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2020 21st Street
Boulder, CO, 80302

Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor's home.

MUSINGS

The Magic of Teaching Yoga

Mary Taylor

Johnny Fox performing in one of his magic shows; he taught us a lot!

Johnny Fox performing in one of his magic shows; he taught us a lot!

Johnny Fox’s drishti was always steady, calm, clear and vivid when he carefully lowered the sword down his throat or hammered a nail up his nose. Those same eyes offered a quintessential twinkle when he’d present you with your watch after inviting you to help in his magic show. Johnny was one of a kind—a magician extraordinaire, a devoted yoga student and a warm-hearted dear friend. He had tattoos, boa constrictors, and an unwavering spiritual path long before those things were popular.

One striking memory of Johnny was his story of a trip he took to India. While there he performed his magic tricks—he was truly a master. Everything from simple disappearing (and reappearing) coin tricks to rope tricks and more—each of which he performed with unparalleled sleight of hand. He found that in particular in villages and small-town temples people would crowd around thinking his "supernatural powers" made him in some way divine. 

But he never took the bait. He'd play the part to the hilt until the act was over and then he'd grin and drop it. He'd back out of the superhuman role people were all too eager to put him in, and he’d make sure they saw him as who he really was—just a regular guy having fun.

Johnny could have played on other’s projections and made a lot of money as a “guru” who could give Shakti Pat and produce watches and other trinkets for his followers in order to keep them coming back. But he knew the extreme danger and karmic harm that would have been done by agreeing to sit upon a pedestal others placed beneath him. Johnny took extraordinary delight in just being humble, caring and open rather than in accumulating any kind of power. He knew it is so much more fun and compassionate to be normal rather than to take advantage of naïve projections and gullibility.

This teaching of Johnny’s is vital for any of us who are yoga teachers. People will always try to put you on a pedestal, to simplify their path into one that avoids the necessity of not knowing. All of us as students go through phases where we want the shortcut; someone to do the work for us, a path that doesn’t require courage, patience and insight. So as teachers we need to carefully hold space for our students—providing enough support for them to stay grounded without imposing our own ego-driven agenda onto them. This means that as teachers we need to stay awake so that we don’t identify with other’s projections. And as students we need to stay awake too—to be able to laugh when the teacher hands us our wristwatch on our way out the door after class.

Johnny Fox Blockhead.jpg

Johnny Fox died on December 17, 2017, after facing a terminal illness, in the same way he did so many other things in life: facing it head on. We will miss him dearly. We love you Johnny!

Signs of Progress

Mary Taylor

Supermoon as seen in Thailand

Supermoon as seen in Thailand

This Sunday’s full moon is being touted as another “supermoon,” one of three that will occur by the end of January. The full moon is such an invitation to experience a sense of tuning into the earth. So on moon days I enjoy the luxury of the extra two hours I have--since I’m not doing an asana practice--and I sit longer those days to meditate. . . .

Arrange the body. Heavy sitting bones, strong, easy spine, heart floating, palate released and the sensation of breath. Settle in. When you notice thoughts arise, citta vritis running rampant, smile and come back to the breath.

The full moon always makes me feel really grounded. Or giddy sometimes. Often, I’m melancholy. This time, probably also partly due to a strong case of jet lag, I’m feeling pretty giddy.

Oops, back to the breath. The full moon. Sitting.

A supermoon! This is just another demonstration of progress that goes unnoted. When I was growing up back in the 1950s there were no supermoons. There was just the man in the moon. Of course, that was hotly debated by divergent camps of disbelievers, some of whom argued for there being a rabbit up there, with others (probably the gastronomes among us) convinced the face of the moon clearly revealed the fact that the moon was made of cheese.

Back to the breath.

But then the mystery and the invitation for deep contemplation, and all of our speculations about the moon, were doused when on that hot summer’s night in late July of 1969 Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the moon. There wasn’t a man there, and even though the astronauts only had really bad dehydrated food and Tang to eat, they couldn’t find any cheese at all!

Who names their kid Buzz?

Smile; attention on the breath.

They brought back “moon rocks,” material collected while they were poking around up there that day. Moon rocks were all the rage for a while. A friend of mine even got one, which her parents wouldn’t allow any of us to touch.

