“I have walked the long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret – that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance that I have come. But I can rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013 

may you rest now for another moment…  i have no doubt you will linger not in death but your spirit will soar with the vision of millions of others who work for peace and freedom and justice for all of this planet.  

oh impermanence, how you challenge us all. 
oh compassion and gratitude, how you remind us to not ever take for granted what we have.
oh wise teachings of many, how you call us to relinquish our attachment to all that we cannot hold onto. 
oh life, how you bless us with such beauty and sadness, courageousness, and tender heart.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen: If Vanilla Ice Were to Discuss Mindfulness in 2013

I’ve been thinking about what to share with you all in terms of what has been on my mind (mainly: why so rushed?), and suddenly this lyric from Vanilla Ice popped into my head.  I giggled at the sheer ridiculousness for a moment and then paused.  It’s actually not bad advice if we take it completely out of context.  So for a lesson using bad “hip hop” to discuss real life topics, I decided to do just that.

Stop

We rush around so much of the time.  I catch myself running from class to class to home to class to a “very important meeting” and back home again, all while staring at my phone email, texts and social media streams between stops.  Sound familiar?  Does this actually feel good or skillful to anyone?  What would happen if you just stopped rushing?  Stopped texting while walking, stopped needing to be turned on all the time?  What if you gave yourself more time to see what is around you, to slow down and look at the human being who is taking your money at the coffee shop?  Louis C.K. pointed to this growing dependency recently on Conan O'Brien, and it resonated so deeply with me.  We are immensely connected all the time to a piece of plastic and metal…  What happens if we put it down? 

Recently I created some real space around technology with the help of a mentor and friend (and also the immense help of my partner), and the shift has been phenomenal…  I recognized how quickly I was starting my day by checking my phone before I ever even gave myself space to be or wake UP.  in a little over a month’s time, I have been *mostly* successful at reducing my overall phone use and most importantly for me, have made a large gap between personal practice and technology.  And what a difference it has made.

Collaborate.

We are so often in our personal and social bubbles, we forget to see the world around us and the simple compassion and wisdom that arises from the humamity of clear seeing.  How often do we stop seeing the person next to us getting on the subway or turning left in the car in front of us and instead make them an obstacle that is only in OUR way?  What would happen if we instead considered our interactions with other strangers a grand collaboration toward each of our human goals?  

A teacher posed this question recently in a talk.  We see one another so often as part of the problem and an obstacle to be overcome…  what if we changed our viewpoint and instead first saw their basic humanity and inherent qualities of brilliance, tenderness and vulnerability?  What if we stopped putting so much emphasis on “me vs you” and changed it to a “we vs no one”.  I used to think this sounded so idyllic and unattainable, but it’s not.  There is plenty in the world that I don’t agree with, that rocks me to the core with pain and a broken heart.  However, it can soften us a great deal to simply see that each person we believe we are at odds with also has the same suffering, the same desire to be happy that is, at its essence, simple and pure.  

I’ll give you an example.

Recently I was in a beautiful place in Costa Rica and was able to see the arrival of thousands of endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles arriving to the Pacific shore to lay their eggs and return to sea.  Early one morning after we saw the “arribada” we saw a lone turtle track from a GIANT leatherback turtle on the beach near where we were staying (not the arribada beach).  The leatherback is the most endangered sea turtle of all.  It was such a big track that we thought it could only have come from some great machine at first before we realized what it really was.  When we went up to get a closer look, we saw the nest had been dug up and all the eggs taken.   I was literally sick with heartbreak.  How would this majestic animal ever survive if the eggs were all being taken?  

The following morning we saw a man with a pack of about seven dogs picking up trash on the beach.  As we played in the waves that dawn, we turned and realized that he was digging the nest of another turtle who had come to lay its eggs on the beach.  We realized it was he who was taking all the eggs.  We paused for a minute to consider whether we should say something, but I quickly realized there was no place for that conversation from a “we vs him” standpoint.  I said to my boyfriend, Matthias, “Maybe he’s hungry, maybe he needs the money or to feed his dogs”… and in that moment we realized that we also had to see his own suffering or pain and know that it was no different from the heartache we felt at seeing the turtle’s eggs gone forever.  

