Category Archives: life

Love as a Strategic Weapon

In a world where everyone seems to be trying to gain ascendancy over everyone else, there seems to be a fixation on weapons and strategies. We look for the super-weapon to destroy (or disable) our enemies, seek the best strategy to ‘win’ in love, or at work, or…wherever we go.

We militarize everything – even the spiritual path. We have spiritual ‘warriors’ these days, and loudly give them acclaim. We have the ‘battle between the sexes’ as if love and interaction are some sort of M.M.A. cage fight. We have a ‘war on drugs’, as if inanimate objects could fight us (in reality, we have a war on citizens who use drugs).

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Our minstrels (court jesters) sing about sapphire bullets of love, and about beating our loved ones over the head with our ‘love.’ All we need is a good weapon to do it with, right? Our politicians make war against each other, and incite us to a sort of war against each other as well.

I literally find myself feeling sick as I contemplate our monstrous separation from each other. No wonder our planet seems to be going down in flames. People stockpile rifles and pistols, as a sort of safety blanket against the scary world they perceive. Most want even better weapons than they are allowed by our (purported) laws.

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We’re just as fascinated by (and fixated on) ‘winning strategies’ as we are on weapons. Whole sections of book stores are dedicated to them…strategies to find love, to manifest love better, to get the job or mate or circumstances we so desire. Just as badly as we want super-weapons to crush the people and problems that lie before us  (or gain ascendancy over them), we want strategies to ensure we ‘win’ in life.

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These attitudes are the enemies of love. When we use weapons or make ourselves warriors, we are not really on the side of peace and love, no matter how loudly we proclaim we are. When we engage in strategies to plot how to unfold our lives, we are fighting against the natural flow, trying to force the universe to do it our way.

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We search high and low, seeking these weapons and strategies. We go to seminars where others tell us how to find or use them…others telling us how to use the weapons they like as our own. We never question this massive solipsism, and often applaud these warmongers as ‘spiritual guides.’

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I gotta tell ya, any spiritual guide who tries to sell me weapons and strategies is nothing more than an arms dealer to me. Although these suggested strategies seem cloaked in visions of love and happiness, I know that love and happiness cannot be achieved or experienced by using weapons and strategies.

Still, we search on, like kids looking for an imaginary Pokemon they’ll never find. We look for a ‘better way’, better techniques, better tools and methods to accomplish what we want. All the while, we are ignoring the one ‘strategic weapon’ that could actually help us. Okay, I gave away the suspense in the title…it is love.

Yes, love is the ‘weapon’ we are looking for, the ultimate strategy we continually seek. Love…real love, as action, as an open heart, as compassionate acceptance of others and their sovereignty.

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At first glance, the concept of love seems incommensurable with the concept of weaponry. Love is at its core (if anything) a healing and uniting tool, not a weapon. Love blossoms from the heart as a natural phenomenon, and is not made manifest by planned strategies. The two seem to be contradictions in terms. So how can I have the outright gall to suggest love is the ultimate strategic weapon? Am I as confused as the rest of our planet seems to be?

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Weapons obviously divide – there is one person at one end of the weapon (holding it metaphorically, as it were), and another on the receiving end. Weapons never bash us with enlightenment – they are made to hurt and harm, perhaps even kill. Even ‘humane’ weapons and ‘non lethal’ weapons share this attribute…one person is using force and the other is subjected to that force.

Love unites. So how could it be a weapon? It really can’t, if it wants to remain love. Yet love can have the end result that weapons intend (but never achieve). Weapons basically are used to get someone to do something you want them to do, or to stop them from doing something you want them to stop (such as living, or messing with your grandma, or whatever).

Weapons are all about force – a force that harms and divides. Love is about force, too – a force that unites. The two seem to be separated by a gulf, polar opposites, diametrically opposed to each other. So how could love be a weapon?

Say we want to get someone to bend to our will, or to force them to see things as we do. Why, we typically just grab a weapon (which could be simply arguments or the sharp side of our tongues) and start bashing until they comply…or run away. That has proven to be highly ineffective – yet we persist in hoping that with a new, improved weapon we might finally get us what we want.

