Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Valley of My Own Shadow

This song is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard lately. A teacher played it during a yoga class this week and I just loved the beat and the singer's beautiful voice. After class I asked what the song was and immediately played it again in my car. Later, I Googled the lyrics; just perfect. If you choose to listen I suggest not reading the lyrics just yet, simply listen with your ears and your heart. Then come back and read the lyrics. My thoughts follow at the bottom.


LYRICS:

Creating concrete visions of a macroscopic prism with a brilliant optimism and appropriate ambition to be open from the center redirected to the moment this is it love this is it love- unrestrainable nature - we can change it from the edges - we can challenge all our borders - there is always a new leader there is always a new order - our pathway is proceeding and the way is always changing - we are free from what prevents us to realize our destination free from all old stories I've been told- I walk through the valley of my own shadow free from all old stories I've been told- I walk through the valley of my own shadow Awareness is my virtue and I'm grateful for the search to dive deep within my own mind and to trust the intuition of the lives I've lived before this- our essential form of gnosis its a simple form of freedom its as smooth as inhalation oh the exhale is releasing all the tension I've been feeling on the surface and beneath me I'm connecting to my spirit and I'm here now right before you I am present in this moment and my life's work is to honor the great beauty all around youfree from all old stories I've been told- I walk through the valley of my own shadow free from all old stories I've been told- I walk through the valley of my own shadow. Creating concrete visions of a macrocosmic prism with a brilliant optimism and appropriate ambition / to be open from the center, redirected to the moment this is it love, this is it love, this is it love...

Damn that's so beautiful...To me it speaks of letting go, to listening to the truth of who we are as human beings in a world that is typically more full of questions, self doubt, fear, and pain than it is of answers, love, joy, and freedom. Or maybe that's just my self narrative, I don't know, I'm just one human and I've only had my own experience, but I do think we're all more alike than different. We all live in the shadows of our choices, but they key in this whole equation is walking forward with faith in the path we're on. We've all lived many lives and played different roles

I've been
the Soldier
the leader
the follower
the student, the teacher
the husband
the father, the son, and now grandfather
the lonely, wandering human
the heartbroken man
the hopeful dreamer
the aspiring yogi
Each one of those roles, those lifetimes, has led me to where I am, which quite frankly is that point in life where I've got more time under my belt than ahead of me. I still truly feel the best is yet to come. That said, sometimes I'm overwhelmed with trying to figure everything out, a feeling I'm sure you all can relate to. The most truth I've found is the more I allow things to unfold, to simply let go, the more things just seem to work out. I've been feeling quite alone in my new home and I think that's the lesson I'm supposed to learn right now. With that solitude I've been working on leaning into discomfort. Just BEING. The weight seems to get a bit lighter when I lighten up on myself and what I think I'm "supposed" to do or be.
This song also tells us to be focus on the present moment, in which we always have the opportunity to make the choices that best serve our path. We have all experienced and lived with pain, but we don't need to carry around our pain suitcase everywhere we go. Our healing and freedom is truly our own choice.
The beauty of our lives is we all get to be our own storyteller. Here's to whatever chapter comes next...

Provided by Indmusic Gajumaru · Yaima Peullucidity ℗ 2016

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Persistency & the People We Meet

