“In his absence, Brook asked Myers to take personal responsibility for work on another show, The Ogre Show, which would be performed that night. Pleased and flattered, Myers accepted the job as the group’s new boss. He found out later that Brook had given the same to job to everyone else.”
John Heilpern

Conference of the Birds

WordPress – Design

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Before delving into the details of how design is actually done in WordPress, it can be useful to have an overview of what issues are involved in “design” – there is more to it then meets the eye. I will touch on three aspects involved in the design of your blog: looks, function and technical.

Looks

The look of your blog is probably the first thing that comes to mind because it is what our senses experience directly – the visual experience. This aspect of design determines the visual elements of your blog – this includes a general layout of your web-pages within which colors, fonts & images are used to create an overall look.

A great thing about visual design on web-pages is that it is separated from the actual content. The same content can be given different visual designs causing it to look and feel different. You can think of it as an outfit you choose to wear – you can put on loose fitting beach clothes or tailored office suites that feel and look very different, but it’s still you inside.

This is done using a technology which designers love to use called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and if you want to get some idea of what this enables you can visit a website called CSS Zen Garden which is a gallery of “outfits”. You can see how the same content takes on completely different looks and shapes using this technology. Click here to visit CSSZenGarden

Function

How your blog works is at least (if not more) as important as how it looks and yet this is often a neglected issue. There are two key challenges when it comes to function – and facing them correctly can completely change your experience:

  1. Knowing what your options are. It is safe to assume that we can all relate to visual looks – we have preferences when it comes to colors, shapes & images. But most of us who are starting off with blogs don’t know much about the possibilities open to us when it comes to function. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then I’ve made my point! Know this – everything you see on a WordPress blog (for example: a list of categories, a list of recent posts, a list of tags, a list of recent comments, a calendar, etc.) is a matter of choice – someone chose to place it there. There are so many options available to you and you should get acquainted with them. You can do this by:
    • Visiting blogs you like and paying attention to how they work, how you use them (how do you find posts that are interesting for you to read?) and ask yourself what you like and what you would like to try on your blog.
    • Consult with a professional – if someone is helping you create your blog, ask them to tell you a little about what options there are.
    • Stay tuned to this series of articles, I hope to provide you with more useful information.
    • Ask around. There are many people in the WordPress community who offer tips and insight on what you can do with WordPress. If you’ve read this far and are familiar with the basic concepts of WordPress and have started your own blog – then you can definitely start moving around independently in the WordPress community. You can also read and consult with people in the WordPress Forums.
  2. Knowing what options you need. This can be a very tricky issue, fortunately there is way to get around it. The reason it can be tricky is that usually when you are just getting started neither you nor anyone else knows what you will need. One popular approach to this is speculating about what your future needs will be – 99% of the time this does not work. Your needs will change as your writing and outreach evolve – so what can you do:
    • Create Content. It you haven’t already done so – then start writing now! This is the best way for you to discover what you need.
    • Start simple . Start with what you have and what you need right now – this won’t be very much – which means it will be very simple. Don’t fumble around with your future monthly newsletter (what it will look like or how it will work) when you haven’t yet written your first post which no one has read!
    • Evolve. If you start simple you will experience for yourself how great WordPress is at changing and evolving. Focus on content and your needs will make themselves known to you. If you keep moving forward – evolution will occur on it’s own; if you just think about moving – evolution will evade you.
    • Copy – do what others do. You are not the first person to start blogging, millions of others are doing it with WordPress. Look around at what others are doing and pick up some ideas that you can use.

You should feel at home with your blog, you should enjoy visiting it and you should be passionate about inviting other people to it. Therefore when thinking of the functionality of your blog, keep at least two people in mind – yourself and your best friend.  Think not only what you want for yourself but also what you’d like to give people who will be visiting with you – what kind of experience would you like them to have?

Technical

Beyond the form and function of your blog there are additional technical aspects to the way it is built. They affect things like:

  • Search Engine Compatibility. Search engines (such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) will work for you and bring people to your blog… if you let them! Good web-pages are built to welcome search-engines and provide them with information that let’s them know about you and your content. The more they know about you the better they can do their job and let people who are searching the web know about you.
  • Browser Compatibility. There are numerous web-browsers (Firefox, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, etc.) that people will be using to view your websites. Some of the web-browsers differ in how they interpret the hidden-contents of web-pages. Good web-pages are built to insure that your web-pages work & look good in the various popular browsers – insuring
  • Design Compatibility. Good web-pages are built to give designers the maximum freedom to create good designs. They have an internal (semantic) structure that makes it possible for designers to work their magic.
  • Social Web Compatibility. As your blog evolves, it will reach more people in many ways. At any given time there are many standards and technologies that make it possible for you to connect with other people and for other people to discover you. Good web-pages are built to make this possible for you.

There are many hidden qualities to web-pages. They are usually technical and difficult to comprehend unless you are technically savvy. WordPress is built by a community of developers who know their way around these issues and make it all available to you. BUT for all to this to shine through and work for you, your WordPress design needs to make use of everything WordPress has to offer.

In the next article in this series we will look at WordPress Themes and see how all of this comes together to make sure you have a great looking and working blog.

Posted in outside, Wordpress | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Flushing Economy

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Thanks to Raymond for the link to this article. For those who are not immersed in US economics – FDIC is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (pronounced “F-Dick”) – a US government agency who is in charge of insuring banks. Banks that are FDIC insured promise customers that their funds (up to a certain limit) are insured by the government should something happen to the bank. That’s supposedly a good thing.

Well things have been happening to banks recently and they keep disappearing. Now it seems that the FDIC, who’s sole designated purpose was to insure people’s money, failed to collect the insurance premiums from most banks for a period of 10 years. So now it doesn’t have enough money to pay the people who banks have “poof” vanished. That’s supposedly a bad thing.

I especially liked this quote in the article:

“But James Chessen, chief economist of the American Bankers Association, said that it made sense at the time to stop collecting most premiums because “the fund became so large that interest income on the fund was covering the premiums for almost a decade.” There were relatively few bank failures and no projection of the current economic collapse, he said.”