Oops, breath.

Another sign of progress is that you can Google “moon rocks” these days. Which I did to find on Wikipedia that the true meaning of the words is, “Nuggets of the marijuana strain Girl Scout Cookies, dipped in hash oil and then sprinkled with kief.” Who knew? I was a Girl Scout back in the day and I didn’t even know this. I don’t even know what kief is, but I’m not going to Google that in case my Google searches are being monitored. And, no, my train of consciousness thought here in writing isn’t because I ordered and indulged in moon rocks when researching the topic. My mind just always churns up citta vritis, so I meditate to train it as best I can. How embarrassing. I’m always thankful there aren’t thought balloons above my head when I practice or sit. I’m sure everyone else’s mind is still while my mind races around like a monkey. Or rat. Sometimes I feel more like a rat. And then . . .

Come back to the breath again. No judgments.

Which brings me to yet another sign of progress—that we can dispel or create modern myths so easily due to all the hard facts (or fake news, take your pick) available through Google itself, or better yet, through social media. For instance, on the topic of the moon, there’s a theory that the moon landing is a myth; that there never was a moon landing—check it out.

I sat in the capsule that landed on the moon when we were visiting the Smithsonian. But, come to think of it, it did seem pretty normal and it wasn’t that beaten up. We have a twenty-year-old truck. Its paint is looking pretty weathered and the seats are losing their spring, and it’s just been tooling around here on earth. Imagine if I’d driven to the moon and back! You’re trying to convince me that it would look this good still?

Of course, it would take a lot to coordinate a huge conspiracy like staging a moon landing—even though some of the shadows in the films from the moon landing weren’t quite right. The evidence of poor lighting shows clearly that the whole thing was staged or at least underfunded. Certainly it wasn’t because shadow angles and lighting are actually different on the moon than they are on earth due to some weird relationship of moon-earth-sun. Given that during last summer’s full eclipse the shadows were really wacky, there’s an outside chance lighting was different up there on the moon. Who knows?

Soften the palate. Breath.

The thing is, to coordinate a long-lasting conspiracy about landing on the moon would mean to get agreement between and coordinate stories with so many people! If you’ve ever tried to organize a group project of any sort, you know how hard it is to get people to agree on and stick with anything. Plus, given that Doodle, email, Internet, FB and other ways of actually communicating didn’t even exist in 1969, how could there have been such an airtight, coordinated conspiracy? I don’t know. I try to see all sides of these tough arguments.

But back to the breath . . . and the original point . . .

There’s going to be a supermoon on Sunday, which means that the full moon will occur at or near the Moon’s closest point on its elliptic path around the Earth. A supermoon looks bigger and brighter than usual because it’s a little closer than usual. That’s cool.

Makes me feel like sitting. And then I remember that for us Ashtangis, any full moon is pretty cool. It offers a time to stop. To drop in and let the mind, body and spirit resynchronize, realign so our true nature can bubble back up. The moon days give us the opportunity to remember the contemplative aspects of our practice and how profoundly important they are. And that’s not a myth. That’s for real.

 

Michael Stone

Mary Taylor

It is with deep sorrow that we join so many others around the globe in mourning the loss of our friend and fellow teacher, Michael Stone, who passed away peacefully on July 16th after slipping into a coma a few days earlier. Michael was a well-loved teacher of the Buddha Dharma as related to western psychology, and a yoga instructor. The author of numerous books and articles, he was able to put into words that resonated with modern times some of the subtle classical teachings.

      We will miss him.

      Richard and Mary

Read More

Fake It Till You Make It. . . . Really?

Mary Taylor

What's in a Pause?

What's in a Pause?

 

It's a sinking feeling; a thick wave of sludge-filled despair sweeping through your gut. The uneasy sense that maybe you've been duped; or worse yet, that you're fooling yourself. And you ask: Did enthusiasm, laziness, greed or maybe that extra cup of espresso cloud my thinking and carry me away into believing--and immediately posting--my reaction to the online gossip? Should I have been more mindful of the context and asked myself how I really knew what I thought to be true before hitting "post?" Did I check my motivation and scrutinize the story's sources? And what might the repercussions be? In this age of type now and think later, these are the kinds of questions that poke up their messy heads when we power down for the day.

