Be Aware of the Urban Monk

The urban monk sees himself working on his personal evolution through his daily practice. He sees himself caring for his body temple by carefully picking out his daily food. He sees himself attending workshops and seminars to learn how to live an ethical and purposeful life. He sees himself dutifully studying books and attending lectures that help him elevate his spirit. And he sees himself devotedly offering prayers and gratitude to his chosen form of divinity.

 

Commendable as it looks from the outside, we need to pay close attention to this urban monk since, in his zealous quest to reach the ultimate goal, s/he may unconsciously be following a self-centered path that does ultimately drive him/her to isolation and depression. In this type of spiritual delusion, the urban monk may exclusively enjoy conversations on spiritual matters, avoid most social events, despise former hobbies, and, to a certain extent, see himself as superior on his chosen way of living life. The urban monk works and lives for his spiritual path, thinking that his personal spiritual evolution is all that matters and the only path to true realization.

 

However, the urban monk needs to understand that this path is the path of the mountain yogi, the renunciate, the wandering mendicant, and not the path of someone still being part of society. If the urban monk is still living in society, it means that his path is still here and needs to be adjusted to the demands of living in society. How does the urban monk understand all this? It may take years of hardships and suffering and denial. Pain is the ultimate teacher when everything else has failed.

 

A gentler and wiser approach is to start paying attention to the breath, slowly training the mind to focus and refocus on its harmonious rhythm. We follow it as pelicans follow their leader on their beautiful flying formations. One day, the breath gently invites us to notice our senses and later on to notice our emotions, and finally to notice how we interact with the world around us.

 

And it is then, and only then, that the urban monk will able to understand that all those years he had spent working on his personal evolution through daily practices and workshops and prayer and study and meditation had kept him blind from what was really being requested from him. And it is then that he will be able to finally see himself intentionally listening when his attention is needed; and he will see himself uninterestedly helping when his assistance is needed; and he will see himself preaching only when his counsel is needed; and he will see himself observing his emotions before he instinctively jumps into fear, anger or judgement. He will see the world around him as the divine coliseum where the game of his own evolution is being played.

 

And he will finally understand. He will understand that all those years of focusing on his personal growth have led him into a state of isolation, a most peculiar form of egotism where his quest for enlightenment or happiness had blinded him from the needs of any other creature beyond himself. And he will understand that, even though he was always preaching about the world being ONE, he was continually failing at the opportunity of placing the needs of others before his own needs. He will understand that too much “personal training” leads to separation whereas too much mindfulness on daily affairs leads to communion.

 

And then he will focus on mindfully observing every situation he faces in life. It is only there that he can put his training to work. He will still “train” whenever he can; when he has the time; when his mindful observation advises. Training will still be there but it won’t occupy the core of his being anymore. It will be replaced by involvement in the details and messages of life and the creatures that play a role in the game of life. He will no longer be lost in the technique, in himself. Things will finally start to make sense and then he will be able to understand that growth comes only from playing in front of an audience, not from eternally rehearsing in front of a mirror.

 

LIFE HAPPENS…HAPPEN WITH LIFE!

Walking the True Walk

Have you ever read The Madman by Kahlil Gibran? A part of it has been resonating in my mind all day long prompting, almost urging me to sit at my desk and observe how this post starts to breathe life.

 

“One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen…I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the cursed thieves.”

 

Later on in the poem, the lucky madman thanks his robbers for taking away his masks as he starts to feel the warmth of the sun on his real face for the first time.  Fate is always capricious and there are people who actually are freed from their masks by some turn of events. For the rest of us, taking off our masks is a slow and methodical process that may even take several lifetimes. In any case, what is important is to understand that this may be the one piece of work that explains our existence on this planet. Not that everything else is unimportant but results kind of trivial when compared to the stature of this task.

 

Removing these masks equals to peeling off the many layers of fake personalities that we have been accumulating throughout the years, be it consciously or unconsciously. These insidious programs are so embedded, so ingrained in our minds that we end up believing them and acting according to their mandate. They have been nesting in our minds for so long that  identifying and exposing them (which means annihilating their power over us) requires a true detectivesque effort. The reward is, as in the case of our beloved Madman, freedom, life in truthfulness, understanding of our real nature, and consolidation of a peaceful mind and a compassionate heart.

