Breaking Rules

Mysore Streets

I do love it when someone tells me what to do. It such a great opportunity to show them how powerless they really are over you. Or to show respect by asking no questions and simply acting.

In India there are no rules. I was told that a bus driver can keep his job, even if he kills 11 people a year. If he kills 12, he gets fired. This is what happens when 1.25 billion people live together in a country. India is the second most polluted place I have ever been after Beijing, and let me tell you, the effects of climate change are all too apparent here.

I can’t believe that there are still people who think that cars don’t do anything to the atmosphere. My first question would be, ‘where have you been?’

It’s unfortunate that only about 30% of Americans have their passport. Most of the people I know have barely left the country, maybe to Mexico or Canada, which really share very similar lifestyles to the states. This leads to a very narrow, narcissistic, and selfish mindset; that America is right and everywhere else is wrong, or just doesn’t know better. You see it constantly  in the news and in nearly every medium that you consume in the states.

The truth is, American might be leading humanity to its end. America consumes 25% of the world’s produced resources, with only 5% of the population. One America consumes as much as 128 Indians. More than 50% of American farmland is used to produce beef. There are more malls than high schools. If everyone in the world consumed as much as an American, we would need four full planets to sustain the human race.

The real problem is that the developing countries in the world see American lifestyles and want them. India, China, all of the Asian countries want the royal consumer lifestyle, where they can do anything with the flick of a plastic card. It’s easy to see why, to the untrained eye, convenience looks like happiness. But rest assured that it is not.

Life should be a struggle. Easy lives breed stagnation, fat-ness, lack of creativity, blockages, laziness, depression and inactivity. And I don’t blame a single American for their lifestyle because how could anyone know better? Challenge breeds strength, scars, and failure, these are the things that make us powerful, that give us perspective and teach us about our limits, our shortcomings, but also our strengths and gifts.

You see it in a zoo, where the animals are not fully focused, not fully present. The same thing is happening in the human race, we are caging ourselves for mass production and there is no reason for it. Humans of all ethnicities are creating system all over the world that are completely unsustainable. And America has led them there.

Honestly, if it wasn’t America, it would have been China. It’s silly to blame anyone or a single group, because it has been a progression. The only thing we can do now is try to rebuilt our societies in a way that creates abundance for the planet and therefore, ourselves.

Going vegan or vegetarian is not the answer. It is completely possible to eat meat in a sustainable way that actually benefits the environment. Same with fishing, or culturing cheeses, milking cows, or keeping a chicken coup. And in reality, eating vegetarian can be extremely resource intensive.

Ok, rant over, story time.

I arrived in Mysore via a taxi that I paid too much for. I don’t regret it, because it was 3 in the morning and I would have had to wait until 9am for a bus. So right off the bat, I was skeptical about people trying to take advantage of the me as a foreigner.

So the first night, I got into a rickshaw and the driver pointed me in the direction of ayurvedic oil. I didn’t realize he would be taking me to his friend’s shop and trying to sell me weed at the same time. Suffice to say that it was an interesting night. All Indian’s try to make plans for the next day, but rarely do they follow through. They are just so present to the moment that they really are somewhat incapable of planning long-term.

This makes for a very interesting culture for me to interact with, because I prefer to be a bit uncomfortable. I try to avoid taking the easy way. This baffles most Indians and while I walk, I am constantly harassed or called or honked at by drivers that are looking for customers. Being detached gives me a power of their consumer mindsets.

Every time I want to challenge myself, I just head over to the city, walk in, and try to get lost. When I am good and lost, and I mean, I have no idea about some of the places I have been, I find some food. This has been great to far, I have eaten food that I will always cherish, and always avoid in the future. Finding my way home without paying too much is always the challenge.

There is an easy way out of paying too much for a rickshaw. You make the driver use the meter. It’s funny that when they say it’s broken, I just walk away. Then they yell after me for a bit and I laugh to myself. I say that this is the easy way out because its much more fun to bargain with them, to push them, see how much they push back. To see where they are willing to go and then to leave when it’s not far enough. It’s almost like putting people into poses and seeing how long they can breathe before waiting for you to say something. or putting someone into chaturanga then making a nice long joke while telling them to hold it. Just testing the limits to see if we can expand upon them, growing comfort zones, getting comfortable with discomfort.

So I have become friends with 4 rickshaw drivers now, just because I enjoy their company and I am pretty sure they enjoy mine, especially because they are getting paid. I’ve found the best rooftop restaurant this way, 80 rupee ($1.30) for mushroom masala, 20 rupee for water. I don’t drink, so I don’t spend much more than a few dollars when I eat. If I do, I am eating like a fat-ass.

The latest man was very interesting, through him I met a woman from Paris that has been living in India for years, she had some great things to say about the culture and I got to speak with her in French for a couple of hours while enjoying the view. She talked about how the pollution gets really bad in March, so I am probably going to write more about the air quality, deforestation, and sustainability then. I am saving up a big photo bank for it.

I have to be constantly aware here, of myself and my surroundings. If not, its easy to get hit by a car. Buses have no mercy here and for some ridiculous reason they have the right of way in the streets. Its a jungle of people out here, and its easy to make a wrong move, though I have only seen one accident so far and it was right in front of me.

My focus on my breathe has been constant lately. I breath through my nose because of the pollution, I learned in Beijing that the nose has a better air filtration system than the mouth because you can catch large particles in your nose hairs. So my meditation is becoming more and more constant, ceaseless, unwavering. And each person that I’ve met has taught me a lesson, every single one.

People stare at me because I’m white and American with long hair and I probably walk differently or whatever. I like to break the ice and smile, say ‘how are you’, ‘watsup man’, ‘Namaskar’, ‘hello’, or whatever. I think its important to be friendly, this world is too impersonal, too disconnected. Walking around and saying hi makes me feel connected to the people I meet, because in reality we are sharing a journey. Comparing ourselves only disrespects our unique individuality. Its like looking at other people’s Facebook and being jealous, or asking yourself why you haven’t done the things that person has done. It’s so irrelevant, your complexity cannot be contained by a mere web application, let alone one so focused on materialism, advertising, and appearances.

