Leaves Falling: The Beauty of Disillusion

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The following is a version of an article I wrote for Conscious Life News

 
Dogma of Fall Leaves

I wish I knew the beauty of leaves falling.

To whom are we beautiful when we go?

~David Ignato


And to whom are we beautiful as we go? This poem seems to point to the fact that even in our failing, there is a part of creation and therefore a part of ourselves that can grant a magnificence to any loss.

A beautiful concept. A bittersweet truth. Perhaps this is why Autumn is so colorful: it is the opulent  funeral procession of the death of so much. It is the rush of fireworks before the quiet stillness of winter.


Shiva Nataraj

Shiva

Many of the Hindu statues tell stories and offers insight which transcends dogma. The Shiva Nataraj, the Dancing Shiva, is a storytelling icon depicting Shiva, the creator of the universe, and illustrates his five acts which, in part, give understanding of death and dissolution. Through understanding the Shiva Nataraj, we too might understand "the beauty of leaves falling" as penned by poet David Ignato.

This statue depicts a person with several arms holding different tools, his hair on fire, body wreathed in flames, standing on an impish creature with one leg, and his other leg in motion.

Creation

In his first hand, Shiva holds a drum putting everything into motion through vibration. It's true that everything from the smallest particle to the largest galaxy, even the Universe itself, is in constant motion. As a musician, I love the idea of DJ Shiva laying down the backbeat that sets the Universe into motion. This represents the birth and spring in our lives and the events and circumstances therein.

Sustaining

His next hand holds a mudra or a gesture called the abhaya mudra. This Mudra is the power of sustaining. It's like Shiva is saying, "I've built this, now I'm supporting and nourishing it." For me this represents summer time when everything is in full bloom and thriving. It's also a reminder to be present, especially to our tendency to get attached to things when they are going well, or looking over our shoulder for the other shoe to drop. If possible be right in the moment as things are. The subtle message here is that things are in flux and don't get either attached or resist what's inevitably in flux.

Death and Disillusion

In his third hand, Shiva is holding a flame suggesting not to get too attached because just as soon as he will give birth to and sustain something, he'll also burn it down. This flame reminds you that not only does everything has a life cycle, but that even as things are changing and dying they do so as part of a perfect cycle. Shiva has no remorse about any of this, he simply stares straight ahead with a little grin as if to say, "This is what death looks like," meanwhile the beautiful fall colors are exploding in their passing.

Concealment

So, when you're at your lowest point, your house has just been razed to the ground and you're really hoping Shiva will give you a helping hand, he does just the opposite. His fourth arm is concealing his heart. At the moment when we are humbled and look to a higher power at our low points he covers his arm to say, "You don't learn heart of God for free." Sometimes this feels like just when you couldn't get any lower, you in fact do.

This lowest point is what Shiva is standing on, a little demon thing called the apasmara and represents the unrealized, naive or innocent part of ourselves. Shiva is standing on this representation of a part of ourselves, not in any way to be mean or spiteful, but rather as a way of literally taking a stand for our higher selves.


Revelation

Revelation Scott Moore Yoga

And once the old self has fully been put asunder, with the only limb left, Shiva last leg is swinging upward to invite you back into the a new and elevated cycle of new birth, sustainment, death and dissolution, concealment and revelation. Here is where everything is revealed and we continue to ride the circle in a spiral of evolution and growth. After such revolutions, there is no going back. And after several times around one might begin to start to expect the different cycles as they appear.

With the full picture in mind, whenever we encounter death, change, or dissolution we can resist it less and perhaps see if for what it is, one of the beautiful steps on our way to our full understanding being.

Mary Oliver writes about learning to accept death and loss in her poem, Maker of All Things, Even Healings. I love the title of the poem because it suggests that the healing, the bringing back to life for a fuller measure of life as in the Dancing Shiva, comes only after accepting death which she does so humbly.

All night

under the pines

the fox

moves through the darkness

with a mouthful of teeth

and a reputation for death

which it deserves.

In the spicy

villages of the mice

he is famous,

his nose

in the grass

is like an earthquake,

his feet

on the path

is a message so absolute

that the mouse, hearing it,

makes himself

as small as he can

as he sits silent

or, trembling, goes on

hunting among the grasses

for the ripe seeds.



Maker of All Things,

including appetite,

including stealth,

including the fear that makes

all of us, sometime or other,

flee for the sake

of our small and precious lives,

let me abide in your shadow--

let me hold on

to the edge of your robe

as you determine

what you must let be lost

and what will be saved.




