religion, media, racism, and, above all, the concept of the divine being separate from us, to fall away. All we need is to believe. I do now, after years of trying every other avenue led me back to my starting point. I believe. Do you? If so, what’s your take on it all? What truths do you lay your faith in?

Not From Here

I paid a long overdue visit yesterday to my first yoga teacher, Joan Ruvinsky, who spoke to us about an expression that comes from Maine that goes something like, “You can’t get there from here.” I’ve already mentioned in past posts how the occasional expression or saying will resonate with me due to its succinctness, to its relevance to my experience so far…this is one of those sayings.

Sometimes our paths bring us to a place where we feel stagnant, where it seems like the only way forward is to rethink and retrace the steps that have brought us to where we stand (and, in some cases, take a couple of steps back.) My experience over the last couple of years has been exactly that, and I can confidently say that I needed to close the door on my past career in order to make room for the blessings that yoga continues to bring me. I remember speaking to the people in my life around the time that I felt the major shift starting to happen, trying to figure out how to allow for that shift with the least amount of chaos…I asked them every single question possible except the most obvious and direct one – “How do I get to a place where my professional life can be as satisfying as my personal one?” If I had just come out with the proper verbalization, I strongly suspect that the answer would have been the subject of this post.

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about and asked my students in class about any goals they were actively (or not-so-actively) working towards achieving, and I will once again present you all with a similar query: how and where do you envision yourselves in the not-so-distant future? Where do you dream your ideal selves existing and in what capacities? If you could live any reality, what would it be? Now, if it’s something that you really want to incorporate into your lives, something that you can honestly say would make your lives better, then ask yourselves this: can I get there from here? Will the path you currently find yourself following lead you to where you’d like to be with little or no active interference from you? Do you feel a change is necessary to end up on that desired path?

Taking the expression literally is a necessary step towards living the life we feel we were destined to live, but the expression also applies to the teachings of Yoga. The yoga sciences tell us that the path to reconnecting to the source of all that is consists of asana, meditation, restriction and manipulation of the breath and senses, and other elements of the eight-limbed Ashtanga yoga system. Those of us applying ourselves to these elements often find ourselves immersed in the beauty that we seek and that which is. For those who are lost in distraction, who have not yet removed the blindfolds of ignorance that keep us from realizing that the source of everything we seek is already in us, then the expression, “You can’t get there from here” lies in wait. Sometimes all we need to make that subtle shift in consciousness is the most nondescript of word groupings to create a cliché, a saying, something that can and often is repeated ad nauseum…and when we’re finally ready to receive the truth of those words, life begins to unfold in a way it seldom does…steeped in light and truth, organically leading us back to where we wanted to be the whole time…plugged into our Self, and thereby into each other and all that exists around us.

Can you get there from here?