Indian people are the same as Americans. So are the French. So are Chinese. In each place, there is a spectrum of diversity and experience and if you are open, you will always find people who resonate with you in different ways. We see ourselves as different because of our ego, our need to feel valuable, necessary to the world and therefore worthy of survival. But in reality, I am the same as the rickshaw drivers. You can bet that I would be taking advantage of every American I met if I was living here to feed my children. Or justify it in whatever way possible.

This is why rules don’t apply to humans. We can justify anything, Malcolm Gladwell in Blink said that prisoners will always justify their actions and it always makes complete sense to them. We will break the rules as fast as we make them, when it suits us. And no one can blame us for this, we are animals after all.

So my point in this article is that we are all the same. And we need to start to see this, because we are starving, over-worked, and toiling for no reason. What is the purpose behind all of this progress if we have to leave the Earth, the most precious planet we know of? It is time to start thinking about things globally, and apply them locally. I think this was the original idea of state and local law organization that America’s founding fathers setup, which has now deteriorated into an oligarchy. I don’t believe in any of that illuminati bullshit, but I do believe that very few are in control of the economy.

So let’s get into trouble. Fuck the rules, they are made for sheep and cows and zoo animals. If you want to be a lamb or a caged tiger, fine, go ahead and wait for your turn, sit in your square car, cubicle, or boring job and believe the nonsense you are fed. But if you choose, you can be free! Ride the line, do things that are illegal, expand what you think you know. Learn the system so that you can break it. Talk to strangers, smile at people who stare and whose brows darken as you walk by. Make them uncomfortable, ask the hard questions, don’t take maybe as an answer, make them tell you no.

Maybe we can find something that is worthy of respecting along the way.

The Responsibility of Ashtanga

Ganesha Temple, Gokulam

I love being able to learn yoga from multiple sources, multiple teachers with subjective and unique viewpoints. I think this is one of the biggest reasons I have been able to progress through various yoga traditions without injury.

Lots of the yogis here are injured, in one form or fashion. I’ve seen taped toes, adjustments, heard about knee tears, ankle injuries, wrist pain. This is the pitfall of advanced practice, injury is more prevalent when you are exhausted, too tired to breath, or simply disconnected from your body. I notice this almost exclusively with my breath, it is what guides my practice.

Using breathe to guide practice is the only way. I am extremely fortunate to have learned this from Rusty Wells, Bryan Kest, and many of my other teachers before arriving here. It is how I stay sensitive to the soft spots in my body, the places that are not normally touched. It is how I open my hips, by drawing my breath deep down into my abdomen and activating my lower abdominals to twist, open, and externally rotate. I can feel what is too much, or not enough because I am in tune with the fluctuations of my body. Each exhale is pushed out with ease and each inhale fills my torso and lengthens my spine. When there is too much pain, I can feel it is too much, but when it is good pain, I can breath through it, feel my body opening and making space for less. The power of the primary series and the Ashtanga practice is undeniable, no matter which series or whatever you are on.

I can’t imagine doing Ashtanga then resting for the rest of the day. I walk heavily and practice Yin, as well as static Hatha style poses to compliment the imbalance of the primary series (there is no doubt that it is powerful, but it is not necessarily optimal for a 25-year-old. Why? My knees need to be strengthened simultaneously, my hips need to be stabilized, and my mind needs the softness of moving slow. Forwards folds, child’s pose, lunges, Baddha Konasanas, happy babies, goddess poses, half pigeons, and cow-faced pose are all a part of my practice outside of the studio and they are absolutely allowing me to go deeper, faster, but honestly I don’t care about where I am in the series anymore.

Over the past week, I have talked to many people about the politics of the Jois Shala. Of course there are politics, these are humans we are talking about; however, it does seem that there is a certain mindlessness about the Shala. My personal observation is that the art is quite as respected as it once was and it now mass-produced so that everyone can experience the Jois Shala. Apparently, this morning there was fighting at the gate to get into the Shala because people wait outside for hours before the class starts to get a good spot. So it’s a lot like the freeways in America now.

I always remember Rusty saying, “try not to act like you are the only one.” And its true, there are more people in the world right now than there ever has been, so we all need to act accordingly.

Last night, I met a man from Israel whose name I can’t remember, but he practiced with Patthabi Jois and we got into a lively conversation about the ego and what series you are on and what yoga is truly about. Happiness. He said he had met zen Buddhists that had never even practiced yoga and were the happiest men he had ever met. We also talked about how silly it was that the primary series is the point of focus for the Ashtanga tradition, because it is an anatomically imbalanced sequence that was designed for Patthabi Jois as a young teen by Krishnamacharya. He assured me that the sequence is not important and I can’t agree more. But by the same token, I didn’t necessarily come to India to learn the primary series, I came to India to deepen my Samadhi, my mindfulness, and to detach from the world of my birth. To meet people as a fresh unknown person, to learn more about myself, my tendencies, and most importantly, my flaws and strengths. And maybe, somewhere along the way I can find this thing that some call Nirvana, others call Samadhi, and most refer to as god.

The day before, I met someone who had only great things to say about Saraswathi. So far, she has done a great job with being personal, telling me what to do, and letting my practice my own yoga. on day 2 she told me to do head stand and I was very happy to do some inversions. Her assists have been great too, we got the point where I was bound in half-lotus, but there was too much pain and she let me adjust in the way I needed to adjust. That said, my lotus hip openings are moving along very well here because of the repetition of the primary series. You are welcome to your own opinion, but I believe that the physical body is something that contributes greatly to our mental state, especially the openness, flexibility, and strength of joints and limbs. I mean, 90% of the happiness neurotransmitter, serotonin, is in your gut. The body certainly is the overarching reason why we feel the way that we do, because the body is a system and the mind is what allows us to operate the body in the ways that are available to us. So by opening the body, I believe I am opening my mind.