Thanksgiving 2017
I met Chris last year in Norfolk at 80/20 Burger Bar where he’d come in to get out of the cold, drink a Coca Cola, and watch football games. Chris was born and raised here in Norfolk,Virginia and loves the Redskins, like REALLY loves them. And while I’m not a huge sports fanatic, I’ve always been a football fan. I played football at the age of 12 and continued playing through high school. There’s also some nostalgia from watching games on Sunday afternoons with my Dad; him in his La-Z Boy, me on the sofa with a blanket. So Chris and I had a connection, we talked about the teams, the games, playoff possibilities, etc. The first time we hung out I learned Chris was homeless, he slept wrapped up in blankets in the bushes not a ¼ mile away from where we were sitting…warm and dry at the bar.
Chris is a happy and polite man who often cracks jokes, and always asks me how I’m doing. He’s a really warm and outgoing individual. One of the most interesting things about Chris is his knowledge of Astrology. He knows interesting details about every sign, including the dates they begin and end, who each sign is compatible and incompatible with, character traits, etc. It’s always fun to hear him talk with people and ask them about their birthday. Chris doesn’t drink, doesn’t use drugs, always says thank you, gives hugs, doesn’t beg for anything. As time went by we started talking more about his situation. He really wants to get off the street, get a job, find a place to live, take care of his needs…you know, stuff most of us take for granted.
One of the reasons he hasn’t been able to get a job is because he doesn’t have an Identification Card (ID). He couldn’t stay at the homeless shelter without an ID, and the shelters are where a lot of the services homeless folks can tap into are located. They can help with employment, housing, etc. When I met him he didn’t have a birth certificate, Social Security card, or any documentation to prove who he was. So besides giving him some pocket money for something to eat I saw this as an opportunity to help him start to get on his feet. That was it, we had to get his Virginia ID. This story seeks to convey how extremely difficult this process can be, especially for someone without means to provide the required documentation and travel all over the place on foot.
We scheduled a time that week to meet up so I could accompany him to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), an easy 15 minute drive across town, but it would have taken him hours by foot and bus. It didn’t look good from the beginning, as Virginia requires two forms of ID to get an ID, and without even so much as a birth certificate there wasn’t much we could do, but we had to start somewhere. In order to get a birth certificate you have to have an ID and vice versa, a total catch 22. The people at the DMV were nice and all, but they really couldn’t do anything to help Chris. They handed him a piece of paper with the required documents he needed. Check it out Here.  It’s a huge laundry list of items, none of which he had. The only way he could get a copy of his birth certificate was is if his Mother requested it, and Chris hasn’t really been on great speaking terms with his Mom. I don’t pepper him with questions about the situation. To make things more challenging, without a physical address he was pretty much screwed. He doesn’t have a bank account, a residence, passport....nada. The only thing there was a possibility of obtaining was a copy of his high school transcripts, which were were able to get by driving to his old high school in Chesapeake, another several hour walk/bus ride ordeal had we not had a car. Chris hadn’t been there in 20 years, and while we were there he ran into one of his old teachers. Chris lit up and gave her a hug, it was an emotional thing to witness. So yeah, we finally had one document from the list, but still no means of proving his physical address. I couldn’t simply let him use my address because his name isn’t on my lease, and those bushes where he sleeps don’t have mailboxes attached to them.
Weeks go by and Chris was finally able to get a copy of his birth certificate thanks to his Mother after I’d left several phone messages for her. So we now had the proof of identification documents required, but still no way to prove physical address. Since this all began back in November, it’s almost February now, we’ve been to the DMV four times, his high school, and to Social Services. On the third DMV trip I pleaded with the manager to make an exception because he really couldn’t prove his address. She agreed to use his childhood address and my PO Box as a secondary mailing address.
From here it gets even more complicated. Several years ago Chris’s identity was compromised when another man used Chris’s name to get a Virginia ID. I’m not sure how that happened, but it did. The DMV wouldn’t issue Chris a new ID until his record was clear. DMV investigators now had to get involved. The following week I received a phone call from a DMV Special Agent asking about the situation. He said he needed to speak with Chris to get info on who the identity thief was; Chris knew who the dude was. I had no way to contact Chris because he doesn’t own a cell phone, which obviously has made this whole situation more complicated. It was a waiting game from then on, just like most of this has been. When I have a goal I like to do whatever it takes to get it done, but in this case I had to wait to run into Chris in my neighborhood. He often hung out at a nearby 24 hour I-HOP so I’d go there frequently to ask Lisa, the General Manager and super nice person, if she’d seen him around. I finally ran into Chris while eating at the Grilled Cheese bistro in downtown Norfolk. Thank god for those window seats or I’d never have seen him walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. We called up the special agent and Chris provided all the info he needed. Within a few days his record was cleared and we were good to go for finally getting his ID. Fourth time to the DMV and success! Almost…
January 31, 2018
The DMV sent his ID to my PO Box, but since Chris’s name wasn’t on my box the post office returned it to Richmond. Chris had to call Richmond in order to request they resend it. I added him to my PO Box so it wouldn’t get sent back again. Weeks go by as I wait to run into Chris so we could call Richmond. Last week we finally got it all sorted out and today, three months after this whole thing started, Chris finally got his ID!!!
This whole ordeal had really made me think about how difficult it is for our less fortunate neighbors to accomplish even the smallest tasks we take for granted, and in this case would have been impossible except for the DMV manager who let Chris slide on using my PO Box for a mailing address. I mean, shit, everyone hates going to the DMV, but I’ll never complain again about having to wait at the DMV for two hours to renew something.

