Tag Archives: Guru Singh

Be Neutral; Be Knowing; Be Glowing

Yogi Bhajan - in whiteOn occasion, I receive messages from Yogi Bhajan, who I think of as Yogiji because the ji functions as a term of endearment. Sometimes I share these messages and others, I simply tuck away into a journal, to be compiled in a book, one day.

But along with this particular message, was the injunction that it be shared. It came as a response to a personal plea for strength, as I have recently been going through a demanding life-challenge. Here is the message, followed by my interpretations of each of the three parts:

Be Neutral; Be Knowing; Be Glowing

Be Neutral—

Meaning, don’t “emotionalize” as you go about your business; just go about your business.

In other words, refrain from running stories in your head about how wrong the other person is…how out of line the company is…how unjust the situation is, etc., etc. It’s not for us to play the role of judge. And anyway, victim consciousness is the lowest form of consciousness (since nothing that happens is personal—more on this below).

But it also doesn’t mean you sit and do nothing when conflict or wrong has occurred. When you’ve already tried to settle the situation peaceably to no avail, you proceed by going through appropriate channels, but without additional energy wasted on vengeful thoughts. (As Zen says, that would be like wearing two heads!)

In short, don’t “personalize” the situation or the other person’s actions, since, those actions were never about you, anyway, they were always about the other—betraying their own state of consciousness. And on a more metaphysical level, those actions are merely impersonal obstacles, like little mazes meant to navigate, so as to reap the lessons they offer, and to able to then move on, and nothing more.

Be Knowing—

My own teacher, Guru Singh, was one of Yogiji’s first students. This is a line from one of his devotional songs, called “Fortunate:”

To be confident that the infinite will take care of it…

This line best sums up the meaning of the second part of Yogiji’s message. It asks us to know, to really know, in our heart, that the universe is truly supporting us.

You are divinely guided! You really do have angels. And what’s more, you have more inner resources than you ever imagined.

Whatever name we call it by…God, the divine, the supreme infinite...doesn’t matter. It means there’s no reason to worry.

Don’t live in fear—have faith. Surrender. And once you do, you’ll see the beauty all around you, as well as all the signs that your angels (in the form of helpers in your life or in spirit), are carrying you.

Consider that whatever challenge you are facing is akin to what mystics have characteristically referred to as “the dark night of the soul,” which always precedes the light! It is a time of reordering, in which something has to die in order for something more beautiful and infinitely more liberating to be born. And this necessitates a kind of chaos, as all birthing experiences do.

But open your heart to faith throughout the process—outrageous faith…faith in your own mission, which comes in the form of divine instructions and your courage to finally listen and follow these instructions! This is freedom, this is light.

Be Glowing—

This is a reminder that our true power and strength is on the inside and this will supersede any physical situation. Meaning, whatever your situation or challenge is, it is of little consequence to fret about possible outcomes, especially those based on what other people’s experiences have been, based on google searches, or based on hearsay. Your inner glow and light, which radiates outward and is felt by all who come near you, will affect the material context in ways that others are unable to understand. It’s like a secret.

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To Accept “what is” or Pursue your Passion?

follow your passionIs the highest attainment in life realized when we’re able to accept where we are, without striving? Or, are we supposed to chase our dreams and pursue our passions? In my book, Buddha in the Classroom, I speak of the importance of acceptance, as an expression of our capacity to liberate ourselves from the endless chain of yearnings that characterize existence and from the resistance and corresponding angst that comes up when those yearnings aren’t fulfilled .

A snippet of that part of my book —

(Excerpt from Chapter 19—Passion; Accept, Adapt, and Abandon Hope)

The real problem with our fixation on passion is the near certainty that even a blazing fire will dim with time.

Then what?

Even when passion is pursued and found, the affair won’t last forever. Passion changes. We change. A dancer friend recently shared with me the common experience among the cast members of a famous musical. Far from reveling in prideful accomplishment for having been part of one of the longest-running shows, they’re sick and tired physically, and mentally jaded. Many are dancing on old injuries, and are scarcely able to find the motivation to go onstage night after night; yet somehow they manage to put themselves into their postures and glissade, on tiptoe, onto the stage, one more time, because it’s how they make their living. It is the same motivation that gets most of the world to work every day.

