Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Santa Claus - a myth we understand inside one we don't

Why do we tell our children the gifts we give them for Christmas come from a man with a beard in the sky?  For two reasons.  One, the myth of Santa Claus creates mystery around the gifts, like another layer of wrapping paper.  Not only is the gift concealed, it comes from someone the child has never met - someone with strange powers of transportation and intuition into choosing (and making) the right gift.

Inevitably, the child finds out Santa Claus does not exist.  Are we just being cruel - delighting in the disillusionment of childhood?  I don't think so.  We recognize on a deeper level that finding out a man in the sky with a beard who does nice things for us (or gives us coal if we are bad) does not actually exist is a good thing -  to discover that the gifts we receive are generated from the raw materials around us, and given to us by people who know us and love us.

But we have to remember one more thing as adults.  Santa Claus is a facsimile of another myth - a larger man in the sky who dispenses blessings or can curse us.  And like a child, the discovery that this is just a story both dispels an illusion and is empowering.  We grow up again.

The larger myth of the man in the sky was told and retold for similar reasons we tell a child Santa Claus exists.  It helps to create a reward/punishment model to keep us in line, and creates a sense of wonder.  However, the sense of wonder at the gifts dispensed from above has had some rather negative side effects.  Primarily, we don't recognize the gifts actually come from the raw materials and people around us.

The raw materials that the gifts are made from  We too are resources for others, gifts for others.  And when we dissolve, we dissolve back into the elements the gifts of nature are composed of.  We don't go back to the north pole on a flying sled.  This is the bigger reveal that the myth of Santa Claus is meant to prepare us for.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I am a recreational vehicle

Vehicles we make use of can be categorized in this way:

- Daily transportation
- Recreational vehicles.

Daily transportation should fulfill certain needs like dependability, efficiency, comfort and safety.  Because these vehicles are designed for the above, they often are not as fun as a recreational vehicle, but more comfortable to use regularly.

Recreational vehicles are fun, designed often for a specific purpose (like a camper) and do not fulfill the needs of a daily driver.  Because of their design (low fuel efficiency, large and hard to park) they are not comfortable to use long-term.

Frustration can occur when one forget forgets the design limitations of each category.

I own two recreational vehicles - a camper van, and a motorcycle.  I do not own daily transportation.  For that, I rely on walking on my own two feet.

I prefer walking for daily transportation for several reasons.

It is the most dependable form of transportation, and the most adaptable (I can enter a new form of transportation without leaving behind my legs).
I know how to maintain it, cost free.  I do alignment based hatha yoga daily to tune up my body, and I eat pretty well.
It's a very quiet and pleasant way to travel, and others can join me and peel of in their own direction when it suits.

I enjoy my camper and motorcycle because they are unique and fun.  I accept they have limitations and I use them in a way that reflects my acceptance.

When one makes use of a recreational vehicle, there are a few things to keep in mind.

The vehicle should be left in as good or better condition than it came to you in, so others can enjoy it in the same way
Recreational vehicles are not very dependable.  Make sure you have roadside assistance in case of a breakdown, and please do not abandon the vehicle on the road - bring it back to a safe place.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Burden of Proof

Our beliefs collect around the things we do not know for sure.  I know my hand is on the end of my arm, and I can verify that by asking you if you can see or feel my hand.  This, I will call knowledge.  Belief is what you’d have if I asked you if my hand was on the end of my arm without showing you my arm, and you said yes or no.

I don’t know what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow, and I have no belief system around my lack of knowledge.  Why not? 1) I don’t always want to know exactly what I’ll have for breakfast - I often enjoy a surprise. 2) I’ve had many breakfasts before, and I can relax into my knowledge of breakfast in some form, based on experience.  I don’t need to believe in breakfast.

Many people would like to know what is going to happen to them after they die, for it is clear death happens to others.  No-one alive can say for sure what will happen to them after they die, because it hasn’t happened yet to them.  They may claim knowledge of a past life, they may believe in reincarnation (some essential energy again taking form, with an imprint or residue of a previous life), they may belief in heaven.  But when asked to prove this knowledge, it turns out to be a belief.  There may be claims to a tradition of belief, and there are billions of people who believe different things about that which they have no knowledge of, or partial knowledge.  If you are not sure about something but are motivated to believe, it is psychologically pacifying to successfully convince others of your view.  

The motivation for belief

What is the motivation to know what happens after we die?  When I look at an apple tree, it has a life and eventually dies.  Seeds are spread and there are more apple trees, but this particular version of an apple tree turns slowly into compost after growth and maturity, then soil, and back to the nurturing aspect of the earth.  I don’t know what the consciousness of the tree is - all I have is my human sensory apparatus, limited as it is in seeing only a certain spectrum of color, only a certain range of sound, only a certain subtlety of touch, taste and smell.  So I don’t know what the tree is perceiving, feeling or thinking.  Does the tree reincarnate?  What difference does it make to me?  None, because I’m not concerned about this particular version of life reincarnating or going to tree heaven.  I’m worried about my version.

