I was hoping to polish off the anti-sage meditation posts with a final post, “OBLITERATION OF THE EGO THROUGH PAIN” but I’m afraid that new insights have revealed to me that I have been framing these apparent “anti-zen” endeavours inaccurately. Thanks to my teacher, I now understand these practices to be complimentary expressions of my meditation practice, expressed in everyday life, rather than compensatory ones. We talk a lot about taking one’s practice “off the mat” in yoga but sometimes it’s not obvious what that might look like; in my case, it was not what I expected and I didn’t recognize it at first. In psychology and cognitive science, they call it flow.

Who were you that I lived with, walked with? The brother, the friend? Strife and love, darkness and light–are they the workings of one mind, features of the same face? Oh my soul. Let me be in you now. Look out through my eyes. Look out at the things you made. All things shining. – Terrence Malick



Society6/Måsse Hjeltman

Love is the cheapest, richest high. It costs you absolutely nothing and the intensity of the high lasts for days, weeks, months. You might in fact, never come down.

Like any drug, the first time you experience the rush of infatuation or eros, you probably won’t know what the hell to do with it. You are completely insane, fucked out of your mind on a heady neurochemical cocktail of dopamine and oxytocin and god knows what else, and this can actually be stressful for a lot of people. They’re constantly distracted, unable to sleep or eat and may behave out of character. They lose any and all sense of perspective. The most minor event can trigger even more intense, soaring highs or, if negative, can balloon into ridiculously overwrought and soul crushing lows. Like a dazed teenager puking on the sidewalk after a first round of binge drinking, most people need to learn how to hold their eros. Like any intoxicant, some people will always have a low tolerance for the stuff while others will never be affected very powerfully; some will become completely addicted while others may actively dislike it; so on and so forth.

Society6/Heather Landis

I’ve been falling in love practically every week since I was a teen and I’ve always enjoyed it. I have always been quite cavalier with my heart and I don’t regret a single time I’ve loved deeply. And all I can say is, while being lovestruck affects everyone differently, it gets so much better with experience and meditation. Because you reach a point where you realize that you don’t have to do anything about eros other than to be with it. A crush is just a crush, lust is just lust, and when you have no attachments to any outcome, you can luxuriate in your free and wonderfully rich high without that kind of frenetic concern over how the relationship is going to play out. You can think your silly, lovesick thoughts and be amused by them instead of believing in them. You can sit back and let your brain light up with feel good neurons firing away, and marvel at the fact that all it took to get that sweet, sweet hit of rewarding dopamine was a simple image or thought of your object of affection.


It’s been a year and a half of regular meditation practice and I’ve noticed that naturally, I’ve begun to gravitate toward experiences that I suspect are serving as compensatory developments to the zen. I think that I was getting too deep, too quickly with the meditation for my conscious mind; I always had this strong feeling of my everyday consciousness always scrambling to catch up to parse, digest and integrate new experiences, of always lagging behind and standing on the brink of being overwhelmed. For awhile, my solution was to basically avoid meditation outside the sangha group in an attempt to slow the pace down – not avoiding mindfulness mind you, but any kind of extended, deep concentration. However, lately, I’ve begun to ever so slowly to try to get back into it while balancing it all out with compensatory practices that I’ll call the anti-sage meditations, because none of these practices support the cultivation of wisdom.


via society6/BLCKBTY

Enough preamble. Last night, after a particularly gluttenous omakase meal at one of TO’s top three Japanese restaurants, I stayed out until 3am dancing to Daedelus, whose music I have adored for a decade. He’d tweeted earlier in the day that he was going to try a new sound – I had no idea how different it was going to be. His tracks last night were just as dense as they had ever been, but so much fatter, just a tsunami of sound towering over you to completely own you. His usually clever and whimsical tracks took a darker turn, and with the volume so high, it was almost unforgiving, dominating.


via society6/toria

I took a yoga history workshop today at Ahimsa Yoga. Yosh is one of my favourite teachers at Ahimsa and one of the reasons is because he isn’t afraid to bring elements like Sanskrit chanting and yoga philosophy into the classroom. He also took the time to learn my name – not that it bothers me if a teacher does not recognize me or doesn’t learn my name – but certainly, when a teacher makes the effort, that relationship is more emphasized and becomes more active.


I recently saw A Separation, a film that recently won the Academy Award for best foreign film. I don’t review films on this blog, but it seemed to me to illustrate so well, what samsara is all about. Samsara is a complex concept, but my favourite explanation draws on its etymological root, the wheel. Samsara conceptualizes a constant turning of a wheel of suffering that spins you up and down. It’s a wholistic image that asks you to think about an entire integrated system of suffering rather than to focus on one episode or series of episodes.

