business and life are not mutually exclusive
I often feel that I have not appropriately thanked my teachers and my ancestors in my haphazard writings. So I am beginning this post with a prayer to the Buddha(s) in their honor. If you’re interested, here is the Prayer of Confessions and Prostrations to the 35 Buddhas and a “shorter version”, the Sutra Illuminating the Darkness of the 10 Directions.
The lessons are coming hard-and-fast now. Things are speeding up. I know this experience isn’t unique to me. Maybe, as we crest our mid-40’s and start seeing our 60’s as nearer than our 20’s, we all start having this experience? Or is it that there is some sort of evolutionary imperative at work - subtle yet powerful forces churning and dancing just below the surface of our collective consciousness? Hmmmmmmmmm.
As I get older, the things that are most important to me – the things I hold most dear – are also the things that I am becoming more-and-more acutely aware of losing. I look at examples of the incomprehensible, complete lack of compassion or reverence for the lives of fellow human beings, animals, our Mother Earth – and I feel overwhelming sadness and pain. I feel inadequate to stop such things – to make any sort of difference – to contribute any sort of pure, authentic good to situations that seem completely devoid of it. This is darkness.
Carl Gustav Jung famously said, “Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious.”
That’s what it feels like. That somehow, the things that I find so disheartening in the world are in fact reflections of an inner turmoil. And by my doing the hard work in trying to resolve this agitated state of being – this darkness - things may “change for the better” (I will develop the clarity of authentic perception), because I will have dismantled a very elaborate projector system – myself. Maybe it is because we are witnessing or experiencing such horrendous and appalling tragedy – on a magnitude like never before - on almost a daily basis – that it is further sign that the darkness is being brought to the surface to be somehow integrated? I feel this to be the case.
If I can completely honor and accept these feelings of utter helplessness, I will be able to move beyond them – and not be stuck in them (bless you Abdi Assadi). Only then will I be able to be fully present in the world in such a way that I am able to meaningfully contribute to this world and honorably, respectfully, and compassionately serve my fellow beings. It is only because of my teachers and ancestors, that I am able to begin to grasp this fundamental lesson.
I am reminded of spending time in Italy with one of my beloved teachers, Tim Miller of the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, CA. When he was speaking of his time with the late, great Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) – particularly when he first took Darshan and Pranaam (bowed to touch his feet), it certainly wasn’t a common thing to do as a Westerner (particularly in the U.S. in 1978!). As Tim was reminiscing, tears of immeasurable love and gratitude freely flowed from this great man. In the witnessing of such devotion (Bhakti) and love for his teacher (Guruji), it puts into proper perspective the feelings I have for him (Tim Miller) and all my other teachers.
I will close this posting with a quote I’ve used before, but it conveys the greatest lessons of all – honoring the love of those that mean the most to us – and remembering with reverence those that have gone before us:
"These teachings have been brought to you from Padmasambhava's enlightened heart, across centuries, over a thousand years, by an unbroken lineage of masters, each one of whom only became masters because they had learned humbly to be disciples, and remained, in the deepest sense, disciples of their masters all their lives. Even at the age of eighty-two, when Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche spoke of his master Janyang Khyentse, tears of gratitude and devotion came into his eyes. In his last letter to me before he died, he signed himself "the worst disciple." That showed me how endless true devotion is, how with the greatest possible realization comes the greatest devotion and the most complete, because the most humble, gratitude."
"The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying"
by Sogyal Rinpoche
May all beings, including ourselves have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings, including ourselves be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings, including ourselves rejoice in the well-being of others.
May all beings, including ourselves live in peace, free from greed and hatred.
How do we properly integrate the experience of the miraculous? How do we know where the ego stops, and the infinite begins?
That’s the quandary of the human condition. To come out of sacred rapture, and then have to deal with the imposition of your typical patterns of thought, typical forms of self-criticism, and overall skepticism.
I know now why the great masters make the important point or lesson of careful, loving, compassionate integration. What immediately comes to mind is the book by Jack Kornfield, “After the Ecstasy, The Laundry” – where the title itself is an appropriate, multi-faceted study on this predicament. That there is not only work to be done, oftentimes mundane, but also the important work of cleaning-up our own guises or clothing – the stuff we carry around on our backs and call spiritual.
We all have our own unique stories and paths. This is especially true of the spiritual path. Even though this is the case, we must continually look to our teachers to help gently (sometimes not so gently!) guide us based upon their own hard-won wisdom – based upon many years of arduous work and experience.
I take great comfort in thinking of my teachers when it comes to integration of important events in my life – especially events that fall outside of typical or mundane experience. Without them, without their love, my means of processing – the very bandwidth of my analytical and intuitive abilities – is woefully inadequate.
