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Back Pain Saved My Life

The first time I experienced chronic pain was 15 years ago. I was about to start my final year of undergrad, and one random morning in the summer time my low back got very loud. The pain was unexpected and undeniable. Each night I would go to sleep hoping and, quite frankly, assuming my 20 year old body would just heal itself. After several months when I realized this wasn’t going to get better without help, the doctor I saw simply gave me opiate pain killers. He essentially gave me unlimited refills, and said I could either take the pills or get surgery.

The pills helped, and even if they didn’t, if you took an extra one you didn’t care. To this day I still think it was an act of grace that I decided to only use those pills for the first month. When I ran out a few days early, I experienced a depression and anxiety so great, I don’t know that I could find any real sense of reason to live. That lasted for several days, and I don’t think it was until it was over that I understood those terrible days to be withdraw. That was enough to make me decide I would simply live with the pain like my father and his father before him. We were tough, and bad backs just run in the family… luckily I would get a job after college that wasn’t blue collar. I could at least let my back have a break.

I was in my last year of college and working at a home improvement store. During this time I was feeling pretty down about life in general, and I was worried that I was wasting my time. No one from my family really knew how college worked. My dad, who is 78 years old, still calls himself an ol’ hillbilly. His parents moved to the city from a hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My grandparents grew up taking horses into town. They didn’t have electricity and didn’t ever really attend school. When they were just children grandpa worked on a farm and grandma was a maid. They didn’t see college as a possibility or worthwhile endeavor. So it’s no surprise that when my dad was offered a college scholarship, his parents told him to get that nonsense out of his head. He dropped out of school after that and got his GED. He always pushed the importance of college, but he could never seem to understand why it cost so much and why I wasn’t making “good money” while I was in school.

All these fears were compounded in my own head, and they became so much worse when I did not find a “good job” immediately upon graduation. I was in unchartered waters and my patrons were constantly telling my that my ship was doomed to sink. Maybe even worse, I had started to believe it. All the while the back pain raged on while I just continued to live in pain. This lasted for two years. Eventually I got a job teaching art in a school for emotionally disturbed students. The work was demanding and stressful, but I finally was working in my field. This is what I had said all along that I would do, and finally here I was.

Unfortunately, like the back pain, those sinking thoughts had become a part of my daily internal script. Rather than feeling successful and overjoyed, I had developed an inner dialogue that believed I was doomed to fail. For my whole life I was an A-B honors level student. I had kept a job since I was 16, and not only had I completed university, I had landed a job as an art teacher! I never failed at anything, but that’s the program my brain downloaded. Each second of my waking life was shrouded in physical and emotional pain, and what’s more is that I accepted this as my normal and part of my personality.

While I never went as far into decline as many people I know and love, I still suffered and tortured myself through that suffering. Pain is terribly isolating and lonely. No one can really understand pain except the person experiencing it, and its profound implications don’t easily fit into our properly functioning society. I used alcohol as my predominant pain relief during this time. It seemed to quell my anxiety and depression, and even if my back and leg still radiated, I cared less when I was hammered. I would drink as soon as I was finished with work. Plus I was in a very stressful and sometimes violent sub-set of special education. Most all the teachers and social workers I knew drank quite heavily. We would often meet as soon as work was over for happy hour.

This is about when my whole life began to change, and I didn’t even know it. Ultimately this is a story about change and transformation. One evening after school I happened across a chiropractor who was offering free back assessments. All I knew about chiropractors was from my dad, and that was basically “those bone crackers are a bunch of bull shit.” That’s what I always thought, and maybe that’s why I had been living with this pain for so many years.

The chiropractor talked me into coming into his office for x-rays and a free treatment. His x-rays showed that I had several herniated disks in my low back and neck, and that I also had degenerative disk disorder. He told me he could alleviate all the pain and maybe even reverse the damage. I was skeptical to say the least. In addition to my father’s negative view and advice to avoid these charlatans, I was quoted an astronomical figure and told it would take six months to heal.

