Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Artwork: WILD-GEESE ARE FLOWN AWAY Painting by Gregor Ziolkowski

You Are a Wonder of Nature

When we look at aspects of nature — a tree, a mountain, the ocean, a butterfly, a tiger — we’re struck by a sense of wonder and awe. But what about the wonder of our own embodiment?

When we engage in a practice that brings us into deeper intimacy with our own body — an incredibly complex organism that is formed and sustained by some mysterious, nurturing intelligence — we come to see that we are a Wonder of Nature, no less than the great ancient redwood that grew from a tiny seed, the oceans that ebb and flow in relation to the moon, the planet that (when left alone) sustains itself through maintaining a balance of all its living systems.

The essential goal of yoga is to realize for oneself that you are a Wonder of Nature, that you are that — the beauty and intelligence of nature, inseparable from the nature “out there”.

When this realization strikes, it causes a seismic shift in our relationship to our own embodiment. Intimacy with our body deepens and the disconnection between mind and body is healed. We are once again made whole and able to see ourselves as a part of the greater whole, and love and respect for our self grows. We start to correct the thoughts and behaviours that are out of alignment with that self-love and self-respect. This self-correction is a natural movement, arising not out of a will to be “better”, but out of the organisms desire to be in harmony with itself and with the world we live in.

When we remember the beauty, intelligence and wonder of our own embodiment, we begin to see others as a Wonder of Nature, and so our love and respect for others grows, and the disconnection between self and other is healed. Our thoughts, words and actions toward others begin to align to the sense of harmony that we now feel in our self.

If our effort to change ourselves isn’t coming from a place of self-love and self-respect, then it’s likely to be coming from an idea that’s been fed to us by some external authority of how we’re supposed to look, feel and act.

Advertisers, spiritual gurus, self-help entrepreneurs and YouTube preachers are full of these ideas and are ready to package them up and sell them to you (and if you order now, you can receive 25% off using the code GURU25!). They make it all more complex than it really is, because that’s the only way to sustain a business model that relies on people staying unfulfilled and searching for answers.

Real transformation is effortless. It’s a natural movement that begins with realization of the basic truth, “I am a Wonder of Nature and anything that arises out of Nature must be whole and perfect”. The answer to “how to become self-realized?” is too simple to sustain a business model, which is why it’s so hard to find in the spiritual marketplace. Allow me to risk all future earning as a yoga teacher and coach by offering a simple three-step approach to attaining enlightenment and total freedom.

The first step is to engage in a practice that cultivates intimacy with your own body and breath, without trying to get anywhere. This kind of practice isn’t complicated and can be learned in a few minutes, but it does take a bit of discipline and perseverance — after all, we’re trying to replace old, well-established habits with new, healthier patterns. If you’re anything like me, it won’t happen overnight. Rather, it will be a gradual process of letting go of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs and re-orienting to the truth that “I am enough. I am whole and perfect. This body and breath are a Wonder of Nature. I am that!”.

The second step is to spend time outside, and cultivate deeper intimacy with the nature “out there” by just being with it. Feel your feet on the ground. Breathe with the trees. Drink in the sun. Bathe in the moonlight. For most of us, it’s easier to have a loving relationship with the nature “out there” because we hold far less judgement and projection toward nature than we do ourselves or others. So, spending time in nature is healing, just like when Ram Dass talks about how the unconditional love of his guru helped to heal his own self-loathing and judgement of others. Let nature be your guru.

The third step is to make a practice of relating to other people as the unique and beautiful Wonder of Nature that they are. Like the thoughts, beliefs and judgements we carry around that limit and degrade ourselves, most of us are carrying around an equal amount, if not more, of similar stuff directed at other people. So, if we learn to be more loving and accepting of ourselves, we’re better able to relate to others with love and acceptance. Plus, if we’re coming from a place of self-love and respect, we’re far less needy and more self-reliant. When we’re empowered in this way, then we can drop all the demands and expectations we would otherwise burden other people with. Only when we’re free can the people around us be free.

So, this is what I mean when I say that yoga leads to embodied awakening and empowerment. Through a deeper relationship to, and understanding of, our own body, mind and breath, we awaken to our true nature and reclaim our personal power. We become an agent of healing in our family and community, not because we have the ability to fix or heal others, but because we have the power to listen to, accept and love another as we do ourselves.

Photo: Yoshiyuki Iwase (1904-2001)

A Response to “Post-Lineage Yoga”

A Response to “Post-Lineage Yoga”

In response to the ever-growing number of reports of sexual misconduct and abuse in the yoga world, a number of North American practitioners and teachers have started what they are calling a “post-lineage” movement. While I can understand wanting to have nothing to do with teachers who have abused their students, I believe it’s important to recognize that without lineage, we lose the connection to the source of the teachings. A connection to a real lineage (one that is older than a single generation) offers us a foundation on which we can develop an approach that is rooted in the wisdom of the ancient tradition but alive and responsive to our modern needs.

The Yoga of Intimacy

The Yoga of Intimacy

We’re suffering from a deficiency of intimacy in our culture. The internet and social media gives us a false sense of connection, but it’s superficial and doesn’t offer the nourishment of real, human intimacy. It’s like junk food for the soul. You’re hungry for real connection, and so you grab something that’s quick and easy, but it leaves you feeling dissatisfied at best, and often worse than before.

Beyond Mindfulness

Beyond Mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness — observing our thoughts, emotions and behaviours — is a useful exercise. It allows us to become more aware of our physical, emotional and mental conditioning and patterns, and demonstrates that they are always changing, and in that, reveals the opportunity for change. This revelation gives us hope that there’s a way out of our suffering, but mindfulness alone won’t get us there.