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I had never been to prison before. In fact, I had been avoiding them as much a possible. A subconscious fear of confinement had existed within me for most of my life. And yet here I am, entering La Vista Women’s prison in Pueblo, Colorado, walking through a metal detector. As you enter and exit the prison you have so spend a few moments in a space locked between too large metal doors. My heart quickened as I waited for the guard to unlock one of the doors. How did I get here?

Several months ago I attended a workshop called The Art of Being Human, which focuses on improving relational skills with other human beings. It is a highly embodied and experiential course, using exercises to help develop skills to create more profound connection, intimacy and trust with those that we are in relationship with. For me this course was like fresh rain after a drought. I had witnessed in myself how a lack of effective communication techniques had created misunderstanding and suffering in my relationships. And I witnessed first hand how several of the communities I had lived in over the years simply lacked these conscious relating tools, that over time led to an inability to navigate out of a number of destructive and painful situations.

After the Art of Being Human course I became inspired to register for the facilitator training in December and to volunteer with the companies non-profit branch which visits prisons in Colorado, offering a similar two-day workshop for inmates. Fast forward a month, and with a team of 5 volunteers, we traveled to Pueblo, Colorado, set ourselves up in a modest Air B&B and prepared to go into the prison the next morning.

The metal door unlocked and I found myself in the visitor room of the prison, a sterile space with many chairs and tables, several humming vending machines against the wall. Several of the inmates were already in the space, and very quickly I relaxed as I began to feel the welcoming and warmth of the women in the room. We shared some laughs as we figured out how to divide 10 stickers into 24 name tags and prepare the space for the two-day workshop.

The course proceeded and throughout the two days I was able to participate and help facilitate the growth and opening of this amazing group of women. It was incredible to observe the shift of energy from the first morning until the second afternoon when we closed. One of the biggest sources of conflict in women’s prison is rooted in personal relationships, and again and again the women shared how the tools and practices they were receiving were providing immediate relief and improvement in their relationships. For me, there was also a tremendous amount of learning and growth. During lunch or other breaks I was able to learn much more about prison life, the challenges and the some of the surprising sustenance’s and resources that exist within prison life.

During the exercises themselves, I discovered much more about the personal stories of the women – and I was really confronted with the assumptions I held in my mind of who ‘these people’ are and what they are like. Most of these assumptions were really challenged and had to be discarded as I saw that many of these women are just like you and me, except they may have made a mistake in their life, struggled with addiction or have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A very profound moment for me was when I role played with one of the inmates who was being released in a week. In front of the entire group we practiced scenarios that she was soon to be challenged with as she returns to civilian life. There were so many subtle aspects potentially pulling her back towards prison, yet with the support of the facilitation team and the other inmates, I witnessed this woman gain a confidence and insight into how to proceed and I felt much more assured that she would be successful.

I left La Vista with a sense of great connection, humbleness and desire to continue working in this field and helping offer such profound tools to people who desire them and don’t typically have the means to access them. If you are interested in supporting this project, please consider making a tax deducible donation!

Here is a short video from a previous visit to La Vista prison:

The Way of Life

What we look for beyond seeing
And call the unseen,
Listen for beyond hearing
And call the unheard,
Grasp for beyond reaching
And call the withheld,
Merge beyond understanding
In a oneness
Which does not merely give rise and give light,
Does not merely set and leave darkness,
But forever sends forth a succession of living things as mysterious
As the unbegotten existence to which they return.

       ~Lao Tzu

Vision Quest

I am sitting cross-legged before an odd altar – a hawks feather, animal bones, a meteorite, a power stick and a wooden Buddha. I’m dirty, sore, sunburned, and very hungry. I have been fasting for 3 days on the top of this lonely mountain. Sitting quietly at 12,500 feet in arguably the remotest part of Colorado. No trail took me to where I am now. It is just an hour before my solar return- the moment the sun returns to the same exact location in the sky as the moment of my birth. Not just any solar return. This is will complete my 40th trip around the sun. Before I cross that threshold, let’s discuss how this all began.