As we celebrate the panoply of fall colors, may we, too, remember the beauty of leaves falling, the beauty and magnificence of this amazing dance in which we are all twirling, living and dying.

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Valuing Perplexity

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Yoga Nidra Training

We all have problems. We all grapple with the unknown, about the big things like the origin of the Universe, sure, but more specifically about our own complicated life. We all want to solve our problems as quickly and painlessly as possible.


But sometimes it is only by questioning or struggling that we are driven to earnestly understand an otherwise hidden part of ourselves. Sometimes it is working through our struggles that we truly come to understand our full potential. Our questions fuel us to open our hearts, to seek for inspiration, to perform the necessary work, and more profoundly, to abandon our will to the grander wisdom of the Divine, whatever your concept of that is.

We must at once be willing to seek and do. What's most difficult is that we must also be willing to sit comfortably and simply be with what we don't know or understand. And sometimes to get real answers we must be willing to sit in our own darkness for a while.

This human tendency for control occurs regularly in our yoga practice as many of us strive to either know everything there is to know about yoga or try to perfect our poses.

Instead, let us practice this week the yoga principle of Santosha, or contentment, by learning to sit with and even value perplexity, to sit in the not knowing. There is a practice of allowing things to be just the way they are, perfect with our problems, as unseen forces that are working in mysterious ways to evolve your body, mind, and heart. 

The following poem by David Whyte seems to speak directly to learning from the not knowing and leaning into the darkness rather than running from it.

 

Sweet Darkness
by David Whyte
 

20-Hr. Yoga Nidra Training

Virtual or in-Person

September 28–30 2018

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

 

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

 

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

Meditation for Sleep

to recognize its own.

 

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

 

The dark will be your womb 

tonight.

 

The night will give you a horizon

further than you can see.

 

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

 

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

 

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

 

anything or anyone

that does not bring you alive

 

is too small for you.

After the Fire

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Shiva Nataraj.jpg

I closed two yoga studios about 4 years ago. Running and closing those studios has been two of the most challenging things I've ever done.

It's really difficult to run a small business. I fought every day just to keep the doors open. Eventually, we had to close our doors; the studios weren’t sustainable. I wish I knew then what I know now about running a business. Ironically, I learned volumes about running a business by closing my business. One of the most important things I learned was how to rebuild my life when things don’t turn out the way you hoped they would.

At the time of my businesses closing, I wished there were a manual for how to rebuild your life after you’ve just suffered a massive blow. During that difficult time, I received some divine guidance during a meditation, instruction that seemed absolutely perfect for me in my life, like a manual to start to rebuild. 

Step 1. Put out any fires that are still burning.

Step 2. Practice forgiveness as the key to allow forward movement.

Step 3. Allow for new possibilities without the story of the past to jade the future.

In order to get some clear perspective, I had to get out of town for a few weeks to clear my head. I closed my studios and literally one week later got married to the love of my life. Yes, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

My wife and I went on a honeymoon to Europe coupled with me teaching a yoga retreat and getting out of town really helped me to gain perspective. I felt reinvented as I came home from Europe, ready to tackle some of the challenges that were still looming as the result of closing my studios.

The situation still felt raw, like was just coming to, sitting on a neighbor’s lawn, my face black with smoke and soot, my old house just burned down. And in a real way, many things about my old business were still smoldering and smoking but that old thing, that old life, old bachlorness, that old business, was razed. To. The. Ground. There was only one, exciting thing left to do and that is build a new life forward. And while this situation was scary, it feel freeing to look forward into the future. 

The Shivanataraj is the statue you often seen in a yoga context. It’s a depiction of the Dancing Shiva and represents the male/female creator of the universe in the dance of birth, sustaining, death, disillusion, and ultimate rebirth . . . over and over and over again. This statue teaches me that I’m involved in a process, one that will probably happen several times in my lifetime.

This understanding of moving in cycles made me feel better, like all of this was expected somehow. The Shivanataraj statue shows Shiva’s many arms and legs gesturing in the dance of all this continuous change while wreathed in flames. And despite all the craziness, despite the all the change, despite the fact that Shiva’s hair is on fire, Shiva’s gaze is calm, steady, forward. Shiva even has a calm little smile on his face like this is just another day in the burning universe.  

We are all somewhere in this process of birth, sustaining, death, disillusion, and rebirth. What are the things you need to do, need to avoid, need to plan for in this life that is burning in this moment.?

