Travel and Places

9 11, 2017

Yoga and Meditation Instruction is now a Performance Art

November 9th, 2017|authenticity, meditation, transformation, Travel and Places, yoga|0 Comments

This is my second week based in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.  I’m writing this in my home-stay overlooking a rice field, slightly sweating in shorts and a t-shirt while it’s a cold and damp winter back home in Canada.  Thousands upon thousands of westerners come here for the “tropical paradise”, yoga classes, and spiritual teachers, hoping to provoke a meaningful life change.

Quite frankly, I’ve found this “paradise” depressing.  The capitalism and endless shops and services are convenient, but a huge chasm in terms of seeing the Balinese way of life.  And the capitalistic mentality infests yoga in a big way.

Yoga is a huge business here – most of the people I’ve met staying here are doing a yoga teacher training.  And it is a true business – centres maximising profit by having large classes, layers of marketing,  clothing lines, continually selling you not just on a particular technique, but a lifestyle, an experience, a way of being.  An identity.  In the class I attended a couple days ago, the teacher was a walking advertisement for yoga – young, beautiful, graceful, with a voice that belonged in a Club Med advertisement.  In other words, the tone and pacing were very controlled and slow, saccharine sweet, conveying “trust me” in all the overtones – but I had no idea who she was as a person.  She was a yoga performance artist.

5 08, 2007

seeing suffering in India

August 5th, 2007|emotions, freedom, pain, Travel and Places|0 Comments

I’ve recently had talk with a few people about India and my experiences of being there. It’s been over 10 years ago now since I was there for about 6 months. I arrived without friends, guides or plans – simply bringing a large (but mostly empty) backpack and a guidebook. I saw ancient ruins, ashrams, monasteries, beach resorts, sky-touching mountains and parched deserts. I treked in the Himalayan mountains and river rafted and kayaked down mountain rivers. I saw the extremes of India’s culture, from the poverty, to the spiritual traditions, to the Hindu-Muslim clashes. The experiences from that trip expanded my mind and helped shape my mind to be able to see outside the cultural assumptions we take for granted.

Now one of the most common questions I’ve received over the years has been about the poverty in India. “It must have been so hard to see all the poverty and suffering there!” is something I’ve heard over 100 times.

The answer is of course, paradoxical. The truth is that it felt like an extreme relief. It was a profoundly freeing experience to actually see the suffering that was actually there. Here we avoid this. In the North American culture most of us are in, we do all we can to remove all sights, sounds and impressions that suffering exists. We try to hide homelessness, ignore poverty, and even amongst friends there’s usually a tacit agreement to filter our emotions and sufferings. Showing these in a corporate office is usually taboo. We’re uncomfortable with the emotions that seeing direct pain can bring up. In India, on the other hand, it’s all visible. The leprosy on the street is visible; the millions of people living in shacks with unclean water and no toilets are visible. The simmering rage between Hindus and Muslims is also visible.

(This kind of sight, by the way, is not that uncommon. Leprosy is quite common and visible in many streets)

It’s hard to convey why this is such a relief. But perhaps an analogy is in order. Say two people are in an exclusive relationship and one person cheats. The other person knows (as they usually do), but it hasn’t been brought out in the open. There will be a great tension in all interactions between them, because there is a great pain waiting to come up that they resist. So until it does, there will be a feeling of walking on eggshells, and if it continues, there will often be an entire routine built around avoiding the truth that a broken agreement has taken place. Misery will appear. When and if it actually does become visible, and both parties put all their emotions on the table, there will be a palpable sense of relief; the need for pretense is gone. Both sides can actually reveal their emotions instead of living within emotional castles of thick stone walls.

The truth is that suffering exists. Buddhism starts with this simple statement as the first noble Truth. Our society intellectually knows this, but we push it away emotionally. We say “yes, I know about suffering, I know it’s there, but I don’t want to touch it or be confronted with it”. And yet, when we do actually touch it, our heart opens. We simply can’t act compassionately until we actually touch another’s sufferings. We can’t understand others until we fully listen, and listening means fully allowing them to touch you. This touch involves more than the hospital rubber gloves of analysis; it involves an openness that has the possibility of being overwhelmed for a while. Yet being overwhelmed, as I was in India for some time, develops the heart. Emotional muscles need to work, or they atrophy. Allowing ourselves to be touched, and yes, sometimes hurt, by others’ sufferings lets the full range of the heart come forward.

It was actually more of a shock for me to arrive back in Canada than it was arriving in India. I was presented with all my family patterns of hiding real emotions (similar to most families here), and realized I simply could not go back to the way I was acting before. So over the next few years, I did my best to be visible with what was going on. This caused many upsets in my family, but has immeasurably helped me. My parents may not always feel comfortable with me, but their reaction is based on who I actually am, not a game we play.

I generally recommend being immersed in a similar culture for anyone wishing to see other ways of living. It’s not just India of course; there are many, many other cultures that don’t have the emotional straightjackets we do. An example closer to home might be Italians; in general, they tend to be much more visible with emotions, and if fights break out, so what? It doesn’t mean a lack of love. It can easily be part of it.