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Three months ago, I enjoyed a retreat with my dear dharma friends Peter and Eveline in there hermitage in northern Bali. Often, the three of us would find ourselves in shared conversation after meals or during breaks. At one point, Peter shared his experience of a vision quest in his 40’s, pointing to some of the incredible insights that he received during his time on the side of mountain in Cyprus. The seed was planted.

In ancient cultures throughout the world, Quests were used as doorways to enter spiritual realms. A Quest could take the form of a retreat into nature, a Vision Quest, or a pilgrimage. These extraordinary journeys often revealed sacred visions, personal direction and life purpose to those who pursued them. Western culture has no modern equivalent- so I decided to craft my own quest to seek the ream of mystery and spirit beyond the senses.

Originally I considered a 7-day and 7-night quest, but when an opportunity arose to join a men’s retreat in the days leading up to my birthday, I settled on 4 days and 3 nights, as an extension of the group retreat. I will write separately about the men’s retreat- but for now, know that I departed from that group of men virile, inspired, and open-hearted.

I drive away from the retreat center, send a final text to my sister informing her of my plans shortly before I lose signal. I park my car at 2 in the afternoon at the trailhead. I gather my belongings. It feels odd to fill a backpack for 4 days without a morsel of food. Everything ready, I sign in at the trailhead register. Only 12 entries over the past 2 years. I will be alone, no doubt about it.

I walk excitedly towards the place I had pinpointed in advance, researching between topographic and google maps. I expected about 5 miles of walking and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. I walk for a while, my new boots feeling good on the ground. My mind racing from an encounter with a beautiful woman just hours earlier… I hear Chris, my retreat leader, in my head saying – the first tool in uncovering your purpose is to eliminate distractions! Slowly the physicality of the uphill hike with a heavy pack takes over and I return to my breath and the beauty of the surroundings: wildflowers, running streams, snow-laden peaks.

I decide to sit down – I watch a large moose across the meadow, unnoticed for a while. Eventually she catches my eye and jots into the distance. She pauses, looks up, as if to show me something. I follow her gaze upwards. I spy two beautiful rock outcroppings on top of a distant mountain. Something clicks. That is where I must go. Vision quests are all about paying attention to signs – not necessarily planning every detail but trusting your inner compass can be guided by the natural world.

I check my map. A 12,600 foot peak, no trail, and steep terrain leading to its summit. I make a plan, step off the trail and start walking. No coincidence that the men’s retreat was called Ascending the Sacred Mountain. I pass a pile of bones from a recent kill. Another sign. I stow the sacrum, pelvis and a leg bone in my pack. I keep walking ahead…Its getting late, exhaustion is setting in. I can no longer see the top, I’m somewhat lost and disoriented in a forest of deadfall. Should I just stay here? A voice in my head propels me upward. As sunset nears, the trees thin, a herd of elk greet my arrival above tree line. Alpenglow shines in all directions as my destination is reached.

I set my pack down. Its late, I’m exhausted and I decide to just lie down. Reaching for my water, I realize it is all gone. One small but important detail before I fully settle down. I vaguely remember a patch of snow as I first glanced at this peak – I set out in search, luckily discovering it a few hundred feet downhill. Filling my bottles with the snowmelt, I make my way back up, and fall blissfully asleep in the silent dark.

Drop, drop, drop… rain falls, accelerating in intensity. I should have known better – the weather can change up here in a moments notice. I scramble to erect my rain tarp amidst the gusty winds – with an odd combination of stakes, rocks and trekking poles it will work for the night.

