Saturday, December 14, 2013

YogaGlo patent - how far is too far?

The recent granting of a patent to Yogaglo - a business that offers online yoga classes - has created some controversy.  To yoga folk, it seems that protecting a certain way of offering yoga is at odds with the general idea of yoga - union, not separation.  Some critics of the patent state that this time it has “gone too far” - that although they see value in intellectual property rights, Yogaglo has overstepped, in some way.

The core issue to me not whether Yogaglo has gone too far, because the answer to that  question simply depends on where your interests lie.  The core issue to me is not whether  intellectual property is a good idea, but whether the idea of property at all is a good idea.  

We can trace the idea of property back to the agricultural revolution approximately 10,000 years ago.  Prior to this, humans were mostly nomadic hunters and gatherers.  Tribal societies did not have an idea of property in the sense of owning land.  Rather, as was explained to me by a historian friend of mine, many of the nomadic peoples of what we now call Canada had an idea of - “centers of gravity” - that hunting grounds extended out from oneself in a diminishing gravitational field, so that the land was not owned in perpetuity by anyone, but that individual requirements for nourishment were respected.  This wonderful idea of course was no longer possible to implement after my ancestors in Canada appropriated the land from the indigenous peoples.

It is not clear whether humans went from hunting and collecting to farming in one great movement, or whether it was a slow process.  When you walk through the forest collecting food, there I feel  an innate sense of gratitude and wonder at the abundance given us.  Industrial farming now tries to harvest as much as possible from land that has fences around it to protect it, and even the seeds - life itself - are often owned.  There seems to be no recognition of the gift of life here - only expectation.  That is one result of property and ownership.

It might help to pause ask the question “In what ways has ownership been a benefit to mankind?”  Has it been a benefit to:

  • Women?
  • Slaves?
  • The earth?
  • Animals?
  • Creativity?
  • Freedom?

How many lives have been lost through the final step of nationalistic expansion?  Is war not a tool to gain more property?

The wonderful technology of yoga was created before the idea of formal intellectual property rights existed.  Yoga cross-fertilized itself through the free sharing of ideas, and philosophies became stronger for it.  We still have the names and works of the sages responsible for some of the articulations of yoga, and we can thank them in our hearts.   I wonder where we’d be today if Shankara was not able to borrow and re-organize ideas from earlier sages for fear of being sued?  Copyright - literally the right to copy - only came into being after the invention of the printing press, and copyright was limited then to just a few years.  That has changed radically now.  You can make a good living as a lawyer today buying the rights to patents and then suing those who might infringe on those patents in their creation of something new.

So, many of us are infuriated at this next step into ownership Yogaglo has taken.  But it is just another step in a long journey into separation.  As the author and  speaker Charles Eisenstein has pointed out -When you no longer look around you and can say “This is me!” - you are motivated to say “This is mine”.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Life feeds on life

You eat breakfast, and breakfast becomes you - the food turns into tissue.  Your breakfast fed on something too, before you ate it and it became you.  Life feeds on life.  Vegetarians may want to reduce the harm they cause sentient beings by not eating animals - a noble desire. Vegans take it further.  But plants too, are sentient.  Some would suggest not eating plants either, or only eating the food that drops from a living plant. We could follow this non - harming scheme to a logical conclusion, in which we stop eating anything or doing any harm.  We would then die ourselves.  Starvation is a form of suffering too, so by not wanting to cause any harm we still cause harm.  Even turning on a light is adversely affecting the planet and the things living on it.  As is updating your status on Facebook.

Every living thing is eventual compost for something new, and that eventual compost is inherent in the thing that is new.  This is true of things that live and grow, and it seems true of more subtle things, like a way of living, thinking or acting.  New ideas move through phases of germination, immaturity, maturity and eventually they become fodder for yet another idea.  

The desire to reduce harm by not eating farmed animals is wonderful.  We could look at alternative farmed foods, or turn to foraging instead of farmed foods.  But we too, are farmed animals.  We are raised in a controlled environment, only able to live and move in certain areas.  We have also been corralled into certain ways of thinking, that once accepted by most seem to be truth.  Ideas like “Marriage is natural”, “There is an afterlife”, “There are universal moral truths”.  So to a certain degree, many can only conceptualize within the confines of accepted truths.  If those truths are incorrect, or if there are no universal truths, it seems the first order of business would be to find out why we think the way we think rather than acting on thinking that may be incorrect.