I am my own worst enemy when it comes to accepting gifts – in whatever form they may arrive. I am slowly learning to accept them with graciousness and without self-imposed conditions. By that, I mean my association of guilt, inadequacy, skepticism, and unworthiness with the offering. It’s this backlash of feelings that sours or dirties (remember the laundry?) the overall experience – the very essence of the gift – the giving in and of itself.
I have been the recipient of immeasurable gifts – blessings – the numbers and forms beyond my ability to consciously comprehend. It is my ultimate lesson to be able to assimilate these blessings and not consider myself unworthy (oh yes, the dirty laundry again). To be able to trust in the intent of the giver and the giving is for me extremely difficult. It is as if I’m still a small child, not trusting the hand that offers – for fear that it will invariably become the hand that also takes-away.
We experience “special-ness” for a moment, and then quickly reject that notion for fear that we are being selfish, arrogant, or deluded. This is an important crossroad. We are warned of it – rightfully so – by our great teachers. We should not consider ourselves as any more special than the homeless person, begging for spare change down on the street corner. But at the same time, in that very moment of rapture, we are indeed special, because we have completely experienced the sacredness of the moment (the gift) – and then the moment is gone. It is then followed by the experience of duality (the laundry) – the humbling, imperfect, balancing-act that makes us human.
I am grateful to all my teachers, to all my practices, to all beings everywhere that struggle to become truly free. It is this collective effort of so many that serves to realize the good, the true, the beautiful – and to fulfill the eternal promise of redemption and reunion.
What is peace?
Peace is the still, quiet place when the cacophony of samsara (delusion, pain, suffering) is vanquished.
What is love?
Love is the realization that of all the things, of all the worlds, there is but ONE thing and this means that I will never, ever leave you – and that you will never, ever leave me.
What is mind?
Mind is that which you seek. Some call it God, some call it Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva, some call it ‘Buddha Nature’, some call it Allah, etc. You are mind. You are already home.
"Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present." ~ Master Oogway in “Kung-Fu Panda”
I heard these words (title) from Manuel Rufino, an Ayahuasquero and Healer from Native American traditions during his talk given as part of the 2nd Annual Ayahuasca Monologues on April 17th.
April/May shaped-up to be pretty big for me and I had a sort of prescience for it (as described in past posts) – an anticipation that seemed to be building since the beginning of the year. The change of seasons has indeed brought with it many shifts – and many blessings.
Dana and I traveled to Encinitas/Carlsbad, CA to spend some time with our West Coast and senior yoga teacher, Tim Miller, during the first two weeks of April. My 42nd birthday was on April 21st. April 29th the great Dr. Albert Hofmann, ‘the father of LSD’, passed away at the age of 102. On May 2nd I installed a photography exhibit at The Shala. I lost a full time, on-site freelance contract on April 11th, but started another one on a work-from-home basis on May 9th. At some point during the last month, my yoga teacher, Barbara Verrochi, gave me the final pose (setu bandhasana) in the primary series of Ashtanga (the Mysore-style practice). Completing the primary series was something I thought I’d never do – at least in this lifetime. And lastly, I received some interest in my doing a bit of journalism – something I’ve always dreamed of pursuing.
I wonder if the shifts I seem to be undergoing are being experienced on a more universal level. No, I know they are. It’s hard NOT to see the synchronicities – and the drastic changes. Eckhart Tolle and Oprah completed their 10-week online series. Barack Obama appears poised to take the democratic nomination for the Presidential run in November. The housing/foreclosure crisis is further traumatizing the middle class – and calling into serious question the societal 'programming' (and lending practices) surrounding the so-called ‘American Dream’. Gasoline prices are so alarmingly high that the senate hearings with the oil tycoon CEOs regarding the astronomical oil company profits harkens-back to the ‘Big Tobacco’ hearings of the late 90’s. Everywhere and at every level of our culture, the sheer greed of Wall Street and the continuing corporatization of every aspect of our lives are beginning to send catastrophic shock-waves throughout the entire planetary existence. One need only look at the environmental collapse, the rapid rise of religious fundamentalism and related violence, the micro-and-macro impact of these out-of-control, robber-baron conglomerates, the increasing insensitivity of the population when it comes to blatant acts of violence and depravity in our media or otherwise, the perverse fascination with ‘celebrity culture’ and voyeurism for those in our society that seek only to further expose their own vanity, the disturbing level of government complacency and duplicity for the lobbyists and special interests, etc.
I want to believe that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift in consciousness - the old ways giving way to the new. It has to be this way – we cannot evolve as a species without something BIG taking place - even if that something big brings with it significant suffering in the course of the grander scheme. The ripple in the still pond is always greater near the epicenter.
