Tag Archives: change

Mike’s Story: Just getting started

d937d-dsc_0216Many people are interested to hear my stories. I’m one of these lucky fellows who have had the pleasures of travel and the leisure for philosophy. I’ve spent about half of the past ten years in India following pilgrim routes and spiritual places; I didn’t intent to, that’s just the way it happened. I’ve spent considerable time in various destinations around the world that have some connection to healing, spirituality and indigenous cultures.

I consider Varanasi India to be my home and I hope to one day own some kind of home/workshop there some day. Sanjay is my brother, his family – my family. I’m the beloved outcaste brother. This is not a negative designation, but rather the reality of the foreign values and western corruption I have brought into their home. I don’t even write corruption in a negative way; but the individuality, lack of traditional values and other things are a corruption of the traditional life still represented so strongly in Varanasi.

Eden Halt

Varanasi is not just a spiritual city. Varanasi also has a strong culture of arts and entertainment. Worldly enjoyment and deep spirituality in one place makes it the epitome of Tantra. Dark and light are equally present in everything here. Looking at many of the spiritual practices that go one here; one might even think that the light, the pure, the sattvic is better represented in the worldly enjoyments (bogha) than the worship (yagya).

Varanasi is famous for many other things beyond culture and spirituality: garbage, shit, pollution, corruption, poverty, mystery, cheating; it all goes on here. Everywhere Varanasi gives off a dark and disgusting image on first look; everyone looks so poor, just covered in pieces of cloth that have never been stitched together. Tourist often ask: “What’s the difference between a holy man and a bum?” Only when we see more deeply within ourselves can we see within others. If you have a holy man within you; you will find one.

The places we choose to live tell a lot about a person. Home and happiness are closely connected. I’m happy in Varanasi. I love all this filth that keeps people away. We don’t need to clean India, or clean Varanasi, or even clean Ganga; the filth keeps the image conscious people away.

I haven’t had a home in Canada for many years. Even when I did have a steady apartment I was constantly on the road somewhere living out of my car, my tent, or hotel rooms. I’ve spent time all over Canada in the mountains, forests, prairies; small towns and cities; on the rivers, the ocean, and some of the massive lakes we have in this country.

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I’ve traveled hard, I’ve dug deep to find my inner will power; I’ve pushed hard, broken too many bones, explored every kind of fear and too many emotions and too much pain in every way. I’ve cried like a baby in the face of the most trivial fear. I’ve never conquered my fears; not once. When they come, I feel every bit of them, but what choice do we have but to keep going in life.

Many people think I’m crazy, many others think I am freer than most, living the good life. I think many people imagine their two-week vacations and assume my life follows that pattern. Most don’t know what to think: I’ve been years wandering foreign lands; I’ve become as foreign as the lands I’ve been traveling; an outcaste in my own land.

And I have to argue against being any more free than the next person. We are all free; we just need to cultivate the awareness to recognize it. The limitations of our bodies and minds and our place in time and space are incredible. All of nature limits us in the ways we think we are free, and we are free where we think we are limited. But if there was no nature and thus no limitations what would there be?

Many modern people don’t believe in anything higher than nature. I have no difficulty in believing that nature has tremendous power, but if there is only nature, it becomes impossible to express freedom. Nature is well represented by the movement of the planets that are, from our perspective, in perpetual motion due to the complex balance of various natural laws that are the domain of the modern science.

I come at life as a skeptic, doubting everything and always asking: why? I’ve always been this way. I want to know for myself. You could say that besides the question, “who am I?”, the next main question I’ve spent my life on is: “how am I free.” I can assure you I have not found any evidence of freedom in the material world. I’m sure scientist would agree that we are, for the most part, just carrying out the activity of the natural laws. Hormones triggered in the spring become more dormant in the fall. Our attachments and repulsion are merely chemical and electrical signals in our bodies responding to chemical and electrical signals in the world.