It is difficult to think objectively when vested interest is present.  If I identify myself as a yoga teacher, I will probably advocate yoga.  I make my living teaching yoga, so this seems natural.  But there are times when my vested interests influence my objectivity.  It may be true that another form of exercise or mindful work would be better for a potential student, but not having much familiarity with other disciplines, I advocate yoga instead.  I am not being entirely objective, in that case. 

If I identify as a vegetarian, I will tend to defend vegetarianism.  When I look through articles on diet, I may unconsciously gravitate to those articles that support my beliefs about diet.  I may even argue against another point of view before understanding that point of view, or its benefits, or the vested interest that point of view may be coming from.

Perhaps a more objective and more helpful approach would be to admit:

  1. We have vested interests
  2. What those interests are
  3. How those interests might affect our objectivity
  4. That we really don’t know it all and we may very well change our minds, ‘cause it has happened before.  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Our current currency crisis

We may be nearing the end of cycle of a set of values and expectations that have created the world we inhabit.  There is a lot of talk about what money is, what value it is based on, and the relevance of alternative currencies as an option to the debt-based money system that has created the necessity to see everything as a potential resource to be exploited.

Many of us understand gold to have “intrinsic” value.  Hence the gold standard as a touchstone of value.  Gold is a precious metal, it can be used to make beautiful jewelry, it is portable and relatively scarce.  These attributes place it well as a metal of high value.  The economist and gold trader Peter Schiff would agree.  But before we go too far in this direction, it might help to ask the question “what is value?”.  

Value creates a graph of desirability. Things of high value would cost more than things of low value.  But we mean value to a human being.  A new Ipad is valuable to most human beings, but not to dogs, and not to humans too old to understand how to use one.

There are collectors of rare things like ancient books who find great value in something others may overlook.  So when we assign value, we must look at what most people (not dogs or cats) find most valuable most of the time.  So value is a best guess, an average.

What is most valuable to most humans most of the time?  I would say things that promote survival and happiness.  Most humans want to live, and to live we all have a shared need in certain essentials.  This also depends on the circumstances of each human.  Someone addicted to cigarettes might value a pack over human contact.  Someone suffering from a painful and incurable disease might value a painless death over all else.  There are many variables, but in general, value is found in:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Sleep
  • Food
  • Warmth
  • Human contact
  • Love
  • A sense of being valuable

If you put 100 people in a large locked warehouse for the rest of their lives with only these things or the possible means to attain them scattered around, as well as a pile of gold, the people would not gravitate to the gold.  In fact, the gold facilitates none of what is essential to life.  So gold is not intrinsically valuable like water or air.  It is an agreement of value - an agreement that has persisted for a very long time to be sure, but a symbol of value nonetheless.

After some time, years perhaps, these 100 people might seek out raw materials to make art from, and at that point the gold would become more interesting and beautiful things made from gold  - things that could adorn someone to make them more beautiful - might attain value.  Things like water, food and a bed to sleep in might be occasionally traded for gold.  But gold is not intrinsically valuable - it is only valuable in a certain context - that of a society that has enough of the essentials necessary to live comfortably and has extra to allot to something of beauty.  But even then value must be added to the gold in the form of artistry - no one would just carry a gold brick around to look more beautiful.

Intrinsic means to “belong naturally”.  So when we speak of intrinsic value, we mean value that belongs naturally - not value that is added to or created.  Intrinsic value depends on the relationship between that which is valued, and the valuer in order to assign a specific value.  So “intrinsic” requires relationship as well as the qualities of the thing of value.

We are getting down to the true meaning of intrinsic.  Gold, money, jewelry or even the next breath would not have any value if it were not an event held in our awareness.  If I were in a coma, my last breath would not be an event I was aware of.  The Mona Lisa would have no value in the land of the blind.  Bach’s work holds not beauty to the deaf.  Gold is only valuable if others hold the agreement - the awareness - that has a certain value.

So it is awareness itself that holds the highest value, and it is an intrinsic value because awareness is aware - that is its fundamental attribute, one that cannot be removed and does not rely on opinion or agreement.  Even death may not affect awareness itself.  This puts us in an interesting position when offering one’s gift, because your gift, as a form of awareness, is more valuable than money or gold. However, others may not see the value of your gift even when it is ready to be shared, for value to them may still mean only money, gold or things that facilitate survival.