Both the zen tradition I follow and the yoga sutras I’ve read pinpoint misperception as the radical source of the spinning of samsara. The idea here is to train your mind to see through your perceptions and dissolve them down. The thing about perceptions and attachments are, when we speak about them in the abstract, they can seem like such negative, or at best, incomplete but useful things. But what if your attachment, your way of seeing the world is more than simply useful? What if it is the foundation upon which you rest your own integrity?

The characters in A Separation are thrown into challenging life events, but the confluence of these events with each character’s own value system (which they cling to to varying degrees), amplifies their suffering and creates a samsaric, systemic vortex of dukha, each character a spoke in a churning wheel of tragedy. It’s difficult to describe without spoilers, but it is simply stunning and incredibly difficult to watch. In the words of my friend, “You feel such compassion for each character, but you’re also so angry at them at one point.”

The great thing about A Separation is that each character has freedom of choice, but their perceptions have made it such that they feel as if they have no choice, and each is compelled to make decisions that add greater velocity to the samsaric wheel of suffering that they create and share and are trapped in together. At various points in the film, there are exit points, ways to end the suffering, but in the end, no party is willing to give up what is basically their core set of values, be it personal pride, religious beliefs, parental love, insistence on the truth, etc. You can look at these things, the very things that make us human, and see how, if you were in a similar position, you might be willing to suffer and even to cause others to suffer, so that such things are not compromised. And as such, the wheel continues to spin against all of them…

The ending is bittersweet, but does, in my opinion, show a character who is able to make a choice. This choice will also cause suffering, but it is a different kind of suffering because it is one born of a conscious decision, and not one taken because one cannot even conceive of any other alternative.

I hope that my description hasn’t turned you off the film. Especially because this is a very narrow reading of the film which is also highly political. Highly recommended, and for me, this ties with Enter the Void for best film of 2011.

Of all the great modern American composers, my theoretical favourite is, and always has been, John Cage. I say theoretical because while I have an affinity for Cage’s ideas, I do so enjoy listening to the likes of Reich, Riley, Glass, etc. much more. Cage was very into zen, which informed much of his approach to music and composition.

Art may be practiced in one way or another, so that it reinforces the ego in its likes and dislikes, or so that it opens that mind to the world outside, and outside inside. Since the forties and through the study with D.T. Suzuki of the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, I’ve thought of music as a means of changing the mind. I saw art not as something that consisted of a communication from the artist to an audience but rather as an activity of sounds in which the artist found a way to let the sounds be themselves. And, in being themselves, to open the minds of people who made them or listened to them to other possibilities than they had previously considered.

Which all seemed well and good theoretically. Listening to Cage was always an intellectual exercise for me and to be honest, I never experienced the perceptual changes he described in the quote above. That was, until I forced myself to attend a Cage tribute concert, celebrating the man’s 100th birthday, exactly 91 minutes in length.

An hour and a half of Cage’s work in all of its counterpointal, dischordant glory. I had worked very late that evening, my vision still occasionally blurring from staring into a screen. I was alone and had bought the single ticket, an impulsive decision, on my way home. My mind, exhausted, almost immediately rebelled against the sounds. I’m so tired, what was I thinking coming here? I don’t even like listening to Cage, etc. And then, in a fit of annoyance: This is just fucking noise! Thankfully, knowing the exact time of the concert gave me the mental security I needed to counter my discomfort.

And something very funny happened as I walked home through familiar streets. It was raining, and the sounds around me, suddenly all seemed to come alive: the patter of rain on different surfaces, the whooshing of tires over wet asphlat, the sound of my heels against the ground, snatches of conversations in different languages flowing around me. Hearing was not the only sense that was affected. I was arrested at how the city lights played off the movement of the water on all the concrete and pavement, how the drops of water on the lens of my glasses distorted the images. Everything mundane took on a fascinating quality and I walked home, as if high. High off an overdose of John Cage.

One may fly is one is willing to give up walking.

Happy 100th, Mr. Cage and thank you for blowing my mind.

I was reading two articles about John Mackey (citations below), CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc. and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Lululemon. Both are brands that appeal to a middle class idea of consumerist virtue, with each individual buying his or her way into a healthy, socially responsible and environmentally sustainable lifestyle of their own choosing. Both corporations are stock market superstars run by Ayn Rand happy executives. Both have developed a feel-good, team slash cult work corporate culture.

Whole Foods and Lululemon brought to you by... objectivism?

I find it more than a little amusing how people can be unhappy to learn that their shopping runs to LULU and WFM are supporting companies run by people who don’t subscribe to liberal, middle class, lefty values. (Recently, Lululemon’s Ayn Rand bags shocked a good number of customers and earlier, Mackey published an article in the Wall St Journal against public health care, causing a major backlash.) I mean, were people truly surprized? Did they think that these companies’ stocks had a meteoric rise because their execs were… what? Not really, really, really into capitalism and the free market?