At 24 years old I was unable to walk around the block because of severe pain. I could not hike or jog. Everyone around me was healthy and using their bodies however they liked, and it seemed like I should be that way to. So I took a chance. I took out a $6,000 medical credit card and committed to three sessions a week for six months, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t work. I was still running that negative depressed script in my brain, but my physical pain was finally going away. I was going to the gym and lifting weights. I was hiking and riding my bike again. This is when I discovered the practice that would change everything… yoga.

Yoga was something I assumed would be easy. I could just sit there and sing koom-bye-ah or some shit, right? I didn’t know what I would need or have to do, but my chiropractor said it might help keep my back healthy. So in March of 2009, I left the chiropractor and headed to the local Bikram yoga studio. I didn’t know anything about any of this, so when I walked in and the lady at the desk told me all I need was a mat, towel, and a pair of underwear I was skeptical. “Umm, I’ll be back tomorrow,” I told her.

“What the hell was that,” I remember wondering. Just need underwear? What the hell kind of yoga is this? Everything I read that night on google suggested that Bikram was the yoga to help with back pain. It said it would be hot, but I didn’t use a/c in the summer… how hot could it be? The next day I showed up in my sweat pants and workout shirt expecting to sing hot koom-bye-ah, but instead I got my ass kicked. By the end of the class I was drenched in sweat, and I too had stripped down to my underwear (just like most everyone else in the class). I didn’t understand how this was spiritual. It just felt like torture exercise, and it was a hellishly hot 105 degrees. Evaporated sweat drops literally rained down from the ceiling. Ewwww. So gross. Spiritual? I didn’t think so…

Except, water never tasted so good. I remember specifically noticing that I never appreciated water fully until after that 90 minutes of hell. It was like water was the most precious gift I had ever received, and it might be that realization alone that made me go back the next day, and the next. Eventually, I left that Bikram studio for something else. I had gotten a job working at a front desk in exchange for a yoga membership so I just practiced at the new (to me) place.

This is how my back pain became my greatest teacher. While it was awful, and I would not wish chronic pain upon anyone, my back pain saved my life. Through my yoga practice and over the past ten years, I have evolved in countless ways. As my inner spirit got louder and as I learned to listen, I quit drinking and smoking. I stopped thinking of my depression and anxiety and something I had to silently suffer through and went to therapy. Like with the back pain and chiropractor, it was a long and painful process, but like with the chiropractor, it helped to heal me.

I’m writing all of this now because my back pain returned recently. I had totally forgotten what this sensation was like, and I can hardly believe that I was able to live with this for so many years. While it’s both excruciating and debilitating, this time things are different. Through my yoga practice, and through all the help I’ve received through these healing modalities and my healers, the script I play in my head now believes I deserve to heal. My script now knows that I am a worthwhile person who has more to offer the world when I am healthy. These past years and all this work taught me that I have great value and if I am not healthy I cannot share this value as easily with the people who need me.

It is my sincerest desire that this pain goes away as soon as possible. I wouldn’t wish these sensations on anyone. Even getting off of the floor is a nearly impossible task at some points. This decade has changed me though. I have the wisdom and understanding of these years to realize that this will heal, and when it does I might just have been pushed onto a new path of great health and discovery. It is also my sincere desire that if you are reading these words and are in pain, you know that you don’t deserve this. You are a worthwhile and important being, and you don’t deserve your pain. It isn’t your fault and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it. There are others who are in pain, and even though we can’t understand your pain exactly, we know how you feel; and we have compassion for you. There are so many meditation and gentle yoga resources for healing out there, and they can work if you do. Maybe this pain will a great gift of transformation, and even if it isn’t, you’re worth it!