 

Techniques to help us reach this balanced state run the gamut and are a staple on every single religion and philosophy of life. These techniques become extremely useful, mostly in the beginning of our quest, and offer both a foundation and a convenient lifesaver when things get too hairy. They include prayer, meditation, rituals, study of scriptures, routines such as yoga asana or tai chi, ceremonies, attendance to religious or spiritual services, spiritual cleansing, drumming, and many others.

 

However, as powerful as these techniques may be, they are nothing but a training for the real work and, I think, this is where many of us are getting very confused these days. You see, it is like training for the Olympics for four years but never participating in the games. Or rehearsing for the weekend play and never performing. We have become very good at religiously keeping up with our preferred technique (sometimes verging on addiction) but continue without doing the real work. Basically, we think the technique is the work. So, we need to take a good look at our relationship to it and decide whether we are using it as the means to and end or as the end itself. And if we are erroneously taking the technique for the end, what is the real end then?

 

Bluntly put, the real work is to really observe ourselves and start transforming everything that doesn’t belong to our personal, inner truth; beyond rules and regulations and traditions and any other external forms of indoctrination or knowledge. To delve into the dark side, the shadow, that part of us that we don’t like so much and usually try to hide from others. To acknowledge and embrace this shadow as a part of us, whether we like it or not. I said acknowledge, not indulge in it, just let it be part of your journey and things will be fine. This is the real work. A moment to moment, mindful observation of our behaviors, emotions, and reactions devoid of any charge of self-criticism, fear, or guiltiness. Do you want a clearer example? Every time an emotion such as fear, greed, anger, jealousy, envy, etc, surges, it is just an invitation to observe it and make a note of another aspect of your dark side. Remember, it has nothing to do with others, it is all about us and how we perceive reality.

 

Sounds too hard? Don’t worry, be MINDFUL!

 

  “And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.”

Winds of Karma

We cringe when we hear the word Karma.  Gloomy thoughts about past terrible deeds and fears about future pain and suffering assault our minds. We hear someone say “Oh, it was her karma”, and instantly we feel sorry for that poor soul, or fearful that one day they will say the same about us.

 

Karma is one of the least understood life components, at least for the average Joe. Endowed with different meanings, the word Karma is normally translated as “action” or “deed” (note here that it is “action” and not “curse” as we tend to understand it) and is usually explained according to the principle of causality (the law of cause and effect). We can also see examples of karma in other traditions such the popular “An eye for an eye” or “You reap what you sow”.

 

However, the ominous nature we attribute to karma is simply a misunderstanding of its original meaning and exquisite operation. Instead of seeing karma as our inevitable fate, deriving from all our bad past decisions and deeds, we can see karma as what it really represents: OPPORTUNITY.

 

Karma is, in fact, an opportunity, a beautiful opportunity which is presented to us every day so we can fully understand the real meaning of life and our personal lessons. We all have stuff to learn here, that’s why we pop up on this planet over and over, and will continue to do so until we have mastered “the human curriculum”. What we call enlightenment is basically the completion of this curriculum; what we call happiness is basically our voluntary commitment to fulfilling this curriculum.

 

That said, it is crucial to understand how it works so we can cultivate more and more of this thing called happiness. Among all the opportunities (karmic situations) we get during our life, there is one which stands out as the major component of our curriculum: it is probably the toughest but also the one that, when worked upon, will drench us with the most satisfaction. This one big assignment begins early in our life tenure, during our childhood, with an initial setup seemingly developed by family, friends, teachers and others around us. Then, the scenario repeats itself over and over and over during our lives, each time making use of different characters and settings but with the same ending. This end result will always bring suffering, making us frustrated and even depressed since we normally don’t understand why this is happening to us. Sounds familiar? Can you already identify that situation that seems to follow you wherever you go?

 

We live at a time when this opportunity is being recreated at a very intense and impossible to avoid pace. It is merciless, there is no place to hide, and it is making us feel stuck, trapped, and helpless. It is obvious that, for whatever reason, we need to face it now so we can integrate its message and jump over to our next assignment. We need to work on it because it is holding us down and is affecting our happiness and our evolution.

 

How can we identify our personal big Karma for this lifetime and work on it? We need to use something that goes beyond the study of the mind and how it works, for Karma belongs to a much higher rank, which is the meaning of life. Karma is about the essence, who we are and what we are doing here, and that is a game way beyond our petty minds (even though we can use the mind to understand part of it).

