Summer, I love you.

A season is by no means a significant amount of time. Three months, four if you’re lucky (and it’s summer). Give or take a hundred days, not even a third of a year. And at this point in my life, years are beginning to lose their luster for grandiose blocks of time, as they fly off the calendar as fast as months did in middle school. Yet, a season was plenty of time to change my entire life.

This summer was one for the books—and by this I mean quite literally one full of books. It was also a summer of airports, as I flew across country, across countries and into interstellar dimensions. This summer was also one for community, where I was welcomed into the arms of different tribes across the world. This summer was about leaving improvement behind and accepting perfection as it is. This summer was the beginning of my life.

And so was yesterday. And this morning. And probably tomorrow.

If the summer was one thing, it was a realization of lightness. This lightness was not something I carried pre-May.

Before heading into summer my life was one dictated by restriction, practice, guilt and imperfection. Routine and rhythm were things that held me together. I was bound to my practice as much as I was to the surface of the Earth.  I withheld pleasure for piety, in hopes of one day reaching an ultimate goal. I even caught myself feeling guilty shades of superiority over others adopting less “conscious” lives. The one measure of the perceived success of my pre-2012-summer lifestyle was that I felt like I was in control.

Boy was I wrong. This summer started out like the twisted ending of one of those psychological horror movies that somehow convince you (the viewer) that you’re the one killing all the people in the film. Everything I thought I had under control was flipped upside-down. It was shocking at first, but much less difficult than it had been in its previous incarnations (for these realizations have occurred before in lesser degrees of intensity). The main objective was to reset my spiritual ego.

What is a spiritual ego? Well if I had ended my blog post with “This summer was the beginning of my life,” you would have got an extreme does of Yogi Ego. Basically, for me, my egoistic self is searching for one thing: control. It wants to be in charge. Whenever I think I have figured out life, that is when I’ve let my ego take control. This summer was a gentle slap in the face that told me life was much less than I was making it out to be—this being an extremely positive, relieving, and loving thing.

Life is for experience! This summer’s oeuvre was a reassuring mantra that everything is equally as important as everything else. This means that I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing and so is everybody else. This liberating realization was the posture that broke this yogi’s head open. And I surrendered my thoughts, preoccupations and fears to the universe willingly.

We spend so much time trying to be something else that we forget to honor who it is we are. In the complicated maze of desire, we lose sight of achievement. We focus on a future that never comes, preparing, practicing and pondering what might be. We never get there because it is an illusion. There is no where to go.

And for some the illusion is perfect. This article is not to say that one way of life is any better than the other. It is only the recount my own realization. At this point in time my current state of consciousness is perfect as was my state in May, last October and when I was five. All stages, outlooks and understandings are perfect. It is not the shape, context, or content of the state that matters, but the progression through them. Change exacts experience, which adds to the richness of life.

As I find time in between my coursework, I will gladly share with you the specifics of my summer. But until then revel in the awesomely emancipating idea that you are already there. In fact, there is no where else you could possibly be.

Much love.

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Redefining Mistake

Growing up, I was unlike the other kids I knew as I never signed up for spring baseball or enrolled in a fall basketball league. Instead, I spent my extra-activity hours studying the art of karate. This year round sport was very demanding. One of the most rewarding aspects of karate was competing in large tournaments. Here I could showcase my knowledge of both fighting and performance.

The kata portion—or performed routine section—of the tournament required that a participant execute a predetermined set of movements in exact precision. Style, technique and form were judged. It was common knowledge that all competitors memorize their katas. However, since there were many dojos of various styles competing, there was no universal way any judge could remember the sequence of each student’s specific kata.

In one competition, I had stumbled over a forgotten move, which ended up costing me a place on the podium. I was upset and on the drive home, my father leaned over and said, “You know Matt, the judges will never know when you’ve made a mistake unless you show them you messed. If you continue you the kata with confidence, they will not notice.”

Wax on, wax off.

After hearing this, I started to think that maybe he was right. The only reason I lost that day was because I stopped and hesitated. I thought I had been caught by the judges, when in fact I was the only one paying attention to the correct sequence of my kata. I lost because I admitted defeat.

This was a turning point in my life: the definition of mistake had been redefined. No longer was right and wrong decided by an outside entity; the judge was always from within.

Extended past karate, the idea of making mistake in everyday life is often seen as black and white. This is most obvious in the traditional school system with standardized exams that gauge not intellect and creativity, but rather the narrow skill of taking such tests. It is also seen in the notion that attending higher education is the only way to make a respectable living. In society, fashion is determined by a scale of social acceptance. Body image, popularity and materiality are all products of dualistic thinking, seeing in black and white. Yet, even in the face of such powerful ideologies, there exists groups that redefine for themselves the meaning of what is correct.

