business and life are not mutually exclusive
I am part of a large, diverse yoga community in downtown New York City. This community is somewhat anchored by two yoga studios – The Shala (Barbara Verrochi and Kristin Leigh) and Ashtanga Yoga New York & Sri Ganesha Temple (Eddie Stern) – and various healers/wellness practitioners/yoga teachers/meditation teachers that are known in this large and loosely defined Sangha or spiritual community. When things percolate-up in the Wellness/Spiritual realm, we tend to hear about them and share them in an interesting, 'viral' fashion. This can be illustrated when Saints or highly regarded teachers come to town, when a certain restaurant deserves a try, when a particular healer should be sought, or when a great new book or film is out. We’re plugged-in as it were. At least it seems like it sometimes.
I heard about 'The Secret' from a friend a few months ago and saw the DVD over at his house at that time. I enjoyed its message – one that’s not particularly new to me – and then after a brief period of excitement and the production of a 'vision board', this slipped-off my radar. Then I heard about 'The Secret' again from my girlfriend who heard about it from another friend at one of the yoga studios where we practice. Then 'The Secret' was featured on Oprah – not once, but twice in one week – and it has spread like wildfire.
Let me be very clear – I am (fortunately or unfortunately) somewhat skeptical. It’s just the way I am. I am a product of a skeptical upbringing and more than a few hard knocks. When I first saw 'The Secret', my skeptical (if not cynical) mind immediately went to work on the slick marketing and the professional motivational speakers that delivered the dialogue of 'The Secret'. I’ve had more than one experience in my so-called spiritual development where the teacher or organization was more concerned with promoting product, packaging, marketing, image, and revenue – than your well-being or personal growth. Sometimes the best intentions create the worst environments and infrastructure – and then the very message becomes grossly tainted simply because the very people that deliver the message are rendered pathetically hypocritical. I tend to shy away from anything that seems to be so readily scooped-up by the masses.
I used to think – no DREAM that one day I would find a teacher that could give me all the answers and unlock some confining and restrictive spiritual mechanism in my heart that was preventing me from living the life of my dreams. The longer that I’m on this so-called spiritual path, the more I’m convinced of the notion of the teacher pointing at the moon. You should look to where the teacher is pointing – not at his finger. That’s all a teacher can do – point you in a particular direction. From there it’s up to you to determine the value of that journey. It always comes back to us. There are no short-cuts or mystical beings that can simply hand us awakening. We are where we are (and who we are) and we must fully surrender to that each and every moment. It is from that place of surrender where we can finally start to operate in a way that is in accordance with divine laws – like the law of attraction.
I have much more work to do than I ever thought I needed to. The noise or chatter in my mind is so great that I find it hard to focus at times. The restlessness in my body makes a meditation practice extremely difficult. My issues of self-worth and self-loathing provide a seemingly never-ending fuel for the fires of therapy. My unconscious, habitual patterns of defensiveness seek to sabotage every relationship in my life – to lovers, family, friends, co-workers, money/abundance, etc.
So, put into diligent, disciplined practice the lessons (and work) of 'The Secret' as well as those that have served you well – like yoga, meditation, prayer, healthy eating, positive associations of all kinds, and complete surrender to this very moment. All are pointers, but ultimately it’s you that has to do the hard work and find your own, unique way.
I put the title of this installment in quotes because I heard Lenny Kravitz use it at some point (I think) in reference to Paris Hilton. His words captured a unique phenomenon of our times and our country. Our society has become utterly and completely ‘defined’ by popular culture and its perverse fascination with over-the-top materialism and blatant self-absorption. Just when you think things can’t possibly get any worse yet another, even more incredible example of bad taste and out-of-control vanity is celebrated in the mass media and basically force-fed to us in as many ways and forms as possible.
This is how we as Americans are DIRECTLY perceived in other cultures, in other parts of the world. That’s the double-edged power of satellite television and the Web. Our messages – good and bad – are beamed all over the world for everyone to see and interpret. I dare say that the majority of the messages are of the latter.
When our mass media outlets are almost completely saturated by the type of programming that has come to dominate (reality television/shock-over-quality content/the dumbing-down of America) our culture – it comes as no surprise that we are largely perceived as clueless, Godless, and shallow idiots who are completely devoid of ethics, estimable values, integrity and compassion. And to make matters worse, as the richest country in the world we are by default set apart as an example.
