“Fright never injures anyone. What injures the spirit is having someone always on your back, beating you, telling you what to do and what not to do.”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Experibass

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More on this wonder-filled experiment here

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Money Driven Medicine

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Flow

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Resurrecting my old laptop

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My old LG (LM50a) laptop has been completely out of commission for a few months.  It took a few hits and in the end the CD drive was slipping out of place (and pushing it in caused the computer to crash) and the power connection was shaky – so the computer was losing power and shutting down (battery is long dead).

I wanted to take it to someone to fix so I can resurrect it as an Ubuntu machine. A few days ago I decided to give it a shot myself. I started by unscrewing the visible screws but quickly hit a wall – so before resorting to violence I did a search and found some tips on how to open the casing. I was elated when I had the computer open AND was able to locate the problem.

lg01_open

As I was staring at it I realized that I needed some kind of map to find my way back to a working computer – so I arranged all the screws in reverse chronological order and that worked out just fine.

lg03_screws

The power connector was almost free – the soldering was completely gone. So I borrowed a soldering iron from a neighbor and fixed them.

lg02_fix

Then started the journey back: (1) replacing the top cover (and connecting the touch-pad); (2) reconnecting & assembling the screen; (3) reconnecting and replacing the power/controls panel; and (4) finally the keyboard.

lg04_screen

lg05_powerpanel

lg06_keyboard

Then, with my fingers crossed, I plugged the power in and … it came back on and there I was back with my XP installation.

lg07_working

Next up was a lot of uninstalling, deleting/backing up old files and then defragmenting the drive to prepare it for the Ubuntu installation.

lg08_defragbefore

Then came Wubi (Windows Ubuntu Installer), another spectacular example of open-source initiative. It works amazing well and simple – you download an installer from their website and select your preferred language, user interface (I went with Kubuntu in English) – and it does EVERYTHING for you – it partitions the hard drive and installs Ubuntu.When it’s done and you reboot the computer you will be able to choose  between Windows XP & Kubuntu.

lg09_wubi

The download and installation can take some time – so I left it running and missed most of the show. In the morning I found the computer restarted in XP (which remains the default boot operating system) – so I restarted it and… got a messed up graphic display – in which I could make out a progressing progress bar (looked like it was continuing the installation) and I let it continue its work.

lg10_screenerror

When it was finished, another restart and … YEAH!! it worked. My laptop has been resurrected and is now running Kubuntu.

lg11_kubuntu

I still need to figure out how I will be using and synchronizing it with my main PC and stuff on my Ubuntu storage server  … but hey – I’ve got my laptop back 🙂

Some more useful links I found as I was searching around and considering my options:

Posted in Expanding, inside, Open Source, outside, Tech Stuff | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-10-04

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Nadi Sodhana

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Nadi Sodhana is a subtle breathing technique, a crown jewel amongst the  Pranayama techniques. In Nadi Sodhana breath control is achieved only through the nostrils – so there is no more switching back and forth between nostril control and throat control (ujjayi).

If you are familiar with Pratiloma Ujjayi – then in a way you’ve already been practicing Nadi Sodhana – all you have to do is take out the parts of the sequence in which Ujjayi is used. Following is the Pratiloma Ujjayi sequence with the Ujjayi parts crossed out:

  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).

What you are left with is a technique based on nostril control going from side to side:

  1. Inhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).
  2. Exhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  3. Inhale through the right nostril (closing the left nostril by applying pressure to your ring finger).
  4. Exhale through the left nostril (closing the right nostril by applying pressure to the thumb).

If your practice includes holds then add them where necessary. Please remember that one round of Nadi Sodhana is made up of two 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 Nadi Sodhana. It begins and ends with regular Ujjayi breathing and in the middle the technique is changed to Nadi Sodhana. Find yourself a comfortable seated position and do the following practice sequence :

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

1   –   0   –   1   –   0   (x8 = 4 rounds Nadi Sodhana)

1   –   0   – 1.5 –   0   (x8 = 4 rounds Nadi Sodhana)

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

Posted in Breath, Pranayama, Yoga | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

No Battery

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A couple days ago we went to shop for some herbs and spices and on the way to the store we stopped for a walk in a nature reserve where many birds visit as they migrate between Europe & Africa as the seasons change. I took the camera (with a hefty long lens) with me only to find that the battery in it was almost dead and that the spare battery was completely dead (I am not doing much photography these days). So I was left with barely enough juice for a few manual focus shots.

And then, this flock of birds flies in from the north and I begin tracking them, praying that the battery holds out long enough and suddenly I see the rising moon appear in the frame and …

agmon01

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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

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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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