Living On The Edge

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Yoga Nidra Training

I’ve been practicing all my life. Since childhood I’ve practiced everything from music to magic, baseball to baking. So when I started practicing yoga and meditation it just felt natural to begin a new practice. One day when I was a kid, I was practicing the saxophone and I realized something essential about the notion of practice: practice is the end, not the means to the end. Sure, I get better at playing the sax by practicing it, but the point is to be playing. Practice is being at the edge, at the frontier of experience. Also, sometime in the last 20 years of practicing and teaching yoga, it dawned on me that there’s never a yoga performance, no yoga recital. It’s always only a practice.

Today I want to talk about the practice of living at the frontier. I’d like to invite you to reconsider the purpose of practice. Consider that maybe the goal of any practice isn’t to improve, it’s simply to be present at the frontier. I know, I know, I know, why do we practice if it’s not to grow? The thing is that you do grow when you practice but maybe growth is just the byproduct, not the purpose. Being at the frontier means regularly leaving the comfort of what we know, abandoning what’s automatic and easy, and stepping onto unsure ground to truly learn to know ourselves. Therefore, it’s our life’s practice to simply be at the frontier.

Frontier=Presence=Self-Knowledge

To my mind, the word “frontier” conjures images of gritty people working with the land and wrestling with the unknown as they learn and grow. Our frontier could be our edge in a yoga posture, our edge in our awareness in meditation, or perhaps simply the edge of entering a new stage in life. Being at the frontier isn't always easy but isn’t that the point? While it’s not always easy, it is always real. Our frontier is a place we’ve never been before and being there helps us to truly come alive because it quickens our minds, makes our senses come alive, and forces us into radical presence. There is no coasting or autopilot at the frontier.

For me, traveling has been a practice of being at the frontier. More than geographical frontiers, traveling regularly takes me to cultural, philosophical, and humanitarian frontiers I would have never known had I lived out my days in Smalltown, Utah where I was born. But more important than learning about another place, traveling always involves a healthy dose of getting knowing myself—there’s usually a steep learning curve to making your way somewhere else, one that unavoidably makes you look inside. More than learning about someone else, traveling puts you at the rugged frontier of knowing whoever the hell YOU are, a frontier that is invariably west of wild.

While our goal in practice may not necessarily be to grow, it happens regardless and you can’t grow without challenges. I once heard someone say, “If you ever find yourself coasting in life it probably means you’re going downhill.” In yoga philosophy, this heat necessary for growth is called Tapas and is the driver toward self-knowledge. Experiencing Tapas, being a little on edge or confronted with challenges, is an essential part of our awakening because in a very real way it wakes us up from the anesthesia of easy, and puts us into a place of fierce presence, and presence is the secret that whispers to us our true, universal identity. Presence teaches you who you are.

Flowing At Your Edge

Sometimes breaking out of the stupor of easy to be present means doing something big, something drastic. I can tell you from experience that nothing wakes you up like a psychedelic trip with a shaman in the jungle or jogging around the conservative state capital wearing nothing but your best set of briefs, running shoes, and your hands-free device. But a regular practice of being at your frontier doesn’t mean regularly stepping to the edge of stupidity. For example, it’s hard to be present to the full grandeur of the Grand Canyon when your toes are dangling over its edge. Instead, you’ll grow far more from your every-day practice if you allow it to be a comfortable step away from both boredom and your absolute edge.

Steven Kotler is a NYT Bestselling author who studies and writes about how uber-performers thrive at their edge by achieving a state of flow, an optimal state of consciousness where people can both feel their best and perform their best. One of the ways he’s discovered that people can get into flow is by regularly stepping up to their comfortable edge. Steven Kotler has learned how to write while in a state of flow and through his words how to put his readers into the same state. In December of 2018, right on the frontier of embarking on my journey to live and work in France, I attended Steven Kotler’s Flow for Writers Workshop in San Francisco. For three days, our intimate group of writers holed up in a chic San Francisco loft as Steven revealed to us some of the secrets of good writing where he taught quite succinctly: write from your edge and readers will read from theirs.

