Category Archives: inspire

Extraordinary circumstances

Stop what you’re doing and sample a unique vision

I just got through watch­ing this video from the TED con­fer­ence in Mon­ter­rey, Cal­i­for­nia, Feb­ru­ary 28. Dr. Jill Bolte Tay­lor, a neuro-​​anatomist, recently gave an chat about her life-​​altering expe­ri­ence of a brain stroke. This emo­tion­ally charged story is going to spread like wild­fire because it cap­tures a vital life story and mar­ries it to both sci­ence and spir­i­tual insight. I’m still reel­ing from my first view­ing so just don’t mind me and set aside 18 min­utes to be astounded.

Her web­site also con­tains a link to her self-​​published book, My Stroke of Insight through I got on to this because the New York Times fea­tured it on the Well blog.

TED is heavy-​​weight con­fer­ence that deals in thinkers of great ideas and doers of impres­sive deeds — and good story tellers. TED stands for Tech­nol­ogy, Enter­tain­ment, Design. It’s worth exploring.

Through the third eye…

A month ago, I was trav­el­ing in Colom­bia and spend­ing evenings alone in my hotel room in a kind of per­sonal retreat (no tele­vi­sion, no alco­hol, no dis­trac­tions). I was doing pranayama, yoga and med­i­ta­tion, as well as read­ing and jour­nal­ing. In med­i­ta­tion, I’ve often found it hard to focus so I’ve used tech­niques like a mantra or my breath as my tar­get of atten­tion. In med­i­ta­tion classes, I tried other tech­nique, like focus­ing on my third eye (the point between the brows, asso­ci­ated with the anja chakra and enlight­en­ment). I was told to focus on the bridge of my nose (with eyes shut) and then move up to the third eye. It’s still a tough task for me because it’s an imag­i­nary exer­cise. I’ve never seen my third eye.

That evening in Santa Marta, I found myself befud­dled as I tried to focus my atten­tion on a sin­gle point. I asked myself whether it might be more fea­si­ble to focus my eyes on some­thing more mean­ing­ful. What could I focus on that would instill a deep sense of well­be­ing and still­ness? Well, the object could be look­ing into the eyes of a loved one, I said to myself. But rather than refer­ring to my wife or kids, I tried to raise the prac­tice to another level: the Beloved. I set­tled into this men­tal stance and felt a groundswell of emo­tion. I then real­ized that the Beloved was like a mir­ror and I was look­ing into a pair of eyes — my own. This sud­den stroke of wis­dom hit me with a vis­ceral truth in my core.

This event sealed a year in which my inten­tion was self-​​acceptance as a nec­es­sary step in my per­sonal devel­op­ment. It is so hard for me to accept and love myself with­out con­di­tions or expec­ta­tions. My work with yoga has been to come to terms with my phys­i­cal body while with med­i­ta­tion and self-​​inquiry I’ve tried to tackle other realms.

East-​​West Convergence

At the work­shop this past week­end, Beryl Ben­der Birch drew a pic­ture that caught my imag­i­na­tion. Back in the days of the Palace of Mysore when the trio of future gurus of clas­si­cal yoga (T.K.V. Desikachar, B.K.S. Iyen­gar and Pat­tabhi Jois) were study­ing under Kris­na­macharya, the father of hatha yoga (it’s his 1938 video to the right), the Maharaja of Mysore was also patron to West­ern gym­nas­tics that was brought to India by the British colo­nial regime. The two groups of stu­dents stood at oppo­site sites of the court­yard that served as class­room, copy­ing tech­niques from each other. She said that a lot of the sequenc­ing of vinyasa come from that cul­tural cross-​​pollination. It struck me as ironic that the East-​​West con­ver­gence influ­enced the for­ma­tion of clas­sic yoga. And today you’re get­ting another round of con­ver­gence as yoga meshes with Amer­i­can (and other West­ern) culture.

You can see a his­toric video of Iyen­gar from the same period.


