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Urban Monk Wellness

Massage . Yoga . Meditation . Creative Expression

Twisted in Knots

Inside I have been feeling knotted up… not physically, even though it is a physical sensation, but it’s more of a feelings kind of thing. I feel like I’ve got a bundle of knots right around the top of my stomach and just below the base of my breast-bone. When I used to smoke cigarettes, this is kind of what it would feel like to need a smoke. I imagine a shrink would call it some sort of anxiety disorder or depression, and for most of my life I’ve called it that too. This feeling comes and goes, often quite whimsically and without warning. It’s my least favorite thing about myself, and it’s been the hardest thing for me to accept.

Meditation isn’t practiced with the intention of fixing anything, at least not at its purest form. Instead, meditation is meant to put the practitioner in touch with himself, and in my case, that includes these knots I’m feeling. It hasn’t made them go away, but it’s made me able to notice them as a feeling… a holy fucking hell powerful feeling… but a feeling inside my body. It’s not unlike the feeling I get when put my body through a physically demanding asana, but the power of these feelings in my body makes my mind go crazy. BlackRiver23.JPG

I suppose I have a fixer mindset. Present me with a problem, and I will work to fix it. This is what I’ve done with these knots over the years. I’ve done everything I can think of from smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey, to quitting all that and becoming an organic vegan. I’ve lifted weights and practiced yoga, written countless poems and made hundreds of paintings… all initially with the intention of fixing these knots. I’ve psychoanalyzed my life from today all the way back as far as I can remember. I ruminate on things I feel could be the cause of the sensations. I worry and brood, but to no end.

Yoga and meditation haven’t made the feelings or the worries go away. None of the things I’ve done ever totally fixed these feelings of tightness and worry, but I feel like I know myself better and I love myself more. Even on the days where the feelings are strong inside, and I feel like I might break, I know that I love myself and that this will pass. If I can sit and watch the feelings, as merely sensations in my body, like I would during yoga or meditation, I can begin to let go of the worrying thoughts and just feel it in the body. Somehow this makes it easier. I feel less guilty, less like I did something to deserve these feelings, and I am better able to wait for the knots to untie themselves again.

On days like today, where I feel this way, I go to my mat and I remember that no matter what, there is always a part of me that is safe and ok. That part of me can peek through the sensations and remember that I don’t deserve this, and that this will pass. That part of me realizes that I am so much more than these knotted feelings and the worries that come with them. That part of me that is always ok knows that I am loved and that I deserve love, and if I listen hard enough that part of me reminds me that I am love itself.

Aum Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

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Sankalpa

The new year has arrived, and with it, many people are making resolutions… this year I’ll quit smoking, quit drinking, go to the gym, lose weight, eat more veggies… all the stuff. Each of us knows we have a little bit of room to improve, and in the spirit of new beginnings, we use the New Year’s holiday as a bridge toward the new and improved us. Part of the story of New Year’s resolutions is that many people make them without having much intention on keeping them; many of us enter into these resolutions knowing that they are a joke. And so life goes on…

not bad…imag0163

…just the same

The second yama(restraint/ethic) is satya (truthfulness). To make a resolution requires a certain amount of reflection and truthfulness because we cannot wish to see a change, even half heartedly, if we did not first find an area upon which to improve. Unfortunately, if the truth only goes into the exploration stage, without action, we might be left ruminating over the same worries or concerns that caused us to have the initial spark of inspiration to grow.

I remember my teacher once said, “never lie, but especially never lie to yourself. If you are honest with yourself, if you keep every promise you make to yourself, you will learn to be more careful with your thoughts and your words. You will learn to depend upon yourself, and always know that you are true.” Satya is to be so honest with our thoughts, that our words and actions all are true. For this reason, I like to begin all of my classes with a sankalpa.

A sankalpa is an intention, a small (or grand) promise to oneself. The sankalpa can be a physical goal, a spiritual goal, a balance goal, even to dedicate the fruits of one’s practice. No matter the intention, when we begin practice with a sankalpa, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our lives and make a small vow that we know we can keep. Like stairs leading us to a higher place, these sankalpas serve as our steps toward our greatest self. We gather these small truths into our minds, over days, months, years of practice; we integrate the truths into who we are, and we digest them. We become the truth.

 

 

Contentment and the Fire

It occurred to me once, on a day where I was really listening to myself, that I complain entirely too often. I’d tell a person how great my day was or how life was going well, then I’d almost always finish with a “but (insert whatever here) sucks.” Even with a huge smile on my face and happiness in my heart, I felt the need to verbally express the one thing that was not going as planned. This, I later realized, was probably a habit that came from being somewhat chronically anxious. Often my mind was seeking that which was not working and causing me stress, things in my life or in the world, that I could then bitch about.

