Thursday, October 21, 2010

The fabric of sound

Just gotta write this down before I forget it...I realized something about music and vibration today. When we create any vibration - emotion, sound, thought - If our universe is truly one fabric, then we forever change that fabric every time we create a vibration. If I play a note on my guitar, the silence afterward is different - literally feels different - than if I had not played a note. This little ripple in the space/time continuum may be small, but like a stone thrown in a still pond, it's ripples continue to move outward - an there is only one pond with no shore!

So now I have a really god reason to practice.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yoga as a tool

"Is Yoga a religion?" is a question I hear a lot. As teachers of yoga, our response is often to downplay, or to reinforce the idea that yoga is for everyone and won't get in the way of you and your religion. I'm not so sure we are being truthful as teachers when we say this. It is true yoga is a discipline and not a religion. However, as a tool yoga is so effective it's like using a titanium shovel with a homing device to dig for the truth. Religion generally puts belief first and practice second. This can lead to a real lack of inquiry. If you decide to start practicing yoga, get ready to start asking yourself some really interesting and possibly uncomfortable questions about what you hold to be true.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Communication Breakdown

Hey, girl, stop what you're doin'!
Hey, girl, you'll drive me to ruin.
I don't know what it is that I like about you, but I like it a lot.
Won't let me hold you, Let me feel your lovin' charms.

Communication Breakdown, It's always the same,
I'm having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane!

Robert Plant-

Robert Plant is a fabulous singer, but it has to be said his best mode of communication is probably not the written word. The hard sciences are often very particular about defining terms - knowing exactly what the definition of a word is. This is a really good idea. When you are being operated on, you want your doctor to say to the nurse “hand me the scalpel” not “hand me the thingy”. Same goes for pilots, nuclear warhead...guys, and anyone else in charge of something important.

A friend of mine asked me to prepare a talk on communication for an I.C.B.C. (that’s a government insurance corporation) conference. So, I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone by writing a blog about what I plan to say. By the way, killing two birds with one stone would be really, really hard. Even getting close to one bird with any sizable rock is tough (I just tried). Just carrying around a rock and looking for a bird raises some suspicion apparently.

There are probably a zillion ways one could approach the topic of effective communication, but I think for brevity’s sake we can whittle it down to a few basic principles. When we communicate, we do it through the vehicle of the 5 senses:


If you are a cook, you probably use all of these to communicate. But if you are interacting with another person on the street, you’ll probably just use:


Unless you are Robert Plant. Or you are really, really friendly.

Further whittling will reveal we use language more than any of the other faculties of communication. My friend Oscar asked me to prepare something about communication from a “Yogic perspective”. So I considered that. One could say that from a yogic perspective, we’d want our communication to be:

As concise as possible
Worth listening to

So that brings us to an interesting question - what is worth saying? We use language to interact, to get things - “pass the salt”, and to describe our inner state - happy, sad, poignant, furious and so on. But to do this we need a listener. Good listeners are a very well paid bunch of folks. This is so because the act of listening literally creates space for the speaker to fill. And not only that. When we are really listened to, it encourages us to give our best as a speaker, to craft our language to be as palatable as possible, and to say what we mean. Ahhh - to say what we mean!

There are at least 8,000 homophones and homonyms in the English language. New words are being created daily - some statistics say over 20,000 English words per year are being added to our language. Some of these are scientific or medical terms that we may never use, like Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis - just hope you don’t get a lung infection in an African mine. All of this makes choosing the right words pretty tough. So how is it that we do it?

I think great speakers are great listeners. They never stop listening, even while they are speaking. They have honed their sensitivity to pick up non-verbal cues from their audience of one or a hundred. I have seen this ability in all the great speakers I’ve heard, and it is a function of awareness. This awareness is present when the internal babble of our minds is quiet enough to allow us the sensitivity to really regard another and receive who they are and what they might understand and have an interest in. Great musicians have the same ability. Rock musicians. They can even be seen flicking their hair away from their ears in what appears to be a sultry way, but which is actually a very methodical and sophisticated way of listening better.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meditation is the groundwater of being

I spend a lot of time intellectualizing when I'm not doing asana, which keeps me generally out of trouble. Meditation however, is something that did not come easily until rather recently. As teachers and practitioners of yoga, most of us have an inkling how important meditation must be. Very difficult to put into words, this experience, or possibly lack thereof - and that's too bad, because meditation is the groundwater of being. A source that nourishes life, hidden for most of us under varying layers of dust, earth, rock. It takes some drilling to get down to this essence, and it's not hard to understand why it seems initially like a lot of work with no reward. Dust flying everywhere, metaphoric drill-bits flying into pieces, with nothing to show but a sore back.

