Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beginning Anew All the Time!

No matter how old you may feel, you are not old. My great grandpa is old. He just turned 99(!!) At his birthday dinner someone asked him how it felt to turn 99 and you know what he said? "The same way it felt to turn 23." This venerable badass lives alone, has a Facebook and just got his license renewed for another five years. Sometimes he has so many bridge dates with cute little casserole-baking ladies that he doesn't have time to see us. I witnessed him fist bumping someone recently. What?! Who is this guy?


My grandpa attributes many things to his advanced age and great health, and I have my own theory. While some people opt to slow as they age and begin to contract away from the world, he has remained active and engaged with life. He never plateaued, reaching a point where he felt he had learned and did enough and was done. At 91 he got his first computer, took every class for it in his retirement community in a month and was immediately writing emails and his memoirs. He has yet to slow down.

In massage school, our teachers would ask us to come to class and empty our cups: yes, we had learned a lot the day before, but there is always more to discover. My grandpa seems to always have an empty cup, hungry to learn and experience more. Although he misses my great grandma, his beautiful wife of so many years, he is unburdened by longing for the past. The man is a force of nature in perpetual forward motion. Every day is fresh.

The curious picture above is of an Osho card that surfaces periodically, much to my chagrin. Every time it comes up it reminds me to let go of memories I have become mired in. Even unpleasant memories somehow become comforting overtime and I cling to them for dear life, as if I can change the past if I stare at it long enough in my mind. How silly! Here's a bit from the commentary:
"It’s time to face up to the fact that the past is gone, and any effort to repeat it is a sure way to stay stuck in old blueprints that you would have already outgrown if you hadn’t been so busy clinging to what you have already been through. Take a deep breath...and bid it a fond and reverent farewell. Life is passing you by, and you’re in danger of becoming an old fossil before your time!"

There comes a point where we have to allow what's done to be done and accept that even if we were to recreate a memory, it could never be exactly the same. And it should not be! What's the fun in replaying the past? We can't relive or change anything that's already happened. We can only attempt to make amends for hurts rendered and find peace in discord stirred. Hopefully we can also get a little wiser in order to live in a more thoughtful, peaceful manner moving forward. After all, how can we hope to shift our outcomes if we keep making the same choices over and over? That's just crazy.

Whatever you're clinging to, be it happy or unhappy, let it go. The present is not the past and the future will not be either. Like my grandpa, you can hope to remain quite youthful if you empty your cup every day and approach the great mystery of life with curiosity and a fresh beginner's mind. Do not allow past conditioning or experience to dictate your future. You can make new memories that have nothing to do with who you were or what's already happened. Tomorrow is unwritten. Anything is possible...if you allow it to be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Becoming the Eye in the Storm

For the first two years of my Kundalini yoga journey, I was living in the Tenderloin. The neighborhood was a fairly good reflection of the state of my mind at that time: loud, messy and occasionally obscene. I would sit down to do my home practice and fidget forEVER, trying to settle myself enough to be still and breathe. I was so busy and noisy and resistant. Sometimes I would give up, determining that I was just not in the place (literally and figuratively) to be meditative. "Too many sirens outside, too many screaming crackheads," I would reason, "Who can sit still under such conditions?"

Teaching at the Hanuman Center is fun because of its proximity to the Castro: fabulous gay men with good sound systems drive by blasting Lady Gaga when we're in class. There's also the din of the 33 rumbling past, the Tuesday noon siren, construction, the crying baby who lives above the studio...etc. Like my old TL abode, these conditions may seem unideal for yoga or meditation, but I've come to view them as wonderful training opportunities to exist calmly and vibrantly in chaotic real life. Kundalini yoga is a householders yoga: we are not ascetics living on a mountaintop, meditating all day under the bo tree. This is not a yoga of renunciation and denial. Yoga and meditation are tools to help us become and remain quiet and still- to be graceful in the most ungraceful of moments.

Overtime I've learned that it's the days when my head (and the world) is the most crazy that I need to do this work the most. If I had waited to be "ready" enough to meditate, I'd still be sitting cross legged on the floor in the Tenderloin, picking bits of lint out of the rug and not meditating. Everyone has to start somewhere- that's why it's called a "yoga practice" and not "yoga perfect." You don't have to be a super bendy, zen person to make this your practice. All that is required is your sincere, consistent effort. Sometimes you may not even like it, but keep coming back to the mat until it becomes natural and routine. My areas of resistance are the dark corners that need the most attention, over and over, until everything is brought to light.