Realizing about the complaining that day, I began to notice that this was not an isolated incident. I think I noticed this about three years ago, and I’ve been actively working, since then, to stop doing the complaining. The reason I’ve tried to make this switch is several fold… the first of which, and perhaps most important I think, No body gives a shit! I don’t mean that in a malicious sort of way, but I do mean that everyone has things going on. I’m the only person in the world who thinks my life is the most important of lives and mine are the most important of problems. People want you to be happy, but they don’t always want to hear about why you’re not. The second reason is that the things I was complaining about were petty, and they were negating the good things in my life.

I’m a truly blessed man. After I saw this pattern of complaining, I began to actively practice santosha (contentment), which became a lesson in Thanksgiving and gratitude. Rather than seeking and acknowledging the wrong things in my life, I’ve been attempting to more actively say thank you for the good things. Perhaps it’s a deluded “fake it till you make it” sort of, white lie, way of living life. Even if that is the case though, and all I am doing is fooling myself, I am still happier than I was before. Not complaining has been an active practice, and it has led me to understand how blessed I am because that is what I let myself talk about. When I recognize and acknowledge that which is good, goodness is celebrated and attracted.

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With Thanksgiving in mind, in this week’s classes, we focused a lot upon the core and the symbolic fire in the belly. We are called to come to our practice, sometimes, from a place of tejas or agni (fire) and tapas (heat energy of change). When we fuel the symbolic fire in our belly and practice with diligence, we create an ability to change the things within ourselves we would otherwise just complain about, and we strengthen the things that are already great in our lives. The fire cleanses, changes, and purifies, but it also serves to make strong. Like a potter who places her pots into a kiln to fire them and make them like stone, so too do we yogis put ourselves through symbolic firing to make ourselves better, stronger. All that we do on the mat is practice for life. We burn away the things which no longer serve us, while making strong that which does… and all the while we learn to love ourselves, flaws and all.

Keep refining friends. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

Inspired by Water

In his book, Artist of Life, Bruce Lee discusses his ideas about presence and, though he doesn’t call it this, enlightenment. In addition to being a great Kung Fu Master, Bruce Lee was a driven and deeply contemplative man. His martial arts practice, his attention to healthy living and eating, and his drive to act and make movies were all reflections of his longing to be the best he could possibly be. His essays also revealed a man who longed for peace within by connecting to the present moment.

Bruce Lee is said to have attained enlightenment while on a solo boat trip. He was contemplating water, and when he punched it, he realized that water is the strongest thing on earth because it is also soft. Water is fully present and so it moves with the present moment. We must learn to be like water, Bruce Lee said, so that we can flow freely in the moment. We should not try to hold ourselves or our minds still because life, like water flows. In the mind Bruce Lee referred to this concept as “Wu Shin” or no mindedness.

I imagine wu shin to be like samadhi or enlightenment, which I will freely admit I have not attained. As a mere mortal walking the path of the yogi, I think this idea of wu shin is a means of flowing like water within the mind. When disturbances of the peaceful mind arise in life or in the practice of yoga, wu shin means to allow the thoughts to flow, to move, and to pass… to not hold back the river. Fighting water is pointless, water will always win.  Wu shin is a way of letting go of the need to control and accepting what is happening in life right here and now; we treat ourselves with softness.

The paradox is that water is strong and so we too must be willing to be strong. Bruce Lee turned all of his life into a practice, and in his short life, he became a great river. Our world needs great rivers who are living lives that push the boundaries of compassion and peace. Our world needs great rivers who understand that all rivers come from the ocean, and all oceans are one.

Be a Great River!

Aum Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

World Vegan Day

When I was 13 years old, I read “The Lost Book of Merlin” which told the tale of how Arthur the boy, under the tutelage of Merlin the wizard, became Arthur the wise and noble king. In the story, Arthur was just a bit younger than me, and early on in his studies, Merlin taught Arthur that in order to continue his studies to become a Druid wizard, Arthur had to give up meat. The premise was that the consumer took on the last feeling of the animal being eaten, presumably one of terror or pain; “this,” Merlin instructed Arthur, “diminished one’s strength in magical pursuits.” As a kid, this was enough to make me want to become a vegetarian. My mom didn’t believe in Arthur, Merlin, wizards, or 13 year old vegetarians; so I waited…11931086_1077287125644442_1858302978_n

Thanksgiving of this year will mark twelve straight years of being a vegetarian, and this past Thanksgiving I became a vegan (though I do indulge in honey). While I don’t necessarily believe in wizards and magic like I once did, I still believe in Merlin’s core message, which I think was essentially one of empathy and compassion. He asked Arthur to consider the lives of all creatures, no matter how seemingly lowly. This is still my main draw, and, I’m sure, the exact thing that will sustain this choice until I die.

