Escape to Here

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you do a Google search for “escape to here”  you do not, ironically, find a picture of the place you are.

Instead, you are invariably flooded with images of some paradise or other with palm trees; or an endless menu of other-worldly commercial hideaways and accommodations, both decadent and inviting; or drool-worthy real-estate listings for multi-million-dollar single-dwelling island properties that you can’t afford.

The Great Escape, sub-text says, is away from Everything, Everyone, and Everywhere.

So, basically, the poor people of India and China, living in cramped countries with populations into the billions, are totally screwed.

Even in North America, where plenty of land, bordered by white picket fences, abounds – we’ve been altogether Nimby-cized. And “Not-In-My-Back-yard” is often still too close for many people’s comfort.

I am not an island. You are not an island. But in this day and age, how many of us, some days … most days, even maybe? …  wouldn’t just LOVE to escape alone (or maybe with just one or two of our favourite peeps) to a tiny mass in the middle of the sea that we could call our own?

We crave peace, solitude and quiet – and, yet, so often we run from it. Like agile predator and prey, we scramble to escape the moment – getting lost in a crowd, paperwork, video games, television, love affairs, drugs, compulsive worry, regret, fantasy, fear and self-loathing … and we don’t even need to run away to Las Vegas to do it! (Although many people do.)

If you are not Here – you are Nowhere.

But the great thing, is that in any moment or in any milli-second of your life, you can instantly travel from No-where to Now-Here. But you have to make the conscious choice – again, and again, and again. No vacations from the Now EVER pretty much guarantees the best stay possible!

And whoever thinks time-travel is impossible obviously hasn’t yet explored the well-worn wormholes inside virtually every human heart and psyche. We’re shape-shifters, time travelers and escape artists, all rolled into one.

Here, Now, right where you are … without changing a thing or spending a pretty penny … is really where it’s at. Isn’t that cool?!

So I think the real Grand Escape, my friends, is the death-defying escape back to Here.

Make peace with the moment – and it will set you free! No passport required.

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Yoga – anytime, anywhere

September 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yoga is like brushing your fuzzy morning teeth, eating to not be hungry, coming home after a crappy day at the office, taking out your ponytail, washing off your makeup, peeling off protective, false and unnecessary layers, getting naked and getting real …

so that you can be clean, clear, natural, at ease and empty .

Empty?? Isn’t that backwards?? Shouldn’t we, rather, strive to be full, happy, complete?

Forget that quest – or you will always be unsatisfied and lacking. Don’t try to fill yourself up. Rather, empty yourself with abandon … like you take out the garbage and clean house in the Spring … a clear mind and open heart are the only way to true freedom.

Empty to live fully.

Let your yoga bring you back – again and again – from craving, aversion, delusion and clinging, and into the circle of Life.

Digging for buried treasure

June 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

There is a fine line between work and play, when it comes to digging in the dirt on a summer’s day.

As a kid, it didn’t occur to me that gardening could be such a source of pleasure – work at play. Tending to the flower beds was just something mom and dad did to keep things looking nice – or so I thought. Back then, if I was kicking around in the dirt, it was making mud pies, digging to China or for buried treasure.

I liked to pick the peas, pluck the ripe cherry tomatoes, and snip parsley when mom sent me out  into the backyard with scissors at dinner time for salad garnish. I relished the fruits of their labour, but knew nothing of  the love of cultivating something, the deep nourishment that comes from watching and helping something grow.

Now I know – at least on the level of green(ish) thumb. I’m not a parent yet, but I imagine that, on some days, at least, parenting is a whole lot like gardening. It starts from a seed, you water and feed, tend to over time, through sunshine, drought, weeds and infestations, seasons of change, as it becomes what it is meant to be.

I have come a long way from killing my house plants and trying to dig myself perpetually, in vain, to another place, time or self. I work. I play. And through it all, I try to be me.

I have become an adult, most days, anyway, and yet, I am delighted by the frequent discoveries that I still get to be a child.

