"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

 

Showing Up

SUNSET AT ROCKAWAY BEACH, 10/19/16

SUNSET AT ROCKAWAY BEACH, 10/19/16

Yoga Friends, 

Pattabhi Jois was one of the 20th Century's most important and prominent yoga masters. He uttered many brief words of wisdom during his lifetime of teaching. Here is one of the more prominent of his philosophies: 

Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.

Indeed, in order to become really good at anything the most important thing is to simply show up. It's easy to get heady and try to explain how things are supposed to work, but there is so much learning to be had simply by showing up, exploring, and using direct experience to be the best teacher.

One of my and my partner Ed's favorite cable tv shows is The Incredible Dr. Pol. He is a veterinarian in Michigan and his clinic treats animals large and small, exotic and common. In a recent episode, he was helping a newly minted veterinarian fresh out of school with a surgical procedure she was struggling with. Paraphrasing Dr. Pol, he commented, "they don't really teach you how to do things in veterinary school. Really you have to just get into the practice and do it, and learn by doing."

Whether the goal is enlightenment or building a great organization, you've just got to show up and do the doing. In a world where so many people are constantly careening from one passion to another, the secret to being successful is just sticking with something for the long haul and do the daily doing. The author Elizabeth Gilbert spoke about creativity in an interview with On Being host Krista Tippett. In it, she said:

Everything that is interesting is 90% boring. 

Paradoxical, yes, but true. Great things are built by hour after hour just showing up and as my friend Laurine likes to say "pad-dum, pad-dum" - ing over and over again.

Most moments of my own meditation practice are quite boring, but after having practiced on most days for the past 15 years or so, the results have been quite interesting. Overall, my life feels more stable than it did in the years prior. And I have a palpable sense that I am able to be more compassionate towards myself now than I was able to be in my early adult years.

May you just show up to practice whatever it is you're trying to get good at.

May the things your eventually create benefit all beings.

aloha, with metta,

paul

 

Curiosity, Pt. 3

Rockaway Beach on 9/25/16, displaying a gorgeous sunset. The water reflected the sky and was a translucent blue so beautiful that I thought I was back home in Hawaii.

Yoga Friends,
 
Last week I shared that the Author Elizabeth Gilbert explores what it means to live a creative life in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. In an interview with On Being host Krista Tippett, she shared these thoughts on how our relationship with curiosity can help us:

ou think of curiosity as our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And, it's a very gentle friend. And a very forgiving friend. And a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available. And so the we live in a world that has come to fetishize passion above all, there's a great deal of pressure around that.

These words hit home for me personally this week as I was working on a grant application that had many parts to it and a lot of technical challenges as well. Also, it had a deadline. As I approached doing it, I found myself experiencing fear and apprehension. I had thoughts like, would I get it done in time? Would I be able to answer each question? Would my answers be good enough? But, during the process, I also found myself saying, I wonder what I am going to learn with each step I take? I wonder what I am going to discover if I just show up and be present with each part to this? And as I remained curious, and open to the process, and willing to just let the doing be my best teacher, step-by-step, I finished the application and submitted in on time. Choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear really helped me get through this process.
 
Truly, I felt the gentleness that being curious could bring. I felt how forgiving it could be too. I thought, so what if what I produce isn't perfect? I'll just learn something useful in the process and know that the next time it will be even better. 

But most importantly in the process I felt I became more of myself. I became more and more clear about my own voice, and took pride in it's uniqueness.
 
Similarly, yoga and meditation are very gentle friends, and very forgiving friends too. Unlike so many things we do in our life that involve us setting goals, and that put pressure on us to produce outcomes by a certain time in the future and meet other people's expectations, yoga and meditation work in the opposite way. They don't really care whether we get fully enlightened in this lifetime or a future one. There is no deadline in yoga by which time we have to be able to do a headstand. Yoga and meditation really just want us to show up, do the doing, and be our own authentic selves. They clear the debris to help us find our own voice and to share that with the world. 
 
We all have a voice. We all have a capacity to be creative. We all can witness how passion ebbs and flows as we continue down our path, then just choose to be curious to help us to keep going. In the end, we all can be our own best friends, and that would truly be a gift for the world.
 
As you practice returning over and over again to being curious, may your creative outcomes truly benefit all beings everywhere.
 
aloha, with metta,
paul

 

Curiosity, Pt. 2

Rockaway Beach, 9/25/16, first weekend of autumn

Rockaway Beach, 9/25/16, first weekend of autumn

Yoga Friends,
 
Author Elizabeth Gilbert's (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, explores what it means to live a creative life. In an interview with Krista Tippett, her philosophy was summarized in this way:
 
Creativity in life as in art is choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear.
 