And while performance maybe isn’t the point of practice, being at your comfortable edge is the secret sauce to great performance. Whether it’s writing or rock climbing, being at your edge and in flow stimulates your brain into a deeper awareness that illuminates the microscopic but essential details that would otherwise fly under the radar. Being at your edge and in flow releases all the feel-good chemicals in your brain. Chemicals that catalyzes your performance around the subject by focusing your mind on its subtleties and nuances, by illuminating long-chain connections to otherwise disparate ideas, and by unlocking your boundless creativity. In yoga class, I encourage my students to negotiate their edge of each pose by finding the version that is just north of comfortable, what I call the “comfortably-intense” version of every pose. Also, I often ask if they could become just 10% more relaxed.Flow simply can’t happen when you’re either bored or panicked to tears.

The Only Way To Get There Is To Be Here

After developing a regular practice of being present at our edge and bravely taking those essential, small steps forward, one day we’ll look back to see that we’ve covered a lot of ground. When you look back, it will feel like you’ve spanned a damn-near impossible distance. But here’s the deal with forward movement, whatever your next horizon—be it it be becoming more flexible, more focused, or more financially sound—the only way to get there is to be here. Be exactly here at the frontier that presents itself to you at this moment. But the thing about here is that it’s always changing. No sooner do you get comfortable with the grass at your feet than do you naturally grow toward your next horizon.

When you take ambition out of the practice, you give yourself the perspective of working with your actual edge rather than the edge you hope to be at one day. It’s being present at your actual frontier that gives you the firm ground to step forward into that next step, and the next, and the next… For example, I can’t learn to play Coltrane until I first experience the frontier of learning to play the sax, how to read music and the rudiments of jazz, etc. It’s not until I’m present at those frontiers that new frontiers will open up until one day I’ll find Coltrane’s masterpiece, Giant Steps, dancing out of the bell of my horn while wondering, “How the hell did I ever do that?”

It’s presence that promotes growth because it’s the only thing that’s real. Sure, find your star that guides you forward in your endeavors but the practice itself keeps you grounded in the frontier of the moment. Isn’t that what life is, being present at our frontier of experience while watching our own inevitable evolution? Growth will naturally happen as you’re present with your frontier and making the essential trek of 1 inch, the spot directly in front of your toes.

Finally, the paradox of the frontier is that you’ve already arrived and arrival means never stopping. We must find home by being comfortable in our discomfort. This home is our birthright and the eternal and joyful journey toward our highest self. We have arrived the moment we put ourselves at the frontier and open our vision to simply witness ourselves grow.

Conclusion

Several years ago, I experienced a great revelation about the importance of regularly visiting my frontier through practice. I was leading myself through a Yoga Nidra practice and wanted to hear the wisdom of my own heart to hear whatever it might tell me. I visualized the wisest person I could think of in order to tap into my own inner wisdom. A vision of my favorite prof from college popped into my mind with stark clarity. All my senses were popping: I was sitting in his office and could smell the oiled wood of his desk, see it’s tight-knit, tawny grain, and could hear the buzz of the lights and the squeak of his chair as he leaned back, pondering at the ceiling. There was a moment of generous silence between us as he stroked his beard. Then he looked at me out the corner of his eye. And with a sly, paternal, and loving air said something I’ll never forget. He said, “Whatever you believe in . . . practice it every day.” This event never happened except for in my mind but the truth of it became more real that if it actually had. This was my wise inner-self reminding me to always be at my frontier through practice.


If you’re interested, click here to listen to that same Yoga Nidra practice where I lead you hear the wise person inside of you.

I invite you to consider reevaluating your relationship to practice from being something you do in order to improve to something you do in order to regularly be at your frontier. I invite you to forget about the ambition of practice and simply be present at that frontier and watch how growth naturally happens. And I invite you celebrate the many frontiers you find yourself at in this moment of your life.

Whatever you practice, do it regularly. I hope to practice with you soon

PS

Yoga Nidra

I used to drive around town with a sticker on the back of my truck that read 1,” a nod to a poem that speaks to the greatest frontier I ever hope to arrive at.

“A Spiritual Journey” by Wendell Berry

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles,

no matter how long,

but only by a spiritual journey,

a journey of one inch,

very arduous and humbling and joyful,

by which we arrive at the ground at our feet,

and learn to be at home.





Mantras and Visualizations: Meditations that Sting Like A Bee

“Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee.”