But once the layers that conceal this source of being have been worked through, something really marvelous happens. You touch the water, and it feels cool and somehow familiar. You can drink as much of it as you want and it only hydrates and nourishes. And then you realize this groundwater of being must be the same groundwater all who meditate have tapped into. And that is a very, very comforting thought.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How to avoid death

How to completely avoid death

What does it mean to die? To die means not to change. We change from an embryo to a baby, baby to adolescent, adolescent to adult, adult to elderly, elderly to eventually moving beyond the body completely, to the unknown. We call this “life”. What we are afraid of is not death, it is unknown change. Every night when we fall asleep, we move into the unknown, where time is no longer linear and we dive deep into the unrestrained creative power of our source.

When our sense of self, when our fixed ideas and patterns of thinking become so standardized that we are no longer open to change, that is death. That is the real death before the physical body dissolves. When the mind becomes as stiff as our joints, our world becomes restricted as well. New things, new ideas that threaten our old patterns are viewed with suspicion and resistance. When the walls we choose to define our way of living can no longer be tunneled through by the power of curiosity, we inhabit a prison of our own design.

What is the cure for death? The punctuation mark at the end of the last sentence is the cure. The question mark began as a “Lightning flash, from left to right” in the early middle ages. With this simple symbol of lightning - a force that both illuminates and destroys - the foundations of our previously held beliefs can be changed, adapted, and when necessary, exploded. When we allow a current of curiosity and wonder to swirl within even the things we take for granted, the possibility of seeing them as new unfolds.

Our big fear is that what we have believed in, the foundations of our way of living and seeing the world may change completely. If that were to happen, our sense of authority and value would be threatened. So to avoid this threat, we retreat into the walls of our own beliefs, retreating to the known.

So, how to avoid death? To avoid death, create an opportunity to let your beliefs dissolve, even temporarily. We can do this daily by taking a seat, closing our eyes for a few minutes and resting in the source that lies behind all of our thoughts and beliefs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

127 keys to happiness - The first eleven

127 Keys to happiness.

1 - Stop caring what people think. Most people are too busy caring what you think of them to worry about what you are doing.
2 - Remember, eventually, we die. You don’t want to get sick and die, so resolve to die when you are healthy.
3 - Take a few minutes every day to recognize you can be a jerk, just as much as anyone else.
4 - When you wake up, say to yourself “ I am still alive!” Say it out loud.
5 - To create more personal space on the bus, practice yogic breathing, eyes closed.
6 - Good and bad are relative terms. To a wolf, tackling a weak caribou is good. To the weak caribou, it is bad. To the herd of caribou, it is good, because the whole herd’s bloodline will get stronger, but they may not know that.
7 - In the middle of any argument, crawl on the floor for 25 seconds, get up, and continue.
8 - When you happen to be crawling on the floor, have an argument with yourself.
9 - Be someone who categorizes. Create 2 categories - 2 kinds of people - those that categorize, and those that don’t.
10 - Occasionally, take a shower with all of your clothes on.
11 - Don’t do something everyday that scares you. That is bad advice. Home dentistry scares me, and I’m not about to do it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The initial motivation for belief

When we look around at Systems Of Belief, there are many. Christianity, Buddhism, Tantra Yoga, Classical Yoga, Islam. Although quite different in method, all systems of belief must share one starting point. The initial motivation for belief comes from the feeling that things are unsatisfactory as they are. Belief systems will disagree on exactly what is unsatisfactory, but it comes down to one thing in the end. We die. We die, and we don't know what happens next, if anything. This is profoundly unsettling to us. We don't want to end, so we create a belief. Hold on. What is a belief? This is one description:

Existential claim - to claim belief in the existence of an entity or phenomenon with the implied need to justify its claim to existence. It is often used when the entity is not real, or its existence is in doubt. "He believes in witches and ghosts" or "many children believe in fairies" are typical examples.

O.K. So.... we have a "belief" when we don't know for sure. None of us would say "My belief system is that I have a head". The reason that sounds so silly is that we know we have a head. We don't have to affirm a belief in it. This is important.

So, now we have a "belief" that we go to heaven, we re-incarnate, we turn into a luminous being, and so on. If we knew this, we would not have to have a "belief". Would we? So, if we believe something happens after we die, do we individually create a belief in some sort of continuation after death, or do we adopt one that already exists? Which one did you adopt?

Coming back around to my initial point in writing this, it is my assertion that belief is motivated by the ego. It is our desire to continue in some form that creates the motivation to adopt a belief system. If is sounds true to you that our adoption of belief is ego-driven, then good luck transcending the ego through spiritual practice based on belief. Uh-oh.

