Tag Archives: Montreal

In Ways That Matter

I’ve always found the term “mental illness” an odd one, as it insinuates that the mind is only supposed to operate in ways that are commonly acceptable. I’d prefer to use a term closer to “mental suffering,” and I’d prefer we all did as well.
 
Arguably, we don’t discuss mental suffering enough in public forums, as stigmas are alive and well related to such issues and we have a tendency to bypass what elicits sensations of discomfort in our bodies. But the issue is getting more and more exposure as more and more people speak about their experiences and give us faces to put on the dis-ease(s) many of us have only heard about.
 
What we don’t hear nearly enough about is how those who live with, love, support and accompany those managing their mental suffering cope. Yes, the mental challenges must be overwhelming at times for the one suffering. But why aren’t we hearing or reading about the caregivers, the husbands and wives, the friends and lovers who walk alongside them? Their work, their struggles, their exhaustion and dips into mental suffering of their own must also be worth bringing into the collective consciousness so they know they too are supported and not alone.
 
The only thing, as far as I’m concerned, that we are not encouraged to do in today’s society (by those in positions of influence) is take care of each other. And one of the first ways we can do that is let others, perfect strangers and loved ones alike, know that they are not alone, that there are millions of people living the same experience in this same second. This goes for those working with mental suffering AND those that live with and/or accompany them.
 
No one is immune to mental suffering. No one. And those that battle with adversity in themselves or in those they love and walk alongside through life are the brave ones who walk closer to the mental battlegrounds where suffering runs rampant. Don’t ever be afraid to speak up, speak out, ask for help, ask for community, ask for support, ask for time to whatever needs to be done to make your way back to the semblance of balance.
 
For those in Montreal looking for resources for this, visit http://www.asmfmh.org/, http://amiquebec.org/support/ or go online and look for the others that exist.
 
We are all in this together, like it or not, so we might as well start to actually be there in ways that matter.

Love4Ewan

I made a last-minute decision to get lunch from Aux Vivres yesterday, and as I was paying I noticed a blue envelope that had “Love” and “Take Me” written on it. I did. And on my way home I opened it, found an Aux Vivres gift card inside and read that these “little packages have been put out into the world to honor the memory of a sweet, redheaded boy named Ewan on his birthday, May 2.” As I did more research I found a photo of Ewan online and discovered that this project is not only to honour this beautiful child’s memory, but to help pay kindness and generosity forward into the world.

Love4Ewan is an initiative created by Ewan’s parents who, to honour their lovely little redhead’s memory, and to help pay forward the spirit of love, generosity and kindness, began creating Love Envelopes, containing gift cards and other expressions of giving that began to be distributed annually every May 2, Ewan’s birthday.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us to “do the work that comes to you.” This, undoubtedly, came to me. But this is not work. This beautiful, inspiring project is just a nudge for me to pay this beautiful vibration forward, and to dedicate the energy behind it to Ewan, and to also encourage everyone to donate whatever you can to the Hôpital de Montréal pour enfants – Montréal Children’s Hospital, where Ewan was so well taken care of and where other children are being treated, healed and taken care of.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t on the verge of tears right now. This is one of the most beautiful moments that has ever come to meet me. In keeping with that beauty, and to “pay it forward,” I have given away 1 copy of my book “A Year in the Light” to the first five people who left a comment underneath my original Facebook post. Those five people who received a book will have only one request put upon them, and that is to continue to pay it forward, and to extend this vibration of beauty, peace and kindness out to others, and have them continue the journey on, all in the name of Ewan.

To Ewan’s parents, who began this beautiful social experiment, I thank you. It has moved me beyond words to be a part of it.

https://childrenfoundation.com/fundraiser/heart-ewan/

Love4Ewan Facebook Group

Love4Ewan Instagram Page

 

H I S T O R Y

This paragraph is taken from a page of my great-grandmother’s autobiography, referring to Montreal and Canada approximately one hundred years ago. Read it. We are still a country that embraces newcomers seeking safety, security and opportunity. 

I am P R O U D to be Canadian. And just in case there was any ambiguity on the issue, I think that the wave of intolerance that we are seeing, in the US and all over the world where economic hardship has been especially rough in recent years, is shameful and ignorant. That kind of small-mindedness and exclusion is, quite frankly, a feeble attempt at resisting change. The only thing we can count on in this life is that everything is in a constant state of transformation and evolution, and so to try to fight that is to fight a battle that can’t be won.

Things may change in our country in the years to come, but this excerpt from my grandmother’s mother’s life is proof that, even after 100 years, and some obvious blemishes on its record, Canada is still the true land of opportunity. 

🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦

2017 Higher Learning Weekend 


What fundamental aspects of the human experience are we not taught in school? How are we being set up for a lifetime of settling, mediocrity, frustration and disappointment? What conditioning does our culture endorse and depend on to keep us stuck in what keeps us silent, stationary and skeptical? Where are we getting the skills we need to respond wisely to the more difficult and challenging moments we all face?

