Autobiography of a New
Age Yogi: How to Heal, Thrive and Live Yoga
(My Book in Process)
After more than three decades of Yoga, having trained thousands of teachers, after leading hundreds of workshops in personal and spiritual development and been ruthlessly devoted to our awakening (yours, mine and the world's), and even after starting this project a few times, I'm happy to say it's well on it's way and will soon be complete.
This first section is a gift for you, and I hope the stories and wisdom in it helps you to improve your life immediately. It can. If you have any comments or suggestions, I'm also happy to hear as I'll revise this at least once more before final publication of the complete work.
The room is full of the usual: silverware clanking, voices brawling and mixing, laughter popping through. It’s lunchtime and a full wave of sunlight stands like a sheet opposite where I stand on the other side of this linoleum floored box of a dining room.
My breathing must be labored, panicky, and yet I don’t notice. I’m focused on playing my role, on saying what I must, on showing up. I want to get it over with as fast as possible, and yet I’m also driven to perform my part well. An unconscious dilemma.
I’ve painted half my face blue. An old red and green checkered table cloth has become my kilt and I’m shirtless. I hold a six foot length of PVC piping in my hand. Now I stomp it on the floor. A few people have looked up at me and the other ‘tourists’ who stand frozen in the entrance, yet not enough of them. Getting their attention is part of it.
Two more loud raps on the floor with my ‘staff’ brings most of the faces of the room toward us.
“I am Braveheart. I’ve come to dine with you and freedom is what tastes best.”
I pound my free hand across my chest and dramatically look my face up to the bank of windows over the heads of the diners.
Shouts go up. Someone says ‘welcome Braveheart,’ in the same caveman tone that I’d somehow accidentally adopted.
My heart is thumping hard inside my bare chest. Less from the eyes upon me, and more from the inner eyes, the paranoid gaze that’s always been part of my world, the one seeing my own belly as if from some outside stance.
Mercy then comes as Annie beside me informs the lunchers that she is a cat. The focus is off of me. She meows and says something else though I’m not hearing.
I can’t tell you what a victory this was for me. In part because it hadn’t become one yet, and in part because there’s not yet a way for you to understand it. In fact, I didn’t understand it, not in that Braveheart pounding moment of belly exposure, and it’d be several more days before I ‘get it’, before my reluctance, nay skepticism, nay worse - grumbling - about the role, about the assignment, about the whole program, turns to a smile. In that moment, if I’m also feeling the thrill of being alive, I’m just wanting it to be over.
That said, I will tell you, about the belly, about Braveheart, about the tourists and the diners. I will also tell you, a few more dozen times, what I can’t tell you.
You see, I hear the voices of my ancestors, my family, and worst of all my own chirpy fears clamping down on sharing, on exposure, on phrasing. ‘Not that’, they say. ‘Least of all can you say that, especially not like that.’
That which can be spoken is never the truth, and yet we upon the earth are here to point, to gesture, to pound our staffs and laugh our voices.
There is nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know, and yet, and so, it’s my greatest hope that the words and stories you find here awaken the realizations in you of who you truly are, of what you’ve always known and felt most deeply, and that with each passing page you come to know, in your belly and in your heart:
A few days after the very first yoga teacher training I led, after trainees had left, when my assistant Gabriella and I read the feedback we’d collected from them. Markus, an unlikely yogi from Austria had written: “This is not an ordinary yoga teacher training. In fact, it’s a training in realizing that you are amazing.”
He went on and said plenty about learning the physical practice of yoga, about teaching, and yet what stayed with me were those lines above. Which, as you may already be guessing, apply well to this book you hold (or are listening to).
Markus just gave us our first Universal Yogic Lesson. I put those words in capitals because there are quite a few of these lessons we will be uncovering throughout our journey together. You know them already; they are part of our divine coding. And, when you recall them, remember what you already know, through the stories and examples here, and when I name them in familiar or new ways for you, then your knowledge, that which is potential power, becomes more easily available for you to implement in your life. I’ll give you some suggestions, opportunities, assignments and/or experiments to then sink that learning into practice, into habit, into you owning it.