And finally, while our universe is spinning and we are all dancing around with our hair on fire, may we keep our steady gaze forward, centered in our most divine Self and the Divine, whatever form that may take for you.  

Here’s a poem I love that speaks to discovering the new chapter in your life.

The Layers

BY STANLEY KUNITZ

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

Hawaii Yoga

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

(GTA) Grand Theft Auto: A Study in Mindfulness pt. 2

Part 2: Chubby Hula Dancer Rides Again!

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This post won't make sense unless you read pt. 1 so go back and read the previous post and then come back to read this one. 

GTA

(Grand Theft Auto)

GTA.JPG

When my truck, Nina, was literally stolen from out of my hands, being very nearly killed in the process, it gave me a lot of time for reflection if only for the simple fact that it takes longer to walk places instead of drive. And despite being "mindfully pissed off" about the whole thing, I also had time to reflect on the many family members, friends, and acquaintances who had stepped up to help me,  whether that was to loan me their car, offer to take me somewhere, or simply share space, laugh, and swap stories. 

Nina 1 inch.jpg

After telling the yoga community about getting my truck stolen, many people said that they would also like to have a 1" sticker on the back of their car because it reminded them of the Wendell Berry poem that states that the greatest journey we will ever travel is the journey of 1" "by which  we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home."

I made more stickers and sold them to anyone who wanted them for $5. If I could only sell a couple thousand of those stickers, I could buy myself a nice reliable car and enjoy the metaphor of the ground at my feet rather than the cold, hard truth of it.

One woman, Penny, who bought a sticker also gave me a bag of Four Barrel coffee, the brand of coffee the sell at The Rose Establishment, (the coffee shop I went to directly after getting my truck stolen) and attached a note to it that said, "Because anyone who just got their ride stolen deserves a good cup of coffee." I was touched that she'd not only remembered my story but would also go out of her way to give me such a special, and heart-felt gift. Plus, it was damn fine coffee. 

My friend Nan let me drive her car for a few days.

My dad is awesome. He's retired and during my transportation crisis he allowed me to borrow his car for a few weeks.

Then, my good friends Christy and Brian called me and said that they owned two cars and were looking to get rid of one, the one parked in an auto-cocoon in the driveway which needed some repairs on the clutch. It was a 2001 Subaru Forester. We agreed that we'd tow it to my trusty mechanic, Peak Performance, and if the repairs weren't too extensive, I could pay for the repairs and $500 for the car. Fortunately, the repairs were only $300 and so for $800, I scored a car that ran better than my previous ride.

She's had low miles, clean interior, AC, cruise control—the whole bit. Getting that car felt like a big win. My dad also helped me get the Subaru to the shop and even sat with me at the DMV while I registered it (I know, right?). Then we went the Red Iguana for Mexican food, because everyone who just got a new ride deserves "killer Mexican food."

I had wheels again! And as I rolled down the street, I was overcome with the generosity of my friends and family. 

I brought the Subaru home and parked her in the driveway and what really made the experience complete is when I put another 1" sticker on the back. Then, she really felt like part of the family. 

Then, just two day after I started rolling around in my sweet, sweet Forester, I received a phone call from the police department informing me that they had found my truck! They asked me if I could come right then and pick it up. It wasn't far away, stashed in the parking lot of an apartment complex about 5 miles away.

I told the SLCPD that I was literally about 5 minutes from jumping in and teaching my Thursday morning 10:15 am Restore Yoga class and that there was no way I could come right then, but that I'd be free in about an hour and a half. They informed me that they had called the fingerprinting team who needed to dust the truck before they could release it to me anyway and that if I called back as soon as I was done with my class, there was a possibility that I'd avoid having to pay tow and impound fees.

See, in order to protect my vehicle from whomever stole it, the police have to tow it from where they found it and impound it so Truck Thief can't come and move it somewhere else. The down side is that this isn't a service the city offers for free. I'm the one who has to pay for tow and impound, usually runs around $200.

So, as I'm teaching my Restore Yoga class, questions like, "What kind of shape is my Nina in? What did they take and does it even run?" were swimming through my head and making it difficult to concentrate. After class, I wasted no time calling the police department and told them that I was on my way. They informed me that they had already called the tow truck but if I got to Nina before the tow truck did, I could avoid her from getting hoisted away.