In people-talk: “I’ve been paying my home insurance for years without making any claims and I don’t expect any burglars or natural disasters to hit anytime soon … so I’ll just stop paying my insurance premium, but if something happens my insurance company can use all that money I paid over the year (which they really don’t need!) to pay me. I would feel better knowing that (a) the nincompoop that said this is no longer the Chief Economist of the American Bankers Association and (b) the journalist that quoted him would add an indication of his nincompoopness.

But then I read this:

Last October, to help restore confidence during the financial meltdown, Congress and then-President Bush agreed to raise the insured amount from $100,000 to $250,000 per depositor until Dec. 31, 2009.

and … well …  fuck it… how can you refuse a milkshake you didn’t order when an idiot hands it to you with a cherry-on-top?

ToiletBowl

A flushing toilet is the image that came to me when I read this. The flush button has been hit and the water is draining out. All the purposeless people vested in machines of money are staring into the bowl speculating when it will stop – heck, some say it already has stopped … but what is that swirling motion? But everybody knows (them purposeless folk included) that all the water is going to drain out, it will hopefully take the poop out with it and we may get a chance at a fresh start. It’s been over a hundred years since we had a fresh start – it seems about time for a new one.

“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking, Everybody knows that the captain lied”
Leonard Cohen

Posted in AltEco, outside | You are welcome to add your comment

Learning Curves

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Shakuhachi is a challenging instrument to play because it only has 5 holes. The range of notes you can play depends on subtle variations of blowing technique. One of the challenges a beginning player faces is playing higher octaves. I can’t do this yet – but I do play around with it all the time. This morning focused on this – and still nothing! So I did some (re)searching online for tips and advice how to do this.

My searching led me to a blog post by Bas Nijenhuis (who’s blog  I enjoy visiting from time to time) titled Wavering Motivation. This is something I’ve experienced in Yoga and  in Shakuhachi practice. When I’m fortunate enough to not get overwhelmed by it – I recall some supportive teachings I have received about this in Yoga – and it helps me.

learningcurve_micro

When people first come to Yoga, it is relatively easy to experience change – the very fact that they are there, moving and breathing is an achievement. Sometimes there are achievements such as noticeable improvement of the breath, touching the floor when bending forward, calm and meditative moments, etc. This is the first part of the learning curve – there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from a balance of effort and reward. Each such period of “satisfaction” is followed by a period where there is no evident progress, the learning curve flattens – and motivation drops. Until sometime down the line there is an experience of progress again – in a recurring pattern.

learningcurve_macro

My experience shows that as learning progresses:

  • Periods of satisfaction (green tinted areas on the chart) become shorter.
  • Periods of low-motivation (red tinted areas on the chart) become longer.
  • As a result of which, periods of satisfaction grow further apart.
  • Achievements (which lead to satisfaction) become more subtle and refined.
  • Somewhat surprisingly – less effort is required to experience achievements (most of the effort is focused on the longer period of waiting)

Preparing for the Waiting

Longer periods of waiting are inevitable. As your practice deepens the more likely you are to experience longer and more challenging such periods. A sign of a mature and quality practice is the ability to recognize and sustain these periods gracefully:

  • Discipline is usually the first tool mentioned for these situations. It is useful to cultivate discipline during periods of satisfaction when there is a forward momentum working for you. This can be achieved by introducing regularity into your practice – forming a habit. There will be parts of the practice you love doing (usually those that give you a sense of satisfaction), and there will be others which are less interesting – some almost like chores. A balanced practice includes an effective combination of these qualities – so when the motivation drops – you will have a fall-back – you will be practiced at doing your chores. But discipline shouldn’t be over-rated.
  • Grazing – is a quality I learned in improvised performance. It is a quality of doing without expecting results. It is a mode of suspended judgment and an appreciation of whatever is present. A great way to learn grazing is watching professionals do it – so go and watch cows. They do what they do not because of a promised fruit, they do what they do, because this is what they do. Calling it “grazing” seems to give it a legitimate existence – it’s no longer something temporary we do until something better comes a long, it is a worthy action in it’s own right.
  • Playfulness is a really great ingredient to introduce in your practice. I used to take Yoga sooooo seriously – ridiculously serious. Smiling is a great technique to introduce playfulness – whenever I find myself intensely concentrated I add a smile – which softens my face and then radiates into whatever posture my body is in.
  • Softness is quality that balances effort & discipline and it usually comes bundled with grazing and playfulness. Sometimes when I teach guest classes (which means teaching only once people I don’t know) I build a practice around a theme of softness. One way to introduce this is to approach familiar practices but stopping just before your known limits – doing slightly less then what you are used to doing. It’s always proved to be a great practice. It comes in very handy when you are impatient and achievement is stubbornly pushing you into an intense practice which leads to more impatience. A touch of softness can turn that around.

In Waiting

I find that periods of waiting are delicate times (at least in the context in which I am in waiting). I tend to be protective and private about my Yoga practice when I am in waiting. I don’t talk about it with others, I don’t seek advice, I don’t try to solve it. It’s tempting to look for solutions and salvation, and it usually leads to disappointment – because there are none. Advice seems to always fall short, what works for someone else may not work for you.

If possible, I will turn to my teachers for inspiration, they have been through this too, they know me and they know how to offer a supportive presence without making false promises.

I find that this learning curve is typical of many aspects of life. Relationships come to mind, as I write these words, as another great example where I experience this curve. It’s kind of like driving on a fast downhill road and accumulating momentum for a steep uphill climb that follows. Momentum is not enough to get you up the hill, you need to know how to run the engine effectively, and hopefully remember to enjoy the view going up as much as the thrill of going down.

Posted in Asana, inside, Models & Metaphors, Shakuhachi, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

What is the Essence of Buddhism?

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At the High Seat, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master hit him.

Again, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk again.
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master also gave a Katsu.
The monk hesitated.
The master hit him.