Generally I do not get preachy about being a vegan, but it is November 1st, which is World Vegan Day, so here goes. Being a vegan means using less water, eating the food that would go to feed “meat,” not killing animals or exploiting them in slave like conditions, reducing de-forestation for agriculture, generally having a lower BMI, lower risk of heart disease, and I dare say an increased sense of awareness about food production, especially as it relates to animals.

If you have no desire to become a vegan, I totally understand that. It’s a pain in the ass, but only if you look at it that way and don’t know why you are doing it. Being a vegan becomes a way of life, but only because it still is a little bit punk rock in our society; it doesn’t wreak of American values to eschew animal products, hunting, and related industries. So if you think you might like to become a vegan, do your research and know why. Also, especially in the beginning, expect people to ask you about this, and be excited to share when asked. It can be a fun way to educate without being preachy, and it helps you to remember your reasons for choosing to be vegan. Make sure you vary your diet, have fun, and explore new cuisines, but also find two or three staples that you can easily cook and love to eat. In the beginning, the transition can be tough, but if you stick with it, being vegan just becomes a part of who you are… easy peasy.

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Katha Upanishad (Death as Teacher)

Nachiketa is a young man who was said to have such shraddha (unwavering faith) that he was sent, by his father, to be a student of Lord Yama, the King of Death. When Nachiketa arrives at death’s door, he finds no one to welcome him, and so he waits for three days for Yama’s arrival. Death is said to pride himself on his hospitality, and he apologetically offers three wishes to make amends for the three days Nachiketa spent alone.PICT0232

Nachiketa first wishes to amend the relationship with his father. His great faith had been seen as arrogance, and even though Nachiketa was a sincerely humble and devoted young man, his father had sent him to Yama as a lesson. Death grants the first wish. Nachiketa’s second wish is to learn the fire sacrifice to appease the Gods and gain access to the Heavens. Yama is so impressed with the young man and his devotion that he changes the name of the fire sacrifice to honer his young pupil; it becomes Nachiketa’s sacrifice.

For his third and final wish, Nachiketa asks to learn the secret of immortality. He longs to understand how he can escape the cycle of samsara (life and death and rebirth) in order to attain ever lasting eternity. Yama had not expected Nachiketa to make such a bold request, and he implores him to make a different wish. Yama warns Nachiketa than many of the Gods of old had sought a similar wish, but that all of them failed. This, he warned, would be a challenging task for which Nachiketa would most assuredly need a great teacher. “The path is sharp like a razor and challenging to navigate. Choose women, riches, fame,” implores Yama, “but do not pursue this request. Choose anything else.”

Nachiketa persists in his determination to learn this secret, and this excites Yama. In Nachiketa he sees a great pupil and a wise sadhu. Yama tells Nachiketa that in the beginning, the Eternal Self turned all of his senses outward and in this way created the world of separation. The seeker, in order to learn the truth of eternity, must direct the senses inward. The great seeker, says Death himself, must learn to single pointedly focus upon “the Lord of Love in the heart center”. Only when one has established himself in this 10948966_697621080336225_1534052869_nEternal Lord of Love, will one know the secret of immortality.

In this story, Death, the great equalizer, teaches us that we are all ultimately one being. Though we appear separate, we must use our lives to see the love self in all beings. We must, at all times, focus upon the oneness in ourselves and in one another. It is only when we establish ourselves in Oneness, the Lord of Love, the true “one-self”, can we fold back into the infinite.  Through meditation, we move beyond the world of words to the world of thoughts, beyond thoughts to pure unadulterated consciousness, to the oneness of all beings. Like taking off a pair of glasses that have been scratched and smudged, through meditation on the love that we all share, we can discover the God we all are.

Everyday Enlightenment

This week I had an interesting epiphany that I think might change my life. When I began meditating and practicing yoga, my body was already beginning to break down at 24 years old, and I needed something bigger than myself to belong to. I approached my practice as if I was on a decided mission to be better. It was always with striving to fix something, and I think I believed, in the beginning, that I would reach a steady state of magical peace or something.

Better, I realized is what I have been seeking all these years, and this is exactly what I realized during my epiphany this week. There is no better. That’s not to say that I couldn’t be more successful, rich, adventurous, etc… but it is to say that there is nothing that needs to be fixed. My life, right at this very moment, is exactly right. It doesn’t mean I am going to throw in the towel and quit working to improve myself, it just means that I am going to let myself be happy with who I am along the way.