I was off and soon learned just how speedy my new Subaru could be as I broke a few land speed records to get there. Just as I showed up, the tow truck operator was at that moment hoisting Nina onto the back of his truck. She looked frightened and battered but generally ok. I approached him and explained the situation. He told me flatly that he'd been given orders by the cops to tow my truck and that nothing but the OK from the cops could stop him from taking it. I tried fruitlessly to explain and even tried calling the officer to have him explain the situation but my phone at the time was in its palliative care stage of its life. Like many in this state, was about  to go to cell phone heaven and the battery just wasn't working well. Every time I connected to the SLCPD my phone decided to spontaneously power down and preventing me from getting the OK not to tow my car.  So, exacerbated, I told the guy, "Fine,  tow it and I'll meet you at the impound yard so I can talk to your boss."

I zipped over to the impound yard, a lovely place that looked like a parking lot for zombies. I entered the make-shift office, a long narrow room with dirty carpet, a couch that looked like it had been towed from off on the side of the road, and an obscenely large television blaring loud day-time TV commercials.

Behind the desk sat someone who upon first sight clearly displayed a super power—apathy.  I pled my case to Apathyman. I told him that I didn't want to have to pay $200 to impound and tow my car when the police said I didn't have to pay. He began using his super power immediately and mumbled something about being powerless, other than his obvious super power for Apathy, of course. Defiantly, I asked to talk to his boss.  Apathyman gave me a number to call to Bossman, who must have taught Apathyman everything he knew. He only said, "Let me make a phone call." Five seconds later the phone in the office where I was standing rang. It was Bossman talking again to Apathyman. In mere seconds, Apathyman hung up the phone and informed me that they were going to impound my car. To see them work together was almost inspiring, they were like the Stokton to Malone duo of shittiness.

To add insult to injury, Apathyman also told me that I couldn't just pay the fee and roll away. I didn't even know if my car rolled. He told me that in order to get my truck back, I'd need to go to the DMV to get an impound release form then bring it back to the impound yard, pay the fee and then I could take the car. It's easier to adopt a baby from Russia than it is to get your car outta hock. 

I left my truck at the impound yard and rolled away fuming mad. I had another yoga class to teach and I wondered how I was going to try to teach being centered when things were so crazy in my own head. 

I made arrangements with my good friend John to pick me up after my class. We went to the DMV and then back to the Zombie Parking Lot and the House of Hopelessness, home of Apathy Man, to get my truck back. We spend all afternoon running around and attending to the minutia. Finally, I'd retrieved the necessary forms, paid the fees, and Apathyman reluctantly gave me back the keys to my truck.

Just then it dawned on me that I hadn't even seen the inside of my truck. I wasn't sure what they'd stolen, what condition it was in, or if the truck would even start. So with reticence, I approached Nina. As I opened the door, I saw the front console was torn up a bit, the result of stealing my car stereo that wasn't working anyway. I think there's a special pawn shop for car stereos that don't work, very valuable in certain markets. Truck Thief had ransacked everything leaving it a total mess. I opened the shell and looked in the bed and saw that they had stolen my and my wife's yoga mats, cuz even truck thieves need to get centered and loosen up the muscles that tighten up during dramatic heists. I hoped that one day I would see him in class reevaluating the direction of his life. 

Then it dawned on me—something important was missing. More important than my stereo, more important than my yoga mat. Oh, no! Where was Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer! She wasn't on the dash! They kidnapped her, NOOOOOOOOO, those bastards!

Feeling broken hearted, abused, and completely frustrated, I tried my best to put my dashboard back together the best I could. Then I sat in the seat and put the key in the ignition and prayed she would start. Can you fuel a car on anger and despair?

Even before she was stolen, Nina sounded pretty hard thanks to her rusted out muffler and non-existent tail pipe. To my great surprise she did fire up however, now she sounded more like Howlin' Wolf than Nina Simome. But at least she ran.

I rolled out of the Zombie Parking Lot and waved a thank you to my friend John who sped away. I drove straight to my trusty mechanic, Peak Performance. They kindly looked Nina over and informed me that she was basically fine but that Truck Thief had stolen the catalytic converter, part of the exhaust system, because there is some precious metals in there, like palladium, the same stuff my wedding ring is made of. I would have to get that fixed if I wanted to drive the Truck. I drove directly to the muffler shop and asked them to please hook me up with another catalytic converter and while you were at it, fix the tailpipe, all of which was going to cost me around another $450.