Why am I worried

Why am I worried/concerned/curious about what happens to me after I die? Among many reasons,  I may be afraid “I” will cease to exist.  Why is this a problem?  It wasn’t a problem for me that the tree dies.  When one has a full experience - a great meal, great sex, a good nights sleep - satisfaction is present.  We don’t immediately start thinking about the next meal, the next intimacy, the next nap, because we truly enjoyed and were present for what did happen.  I would be motivated to look for a belief about some sort of continuation of “me” after death if I didn’t have a full experience of life, just as you would be concerned about the next meal if you were still hungry after eating too quickly without tasting.

More that this

Mindfulness traditions generally advocate periods of stillness and silence.  One reason for this is to create an environment where the more subtle aspects of our experience can rise out of the noise.  Our senses have evolved to perceive a certain range of experience.  Other animals have senses that are much more keen that ours.  An eagle’s mind may be naturally more still than a humans’ might ever be, his senses more acute and mind more able to perceive than ours. North American indigenous peoples saw the eagle as a brother, and a force of wisdom and balance. Yet, other traditions postulate enlightenment  is possible only for humans; a state of ultimacy which when attained allows the felt interconnection to all of life.  These are a beliefs as well.  Perhaps the reason our felt connection to life is absent to begin with is the particularly human motivation to continue in some form after death - in other words, the inability to surrender to and enjoy life as it is, which includes its dissolution.


In honesty, I do not
know what will happen to me after death.  And that is all anyone can say, honestly.  Claims of past lives do not stand up to the kind of proof we would deem necessary to convict someone of a crime.  The traditions that suggest transmigration or rebirth could be correct, or they they could be wrong.  The traditions that suggest our behavior - or the karma we generate in this life - will affect the next life as some sort of postmortem retribution might also be right or wrong.  In any case, without and experience of this I’d be adopting a belief.  To live closer to the felt reality of life, personally I’ve found the less I invest in beliefs about life, the more time I have for real experience - experiences that include introspection, inquiry, silence and meditation.

The burden of proof about any matter lies with those that suggest it is true.  Our legal system in Canada was designed to recognize the folly of human belief, and presumes innocence unless the accused is proven guilty.

The burden of proof about that which we do not presently apprehend lies with those that claim it to be true.  Life is innocent of heaven, hell, transmigration or any other concept, unless proven otherwise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Three rights make a left, three yes’s make one know

My Japanese friend explained to me that when she was young, her family would, on a Sunday, visit a Christian church, a Buddhist temple and a Shinto shrine.  The visit to each was sincere in its way, but not obsessive or exclusive, clearly.

She understood that it was polite to accept the viewpoint of each philosophy, religion or practice, but that the Sunday visit was more recreational than dogmatic.  No-one became upset if one viewpoint disagreed with another.  No-one got angry, and no-one got killed.

By saying a polite yes to the viewpoints of the Christian, the Buddhist and the Shinto representatives, it was possible to see something from three sides.  If you want to paint a picture of a box, you’ll paint it from the perspective your easel sits at, in relation to the subject you are painting.  If you get up and move to a second and third location, the next two paintings will look different - but they are of the same subject.

The Christian, the Buddhist and the Shinto priest may have preferred she exclude the other two visits.  But by saying a polite “yes” to all three, she not only expanded her perspective, she also said a polite “no” to the blindness of a singular perspective.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The absence of romance

Romance means a narrative - a story.  Instead of “I ate a tuna sandwich”, we might say, “I savored a delicious layered lunchtime retreat from hunger”.  Romance allows us to savor, to create meaning, to make sense and beauty from direct experience.

In relationship, romance is also a story.  It is our projection, our hopes and expectations of another.  It is not direct experience.  Because it is a story, experience eventually dissolves the story; sometimes into something very beautiful and real, sometimes into the knowledge that the story was more fun than the reality.

Practices that increase awareness, or life experience itself, begin to dissolve even the beginning of romance.  Like any projection of the mind or desire of the body, it is possible to become aware of the creation of a narrative right away.

When this awareness begins to arise as a stable state, it becomes very difficult to sustain a story instead of direct experience.  The movie becomes less and less believable.  Then what may happen in the future, how much the other holds you in high regard, and promises made begin to lose the power of truth.  What is left is direct experience of the other.

Often, the other is seen as the source of love, which is why they seem so attractive.  Love though, is not the emotional response to desire or the need to make permanent a state of temporary happiness.  Love is the field of awareness in which the story of romance is created.  When this recognition happens, romance loses its power like the craving for sugar does when we are truly nourished.