In the morning I proceed to officially create my Sacred Circle, a detailed process that I will refer you to the books I used to support my process. It involves setting up a series of rocks and sticks in the cardinal directions, ritually opening and closing the circle, invoking the spirits of the cardinal directions and a few other details. Maybe now is a good place for a disclaimer: If anyone is generally interested in this kind of process, its highly recommended to do your first quest supported by others, not to just strike off alone like I did… Two great resources that supported my Vision Quest are the following books:

1. Quest by Denise Lynn

2. Vision Quest by Steven Foster

Both can help you understand more of the details and guide you to sources that offer supported Vision Quests…

Now the rest of the time up there started to get interesting- as I reflect on those days – there existed an overlapping mix of subtlety, exquisite detail, and magic.  I can continue to write about the details of the outer journey – as in when my sleeping bag was caught by a wind gust and launched over 60 feet in the air, nearly getting stuck on a rock, well out of reach…. but these were minor compared to the inner details that were unfolding.

I examined my life. I looked at my fears and attachments. I offered gratitude, I called for a vision.

I stretched, I meditated, I journaled, I slept, I waited out rain storms.

My friend Peter, mentioned earlier, had suddenly passed away 10 days earlier in a traffic accident in Bali. His inspiration and presence were with me often– he being one of the few people I know who would have also done something as crazy as this. I felt close to him and as if I was supporting his passage with my own process – in addition to offering this quest to all beings, I specifically offered it to Peter.

The second day the hunger really started to set in, and I felt as if I was hallucinating that afternoon. I was called out of my circle for a short period to explore the rock formation around me. I observed the exquisite details of the ancient lichen surviving on stone, I collected what appeared to be a fragment of a meteorite, I stumbled in the awe and beauty of the majesty that was around me, in me, through me. Seeking something from the sky for my altar, I as if by magic a large feather floats from the sky and lands at my feet.

I find myself on a delicate rock outcropping, a few exposed 4th class moves to a seat sitting high over a precipice. I sit on this ledge for hours. It seems the totally of my first 40 years were coming to meet me right then and there. The pains, the joys, the loves, the heart breaks, all of my relationships, all of my missteps, all of my successes, all of my guides and allies and enemies. Right there on that rock. By any imaginable standard I would have appeared mad- sunburned and dirty, screaming and shaking my fists and stick into the air, then laughing hysterically, then crying with gratitude to all and everything. Over, and over and over…  darkness approached and I made my way back to my circle. Two coyotes, as if waiting for me to leave, ascended the rocks and howled into the evening sky.

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The third day I didn’t leave my circle, sitting, sitting, lying, stretching, counting the hours until my solar return meditation.

And now I’m back to the beginning. Its 3:43 on July 23rd, and I complete my 40th year. I meditate another hour to appreciate the power of the hiatus. Did the vision come? Was it too obvious or too subtle to see? Time will tell. A few days later I am still processing insights and moments of reflection from those days.

I planned to spend that final evening in an all-night vigil of sorts – I remember Peter telling me about the Death Lodge practice on the last night of his quest. Where the aspirant builds a circle of stones too narrow to lie down within, and commits to remaining awake until dawn and not moving outside the circle. One spends the night envisioning ones own death and inviting in all of one’s fears and all of ones relationships into that space.

After my solar return meditation, there was a clear feeling that it was time to go. I underestimated the physical exertion of climbing to high altitude and fasting for 3 days. My death lodge will have to wait. I packed up my things and prepared to head back down the trail-less mountainside.

Before leaving, I glanced around in all directions, thanking this mountain and its spirits for hosting me, and inviting me into its womb. What had I offered in return? My mind went to the most prized item in my possession. My yak tooth mala (beads) that I purchased in Nepal 10 years ago and that have accompanied me everywhere since… I slip them off my wrist, offer them to the mountain, turn around and start walking.

An hour after leaving the summit, a dark and ferocious storm rolled in. I had to take cover from hail for a while – at one point I looked back up to see the rock I camped next to being struck directly by several bolts of lightening. I am glad I trusted my intuition.

Absolutely depleted, as darkness envelops the landscape, I put one foot in front of the other until I return to the trailhead and my car.

A Walk in the Sky

Early morning stillness. A stick of incense burns.

An energy churns.

Amidst thousands of hours of sameness, you notice the difference.

Light, open, warm and free.

A bow returned, a mountain stirred.

A gesture of your hand and a smile take all pretense away.