We celebrated with some KFC, Chris's favorite, and a fresh new haircut. It'd been a year since he got a nice trim and man does he look great! Thanks to the kick ass folks at Lionshead Barbershop in Ocean View. Of course he talked with the barber about football for 20 minutes, then the discussion changed to favorite rappers. Chris brought up Lil' Wayne and the barber said, "Man, the last time he was on top was when he had the top bunk in prison." Everyone in the place was laughing pretty good.

Now it's time to get this man a place to live and a job!!!
Before and after with a new man!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Snail Mail and the Lost Art of Waiting

When I was a kid growing up in California there was no such thing as email, there was no AOL, and thankfully no “lol”. Side note, I have a thing against lol. Like did they actually just laugh out loud at that? Maybe they did, but I’m skeptical…
There was no Facebook, no Messenger, no Twitter, no Instagram, no text messages, and I’m thankful there was no Snapchat.  If we wanted to get in touch with someone we had three options. 1) Go visit them, 2) call them on the house or pay phone, or 3) write them a letter. I guess telegram could have been an option, but those were “so 1800’s” by that time.
Last night I reminisced to those days as I walked past my local post office and recalled the feelings evoked by opening the mailbox and seeing a handwritten card or letter addressed to me from someone. The USPS mail delivery person was always a treat to see at your house. A personal example I'll share is when 57 letters arrived in the mail with orders for “How to Survive When Mom’s Away, a kids’ cookbook I thought of making when I was 13 years old and needed to earn money to go to the Boy Scout National Jamboree in 1981. That mailbox was full from something that started as an idea that quickly gained regional and even national attention thanks to the Associated Press. We sold 2,000 of those books at $2 a pop which was enough to pay for the trip and the adventure of this 13 year old boy’s lifetime.
Today when I go to the mailbox it’s typically flooded with loads of junk mail - weekly shopping flyers, clothing catalogs, mortgage refinance deals, and credit card offers, all which go directly in the recycle bin. And to make things worse, email far exceeds the junk mail I physically receive. Let’s not even get started on the spam folder. Are you feeling me yet?
With the invention of such things as email, cell phones, and the various digital leashes we have integrated into our lives to make things easier and faster (Hell, I’m writing this from a Macbook), we’ve also let go of some of the things that keep us connected on an organic level. And while nothing can replace face to face interactions, there’s just something special about hand-written cards, postcards, and notes. Our handwriting is like a fingerprint, and I'd venture to say you have people in your lives that you could tell who wrote something just by their handwriting; It’s a piece of ourselves we let go of when we send an email. Sure, email allows us to craft the perfectly worded reply and get a quick response, sometimes, but there’s something exciting about putting pen to paper and seeing what comes out.  The most valuable lifetime skill class I took in high school was Typing 1 on those old school mechanical typewriters. I loved them and the unique way each one would type different letters differently, which also took into account the keystroke of the typist, a signature if you will. When you wanted to emphasize something you might type over the same word twice with heavy fingers, now it’s the press of Control + B. And while typewriters are cool, Tom Hanks has a huge collection of them and a new book about typewriters he spoke about on NPR. I've heard if you send him a letter written with a typewriter he'll reply via typed letter. How cool is that?! One of the beautiful things about sending a handwritten, enveloped, and stamped card or letter to someone is the waiting that goes on between sending and receipt; the anticipation if you will. Knowing you might make someone’s day when they open the mailbox.
Yoga has helped me connect with myself and others in a way I’d not experienced in my life, and it’s been life changing for me in ways I’m only beginning to discover. The more I practice the more I get back. It’s with this spirit I’m going into 2018 with an effort to send more physical cards, postcards, and letters and I invite you to join with me in this if you feel inspired. My address is PO Box 11201, Norfolk, Virginia 23517. ;)
Now who wants to get this card?