So, if we want our spiritual lives - strike that - if we want our lives to be based in truth, we have to start from a place of truth, and that is knowing what is and what is not. If we could, for a change, get rid of the beliefs we have about things and simply observe reality and then have a chat about it, we'd be further ahead. There may very well be re-incarnation, or heaven, or luminosity, or myriad other potentials for our energy when this form ends. But we will never discover that by adopting a belief and psychologically crossing our fingers, in the hopes that the belief we adopted is the "right" one.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Yoga as therapy

One thing seems to be a universal truth. The more we inquire, the more there is to know. Yoga therapy is an inquiry into wholeness, which really requires the full participation of the client to be effective - why? Without the energy of inquiry turned toward coming back to health, and the client's participation in that inquiry, Yoga therapy would be at the very least less effective. Our nature is wholeness. If the therapy client sees the yoga therapist as the originator of health, then the process starts to look like an intervention. Our western medical system is largely based on the the paradigm of intervention - thinking the body needs something else, something from outside, to heal. We have sleeping pills, viagra, cholesterol medication, anti-depressants and on and on. All of these interventions have side effects at least as dangerous as the condition they are apparently trying to alleviate. An example:

Common side effects of
SSRI antidepressants:

Decreased sex drive
Weight gain or loss
Dry mouth

Antidepressant withdrawal symptoms:

Anxiety, agitation
Depression, mood swings
Flu-like symptoms
Irritability and aggression
Insomnia, nightmares
Nausea and vomiting
Dizziness, loss of coordination
Stomach cramping and pain
Electric shock sensations
Tremor, muscle spasms

Antidepressant warning signs:

Suicidal thoughts or attempts
New or worse depression
New or worse anxiety
Aggression and anger
Acting on dangerous impulses
New or worse irritability
Feeling agitated or restless
Difficulty sleeping
Extreme hyperactivity
Other unusual changes in behavior

These side effects pile up. If you have insomnia, take a pill. That pill may make you anxious - so take an antidepressant. The antidepressant may decrease your sex drive -so take viagra. Viagra may make you sleepless....
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

The model of intervention is based upon a belief that intervention is necessary. What is often not asked of the patient is "Why are you depressed/angry/sleepless/uninterested in sex?" The answer might not be immediately apparent to the client, but if a process of inquiry begins, and a desire to change the circumstances and behaviors contributing to condition is there, health is on it's way. Perhaps it is a change of occupation, adoption of practices that encourage mental and physical stability, or even something as simple as knowing that there is a deep intelligence in us that when revealed, opens a door to a world that looks radically different and beautiful but is in fact the one we have been living in all along.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property

The concept of intellectual property goes back to at least 1888 with the founding of the Swiss Federal Office for Intellectual Property. Intellectual property rights are state-enforced monopolies regarding use and expression of ideas and information. To own something as subtle as the expression of an idea is a strange concept for some. There has always been criticism of the theory, none more to the point than that of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States:

“Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”

Spoken like a true yogi.

David K. Levine, Professor of Economics at Washington University in St. Louis has studied the effects of intellectual property rights, and disputes the assertion that these rights encourage innovation. He cites some examples:

􏰀 Boulton and Watt’s steam engine patent most likely delayed
the Industrial Revolution by a couple of decades.

􏰀 Selten’s automobile patent set back automobile innovation in
the United States by roughly the same amount of time.

􏰀 The Wright Brothers’ airplane patent forced innovative work on
airplane technology out of the United States to France.

􏰀 The patent system of England and France forced the chemical
industry to move to Germany and Switzerland where chemical
patents did not exist or were much weaker.

􏰀 When Verdi gained copyright over his works he stopped
producing new works. More generally, there is no evidence
that the adoption of copyrights stimulated the creation of
classical music.

Anyone who has been in the process of creating ideas – a song, a joke, a poem or a sequence of yoga postures – will attest to the fact that there are two things at work to create something out of nothing. The first is the technical skill required to play the notes, get the timing right for the punch-line, type the words or perform the postures. This, the yogis call Smrti, meaning “that which is remembered”. But the second component is by far the more important – the idea itself. And this part is given more than created. It is as if the idea was already there in some form of collective storehouse, waiting to be received and manifested. Ideas can be manipulated by the mind and grasped by the ego, but they exist as potential in the Source of our being and like shruti, are divinely revealed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Open Source Yoga

Two Paths

Two yogic strategies emerged to deal with this situation of physical embodiment. If the ego and its inherent desire for worldly fulfillment and sense of separation is seen as problematic, and a barrier to our connection with Source, the appropriate strategy would be to separate our universal nature from our ego nature as soon as possible. This is the path of the sage Patanjali. He identifies the essential problem as one of too much identification with what he calls nature – the physical world, which even includes our thoughts and emotions. So for Patanjali, the path back to our true nature requires, to some extent, withdrawing from the world of distraction and disengaging our universal nature from the objects of the senses. This often becomes the path of the renunciate, or the monk.