I realize this may contribute to a sense of having to be somewhere, like there is a destination besides your current location, but the opening process is enlightening in and of itself. I am trying to focus my mind on gratitude for each day’s new sensations, new aches, new pains that I move through. And my Samadhi continues to deepen so I will continue to strive along the path that I have found. But I want to try to enjoy each step of the path, rather than just the major destinations call asanas, or sequences, or series, or styles of yoga.

Tomorrow, I will practice the whole primary series and begin to embed it into my body. When I come back to my own practice in the Shala on Monday, I’ll see how far I can go on my own. I am excited to practice with everyone, I always love the group energy. Plus, the main Shala is really cool and decorated and I don’t get to spend much time in it.

My First Mysore Style Practice and a New Friend

Shiva Spray Painted portrait

I have to admit that I am always a bit surprised when I meet people in other countries that I connect with. It always seems like such destiny, like I had already known them for a long time.

Two days ago when I first arrived, I kind of blew off a rickshaw driver He was pretty close to my age, but I felt like I wasn’t sure if he was trying to swindle me or not. He tried to make a plan with me where he would take me to the palace, then come back to pick me up and show me other stuff. It was a pretty sweet deal honestly, I was just very skeptical and wasn’t sure about how much rupees were actually worth. Well, today I passed him as I walked back from Gokulam and he was a little disappointed that I didn’t come back to his rickshaw. He just wanted to be friendly.

In the afternoon, I went to Gokulam, in the Northwest of the city, which is where all of the yoga shalas are (I didn’t know this at the time), there  where I met Sharath’s son and we got to play a little soccer outside of the yoga shala. I think Sharath might have walked outside, but I wasn’t sure, then Saraswathi came out to meet me and tell me what to do. Arrive at 9am tomorrow, practice at 9:30. Then register in the afternoon. They are also giving me a break on the price without even asking, which is extremely considerate of them. I think they probably do well for themselves and their kids, but it always nice to be considered for my age, because I really don’t have a lot of money and this is going to make things much easier as my bank account dwindles down.

On my way back from Gokulam, which is on the
Northeastern part of the city, and I was planning on walking the whole way home to keep strengthening my legs. I was pretty close by the palace, but completely lost and pretty tired when I saw the rickshaw driver again. I still can’t remember his name.

We got to talking and he started to tell me about his friend who is into Ayurveda and they showed me their awesome essential oils, made completely from plants. Sandal oil, Lavender, Amber, you name it they have it. I bought some lavender, but I’ll give you the full details in my next post on Ayurvedic medicine. We made a plan for real this time and I decided that I would give a little trust because he seemed to just genuinely be interested in me and in general liked foreigners. He took me to the palace to see it at night, with the lights, which is pretty incredible.

We then went to his friends medicine shop, where I found all kinds of awesome oils and medicines. They had a ton of marijuana oil for therapeutic and medicinal benefits, but I didn’t try any cause I didn’t want to pay for it. Then we went to dinner and I ate like a freaking king for under 4 dollars.

Afterwards, we went to a restaurant that has the best Indian food I’ve ever had, hands down. We hung out for an hour or so and I got to ask them all kinds of questions. Indian people are so laid back its incredible. Apparently, the Jois shala is currently the top school of yoga and Saraswathi the best teacher, though they spoke a bit about the elite nature of the shala. That means there are a lot of arrogant white people around, though I haven’t really seen this side of things and really don’t want to. Learning about Saraswathi’s unique method from the outside was pretty cool to hear, especially considering that I met her earlier and I will be practicing with her for the entirety of my stay. One woman named Katie that was studying under her told me that Kino McGregor and some other semi-famous yogi were here and she said that the Jois fire was the hottest around. It’s also the most expensive. Cool, I guess.

Back to the rickshaw homie; this guy was just totally showing me India and just being my friend for no reason other than he knew I was foreign! It was awesome! I think that foreign people must be extremely interesting to them, because it is very expensive to travel outside of the country. But the driver and his friend were cool enough that when I couldn’t take money out of the ATM, they lent me some dough for food! I will repay them tomorrow, but wow it’s really amazing how generous they were. I am so grateful that I got to eat good Indian food and make a couple of friends!

There is a really interesting juxtaposition between acceptance of poverty and greed and it all has to do with expectation. Some seek to receive, others seem to avoid it for no reason. I tried to give one guy an extra 10 rupee for a raw coconut and he refused. On the other hand, the dinner server couldn’t seem to wait for his tip. He was standing over me as I got out my wallet and paid.

I came back to Gokulam this morning, but my friend didn’t show up on time so I had to take a separate rickshaw, which sucked. Some rickshaw drivers really can be jerks, they try to take advantage all the time. But I got to the Shala at 9, walked in and started the primary series.

I practiced this morning so I finished my 5 sun salutation A & B, then started working towards standing postures, triangles and side angles. That’s really all I have been taught in the strict traditional method and I forget the order of poses, so Saraswathi started telling me what to do, in spite of everyone else in the room. It was kind of awesome, to receive that kind of attention while she was assisting others she just kept talking to me, trying to tell me what to do, how to go about the postures and such. At the end her assistant came up to me to make sure I was okay and I think she was surprised that I didn’t understand what she meant. I’d rather be critiqued completely on something rather than left to stagnate in bad habits. Yoga is truly a practice where bad habits can be formed, whether it’s a thought process, or an alignment issue, or whatever.