On a more personal level, I often wonder EXACTLY how to be in this world – how to conduct myself in my day-to-day existence. My struggle the last several years appears to be around holding my personal power and manifesting (and holding) abundance. How do I do this? And I don’t need any more metaphors or mystical analogies. One of my issues is that I am such the anti-establishment kind of person, so non-mainstream that I’ve basically alienated myself from a lot of our culturally-sanctioned paths to success. By being the ‘outsider’ but all the while secretly wanting the trappings of success that define the ‘insider’, is a hypocritical stance to say the least. I don’t know how to reconcile the two worlds. All I know is that my mind is my hindrance and my worst enemy. What I’m left with as a practice is to try – no, to risk losing everything all the time just to make damn sure that I’ve tried to do my absolute best in this life to ‘carve-out’ an existence that is inline with my ideals and my dreams. I would rather risk everything day-in-and-day-out and suffer the constant unease due to that seemingly never-ending struggle – than to remain ‘asleep’ in some cookie-cutter, societal idea of ‘a decent life’. As a friend of mine once said about a corporate gig in the typical sea of cubicles: “Man, that’s a slow death.” I couldn’t agree more.
If I have any advice for the reader it’s this: Follow your dreams no matter the cost, because if you don’t the price you’ll pay will be your very soul. This life is yours and HIS/HERS. What you do with it is between the two of you. In the end it won’t matter because you’ll return to HIM/HER. And all this will have been his folly. But if you waste this precious gift, HE/SHE may have you come back and do it all over again, and again, and again – until you get it right. So, carpe diem my dear friends and face your lives in the only skillful way that I know at this point: “I don’t know anything. Nothing at all. Thank you.”
It’s been some time since my last post and it seems that a lot has happened in the last month or so. Of particular note is that a great teacher has been ‘thrust’ upon the world stage; Ekhart Tolle has been collaborating with Oprah Winfrey on a weekly Webcast that’s scheduled for ten weeks. It’s an unprecedented event in many respects. The basis of the event is Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”. It’s difficult not to see this as being a significant event in the context of the spiritual or consciousness evolution of the planet.
Oprah Winfrey has become such a major force of inspiration for so many people that I am so very happy that she has taken this latest step in her quest to help as many people as possible given her position, resources, and estimable character. I only wish that others in the media spotlight and of the financial means would take advantage of them for the good of all – rather than the good of the one. Oprah Winfrey is raising-the-bar for many celebrities and setting an example for us all. These facts will surely be her most significant and lasting legacy.
March 20th was the vernal equinox or the first day of Spring and with the season’s change I am inclined towards thoughts of potential or the future. Remaining grounded in the moment is difficult for me during this period. I’ve noticed a pattern in my life since having begun diligently practicing yoga that the transition from Winter to Spring is the most difficult for me. My body just wants to seize-up and I find it a challenge just to get out of bed in the morning. I usually get sick around this time as well – as I am right now while writing this post. I’m traditionally laid-low by a nasty cold or flu-like bug around this time of year. I always think it’s related to the crazy temperature fluctuations of the Northeast exacerbated by even crazier fluctuations inside the old NYC buildings I typically work in. I can go from freezing cold to out-and-out sweating several times a day – and that’s even when I’m feeling well. So, much of my thoughts are geared towards ‘fair weather days’ in the literal as well as the figurative senses.
Spring is the time of awakening from the 'slumber' of Winter. Its coming heralds the change of the landscape and this change reverberates throughout our lives and throughout our consciousness. It is the proverbial time of new beginnings and of being reborn. Never in my life have I been so aware of this shift. And it’s reflective of the fact that never in my life have I been so aware in general. Seeing change as it comes-and-goes, actually experiencing it, feeling it, and then having it pass – all the while remaining aware of the phenomena is a significant step. The next and more difficult step is to not be attached to the experience. That’s the trick isn’t it? Yes, indeed.
The tool that I’ve come to believe in with regard to attachments to experiences – attachments to the outcomes of change – is intention. If I am able to visualize a particular outcome and create an intention for a particular outcome, then I can ‘put it out there’ (in a myriad of ways) and then simply let them go. This is my exercise around attachment. As Eckhart Tolle and many of the spiritual masters tell us, present moment awareness is the only true place of being. So, we must each find our own ways to keep ourselves grounded in the moment, but not completely shut-off from skillfully living into our dreams and aspirations.