When you put it into practice the potential becomes actualized.
Universal Yogic Lesson:
You are Amazing
I can’t tell you that either. Not yet. Maybe not ever. It’s likely to sound trite, cliche, empty. I will though, and if this were a scholarly article, a thesis, this would be the point there I tell you that I set out to prove to you - in no uncertain terms - that indeed you are amazing.
Thing is, it’s not provable. Least of all is it something that I can tell you. I did often tell trainees: ‘okay, now that you’ve got here and you were lured by the idea of it being a yoga teacher training, or a raw chef training, what this is really about is you becoming a cultural superhero, a leader. What all of our work, our training, is really about is for you to fall in love with yourself.’
Since I have already potentially steered us into the realm of cliche, it’s likely you know this next story already: if you put a frog into a pot of hot water, it’ll immediately jump out. If the water is room temperature and you slowly increase the heat, what will happen?
Yes, everyone knows that the frog will slowly die, and it is so cliche because it’s also so true in our own lives.
Show you what I mean:
Take a moment right now to feel into, to consider, what dreams or goals have you given up on, especially the big ones from when you were young. Without judgement - and we’ve all let go of some of our fantasies or aims - what did you once want, that you no longer think is a reasonable possibility in your life?
Okay, good. I mean good that you were brave enough and motivated enough to actually go there. Remember we’ve got no evaluation on it, there is no good or bad from our current perspective.
We’ve all given up on some things.
Now, since you’re rolling, what are some things that you have grown accustomed to, that you’re tolerating in your life now? This one too takes just a few moments of consideration, and usually we’ll find 3-5 things lickedy split. A light bulb that needs to be replaced; a lawn that needs mowing, a hole in one of my socks, a pile of papers on the desk. And sometimes they are bigger and (apparently) more important: a ruptured relationship with someone we love; a leaking roof; lack of exercise and a steadily increasing lethargy.
Okay, enough already! I get the point, Daniel.
We all have grown accustomed to things being the way they are, and one of our primary coping mechanisms for what we don’t actually like or feel good with in our lives is to numb ourselves. Remember, don’t let yourself slip into judgement here - it’s so easy to do. Yet doing so would be in direct refutation of the very first Universal Yogic Lesson; it’s also no fun and not at all helpful.
Instead, what you can be doing is adopting a gentle, curious and playful attitude toward all that we discover: here in this book, in ourselves and maybe even in life in general.
It’s worth you knowing right now that you shouldn’t believe a word that’s written here. I made it all up. Really. I did. I chose the words, the order of them; I put them down without any authority other than my own experience and that of working with thousands of people.
Don’t believe a word I say, or anyone else for that matter, unless and/or until it becomes part of your experience. Ah, there’s the tricky part though. In order to find out if it can fit with your experience, you need to try it on.
Believe nothing, entertain possibilities. Take everything I say as a hypothesis. Act as if it’s true so that you can give yourself the experience. Then decide if it’s useful. If it’s not, discard. I won’t be offended. If you only get one or two things of value out of this book, and the rest doesn’t jive for you, perfect. It’ll have been a success, and that’s enough to meaningfully and positively change your life.
On the flip side, if you believe me indiscriminately without feeling into it on your own, without coming to your own conclusions, it’ll have been worthless and empty learning.
Universal Yogic Lesson:
Experiential learning is true learning
I once lived in the Northwest of Spain in an area called Galicia. It’s famous for its rainy weather and a great cathedral that is the destination point of one of the biggest Christian pilgrimages. El Camino de Santiago is a route that’s been travelled by many, Christian or not, in search of healing, wisdom or redemption.
I was lucky enough to live in a centuries-old stone apartment a beer can’s throw from the cathedral itself. Yes, as much as Santiago de Compostela is rife with religiosity and pilgrims, it’s also quite the party zone.