The traditional Ashtanga method have some particulars that I am very unused to, in transitions and even in the postures themselves. It’s probably going to take a few days to get it all down, but the standing postures are rad, I’m happy to do them a bunch. I’ll probably practice the order mostly, rather than working with my breath tonight, just to get my body used to it so I can stop thinking about it. It’s kind of weird for me to think about my practice while I do it because I am used to just flowing with what my body wants. This is more disciplined and more rewarding as a result.

I am very excited for tomorrow, and for hanging out tonight, I am on a mission to find my friend, but I can’t remember his damned name!

Also, I saw my first monkey today, from a distance, in a tree above the city. Next quest monkey pictures!

In the meantime, check out my latest pictures below:

cows and dogs eating trash

 

police_officer_Mysore

 

calves on the street

 

stray_pup

 

stray_family

 

indian_randos

An Interview with Colin Wright

Colin_Wright
About 5 days ago, I wrote to Colin Wright, an indie author, expressing how much I appreciate his work and how he has really inspired me for 2015. He travels and has written a buncha books. Well, being the responsive young chap that he is (though I think he’s a bit older than me), he responded and said he would be happy to answer some questions for my blog.
I couldn’t resist the chance to ask a fellow traveller about their perceptions of yoga and go figure, he’s a yogi. He also written over a dozen books and travels constantly, exploring the world and staying in each country for about 4 months at a time.
Besides having some incredibly interesting things to say about yoga, Colin has developed a very balanced approach to traveling and never being in one spot for too long, so he has a great perspective and a provocative voice. Enjoy!
1. Do you have any experience with yoga? Favorite poses? styles? Any experiences you would care to share?
CW: You know, I actually practiced yoga every day for about ten years. Love it as an exercise and means of better understanding my body/managing my health. Have never really been into the spiritual side of it, but I think the health/meditative benefits speak for themselves.
I’ve tried a lot of different modalities, but tend to prefer those that focus on postures and stamina. Doing yoga was one of the few things that allowed me to wear myself out and sleep well back when I was working myself to death in LA. Very valuable habit.
2. I heard you visited India. What was that like? What were your favorite places?
CW: I lived in Kolkata for about 5 months, and it was tragic and educational and inspiring in equal measure. There are so many problems that operate on the foundational level, there, and so many people suffer day-to-day as a result. On the flip side, I met some incredible people, and learned a whole lot, especially in terms of attaining new perspective; it was so radically different from anywhere else I’ve lived, and far astray from any lifestyle I’d lived before.
3. What are a few places you are planning to travel in 2015?
CW: I’m in Seattle at the moment, and will be heading to Missoula, Montana for three months at the end of February to prepare for a two-month book tour through the western half of the US and Canada. From there, I’ll tally the votes my readers cast through my blog and see what country I’m headed to next.
4. What kind of music do you listen to on the road?
CW: All kinds. And I don’t mean that in the ‘I have no preference’ way; I actually have a collaborative playlist on Spotify that allows folks from around the world to add whatever it is they’re listening to, so I get to ‘taste test’ all kinds of genres, artists, and styles. I like mixing it up and having stark contrasts throughout my day, and music is one means of achieving that.
5. What is your social life like on the road?
CW: Usually one of two extremes: either very social and meeting and meeting up with many people every day, or completely hermetic, only leaving my flat to take long, silent, meandering walks, and then returning home to sit and write and be entirely in my own head. I need a balance of both to be at my best, in terms of happiness and creativity (and productivity).
6. What is the nicest hostel you have stayed in?
CW: I don’t stay in many hostels, actually. I tend to rent flats in the countries I visit, as I generally stick around for four months or more. I will say that renting is a pain in Kolkata (which is sometimes called ‘the land of paperwork’) and super-easy in Prague (which has many Facebook groups that act as short or long-term person-to-person real estate listings).
7. What was your favorite read of 2014?
CW: Oh, there were a lot of good books last year. One that stands out (and that I find myself referencing in conversation quite a bit) is called How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson. Really compelling read, and some fascinating stories.
8. Any recommendations for India?
CW: Be friendly, be open to new experiences, and be aware that the cops will sometimes hassle you (or even pull over your taxi) looking for bribes. Eat all the food (it’s cheap and delicious), but know that most of it isn’t very good for you. Don’t stick to the tourist track; try and check out some legitimate neighborhoods where people actually live. Have fun.
Thanks Colin, I’ll be sure to have a good time over there. Good luck with your tour and thanks for sharing!
If you are interesting in seeing more of Colin’s work, head over to his blog exilelifstyle.com, you won’t be disappointed!

Hinduism vs. Buddhism

hindu_vs_buddhism

Comparing two religions in their similarities, differences, and the in-between

“Can you do a simple comparison of Hindu versus Buddhism at some time in the future?” -Inga D

This article comes from a request from my good friend Inga, thanks for the great idea!

Most of my experience with these two religions is based upon my knowledge of their holy texts and the philosophy I have gained through school and yoga. I am extremely excited to experience these religions more fully in about 3 weeks when I leave for India. Kathmandu is supposedly a fusion of Hindu and Buddhist traditions and I will be there from April 3rd to the 17th.

Hinduism and Buddhism seem to come from a shared ancestry, both place an enormous amount of emphasis on non-violence amongst other core tenets. Both are more lifestyle oriented ways of life rather than simply belief systems and have origins in Ganges culture of northern India during about 500 BCE.

Buddhism supposedly focuses on the teachings of a single teacher while Hinduism’s teachings are from scattered sources, but there are many influences that are shared, or responded to in the Buddhist religion. For instance, the Upanishads seemed to be responded to by many Buddhist tenets and in fact, most Hindus consider Buddhism to be an offshoot of their religion, considering the Buddha to be an avatar of Vishnu.

Even the meditational 7th and 8th limbs of yoga, Dharana and Samadhi and shared as meditation foundations in Buddhism. Both religions believe that life is full of suffering based on your prior karma and that it is your purpose to follow Dharma, or your righteous path which leads to enlightenment, or freedom from suffering. Both religions reject the idea of angels (protective spirits), or prophets, tend to be extremely open to female ascetics (more so in Buddhism), and both are open to atheists. Click for more information on Hinduism or Buddhism.