This summer, I have taken to cutting up 1×1 foot squares of grass in our backyard to make planting beds. It’s hard work, but oddly simple and pleasurable – even meditative. As I focus on the task at hand, my mind quiets and opens into a clear sky, and I can look up and watch my thoughts dance across it – a visceral experience of what’s on my heart that day. I feel like I get a lot accomplished, doing very little.

We really should have “to be” lists, also.

Yesterday I surprised myself when my shovel hit upon something hard and unyielding in the garden. With a flood of childlike wonder, I started to dig with enthusiasm. What could it be? A long-lost artifact, a time-capsule meant to be found and opened in some other age, a hidden jewel, a lost toy ….

It was a rock, a big hard rock, that was pretty and smooth and topaz-coloured, and I washed it off under the tap and saved it.

A rock, to some, is a buried treasure to another. Dig in the dirt. Find out for yourself.

The alchemy of healing

May 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

While downtown the other day, I saw three street guys huddled around a sidewalk bench.

On first glance, I knew they were homeless because they were coated in dirt from head to toe, like a massive exhaust pipe, named Life, had belched on them.

Then I saw what they were doing.

As people rushed by, the world had stopped for these three dazed hobos with matted hair and wild, vacant eyes, who were elementally engrossed in cracking the safety seal of a spritzer bottle of hair spray, probably bought moments before with pan-handling profits, at the drug mart inside the mall.

An innocuous vanity purchase to many, was a death wish in vain to these three poor souls.

I watched them lift the spray cap and take turns sipping the toxic solvent, and a heavy rock formed in my stomach. It was a dense, dark ache of rhetorical pain, I imagined, like theirs –  screaming out, loud and clear, in the streets at lunch-hour for everyone to hear, without hope or expectation of reply.

“How can they do that to their bodies, to their minds, to the gift of life, itself?” I cogitated.

Yet how could I possibly comprehend such desperate pain?

I walked on – because what do you do?

For a fleeting moment, I thought of running up and ripping the bottle from their hands, screaming  “Don’t you see that you are killing yourselves?”

But what would be the point?

Even in broad daylight, we’ve been taught that other peoples’ pain is private.

We turn a blind eye out of respect, and because it’s uncomfortable. Here, in this modern world, we believe in the culture of work, freedom and personal accountability. We make choices. And we lie in the beds that we make.

As a society, we believe in community spirit – but to a point.

We also believe in every-man-for-himself. And too often, this inbred arrogance, our sheer busy-ness, our grand belief in manifesting destiny, all work to dull the natural senses, leaving us immune to the inconvenient cries of battered, penniless souls.

In a rush, we walk away from darkness – leaving those in it to fend for themselves.

That afternoon, I walked away feeling fractured, gutted by their pain and, for hours, by the knowledge that the gift of life to one, may be pure hell to another; that one person’s non-aerosol hair-styling product may be another’s liquid salvation.

Is it a twisted world or what?

I walked on, because hope, in whatever shape or form, should never be taken away.

But even if it proves fatal?

I wondered.

We choose our medicine. We all want to be happy and free of pain, like the Buddhists say. Our pain may be relative to the next person’s, but it stings the same.

Then, there in the street, another feeling spontaneously arose from the pit of my stomach. It was a certainty, this time, that true happiness is something empirical. We can define it, trust in its existence, search for it, and know it by feel.

And this is what I know: it will never be found in a bottle of hairspray or in the fleeting pleasures of drunk escape; nor is it in vanity, success, money or property – though a roof over your head, food in your belly, physical and emotional safety, human dignity, purpose, and plenty of exposure to sunlight and love, may be a very good start.

Some people get robbed of the essentials early on, and never quite recover. Pain can be insidious that way. But so can love.

No one possesses the cure. And yet every one of us carries its blueprint inside.

Inner light can only burn as brightly as you allow – and here is the thing: if you can bear to stand in the light of your own pain – and we all have our share of it – then you also have the potent power to turn it back into love.