There’s a legend in Santiago about one of the early kings of Spain who placed a high value on spirituality, and not just from the Christian tradition. Apparently he was considered broad-minded and wise himself, and from his valuing of philosophy, he called together all the most holy and wise teachers and scholars and told them that he wanted them to confer and write down the most important wisdom for all the ages.
Of course they were honored, and also had no choice, so they did as he commanded and all of them together went to a remote hermitage where for nine months they debated, discussed and wrote.
When they returned to the king in Madrid, they proudly presented him with a twelve volume set of books, which, they said, contained all the greatest wisdom from around the entire world.
The king was pleased, both with himself for coming up with the project, and with them for the work they had done. His praise was short lived, however, and he quickly proclaimed that although he’s certain they’d done an exhaustive inquiry and clearly much work had gone into the writing, it was simply too long.
No one will read it, he said.
So he charged them with returning to the hermitage and editing it down. Again they graciously thanked their king and set off, albeit as soon as they were out of his earshot there were grumblings. It would have been nice to know how long he wanted it to be nine months ago, said one.
Again though, there was little recourse for them, so after another three months of intense effort, they reduced twelve volumes into one. Sadly though, when they made return trip to Madrid once more, the king’s praise was even briefer this time, and quickly followed by the same conclusion: it’s too long, no one will read it.
Now though, the teachers and scholars stayed within the walls of the king’s castle, certain were they that surely it wouldn’t take too long to essentialize the great work further.
Indeed after a month’s labor they returned to the king and handed him something the size of what we’d call a booklet today. To their dismay and frustration, the king said it again: it’s too long, no one will read it.
Barely able to restrain their annoyance with the king, and yet knowing their lives are always in the king’s hands, they set to work once more.
At last, when this telling, and their story, seemed never ending, they earned the king’s approval and recognition as the having reduced the greatest wisdom of all the ages into just one sentence. When they read aloud this one sentence to the king, he smiled, and repeated it often.
“There’s so such thing as a free lunch.”
I hope you, patient reader, are equally pleased as the king was. And if it seems too simple, it is. And yet, there is indeed wisdom in that sentence.
I will share with you soon even more about how to get the most out of this book. For now though, know that like all great truths, it’s sometimes true and sometimes not.
Part of what there being no such thing as a free lunch means for us here now, is well illustrated by why I love yoga so much. Shortly after graduating college - and indeed it was true what some adults had told me: that my degrees in Philosophy, Religion and English did not amount to me getting a job - and while working in a after-school program taking care of children while also working as a poorly paid local newspaper journalist, I started toward returning to get my PHD in Philosophy.
Then somehow - I consider it the grace of a genie - it came to me that a lot of what we do in academic realms of Philosophy is take things apart. We look at the individual components, analyze them, and maybe, if there’s any time left, we then put them back together.
I hadn’t yet found Yoga Philosophy, and to what or whom I owe the great debt of suddenly stopping my progress toward that PHD, I may never know. I embrace the mystery with gratitude, and years later when I found the yogic path that I’d already been on without realizing it, I discovered one of the most elegant and effective components of it, which is that it’s a practical Philosophy.
In other words, it’s not enough to simply know something. Yoga is a philosophy of putting things together more than taking them apart. It’s the art of remembering the inherent oneness that is all of life. It’s not enough, however, to know that in our heads, or even say it, the yogic path requires that we apply it, that we live it. That’s part of why yoga is so popular: it works.
Universal Yogic Lesson:
Wise is, as wise does - action is essential
There are a zillion yoga classes, and hundreds of books on how to move, breathe, align your body and heal via yoga asana. Asana, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘seat’, more commonly refers to the physical practice of yoga, the postures, that have become a regular part of life in our modern world.
Perhaps yoga is continuing to bloom and grow so phenomenally because now more than ever we need help to sit ourselves into the seat of the natural world, the natural flow of life on earth.