What if instead we used love? Love implies understanding, compassion, acceptance, concern, and respect for the ‘other’. What if we used this anti-weapon as a weapon? Would we have a chance of accomplishing more with compassion, understanding, or acceptance – or will a bigger, better weapon get the job done? Would we get more bees with tasty honey than with bitter vinegar? Uh, let me ask a third grader, for they will surely know what we adults seem to have forgotten.

let love win

If we meet our enemies with understanding (or the desire to understand their issues), we might have a chance. If we meet them with acceptance of how they are (and a desire to find a solution acceptable to both of us), would we have a better chance of getting (if not what we want exactly) a mutually agreeable outcome? Will the sun rise tomorrow?

So yes, love can be a ‘weapon’…the only one that might work. The one peaceful ‘weapon’ we could possibly use.

squirrel bhakti

If this is possible, maybe love would also work as a strategy. Instead of plots and plans, what if we used love (and the open and heartfelt listening and consideration that results from real love)? Love’s strategies are simple…placing the other at the same level as the one in which we place ourselves. Granting the other the peace and understanding we desire for ourselves, could that work…or be a good first step towards communication and eventual harmony? Will the moon shine in the sky this month?

Strategies based on love (instead of the divisive self-interest they usually serve) might just work. They might just offer us a path for ‘getting to yes.’ We sure know that weapons and our ‘normal’ strategies aren’t working…just look around at our divided planet.

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In Nazi Germany, their endlosung (final solution) was to kill all those pesky Jews and Catholics and homosexuals, destroy all the liberals they could find. How did that work out for them? I suggest the real endlosung is to implement the strategies of love. It seems like a no-brainer, but who has tried it…really tried it on a large scale (or even a personal one)? Those who have we call the sages, the wise.

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It disturbs me how insidious the power paradigm is. Today I read a meme post by a woman who is typically quite loving, a real yogi, someone who knows and practices the value of love. Her post said something like ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.’ Now that is a saying that is sure to unite us all, right? Wrong! It is as nonsensical as its idiot cousin phrase ‘you can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish.’

Another woman I know (knew?) was of the idea that love was simply too overwhelming, that it distracted her from her ‘inner work’, led her off her ‘path.’ Now the question pops to my mind…what inner work or path is more important than cultivating and preserving love? What good is the watered-down pseudo-love that attaches to no person, which promotes no tangibly loving actions or attitudes? That is a travesty of love, a mockery of it, as far as I can tell.

Perhaps our world is becoming divided not into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, or liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, but by those who persist in the Neanderthal notion that weapons and strategies will get us what we want and those who see love (and its attendant attributes and manifestations) as the only real answer.

Yes, I think the only real ‘strategic weapon’ is love. If love is the basis for our strategies, then perhaps the goals those strategies are meant to reach can be achievable. If love is the ‘weapon’ we use (not to get what we ourselves want, but to get what both want…or can accept), then maybe we have a chance.

Otherwise, one more weapon or strategy might just be the thing that puts us over the edge into planetary barbarism…people considering only what they and theirs want, and figuring the best strategy or weapon to get that (at the cost of others not getting what they want or need).

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One more stupid meme (which means ‘the same’ in French) originated by someone else and yet passed on unthinkingly by blind, sheep-like followers…that might just be the thing that sets off the conflagration – if not within the entire world, then in our own hearts and minds. Let that happen enough and the entire world will soon be running around yelling memes (ideas originated by others)…and acting on them.

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I suggest that if weapons are to be used, let’s try love as a ‘weapon.’ If strategies are to be implemented (or imagined) then let us base them on love. We might just have a chance that way.

Love. It is the only answer, the only valid response, the only hope for our fragmented and tattered planet. Love.

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“All you need is love”

-Da Beatles

“This I command you, to love one another…”

-Yeshua (Jesus) the Nazarene Rebel

“Shine on the world, shine on me…love is the answer”

-England Dan and John Ford Coley

“Love is a rose but you’d better not pick it”

-Neil Young

“Love, love, love”

-Hippies and lovers everywhere (and every when)

food is love

(c) 2016 Mark Francis Mullen. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission (especially for profit). Facebook and other social media are granted no rights to this document or its contents, regardless of publication on their pages.
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Some Quotidian Highlights from My 2013…

In the previous year (2013), I had some great new experiences:

For the first time, I got my legs into Garundasana (Eagle). 

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This may sound trivial, but it is miraculous, considering I thought this to be a physical impossibility at the start of the year. I am sure my orthopedic docs would consider it impossible, considering the state of my knees and hips, and the numerous injuries they’ve  sustained. It was also virtually impossible, given the state of my mind, spirit, and resultant attitude. Only when I accepted some hard   realities in my life and released them with gentle understanding, did I reach a state where this type of contortion was possible, a state that required not only physical flexibility, but also a more open heart, mind, and spirit.

