Mostly on Planet Earth

When people ask me the seemingly simple question– “Where are you living these days?”– I don’t really know how to answer.

Technically, I’ve spent the bulk of Fall 2013 and Winter 2014 staying at my parents’ house in the countryside west of Philadelphia while completing a yoga teacher training program– but this is not where I live.

I mean, this was an unexpected and temporary situation– one that I never could have (or would have) planned “on purpose”– but I’m actually glad that it played out the way that it did.

Had I not come back to Pennsylvania [after spending the previous two years (minus four months) in Israel]:

I probably would not have started my “Shaloha City” blog (which morphed into this one).

I probably would not have taken a leap of faith and enrolled in this yoga teacher training program in the Middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania (sorry, West Grove– I realize you’re in the center of the Mushroom Capital of the World– but– yeah.)

I probably would not have taken a leap of faith and attended the Wanderlust Festival on the North Shore of O’ahu (made possible by family donation of frequent flier miles and a borrowed tent from a friend).

I probably would not have taken leap of faith and attended an Off the Mat, Into the World leadership training in Seattle (made possible by partial scholarship).

I probably would not have earned the unique opportunity to lead discussions on the topic of “Judaism and Wellness” at M.I.T. and Olin College.

I probably would not have managed to maintain a more-or-less constant state of relaxation in what could otherwise have been a pretty stressful week in Panama. (See my previous post for details.)

I probably would not be leading another trip to Israel next week, participating in another yoga workshop (my third) with Seane Corn in Tel Aviv the following week, and participating in an international conference for Jewish environmental and social justice entrepreneurs in Budapest, immediately following that.

I probably would not be putting together my own “yoga activism”/tikkun olam project (which you’ve undoubtedly read about here and here and here).

Perhaps most importantly–

I probably would not be entering my 38th year (on July 1) in peak physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, on account of taking the time to get my own house in order (so to speak).

Which is not to say that “I’ve got it all figured out.”

After all, “it” is a big thing.

I don’t know if I will ever have “it” figured out.  (Certainly not all of “it.”)

What I have figured out– not entirely, but to a reasonable degree– is me.

Yes, it’s been a long, long, long journey to the point where I can say– with any degree of confidence– that I actually know what I’m all about.

I mean, it’s one thing to think you know what you’re all about– and another thing entirely to actually know, in your gut, and in your bones.

Well, I can’t say that I know definitively, for sure, forever.

But this is as close as I’ve ever been to knowing.

That much, I know.

And it feels pretty good.

(Not, like, spectacularly blissful– not yet, at least– but pretty good.)

I can confidently say that I’ve spent some serious time in the crucible– and I’ve managed to forge something that seems reasonable… that seems sustainable… that makes sense.

And while the path I’m choosing to take is maybe not as glamorous or as prestigious or as “paved with riches” as I might once have expected it to be, it is, nevertheless, my path.

It is what it is, and I am (perhaps surprisingly) OK with that.

Whatever will be, will be.

* * *

So, when people ask me the seemingly simple question– “Where are you living these days?”– I don’t really know how to answer.

Mostly on Planet Earth…

Is what I want to say.

Because, really, the “where” is not so important to me right now.

Like the Beach Boys, “I Get Around.”

I think a much more important question is:

“Are you living these days?” 

Because then I know exactly how to respond.

Yes.  

 

 

 

 

 

One From the Road

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For the time ever, I’m composing a blog post on a smartphone, sans laptop. And I’m transmitting it via WiFi from Panama City (Panama, not Florida).

20140512-102846.jpg
Ladies and Gentlemen, technology is an amazing thing.

I’m writing this post in Panama, because yesterday I traveled five hours across the sky with a bunch of other people in a giant metal cylinder.

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, technology is an amazing thing.

I’m also writing this post in Panama because I am accompanying my 11-year-old cousin (and my aunt) on what is the final of four journeys to this country, where he is receiving a year-long, experimental stem cell procedure for the treatment of autism.

[Science, technology, etc = amazing. Unfortunately, this science/technology is not (yet) legally administered in the USA.]

I came on the first trip last July, as well; my task is to document the journey (via writing, photos, and video), and to help entertain/ supervise my cousin, who cannot really be left alone for any length of time (in the absence of a piano).

Needless to say, it’s a bit of an adventure for all of us.

As you can tell from the photo, we’re not exactly staying in the rainforest.

Luxury condo forest, maybe.

It’s a strange place.

Nevertheless, a person can still find an abundance of papaya here, and for that I am grateful.

OK, I’m gonna keep this post short– cellphone blogging seems to require additional stamina, and I could really use a papaya shake.

More to follow soon.

I Need More Stuff

What I need is more stuff.

OK, yes– I know what you’re thinking.

Who doesn’t need more stuff?

Seriously, though.