So why am I writing this now? Why not wait until I’m an old man and can avoid the criticism of self-indulgence? Who am I to write some story of my life? I’m certainly no one special. I have not achieved anything that is particularly noteworthy; unless you count my joy of living. And perhaps this is enough these days when so many people are unhappy and feel trapped in their situation; unable to do what they think they really want to do.

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Perhaps I’m at a turning point in life. I feel secure in my spiritual life. It’s not something that comes and goes; there is no struggle to maintain a spiritual outlook despite living in the Canadian cities again. I can safely mingle with the material world without it dragging back into its oblivion. There is actually nothing spiritually negative about the material world, it’s the distraction it causes, making us oblivious to our true nature; bringing our awareness up to the surface of things and making us think that “image is everything” (as one young man recently pointed out to me). As long as we can maintain awareness of that true nature then matter is just another extension of consciousness; a power, or a means for consciousness to express itself.

Anyways, you get my point. I’ve done nothing, yet people are amazed. I have nothing, yet people a jealous and want what I have. Everything I have is inside of me; I can offer with my words and my presence; but what people take from this has little to do with me. I don’t take it personally: neither the praise nor the criticism. Whatever they get from me was already there inside the person; it didn’t really come from me. At best, I’m a signpost; at worse I’m a distraction.

In any case, lets go back to 2007 when I found myself buried in debt and facing a work lay-off with a Canadian winter quickly approaching. I thought about several options: wintering in the back country, throwing away whatever I had left on a week or two in Cuba, living out of my car and perhaps heading to the southern USA. At some point I decided on Cuba and actually made it all the way to the travel agency before suddenly changing my mind for India in the moments I waited for the agent to get off the phone.

I had already managed an Indian restaurant, loosely followed Buddhism, and had dreamt of going to Asia, so, why not? I gave myself five weeks to prepare. These days, five weeks preparation for a trip would feel like a lifetime, but for my first really foreign travel it seemed like an insanely short timeline.

Laying pipe. 2005

Anyways, I was fed up with Canadian culture and society, and I certainly felt like I had more to offer than the physical effort of my construction job. The romance I was involved in was completely dysfunctional from the very beginning, and the truth is that I didn’t know either what I wanted, or what I had to give. Life was pretty much lived without vision. I was mostly too exhausted from work and worry that I didn‘t even have a concept of awareness. Chronic pain was still a serious issue for me then. At the time, I felt more like a passive agent only able to react to what life threw at me. But I can see how it all arose from me. It helped me to forge this sense of personal identity that I am now projecting onto the page and use daily in subtle ways to fulfill all my material and social ambitions. Life is not actually as complex as we make it out to be: our egos are useful in the material world; even the most out of balance ego completes its task. Like children, we don’t have to worry about the many things mother is taking care of, yet we do worry all the time.

So, off I went to India in 2007. It really did blow my mind. It shattered my dreams and made me realize just how small my vision of myself was compared to what it could be (or compared to who I really am). How small was my vision of life?

“When a yogi walks; behind him is nothing, before him is the infinite.”

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How often do we hear people say, “I’m only human,” and then insist on their free will? Can we choose for ourselves or can’t we? Are we free or are we bound? Are we personally responsible, or are our actions the result fixed laws of the universe?

Thank god Indian logic allows us to accept both propositions. We are free. We are bound. We are free, but due to incorrect knowledge, we have, as it seems, chosen to be bound. Too much freedom can be a dangerous thing.

Materialism vs Tradition Cultures: An Optimistic Perspective

One of the richest men of India graced the evening aarti (ceremony) in Varanasi one evening. Not unlike Obamas visit to India, several private planes landed in the days before his arrival to ensure he would have all the comforts to which he’s accustomed, as well as the security preparations to keep him safe. Aarti time was even changed to fit his schedule. Of course, he was also giving some money to repair some damaged ghats and beautify the city.