I took the bus home feeling sorry for myself after such an emotional and harrying day. But as I was walking home from the bus stop I couldn't help but think of all the people who had helped me out. I thought of everyone who had wished me well and offered condolences and an understanding moment of bewilderment after seeing my ride stolen. I thought of Nan who loaned me her car for a few days, and my dad,  who let me tool around in his truck for almost two weeks. I thought of Brian and Christy who gave me a screaming deal on a new ride. I thought of how nice it was to ride my bike places. I thought of how nice, accommodating and professional, Peak Performance had been to have fixed my new ride and advise me on my old one. I thought of John who helped me out by running me all over town, who had shown up on my door steep the day Nina had been stolen asking if there were anything he could do, like run errands or just offer a listening ear. I thought of the cops who'd found it and who despite everything really had an air of generosity in their tone. All of that. My pity party didn't last long in the face of all that generosity and good will.

So, the next day, I rode my bike a few miles to pick up my truck from the muffler shop. I put my bike in the back of Nina and drove away, quieter than ever I can remember her sounding, feeling like this truck hadn't run that well and sounded that good in several years. And even though I knew it would add to the rust, I decided to go against protocol to give Nina a wash. I took her to a car wash and spent the better part of an hour cleaning her inside and out. I wanted to get the kidnaped feeling scrubbed off of her. It was a little traumatizing to see my fingerprints still smeared on the dirty window on the driver-side from where I'd tried to hold on as the guy was literally stealing my truck from my own hands. You see, I caught him in the act but not fast enough to stop him from bolting off and almost running me over in the process. I reassembled the dash, the result of ripping off my stereo. Then, other than the hole where my stereo used to be, everything was back to normal. Better than normal, really.

chubby hula dancer.jpg

And then to my immense surprise and pleasure as I was vacuuming under the seat, guess who was hiding? Yes, Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer!  From what I can deduce, sometime during her kidnapping, she used all her hula-power strength  to unstick herself from the dash and jumped down to hide under the seat to wait for the storm of car thieving to pass. I picked her up, brushed the dust off of her blue plastic grass skirt and placed her redemptively back on the center stage of the dash.

As I dove away from the carwash, without a song on the radio (without a radio), just the satisfaction of a clean car and my Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer swaying to the smooth purr of a well-exhausted engine, I felt that everything was right in the world.  Watching Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer's happy dance reminded me that somehow, every moment is an opportunity for celebration.

Whoever stole my truck, my stereo, my catalytic converter, and my yoga mats also gave me something in return. Something very small but unspeakably valuable. Resting in the seat next to the dismantled dash and various trash, was a blue rubber bracelet honoring the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing. Fascinating, right? This bracelet is a symbol of people coming together in the time of such tragedy and horror.

Boston Bracelet.jpg

And that's exactly what this bracelet did for me. This bracelet reminded me that despite any tragedy or fiasco, ranging from a bombing to getting your ride stolen, human beings have an amazing power to come together and to show up, love, and support to one another in the face of hardship. I roll more smoothly and with more ease after all this truck stealing business.

For a few years,  I kept that blue bracelet in the hole in the dashboard where my stereo used to be. I rarely think of the guy who stole from me but often think of those who gave to me, so generously and lovingly from their hearts at a time of trouble. That bracelet reminds me how good people can be.

Despite everything, getting my car stolen has shown me that yes, there are some careless, rude, and probably desperate people who might steal your ride simply for the low-hanging fruit of its parts and almost worthless stuff inside, but that there are dozens more people who will freely give of their love, help, and support quicker than you can say "hotwire my ride." This experience of getting my truck stolen has reinforced my faith in people more than tarnished it. And even though the whole thing experience me around $1500, I'm the richer for it. I'm rich in the form of friendships, love, and support. I'm rich in the mere experience. The story itself makes me rich. 

It's my prayer that as we practice yoga and meditation, we look inside and see is a being filled with love and light. May we understand our own brightness and then spend our energy shining our light into the dark corners of the world. My invitation to you is to choose some way to shine your light to others today. Send a text and let someone know you're thinking about them. Offer to help someone out on the side of the road. Understand your light and use it to brighten everything around you. Maybe this good will is what really makes Chubby Hula Dashboard Dancer move. Not jazz organ. 

The way to steal someone's heart is by giving your own. 

Who knows, maybe one day while teaching a yoga class, I'll recognize my yoga mat under someone else's feet. I'll know that the person on that mat is on their way to finding the light that is within them, regardless if they stole a ride to get there. We are all on this journey together, though some of us tend to take the long and hard road to get there. 

Namaste, everyone, including you, Truck Thief. I honor the light that shines inside of me and shines inside of you . . . somewhere. Thank you for ripping off my ride to show me the meaning of generosity, love, and kindness. 