The quip “Do what you love and the money will follow” assumes money is inherently valuable, and the term “love” implies “do that which is full of awareness”.  While it is true there has historically been a correlation between how beautiful (full of awareness) something is and how much it costs, this correlation is becoming more and more tenuous as we move toward the end of our collective agreement that money has value.  Currencies have lost all of their value before, and it will very likely happen again - this time to the currency we are using.

Your gift has inherent value.  Your ability to see the beauty in another and explain what you see to them in terms they understand and can accept is valuable.  Your capacity to listen to someone work through a painful or joyful event and through this process become more aware and mature in their understanding is valuable.  The ability to sit with yourself comfortably without becoming so uneasy with arising memories and emotions you are driven to distract yourself by shopping for things you don’t need, made by someone who does not want to be making what your are buying, brought to you by someone who doesn’t want to drive the truck that brought it there,  sold to you by a cashier who doesn’t want to be there but must, to pay for the things she bought that she doesn’t valuable.  The gifts of awareness lie outside the bounds of what our ancestors may have agreed is valuable.

Friday, November 15, 2013


I am a planner.  I like to know what is going to happen, and I think I’ve got a pretty strong “work ethic”.  But something has changed, and it has been an incremental change, and an invisible one.  I’m probably more adept at what I do to “make a living” than ever before, and at a stage in my life where our culture tells me I should be making preparations for eventual retirement.  Storing away things like money, not taking too many chances.  This is starting to feel more and more wrong.  Even though I’m healthy and strong, my eventual dissolution is on the horizon, and there is nothing I can do about that.  So it seems strange to pretend I should be accumulating when I’m actually dissolving.  This is all conceptual stuff, but what’s happening in me is more than thoughts.

When I allow nothing to happen - no planning, no attempts to coerce the world around me to bend to my desires, no persuading people to do what I think is good for them and also good for me, I experience spaciousness.  It is as if the organs in my body relax.  When I begin to do what I’ve done pretty much my whole life - organize my reality to my own benefit - I experience an uncomfortable tension.  I realize now this tension was always there, and only because of its absence have I recognized it was there.  

I’ve used the same approach to people I’m attracted to.  To see them as some kind of resource that will add to my life.  Of course there are many layers of relationship and there have been many moments of spaciousness even within this way of relating, but it has been in spite of rather than because of it.  The model I have unconsciously been following has never really worked, probably attracted those that were motivated in the same way, and has always ended.

There is something more spacious, more comfortable and real than what I’ve been doing.  I know this in my heart, and I know I’m not the only one to yearn for something more expansive, a life that follows the rhythms of nature rather than a cultivation and control of my nature.  I don’t have an answer, or a philosophy, or a path for this, because all those things imply a final destination that just doesn’t seem to be there.

So for now I’ll try to stay in the spaciousness.  Not because it will get me what I want, not because others should do it to.  Just because it feels pretty good.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Counting things

How to count trees?  What is a tree?  If the definition of tree includes not just what we can see above ground but the soil, roots, relationships both linear and subtle, communication between one tree and another, then when we add another tree, it shares the sun, the water in the soil, the relationships - it does not exist separately.  The trees don’t have an external environment.  Even humans are part of the trees interconnectivity.  

We humans don’t generally feel this.  The source, unity, or heaven we are looking for and have placed in the heavens or somewhere geographically or theoretically away from us is in fact what we refer to as our environment.  However, very literally the earth I walk on is the earth you walk on.  The sun that shines on me shines on you.  Because of our procreative nature we would not exist without each other.  So, referring to what surrounds us as our “environment” says two things.  “My environment”. “My” - that which is not me, that I own or control.  “Environment” - That which surrounds me.  An abstraction.

So when we “count things”, when we quantify, we must first assume the things to be counted are fundamentally separate from one another, or counting would be impossible.    This assumes a separate environment from the counter, as well.  The counter is counting, the counter is not the counted.  In an abstraction like mathematics with clear logical boundaries, 1+1= 2.  In relationships between living beings, as Dr. Douglas Brooks so wonderfully points out, 1+1= 3 - the third element being the relationship between the two things counted. 