Monday, October 16, 2017

In Solidarity With Me Too

As I sat on my patio last night scrolling through my Facebook feed I was deeply saddened by the number of times I read “Me too.” posted by women I know, love, and respect. And while I cannot fix this alone I feel it’s partly my responsibility as a man, son, veteran, father, grandfather, and yoga teacher to share a few thoughts on the subject. If we’re going to make changes, real lasting changes, it has to start with acknowledging the problem and deciding right here and now to own it.

While I am not perfect in any stretch of the imagination I do try my best to live the very best I can each and every day. Over recent years I’ve been surrounded by women who have inspired me beyond words. Because of women I’ve been able to overcome a lifelong struggle with bulimia and I cannot fully express in words my gratitude for every single one of them who supported my heart and provided that safe container for healing to happen. We hold trauma in our physical bodies and yoga has helped me to see and understand this first hand. I’ve received extensive training on how trauma, sexual or otherwise, actually changes our physical self. Our brains actually change as a result of traumatic events, but there is a way to heal.

I was raised to respect women and for that I owe the deepest gratitude to my Mother for teaching me to do the simple things such as holding open doors, respecting women’s space, standing when a women leaves the table....basically things we call “chivalrous”, but truly things we need to call “being a decent fucking man”.  I wasn't allowed to date until I was 16 years old, and even then was only allowed to go on group dates. Young people, and especially young men, need to be taught to own the responsibility of being in the company of women. Period.

Change starts inside, it starts with owning our shit, it starts with stopping. Stopping the behavior that leads to the pain of others, because when others hurt we all hurt. We cannot make lasting changes for the betterment of our world when half of the population feels threatened, fearful, and hurt. An analogy comes to mind - When we hammer a nail into a piece of wood we can remove the nail, patch up the hole, and paint over it, but the wood is never the same. The scars of trauma will be there, but we can learn to overcome the painful memories, or at least rise above the pain to a place of peace. 

It’s time to bring this discussion to the next level. Right now. I want to be part of the solution and I hope other men will continue to speak out and set the example for the next generation of men who will inherit what society has allowed to be the status quo. WE MUST DO BETTER. We owe it to our Mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends, co-workers, friends, and neighbors.  It starts at home, it starts in our schools, it starts in our proverbial locker rooms, it starts in places of worship, it starts on our yoga mats, it starts on our meditation cushions, it starts inside our hearts, it starts with you and me. If there are women who are hurting and need a man to listen I’ll be here. If there are men who need mentoring I’ll be here.

I’m humbled today and am sending energy of love, balance, solidarity, acceptance, and support to all the women who have been personally violated. One love.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Breathing Into Turning 50


I was born on a Tuesday 50 years ago today. On this September 26th I have a few thoughts to share on a topic flooding mainstream news, this idea of taking a knee during our national anthem. Whatever side you fall on I support your right to have an opinion on the topic.  A battle over freedom of speech and expression has commenced between the president of our country, a man who never served a day in uniform in his life, and professional athletes and team owners, most of which have also never served in uniform. While I was in the Army it was a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to speak out against the Commander in Chief, but now that I'm a civilian that doesn't apply. Our president has disrespected women, blacks, Jews, Muslims, veterans, Gold Star families, and a great number of other people, and quite frankly I'm ashamed we put this self-serving disrespectful piece of garbage in office.
Some of the greatest ideals of our nation are based on freedom of speech and expression, and we cannot allow that right to be infringed upon. I've risked my life on many occasions serving our country overseas in wars we are still fighting.  During that time I attended many memorial ceremonies for fallen comrades who lost their lives defending the ideals that make our nation greater than we seem to remember we are sometimes. I’ve participated in funeral details where I've carried caskets containing deceased veterans where we’ve folded and given American flags to surviving next of kin and I can tell you there is nothing more humbling than seeing a weeping spouse being handed a folded piece of red white and blue cloth; the symbol of our nation is given with utmost respect and gratitude. I’ve taken a knee many times at memorial ceremonies during peace and war as a sign of respect and reverence for the sacrifices these individuals and their families have made. For many veterans the war doesn’t stop when they return home; on average 20 veterans commit suicide everyday in our country. Stop and take a knee to ponder that statistic. We cannot forget the individuals who have put their lives on the line, and in many cases lost limbs, suffered massive burns, and an even greater number who are scarred with invisible wounds such as post traumatic stress.  
Since my 40th birthday I have discovered yoga and have done my best to apply the principles of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity to my own life and to set an example of how yoga can help heal from the painful memories of traumatic times gone by. Yoga has helped me remain more in the present moment and to appreciate the ability to breath, to move, to let go, and to live in the now. Today I take a knee in support of our veterans and in support of freedom of expression and unity of all people. I take a knee in support of what has already made America great, for I've been there on the front lines with these people who have sacrificed so much for so long. I love my country and what we truly stand for as a people, for I truly believe the vast majority of us hold the American ideals written in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence as non waiverable.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  So support them taking a knee, or not, I’ll be here spreading love, for we cannot forcefully remove darkness, we can only turn on our light and let it shine. One Love.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Things are going so right