Selfie Conscious

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https://9gag.com/gag/ag3Pe1K/mona-lisa-selfie

https://9gag.com/gag/ag3Pe1K/mona-lisa-selfie

The following is a rewrite of a piece I did a few years ago and which was recently published on Medium  under the title Selfie Awareness. It outlines and experience I had which taught me more about being conscious with trying to capture the moment with photos and selfies. 

A few years ago, I was in Paris for the first time, visiting the Louvre, perhaps the finest art museum in the world. While there were many paintings I’d been waiting my entire life to see, and I know I’m cliché here, the Mona Lisa was primo on my list.

I mean, almost 60 years ago, they tried to insure the Mona Lisa for 100 million dollars* but had problems because many felt that the sum was much too low, and that was 1960s dollars. Today, they value the painting at closer to 800 million!

Fun fact: Napoleon used to have the Mona Lisa hanging on his bedroom wall and would spend hours in rapture starting at it.

So finally here, and giddy with anticipation, I stepped into the spacious, well-lit gallery, dying to get a glimpse of the most (in)valuable painting in the world. There she was at last! At a distance, I could see the renaissance rockstar enshrined on her own dedicated wall, protected behind a guardrail and bulletproof glass, and flanked by two bouncers.

Suddenly, the hallowed hush of the Louvre was irreverently replaced by the din of excitable tourists. As I approached her, I felt pressed in a hot vice of adoring fans, all craning to ogle the most mysterious woman on canvas. The venue felt transformed into an arena at a rock concert where I was squeezing through hordes of fans, desperately hoping to making eye contact with that infamous seductrice and her inimitable half-smile.

As I jockeyed my way forward, I began to notice something very peculiar. Nobody was looking at the paining. Not really. Rather, everyone was looking at the viewfinder on their smartphones, tablets, and cameras. More than taking a moment to drink in this priceless work of art, most people were worried about getting the perfect photo of it.

http://catnapsintransit.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/1382338_10151797344753183_1393716417_n.jpg

http://catnapsintransit.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/1382338_10151797344753183_1393716417_n.jpg

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-arts-35031568/does-mona-lisa-have-a-hidden-personality

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/entertainment-arts-35031568/does-mona-lisa-have-a-hidden-personality

And as I looked around at the crowd, I noticed a distinct pattern. People would fire off several photos, including a few selfies with the Mona Lisa, then without so much as a pause, would scurry off to some other masterpiece to do likewise. For what? To brag to their friends that they were in the same room as the Mona Lisa but never took a second to actually see it?

Something about this phenomenon is natural human behavior. Hasn’t everyone been guilty of experiencing something extraordinary, a resplendent sunset, an aromatic cup of coffee, or a masterpiece like the Mona Lisa, and we’re afraid the moment will end, so we try to capture it with a photo because doing so and posting it to social media will somehow make it permanent?

And have you ever tried to show some innocent, unsuspecting person the photos of that moment? It goes like this, “Here’s the great hotel I stayed at, only it’s so much nicer than the photo suggests, you should really see it. Oh, and here’s the most amazing latte I had at the perfect café, but you had to be there, this photo doesn’t do it justice. Here’s the Mona Lisa but she’s much smaller than you’d expect. . . ”

This is when you look up to see your friend’s eyes gloss over or start to check their watch. The photos don’t translate because the optics of the picture represents only the smallest part of what you hopefully experienced in the moment. Or which perhaps you didn’t experience . . .

Trying to capture any moment ironically prevents you from having it in the first place. It’s because you’re thinking about the future rather than experiencing the present. To really experience a moment requires a practiced presence with all of your senses. Your senses are an incredible tool for presence.

Photo permission by John Cottrell

Photo permission by John Cottrell

Without being present to the experience, when you’re back at home, looking at your dozen or so selfies with the Mona Lisa, you’ll have no connection to that moment. The photos will mean about as much to you as they would to your friend whom you abused with photos of your latte The photos won’t recall an experience you thought you had because you never really had the experience to begin with.

And this is getting a little Zen here, but since our identity is the product of our ability to pay attention, if you weren’t present with all of your senses, there was really no “you” to have the experience in the first place.

I’m just as guilty as the next guy of trying to capture the moment with a photo. But by bringing my unconscious actions to consciousness, I can deliberately make a choice to do something different.

So never take photos, right? Never post anything on social media? No, let’s not be luddites. But maybe try having the moment first, then if you want to, take a photo to remember a moment you truly experienced.