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muhammad ali.jpg

This was Muhammad Ali’s mantra. Perhaps yoga and mindfulness isn’t often associated with Muhammad Ali, yoga's first principle of non-harming and all that, but he was someone who was particularly adroit in his use of the yogic principle of mantra and visualization. His iconic mantra has become synonymous with a champion. What is the power of mantra and visualization and how can they be used to mold reality like they did for Muhammad Ali, and how can we use these tools to achieve our dreams?




Writing the Script on Reality

Although his mantra practically became his sonic name tag, it wasn’t just a pithy phrase he liked to throw around because it was catchy; it wasn’t his slogan or his attempt at branding himself. Maybe few understood that Ali’s mantra was his access point into his deep inner-source that believed he would be the boxing heavyweight champion of the world. Saying it over and over again was his craft, the practice of helping the logical part of his mind both believe and expect this belief to become reality.

In addition to using his mantra, Muhammad Ali visualized over and over his fight with Sonny Liston where he would win the heavyweight championship. He saw himself win the title thousands of times in his head before ever stepping into the ring. By the time he stepped into the ring, all that was left to do was the final step, the physical practice of what he already knew was true. And Muhammad Ali isn't alone. It was like he theatre of life—he knew the script and on opening night he simply needed to go on stage and perform the play.

It reminds me of a story in the Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, where the God-turned-mortal Krishna is instructing the warrior prince Arjuna about his duty to fight in an epic battle. At Arjuna’s reluctance, Krishna pulls him aside and informs him that truth and time is not so linear and that the battle has already been fought and won. Knowing this, Krishna told Arujuna that the important thing is that he must go out there and fulfill his dharma, his destiny. Similar to what Ali told himself through visualization and mantra, Krishna told Arjuna to tap into the source of belief of what was already true.

Thought Precedes Form

Many psychologists and neuroscientists will affirm that despite our trust in it, our mind isn’t necessarily the best preceptor of reality; it’s readily subject to prejudice, interpretations, and misapprehension. In yoga philosophy the name for this misapprehension is Avidya, the opposite of clear seeing. Like modern brain science suggests, two people might see the same facts and both have wildly different beliefs about translating those facts. They might even debate what is real. Thus our mind is subject to our own personal beliefs and prejudices. Our mind creates a "reality" from a dizzying array of options suggested by our perceptions, interpretations, and desires. This subjectivity tugs at the very fabric the notion of reality.

Yoga suggests that since our beliefs are so powerful in contributing to our reality, we can use things like mantras and visualization to help us create our reality, perhaps like Muhammad Ali and Arjuna, a reality that somehow in our hearts what we know is already true. We have a bigger part to play in creating our reality than we think. Mantra and visualizations can help.

Beliefs change all the time. One minute you believe in the Tooth Fairy and the next you don’t. In Vedanta, a school of yogic philosophy, the sheath or layer of our being that negotiates beliefs, both conscious and subconscious, is called the Vignana Mayakosha. Yeah, it’s a crazy name this part of our being is perhaps more powerful than we sometimes give it credit.

Dr. Bruce Lipton, an internationally recognized biologist and author who works to bridge science and spirit, says that 95% of our decision making comes from our subconscious. If we can learn to source and even manipulate our subconscious, there's no telling what power we might have over our own world. Visualizations and mantra are two very effective and powerful ways of shaping our world. Muhammad Ali powerfully demonstrated his ability mold his reality of being the heavyweight champion of the world using mantra and visualization.

The Power of Words

Words are powerful. Religious texts like The Bible even says that “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God.” In the Hindu scripture, The Yoga Sutras, the principle of Satya or truth is the second highest principle behind non-harming because of the power of words. For longer than recorded history, magic, mythic, and religious traditions have regarded certain words, whether vocalized or thought, as both sacred and powerful. I heard one of my yoga teachers, Judeth Lasater, say, “What is worrying but praying for what you don’t want.” Thus is the power of thoughts and words.

So put words to the test. I invite you to choose those words that, like Muhammad Ali, like Arjuna, will manifest your sacred destiny. And I invite you to find a way of reciting them to manifest their power in your life. Maybe you know already your mantra, what words you need to evoke for you to live into your true destiny. Perhaps words like: Power, Clarity, Forgiveness, Strength, etc. Maybe you need to discover what your mantra is.