Varanasi is famous for it’s discomforts, unappealing poverty, illness, garbage, shit, decomposition, and stench, to say nothing about the ease by which terrorism can be done here. Kings like this man have to worry about that kind of thing though it may be nothing to us. The filth of this city gets inside of all new comers, especially those most sure of themselves. Standing before the fires that consume over 10 000 bodies a year can have it’s effect. Doubt is sure to arise in the mind of the firmest ego. In this regard, I can understand why someone with the means would take all precaution: I’m sure he has no more time for doubt than he does for illness.

I asked one Varanasi man what he thought of this; being visited by such a king? “Go away man, we don’t need your money and show. They just come and disrupt our lives, demand special favours, just so they can show how great they are. Go away from here.” Time and again I hear this kind of attitude in Varanasi. Whenever there’s some initiative to clean the place up, or fix it or preserve it I’m usually just reminded that Varanasi people don’t want change. While the cities of India are surging ahead with change, most people in Varanasi are happy doing things like they’ve always done them. Let them fix things, let them push their initiative, as soon as they go things will go back to they way they’ve always been.

I can see the argument for such conservatisms in India much more clearly than I can in Canada. The family and community structures are much more intact here. Their lives are like iron, hard, but solid and dependable from birth to death. Family is their insurance, the community is their support.

The caste system is often spoken of in deplorable terms, but if you think in terms of structuring a community, you need all four castes to work together. An of course, the outcome of any cohesive group is that there will be people who don’t belong (outcastes and foreigners). A self-sustaining community needs a diversity of castes: labourers to build and maintain infrastructure, farmers and merchants to supply our goods, teachers and knowledge seekers to preserve and promote wisdom, as well as leaders and protectors to facilitate the smooth harmonious flow of people and goods. The outcastes forever challenge us. Those who think differently, act differently, have different norms, languages, gods. As much as their ways challenge us as individuals, they pose even greater challenge to the community.

What we’re seeing is a breaking down of the social structure in India. The west went thru this after World War II. By the time the 60’s rolled around everyone was freely completing their desires without fear of social recrimination. But of course there are still strong social taboos here that still make it necessary to underground to complete ones desires. The growth of urbanization along with massive need for itinerant works who leave their families and villages to find work where they can. To the western eye who sees them with their wife and children along with, a brother and his family it might seem as though family is still abundantly present, but from the Indian perspective this is the first stage of a broken family; broken home.

This is all old news in the west, but over the years of coming to India I’ve seen the changes that I have been a part of. As a foreigner, I’m an outcast here, if it was not for the weight of the currency from my home country, it’s likely I would be treated as more of an outcast than a king, but because of the weight of my western currency I am given the power of a king. As tourist outcasts we all arrive with this power. With this power we can change the society to suit our own needs just as the richest man in India did when he came to Varanasi. Of course, compared to him, you and I are poor people, our advantage is numbers and long durable work. In other words, our comforts were not flown in for us alone, but over the years of so many of us coming and bringing our own values with us we have gotten out way. We can have a croissant with jam for breakfast along with a cappuccino and a cigarette in any mildly touristic town in India, even if the locals have never found a taste for it.

We have created small unsustainable economies in the tourist sectors. The people, the real rulers of the land, are relying on us outcaste tourist for their prosperity. We’re nice enough rulers, we give good tips and are generally pleasant enough as people, but we’re still outcastes; we don’t belong as a part of their society. So whenever we bring our good ideas and insist that others adopt them, we are introducing foreign elements into the culture. We might not insist on the supremacy of our values without words or actions, but this supremacy shines with the power of our currency and the sophistication of our lifestyle.

Many people are of course overwhelmed buy the shine of modern sophistication and pride exuded by western people. Imagine yourself a villager, still no electricity or running water, never a day in school (learned from the land), some ox cart road for so many miles before there’s even a decent road, maybe watched TV a couple of times on the way thru the village to make trade. Then bring into the picture a shiny young American with a 300mm zoom lens and a million dollar smile.