Now onto major differences in the religions, we’ll start with what could be the basis of all religions: god and creation. Hinduism believes that god is in everything, that all beings are a part of the Brahman, or eternal energy source of the universe. Therefore, there are a handful of primary deities and many accessory deities in the Hindu pantheon of gods. Buddhism, on the other hand, believes that there is no creator god and that at the core of the human, there is nothing. They explicitly reject a creator god and do not pay heed to any delusions of god that other religions may have, though they respect the beliefs of other religions. Jainism, which has many shared roots with both religions, teaches a sustaining god at the source of the universe who has always been and always will be. This seems to the biggest difference in religions.

The second, and arguably most important difference in the two religions are the tenets of enlightenment. Hindus believe enlightenment is liberation from Samsara to be one with god while Buddhists believe that Nirvana is truly realization of the nothing within, giving freedom from suffering by realizing the freedom of nothingness.

The third major difference is within the meditation practices of each religion, most likely because of the different ways liberation is obtained. Buddhists practice meditation with liberating cognition, or thought patterns, while Hindus practice to slow the mind and to cease thought. Because god is at the source of nothing, focusing on nothing is focusing on god, opposed to Buddhism in which focusing on nothing would not be liberating. The Buddha was the one to express a constant mindfulness, rather than one that would be turned on to practice yoga and meditation, then off during the rest of the day which was a big leap from the philosophy of the Upanishads.

Both religions believe in miscellaneous deities, though Hinduism is the only one to accept them as more than illusion. Hinduism can even have personal gods, as well as personal pantheons of gods. Many Hindu believers belief in thousands, if not millions of different gods, depending on their tradition. Neither puts an intense focus on these devas, or illusory gods, but both are reverent towards the beliefs of the individual.

Hinduism tends to be stricter in practice, at least from the original tenets of Buddhism. Hindus will be extremely mindful while during their rituals, exacting, meticulous, and during yoga you can see that there is a flexion of focus and mindfulness. Buddhists take this concept and apply it constantly, always striving for greater mindfulness, even during things like defecation and chores. Buddhists use the mind as a tool for exploration, while Hindus generally think of the mind as a hinderance from enjoying the pleasures of god.

The most impactful religious knowledge is made more powerful in conjunction with knowledge from different religious traditions and with global perspective on humanity. In other words, combining multiple religions to take the best aspects of each can lead to the most powerful realizations about our shared existence as humans and can help us to unveil our nature and hopefully, to find freedom from the sufferings of this world, in one way or another.

Questioning Faith

jesus_vs_satan

“This is what happens when you give yourself to love completely, my son” the priest sighed, continuing to stare at the crucifix. His own distaste at the particularly vivid depiction was apparent. It was almost like Jesus was there.

The boy, only eight, looked up again at the statue, hung over the altar in the center of the church. He wondered how they had lifted it there. He was so used to seeing the crucifix that it had almost no effect on him. It’s not that he didn’t love Jesus, but he didn’t understand what it meant. Why was this nice man, who had helped many people, killed for what he had done? And why was everyone so concerned about it? He had learned about Albert Einstein in second grade, he had done a book report on him. Why wasn’t Albert Einstein in the church? He had also learned about Gandhi in first grade, and also wondered why Gandhi wasn’t in the church. There were lots of people he had never heard of, Peter, Judas, Luke, Matthew, but none of the people he had learned about in his history classes.

“Father, I don’t understand, why is Jesus the one above the altar? We learned about mother Theresa and Gandhi, and Martin Luther King in school. Why aren’t they in the church, or above the altar?”

“Well, my son, there are really many reasons why Jesus is your savior.”

“My savior?” said the boy. “What does that mean?”

“That means he came to Earth, to save you from your sins.”

“What sins father?” said the boy. He obviously did not understand.

“Whenever a human is born, they are born with sin my son. This is the story of Adam and Eve, in the book of Genesis. Eve, the woman, bit the apple when she was tempted by satan, the serpent, and unearthed the path of knowledge for humanity. This is our essential flaw, that our ancestors chose for us.”

“But I don’t want to be bad father! I want to be good, like Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph!”

“Then ask Jesus for forgiveness, my son. I can help you with this.” The priest said with a kind smile. “I have studied Jesus for my whole life, so we can talk about him together.” The priests smile grew with each word, excited to help this child learn more about god and Jesus.

“Aren’t we talking about him right now?” said the boy.

“Well, you need to confess your sins. Otherwise, god cannot forgive you.”

“But if god already knows my sins, like you said today when you said god is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-knowing and all-forgiving, doesn’t he just forgive me? I don’t mean to forget my homework, or leave my gym shorts at home, so won’t god just forgive me?”

“No my son. You need to recognize your sins as sins in order for them to be forgiven. You have to ask, god will answer in his own way.”

“So if I ask god for a new bike, he’ll give me one if I’m good?!?” the boy said with newfound enthusiasm in his eyes. The priests smile faded into a heart laugh, full of empathy.

“No, my son, god does not work like that.”

“So I can ask for forgiveness and he gives it without question, but he won’t give me a new bike if I’m good? What gives? I thought god was all-powerful and if I’m good, I think I should get a bike. Don’t you, father?”

“Things appear in our lives when they are meant to my son. God will give you this gift if he sees fit to award you with it. And yes son, I think you should get a bike. Maybe you should talk to your parents about it.”

“Good idea!” the boy said enthusiastically, but the priest could tell that he still had questions.

“What else concerns you, my son? Why do you look like you are still in contemplation. Can I answer any more questions for you?” he said slowly, making sure the boy felt comfortable to express his feelings. He prided himself on making his church safe and available for the youth, after all, they are the future.