The gentle line of your neck, observed from afar.

Ritual ensues, urgency pursues.

The heart delights, the mind excites.

Turns out this hand is already held. 

Tell me, how can this longing be quelled?

sunrise

Worlds Collide

Today as I glanced at my YouTube feed I noticed an odd video: Dave Rubin and Eckhart Tolle discussing mindfulness, consciousness, and spirituality as a means to bring balance to one’s life. Huh? I rub my eyes – this cannot be, guys like Dave Rubin focus on political and intellectual issues whereas Eckhart Tolle focuses on spirit and awakening.

Most of you have probably heard of Eckhart Tolle, the famous spiritual teacher and best selling author. However I bet that many of you have never heard of Dave Rubin or his show.

How did I get interested in a guy like Dave Rubin? Well, over the past few years  I found myself increasingly fed up by the polarization of left and right, not just politically and socially but also in the media. Many organizations consider themselves ‘non-biased’ but hold strong ideological leanings – Fox on the right, NY Times on the left, and the list goes on and on.

The icing on the cake last year was observing how so called journalism played a role in the collapse of my yoga school. A number of ideologically charged, biased and slanderous opinions were put forth from reputable news organizations as ‘journalism’. Attention was not paid to details or to facts. Today, simply observe headlines from different organizations referring to the same news events – the bias is already there in the title and headline.

Generally what I see are individuals and organizations lining up along ideological lines – and anything that doesn’t align with their message is considered wrong or even dangerous. The term used for this today is Identity Politics. For many years I considered myself a left-leaning liberal, but I started to notice that the left was taking positions on issues I simply did not agree with. I could no longer easily identify myself along traditional political lines.

The big thing missing in today’s conversation is CRITICAL THINKING. It’s so much easier to repeat talking points or take a pre-defined stance on the big issues. But have you ever actually sat and pondering any of them? Have you listened to alternative view points on big issues like race, feminism, immigration or economics?

I starting seeking alternate voices.  I found them in the so called intellectual dark web or IDW. Jordan Peterson, Joe Rogan, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Claire Lehmann are some of the leading voices in this movement. Quillete.com is a blog that publishes articles considered to ‘radical’ for the mainstream media. The traditional media establishment is trying to define this group into neat ideological corners – conservative, liberal, radical, this or that. However they do not form alliances based on their identities or tribal affiliation. They vary in gender, sexual orientation, race, and political affiliation. But they all share two distinct and (now) uncommon qualities. First, they are willing to disagree fiercely, but talk civilly, about nearly every meaningful subject worthy of public discourse: religion, abortion, gender identity, race, immigration, the nature of consciousness. Many of the opinions they hold on such topics can sometimes be in contrast with the orthodox opinion of their respective tribe. Second, they are intellectually honest and thus resist parroting what is politically convenient or politically correct.

In essence, they are critical thinkers, not aiming at political correctness. This gets them attacked in the public at large, even to the point of losing their jobs or speaking engagements. Yet, due to the rise of alternate media like YouTube, they have managed to find wide audiences and are being heard. For example, Jordan Peterson has over 2.1 million followers on his YouTube channel. A good introduction to this movement can be found in this video from the Rebel Wisdom YouTube channel.

I may write more on this in the future, but to be honest I hesitate and fear posting any political or ideological thoughts online in the current climate – it almost feels dangerous.

Coming back to the beginning – I always saw my spiritual pursuits and my intellectual/political interests as very distinct boxes or compartments in my life, with very little overlap. To see these two boxes come together, really brought a ton of joy to my heart – and I genuinely hope that as part of an overall healing and evolution of public discourse and human evolution we will see more and more of this integration.

Enjoy:

Missionary Position

Now that I have your attention, this post does not have anything to do with sex. Sorry.

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I’m referring to the position of being a missionary, rather than missionary position. First made famous by the Christians, this attitude and practice has long been adopted by many sects, ideologies, and groups to promote their vision and ideals.