I mean, it’s like, whenever I’m surfing the web on my iPhone or MacBook, I’m constantly reminded of how much stuff I don’t own, and how the aging stuff I do own is either “unfashionable,” or headed that way.

Now, I know some spoilsports out there are probably thinking: Shouldn’t you be grateful for the stuff you do have, and blah blah blah?

Well, yeah. But what does being grateful for the stuff I do have have to do with the fact that I clearly have to replace all of it with newer/better/fancier/sleeker stuff a few seasons from now?

I mean– what will people think of me if I fail to upgrade all of my old stuff in a timely fashion?  

It keeps me up at night.

So it’s not just that I need more of the same stuff.

I need newer, better, fancier, sleeker stuff.

That is, if I want people to take me seriously in this world.

* * *

Oh, really?

You think I’m exaggerating?

What clothing brands do you wear? What year is the bulk of your current wardrobe from? How many pairs of shoes do you own? What kind of car do you drive? What neighborhood do you live in? Which smartphone do you own? What size flat screen TV(s) adorns your wall? (Or are you still holding onto one of those prehistoric bulky ones?) How many computers have you owned over the past fifteen years?  How many bags of non-recyclable trash do you throw out each week/month/year?

Did you buy a bunch of stuff last year, and the year before that, and the year before that?

Will you buy a bunch more stuff this year, and next year, and the year after?

Exactly.

We all want stuff.

And (whether we admit it or not) we judge each other by the stuff we own.

* * *

You know what they say:

A person’s self-worth is directly related to their ownership of material goods. 

Actually, I don’t know if they say that.

But they should.

After all, who wants to own nothing?

Who wants to own crappy, inferior stuff?

No one.

Everyone wants the best stuff.

The newest, the fanciest, the sleekest stuff.

If that weren’t the case, every retail store across the planet would have posted gigantic losses across the board this year, as people voted with their wallets and announced: Hey! Enough is enough, already!

Yeah, right.

I need more stuff, and so do you.

* * *

If I had the money, I would buy this Ferrari:

140211_California_D3_4ant_sx_basso

And this beachfront mansion in Malibu.

slide_289894_2294907_free

What, you wouldn’t?

Come on.

Between you and me– it’s better to have money, isn’t it?

Because money buys you more stuff.

* * *

Ah!

But there are some things that money can’t buy!

Really?

Like what?

Love?

Health?

Try finding your “soulmate” when you’re broke and homeless.

Try staying healthy when you can’t afford fresh produce or a doctor’s visit.

Even if we pretend to not want more stuff, all of us want more money.

All of us.

To say “I need more money” is to say “the sky is blue.”

Duh.

* * *

Where were we?

Right.

I need more stuff.

I need more stuff, because I need to impress a potential mate.

Because the measure of a man is the size of his bank account.

If I don’t have the right clothes and the right accoutrements and the right pedigree in the right neighborhood, I will surely have failed myself, my family, my country, and my civilization.

* * *

But, surely you don’t need the fanciest stuff to be happy? A person can buy all the (reasonably priced) stuff he or she could ever need at the local Wal-Mart or Target! 

Oh, yes.

Abundant, affordable stuff– made by “third world” people who can only dream of one day affording any of it.

Compared to those poor souls, I already have everything I need.

Don’t I?

Nonsense!!

I’m not seeking a potential mate in some third world country!

Are you kidding me?

I need to impress my date!

(Wait– did you seek your soul mate in a third world country? Amongst the legions of single factory workers in “developing nations”? Did you take advantage of globalization to find a partner from a less consumption-oriented culture, perhaps from the plantations of South America, or the metal mines of Sub-Saharan Africa? Funny how that globalization works…)

No, no, a thousand times no!

The sad display of mediocrity on offer in *gasp* Wal-Mart simply will not do for the upwardly mobile in the United States of America!

Do you not understand that I have certain standards to uphold, as a white, Jewish, American, middle-class Male?

Again– I ask you– what would the neighbors think?

On the Upper West Side?

West of the 405?

In North Tel Aviv, for god’s sake??

No, the simple truth remains clear for all to see:

I need more stuff.

Better stuff.

Fancier stuff.

Newer stuff.

And I always will, for as long as they keep making it.

Because I am a consumer.

And consumers exist to constantly consume.

And everything in my culture reinforces that belief.

Except for those disruptive nut-jobs who are always whining about there being “another way.”

Obviously, if there were another way–

A better way–

We consumers would be the first to buy it.

Right?

The Insect in My Bathtub

So I go to take a shower this morning, and there’s this bug in my tub.

It’s one of those long, gross, creepy-crawly things with a lot of long, gross legs– a fairly common occurrence in the Pennsylvania countryside.

[Note: these bugs are apparently so common that if you Google "bug in bathroom Pennsylvania long legs" you will see exactly what I'm talking about.]