For the first time, I got my body into Ardha-Padmanasana (Half Lotus).

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This appears to be trivial as well, but is actually a huge step for me. Not only were the physical ‘limitations’ of my knees and hips factors,  but also the series of unexplored muscles in my groin and pelvis, and the (perhaps most importantly) state of gentle acceptance of Self  and others that is a prerequisite to achieving rest in this pose. Like with Eagle, I wasn’t trying to achieve this pose when I did – that attitude  would have precluded any chance of being there. Instead, it just sort of happened as I was being gratefully and gently present in my body,           exploring my ‘edge’ of performance, of being. I never imagined I would ever be able to be in this posture. And it is definitely a posture: physical, mental, and spiritual.

For the first time, I performed Hurdler pose.

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Hurdler is an improbable pose, at best. I wasn’t even trying to perform it; the (magical) teacher just gave the cues and I did what she said (without expectations) and…viola! there I was. It was beautiful; only to be experienced from a state of strength, grace, and allowing. Unlike  Eagle and Lotus, I haven’t been able to (or haven’t really tried to) duplicate it since.

I learned to truly rest in Scorpion pose.

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Scorpion is a beautiful pose. In my current expression, my legs just dangle over my head. In theory, some day my spine will be strong and flexible enough to allow my toes to touch my head (second picture). For now, I just be here, where I am. I learned to do this pose first in  2011, and refined it in 2012. It wasn’t until this year that I came to the point where I could genuinely rest in this pose, savoring the energetic benefits of it, and sublime experience of being it. That is huge…to me.

I began blogging.

Although I began sharing notes on MySpace and Facebook (to selected aurdiences) after returning from Afghanistan, it was only this fall that I made an actual blog, and opened my heart to share it with the world. That is an intimate thing, and a big step for me.

I taught my first Yoga Nidra class, and my first classes at the Neurosculpting Institute.

Yoga Nidra is a super-helpful and easily accessible method of deep relaxation. It is immensely helpful and healing to all of us, especially those who have suffered trauma (PTSD, TBI, etc). It is rarely taught of utilized. I gave my first class on Nidra at the Neurosculpting Institute, which was in itself an honor. Teaching (sharing, guiding) such a powerful method is immensely rewarding. I plan to do more of       this in 2014…

I made my first organic smoothie, and got a Ninja Blender.

With my first organic juice and purchase of a juicer in 2012, I followed up in 2013 with acquisition of a Ninja blender and began to make organic smoothies. I love this method, as juicing leaves a lot of unused roughage, stuff I suspect my body needs. Smoothies leave all those good kale and watermelon ‘leftovers,’ giving my digestive system something healthy to chew on. This may sound like another trivial and questionable benefit, but its implications for my lifelong health and performance are incredible. Bring on the phytochemicals…

I got a garlic press and a vegetable steamer tray, and made my first viniagrette dressing and my first artichoke.

Okay, this one is trivial. Perhaps. But to a single guy who had only the basic cooking utensils around, it is important. Now I can make a  viniagrette dressing for my guests, or steam an artichoke or broccoli for my sweetie, if She comes over. That’s huge.

I began to practice slack-lining.

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People over fifty rarely (or rarely used to) take up new sports that could result in falls, accidents, or injuries. People over fifty usually experience reduced strength and balance, too. That is not going to be me…at least if I can help slow down that inevitable decline. I got my grandson a Gibbon slackline for Christmas, and we are both learning it together (as we are those shoes with wheels on the                       heels…heelies). Not only is this helpful, but fun. I hope to keep it up, and some day be this incredibly old man doing yoga poses on a slackline.

There were many other great things in my year, perhaps not ‘firsts,’ but beautiful nonetheless:

I reconnected with three old junior/high school friends, one of them one of my best friends of the period, one a lover, and one my first love.

I accepted my lover as she was, with all her ‘faults’ and decided to love her not only in spite of those, but because of them.

I began snowboarding again after a five year break, something I love and previously did a lot of.

I learned a lot more about recent development in neuroscience, and about PTS(D).

Naturally, a little rain must fall as well, if nothing else but as for leaven for the high points.

I broke up with my last girlfriend, someone who made a special impact in my life and development. Even though mutual, it was very hard.

My relationship with my brother shattered, partly in conjunction with the above-mentioned breakup.

Overall, it was a pretty good year – hard, but ultimately good.