Traditional channels of education set us up to be economically accountable and productive members of society, but don’t give us the survival techniques necessary to prioritize our own sense of peace and well-being when tensions land and everything goes wrong. It has been a few years since I have had the intention of creating an educational program that addressed the way we live while providing tools and coping strategies for navigating the ups and downs of this winding human journey. I am so pleased to now unveil years of study, insight and experience with the Higher Learning workshop.

Join me Saturday & Sunday, January 21 & 22, 2017 for the inaugural Higher Learning Weekend of Workshops. Space is limited to 25 places per workshop and students can choose to attend the entire weekend or choose specific modules à la carte. The subject matter is appropriate and relevant for people of all ages, so children bring your parents and parents bring your children. This will be an event for anyone with a pulse and the desire to LIVE this life to its maximum potential. The Higher Learning program is an opportunity to focus on the skill sets that have the potential to influence and inform the rest of your life.

All levels of student welcome, no prior study or knowledge of Hinduism or scriptures necessary.

Contact me at bram.levinson@gmail.com for more info or choose your payment option below.

Sat, January 21
9:30am-12:00pm – The Power Of Intention
1:30pm-4:30pm – The Power of Being/Awareness

Sunday, January 22
9:30am-12:00pm – The Power of Thought
1:30pm-4:30pm – The Power of Time

$300+taxes ($344.93) – full weekend
$90+taxes ($103.48) – individual module à la carte

Equilibrium Yoga
4812 Boul St-Laurent, suite 101 (corner Villeneuve)
*do not contact the studio for information, contact Bram directly*

**I am thrilled to announce Simply Protein as the official sponsor for this event!**

A Moment To Reflect

E B - Bram photo cover HIRES CC 06409With the intention of NOT making this post too lengthy, I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to not take a moment to acknowledge this past year and how pivotal it has been for my journey. I have the tendency of constantly focusing on the present moment and my future plans and projects, and so I felt like today, the last day of 2015, would be a great time to look back.

This past year was replete with travels. From England to the USA, from Italy to Greece, with a few trips to Toronto as well. The yoga vacations continued and evolved, bringing some familiar faces back together while introducing new ones into our roaming family of seekers.

My second literary labour of love was born just six weeks ago and is already almost sold out of its first printing, and there are some pretty impressive moments related to A Year In The Light: Daily Spiritual Life Hacks, Intentions & Reminders yet to come. The social media campaign created by the readers, in the same vein as the one begun years ago for The Examined Life, took off and keeps on keeping on, which makes me happier than I can say.

I let go of the morning television spots I have been doing for over two years on Breakfast Television Montreal, as I do with anything that I feel my time with has run its course.

And, of course, the teaching. 2015 has seen more workshops and yoga teacher trainings occur, giving me the honour of being able to facilitate the spiritual journeys of more and more people, an honour I take more seriously than I could ever express. The great news is that I will be on the faculties of two more yoga teacher trainings in 2016 at Energie EnCorps as well as at Jazz Yoga. Adding these to the Luna Yoga, Happy Tree Yoga and M.Power Yoga trainings I am already a faculty member of allows me to reach markets in Town of Mount Royal and the West Island, and I am grateful to be invited to do what I do in these areas. 2015 also saw me join the faculty of the Toronto Yoga Conference and Show, and I am happy to say that I will be back in 2016 for more of the goodness that the event offers.

I can also say that this past year has been instrumental in teaching me about life and death and the role of the seeker to pursue beauty and light, especially in the darkest hours. I feel more spiritually aware and anchored than I have ever been, and I know that this process of unfurling into deeper layers of awareness is occurring even as these words spill out.

With all that said, here’s the bottom line: I sleep at night. I work hard. I continue to learn how tricky it can be to balance work and non-work time, and can say that I have never been happier. I set my intention to be of service to as many people as possible and know that there are dazzlingly brilliant moments lying ahead for us all as long as we understand that the meaning of life is to be here for each other.

I hoped to not write too much for this post. I could go on, trust me. But I’ll wrap it up with gratitude: thank you. To every one of you who reads my words, comes to my classes, lectures, workshops, book launches, retreats and who supports my efforts with an encouraging smile or thought. To those who have created the physical spaces for me to bring my offerings to, to those who have come forward as retailers for my books, to those who believe in me when my own belief in myself wavers slightly. Thank you.

This journey is magnificent in all its blessings, its chaos, its murmurs and its subtleties. And while the words escape me to convey just how grateful I am to be witness to this spiritual pilgrimage/trek/journey that I have only read about and seen in films, trust me when I write that I will communicate every step of the path as it occurs to remind the world of the expansiveness of the possibilities that lie in wait for those of us pursuing light.

Happy 2016 to you all, and I mean that with every fiber of my being. Be well, be happy, be peaceful and be kind. Here’s to the coming year in the light!