I know well something of the proliferation of yoga asana because I have been obsessed with yoga for more than three decades now. I was once obsessed with the physical side, the postures (and still maintain a great love relationship with the practice), and remain obsessed with the bigger picture of what yoga is.
That’s where you come in. That’s what this book is about.
I once attended a talk by Eckart Tolle, who was new on the American Spiritual and New Age scene having just released his first book The Power of Now. A friend recommended I go, and even though I hadn’t read the book yet, I felt drawn to it. I was new in Seattle and it took me a while to find the massive downtown church. I sat near the back of a room that was already well full.
Alone and curious, I listened and watched. The church’s ceiling was well above us, and the chatter of the buzzing crowd seemed to float in that sweet space gently lit through stained glass.
Eckart entered stage left and slowly walked across to the center where there was a simple chair, a microphone on a stand and a small table with a glass. He sat humbly in the chair, then turned his gaze from one side of the audience slowly across toward the other. If his first quiet moments of entrance had attracted almost no notice, in the few seconds that it took for his head to slowly face each part of the room, the entire audience met him, both in gaze and in silence.
I’d never seen a crowd go so quickly from the alpha-state-active-chattiness to pin-dropping-attention so fast. Sixty to zero in 4 seconds flat. Later, when I purchased some of his talks on audio tape (yep, actual plastic cases with cellophane tape inside them) I noticed the sticker that someone had hand-placed: ‘stillness is contagious.’
Jim Rohn, one of my favorite teachers, put it this way: ‘we become the seven people we hang out with most.’
Part of what makes yoga classes effective is the group vibration, especially when the teacher is skilled at creating entrainment, the phenomenon where people become aligned, together. Like pendulums in a clock shop, we are built for alignment, for merging.
Universal Yogic Lesson:
Environment counts - Who we surround ourselves with counts
Some of the first words that Eckart spoke were “if you don’t speak English, you’ll probably get even more out of this talk.”
While I am not sure if that is true for this book - I’m thinking that at least a little bit of English will be helpful - his words do have some bearing here.
It works like this: pull up your chair to the fireplace, or turn over onto your belly and wiggle your body a little side to side so that you make a perfect you-shaped divot in the sand below your towel. Listen as you practice asana or go for a walk in the woods. May the words you hear link together like the beads that make a rosary or a mala. May they stitch together a fabric of remembering for you, like a quilt where each patch, each section, while fun or ferocious on its own, and perhaps at first oddly incongruent with its neighbor, finds itself perfectly at home, nestled in just right, creating beauty, warmth and peace.
In plainer language I encourage you to sink into these words, like the sand or the quilt, let them wash over you, and know that whether you understand or like my brazen and bullish attempts at humor, my vain tries to convey the ineffable beauty that is life and spirit, or whether these stories subtly or overtly remind you of your own, with each passing page and portion of our journey, part of you will be remembering more and more of the amazingness that you are. That is what we’re here for.
In the words of one of my heroes, whom I’ll tell you more about later:
“We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Das
Wherever you are on your own path, and whether you’re currently feeling lost in a swamp, emerging on the other side of a fire or at a crossroads and wondering which way to go, I don’t guess the guidance in these pages will map your whole way there. Of course the irony is that in fact we’re already, and always, home, though more on that to come later.
I do confidently predict though, that as you wend your way through this experience, you’ll find yourself a little or a lot more sure that you are just the right person to be leading the trip, that in fact not only are you the only one that can navigate it - we’re all counting on you.
Or maybe it’s the positive peer pressure of your truest family. Maybe that’s what awaits you, the remembering of how familiar all this is, how familial we all are.
I do mean it though, when I say no pressure.
Levels of Engagement
When I lived in Bali I used to take my daughter Zaida to a place called Waterbom. Given that there had been a couple of terrorist bombings in the same touristy part of Bali where this water park was housed, it always seemed to me an unfortunate name.
I was reluctant to go the first time. I love being a father, and yet especially in the early days I struggled with doing activities that I considered childish. I’ve so appreciated that as my daughter gets older we find more and more in common in our desired entertainment and activities. And she continues to be my truest guru not the least in the sense of reminding me to be more playful.