During this phase or transition, I’ve noticed that events in my life have seemingly sped-up to a great degree. It’s as if things that have laid dormant have all-of-the-sudden burst forth or otherwise come to fruition or resolution (or close to it). I’ve been told on good authority that things are speeding up for me, but I feel it’s true for all of us. My task is to just try to be the best person that I can be, do the absolute best that I can, and to be open to alternative points-of-view.
I want so much to be able to help others. This generalization is difficult to explain, but it is represented in multiple ways or examples in my life: I want to help Dana and I buy a house in the country or by the ocean, I want to help myself heal old wounds and live as a completely authentic being, I want to help my family and friends in any way that is needed, I want to help my immediate family (Dana, Lefty and I) live our lives in such a way that promotes peace, health, happiness and prosperity, I want to help inspire others to look deep within themselves for the answers that seem to always elude them, I want to help leave our dear Mother Earth a better place than when I came here, I want to help catapult the evolutionary shift in human consciousness to the next level. Baba Ram Dass explained it best when he says, “My karma is my dharma; meaning that what my life is presenting me with is the vehicle through which I can become free.” He explains further that his particular path is one of service or of that of a karma yogi. And Baba Ram Dass has been of great, great service to us all.
I want to end this post with a mention of another of my great teachers and inspirations, Terence McKenna. He is probably my greatest teacher in that he has inspired my thinking and my desire for empirical knowledge in terms of spirituality and human consciousness (my own consciousness) more than any other human being. I take great joy in hearing his archived words (props to Lorenzo at The Psychedelic Salon) and am constantly amazed at his seemingly bottomless wellspring of wisdom, courage, compassion, humor, and vision. I wish he was still among us. He was in my humble opinion, one of the most brilliant thinkers of our time – and probably the most important for the evolution of our species. A giant among giants. If I am to be ‘awakened’ one fine day, it is with all due credit to unsung heroes such as him.
I recently spent some time with another of my most important teachers of late – Darlene Van de Grift. I always look forward to seeing her and at the same time realize that I’ve still got a lot of work to do and a long way to go, so there is always a little sadness followed by depression. I’ve also been working in a corporate environment again, so I guess I feel a little depleted due to my old nemesis. I just don't seem to work well in that environment - on so many different levels. Or maybe it’s that I’ve been listening to the renowned Advaita sage Ramesh S. Balsekar of Mumbai, India speaking of free will, destiny, non-duality, etc. His words have been in my mind for a couple of weeks now, so carrying around his concept (THE concept) in my head and turning it over-and-over is tiring. I think it’s when trying to integrate something that you might just begin to grasp intellectually – but cannot totally, or within your heart - that you can become literally exhausted. Then there’s the bitter, unrelenting New York City winter. Then there are all my other issues: lack of money, struggles with work, struggles in personal relationships, struggles in my Ashtanga practice, struggling in the relationship I have with myself, etc. Ultimately, this all represents one thing - my struggle with my place in this world.
Another teacher of mine, Abdi Assadi, recently published a book called Shawdows on the Path and it is a powerful and essential study on the pitfalls of the so-called spiritual path and the irrepressible shadow archetype as describe by Carl Jung. With his guidance and that of my other teachers, I’ve come to realize that we have multiple paths in this life and just because we may believe we’re on a spiritual path, this does not alleviate the necessity to do the extremely hard work on the others – particularly the psychological and therapeutic. I must admit that I am someone who believed that if I ‘got far enough along’ the spiritual path, that this process would somehow serve to mitigate all my faults and issues. Ironically enough, my spiritual seeking just became yet another issue to add to the list!
I often wonder why I am the way I am and why my life is the way it is. On one level, I completely understand (and accept intellectually) that this is all God’s will. On another level I see that I’ve got work to do and try to do it to the best of my ability. If I am depressed or if something doesn’t go according to my grand scheme, I often find myself in the place ‘between’. Actually, I often find myself in this place no matter my emotional state. It’s as if I’m caught between God’s will and my own mind. And letting go or ‘letting God’ as some might say has never been my way. I had for many years – all my life – believed that by my sheer force of will, I could make things ‘right’. The tragedy is that we believe that we’re in control when in fact we’re flailing through life desperately trying to grasp something that will allow us a measure of sure-footing. This is the ‘seeking’ part of our nature. At this step on my long and winding road, I’m mostly interested in the ‘finding’ part, because I’ve found that the ‘seeking’ doesn’t seem to work.
It’s these diametrically opposed points of view (God’s will and Individual doer-ship or free will) that I’ve been preoccupied with since returning from India. And it’s as if the argument in my mind is becoming more-and-more concise, or worn-down to a fine edge or line between these two opposites. Call it the razor’s edge or a sort of middle way according to Buddhism. My trouble with the ‘enlightened’ perspective of ultimate non-duality (God’s will) is that it doesn’t help me get through the day per se. It appears only good for meditations on suffering and death where I need to be able to grasp the ‘gestalt’ of all things. Now I’m oversimplifying the Advaita concepts and my understanding and the daily application of them, but you get my point.