Any kind of inner work will transform you and transformation can be unnerving. We haven't met the people we will become yet and have no idea what our lives will look like after shedding that old skin. If you're one of those people who wants to "change the world," I propose that you begin by resting inside and letting the change begin within. Like the Hindu goddess Chinnamasta, let's cut off our own heads with the blade of self-reflection and enjoy an experience of our whole selves. If you have the strength to muck through all your shit,  you will find a peace and quiet at the center of your being incomparable to anything you will experience without. Yoga and meditation helps us reach this place, this centeredness at our center, that enables us to be the calm center at the heart of any storm.

...Or so I'm told, and am beginning to experience. This is not a mastery. It is a process of humble surrender. It is a being mastered. It is becoming who we already are- a perfect pearl at the heart of our calm center.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tending Your Garden

Last Wednesday Regina and I were, for separate reasons, both feeling shitty. We numbly, glumly sat in her bed, assessing our options: We could get drunk and go to sleep, or we could go to yoga. We independently mulled it over for a while and when I came back to her later to tell her I was going to class she replied, "Well yeah, was there really another choice?" We agreed that if we still felt like getting drunk afterwards that we would reserve the right to do so.

Of course, after a Divinely inspired kriya of Relieving Misplaced Anger, all we felt like doing was getting dinner at The Citrus Club and talking real about life and love. I am inspired by the ways in which Reg and I have been (are being...) transformed by our spiritual practice. According to the legend she spins, I was the first person she met in San Francisco so many years ago, and since then we have become completely different people together. I (barely) recall a New Years Eve in Las Vegas in which our response to the end of a bad year was to get wasted. Now? We breathe and chant that shit out. I'll speak for myself when I say that I still make a big ol' mess of things sometimes, but little by little I am being mastered by this powerful science and technology of elevation.

There is incredible power in making a new choice. If you're consistently responding to a stimulus (pain) in the same way (boozing) and you're unhappy, maybe it's time to try something different. Changing our lives requires changing our habits. Duh, right? But seriously. We operate in our habits largely automatically and it takes consistent consciousness and discipline to break out of them. Change is hard work, but it's only as hard as you make it. And, speaking from experience, it's a lot harder to do the work when you're intoxicated, be it with alcohol, anger, relationships or whatever you choose to dissolve yourself in to in pursuit of avoidance.

You're welcome to remain fumbling around in the darkness of unconsciousness, miserably indulging in all your favorite unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns. Far be it for me to tell you what to do. But here's what I'm noticing: avoidance doesn't get anything done. It's like a garden. You can let weeds take over the garden and ignore it for years. But at some point you might want to have a nice little barbecue back there and you're going to have to take care of the weeds. If you opt to ignore it, the weeds remain. If, on the other hand, you tend your garden early on and keep it up, it will always be available for you to enjoy.

Such is the mind. It has to be tended regularly to keep it clear and sharp. My favorite tool for this work? Kundalini yoga! Easily the best new choice I've ever made, thanks in large part to the steady encouragement of Regina. May you find such enthusiastic support of the new choices you are striving to make in order to change your experience of life. I'll be right along side you, rolling up my sleeves and digging into the dirt. Let's tend our gardens!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Doubt as a Virtue

Faith, it's presence and strength, is traditionally the test of someone's legitimacy as a believer. The deeper the faith, the better someone is doing spiritually...right? I've been spending the last couple of years cultivating faith, admiring the roots that it seemed to be growing, how much more difficult I was becoming to sway. Recently I picked up a copy of Osho's The Book of Understanding, though, and got a completely different perspective on the merits of doubt...
"They say, believe. I say, explore. They say, don't doubt. I say, doubt to the very end, till you arrive and know and feel and experience. Then there is no need to repress doubt, it evaporates by itself. Then there is no need for you to believe. You don't believe in the sun, you don't believe in the moon. You don't need to believe in ordinary facts because they are there...The moment you destroy doubt, you have destroyed something of immense value, because it is doubt that is going to help you to inquire and find. In destroying doubt you have cut the very root of your inquiry."

Coming from a Catholic upbringing, this is a challenging, heretical idea. Faith is such a well-ingrained virtue, I had never thought to consider the alternative. However, I am fully behind experiencing. It's the reason why you'll never find me guaranteeing anyone that Kundalini yoga will work for them- because I can't say for sure that it will. I know what my experience of it is, but I can't give you my experience. Each of us has to find our own truth and have our own experience. Nothing that my dear friend Regina said about Kundalini compared to how it felt in my body to do it. She suggested it for months and after only three classes I had bought a class pass and was on the train.