Having lived in Bali for some time, and seen first hand the tendency there to shortcut quality of building and/or maintenance in favor of faster and cheaper, when I finally did go and saw the tall, fast, scary water slides, I feared for our safety.
It turns out though, that the construction was sound, the rides fantastically fun and it became a regular spot for us for birthday parties and special events. We once took the entire staff of my yoga center and it was a delightful to see our Balinese staff splashing and playing all day together with the Westerners who were mostly in teaching and management positions.
One of my favorite discoveries at Waterbom is a ride called the Lazy River. Two or three people can drape themselves over the massive inner tubes, and just like you’d guess, simply float through the winding river all the way around the park. It’s especially fitting after the heart and adrenaline pumping action of rides like the Python, Pipeline and Climax (no kidding, those are really the names).
There are some folks who never go on the Lazy River and some who find the Python and Green Viper too extreme.
From my perspective as teacher or coach, I often recommend to people to do things differently than they normally do. There’s wisdom in the simple formula that if we keep doing the things we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting the results we’ve always got.
As your guide on the ride of this book, I encourage you to sometimes choose the lazy river approach. For much of my own life I would have scoffed at that.
I came to yoga from years of playing competitive Judo. I thought yoga was pansy stuff. Right up until I got into it and then found out both how ‘bad’ at it I was, and how challenging it can be.
For those of us that tend toward type A personalities, who are always pushing, achieving and going for more, deeper, faster, the Lazy River approach might be exactly what we need now.
I also loved in Bali how easy it was to access incredible snorkeling. Again with my daughter, we took many trips to the North and East parts of the island where there are living coral reefs and even a few shipwrecks that house unbelievably gorgeous and diverse marine life.
Snorkeling was perfect for Zaida by the time she was five years old in that with fins and a life preserver she was both safe and confident. Once we learned to seal the mask to our face so water doesn’t leak in, and to breathe through the snorkel, we could have the amazing experience of immersing ourselves in the underwater world for extended periods.
There’s a depth of experience that can only happen when we’re cut off from the world of air and the sound above the water. The silence or unique near-silence that happens underwater, in combination with the close proximity of the purple, green, yellow, orange… the stripes, polka-dotted, pointy or puffy… the tiny to the massive…. It’s an experience well beyond looking at the same creatures in books, movies or even in an aquarium.
Many years ago my girlfriend at the time, Amy, and I went snorkeling in the Florida Keys. Even though the water was rough, our captain assured us that once we were in the water snorkeling, the sea’s tumult wouldn’t bother us.
By the time he’d found our destination and he’d stopped the boat, we were a little queasy from the bouncy ride to get there. I was eager to swim away from the boat and turn my attention to the underwater world. For Amy, though, once she got her fins, mask and snorkel on, and was in the water, the queasiness and the rough water combined to the point that she was understandably afraid to let go of the boat.
I was treading water a short ways away. Indeed the captain was right - I felt way better - with most of me underwater I was not bouncing and roiling like the boat was. Amy however, holding on to the boat, was virtually riding a bucking bronco. The fear that kept her hand on the boat was also holding her on to what was making her sick and more afraid.
I was encouraging her to let go. The captain of the boat was telling her she’d be fine. Later she told me that she knew in her head that we were right, but just couldn’t get her fingers to cooperate. Ever experience something like that?
Finally it came to me to swim back to her, and sure enough, as soon as I put out my hand she grabbed on and let go of the boat with the other. We had a magical snorkeling adventure from there on, and both treasure that memory as one full of life wisdom that we are still learning to apply.
Please know, beloved reader, that throughout our experience together here, I will be holding your hand the whole way through. We’ll move through some territory that might be challenging. I’ll invite you to look inside yourself in ways that you may never have done before. I invite you to consider taking the Snorkeler approach, which for us now means going deeper than simply reading the words. It means writing in your journal, responding to some of the questions I ask you. There will be opportunities for exercises, to ‘yes please, do try this at home.’