The master then said: “Monks, some do not shirk losing body and life for the Dharma. As for me, I spent twenty years with my late master Obaku. Three times I asked him on the essence of Buddhism, and three times he kindly beat me. It was as if he had caressed me with a branch of fragrant sage. Now I feel like tasting a sound beating again; who can give it to me?”

A monk stepped forward and said, “I can.”
The master took up his stick and handed it to him.
The monk hesitated to take hold of it.
Then the master hit him.

taken from (attention: link leads to a large PDF file)  The Teachings of Rinzai

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Yoga: Gross to Subtle

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My recent visit with Vedic Philosophy continues to resonate with me – leading to ideas meeting and interconnecting. Today I am trying to assimilate some thoughts around the subtle elements of ether, air, fire, water & earth as an overview map for the tools of Yoga.

The subtle elements are presented in Vedic Philosophy as a hierarchy in which each element has one quality that is unique to it (which separates it from the other elements) and additional qualities it inherits from the more subtle elements that come before it.

element_hierarchy01

For example – ether is a subtle element that has a unique quality of sound. Air is a subtle quality that inherits the quality of sound from ether & has a unique quality of touch. Earth is a subtle element that inherits the qualities of sound, touch, form and flavor, and has a unique quality of odor.

Though all five elements are referred to as “subtle elements” – there is actually a refined order of gross to subtle within them. Ether being the more subtle “subtle element” and earth being the most gross “subtle element”.

Asana, Pranayama & Meditation

The structure of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a primary text about Hatha Yoga) delineates an overview structure of practice:

  • The 1st chapter is about generating and stimulating Prana using Asana (physical practices)
  • The 2nd chapter is about containing the Prana that has been stimulated using Pranayama
  • The 4th chapter is about Samadhi – a Meditative state.
element_hierarchy02

When applied to the map of elements we see that the tools are arranged from gross to subtle – fire, air and then ether. Asana is a gross form of practice compared to Pranayama, and Pranayama is a gross form of practice compared to Meditation.

Kriya

Kriyas are cleansing practices and they are described in the 2nd chapter of the HYP (slokas 21 – 38). There are 6 practices introduced in the following order:

  1. Dhauti – swallowing a wet cloth and pulling it out
  2. Vasti – which is basically an enema
  3. Neti – passing a thread through the nasal passages
  4. Trataka – intense gazing
  5. Nauli – revolving the stomach muscles.
  6. Kapalabhati – a forceful breathing practice.

The order in which the Kriyas are introduced is aligned with the overall strategy of practice – from gross to subtle. The first 3 (Dhauti, Vasti & Neti) are water practices, the next 2 are fire (Trataka & Nauli) practices and the last one (Kapalabhati – which some consider a Pranayama) is an air practice. Therefore Kriya’s are practices that cross over from water to fire.

element_hierarchy03

Mudra & Bandhas

The 3rd chapter of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is dedicated to Mudras & Bandhas. These are various techniques that can be thought of as locks – their purpose is to internally direct Prana that has been aroused through Asana and contained through Pranayama.

element_hierarchy04

Chanting

Chanting is a special tool that is often overlooked in Yoga practices and also can be difficult to introduce in the West (people are generally very self-conscious about using their voice). It is said, and I have experienced, chanting to be a “magical shortcut” that leads directly into meditation.

Chanting is an art of it’s own and deserves specialized teaching and practices. It is fairly intuitive to associate Chanting with air, though anyone who has practiced it will recognize that it is also a practice of fire – it requires a steady stamina.

Chanting can be useful in teaching people to breathe – particularly to lengthen the exhale. People can feel lost when they are asked to extend their exhale, but ask them to make a continuous sound – and voila – the exhale lengthens.

Chanting can also be used together with Asana to bring the breath into consciousness. By creating sounds during exhales both the practitioner and teachers can better observe the quality of the breath. If the breath is even slightly unsteady – it will immediately effect the quality of sound. Sound paints the breath, bringing it closer to consciousness and to a refined physical practice.

element_hierarchy05

A Practice Session

A Yoga practice session can be a conscious practice of these qualities. The HYP can be applied to the construct of a single practice session:

  1. Asana
  2. Pranayama
  3. Meditation

A path from gross to subtle can be experienced as a change over years of practice, in a single practice session, in a single asana and in a single breath. We are always on this path and it is useful to recognize and embrace both qualities. Gross is a starting point, pretending otherwise denies the present and weakens the foundations upon which we stand. Subtle is an elusive end, we work towards it and never reach it, it is a reference point for the gross. Hopefully subtle qualities of today’s practice will become tomorrow gross starting point – as we travel onward constantly improving and refining.

Posted in Models & Metaphors, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 4 comments and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-27

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  • all that #yoga and #meditation and I end up kissing her on the cheek: http://twurl.cc/1m9h #
  • Prana (=energy in #Yoga) what is it, where does it come from, what does it do? http://twurl.nl/ar7uwi #
  • when your tears have dried, you will arrive at your heart to find either the love you planted or the hate that consumed you #
  • in case u r following the #pranayama technique series – I've added Pratiloma Ujjayi http://twurl.nl/h31obq , tomorrow Nadi Sodhana #
  • in the C's, ripping Harry Connick Jr. & listening to Phil Collins… #
  • up next Elvis Costello… #
  • @CambridgeYoga hello 🙂 so great to find another student of Paul on here 🙂 #
  • @CambridgeYoga I studied/study with Paul in Israel, different format then UK, completed 3rd year therapy training last year in reply to CambridgeYoga #
  • collected words to describe my experience of Leonard Cohen's concert in Israel: http://twurl.nl/0qsuce #
  • @maiki that scenario is probably too close to what twitter considers a future business model 🙂 when you get sticky it gets tricky! in reply to maiki #
  • I would love to have an RSS reader built into my WordPress Admin: http://twurl.nl/8fbczj #
  • RT @raymondpirouz: http://bit.ly/2V0PtH Twitter Funding Round Is Said to Value Company at $1 Billion,lol, based on..oh, wait..pretty bubble! #
  • just saw Titanic for the first time, respect or what… #

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Leonard Cohen in Concert

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So it finally happened, I saw Leonard Cohen in concert, it was two days ago and just now the energy is beginning to settle and I can start placing some words in sequence to describe my experience. Numerous people have asked me about it and I still haven’t answered them.

