Taozi Tree Yoga

The seeds we water are the seeds that grow.


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An Inuit’s Path to Ignorance

ME FIXING A WINDOW AT MY HOME, ICELAND 2006

ME FIXING A WINDOW AT MY HOME, ICELAND 2006

“Do you live in snow houses?”

Living abroad since 2008, I’ve met countless people that are interested in my home country, Iceland. I’ve gotten many questions like: “Do you have polar bears?”, ” Are you an Es Es Es….Sorry Inuit?” (Not PC to say Eskimo). “Do you have pet penguins?” (seriously!?)

I remember one girl that asked me, “Do you live in snow houses?” I had heard this question before but this girl was from France. Yes! France! I always remember thinking the same thing after hearing these questions, “ignorance”.  But was it ignorance according to Patanjali?

Ignorance (avidya) is of four types:

1) regarding that which is transient as eternal

2) mistaking the impure for pure

3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness

 4) taking that which is not-self to be self.

According to Patanjali the people asking me about igloos and penguins were not necessarily ignorant. Though they might not have been the smartest things to say, they were not ignorance.

Actually, I’m not here to talk about other people’s ignorance. I am going to talk about my own path to ignorance.

ME AND MY CAT, ICELAND 2000

ME AND MY CAT, ICELAND 2000

 My path to ignorance started back when I was 21 years old… roughly 10 years ago.

 Before that age I had no notion of anything being smarter, better or higher then my own thoughts, but suffering sparked a fire in me to go searching for the truth. I spent hours and hours reading endless self-help books, attending 12 step programs, meditation seminars, examining everything from Jesus to Buddha, Krishnamurti to the Dalai Lama, Reiki to the Tao Te Ching………

Finally, in 2008, at the age of 25, I packed my bags and went on a journey from Iceland to New York City to study yoga. I got initiated into Kriya Yoga and while living with my teacher in New York my eyes were opened, I had mystical experiences, and I experienced a divine love and truly found the answer to life. Or did I?

No…unfortunately I did not. After my experience in New York, I’ve continued on my spiritual journey and it wasn’t until a year ago, when I met my Baba from India, at which time I hit a wall and realized my own ignorance. It was probably the biggest blessing I’ve ever had because it was crucial for me to realize self-ignorance with total sincerity  in order to gain spiritual growth.

ME CHILLIN’  AND READING YOGA FOR DUMMIES, ICELAND 2005

ME CHILLIN’ AND READING YOGA FOR DUMMIES, ICELAND 2005

 With this realization as my foundation, things started to change. How I looked at the world changed. Instead of swallowing everything that had “self help”, “yoga” or “spiritual” written on it, weather it was spiritual books, meditation seminars, yoga teacher trainings or one of these social media quote posters stating the “truth”, I became more and more skeptical about the teachings around me. I began questioning everything, as to whether or not it was actually pure teaching.

I am aware that there are a lot of things out there to learn. What I used to consider to be pure and what used to bring me happiness, I now believe was actually harming me by blocking me from the path to self realization. This past year I have examined my past teachings from former teachers, family, and friends. It might all have been well-intended teachings but what I’ve discovered is that these teachings may not have necessarily been the truth. I’ve been slowly understanding why yogi’s talk about the “dark-ages” and their references towards their own ignorance.

ME IN A BOOKSTORE TRYING TO FIND WHAT YOGA IS ALL ABOUT, CHINA 2009

ME IN A BOOKSTORE TRYING TO FIND WHAT YOGA IS ALL ABOUT, CHINA 2009

Many people have asked me “What is Yoga?”

So what is Yoga for an ignorant Inuit? What I do know is that Yoga is an oral tradition that has been passed down from one guru to one disciple for centuries.  Yoga is not “new-age” yoga, it is in-fact very “old-school”. I also know that Yoga is not merely physical exercises (as is commonly misconsrtued).

“What book can I read about yoga?”

… this is a question I get quite frequently from people. I smile, because I used to be the same way. I now understand that Yoga cannot be learnt solely by reading books. Patanjali’s sutras, the Bhagavad Gita or any other yogic scriptures are not yoga. Although they are indeed important to study as they can provide the necessary tools that can help you on the path of yoga.