It’s hard not to view these phenomena as a somewhat sinister development – a byproduct of the ‘corporate-ization’ of every aspect of American life. I feel it’s the ‘disconnectedness’ of these large corporations and how they control so many aspects of our life experiences that are to blame to a great degree. Blood-for-oil, global warming, government controlled by special interests/lobbyists, make a buck no matter what the cost or consequences, wag the dog, etc. It’s like these large, multi-national corporations are controlled by a bureaucracy that are able to side-step personal responsibility and accountability by sheer virtue of their anonymity. Safety in numbers. Let me be even more concise: In 'An Inconvenient Truth', Al Gore didn’t specifically name companies or individuals at fault because he lacked backbone, I think it’s because there is a significant layer of protection in the anonymous bureaucracy of large corporations. He just didn’t know a concise, short list of who to point out! It’s easier to broadly blame THEM, than it is to be specific or worse - take a close look at ourselves and our contributions to global problems.
All over the world, we as Americans are hated for good reason – I hate us! And that’s a good a reason as any - but the root cause is a pervasive lack of personal responsibility and accountability - at the highest levels of our society. Change must take place and that change will begin at the opposite end of the social spectrum. It has happened before. It's called revolution. And my prayers are those that express the hope that in this struggle, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's ideals are upheld - not those of the anarchists.
This is the Samadhi Pada (Chapter or Book 1), sutra #2 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It appropriately follows the first, "Atha Yoganushasanam" - which basically means "And now, the science of yoga..."
This sutra (#1;2 - Yogash Chita Vritti Nirodha) has taken on numerous meanings for me. It has many different levels of understanding - as does ALL of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. These aren't straightforward lessons, oh no, these are the multicolored, multilayered gems that grow with us as we grow. Never standing still. Never one dimensional.
"Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind" is one interpretation. And as I get older and my practice(s) deepen, I am always brought back to this sutra.
My mind betrays me at every turn, at every opportunity. I am either living in the delusion of the past or in the fantasy of the future. I am ALWAYS it seems, living in some construct of my mind's own making. Living in a story of my own creation. And these never-ending stories have become a prison of which I am becoming more-and-more aware.
As within, so it is without.
I've been listening to Rage Against the Machine at work these last couple of days. This puts me in the 'fighting mood' as it were. Not to be taken literally of course. More so, it makes me look at the world we live in and feel the incredible frustration, disappointment and anger that this EXTREMELY powerful band was able to capture and convey through their music. I wish they were still around. We as a society need the kind of 'kick in our complacency' that these guys were able to deliver. Where have their like gone?
Then I read an interview article this morning with Tias Little about how he has completely embodied the teachings of yoga and expresses them throughout every aspect of his life. He is a brilliant teacher and has a simple, but powerful message. Don't do yoga, allow yoga to do you. Of course I speak of the yogic lifestyle - not just the asana/Hatha Yoga practice. The life of mindful contemplation of the present moment is the freedom we seek from the prison of our own frenetic minds. When we embody the lessons of yoga - we connect not only on the level of the micro - but also on that of the macro. I will admit that my own meditation practice (and I use that word rather loosely), is haphazard at best. The practice of asana comes much more easily to me. I am learning to 'quiet' myself a little more each year. The Mysore Ashtanga practice has helped me with this to a great degree. If it weren't for this 'quiet time', on an almost daily basis, I would have to say that I probably wouldn't be in the 'place' where I could even conceive of writing this blog - much less attempt its subject matter - namely myself under a microscope. Public therapy.
Quiet down. Get out of your own mind - out of your own way. You are NOT your thoughts. Associate with 'higher vibratory energies' - activities, friends, work, food, media, etc.
"Does this path have a heart?" and "To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life" (Carlos Casteneda).
You (Barry) MUST lead a disciplined life. If I don't, I am lost.
Much love and peace to you all - everyone - everywhere.
I recently worked (again) with the 'teacher plant' salvia divinorum. This is a very powerful psychoactive entheogen that I approach with a high degree of reverence and respect. It's traditional use is by the indigenous curanderos (healers) of the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Mexico. Without going into a long discourse on the nature of teacher plants and what we can learn from them, let me just say that the lessons imparted during a SD session are unlike anything you may encounter in the 'real world'. First, the 'real world' is but one of many and the true nature of it is that of energy and consciousness. I'll leave it at that. Many intrepid explorers and healers have preceded me on this type of journey - going back thousand-upon-thousands of years. Of note are the likes of Aldous Huxley, Carlos Castaneda, Terrence McKenna, Ram Das (Richard Alpert), Timothy Leary, Daniel Siebert and a host of contemporary notables - typical found in the community of alternative medicine, the study indigenous peoples healing/spiritual practices, and the study of the nature of consciousness and our physical world/reality. Unfortunately this type of study requires one being somewhat discreet as the negative connotations of 'drug use' are pervasive and negatively impact the responsible use of entheogens by respectful adults simply asking the fundamental questions of human existence and experience -"Who/what am I?", "Where do I come from and where am I going?", "How do I heal myself, others, the planet?", "How do I serve the greater good and how do I live to my highest potential?", "Can I talk to you God, do you hear me, and can I (please) hear you?".