Wish

I have a long-standing wish to photograph Leonard Cohen in concert and though that wish has not yet been fulfilled, pursuing it is a story worth telling. I began acting on this wish last summer when there were first rumors about a possible concert in Israel. The concert was to be held on September 21st 2008 – and he was to arrive in Israel 3 days earlier on his birthday. I first wrote to Jarkko Arjatsalo the webmater of The Leonard Cohen Files website, and he told me that there is a very protective bubble of security around Leonard Cohen. This wasn’t very encouraging but I did send an email to Robert Kory (Leonard Cohen’s manager) – I got no response.

As the concert was finalized this year I again sent a number of emails (to Jarkko, to Kory and numerous emails to the wonderful people who worked relentlessly to bring Leonard Cohen to Israel). Nothing came of it.

The day before the concert I was considering if I was going to carry with me my camera gear to the concert, in the end I charged my batteries and decided to take it with me to keep my options open. As we were riding the train towards Tel-Aviv I wrote a short letter to Robert Kory in the hope that I would be able to get the letter to him and that there would be a window of opportunity for him to read it and make it possible for me to photograph the concert.

When we arrived a few hours early at the stadium I parted ways with my family and began wandering around the many gates hoping luck would point out to me someone to whom I could hand the letter who could pass it on to someone else on a path that would eventually lead to Robert Kory. After some time (I think it was about 20 or 30 minutes) walking around I began to feel that it wasn’t going to happen. Then something happened.

I saw someone with an inviting face wearing a staff badge around his neck. I asked him if he could help. He pointed north and said that the Israeli manager was just ahead and I should try him directly. I walked up to him, he shook my hand and I asked him if he would be willing to pass the letter on to Robert Kory. He said he couldn’t because Mr. Kory was very annoyed with him … but … he pointed south and said that Mr. Kory was giving an interview to the press 100 yards away and I could try him directly.

I turned to walk in that direction and within a few seconds I saw Robert Kory walking alone and in my direction – he was maybe 20 yards away. I approached him, he had a peaceful, clear & pleasant presence, he acknowledged me and shook my hand. I asked if he would accept the envelope with my letter, he did. I said that it would be great if he had time to read it before the concert and wished him a pleasant evening.

I walked away with a feeling of peace and serenity, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be using my camera tonight.

Violence

The concert itself took place despite violent efforts to prevent it. Proceeds from the concert went to supports peace initiatives – specifically projects involving bereaved Israeli & Palestinian families who continue to build bridges and pursue peace.

When the concert began I was drained and tired. This was out 3rd visit to the center area of Israel (we live in the north) in two weeks and my energy was pretty dissipated. I live a fairly quiet and monastic life and I don’t enjoy cities and crowds, they overwhelm my senses and disturb me. I sense much violence around me in Israel, it’s so subtly ingrained into so many things that it goes largely unnoticed, but it’s there. When I am closer to it, it tires me (which is why I live far from it).

In addition, luck would have it that earlier at my parents home, I found myself (again) engaged in conversation (with my family) that attacked me and the choices I have made in my life in recent years. Though these conversations are rooted in care and good intentions, I experience them as violent attacks on subtle and precious aspects of my life. So they too drained me of energy. Of course, I am grateful to my family because they invited us to this concert – and that’s the way life goes 🙂

I have never experienced the kind of violence that kills individuals and breaks hearts & families but I could relate to it and feel it’s deep roots reaching out and touching even my relatively isolated existence.

So, drained of energy, I headed out to a 3 hour gathering of 50,000 people, with some heavy traffic, my father’s aggressiveness behind the steering wheel of the car and my sister’s aggressive consulting behind my father 🙂

Leonard Cohen

Then a 75 years old Leonard Cohen, touring the world for the last two years (“sent around the world like a postcard” is how he described it in one interview) walked on stage and gave a three hour concert. I was barely able to move in my seat and I recall thinking of Robert Kory and admiring (and appreciating with some envy) the protective bubble he created around Leonard Cohen to make it possible for him to appear.

Numerous times during the concert I closed my eyes and let the entire sound and space penetrate me. Each time I did this I first felt loneliness, then I felt embraced, supported and comforted – I could surrender to the tiredness that filled my body. When I did, my eyes overflowed with tears, a shiver flowed through my body and my lips trembled. Though I knew all the words by heart I could not move my lips – it was as if opening my lips would cause a damn to collapse.Only near the end I was able to move my lips to some beautiful words.

To me, the most beautiful moments of the concert were the occasions on which Leonard Cohen stepped aside and let his fellow musicians and singers fill the space. I was too far to see the faces of the people on stage, but there were several times when the cameras brought to the screens Leonard Cohen in waiting (I specifically remember his shaded face singing backup-spirit to Sharon Robinson’s solo on Boogie Street) – and those were magical moments – when his presence filled me – when he looked completely in tune, peaceful, attentive – meditating on stage.

I saw and stored in my heart many beautiful images that I still do hope to capture on camera. I witnessed divine beauty. For the next 12 hours I kept to myself and barely opened my mouth. Even yesterday, when Andreea asked me on the train on the way home about the concert – I still couldn’t give an answer.

I hope that when I am 75 years old I’ll be able to kneel, rise and run around like Leonard Cohen has been doing for the last two years.

Posted in Photography, Wishes | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Pratiloma Ujjayi

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Pratiloma Ujjayi is a longer cycle of breathing that weaves together the Anuloma & Viloma techniques

The breathing cycle in Pratiloma Ujjayi is:

  1. Inhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).
  2. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  3. Inhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  4. Exhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  5. Inhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  6. Exhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  7. Inhale with both nostrils open using Ujjayi (throat control).
  8. Exhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).