“Oh maharaja, what can I ever do to get some of what you have?”

The funny thing is that for the passed 1000 years Hindustan (Hindu India) has had what would be considered outcaste rulers (the Persians followed by the Mughals). Perhaps this division between government and society helped to give Hindu society strength, because now that they’ve had over 50 years of self rule, traditional Hindu society is facing it’s most daunting challenge: materialism. They were fine so long as they were in opposition to the outcastes, but now that we’ve come back as friends offering the material comforts so long denied to the typical Hindustani they have no shame in dropping their traditions. But these traditions are what have held the people (the society) together through all the changes and upheavals of rulers and empires.

All ancient traditions are the same in this long-term view of things. It’s not a conservative resistance to change, it’s rather an understanding that the truth of a place (or a person) lies beyond all the changes. So let them come, they will go too. It will look like change has happened, but in the end everything will be just as it’s always been.

War and materialism will leave its mark on every society (every person even), but behind the marks of suffering and the cloaks of prosperity lies the same wisdom that cannot be lost for it’s preserved in every heart, in this way traditional culture, traditional society remains preserved and ready to support people thru the changes of war and materialism. The change is merely the appearance, the truth is that the same heart is beating now as has been beating since the beginning.

Putting the Mind on the Self

How does one satisfy all desire by putting the mind on the self?

If we know the self, then we know our desires and our potential; we know what we want and what we can get. It often seems, however, that we don’t know ourselves. This is why we practice meditation and yoga and travel and contemplation and even foolishness; so that we can come to know the self. This is also why many people come to me to have their astrology chart read for them. But something that becomes clearer and clearer to me is that people do know themselves. Pretty much everyone I talk to has self-knowledge. People know their hopes and desires, their skills and abilities much better than I’ll ever know from looking at their chart. If people start disagreeing with everything I get from the chart, I have to assume the chart is incorrect or I am incorrect. It would be madness for me to say that the chart is correct and they merely don’t know themselves. Their own self-knowledge is confirmation of the chart and not the other way around.

Knowing our true selves, it should be easy to put our awareness there and forget about everything else going on. When we do this, we align our abilities with our desires so that what we hope for matches closely to what we receive. This is how we use self-knowledge to achieve satisfaction in life. You could say that once we have knowledge of our true selves we don’t have to worry about anything anymore. We know the program so why worry about the details. The details, of course, being the karma; the daily grind of making effort to achieve results. If we accept karma, not just our own karma, but the concept of karma and its effectiveness of giving results, then it becomes really easy to put our minds in places other than where our next meal will come from, or how we will get educated.

Our physical existence runs on a kind of automatic pilot thru our karma. We use the moment of our birth as the first action, which leads to the next and the next and so on. From our limited perspective, this first action appears to be beyond our control and without our consent. And from that moment onward our lives generally feel split between being the active subject choosing our fate and being a passive object being swept away by the currents of fate and time. In one sense our path is absolutely determined, but in a more immediate sense, we continually affirm our path through our free choice. So what’s going here?

I’m beginning to believe that our material existence is more or less fixed at the moment of birth. Our health, our wealth, our aptitude, our studies, generally everything the typical person associates with their “self” is pretty much fixed. This is the stuff most of us spend our time worrying about. Some will complain that we have to put effort into things or nothing will get done; such worries are the hallmark of modern ambition and are necessary to advance as individuals as well as a society. Or it could be that the effort is also fixed.

Cause will follow effect, which will be the cause for further effect. But when we focus on the cause and effect nothing seems fixed. The very nature of cause and effect is change, but the whole process is fixed. According to Vedanta, whatever is unchanging is truth or true-self according to Tantra. The true self does not change

If we take the example of chair, we find that many things about a chair can change and it will still be a chair. The number of legs can change, the colour, and many things about the design can change. Even some of the firmer qualities can change such as the amount of weight the chair can bear and whether you can move it or not. But at some point there are certain things that are common to all chairs; certain qualities that make a chair a chair. This essence of chairness can be summed up as a thing made for sitting up off the floor. Humans are no different from chairs. We come in all shapes and sizes and abilities but there are certain qualities we all share that make us all human.