The great masters and teachers do not require the assistance of a teacher plant such as SD to divine the answers to these (simple to them) questions. But there are very few 'enlightened' masters in the world and they are not readily accessible! So, the consummate searcher/explorer that I am requires a radical (but practical) approach. This is NOT a recreational pursuit or pastime. The teacher plant will NOT tolerate being treated with such disrespect. As it stands, I am terrified of its use. But the very core of my being is even more terrified of NOT using it and remaining ignorant of the wisdom it can impart. Let this be a warning to you.
During this last session, it became startlingly apparent that we 'construct' our perceptive reality by the thoughts we choose to think. This may sound a little vague or worse, smack of a typically overused pseudo-spiritual platitude, but the experience was that of 'real-time' construction of reality (see Terrence McKenna's reference to machine elves) according to the 'direction' of my thoughts. We can choose to think in negative/cynical/pessimistic terms, or we can make the choice to think optimistically and remain positive in our daily outlook. The choice is ours to make and I now have a new-found respect for the much misunderstood notion of "the power of positive thinking"! This practice isn't easy in our complex and sometimes harsh world. So, I think our task is to find what is important (positive) and to strip away that which is negative. We are definitely influenced by the company we keep, the media we choose to consume, the foods we eat, the practices/past-times we pursue, etc. Ska Maria la Pastora (SD) is telling us to be mindful of our habitual patterns of thought and to make a conscious effort to focus on the 'sweet' as opposed to the 'bitter'. We co-create our reality, but we alone create our life experience and it's trajectory. That journey can be full of beauty, peace and compassion, but we must make the choice to pursue and live beauty, peace and compassion. You won't find it by constantly associating with (and consuming) violence, malice, pain, suffering, ugliness, vanity, greed, envy, jealousy, hatred, etc.
So I woke up at 5:00AM today with my mind FULL of thoughts and memories of innumerable mistakes and examples of foolish and even reprehensible behavior. As one passed, another exploded into my mind to easily take its place. After a while I found it rather comical that I could easily 'will' another shameful example and yet couldn't remember a single example of something good I had done. It's as if my mind was 'blocked' or stuck in one mode (negative/bad memories) and refused to switch channels. I thought of the 'big mind' technique of meditation and of the various players in our mind and knew that my self-critical mind was in full control. This of course didn't help one bit and all I could do was to simply ride it out! Ugh.
I was scheduled to go on an IMS/Vipassana meditation retreat this past week. It was a 14 day program. At the last moment I chose not to go because of practicalities (money) and such. Here I am looking for work, behind on my bills and I'm contemplating going away for 2 weeks on a meditation retreat! Funny how we always seem to have either plenty of time on our hands but not enough money or vice versa.
It's so very difficult to ACTUALLY believe that things are as they should be. Particularly when you take the time on a regular basis (sadhana) to check in and simply observe. For me the practice of yoga, meditation, therapy/counseling, introspection, reading books by the great masters, etc. is that 'checking-in'. As difficult as one's external situation is or can be, it can always be comforting to find a bit of peace in your spiritual practice.
But when your internal world is under assault, it's hard to find a still point. That's when a spiritual practice shows us the way...
I am contemplating my options and opportunities as far as a new F/T position is concerned. I've been out of work since late August. The time-off has been good - more time with Dana and Lefty, but the usual stress is always present. A pattern I see repeating itself as far as the work search is concerned is that if I go for money, the commute is horrid, the environment lousy, the work stressful, the hours long, etc. but if I happen upon a gig where those characteristics are actually good, then the money isn't. What's with that? I suppose it's the reminder that you should simply take the opportunity that represents the best chance at personal and professional growth (follow your heart) and turn a blind eye towards the salary. Kind of a variation on the theme that if you follow your heart or do what you love, the money will come (eventually).
Speaking of following one's heart, I came across one of my favorite quotes yesterday:
"Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that a path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free from fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once whan I was very young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I understand it. I will tell you what it is. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are a path going through the bush or into the bush...In my own life I could say that I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor's question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart and the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you."
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
by Carlos Casteneda
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