Capitalism takes on many forms and what impresses me most about it, is its uncanny ability to appropriate any ideology, even those that seem anti-capitalist. There is something so efficient and flexible about this system when it comes to human psychology, how it has consistently demonstrated the ability to leech out all of the threat from something powerful, turn it on a dime and sell it at a markup two weeks later. The mistake is to think capitalism is about this human value or that human value. Wherever there is demand, and there will always be demand, capitalism will always be ready to sweep in to make a buck or two. Or trillions.


We’ve been contemplating contingency in one of our meditation exercises. The idea here is, the more you deny your mortality, your finitude, your thrownness, the less connected you are to your own being and reality. (Well, not exactly. I’m taking liberties with vocabulary here and mapping existentialist thought onto meditative practice.)

Lana Bragina's Tarotkarten

I’ve begun thinking that the modern way of saying everything is connected is everything is contingent. To the modern ear, the former phrase sounds vaguely positive and non-threatening, while the latter conjures up all the anxieties of an era of neo-liberalism.

Everything is contingent suggests to me a language and vocabulary derived from project management and capitalism and state power rather than a spiritualized woo woo language that doesn’t connect to our modern, everyday life.

Everything is contingent speaks to the inherent volatility of the financial market and its human fallout.

Everything is contingent calls the logic of the N. American cult of individualism and the narrative of the American Dream into question.

Everything is contingent presents to me, a more accurate understanding of modern life in which our freedoms (of consumer choice and a seeming ahistoricity) mask our dependencies upon modern networks of power and commerce.

I’m starting to think that in addition to the unequal distribution of material resources and wealth, we can also think of modernity as a force that has restructured the distribution of contingency. That is to say, we in the west/democratic/modern/”developed” world (and within the west, there are further divisions) have attempted to decrease the contingency in our own lives by downloading risk into other parts of the world where people now live highly precarious lives leaving them far more vulnerable to factors like market fluctuations, weather patterns, epidemics, what have you. I’ll refrain from examples – and there are many devastating ones – for the sake of staying on topic and I’ll return to this idea of distributing contingency in a moment.

We have a hoarding mentality in which everyone is fighting over security, never feeling satisfied, nor safe. Perversely, the historically aberrant levels of predictability and stability in the postwar west have only resulted in a collective state of vague dissatisfaction, anxiety and ennui while others have born the brunt of the west’s quest for security and happiness. First world problems. Mid life crisis. Quarter life crisis. What kind of crisis are we in?


Brian Foo via

If you missed part one, you can catch it here. These posts form a two part series about what you can look forward to with a Saturn Return.

I recently gave a tarot reading to a friend of mine and she remarked that she was surprized that I was still practicing tarot. That seemed like something the “Old Isthmus” would do. And I thought what a strange comment that was because I hadn’t realized how much I had changed. You’re so practical now, she clarifies. You’re so into these practical things. Joining groups, chairing meetings, all of it. And she’s right; in the past I never concerned myself with ideas about civic engagement, leadership and what not.

The Saturn Return has consolidated a lot of my responsibilities to society. A prosperous, vibrant, tolerant and creative society doesn’t just happen by magic or by virtue of inertia. And contrary to a lot of articles I read, leading a meaningful, happy life is very much a social endeavour that is deeply tied into the participation in the creation of shared meaning. Whenever we talk about happiness or satisfaction in the west, we always focus on the individual. But without shared meaning, shared narratives, shared metaphors that are authentic, we are lost in our own idiosyncratic, solipsistic fantasies or, as is very common, we become easy prey for systems of meaning that are inauthentic, harmful and do not accurately reflect our reality.


There’s been a lot of attention given to Nasdaq LULU these days due to their newly Ayn Rand branded bags. The idea here is that Rand’s right wing ideologies are in direct contradiction to what yoga is all about.

I would like to suggest that NONE of LULU’s branding has anything to do with yoga. Branding is branding and that’s it. It’s a spectacle. Guy Debord warned us about this. “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”

I like to think that brands are only as powerful as we make them. We give the LULU brand power when we allow the brand to represent what yoga is. We give our power away to brand images when we infuse them with all of our hopes and fears about our own existence. Who we wish we could be, who we don’t want to be, how we want others to think of us. This is different than simply trying project a social image. That is a natural human social behaviour. What I’m talking about is letting brands co-opt our voices, our narratives, and enthralling us with their myths which, unlike the myths of yore, are not trying to teach us to BE HUMANS. They are trying to teach us to CONSUME.


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