It reminds me of the ancient Greek myth about Sisyphus: He is condemned by the gods to push a gigantic boulder up a hill, over and over, all day long, even as it continuously rolls to the bottom of its own weight as soon as he gets it to the top. The gods understood the futility of wasted labor, so assigning it was the perfect, wicked punishment. In retelling the story, the French philosopher Albert Camus likens the absurdity of the task to the everyday predicament of every single one of us, pushing our rocks in our own way, as we struggle to meet deadlines, deal with coworkers and bosses, and solve the problems that are part and parcel of any workday, anywhere.

But Camus was an optimist.

Despite his fate, it is Sisyphus himself who decides to be happy. He can whistle and hum happy songs while he pushes his rock, or he can lament and endlessly curse his fate. The irony is that as soon as he realizes the power inherent in his own reaction, he is liberated. He makes his fate his own. It is he alone who decides to be happy or miserable. In a nod to our own capacity for liberation, Camus says, “We must imagine Sisyphus smiling.”

Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers

Sisyphus’s existentialist smile resonates with the Buddhist reminder to let go. Sisyphus smiles because he accepts his fate. To let go is to accept. And through acceptance, Sisyphus liberates himself from his sentence. To accept is to simultaneously stop resisting. When you stop resisting, you are able to enjoy your experiences, which is to say, your life.

Accept, adapt, and abandon hope, Zen says…

Do I still think this is the Truth?—

Yes, but it’s not the whole truth. It’s true on one level, just as, when you’re a certain age, following a rule of conduct is important, but it’s also true that this same rule may no longer apply, at another stage or moment in your life. There are different truths for different stages of our journey. Acceptance is true and passion is true.

Consider Gandhi. He had a passion for restoring justice and liberation to India, but every time they threw him in jail, his only savior was surrender. Acceptance was the rule of the hour. It didn’t mean he was giving up his broader plan. It just meant he had the wisdom to know when to act. There’s a time for everything. Thus, we can be our own captors (through resistance) or liberators (through acceptance).

There’s a time to express our passion in life. And this is what I would like to now give proper importance to.

Very simply put, if we’re interested in what we’re doing, that interest will carry us through the inevitable challenges that come along with anything. It reminds me of an oft recited quote by an unknown author:

Without enthusiasm, you’ll find any reason to quit. With enthusiasm, you’ll overlook every reason. ~unknown

Whether or not to follow our passions depends largely on the choices we have available. If we are lucky enough to live in a physical environment in which we are politically free and financially able to pursue our desires, we might consider the luxury we have been given in this incarnation and go about it with zest and gratitude. But, if this is not the case, then acceptance for the karma we have chosen for ourselves in this existence will serve us well. 

Even with this said, acceptance is a tool that serves us, even then, for no position or pursuit is all paradise, all the time. We will always deal with difficult people and occasional burnout, but when the joy and sense of purpose is greater than the misery, or put another way, when it uplifts more than it drains, we carry on, knowing that we’re serving the world through the work that we do. And again, gratitude for the opportunity to do it, will carry us. Acceptance is a great succor and support in every part of life.

A more profound reason to give voice to our passions.

Soul Speaks—

I call it Soul Speaks…as when a child shows signs of his/her inclination early on. This is a sort of magic that gives our life a sparkly quality and makes us feel we have something to live for. It is our inner longing showing up before we even understand it or know how to give voice to it. It is our soul speaking. This voice, that starts out as a little whisper—such as when we’re first attracted to some activity—may one day combine with skill, and this fusion in time and space is like the key that unlocks the door to brilliance.

If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you directly to your purpose. ~unknown

Power Spot—

The power spot is another little expression I have to describe this kind of brilliance…such as when Pavarotti sings. When you hit your power spot, everyone around you feels it, although they may not know what to call it. It is felt. A pop phrase for this inexplicable phenomenon is the “it factor.” A person is shining in their craft, doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. And their radiance glimmers like a shining gift to the world.

Is there such a thing, metaphysically, as “purpose?”—

Which opens up another question. And this is what it all hinges on…do we really have a purpose? If we did, who gets to say what it is? How will we know what it truly is? Do we have only one? Can we choose to do something else?