Truly, when we are in a creative state of mind, our minds experience openness and expansiveness, a sort of "anything is possible" attitude.
 
As yoga and meditation take hold deeper in our lives, we are also training in adopting an expansive view of the human condition and an "anything is possible" attitude. Both free us up to experience more of life, just as it is, as it is unfolding.
 
In my own life recently, I've been met with a lot of uncertainties, so many that in some moments I have been paralyzed by fear. What has really helped me get through it all has been returning over and over again to an abiding curiosity. 
 
And remembering that this is a universal experience felt by most if not all people have helped me to not take it so personally when it happens.
 
As you practice choosing the path of curiosity over the path of fear, may your creative outcomes truly benefit of all beings everywhere.
 
aloha, with metta,
paul

 

 

Curiosity

Master Teacher Pema Chödrön 

Master Teacher Pema Chödrön 

Yoga Friends,
 
The Buddhist Meditation Teacher, Pema Chödrön, was interviewed by Bill Moyers a while back. This advice has resonated with me ever since:

The best spiritual instruction is when you wake up in the morning ... say, "I wonder what's going to happen today," ... and carry that kind of curiosity through your life."
 
A goal of practicing yoga and meditation is to keep the mind open and spacious. Curiosity is one tool that we can use to help us work towards that.
 
As I've worked recently to scale up my nonprofit organization, Keoni Movement Arts, I've experienced so much uncertainty. Should I do "...?" Will my actions bear fruit? What has helped has been an abiding curiosity. I've asked myself over and over again, I wonder what will happen if I try "...?" This feeling of curiosity has freed me up a little each time from being frozen by my fear of the unknown outcomes.
 
None of us truly knows what will happen to us today, tomorrow, or this week. Curiosity can help us to take that next action.
 
May you remain curious, ... for the benefit of all beings everywhere.
 
aloha, with metta,
paul

 

By Love Alone is Hatred Healed

9/11 Memorial (photo by Paul Keoni Chun, 9/8/16)

9/11 Memorial (photo by Paul Keoni Chun, 9/8/16)

Yoga Friends,

15 years ago today, the world changed. Hard to believe it's been so long. I have many faded memories and feelings by now. Still, I think it is important to look back, remember, and reflect.
 
Earlier this week, I got to visit the memorial. I was immediately struck by the names etched into it. They seemed to represent every culture, ethnicity, and religion on the planet. Truly, the reverberations of 9/11 were felt by virtually all peoples on this earth. One that day, we were One.
 
Once again, we have an opportunity to consider what we can learn from the events of 9/11/01 and put into practice in our own lives. I've often shared this teaching from the Buddha at this time:

Hatred never ceases with hatred,
but by love alone is hatred healed.


For me personally, when confronted with my own shortcomings and failings, I have tried to use them as opportunities to give myself doses of love and kindness. I can certainly "hate" my way toward further self-improvement, but I chose to try to "love" my way toward that outcome. I truly believe that every act of love and kindness towards our own selves ultimately has global consequences.
 
Perhaps you'll come across this fork in your road in the coming days, when you are confronted with a personal failing. May you choose the Path of love and kindness toward your own self, for the benefit of all beings on the planet.
 
May we never forget.
 
aloha, with metta,
paul

 

Selfless Service Leads To Greater Freedom

My Olympian move (photo by Adeet Deshmukh)

My Olympian move (photo by Adeet Deshmukh)

 

Yoga Friends,

One of my favorite yoga sequences that I teach annually leads to the posture Hanumanasana (forward splits). With the Olympics occurring this past month, and having seen many amazing feats executed -- particularly by the gymnasts -- this was an appropriate time to practice this pose. Plus the heat of the summer makes it easier to go deeper into it.
 
In the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, Lord Hanuman (a.k.a. the Monkey God), was so devoted to his master that when his master's wife was captured and taken to a far-off island, Hanuman somehow mustered up the ability to do a giant split-leap over the vast ocean to rescue her. Can you picture this in your mind and imagine doing it?!
 
Though a myth, the story of Hanuman and his amazing feats remind us all that when the cause is great enough, we are able somehow to muster up the strength, perseverance, and will-power to accomplish incredible feats.  We are able to place our ego at the feet of something bigger than our own little selves, and act with humility in serving humanity selflessly through the talents we were born with. In the story, Hanuman forgot that he had inner strengths, but it took being presented with an opportunity to serve something bigger for him to remember that he had these strengths.
 
What is in your heart at this moment that you would like to see manifested for the benefit of all beings? If you can start by identifying that, you will soon find that you do have the ability to take many small yet consistent steps towards realizing your Olympian-sized dream.
 
May you remember your inner strengths through selfless service.
May you complete your missions.
May you know greater freedom.
 
aloha, with metta,
paul