Aum shanti shanti shanti84335523_651994422268969_2444367464011436322_n(1)

Maybe God Doesn’t Want to be Alone

IMG_20200116_103350530The other evening, a good friend and I were discussing our different approaches toward meditation and what our experiences have been. At one point I mentioned that I tend to approach my meditations in an attempt to become one with Brahman, or more accurately to simply remember that I am Brahman. My “goal” has been to “escape” samsara. This line of conversation eventually led to the epiphany that perhaps God doesn’t want to be alone, and maybe I’ve been looking at it all wrong.

God/Brahman is omnipresent, omniscient, infinite, and eternal. Everything else is temporary and illusory even though everything else is ultimately, in it’s essence, still Brahman. My approach toward meditation has been to realize my Brahman essence and find liberation. I’ve always assumed that I’d then eventually die from this body and return to Brahman as one. If I did that, if we all did that, than would God be alone again? Would the all pervading ocean of possibility become entirely silent, and if this happened wouldn’t that be lonely?

Ha! God feeling lonely. At first it seemed absurd because God is the ultimate everything. How could the most ultimate and powerful being feel lonely? img_20160908_201058Yes, powerful is an adjective for God but not lonely. That’s such a feeling I have guilt and judgement around. It’s fine for God to feel power or love, but lonely… That’s just too human. Too weak. Or is it?

In my mind, I was suddenly picturing Brahman alone in the stillness, in the purusa, and when I saw God like this little lonely kid wishing for some company, some family and friends, I understood why I’m here has nothing to do with escaping reincarnation or life. This is all on purpose. Everything that is here and is happening is part of Brahman playing out his heart’s need for love. Perhaps the freedom of enlightenment is to be alive and see that you’re keeping God from being lonely. Our lives give love a reason to exist. What could be more meaningful and freeing than this!?

AUM shanti shanti shanti

 

Ayam Atma Bramha

All these books keep telling me the same thing in many different ways. Everything is Brahman and as such, so too am I. As I understand it, Brahman is that which cannot be changed, and it is that upon which the ever changing exists. It is somehow the source, the object, and neither. Brahman is not for words though words arise from it. Brahman is my true nature. I’ve come to use this word Brahman in my thoughts rather than “God” or “Universe” because these words feel far away, while Brahman is not only close, it is ultimately everything. This path I’m on tells me that through certain prescribed exercises I can uncover my true nature and realize this ultimate truth. This is the path of the yogi.

IMG_20191124_115225021.jpg

All of us are Brahman, and the paths to this truth are as diverse and plentiful as the pilgrims journeying them. This is no easy truth to recognize, and it requires diligence, determination, and also surrender. The journey is the destination, and I have come to find great joy simply from the path. The truth is that in aiming to find Brahman, I’ve found more peace with myself. In finding more peace with myself, I’ve found more peace with life. In finding more peace with life, I am realizing that it’s all Brahman.

I am not my aging body, I am not my changing mind, I am not my shifting emotions; I am my soul and my soul is Brahman.

Namaste

A Simple Prayer

In this dirt, in these trees, in this complex symphony of flesh and bone I am alive, and being alive is a good thing to be.

I am no great king or general. I have no palace and no gold, but mine is the path of the yogi. Until it is time to give my body back to Earth, I am home.IMG_20190924_093302_669.jpg

How Reiki and Yoga Vibrate Together

It seems to me that each person is a receiver, much like a radio or television, and as receivers we are capable of picking up many stations. We tune into the frequency to which we adjust our dial, and then these same frequencies become the vibrations we emit. Positive frequencies do abound; love, compassion, kindness are so common but we often overlook their power. Ours is a society that focuses upon all that is wrong. We crave the evil, the shocking, the violent, and this makes us fearful and melancholy. The collective ennui of our society is palpable and has become destructive. Too many have given up their own ability to tune into the higher vibrational patterns, or they never even knew they could. Reiki and yoga are parallel practices aimed at fine-tuning an individual’s personal frequencies to receive the universal frequencies of healing, goodness, and God. As more people discover these practices and tune into these higher frequencies, the world will heal and become a place of cooperation more than competition.