It all comes down to trusting our own feeling. No one else can decide for us. It is not an intellectual decision, that can be decided by a list of pros and cons, as we were taught to do in school. We will know our purpose because it feels right. And yes, that purpose can change, just as our relationships can change. Just as some relationships are karmic in nature and are finished when the karma has been played out the and lessons have been learned. Our purpose at one time can shift into a new direction after we have served in that area and our time there is finished.

More about “feeling” it—

When we’re not doing what we’re “supposed to be doing,” everything in our life just feels “off.” We feel drained, rather than uplifted and satisfied. Everything feels much more laborious than need be.

Life is not supposed to feel like drudgery, anyway—this is an outdated and misguided belief based on guilt. When we’re on the path that is right for us, everything falls into a flow, what one of my teachers calls effortless effort. This is the law of abundance; everything will fall into place when we trust and when we align ourselves with our heart.

The Way of Efficiency—

Besides being in tune with what feels right, there’s a sense of efficiency and capacity that becomes evident when we are in the “right place.” Not only do we tend to thrive, personally, but our performance has the potential for excellence. Although we might like to give some activity a fair chance, for the sake of curiosity, we may or may not be any good at it. I remember when my father gave dancing the good old college try for the sake of pleasing my mother, but a Fred Astaire this scientist was not!

Along these lines, we may consider a tree or a houseplant. Although it can adapt to different environments if necessary, it simply does better in “the right” environment, and will produce better fruit. Some plants need more light, more water, etc. In human terms, we call it “being in your element.”

Or, consider a car. You may eventually get to your destination on subpar gasoline, or low oil, but it will do better on better gas and more oil. In human terms, it’s our choice—we can waste energy or work more efficiently, by being in tune with our soul’s purpose.

Establish your passions on a day to day basis. Whatever you attach your conscious and undoubted passions to will manifest. ~Guru Singh

In spiritual teachings, it is said that this is how we know when we are going the right way or not. God…or, if you prefer…higher wisdom, or angels, or the universe…will assist us and give us signs when we’re going the right way, and lay down hindrances when we’re going the wrong way. Sometimes they may give very loud clues if we’re deaf or daft and are not getting the message! Does this mean we should give up when too many obstacles befall us? Not necessarily! This is the art of walking a line only we can walk for ourselves.

Again, it comes back to the necessity of being present in our bodies, so that we can recognize the many ways that information that is felt, rather than intellectualized. So that we can know on a deeper, more intuitive level. So that we we can trust in our sense that it is not just a challenge, but a sign of something awry.

This connection to Self opens the door to personal joy, which we then shine like a lighthouse out to the world. It is why another one of my spiritual teachers once told me to “follow my bliss,” for when I do, I then bring that de-light to everything and everyone I touch.

I Forgive You

ForgivenessI spent the weekend at a meditation workshop. It was the second of three total weekends, that together compose the advanced training, in Kundalini Yoga, called “Mind and Meditation.” It was long, intense and exhausting, but also rich. The lecture-based explanations on all the facets of the mind and how it works, nourished our intellect, while the meditations and group sharing, enriched our hearts and spirits, through direct experience.

There were moments where I was so tired, I just wanted to go home and lie down with my dog. But there were other moments that left me truly transformed.

The sweetest of those was a 31 minute meditation led by my teacher, on guitar. He has a way of putting mantras and words to rhythms that are so lovely, they feel like an enchanting love song washing over your soul. (Well, mantras are love songs, after all.)

The words in this particular meditation were simply, I forgive you. It started softly and then it grew, as the intensity naturally and organically progressed, over the 31 minutes. The funny thing is, I don’t remember if he mentioned that it would be that long. I had the idea that it would only be a short, five minute, lightweight, fun chant to start class with. I was wrong. It kept going…and growing. And once we were deep into it, I sensed I wasn’t the only one wiping my eyes.

What is genuine forgiveness and how will it set us free?

1.  Firstly, what it is not. It is not to condone anything. It is not necessarily to do anything, at all, in the conventional sense. Thus, it doesn’t mean taking your abusive ex back, or bringing back into your life people who have harmed you in some way. As Guru Singh put it, it is not saying, “what you did is okay.” It is simply saying, “what you did is what you did.”

