30 or so years ago I lied to my Father and he caught me out. I remember being afraid, and tensing up in anticipation of a whack or a stern rebuke. But there was just a very long pause, a pause that felt like falling, falling through space – no roots, nothing to ground me. Then he warmly and simply said:
“There’s nothing I despise more than a lie”.
He looked at me kindly and left it at that.
He wasn’t always such a magnificent teacher, but that day, he nailed it.
I’ve spent my whole life since searching for Truth.
At school I sat in countless classrooms watching the parade of old men whose life-blood slipped away while they bullshitted themselves (and each other, and my parents) that they were teaching anything worthwhile. There was no truth to be found there.
On the television endless advertisements, people with too-white teeth and too-wide smiles, trying to persuade me that they were honest and good and that I needed what they were selling. No truth there.
On the streets and in the shops and buses and trains I saw everyone trying to convince themselves that they were alright, happy, safe. But I saw through their deception. No truth.
In Churches and in Synagogues I listened to readings from dusty old books and I felt the disconnect between what was being read, and the person reading it. There was no truth there, no true Faith, only blind, wishful-thinking, and the wise child that I was wasn’t fooled.
(When I finally realized that my parents weren’t superheroes) I saw my Father struggling to balance his dignity with the daily grind of trying to become – what? A millionaire? A billionaire? And I failed to see the truth in that.
I saw my Mother’s sense of unfulfilled, unrealized potential, and the emptiness inside that she occasionally tried to fill with wine, chewing gum, or television, and I knew that she hadn’t found the truth that I was looking for.
So I spent many years knowing only what I didn’t want. I didn’t want my life to be a lie. I knew that with all my heart. I yearned for a not-lie. But I had no idea what that was. I had no idea what the truth looked like, or how it felt, or even if I would recognize it if it were right in front of me, with a big flashing neon sign:
Herein lies TRUTH.
Actually, I would have turned away. When you are so conditioned by delusion and hypocrisy… when all you have ever known is deception… when the fabric of your society is woven with pretense… then the truth is something to be feared!
I have another, earlier memory. Mr Morton may have been a rare example in my life of a good school teacher. He seemed very old to me then, with grey whiskers and a stooped gait, and when he sat at the front of the class he would interlock his fingers, rotating one thumb around the other in what seemed like a frantic attempt to slow down time… I had the sense that there was a great energy about to bubble up in him, about to boil over… and if he didn’t keep on twiddling his thumbs like that he wouldn’t be able to stop it.
One of my peers must have lied to him one day, because he exploded, whiskers shaking, mouth foaming, eyes bulging. When he’d finished there were some nervous sniggers, but we all – each and every one of us in that room that day knew that we’d seen and heard Truth directly:
“When you start to tell lies you enter a very dangerous arena, a grey world where black and white blur into one, and right and wrong lose their meaning. And one day you will find yourself an altogether grey person, because you will have started to believe your own lies.”
We live in a grey world. Our society is very, very grey – phone hacking, money-makes-money banking, countries invaded under the guise of WMD that were never there. Soap operas and adverts and MTV and internet-filters and rigged elections and Arms Fairs and Oil dependency and Global Warming and… on and on. One scandal, one controversy after another.
Does our society support a quest for freedom and truth, or does it encourage us to rejoice in the illusion of gossip and malicious rumor like pigs rolling in mud?
There is only one solution to the problem, and that is to stop relying on that society. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be part of it. You can still play the game – but by your own rules.
Be aware that Truth is the gateway to freedom. And don’t compromise in your search for, and expression of, that truth.
Not long ago a student asked me the secret to happiness. I answered:
She was somewhat surprised, because let’s face it, most of us grew up being taught the opposite – that compromise is an integral part of happiness!
How many times were you told:
“’You can’t have it all’… ‘choose one or the other’… ‘dreams don’t come true’… ‘better the devil you know’…”
or variations of the above?
But I’m here to tell you differently: by all means, compromise with your partner over which movie you watch, or what you have for dinner; compromise with a colleague over how you go about completing a task. Compromise on the little things. Compromise your desires.
But when it comes to something big – love, work, your aspirations and dreams: don’t compromise – not one iota. Don’t take a single step off the path of meaningful, intentional life. Know what you want, and go for it, with 110% of your energy. And when something gets in the way, either jump over, or go around, or wait patiently until it moves away again, because it will move if your intention is strong.
Don’t lose sight of what is important to you – your values – and don’t compromise on them. If you do, the day will come when you look back on your life and see only a lies. I can’t imagine anything worse.
Mr Morton was right.
One lie leads to another. What starts out as a simple excuse for why you stay with the partner who doesn’t totally rock your world leads to a whole world-wide-web of self-deceit. That’s just the beginning, because next you have to convince the rest of the world about it too!
Before you know it, life is grey and foggy.
It takes a great deal of courage to be really honest with yourself. The very reason we deceive ourselves is because we’re afraid. So to be honest means to be doubly courageous – you have to have the cojonesto confront your fears, and to then carry on in spite of them. You have to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.
That might mean leaving a partner, or a job, or a home, or a college. It might mean coming out about your sexuality, or travelling the world, or learning a language, or whatever. These are big, scary things. But they are gateways – you can either go through that gateway to freedom, or you can stay hiding behind the door.