“There are no mistakes, only happy little accidents.” ~ the Chuck Norris of painting

For instance, there have been many movements through out the history of the arts where rebellious artists (usually young artists) go against the status quo of their predecessors’ style. Such movements have been named modern, post-modern, contemporary and avante garde. In a way, every transition is a redefinition, an expansion of what is and what is not a mistake. This can also be seen in the haute cuisine movement of the culinary world, as well as its rejection. In the school system, we see the rise of liberal studies that focus on content and creativity rather than memorization and regurgitation. Other educational systems like the Waldorf Schools are beginning to redefine what an academic mistake is. Through out society, we see the formation and evolution of counterculture groups like hippies, punks, goths and hipsters. These subgroups recalculate what is accepted within society, expanding the definition of what is accepted within society.

In all of these categories, the idea that black and white is the only way to live for billions of unique people is slowly fading away. Just like how I realized I could define what a correct kata was, the world is beginning to realize what defines a mistake is the words of those that are condemned.

Theorist playing cards, eh? “Foucault uses special ability: avoidance! Baffles opponent!”

Rogue thinker Michel Foucault wrote about this idea in his book on power and oppression. He defined—quite uniquely—that the oppressed were not victims of those in power, but rather causalities to their own roles. In order for their to exist a power-oppressor relationship, the oppressed must assume the role of inferior. They must become the mistake. In contrast, Foucault wrote that the power-oppressor relationship could not exist without the presence of both roles.

The definition of what is correct and what is not is only decided by you. You are the person that holds the gavel. You are the one who swings it.

For more on jazz and mistakes click here.

Now, rewind and then fast forward a bit to my next karate tournament. Armed with a new perspective and a confidence I had never had, I stormed the stage and performed my kata. Since I was in charge, I could do as I pleased. I free-styled the whole thing, start to finish. If I wanted to do a spinning back kick in the air, I did. If I wanted to roll across the floor, I did. If I wanted to bang my fists on the ground, I did. The stage was my canvas and no one was going to tell me how to paint it. With sweat dripping from my brow, I finished my routine. I bowed and faced the judges. I couldn’t believe what I heard them say.

“Matt, would you kindly repeat your kata.”

Boy, was I screwed.

I guess this will be a lesson for another blog.

My Creative Process

I never know where the inspiration for my next blog post is going to come from. Every time I sit down to write, I have a brief moment of fleeting panic. A voice I have recognize as my self-animosity chimes in a few defeating words that usually sound like: “You won’t think of anything good to write. Nothing you will write will help anyone. You can’t figure this out. Blah blah blah…”

At this point, I have learned to listen to my inner voices. I recognize that they exist, I identify what they are saying, but I do so from a neutral stance where I am detached from their wants and desires. By acknowledging the voice, I understand what it is I truly want (and what I do not) and can act accordingly.

The next step in creating a meaningful blog post is silence. This is probably my most difficult stage of the creative process. I often try to push through this stage with thunderous brainstorming and cunning wit. I try to force ideas out of my consciousness. I know that they are in there and that I have access to them, but I am entering the wrong key in the correct lock.

Wouldn’t want to live here.

This process is like building a house without a foundation. Whatever ideas I forcibly gather will not stand up to the winds and gravity of my self-criticism. Much like the house pictured above, my ideas will crumble. I may even formulate a topic worth writing an entire anthology over, but it will lack the luster of its origin. It will be separated from the area from which all creativity spawns.

In this creative space, the secrets of the universe are whispered. All information can be heard in this space. Yet much of the time we are talking (or thinking) so loudly that we cannot pick up on this quiet voice. Silence is an essential part of the creation process.

After being silent, I find that ideas begin to grow. It is subtle, palatable feeling, like hanging static electricity just before lightening strikes. The smallest movement occurs and my thought is guided by something other than myself. It is here that the next challenge occurs: letting this motion take its course.

I seem to be obsessed with weather today.

In order to let a creative thought manifest, it must develop on its own. There are certainly stages where I can manipulate, personalize and expand on its creation, but in its first established moments in the physical real estate of my brain, I find that if I tamper with its progress, it never matures to its fullest potential.

In gardening, when sprouting seedlings, it is most beneficial for the new plant to remain in its seedling habitat until it has reached a stage of maturation where it can physically sustain a transfer to a larger pot. If one moves the seedling too soon, the stress of the unnatural process will harm—if not destroy—its growth. This is parallel to the birth of a creative process.

