Tag Archives: Patanjali

Cultivating Contentment

How much of your energy is spent pursuing that which you covet? What do you chase after in your daily life, and what does that chasing bring you?

Most of us identify what we want and set off in hot pursuit to get it. Some of us chase after money, so we spend too much time at work banking hours or billing for our time. Some of us pursue someone, doing everything in our power to get that person to notice us. Some of us pursue fame, and do whatever we can to make people notice us and ensure the spotlight is fixed on us at all costs. Everyone pursues something at some point in his or her life, and for all of you who know what I’m talking about, then you also know this to be true: the more doggedly you pursue something or someone, the more you try to manipulate a situation to be what you want it to be, the more it becomes the exact opposite of how you projected it as being.

Within the 8-Limb Ashtanga Yoga System, we come across the Niyamas, which are essentially observances or restrictions on how we treat ourselves and the manner in which we live our lives. One of these observances is Santosha, which translates to contentment. We are instructed to live a life steeped in contentment, to not get caught up in the dramas we typically get caught up in, to stay neutral and simply find contentment in all aspects of our life, come what may. I’ve always had trouble conveying this to students, as I don’t find it helpful to simply instruct someone to be content with their lot in life. Many of us experience challenging moments throughout life, in which we find ourselves tested through moments of hardship and difficulty, and being told to find contentment can be incredibly annoying. I like to be able to pass onto students tools that they can practically apply to their daily situations, and try to stay away from flighty “yoga speak”, so you can understand why I have fought with the concept of Santosha. Until now.

After reading something that Swami Satchidananda wrote about contentment, I realized something to be true, something that has manifested in my own life and experiences: one aspect of the way life works, the way universal law works, is this:  if you are doggedly pursuing that which continues to elude you, stop pursuing. Stop running. Stop chasing. Let go of the race. When you do that, honestly and with a real intention to let go, that which you were pursuing for so long will in turn come to you. It will chase you. It will pursue you. When you let go, things just come to you. It sounds like more “yoga speak”, I know. But it has happened in my life, and I know it to be true. When I decided to leave my past career and focus my energy on yoga, I found things start to gravitate to me. Opportunities, like-minded peers, tools. All of it started appearing. But only after I gave up the chase. Only when I trusted that my feet would land on the ground as long as I kept my intentions honest and pure. As Swami Satchidananda says, “Contentment is purity of heart, not a heart that is anxiously searching for something. When you have that contentment, everything is golden to you. Keep your body and mind totally easeful and peaceful. Let things come and go as nature wants.”

When you can let go and just be, in your most natural state, as you are when no one is watching, you will find contentment. And in that state, all that you previously ran after will find you. It may not happen as fast as you’d like it to, it may not appear under the guise you expected, but with a clear heart and clear vision, you will be able to identify it. That is Santosha. That is something we can use and apply to our daily lives. That is one more tool from the yoga system. Use it. It’s been here all along, and now that you’ve read this, you have no reason to ignore it 🙂

Landmark or landmine?

Tomorrow morning I start the Landmark Forum, an internationally recognized organization that brings together those who would like insight into how they live and how the decisions they take dictate where they end up. Landmark is as well-known for having participants in their weekend-long program experience massive breakthroughs as they are for being labelled a cult, a sect and a shameless money-making machine. I was asked by Lululemon if doing the program would interest me, as their employees who know me believed that Landmark’s philosophies correlated well with my own, and I jumped at the chance to experience first-hand what Landmark is all about…but leading up to this weekend, I’ve experienced a multitude of emotions about my participation in the program, and at the suggestion of my friend Frances Vicente, I decided to write everything down here to have as a “before” reference once the weekend is over and I’m looking back at the whole experience.