A single Pratiloma breathing cycle is made up of 4 breaths! Though it may seem a bit more complicated and difficult to remember then the other techniques it is actually a very simple pattern – here is a way to remember it:

  1. Inhale using the same path you used for the previous exhale. For example: if you exhale using ujjayi and both nostrils open, then the following inhale will also be ujjayi with both nostrils open; if you exhale using nostril control through the left nostril, then you inhale through the left nostril using nostril control.
  2. Switch from left-nostril to right-nostril by passing through ujjayi (both nostrils open).

IMPORTANT: never use two breath control techniques at the same time. In this case when you exhale using Ujjayi, both nostrils are open; when you inhale using nostril control you release the Ujjayi – DO NOT use Ujjayi when using nostril control. This is true for all Pranayama techniques. Ujjayi and nostril control both act as valves to affect the flow of breath – only use one at any given time.

If your practice includes holds then add them where necessary. Please remember that one round of Pratiloma breathing is made up of four breaths. When practicing, you should always do an even number of breaths – so that the practice remains symmetrical (unless you’ve been given other specific instructions by a qualified teacher).

Here is a practice to get acquainted with Pratiloma Ujjayi. It begins and ends with regular Ujjayi breathing and in the middle the technique is changed to Pratiloma Ujjayi. Find yourself a comfortable seated position and do the following practice sequence :

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x8 = 2 rounds Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   – 1.5 –   0   (x8 = 2 rounds  Viloma Ujjayi)

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x4 – Ujjayi)

Posted in Breath, Pranayama, Yoga | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Energy – Prana

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This was a difficult post for me to write – I couldn’t find a clear way to express my experience of Prana. Prana is one of the Vedic concepts that I internalized (and continue to clarify) through years of practice. My initial attempts to collect my thoughts and express them in writing fell short of the actual experience and perception I have of it. So I put if off for many weeks. I then did some research into the Vedic roots of Prana and see what they have to say.

Why is there Prana?

I found what I was looking for in the Prasna Upanishad which is made of up 6 questions from 6 different students answered by one teacher. Questions 2 & 3 are about the nature, origin and function of Prana. But I found a pearl of inspiration in the sixth question and I would like to start with that:

Q6.3: “The Purusha reflected: ‘What is it by whose departure I shall depart and by whose staying I shall stay?'”
Q6.4: “He created prana, from prana faith, space, air, fire, water, earth…”

It seems that Purusa (spirit) wanted to get around – it was sitting there with infinite potential but nothing was happening. It wanted to reach out, create & experience, so it came up with Prana – a means for it to manifest. Then, before anything else manifested, from Prana came faith. I hope to one day gain more perspective on this subtle point. For now I am inspired by this suggestion that faith came before everything else.

What is Prana?

In the second question Q2.3 – we find that:

  1. Prana is that which supports and upholds the body.
  2. Prana manifests before ether, the subtle elements and the senses (suggested in Q2.2)
  3. Prana is divided into 5.
  4. Of the 5 pranas, Prana (the first) is the dominant one (Q2.4) : “when it rose upward all the others rose … and when it settled down they all settled down with it”.

Where does Prana come from?

The explanation offered in Q3.3 about the origin of Prana took my breath away. It is a wonderful example of Vedic wisdom.

Q3.3: “As a shadow is cast by a person, so this prana is by Atman.”

To gain some insight into this concise statement we need to call on some terms we’ve mentioned in passing. Purusa (spirit) & Prakrti (matter) are, according to Samkhya philosophy, the source of everything. Purusa (spirit) also goes by the name Brahman. While Atman, you may recall,  is the individuated manifestation  of Brahman that resides in all living things.

The text here suggests that Prana is the shadow that is cast by Atman. After carrying this image around with me for some time, I asked myself “Where is this shadow of Atman cast?”. The answer that I came up with is Prakrti. Spirit (Purusa) casts a shadow onto Prakrti (Matter), that shadow is Prana and it is what supports and upholds us.

prana01

How does Prana function?

  1. Prana engages other pranas in different parts of the body (Q3.4). It resides in the mouth, nose, eyes and ears (Q3.5). It is associated with processes of intake (food, water, air, impressions, experiences, etc.) – it is the basic energy that drives us.
  2. Apana resides in the organs of excretion and generation (Q3.5). It is associated with processes of elimination (bodily wastes, semen, menstrual fluid, fetus, carbon dioxide, etc.). It has purifying and immunization qualities.
  3. Samana is in the middle and distributes that which is offered to the fire (Q3.5).  It is associated with processes of distribution (digested food, absorbed oxygen, experiences, etc.). It has a nourishing quality.
  4. Vyana moves through the nadis (Q3.6). It is associated with processes of circulation from the center to the periphery (food, water, oxygen, emotions, thoughts).
  5. Udana ascends upwards and conducts the departing soul (Q3.7). It is associated with transformation process of life (growth, will, consciousness, expression, etc.).

Some things to know about Prana

  1. You cannot have “more or less” Prana, you can have “collected & diffused” Prana.
  2. Prana affects and is affected by lifestyle (eating, socializing, physical activity, etc.).
  3. Dominant qualities of Prana vary in different stages of life (childhood, adulthood, old age).
  4. Asana (physical yoga postures) are used to awaken & activate Prana.
  5. Pranayama is used to improve the flow of Prana – it’s not about the air you inhale or exhale, it is about clearing the channels (nadis) in which Prana flows so it may flow better.
  6. Mudra & Bandhas are used to manipulate and direct Prana internally.
  7. The ultimate goal of Hatha Yoga is to remove barriers that obstruct Prana from flowing into the central Sushumna Channel.

Translations of the Prasna Upanishad by Swami Nikhilananda , courtesy of Dharma Downloads.

Posted in Breath, Energy, Pranayama, Upanishads, Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 4 comments and to add yours

Not Quite There

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The only I person I kiss on the lips is Andreea, the rest of the people get a peck on the cheek. The last few days we have been staying at my parents place – visiting with my family.  Today I went out for a meeting and when I came back Andreea opened the door to greet me. I bent in to kiss her on the cheek (she tried to compensate for my navigational error and we ended up with half of the lips touching)!