“Well, I still don’t understand what made Jesus so special. Why can’t I be like Jesus? I want to do miracles and help the poor and teach people about happiness and love, just like him!”

“Jesus was special my son. He is god’s son and he sacrificed himself, despite his own divinity, to show humanity the power of love.” He gestured to the altar. “This is the ultimate love, my son.”

“But so did Martin Luther King and all of the martyrs. I just don’t understand why Jesus was different from them.” the boy looked ashamed and hung his head.

“Doubt is a part of faith my son. It makes you stronger, there is no shame.” He held the boy’s head up and looked into his eyes. “Jesus was different, because he chose. He knew that he was going to die, yet he chose to continue on his path. That is what makes him special, son. That is why he was the son of god.” The priest released his gaze and looked back to the cross. “He chose to suffer, to come to Earth, to teach us how to love, despite knowing that he would be crucified.”

“Wow.” The boy sat for a moment in thought. “So while he was in heaven, he decided that he would go to Earth, even though he would be tortured and killed? So Jesus knows the future?”

“Of course, my son. Jesus and God are the same.”

“But why didn’t god to come to tell us himself? Why did he need to have a son?”

“Because God does not take human form, my son. His divinity is too complete. Jesus needed to be sent so that we could see and understand.”

“But doesn’t that mean that he isn’t all powerful? If he had to send his son instead of himself, then he couldn’t come to teach us, right?” the boy now looked confused and disappointed. His brow was heavy.

The priest took his time to respond. He knew that his answer would be important, “I don’t think it is a question of power, or of god not being powerful enough to come himself. Jesus is god in human form. They are the same, there is no difference.”

“But Jesus died,” the boy said with certainty. “Doesn’t that mean that god died?”

The priest looked down. No one had ever asked him this before. “Well, god can’t die son. In the same way, Jesus can’t die. That’s why he rose from the dead. Because he was God, and death has no power over God.”

“But Jesus isn’t around now… If he was all-powerful, why did he only stay for 40 days after he died and was resurrected, instead of living for all of eternity with humanity? Wouldn’t that be more representative of his love, rather than dying for sins? He could still talk to us and teach us so much! He could be the world leader!”

“That’s not how it works, son.”

“How do you know? You aren’t Jesus, maybe you don’t know him as well as you think…”

“Son, I have spent my life studying Jesus’ work. I eat, sleep, and live by his work. Why do you think I don’t know Jesus?” the priest said with serious consternation. The smile was gone.

“Well, what if he is different from the stories. I mean, what makes the Bible different from any other book? I really don’t understand it, because my mom showed me the Veda and some Buddhist scriptures, and they have the same stories as the bible. What makes it so special?”

“Well, son, it was written by God.” The priest’s smile returned in full force.

“How do you know?” The priest’s smile faded into a frown, to match the boy’s seriousness. The priest could tell that he wasn’t going to stop.

“Faith, my son. I believe the Bible was written by god, and therefore I study it and live by it.” the priest talked slowly and deliberately, making sure to put some serious resonance in his voice.

“So you just believe? You don’t think about it? It’s really hard for me to believe that someone was eaten by a whale and lived, or that Jesus rose someone from the dead father. How can you just believe these things?” The boy looked concerned, confused, and frustrated, all at the same time.

“I do think about it son. But my faith is greater. So I believe in these godly. So that my soul can find eternal repose in Heaven, with God and Jesus.”

“Father, I just don’t understand. What if they are wrong and you have wasted your life worshipping Jesus as God when he was like you and me and Martin Luther King? A human, and not a God?”

“Son, now its my turn to play the skeptic.” As the priest spoke, a wry smile came to his lips, though it was a grin of understanding, rather than deceit.

“My boy, I can see God within you, even as we speak. His will is strong in you and the strong question, search, and decide for themselves. So I will tell you what I learned from Voltaire, ‘I believe in God because if he does exist, I will be eternally rewarded in heaven. If God does not exist, then there is nothing after death and my faith will have not mattered in the first place.’”

The boy looked strongly at the priest, as though he was deciding something. Then, without warning, he hugged the priest. “Thank you, father.”

Then the boy walked from the church, unconvinced and uncertain, but knowing that he could return whenever he needed to.

 

You don’t need to be Saved

This article might offend you if you are Christian, so if you are, you are forewarned.

There is one concept that exists within all of the Judeo-Christian religions that I completely disagree with and I believe is consistently misinterpreted as a foundation for the faith that accompanies the religions that stem from Abraham. Original sin. This cascades from the book of genesis into the entire religious tradition and causes a separation between humans and their environment as “the land of the corrupted”. It makes the entire world evil, because at the core of the human race, there is this flaw described in Genesis as the fruit of knowledge.

I think that somewhere along the line, mis-interpretations led to ignorance of the original meaning behind the story, that man is caretaker of his land. We are unifiers, creators, builders, sustainers, and our gift of intelligence means that we must learn how to sustain the system that we are a part of. And to view the entire world as flawed and sinful by nature, must be very depressing, hopeless, except for the afterlife, which leads to a tremendous fear of death and precipitation upon the moment of exiting this realm of consciousness (or going to heaven, whatever).

So what I am saying is, there is no original flaw, just the chaos of the universe, which people like to interpret themselves as the victim of until they are let into the pearly gates for their subjugation of suffering in this world. The truth is, this world is suffering, and yet, that is what makes it so beautiful. Without conflict, there is nothing. So rejoice in the somethingness, the thereness, the presence, instead of worrying about what is not, what could be or what should be. It’s not that you don’t want to think about how things might be different, but looking back can only take you to imperfect and subjectively biased memory, so let go.