2. It also is not mere acceptance. Although it is a fine place to start. One of my favorite writers, Caroline Myss, refers to the inability to forgive (oneself or others), as the strongest poison to the human spirit. It drains our energy more than anything else. Lack of forgiveness cuts into the core of our ability to enjoy life, because as long as we are doggedly holding on to some injustice, we are investing emotional resources into it, to keep it alive, to maintain our status as victims. This attachment, to the past, to the event, to the story in our head about the occurrence, is like an invisible, heavy-duty, elastic band that prevents us from moving forward. And we are the ones who suffer most—not the other. So, although we still need to go deeper, acceptance begins the process of dislodging the story that is holding us hostage. In short, acceptance may be seen as the birth place of letting go, but it is still in the domain of the mind.

3. Genuine forgiveness goes deeper than the mind. It is a matter of the heart. And it’s not even about the other, at all. It is about our own relationship to the past. And in order for the heart to forgive, it has to feel the feelings, in order that they may pass through and evaporate of their own accord…as things always do when we don’t resist them. This means welcoming the hurt and the pain. You have to go there, to go forth. And in that moment, when the tears may flow, you liberate your spirit from those invisible tethers. This is true forgiveness and it is also true healing.

To forgive means to give forward from a memory into the present moment. ~Guru Singh

Image by Nayarts

Relationship between Presence, Prana & Wisdom

Prana_chi_intuitionYou’ve probably heard by now, that being present stills the mind and all its turbulence.

But…the greatest block to this state of presence is our mental turbulence.

This is like being told you need experience to get the job, but how are you supposed to get experience if they won’t give you the job!

This is a fine predicament.

The answer to this pickle comes in the form of a question:

Have you ever been so engrossed in a task that presence was inevitable?

Tasks of a physical nature are especially adept in bringing us here, since the mind, left to its own devices, soon falls into its customary habits. And we all know, the mind likes to swing.

The physical Yoga postures known as asana do this for us.

Just about all activities that require our active engagement do this for us (watching TV generally doesn’t do it).

Sometimes Yoga instructors will even tell you to find your edge. This is because when we are at our edge, we receive instantaneous feedback that enables us to make corrections as needed.

As it happens, this is where transformation happens.

As with the concept of flow, this is because when we are at our edge, we are at a point where the challenge slightly supersedes our skill level (clearly, if the challenges are too high, this will cause stress and if too low, boredom may result—but this is a slight digression).

When the balance between challenge and skill is just right, presence is obligatory, often at the risk of personal harm; for example, in a balancing pose, or more dramatically, while hanging from a rope on the edge of a cliff (Some of us, myself included, would rather hang out in a balancing pose rather than on the side of a mountain, even though we like mountains very much).

So, it follows that being comfortable is not the best condition for improvement and growth.

Why does transformation happen here?

Because loss of self-consciousness happens in this state of total engrossment.

Self-consciousness is, not surprisingly, what all the spiritual traditions speak of as enlightenment, albeit in myriad ways, e.g., as the loss of the small self, or, as the merging of finite with the infinite, etc.

Now, as it happens, these same conditions also entrain intuition, something we talk about often, in Kundalini Yoga. Intuitive awareness is a form of knowing that goes beyond the ordinary ways of picking up information, in other words, beyond the words and ideas, concepts and data that are the usual ways of exchanging and receiving knowledge.

One of the reasons why this vivid state of undivided presence cultivates intuition is because in this way, the whole body is alive with awareness. In this state, the energetic flow within us is flowing and unobstructed. In fact, as my own teacher used to remind us, when we are aware that we are breathing, we actually take in more prana. Same amount of oxygen, but more prana (or as the Chinese would say, more ch’i). This means our whole body becomes a receiver and transmission instrument (our mind is not localized in the head).

Prana is energy and if everything is energy, as Einstein said, then we merge into everything as just another aspect of this flowing energetic awareness, when we enter this state. The Yogis call it…well, the Yogis call it Yoga. Merging with divine awareness. Or, merging in divine awareness.

The only thing that holds us back from this state, is our own mental stuff and our attachments to that stuff. Flexibility moves us back to center, which is to say, back to everything and everywhere, and so, in this way, the best definition of non-attachment is actually…flexibility.

*Image courtesy of www.easternhealingcenter.com

The Sycamore that Wanted to be a Cactus

sycamore I created this story and told it for the first time at Yoga West last Sunday. Some of my students encouraged me to publish it, so here it is!