 

I guess there are different ways of getting to it. I use something called Karmalogy. And I am writing this post today because I have been noticing during my consultations for some months now that most of us could benefit from it. The problem is this big karma oftentimes comes in multiple layers that need to be identified and peeled off one by one until we get to the bottom of it. It does require a good deal of objectivity, patience and experience and, needless to say, it is always easier to see it in others and very difficult to see in ourselves. Once we untangle the plot, then we can start observing how it manifests in our life and take the appropriate measures to master it. Examples of this big karma include suffering from constant abuse (by different people and in different circumstances: physical, verbal, in terms of financial retribution) or constantly associating with the “wrong” people, or lacking support when mostly needed, or never being able to materialize dream projects, or being erroneously judged or blamed for things we haven’t done.

 

I invite you to try Karmalogy. It does work and it will help you land on the path to stopping these deceptively negative cycles and thrive in life. Karmalogy is done in one hour sessions (live or on Skype) until the person feels confident enough to identify the process and act accordingly. For more information and rates, just click on the Ayurveda section on the bar menu and then on Karmalogy and Rates links on the left side menu.

Darkness is kind but, be aware, it can also be deceiving

Namaste, my fellow tunnel captives!

 

As commented last week, darkness is kind but ONLY if we are able to understand it and keep in mind its true purpose. That means not allowing ourselves to become so entrapped in the shadows that we lose sight of our real life purpose and end up focusing only on our lower, selfish desires. This may represent quite a challenge as our lower nature likes to make us believe that our integrity is in danger. And in that spell of ignorance, we will do WHATEVER it takes to protect it, no matter how much damage we spread around ourselves. And the ripples from this negative wave will impact other tunnel captives, who subsequently will try to take advantage or bring others down in order to alleviate their own suffering.

 

I would like to reiterate that this is “the” time to focus on our hidden lessons, our surrendering to the present, our rising beyond our likes and dislikes (thank you Dida!), no matter how much unfair treatment we are presently receiving. Remember, it is never personal. Understand others may be in a similar or even more challenging position than you are. Have compassion, it is not so bad, at least you are not being vexed and crucified, are you?  Remember the darker it gets (and it can get really, really dark), the closer we are to the light and the greater the chances to learn the purpose of this situation.

 

This may not be the best time to help others, compassion will suffice, but, at least try to chip into the general cause by stopping the negative rippling effect and trusting those higher forces that will lead us out of the tunnel when the lesson is understood. There is no need to steal a little energy from other beings; life energy is plentiful if we just seek it with an open heart.

 

Smile, trust, and it will be given!

Do not weep mate, for darkness is kind

It is a familiar feeling, as familiar as unwanted. We have been here before, in this tunnel, many times. It is dark and cold and lonely. We have been in this tunnel many times before but it is different this time. Previous tunnels seemed shorter or maybe lighter; it was dark in there but we could still distinguish a faint light at the end of it: the light of hope, the end of pain, the end of suffering. At those times, we could feel the pressure but soon enough the shadows would lift up or there would be a helping hand to lead the way out of the uncertain situation.

 

It is different this time around: the tunnel is darker than ever before and we seem to have been stuck here for weeks, even for months for some. No light behind us, no way back; no light in front of us, nowhere to go. After patience, meditation, introspection, counseling, relaxation and countless similar techniques brought in to try not to succumb into despair, our nervous system is about to collapse. Sadness, despair, depression, and, of course, fear start crawling all over us. Fears as diverse as our personalities and stories: Fear of not being good enough, gentle enough, beautiful enough, charming enough, prosperous enough, (fill in the blank) enough. Why me?, why now?, what for?

 

Sleepless nights convince us of the futility of any further action. Now it is the turn of anxiety, resentment, and anger mixed with spells of overwhelming despair. And the darkness remains stout, thick, unflinching, not allowing a sliver of light to pierce through.  What is there to do?