There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a sinner. And that idea was developed by humans to try to teach people how to live more fruitfully and harmonically with their neighbors. That is the biggest reason why the 10 commandments were developed by men, influenced by the code of Hammurabi. You are an animal, like a dog, just a whole hell of a lot smarter.  Think of how lazy you like to be, you can sit in bed all day, no problem. We all can, we do it when we are sick. I have this argument with people a lot, but I really don’t think humans are too much smarter than animals. Maybe I am biased because of my language major, but I honestly believe that the only major difference between a human and an animal is our language processing which leads to increased complexity of social interactions which has led us to a collective consciousness, which is now directed mostly by interactions on the internet.

I am a big fan of Jesus’ work, however, I don’t like the church or any formalized establishment that claims to teach Jesus’ work because he was inherently anti-establishment. I don’t think he would be super stoked about the church, at all. I also think that he would be pretty pissed at Joel Osteen for being such a tremendous douchebag. I mean, go to his website, it looks like the ’08 Obama campaign, “Give hope”, “hope now”, “encourage yourself to be more encouraging” and all of that self-improvement bullshit that really only has to do with you wasting your time and money listening to his voice, which is probably really enjoyable for some people.

So yeah, I think our friend Jesus would be pretty fucking pissed at how things have turned out with his teachings, from misinterpretations to blatant disregard for metaphorical storytelling and mythological literature. There are no magic tricks, apart from the love the Jesus teaches being transformative in the highest degree, but let me ask you, have you ever felt this love at church? Blinding light, bliss, peace, nothingness? I don’t think this kind of stuff happens at church, but it definitely does in mediation, and if you look back to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, what the fuck you do think he was doing out there? Enjoying the blistering sun and probably big lack of water and proper sanitation? No way, he was probably breaking down his body and mind so that he could discover the core of his humanity and become aware of the awe-inspiring forces at work inside of his body and mind. (which if you think logically about what humans have written about god, it has to be self-referential to the life that already exists, because we are essentially the top of the food chain)

So why the hell do people go to church, when it wasn’t ever mentioned by the propagator of the religion. “Yeah” he said. “Go once a week, then when you die, you be let into an all inclusive resort on a cloud with a big golden gate and everyone you’ve ever met will be to congratulate you on your life”. The kingdom of heaven that Jesus was talking about had nothing to do with death! He was talking about the mental state of consciousness when you exist in this world. He was explaining relative psychology and true happiness, not some technique for ensure that you can life forever in heaven.

If Jesus were still alive, and you asked him to save you, what do you think he would say? He would probably say something like, “Why do you need me to free yourself to live in the liberation of the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, it’s all in your own head, if you want something to change, then go change it. But there is nothing wrong with you to begin with that you have to change.

Acceptance for the chaos of the world and willingness to continue on will save you from your own thoughts. You don’t have to know what happens after you die, you don’t have to think about the bad things you’ve done to become a better person. All you need is the somethingness of the present moment and a big breath in to enjoy your consciousness.

This is how I think about things so I am really not sorry for expressing myself. Come practice some yoga with me sometime!

Learning to Slow Down

Sunset

Yoga is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Especially for someone with a hyperactive mind.

When I was 6 I was diagnosed with ADD and given a prescription for Ritalin. I was a little troublemaker with a big imagination; a dangerous combination for any parents. At six I was recommended by my first grade teacher to see a neurologist to examine my behavior and cognition; he had me play with blocks, asked me to touch my nose and keep track of both of my fingers at the same time. Some general cognitive tests. He thought medication would be best considering that it was not a severe case, but fit perfectly into the symptoms of ADD. Plus I struggled with behavior in school.

I took a pill each morning that had positive effects on my behavior for the classroom environment. It made me focus on learning rather than allowing my attention to wander and continually distract other people while they worked, which it often still does. My learning wasn’t affected, but everyone else’s learning. Over the next few years, it became obvious that I was a very disruptive student and did not do well with rules, organization, or authority. Especially unwarranted authority or meaningless rules. I still don’t like any of those things. My mind simply functions at a higher level and processes faster and more creatively with disorganization. Over time, I have come to view this as a creative attribute rather than a defect or disorder.

In high school I began questioning my need to take a pill in the morning. What made me so different from anyone else? My sophomore year I stopped taking it so much. In the summer between my sophomore and junior year I took summer school to get ahead. During summer school my parents and I did some behavioral analysis with one of the teachers; he was a pretty awesome teacher. He noticed significant shifts in my behaviors based on whether I had taken medication or not and would fill out evaluations throughout the days. It was obvious that the medication helped in school. This solidified my need for the medication for the remainder of high school, though now I was in charge. We upped the dosage because I had been taking the same pill since 1st grade and changed drugs to Conserta, a new time release formula that supposedly had superior release mechanisms.

Conserta was awful. Junior year of high school was probably one of the most depressing times in my life. The come-downs were extremely saddening and dark; some of the worst feelings that I have ever felt were on that drug. We tried again with Adderoll and that worked better, though nothing ever seemed as smooth as the Ritalin. I now attribute this to an increased awareness as a result of trying the different drugs, rather than the drugs themselves or Ritalin being superior to the others. This time was definitely an intense time of self-discovery and learning about myself, not to mention the fact that I was 17. It was a rough year; I sprained my ankle badly to take me out of rugby and my social life struggled due to the depressions of the drugs.

Senior year was much smoother; I learned to regulate the new drug, Adderoll. I had a phenomenal second semester of my senior year, in sports, socially, and in the classroom. I got a 3.8, scored in the national rugby championship to come in second in the nation, and developed friendships that remain strong today. Then college happened.

I left Sacramento for the unknown of Spokane, Washington in the eastern portion of the state. I isolated myself at Gonzaga, a Jesuit school. I still have the utmost confidence in the Jesuit education system; those priests are some of the smartest, most spiritual people on the planet. My high school had about 20 of them, but I didn’t meet too many in college, likely due to my aversion to church.