Last year the yoga community I was living in imploded after a series of sexual harassment claims were directed at the founder and main teacher. Sadly, this triggered a series of events that dispersed many in the community to far corners of the world.  I observe my friends, many trained in yoga, mediation and tantra for over a decade, attempt with varying levels of success, to build their own personal brands and offer teachings around the world.

I also have this calling – to share, to give back just a small portion of what I have received. I have been examining this impulse closely over the last months and have observed that this missionary energy is well-established inside me too. 

Where did it come from?

One of the great gifts that my yoga teacher possessed is of inspiring others to practice yoga. I cannot tell you how many people took their initial steps on the path of yoga after hearing one of his lectures. In the 500-hr. teacher training program, which I completed in 2013, there were a series of commentaries on the great Bhagavad Gita, specifically two aspects: where:

1. Action is said to be superior than inaction (promoting the path of karma yoga in the world, and teaching spirituality) and

2. Where Krishna instructs the protagonist Arjuna that of all those in the world, those who teach yoga properly are most dear to him.

Inspiring, no?

What is interesting is that my initial background in Zen Buddhism was in strong contradiction to this view. Zen is what you can call a very anti-missionary teaching. Even people who come and knock on the door of the monastery are often turned away or forced to endure some kind of initiation that proves that they are sincere seekers and not just following a fad or looking for food and shelter.

When I look into my heart and question why I want to share, I find two aspects, one is the genuine desire for others to experience the beneficial aspects of the practices that I have personally befitted and observed others benefitting from.

Then there is the shadow side of this missionary desire. The one that seeks to justify one’s own choices, lifestyle and habits by proclaiming it superior to other ones. When we make choices there often residues of doubt, uncertainty. What if I took the other path? And this can lead to a doubling-down on your choice, and missional practices.

Today I decided to actually look-up this statement in the Bhagavad Gita – from Chapter 18, the Chapter on Liberation from Swami Sivananda:

67. This is never to be spoken by thee to one who is devoid of austerities, to one who is not devoted, nor to one who does not render service, nor who does not desire to listen, nor to one who cavils at Me.

68. He who with supreme devotion to Me will teach this supreme secret to My devotees, shall doubtless come to Me.

69. Nor is there any among men who does dearer service to Me, nor shall there be another on earth dearer to Me than he.

While this can be interpreted as those who teach are very dear to God, a critical caveat is made here – that yoga should not be taught to anyone who is not interested in it or prepared for it. Therefore the Bhagavad Gita is not actually advocating a missionary-based approach to spirituality.

This is a work in progress for me – recognizing the world has changed a lot in the last several thousand years since this text was written and the original practices of yoga were unfolding.

I once asked another one of my yoga teachers “Who am I to teach” after completing a training program with him and being a novice in meditation and yoga. His response was “Who are you not to teach?”

My feeling now is that the best path is to continue deepening my own understanding, seeking community and sangha to practice with and within. Foremost a practitioner and student, secondarily a teacher when called upon by the circumstances. Following the impulse to illuminate, not the one to justify or defend.

To be continued…

Tinder Profile

You are beautiful, youthful, radiant. Each time we meet, my wide smile is a testament to your effect on me.

There is an intensity in your eyes, in your words and in your life. A touch, a whisper or a small glance sends shivers up my spine.

A seemingly unending reservoir of power, your myriad emanations continually grace me.

Your insatiable sexual desire is quenched only through our union; seeking the ineffable, the elevated, the eternal through the merging of our interlaced bodies, hearts and minds. Dancing in the sublime, we discover endless, transcendent time.

You have contemplated your mortality, you have gazed at your shadows, you seek to discover your unknown potentiality.

In this empowering presence you invite me to meet you from my own masculine centeredness. My heart exposed, my vulnerabilities laid bare, you invite my trust, if I so dare.

You see relationship as a deep dialogue, not a lifeless contract easily abdicated. Monogamy and polyamory are just words to you – you flow easily where you need to.

Blonde or brunette, tall or short, herbivore or carnivore – just minor details in a love that is based on so much more.

If this is you, please swipe right.

Tinder

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