 

The answer is easy albeit hard to digest for most of us:

  • “Surrender”, says the inner voice that knows everything
  • “Surrender to what?”, we yell back
  • “Surrender to the present”, the voice quietly reaffirms

 

As strange as it may seem, fighting our reality simply makes things worse as, in the process, we attract negative thoughts about not accepting our present situation. We are basically telling the universe we don’t agree with life, and by not agreeing with life, we switch ourselves immediately into negative mode, a place devoid of clarity and understanding. For, are we more intelligent than life itself? Every situation brings evolution, no matter how tough it is. Fighting it off will not only prove us incapable of solving the problem but will toss us into a spiraling of negativity and absolute lack of clarity to understand what is going on. Furthermore, trying to get out of it will have the same effect as that means we are still not accepting our present.

 

The tunnel is not about understanding it, or voicing its unfairness, or finding and exit door as soon as possible. It is not about seeking help, resorting to techniques, or pondering the meaning of life during endless nights. For, in all these situations, we are still denying our present reality.

 

The tunnel is about accepting our situation as it is, no matter how desperate or unfair. Admit it, there is simply nowhere to go so you’d better calm down and look at it in the eye. Our master move is simply to accept it, surrender to it, observe it quietly, with the trust that it is just another situation and that it will go away unannounced, exactly as it came in. That does not mean to give up but rather to face it with a resolute mind. Accept the darkness, the pain, the despair, the hopelessness. It is only in that empty mind and heart that we gather the clarity to understand the meaning of this tunnel and its teachings for the future. Then things will begin to make sense even if we can’t still see the light at the end of it. But wait, don’t rush. Walk slowly and live the whole experience so you don’t have to do it again.

 

Easier said than done? Maybe this is a good time to explore the realm of Mindfulness.

Don’t worry; be Mindful

All the worries we have, all the thoughts, all the dreams, all the memories, all that has ever and will ever go through our mind is useless. Life happens, happens continuously, at every moment, in front of our eyes and ears and nose and skin. It is in front of us inviting us to dive into it with full abandon, with the eyes that just caught sight of the sea for the first time. Life thrives everywhere around us, it is in the colors, in the light, in the air, in sounds and tastes and smells, in whispers and screams, in buzzing bees and screeching tires, in bustling markets and silent forests. Life happens in a concerted chaos, at precise random, in familiar mysterious ways. And we are part of it, have always been and will ever be. We are part of it and still we are the witness that watches it with unconscious intensity from a vantage point beyond our comprehension. And we can choose to witness this torrent of ecstatic creation or we can use our free will and ride the mental rocket, the train of thoughts, the love boat to the imaginary world of Nowhere.

 

Why do we worry and for what? Does the deer worry because the oak loses its leaves in the autumn? Life happens; that means no rights or wrongs, no problems, no unfair situations. We happen too, but we detach from Life very early by distorting it behind the prism of biased values and questionable traditions, and the ridiculousness of self-importance. We judge and judge and judge and fail to notice that very soon our faces will be tattooed with the scars of time and our hair will be dyed by the silver rays of the moon, and our legs will give in under the weight of a backpack stuffed with yellowish memories and one or two unforgiveable episodes.

 

Life keeps giving us opportunities to rejoice in the observation of the morning dew or the insignificant ant. But we keep preferring the company of the devious mind who over and over allures us with promises of an even more grandiose life before ditching us on a cold morning. And there we stay, confused, depressed and shivering, not understanding how we got there until, suddenly, we happen to tear the veil of ignorance and for an eternal second catch eye of an unfamiliar flower covered in crystal-like dew. We stare at it curiously, it is the first time we see it although it has been there forever. An eternal moment. A moment of release. A moment of silence. A moment of Life before we return to the company of our chattering friend and its endless pack of lies.

 

Can we open our eyes and see the trickery? Do we wanna open our eyes and see the biggest scam ever played in creation? There is no mind, just electrical and chemical games played by fictitious characters. There is no mind in your laptop or Iphone, just designed responses to stimuli. The real “mind” is outside, giving instructions to the Iphone or watching the laptop screen. We are not a Youtube video packed with thoughts, feelings, drives, and desires, we are not a mind that moves incessantly with no defined identity. We have an identity. We are the Witness, the witness of the external and the internal. The witness of all the petty mind games and the grandiose Divine games.  And the player too.

 

Don’t worry. Be Mindful.

No Mindfulness, No Yoga

Many times since we first started practicing yoga, we have heard the now popular adage that we have to take yoga off the mat and into daily life. Many times have we heard about connecting and re-connecting to ourselves, laying out intentions, being present, practicing ahimsa no matter what situation we are facing, etc.