“Where can I learn yoga?” is another common question I get. Well, I won’t learn yoga in a 200hr YTT, a 500hr YTT or any other school either…but again, it is an experience that might provide me with more tools to purify my mind from greed, aversion and ignorance.

“What is Yoga?” is another question I often hear.  Again, stating my own ignorance, I will admit, that I have tried to answer this question myself and I have always struggled with the answers. I say, “Yoga is purifying your mind”, or, “ It’s realizing your true self” or, “it’s to separate the see-er from the seen.”

So… what exactly does all of this mean for an ignorant Inuit like myself? The girl from France (the one that thought people from Iceland live in snow houses) actually has no idea what it is to live in a snow houses. Similarly, I have no idea what it means to be enlightened, or what it is like to have a pure mind or to experience the true self. I have never meditated in a cave for 30 years (or lived in snow houses for that matter), the experience is not there and until that goal is reached I remain ignorant.

ME TRYING TO APPLY DISCRIMNATIVE KNOWLEDGE, USA 2008

ME TRYING TO APPLY DISCRIMNATIVE KNOWLEDGE, USA 2008

 One of the first teachings from my Baba was, “We grow through different experiences in life, so practice non- attachment and seek the true self, the pure, the eternal and happiness. Become a spy with a discriminative knowledge.”

So for me, yoga has been growing into experiences with a spy kit to train my mind, in order to develop discriminative knowledge. One of the tools I was taught, is to use the sutra above, on ignorance. I try to ask myself, “Is it pure? Is it eternal? Is it the self? Is it happiness?”

1. Is it pure? Mistaking the impure for the pure:

For example, I constantly believe that my thoughts, emotions, or intention regarding myself and the world around me is pure, healthy, and spiritual, when they are actually a mixture of tendencies and impurities of the mind.

2. Is it eternal? Regarding that which is transient as eternal:

For example, I tend to look at the earth, sun, things, family, possessions, girlfriends, friends, and the air I breathe as something permanent. I’m grasping and not remembering that all these things will eventually go.

3. Is it the self? Taking that which is not-self to be self:

For example, I constantly identify myself to ideas and think that I am Icelandic, I am my body,  I am my profession, I am an artist, I’m not an artist, but only confusing these with who I really am at the deepest level. Even the notion that I am a male is eventually an illusion according to tantric teachings. It’s a strong illusion, but still an illusion.

4. Thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness:

For example, I often take actions that seem to bring happiness in the moment, but later I discover that it can be hurtful to others or me.

 ME WASHING DISHES, NAMIBIA 2009

ME WASHING DISHES, NAMIBIA 2009

When I asked my Baba if he wanted to teach me yoga (yes I had to ask him many many times and that was his way to teach me Bhakti). His answer was “go wash dishes for 12 years, study Yama and Niyama and then come talk to me”.

I was shocked! My proud little “spiritual” ego was crushed. I was devastated.

 I’d been spiritually searching for 10 years and this is what I got! Later I found out that my Baba was trying to teach me that…

a) Yoga involves practice and detachment

and

B) Yoga is slow, not fast.

PHOTO OF ME HAVING MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES, NEW YORK 2008

PHOTO OF ME HAVING MYSTICAL EXPERIENCES, NEW YORK 2008

Patanjali talks about non-attachment and practice in one of his sutras (in my case it was washing dishes for 12 years) as essential tools towards yoga. After realizing my ignorance through working with my Baba, I started practicing non-attachment, externally and internally. I didn’t just try to detach from people, places and things; I rather started a process of detaching from old ideas, desires, habits and thought patterns… all with help from my Baba. It’s like he was popping thought balloons that were filled with wrong views, crappy teachings, and old beliefs about myself and the world. One of the balloons he popped was my balloon that said mystical experiences were the path to enlightenment… instead he replaced it with washing dishes, detachment and slow practice.

Some guy playing a guitar, Cambodia 2013

Some guy playing a guitar, Cambodia 2013

 This past year has been like swimming through illusions..

…trying to see myself and the world around with the practice of yoga. I am slowly realizing that I live in an illusion, caused by my ignorance and with help from my senses.

So to end this on a new-age fluffy note, I can truly say that working with my Baba this year has been an amazing and rewarding spiritual experience. It’s slow, it’s going back to the basics (Yama and Niyama), it’s practical, and it has been about continuing to realize my own ignorance. It has been about continuing to strive to eradicate greed, aversion, and delusion out of my life. It has been about developing a discriminative knowledge and about continueing to seek the true self, the pure, the eternal, and happiness.