Of course you can sometimes follow the Lazy River approach and sometimes roll like a Snorkeler would. You always get to choose. Naturally you’ll tend to get more out of this experience by taking the extra step, getting your face under the water and even facing some fears that might arise.
It was also in Bali that I had my first experience in Scuba. At the end of one of our teacher trainings a group of trainees chipped in and bought me some lessons. I always thought that scuba diving looked cool, and I’d loved watching Jacque Cousteau when I was a kid, and yet I’d never gotten the motivation to try it on my own. The gift did it.
It’s true that like many things of value, scuba diving has a significant learning curve. Even in Bali with the relaxed safety standards (I wouldn’t have my first sky-diving experience there), there was a lot of learning and preparation.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. I quickly moved through my initial lessons, got more, and received my first level diver’s certificate. There’s nothing in the world quite like gliding through the water, down, into darker realms, the surface seeming to be far away. I reveled in the magic of controlling my ascent or descent through the use of my breath. Gently swimming through a school of Pink anemone fish is an experience like no other.
Not only does diving require learning and preparation, more gear and financial investment, it also requires overcoming fear. My teacher Philippe, a French man who loved the underwater world, taught me to always have that fear, to value it. He told me about divers who had ignored safety precautions and who had gotten severely hurt.
There’s something of a movement or a buzz these days involving the word fearless. I’ve got a pet peeve about that. Feel free to now picture me stepping up onto a soap box and raising a megaphone to my mouth.
The idea of making ourselves fearless is foolish, futile and frustrating. There is a part of us that is human, that is wired for survival and fear is an essential part of that survival system. Not only is it futile to try to eradicate fear from our lives, which would be akin to trying to get cats not to meow, dogs not to bark and minds not to think - that last one is a whole juicy topic that we’ll come to later - fear has a purpose and benefits.
Don’t get me wrong: fear can be paralyzing and undermining. Our goal is not to never have fear, it’s to develop a powerful relationship with fear. Like the mind, fear is a rotten master, yet can be a very useful servant. On the path to awakening an essential step is to master our fear. We can learn from it, appreciate it (it’s always trying to keep us safe) and still always have the ability to choose what we want to do whether fear is present or not.
One of my favorite exercises that I utilize in groups, usually on the first day of an event, gives participants an immediate and palpable understanding of how our brains are wired for survival. People know that my trainings and events, geared toward transformation, usually include some challenging components. Part of what makes these events so powerful is that we always create a high level of trust, safety and intrinsic motivation, which means that participants are there for a reason, there’s something that they want to get out of the course and their own internal desire for change, growth, moving out of pain, creating transformation - that is what motivates them and gives them energy. People have paid a significant amount of money, traveled, taken time away from work or family. They’ve got skin in the game.
You might already now be deepening in your awareness of what compelled you to pick up this book. What motivated you? And whatever that is, whatever your reasons, I encourage you to set your sights high. What if you could wave a magic wand and at the end of this book your life would be different. What would you want your life to look and feel like?
Back to day one of the event: people already know we’re going to do some challenging activity as the culmination of our first day together. They know that a big portion of the first day is about building that powerful relationship with fear. So, as part of the learning and preparation, midway through that first day we set the room up for an exercise.
Since all of my groups are in some way about helping people to create Vibrant Lives (according to their own definition), it’s not a stretch when I set up a video camera on a tripod and tell everyone that we’re going to film each person introducing themselves and telling what they are passionate about in life.
These days that’s not as scary as it used to be, so I’ve taken to adding that we’re going to stream the video live. And to keep the believability of it I also tell them that they can later choose whether they tell people in their lives about it or not.
Now, by this point many people are getting antsy. Of course there are some (Deep Diver types) who are rubbing their hands together, ready to jump right into it. They are willing to go first. There are others, though, who are already dreading it. Everyone knows that public speaking is the number one fear in the world, and of course if we add the camera it’s doubly scary for most of us.
