Yoga with Francis and Friends

If you wonder what goes on during Francis Lucille retreats, I must admit it is not easy to describe.

It’s easy to tell you about the delicious food, wonderful friendships, and the beauty of the space itself—these retreats have all aspects of everything you may dream a yoga retreat would be. However amazingly, these aspects are, by far, not the best part.

Looking deeply at modern yoga, it is possible to root out an underlying assumption that carries over from the way we approach pretty much everything it seems. This assumption has an if this, then that formula. For example, if we improve the body and mind, then we may feel we are really getting somewhere, and one day we might even get “there”. But what does getting there mean really?

One thing I’ve learned from Francis, is how many of our feelings and motivations have gone uninvestigated. In particular, the effort of trying to resolve a deep discomfort by getting somewhere is precisely what keeps us on the treadmill. It’s exhausting. “If only I had better health, more money, if I fixed this, changed that, improved this, got rid of that…” and the list goes on and on. We never really stop to ask ourselves if this particular way we are trying to work it out really works. I’m not suggesting we should stop working towards betterment. Doing our best is obviously a great way to take care in this world, but moreso, I’m pointing out something more fundamental.

The question is, what will you get when you get what you want?

“Hmmm, well… then I’ll be happy!”

The Dalai Lama once said, “Go ahead and keep doing your best, but be happy now.”

I know. This seems simple and easy to say. The question we could then ask him is, “How?” And of course, some of us are relatively happy to a degree, but what he means is really happy—you know, a deeper type of happiness that is content, even when things aren’t always going our way. A peaceful, happy kind of contentment. A broader view. This is what yoga really has to offer.

And still the question remains, how? The answer to this question begins with one main prerequisite—an interest. Maybe at first we are mildly interested when hearing something like this, but then the desire to keep going down old roads might still be strong (in yoga philosophy, we call this Tamas). Or perhaps we really don’t believe that happiness can be lasting, or possible exactly as we are—as it is. Or maybe we’ve just simply put far too much investment in how we have been doing things and we are just going to settle with this plan, because after all, at least it is familiar—and, well, good enough anyway.

And that is of course, perfectly fine. But for those who are tired of those old roads that don’t really, upon investigation, deliver on their promises, there is another way.

In the beginning, starting to turn the ship around may indeed feel like a bit of a challenge. But once you start, little things do start to shift. More and more things begin to really reveal themselves and you start to see for yourself that it is worth it! We begin to see that the effort we were putting into old ways now seem so heavy. And this new effort we are putting into this investigation is really lightening the load. We finally begin to see that we’ve been looking for lasting happiness in all the wrong places.

…and the greatest thing is that it was never far.

In fact…

…it was in us all along. Everything we ever wanted.

It’s an amazing discovery, for, once found, it’s the end of the search. But it’s not really the end, it’s actually the beginning.

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A big part of what takes up our energy in the run of a day, is thinking about things. We even know that a lot of it is repetitive and unnecessary, yet no matter how we try, we don’t seem to be able to control it. In moments when we do catch ourselves totally caught up, we tend think there’s only two options–either get rid of the thoughts or escape from them.

It’s as if there weren’t a third option.

But there is a third option that, when understood, works immediately. In fact, the other two methods don’t really work funny enough–at least, not for very long anyway.

The way in and through, so to speak, is with the thoughts.

In this way we endeavour to allow, to welcome, and to simply pay less attention to thoughts, rather than trying to destroy them. In fact, we don’t need to destroy anything on the road to freedom.

There is a sweetness, a richness, that emanates from the present. It’s hard to see it when we are busy thinking about something else. But when we become interested, we begin to shift our interest from habits of worry and daydreaming, to the background of all experience, there is a truth there. This opportunity is always here for us and the source of true meditation.

So let’s continue to try to quit giving ourselves a hard time all the time and replace it with better understanding. Let’s throw out all the techniques and recipes we’ve accumulated that haven’t delivered what they seem to promise. Let’s find a better way. Life is in its essence is simple, peaceful, open, and waiting for us to join with it, right now as-it-is. You know, even if at first it doesn’t seem like it ever will get easier, it does. With each step we take in the right direction we discover it doesn’t have to be so hard.

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Yoga Means With

Whether you like to make new years resolutions or not…
Whether you embrace holiday traditions or enjoy starting new ones…
Even whether you think about politics and current affairs or stay away from it all…

Yoga means “with”.

At one point or another you may have learned that yoga is a Sanskrit word that is translated to mean “union“. That’s right. That means when you say you’re going to yoga, you are saying, “Honey, could you keep an eye on the kids? I’m off to union class.