I am struggling right now. And these struggles span all aspects of my life. The knowledge that God is experiencing through me an aspect of duality and inter-human relationships as a separate ego entity with the idea of personal doer-ship does not help alleviate my very immediate suffering. At the end of the day they all become interesting words and fascinating concepts – but they do not pay the bills, build a future, heal a relationship, heal me, etc.
I’ve come to believe that the psychological work (or path) is absolutely necessary for us to progress at all along the spiritual. I recently discovered a talk given by Ann Shulgin regarding her work in psychotherapy in dealing with the shadow. The context was the use of hypnotherapy, MDMA and 2C-B, before these drugs were scheduled by the Federal Government. Her detailed explanation of the shadow and how she came to help bring it into consciousness in psychotherapy practice is compelling – even if the use of MDMA and psychedelics puts you off.
More-and-more I am realizing how this shadow aspect of my unconscious mind wreaks havoc in my conscious or waking life – through projections of our shadow selves onto others. I am not whole. I have shunted-off vital parts of myself and in doing so, became a fractured person. I think we’re all fractured to an extent - unless you’ve done the work necessary to fully integrate. Often in the spiritual and yoga community there is talk of ‘being authentic’ and I feel that this miss-used platitude's true meaning isn’t fully explored. Denial is a powerful, addictive pattern in our lives and the work necessary to open one’s eyes to the subtleties of your own shadow is not easy. If anything, this process is at the very least, daunting and monumental.
As Ann Shulgin so eloquently related, coming to face and accept your shadow is probably the most difficult and brave thing one can do in one’s life. I am not completely sure how best to do this in my own experience. It’s a unique and individual pursuit in every case – of this I am convinced. For me, I am compelled in several directions - individual and couples psychotherapy, deep-tissue body work like Rolfing or KMI, a disciplined yoga practice, work with skilled ‘alternative’ therapists/teachers and the path of indigenous, shamanic healing. Your direction or list would probably look much different.
Darlene said to me, “The universe is trying to force you into conformity - forcing you through the eye of the needle.” Of course ‘conformity’ is one of my hot-button words and issues and I reacted defensively. I now see that the metaphor is appropriate. I need to fully integrate all aspects of my conscious and unconscious mind in order to become myself fully. As I do this fundamental work, I am able to become the integrated thread or stream that flows through my life – and through grace.
You must seek and find your own path to heal and integrate your shadow. It’s probably the most important thing you’ll ever do.
PS – I’m almost finished completely re-designing DharmaBuilt.com and there I hope you’ll find content and links that may help you along your own path(s).
“I guess it’s time for me to abide in faith”. These words from “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Gerald G. May, M.D. really struck a cord with me. The context is when you are undergoing a ‘spiritual crisis’ of sorts – when you ask yourself if you believe in anything anymore or even care about it. I think we are so caught-up in the need for results or the need for clarity that we often fail to see the wisdom in the uncertainty. This great book talks about the ‘darkening’ of our senses, perceptions, intellect, intuition and soul in terms of divine ‘obscurity’. It is in the obscurity of our lives that God is doing his greatest work in us and through us. This must happen at a level that is inaccessible to us, obscure to us – to the ego – in order to allow for the miraculous to happen. We simply get in the way of grace and the ‘darkening’ or obscuring is the way in which God makes it ‘safe’ for our passage – otherwise we wouldn’t go where it is we have to go.
I have been questioning everything these last few years. My relationships, my family, my work, my decisions, my values, my faith, my yoga practice, my teachers, my ideas, etc. Sometimes my frustration with one or all of these facets of my life leaves me in a place of despair. Why can’t I seem to ‘get better’? Why doesn’t my life ‘improve’? Why is everything difficult? Why are my decisions all crap? How can I find peace? Why won’t God talk to me?
Then, in a moment of ‘alignment’ (grace?) everything appears to be fine – perfect even. I experienced such a moment a couple of weeks ago at an ashram in southern India. I was at the nightly puja in the magnificent Hanuman temple. Swami-ji was chanting something beautiful in the background and the Pundit was performing the ritual for blessings in the inner temple and tears just started rolling down my face. The moment was exquisite. The moment was pure beauty and that indescribable mix of joy and sorrow. Joy for the ‘perfect’ moment and sorrow for the knowledge that the moment wouldn’t last.