Enlightenment, at least as far as I can understand it right now, doesn’t mean God is going to come down from Heaven and grant me eternal oneness that leaves me feeling blissfully connected and entirely at peace (or maybe it does)… right now, enlightenment is being happy with the life I have… right now. There is nothing that I need to fix because I am good. Enlightenment is being present in the journey. It’s not a constant state; it is as alive as you are.

You are perfect just as you are, and you will keep becoming more perfect if you let yourself. Be alive now.

We Rise

“There is something wrong with the world when a rich man’s shampoo contains more fruit than a poor man’s plate.” That’s where we are now though.

10748542_362771640549300_1046711244_nWe enjoy competing with and winning over one another. We like to have sides with winners and losers. Our species blames and fears and fights. Until we learn to value compassion over competition and harmony over winning, we shall not evolve. No matter how great our technology becomes, we have not learned to care for one another and relinquish our desire to be better than. This is holding us back, and it is quite literally destroying our world.

The desire, as a single individual, to own more than one needs to live comfortably and enjoyably is now morally wrong. We know that we are destroying the earth because of our over use of fossil fuels and our unprecedented consumption. Certain experts have hypothesized that man is looking to colonize another planet because it is likely that we will destroy our own. What I do not understand is why we do not mend our ways and heal the lovely home with which we were blessed.

Thus far, we have been largely driven by fear and greed. Given the savage nature of our ancestors, it is no wonder that these instincts are within us. These instincts are no longer serving us and keeping us alive though. Instincts that may have, at one time, protected one from famine or drought, kept a clan alive, and prevented one from being attacked are now the very instincts that are killing our planet and all the species upon it.11373797_1033437423334837_216581440_n

The feeling of separateness and desire to hoard, the fear that creates greed, has to be replaced with the need to uplift and support. Consider if we worked collectively to improve the lot of the lowliest and most fragile lives on earth, how everything else would rise to a new standard. If, instead of being enemies who look upon one another and the world with suspicion, we embraced one another as family, we’d honor the gift of consciousness and free will we were given. The old way, the way we live now, doesn’t work, and it never really did. It was a lovely experiment, but now it is time to move on.

The longing to collect, and the actual collection of mass resources and wealth, has enslaved us for a very long time. It is now bringing us to the brink of destruction. We need to make a different agreement to work together to make everyone’s lives great. Fear needs to stop driving us and harmony needs to be embraced. We can save the world and ourselves, but we all have to agree to do it. It is a great time to be alive, and it is time for our species to collectively rise to meet our destiny. Let us rise to be Gods and honor the gifts we were given.

108 I Love Yous

The Malas are a prayer and meditation tool, used by yogis to help with mindfulness, that look similar to a Catholic Rosary. These strands of beads generally consist of 108 beads. As best I can tell, the number 108 has profound significance, and is meant to remind the practitioner of her true nature as the God self. The 1 is for the oneness of life. The 0 represents nothingness, and the 8 is for infinity. The Malas help us find our way to God.

11261309_538687806285965_2058851657_nThere are many ways to pray/meditate the malas, but most often the use of a mantra is utilized. A mantra is a repetition of a prayer or phrase. Often one hears the term Japas Malas. Japas means the name of God (whatever that name is for you). So to pray japas malas is to repeat the name(s) of God over and over again with the “goal” being to remember and praise God, but also to remember that you, the practitioner, are God.

My new favorite mantra to use while meditating on my malas is, “I love you.” For each of the 108 beads, I say, “I love you” to something, someone, a color, a place, a memory, a future hope; I say I love you to everything and nothing and everything in between. First I start with myself, and I remind myself that I love the me who is strong. I love the me who works hard. I love the me who laughs freely and 11093051_865404870191484_1552980859_noften. I love the me who sometimes gets sad for no reason. I love the me that brushes his teeth, and I love the me that drinks too much coffee. After I acknowledge the different ways I love myself, I go on to my family and friends, and then I just love everything that comes into my mind. I usually even remember to tell the color blue how much I love it. For each bead I take a long breath, breathing into my belly and chest and back out again, I say I love you _______, and I try to feel the love too.

The whole exercise takes about 20 minutes, but it has been a great way to remind myself of how wonderful my life is. It’s a way to pause, reflect on, and pay homage to the things that really make life important. This has also been a wonderful way to practice gratitude and alleviate anxiety. Even if doing 108 I love yous is too much, take time today to do ten or twenty. You will be amazed at how wonderful it makes you feel, and you will remember how much light is in your life.

I love you.

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