Shiny happy buddha blessings

March 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

I heard the song “Shiny, Happy People” on the radio the other day.

It was a cold, cloudy day, and my mood was less than brilliant; more like “cracked eggshell,” if I were to match it to the paint index that’s been lodged inside my brain lately, from watching too many home-makeover shows on t.v.

Yes, I was definitely a flat, yellowish goo with yokes smashed in, and bits of shell stuck into the mix – until I surrendered to that cheerful 1991 R.E.M. hit song:

Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing

Everyone around love them, love them
Put it in your hands
Take it take it
There’s no time to cry
Happy happy
Put it in your heart
Where tomorrow shines
Gold and silver shine…

The thing is, it is really hard, on some days, to love everyone around you – even (or especially) the ones you’re supposed to love!

And there is, indeed, time to cry; in fact, this week alone, I have wept a small river over such silly and inconsequential things as a messy kitchen, a cat scratch on new furniture, a disagreement with a loved one (that was totally avoidable), and a tear-jerking re-run episode of Extreme Home Makeover, in which a healing sanctuary is built for a little girl, and her family, who are, together, fighting her cancer.

Holy hormones, Batman! Or, perhaps, is it, more accurately, holy life?!

Life is often messy, imperfect, conflicted, unfair and helplessly tear-streaked. But think about it: doesn’t the opposite – neat, perfect, resolved, just and dry-eyed – sound rather, well, boring?

And, while shiny, happy people, laughing and holding hands, are, indeed, beautiful and inspiring things – and always worth striving for – how often do we truly see happiness reflected in peoples’ faces, out in the streets, at the mall, on the subway, in the grocery store, the food court, bank line-ups, and so on?

We are not a world of shiny, happy people – in fact, it seems, as a whole, we are a rather serious, stressed-out bunch that is desperately searching for ever-elusive happiness and, more often than not, turning up a poor facsimile of it; behind which we hide from the real stuff: our pain, regret, disappointment, anger, boredom – our great unhappiness.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to be a big downer here. I’m just being a realist. Life may be shiny and happy, at times, but it can also feel like an impossible puzzle with missing pieces and no full picture of the finished deal, to base your, uh, … puzzling on.

Myself, I’m a pretty happy person, most of the time, though not always super high-gloss shiny; I am, however, committed to doing the work that helps keep my outlook and life relatively buff and soot-free – so that I may stay open to receiving and reflecting the light of love. There are so many prismatic possibilities out there!

What is it, again, that the Buddhists and yogis say about suffering?

That it is just part of the human condition. That we all suffer, and lead lives of quiet desperation, stuffing down our “dissatisfaction” and pretending it doesn’t exist, while spending our waking moments striving toward some perceived “success,” and clinging to material objects and relationships that we believe will keep us safe and happy. Rather than face reality, we literally trip over ourselves, bolting in the exact opposite direction, with eyes glued shut, like a child covering his face during a scary movie, in order to not see what’s on the screen. Not such a pretty picture, is it?

This is an example given by Stephen Cope in his book, The Wisdom of Yoga, which I’m currently reading and highly recommend, if you want to take a closer look at the Yoga Sutras – which is like The Bible for yogis.

In the 2nd-century B.C.E. the Indian teacher Patanjali wrote this ancient text, which has shaped the modern practice of yoga. In it, he explores the nature of human suffering, which, he says, is caused by our ignorance, egoism, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain and desire to cling to life and our own mortality. Pretty heavy stuff – but inspired to make you much lighter!

I can’t help but think of a child who throws a tantrum in the middle of a department store because mom refuses to buy her a new Barbie doll; or a helpless infant who drops her rattle and bursts into tears of despair, only to be completely dry-eyed and smiling seconds later, when mom retrieves said rattle.