Alan Lit­tle tagged me and then for­got to tell me, and I did not check out his blog until two days later — so I’ve already blown the eight-​​hour dead­line. The premise is that I have write about eight ran­dom facts about me. Here goes:

  1. I did the pre-​​production coor­di­na­tion in Peru (gov­ern­ment liai­son, media con­tacts, cus­toms clear­ances) for Shirley McClain’s bio-​​pic “Out on a Limb” and then failed to charge Hol­ly­wood rates for the work I did — boy, was I dumb!
  2. I was invited twice to spend extended week­ends with my wife, all expenses paid, at Arthur Hai­ley‘s home in Nas­sau, Bahamas because he wanted me to read drafts of his novel about a journalist’s adven­ture in Peru, The Evening News.
  3. I don’t write long hand, but print as if I was still in ele­men­tary school. I’ve done this since high school when I was bored with tak­ing notes in his­tory class and decided to add a degree of dif­fi­culty to the task.
  4. I was the char­ac­ter Potzo in “Wait­ing for Godot” by Samuel Beck­ett in my senior year of col­lege. The actor who was going to play Potzo backed out and I was the under­study. I was skinny so I padded out with blan­kets and tow­els, wore abun­dant makeup and a plas­tic skull cap so that I could be bald. Dur­ing the play, I per­spired so much that water poured out from under my fake nose in the mid­dle of my dia­logue. My friends told me that my act­ing was bril­liant — but since no one could rec­og­nize me under all the makeup and cos­tume, I did not get any cred on campus.
  5. I sang a capella in the madri­gal singers of my high school. Now I can barely carry a tune.
  6. When I was in col­lege, I used to per­form mime, picked up from watch­ing a street mime in Lima, Peru.
  7. My favorite nov­el­ist when I was an ado­les­cent was Robert Heinlein.
  8. I tried to sell Bibles and ref­er­ence books door-​​to-​​door in South Car­olina in the sum­mer after my fresh­man year. It was sheer tor­ture and I gave up after six weeks — I was stubborn.

Here are the rules for the next generation:

  1. Each player starts with 8 ran­dom facts/​habits about themselves.
  2. Peo­ple who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 ran­dom things, and post these rules.
  3. At the end of your post you need to tag 8 peo­ple and include their names. Don’t for­get to leave them a com­ment and tell them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
  4. If you fail to do this within eight hours, you will not reach Third Series or attain your most pre­cious goals for at least two more lifetimes.

I am tagging:

  1. Stephanie
  2. Raj Waghray
  3. I’m even worse than Alan; I can’t come up with any­one else off the top of my head or skim­ming through my e-​​mail. I guess my cir­cle of friends and acquain­tances don’t have blogs that allow them to respond to being tagged.

Blessings, small and large

While shav­ing (beard and scalp) this morn­ing, I real­ized that it had not always been so easy. For the past 10 years, at least, I have cut my own hair, basi­cally buzz-​​cutting my hair to the small­est set­ting on the elec­tric hair clip­per. This year, I have gone even fur­ther and applied an elec­tric razor to give me the bil­liard ball look. It used to be that I could never get my right hand to reach the left side of my head; I’d have to switch the clip­per or razor to my left hand. I noticed this morn­ing that I don’t have to make the switch any­more, unless my right arm becomes fatigued from the awk­ward posi­tion. I attribute this improved range to my yoga prac­tice — what else could it be. All my time spent in downward-​​facing dog has served a purpose.

I went for the shaved head look as a ges­ture in sup­port of my brother, Richard, who was under­go­ing treat­ment for lung can­cer and los­ing his hair invol­un­tar­ily. After an oper­a­tion, chemother­apy and radi­a­tion treat­ment, his doc­tors have declared the can­cer in remis­sion, allow­ing him to look for­ward to some sem­blance of nor­malcy in his life. I don’t know if I am going to stop shav­ing my head. I kinda like it — a Bud­dha look that goes with my increased empha­sis on mindfulness.