I was blessed to have been able to spend three weeks in Mother India. It was my first trip there but it most certainly won’t be my last. It’s as if I found another home-away-from-home in as much as Encinitas, CA was (is) for me – as I related in a previous posting. The Dharmikam Ashram is a very powerful and beautiful place and Swami-ji (Guru) Hanuman Das (Balachandran Nair) is a great, fierce man of God. A true warrior sage and healer. To witness his life’s work (the Dharmikam Ashram), his unconditional love and sense of duty, everyone's love of him, the healing work (Kalarichikilsa), the Indian children learning Kalaripayattu, the indescribably beautiful Hanuman Temple, the villagers, the staff and workers, the volunteers, the humbling devotion, the disciples, the other visiting westerners, etc. is a very moving experience and leaves one feeling very blessed to have been a part of it - if even for a short period of time. And the poverty of the people and the area (and the country) makes you count your blessings and be grateful for having been born an American. Yes, gratitude is one of the principal lessons that the Guru and the ashram teach.
The ashram is quite small – currently seven rooms for visitors – but this is what makes it so special. I feel as if I’m one of the lucky few that have been able to spend time with Master (Swami-ji) while the ashram is still small. Who knows what the future will bring? I’m just not someone who goes for the large ‘crowd’ or organization. So I feel very fortunate to have found my way to him – perhaps before he is ‘discovered’ by a larger audience. While a visit to a large ashram with hundreds if not thousands of other devotees may be a special experience of its own kind, I prefer an intimate situation.
Now I am back in New York City. It made the change to winter while we were gone. So coming back means many adjustments – a different practice, different clothes, different food, different pace, different season, different energy, different me, etc. I decided to quit my job. I’m tired of living in fear and holding onto something (a miserable something) just for fear of losing it (especially a paycheck). I want to live a life where fear isn’t a factor in my decisions. I want to live a life where love is the universal factor and the motivating force. I don’t know what’s next for me. I have lots of ideas but no planned steps. The path ahead is obscure. I guess it’s time for me to abide in faith.
PS – I’ll try to post my India photos gallery ASAP. It’ll be on DharmaBuilt.com
It’s my new mantra, but with it comes a certain amount of trepidation. Often personal and spiritual growth comes as a result of upheaval or drastic change. I can honestly say that my own ‘growth trajectory’ always shot up after first having various circumstances of my life plummet or fall apart. A loss, a break-up, a breakdown, an injury, a realization of a long-standing denial, suffering the consequences of shameful behaviors, uncertainty around work or income, catastrophe, tragedy, etc. Why is this? Why must we suffer so much before having a moment of clarity? My own personal metaphor/vision is that of being in the prizefighting ring and having the living shit beaten out of me by some colossus (Mike Tyson in his prime comes to mind) – only to keep staggering to my feet to defiantly offer-up my chin for the next blow. It has taken me years to understand that this is another of my own self-imposed conceptual models that manifests itself to my unconscious bidding. Once again Abdi Assadi helped me recognize my own twisted masochism in this. Who is this person that takes, no, WILLS and even WISHES the beating in the first place?
Why not envision another way? Why not become your own proverbial phoenix and simply burn away those ideas of ‘necessary suffering’ as well? With Abdi’s help I’ve recognized in myself something that is so prevalent in Western society – self-loathing. It permeates our being (and society) to the very core and we have been force-fed this idea that we must suffer in order to ‘get somewhere’ – in order to break free – in order to become a ‘better’ person – in order to finally accept ourselves as who we truly are. No pain, no gain. Bullshit.
It’s fear. We hold onto even our ‘suffering’ in the midst of the mystery or possibility of something else – something different – something unknown. Sometimes I feel that I would rather hold onto something ‘bad’ as opposed to not having that something to hold onto at all. Fear of the unknown is a very fundamental thing. Fear of the possibility of even more suffering – but unfortunately it’s that very fear that keeps us trapped and ultimately keeps us from the possibilities of true freedom.
I have been living in fear for most my life. This has been a very recent realization. I had often thought that I was a fearless man. I’ve faced harrowing circumstances, often just to ‘test’ myself – to face my fears, but I now know that these were distractions for the ego. Smoke and mirrors. My most harrowing ordeals simply stare back at me from the bathroom mirror every day. They lurk at the base of every breath I take and reside in the tension I carry in my hips and shoulders. What would it mean to really live in the moment without fear? What would it mean to not continually grasp at the future with greedy, clawing fingers hoping to ‘get something’ that will satisfy us to the extent that we’re at peace with ourselves in our lives?
