Kiam Marcelo Junio, 2012
EVERYBODY’S FREE TO WEAR SUNSCREEN.
“enjoy your body, use it every way you can. don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it. it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own”
So much of what I’ve learned in life is in this video. I haven’t heard this song in years, and it resonates so deeply now more than ever. I’ve been trying to live my life with these principles, and it’s wonderful to see and hear them.
My good friend just sent it to me, and it reminded me of the beauty of life and the power of now.
Enjoy this and keep it in mind for the coming new year.
I know it’s still Christmas, and we all should be thinking positive, being happy, and stuffing our faces and stomachs to the brim. But when ready, please read the article linked. And think how we each have made an impact on the world, and how we have been framing our minds around our personal and social environments. Then, begin to think how we can prepare ourselves for the coming year/s, and what changes we need to make in our own lives.
This is a crucial point in American, no - World, history. We can’t continue ignoring the problems as they surmount. And change always begins with the individual.
It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt…
…And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth.
Good looking people get paid more, do less jail time and have more sex than ugly people, and beautiful people get all that but even more so, and if you try to say ugly people don’t exist because ‘everyone is beautiful’ I’d ask you to take it up with Sartre (were he not dead), who not only believed in ugliness as a definite trait but attributed much of his philosophy to his own lazy-eyed, freakshow face and near midget status yet still managed to date feminist icon and all-around social theory genius (and sometime lesbian pedophile) Simone de Beauvoir for years and years and years, not to mention blow minds on the daily, even now, 30 odd years after his death.
There are worse things in the world than being ugly, and most of the great minds of every generation got their thinking and writing done because they weren’t beautiful enough to waste their nights having meaningless sex with other gorgeous layabouts. Very few, if any, renowned scientists or philosophers were beautiful.
All people are somewhat interesting, and most of us have rich and varied intellectual lives or great stores of compassion or other attributes that, once discovered, can make us very wonderful and occasionally beautiful to those who know us, but some people are just plain beautiful, physically, in the fucking face, and that is neither a good nor a bad thing (although studies show it’s usually good for them). It’s just a fact.
(More to read when you click the link above)
I’ve been having this conversation with someone recently, and it’s gotten me thinking about what it means to be beautiful, attractive, or ugly. We can all say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and perhaps this is true in the deepest, truest extent. But here’s my theory, which I was explaining to a friend last night:
We create our own worlds, and we create this one too. Our minds and selves are universes trapped in physical form. Where does a thought go when you forget it, but somewhere in the wide black space of your own existence?
But we have also all corroborated on creating this physical manifestation of a world we live in. The rules of physics exist because someone thought it, and we have all since agreed upon its reality. This goes for everything, even beauty. There are standards of beauty, which may change from generation to generation, but the concept of it remains the same. And it is why, as linked text mentions, beautiful people receive more privilege. They fit certain standards to which we ourselves have subscribed.
So what happens when you don’t fit these standards of beauty? I would consider myself a fine example for this. I’m short, bald, and I am not an owner of six-pack abs. I do not fit the criteria for what the Western world considers as objectively beautiful - and here we can also agree that different cultures have different standards as well. But in this increasingly globalized world, the Western standards seem to be winning out. However, I’ve learned to love myself regardless. I’ve learned to cultivate other qualities that make me a good, interesting, and perhaps somewhat attractive person.
Something that used to frustrate me as a gay man is how shallow of a culture “the Gays” seem. It always comes down to looks and to another degree, race. Years ago, while browsing through Craigslist personals, or on Adam4Adam, I would lose count of how many times I would read “no fems, fatties or Asians” or something to that degree. Do you know how demoralizing that is? Of course you can brush it away and simply say, “Wow, what an asshole.” But it doesn’t erase the fact of its existence. To be told that you are unwanted cuts to deep degrees, and makes you question yourself, no matter how much you’ve built yourself up. The ego will take a fall.
So is there a solution to this? Depends on what the problem is. For me, the issue was that I felt like a powerful, beautiful, interesting person inside, only limited by this body I was born in. What I’ve done is try to stay true to myself, find people who are willing to corroborate with me in creating a world in which our inner selves speak more to our beauty as humans than how we fit certain criteria, forced upon us by the masses, and to which we, as I’ve mentioned, have subscribed, as well. Unsubscribe! Write your own standards of beauty. Live your own reality. When you can believe in your own truth, it translates to how you operate in the larger sphere, and people take notice. I’m living this philosophy daily.