It was an amusing and enlightening moment – directly experiencing the power of habitual patterns. The dominant pattern in my mind is “kiss on cheek when door opens at parents place”. Had I been truly present in the moment the pattern would not have taken over, but I was preoccupied, my mind was elsewhere and for lack of a better choice automatic behavior took over.

This is (another reason) why Yoga needs to be practiced consistently. No matter how much we create and practice new patterns we can never remove the old ones. When we let down our guard we will fall back to the rooted and familiar patterns.

Posted in Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to add your comment

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-20

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My New 2.4 Shakuhachi

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A couple of days ago I met my new Tai Hei 2.4 Shakuhachi and the meeting was surprising and, well… intimidating. When I first saw it I was sitting in a car – so I didn’t have a space to hold it properly – which just amplified my initial impression of “It’s huge and I can’t even get my fingers to close the holes”. The new instrument is a longer 2.4 Shakuhachi then my first 1.8 Shakuhachi and it is much heavier and massive.

Yesterday, a beautiful ray of sunset light entered my practice space and provided warm illumination. So I took out the camera and created these closeup photos hoping to capture some of the beautiful and subtle visual elements of this instrument.
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shakuhachi_sidebyside

The 2.4 Shakuhachi is exactly what I had hoped for but not at all what I expected. When I got home and sat down with it, I still couldn’t hold it peacefully – my fingers, wrists and arms ached – before I even made a sound. The thought of moving a finger to play the instrument seemed ludicrous. When I tried to change my grip and posture to bring comfort to my hands, the Shakuhachi reached so high that if I didn’t move my head it would have lodged itself up my nose and into my brain.  My mind went into a frenzy, and came up with a brilliant solution … ahum … “Send it back and get a different one”. Thankfully my mind was not in the driver seat.

The first thing I did was to blow into it as best as I could to experience it’s sound. When that happened I realized that this was indeed what I had hoped for. A 2.4 is tuned to a lower pitch then a 1.8 and it’s sounds are deep and warm. The sounds also brought some calm to my mind. Then I wrote an email to Monty Levenson (the maker) and asked if he could offer any advice. He answered very quickly and had some great advice which helped bring the instrument to rest peacefully in my hands.

It’s now been two days and I am thankful and grateful for having this instrument with me. It’s amazing that despite that massive presence of the new Shakuhachi it needs to be played much more gently then the 1.8. A very gentle breath brings it to life with a deep and resonating tone. Slight changes in the position of the head greatly affect the sound as well. My fingers are learning and adapting to playing it much faster then I expected (they don’t hurt any more, even after moving them and playing).

This new Shakuhachi and my experience of it embody and clarify some changes I expect to introduce into my Yoga practice:  “more” & “more subtle”.

Thank you sis 🙂

Posted in inside, Shakuhachi, Yoga & I | You are welcome to read 6 comments and to add yours

I Should Have

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During my morning Yoga practice, a thought came to me about a change I should make in it (something about it’s energetic qualities). It was a special moment –  a new, fresh and subtle perspective – a crystallization. It happened in an instant and then, within a few seconds, a second thought appeared in my mind: “I should have done this a few weeks ago”.

The Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 30 offers a list of 9 obstacles/distractions to clear perception: disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, over-indulgence, delusion, non-achievement & instability. The problem is that when perception is clouded it doesn’t know it!

So the next Sutra (31) gives us a diagnostic tool – how do we know our perception has been clouded? These are the signs: suffering, negative thinking, unsteady body & unsteady breath. Yes it’s that simple – when our perception is clouded we don’t feel good. This works both ways so – when we don’t feel good it is because our perception is clouded.

I place attention and effort in my life (off the mat) and my practice (on the mat), on being present. I call on faith to put aside inhibitions from the past and hesitations about the future. In my practice (on the mat) I do this by working with familiar postures and going into subtle details in body and breath – remaining open to experience and making small adjustments. Simply put, I’m doing my best to do my best.

Today’s experience was mixed. On one hand, I clearly knew (still do!) what to do about my practice, I also know it needs to be a gradual process over time. On the other hand, I was harsh and judgmental about my past choices – it felt wrong – it was “negative thinking”. My sweet moment of clarity came with the distraction of doubt.

Yoga Sutra Chapter 4 Sutra 12 says:

“The substance of what has disappeared as well as what may appear always exists. Whether or not they are evident depends upon the direction of change.” (translation by TKV Desikachar)

This is a warning that no amount of practice will change the past. All of our experiences remain within us, they are a part of we are. They may be dormant, but they are forever present. We must always be vigilant because we never know when they may reappear. They are tricky and slippery – just when we think we got it – they pop up and pull us down.

“I should have…”  is a bad call. When it happens you should recognize it for what it is – clouded judgment. Embrace it so it doesn’t sow the seeds for future “I should have’s….”. Don’t let it take away from your present clarity and experience. What you realize now is the truth of this moment. What you realized before was the truth of that moment. Appreciating them both is a good practice for the truths yet to come.

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 2 comments and to add yours

Strong Undercurrents

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I followed a twitter status from Fred Wilson to a blog post by Seth Godin about “freemium, abundance, and scarcity“.  Seth demonstrates  his point about “free” (as in a business model) by referencing a company that gives “free Yoga lessons” in order to sell and promote their brand of yoga clothing. I followed the link and read the article and lost heart (disclosure: I am a yoga practitioner & teacher).

Fred & Seth have way more practice & experience then I do when it comes to business, so I can’t challenge them on that front. There is only one thing I can responsibly relate to in all of this – and that is Yoga. That stuff that was given for “free” in the park is not Yoga – it is an illusion made to look like Yoga  – a misapprehension due to a lack of Yoga. Therefor, any logical argument based on that illusion is tainted by it. I very much wanted to reach the conclusion that Seth is wrong – but I honestly couldn’t because:

  • I think he’s a smart guy and I’ve have been inspired by him numerous times.
  • I wasn’t able to follow his train of thought.
  • I didn’t care to make an effort because I felt that this post (which is just a case in point, that happened to brush closer to me) doesn’t qualify for a  “wrong and right” argument. It lacks context – as did most of the battle around the idea of “free”.
  • I believe that his thoughts would shed a different light if they were applied in a context.

