Ahimsa and the Art of non-violence

 The Freedom Tower and the Oculus (Lower Manhattan, April 19, 2018)

The Freedom Tower and the Oculus (Lower Manhattan, April 19, 2018)

As I was passing through lower Manhattan earlier this month, this magnificent view appeared before my eyes. I thought, truly, what better symbols of Triumph over violence could there be? (I do allow for the fact that some of you may not like these buildings and what they stand for, and thus will disagree.)

In Yoga, Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, non-harming, non-injury. I consider it an Art form in and of itself to try, in each moment, not to be harming toward my own self and others.

So why should we and how do we practice this in our lives? Can we attract more happy people into our lives through the practice of Ahimsa?

Classically speaking, Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas in yoga. According to Swami Jnaneshvara, the yamas are the "codes of restraint ... and involve our relationship with the external world and other people." Ahimsa, is the practice of existing in and relating to the outer world in a non-harming way. It is said that one should step onto the yoga mat having first practiced ahimsa out in the world. Then, with that as a starting point, it becomes easier to experience the higher realizations that yoga can offer through adding the other steps of the practice, the various physical and mental purification processes.

Specifically, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sutra 2.35 reads:

ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah

Swami Jnaneshvara's translation is:

As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.

I think we all have experienced a natural gravitation of people towards us when we are acting in a peaceful and loving way. Conversely, I am sure we've all experienced not wanting to be around people who are hurtful, pushy, and harmful to us and others. So why would anyone want to be around us when are hurting, pushy, and harming others, whether it be physically or mentally?

This article on Gaia.com entitled What is Ahimsa and How to Practice it in Everyday Life helped me to understand Ahimsa in more practical terms better. Particularly, this passage resonated with me:

... move with intention. Consciously put non-violence into action. ... 

Yes, slowing down, putting down my iPhone, and moving through the world -- on the way to the subway, during eating -- with more awareness is an act of Ahimsa.

These passages also caught my attention:

... Instead of letting the limits of your body create stress, make the decision to intentionally respect and even love the limitations your own body has. Perform yoga poses gracefully, but do them without force. ... In the physical sense, non-violence means not pushing yourself over the edge. You can, of course, still challenge yourself so that you can grow; in fact, you must. But embracing ahimsa means not pushing yourself to harm. ...

Indeed, how often do we allow the limits of our bodies to make us feel more stressed out? The idea of loving my own limitations -- not just my physical ones, but my mental and emotional ones as well -- surprisingly seemed almost revolutionary to me. I ask myself now, do you really think you're superman and can do everything? By trying to do more than I reasonably can, isn't that bordering on being an act of violence towards my own self? So, at moments in this past month, I gave myself the liberty to do less. In so many words, I said to my little self at times:

  • It's OK to slow down and do less
  • It's OK not to be perfect
  • It's OK that I have flaws, all humans do
  • It's OK that I have limitations as to what I can reasonably accomplish
  • It's OK that I want to have a work-life balance, and allow myself to indulge in watching one of my favorite shows at the end of a long workday
  • It's OK that I need to hit the snooze button a few more times
  • it's OK that I can't respond to people's emails in a timely manner
  • It's OK that I need to miss some deadlines
  • It's OK that I am not Superman!

Can you relate?

Practicing Yoga asanas (postures) is a great way to practice perfecting the Art of Ahimsa. When doing a challenging yoga pose, it is such a balancing act between considering "can I do more?" and asking one's self "should I do more?" Experienced Yogis and Yoginis know the better questions at times are "can I do less?" and "should I do less?"

The Gaia article also points out these potential positive effects of cultivating non-violent thoughts in our own minds:

... When we think lovingly, these thoughts trigger dopamine's release into the body. Dopamine is that chemical that makes you feel good and relax. Unlike cortisol, dopamine brings strength to the immune system. It can even cure illness. Those who think of themselves as optimists tend to have stronger immune systems and recover faster from illnesses and injuries. Optimists may even live longer than those who think of themselves as pessimists.

So whether you think you might want to live longer or just have a better quality to your life, consider practicing the Art of Ahimsa daily. A benefit is that you just might begin attracting more happy people to you. And that happiness will keep growing and growing!

And finally -- and most importantly -- as we finish celebrating Earth Day month, please remember to try practicing being non-violent toward the Earth. As President Emmanuel Macron of France said in his speech to the U.S. Congress this month, "there is no Planet B."

May you be happy,
May you love the limitations of your own body,
May you push yourself to grow, but not to harm,
May you attract more peaceful and happy people, 
May you practice the Art of Ahimsa, ... for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni Chun

 

Needs vs Wants - The Eternal Human Struggle!

 My apartment on 3/28/18

My apartment on 3/28/18

Liberation Day arrived for me this past Wednesday, 3/28! The exterminator came and did another inspection and said I should be fine now. Yay, I can finally start to take my personals belongings out of the 50 or so plastic bags strewn around my apartment!

For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, please see my blog from last month.

While the last 12 weeks have been a huge challenge, now comes an even bigger challenge. As I start to undertake my biggest spring cleaning to-date, now is the time for me to truly engage in practicing Aparigraha. It's time to let go of stuff I've been holding on to. Now is the time for me to determine what is a need and what is a want. I have a feeling the process ain't going to be easy for me. Does my unease sound familiar to you?

For those of you unfamiliar with Yoga philosophy, Aparigraha is one of the Yamas. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the ethical guidelines for practicing yoga -- the Ten Commandments of Yoga, so to speak. The Yamas are the things we should try not to do, for e.g., don't harm, don't steal. In the case of aparigraha, we should try not to be overly possessive, not to hoard, not to grasp or hold on too tightly, not to be greedy.

Yoga teacher Molly Lannon Kenny offers us some key insights on what we might experience in the absence of practicing aparigraha. She writes:

Our tendency to hold on tightly is something intrinsically human, and provides us with a false sense of control. … [which] leads us to feelings of constriction and scarcity.  We end up having less space, less spaciousness, and we cling to superficial beliefs that cloud our ability to reach for something much deeper to believe in. 

Does this sound familiar to you? I know that when I try to fit too much on my plate, and add too many to-dos into my day, I end up feeling less spacious in my mind and body. I ask myself at times, why am I accumulating so much? Does it come from a place of scarcity within, a feeling that I never have enough and that there's always something more I should be doing? Does it come from a feeling that I need to control everything around me or else my life won't make sense, and I'll experience that uneasy feeling of groundlessness, where things are spinning out of control in and around my life and I feel like there's nothing I can do about it? I don't know the answers to these questions, but I think they are important questions for me to ask myself. (Something of an aside --  I also think that practicing meditation is a great way to find the answers to these questions.)

Many years ago, in the late 90's, there was a wonderful yoga teacher at the YMCA whose class I used to enjoy taking. I learned a lot from her, and one thing I'll never forget she said as we were practicing yoga is this:

"Let go of what is stale, old, and no longer useful."

The beauty of yoga asanas is that when done correctly and regularly, they can help us to let go of some of the old hurts that have lodged themselves in our bodies, minds, and hearts that are no longer serving us well. And this statement is also a reminder to me that one day even this body will no longer be useful for my spirit to hold on to. Yoga and meditation are preparing me for that moment. So is this "spring-cleaning" project I'm about to undertake.