 OM

 David Rafn

***This was a special post by Guest writer David Rafn Kristjansson. He is a dear friend of mine who I met in Beijing, China, in 2010. He is always trying to push himself to be a better human being, he isn’t afraid of being human, and for this I admire him deeply. Thank you so much Deebo for this amazing piece!***

deebo


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Soap. In. Mouth.

soap1

“I will wash your mouth out with soap.”  We have all heard this before. Right? In the good old days it was a popular method of teaching kids to watch what they say. Since then it has gone by the wayside, as it is a bit harsh, but maybe it needs to be revived?  

Sauca, Patanjali’s first of five niyamas, found in the yoga sutra, is about being pure. We have talked about the importance of being physically clean, and today it is all about clearing up our verbal communication. THIS IS IMPORTANT SPIRITUAL STUFF.  While in Mexico a good friend of mine named Faith said, “Think about how much time we spend carefully examining what we put into our mouths, and yet are totally oblivious to what comes out of it.” For some, this statement might not resonate, but it is a poignant observation to me. Generally, I choose to have healthy people in my life, they inspire me to be a better person, they see the brighter side of myself and push me into fulfilling that role. I’d like to be an inspiration to others as well. Though I practice daily in many areas of life, this is one area I know I sometimes slack on.  By becoming better at observing what comes out of my mouth, I can then inspire the people around me to do the same.

When speaking there are  two simple rules we can follow in order to ensure we aren’t polluting others with our garble. First, use a verbal filter, and second, learn to be ok with silence.

 FILTER

 First, we must put a filter between our brains and our mouths.  Our minds are not the most trustworthy tools of communication, at least mine isn’t. I am a believer in “monkey-mind”. My mind is generally a ceaseless rant of thoughts that jump from point to point, aimlessly, and occasionally drawing up powerful emotions, that are only temporary. When theses emotions or thoughts come up and I am freely spewing my “monkey mind” thoughts out into the open, I could potentially cause harm to others, or myself. It is clear to me that something I want to say is in fact “monkey-mind” if it is the first thought that comes into my head. Instead, I can simply pause and evaluate. Here are some helpful questions to answer that will help you know whether it is ok to speak or better to keep quiet.

 T: Is it Thoughtful?

H: Is it Honest?

I: Is it Inspiring?

N: Is it Necessary?

K: Is it Kind?

 It is a good idea to think about these simple questions before deciding to gossip, even though it is often incredibly easy to make excuses or rationalize for why it is ok. For example, sometimes, people just “deserve” it, according to our monkey minds. Regardless, it is still negative talk and it isn’t good for anyone. Sometimes when talking to a friend about a sensitive issue, we get caught up with our own opinions when really, they don’t need to be shared… So next time you want to open up, simply think, THINK! T: Is it thoughtful? H: Is it honest? I: Is it inspiring? N: Is it necessary? and K: Is it kind? Also, take a look at the following flow chart for more guidance.Verbal-Filter-Flow-Chart

Honestly, I most frequently fall short with the the N: is it necessary? Sometimes I babble on and on simply because I hate awkward silences, and now that I am bringing it to attention, even as I type this I wonder… “am I needlessly babbling now“? I hope not, but it is a good question to consider…  let us just be aware that silence, is ok.

 SILENCE

Being ok with silence is an important quality to have. This is because being true to our own feelings and thoughts means only speaking when we actually want to share something. This may sound silly but it is amazing how often we speak to each other simply to fill empty spaces and avoid awkwardness. Osho says,

 “If you don’t feel like talking, don’t— don’t say a single word that isn’t coming to you spontaneously. Don’t be worried if people think you are going crazy. If they think you have become dumb, accept it and enjoy your dumbness! The real trouble is with people who go on talking and don’t know what they are talking about and why. They go on talking because they cannot stop. In the beginning it feels as though you are losing the capacity to communicate, it is not so. In fact people talk to avoid communication. Just wait, and don’t force anything. Don’t be worried about the silence… Once you have gone deeper into silence then your words carry meaning for the first time. Then they are not just empty words, they are full of something of the beyond. They have a poetry to them, a dance.”

