The other day in my sangha, we had a new student who asked, “How do I know if I’m doing it right?” I didn’t answer right away as I wanted to think about this. How does one evaluate changes and progress in one’s meditation practice?

Now, I’m no authority on zen as I’ve only been meditating on and off for two years. But for what it’s worth, this is more or less how I would answer.

killer napkins-meditation orgasm


You’re doing it right if you are generally becoming less of an asshole.

I stress this first because in my observation, people tend to focus on meditative experiences rather than outcomes. I’m not saying that it’s not immensely beneficial to be able to situate yourself on this well worn path of zen practice and to map your experiences onto those that have been experienced by so many others before you. However, as much as spiritual experiences, especially “peak” experiences, can help facilitate and catalyze one’s spiritual growth, they will not intrinsically make you wise and ethical.

You know you are on the right track if you find yourself becoming more receptive to the world and to others. It’s not a straight path, and the ego may throw up resistance, but generally you should find that your insight and compassion will come more and more effortlessly and organically.


Existing in a chronic state of crisis is not an easy place to be. The mind grasps for easy solutions to flee the discomfort and uncertainty. It wants to oversimplify things in an attempt to gain (a false sense of) control.


I love this yoga mudra because I think it so neatly encapsulates our human tendency to narrow cognitive functioning in the face of a crisis. As this was taught to me, the three fingers represent attraction, repulsion and indifference. These map on nicely to the three primal physiological reactions to an immediate threat: fight, flight or freeze. Extremely useful for emergency situations, life saving actually, but not all that useful for… everything else.

Knowing this has saved me from making pretty dumb decisions in the past. Instead of attacking without thinking, avoiding/running away from shit or becoming numb with apathy, I trash all three approaches and instead, work on being receptive enough to reframe a threatening situation differently and reorient myself along the lines of understanding, honesty, genuine suffering, etc. rather something reactionary. I won’t lie, this process can be fairly unpleasant, but in time, the binds of one’s narrowed perception will loosen. Let it relax wider and wider, and wider still, until the heart speaks. Then you will know the ethical way forward.

Anyways, give the wisdom of this mudra a whirl sometime when you find yourself framing something in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of way. Life is rarely lose-lose.

As transiting Pluto inches inexorably closer to my 12th house sun, I thought I’d send another dispatch that might be helpful to others experiencing the transit.


Pluto is a cthonic god, so I think it fitting to conceptualize the power that comes with this transit as a massive geyser of crude oil. And if you have a 12th house sun like me, this oil is seriously crude. It’s raw, unprocessed energy. While this is a tremendous opportunity, the oil will be full of things that are way beyond you and this means it is going to take what will feel like an insurmountable effort to refine the energy into a state that is usable and safe for yourself and for others.

What do I mean by refining this energy?


Driving today, alone on the road in the dark, navigating the roads of a foreign land, I opened my CD jewel case (yes, I still own some of those things) and found it empty. Annoyed, I turned on the radio which happened to be set on a classical music channel. And to my surprize, the strains of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque rose from the speakers. I was stricken with a surfeit of something indescribable and tears welled in my eyes. How can it be that my life, so insignificant and random and meaningless to most others, so very small and unrecognized, can still contain so much? When I think of all the people I pass by with their own lives, I ask myself – what have I not seen? What kind of wonder, terror and beauty do they know and hold that I do not know of? How many little surprizes fill their lives to bursting?

From one foreign land to another; in time I will be traveling to two very different nations, but both with a recent history of genocide. How many lives lost that so many know not of? How many tiny hidden everythings were buried in those mass graves?

Sometimes I love and hate my life in equal measure. The older I become, the keener the edge of my finitude. There are days when I feel that I cannot bring myself to do what my heart demands of me and that I was simply not built to have such a brutal, fearless organ.

But it is nice to be surprized.

I recently attended the annual Mind Matters conference, hosted by the Jungian Society and the University of Toronto’s Buddhism and Psychology Students’ Union. Unfortunately, the out-of-town speakers were unable to attend, due to inclement weather, but José Cabezón sent his presentation and a copy of his lecture while Paul Fulton sent a recording.

The year’s theme was desire, of which each presenter gave a very different perspective, although all four had a background in psychology. The entire conference was taped and I believe will be posted on YouTube, so instead of describing what each professor spoke about, I thought I might write briefly about desire in a distinctly modern context. Because it seems to me that desire in modernity is conceived of very narrowly – often in ways that satisfy basic biological drives or in the context of consumer goods – and perhaps because of this narrow view, modern people are in some ways, very lacking in desire. For all our tendencies toward instant gratification from material goods, our neurotic obsession with food, our pervasive preoccupation with sex, we lack a lust for life.