Paul Dalligan writes that "Aparigraha is the art of what is needed. Truly applied it is a great freedom for the practitioner and distills all our material and psychological possessions down to what we need." So as I undertake putting my apartment back in order, it will be a great opportunity for me to assess what do I really need to hold on to and what can I let go of now at this stage in my life. What things are no longer useful and are creating a burden not only in my physical space but also my mental spaces. It will be about balancing my needs versus my wants, and again I know it won't be easy because my mind likes to cling on to things. Maybe yours too?

When we practice generosity and give our possessions away it is not only the receiver that is blessed, but also the giver. In my case, I don't yet know what things I will be trashing and what things are still useful for someone else to use, but I do know that whatever I give or throw away, I will truly be blessed by a sense of lightness. On this point, Paul Dallaghan says: 

The essence of it is a lack of, or at least a reduction in, selfish behavior. The mental attitude is not one of "what am I going to get, what can I get or I really want that", but rather no interest to acquire and keep. There is a stronger urge to give and share, use things as needed and be willing to let them go when done.

As translated by SwamiJ, Sutra 2.39 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali says:

Aparigraha brings the past and future: When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.

Upon first reading it seemed odd to me that Patanjali was tying in not being greedy with awareness of incarnations. To this point, Paul Dallaghan also writes: 

The lack of material bondage allows the spirit to reveal itself.

Aaaahhh, so now I see how it works. When I can be less burdened by physical and mental possessions, I will have more space in my mind and heart for my true essence -- the Who-Am-I-Anyway or That-Who-I-really-Am -- to reveal itself. 

While on one hand I know i have lot to let go of, if I've learned anything from the last three months it is that I now realize I am actually quite capable of surviving with very little. I've spent the last 3 months wearing pretty much the same set of clothes day-in-and-day-out, week-by-week. so I now know that I can at least practically exist with very little to cover my body with. 

I hope this little lesson in Aparigraha can be useful to you.

Happy Spring Cleaning to me ... to you ... to us!

May you ...
not be greedy, ... 
not grasp too hard, ... 
let go of what is stale, old, and no longer useful, ...
practice the Art of What is Needed, ...
... for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

Aloha, with Metta,
Paul Keoni

 

Returning to Loving - the self

 Charlie Chun giving me some love.

Charlie Chun giving me some love.

There's nothing like receiving love from a dog. I got to visit with my brother in Hawaii last month, and his dog Charlie, gave me unconditional love and affection. Right about now, I wish that I could give myself that same kind of unconditional love and affection. Loving one's self is hard at times!

What a momentous month it's been. Whew.

At the moment, I am feeling extreme frustration. My apartment has been a complete mess for the last two months due to an infestation of bed bugs that I only became aware of at the start of the new year, though unbeknownst to me the problem actually started 4 months prior. I've been living amidst piles of plastic bags -- at least 40 of them -- and working at a messy desk that has stacks of things to do strewn here and there. At times, it feels like there is no room to breath in here, and I am not one for being able to work easily when there are seemingly endless to-do's right in my line of visibility. Trying to run my small nonprofit business under these conditions has, at moments, felt impossible. Just about now, I am really taking comfort in something the Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg wrote: 

The Buddha taught that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them. The negative forces can never uproot the positive, whereas the positive forces can actually uproot the negative forces. Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt because it is a greater power.

While at times it has felt like the negative forces in my mind are winning out and dominating, I also have just enough space in my mind to see that this situation will not last. From a yoga perspective the above statement seems to make sense. Our need for food, clothing, and shelter are said to rest down in our lower chakras and our capacity for loving resides in our higher ones. Love is the higher and greater power, and as yoga practitioners we need to keep our hearts open and return to love over and over again.

According to Sharon, the Buddha taught that "you can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection."

So the flip side of my current condition is that I have had many opportunities to be compassionate toward myself, cut myself some slack, and seek ways to be affectionate and loving toward myself. For me, it's meant not trying to be so perfect and disciplined all the time. It's meant treating myself to 'junk' food every so often, such as the other night when I had a tremendous craving for a Big Mac, fries, and coke. It's meant acknowledging when I am afraid, such as when I am working to grow my business and feeling like I don't know what I am doing yet trying anything I can think of to keep moving the momentum forward. It's meant acknowledging that I am afraid to ask for help, yet leaping forward and asking anyway. It's meant being OK with shutting down the computer when my mind is mush and just can't think straight any more, even though it feels like I have a thousand and one tasks with imminent deadlines to accomplish. It's meant indulging in lack of time-management and taking longer showers so that my mind can go to that place where the answers to my current questions can arise. It's meant being OK with wearing the same set of clothes day-in and day-out for the last two months, and remembering that many people in the world have to do the same with even less. It's meant giving myself extra doses of metta, or loving-kindness.

Sharon writes: The practice of metta, uncovering the force of love that can uproot fear, anger, and guilt, begins with befriending ourselves. The foundation of metta practice is to know how to be our own friend. ... With metta practice, we uncover the possibility of truly respecting ourselves.

So with all that I have been through this month, I have also retuned to loving my little self. In yoga, we are always striving to connect with the bigger Self, and I think a necessary pre-condition is to start by being kind and loving towards -- and once again befriending -- the little self, the all-too-human little me that does get afraid, that does lose hope, and is only trying  to do good for both my little self and others around me. 

Sharon alludes to this poem by Walt Whitman -- which I absolutely love -- to illustrate the practice of metta and the results that are possible:

I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.

― Walt WhitmanLeaves of Grass

It's all too easy for most of us -- myself definitely included -- to forget the goodness that already resides within and to not acknowledge the good that we do for others around us. It's been all too easy for me -- perhaps you too -- to slip into thinking I am not good enough. So in writing my Artist's Way morning pages this morning I used it as an opportunity to remember all the ways I have held so much goodness for myself and others over the last few days, to remember all the joy I have brought to others in my teaching, and the joy that I received in return. I am now recalling the happiness I experienced teaching my little children gymnastics, dance, and yoga this past Monday and seeing the smiles on their faces and their feelings of pride in their accomplishments. I love teaching little children, and I love seeing them laugh and be excited to learn, and I am so grateful that I can help mold their young and still malleable minds to learn the values that yoga teaches at such a young age. I recall the joy on the faces of the special needs individuals I was invited to teach yesterday at a workshop for a disabilities organization. Seeing the possibilities for movement and awakening within each of them, even with their limited abilities, brought me great joy and feelings of goodness for myself. Seeing the goodness within me has meant allowing myself to be OK with being lazy and indulgent at times, and to accept my current progress as good-enough. 

Most fortunately, I have a loving partner who has supported me through thick and thin, and who reminds me that I am loved and let's me complain and kvetch occasionally for no other reason than so that I can get things off my chest. 

And speaking of my partner Ed, this being the month that we celebrate Valentine's Day and seeing the possibilities for romantic love as a force for helping to do good in the world, after 7 years of being together and deepening our friendship and love for each other, I presented him with a ring and asked him if he would marry me. He said "yes!" We plan to be married back in my home state of Hawaii later this year, and have a wedding ceremony there in 2019, the year of my 60th birthday. I am so fortunate to have a good man in my life, and am looking forward to being partners for life!