I do my best to build up the tension, adding pressure by saying how important it is to be able to speak well about our passions, to be able to articulate what we want. Then, just when we are about to start the filming, I ask everyone to close their eyes and tune into their body and minds, to notice what thoughts and sensations they are experiencing.
In the sharing that comes after we open our eyes, people report that their heart was racing, that their palms became sweaty, that their minds were pounding with what they could say, should say, that fears of sounding stupid or lame kept rising inside them.
Then, as you’ve already guessed, I tell them that that was the exercise. It’s so amazing how much fear we can experience just through imagination.
Mark Twain said: “I’ve worried about a great many things in life, most of which never came to pass.”
In what ways have you done the same? Is it a snake or is it a stick?
Then we delve deeper into the brain science of fear and transformation, which we won’t do much of here. It’s enough for you to know that we all do well to turn on an observer part of ourselves, that can witness the fear and its symptoms. When we can observe them, we automatically know that they are not us. See, that’s the trouble with fear usually, it is so pressing and consuming we think it is us rather than something passing through, rather than simply the animal part of ourselves trying to protect our survival.
The thing is, most of what fear is trying to protect us from isn’t actually a danger. Some time ago, we were right to be concerned that a tiger or a dinosaur might devour us; fear was a more useful companion then. I have yet to hear of a death by video recording though.
Yoga classes are great laboratories for experimenting with fear too. When we do something that frightens us - public speaking, headstand or even some of the Snorkeler and Deep Diver opportunities that await you here - we learn that even though the fear might have been screaming at us that we will die (after all, to the reptilian brain there’s no difference between Tyrannosaurus Rex and Facebook Live), in fact we are actually safe.
I’m going to teach you some powerful tools here that will help you to overcome fear in the moments when it really counts in your life. Speaking into a camera or standing on your head won’t necessarily make much of a difference in your life, yet some of the exercises and experiments within these pages can.
Universal Yogic Lesson:
Life begins where our comfort zone ends
That’s ironic, eh? Given that fear is always wanting us to stay safe/comfortable in order to keep us alive.
If you’re not familiar with who Hellen Keller was, I encourage you to look her up to fully appreciate the following words she wrote.
Security is mostly a superstition.
It does not exist in nature,
nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run
than outright exposure.
Life is a daring adventure,
To keep our faces toward change
and behave like free spirits
in the presence of fate is strength
Digging a little deeper, and getting a little more accurate, the real truth of it is that life is both comfort and adventure. We are all at least two beings inside us.
There is a part of us that is human animal, survival oriented and yes, ruled by fear and seeking safety and comfort. For this part, any change, even one that promises to move us out of the swamps of our lives toward greener pastures, is dangerous. Some call it ego or lower self, and yet it’s important to know that this human animal part of ourselves is always both part of us and working for us. Fighting it never works and only strengthens it.
There is another part though, that we might call human spirit, which seeks adventure, transformation and freedom. That part scoffs at fear and jumps from the diving board, trapeze or airplane. It often gets especially active right at New Year’s, proclaiming that from now on I will… That part is also working for us, and we are learning how to bring these parts to better and better collaboration and cooperation.
Universal Yogic Lesson:
We are all made up of both human spirit and human animal - paradox rules
We need both and do well to honor both. Just like the flights of both Icarus and Daedalus teach us, sometimes we need the middle path. That said, probably the hand that reached out for this book and might recommend it to friends and family was more compelled by human spirit. Yoga has always been a counter-cultural practice engaged in by rebels.
This book is not likely to be a bestseller in that the mainstream is less likely to be attracted to it.
Try this: In a moment, when I tell you to, set the book down and cross your arms. Wait… I promise I’ll tell you when, and then, when you do so, notice how it feels. Then pick the book back up.
Great. If you’re like me and most people who’ve done this, part of how it felt was comfortable, right? Okay, for just a moment, do it again and this time notice which arm is on top. Go.