As you all well know by now, I’m a huge believer in examining how we live our lives, and why we find ourselves where we do in any given moment. Yoga has been key in my own quest, and as one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras states, Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. “The fluctuations of the mind” refers to how attached to and involved with we allow our minds to be with the fleeting experiences and moments throughout any given day…the process of observing the world around us to the process of discrimination that allows us to interpret, identify and categorize the goings-on that we move through minute-by-minute. Suffice it to say, I am actively seeking out a state of Yoga these days as I get closer to Landmark, and here’s why: it’s true that people have spoken to me about how incredibly illuminating this program is, how it opens one’s eyes to the role we play on an individual level within the relationships in our lives, how we prevent ourselves from living fully and completely. People speak about finally being able to move past the circumstances and events that have previously plagued them, in some case absolutely rendering them emotionally raw and stunted. I’m all for anything that speaks to people in language they can understand and practically apply to bring their lives closer to their ideal realities. However, I’ve also heard that from the get-go, the speakers at Landmark start selling you on the program, encouraging you to bring everyone you know to their doors under the guise, “If you love the people in your lives, why wouldn’t you want them to experience what would bring them to a higher understanding and degree of happiness?” I’m very fortunate that Lululemon is sending me and footing the bill, but I also know that the weekend is expensive and would probably not be financially viable for most of the people in my life.  The forum lasts Friday, Saturday & Sunday (plus Tuesday evening), and participants are in the program from 9am to 10pm all weekend. They are discouraged from bathroom breaks, have only one 60-minute meal break in the evening for dinner (we are told that we have 30-minute breaks every 2.5-3 hours, but I’ve also heard that we’re given homework to do in these breaks), and are generally kept cooped up in a room with roughly 150 other people for the entire duration. So you’ll understand if the fluctuations of my mind are off the charts right now ;-).

With all that said, I believe that the people at Lululemon who thought of me for this program know me well enough to know that a) I will walk away from this weekend with tools that I can believe in and apply to my own teachings, and b) if my bullshit meter starts getting higher-than-ever readings, I will simply remove myself from the situation. I’m looking forward to having my doubts eradicated, to being shown why this program is as successful as it is, and to being empowered to move closer to my own goals with a clearer-than-ever vision of where I’m going and what I’m trying to do in the world.

I’ll be back here next week to share with you all how this weekend went down…I’m taking a bit of a leap with the Landmark Forum, but I know that the greatest rewards are most often found by those who take the greatest leaps of faith. I’ll let you know where I land…

Instinctually Speaking

Our annual Centre Luna Yoga Spring yoga retreat has come to an end, and now that I’m back home, languishing in the drizzle of cold rain and misty fog (beach? did someone say beach?), I thought I’d share one of the most interesting insights I brought back with me from our time in gorgeous Tulum, Mexico.

I remember from my past career what inevitably happened every time I found myself on vacation or with time off – my body would somehow break down, usually to lesser degrees than are insinuated with that expression…a cold here, a flu there, etc…My trip to Tulum started off with a similar, albeit shorter, physical reaction: I passed a kidney stone within 2 hours of landing. The first inkling of trouble was detected as we made our way to the retreat centre in our shuttle bus. The pain was new to me, the worries of possibly having to spend time in a hospital stressful (to say the least), but once we got to Retiro Maya, it all resolved itself. I suppose I may be responsible for setting the tone for the other retreat members, because as the week progressed, some of the participants went through other physical tests including gall stones, an outbreak of eczema, an eye infection, and a plethora of mild digestive issues. My reaction to the kidney issue, the gradual onset of fear and worry, seemed to jump from person to person as each situation arose, and as it travelled onwards, I could stand back and objectively examine exactly what was going on.

I spoke to my class on the retreat about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and one evening I highlighted Sutras 7 & 8 from Book Two, the Portion on Practice that discusses attachment and aversion. Attachment is most commonly defined as identification to those experiences that we deem as being pleasurable, and aversion as identification to those experiences that we deem as being painful. The second each of us who felt our physical bodies offering up something less than ideal became aware of whatever “problem” we were dealt, the aversion kicked in…the irritation, the worry, the fear…all by-products of the greater fear, that of death. Our own mortality was offered up to us in the guise of our ailments, and as opposed to the concern we each felt in the moment, I have walked away from the experience with a deeper understanding of myself and ourselves as a collective unit. That fear of death is the underlying fear of all fears, the instinctive desire to grasp onto life and never let go, our survival mechanism. It is exactly that fear of death that is now under examination in my life. I believe that once this fear is delved into and deconstructed, it will have less of a hold on me and my life will be freer to have a clearer outlook on that which is temporary and fluctuating, regardless of how it may affect me on a physical plane.