Waking into the field of awareness that is absolutely supportive of your life and has no need for meaning or story to be attached dissolves the addictive need for romance, for romance was the proxy for the field of loving awareness itself.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hatha yoga is the process of squeezing out the dissonance from the body

You are at a party and make a statement.  Someone disagrees with you and you feel small.  There is no time to get to the bottom of why you feel small - the chain of symptoms is to long, so you have another drink and “forget about it” until later.  Later, with your sweetie, you mention what happened at the party and the emotion percolates  again to the surface.  Your sweetie says something like “Well, you are awesome and so and so is an idiot anyway...." and you feel better.  For now.

What has happened is a chain of suppression.  You would have liked to have been valued and agreed with but instead the opposite happened.  The energy from that experience was then stored in the tissues of the body via a process of first thought - light and changeable - becoming emotion - more physical and felt for longer - and finally the body - some perhaps almost invisible, contraction. 

Then you practice hatha yoga and all parts of the body - at ease and contracted bits - are pulling and pushing together, and the contracted bits that holds the energy of your exchange at the party are now supported - really supported- by all your other bits and the emotion is released.  You laugh at yourself, or cry.  Either way, the contraction is squeezed out and you rest after your practice.

It is a simple and amazing process.  When you go to a party next time and someone disagrees with you, you can watch the process happen.  No need to change it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Is it possible to create an objective standard of competency for yoga teachers?

The term yoga is extremely broad and contains many disciplines, philosophies and practices.  Here are just a few:


  • Meditation
  • Pranayama
  • Mindfulness
  • Chanting
  • Self-inquiry
  • Renouncing the distractions of life
  • Engaging with life with awareness

Many of these subcategories cannot be viewed objectively; one cannot watch someone meditate and decide if it is working for them, for instance.  So the answer to the question “Can you create objective standards for observing effective meditation?” would be no.


Some things in life can be viewed in a relatively objective way.  For instance:

Is this shape round?

The answer is Yes

How is it that we can all agree the shape above is round?  Is it because we have all been indoctrinated with a standardized, hierarchal way of thinking and really, there is no one “round”?


We agree the shape is round because the definition of a circle is that it is a round plane figure whose boundary (the circumference) consists of points equidistant from a fixed point (the center).


We can determine the shape is round by measuring it with instruments, or less formally by looking at it and saying: “That’s pretty round” or “That’s pretty round, man”.

So then

If we reduce our question about yoga to “Can a posture be observed for its effectiveness?”  Then we might be able to apply objective standards.


We would need to agree that doing a pose has some benefits, and that those benefits are increased as the form of the pose moves toward its definition.

For instance

If we define the posture Tadasana (Mountain pose) as a standing pose in which the legs are straight, the spine is erect and the arms are alongside the body, then the further away from that definition the pose is, the less effective it will be as Tadasana

For example, if you are sitting in a chair with a round spine and your feet are not bearing any weight, we could say that this is not an effective form of Tadasana.

If you agree with this so far, then you agree that objective standards for postures can be created.

If you agree with the last statement, then you may agree that there is a way to teach someone how to observe, refine and assist a pose to increase its effectiveness, and therefore, it is possible to create objective standards of competency for teachers of asana - postures.

If you do agree, and you are interested in becoming a yoga teacher and meeting objective standards of competency, please contact me.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Moving on

The abandoned bulldozer from the 1930's sits near the water by the crumbling lime kiln.  Its paint is flaking, but the tracks have not entirely corroded even after all this time.  The 'dozer is one of dozens of machines left behind when the industry here dried up.  When it was in use, the bulldozer was regularly maintained, lubricated and even washed.  Now it has become part of the landscape, visible from a distance as a silhouette on this misty day.

I walk past this machine every day.  Today, without really thinking why, I approached the 'dozer and put my hands on the large steel blade that had moved so much earth.  It felt cold, and steady.  I am not a tree-hugger, but I have hugged trees.  It occurred to me that possibly no-one had touched this machine with this seemingly unwarranted attempt at empathy before, and I could feel that recognition move through my skin.

When its utility was at an end, this machine was left behind.  To many, it is a symbol of our recklessness and greed - a machine designed to level the earth and remove whatever is in its way.  But this machine was built, one bolt at a time.  Human ingenuity created it, and it is not the bulldozer's fault we like to think we have risen above our past.

We do walk away from people and things that don't serve any longer.  People have walked away from me and you when our utility diminished in their eyes.  Onward and upward we have moved, sometimes looking back with embarrassment at the things that brought us to the next place.  But it was never the next place that encouraged retrospection.  Here today, with my hands on this machine that is not ever going to go anywhere again I begin to integration.  The sickening feeling of having looked within myself for resources I can exploit, that others may find quantify my qualities.  It is not something I can do with the same enthusiasm any longer.

I won't try to argue for the sentience of a machine.  But I do feel something in the armour of its blade, and a sense of nostalgia sitting in its seat, looking at the old dials and gauges.  This machine is useless now.  So I just sat with it for no reason, as I did as kid with the old truck in our yard, looking at the dials, pressing the pedals, on a misty day by the water in an abandoned lime quarry.