Perfect. Now, in a moment you’ll do it one more time (wait for my signal) and this time cross the arms the other way. Notice how that feels, and then come back to the book.
How did that feel? Again the response from most people is that the ‘other cross’ way feels weird, odd, maybe even uncomfortable.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say that extraordinary lives begin where our comfort zones end. That’s part of why my younger Braveheart self was both wanting it to be over, and yet feeling curiously enlivened.
Change is like that; sometimes uncomfortable. Usually uncomfortable. Yet seldom actually dangerous.
None of the exercises and experiments I offer you will involve handling poisonous snakes, leaping from bridges or otherwise risking your life. Still, the human animal part of each of us, whose job it is to keep things the same (comfortable) will tend to encourage us toward the Lazy River approach.
Remember, you can switch anytime you want. Today I’m in a Deep Diver mood. For this exercise, I’m going Buddha middle path Snorkeler. You might like to Lazy River your way through the entire book and then come back and do the exercises the second time you read.
You can’t mess it up.
Let’s have some fun.
Universal Yogic Lessons:
- You are amazing
- Experiential learning is true learning
- Wise is as wise does - action is essential
- Environment counts - Who we surround ourselves with counts
- We are all made up of both human spirit and human animal - paradox rules
- Life begins where our comfort zone ends
Lazy River Riders:
- Sit with or meditate upon that magic wand question - if you could shift something or some things in your life, if you could have it the way you want it, what would it be? Don’t get bogged down into realism - not at this point. We’ll get to that.
- Consider the Universal Yogic Lessons. How and where do you see them in the world? In your life?
- Read the assignments for the Snorkelers and the Deep Divers whether or not you choose to do those assignments. Also don’t tell those eager beavers that in fact you’ll get a lot of the benefit just from imagining too.
- In your journal respond to the questions above.
- Make a list of at least 108 examples of how you are amazing. Make some of them small examples (ie. I took the trash out last night; I’m alive; I survived school; I know how to speak at least one language, etc.). If you lose steam before you get to 108, that’s okay. Consider this a marathon, a movement for life, and know that you can come back to the list later.
- Write two lists: one of wise things you have done and one of other-than-wise things you have done. We’ll come later to learning about both/and, and for now, practice observer-style non judgement toward both lists.
- Make a list of what you have been tolerating in your life. You don’t need to do anything about any of them, and an essential component of going below the surface of mediocrity and into the realm of transformation is the courage to be honest with ourselves. In yoga language it’s called Satya.
- Respond in your journal to the following:
- The reason I picked this book up is…
- What I really want in my life is…
- These are the results I would like to achieve through the experience of this book…
- Of course you’ll do all of what those Lazy River Riders and Snorkelers are doing. Duh! And…
- Do something today that stems from the knowing that you are amazing. Start something, finish something, communicate something.
- Share the bounty and glory of who you are with someone else in such a way that you light them up, bring some joy to them.
- Take action on changing something that you’ve been putting up with in your life. Either you change how you feel about it (perception) or you change the situation somehow. Or at least take a step in that direction.
- Do something that intentionally takes you out of your comfort zone today. A cold shower, a challenging conversation, asking someone to spend time with you… small or large, you’ll know you’re on track if right after you do it, you feel enlivened.
- In your journal, right below where you wrote about your motivation, the results that you want, respond to the following:
- Who I need to be in order to get those results is…
- What I’m committed to doing or not doing is…
- Write me a letter, one where you start from the perspective that you’ve completed the book and you’ve gotten all the results you wanted and more. Picture yourself closing the book, feeling a great sense of pride and satisfaction for what you’ve achieved, delight and awe that indeed it worked as promised. Write to me from that ‘future-you’ perspective and tell me how you did it. What did you do or not do? What ways have you acted and thought differently than in the past? Who did you involve or not involve? Tell me how pleased you are and how you created such brilliant success.
*Tip of the forelocks here to Benjamin Zander whom I stole this letter exercise from.