I struggled at first; I was alone when I had such close friends from high school and took plenty of classes off to hang out with new people. But school was ridiculously easy after the great education of Jesuit High and I didn’t have to try too hard. The rugby team was easy-going and kind of competitive; a complete opposition to my high school experience. Adderoll became less a part of my life than ever before.

Freshman year passed without much incident. Sophomore was much of the same, until the second semester when I started taking the core classes for my business major and realized that the business education was not for me. The teachers taught directly from text books and had a few tests a semester; which in my personal opinion becomes useless and forgotten information. I can learn from a text-book by myself; at least I thought this until I didn’t study at all. My grades were awful and my motivation even worse. Then I switched majors.

I had planned to do an international business so that I could travel and see the world all while making millions. It became pretty apparent that this course of study would not work, so I changed to French, which I had planned to minor in. This allowed me to spend one year in Paris, rather than the 5 months of a single semester that my business major would have allowed. My grades in French were not great and the teachers were hesitant to send me over; if I was struggling at Gonzaga, surely I would struggle in Paris. I probably would have if I wasn’t exposed to yoga.

My first days home were a bit boring, but my mom asked one day if I wanted to try yoga; which I had never really heard of and figured it might be a good workout. I took one class with Scott Emerich at East Wind in Roseville and got hooked. That summer, I took classes from Destiny and Ryan and a passion grew inside of me. Meditation, especially physical mediation, was unlike anything I had ever done before. I loved it and that summer did yoga every day. I knew I was leaving the country, but had become so hooked on my practice that I wanted to keep going while I was there. Ryan, who I am eternally grateful to, gave me a few yoga books like the Gita, and recorded classes from Rusty Wells and Bryan Kest.

I took my mat over to Paris and loved every second of France. My best friend in the whole world, Kevin Taya, was there and I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. Kevin first visited my family as a foreign exchange student when we were sixteen and we were best friends ever since. His family became a second family to me and I spent Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, and a few other holidays in his quaint and beautiful house in Nandy, about 45 minutes via RER (the public train system) Southeast of Paris.

My first semester, I got a 4.0. I worked hard to learn the language and immerse myself in the culture; it became apparent when my oral French skills improved so dramatically that I got compliments constantly from my teachers when I returned home when I had been previously critiqued (and rightfully so). I got a membership at Bikram Paris for a few months and did my first juice cleanse. I adjusted magnificently to the challenge of a new country, language, culture, and history; I also loved being an American around people from all over the world. But nothing is as expansive for the imagination as a new language in a new city, in my personal opinion.

I think of that year in Paris as the year that I learned who I was, or at least who I have the potential to be. Meditation changed my life, yoga was something I did to equilibriate my body physically and I could tell that the mental benefits were enormous. I did my practice most days. I had even gotten a new drug, Focalin, which was my favorite of all the drugs I had taken so far; the come-down was lighter than Adderoll and the “up” was not as intense. I probably used it a total of 5 times in France; I honestly forgot about it.

All things set aside, I no longer take medication. At all. Yoga taught me that going fast has its consequences; eventually the body will catch up with the mind. I have always been a speed demon in skiing, running, learning, reading, you name it I’ve tried to go fast doing it. Yoga taught me the joys of going slow, of actually enjoying the moments as they come and go instead of always rushing to the next thing. Being in a rush is not how you want to live! Because truthfully, life is happening all around you all the time; when you are solely focused on only one things its easy to miss what is happening around you.

Now I think that I am learning to slow down even more; to allow my mind to fluctuate rather than reacting to sensations or feelings. Now I am be able to observe these peaks and valleys as they happen. This is especially important in emotional intelligence; to sift through situations with intuition and mindfulness rather than bulldozing others to get what you want (something I have done my whole life) or by forcing your own agenda on the situation. Slowing down allows you to actually enjoy the things that you cultivate and create in your life, rather than just moving on to what’s next. Take a deep breath and enjoy the flow; it will only happen once.

Carpe Diem is a concept that I think fits in well here, but lets tweak it a bit to Carpe Omnia. Seize every moment of your limited time.

The Death of Dreams (part 2 of 3: Love)

When we are young we idealize about love. Disney helps, but it’s probably also a natural characteristic, that we view things through a lens that says they should be perfect. I was no exception to this rule and still struggle with it. I dream about somebody that might not even exist; I also think sometimes that maybe I am incompatible with most people? But on the other hand, maybe I’m not, I just don’t give myself a fair chance. The truth is that love is nitty-gritty, it’s not always pretty, and sometimes you have to stop worrying about it.

I fell in love in Paris once. When something like that happens you start to expect big things out of life, and out of love. It kind of shifts the lens backwards and refocuses you on a bigger picture. But expectations lead to suffering and confusion so perhaps this is not such a good thing. But I honestly believe it’s not a question of how I act at all, rather a question of how I think. Maybe my own expectations about love that influence my unconscious decisions. It’s also possible a divorce that happened a few years ago, not mine, still has me troubled. But love seems to have changed for me, radically, in the past few years. Since that crazy year in the city of love just over four years ago, everything about the world seems to be different.

I’ve learned to drop my expectations and take it for what is, rather than allowing my imagination to get the better of me. The heart of love is romanticism so I allow the present moment and the sensations of happiness to dictate what I do. I find myself now grounded with others in the real, rather than floating alone amongst ideals. I try to find the beauty in every moment, not that I succeed or expect to. But the quest itself is enough for me.

Love is not about ideals. It is about commitment, reality, and the pursuit of a shared future, hopefully prosperous. I thoroughly enjoy my freedom now that I have sacrificed to create; teaching yoga is truly a joy in my life. But I have a relationship with yoga as well; some days I don’t want to practice or don’t practice when I know I should. Maintaining my relationship is about commitment, going when you don’t want to and being reliable and available. This is how dreams become reality, but reality is truly the death of a dream. This is how they die, in a good way. Now you can enjoy every second of what you have created, for creation to flourish death is an integral player.