For just about 30 minutes each of us was a single cell organism. Think about that for a second. The fact you are reading these words is nothing short of one of the most amazing miracles I can think of.
 In my almost 50 years I’ve met and interacted with countless people on this planet we call home.  For billions of years the Earth has been evolving, doing its’ thing so to speak, to set the perfect conditions for life to abide, breathe, build, eat, drink, touch, play, make love, laugh, cry, taste, smell, dance, sing, and die.
We small, y'all.
A few years ago in July 2014 before I embarked on my yoga teacher training journey down in Costa Rica I was living in Abu Dhabi, UAE. From there I took a vacation with a woman I was dating to Koh Yao Noi, a tiny island off the coast of another small island named Phuket; both are part of the beautiful country of Thailand, and no it’s not pronounced ‘fuk-it...think ‘Poo-khet’. On Koh Yao Noi we stayed at a small budget resort nestled in the jungle along the coast named Island Yoga; it was an amazingly quaint and beautiful backdrop to practice yoga, relax, play, and get away from the world for a spell.  While at Island Yoga I had the absolute pleasure of taking yoga classes from two super cool teachers; Heather Rideout is one of them.  Heather has a unique teaching style honed from many years of trainings with various other amazing teachers combined with adventure and exploration around the world.  It is through Heather I connected the dots and discovered what had been there all along. I realized the heart chakra is my guiding light; it’s tattooed on my left forearm as a reminder to live life guided by purpose for the passion residing within. Not to get all artsy fairy on you, but according to the ancients the heart chakra is right in the middle of our energy flow between the physical and spiritual worlds of our being. Anahata, as it’s called in Sanskrit, allows us to connect our intuition and inspiration with intention, action, and being.
Sunset on Koh Yao Noi, Thailand


Bear with me, I’m going somewhere here.


Fast forward to July 2017, almost exactly three years later, after I’ve been through multiple yoga trainings in Costa Rica and just completed a master of science in yoga therapy, where I find myself in Asheville, North Carolina at their yoga festival.  Guess who serendipitously is also in Asheville?  Heather. It’s really kind of mind blowing to me how small the world really is. I mean compared to our universe it’s already a tiny spec of a place to be, but even still, it’s just so cool how life flows. Since July 2014 Heather has had quite a journey as well; 3000+ miles on foot through some rugged terrain to be more descriptive.  She thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and as if that wasn’t enough, she popped over to Europe and walked the El Camino De Santiago, all while sporting a super cool rainbow unicorn trucker hat. Yeah, pretty cool, right?!
Heather being Heather
So Heather and I decided to reconnect the human chain of sharing space we did a few years ago and we did what anyone else in their right mind in Asheville would do on a Friday evening...we drank some beer, ate some food, walked the streets, and watched and dance to live music. While we were walking around it came to me how wild of a miracle it was that by all the coincidences two people who with no prior coordination ended up being in the same mountain hippie town in North Carolina. Then I recalled how frequently I read social media posts and hear people talk about how badly things are going not only with their individual lives, but with their relationships with food, their bodies, jobs, lovers, family, others with different ideas than them, and our country as a whole.