Perhaps the most important thing I did not mention, perhaps because it is early and perhaps inappropriate to speculate on the future at this point:

On a Friday the 13th, after more than five months alone, I met the woman who is my koan; in Her presence, my mind stops and I drop instantly into the heart. I met the woman I suspect could be the woman, the partner and soul-mate I have been looking for all my life. If this is true, then meeting Her would be the most important event of the year, if not of my life.

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An Addendum/Review/Afterword:

These activities (achievements, experiences) are all relatively mundane, in the big (or even smaller) scale of things. Yet they are important to me and my personal development, or reflective of it. As I look back, the things I’d like to have added to this list are not fascinating journeys or trips to far places, not material or career related. The ones I want to have on next year’s list are about service, to society, to others, to myself. They will be examples of where I helped in practical, tangible ways to make this world a better place.

Sure, making the world a better place starts with making yourself a better, nicer person; I know that. Yet I find a desire (need?) to effect change in more positive ways, more directly helpful ways. Still, the three primary foundations of positive change are effecting it in self, in family, and in intimate relationships. From that basis, we can then branch out to help others.

I am excited to see how next year’s list looks, and to experience the things I plan to add to the list.

Stay tuned…

“Some people pray to God: be here now to help me. I pray: help me to be here now.”

Mark-Francis Mullen

An Open Letter of Thanks to My Exes

Dear former lovers (and former wife of so long):

I not only forgive you, I thank you. I thank you for every challenge you gave me, every tear I cried on our behalf. I thank you for the lessons and experiences, both good and bad…especially the bad. I thank you for it all.

Through my seemingly unsuccessful relationships with you, I have learned some valuable lessons about life and love and women (and myself), done some incredible growing (and at times shrinking). You have helped make me the man I am today, and prepared me for my Real Lover, the one I hope and pray will eventually come.

You taught me how to love…and how to fight. You taught me to cook, and how to get cookin’. You taught me so many things, were the vehicle through which I learned so many lessons and experienced so many things. I grew, and you grew. Hopefully, I helped you grow enough to have wings of your own, to eventually fly from me to a better future.

I don’t mourn the past now. Sure, I might cry a little bit now and then, but the sadness has evolved into thankfulness, into gratitude for the gifts I learned at your feet, in your arms, and far away from you, alone.

Thank you, here’s a turkey.

No, seriously, I set aside a special day of thanks just for you, O Former (and supposedly forever) Lover. So thank you. Very much.

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Dear Women Who Left Me Alone and Crying, I love you. I love you in spite of your lack of faith or effort in sustaining the holy creature US. I love you regardless of the pain you caused me (or that I allowed you to cause me). I love you for it all; the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

Dear Women I Was Glad to Be Rid Of, I love you. I now know my ignorance of the special gift that was us, that any of your foibles were not the show-stoppers I thought they were, but chances for me to forge a newer, better type of relationship, based on acceptance of what you are, rather than insistence on what I want. Karma has paid me back in spades, and I know now the sanctity of the gift of relationship, and the importance of working it out together (whatever that is, for it will inevitably be something…with anyone).

Until today, my life was pervaded by an unending sense of separation and loss. Now, my life is again mine, as I give you yours. I again have a purpose, as I let you to yours.

So fly, little bird, fly with my blessing. I have given it and given it, and now truly give it again. No longer will I fight what is, try to superimpose my idea of what should be on the IS. I accept, and in this learn perhaps the greatest love lesson of all.

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I sit here in gratitude, experiencing the most valuable lessons of love…gratitude…and being fully present, for whatever it is.

‘Get along, sweet little woman, get along’

-Aerosmith/Unknown

‘Now when I find myself alone and unworthy, I think about all those things I learned…from those fine, fine women with nothing but good intentions, and a bad tendency to get burned.’

-SuperSonic/Chemistry

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Where We Practice Yoga

Where do we practice yoga? If we think of yoga as merely a physical practice, then the places we might practice it are limited…at home, the gym, or at the yoga studio. Maybe the adventurous bust a couple poses out in Nature, or at a yoga retreat. Is that where we really practice yoga?

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If our yoga is based on the Ashtanga (the eight-fold path of yoga), then where we practice yoga is everywhere, in every moment. In fact, the core of this type of yoga practice is not the physical (or Hatha) component of yoga at all. Some, in their denial of the the physical component as crucial (or even relevant) drop the physical ‘petal’ entirely, focusing on the remaining ‘petals’ of the flower (or more typically on a single one, such as meditation).