I was inspired by the two sycamores we share a home with, “Don Quijote” and “Sancho Panza.” The picture with this post is actually one of them. I suppose you could say that we are the family in this make-believe story. Only, the message isn’t make-believe. You’ll probably see very quickly, that we all do what the sycamore tree does.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This is a story about a sycamore tree who wished he could be more like the cactus. He stood very tall, next to another sycamore tree. Together, they guarded a charming old bungalow house and were much loved by the family who lived there.

He got the idea to imitate the cactus because all the billboard ads say that cactus spikes are in fashion. With all the attention the cactus was garnering, the sycamore began to feel that he wasn’t as handsome or as special as the cactus.

So, the sycamore went online and payed top dollar for the rarest cactus spikes from Mexico. From his elevated position, he was able to watch the street everyday, for his coveted Fed Ex delivery.

Finally, they arrived! And on that day, he pulled off all his fan-shaped leaves and replaced them with the pointy spikes in the box.

While he was online, he had seen more ads for similar imported goods from Mexico. One item, in particular, caught his attention: Genuine El Norteño cowboy boots! The ad said that these boots would make him more masculine. He couldn’t stop thinking about them, so once again, he snuck into the house, went online and ordered them.

And once again, he watched and waited for the unmistakable white truck to come down the street. Finally, when his beautiful boots arrived, he rushed to put them on. But this proved to be a formidable task, as his roots were very long and stringy and he was having a hard time scrunching them into the pointy, leather, boot toe.

At first, he felt proud and pleased with his new look. But after a few days, he wasn’t feeling so well. The Dr. said that without his leaves in tact, he wasn’t getting enough sunlight to facilitate photosynthesis. Tests also showed a deficiency in CO2.

As if this news wasn’t bad enough, he learned that the family members in the old wooden house, weren’t feeling well, either. They were short on oxygen and no longer had any shade to keep them cool on hot summer days.

That did it. The sycamore put his leaves back, at once, and replanted his roots in the earth, which immediately and thirstily began drinking up water, like happy kids sucking up apple juice with straws.

As he fortified his body with sunshine and water, balance was quickly restored and everyone felt better right away. The family once again began to enjoy picnics under the lush, green canopy formed by his fan-shaped leaves, and the giant expanse of shade that this created, kept the air fresh all year round. They even built a beautiful treehouse in his strong, shapely branches!

The sycamore came to realize that there is no other tree quite like him, that each one is beautiful in its own way, and that each fulfills a unique purpose in nature. He now felt very proud to be himself, to serve in a way that only he can, and to be such a tremendous source of delight in the world.

~DDQ

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Moral of the Story…
We give away our authenticity through our fixation on identity and our need for outside approval. We also succumb to what my teacher calls “OPO,” better known as, “Other People’s Opinions.” There is perhaps only one thing that’s worse—we cripple ourselves with our own stories, such as when we buy into it all, and begin to tell ourselves that we’re not good enough as we are.

Three Things Spiritual People Do Differently

1. They See Themselves as Part of the Cause

I remember the Dalai Lama once speaking about Saddam Hussein…how every body blamed him, alone. The reality is, he explained, that without his army, his warfare, his ready militia and unquestioned support among the populace, his capacity to do harm would have been all but nonexistent. In Buddhism, this willingness to see the interconnected causal web underneath the facade, is called deeply looking.

To bring this home, to the everyday, it would be the moment when you ask, how am I contributing to the situation? How did my action or lack of action play a role in the development of this dispute or occurrence? 

2. They See Themselves as a Witness 

I have heard it said that this one skill is the defining criterion of a spiritual life. Not unlike #1, seeing yourself as a witness develops as you begin to shift your focus from finding solutions on the outside, to finding solutions on the inside.

This is what meditation prepares us for—watching ourselves.

Every time you sit, without reacting, you strengthen your capacity to avoid “taking the bait.” Without analyzing, condemning yourself, or getting involved with the passing parade of emotions, you begin to see the whole thing for what it really is…just neurotic bursts of inner dialogue. And eventually, you find yourself able to bring space around the fear, the anger, the doubt, rather than acting on it.