Last weekend, I took two workshops with Anton Mackey, a talented gymnast-turned-yoga teacher. The focus of the first was “Arm balances and lifts,” and the second “Handstands.” I signed up hoping that Anton would give us all his knowledge, and in no time, we would all be floating on our palms, slicing the air with our legs in perfect posture. I crouched there on my mat, preparing for a variation on Bakasana (Crane/Crow), a pose I’ve only recently learned to execute (for about two seconds). As I placed my knees into my armpits, they immediately slid with the sweat – we were in a heated room, after all. I kept trying to balance by shifting my weight forward, sure that I would fall flat on my face. I looked around and saw people floating, gliding through the poses and taking advanced variations; appearing truly like the cranes we were imitating. I feared I would fall. I feared that I was not good enough to be taking this workshop. I feared that I was a sham as a yoga practitioner, much less a teacher. However, Anton kept encouraging us to try, and try, and try again. “Do not be afraid to fall,” he would say. “The floor is not that far.” True, very true indeed, since the floor was about half an inch off my face as I kept slipping. “Pull the knees in from your core, hollow out the lower back,” he instructed. I kept attempting to the point of near-frustration. I know I have a lot of Pitta (fire+water element) in me, and this was only aggravating and pushing me farther towards combustion. And then I stopped. I sat and rolled my shoulders back, relaxed my neck one way, then the other. I breathed slowly and deeply. Then, I tried again. I still did not get the posture, but this time, I was at least much more mindful of my movements. I told myself, this is where I am right now, and this is perfect. Nothing, no one else, outside of my mat matters. I am exactly where I need to be. Towards the end of class, Anton gave us the analogy of a baby who must first learn to crawl, then stand, then walk, before he or she can run (or do handstands). I am still new to this. I have been practicing for only two years, and I have my whole lifetime to learn, to improve. I do not need to rush to become the next best thing since split mung beans. I just have to trust in my intention to practice to the best of my ability, and enjoy the exploration. Isn’t that what life is, after all? A journey to be explored? Too often we rush ourselves and forget the most basic of all actions, to simply breathe. And to connect with the ground, which, luckily, is never too far.
Last weekend, I took two workshops with Anton Mackey, a talented gymnast-turned-yoga teacher. The focus of the first was “Arm balances and lifts,” and the second “Handstands.” I signed up hoping that Anton would give us all his knowledge, and in no time, we would all be floating on our palms, slicing the air with our legs in perfect posture.
I crouched there on my mat, preparing for a variation on Bakasana (Crane/Crow), a pose I’ve only recently learned to execute (for about two seconds). As I placed my knees into my armpits, they immediately slid with the sweat – we were in a heated room, after all. I kept trying to balance by shifting my weight forward, sure that I would fall flat on my face. I looked around and saw people floating, gliding through the poses and taking advanced variations; appearing truly like the cranes we were imitating. I feared I would fall. I feared that I was not good enough to be taking this workshop. I feared that I was a sham as a yoga practitioner, much less a teacher.
However, Anton kept encouraging us to try, and try, and try again. “Do not be afraid to fall,” he would say. “The floor is not that far.” True, very true indeed, since the floor was about half an inch off my face as I kept slipping. “Pull the knees in from your core, hollow out the lower back,” he instructed. I kept attempting to the point of near-frustration. I know I have a lot of Pitta (fire+water element) in me, and this was only aggravating and pushing me farther towards combustion.
And then I stopped. I sat and rolled my shoulders back, relaxed my neck one way, then the other. I breathed slowly and deeply. Then, I tried again. I still did not get the posture, but this time, I was at least much more mindful of my movements. I told myself, this is where I am right now, and this is perfect. Nothing, no one else, outside of my mat matters. I am exactly where I need to be.
Towards the end of class, Anton gave us the analogy of a baby who must first learn to crawl, then stand, then walk, before he or she can run (or do handstands). I am still new to this. I have been practicing for only two years, and I have my whole lifetime to learn, to improve. I do not need to rush to become the next best thing since split mung beans. I just have to trust in my intention to practice to the best of my ability, and enjoy the exploration. Isn’t that what life is, after all? A journey to be explored? Too often we rush ourselves and forget the most basic of all actions, to simply breathe. And to connect with the ground, which, luckily, is never too far.
Of all the things we are afraid of, the most prominent, it seems is the fear of change itself. We seem to be hard-wired to prefer pattern over spontaneity. A lack of change means security, safety, assurance that things will go on as they have. We are only willing to change if doing so would be less painful than staying in the current situation. This is why we stay in jobs we hate, because it still beats being out in the streets. We would rather suffer a little, thinking, perhaps it builds character.