Pale blue dot

I chanced upon this video mon­tage and it really struck home. I need to remem­ber its mes­sage. It’s inspired by Carl Sagan, one of my intel­lec­tual men­tors from a dis­tance, and the Hub­ble space telescope.

YouTube link

The eye versus the word

I have always been amazed at yogis (and yogi­nis like Ana For­rest) who can accom­plish amaz­ing feats of bal­ance and strength even though they do not appear to be over­pow­er­ing in strength. This morn­ing I chanced across a YouTube video of an exam­ple. I had seen Mark Giubarelli’s web­site years ago when he just had flip cards of poses. Big dif­fer­ence now.

I am run­ning into more and more videos of yoga online, from highly pol­ished pro­duc­tions to the equiv­a­lent of a web­cam point­ing to the back of a room. Just put Ash­tanga into a YouTube search, and it brings up scores of video on which you can waste your time instead of prac­tic­ing yoga. Then again, when you’re try­ing to crack the secret of get­ting into hand­stand from crow, it’s great to have a video demon­stra­tion because it so imme­di­ate, direct and pal­pa­ble. It would take hours of read­ing instruc­tions to under­stand it. On the other hand, the writ­ten word is great for reveal­ing things that are not evi­dent to the eye — where should your drishtri be focused.

Magic at Cirque du Soleil

Photo: Teresa and Michael outside the theater at Disney World Last month, Teresa and I took a long post­poned vaca­tion, five days in Orlando, Florida. For two days, Teresa kept me run­ning to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts so that she could sati­ate her thirst for the ocean — white sands, waves and sun. We stopped at the Kennedy Space Cen­ter for a cou­ple of hours, not long enough to take the whole cen­ter in. We also spent one full day at Epcot Cen­ter, Dis­ney World and also another day shop­ping for gifts and bar­gains at the out­lets that tempt the tourists to delay their return to the Magic King­dom. Teresa com­plained that we had waited 15 years too long: we should have brought the kids to Orlando when they could have enjoyed it. Of course, in those days, we couldn’t have afforded it.

For me, the high­light of the trip was the Cirque du Soleil, the Cana­dian ultra-​​circus, had a res­i­dent show, La Nouba, at Dis­ney World. I had seen Cirque du Soleil on tele­vi­sion and was intrigued by the con­cept. But TV or phtographs could never cap­ture the elec­tric­ity and scope of the per­for­mance. First of all, the Dis­ney World show is pre­sented in a custom-​​built free­stand­ing the­ater so it is a mag­i­cal set­ting. The light­ing, the set and wings were exploited to increase the impact. The audi­ence was seated in the round and the actors fre­quently ven­tured into the audi­ence. I thought the music was recorded but there was a full musi­cal band seated in the ele­vated wings and the singers roamed the stage.

Photo: House troupe, La Nouba at Disney World
House Troupe, Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba at Dis­ney World
© The Walt Dis­ney Com­pany
Cos­tume credit: Dominique Lemieux

Once the lights came down and the show got under­way in earnest, I gasped. It was over­whelm­ing; I felt as if my senses were insuf­fi­cient to take it all in. My eyes were dart­ing back and forth try­ing to catch all the action. As the per­form­ers soared through the air, danced across the stage, bal­anced on the edge and tum­bled, it sud­denly occurred to me that I was see­ing some­thing that I aspired to in my own yoga prac­tice. The grace and strength, the imag­i­na­tion and dex­ter­ity, the play­ful­ness and wit that drove the per­for­mance were the essence of my inten­tion when I stepped onto the mat. Not that I could ever aspire to the sheer ath­leti­cism and skill that the Cirque du Soleil cast dis­played, but that joy and courage could pro­pel my own body as it flew out of downward-​​facing dog to for­ward bend or bal­anced in crow.