On a deeper level we can even say that there are certain qualities that we share with chairs that that are also the same so that we can say things are things. For everything to be there must be some base upon which ‘beingness’ rests that is the same for all beings; both chairs and humans.

It’s this foundation of ‘being’ that we seek through meditation or contemplation or awareness or yoga or whatever your practice might be. Finding the sameness of humans will surely help you to be a better human (a more aware human) in society, while finding the sameness in all beings will surely help you to be a better being on this planet.

So, as I read a birth chart, I see the individual moving thru his or her dasha periods, changing and evolving as they progress as an individual. I also take note of the transiting planets and the changing and evolving world that we have as a ground for action. Both ourselves and the world we live in are being swept away by time and karma. I think often of the scene in the Gita where Krishna shows his true self to Arjuna, the whole of the world rushing to its destruction, being swallowed unflinchingly by the great movement of time (MahaKaala, a god whose important shrine sits outside of Ujjain in the west of India). If I focus only on this change I loose the true individual sitting in front of me. The change is only happening to the object, the mind and body in front of me. My own body and my own fortune too are constantly in motion. If I focus on these things I will only see the object measured in relation to my own bodily object. In this condition we are no more than beasts of burden with the strongest among us doing the least work while the weakest toil.

Life will carry on of it’s own accord. Our functional minds will also complete their tasks over time. Much of this is set for us, but if we begin to search our own minds probing the various layers, we find a layer that is quiet like a placid lake. It’s from this lake that thoughts emerge like trout leaping out of the water; some of which are caught by our lower minds and sustained in thought, from which point we may use this fish to give us the power of action; or we could just put the fish back in the water and leave it disappear into the depths.

The placid lake is our deeper self, our true self, the unchanging consciousness from which all change emerge. This is where we are advised to put our minds. From the silence we can witness the change while keeping our inner consciousness focused on the silence of the true self.

I can see this too in an astrology chart, the layers of our being that don’t change. Just as change occurs on various the individual that persists in the body, the things that make us all human and of course that space in which everything takes place; that space from which everything arises. When we focus on these things our expectations tend to match with the results and we find satisfaction. We experience the peace because we have found the place of peace within ourselves and put our minds there. Otherwise we only experience the change: the suffering of the Buddhist aspirant and the binds of the Tantric that keep us from freedom.

Rebel Yell (or maybe it’s just gas)

Some men are born lead, others are born to follow, some few others, to tread a path that neither leads or follows. This is my path. I’ve met none others that are like it, but I suspect everyone feels this way. It seems like one of those truths of humanity to me, that each of our paths are wholly unique.

I have one of those restless paths that they that the ol’ fashioned cowboys sing about. The world is my range. The mind too….and, I suppose my soul too, I can’t leave the soul out of this. Compared to most people, I’m always going about her and there: different cities, towns, villages, countries, natures. But I don’t feel like I move around much; it just happens that the places I like to sit have people passing thru more quickly than myself. “Two day tourists” as we call them in India. “I’m no two day tourist,” as I tell the shop-keepers to bargain for a better price. But I am just a tourist passing thru at my best convenience. I think I end up sitting because I’m so restless I don’t know what else to do. Or perhaps I only sit long enough for people to get to know me, and then I move on again.