If a thing is separate from you, you can choose to relate or not to relate to it.  It is an external.  Relating to it may or may not be in your interest.  Your primary interest, the one that is unspoken and assumed, is in general, you want to continue to live.  So, a sandwich is seen as part of your environment, and so you eat it because it is in your interest.  If you buy the sandwich with money, it is “your” sandwich.  If you make the sandwich from the raw ingredients that surround you - wheat, cheese, tomatoes, possibly a pig -  then it too becomes “your” sandwich.  When you digest the sandwich completely and excrete the “waste” - it is also your waste.  Where is all your poo now?  It is back in "your environment".  It is in the oceans, it is in the soil.  It is becoming a tomato you might again call “yours”.  Is there then an external environment, or just an mental abstraction we agree on?

If a tiger eats you, he must see you as not him.  You also must do this to that which you’d like to eat.  You’d eat a sandwich and even salivate at the thought of eating a BLT, but you could not eat your own living hand, even if you tried to.  Your hand is different than your arm and far from your mouth, but the felt fundamental connection to the rest of you is undeniable.  Your feeling motivates your action, both in the eating of the BLT and in not eating your own hand.  Aron Ralston, the hiker who’s story of being trapped in a canyon, his arm pinned by a boulder, eventually freed himself by breaking off his own hand.  It took him 5 days to realize he could do this.  In his telling of the event, Ralston says that eventually he came to see his trapped hand as an impediment to his survival, something dying and “other” than him.  He was able then to summon the courage to break the radius and ulna bones of his arm and escape.  Ralston saw his trapped hand as separate, and that allowed him to continue to live.

We quantify and separate for good reasons.  This article is not a moral objection to this, simply an illustration of it.  But we often forget that quantification is just an abstraction -  just a tool to allow us to behave in ways that can be beneficial to our interests.  Now that there is almost nothing left of “environment” to make use of, and there are billions and billions of “me”, we may be forced to see the unity underlying the differences.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Keep the cow and add the cat.

When I warm up on the mat
I do the cow, and then the cat.
My spine gets curved and then goes flat.
How to keep the cow, and add the cat?

Cow, you sacred beast with eyes
Large and lumbering, and yes, the flies.
Opportunistic is the cat
Who’s just around for treats and pats

Cow so giving, cat so rude
One give milk, one just eats food.
To find a balance, tit for tat.
How to keep the cow, and add the cat?

One or the other’s not the way
A bit of both, but not a grey
Black and white
Flowing, like the symbol of the Tao.

So when I warm up on the mat
I do the cow, and then the cat
A little this, then more of that

I keep the cow and add the cat.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flexibly yours

Flexibly Yours

I’m happy with tofu
I also like s’mores.
What’s not to like?
I’m flexibly yours

There are times when the kneeling
can become just a chore.
Unravelling dogma,
I’m flexibly yours

Banjo or Aum’in?
Lock or open the doors?
The playlist is empty,
I’m flexibly yours.

Inhale or exhale,
Sip slowly or pour?
Even rhyming gets tricky

I’m flexibly your(s).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Notes on notes

(Thanks to author and speaker Charles Eisenstein for all of his work, much of the following is based on his monumental book "Ascent of Humanity".

Money is a little like sex.  We think about it a lot, we plan to have more, it excites us and we are always thinking of innovative ways to use it.  It is also like sex in that we tend not to talk about it with acquaintances and we feel some shame in pursuing it.

Money is an agreement of value, we use it as an easy means to exchange, and in that way there is nothing inherently wrong with it.  However, the monetary systems of the world we have now are all debt-based.  The money is created by our agreement to repay it with interest, which requires all production - goods and services - to continue to “grow”, so that the money to pay the interest on money we borrowed into existence can be created.  Goods and services are created by taking something that is free - fish, trees, childcare, food preparation, laying claim to it in some way and then selling it back to those who now “need” it.  All modern growth-based economies are ponzi schemes.  When the natural bank account is empty, as it soon will be, the economy collapses.  This is why the U.S. Is spending billions of dollars per month to try to stimulate their economy.  It won’t work because:

 A)The economy is not economical - it does not frugally produce what is essential, it produces mostly crap. How many things do you own that have broken?  Is there anywhere to fix them instead of buying a new one?