3. They Take the Lesson 

My teacher, Guru Singh, uses the analogy of the postal person. While we may find ourselves resentful of some irksome situation in our lives, perhaps one involving a partner, neighbor or workmate, the energy we spend trying to make them realize how wrong they are will be totally wasted until we figure out what it is we’re supposed to learn from the whole thing. The mailman won’t go away until we’ve signed for the letter!

This too, is not unlike #1, in that the external blame only serves to keep us blinded to our own role in life’s deep interconnected relationships. We are all karmically linked, which is only to say that we affect one another in myriad countable and uncountable ways. The awareness that develops out of a spiritual practice brings us more in touch with this causal dependency.

Manifestation (Three Ingredients)

Through my own personal experience of bringing into my life the situations that reflect my heart’s true longing and my soul’s sense of purpose, I have discovered three essential ingredients in manifestation.

1.Intention.
Articulating your intention, whether mentally or out-loud, is part of the act of creation. It is a heartfelt message to your conscious self, to all the layers of your psyche and to the universe, as a whole, in all its hidden workings. It’s as I tell my college students, when I ask them to articulate a response out loud; once you say it to yourself, you have connected the dots, you have turned something vague into something usable, retrievable…something real.

Intention, after all, is what is responsible for the astounding wonder of placebos, which have brought about the same results as the real thing, time and time again; the power of prayer, which continues to mystify the non-believer; and the success of great athletes, whose mental run-throughs of the big event, have proven to be just as effective as the actual physical activity—even down to the neural level. When we direct our focused intention on a specific result, it activates its fruition. Energetic flow follows your attention.

2.Feeling
It is not new to speak of ourselves as vibrational entities. Anything written about the Law of Attraction will remind us of the inevitability of bringing into our lives that which is vibrating at a similar frequency. In this sense, we are a bit like a two-way transmitter, which sends and receives subtle signals via vibrational energy that is constantly moving through the universe. This energy is like a web that contains us and wholly engulfs us because we’re indistinguishable and inseparate from it. Think of this energy nexus like a spider web—when touched on one end, the corresponding vibration will reverberate all the way through to the other end. Everything affects everything. And it starts with our very thoughts.

The question is, how do we consciously direct this signaling? How do we program the wave motion?

Other writers have said that it is this signaling that determines what we project and bring into our lives, rather than our feelings, thoughts and desires. But this is to beg the question (in the true philosophical sense). For, we may ask, what shapes the signal?

What we feel!

What we feel defines our energetic flow, our state of being and the vibrations we signal out to the universe and to everyone we interface with.

Choosing what we feel is much more advantageous than letting our feelings choose us. This is what Yoga is all about—stilling the mind, so as to bring it into union with all that is.

This is also what free will really means.

The more conscious we are, the more control we have over what we choose to do in life. Or, put differently, the more conscious we are, the less enslaved we are by our mind’s whims and emotions, all of which are shaped by the incessant thoughts that buzz through our mind, like a swarm of bees, at any given moment.

So, consciously pausing to ask, what do I want to feel, is an important part of getting hold of the runaway train and purposely bringing ourselves into alignment with our heart’s true longing. It’s a bit like wagging the dog, in that we’re going from the outside in; starting with feeling, rather than thought.

For example, in the proclamation, I am joy…what does joy feel like?

My teacher, Guru Singh, sometimes reminds us of what may seem inevitable: To “experience the experience.” To really experience this moment, is to be completely present in this moment. It is also to be completely present in our body and mind. What does this moment feel like? To embody the moment is to literally get into our bodies, our whole selves. Normally, we become very closed in, as if blanketed under the fog of those thoughts and worries. We become myopic and unavailable, when we’re not present and fully embodied in this moment. So, to feel it is to make it real.

It’s like saying, “I’ll believe it when I feel it.”

3.The Present Tense
Notice the proclamation above: I am joy. It is stated in the present tense. Wayne Dyer talks about this aspect of manifestation in his book, Wishes Fulfilled. Saying, I will be joy, is much different than saying, I am joy. The first says simultaneously, that, I’m not yet joy, but I hope to be, in the future. That’s not good enough! And this goes way back in Yogic philosophy. Consider the most essential mantra: I Am That. Or, I Am That I Am. It doesn’t say, I Will Be That! Try it with any statement: I am prosperous (which just means, to do well), or, I am healthy. Time is just an illusion, anyway. It’s just a matter of the event unfolding into the perceived now.