Reiki translates to mean “Universal Life Force”. It has been called many things by many different traditions. The yogis call it prana, martial artists Qi or Ki, it is the Holy Spirit, or maybe God. Reiki is a vibrational channel that emanates healing both in the present moment and across time and space. Reiki is said to be inter-dimensional and timeless. Traditionally, one is opened or attuned to the Reiki frequency by a Reiki “master”. A similar practice takes place in many yoga traditions wherein a yoga guru passes on enlightenment to a worthy student through touch. With practice, the Reiki practitioner becomes more aware and sensitive to the messages being sent through the opened channels and the energy flows more freely. Like meditation or yoga, these practices can take lifetimes to master.

Yoga means to yolk or to unite. The scope of yoga is far too grand to give it sufficient justice in this short article. For today’s purposes, suffice it to say that yoga consists of eight practices designed at uniting a person directly with everything. Yoga is to take the many and return them to the one. Ultimately, all the vibrational frequencies are one vibrational frequency, and the yogi seeks union with this universal life force. These practices also take years and lifetimes to master because they aim at bringing a person into oneness with all that is, was, or ever will be. Like Reiki, the connection is inter-dimensional and timeless.

Though modern physics might be beginning to scratch the surface upon some insights that the ancient yogis understood long ago and a gathering body of empirical scientific evidence is building, these concepts of infinity, being able to heal or connect across time and space, or becoming one with everything are not popular in traditional scientific study. They sound more like the realm of magic and mysticism. Because these are not easily understood ideas, and because our language doesn’t have words to describe these phenomena, and because most human beings are not up to such a daunting task, intermediaries like priests or Demi-Gods are used to help us understand. Much of religion is encapsulated in myth and Demi-Gods because the ultimate reality is not able to be expressed in words, and it is not appropriate for everyone to be open to such a powerful frequency. We must prepare the body and the spirit to receive these elevated vibrational patterns.

The beauty and paradox of both Reiki and Yoga are that the preparation for the elevated states lead directly to the elevated states themselves. It is only by diving head first into the practice that we reveal the truth of our limitations. The practices bring us into a relentless and honest look at self… at ego. Especially in the beginning we might feel that these practices cause suffering, but in actuality we confront our limitations so we can then embrace them with kindness. The path toward opening the heart and soul is not a painless one. True healing requires a bit of sacrifice, but these are not the sacrifices of self-torment, guilt, or loathing; rather, these sacrifices require us to embrace the sometimes uncomfortable truth that we have tuned into lower frequencies. To open ourselves up to the frequencies of universal life force, of God, we must extend our reach. We must open up each and every cell to the possibility of God’s perfect plan. By embracing the path and by undergoing the journey, the practices, we ultimately realize that there is no end. All is one, and one is all.

I know that these are not simple ideas. Forgive me if I pretend to seem to have understood these things, because I assure you I have not. I present these ideas only because I hope to add to the good vibrations. When I walk through the forest, I feel Reiki; I feel God. When I swim in the ocean, when I hear laughter, when swing sets creak and frogs croak, when lovers kiss, and when night turns to day, I feel it. There is so much goodness, and there is so much that isn’t. We do have a choice. It is an easy choice, but the devil is in the details. A lifetime is so short, while an hour can be so long. Live each day a breath at a time, and let each breath be focused on love and goodness. This my friends is the path of the yogi.

Ol’ Yeller

Anyway, I guess it’s just about love. The world will surely try to make you forget, so please don’t. It’s about love. We hate and anger so quickly, let us be so free with our love… Like a damn dog!