How badly things are going?!  C’mon, man.


Rewinding back to how I started this little piece and how we are a tiny spec in the universe and we each started as a tiny cell. We are alive and hopeful. At least I am hopeful you are hopeful, (please call me if you’ve lost hope). The point I’m making here is so many things have gone right in this world and they do every single minute of every single day. The breath moves in filling your lungs with life, the breath moves out as you do your work in this world to offer your light. I’ve attended several classes here at at Asheville Yoga Festival and am uplifted and certain more than ever this practice is the answer to connecting with our essence and for being in that space that allows us to be there with gratitude and awareness. It’s when we we open ourselves to the possibility of the end of suffering we maintain hope.  For that’s the goal you know, the end of our suffering.  One of the yoga sutras states Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah, or more simply the aim of yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind.
I went to a practice this afternoon where the teacher, Mark Monford from San Francisco, made the point about how people continually reaffirm one another’s tendency to not “drop in” to present moment awareness.  And it’s true, how often do you hear or say to a friend “I’m just so busy these days.” only to hear the reply “Yeah, me too, it’s crazy I feel like I can’t catch my breath.”  It’s not often we hear someone answer “You know, I’m doing really awesome right now, life is pretty fucking great.”


But.


This should be what we hear back more often.  It should be what we say more often.


No, people, so many things are not going wrong.
So many things have and will continue to keep going right. They will go exactly how they are supposed to. Show up, do the work, shine brightly, and then let everything go.
Our universe and this tiny planet remind us everyday something Lao Tzu wrote  “Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.”  

Quit hurrying, quit being in too many thoughts and expectations of the future, quit hanging out with bad memories of the past. I’ll be here if you want help along the way.

I’ve recently made connections back home in Norfolk that I’m excited and optimistic about, and although I don’t know the answers and can’t predict the future, I’m giving give myself space to allow for what transpires when I show up face to face with them. So much has gone right. So much will keep going right. #ONELOVE

Monday, July 24, 2017

30 Long Weekends and 13,000 Miles

Yep, that's part of what it took to earn a Master of Science in Yoga Therapy over the past two years.  I'm writing this from the cafe where I first met with a friend in 2015 to inquire about what this program was all about; she had just finished up the same degree.  After I returned to Norfolk from Costa Rica at the end of 2014 I started teaching yoga here locally and other than that didn't know what else I was going to do with my life. I knew for sure I wanted to earn a master's degree, but had no idea in what that would be. Once I heard about this opportunity I knew without a doubt the path I should take. Over the course of the past two years so much has happened. 
I've found and lost love. Twice.
My daughter got married and is expecting her first baby in November. 
My son's wife is expecting her first in August. 
I went to an ashram on the beach of Paradise Island in the Bahamas for training in yoga for veterans with PTSD
I've moved three times
I've drank approximately 700 cups of coffee banging out grad school work at the aforementioned cafe.
I've seen roughly 75 movies in the theater (Friday afternoons are my favorite movie day because the new releases come out and the theaters are never crowded).
I went to around 20 concerts
I went to Costa Rica and broke my back jumping off a 40 foot waterfall. This has been a tough one to heal from over the past 11 months and I still wake up with pain everyday.
AARP did a video documentary on me and my journey to yoga therapy and I went to DC to be interviewed on Fox News
I wrote dozens of papers and would shudder to see what the combined word count is
I gave a bedside yoga therapy session to an 80 pound woman with Stage IV intestinal cancer who died two weeks later. Life is real, pain is real, the things we can do to lessen the suffering of others means more than anything else we can do

All these things
and
more...

But the biggest and best part of the past two years have been the relationships forged with the wonderful women in my grad school cohort.  The finest porcelain endures the hottest fire and we burned that shit up!  I love each and every one of these ladies (and Baby Bartley).
MUIH Master of Science in Yoga Therapy Cohort 4



So where to go from here?  Well I believe in the power of positive thinking and when we open ourselves up for opportunity the universe has a way of saying "Hey, I know you, wanna play?"  

Hey, universe, wassup?