I’ll be honest with you:

I’ve flushed a number of these bugs down the drain in my day.

I don’t know how they get into the house.

I don’t know how they get into the tub.

But I do know how they’re leaving: Water slide.

While it’s not exactly the same as crushing it to death my shoe-clad foot, I’m pretty sure the toilet or shower “water slide” is a one way ticket to the Great Bug Beyond.

Anyway, back to the shower.

This was the first one of these things that I’ve seen all year (according to the internet, they come out in the spring), and my immediate (conditioned) response (after the initial startle and sense of revulsion) was: Time for the water slide! Enjoy the ride, sucker!

But, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Maybe it was that chapter on “Ahimsa” (nonviolence) that I read in the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali last night for my teacher training homework.

Or maybe it was the sight of this pathetic creature desperately trying (and failing) to climb the steep bathtub wall, seemingly in order to avoid the hot shower stream. Over and over and over again.

In any case, the Truth of the situation caught me off guard.

I am that frantic bug, driving myself crazy, trying to scale an unscalable wall.  

I mean, look–

I don’t know how this fellow got into the tub in the first place, but I know that he can’t achieve whatever his purpose in life is, so long as he’s stuck in there.

How often have I been that fellow utterly stuck in the tub (so to speak), unable to accomplish my life’s purpose?

(Often enough to know that said situation sucks.)

Furthermore, who am I to cut another creature’s life short, simply because I don’t like the fact that it happened to find its way into the wrong tub?

The fact of the matter is, what this bug needed more than anything else at that moment was a friend– an ally who has the power to literally save him from a bad situation (i.e., the water slide, i.e. the worst situation).

Yes, what this bug needed was me.

And I have known what it feels like to need an ally in a time of panic and despair.

So, I scooped the crawly thing up in a Dixie cup and set him free on the back lawn, to do whatever it is that creepy crawlies are here to do.

(For all I know, their mission in life is to find their way back into the plumbing system.)

Apparently, though–

I also needed him.

To teach me a life lesson in the way only nature can.

Did I do the right thing?

I’d like to think so.

What if it had been a poisonous spider or scorpion?

Certainly, the question is valid and vexing.

Is it my duty to kill that which can hurt me, before it has the chance?

This is one of those profound questions that has challenged the minds of philosophers for millennia.

Honestly?

I just don’t know.

I’ll have to think about it in the shower.

Liberty and Justice (and Yoga) For All

First of all:

Here is a thought-provoking article written for the Yoga Journal blog by Hala Khouri, co-founder of Off The Mat, Into the World:*

Are We Ready to Live by Our Deepest Values?

If you care at all about yoga (or maybe especially if you don’t), it’s worth reading.

*[I know I've been talking a lot about Seane Corn lately, but she has two other incredible partners in OTM--Hala and Suzanne Sterling. I had the privilege of training with all three of them in Seattle last month, and it was an incredible experience. Click here for more on that.]

Second of all (and unrelated to the first of all):

I’ve come to discover that anything more than one or two (maybe three) blog posts per week is too much.  Too much staring at the screen, and too demanding on all of you (my readers).

OK. That’s all I have to say about that.

Third of all (which actually does relate to the first of all):

I can’t tell if people care about all of this “yoga stuff,” or if it’s getting on your nerves.

I know that this topic kinda crept up out of nowhere over the past few months, and suddenly it’s front and center.

I don’t know.

I’m trying to maintain a diverse portfolio of post topics.

There’s a reason I didn’t start a blog with a single-topic focus.

Regardless–

I just want to offer a quick update on the Let My People Flow project, and then move on to something else.

This thing is happening. 

I’m slowly but surely building the logistical foundation I’m going to need to turn this vision into something tangible over the next year.

I’m not going to bore you with the details right now.

Basically, I just want the record to show that I’m moving closer towards a tagline that represents what this project is ultimately all about– and I think the title of this post reflects that nicely.

Let My People Flow: Liberty and Justice and Yoga for All.

[Not that this is necessarily the tagline; it just captures what's on my mind lately. Did you read Hala Khouri's blog post? You'll get where this is coming from.]

OK.

Moving on.

Fourth of all:

What do you want to talk about?

Every now and then I try to remember why I started this blog in the first place– to build community and engage in dialogue with other people who are not me.

220-some blog posts later, I’m pretty much failing miserably at that mission.

Which is not to say that I haven’t written some really good stuff here.

Frankly, I think I have.

But it’s definitely been a long, long monologue.

I don’t know what it’s gonna take to step up to that next level.

If you could help me out (either in the comments section, or via private message), I’d be most grateful for your thoughts.

Hmm.

I don’t really think there’s anything more to say about that, either.

(Other than: If I don’t get any response, I’ll just keep trying till it clicks.)

OK.

Fifth of all?

Nope.