And to think that this could only have been possible as of six years ago, when NY State passed same sex marriage and then in 2014 when it became the law of the land here in the U.S. It's because countless LGBTQ individuals loved their little selves just as they were just enough over the last half century that eventually a tipping point was reached in our country.

Whew, what a month it's been.

May you hold much love and affection for yourself, and see all the goodness within you,
May you return to loving the self,
... for your benefit and for the benefit of all.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni

 Teaching Chair Yoga at the Center for Family Support, Feb 27, 2018.

Teaching Chair Yoga at the Center for Family Support, Feb 27, 2018.

 

Are You Ready to "Yoga?"

 Sunrise at Makapuʻu, Hawai`i, Jan 16, 2018

Sunrise at Makapuʻu, Hawai`i, Jan 16, 2018

 Sunset at Lanikuhonua, Oʻahu, Hawai`i, Jan 16, 2018 It's not every day that one gets to see the sun rise and set over water all in one day!

Sunset at Lanikuhonua, Oʻahu, Hawai`i, Jan 16, 2018
It's not every day that one gets to see the sun rise and set over water all in one day!

The first sutraatha yoga anushasanam—of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has been resonating with me a lot this past month. It’s often an overlooked one, but when you dive deeper into its meaning, it can guide you in the right direction in your life. Swami Jnaneshvara translates these Sanskrit words to mean: Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.

The important word here is “now.”

It’s the beginning of a new calendar year, and many people are ready to jump into new routines which they hope will improve their lives. We all like to try new things around now, and yoga is something that is often added to the mix. Yet, are you truly ready for yoga?

According to Yoga Sutras, one should come to yoga because one is ready to do it, and not perhaps because it’s the trendy thing to do. In other words, ideally one comes to yoga because for whatever reasons, one is drawn to it because one is need its benefits and are ready to receive them. Perhaps one begins yoga practice because they’ve heard that yoga can help to release stress, alleviate worry, and lead to more peace and calm. Sometimes one is drawn to yoga because of some traumatic experience they’ve had, and they need healing and recovery.  

Yoga means Union.

And so to benefit optimally from yoga, one has to be ready to “yoga” or ready to be in union with one’s highest Self, highest Nature.

With the proliferation of so many offshoots of yoga here in the west—buff yoga, broga, nude yoga, yo-dan-nastics—it might be easy to think that yoga is just a physical practice meant for physical self-improvement only. While one may experience physical benefits from doing yoga, it is always good to remember that the real, enduring, and important benefits of it are internal, such as more peace of mind, less stress, more joy and equanimity. Though these are unseen qualities, they are definitely qualities that we can feel. And when we are in union, we can exude a “yoga glow” that can be felt by and benefit others around us.

The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sutras are:
yogash chitta vritti nirodhah
tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam
vritti sarupyam itaratra

Essentially, these words mean that the goal of yoga is to quiet down the mind enough so that we can know at a deeper level our Highest Self and to be able to see the ever-changing nature of the outward world’s many passing phenomena as an illusion.

The external world leads our minds here and there, modifying and shaping it. It is easy to identify with those images – really illusions – such as “I am rich”, or “I am a Poly-Eurasian male”, or “I am powerless”, and so on. But to be ready to “yoga” means being ready to want to break free from those labels that we and the outer world have placed upon ourselves.

Really, the goal of Yoga is to identify with the Seer within that witnesses the ever-changing ephemeral world around and within us.

And to truly benefit from yoga, one has to be ready to make the right changes in one’s life. At the start of a new year, many people are ready to make resolutions. Hopefully these changes one makes in one’s life will lead her/him to the outcomes they seek in the year ahead.

For me personally, I started my year with an idea in mind of some large goals I wish to manifest in 2018. Then rather than focus on the goals, I started to focus on the inner changes I could realistically make, the inner intentions I could set, and the things I could let go of.

The external situations of my life led me to have a bit of a rocky start to my year. Most significantly, my apartment has been turned upside down for all of January due to an infestation of bed bugs. Yep, living in a Manhattan high-rise apartment building with 1700 other units around mine certainly has its perks!

In the beginning, it caused me to feel much stress and many moments over the last 4 weeks have felt like quite an ordeal. But the flip side of all of this is that I also have come to see all the changes that will result from me going through this this as blessings. For one thing, when this is all said and done, I plan to purge my apartment of all the things I no longer need. I also came to see just how resilient and inventive I can be with my living arrangements. Even if I had to sleep on my hard floor on quite a number of nights, at least I had an apartment with heat. It came to my mind during those nights that many people in the world don’t even have this basic comfort. And probably most importantly, I came to see that even though the outer circumstances of my life are chaotic, my inner faith in my abilities to overcome these obstacles is now even stronger.

Another significant stressor in my life happened back on Saturday, Jan 13 at approximately 8am Hawaii Standard Time. I was in Honolulu at the time driving home from enjoying an 'ono (delicious) Hawaiian breakfast when my cell phone started buzzing with the alert of an incoming missile. Suddenly the peaceful morning I was experiencing in blue-skied, warm and tranquil Hawaii was upended by fears of my impending death. For 45 minutes or so, I prepared myself for the end. Panic was mixed with thoughts of “can this really be truly happening?” Fortunately, at around 8:45am we receive the notification that all was clear. Whew.

 Got the "all clear" on my cell phone.

Got the "all clear" on my cell phone.

So that was my brief brush with my mortality. That was a wakeup call, in a sense, to continue to see this life of mine and all my possessions as a brief blink of the Universe’s eye, yet also as an opportunity to see that I am part of something much bigger and much more eternal.

This the why we practice yoga – to know these realizations.

The fundamental realization that came to me this month is that it is less important what the outer circumstances of one’s life are but rather what inner circumstances are being modified, changed.

Externally, I am not where I want to be, but internally I know I will get there because of the inner changes I’ve made. Truly it is not where one starts, but rather where one finishes. So, I’ve learned not to judge what I see happening in my life at any one time as defining me, but rather have been keeping my eye on the prize and imagining what can happen when I make internal changes that move my inner being towards greater Union with my Highest Nature.

So, the fundamental question I have been asking myself each day this past month is: “am I ready to make important inner changes in my life that will lead me to greater realizations and bring me closer to my human potential?” Really, I have been asking myself: “am I truly ready to ‘yoga’, to bond closer to my Highest Self?"

For me this month, so far so good

I leave with a question for you: “are you ready to ‘Yoga’?”

May you be happy, health, and ready to ‘yoga’ … for the benefit of all beings.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni

 

Presence as a Present

 View of the brilliant sunset outside of Roosevelt Field Mall on Dec 24 as shoppers wound down their gift-buying.

View of the brilliant sunset outside of Roosevelt Field Mall on Dec 24 as shoppers wound down their gift-buying.

The day before Christmas, my partner and I went to see Star Wars out at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island. As to be expected, the mall was filled with shoppers, scrambling to find gifts at the last minute. My partner lamented that he wished we could get back to the true meaning of Christmas, one of experiencing and offering simple Joys. I totally understood his sentiment. We all know the holidays have become so commercial and much focus is on the material.

Still as I looked around, I also imagined that all these people at the mall rushing here and there were likely looking for a gift for someone in their life who was important enough to them that they wanted to give them something meaningful and special. So in addition to the swirl of commercialism, I also felt the generosity that was abundant in people's hearts and minds that day. People were thinking about others' best interests.

