Tag Archives: success

Why We Should Be Grateful For 2016

2016As 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!

On The Fringe

struggleI’ve often heard it said that the older we get the more defensive armor we don to protect ourselves from the harshness of life. What I know from my experience is that when you’re a kid who’s not the jock or the popular one, that armor falls into place very early on in life. If you were ever teased, ridiculed, treated differently or ached to get the hell out of the environment you felt trapped in in your youth, then it’s safe to assume that you’ve gone through some pretty important spurts of personal evolution and growth.

Not everyone does. Remember that guy you knew (or knew of) when you were much younger? The guy who everyone thought was the shit? The one who looked good, always knew the right thing to say? The one who had that “it” quality that attracted the pretty girls and the envy of all the other guys? It’s safe to assume that that guy didn’t get propelled down the same road replete with spurts of personal development and growth that you did while you were struggling to make sense of your stranger-in-a-strange-land situation.

I knew some of those guys in later life: the ones who had it all as children and didn’t need to do any work because why fix what ain’t broke? Those guys who used to cheekily smoke a joint in the back of the school with their gangs of hangers-on never changed. Some of them ended up in the same towns they grew up in smoking the same weed, but the gangs dwindled until all that was left was an aging dude with a load of dead joints and some awesome memories of being the golden child. And then their life lessons began.

I was an oddity as a kid. I was drawn to other oddities. I spent time with people who knew what it meant to be on the fringe. Adopted kids, punks, rebels, orphans, geeks, ugly ducklings, prostitutes…the damaged, the isolated, the hurt and abandoned. That was who I felt compelled to spend my time with, because as I knew suffering, so did they. And I fucking trusted that, way more than the high fives for the star athlete at summer day camp.

As I know that my evolution was one of starting off feeling totally alone but certain of how I was meant to show up in the world, I have always gunned for the underdogs. For the lost, the forgotten, the runners-up and the late bloomers. For the ones who everyone else dismissed or ignored, for the second-chancers. I always have. And I always will.

The people who haven’t had it easy are the ones who typically make it happen on their own. On their own terms, using their own language, in their own time. These are typically the ones referred to as the freaks, the wrong-uns, the wastes of space. Society tends to dismiss these people, and leaves them to rot. But they don’t. They get up and they barrel forwards and they end up making something of themselves and the world around them that eventually gets everyone’s attention. And then they’re sent love and props and admiration.

I am that person who many people dismissed early as lost, disappointing, sadly not bound to live up to my potential. Guess what? I’m getting shit done. I was right the whole time. I just refused to dumb myself down or play by the rules for everyone else to be able to wrap me in a box and tie it up nice and tightly.

I want to dedicate these words, and this week’s classes, to those who have spent time on the fringe. To the belittled, the alternatives, the other ones, the freaks, geeks, emos and hippies. To the discriminated and the ostracized, the odd and the misunderstood. Know that your struggles are your education. Know that you will know monumentally more about how to navigate life than any straight-A student, and that the earlier your growing pains, the easier you’ll have it later on when life is truly yours to live with the freedoms you’ll be afforded as an adult.

To those who have and still struggle – I have your back. I know what you’re living and I know where you’re going. And I fucking celebrate you and all that you represent.

See you at class this week.

Trivial Pursuits

About 12 years ago I lived in a massive apartment with my then-partner and our best friend. We three were always hanging out together, and we had decided that we might as well split rent three ways instead of rotating where we would hang out day after day…so we got this great place and each assumed our share of the (then-massive) rent. About a year after we moved, I walked into our living room (as one does) and noticed a pile of real estate listings with houses for sale, so I went to go speak to my friend to ask if he had any plans to move out in order to buy a house. He totally shrugged it off, saying he was just checking to see what was out there in the market but he wasn’t really looking. Cut to a few weeks later when he came home and proudly exclaimed that he had bought a house! So, trying to roll with the punches, I congratulated him and then asked him to give us his moving date as soon as he knew it because a) our rent was exorbitant and we needed to absorb his third of it, and b) our stove and fridge were his, and so I’d have to go buy new ones to replace his when he took them with him. Cut to a month later when I came home and saw the fridge being wheeled out the front door. Needless to say, our friendship pretty much ended there.

My partner and I dealt with the odd behaviour from our friend, and within a week or two we had re-adjusted to being just the two of us in the flat. We didn’t really have any communication with our friend, until a month had passed and I got a call from him asking why we hadn’t made any effort to come visit him and see his new place. I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable inviting myself as he had left in such an odd fashion, at which point he pretty much told me that he got caught up in the excitement of purchasing his first property, and by the time he found himself living in it, he had no one to share it with and found the thrill was less than he had anticipated it would be.

We are led to believe in today’s world that the pursuit of happiness lies in the pursuit of material gain. We are encouraged to get the job that might kill our soul, but man, will it ever bring in the cash that we need to afford the status symbols that are the house/car/watch/clothes/kids/spouse/gadgets that we tirelessly chase after. We’re conned into believing that these things will bring us happiness, and admittedly, when we achieve these goals, we do experience a thrill. Momentarily. And then it’s gone. And we sit wondering if we took a wrong step somewhere along the way, because we weren’t supposed to left with a void. We had done everything we were supposed to do. Why then wasn’t it enough?

This story is all too common these days. Believing that life is about getting what you want is allowing yourselves to miss the point entirely. It’s not about getting what you want – it’s about who you become as the experience unfolds. It’s about finding fulfillment in the process of working for what you want, and about making sure what you’re working towards is what you want, not what you’re supposed to want. Success without fulfillment is empty and meaningless. It reduces all our efforts and pursuits to the realm of the trivial. Every single one of us is looking for meaning, and we are encouraged to believe that we gain meaning through wealth, fame, etc…These things, if unable to provide fulfillment and without purpose at their very core, are not only useless, they can be destructive. My friend from 12 years ago learned first-hand that to be able to acquire things may satisfy temporarily, but to be unable to share them deprived him of any fulfillment he may have been expecting.

Look at everything you do, every endeavour you expend time and energy you assume, and ask yourselves if you can find fulfillment. Can you get there from here? You’ll find the answers you seek. You already know them.