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Yet yoga is about balance and integration, about union and yoking/joining (its definition means all of these things). The eight petals work together, not alone.

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Each is like a crucial ingredient in a recipe; none is more important than the other, for the recipe can only be made with all the ingredients.

food is love

I once read an article where the author began by saying “without a home practice, you’re not a real yogi.” Okay, this was maybe just a ‘hook’ that caught a reader’s eye, drew them in to the rest of the article so she could make her main point. Further into the article, she did revise her hook to a slightly more balanced set of words:  “A consistent home practice is the essential foundation of the true yoga lifestyle.”

At first glance, this seems like a reasonable statement. Yet I feel some words resonating and others not….’Consistent….practice….foundation…..’ those resonate with me. Others leave me more cold, feel more dischordant…”true yoga lifestyle.” Yet others evoke a blind rebellious response and a feeling of separation (…”a real yogi?!)”

Ugh. Is that fundamentalism I am smelling?

I could get behind something like…’a consistent practice is part of the foundation of a yogic lifestyle.’

As I understand a true yoga lifestyle, it does not include telling others what a real yogi is or does, but instead allows others to discover for themselves what a real yogi is or does. More importantly, it focuses one’s effort and concern on what the practitioner alone does, not on what others do or should do.

That is the beauty of yoga; no one can walk another’s path, or prescribe it for them. The sages have given us the yogic tools and an indication of what a yogic lifestyle might look like…and left the rest for us to determine (each of us, individually and for ourselves only) what that means for us.

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Only we can walk our own path, and no one can prescribe it for us. No point along the Path is more advanced than another; we are all on the Path, all not there yet.

(How can I tell we are all not there yet? Because we are each here on this planet).

The manifestation of a ‘true’ yogic practice varies not only by individual, but by where they happen to be along the Path at the time. What a true yogic lifestyle looks like for one person at a certain point along the Path may be different for the same person at another point along the Path. It may look like another person’s idea of a real yogi or a true yogic lifestyle…or not.

chakra skeleton dancing    squirrel bhakti

If we stick with the fundamentals of a yogic lifestyle as outlined in the Yoga Sutra or the Samhita, then one thing would be for sure:

-We would not be writing articles about yoga, but practicing it, dedicating our lives to it

-We would not be living in the modern, commercial, consumer world as we know it, but in an ashram or in isolation as sannyasin

-We would not be having this discussion at all; I not writing it, nor you reading it

If we tried to live according to the standards and values of Krishnamacharya, we would most likely not be telling others how to really rock the yoga life…like only we can do.

I suggest that to live such a life is almost impossible in this modern world. For anyone desiring to live a devoted life in the yogic or Buddhist manner, living in the modern world is (according to their own teachings and traditions) incompatible with the practice. We’d be quietly practicing or meditating away from the modern world.

So we all fall short of what a theoretically perfect yogi is, or does.

Yet we all orient towards that as a goal, all seek with varying degrees of effort or allowing to approach the ‘real yogi’ we imagine, or the ‘true yogic lifestyle’ that is imputed by us.

All are fingers pointing towards the moon. 

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All of this is why I hesitate to use the term ‘yogi,’ for myself or others. A yogi is someone (male or female) who has achieved a state of yoga. The real Sanskrit name for a practitioner, an aspirant on the Path of yoga, is sadhaka.

Who am I to know (or say)? I am just one sadhaka.

Who is anyone to know, or say?

That’s what I always loved about yoga, and one of the major things that attracted me to it, and kept me there for it as a lifelong practice;

-In all other belief systems, they ask you to take something on faith, to accept              the words of others on what a true X does, or what a real life of Y is like. Yoga              does not.

Yoga acknowledges that only you can experience the practice of yoga for                   yourself.

-Others may provide hints or instructions, but ultimately only the sadhaka can             know for themselves whether these practices work or not (and what should               or should not be done). Only the sadhaka can experience them.

We know the only way we can, by intimate personal experience, not by the           precepts and prescriptions of others.

Yes, we practice yoga…with every breath.

Yes, we practice yoga…in every moment, in every place

That is my current understanding (from this place on the Path) of what this sadhaka does, what this sadhaka’s evolving yogic lifestyle looks like.

The sages and saints may agree with me…or not. Real yogis and those living the true yogic lifestyle might admit the authentic truth of those statements…or not.