Beyond the materialism that dominates this time of the year, there is another gift that we can offer our loved ones that can be deeply felt and appreciated. This gift is our simple presence. Here are a few of my favorite Thich That Hanh quotes, which illustrate this and how we can be in touch with it:

When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?

Everything we are LOOKING for is right HERE
in the PRESENT moment.

Walk SLOWLY.  Don’t rush.
Each STEP brings you
to the best MOMENT
of your life,
the PRESENT moment.

If yoga can help us in any way, it can help us to slow down, encourage us to put down our cell phones and help us to see how much we miss by not being present with the things around us. More often than usual, I found myself this past month simply walking on the city sidewalks and standing on the subway without my cellphone in hand. I just wanted to be more present to what was happening around me, and I had some hope that my simply being more fully present in each moment might somehow help the people around me.

Surely, moments like these are truly acts of giving. Pema Chodron interpreted "Dana" -- the Buddhist practice of Generosity -- this way:

 Giving is an act of letting go of holding on to yourself.

As we close out the year, we not only practice generosity but also letting go. The two are intertwined. With each passing year, we are able to see more clearly what we don't need, and we let go of these things. For me, this month has been around looking for ways to make my life simpler and less cluttered, looking for ways that I hope can truly help me to be more present for others. I reduced my teaching schedule, in part to free up more time to attend to other things that are more important to me at this point in my life, and also to give other yoga teachers opportunities to practice and experience the joys of teaching yoga.

Lastly, as this year winds down, one of Marianne Williamson's more famous quotes is resonating deeply with me right now. In A Return to Love, written in 1992, she writes:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not in just some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

If we truly want to help the world, and be more present and generous with others, one of the best things we can do is to be more authentically ourselves. As yoga and meditation practitioners, it is incumbent on us that we become more deeply in touch with our God-given gifts and let them shine -- for both our benefit and the benefit of all around us. 

As you let go of the old, and embrace the new, may you be more present, authentic, and free.

with much aloha,
paul keoni 

 

 

Balance

 Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island

Moravian Cemetery, Staten Island

Nature has a way of balancing itself out. As we fade into the fall, nature's brilliance is on display. It doesn't go away unnoticed, as the brilliant colors of this tree call our attention to it! And soon, these very trees will be barren, then soon thereafter full of green leaves again. Aaah, it's a perennial balancing act that nature has been conducting for a long time. It's an enduring dance, a reminder of the true nature of all things -- nothing lasts.

For me, the idea of staying in balance hits home closely. For a while recently, I've felt that my life wasn't entirely in balance. Too much work, and not enough time to just have fun. Last month, I read a blog by Ramit Sethi that struck home. In it I recall him saying that one should stop all work by a certain hour of the day (i.e., no late nights), and go on to prioritizing things like eating well, being in touch with family and friends, and getting a good night's sleep. That is a definition of a rich life. I took it heart, and have been trying this approach. Occasionally I am successful, occasionally I am not, but more and more my life is moving in this direction.

In class this month, I shared this quote from the Buddhist meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg:

The 7 factors of Awakening: The path of liberation laid out by the Buddha is not one of self-judgment, grasping, or acquisitiveness, but rather, one of balance. If we can bring our system into balance, it is believed, freedom, love and compassion will emerge. One essential way this balance is described is through the 7 factors of enlightenment: mindfulness, investigation, effort, raptness, calm, concentration and equanimity.

From it I took that if I am to expect to be able to be more enlightened than I am now, I have to first be in balance. When my life is not in balance, it is hard for me to stay calm, concentrate, be mindful and maintain equanimity. In those moments when we are not overly stressed or worried, we've all experienced feeling an intense Universal Love for all beings, and have let go of old grudges This is a good reason to try to maintain balance.

Maintaining balance requires both attaining and letting go. The 13th Century Persian Poet Rumi wrote:

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as bird wings.

In other words, we can't keep going and going. Especially as things get busy for us during the holidays -- it's important to make time to bring our life to a standstill. In yoga asana practice we do this by coming to chid's pose. We have to take time to stop, pause, and contract inward to balance out all our active doing.

Sarah at Charleston Yoga shared this sage advice:

Can you remain calm in the midst of your everyday life?  Consider for a moment the importance of balance in the natural order of human life.  Every human body yearns for and thrives in a state of inner balance, inner peace.  This feeling of serenity provides a reference point: it will increase your awareness of, and decrease your tolerance for, the imbalances you normally experience. Think of the first experience you had in Shavasana (Corpse pose), a state of deep relaxation.  Once you've had that experience of relaxation you have a reference point; you can more easily notice tension as it arises and take steps to release it.  Once you know what true balance feels like, you'll begin to notice what's out of balance in any area of your life.  As simple as that??  No, not really ... you must practice daily.  See you on your mat.

One reason we practice yoga is so that we can get in touch with this reference point of serenity again and again, to the point where we don't want to let it go so easily. I've heard some retirees I know say that they don't want to go back to working full time again now that they have the freedom to come and go as they please, with fewer external demands on their time.  And one said that looking back she has no idea how she juggled a full-time job with her personal life. In his former job, my partner found himself so overworked and not able to enjoy life that he said to me several times he was ready to say to his boss "I quit." Fortunately, he's found himself in a new job now, and all indications so far are that his work-life balance will improve.

In the practice of yoga asanas, it is important to remember that there has to be a balance of effort -- a balance of intention. as it were -- in each yoga posture. According to this translation by SwamiJ of Sutra 2.46 from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: 

The posture (asana) for Yoga meditation should be steady, stable, and motionless (sthira), as well as comfortable and ease-filled (sukha), and this is the third of the eight rungs of Yoga.
(sthira sukham asanam)

It is said that unless one is steady and comfortable that one will not be able to experience a higher Awareness of the Infinite. So when you are practicing yoga postures, you must check in with yourself from time to time, honestly asking yourself if you are working so hard that you're losing sight of the larger picture.

During this holiday season, I hope that the hustle and bustle don't throw you off balance too much. And I hope you will have extra time to reflect quietly back on your year, celebrating your triumphs and also making note of things you want to change in 2018. Spending time reflecting back at this time of the year will be a nice way to balance out your 2017.

May you be happy, healthy, balanced, and free ... for the benefit of both yourself and all beings.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni

 

 

 

"Learning to Stay"

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Earlier this month, my partner and I were enjoying an unseasonably warm and quite beautiful weekend on the boardwalk out in Arverne and this bird stayed hovering above me just long enough for me to snap it's photo with my iPhone. So sweet! Certainly, it is not easy to capture a bird in flight, as their movement patterns are similar to something we're all familiar with -- our own minds! Yes, like birds in flight, our own minds have a hard time staying in one place. Yet, Pema Chödrön suggests in her dharma talk on "Learning to Stay" on her CD Getting Unstuck (Disc 1) that doing so may lead to greater liberation.

Her talk was enormously helpful for me this month, as I experienced some difficult emotions and on several occasions woke up in the middle of the night frozen by panic. Know the feeling?! A few times, I forced myself to sit in meditation in the middle of my room surrounded by the darkness of the night and eventually my mind and body was able to settle enough for me to fall asleep again. At the very least, I had learned to stay. And now as I settle down to write this, I am also practicing learning to stay while my mind is experiencing the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to appear on this page. I am experiencing an inkling of why, as Pema suggests, learning to stay can be so useful.