I invite you to do a meditation in order to distill your clarity on which words are right for you. This meditation doesn’t have to come by spending months in the desert in deep contemplation. Rather, maybe 10 minutes concentrating on clearly answering a few questions for yourself. You’ll know it when it comes. Maybe it will take a few days of meditating for a few minutes each day.

Here’s the mantra-finding process: First, ask yourself what has been reoccurring in your life recently as a theme that you need to pay attention to. Another way to answer this question is to think about what ways the Universe is asking you to grow right now—what challenges are presenting themselves to you now, asking you to grow? Next, don’t allow your thinking mind to take over, here, but rather let the answer to this next question be instinct, the first thing that comes to mind: What does your heart know is your purpose for this world? Distill the answer to these questions down to a phrase or maybe even one word (don’t worry, you can change it if you need to, you don’t have to marry that word for life) but allow yourself to use that word or phrase as your powerful catalyst forward to what you already believe about yourself.

mala beads.jpg

Then, if you’re inclined, grab a mala (you can get these at any crystal and incese, dragon and rainbows shop). They are beaded necklaces with 108 beads on them. The Mala’s will usually have a tassel on them representing the beginning and the end. Hold the mala on the first bead between your right thumb and middle finger, just beyond the tassel. In your mind or aloud, repeat your word or phrase then move to the next bead. Do this over and over again until you come to the end of the mala. If it’s short and you’d like a longer meditation, turn the mala around and repeat the mantra going the other way on the mala until you come back to the tassel. After your meditation watch to see how you see the world differently and how you live into the beliefs that you bring to your mind through mantra.

In addition to discovering your mantra, create a visualization where you see yourself perform what you'd like to arrive for yourself over and over. Remember to use all of your senses and think about it happening in the moment, instead of dreaming for a future. The part of our brain and the part of our consciousness that we are accessing only understand now. Spend a few minutes in visualization to see yourself succeed and just like Muhammad Ali, become the champion of your world.

If you're interested in a free relaxing Beach Paradise visualization, enter your information below.

guided meditation

Dancing with Maya

Virtual Yoga Nidra

Humankind has evolved looking at itself and wondering, "who am I?" What does it mean to Be?

We explore every avenue to help answer and express this question of being, including art, science, politics, religion, etc. Surely something can help me solve this mystery, right?

Consider: what you are is more of an idea than a thing. Stay with me . . .

If you were to look out your window and see a mountain, it looks pretty solid and real, right? But try to define it. Find the place where the mountain definitively starts and stops. Try to find how the matter of the mountain is different than the matter of the valley. Isn’t it all just dirt, rocks, weeds, trees, and rivers?  Go on a hike and find a pinecone. Is that part of the mountain? If yes, then if you were to take it home with you back into the valley, would it still be the mountain? What about the rains that fall on the mountain? Moments before the rain fell, it was cloud. But from afar the rain looks like part of the mountain. My point is that there's nothing that could be definitively and categorically called "mountain." Mountain is more of an idea.  

And so are you. We all are. That's because anything we tend to identify as "us" is in constant flux. Just like the pinecone that is part of the mountain one moment and decorating our mantle at home the next, these volatile elements can't identify us and can’t answer the question “who am I?”

We tend to identify ourselves with things that feel relatively concrete like our bodies, our thoughts, our beliefs, etc. But these things, just like the rain or pinecone, are invariably changeable. In yoga, these false identifiers are called Maya or illusions because while they hint at defining us, truly they can't point to the real us, our Being. 

Speaking to the ever-changing illusion of our bodies, there's a really cool Radiolab podcast that explore carbon dating in the cells in our bodies. On the show, experts say that the oldest cells in us are about 23 years old. Since our cells are constantly dying and new ones are being born, we are in a process of constant metamorphosis. Essentially if you're 23 years or older, every cell in your body has been born after you were born. You are literally not the same person you were when you were born. What a trip! Take your fingernails. They feel like us, right? But as soon as we cut them, suddenly they aren’t part of us anymore?
So how can we possibly "be" something that is one moment and isn't the next?

A better question is what is that thing that is "us" which never changes? Is there anything?

