As 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!
Let me set the scene for you: I’m lying back on a zero-gravity garden lounger on the stone terrace that separates the Old Rectory from the sprawling green lawn that rolls away from the house for some fifty meters. The lawn sprawls away into the overhang of the wall of trees that softly shades the spearmint green of the grass into a dwindling palette of shaded greys and muted blacks. The irony of the vibrant morphing into the gloomy isn’t lost on me knowing that on the other side of the fence that borders the immense lawn and gardens is the Litcham church cemetery.
I’m back in England. It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been here, the place and people I have been coming back to annually for the last twenty years. It’s rare to have people in one’s life who have consistently and uninterruptedly been present, in all respects of the word, for almost thirty years. I am beyond grateful to be privy to that rare blessing, and have been coming back to England to spend time with her, her husband and their two boys (one of whom is my godson), all of whom I consider to be my extended family.
I’m here in July, which is somewhat of an anomaly considering I usually make my jaunts over in the dead of the January winter. That period of the year is usually down-time for me career-wise, but after five years of exposing myself to the cold damp that introduced me to the James Herbert-esque weather condition known as freezing fog, I decided to explore the warmer clime of early July.
I’m surrounded by wild lavender shrubs, serenaded by cooing doves and pigeons and, in the distance, the low-rumbling swishing of passing cars. The sun is out, warming the legs of my jeans as bumblebees, drunk from the pollen of the lavender, dive bomb past my head. I’m relaxing, which might sound typical given the nature of my work, but the last 7 months have been anything but relaxing. Since January 2016 I have succeeded in promoting my latest book, A Year In The Light, and have done more teaching in classes, workshops, teacher trainings and conferences than ever before. I have also over-scheduled myself, running myself relatively ragged until two months of antibiotics were required to help me regain the balance in my health and life that I had lost in the pursuit of helping others. You know that expression, “The carpenter’s cabin is the one most crooked?” I’m repairing my cabin. Again.
And so I am here, with no intention of working or committing to anything other than relaxing for the next two weeks. And yet, with the seemingly easiest of tasks before me, I find myself once again applying everything I have learned and taught. A daunting task now that it is just me and my thoughts, no distractions or commitments.
My mind is entrepreneurial by nature. I am my own boss, and am passionately dedicated to my career of guiding others down their paths, helping to facilitate their journey. I am constantly thinking. About the next project, students and clients, scheduling, the administrative side to my business, and countless other facets of my career. And that’s just the stuff related to my work that keeps my mind whirling. Add to that courses and continuing education, my relationship, friendships, family, my dog, life, etc… It’s a lot for one brain to process, and I know that I’m not alone, that we all download and store copious amounts of data that either stays stored, gets extrapolated for some purpose or another or pops up in the randomest of moments to remind us of the connectivity and non-randomness of life. And I’m having trouble unplugging my thoughts from the “doing” outlet they are normally plugged into so I can replug them into the “being” outlet where there’s no need to plan the next project or consider how to keep my marketing fresh and compelling.
I woke up last night at 3am, still on Montreal time, but slowly acclimating to the UK time zone. After a few minutes of realizing my thoughts were wandering into aspects of my life that would keep me awake, I did what I always do and refocused on body sensing, the art of noticing sensations in different parts of my body. This exercise of focusing the mind usually lulls me into sleep within minutes. It took longer last night, and I was aware of the extra effort it took to drift back off into sleep.
Today I keep noticing the pull towards doing; filming something for my YouTube channel, starting the new online course I’m enrolled in, working to put together next year’s yoga retreats. With the intention of not working, I instead pulled out a novel from my friends’ bookshelves and started reading, only to observe my thoughts wandering away on a path of their own.
It will take a few days for me to successfully unplug and replug. The process is, quite simply, fascinating, regardless of how much time I’ve spent in my life practicing the art of concentration. It’s an art that demands one always remain a beginner, and I, once again, find myself at the starting line.
This is the closest to work I’ll be doing for the next couple of weeks, and an essential step in my detaching, as writing usually allows me to process and then let go. If your email goes unanswered, trust I’ll get to it once I’m back home. My absence is intentional, and sorely needed for my sanity and the sustainability of my work.
Your work? Notice your thoughts, in any and all moments. Notice how you unplug and replug, from one outlet to another. For myself, I’ll refocus my gaze onto the bee-populated lavender and the music of Turin Brakes drifting out from the front door of the house.
Peace to us all.
I’m very happy to see that this site has been included in a new compilation of the Top 50 Yoga Blogs! After almost 7 years of writing here, this blog has been, and continues to be, instrumental in helping me get out what I believe needs to be communicated. And, as the writer in the compilation of blogs wrote, “All lists are subjective in the end”, but regardless, I appreciate my blog being included in this list amongst other great sites promoting health and wellness along this path we each find ourselves on.
Check out the full article here!