Even within the practice I still have doubts, though. I was very unsure of the chanting aspect at first. It seemed a little foreign and culty, but I liked the way it felt, so I asked a lot of questions and kept exploring it. The more positive, transformative experience I have with mantra and chanting, the more questions I have and the deeper my practice becomes. It's like gravity- it just works. Not because I believe in it. I experience it, personally and practically, in every moment.

Doubt alone won't take you anywhere, though. Curiosity, open mindedness and inquiry is the key. My doubt in Kundalini only worked because I was willing to say, "Okay, I don't know about this weird yoga, but I'm willing to give it a shot." I had the experience of it feeling pretty amazing but didn't really understand what I was doing, so I kept seeking out more information. I got copies of the mantras with translations of the Gurmukhi so I understood what it meant in English and could really chant with full feeling. My teachers made me copies of sets so I could look them over and practice at home. I started reading The Yoga Sutras. A year later, I was in the teacher training I had helped implement, still doubting and seeking, resisting and embracing. I remain ever dazzled by how profound this practice is, daunted by my ever mounting doubts and questions, and amazed that the more I learn, the more room I seem to have for more.

Don't settle for belief and faith. Doubt! Inquire! Don't rest until you've had an experience. And, please, don't take my word for it. Go find out for yourself just how valuable experience is in making a believer out of you.

"When mind knows, we call it knowledge.
When heart knows, we call it love.
When being knows, we call it meditation.
But all three speak different languages, which are not translatable into each other. And the deeper you go, the more difficult it becomes to translate, because at the very center of your being there is nothing but silence." -Osho

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dropping that boring, outdated "@!#% you" defensive reaction

Try an experiment. Ask the people that know you well how they perceived you when they first met you. The first impression feedback I get most often is "gentle," "calming," and "happy." Dig a layer deeper and descriptors like "intense," "real," and "crazy" start popping up ("real" and "crazy" always appearing separately and never as "real crazy").

The people who know me best, the ones I have lived many lifetimes with, know that all these things are true. They also know that under the sweet heart on my sleeve, I carry a little vial of poison that makes appearances that sometimes even surprise me. I teach a yoga of elevation and claim to want everyone I encounter in life to feel loved, but sometimes I come out with some seriously rude words and/or actions.

With growing consciousness around this incongruity, I began to watch myself and realize that this is a reflex to sensitivity. When I am most vulnerable and someone hurts my tender little feelings (and how tender they are!), I bust out the poison and spray it all over. It's a childish defense mechanism, but seems to be my preferred method of taking care of myself in these situations.

In a couple instances, I have been holding onto old hurts and continuing to flash on the offending parties even though they haven't done anything wrong in a while- I just haven't gotten over it. The other day, one of my very best friends who knows me far too well, called me out on this. I admitted to doing something purely out of spite and she told me that she was disappointed, that she expected better of me. I seized up for a while, fuming and mulling it over, but ultimately realized that she was right. I DO know better ways to handle feelings of rejection and disappointment, I am simply relying on the old way I've been doing things, which is totally out of sync with my advancing age, spiritual practice and ability to accurately articulate my feelings. Lame.

This is what I've decided:
Before I was born this time around, God and I sat down for a chat. He gave me a list of countless people and a big, full heart and said, "Honey, you will encounter all these people in your life journey. I want you to radiate and shine that queenly heart so that each person you meet feels the heat of my love in your presence. Love without limit because I am that love and I am Infinite."

It's my job to deliver love. I don't get to discriminate against someone just because they bruised my ego or didn't fall in line with my agenda. I want to get elevated and expansive, and help other people do the same. Being mean is limiting and diminishing, and it certainly doesn't help create a better tomorrow, which Yogi Bhajan insisted was the truest, highest purpose of communication. The right thing to do is always the right thing to do, regardless of how I feel about it.

At the end of the day, I am not my unconscious, defensive reactions. I really am gentle and happy, and I'm glad that people feel calm with me. It's time to drop old, outdated wounds, drop ego driven agendas, drop reactionary behavior. It's time to do my damn job, already. Being mean and loving unconditionally both require effort, so why not make the effort heart expanding and uplifting?

Special (love) delivery for you!