With all that in mind, I once again found myself deep in the Sutras, a reference that has never failed me yet. Lo and behold, I found what I was seeking, the source of my information embodied in Book 2, Sutra 9 – Clinging to life, flowing by its own potency (due to past experiences), exists even in the wise. The interpretation of this Sutra (by Sri Swami Satchidananda) is excerpted as follows: Many Westerners don’t believe in reincarnation. They feel, “It’s all over when we die.” But the Yoga philosophy reminds us that all our knowledge comes through experience. Without experience we cannot understand or learn anything. Even books can only remind us of something we have experienced in the past. They help kindle a fire that is already in us. That fire must be there first for the kindling stick to kindle it. ..Yoga says instinct is a trace of an old experience that has been repeated many times and the impressions have sunk down to the bottom of the mental lake. Although they go down, they aren’t completely erased. Don’t think you ever forget anything. All experiences are stored in the chittam; and when the proper atmosphere is created, they come to the surface again. When we do something several times it forms a habit. Continue with that habit for a long time, and it becomes our character. Continue with that character and eventually, perhaps in another life, it comes up as instinct…In the same way, all of our instincts were once experiences. That’s why the fear of death exists. We have died hundreds and thousands of times. We know well the pang of death. And so, the moment we get into a body, we love it so much that we are afraid to leave it and go forward because we have a sentimental attachment to it…if your old body is taken away…you must get a new one. Many people do not know this and cling to the body even when it gets old and dilapidated. That constant clinging, breaking away, clinging again, breaking away is why we are mortally afraid of death.

Need I say more on the subject?

Despite the aforementioned tests, our retreat was a full week of joy, light, love, and bonding. A literal re-connection to the earth and all its elements was experienced by each and every one of us…the stars and planets close enough to touch, the ever present, constant roaring of the ocean, the mighty gusts of wind, the almost-magnetic energy of the Mayan ruins and all the surrounding land, and the non-stop laughter we were privy to made this retreat a series of perfect moments, a true reminder of everything we are blessed with in this life.

And so I emerge from this retreat with a deeper insight into life, hungrier than ever to continue learning and being able to share whatever I come across…all bringing me back to where I began, back to the source.

Surprising Myself

I never graduated from college, nor did I even dip more than a toe into the proverbial university pond. As a student in high school I was bright and competent, graduating with honours and figured that I would continue to excel throughout the rest of my studies, which obviously would include at least one degree. Then I found myself in CEGEP, and everything I thought I had figured out for myself was turned upside down.

I enrolled in Creative Arts, which basically meant that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life and was content studying everything from English to Religious Cults and Sects. I liked what I was studying, without question, but the fact that I seemed to be going through the motions for no apparent reason aside from making my parents happy started to take its toll, and I found myself attending fewer and fewer classes until I eventually dropped out at the end of the first semester. It all boiled down to one thing: I felt like I was wasting my time. Nothing in my curriculum stood out as something that I could envision myself pursuing indefinitely, and so I took some time off to process the direction my life had veered off on, and then decided that I was being too self-indulgent, that no one loved what they studied and that I should just focus and get back to school. This time I figured that I should choose something more specialized, so I enrolled at Lasalle College in Fashion Marketing and Merchandising. Once again, I found myself mildly interested in the world I was being exposed to, and once again, I was feeling like I was wasting my time. This sentiment finally came to a head (once again at the end of the first semester) when one of our teachers announced to us that at the end of the 3-year, $12,000 program, we would be qualified to be a retail store manager. I wish I could have seen my face, because I literally heard brakes screeching in my head, and the first thought I was aware of after being granted that lovely tidbit of information was that I was once again wasting my time, and that if I wanted to be a retail store manager, I could do it on my own the old-fashioned way…by starting at the bottom and working my way up. So that’s exactly what I did. Looking back on it, I find it interesting that I had absolutely no interest in retail, but I suppose that I felt like I had been presented with a challenge and that I was going to do what was necessary to become a retail store manager. Once I had achieved my goal, I was approached by a head-hunter from another retailer and I went to work for a new retail company, where I stayed for 12 years. All because I wanted to prove something to myself.