The fast and furious online world is remarkably vast, open and beneficial, yet it is also an invitation to isolation, augmentations and distortions of mind, and inflation of the ego. It's a medium that feeds on the unsteadiness of mind and thrives on us keeping our citta vrittis alive, active and--worse yet--shared with any unsuspecting soul who happens to absentmindedly click on our latest musing. (Like this one.) Patanjali would roll over in his grave!

As if it weren't strange enough to find fragments of thought being pulled out of the sky to masquerade as relevant content, there is intentional misuse and deception that surfaces through this technology as well; online bullying, cruel pranks that prey on recipients' weaknesses and endless hackings designed to create chaos. 

Perhaps one of the most disturbing uses of the internet is what is now commonly accepted (if not venerated by some as fair play) as "fake news"--hoaxes, propaganda or disinformation used to deliberately fool others and drive traffic in one direction or another. It was, after all, President Trump's adviser, Kellyanne Conway who introduced the euphemism "alternative facts" to describe some of the fake news (like the Bowling Green Massacre) tossed out for the public to chew on--and get distracted by--just after the election so that stories of fake news impacting the election became less of a front page issue. The age-old magician's trick of drawing your attention to their right lapel pocket while slipping a coin down the sleeve of the left arm was the training ground for this kind of manipulative use of the internet. 

On one hand we could become enraged or bitter about the use and misuse of the medium and swear off the internet. But realistically that wouldn't do much except to isolate us in our own limited point of view. On the other hand, it is a really interesting time to develop our critical-thinking skills and to remember the value of satyam or truth--which might be just enough to pull us back into Patanjali's graces. It is, indeed, an age of immediacy where veneer can be valued more than the truth, where sensationalism, cynicism and daring sound bites take a front seat to reflection and dialogue. Yet that doesn't mean we all need to buy into that value system.

 

A deliberate, momentary pause is all it takes to consider the impact we might have and our interconnectedness.

 

Savoring the truth, which is enriched by the messiness and dirt that sometimes lies beneath the veneer, exposes the beauty and vividness of life. It brings us down to earth, and all it takes is a single out breath to sense into the unending support of the ground beneath us! From there we might imagine that if we had the time and inclination to run our palms along that very surface of the earth we stand on that we could connect with every other sentient being on this planet. Not as quickly as sending a Tweet but with a lot more feeling. A deliberate, momentary pause is all it takes to consider our intention, our motivation, our choice of language, the impact we might have and our interconnectedness. One breath cycle can point us in the direction of what’s right while a missed breath and an ignored sense of connection may lead us to create “fake news, fake fear, fake us.”

Truth resides in the subtle layers of our body, mind and being as part of the foundational structure of who we really are. Relying solely on our mind and its reactions, conclusions and constructs (which is what social media promotes) to offer to the world our ideas and facade of who we are can throw us into realms of confusion for lifetimes. 

Any idea leaves a residue and is part of the chain of being or of karma. Residue exists not only in our own experience but in the experience of others who come across what we've tossed out with care or carelessly as a matter of ego or deception. Encountering an abundance of unchecked "news" and ideas, your mind searches for connections and starts building a web of understanding to make sense of it all in order to steer you in a perceived correct direction. But when we don't take time to pause for reflection into the idea and to examine the deeper layers of mind or, better yet, drop into the sensation of mind merging with the body, then the web constructed by mind is likely to become tangled--one of torment, anxiety, confusion or complete imagination and delusion.

As yoga students and teachers, maybe we really can be flexible after all. Perhaps we can resist the pressure to put it out there quickly and in a form that is flashy, fun, daring or strategic simply to up our ratings. Rather than searching our endless stash of citta vrittis for a quip to make them all laugh, or flipping through photos to find the extreme posture we did that one time before we blew out our shoulder--secretly thinking this one time it might go viral--rather than that, perhaps we can just pause for a moment, feel our feet firmly planted on this sweet earth and smile. At the very least, if we're sincere and see the silliness of this medium maybe we can catch a good selfie of our serenity and fleeting subtle smile. Though of course we don't care.