stories

Taking Stock in Your Life (August 7, 2011)

From time to time in history financial systems around the world disintegrate, their inventors invent new rules to the same old shell-games, hard-working people lose their perceived security, and individuals struggle to define what is of real value.  Like most westerners,  I have been conditioned to perceive value in arbitrary paper and electronic symbols.  And these financial fabrications have proven useful in important ways of course.  But these ‘currencies’ are far from current.   Ironically they represent the antithesis of currency.  They lure us to trade our effulgent present reality for dim abstraction, to think of currency not as our daily experience, but as some arbitrary number or symbol which is to be stored, saved, invested elsewhere for later access.  It is the opposite of currency, immediacy, or presence.  Our concept of money buys us only illusion and disembodiment from our present life.   I don’t mean that money is necessarily bad, only that in general it is an abstraction from the value of life and breath and consciousness.

What if I have lost everything, and now I’m totally broke?  Count your blessings.  You have so much you can never give it all away.  You can move your fingers.  You can stand and walk about.  You are free to breath and meditate.  You have more than 40,000 seconds of conscious thought in the waking hours of every day which you can direct toward the object of your choice.  And perhaps another 40,000 tomorrow.  You can exercise your limbs, your spine, and your heart to create sensation and health immediately.   Break the bubble of worry.  Don’t worry about how and when you might one day be able to really live.   Forget that.   Drop it.  Live Now.   Don’t lose today’s 40,000 seconds.   This is your currency!  You possess a fortune in the only undiluted currency:  you are the current of Life itself.   There’s no currency more current.  There is no wealth more vast.  Be present.  Be quiet.  Know your all-pervasive Divine reality.  Then be practical, too.   Be creative.  You have to eat.  Figure it out.

How to Find Lasting Wealth in 3 Easy Steps.

Let’s say the definition of wealth is the ability to give (happily and intelligently).   If that’s true you can begin to reveal your wealth by giving.   Of course it doesn’t have to be about money.  Be generous with the things you have that others would value and enjoy.   Wealth Training Excercise Step 1.  List 3 things that you can give that someone you know would really enjoy and value receiving from you (examples:  your forgiveness, your eye contact, a thank you, a phone call, a visit, a hug, a meal,  …) .   Step 2.  Imagine you give these things to those individuals, and also imagine their reaction and your subsequent feeling and the effect on your relationship.    Step 3.  Do it in real life.  See if it’s true in reality that being generous is related to wealth.

Only the rich can give.  Only the giving feel rich.

Some riches are far greater than paper or numbers or metal.

Everyone can give.  Everyone can discover they are rich.

The only real currency is your present life.  Whatever you have lost in the last weeks or years, re-focus on what you have: your priceless body and consciousness.  A pile of gold the size of your body is nothing compared to the miracle of your life.  Because you have it everyday you might not think of your body as valuable, but just hang out with someone who has lost the control of their body or someone who has never had control of their body.  They will quickly illuminate the real value in your ‘corporate account’.  Even if you’re totally and irreversibly broke according to the accountant’s books you are unimaginably rich in the book of Life.

Isn’t it strange that the word corporate has been used to describe business syndicates as well as your own body?  By which corporate account will you plumb your life’s worth?

 

You Are the Tree of Life February 25, 2011

Stand with your feet parallel hip width apart, lift the arches of the feet, use your legs and feet to actively distribute weight evenly across the feet, and feel the sense of active legs connecting the earth through your feet up the legs and into the hips, tuck the tailbone under and forward, draw the lower abdomen (below the navel) downward and toward the tailbone, feel the resulting gentle lift at the floor of the pelvis as the upper abdomen naturally lifts up.  Like the trunk of a great tree you draw up through the center, through the center of your torso, up the central core like a channel, a river, the Shushumna Nadi.  Draw the shoulderblades toward the center behind your heart, lift and lead with your heart,  free your neck, drop your shoulders away from your ears and balance your head on the top of your spine like an apple balanced on a stack of gold coins.   Relax your jaw, tongue, lips.   Breath full and free, without compromising your finely balanced posture.  Now feel your arms all the way to your fingertips reaching toward the earth– yearning for the earth like tendrils of a banyan tree.   They’re alive, they can sway in the breeze, they’re not rigid!  But later when your fingers do contact the earth, like the tendrils of a banyan tree, they transform into massive trunks.

Here is my challenge to you:  in your asana practice and even throughout the rest of the day, feel this circuit of life within and through you.  It is real, not some abstract mumbo jumbo.  Reflect on it, visualize it, feel it.  You are in fact a circuit, a tree of life.  When your hands touch the earth, like the tendrils of the banyan, it is a purposeful, vital event.  They establish another arc or pathway in the circuit of life.   At the place of contact you engage the earth, merge into the earth like roots, your body arches, rises into the sky with flexible strength.  Your crown radiates into the sky.  You absorb, exchange, respire.  You both give and receive energy.   A tree draws energy from the earth (e.g. water) and from the sky (e.g. carbon dioxide and sunlight).  The tree also returns energy to the earth (e.g. nutrients from fallen leaves) and the sky (e.g. oxygen).   What we call a ‘tree’ is not a static thing, but the localized and temporal expression of a continuous and infinite flux of energy, a circuit.   Same for ‘human being’.  Let your breath move on the inhale like you relish the scent of a wonderful flower, and exhale like a sigh of delight.   This  offers both physiological and psychological benefits, for example it can subdue anxiety.   This practice should be light-hearted and enjoyable.  If you get stressed just stop and relax.  Let your awareness shine unfettered in the infinite singular present.  Whatever your perspective on life, let it go, let it flow, release your concepts into the current and just naturally be.