Collaborating on a basic human level is not easy.  We all have so many beliefs painting our vision, and it is important to have things we believe in so that we can aspire to make the world a better place. But when we are faced with seemingly different ideas, it is also absolutely essential that we learn to interact skillfully on an interpersonal, cultural and global scale and see our collective humanity before we chalk the other person or group off as being completely other.

Listen.  

We all have a million conversations going on, through email, text, twitter, FaceBook, voicemail (and if we’re lucky in person).  And it’s a good day if we pay more than half of our actual attention to any particular exchange we make.  What would happen if we actually gave each of these conversations our full attention?  Would we run out of time or would we be able to accomplish much more with evermore skill by being present with those conversations?  What happens when you really listen to someone?  How does it feel to be truly listened to?  

One of things I love and hate about some of the dharma classes I attend is a conversation we are asked to have, called a diad.  In these diads, we are asked to speak on a certain topic with a partner while they work to listen with as much attention and mindfulness as possible.  Then we switch.  Every time we are asked to find a partner, I grimace a little on the inside: “Do I HAVE to do this?”  But once we start I realize how powerful it is to actually listen to someone and to be listened to.  

When was the last time you were really listened to?  How often do you catch yourself doing something else while you are being asked to listen?  I have been catching myself quite a lot, and when I do notice, I have been mustering up the courage (most of the time) to give the conversation my full attention.  Even when it’s on email or text, especially if there is an emotional tone or content.  If I can’t hear someone fully in a given moment and it is quite emotional, I try to come back and read again or speak again at a time when I feel more available.  

It can feel uncomfortable at first to really hear someone out, but it is an incredible gift that we give to both the speaker and to ourselves.  I invite you to try listening with more attention next time you notice yourself distracted or your mind not fully engaged.  Notice the moments where you feel disconnected or quick to jump in with your own thought or story or opinion.  Notice how it affects the conversation as a whole.  Notice how you feel when the conversation is over.  

In closing, while I doubt that Vanilla Ice ever ever meant for his words (were they even his? I don’t know) to be deconstructed in this way, I also don’t doubt that his human qualities also speak to these same principles and that we can all do a little more…  stopping, collaborating and listening.  

Over and out..  

AP

I am a bit emotional and incredibly honored at all the support we’ve gotten thus far.  Breakti isn’t about me anymore (it never was)…  join the movement!  Check out this beautifully shot video and join me for class, immersion or a workshop!

and a deep bow to my critics for always keeping me on my toes…

On the day when

the weight deadens
on your shoulders

and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eye
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.


May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


- John O’Donohue

Awakened heart comes from being willing to face your state of mind. The sitting practice of meditation is a means to awaken this within you. When you awaken your heart, to your surprise, you find that it is empty. If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for your heart, there is nothing there—except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the world, you feel tremendous sadness. It is not the sadness of feeling sorry for yourself or feeling deprived. It is a natural situation of fullness. The genuine heart of sadness comes from this feeling that your nonexistent heart is full. Your experience is so raw, tender, and personal that even if a tiny mosquito lands on you, you feel its touch. 

-Chögyam Trungpa
from Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior

When you slouch, you are trying to hide your heart, protecting it by slumping over. But when you sit upright but relaxed in the posture of meditation, your heart is naked. Your entire being is exposed—to yourself, first of all, but to others as well. Through the practice of sitting still and following your breath as it goes out and dissolves, you are connecting with your heart. By simply letting yourself be, as you are, you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself. When you sit erect, you proclaim to yourself and to the rest of the world that you are going to be a warrior, a fully human being. 