I am home after spending the past twenty-four hours promoting the launch of my new book A Year In The Light: Daily Spiritual Life Hacks, Intentions & Reminders. I am flabbergasted and humbled by this whole experience. The reaction has been nothing less than extraordinary. It is often said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but I believe that to give one’s time is the most sincere form of flattery, and hundreds of you did just that to support me and the launch of this work. Thank you for showing up, literally. Thank you for showering me with beautifully kind words and appreciation of what I devote my life to. To those of you who gave me the spaces to promote the book and give the readings and the signings, I will never be able to fully communicate my gratitude. And to the crew at Indigo Bookstore in downtown Montreal, know that you have been instrumental in creating a moment for me where I felt legitimized as an author by encouraging me to do the book signing today.
Thank you. Without you all, I’m nothing. Everything I do in my career and my spiritual life is an offering, and you all made it abundantly clear that you are all there to receive that offering. I couldn’t do it without you. I hope these words convey a fraction of what I’m feeling. Thank you.
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 currently 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.
I have a massive announcement to make, and an even more massive favor to ask of you all, but let’s start first with the announcement: as I’ve mentioned in passing and through a few social media posts, my second book is on its way. My first book, The Examined Life, is still selling consistently after 18 months of being released and promoted, which I’m taking as a fantastic sign considering the following: I self-published it, I promote it myself, I do the footwork to get it all over the world to be sold through online and retail outlets and, as a result of having succeeded in getting it sold at Indigo (the largest book retailer in Canada) in downtown Montreal at Place Montréal Trust, it has become the most successful self-published/consignment book ever sold there. The book is now in its third printing and I couldn’t be happier with its evolution and the reception you’ve all given it. And trust me, I’m grateful. I’ll never be able to properly express just how grateful I am.
As I continue to get The Examined Life out to the world with no assistance from publishing houses or agents, I am now including my next book project into my efforts. The working title for this year’s release is A Year in the Light: Daily Spiritual Life Hacks, Intentions and Reminders. The cover design is in the works, the actual content is 95% completed with edits being done over the next couple of months and the actual book itself will be released in paperback and digital formats on Saturday, November 14, 2015.
As described in the description on iTunes, “A Year in the Light is the latest release from yoga and meditation teacher and author of The Examined Life, Bram Levinson. Veering off from where The Examined Life brought readers, A Year in the Light serves as a daily companion for seekers, thinkers and anyone striving to live a life more steeped in peace, perspective and mindfulness. With 365 pages of daily insights, intentions and reminders, this book serves as a practical tool for those either seeking occasional inspiration and focus or for those looking to commit to the year-long, 365-day A Year in the Light Challenge. Those taking the challenge are encouraged to read one page per morning and then bring that page’s insight or intention out into their day to see how and if it proves relevant or helpful. Participants are encouraged to start their 365-day period whenever they’d like and to bring the insights and discoveries they find through the book to social media outlets using #AYITLChallenge as the identifiable hashtag.
Written in a no-nonsense, relatable style, this book brings many of the intentions and themes from Bram’s classes, workshops, retreats and teachings into one extremely practical collection. Guaranteed to inspire, motivate and provoke thought, A Year in the Light is the perfect companion for anyone seeking guidance in the pursuit of truth, awakening, purpose and, above all, peace.”
I am, needless to say, beyond excited that this work that has been in the works for the past year is finally getting to the delivery stage, and I cannot wait to see the impact it makes with you all (and with those people who don’t yet know who I am or what my message is that I convey through my work).
Now here comes the favour I am asking of you all: as you may have noticed, there are hyperlinks above directing you to the iTunes (and there it is again ;)) page in iBooks where the book is already for sale as a pre-order. This ability to pre-order a digital book is new for self-published authors, and there are many advantages to being able to do this. The reason I’ve decided to put the digital book up for pre-order is because every pre-order made leading up to the November 14 release date will count as a first-day sale, which means that it will all count as a sale on November 14. This means that with enough orders, the possibility exists that A Year in the Light will chart on digital book charts which gives it one more sell-able feature to help me get this book to the world, and I do mean the world.
So here’s the ask: if The Examined Life made any impression on you at all, if you are curious about the next book, if you just feel like supporting me and my efforts to bring some mindfulness and purpose to the world, then please consider purchasing your digital copy of A Year in the Light as a pre-order today. I have put it up at a lower cost than it will sell at come its launch date as an incentive to get it sold and to thank those who buy it as a pre-order. And know that there is thanks. Please know that there is gratitude.
I know that my books are going to impact on a much more global scale than they’ve been exposed to as of yet, and I know that I just have to keep chugging on to make that happen with no publishing house or deal. I also know that I can’t do it alone, and I need every single one of you to help me get there. Trust that I’ll be bringing you all along for the ride…
Above all, if you buy the book in any format, I hope that it brings you what I hoped it would: insight, focus, epiphanies, purpose and peace. My life’s work is to make this world a better place than it was than when I was born into it, and these books will outlast me to help accomplish that.
Enjoy A Year in the Light when you get your copy, and keep your eyes and ears open for book launch dates, promotions and more amazing news to come. And thank you. You’ll never know how much I appreciate it.