Urban Monk Wellness

Massage . Yoga . Meditation . Creative Expression

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.


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.


Home has been something I’ve been considering a lot recently, and it has been the focus of our meditations in class this week. It occurred to me that my actual home, the place that I truly live while on earth is not a building or a “house”. My home is my body. This was a powerful and profound realization, and it has very strong implications. What occurred to me is that if I find home within my body, than I am always home no matter where I go.

From the time we are born till the time we die, people, society, jobs, expectations, responsibilities, etc. are all barking in our ears telling us to ignore our bodies for the schedule. When to eat, when to sleep, when to use the bathroom… and while these are all things that might be necessary to participate in a modern society (particularly to keep a job in a modern society), they train us to stop listening to our bodies.

While we are being trained to follow the schedule, we are also constantly bombarded with images of rewards we can have for following the schedule. Some of these “rewards” are necessary like food, water, and shelter. Relatively speaking, without them we would die. Ironically enough, these are the rewards we often ignore and take most for granted.
11355917_487586878065838_1624874972_nProbably because they shouldn’t be rewards, they should be rights. On the other hand, some of these rewards are shiny and have brand names and expensive price tags. These rewards are generally very extrinsic and hold little value outside of what we place on them because of supply and demand. Compare an expensive designer item to a week-long vacation/adventure. The item is simply a status symbol; its value is in the desire for it. The vacation holds memories, stories, shared experiences, and it enriches life. Some rewards have more meaning than others.

All of this training to stop listening to our bodies and to seek external rewards with little intrinsic value leaves many of us feeling empty inside. We are on this constant search to fill this feeling of emptiness, when what we really want and need is to feel like we are home. This is where my yoga practice and my many massages have helped me. Both yoga and massage taught me how to listen to my body again. It isn’t that I don’t still have to get up for work or sometimes hold it till a suitable bathroom time, but I know what my body needs and wants. It tells me when it needs better food or more water. My body indicates when I feel stressed, and I know where my body keeps all that stuff now. Through meditation and learning to feel my body, I have come home to it.

This has been a long journey, and I did not even know that this is how it would become. I began my practice, eating healthy, getting massages, and focusing on my health to try and help combat an anxiety issue I was having. To be honest, I sometimes still feel very anxious, and I don’t feel like I’m home with myself always. I am home more than I have ever been though. Even on those bad days where I doubt myself and10576229_164063270621939_1370561275_n.jpg the world, where I feel depressed and terrified, even on those days I feel less connected, I’m still more home than I ever was before. On these days, it’s like weathering a very bad storm; it can be frightening and require some preparation, but this home is strong. It will still stand. Yoga continues to grow and evolve with me along my life’s journey, and through its practice I keep building my home stronger. Now, most everywhere I go, I am home in myself. I have learned to look within for home and it has opened my life up to depths of meaning and joyfulness that weren’t experienced before.

My hope is that yoga can help others find home in themselves as well. This is why I teach. When a person is home in himself, he finds a general sense of peace with the world. Even when the storms outside are raging, she who is home with herself is unaffected, like a flame that cannot be extinguished. The practice is not a magic cure all, but it will help you find home.

Adding to the Light

Today felt like one of those days where I was filled with storm clouds and doubt. For most of the day I was plagued with questions like,12237585_1495180880782905_54624655_n“what is the point; why should I care; what does my life ultimately matter in the grand scheme of things.” One might call it depression; I prefer to think of it as existential dread. Regardless of the semantics, I spent most of the day feeling doubtful, sad, and afraid. You might think these would be feelings spared a yoga teacher. HA! These are things that lead to a yoga practice.

The nature of my job requires that I am the most happy person in the room; at the very least, I am supposed to appear that way so others can sort of catch the happiness bug. I do not mind this, and usually I don’t feel like I am faking it. That being said, if there is one thing my years of practice have taught me, yoga will not make life perfect. Sometimes, yoga might even make life harder because you become really close with yourself and aware. It’s hard to bullshit yourself when you are paying attention. Yoga will help you be with the imperfections though.

Anyway, all I wanted to do today was call off from work and hide under the covers. I do not have a lot of these days; maybe ten days out of the year I feel this kind of mood. Somehow though, these sad ten days can overwhelm all the good days and make me forget how great life is. Even though I wanted to, I didn’t call out today. I taught my classes, and I pretended to be that happiest man in the room. The power in this is that not long after I started, I got to quit pretending, and I started to feel better. Granted, I’m an extremely lucky man in that I get to do for a living what I love; I mean I truly love what I do, but still, in the act of being in life and smiling, I started to feel better.

When I got home and started to meditate upon my day, I came to the realization that my thoughts I was having earlier, the ones that were filled with doubt and fear, weren’t wrong. They happened and will sometimes happen again. There is no amount of yoga that will ever fix that, but I was better able to watch those thoughts and feelings and be with them. That is what the practice can do, or at least it has done for me.

If I may be so bold, the other answers that I came up with, might just apply to all of us. Life is really hard sometimes, and it is complicated. The more you pay attention, the more this becomes readily apparent. Like Star Wars, life is this constant battle between the forces of light and dark, good and evil. Much of life is gray, and we can easily get lost in the gray parts. The gray is mundane and simple. Chop wood, carry water (thanks Kim). Despite its simplicity, it is in the gray that we define ourselves and our world. LoveSimple acts of goodness, living a life that truly considers others as if they were your own, and trying not to be too harsh in judgement, these are ways our lives matter. Today I guess I realized that no matter how I feel, whether it be elated or depressed, my life’s purpose is to add to the light side of the force and seek my happiness without hurting others’ chances for happiness. This is how we fix our world.
I’m writing this to remind myself that the next time I feel like I did today, I need remember that it will pass. I need to remember that life is meant to be lived, nothing more, nothing less. To be kind to myself and to others as if they were myself while living; this is the best thing I can be, and it’s really what the world needs. I just have to keep adding to the light even if it’s only a little bit at a time. It all adds up.


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