I’ll stick to the Yoga. The fact that Yoga is so popular indicates that:

  • People are suffering (this is so spiritually obvious, yet seems to get overlooked – after all those yoga-clothed people in the park look happy – don’t they?).
  • From that suffering shines a small yet unwavering light of seeking (there is hope).
  • People associate Yoga with a remedy to this situation (people know good).

People are looking for something – and that’s a promising prospect. Seeking is a treasure of potential energy that can be used or abused. Yoga (and I am assuming other spiritual) teachers rely on that energy to guide people towards freedom. Others ab-use it to create bondage. Business, the way I see it as of the writing of these words, is dominated by ab-users (though I can see islands of inspiring change).

As a Yoga teacher I often get an urge to shout out to people “you are getting it wrong, let me help you” – but  I don’t act on it. It doesn’t work for me because that very thought is an act of enslavement – it insinuates that I know better and you should follow me (and abort your way – your freedom), and I know, from my practice, that’s just plain wrong. In the Yoga-related article Seth linked to there is a quote that depicts an opposing position:

“You don’t need anything to do yoga. You don’t even need shoes. ”

This is also misleading. To take on a practice of Yoga you have to have a caring and passionate interest in yourself, in others, in life and in nature , a sense of purpose – and maybe, just maybe, if you carry those with you for some time you may encounter a teacher. Passion, care and purpose can’t be sold off shelves in stores. Fortunately – they exist in infinite abundance inside every one of us and all we have to do it sit still long enough to take notice of them.

The only conclusion I’ve been able to reach and sustain about the idea of “free as a business model” is that the people who support and use it, think they can afford to. There are strong undercurrents in this post of my critical views of current business practices. I have not yet matured enough to connect all the strings needed to make my point in writing. So, I leave you with two video clips from two seemingly unrelated issues – and I leave you to invest your own caring efforts in making your own connections:

Posted in AltEco, Business, outside, Yoga & I, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-13

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  • ripping CD's and organizing files…. preparing to disperse my physical CD collection … #
  • sustaining vibrant energy is a delicate art, especially when it's not so vibrant and I need to be patient with it #
  • it feels like summer is over here in the north, days are getting cooler nights are cold – amazing air 🙂 #
  • "when you doubt you know; when you know, doubt" #
  • meditation is observing the path you are on, not trying to pave a different one #
  • What are we? the building blocks and forces of nature – a #Yoga perspective: http://twurl.nl/abuzqh #
  • RT @JangalaRetreat: RT @PJA64X Eating In Heaven and Hell http://bit.ly/1wiRwZ A great story. Must read! #
  • every day I wake up and wonder why … ♫ http://blip.fm/~czd8k #
  • I was hypnotized by a strange delight under a lilac tree ♫ http://blip.fm/~czdc2 #
  • for you dear I was born ♫ http://blip.fm/~d0z59 #
  • my kind of shopping: helped neighbor collect eggs in chicken coop, came back with a tray of eggs 🙂 #
  • a #Yoga journey: mind to heart and beyond http://twurl.nl/2b7tw6 #
  • a core Vedic principle: something cannot come from nothing #
  • social is mediocre #
  • yoga is "containment of the mind's activities" and deserves a supportive practice space: http://twurl.nl/3cp3rn #
  • good morning all 🙂 a little something about writing: http://twurl.nl/obv77u #
  • beauty flowing freely and gracefully from the inside out: http://twurl.nl/b6dz1k #
  • finally got around to writing about Kundalini (there's a good chance it's not what you think it is): http://twurl.nl/1yvu7g #
  • all of my photography posts have been brought home: http://twurl.nl/iaeo8u – photography site is images only http://twurl.nl/aoor2m #
  • a good way to experience me is through the glimpses posts: http://twurl.nl/bwia5j #
  • 99% of Israeli government web-sites/services I encounter are not compatible with Firefox – bad bad government! #

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Energy – Kundalini

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Kundalini is a famous myth in the realms of Yoga & Energy – there’s even a school of Yoga named after it.  It is considered a majestic goal of Yoga, but it is by no means the end of the journey.

Like Granthis, Kundalini is an obstacle/blockage – actually the king of all obstacles. It is located above (and gets it’s name from) the Kanda – the point of origin of all Nadi – (HYP Chapter 3 Sloka 113).   The metaphor used to describe it, is that of a coiled snake – which prevents a merging of energy flowing in Ida & Pingala into and through the center channel – Sushumna. The snake is said to be coiled three and a half times so symbolize “om” – which is actually made of of three sounds a/u/m – a coil for every sound and then a gap of waiting.

kundalini

HYP Chapter 3 Sloka 2: “… when the sleeping kundalini is awakened by the grace of a guru”
HYP Chapter 3 Sloka 3: “then the cleared path becomes the royal road for prana…”
(translation by Brian Akers)

After careful and intense purifying preparations (assuming you are a young healthy man who is dedicating his life to Yoga and living in a hut)  including asana, pranayama and kriyas (mentioned in the first two chapters), Kundalini is introduced. The tools to awaken Kundalini are intense energetic practices – intended to awaken the serpent and causing it to straighten – and in doing so opening the blockage and allowing the two energies (ha & tha) to merge.

HYP Chapter 3 Sloka 12: “Thus the kundalini will stretch out, like a snake that has been hit by a stick The two nadis die off thereby, because the prana leaves them.”
(translation by Hans Ulrich Reiker)

The posture prescribed for beating Kundalini is an asymmetric  seated posture called Mahamudra – which is very uninteresting externally but can be very energetic inside. I am not going to get into the posture in this article – because (a) it has many subtle points; (b) requires intense, specific and personalized breathing; (c) needs to be incorporated in a practice with proper preparation and counter-postures; (d) should be taught and practiced with a teacher present; (e) all of which means you REALLY shouldn’t play around with it (you can, and people have, suffered injuries from it). I do want to point out that a core seated posture, and not some convoluted circus posture, is at the gateway to the higher-plains of Yoga.