B)You can’t have exponential growth on a limited planet.

The money we use sets us in competition against one another in a way that was unheard of in tribal cultures.  Tribal cultures didn’t use money, nor did they “barter”.  The relationship between humans was based on the gift.  If I’m lucky and I catch 6 fish in one day and can only eat one, I store the other 5 fish in the belly of my brothers.  When I’m unlucky my brothers (meaning anyone I know) will feed me.  The agricultural revolution that happened approximately 10,000 years ago created a surplus of food which then had to be stored, protected and traded.  This created the need to acquire and lay claim to land.  The ownership model extended to owning animals and even other people and eventually even ideas.  This surplus of food also allowed us to have many more offspring, who all also needed land....and 10,000 years later we are where we are today.  No land left that isn’t claimed, almost no fish in the sea.

So, when you look into your wallet at money, you are looking at a symbol of trade based on debt, not value.  It is also anonymous, and creates anonymity when it is used.  Your individual gifts become lost in the sea of commerce where everyone is concerned with making enough of this anonymous substance to pay the bills.  And almost everyone is in debt, and competing against one another for money.  This has been going on since the introduction of debt-based money, so many philosophers and economists see human behavior as intrinsically competitive  and self-centered.  They never studied what humans were like before money.

So how can you make this anonymous symbol of debt and competition somewhat sacred?  Is it possible in some small way to make these bills that move from hand to hand less anonymous?

Yes.  You can place an idea, a short poem, a drawing, onto the bill that you give someone when you pay for something of real value.  That could be paying to listen to a great street performer sing a song.  Or it could be giving it to your massage therapist, or your yoga teacher.  This isn’t going to change what our current monetary system does, and it will still eventually fail.  But it may be a message to another that we are not all in it for just the money.

Monday, May 27, 2013



I am sound of mind, body and heart.
I am in tune.
I am like the air or the water that carries vibration,
With clarity.
Sound, healthy, stable.
I am sound, which is a vibration moving through matter
So sound, so stable and solid,

I’m not really there.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Meaningless Sex

We’ve attached many things to the necessary interconnection of the male and female principles.  The complex and mysterious nature of male/female relationship and the desire to classify and capture the beauty within this union has created, at least in part, the culture, values and motivations we live with.

The male principle needs to be received, the female principle needs to receive.  I’m not speaking of gender.  Think of Velcro.  One side is made of tiny loops, one side tiny hooks.  The male “hook” principle cannot bind to another hook, nor can a loop bind with a loop.  It simply won’t stick.  This binary is presented of course physically, and on ever more subtle levels of our being.

When both sides know what they are (and of course there are always some loops in the hooks, some hooks in the loops, but let’s keep it simple here) they can bind to their counterpart.  This binding is innately pleasurable because it is fulfilling.  It is complete unto itself.  However, the recognized value and joy of this union creates, in fear-based animals able to project into the future, the desire to control access to this energetically and physically healing phenomenon.

Fast cars, silicone implants and promises made, broken and made again. There could be another way.  What we seek is right in front of us if we could only be honest, and act honestly.  What we are looking for is not “The One” in the form of another.  What we are seeking is the experience of Oneness hidden within the act of union with another - a profound meditation, a fractal circle of life, an unconditioned spontaneous act of humanity.

Language is a set of symbols representing real things.  The word cat is not a cat.  Numbers are useful symbols, but you can’t write poetry with them.  Words are useful, but cannot completely describe our experience of reality.

What is the meaning of a flower?

To try to attach meaning to the union of the male and female principles of life is to try to condition the unconditional, to reduce the irreducible, to attempt to understand the unknown by compressing it within the known.  This union we call sex is beyond meaning, therefore meaningless.  We should all aspire to have more meaningless sex in our lives.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Beyond Salt and Pepper

When I grew up we had two spices on the table.  Black and white, and we could put some of each on our meat and potatoes.  Cuisine was not a word we used, and dinner was eaten with a certain nervous vigor.  My older brother and I would ask to be excused from the table, after which we’d go and have fun.

In Canada in the 60’s and 70’s this relationship to food was probably the common experience.  Reductionist, somewhat oppressive and not a lot of fun.  What was fun was dessert and candy, highly refined mood-altering substances eaten sometimes in secret to avoid scolding.  What we are taught when we are young makes an impression that is not easy to alter.