-Chögyam Trungpa
Shambhala, Sacred Path of the Warrior

Ahimsa: Self-Aggression Masquerading as Yoga

As my career has evolved as a yoga teacher, I have become acutely aware of the underlying hipocrisy of how the body (and control of the body) is portrayed in mass-media and what is viewed as “beautiful” or “yogic" in our culture: everything from billboards to food trends to subtle dynamics inside of our studios.  In my days as a dancer, I faced many of my own battles with body image and disordered eating, a common story for many in the industry.  While yoga has been incredibly healing for me in a variety of ways, I would be lying if I told you that remnants of these issues don’t still haunt me and that this has been exacerbated at times by a need to emulate what is idealized or lauded in parts of pop yogic culture: body subjugation and strict dietary restrictions to mention a couple of hot buttons.  

You see it on the cover of mass publications, in advertising for anything from soymilk to booty shorts.  Yoga has been made into a free-for-all for anyone wanting to jump on the OM bandwagon: "Eat this and you’ll be blissful and skinny while you consume highly processed food"stuff”!“  "Wear this top and show off abs that you’ll have to starve yourself to get”.  Unfortunately you may also hear it from teachers or practitioners who may think they mean well but ultimately contribute to an environment of control and fixation.  I’m not here to shit on the media, the culture that consumes it or anyone trying to share and teach what they think is correct, but I’m asking all of us to pause a little more often and ask some hard questions. 

absolutely think it is vital to the health of each individual and to our society as a whole that we have good tools to eat well, move regularly, learn to work with our minds to shift suffering, and overall create strong and skillful relationships with others.  I’m here to say that a mindful movement and meditation practice can help you acheive those things in part, but yoga is not a panacea.  And using yoga as a way of viciously submitting the body or mind to “no pain no gain” training is an ultimate disregard of the first yama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and one of the basic precepts of Buddhism.  

Ahimsa traditionally means non-harming and is often used to promote a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. It also should and must start with our own personal regard for ourselves.  How often do we make a choice that has a very subtle undertone of self-aggression?

The ways that we work with ahimsa on and off the mat can be multi-layered and very subtle.  Does buying highly processed vegetarian meat-substitute filled with synthesized ingredients shipped from halfway around the globe constitute a more ethical decision than locally raised meat?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Is buying incredibly expensive “natural” and “organic” food a more honorable choice if you can’t afford to make rent?  Probably not.  108 chaturangas and straining and forcing your body into postures that you are either not warm or prepared for does not a yoga practice make.  Running on empty or overworking yourself at the expense of nourishing self-care is a detriment to yourself and those around you.  

I am not here to espouse what makes a practice for any individual.  That is a journey we all must take on our own (hopefully with the guidance of a compassionate and knowledgable teacher).  The place where we inevitably run into trouble, however, is when we fixate or grasp at things (body type, lifestyle, products, postures) in the name of “bettering ourselves”.  The part that makes this so tricky is that all of this fixation and self-aggression is beautifully cloaked in the shroud of “self-improvement” or “yoga”.  

Enter humor, compassion and self-inquiry.

I am a firm believer that a practice must be both disciplined and lighthearted.  We can snicker at the aisle with 75 different kinds of soy milk and the idea of a “simpler life”.  We can giggle when we wobble or teeter in a posture as we strive to find the balance between alignment, effort, and surrender.  Every time we misstep a bit we are allowed to grin.  As Pema Chodron says, we can smile at our fear.  

In addition to humor, we must be curious and open-hearted in the quest to weed out those subtleties that point toward self-aggression and fixation.  This is a lifelong process, not an overnight cure as some might like you to think.  It is a wonderful task that we have been given to find the places where we hold on too tightly.   Not only are we learning how to be more skillful in our own self-care, but we are empowering ourselves to be the blueprint for every relationship we have or create, and ultimately our relationship with the planet.  We need this work more than ever now, and so it is great news that we have all the tools we need to start RIGHT NOW.  

So as I’ve said before, lighten up a bit…  be curious about your choices and more curious about what choices other people tell you to make.  Aspire to be more open in your heart.  And more kind.  And patient.   Smile when you misstep and start again.  It’s not a race, it’s a path.

 

I am working on a new project highlighting stories of people in yoga and wellness who have worked with self-aggression and subjugation (in the name of yoga or wellness) skillfully.  Got a story?  Please email me at ap [at] anyaporter.com

Big love, 

AP