The Long, Swollen Pause

The idea that pauses in conversation are bad has been indelibly etched into our belief system. We even have an expression for this unwanted interval: The awkward silence. Because in our minds, conversation should be a lively flowing exchange. The good conversationalist, we are told, should know how to keep the dialogue moving.

But even in the context of what we would call “small talk,” a well-timed pause is of great benefit; it not only allows for a moment of reflection, but gives a greater sense of intention to what will eventually be said.

In a potentially heated conversation, a befitting pause is not only beneficial, but vital. A deliberate pause can totally prevent fall out. In Kundalini Yoga, we talk a lot about the neutral mind. The simple act of waiting before speaking—for as long as you need to—can bring us there. Yet, as simple as it is, we forget to do it.

The neutral mind is the mind of the sage. It is the mind that stays cool, come what may. So called because it neutralizes our reactive tendency. Staying neutral is easier said than done. Yet we all know someone who is just naturally that way—unaffected by the things that throw most people into melt-down mode. The neutral mind allows you to step back rather than getting sucked into the drama.

This reservoir of calm, called the neutral mind, opens us up to our own intuition—that deep-rooted confidence and conviction that is quite outside of the senses. When our intuition is working, it is like a good radio antenna, which makes us more attuned to information that we don’t pick up through the noise of sense data.

The long, swollen pause is like Lao Tzu’s empty cup—it is that space which the universe can fill. The neutral mind is nonjudgmental. It listens without classifying or condemning. It has to, so that it can receive, rather than impose. And when it does, it’s like a trouble maker getting out of the way. That’s when a connection is made. That’s when the station is tuned in. That’s the state of no separation. That’s when we see through, to the other side of the words—the words that are so baffling: How could he say that??? That’s where we see the cry for help, attention, or  understanding—the true intention behind what is actually uttered (because, remember, people don’t always know how to say what they really want to say).

Finally, it is the neutral mind that is the bridge to reality itself, unfiltered by our triggers and reflexes, and all the story lines that give rise to them. It is pure and unspoiled by our criticism and preferences, and free of all the static that gets in the way of effective response and judgment. In short, it debars the reactive tendency.

As one of my teachers puts it, it is the neutral mind that allows us to see it and then un-see it. The pause is the way. But it takes courage because it means busting through what others expect of us, as well as our own old habits. But the rewards are well worth it because it is the key to effective communication.

Find the Lesson


On action alone be thy interest… Never on its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be thy motive, nor be thy attachment to inaction. ~Bhagavad Gita

After being told that “memoirs are a hard sell,” I am still writing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel discouraged for a few days, but I rallied. My turnaround was so complete, I felt liberated by the new perspectives that the supposed bad news afforded.

The most important of these was the way I came to see the event and the role it played in bringing me back to the whole point of writing, which is…the writing. And this realization brought me back into sync with one of the main tenets of the Gita—the spirit of service. If I continue to write, for the sake of the writing, and from the need to share my wisdom and experience with whomever shall benefit, rather than for the promise of publication, then I am truly serving. This realization made me ever more grateful for the experience.

Another perspective that shone forth came in the form of one of my teacher’s words—words I had heard many times, but which beamed brightly now, as if from a burned-out lamp whose bulb had just been replaced:

If you can be deflected from your path, you will be. ~ Guru Singh

It is inevitable that we will meet with opposition, of some sort and at some point—will you hold to your commitment? Will you be like the water in the Tao, able to find your way around all the stones and rocks so gracefully?

Finally, in any situation that seems, at first, to be displeasing, can you find the good? In this case, it was the lesson it delivered. I never saw this project as a memoir, but that wasn’t really the point. The lesson strengthened my commitment, not only to the writing, but to the art of living in grace, generally—and that requires trust. Trust that my offering will find the right home when it’s ready. After all…it is the only story I can tell, and it is a story only I can tell!

I share this story, as well, with the hope that someone may take encouragement from its lessons. What is your commitment?

One Year Ago: The First Teacher-Training Diary

It was this time last year that I made the decision to deepen my practice as a Yoga teacher. It was a long time coming–I heeded the calling of my heart to study directly under my beloved masters of Kundalini Yoga at Yogi Bhajan’s first and only studio, Yoga West.