Eating food is communion with the universe.  What we eat becomes us, sitting down to eat is a ritual action.  In a country like India, spices and combinations of them are too numerous to count.  The palate can become educated, and moods and emotions arise from the taste of food prepared with love, eaten with awareness and digested completely.

We were also taught a concept of heaven and hell, darkness and light, and how to suppress our appetites for more.  When we can not suppress any longer, we indulge in sinful treats.  This process too, is reductionist and not a lot of fun.  It also creates a duality that is not present in reality, only created in the mind of the suppressed and then passed on to the next generation of living, eating beings.

This model of living does not serve our potential.  There are millions of experiences between salt and pepper, right and wrong, meat and potatoes.  To begin to experience more takes a certain courage and honesty in recognizing our current limited ability to taste difference and nuance created by suppression and limited experience.

Tantra’s many definitions included technique, synthesis, or to weave together.  To take the dark and the light and weave them into a contrast, to engage the full spectrum of colour and create art within life, cuisine out of food, sacredness out of empty ritual.  To do this, one has to reach for an unfamiliar spice, experiment with it and see how it tastes and digests.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What vehicle does your yoga teacher place you in?

I have owned a lot of cars.  Old cars mostly.  Old, weird cars primarily.  It is tempting to say that I chose the cars I’ve owned based on some of my own weird old personality quirks.  That would be true.  I’ve owned cars made in countries that no longer exist - try getting parts for those!  But I loved all my cars, even when I was sometimes stranded on the highway calling the Automobile Association for a tow truck, trying to spell out the name and model of the vehicle to an incredulous switchboard operator.

Yoga teachers offer their quirks and particular view of things as they teach even a very physical form of yoga - hatha yoga.  If a yoga teacher teaches with sincerity, they offer a  unique vehicle.  To be effective, that unique vehicle must still have the ability to safely stretch, strengthen and calm the body and mind, just like a car must have the ability to get you where you want to go safely and relatively comfortably.

We often buy cars from large manufacturers.  You can go to an Auto Mall and choose from many vehicles.  Car salespeople represent one manufacturer, so they have a vested interest in you choosing one of their cars.  We have “styles” of yoga, and teachers of that style have a vested interest in promoting the benefits of that style.

A great car salesman would be one that places the interests of the buyer first.  The world’s best car saleswoman would ask the potential buyer what they are looking for, assess their needs (4 door?  Sports car?  Truck? MPG?), and then point them to the vehicle that best suited their needs regardless of manufacture, new or used.  Or maybe even suggest taking the bus.

A great yoga teacher would assess a student’s needs in the same way.  But in order to do that, the teacher would have to know the benefits and possible detriments of all the different “styles” of yoga.  This would require dedication, curiosity, an open mind, a willingness to let go of believing what they teach is superior, and of course they would have to practice daily and reflect on their experience.  This could take some time.  Yes.

Luckily, hatha yoga styles are a lot like cars from different manufacturers.  They are marketed for their unique qualities, often very subjectively with an appeal to emotion.  But in reality, we have cars, trucks, station wagons, luxury vehicles, sports cars, and then all the hybridization of those basic categories.  Each vehicle has a more or less specific function - speed, comfort, hauling ability - but all must fulfill the primary requirement.  They have to get you where you want to go.

Yoga practice is similar.  There are ways of practice that include restorative, meditative, active outer movement of the body, active inner movement of more subtle muscles, movement of even more subtle energies, therapeutics for injuries, and the use of sound and vibration.  These components appear in the modern brands or styles of yoga and it is these components that need to be understood and practiced by the yoga teacher in order to be fluent, knowledgeable, and able to serve the best interests of the student.

Unlike large vehicle manufactures, yoga teachers have a distinct advantage.  That advantage is their own quirks and particular way of being.  Those quirks appear as they teach, and if the teacher can recognize the quirks and couple them with a good understanding of yoga and the essential components of practice, they can offer a unique vehicle that will get their student where they want to go, quirks intact.  Like the way my old MG's wooden steering wheel felt, or the sound of my Skoda's engine peaking at 85kph.  I loved those cars.