And sometimes, try allowing yourself to simply experience a moment without a camera. Soak it up and be 100% there by consciously involving all of your senses, raw and unfiltered.

Before there were cameras or smartphones, people had to use memories to recall experiences. Go old-school and create a real mental repository of experienced events. What did the light look like in the gallery? What does the smell of paint of canvas evoke to your imagination? What sounds did you hear in the gallery? What were the textures and temperatures you felt on your skin? How did it taste? And remember that if you try to taste the Mona Lisa you better be prepared to lose a tongue.

I realize that it’s a little glib to simply say simply, “be present.” But practices like yoga and meditation help us to establish presence as our default when we are having any experience, whether mundane or extraordinary. And with presence, even an otherwise mundane experience can prove to be extraordinary once your come senses alive.

Without presence, even the miraculous or priceless moments (read experiencing the Mona Lisa) will pass you by without leaving an impression. I’m thinking about those simple but perfect moments like hanging with our kids, focusing on good work, or experiencing live music, dance, or poetry. To receive the gift of these moments truly requires presence.

 

The immortal poet Rainer Maria Rilke speaks to being existentially destitute as the result of lack of presence in his rather stark poem, "Already The Ripening Barberries Are Red."

Rilke.jpg
Already the ripening barberries are red,
and the old asters hardly breathe in their beds.
Those who are not rich now as summer goes
will wait and wait and never be themselves.
Those who cannot quietly close their eyes,
certain that there is vision after vision
inside, simply waiting until nighttime
to rise all around them in the darkness
it’s all over for them, they feel old and tired.
Nothing else will come;
no more days will open,
and everything that does happen
will cheat them.
Even you, my God. And you are like a stone
that draws them daily deeper into the depths.

He’s saying that without presence, without any poetic imagination for things as they are or could be, you’ll never experience the heaven which is here. Indeed, he suggests that even the notion of God offering you a future heaven is itself like a stone drawing you deeper into the depths of hell, the product of unconsciousness.

I teach yoga for a living and sometimes in a yoga class, I see the fidgets, the distant stares, and the vacancy of someone whose mind is somewhere else. It happens to all of us sometime or other. Still, I want to say, “Come back. We’ve missed you. Be here now. Be there later.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Miyagi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Miyagi

When you sense you’re having an extraordinary moment, or hell in any moment, try closing your eyes and run through all of your senses for a minute or two. Then open your eyes and add the most dominant sense. Ask yourself, how does this make me feel? Truly involve all your senses to practice being completely present to the experience.

This might all sound like a Mr. Miyagi mantra and probably is. But hey, that dude could break boards with his forehead so that’s gotta count for something. Plus you can’t break boards with your forehead if your head is somewhere else.

This week, I invite you to practice being fully present in all your experiences whether mundane or extraordinary. Be completely present by using all your senses and truly experience the moment.

When that’s done, then you can take your selfie.

 

Have you had an experience like this? Have you ever tried to capture the moment and realized that by doing so, you actually lost the moment? Leave your comments below. 

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Three Chords And The Truth

I was at the Newseum in D. C. not long ago. It’s the museum dedicated to journalism and the history of the first amendment. Whether or not journalism always achieves it, its objective is to report the unbiased truth. The principle of Satya means truth, which is one of the core pathways to arriving at yoga’s goal of oneness with all things. I felt as if walking around the Newseum was in some ways an homage to Satya and a practice in truth.

The Newseum displays brave and honest journalism. I saw through a poignant gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs how telling the truth can be both beautiful and bellicose.

I was interested to see actual copies of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and to learn about America’s early struggle for freedom of speech. But the special exhibit called Louder Than Words: Rock Power Politics, not surprisingly, the display with all the electric guitars, was the one that caught my ear.

Louder Than Words featured a few short documentaries including one about the nation’s political gasp after Jimi Hendrix, a symbol of hippie anti-establishmentism, spontaneously rocked out with The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock. Also celebrated in this exhibit was the hallowed and hand-written lyric sheet for Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A Changin' ,” a commentary on the assassination of JFK. But my heart skipped a beat when I came around a corner and perched in front of me was a glass case holding the sacred relic of a beat-to-hell guitar belonging to none other than Joe Strummer from The Clash.