All I know, all I can speak for is this one sadhaka, this one aspirant and practitioner. If ever that one fine day comes when I can live the life of yogi, all I will be able to speak for is….just…one…yogi.

AUM, Shanti

:  )

‘Noboby right, nobody wrong’

-Michael Franti

lao tzu

Below is the article from Elephant Journal, by Mary Margaret http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/10/solo-yoga-is-essential-8-alone-time-practice-tips/

Without a home practice, you’re not really a yogi.

This may seem like a controversial opinion, but hear me out.

Taking community classes at a studio is wonderful and recommended, as you always pick up new techniques and poses (and, ideally, inspiration) from each teacher. But the sad fact is that a lot of yoga studio drop-in or membership fees are prohibitively expensive for many of us.

In any case, the key is to practice daily, or as often as possible—on your own. A consistent home practice is the essential foundation of the true yoga lifestyle.

I was fortunate to stumble upon yoga early in life and to spend years honing my home practice, sans yoga mat or any other props or accessories, before ever attending a public class.

In a former life, I was a super busy overachieving yogantrepreneur overloaded with commitments, both in Austin and the San Francisco Bay Area. Ten years ago, I was teaching a dozen classes a week and barely finding time to roll out my own mat at home.

Trust me—I know that a consistent personal practice can feel impossible to maintain.

I also know that without it, every other aspect of life gets more difficult and ultimately falls apart.

When I moved to Guatemala four years ago, the space I suddenly had in my personal and professional life was a luxury, and I found myself meditating and practicing yoga in my room for hours each week.

It wasn’t a struggle; it wasn’t just another item to check off the to-do list.I found myself waking up earlier and naturally gravitating to my cushion or mat. It came naturally.

If this magical mystery is yet to happen in your life, you may need to give it a push. Here are some tips for getting started, over and over again.

1. Start small.

Even just five minutes of sitting in stillness first thing in the morning can make a huge difference in the quality of your day.

You do not need to be skinny and flexible to do yoga. So many people think they have to be all pretzel-bendy in order to do yoga. That’s like saying you need to be strong to lift weights or you need to be fast to run.

No. You start where you are. In time, with regular practice, you will gain flexibility, strength, balance and focus. If you delve deeper, you might even have a spiritual awakening.

2. Find your happy place.

Find the place in your house that works for you. Create space for sitting meditation and for practicing yoga. Decorate an altar if so inspired, with plants, flowers, relics and/or inspiring images of your teachers and the people and places you love.

3. Pick a time and stick to it.

Be disciplined. Set a goal. Five minutes, ten, twenty. Work your way up gradually. To do this, sit in meditation every day. Practice some yoga every day. Soon you’ll find it’s not a burden but an automatic and enjoyable habit.

4. Use guidance.

In lieu of a guru, it is important to work with an experienced teacher in order to have a safe and flourishing home practice. If you don’t have quality yoga teachers available nearby, there are billions of good books, videos and online instructional resources that can help get you started.

5. Study the words of the wise.

Yoga is a vast science that involves a whole lot more than stretching, breathing and meditating. Read all about it. Read the dharma teachings, theTao Te Ching or the Bhagavad GitaRead what feeds you.

6. Deepen your practice.

For most of us, the most efficient way to do this is to go on retreat. Take a weekend (or better yet a week, or better yet ten days) to be silent, to practice more frequently and for longer periods than normal, to be alone, to listen to the quiet, to find your balance in the present. If you can’t take a weekend, take a day. If you can’t take a day, take an hour. But try to find some space in your life for retreat.

7. If at first you don’t succeed…

Try, try again! At first, you won’t succeed. It takes time and devotion to built a solid, unwavering practice. When you notice that you’re off track and have gotten away from a steady routine of meditation and yoga in your day-to-day life, start anew.

8. Seriously, start small.

It’s better to practice five to ten minutes of yoga, once or thrice in your busy day rather than wait for the magical time when you will have one free hour to set aside for meditation and relaxation.

That hour will never come. Instead, do yoga in short spurts woven throughout the day, if that’s what works for you, for now.

Don’t delay! Start where you are. Enjoy.

(end of article)

Post Scriptum:  If you have never checked it out, take a look at more of Elephant Journal. You can read one or two articles a day for free, and unlimited for a small monthly donation. Lots of good content on a variety of subjects.

Une Conquerant de l’Inutile?

One of my old French climbing heroes once described himself as a conqueror of the useless. Je suis une conquerant de l’Inutile. I loved that. As a sometimes climber and former striver in the sensory, phenomenological world, I felt it aptly described me (the before yoga me).