When we are young, open-hearted and inexperienced, we are at the mercy of an ever-rolling tide of cravings and aversions. We want, and if we don’t get, it strikes to the core of our being. If life serves up peas when we want pizza, or delivers us “bath time” when we want “play time,” it is quite natural to be totally overwhelmed by cosmic conniption.

As adults, however, presumably we’ve learned to bob along with the tide, and take what comes at us, weighing our options and deriving responses that are most effective for our prolonged happiness – and shininess.

Cosmic conniption is completely unacceptable. We are expected to channel our explosive emotions into acceptable wavelengths of expression. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that growing older doesn’t make you wiser – or acquire more self-control – just by default.

Wisdom is often the last door opened in the great hallway of life, after you’ve hurled every other door open and not found a way to where you want to go!

As the Israeli diplomat and politician, Abba Eban, said:

“Men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all the other alternatives.”

Maybe we’d all be a little shinier and happier, if we stopped fighting the current and just went with the flow more. Whether it’s at home or the office, in traffic, interacting with friends and family or fighting ego-battles inside of your own head, what if we were to imagine that nothing is wrong, that everything is as it should be, that nothing at all needs to change for us to be happy?

When we can see things as they are and accept them, without clinging or being repelled by reality “as it is,” then we are truly free of delusion and suffering.

Buddhists and yogis call this happiness. It sounds like a whole lotta hard work to me. But, hey, why suffer life?

As the wise dude Kahlil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.”

 

"Put it in your heart where tomorrow shines."

No substitute for practice

March 13, 2010 § 3 Comments

There is no substitute for practice: whether you play the piano, do yoga, want to change old, boozing habits or become a happier person, in general.

When you don’t practice, you forget the tune, lose your flexibility, slip back into the well-worn groove of life-draining, time-sucking, dependencies and the future becomes a false saviour – your forthcoming happiness – while the present remains, unhappily, a shadow of its potential.

But who likes to practice?

As a child, I wanted to play the piano so badly that I convinced myself, and my parents, I needed a shiny, new Kimball piano; but when the grand instrument arrived, and I’d taken some lessons and was expected to practice regularly, the excitement of my musical undertaking started to wane.

To be sure, I was no child prodigy, which is besides the point; but the music I played was less than inspired because I fought practice like the Plague, even while the metronome was ticking.

How often, I wonder, do we do this in life?

For years, the true musician in me never really emerged under the regimen of formalized lessons, the chore of daily scales and a fierce resistance to doing (and becoming) the “work.” In the end, I passed my Conservatory exams, succeeding superficially, but never really heard the music.

To truly hear, I think, we must listen first, and dive deep into the serendipity of the process; then, and only then, will the notes dance and sing from our soul.

Maybe being a pianist was simply not my calling; but I have since sat down at the piano, when at my parents house, and enjoyed playing more than I ever did as a kid.

What does all of this mean? I’m not sure exactly – but I believe some people are born with an innate ability to swim in the deep end of Life, and with total immersion, always be open to the mystery and magic of what each moment may hold.

Despite being a Pisces, I was more a fish out of water, as a child. I needed to learn to take the plunge as a human being – and, like anything, swimming in the current still takes practice.

I may never be a prodigal pianist, but the music lives in me now. The tune may be constantly changing, but I can hear it, and that’s what matters; and every time I make it to my yoga mat I am reminded of the power of choice, first of all, in getting me there, and, secondly, of the power of surrender in becoming – and remaining – open enough on my mat to receive the teachings, the fruits of practice that are ripe for the picking, in the moment.

Every moment, every day, holds a lesson, a new harvest – even if it is small, half-spoilt, leaves you with your heart in your hands, your foot in your mouth – or nursing a nasty hangover.

What we can do is practice – practice living the lives we want, come what may; and soon we may discover that, not only is it satisfying, but with each intention manifest, each effort made, life starts to break out of its spin cycle and becomes what we imagined; and happiness, we find, is not only in our hands, but lives in our hearts, and, as Captain Picard of Star Trek says, we have made it so.

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