 All I have to say to that is,—    😉

silence2

Additionally:

“Silence is the language of god,  all else is poor translation.” Rumy

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Ghandi

silence


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Be Clean. Get Dressed.

Mr-Clean

Oh to be clean. Nothing feels better than climbing into some freshly washed sheets, still smelling of body wash from the bedtime shower. Cleanliness. The first niyama found in Patanjali’s yoga sutra is sauca, meaning cleanliness/purity. The niyamas are all about the way we behave behind closed doors. How do you treat and take care of your self? Patanjali provides five ways to maximize your life experience through self-care. Cleanliness, maintaining a sense of “purity” is numero uno.

My personal take on sauca or “being clean” encompasses three main categories. The physically clean, the verbally clean, and lastly takeling the daily “to do list”.  For now we will focus on being physically clean.

Physically Being Clean. One Day at a time in three parts.

First, before discussing the three ways to keep clean physically through out the day, I think it’s important to touch on the idea of abhyasa, meaning daily practice. Making an effort to change your behavior for one day is a great beginning, but unless you can string a few days together with your improved routine, you won’t see a shift in your quality of life, and honestly, that is what all this rhetoric is about. To inspire changes in our daily lives, repeating the same actions over and over again that will change our overall experience of life, thus leading us towards reaching our individual goals. Ok, enough babbling, onto the action steps to being clean.

1) Morning time:  In aryuvedic tradition there is a series of daily preparations one should make upon awakening which can be categorized with sauca. A few of the highlights are:

  • Get up 5:30-7 AM (it’s not that early guys)
  • Drink a glass of hot water with lemon juice (which I have a horrible tendency of substituting with a strong cup of coffee… a poor habit to be dealt with later) even green tea would be a good alternative to coffee
  • Use a Neti pot to clean your nasal passageways (this makes a huge difference in the clarity of your head! Especially if you are living in a house full of animals)
  • Give your self an oil massage to get the blood circulating
  • Move! Go on a walk, practice yoga asana
  • Be still, meditate, write, breath
  • Eat a healthy amazing self prepared breakfast

tea

neti

Exhausted girl making self-massage

Since being back in Denver I have made taking Haddie, our beautiful dog, for a walk around the graveyard (more on what that’s like later) before the session on my mat a part of the daily routine. I guarantee (I know from experience) that starting the day off pro-actively will set a positive tone for the entire day.   After the morning routine it is time to get ready. That means, get out of your pajamas and look good.

2) Look pretty:  I made a devastating mistake the other day by heading out to meet some friends in my  “dog walking” outfit. I have recently been in Mexico, constantly in my yoga clothes and beach attire. Rarely “getting ready”. Well, I learned quickly that this might not suffice back in the real world. If I want to be taken seriously I can’t get away with rolling around Denver in my scrubs. Additionally, I am a grown women now ( OMG), so I should start dressing like one, even if it is only for a simple coffee date with the girls. I can be a clean well put together yogi, because THAT is more likely to inspire the people I am surrounded by to follow suit, rather then showing up looking like as my grandpa would say, “something the cat dragged in”.  If I was going to be hanging around with people in pajamas, then my scrubs would suffice. Attraction rather than promotion.  I am NOT dissing publically wearing pajamas. In Beijing the word for people in pajamas is “P.I.P” (People.In.Pajamas: are commonly seen walking around the streets of Beijing, and many other Chinese cities, at all hours of the day). I just believe that when I go out into the world, it is my job to be positive, lighthearted and happy, to inspire others to do the same, if I look good, it’s just more attractive. Period.

PIP

P.I.P People in Pajamas… oh how I miss China! 😉

3) Night Time: I have to admit that after 18 months of basically living out of our suitcases, I haven’t been my cleanest self. I have at least had the decency to scrub my feet at night before getting into bed, black on the bottoms after running around town all day. Getting into bed seems to be my sanctuary of clean. I have my morning ritual of lighting incense, praying, and moving around and then at night I have another ritual. I LOVE to wash my face, put on my special lotions and creams, my pajamas, and then climb into bed with gratitude. Remember the long lost college nights of “partying” when you’d be lucky to make it into bed at all? (I kind of remember?) It feels so good to take care of myself at nighttime with love and to get clean.