I’m not sure if we can call our modern culture as one of desire so much as a culture of irrational, sometimes rabid, often anxiety-riddled consumption. And sadly, in a kind of puritanical American context, desire becomes twisted into something ugly: addiction, vice, “guilty pleasures” and so on. At best, desire is hijacked into incentive seeking behaviour where we reward or treat ourselves (you deserve it!), a kind of immature mentality in which people are taught to feel entitled to the adult version of a cookie or a gold star simply for behaving well. What happened to ardent desires for more profound, less transient things? A healthy community, or for a deep connection and engagement with nature, or to collaborate in a team? If we cannot yearn for such things the way most people burn with a fervent desire for material (and often unnecessary, disposable) goods, I don’t know how much positive change we can expect to make in the world.

I think the first step to addressing this dearth of more complex, other-oriented desires is to learn about how desire is manufactured in modernity. To start you off, here’s a documentary that was recommended by the president of the Jungian Society about Edward Bernays, father of public relations and population control.


After following the blogs of Carol Horton and Roseanne Harvey for quite some time, I was pleased to learn that they were collaborating as editors on an anthology of essays dealing with contemporary yoga in N. America. Both think body electric and it’s all yoga baby grapple with the tensions we find in N. American yoga and I was looking forward to reading 21st Century Yoga, which I hoped would give writers the room to delve deeper into the nuances and complexities that shorter blog posts cannot accomodate.

No matter what your stance is regarding contemporary yogic debates, all of the essays will likely help spark new ideas in your mind about yoga, especially if you are already thinking about issues that have crop up frequently on the blogs of Horton and Harvey. The essays are also written in a very accessible manner; I read the whole book in one sitting!


Recently, in discussions in my sangha and online with yoga practitioners, the question of the benefits of a diluted practice in the West has arisen again. Concerns were raised over the castration of yoga and zen that twists these transformative practices that were meant to foster the development of a profoundly felt ethical comportment toward the world into mere stress management. And the same retort is trotted out time and time again: it’s better than nothing, it’s a start.


I finally got around to watching Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s The Holy Mountain. It is a visually rich film replete with occult symbolism that rewards viewers who have studied western occult systems. Many of the reviews I have read have basically described The Holy Mountain as a feature length eye fuck, but really, it is quite a straightforward film that should feel very familiar to students of tarot, meditation, etc. It is a highly stylized  fool’s journey in which the ultimate goal is a genuine zen-like connection with reality. I will warn you that despite the film’s surreal beauty, the imagery can be violent and there is a fair amount of violence directed toward animals. Otherwise, the film is well worth watching.

What was most interesting to me was how The Holy Mountain represents two contrasting spiritual paths. The Western magical tradition relies heavily upon a multilayered network of corresponding intrasystemic symbols that Israel Regardie has described as a mnemonic system that trains the imaginative faculties, heightens the vision of the soul that peers directly into the divine astral in order to transcend the normal plane of consciousness. Grossly speaking, the Eastern traditions of zen and yoga take the opposite approach by stripping away attachments and by stilling the imaginary faculties of the mind.


Awhile ago, Roseanne posted about MyKula Annex’s new Brown Girl and Queer yoga classes and asked her readers if they felt this was “un-yogic”. This post struck me because I found the idea very different from classes that might become specialized for sound physiological reasons such as pre or post natal yoga. And while I am glad to see active members of the yoga community in Toronto tackling issues of inclusion, the idea of having Brown Girl and Queer yoga made me take pause. I don’t think that the commodification/commercialization/westernization/appropriation of yoga can be separated from the fact that its consumers are largely white, middle class women. Nor do I believe that one issue can be adequately addressed without the other. If segregated yoga classes for non-white, non-straight students is desirable to non-specified classes, let’s ask why. (more…)

Teagan White/Society6

Followers of this blog may recall how I have struggled with metta. Vipassana, despite its obvious difficulties, seems to me to be the easier practice. It is at its basis, a very concrete task that may be challenging to attain on a procedural level, but is relatively easy to grasp on a conceptual one.

Like many others, I had always thought of metta of pulling a warm and fuzzy feeling out of my heart and projecting it toward others. Of course I didn’t frame it that way, but in hindsight, that is what I was trying to do, especially when I just began meditating. It seems to me that this approach is encouraged by a lot of articles (granted, they were mostly beginner’s articles) that I have read about metta. Metta is really about the opposite. Instead of projecting outwards with greater intensity, you are withdrawing projections in order to make room for the Other. Or, more accurately, you are dissolving/silencing/being mindful of your projections which is where the supporting role of vipassana comes in.


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