Life is always going to be filled with ups and downs, knowings and not knowings. The secret to remaining balanced and still functional through it all is, Pema suggests, simply learning to stay. It goes beyond needing to prove "my rightness" and "your wrongness." Rather it's more fundamental than that and has to do more with just being quiet, and staying, breathing, and listening.

And yet it's not so simple. When things are difficult, we either want to run away and hide, and not come out until the coast is clear. Which is why, Pema says, "learning to stay takes courage." She shared one of the lines of her morning Buddhist prayers is: "Whatever arises is fresh, the essence of Realization ... [and] even our judgments about what arises is the essence of Realization." By this she is encouraging us to stay with whatever arises in each moment, as the experience could lead us to greater Self-Realization. If we can treat each moment, each arising, as precious then theoretically we never have to fear anything that arises. 

And she reminds us that "the process is the fruition." We don't have to become completely realized human beings in one sitting. Rather just the fact that we sit and take each arising in our mind as it comes is enough of a victory.

Pema anecdotally shared that after many years of practicing meditation that one of her greatest realizations is that even when her mind goes off on a tangent her attitude about it is "no big deal." Like a bird in flight, we can't always expect our mind to be able to stay still and hover in one spot. But what we can change is how we view our minds. For, e.g., if we can see it as "no big deal" that our mind is experiencing panic--it's just what minds do every so often--then we'll likely see the panic begin to subside sooner rather than later. During such moments, she suggests: "learn to accept the present moment, as if you had invited it, and work with it rather than against it, making it your ally rather than your enemy." She suggests that one way of uncovering our Buddha nature is to "open to the unknown future, as if it were thrilling rather than threat."

Pema shared: "What I've noticed about the few people in my life who I consider to be completely awake is they learned to stay, ... and you feel this sense of eternal presence [when you are in their presence]; they don't go off anywhere." So we may not be as fully awake as these people are, but if we wish to somehow help those around us, perhaps one of the most profound ways we can do that is to learn to stay a little longer each time things get uncomfortable and show a little more courage by not going off anywhere.. 

Practicing yoga postures takes courage during those times when uncomfortable emotions are loosened and rise to the surface. Sometimes we can stay in the posture and keep breathing through the experience, while at other times the only solution is soften into child's pose and experience our breath there. 

On a personal note, it's been 9 years since I founded Keoni Movement Arts and as I look back I'm really grateful that I stayed with it for so long. Certainly, things didn't always unfold in the manner or as quickly as I thought they would and I've surely made a lot of mistakes along the way. I'm just grateful that I stayed long enough for me to be able to learn from my mistakes, and as a result I feel the organization is in a stronger position than it's ever been. In these fast moving times, when people are changing jobs -- and companies are changing people -- every few years, I've found that sometimes staying put can have long term benefits. 

May you learn to stay, ... for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

With aloha and metta,
Paul Keoni

 

Surrender

 Endless summer at Rockaway Beach, 9/23/17

Endless summer at Rockaway Beach, 9/23/17

Summer is officially over, but it seems to be surrendering slowly. With 80 degree weather in NYC lasting till late September, I had one last chance to go swimming last weekend. Aaah, the water was so refreshing and the waves so delightful to bodysurf along in. And practicing savasana on the warm sand after swimming was so heavenly. I truly felt a deep sense of surrender, one of the most important aspects of practicing yoga.

Of course, September is the time when we once again commemorate the events of 9/11. It's hard to believe that happened 16 years ago this month. Memories fade, but of course for many the wounds have not entirely healed and were reopened again at this time. The Buddha's teachings on love and hate are so important to remember again and again, especially at this time. He taught: 

"Hatred is never ended by hatred - but by love alone is hatred healed. This is an ancient truth. Many do not realize that we here must day. For those who remember, quarrels end."
-Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha)

The events of 9/11 are a reminder to us that no matter how inexplicable some things that happen in life can be, we must always try to surrender to the way things are. Yes it's natural to want devastating occurrences to go away and disappear, but rather than run from them, we must have the courage to try to sit with the difficult energies and move on with best actions possible. Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama said: “The hard shell of the ego cannot be cracked without surrendering to something bigger than itself.” In a sense we have to admit that our egos are large, and our egos want things to be different. But unless we can surrender our egos to something larger, we will suffer more.

This past month, I was faced with a particularly huge workload, and found myself overwhelmed in a few moments. My salvation was my meditation and yoga nidra practices. I found Beth Johnson's comments about meditation particularly comforting. She wrote: In the silence of meditation you can sense the part or parts of yourself that you may be trying to push away or disown. When you surrender and welcome the excluded parts back into the fold, there is a release of energy and your inner strength returns. My meditation practice helped me to sit with all parts of myself, particularly welcoming in the parts that are difficult--my fears, my worries, my doubts, my wishes for things to be different than they are. And in my meditation practice, I also returned to being in touch with my deepest knowings about my highest possibilities and most heart-felt desires. And in practicing yoga nidra, one-by-one each part of my physical body surrendered to the way things are, just as they are. Despite the challenges I faced, and the fears I experience in facing them, over and over again strength returned.

Pema Chodron's words also helped. She said: 

"It's helpful to remind yourself that meditation is about opening and relaxing
with whatever arises, without picking and choosing."

Pema Chodron (b. 1936)
American Buddhist teacher

Really when you think about it, life is about opening and relaxing to the way things are, without picking and choosing. In every yoga asana you practice there has to be an opening and relaxing to the way things are. Yes there is effort in practicing yoga postures, but if you can't also relax and surrender too, you will not experience balance. And yes, too, we make intentional efforts in life as we pursue our highest dreams, but there also has to be a surrender and a letting go in order for them to be realized. And I might add something I practiced more often this month--there has to be a putting down of our cell phones and surrendering to the richness of more of the moments in our lives that we miss when we are distracted.

May you continue to strive to extend love to yourself and others more, ...
May you welcome back more parts of yourself that have been heretofore excluded, ...
May you open and relax more, ...
May you surrender to the way things are more, ...
May your ego be cracked more, ...
May you put down your cell phone more, ...
... for the benefit of All Beings everywhere.

Metta with Aloha,
Paul Keoni

 

 

Perennial Theme: Selfless Service Leads to Happiness

 "Eileen," the one footed Bird of The Rockaways

"Eileen," the one footed Bird of The Rockaways

 

My partner and I have seen this one-footed bird around Arverne in the Rockaways and have nick-named it "Eileen." I have no idea what Eileen is thinking as s/he goes about doing its bird things, but for me when I see her/him, compassion is evoked within. Eileen serves me by reminding that no matter what we've been dealt in life, each and everyone one of us can make a difference.

For a number of years now, I've returned every summer to the Hanuman theme in my yoga classes. I love what Hanuman stands for, and he inspires me to keep doing my work.

Hanuman, also known as the Monkey God, appears in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. In the story, he is deeply devoted to his master, Lord Rama, whose wife Sita is captured and taken to an island in the middle of the ocean. Because his only desire is to keep serving Rama, he summons up all his strength and power from within himself and does a giant split leap over the ocean, lands on the far away island, and rescues Sita and returns her to Rama. Can you imagine executing such a feat?! Actually, many of us already do similar types of things all the time.