I’ve always embraced change. I enjoy trying new things and taking risk. I like life-changing events and momentous decisions. Perhaps it stems from my upbringing. From a young age, I moved around so frequently that by the age of 10 I had already lived in 7 different households, and spoke 3 languages.. As you see, there are benefits and drawbacks to being raised this way. On one hand, I had a wealth of experiences and met many different people. On the other hand, it was difficult to form lasting relationships. This has carried on to my adult life, aided by the fact that I worked for the US Navy, and also moved frequently.
This past summer, I experienced many life changes. I left the military, traveled through Central America and Mexico and went to yoga teacher training. I’ve also since moved to Chicago to begin art school. I feel as if I’ve wiped my life clean, and began again at the base with yoga, meditation, and the quest for self-realization through art.
I’ve given up all the comforts and security of the military life - a steady paycheck, free healthcare and dental, travel opportunities. And for what? A nebulous career as an artist and a yoga teacher, hustling my way through the world. Why did I do it? Because I was afraid to stay in any longer. I was afraid that I would never realize my potential by remaining in the military. And as wonderful as it was feeling secure in my job, I always felt as if I had no autonomy, as if my life belonged to someone else. And so it wasn’t the fear of change that gripped me, but rather the opposite. The fear of pattern, of no change.
A friend once told me, “I wish I was as brave as you.” This friend had been on many tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. She has seen many horrors in her life and has persevered with a happy constitution intact. She is a badass in my eyes. And yet she called me brave. Humbled by this, I told her that I didn’t see myself as being brave, but rather doing whatever is necessary for me to find my happiness. I believe that this should not take courage, but be borne of pure necessity to realize yourself. Because when it comes down to it, this is my biggest fear: that I’ll never know myself and what I’m capable of doing.
I’m currently reading The Art of Non-Comformity by Chris Guillebeau. It’s a fascinating read, full of great ideas and concepts I think about much too often. At times, it almost feels as if I’m reading my own journal. One of the chapters in the book is the importance of conquering fear.
We all have fears and insecurities, and I believe they are there for a reason. In yogic philosophy, they are called “samskaras” or past imprints that we carry, such as bad habits or thought patterns. Like these samskaras, fear manifests to be challenged or reinforced. During my yoga teacher training at Mt. Madonna Center, I learned to deal with whatever emotions or memories that sprung up. They come to the surface of the mind and we have to realize that we wield the power to do with them what we desire.
When a thought of insecurity enters the mind we can do one of two things. The first option is to say “Yes, that is true, I am a very bad/ugly/fat/uninteresting person. This reinforces the negative samskara to be able to repeat more often. The ego likes pattern, after all. Unfortunately, it does not discriminate between “good self-image” thoughts, and destructive ones. All it wants is reaffirmation of its existence and emotional power.
The other course of action to take is to obliterate this samskara. Rather than give in to the negative mindset, it’s important to change one’s frame of mind to a more positive, strong mindset. When it applies to fear, one must try to conquer it. This is the same basis under which people “cure” themselves of their phobias, by confronting their fears slowly and repeatedly.
Guillebeau writes, “fear begins with an undefined worry, a voice in the back of your head that says you’re not good enough, you won’t succeed with anything big or significatnt, and you might as well give up and stop trying to stand out.” What do we do when we hear this voice? Rather than following or agreeing with these thoughts, instead tell yourself, “NO, I will not stand for this. I am more than this. I am better than this. I can do this.”
(stay tuned for more on “Fear”)
My time on Mt. Madonna has brought me face to face with my ego. These past few days, I’ve made it my goal to dissociate myself from this personality, see myself as separate.
But the task is not to eradicate the ego, but rather, to learn and observe it, so that everything done is for a greater good, and not simply to reinforce preconceptions.
I’ve lived my life alongside this individual self - who craves love and affection, who sings at the top of his lungs, and who fiercely guards the heart.
My ego is highly protective, ready at the gates to bark at anyone trying to sneak in. He raises walls and sends arrows spinning in the air.
He wakes me in the morning, often with a song. Jumping and chanting, he burns through thoughts like smoke, billowing out the window.
At breakfast, he smashes a piñata as I make myself coffee. I watch him greedily devouring candied memories and plans. He leaves the wrappers on the floor.
My ego loves his reflection and if he doesn’t look his best, blames it on dirty mirrors.
When we go to the beach, he stays by the shore, jumping into waves, but afraid of getting swept away into the sea. No amount of convincing can get him to dive deeper to see the fish. But he is curious when I bring him shells and seaweed.