It had taken six years, and at least two weeks of waffling, to finally commit. I remember the night I called to say Yes; I took my walk as usual, only the pink-stained evening sky was pinker than usual, the drooping golden sun was twice as gold as usual, and the crisp autumn breeze that chilled my just-washed face was the most delightful breeze there ever was.

I knew I would want to chronicle this life-changing journey, and I did. Here is the first of several teacher-training diaries I wrote, that were originally published on Spirit Voyage.

I walked briskly down the street in the rain, carrying an open plate of assorted curries and rice. Zigzagging around two Jewish families, out for Saturday services, I sought a moment of refuge in my car, to absorb the somewhat magical events that had transpired that day.

Still flush from the long group chant, I watched as the raindrops coalesced on my windshield. My voice had melted away into the warm sea of long “Ek Ong Kars.” I had lost the sense of where my own voice ended and the others began. The vibrational frequencies of 58 voices fused into a lush whole and time itself evaporated like dew. It was as if we all dissolved into some invisible swell that had gently washed over us. I took a bite of the creamy raita on the side of my plate and watched one single raindrop trickle down the window, leaving behind a long, clear squiggle for peeking through to the glassy, rain soaked street.

As all the genuine spiritual traditions remind us, it is through the dignity of letting go that wisdom is attained. In subtle paradox, it is by losing that we gain. In chanting, it was not merely our voices that we offered up to the infinite, but our very sense of self. In exalting the sacred mantra through chant, the tangible and the intangible disappeared into unison. At another moment, a white head wrap and an outstretched leg extended in front of my own, while mine lay, in turn, behind another. Together, we all carried on, and for the duration of the kriya, our bellies pumped air as one rhythmic body, like some multifaceted breathing apparatus. We were a woven cloth. For a time, personal space melted away, along with the intangible sense of separateness that keeps us from our own divinity.

In the shadowy world of separateness and duality, bad habits loom. Fear looms. The hum of adversity is often dispatched from the depths of the psyche, still on automatic, like a broken old alarm that sounds for no reason. There was a moment when mine hollered out – victim to the old triggers. But one of the Yogis inspirited my heart and knocked all sense out of me. I thanked him. And with a gentle word he sent me off to sharpen my tools. We are empowering ourselves to glide above those old patterns, to fly, wholly powered by spirit.

We have been gifted with invaluable tools of Kundalini Yoga, and we are learning how to use them. Through the timeless wisdom and functionality of these kriyas, we are learning how to scrap the unconscious negative reflexes and oust the heavy blocks that prevent the wholeness of mind and radiance we seek. Yogi Bhajan was forthright about the efficacy of what he called “the Yoga of awareness,” revealing that by practicing its techniques correctly, “we fry this subconscious mind; we make toast out of it and eat it.” Seeing us falter during a particularly intense kriya, Gurudhan reminded us to “become the nervous system.” “Keep going,” the yogi called out, as we disappeared into the kriya, as we became the kriya. We were mastering our energy rather than the other way around.

In some ways, this process reminds me a bit like getting thrown into the washing machine and then spat out again. And I’m hopeful it’ll be a cleaner, softer, more appealing me than what originally went in. I knew the intense, nine month period wasn’t an arbitrary figure. It’s as Guru Singh explained that first night: Like a birthing, after nine months, we’ll come out of the birth canal pure and new. “First you’re like eager babes,” he mused, as he surveyed the room full of the novice’s enthusiasm. “Then, as you begin to feel comfortable and more at home, you’ll start to relax and you’ll be draping your bodies all over, like you own the place.” But he continued on, explaining that by the end of the training period, we will have come full circle, only not exactly in the same starting place. When we get ready to emerge, as Aquarian teachers of 2011, we will be like eager young babes again. But in a different way.

I still have the teacher training pamphlet from 2005 in my Yoga files. Although it was because of Guru Singh, that I took that flyer five years ago, and because of him, that I finally committed this year, the boon is that through this intense training program, I will also have the benefit of learning from other masters, that I am quickly growing to love. Soon I will look upon them all as my teachers. And I will officially count myself among the third-generation disciples of Yogi Bhajan, himself.

It is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful, but also a tremendous responsibility, for these timeless teachings will be reflected in my own conduct and in the way I bring them forth to others as a teacher. But, it was a calling of the heart. And this is a brave heart that can only become more brave through practice.