The story of Hanuman of course is a myth, and like all myths it is meant to remind us of the things we know but have forgotten. Essentially, when the cause is great enough and it serves humanity in some deep and profound way, we somehow are able to muster up the strength, capacity, and will-power to complete the mission. I believe that each of us here on earth have some important mission to accomplish, cause to serve.

For me, it's running a nonprofit. For many, it's being a good parent. For teachers, it's giving the next generation skills to succeed and being good role models. For those in service industries, it's providing others with basic things we need to make our day a bit easier, and hopefully doing it with a smile on their face.

I believe that selfless service, like Hanuman constantly demonstrated, can lead to increased levels of experiencing happiness.

Sonja Lyubomirsky researched ways to increase happiness, and writes: ... what precisely can we do to hasten or bolster ... increases in happiness? The answer lies in the pie chart theory of happiness. Recall that 50 percent of individual differences in happiness are governed by genes, 10 percent by life circumstances, and the remaining 40 percent by what we do and how we think?  That is, our intentional activities and strategies. The secret of course lies in that 40 percent. If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

In yoga, there are some things we can’t control – like how loose our joints are, or how long some of our tendons and ligaments are, or whether our muscles tend to be fast-twitch or slow-twitch, or whether we started yoga too late in life to be able to touch our toes. Let's face it, some people were born to do the forward splits, and others will never be able to do it in this lifetime. But what we can all control is giving the practice our most sincere effort and staying within our own truth. If you do these things, you should be happier by the time you leave your yoga mat.

And by staying within our own truths, we discover the myriad of ways that we can be of service. Eileen, my bird-friend can't change the fact that s/he has only one good foot, but s/he makes me smile every time I see her/him. That's what I call being true to one's self, sincere, and serving others!

From Wikipedia, "Neem Karoli Baba (1900 c. - September 11, 1973), also known to followers as Maharaj-ji, was a Hindu guru, mystic and devotee of the Hindu deity Hanuman." He influenced millions of people around the world, including Krishna Das, the American Kirtan Singing Artist. A long while back, I read Krishna Das describe his encounters with Neem Karoli Baba and I recall him saying something like that when he was in his presence it was like experiencing Pure Love. Neem Karoli Baba was so simple and humble, and had an infinite heart that could hold within it the suffering of many other beings, including Krishna Das' own, which apparently was quite immense at the time. In his very simple way, Neem Karoli Baba, like Hanuman who he was devoted to, found the strength to keep on reducing some of the suffering he witnessed around him. By all accounts, he appeared to be quite happy too.

Neem Karoli Baba wrote:

I am like the Wind, No one can hold me,
I belong to everyone, No one can own me.

Hanuman was the son of the wind, which made it possible for him to fly across the ocean to the island where Sita was. As yogis, when we practice Hanumanasana -- forward splits -- we can imagine ourselves being stretched out in 6 directions like a bird, and taking flight with the wind. Professor Joshua Greene says, "practicing the pose, we gain victory over our own selves, our ego and our tendencies towards evil."  Our heart is spread wide open, and when it is we will always find our way back to remembering our highest missions on earth. When the heart is wide open we can sail farther and higher. When our heart is open, like the wind, like Hanuman, we can belong to everyone, while not being owned or held by any one. That is selfless service. That is the key to happiness.

May you be happy,
Like "Eileen," may you change what you can, and not worry about what you can't,
May you serve selflessly, 
May you gain little victories over your little self,
May you know and serve your Higher Self,
May you remember to breath and feel the wind moving both inside and outside,
May you accomplish your mission on earth, for the benefit of all beings.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni Chun 

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Perennial Theme: Contentment

 Neighborhood Community Garden, W 48 St.

Neighborhood Community Garden, W 48 St.

Going through my neighborhood community garden, I happened on this bee pollinating this flower. To me, it was the picture of contentment, as it was just going about doing what bees do.

One of the most important parts of practicing yoga is cultivating contentment, both on and off the mat. In some ways, becoming increasingly more content in life is more important than increasing one's ability to stand on one's head. The latter might be a means toward the former, but always remember the former is more important, and in some ways the more difficult to practice.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali state: santosha anuttamah sukha labhah (Chapter 2, Verse 42). Swami J translatesFrom an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.

And, no less a great authority on happiness than the Buddha stated: “Contentment is the greatest wealth.” (Dhammapada 204) Every so often I think it's important to remind ourselves of this -- something we all know but in midst of our habituated desires for more material wealth, often forget.

As I thought about people in the world who seem to be content, one major figure came to mind -- Warren Buffett. He is one of the richest people -- in terms of financial wealth -- on the planet. Yet, he said: “I learned that I can still be happy with half as much.” Maybe that's one reason he got to be so wealthy. As I shared in last month's blog, he said he doesn't need a lot of fancy things to be happy, and he genuinely seems to be happy and content. The lesson I derived from him is that one need not take extraordinary risks and constantly try to satisfy one's ego for more in order to be happy, and even to derive more wealth. He is truly an example of how needing less can lead to more.

Conversely, Donald Trump strikes me as someone who is not content with half as much. Just saying. And if you compare the material wealth of both (as far as we know), Warren Buffett seems to be far ahead.

Another person important in my own life who is content with less is my partner, Ed. He's always telling me, "I don't need the fanciest this or that." He finds contentment in simple things, like tending to his garden or spending weekends watching a good movie or a nature show at home. He definitely keeps me in check.

Creating contentment is a gradual process, for sure. The Buddhist meditation teacher, Tempel Smith, suggested that one "incline the mind towards contentment over dissatisfaction.” I like that. It suggests that in those moments when it is easy to be dissatisfied with the way things are that one just try - gently - to move one's mind in the direction of contentment. 

I will admit - this past month I really struggled with cultivating contentment in my own life. Part of my challenge was that I had an unbelievably and unusually high work load and a number of personal obligations. I find it difficult to keep my mind in a state of equanimous contentment when I have too much going on. But now, as I see a little more light at the end of my "work" tunnel, my mind has eased up a bit, and I am beginning again to feel more content. I've come to feel that I can be content with less work -- and thus income -- if it means having more free time to do quiet, simple things. 

I know our 24/7 capitalistic culture reveres being busy, busy. I am learning, day by day, that's not necessarily a good thing.

May you have the space to start your days from an attitude of contentment.
May you be content with half as much.
May your mind gently be inclined toward contentment and away from dissatisfaction.
May you be happy and content, for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

With Aloha and Metta,
Paul Keoni
 

 


 

 

 

Is Warren Buffett A Yogi?

Yoga Friends,

I watched an inspiring interview that businessman and philanthropist, Warren Buffett, gave to Judy Woodruff on the PBS Newshour recently. Judy reported that Warren Buffett's net worth from all his stock certificates at his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is $77 Billion. Warren said that 99% of it is going back to society through philanthropy. He said he could live on $100,000 per year and still be happy, and though he could buy 100 homes and yachts if he wanted to, he wouldn't be happier. He's happy to live in the same house he's lived in since 1958 because it's filled with memories--obviously ones that are priceless to him. He said the secret to being happy is to find what you love to do, and he tells young students, "look for the job you'd take if you didn't need a job. ... Surround yourself with people around you who make you feel good every day, and make you a better person than you would ever be."

To me, this certainly sounds like someone who is practicing yoga "off-the-mat!"