I must admit, the word “union” is a little strange. I wouldn’t even use that word in English to describe my practice, who would? It’s just not natural. There are some interesting philosophical reasons why yoga was translated into English that way, but what is much more important than philosophy–is your actual experience.

Lost in translation. Recently, I discovered the word Hygge. It’s Danish for something that English simply does not have a word for. The closest we can come to describing Hygge is “coziness”. Hygge is something the Danes do/have/or feel that helps them enjoy the shorter, colder days of Winter. It can be seen as the art of Winter Happiness, and it’s just not part of our language. It describes a feeling.

In the same way, what does yoga feel like?

If you try to find a word that comes closest to describing yoga in English, what would it be? I wouldn’t say, “union”, but similar to this philosophical translation, I would say “to be with”. Yoga happens when you are really with yourself, not divided against yourself. Yoga is, when you are working “with your body”, not on your body. Yoga is when we are with others, not succumbing to the comparing or judging aspect of the mind. When we feel this sense of “with-ness”, there is a peace that floods our experience.

Intuitively, if we witness someone being hard on their body, the teacher, or the others during a practice, we have a feeling it is a little “unyogic”.  Somehow, mysteriously, we do not need to be taught this to sort of know it. We may not always able to accomplish this– ie. to be with it all, moment by moment–to keep coming back to kindness and  compassion for the body, mind, and the world–but that is why it is called a practice! It is a natural intention when we are truly interested in the truth of yoga.

So, whether you set resolutions and intentions or not…
whether you like to keep up to date with current affairs or not…
whether you like to be physical or intellectual or anything really…
…the question is, am I being hard on myself?

Almost anything we do can come from either one or the other direction.
Knowing this–moment by moment– softening into yourself and showing yourself kindness and understanding,

this is yoga.


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Raja Yoga

raja-yoga-02Exploring the roots of yoga is like digging into the earth only to find an entire underground forest, a rich system of interlinking, interwoven paths, traditions, and teachings. There is just so much there.

Among the many paths, there is one thing deeper than any path. Is somehow we all share the same underlying reality. The same love, whatever that is, that grows the flowers, and everything in this universe. That which beats our hearts and allows for this incredible experience of life. What that is, why, and how may be pondered, but that we all share this mystery is our common ground. The essence of some underlying truth. It doesn’t belong to any one school, practice, teacher or doctrine… it is simply there to be found like a diamond if you dig.

And this discovery process is the beginning of true joy and the end of suffering. Philosophy cannot produce the joy of this discovery, only lead you towards it. It is something we need to discover for ourselves in our experience. Funny enough, this is not something we seem to think is available to us in our modern lifestyle. We do not seem to consciously put it on our to-do lists, “Car wash, check. Pick-up the kids, check. Discover my true nature….  nah not today.” Instead, we seem to settle simply for symptom relief, and carry on carrying on. Maybe because as a concept it seems big or out of the ordinary. Maybe it seems like there would be too much to give up, or it just sounds weird, but it is possible to discover what we are already and the ensuing peace of that discovery. Not only possible, but ultimately it is what we are truly wanting, but didn’t know it. Every time we seek happiness, we are seeking the truth. Modern society obviously does not have the answers to our problems. Stress and depression have not been decreasing no matter how much research the academics are doing. Yoga is on the rise, but a lot of the yoga is simply exercise, and although it has an echo of what yoga really is, it doesn’t put a stop to our suffering in the ways that it could.

However there is more for us here in this lifetime. It is possible to see that we do not have to give up everything, and become beatific and wear robes in order to discover it. Right now, right here, in the middle of our messy lives, we can wake up to the sweetest thing. It is possible and it is available to anyone no matter what the circumstance. For some it comes all of a sudden, and for many it is like a slow coming to one’s senses, but either way, this fruit of what yoga was always meant to be is available. The key to unlocking the door, so to speak, is to desire it. To wake up and claim the desire to know our ultimate potential for well being in this lifetime. To not settle for any less.

This is what yoga has always really been about. It has very little to do with accomplishing complex yoga postures. Much sweeter than trying to accomplish something, it’s a letting go process. A release, an unlearning in such a way that what is already shining in you can simply come out to play. Yoga in this sense, is a goal. That is what raja (royal) yoga means. To discover the King/Queen inside that is already there. The one who knows what is best, how to move with the moment… the one who is no different than any Buddha, and never short of the mark. To discover this is the highest bliss and through the methods of yoga, we can use different kinds of practices to realize this.

Hopefully this lengthy explanation does not leave you as confused as I have been at times, trying to understand the complex root system of the many kinds of yoga. May it instead leave you inspired to explore from the array to help you in the discovery process.

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