We’re Still Here

joan

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.

This Is War

25153f_83cd4e4697ce48038b1d73d9f99c7a52.png_srz_p_525_188_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzI have often spoken to students about how modern-day western culture has not lived through wartime in the same way our grandparents and great-grandparents did. Wars have, and are being waged globally, of course, but our day-to-day comfort and stability has never been drastically compromised. The Iraq war, the fight against the Taliban, ISIS… these are the conflicts that come to mind when we think about wars waged in our lifetime that affect the global consciousness. But there is a war that has actually hit much closer to home regardless of where we call home, one that rarely makes the headlines because the crimes to its victims, by and large, go unreported and, in some cases, get immediately dismissed, swept under the rug. This war is the war against women.

Women have been targeted for thousands of years. Creation myths in ancient times revered the female as the source of power and life, especially in Pagan cultures and rituals, but this reference for the Divine Mother shifted around 1700 B.C.E. with the Babylonian Seven Tablets of Creation. This story essentially told the tale of a mother who is killed by one of her male children, no less at the moment where her belly is greatly swollen, resembling a woman in the final stages of pregnancy. The murderous son then creates the world out of the dismembered body of his mother and becomes a God in his own right. This God murders and dismembers the divine female and Goddess worship begins its downward spiral until most, if not all, cultures and religions begin to assign greatness to the male archetypes by devaluing and demonizing the previously-held female ones.

In one of my earliest blog posts entitled The Devil and Greta Garbo, I discussed the stigma that left-handed people faced and referenced the Italian usage of the word “sinistra” (sinister) to signify that which relates to the left. In the Yoga tradition, amongst others, the left side of the body is equated with feminine energy, and so I deduced that the correlation could not be coincidental. I believe that the true power of the Divine Female, the energetic force of a Mother Earth and everything she encompasses, stood in the way of the male need to dominate and rule and served as a very real threat. As a result, the power that had once been relegated to the Goddess was not just taken, it was done so violently, shamelessly, ruthlessly and intentionally. All that related to the female was labelled less-than, suspect and sinister.

And so here we are. According to www.canadianwomen.org, “Gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Both men and women receive many messages—both blatant and covert—that men are more important than women. This fundamental inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse, and even murder. In this context, it becomes easier for a man to believe that he has the right to be in charge and to control a woman, even if it requires violence. This is not only wrong, it’s against the law. Violence against women is rooted in the belief that women deserve less social power and it is therefore acceptable – maybe even necessary – to exert power over them. This mindset also drives many other forms of violence, such as racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and religious persecution.”

Women today carry more than they should in their daily lives. From not being able to walk down the street without the fear of being singled out presenting itself to being called bitch/whore/slut/cunt for the most innocuous of perceived slights by both men and other women, the symbolic and energetic weight of being a women today demands that females draw on that ancient strength and power that initially commanded our devotion to The Goddess. Women have to be more aware, more resilient, more shrewd and more careful then we men do. The double standard is disgusting, and I, as a man who adores and reveres women as the source of wisdom and life, am fed up with violence and abuse towards women being an accepted demon that lives amongst us.

The statistics pertaining to violence towards women are staggering, and to be honest, I’d rather have you research them yourselves than list them here and have people tune out to the point of this blog entry. My life is Yoga, and Yoga is my life, and Yoga is not about physical movement or postures. Yoga is not about breathing consciously or Lululemon clothes. Yoga is understanding that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Yoga is recognizing oneness and unity and turning wounds into purpose. Yoga is standing up for those who have either been silenced or feel that their cries would fall on deaf ears. I want to add my voice to those cries to help amplify them so they can be heard. I am begging you to raise your voice as well so that WE CAN ALL BE HEARD.

Join me on Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day, at the YM-YWHA (5400 Westbury Avenue) from 1-3pm as we come together as human beings who have decided that enough is enough. Let’s all stand united for all women who have ever felt diminished in any way simply because of their gender. This is a fundraiser and an awareness-raiser. Bring your yoga mats if you plan to participate in the asana practice, but don’t feel pressured to partake. I want everyone to simply show up authentically, in whatever way they deem relevant.

Bring your cash and chequebooks as well. 100% of funds raised is going to Women Aware/Femmes Averties (www.womenaware.ca) and tax receipts will be issued for donations $25 and greater.  Organized almost 20 years ago by a group of survivors of domestic abuse, this Montreal-based organization is actively making a difference by providing long-term support to victims, increasing awareness to this issue in our communities and working both independently and in conjunction with other local organizations and teams.

This is not going to be an opportunity to rip apart men or point the finger of blame. This event is a moment of healing, of community and of social awareness and activism. If we stand for nothing, we fall for everything. Let’s refuse to fall apart as a society. Let’s refuse to turn a blind eye. Let’s refuse complacency. It’s time to stand. For something and for each other. It can only happen if we’re all in it. Together.

See also: All Hail – a post from 2011 written for International Women’s Day.
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