The second option, as far as addressing the situation of our embodied nature, is best articulated in the Tantric path which brings us back, after quite a diversion, to where we left off. Tantra sees the entire manifest world including thought, emotion and memory not as a barrier to recognizing our true nature, but simply as what Source has created – one reality that includes everything. So Tantra does not see our embodiment as a problem, or as a situation to escape from. It views embodiment as an opportunity to become more conscious, and to see the signature of divinity in all things. The world is the place where we practise our yoga, and to which we may come again.

If we choose a more Tantric option – that God lives in us as us - we can engage in the world and have some real concern for the fate of the world, motivated by the very real possibility that we may be here again to experience the fruits of our actions. If on the other hand we believe the world is a place to escape from and that “Heaven” lies elsewhere, that belief is going to affect our actions in another way. We may be less apt to care about the mess we leave behind, and more concerned with how exactly we get into this “Heaven”.

Because of the limitations of language it is also difficult to transmit a spiritual experience in writing. Teachings that were meant to point toward a real experience of Source by using metaphor and poetry, sometimes became interpreted literally rather than mythically. A myth points to a deeper truth, and is meant to be interpreted, not proven to be true or false. Every culture on our planet from the First Peoples of North America, to the Mayans to Australian Aboriginal peoples has a mythology appropriate to their way of life, using stories, metaphor and images that appear in their daily lives. All myths from all cultures are true in that when interpreted, they tell us deeper truths about our human experience.

The Judeo-Christian mythology shares many of its stories with other cultures – virgin births being a common way to illustrate the awakening of universal consciousness, for example. But in the 4th century, at the First Council of Nicaea, Christian bishops created the first uniform Christian doctrine. They proclaimed, after a vote, that Jesus was to be seen as God’s most perfect creation, rather than made of the same substance as God. They proclaimed also that Jesus was to be seen as the literal son of God, not as a son of God. This view created much of the perceived separation between man and his essential nature we see in Western religions today. In this literalized mythology there is no way for a human to reach God, as God does not live within us, as us. Our original nature, they said, is not Source. We are born into sin, and will be forever separate from God. We may go to heaven when we die to live near God if we do the right things, but we are never part of Source itself, as we are God’s creation.

It is important to note here that this standardization of belief by the bishops at Nicaea was not a conspiracy. Rather, it was an attempt to harmonize some of the disparate beliefs present at the time and to bring order to an organization. The proceedings were well-documented by those present, most notably by Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote a letter to the people of his Diocese explaining the decisions made by the bishops present at the Council.

This decision, based on a literal rather than a metaphoric interpretation of myth, has had some rather severe consequences. Our ego nature could not have been dealt a more severe blow than to be told we are not part of God. Our ego needs to survive in order for us to live, so it does what we all do when we are unfairly criticized – it defends itself.

For our ego to rebuild itself, it must find a way to again become valuable. If our belief is that we are forever separate from Source – Source being a blissful, conscious reality dependant on nothing – then our value must be only a relative value. If we do not see God in others or ourselves, our ego must adopt a new strategy, and that strategy is comparison. Unconditional love is only possible when we recognize our universal nature – when we become “transparent to transcendence”. Our individual qualities – physical beauty, size, intelligence and so on, will change as we change over this life. If our love for another or for ourselves is based only on our individual qualities, without a remembrance of our universal nature as part of God, our love may change when the individual qualities we see as valuable change or diminish.

A society that places value only on individual qualities is a society that loves conditionally. If our belief is that we are not innately valuable, but valuable only because of what we do, then we must do in order to be loved. It is not enough to simply be. It is clear that the focus of our society is on doing. In order to be loved in this context, we must be not just smart or beautiful or funny or resourceful, but smarter, more beautiful, funnier or more resourceful than others. We must compete and win in one of these events in order for the ego to repair itself.

Another symptom of a belief that we are separate from Source is the desire to own. Indigenous cultures living in harmony with their environment see themselves as belonging to the earth, not the earth belonging to them. This is not to say that territorial behaviour is not an aspect of many sentient beings. Territorial behaviour is motivated by the necessary desire for survival and does not extend past one’s own life cycle, and often not past one season. However, with our large brains and sense of separation we have decided that it is actually possible to own something that was here millions of years before we were born, is in fact the organism that allows us to live, and to own it in perpetuity. We wish to be able to pass parts of the earth on to our offspring, or to sell it - something we never created in the first place. It makes as much sense to claim that we also own the sun. From our sense of separation we cry “This is MINE!” in an attempt to own everything – to bring it all back. Perhaps instead we should whisper “I am yours”.