Daily Practice and The Ascent.  January 2011

If you resolve to make your health a priority this year, as I do, you’ll adopt a regular exercise practice, something designed especially for you.  If you have an injury, ailment or disease, that’s no reason to abandon your own daily practice, instead custom tailor it!  Don’t tell yourself that you’re too stiff or too weak, or too sick.  I have known a number of cancer patients, some confined to bed, who benefited from gentle exercise, coordinated breath and deep relaxation. So whatever your current physical condition, your ongoing daily health practices will inspire others, and conversely your neglect of your health can do the opposite.  It’s not selfish to take care of yourself; it’s a big part of caring for others, too.

A couple years ago I worked with a team on the cancer ward of a progressive hospital in New York City. Our team’s job was to talk with patients about ways to make their experience more comfortable through postural modifications, bed props, gentle exercises, guided relaxation, and breath awareness, among other things.  These elements have roots in yoga, although we didn’t use the term. When I met John (not the patient’s real name), who was not far from my own age, he was so weak he had not risen from his bed for more than two months. He was emaciated, frustrated with being stuck in bed, and uncomfortable, but always offered a smile to his doctors, nurses, house cleaning staff, and therapists.  His voicebox had been removed in the course of treating is disease, so he used facial expressions to communicate from a distance, but if you sat close you hear him whisper.  He added emphasis with his eyes. The only whispers I heard from him were encouragement — for me.   “Enjoy every day.  This is a beautiful day.  I am so grateful.  Love everybody.”

One of my tasks was to simply listen.  John said he was very strong before the disease, and now he wanted to get enough of his old strength back that he could someday get out of bed again.  When I first saw him he could barely lift his arms.  We did some gentle arm raises in coordination with breathing.  Just a few arm raises was enough, then rest.  I met with him twice a week, and on subsequent weeks we added simple foot movements, small knee bends, some conscious breathing and deep relaxation.  Each visit he would announce “I’ve been doing my exercises every day,”  then he would demonstrate the exercises with the coordinated breath, “it feels good!”  A few weeks later he had a surprise.  With a big smile he lifted an 8 ounce nutrition drink can in each hand, arms extended to the side, a butterfly press. Beaming, though his body was little more than skin and bones, he had the air of a mountain climber gaining a coveted summit.

Like a mountaineer he had his oxygen, his support team, and his goal.  He was flat on his back the whole time, but that didn’t stop him.  He had a bit of lint from the hospital blanket on his unshaven chin, which might as well have been ice crystals in the Himalayas, he was at the summit.  The hospital staff and I seemed for a moment like sherpas. John’s eyes were wide, catching his breath, he whispered, “Thank you.”

Maybe you or somone you love is challenged by an ailment or disease.  Yoga is a great way to improve your health because it has something for everyone, from the gentlest breath awareness to the most vigorous strength training and everything in between.  So whether you’re flat on your back, training for Everest, or somewhere between, find an experienced guide who can work with you to chart your ascent.

Journey to Woodstock.  Spring 2007

For a bit longer than two months I lived, worked, and studied in the home of David Life and Sharon Gannon (founders of Jivamukti Yoga School).  Through their dinner-time stories, the example of their lives and hard work, their counsel and constructive honest feedback, they’ve illuminated many opportunities for me to improve my teaching in areas I might never have reached on my own. It’s been a humbling and invaluable experience to live among these master teachers.  I’m very grateful for their guidance and caring.

Their home is adjacent to the 300,000 acre mountain forest preserves of New York’s Catskill Park (near Woodstock).  On several occasions I observed adult black bears visiting the house, when the weather warmed enough the mother bear showed her 3 cubs!  

During a hike to the top of the nearby mountain overlooking a reservoir, we saw 3 mature bald eagles. Two eagles seemed to be establishing their territory by driving off a third eagle with precision flying tactics accompanied by loud clucks & shrieks.   The third eagle did not retreat easily; the exercises passed across our field of view several times, twice below our vantgage point as we looked down upon them from a rock outcrop, then again amazingly at our eye level just a few yards away, again directly overhead, and lastly we had a long sweeping view as the lone eagle tracked away across the reservoir. She would have been invisible in the growing distance but for the brilliant white flashes of her snow-white tail and head contrasting against the dark green forest below.  It seemed we could follow her up to a mile this way.

Later that spring I had the added privilege to attend a 10 day yoga therapy conference in NYC with Richard Freeman, Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman, Gary Kraftsow, and Mary Dunn.