If, like me, you are of a western mind-set then the words “prevent” & “obstacle” are calling out for you to do something. But, before rushing off to awaken your serpent and get your juices flowing, please ask yourself if there maybe a reason it’s there? I invite you to read one story of a person who apparently did manage to awaken the snake: Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man.

Posted in Energy, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Models & Metaphors, Yoga, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

WordPress – Write Now

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Your blog is about you, the things that interest you and your passion to share them with others
Your blog is about you, the things that interest you and your passion to share them with others
Your blog is about you, the things that interest you and your passion to share them with others

Once you’ve gotten past the technical hurdles of setting up WordPress (or found someone to help you through them) you are most likely going to find yourself facing two issues: (1) writing content and (2) designing the look of your blog. This post will be dedicated to writing, the next to design – and this is the order in which you should do it too. Let your content lead into your design.

You don’t need WordPress to start writing

You can start writing now even before you’ve got your WordPress installation working. Get a pen & paper, cue-cards, open your favorite text editor, take our your drawing pad – start creating your content.  Publishing your work on WordPress is the END of your writing process.

You have all the time, space and freedom to explore writing. Here are some things you can do to get started and explore:

  • If you could walk on stage and talk to a bunch of people who were curious about you and what you have to say – who do you envision sitting in the crowd? what would you like to talk to them about? You can do this exercise more then once 🙂 Your blog can make this happen for you.
  • Make a list of topics you’d like to write about. Stay close to things you know, things that are in your heart and things you are most passionate about.
  • Make a list of ideas for posts that come to mind – try to give them working titles.
  • If you have more then a working title for some of your ideas then write down your thoughts, list links to other resources (books, websites, images…).
  • Spend some time with your list – you may encounter more ideas to add, you may decide to remove some ideas you don’t wish to pursue.
  • When you feel ready, choose one idea, the one you like most, the first one, and try to write a first draft.

Look around and see how others do it

Find inspiration – look around. Search and keep your eyes open for other blogs and writers. When you read something you like: pause and take a moment to appreciate it, ask yourself what it is you liked about it, read more posts by the same writer, look for links to other posts and other writers. Exposure to things you like will inform you on conscious and subconscious levels.

Pay attention to things like length of posts, styles of writing (1st/3rd person, formal/personal, etc.), how they affect you and motivate you. See what turns you on and what turns you off, what provokes you to think, what causes you to want to comment and then to actually do it.

Practice & Explore

You are at the beginning of something new – try to approach it with curiosity and an open mind. Everything you don’t know is a creative opportunity. Claim the freedom to try & explore – seek and create the answers that are best for you. Throw them out when they don’t feel comfortable and try out new ones. You will find that WordPress is wonderful at changing with you. The first steps on this journey can shape your experience for years to come.

Your writing will change as you practice writing. Your perception of blogging will shift and change as your blogging experience accumulates. Changes in your life will change the way you blog, and changes in your blogging may change the way your life.

I strongly recommend you do not read blogs about becoming a succesfull blogger – they will narrow your perception and inhibit your imagination.

Your writing will inform your design

Designing an empty blog – is an empty design. The next articles in this series will elaborate on the visual design of your blog – but for now think of design a skin that wraps your contents and shapes how it is presented to your visitors. Without content any design is an empty shell.

Your content will create a feeling and atmosphere which can help in making design choices. Designs will also be more truthfully experienced with your content already inside. An empty page, or a page with some generic content is not the same as a page with your content in it. Having your content inserted into design ideas will help you relate to them and make better choices.

Doing the other way around can be inhibiting

Design is a creative process. It is relatively easy and tempting to “have” great design ideas, but it is something else altogether to followup on them. A recurring pattern I encounter when working with people on new WordPress blogs is long shopping lists: we want an area for articles, a contact form, a customizable news-letter, a place where people can comment and interact, a place for special announcements, collapsible menus and on and on.

Technically almost everything on the lists is possible with WordPress. But most of the work is not technical – it’s content. Each and every item on the list needs to be filled with relevant content – this means writing. Essentially your shopping list becomes a task list for things you need to write:

  • You now need to write at least one post (preferably more!) for each content category (it’s kind of silly clicking on a “category” and finding no posts or just one).
  • You now need to choose a special event you wish to advertise, author & design a graphic banner, write a page with more details about the event and upload all that into the blog.
  • You need to write every single page on the list (try writing an “about me” page – and see what happens!).

You are now flooded with work – facing a huge project, you have so many things to do before you can actually open your blog and it looks like an impossible task. 99% of the time this will block your creative energies and drain your motivation to even get started. This will prevent you from writing and you look around for something else to keep you busy and focused. There’s a good change you will end up obsessing even more about the design of your blog and find yourself immobilized in a negative feedback loop.

Focus on what you have to say now, not on what you think you may want to say in the future. WordPress is great at changing and accommodating your changing needs.

Energy and motivation are subtle elements. They thrive and prosper when there is space and playfulness, they fade and hide when crowded by demands and expectations.  Let your heart and what you have to say lead the way.

Your blog is about you, the things that interest you and your passion to share them with others

Posted in outside, Wordpress | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

About Writing

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I don’t know what comes out but I do know what goes in

Is there a point in writing something pointless? Probably not more or less then writing something pointfull!

Some words originate in distraction, no words originate in true knowledge.

Yes there is a point, some words and sounds carry eternal truth whether or not we recognize it, but the passing sound may resonate and create movement.

My mind is grasping, insisting that something be said, that words be uttered, that exciting questions be asked, that magical wisdom be revealed.

Truth is sitting there quietly, like a wise parent, watching the scene play-out, smiling, supporting, allowing, encouraging, even curious about the path mind will choose this time… and then out of nowhere…

Posted in Expanding, inside | You are welcome to add your comment