Hide behind that door and remain in a dark, shadowy, grey world where the search for love, peace, and freedom is utterly pointless. Death will come for you full of regrets.
But step through that door and be dazzled by full-spectrum multi-chromatic rainbow-colored Glory.
The choice is ours to make, and we are all making that choice, every moment of every day.
What do you choose?
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Swami Vishnu - he flew over war zones in this plane throwing flowers out the window. A true hero.
As a child my heroes were the khaki-clad men and women who gave their lives in WW2 (for a cause greater than themselves). I was completely in awe of anyone who put their own comfort and safety aside in order to ‘fight the good fight’. I believed there was no greater life to be lived.
Many years later I travelled to India for an intensive Yoga Teachers Training course. It was the most challenging thing I’d ever done – physically, emotionally, mentally, and above all, spiritually. I wrote about it here.
On that course, I found new heroes.
The ochre-clad men and women who gave their lives, day after day, for a cause greater than themselves.
The Swamis are the people we may thank for the access that we now enjoy to the ancient wisdom of Yoga. For thousands of years they have taken vows of brahmacharya – mastery of the senses, and renunciation of the fruits of the senses – as they put their personal comfort and ego safety to one side in order to transform the world. There is no greater sacrifice.
Towards the end of my time in India I resolved that I would one day be a Swami. 5 years later I did indeed give away all my ‘stuff’: my old man got my ipod. My brother got my Raybans. A recent TTC graduate got my small yoga business including 20 yoga mats, my classes, students and mailing list… and with just a small bag of clothes I entered an Ashram and began training. Why am I not there today? The fist person I met in the Ashram that day was the beautiful Goddess who is now my wife. But that’s another story…
Altogether I taught Yoga full time for almost a decade.
I taught Yoga in exclusive hotels and gyms, hostels, schools, and festivals, to Hollywood celebrities and millionaires and old age pensioners. I once taught a guy who’d (to coin the wonderful Ram Dass expression) ‘been stroked’. The whole left side of his body was paralyzed. So in Sun Salutations he would grab his left leg with his right hand, and put it into position. It took a long time, but he did them, and he loved every minute of it. I’ve never met a more smiley and determined person in my life, and it was a great privilege teaching him. The classes he was in were some of the most memorable I’ve ever taught.
I must have taught many thousands of people during those 10 years.
I never had a single student get injured. Not one.
And my style of Asana teaching is dynamic and physical! So how is it that some people believe Yoga to be ‘dangerous’?! Many times over the years I’ve been asked this question:
“Why don’t you run your own Yoga Teacher Training Course?”
In our materialistic society it seems to be a real no-brainer! After all, that’s where the money is in Yoga! We all know that. So why not do it? I’ll tell you why:
I won’t pee in the well.
The well of pristine ancient wisdom kept by countless generations of Swamis.
Swami Sivananda - a Hero
Swami Vishnu-Devananda had a vision in meditation of the world in flames. It was that vision that led him to create the Sivananda Yoga Teachers Training Course (the oldest TTC in the West – around 15,000 graduates over 40 years). His main intention was not so much to create yoga teachers – rather, he intended to create world leaders with integrity. He wanted to create a generation of yogis who would be able to steer the world away from its current crisis with integrity, compassion, and service.
In India, before I realized I wanted to one day be a Swami, I knew without a doubt that I would try to honor Swami Vishnu’s intention – I would do my best to repay the debt I owed him.
So when I’m asked why I don’t run TTC’s what I say is this: there are places I can send my Yoga students to become Yoga teachers. Places run by people who are completely dedicated to doing just that. People who haven’t got kids, aren’t in relationships, and don’t go on vacation. They just train Yoga teachers. Day in, day out, all year round. Total heroes.
So how could I take it upon myself to train other people to be yoga teachers, when I know that I would be depriving them of the best training available? I would feel that I was cheating my students, and betraying the lineage that I am honored to be a tiny part of.
That lineage comes from a land whose entire culture is founded on spirituality.
Our entire culture is founded upon materialism.
So I understand completely what has gone wrong – people who lack a profound understanding of the spiritual essence of Yoga are running TTC’s.
So the graduates of those TTC’s are even further removed from the lineage. The pond is polluted further and further.
No wonder there is endless controversy in the Yoga ‘blogosphere’. No wonder there are articles suggesting that Yoga may be dangerous. No wonder people really are injuring themselves!
I’ve seen many suggestions that the reason yoga has become dangerous is that not enough attention is paid to anatomy.
That’s a side issue. It’s also something that householder Yoga teachers who run TTC’s will say to justify what they do (“I teach good anatomy so that my student teachers are safe”). But in reality, to teach Yoga properly only a basic understanding of anatomy is required. You don’t need a degree in anatomy to teach yoga, because
Yoga is not gymnastics.
Yogasana is intended primarily to prepare the body to be comfortable sitting for meditation. If it’s taught as such, with emphasis on breath and inner awareness rather than physical ‘shape’ and external competition then it’s totally, 100% ‘safe’. Actually, it’s more than safe, it’s healing.
It is also, of course, a wonderful physical exercise – but that is a secondary benefit.
Yoga is a spiritual practice.
There are true heroes on this planet.
Because the world needs one more.
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