“Let me grow!”

After allowing a firm stability, creativity will hand itself over to its environment. In the case of this blog, I am now harboring the creative potentiality that was given to me from the source of creation. I can now play with it as I like, typing this word or that word. Yet, even in this process, I am subject to creative severance.

The moment I attempt to claim this beautiful creative process as my own, I begin to lose it. As I begin to take stock in the idea that these concepts and words sprang from my thoughts, the flow of their existence begins to clog.

As many spiritual teachers have told their students, the wisdom from their mind is but an extension of the greater mind. Serving as a channel, rather than the “source” is the best way to transmit creativity. A mother is not her child, but the vehicle that brings it into this world.

Be the channel.

The last stage in my creative process is being grateful. I have not always been capable of accessing creativity. There were many times when anger, addiction and fear limited my ability to know creation as I know it today. I also realize that tomorrow never holds any promises. Yet more than all of these things, the actual process of creation keeps me in awe, and for this I am eternally grateful.

Giving thanks brings forth not only more opportunity but also a deeper understanding of my place in this world. It humbles me, carves out a deeper capacity for silence and ushers in a self-less attitude.

Creation is truly sublime.

Thank you.

Wisdom of the Chinese Massage Parlor

I wasn’t sure if it was the pincer-like grip piercing my tender neck or the intrusive finger smuggling its way deep into my chest cavity, but for some reason I had the crystal clear epiphany that maybe going to Chinatown massage parlors wasn’t exactly my cup of tea.

After a friend and I had spent a long day walking around Manhattan, we were in need of some deep relaxation. After pondering the all-mighty midday nap, we opted for the more interactive idea of getting a massage.  We decided to take a stroll into Chinatown. We were dually warned, but I must have blocked it out, because when our dear referrer told us about this joint all my mind heard was: massage.

Yep, definitely not a Chinese massage.

The place was what you would expect for a $25 half-hour back rub beating. Having really no idea what I was getting into, I decided to just go with the flow. The very small, very nice Chinese lady who would deceive me in so many ways, spoke to me in sputtered English. I did what any confused, extremely naive client would do: I agreed. In retrospect, that was probably the moment I signed my name in blood.

She started out rough. And for the next 30 minutes, it was this roughness I would so desperately yearn. She dug, pulled, pinch, prodded, shocked, twisted, pummeled, gouged, kneed, passed gas (quite unashamedly), and repeated all of these things more times than I care to remember. In the midst of this, my body and mind were all over the place. My hands clutched the metal legs of the massage table so hard that the table shook. I was breathing like a madman. I must of sounded like a crazed sadomasochist. At one point, I literally thought I was going to cry.

Not quite a Chinese massage

I had no control whatsoever. I realized at this moment I could either count the milliseconds until sweet, glorious freedom or just surrender to the torture. And although I found it almost impossible to let my body go completely limp, I did begin to loosen up. This by no means helped the pain; it only allowed her more room to plunge deeper into my body. I think she touched parts of my skeleton that have never been and will never be touched again. She was a crafty one, that sweet, little lady.

There are many times in life when pain, suffering and basically a complete loss of control can create adverse reactions that limit our ability to learn from our experiences. When I was on the table, I could have chosen to get up, but I understood that my emotional reactions and physical urges (as well as the entire karmic event of me actually getting this massage) were trying to tell me something. As I settled into my state of being (tortured), I was able to re-examine the situation.

A Chinese massage.

Utilizing a new perspective, I came to other conclusions. The massage was teaching me a lesson in surrendering, sacrifice, respect and humility. It also gave me the inspiration to write this blog post. I am sure that physically I will be better off—it’s just that I might not recognize it until next year.

All jokes aside, how many times have you found yourself in an undesired situation? In that moment, how much of your energy is put towards avoiding or trying to stop that situation? How often are you present during these times? In these valuable moments, we exert so much effort in running away that we often miss what is right in front of our eyes. And worse, when we don’t realize the entirety of the situation, we tend to repeat it until we do.

Surrender to the moment, good or bad.

I’ve written about the wisdom of pain before, but this post is about recognizing your reaction to it so that you may be in a position to learn from it. The first step in approaching anything—be it a relationship, a lecture, a business meeting or a massage from hell—is the ability to listen. When we can listen with all the senses, with the inner ear, we can accept the lessons given to us without having to repeat them.

And I can tell you in all certainty that I will not be getting a Chinese massages any time soon.