Monday, February 11, 2013


A friend of mine who recently released an album of his original songs expressed his frustration at what seemed to be a lack of interest and support for what was a labour of love and quite a good album.  As artists and human beings, we want our gifts of art and beauty to be recognized - that is as it should be I think, and the last half of the equation of creativity - someone to appreciate the art.

Our tribal and nomadic ancestry, the only way we humans have essentially lived, except for the revolutions in agriculture and industrialization, evolved our desire for community and interdependency.  A medicine man, an artist or musician in a nomadic tribe would have had the role, among other roles, of pointing to the subtle beauty and mystery of life in song, dance, or painting.

With the explosion in population due to the agricultural revolution, our world became settled, compartmentalized, and monetized.  We now speak of the value of beauty in dollars, and we measure success in hits on a website, sales of our gifts, and worldwide recognition - to be celebrated.

Our desire for widespread, even planetary recognition of our gifts is inversely proportional to how little real community, interdependence and attention we have left.

The question is raised “how does one become successful in the (music, art, yoga) industry?  Our planet has billions of humans that can transfer information - art, music, dance, writing - instantaneously.  Many of those humans wish to share their gifts.  How much can your personally receive?  For me, almost none.  I’m too busy trying to share my own gifts most of the time.

The desire for recognition is a desire for love, and to be seen for who you are at a deep level, beneath culture, gender, age, income or race.  We need this more and more because we’ve shifted so far from our true connection to who we are. One of the things  we are is our relationship to who and what is in front of us.

I have musician friends who play to gatherings of more people than live in my village.  These friends entertain more people at once than any tribal medicine man, dancer or musician ever did.  And they do not consider themselves successful.  I’ve felt this way too as a musician.  I felt that way because I tried to replace the lost richness of being with recognition and celebrity.

Some of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had as a yoga teacher or musician have been in small groups of people who know how to pay attention.  People that came for a reason, to share and receive something of value - a value that cannot be measured in dollars, hits or number of sales.

This model of success is not the model we seem to value right now.  The model of success we value is the model that has overfished the oceans, cut down the forests, turned friends into potential multi-level marketing opportunities, wives into trophies and our gifts into commodities.  In short, it is the model that has no value.  But like a sleepwalker among sleepwalkers, waking up can be a solitary and uncomfortable experience.  So my friends, keep making beauty, regardless of who seems to be listening.  Your gifts are recognized.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why yoga may have happened

Imagine yourself 10,000 years ago.

You awake to the smell of the earth as the sun warms and begins to evaporate the dew.  Your simple portable dwelling provides some shelter from the elements.  Your tribe all rises at dawn, children scamper around playing.  You know everyone in your tribe, and they all know you.  When later that day game is brought back from the hunt to be cooked, it is shared by all.  When the sun sets, a fire is made and you observe the wood turning into heat, light and ash.  The smoke rises into the sky where the stars are so clear due to the lack of any ambient light that you can recognize constellations like old friends.  When it is time to sleep, sleep comes easily to a body in tune with the rest of nature.  When the tribe moves on, you look behind and all that is left of your presence there are the folded grasses where your shelters were, and a fire-pit.  In a few weeks even this will become invisible.

The idea of “having relationships” with others in your tribe is not a concept anyone understands.  You’ve known these people all your life.  Some you like more than others, but there is no getting into and out of the relationship you have with them.  They literally are your relations, just as the animals and plants are.  The children around you are everyone’s responsibility, and they learn different skills from others in your tribe as they move freely around.

This is a gift economy.  Currency does not exist, and the natural response to the abundance of life on the earth is one of gratitude.  No-one has the idea that human life should try to be prolonged, or that youth is better than maturity.  The spirits of humans and animals are on the earth.

The scenario above may sound utopian.  That is largely because through projection  and some quite unscientific studies by 19th century Europeans, we’ve been led to believe that life for our ancestors was “brutish and short”.  This was not the case.  Nor was it the case that our ancestors were less healthy than we are.  Eating a varied “organic” diet, sugar in any form being quite hard to come by, and walking miles daily, our predecessors were generally fit, healthy and competent at a variety of skills. 

Our nomadic ancestors deep integration with the natural world made recognizing the continuity of all things their first nature.  Only when we began to coerce nature to supply us with more than we could readily consume through the advent of agriculture did we remove the idea of spirit from nature, for a gift can never be demanded, and once demanded, it is not longer a gift.