24 06, 2007

boundaries revisited!

June 24th, 2007|boundaries, conflict, counseling, Travel and Places|1 Comment

In honor of my mother’s visit (there’s a conference on commodity stocks in town she’s interested in) and in self-preparation here’s some thoughts on boundaries. I’m always learning about this when she’s in town!

To start off with, probably the best analogy is that of a cell in our own bodies.

(Note: does anyone else see a similarity to a brain in that?)

The membrane in a cell does an essential function. It controls, among other things, what goes out and what goes in. This is essential, because analogous to us, what is food to one cell can be poison to another. Without a good boundary, health decays as the composition becomes a cesspool, good for little in the long term. Boundaries allow for choice, which is always a good thing.

Boundaries are also essential for clear perception. Without them, it is impossible to tell causal factors, such “what brought up this feeling?” Emotions and psyches are so enmeshed that eruptions occur without rhyme or reason. In a relationship, this most often shows up as drama. Strong emotion occurs, and because of the lack of clear boundaries, it is impossible to determine where it comes from. Thus there is a huge tendency for projection and condemnation.

This occurs even when positive intention is set. Our psyche and energy systems have their “waste products”, much like the cells in our bodies mentioned above. Hence the term “shit”! But this isn’t a bad thing either; as above, what is excrement to one can be food to another, even on an energetic level. However, in a close relationship it is likely the people are similar enough that this wouldn’t be the case; hence the need for boundaries and awareness of actions.

Looking at two people are in a relationship and healthy boundaries aren’t there (which is fairly common, as we as a society are learning about boundaries), I see two general patterns as coping mechanism.

i. Distance/withdrawal. In this case, at least one person withdraws to keep the relationship peaceful and not too rocky. There is a spectrum of this, from conscious choice, to unconscious internal actions. An example of the latter is the overfunctioning/underfunctioning dynamic, where one person relinquishes self in a dance of withdrawal or inability to cope to the other person, who acts like they’re the one who “has it all together”. The former might include two people being “together” but living very separate lives; some societies have very rigid splits between men and women that help keep this distance to avoid drama and having issues come up.

ii. Conflict and drama. Instead of distance keeping the peace, two people jump even closer together. This can be for a variety of reasons, from wanting to “figure out the relationship”, to “resolving issues”, to wanting the other person to “just get it”, to a passionate pronouncement of love without awareness of self. Sometimes this results in conflict between the two parties, but it can also involve triangulation, where two people get close, but see all the froth of the chaos as being “caused” by a third party, which could be a person or even a political/social ill. This coping mechanism is more about constantly “diving in”, because if new issues constantly arise you never have to see more fundamental, pervasive choices.

It’s important to note that there may be underlying issues in all these behaviors, but a major factor is proper boundaries. Or to put it in other terms : knowledge of self. To have proper boundaries goes hand in hand with self-knowledge, and the perception of how complete you are as an individual.

Now, that’s all background. So the question is, how are good, healthy boundaries achieved? Many people get the idea that establishing good boundaries is a constant war zone, where an uneasy truce is arrived at after warning shots. While that can be a boundary, it is not a healthy one, as it can all too easily escalate into an entrenched war zone.

Boundaries are a form of Love.

Although most people wouldn’t see it as this, they do what they are meant to do: provide safety and protection, which is in itself a form of love.

Nothing is lost by setting a boundary. Rather, it is a declaration of the person, yourself, that you are creating in the moment.

Because boundaries are a form of Love, they already exist naturally. You don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is allow them. Boundaries are not cultivated from mammoth efforts. Rather, they are cultivated by allowing the complete expression of your full being, including self-protective elements. This may include elements unacceptable to the culture you live in, but so what? Your self is truly far too large to be contained in any culture.

Take a look at a cat being stroked. At some point, it will have had enough. If restrained or irritated by touch it doesn’t like, it will set boundaries. For those of you not close to cats, this isn’t done with any malice, nor attack. It is the allowing of a message from within that says : what I need in this moment has changed from previous moments. Please listen.

Apart from simply allowing the process, another essential factor is play. It’s very hard to learn anything without playing! You try something out of a sense of discovery and fun, and watch the results. You then try something differently. There’s no right or wrong, only a continual process of learning about Self. This is how children learn for so many years, until we educate it out of them. It’s no accident that most learning in life occurs while this sense of play is unrestrained. Even though playing with boundaries can provoke irritation and ire, that’s no reason to be too serious about it!

People may ask “but people often use setting boundaries as a form of control.” That’s true. If someone is triggered easily, they can be invasive on what’s not alright with them. This IS based in protection and self-love, trying to take care of one’s self – but if a large amount of pain exists then the area of protection desired may be so large it crosses into other people’s lives. This is what control is. In which case, these people need help. And the best help is ALWAYS a good example – a living example of what a loving boundary looks like. It’s by living examples we change the world; merely speaking words doesn’t actually do that much, comparably. And yes, that gives me some humility!