Warren Buffett has learned to be content --samtosha -- with having only what he needs. He doesn't seem to have a great number of material wants, rather he seems to practice aparigraha--non-greed, non-grasping, non-possessiveness. Unlke most people, he doesn't seem to have an ego that is constantly saying "more, more, more." He thinks in terms of how his greatest gifts can meet society's greatest needs. And perhaps one of his most endearing traits is that he has a jovial quality that clearly demonstrates that he is a happy person.

Many years ago when I was a working actor, an acting teacher shared with me his philosophy about acting that can be summarized as, "Joy is the Center of the Creative process." I have always remembered that. As an artist myself, I know the creative process can feel painful at times--most often due to the fact that you're constantly delving into the unknown. But whenever I am trying to create something -- yoga sequences, lesson plans, an acting role, growing Keoni Movement Arts -- I am always guided by the same basic questions: What brings me joy? Am I enjoying what I am doing? Do I think this will bring joy to others?

The actor Robert Prosky said:

It has been said that an Actor must have the hide of a rhinoceros, the courage and audacity of a lion, and most importantly, the fragile vulnerability of an egg.

Certainly, as yoga practitioners, we must try to cultivate the hide of a rhinoceros. One way of thinking about this is that we can either try over and over to force the outside world to change to our liking, or as the 8th Century Indian Buddhist Monk and Scholar Shantideva suggested, we can protect our own minds by wrapping a thick protective "hide" around it. That's what meditation practice is intended to help us build. A more current way of thinking about this is we're trying to "Donald Trump-proof" our minds!

Also, as yoga practitioners we're trying to access the deepest awakenings of the heart/mind, and it takes tremendous courage and audacity to do just that. Certainly, yoga and meditation are not for the faint-hearted in this respect!

Robert Prosky also said:

It also has been said, and I'm not sure by whom, that the moment of not knowing is the moment that has the greatest potential for creativity. The professional and private lives of most Actors are filled to the brim with moments of not knowing.

And the Buddhist Meditation Teacher, Pema Chodron, said:

The best spiritual instruction is when you wake in the morning and say, "I wonder what's going to happen today," ... and carry that kind of curiosity through your life.

If yoga and meditation can do anything for us, it can help us to feel more comfortable with not knowing, and open us up to the curious possibilities of what might be if we just allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to flow with life as it is unfolding. Certainly seeing what is happening in front of us in any given moment -- instead of being stuck in what we think should be happening -- is a way of being that is fresh, awakening, and freeing. If we can be open to possibilities that God has in store for us by surrendering more, we will freer from the blockages that keeps God's creative force from reaching the surface of our awareness. I know we wish we could control all outcomes, but in letting go of controlling too much, we can know our highest possibilities. 

This past month, I put together a recital for my nonprofit organization, Keoni Movement Arts. I had to figure out yoga, dance, and gymnastics skills that my students -- many of whom are special needs -- could perform as choreographed movement pieces.

And in my desire to advance Yo-Dan-Nastics as a movement arts vocabulary, I asked of my teachers that we also put together a movement piece to share with our students. We only had two 2-hour rehearsals in which to assemble it. Because I was so busy taking care of other aspects of the recital, I didn't get around to formulating ideas for the teachers' piece until the night before our first rehearsal. I remember thinking -- with both fear and excitement -- "what is going to happen tomorrow?" I truly did not know! 

Then just after I had settled myself into bed and before I fell asleep, suddenly and magically ideas started popping into my head. And the next day, as I was leading my teachers and I through a warmup, suddenly movement ideas started popping into my head, leading one teacher to remark "this could be our dance!" And as we went through the rehearsal, the other teachers started contributing their ideas, and after just two short -- and exhilarating -- hours, we had basically assembled a dance together. It was such a joyous experience, and one that I undoubtedly would not had experienced had I not been open to "not knowing."

I am thrilled that, like Warren Buffett, I have found life-work that is meaningful and joyous for me and others. I think back 20 years ago, when for two years I was making $10 an hour teaching a once-per-week adult gymnastics class at the YMCA. Certainly, I wasn't making a lot of money teaching back then, but I do remember that the process of learning how to teach movement brought me great joy. I had fun experimenting with a lot of different ways to approach teaching gymnastics -- an activity that is more suited for learning as a child -- to adults. I used to spend many hours planning my lessons and breaking things down into smaller and smaller achievable bits of movement. My mind used to churn with ideas that I now know didn't come from me, rather from God.

I am most grateful for the talented professionals I am now surrounded by who are giving their time, treasure, and talents to help me to nurture Keoni Movement Arts and bring it to the next level. They make me feel good every day, and help to make me a better person than I would be otherwise.

Whatever is your deepest callings, I hope that your yoga and meditation practices can help you to hear those messages clearly. The world will benefit greatly from experiencing your most creative and joy-filled ideas.

May you revel in "not knowing," ...
May you develop a thick hide to encase your mind in, ...
May you know your greatest potential for creativity, ...
May Joy be the Center of your Creative Process," ...
May you be a yogi like Warren Buffett, ...
... for the benefit of all Beings everywhere.

Metta with Aloha,
Paul Keoni

 

 

 

The Outcome Is None Of Your Business

 BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK, MAY 28, 2017

BROOKLYN BRIDGE PARK, MAY 28, 2017

Yoga Friends,

A perennial yoga philosophy that has been so helpful to me personally over the years comes from the  Bhagavad Gita. One of the main themes of it's teachings is summarized in Stephen Cope's book, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, by one of his friends, Tom:

You dedicate your passion, your energy, your gifts to something bigger than yourself, and you just live it fully-- and the outcome is none of your business."

What if we could just give ourselves the gift of taking action in the world, and let go of worrying about how things are going to turn out? Imagine how freeing that would be. Imagine how much of our imagination, energy, and creativity could be released and expressed in the process. 

We live in a world where we have many choices and decisions to make, and it's easy to get caught in the all-too-human experience of thinking "I'm afraid to take action because I'm afraid of how things are going to turn out if I do the wrong thing and fail."

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna -- essentially the human soul -- and Krishna -- the Eternal Source -- are in conversation about Arjuna's dilemma over his seemingly impossible choice, which Cope writes: "[should Arjuna act] on his sacred duty as a warrior and [face] the karmic consequences of fratricide [by killing members of his extended family], or [retreat] from his duty into inaction and [face] the sin of 'dereliction of dharma' (duty)?"

For us, we're often faced with what are difficult -- and sometimes impossible -- choices, and we often seem to want to retreat into inaction. Much of the reason for our angst is that we fear the results of our actions and what the consequences might be. The solution, according to the Bhagavad Gita is this:

You have control over your actions alone, never over of it's fruits. Live not for the fruits of action, nor attach yourself to inaction. Established in yoga, perform actions having abandoned attachment, and remain balanced whether you succeed or fail. For balance of mind is called yoga.

Essentially, if we can let go of worrying about the outcomes of our actions, then we can live life with so much more freedom from guilt and blame. Cope explains:

Action that is done "desiring the welfare of the world," in alignment with duty and without "attachments to the fruits," is action that leaves no residue of karma, no bondage, no stain of any kind.

The key is that if we can align ourselves with our sacred duty -- what we were born on this earth to do -- and not be attached to the results, then we will not only leave this world with less karma to work on in a future life, but also suffer less by being freed from the mental bondage of needing things to turn out in a particular way.