Leaving behind a state of recognition of the sacred nature of all things, a hierarchy of spirit began.  Once removed from the earth, sprit was moved to the mountains - the domain of ancient gods - and then the heavens.  Up is better that here, down is even worse.  To ascend toward is good, to descend into is bad.  This “verticalism” also diminishes our horizontal connection with one another.  When you look at the history of organized religion, the  representative of god is “higher up” - on a platform, a throne, or if you are walking about, a very tall hat.

The muddy, fecund ground of everyday life was now not sacred, and along with a vertical model of sprit came another model - purity.  White, translucent, unstained.  Our instinctual, carnal human nature became less than spiritual and finally sin, then an abstract idea of Heaven pursued. Man’s purpose in life was now not only to restrain outward nature - cultivation of land and domestication of animals - but to restrain his inward nature.  To become cultivated.  

The creation myth of Adam and Eve flung out of the garden of Eden has been inverted.  A garden is the natural world become cultivated by man.  Adam and Eve were flung into a garden, where they had to till the soil by the sweat of the brow.  

The origins of yoga are somewhat mysterious, the tradition being largely oral in nature.  Carvings found in the Indus river valley civilizations of Harrapan and Mohenjo-daro depicting a figure seated in what may be a yoga pose are dated at 2500 BCE.  

The origins of agriculture begin approximately 5,000 years before this.  The practice of yoga arises after the agricultural revolution.  Most, but not all hunter-gatherers became farmers cultivating the land.  Farmers must protect their crops, build fences, store excess food and be able to trade that excess.  So agriculture precipitates ideas such as ownership, control, currency, policing and law.  Stratification of society ensues.  Farmers eat a mono - diet of planted crops and domesticated animals as opposed to the varied diet found in season by hunters and gatherers.  The negative effect on health and lifespan in many cultures was enormous.  The practice of yoga may have arose as a cure for this new lifestyle.  A way of reconnecting with natural forces and rhythms that were becoming forgotten.

The tools of yoga are the ones we already have - body, breath and mind.  Some of the later yoga’s view of the body is much different than the idea of the self divided from spirit that has become embedded deep in our culture, attitudes and behavior.

The word yoga can mean “union”, or an application of means, in this case the means to re-connect something.  Let’s remember that something is already here.  There is no separation of spirit and nature except in our mind.  Any dedicated outward searching will ultimately lead us back to a remembrance of this ground of being.  The ideas of the mind drop into the heart and body, and like any thing rooted to the earth, the flowering of our awareness is related to how much nectar is drawn up from our connection to the primal elements we grew from. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I am sitting down near my Swedish wood stove and thinking about this word Upanishad.  The word means “To sit down near”.   The Upanishads are a collection of wisdom from the yoga tradition, in the form of stories and poems originally transmitted orally.  To sit down near something, you must make an effort to get close.  When you go into a college lecture hall, often as students come in they will sit at the back of the auditorium.  How close you decide to get to your teacher and the teaching is an indicator of how much you want to hear, and how much you want to engage.

But I digress.  Back to my wood stove.  It is burning well now, at about 400 degrees.  It is turning mass into energy, unlocking the potential heat and light within each piece of wood.  Some of the wood is very dry and ignites easily.  The transmission of heat from the coals to a newly introduced piece of wood is immediate, and even a big piece of wood will ignite when laid upon a hot bed of coals.

To get the fire started in the morning I use very dry kindling and a match.  The match simply needs to be struck to ignite the phosphorous in it, and this “striking” is really an introduction of friction.  The phosphorous is responding to this “itch”.  It is its nature to ignite easily and burn quickly.  I light the kindling using a piece of paper (a form of wood) and if the platform of kindling I made in the stove has space for air, the fire starts easily.

I bring in wood as I need it from outside, and some of it is damp.  The damp wood will not ignite easily, so I place the wet wood close to the stove.  The heat of the stove will dry the wood so that it too will ignite when in the stove, changing state from density to light and heat.  The closer to the stove’s heat the wet wood is, the more heat it absorbs, the quicker it dries.  It is not an intellectual process, it is a physical process.  The wet wood is not ready to ignite, and cannot yet be moved into the center of ignition which is inside the stove. When it is ready, it will be.  This is Upanishad.