Sometimes it is in the letting go that we actually gain the most. For me it’s the letting go of the fear of being alone, the fear of never having enough, the fear of never being able to take care of myself, the fear that I’m not good enough, the fear that I’m in the wrong place, the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, the fear that my decisions are all crap - all ultimately based upon the fear of dying. As Abdi told me, it’s like you’re holding onto something so hot it’s burning you – but you refuse to drop it because you’re afraid to. And for what? So burn me then. Burn me until I drop you. Burn me clean. Forge me anew. Cleanse me. Heal me. Free me!
We can’t have a conditional relationship with God. We can’t pray for healing, clarity, peace, abundance, love, etc. and yet have the conscious (or unconscious) desire to hold onto the things that keep us from having all that in the first place - blindly hanging onto some dysfunctional status quo. Just as the prayer in the last posting says, we must surrender our fears – we must surrender EVERYTHING to God and the universe. Offer-up yourself to the fire (or the light if that’s easier for you) of purification so that you can finally live a life without fear.
To live such a life would be a wondrous thing.
Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of thee;
Thou only knowest what I need;
Thou lovest me better than I know how to love myself.
O Father, give to Thy child that which
he himself knows not how to ask.
I dare not ask either for crosses or for consolations;
I simply present myself before thee,
I open my heart to Thee.
Behold my needs which I know not myself;
see and do according to Thy tender mercy.
Smite, or heal;
depress me or raise me up;
I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them;
I am silent;
I offer myself in sacrifice;
I yield myself to Thee:
I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will.
Teach me to pray.
Pray Thyself in me.
- François de Salignac Fenelon,
Archbishop of Cambray, 1651-1715, AD
My closest, greatest teacher (Abdi Assadi) has to constantly remind me of this fact (posting title) but I’ve struggled with the idea of it my entire life. More-and-more I look at myself and see the problems with my mind – the way it works – the ‘monkey mind’ as it were. It’s extremely difficult NOT to be your own greatest obstacle/enemy, especially when you have significant ‘childhood woundings’, caretaker tendencies, and self-esteem issues that you’re working through.
I recently came across the Web site for Steve Pavlina and specifically his blog posting for working with intentions: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2006/06/how-intentions-manifest/
Steve says, “Whatever you imagine with enough energy will eventually manifest. If your thoughts are clear and focused, you’ll manifest your desires relatively quickly and easily. If your thoughts are jumbled and chaotic, you’ll manifest a seemingly random and haphazard life for yourself.”
Also well put was, “Regardless of whether I think the universe is objective or subjective, I know that my dominant thoughts are the key determinants of my results in life. My thoughts control my decisions, and my decisions over time control my results. When I really understood that, I assumed a new level of responsibility for every thought that went through my mind. I decided to take conscious control of my thoughts no matter what. I saw that I could no longer afford to have my mind haphazardly dwelling on things I didn’t want.”
I read his posting a couple of times and really appreciated his message. I looked at his biographical information and came to appreciate it even more. It seems that some of us must hit ‘rock-bottom’ before we can begin our ascension. Another teacher of mine (Rolf Gates) said that (and I’m paraphrasing from memory), “I had to be utterly and completely humbled before I was willing to surrender to guidance from a higher power”.
It is an interesting type of masochism that works in me (us?) that wants to continually validate the idea that the universe is conspiring against me or at least ‘deaf’ to our intentions and prayers. I can honestly say that my mind has an unhealthy affinity for gravitating towards the negative. It’s self-sabotage at the level of thought – and these tendencies are the ‘intention killers’ that Steve Pavlina talks about. Every time I think that I can’t do something, I’ll fail at something, something won’t work-out, something will go wrong, I won’t be supported, etc. – that’s EXACTLY what happens. I’ve grown extremely adept at manifesting the things I don’t want because I focus on them at the level of thought MUCH MORE than the things I do. Interesting stuff! I mean, my ego is EXPERT at this – and the ego LOVES being the expert. The great masters tell us that this is the ego mind continually trying to CONTROL everything – and it asserts control by negating the limitless possibilities of the universe. Basically, the mind doesn’t want us to believe that there is another power (other than itself) that is actually in control – another power (the only power) that we’ve forgotten by design – the power we must strive to remember, honor and access.
I remember Myron Stolaroff (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myron_Stolaroff) speaking about “being above the line or below the line” in meditation (podcast: http://www.matrixmasters.net/blogs/?p=110 - an astoundingly beautiful tribute to Dr. Albert Hoffmann on the occasion of his 100th birthday). My understanding of this concept has a lot to do with the noise of the mind, a kind of ‘thermo cline’ – like barrier that separates realms of thought/being (emptiness/receptivity). If I can remain ‘above the line’ I am in a place where the negative tendencies of the ego mind can’t go – if I fall ‘below the line’, I am at their mercy and lost in suffering.