So this is my personal take on sauca, at least the part about physically being clean.

1) Get the day started right 2) Look Pretty: get ready for the day like you mean it and try to look presentable, only because this helps inspire others, and lastly 3) End the day clean and with gratitude.

EXTRA CLEAN:

FLOSS! It is proven that people who floss live longer, because they have developed one healthy habit and this prompts the development of more healthy habits. This means that the benefits of taking care of yourself are exponential!  We have all heard it before. This is just a friendly reminder from your cyber yogini friend Taozi.

floss

How do you stay clean? How do you feel when you are nice and fresh vs. not (eeww)… Do you have any healthy morning tips that make a difference in your day/life?


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Live with Open Palms

Home is where my feet are.... on my mat.

I remember  seven years ago as I was preparing to move to China, I was in incredible fear, and pain. I was upset about leaving a relationship I was in, I was scared out of my mind about moving to a country I knew nothing about, I was sad about leaving behind my gorgeous sisters, my adorable Daddy, my lovely mother, and whoa is me… my friends! On and on my list of grievances went. I met with a spiritual teacher of mine named Maureen, and shared my uncomfortable state of mind with her. Such an AMAZING women! She told me simply to open my hands. I did. She faced my palms facing up. She told me to stop holding on to everything so tightly! LET GO. Have trust. She demonstrated that everything in life drops into our hands and then leaves again. Our families, our friends, our kids, our youth, our jobs… everything. Nothing is ours so don’t bother trying to physically or emotionally hold on to any of this “life” stuff. The most uplifting part of this demonstration was when she explained that when we are willing to live with open palms, trusting in a power greater then ourselves, that incredible and magical things will come to pass. Nothing can be delivered into a pair of clenched up tightly waded fists.

Alternately,  ANYTHING can come into palms that are patiently waiting openly. My experience since hearing this, and frequently thinking about it, has been that it is TRUE. So true. I occasionally fall into a space of fear, anxiety about the future (It is soooo unpredictable!) or I will tightly grasp something I don’t want to lose and then I immediatly  feel the consequenses. A tightness that  doesn’t feel good. Now I know what to do. I visualize opening my hands. I let go. I trust that I am right where I am supposed to be and all things will come and go as they are supposed to.

open palms

The underlying theme for all this open palm business comes from the Yoga Sutras, aprarigraha, the last of Patanjali’s moral restraints, other wise known as the yamas. Aparigraha is non-possessiveness or non-attachment. I believe that these two definitions can be divided as they are essentially two different things, culminating as the whole result of freedom. Non-possesivness, relates to our belongings, all physical things in our life. Non-attachment is about our reaction to the coming and goings of the people, places, and situations in our lives.

The primary reason for needing to do this, is when we are trying to walk the narrower path of the right minded, wholesome, yogi-like life… holding on to possessions, people, places and situations is simply painful. As I experienced  before leaving the United States for China (and many times since 😉 ). The gifts however of learning to let go, to be open and non-attached are exponential.

Let the magical author and poet Kahlil Gibran take it from here with both an amazing drawing and two deeply meaningful poems:

kahlil_gibran_divine_world

Non-possesivness: On Giving 

You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

And you receivers… and you are all receivers… assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;
For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.

Non-attachment: Children Chapter IV

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.” 
And he said: 
Your children are not your children. 
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. 
They come through you but not from you, 
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. 
You may give them your love but not your thoughts. 
For they have their own thoughts. 
You may house their bodies but not their souls, 
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. 
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. 
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. 
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. 
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. 
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; 
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

These poems are beautiful and clearly illustrate a concept that is so vital to our spiritual growth, yet incredibly uncomfortable for many of us. How does it feel to internalize that your children are not your children? That your parents are not your parents? Does it upset you? Do you regard it as “new-age” non-sense? In a way I find comfort in the notion that nothing is ours, it is all Gods, given to us for a short time to borrow. Brining this attitude toward everything in life is where the ultimate freedom arrises. Allow  me to finish with a beautiful quote from Osho that was in this mornings daily meditation:

On Madness

When that attitude (of possessiveness) is dropped prose is no longer the center, but poetry; purpose is no longer at the center, but play; money no longer at the center but meditation; power no longer the center but simplicity non-possessiveness, a sheer joy of life–almost a madness. 

open hands