One of my favorite stories is about a king named Yudhistra who gives up his wealth in search of Heaven. During his arduous journey, a mutt starts to follow him and his party made up of his brothers and the most amazing queen, Draupadi. While at first the dog is a burden, an unnecessary mouth to feed, by the end of the story she becomes the test of loyalty and truth. You see, over the journey Yudhistra loses all that he holds dear. Death eventually claims all those he loves except this dog, and after many years, they become family.
Their journey together is not an easy one, and the prize will be hard won. Yudhistra learns much of self and life, and over these challenging years, he knows what core values drive him; this is good as he is greeted by the proud and daunting Indra, God of storm. The thunder roars to Yudhistra, “You are a wise and kind being. Heaven in this life is open for you. While you are welcome, your beast is not. Leave your companion here or go back from whence you came.” All these years and sacrifices, he has given all for this, given his kingdom, watched all those he loves perish, traveled years and thousands of miles, and all for this! He looks at her, his only friend left and then back at Indra. “I suppose it just wasn’t meant to be,” laments Yudhistra, and as he turns to go… In that moment, the dog transforms into the beautiful angel Dharma, truth and righteousness incarnate. “Yudhistra, you truly are worthy,” she sings. “Even when you are tempted with all you desire, you remain true to the humblest of loves. Love is the answer, loyalty to that which is true. You’ve always been at Heaven my friend.” Then together, the two became into the light.

Thoughts on Abhyasa and Vairagya

Atha yoganusasanam; now is yoga. That word atha means now, and the practice of yoga is always now. Abhyasa is this sustained and ever vigilant practice of attempting to be one with the now. When we come to our mats, this yoga is something we practice with more dhyana and concentrated focus, but the lofty goal of yoga requires that we develop this sustained concentration on the now so that our whole life becomes vinyasa. Abhyasa is facing the constant truth of our own existence (satya) while remaining unattached to the desires of the ahamkara or ego based mind.

Abhyasa and vairagya, as with all of yoga, seek to elevate us to our highest potential (ultimately God). The constant work of realizing God is all, in all (sat nam), even the ugliest parts of life, requires a great deal of courage and persistence. Because life can often be challenging and overwhelming, abyhasa and vairagya remind us to remain present “in the now”, connected to the process of divine surrender (ishvara pranidhana) while constantly working toward our best selves. We do the work because the work itself is good, and while we might not change the whole world, we change the consciousness residing within this life.

To: Me — From: Me

Dear Future Me,

For many years, I thought that you would be at peace if only I could just find the right… car, job, partner, hobby, etc. Even though I’ve put forth the work through therapy, yoga, healthy eating, and making art; even though I have a job that inspires my soul like air inspires fire; and even though I know that I deserve goodness, I have not always believed in you. There are days where I feel so caught up in my fear and my self-doubt that I don’t even give you a chance to be free. I apologize for not believing in your limitless potential, and I pledge to actively show you that I am in love with you today and everyday until we fall back into the fold of existence.

From this day forth, I will treat myself with the softness and tenderness with which I treat a lover. No longer will I allow myself to abuse my spirit with trepidation or limiting ideas; instead I will dare to dream big and know that my dreams are goals I deserve to achieve. Stories from my childhood about my worth no longer serve me, and so I will shatter those fetters that tie me to a past that does not even exist. Just as I would with a child, I offer myself patience and forgiveness along my journey so that I may be vulnerable and able to lean without fear that I shall be dropped.

There will be times when strength requires allowing another to support you. I’m doing the work to open my heart so that I can both offer and receive love. For years I believed I had to be my rock, an island strong enough to bolster others without need of buttressing, but I love you enough to let you be in family with another. I will no longer tolerate partners who do not recognize my worth because I love myself enough to wait, alone, until someone who fits perfectly into my heart comes along.

This has been a great life thus far, and I look forward to seeing how “me today” becomes the you of tomorrow. I hope that we fall in love and raise a family, have wild adventures, and continue to live in a way that adds kindness to the world while allowing us to be as free as possible. May all our wildest dreams come true.

Love,

Me

Kindness, the Greatest Virtue

The greatest of virtues is kindness… of all the best ways we can live, compassion and kindness, to see others as we see ourselves, this is the way toward virtue. These are the words I read tonight in a book about Hindu philosophy. These are the words I read growing up Christian, and these are the words I find to ring true no matter what “god” or “not god” exists.

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