Photo: House troupe, La Nouba at Disney World
Teresa in front of the Big-​​Tent-​​style the­ater where we saw La Nouba

A week later, I was in Bar­ba­dos at an eval­u­a­tion for a new online edu­ca­tion pro­gram that CICAD, my employer is spon­sor­ing. After our last ses­sion, I went back to my room and did a yoga prac­tice on my bal­cony — maybe it was some­thing mag­i­cal about Caribbean seas, winds, sand and sun. As I stretched out in side plank, my top arm reach­ing high and my shoul­ders arch­ing back, my vision just took in the blue sky above the rail­ing and it felt if I were bal­anced pre­car­i­ously on a high wire, and in a dar­ing flour­ish, I lifted my top leg into tree posi­tion, rest­ing my foot on my thigh. It was all an illu­sion, a trick of tun­nel vision and con­cen­tra­tion on my prac­tice, but it was also a seed of intention.

For pur­poses of clar­ity, I am adding the expla­na­tion of the term “La Nouba” because there’s no way of know what it means. I stayed through the entire show and I did not get. Of course, I did not buy a program.

La Nouba orig­i­nates from the French phrase “faire la nouba,” which means to party, to live it up. It trans­forms the ordi­nary into the extra­or­di­nary, engag­ing the imag­i­na­tion from begin­ning to end with opu­lent sets, bril­liant chore­og­ra­phy, the­atri­cal light­ing and provoca­tive music.

Debra Perlson-​​Mishalove told me that she had read that many cast mem­bers of Cirque du Soleil prac­tice yoga. It wouldn’t sur­prise me. Yoga Jour­nal has a men­tion of cast mem­bers in a yoga class.

Intention of the Year: Self Acceptance

Well, just accep­tance, pure and sim­ple , really — accep­tance of myself and the world around me as a start­ing point for move­ment to change. Last year the inten­tion that I repeated before each class was aware­ness. Accep­tance is key for me now because I rec­og­nize that I fre­quently over­reach, try too hard and gen­er­ally act as the dili­gent stu­dent as a method for manip­u­lat­ing the world. That usu­ally means that ease is not a pre­dom­i­nant char­ac­ter­is­tic of my prac­tice. Ini­tially, I thought of the inten­tion of accep­tance as a short-​​term solu­tion because I was in my first Jan­u­ary class and could not think of any­thing else. But the more I’ve lived with the inten­tion, the more I think that it’s a wor­thy prin­ci­ple to lead off each session.

A small gesture for a brother in need

I’ve shaved off all my head hair. It was a minor piece of hair styling since I’ve been wear­ing my hair as a buzz cut for the past six years, but it was for a big cause, at least for my family.

My younger brother, Richard, was diag­nosed with lung can­cer in Decem­ber. This came as a shock since he has never smoked and always had a healthy life style. He got mar­ried in Octo­ber 2005, and can­cer is not a good way to start of a mar­riage. For­tu­nately, Susan, a neona­tal nurse, took the news in stride and has been a tremen­dous sup­port for Richard through­out the whole process. He under­went surgery to remove about a quar­ter of his left lung and is now receiv­ing chemother­apy (now get­ting over his sec­ond treat­ment, which sent him to the hos­pi­tal for a day because of an adverse reac­tion). His hair has started falling out and he’s shaved it all off. I told him that I would keep my head shaved until he had recov­ered completely.

More impor­tantly, I believe, I reminded him about the value of med­i­ta­tion in get­ting through pain and suf­fer­ing. As a Christ­mas gift him, I sent him a copy of Full Cat­a­stro­phe Liv­ing: Using the Wis­dom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Ill­ness by Jon Kabat-​​Zinn. He had done a research project on biofeed­back and was famil­iar with the idea. He even had some med­i­ta­tion tapes, which he dug out of the boxes remain­ing from his move to a new home. He says that the med­i­ta­tion has helped him a lot when he’s feel­ing the worst side effects of the therapy.

I hope my karma is not reduced by my lik­ing my new Kojak/​Michael Jor­dan look, which I may keep for good. And it also begs the ques­tion of whether it means any­thing if most of your hair has already turned gray and fallen out.