There is no fifth of all tonight.

It’s ten after seven (p.m.), the sun is still shining, and it most definitely feels like spring outside.

Till next time…

 

 

Let All People Flow

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” ~ Cornell West

Ladies and Gentlemen–

You probably already know that I’m now working to manifest a “yoga activism” project under the banner “Let My People Flow” — the centerpiece of which will be an event I’m calling “Yoga Seder 2015″ (coinciding with the Passover celebration of Israelite liberation from slavery).

[If you didn't know this, click on the following links for relevant posts: Yoga Seder 2015, Let My People Flow.]

Whereas I’ve already talked about the theme of “using yoga as a tool for personal ‘emancipation from mental slavery'” (to paraphrase the Prophet Bob Marley), I’ve been somewhat reluctant to discuss the other theme that sort of haunts me every time I think about slavery:

The fact that it still exists in the year 2014.

Now, there’s nothing that I can tell you that a Google Search for “modern-day slavery” or a visit to madeinafreeworld.com or freetheslaves.net can’t tell you a hundred times better.

But I can tell you this.

When I talk about “Let My People Flow,” I’m not just making a clever pun on yoga flow (vinyasa), or creativity (in the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyian sense).

I’m talking about that basic human right to “flow” as a free human being, unconstrained by forced servitude.

So, this whole time I’ve been thinking not only of this play on words– but this double mission of using yoga to promote inner and external freedom for all.  (Somehow.)

Frankly, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the whole idea. (Let alone the work involved.)

And yet–

I don’t have to choose between “saving the world” or doing nothing.

I just have to do something.

Mind you–

I don’t anticipate that I’m going to be on the front lines in the realm of actual slavery. (Though, you never know.)

The best I can do right now is call attention to an issue, and possibly connect those in a position to help with organizations that work directly with the folks in the trenches.

But, hey, maybe that’s not a bad place to start.

Maybe one way I can translate “love” into “justice” is to take my yoga practice off the mat, and into the world (so to speak); to use my emancipated mind, body, and spirit to contribute to the tangible emancipation of actual slaves from literal bondage.

I don’t know… I’ve got this gut feeling that somehow manifesting love/ justice in the world is the way I’m meant to “flow” in 2015.

I guess the only way to find out is to simply try, and see what happens.

 

 

 

 

The Rest of the Story

I wanted to go to sleep tonight.

I really did.

But I was standing in my office (aka the shower) and it occurred to me that I still have some unfinished business to take care of on this blog.

If you were reading this blog back in November and December of 2013, you probably remember my relentless effort to write and publish this Memoir Series (beginning with The Time I Lived With a Squirrel, Part One).

By January, I’d reached roughly 80,000 words– with plenty of stories still left to tell.

And then– all of a sudden– I jumped ship.

As I type these words, it’s been exactly four months since my last effort in the memoir genre.

Which is crazy.

Because that stuff was (as far as I’m concerned, without a doubt) my best writing ever.

Why would I suddenly stop, when I was on such a roll?

I finally figured it out in the shower:

A) I simply didn’t have the emotional stamina I needed to continue.  And,

B) I wasn’t prepared to face the consequences of telling you the rest of the story.

* * *

Incidentally, “the rest of the story” happens to be (thematically speaking) the middle of the story– spanning the years 2000 to 2009.

Because I’d ultimately rather just write the memoir posts and not write about them, I don’t want to give away any of the details now.

But I will tell you this:

It’s taken me four months to get myself to the place where I’m finally ready to face this stuff head on.

And once I complete this missing piece of the puzzle, you will suddenly see– in a way you almost certainly never have before– how all the seemingly random pieces of my life actually fit together (in a way that totally makes sense).

Once you hear the rest of the story, you will understand (much better, and possibly for the first time) the person typing these words in 2014.

* * *

Like I said–

Writing about this stuff takes a lot of emotional stamina.

Fortunately, I’ve been training all spring long in order to sustain a Mind-Body-Spirit balance that will get me through this intact.

However–

There still remains the question of consequences.

Telling “the rest of the story” with any sort of honest and authentic perspective will likely involve the airing out of significant “dirty laundry” (so to speak) in public.

It’s not going to be a comfortable experience.

Despite my best efforts to maintain a respectful and non-combative tone, there are people (who shall remain anonymous, for the most part) who are still probably going to feel hurt by some of the things that I have to say.

As much as I hope to avoid this situation, it seems inevitable.

Simply by recounting my own life experience, I will end up hurting and/or offending someone.

Maybe that’s just part of what it means to be a writer.

I wish it weren’t so.

But I have to write my truth.

Yes?

Yes.

OK, that was all ridiculously vague and ominous.

I’m probably making a much bigger deal of this than it actually is.

I guess we’ll know soon enough.

In any case–

Stay tuned for the rest of the story.