If you aren’t familiar with The Clash, then on behalf of all humans: Welcome to the planet Earth. We're happy you’ve come. The Clash was an important band from England in the late 70s. They were midwives for the birth of Punk, a “stick-it-to-the-man” movement born of the frustrations of a generation. Punk gave voice to a host of people who were angry at what they felt was a conservative, bleak, and expressionless era leading them hopelessly forward toward a vacuous future. Punk protested social norms, the economy, art and style, and of course, politics. They were not afraid to sing, and often scream, their truth.

Check out these environmentally proleptic lyrics from “London Calling,” the title track of The Clash’s 1979 album:

"The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin' thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river."

Yoga has broad definitions and “a yoga” can be defined as an action or response to pure observation. Therefore, Punk was “a yoga” of Satya in response to the politics of the day.

Yes, there must be a distinction drawn between spewing opinions into a microphone, and striving for an objective truth. But isn’t that the distilled practice of yoga, to ultimately discern between observation and assessment about any information, be that the tight hamstrings or a tight-ass politician?

The Clash are not the only ones to have spout off into a microphone. Today, there are many television and talk radio rockstars like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and others, who, just like The Clash, have their spotlight and their audience and wield their right to say whatever they want. While I may not agree with much of what some of these people say, because I believe Satya is a pathway to Oneness, a foundational pillar to yoga, I’ll defend their right to say it, even if they manage to offend the entire world in a mere 140 characters.

Wandering through the Newseum, I couldn’t help but become agitated as I thought about the emerging “war against the media,” waged by Trump, Poland, China, and others. It worries me because I believe such an attack on the media threatens the institution of journalism and so directly threatens what I feel is the sacred notion of freedom of speech. By controlling the media, ultimately Satya gets hijacked.

We stood in front of Joe Strummer’s guitar, me reading the plaque and two-year-old Elio shouting, “Guitar! Play it!” I leaned close to Elio and said, “Remember that guitar, Elio, it changed the world.”

Little did I know what an impression this display of “stick it to the man,” noise, and freedom of speech had made on little Elio. The next day at the hushed halls of the National Gallery of Art, Elio decided to practice some of his own freedom of speech.

While we were strolling this cavernous edifice of art, Elio became drunk with glee over the sound of his own tiny screams echoing off of the gallery’s walls. Each time I asked him to please use his “inside voice,” he happily screamed louder (at The Man, read: me, I had become The Man).

Once, as we were taking in the art, walking in a large crowd of tourists, we passed a next-to life size nude statue and Elio squealed with delight and screamed, “BUM BUM!” Feeling quite self-conscious about the raucous he was making, I told Elio gently but firmly that he needed to lower his voice or we were going to have to leave the museum, a textbook The Man mandate, or The Man-date. Elio responded to my reproach by hushing just long enough for me to begin pushing the stroller again. Then, with perfect timing, his piercing, tiny voice burst out even louder with, “Papa tooted!” This was followed by his menacing peal of laughter.

My face blushed more crimson than Childe Hassam’s poppies and in an attempt to recover some dignity, I retorted to Elio, but decidedly loud enough for others nearby to hear, “Ha ha. No I didn’t,” but my worlds fell flat upon the stony faces of both the tourists and statues alike. So childish, so Punk. I considered attempting to teach my two-year-old about the concept of libel but then thought better of it and simply pushed the stroller to another wing of the museum, Elio chuckling the entire way. This was Elio’s foray into the freedom of speech and stick it to the man and Punk in the face of “established culture.” And while I might appreciate it if he could say it more subtly, I must respect his right to say it.

So, whether it’s a little voice piped from a stroller or an ear-splitting voice screaming above an electric guitar, whether it’s cynical opinions about politics or capturing a split second through the lens of a camera, I believe in your right to speak your truth. I believe this moves us toward Satya and ultimately toward Oneness. 

I invite us all to practice pure observation in the world and strive practicing the yoga of discerning the truth in what we see and hear. As you practice discerning truth, let’s cheer for the freedom of speech. And because of this freedom, choose whichever source you like for your information, but for me, I choose to listen to both a particular tiny voice and The Clash.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

~ Bob Dylan

Guitar Jimi Hendrix Played at Woodstock

Guitar Jimi Hendrix Played at Woodstock

Lyrics for The Times They Are A Changin'

Lyrics for The Times They Are A Changin'

Joe Strummer's Guitar

Joe Strummer's Guitar

The Clash

The Clash

Elio Sticks it To The Man

Elio Sticks it To The Man


San Francisco Yoga Tour Sept. 21-24 2017

Yoga and Writing Retreat Aug. 27-20 2017. 1 Spot Left