At night he sleeps, nestled by my chest, softly snoring. He often hogs the blankets.
There are no cool kids.
we are simply here
baring our selves, our bruised pasts and egos
our blind futures
we drink tea
and break down a pose into innumerably variable steps
We pour water down our nostrils to quiet our overactive minds
just long enough, perhaps
to get a glimpse of a flame
the whisper of an ancient note lying just
under the whistling
of our own constricted breaths
We are all here
of the same vital
energy, this Prána
the cells within our bodies
that blows the grass
and tells the trees to reach higher
The same energy
as the sun’s rays
sweeping away morning mountain mists
the same energy
that spins the heavens in unfathomably eternal rotations
We are all here
the same shared moment
the same intent
the same breath.
Greetings from Mt. Madonna Center. Today starts our second week in Yoga teacher training. The past week has been especially intense for everybody. On top of the philosophy-heavy curriculum, we practice Pranayama (breathing techniques), and Meditation for about an hour every morning, 1.5 hrs of Asana (yoga postures), and another 3-hr Asana workshop in the afternoon. Working with our bodies in such a fashion appears to stimulate the release a lot of stored memories. Many of my classmates have had intense emotional releases in the past week, and I have felt very vulnerable as well. A lot of old wounds have reopened, harkening back to childhood memories and past trauma.
For me, one of these prominent subjects that gripped my mind last week was the concept of “cool kids.” As children and teenagers, we are drawn to other classmates who seem to “have it all,” or carry an aura of “coolness.” We then cultivate both a respect for these people, and an opposing “inferiority complex” for ourselves. We think they’re so cool, and we are not.
As I’ve gotten older, a lot of these prejudices have fallen away. That kid might have the coolest new kicks, but… something something something. We begin to slowly realize no one is perfect. And that we are all cool in our own way. And there’s no need to envy anyone for what they have.
Easier said than done, of course. Last week, I found myself lonely and out of place. I had many questions about the existence of human suffering, on a cosmic level, and a much more personal one. I had no answers, and when I asked, was turned away, to move inward. More than once I considered leaving.
I stuck around, of course; those who know me well know I don’t give up easily. And big questions always get my gears going. I began to talk and share with my classmates. I meditated on the present moment. I thought of the infinite ways that I am fortunate. Then on Friday night, after class, we had a wicked dance party.
Writing has also helped me to process these thoughts. Yesterday, I felt compelled to share my writing with my classmates, after hearing others share their intense emotional output. I know that a lot of us have been going through the same thing - emotional turmoil, a sense of displacement, home-sickness, apprehension about the future, etc. We are all experiencing many of the same symptoms of such an intensive and spiritual curriculum. And there is no shame in admitting this now, only solidarity. Without our normal support systems of friends and family, we students only have each other.
So here’s to another 2.5 weeks of looking inward, finding the truth that lies within. And dance parties.
Words that slipped out today, when I intended to be silent:
“Thank you, Kamalesh”
I’m currently up in the mountains of California doing a monthlong intensive Yoga Teacher Training Course. We are studying classical Ashtanga Yoga (8 Limbs Yoga), as written by the sage, Patanjali. This is not the K. Pathabi Jois school of Ashtanga. Just FYI.
One of the practices (that help on the road towards illumination or superconsciousness), brought up in class the other day is called Tapas. Not delicious Spanish tapas, unfortunately, but the concept of “austerity.” And one of the ways to practice austerity is to be silent.
I won’t get into the why’s, or exactly what shutting up is supposed to do, but I did it today, and it has been an interesting experience.
I noticed how much easier it is to listen to others completely, with no interruption from my own mind. I have no need to butt in my own opinions, so I am free to listen and contemplate. If something important needs to be said, I have a pen and paper.
I noticed how very little is actually essential to say, and how much can get across just from the intent of saying it. The body finds a way to get the point across.
I instructed a few classmates how to properly get into a few yoga postures without words. Instead, we mirrored one another, and words like “keep the weight equal on both sides,” or “rest the pelvis in a neutral position” became simple small demonstrations. The point was made even quicker than through words.
In a larger group, the conversation moves as quickly as our collective minds. Topics go from one to the other so quickly that it is difficult to catch up with writing. I had to choose and time my words carefully.
Looking at my notebook early on, I noticed that some of what I was writing kept beginning in “I.” As soon as I realized this, I turned outwards and asked more questions, inviting answers, rather than expounding on my own experiences.
If you’ve never tried spending the day in silence, it’s an interesting thing to try. You may learn quite a bit about your surroundings, the people around you, and even better, yourself.