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I was an avid explorer and adventurer in this material world, a lifelong student of it and of Life. Now I explore a more important world as well…the inner one. This quest requires as much time and discipline as any mountain expedition. It demands my innermost courage. It summons my true route-finding skills, my best efforts.

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There is no obvious route on this path, no tangible summit to ascend to. There are no signposts, maps, guides, or guidebooks. It is uncharted territory. Here there be dragons…

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There are no conquerors here. Explorers, yes. Conquerors, no – for this realm cannot be conquered, only comprehended. There is no protection on this route…no ropes or pitons. This climb is a free, solo climb.

This exploration requires boldness and fearlessness, coupled with gentleness. While there are actions to be performed, no effort is required. Complete engagement is required, though – this is not a quest that can be performed half-heartedly. This route finding requires my closest and most careful observation and orientation.

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For here I explore the depths of the body, the heights of the mind, the expanses of the soul. This oddyssey leads me to discover myself, to come face to  face with me. This task requires the best I have, the most I have, all I have. It is the most important journey I’ve ever undertaken.

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A conqueror of the useful…that would be better than the useless. Oh, my hair will still blow in the wind of physical summits, my spirit soar, and my body exult. Yet it is the summits within from which I can get a better glimpse of the Divine, on which I can more fully manifest my higher self and perhaps reflect that Divine Light more clearly.

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Amen

AUM

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Shanti

Notes From Somewhere Along The Sacred Path

The path of enlightenment is a twisty one; it is definitely not the ‘straight and narrow’ the fundamentalists (of all religions) speak of. This path takes you to some unlikely places. It does not ascend steadily towards the Divine. Sometimes it goes down -way down – before ascending again. It is like a winding mountain path, weaving back and forth on itself at times.

It has no clear directions or signs: most often it is unclear whether one is even on the Path, or going the right direction. There are occasional hints along the way, but the directions often appear to conflict. Sometimes they point us in ways that do not appear to point towards the goal.

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Unlike most paths, this one may not even have a goal or destination. There may be no summit pinnacle, to chance to say you’ve made it. The goal of the path may be the Path itself. It’s not a “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” type of thing (even though some claim it is, and they’ve done it).

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This path may not even be a path at times; it could be a route up a vertical cliff. The advisories of specific routes and hand/footholds may have applied to those who wrote them, but may not work for you, given the difference in reach and grasp.

You’ll have to find your own way along this path.

We imagine that others can walk it with us, but in the end we have to walk it all ourselves, whether alone or in company. We are always in company, even if we happen to be alone on one particular stretch of path at a given moment. We are in the company of all who ever walked it, or ever will.

Some walk beside us for a while, and when they diverge (appear to take a different path, but actually just take a different route) we may feel lost. We may feel that one of us has gone astray. There are times we forget that there are many paths up the mountain.

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There is no speed limit, or set pace. Each goes at their own pace, according to their loads, abilities, and motivation. Each is correct, proceeding at the perfect pace for them. There are no police on this road, although there may be people who want to be. No laws, no rules, no signs.

All paths are ultimately part of this one, great path, even ones that appear opposed to it. All people walk this path, whether they know it or want to. Some refuse, stop by the wayside and rest, perhaps even burrow in and hunker down…for a long time. No matter – they are still on the Path, just stopped on it for a while. Some never seem to move at all. That is their path for the moment.

The path may not even be a path, per se. It may just be our road to remembering, to realization of a place we’ve already been…and are going to again.

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Only you can know. Only you can choose. Only you can decide to walk, stop, or turn around. Only you.

There are things we can do to help us along the path. Previous walkers left notes and hints and tips. Some of them may work for you. Only you can choose to try them, and only you can decide if they help.

No loads are required, but some make heavy loads for themselves anyway. Some rough sections could potentially be avoided, but some people choose to go on them anyway. Some lean on staffs, while others go without shoes over the sometimes rocky and thorny ground.

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Each chooses, even if the choice is not to choose. The default route is typically tougher in the end than the mindfully chosen one. We choose anyhow, as we see fit at the moment.

Yes, this path is both strange and beautiful, both terrifying and uplifting. It crosses the spectrum of possibilities. On it, we are ascend to our highest heights, and descend to our lowest depths. We meet ourselves in our many guises, discover ourselves in our many moods, in our unimagined strengths and weaknesses.