Given the current political situation in which we face the possibilities of our country going backward in so many areas -- civil rights, human rights, women's rights, climate protection, and on and on -- the lesson for us who are in a position to put our attention toward advancing and promoting human understanding in these areas is that we can only do the best we can do and take the best actions we can. Beyond that, to repeat, "the outcome is none of your business." If we can go in with this mindset, then we can free ourselves of some -- if not all -- suffering.

In my own life's work through Keoni Movement Arts, I am faced with so many decisions that sometimes my head spins. The thing that keeps saving me over and over again is remembering that the outcome of all of this is none of my business. I started this nonprofit with an idea in mind for how to help the world through my own talents and desire, and the result so far is that we continue to grow year after year. Where this will all lead to, I have no idea. I do know that if I just keep following my heart, and remain practical and diligent, the results will continue to speak for themselves. I also know that the less personally I take the results, the less I will suffer.

According to Cope, Krishna (God) teaches in the Bhagavad Gita:

Act in the world, in alignment with your true vocation, your true self, and turn over the fruits--and you can rest assured that, then, you are not the Doer of the action. 

I've heard accounts about people being "in the flow" and feeling like they are not in charge, so much as that they are channeling some source greater than themselves. We've all experienced that feeling, I have no doubt, and it happens when we are doing what we were meant to do on this earth in this lifetime. It is incumbent on us, as yoga practitioners, to listen strongly to those feelings when they occur.

In fact, as we advance in our yoga practice, yoga becomes less and less about being able to do a headstand or touch one's toes, rather, as Cope writes:

As yoga matures within us, the intellectual idea that we are born divine becomes transformed into a way of life. We move ineluctably toward trust in the basic OKness of things and in the the remarkable intelligence of life itself. We let our dharma—the plan life has for us—find us. And when we surrender to life’s plan for us, we discover that we are not the doer. God is the doer.

A good reminder for all of us is something one of Cope's friends, Mark, said to him shortly before he died of AIDS at a young age:

Don't wake up at the end of your life and find that you've had yourself at the center of it all along. ... You have to find some one, some thing, some purpose greater than yourself to which you're devoted, and cultivate that devotion. Really give yourself over to it, whether it's teaching, music, family, the law, children, meditation, yoga, gardening. Whatever.

Especially with the way things are going in the world these days, it is most incumbent on us as yoga practitioners to help the world by allowing our Dharma—our life Duty—to come to us, and live it fully.  If we can do this individually, then I have no doubt that our collective efforts will save the world from the madness that is engulfing it at the moment.

May you know your Dharma, ... 
May you act on your Sacred Duty, ...
May you actions be aligned with serving the welfare of All, ...
May your mind remain balanced in success and failure, ...
May God act through you, ...
May you remember the outcome is none of your business, ...
for the benefit of all Beings everywhere.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni

 

Taking Things Personally

 View from Madison Square Park on 10/29/16. NYC has some amazing buildings!

View from Madison Square Park on 10/29/16. NYC has some amazing buildings!

Yoga Friends,

 I don't know about you, but I am very sensitive. When criticized, I tend to take things personally. So, it was particularly helpful recently for me to remember these words from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction practice. In an interview with Krista Tippett, he said:

If you mistake what you think of as the reality for the reality, then you're going to suffer because you're attaching the story of me, myself, and my successes and failures to something that's actually quite impersonal.

If yoga and meditation has helped me in any tangible way, it has been as vehicles which allows me to step back and see what's happening rather than identifying with what's happening. A goal of yoga and meditation is to try to become the witness to everything that's going on, both inside and outside of ourselves. And it can make such a difference in the quality of our Joys and the diminishing of our suffering.

The Buddha said, "life is suffering." The Buddha also said that there is a Pathway out of suffering. 

May you remember you not take it personally.
May your suffering diminish, ... for the benefit of all beings.

aloha, with metta,
Paul

 

True Power

  Fall foliage across from the Freedom Tower, 10/20/16.

Fall foliage across from the Freedom Tower, 10/20/16.

October 24, 2016

Yoga Friends,

Back around 2008, I got to hear the most venerable Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master Teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, speak in person. I recall him having a quiet, soft voice, but yet oh, how powerful his presence was. That night after his talk, my friend Jo-Anne, purchased an autographed copy of his book The Art of Power for me. I devoured it at the time.

Recently, this passage from the book has been resonating with me:

... Our society is founded on a very limited definition of power, namely wealth, professional success, fame, physical strength, military might, and political control. My dear friends, I suggest that there is another kind of power, a greater power: the power to be happy in the present moment, free from addiction, fear, despair, discrimination, anger, and ignorance. This power is the birthright of every human being, whether celebrated or unknown, rich or poor, strong or weak. 

Many come to yoga practice primarily to develop physical power through increasing strength and flexibility. Recently, I was teaching a health club yoga class and a student came to me prior to the start asking if this was going to be a Power Yoga class. Upon assuring her that it was, she said "good, because I need to work on my power." Inwardly I knew that was a code for "I need you to make it challenging and super tough because I need to build a lot of strength." So she situated herself in the front of the class, did a lot of vinyasas with hand-stand option and moved very quickly, and left before doing savasana. I knew she was totally missing the point of what yoga is supposed to be all about. And, I knew, as a long time teacher now, to just teach to people where they are currently at in their understanding.

The promise of yoga is truly something much, much bigger than just getting a good, hard workout. The practice has the potential to help us develop an inner joy so strong that it can withstand the torrent of stresses we encounter, especially here in New York City.

There are people who have attained much wealth and high positions who are ostensibly powerful but yet are miserable, and there are poor people who living in constant and abiding joy. 

May you remember your true inner powers, ... for the benefit of all beings

aloha, with metta,
Paul

 

Chopping Wood, Carrying Water

 Moon over Times Square, 10/14/16

Moon over Times Square, 10/14/16

Yoga Friends,
 
Another Monday is upon us. It's time for most people -- perhaps save for theatre folk -- to head back to work. Back to our routines. ... Sigh. ... Or maybe not?
 
Undoubtedly you've heard the oft-quoted Zen saying:
 
Before Enlightenment, I chop wood and carry water.
After Enlightenment, I chop wood and carry water.
 
I believe this pithy phrase wisely suggests that engaging in the simplest acts -- chopping wood and carrying water -- can be a pathway towards enlightenment.
 
I also believe it is suggesting that although Enlightenment may be the goal, it's not where we should be putting our attention. Rather, we should put it on doing the simplest things that are laying right in front of us. Doing so, lightens us up.
 
Also, having routines is an anchor for us. Our routines help us to order our worlds in a way that helps us to negotiate through it with ease and grace. 
 
The Buddha is said to have attained Enlightenment at age 35. He lived into his 80's. Undoubtedly the Buddha himself continued to practice meditation - continued chopping wood and carrying water -- even after he became Awakened. 
 
Maybe in this lifetime, through your own regular yoga and meditation practices, you'll attain Enlightenment. Still, to maintain it, you'll still have to keep practicing both. 
 
Like the moon, keep showing up daily.
 
May you chop wood and carry water, ... for the benefit of all beings.
 
May you make it through another Monday with Grace.
 
aloha, with metta,
Paul