But despite our determination, the gap remains, the void remains. All the wonderful feelings, all the honest intentions, all the presence, all the peacefulness and calmness that abound during our practice, magically volatilize the moment we encounter our first or second or third challenge in the concrete jungle. How it does still happen after years of practice, after so many workshops and books and lectures may become puzzling and frustrating. What are we missing? Where are we failing?

Moreover, we may even get the opposite effect and notice that, not only our lives are not improving as we wished, but our yoga practice is deteriorating as we begin to judge ourselves, compare with other practitioners, criticize teachers, put down other practices, or gossip about other students. Clearly we lose the connection to yoga, the happiness of yoga, and when I say yoga I mean any attempt to human development be it a religious or spiritual movement.

The foundations of human development, the foundations of life itself, are found in the pure and simple observation of the process of living. It is not until we begin to experience life in full awareness that we can tap into the infinite possibilities of our multidimensional being and into the ultimate meaning of life. This is called Mindfulness.

But the question remains: How do we do it? How do we incorporate this mindful approach to daily life? First of all, we need to understand that mindfulness is not a set of techniques; that is just a very tiny, albeit helpful, part of it that can be used to improve attention and reduce stress. Mindfulness is a thorough journey through the different aspects of life and the Self. It is mostly a process of understanding, accepting, and witnessing creation and how it evolves without getting carried away in the process. Mindfulness can be manifested through the gradual development of a mindful body (diet, lifestyle, wholesome routines, etc), a mindful mind (ethical living, life purpose, meditation), mindful energy (understanding, tapping into, saving and protecting energy), mindful healing (disease prevention, listening to your body, managing pain), and mindful communication (from self-empathy to honest expression).

Once we start understanding all these aspects of ourselves, we naturally begin to incorporate them in our daily life. It is not a quick process as we are breaking up with years of mental programs and behavioral patterns but it is a very satisfying one, from the very beginning.

Basically, mindfulness is the foundation, the cornerstone, the essence of any and all spiritual practices. There is simply no way we can understand life, the universe, the Divine until we know ourselves. And there is no way we can understand ourselves until we begin observing and fully experiencing what we are.

Mindfulness: The Foundation of Life

Mindfulness broke into our lives in the early 80s as a cognitive therapy program that Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed based on traditional Buddhist beliefs. Its results on his patients were promptly recognized and the movement began to expand into other groups and contexts including schools, hospitals, prisons, social institutions, private companies, etc.

Since then, the technique is mostly seen and used as a way to improve attention and reduce stress, therefore contributing to healing different conditions, mostly related to the mind. One of the many definitions of mindfulness describes it as “The systematic training and refinement of attention and awareness”. However, mindfulness is much more than that, as its origins clearly point to the core of most spiritual traditions: the high concepts of ethical behavior, discrimination, acceptance of events, and comprehension of the meaning of life.

In lay terms, mindfulness is the essence of living; moreover it is life itself as any moment not spent in mindfulness is a waste trip to La La Land. And, at this point, let me remind us all that we spent probably 99% of our time traveling to either the future or the past as passengers of a mind which, by default, moves endlessly with no defined purpose. The mind is a vehicle (an amazing vehicle) that we can use to meet our needs and fulfill our purpose in life. But it needs to be controlled with tremendous awareness so it doesn’t bolt and take us for a wild ride. And it needs to be parked and allowed to rest when not being needed, which is much more often than we think. It is at these times that we can step out of the vehicle and clearly observe, notice, understand what we are and what life is. It is at these times that we can have a genuine, conscious experience of what is really happening through a non-judgmental perception of our body, feelings, emotions, thoughts, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness is a simple practice but difficult to master. It takes time to go from being 99% of our time inside the mind vehicle to be able to step out of it and simply be. But it can be done with a little perseverance, determination, and the understanding that this is our natural state and the only path to learning who we are. Living in mindfulness helps us to save energy, clear our intellect, improve attention and memory, accept natural changes, strengthen our immune system, fasten the healing process, reduce stress, and develop compassion.

Mindfulness is the cornerstone of proper living, youthfulness, and happiness. And, as such, it is also the foundation of any higher spiritual practice.