So many emotions are intertwined in my past as a student as well as that of my past career. Because I never completed a program at a higher level of education, because I never got that ever-elusive degree, I always felt “less-than.” I felt like I had somehow failed, and it became my Achilles heel. Despite growing in my career and laying the foundation for the life I always wanted to live for myself, I always felt like the odd guy out, and it naturally became part of my psyche, allowing me to cast myself as inferior and with a minute, yet ever-present chip on my shoulder. I also find it fascinating that only now when I look back at the experience can I clearly see how incredible it was that I was so confident in my capabilities that I literally walked out of school, preferring to work my way to where I thought I should be as opposed to getting some sort of formal training. I have said before that I have an enormous amount of compassion for myself as a child and teenager, but this is the first time that I feel a sense of admiration towards who I was back then. Against everyone’s advice and at the expense of my own security, I did what I believed was right for me, and I was successful as a result of that.

Last month in teacher training (and shortly after my 36th birthday), I found myself in a familiar place – sitting among my teachers and fellow students, discussing postures and theorizing about philosophies and some of the yogic teachings. Participating in the exchange of ideas and experiences is such an integral part of this training that I was really taken by surprise when I heard my own voice in my head say, “This is my classroom.” I’ve been hearing it reverberate ever since. I never thought I would find that educational forum that I had been desperately lacking in my earlier existence, and I had absolutely given up on it, knowing that an academic life was not within the realm of what I wanted for myself, nor was a career as a business person. With those four words, I suddenly felt a great weight lift, and as much as I’d like to say that I can completely detach from my ego and not allow myself to react to the exterior factors Patanjali speaks about in the Yoga Sutras, I felt a rush of awareness and happiness wash over me, and I’m still somewhat recovering from it.

For the first time in my life, I love what I’m doing. I now understand what people mean when they say that there aren’t enough hours in the day, because I now am trying to accomplish so much with an apparent shortage of hours to do it in. I now understand ambition, whereas I used to think that ambitious people were simply motivated by something in their youth which propelled them to never give up, which inadvertently would result in their success. I feel like I have never been more comfortable in my own skin and that my path has never been more brightly illuminated, and I’m a little stunned that this has happened. Elated, but stunned. And, now, insanely empowered.

I want to see more guidance for those who find themselves in a situation similar to the one I slugged through when I was younger, trying to find my way. In a world replete with options, I found myself overwhelmed by the possibilities, which ultimately resulted in my withdrawing from that world. The more visible we are as a yoga community, the more chance there is of helping someone like who I was to find his or her calling and to steer that person towards their ideal classroom. Don’t misunderstand me – I would not change one thing about where my path took me, because I discovered monumentally more about myself that I would have in school, and that has allowed me to grow into who my ideal self was when I was younger. However, there were moments when I was crying out for someone to help me out in a way that would give me the direction I craved. I want to be that person who helps someone else out, and I want to be responsible for creating a movement or organization of like-minded yogis and yoginis who are able to band together and work towards a common, collaborative goal to illuminate the paths of others.

It has been 20 years in the works, but I have finally achieved a degree of achievement in my studies, and I think that it’s important for people to know that school really isn’t for everyone, at least not the conventional schools that see the hoards of billions pass through every year. I am fortunate enough to have arrived at a point in my life where I can let go of the inferiority complex that dug its way into my consciousness and made itself comfortable. And so I’m more grateful than these words can express.