I am not a good meditator. I do not have a consistent practice. My Ashtanga hatha yoga practice is the type of ‘moving meditation’ that I can easily grasp on a consistent basis because it suits my personality type and perhaps my level of spiritual development. I wish I could do better in this regard. I am too easily distracted. Consistent meditation is too difficult for me. Funny thing about these thoughts – I’ve done it yet again…
I have recently returned to NYC after a week-long trip to the North County area of San Diego, California. The main reason Dana and I went was to study/practice with Tim Miller of the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad. Tim is the first American certified by Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga Yoga and began studying with him in 1978. Guruji (Jois) teaches according to the methods taught to him by the legendary Sri Tirumali Krishnamacharya. Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900's by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927 - courtesy of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute. Guruji also calls Ashtanga yoga Patanjali Yoga because the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the spiritual and philosophical foundation of Ashtanga Yoga.
Tim is a sweet, funny, humble and supremely generous and gracious teacher and his studio has a light-hearted and yet profoundly dedicated vibe to it. A very different energy than that of NYC yoga studios in general. Almost the polar opposite – very nurturing and light (sweet? playful? feminine?) as opposed to the frenetic and dense (driven? competitive? masculine?) energy of NYC. It was a magical vacation and I have a very special place in my heart for Tim and the Encinitas/Carlsbad area. The surfing, the fish tacos, the yoga, the California beach-town vibe, etc. Not only is this area the birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga in the U.S. - I should also mention that there is a long spiritual tradition in that area, specifically that of the Self-Realization Fellowship founded in Encinitas in 1937 by Paramahansa Yogananda. It is at the Hermitage where he wrote the spiritual classic, Autobiography of a Yogi, one of my transformative influences. Because of this trip and the experiences, I feel as though I’ve had a breakthrough of sorts. I had been feeling rather stuck for a very long time prior to this vacation and I feel that I’ve finally taken another important step in my own progress along the path (I wrote about feeling stuck in a previous posting). I don’t know if was Tim, surfing, the big fight I had with Dana, walking in the footsteps of Paramahansa Yogananda or what - but I felt a lot lighter coming back into NYC and I’ve been able to hold (somewhat) that feeling since. I spoke to a friend about this feeling and I think it’s about recognizing the fact that no matter what transpires, that we always have possibilities in our lives. I forget who, but I remember a great teacher speaking of the fact that because we’re alive, that anything is possible. I couldn’t see a life for myself in any place other than New York prior to the trip, and now I see that there are other places that would (could) sustain me. Not that I’m through with New York by any stretch, but it’s nice (crucial?) to have another possible home - even the fantasy of it. It’s the associated feelings of expansiveness that I’m trying (with great difficulty) to describe. It’s as if due to this trip, that I’ve expanded the boundaries of my perceptions in inumerable ways – ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Travel (experience) really is the greatest teacher one can have. The famous cook book author Anne Willan taught me that - but that's another story...
Sri Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Ammachi) was just here in NYC for her Summer 2007 tour. I again tried to receive her darshan only to fail due to my own impatience (cynical ego?) and scheduling conflicts. You really need to set aside an entire day (or night) to see her. You can get a token for the darshan line and then time/estimate how long it takes for a few of the letters of the alphabet (represented on the tokens) to cycle – each alphanumeric combination representing a large group of people waiting to receive her darshan. You can then leave and then go back to the center at the appropriate ETH (estimated time of hug). I tried this methodology, but came back too late and missed my opportunity. This is my second attempt. The first time on her previous tour, I went at night and was looking at a very, very long wait – into the early morning hours at the very least. When you’re looking an early start and a long one at work the next day, it becomes an issue of resolve and dedication. I bailed that time too. A dear, sweet friend was able to go and I’m happy to say was successful in her quest. She attributed my advice and tips to her successful experience, but we both know that there was another guide at work. She related to Dana and I a story that sent shivers down my spine – that a complete stranger commented on her tatoos (symbols for enlightenment) and said that she “needed to do more work on that”. Prior to this point my friend was on the fence about going to see Ammachi – knowing very well the possibilities of a formidable undertaking. Upon hearing the admonishment of this complete stranger, she made a bee-line to the Manhattan Center and in under an hour was able to embrace the living saint who has embraced somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 million people (talk about LinkedIn!). According to my friend this was no ordinary embrace and her story (and glowing aura) was testament to the blessing she received by the divine mother. It was an amazing recounting and one that filled me with joy not only for her, but also that I had a small part in such a profound experience. There are no coincidences. Thank you Blessed Mother and all my teachers, pranams at your lotus feet.
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