This is not a linear path of progressing and arriving, but a path of becoming, of manifesting. 

Call it what you will…the path to God, the path of self-knowledge, the path of enlightenment.

Call it Life.

The path doesn’t care. It just awaits, beckons, welcomes.

Maybe I’ll see you out there on it. Maybe not. Either way we are fellow travellers on this path. None is greater or lesser for the pace they set, or for the point they are currently at on it. We all travel as best we can, using our internal compasses to guide us.

I pray that you (and I) can walk this path in grace, with gratitude. Yet I know we are human, and will quite often walk it with tears, stumbling, with many ‘wrong’ turns and backtrackings. We will feel lost at times, weary, and may even curse the Path or ourselves. I wish you swift travel through those difficult sections.

This path is not a struggle, it is a gift.

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No one truly knows where it leads, only where they’ve been.

This path is full of mystery, of magic.

This path leads the one place, the only place it possibly can…onward.

Bon voyage!

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Gazing Within…

It takes courage to truly encounter one’s Self. It takes honesty, and sincerity. The sages tell me all the answers lie within. Others tell me nothing resides there. Looking within, lovingly, unflinchingly, non-judgmentally is easier said than done. We might discover hate, or fear, love or anger. We most assuredly will discover something different than the stories we tell ourselves and others. We might discover…ourselves.

Being naked before my own discerning gaze, standing in my space with no props or illusions, with no stories is not the most comfortable place at times. Chewing the often bitter cud of self-examination is not for everyone. Many spend their whole lives avoiding this. Being present for my own ‘shortcomings’ is no mean feat. Being loving and accepting of them is sometimes a Herculean feat. Sometimes it is as easy as falling off a rock.

As I gaze down into the depths, I see the ‘me’ that was, in all his tattered glory. I see the ‘me’ that is now in all his frail and fallible humanity. I see the ‘me’ that will be, that could be, in my hopes and dreams, in his shining truth. I see. I pray I see clearly, that I have the strength and wisdom to see clearly, this one thing I need most to see clearly.

Sometimes, it is like gazing into the abyss. Others it is like gazing at a sublime sunset.

I gaze and gaze. I begin to see that, at my core, I am no different than others. We all bleed, all dream, all laugh and cry. We live out this fragile and nebulous human existence, half-blinded by ego and desire. We live it, hornswoggled by our own stories about ourselves (and others). We see dimly, as if through a veil.

I hate her. I love her. I hate what I did. I hate what she did. I hate, I hate…

I love her. I hate her. I love myself, and the joyous gift I am. I love, I love…

There’s so much in there, all swirled around, like melting ice cream of many flavors. It is sometimes hard to tell what is me and what is my story. My heart knows.,.but it ain’t telling. It doesn’t speak, at least not in words or concepts the mind can grasp.

The second proposition of the yoga sutra is that the purpose of yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind. Why would one want to do that, you might ask. Why? Why, to see clearly…ourselves, others, the Divine. Why else?

That is a lifelong task, to see clearly. Or is it?

If I squint, and the light is just right, I look real great. In other light, I look just as fucked as I sometimes feel. It’s all a matter of Light, of viewpoint, of perspective.

Some say I am great – others surely say something else. Luckily, most of the latter are in my past. Yet they are there. The truth is perhaps less black and white. I just gaze at it, like trataka, until my eyes begin to water and my heart tugs at the strings mooring it to the ground.

Ek ong kar, sat guru parasadh. 

What was it the oracle at Delphi said…know thy self?

Sat Nam…truth is my name. I will try to live that truth, to see that truth. I must admit, I am a bit myopic, though.

Still, I gaze. Still, I try to discern. Still, I gaze into the depths of myself. Sometimes I am amazed. Sometimes, I am confused. Not as rarely as I’d like, I am disturbed. Is this all one long suicide note? Is it a declaration of independence, an emancipation proclamation? Only (God) knows…I sure don’t. Thank the theoretical God for that.

I just try to look. I sing my naked songs. I write my unheard words. I gaze.

Quite often, I simply breathe, leave all that for others. I relish the space in my body, the quiet of my heart, the blazing Light of my soul. I am. I just am. That is enough. All this introspection and self-examination is of questionable value, regardless of what the sages say. Perhaps all I seek is within, all I need. Perhaps.

I just breathe.

Hey, Mata Durga. Hey.

AUM, Hari AUM.

“…but words and music can never match the beauty that I’ve seen…looking into you.”

-Jackson Browne