Yes, there is. I’ve experienced it and so have you. There are several ways to experience this part of us that never changes but I’ve experienced it most often and profoundly by practicing Yoga Nidra, this relaxing, medative practice of self-inquiry that I’m so passionate about and can’t stop talking about. Yoga Nidra has completely blown my mind because of how it as enabled me to experience my True Self. And the best way to describe this True Self is Awareness.

Yep, I'm Awareness. And so are you. That might seem pretty abstract, but when you boil it all down, the one thing that doesn’t change is your Awareness. When I experience myself as Awareness, and I proffer that we all have at some time or other, it feels like the most natural thing in the Universe. I feel as if I’m bigger and smaller than my body. I can see my thoughts and emotions as an interesting part of me but not anything that can define me. As Awareness, I feel both large and small. I feel limitless and compact at the same time. I feel like I can do anything.

As I experience myself as Awareness regularly through practicing Yoga Nidra, I gain a perspective of my life that ordinary living can't give me. As Awareness, there's nothing I can't do, nothing I need, and no such thing as time. It's an experience of happiness beyond bliss. 

This shit is real! And all I have to do is lie down, close my eyes, and listen to the teacher guide me into Awareness. Really, it’s just about learning to pay keen attention, though a teacher is nice.

It’s not hard. The channel that propels me into this Awareness comes through that liminal state of mind between waking and dreaming consciousness, similar to a daydream. That state is called the Nidra state. In fact, even if I fall asleep, the Awareness part of me is still paying attention. I might therefore wake up from a 30-minute Yoga Nidra-induced nap feeling lucid and relaxed. I  may not even remember the session.

After practicing Yoga Nidra and experiencing myself as Awareness, I go back into my world, full of its illusions, and see clearly how everything but this Awareness is simply part of the illusion. With this immense perspective, my problems make sense, I’m not freaked out by stress, I feel closer to my family, and I feel an enormous sense of purpose in the world and energy to go out and share my gifts. And when problems come around, I’m grounded knowing what I truly am is Awareness and that anything I’m experiencing in this moment is just another opportunity to practice Awareness. I then have the wherewithal to then respond to the situation rather than react.

So, there’s the True Self which is Awareness, and there’s Maya, the illusion. And here’s the interesting thing about the relationship between Maya and Awareness, Maya isn’t something to transcend on our way to the True Self, this happiness beyond bliss. Maya is a vital tool which is inextricably married to experiencing myself as Awareness. I am Awareness manifesting itself by way of body, emotions, breath, sensation, beliefs, etc. Without these changeable parts of me, without the Maya, I would never come to know myself as Awareness. Thus the marriage between Being and Illusion.

If you’d like to hear me recount an ancient myth that illustrates this marriage between the illusion of form and the Beingness which underlies all things, please click the button.

Then, please read this marvelous poem written by Meister Eckhart (translated by Daniel Ladinski) in the 1200s. It sounds like it could have been written by Shakti from the myth.

Consider joining me for my Virtual Yoga Nidra series starting THIS Sunday, October 8th, 2017. 12 pm Eastern. For six weeks, and in the comfort of your own home, we will be exploring this theme The Magic of Maya: Working Through Illusion. Each session will have a brief discussion, a gentle asana and breathing practice, followed by me leading your through a 30-minute Yoga Nidra practice so you too can feel yourself as Awareness, experience yourself as larger than body, emotions, and thoughts. Experience a happiness beyond bliss. Allow your entire Universe to be opened up. It will be relaxing and profound.

Join me as we explore the Magic of Maya and how to use the illusions of what you might think of as you to uncover your True Self.

 

When I Was the Forest

When I was the stream, when I was the
forest, when I was still the field,
when I was every hoof, foot,
fin and wing, when I
was the sky
itself,

no one ever asked me did I have a purpose, no one ever
wondered was there anything I might need,
for there was nothing
I could not
love.

It was when I left all we once were that
the agony began, the fear and questions came,
and I wept, I wept. And tears
I had never known
before.

So I returned to the river, I returned to
the mountains. I asked for their hand in marriage again,
I begged—I begged to wed every object
and creature,

and when they accepted,
God was ever present in my arms.
And He did not say,
“Where have you
been?”

For then I knew my soul—every soul—
has always held
Him.
— –Meister Eckhart (1260 – 1328)