I question too much. It drives my mind. Stories get created. A whole personality becomes crafted. I can’t help it. I practice yoga and meditation and watch my breath and my thoughts and the subtleties of life, but still this ego is at work building my personality. Writing, as I do, as I’m doing now, terrifies me. I throw out snapshots of my thinking, and this becomes tied to me somehow. These four or five years worth of blog posts (incredibly random) and photography feels suddenly so heavy. Much of it doesn’t even feel like me; none of it. A few pieces are very touching, but most of it is just bull shit, writing for the sake of putting something out there; not because I actually had something to say. Random shouting (or belching) at the world doesn’t count as saying something. But this also has to be done. Some people go in the street yelling and screaming and kicking garbage cans, I’ve done this myself; but sometimes I have to do it in writing and put a more permanent stamp on myself.

This is the stamp I want to put on now:

I declare my out right rebellion against the whole works of it. Politics and anarchism, monotheism, polytheism, atheism, and every other philosophy, scripture, way of life, or anything else that’s ever been declared by some human who is just as human as you and I. Neither you nor I know anything about anything.

I declare my rebellion against my own mind, my own personality, these very words I write.

I declare my rebellion against every mundane choice that has to be made; be it a clothing style, or a shave, or a meal, or a direction in which to walk. I am against every social code and constitution and rule of law.

I am for all people and their path. I’m for outright honesty and inquiry about life. I for you and me acting authentically, recognizing authenticity in others. I’m for believing that  we are all always acting authentically no matter what it is we are doing, no matter how entrenched in our own egos we might be. If this is our path, this is our path. My ego says that I’m a seeker, so I seek. Regardless of how full of shit I am most of the time, this is my path. I’m a seeker who is most often full of shit.

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Naivety became the theme the other night. This is everyones theme. When we look back own our lives we seem so naive. The moment some piece of writing passes me by it’s lost in naivety. So, with this in mind, why don’t I just admit my naivety now. I am very naive; simple even. I can’t get over the most basic of questions. Who am I? Without knowing this, I have no idea what to do with my days, with my life.

It’s tough not knowing who I am. There’s no one to project into the future. I have no direction. Restless. The energy is inside of me vibrating, bubbling, pulsating, but it has no outcome in mind. And then I create the stories and the personalities and get lost in them for a while until I see the mask covering me and I rebel again. I try to strip away my past by traveling, changing my direction (my job, my studies, my focus, my creative outlet),  getting rid of things. Fire ceremonies have become routine for me as I set the past ablaze. And just like that I’m off in a new direction; trying to shed my old ego, ignoring the fact that I’m just creating a new one and showing it off in front of new people.

It’s tiring: the vigilance it takes. Watching, watching myself and seeing the bullshit naivety coming out me, the personality, the acting. And it’s not just that. My body hurts so much. I’m far too human in this way. My body is just like one big ache and pain. It’s not that I have accidents and hurt myself. I just hurt. Watching all of this, having to stop my life to work on this is tiring. Years ago, before I knew it was popular to think this way, I thought my pain was related to mental/emotional crap. I should salute the Canadian author Robertson Davies for influencing me to think this way and many other ways besides. So not only do I have to look into the physical antidotes for my pain, I also have to delve into my mental/emotional being. Sometimes I think it’s even tiring for those who know me, but such is my path.

It’s hard sometimes to see it this way, unjudgementally as merely “my path,” one path of so many. There’s just so much good and bad all one the path that I can’t help to feel both exhaled and shamed. I’ve had such moments as you would never believe. Such beautifully executed moments that could never be planned or hoped for. Such absurdities. But it’s all past and I’m naive to think that any of it was my own doing.

Karma…. I declare my outright rebellion against Karma as well. The way my past sticks to me is unbearable. I just can’t shake it. It’s all so icky. Polluting my thoughts, my body, my being.

I’m free damn-it! FREE!!!! I say.

I’m broken, tired of carrying the weight of my past and the hopes for my future. I’m tired of being driven to question. I’m tired of not knowing anything. I can’t take the anticipation. I ask for nothing, but the whole world keeps coming at me. I can’t help but to be amazed. I can’t help being so small and naive. This too seems like one of those truths of humanity to me. We’re all so small and naive in this massive, complex world. Accept it and move on. Some day I hope to do this myself.