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June 16, 2017 - Comments Off on Alligators, Full Moon Gatherings, Savannah GA

Alligators, Full Moon Gatherings, Savannah GA

We're moving again! This time for a few months down in Savannah, Georgia. Just exploring all the southeast has to offer - it's been beautiful and healthy for me so far. We still got out to some interesting events in Charleston before we left.

I had been looking for an alligator in the lake behind Alexandra's house since we arrived in Charleston and finally got to catch a few pictures of one.

Still Soul Studio helped organize a wonderful full moon gathering on a beach at Sullivan's Island. I was fortunate to be able to lead some meditation practice - all credit to the singular Young Katherine for taking many of these lovely photos! There was also yoga, chanting, and some journaling with a fire ceremony. Very special evening for me - my thanks to everyone who helped organize and came out for that lovely time.

Finally Alexandra, who's been our most gracious hostess with the most gracious mostest in Charleston for this last month, took us to see the final day of an art installation: Wade in the Water. A multimedia installation based on the subjective experience of people affected by climate change in a real way. It was a beautiful, non-invasive and non-chart laden experience to walk through - the artist, John Duckworth, is currently planning to expand the project into more cities. It made me a little sad to be leaving Charleston so soon, as I haven't had a chance to fully explore the artistic community, but it was simultaneously inspiring.

Finally - we went stand up paddle-boarding!


I know I said "more to come" on Charleston last time but life moves fast and so now that will become "more to come" on Savannah.


May 6, 2017 - Comments Off on Coast to Coast, Belongings in a Sedan

Coast to Coast, Belongings in a Sedan

After a two week road trip from Northern California Kate and I are now sort-of settled in Charleston, South Carolina! It was my first trip across the country by car and the small-but-mighty Ford Fiesta passed with flying colors. We managed to fit two people's worldly possessions into a single sedan.

We went about it like this:

I'll be teaching meditation at Still Soul Studio and collaborating with my friends at Layerframe to see if we can't cook up something interesting for the South.

It was an exciting trip - have some photos! Sorry I clearly dropped the photography game at certain points in the trip.

More on Charleston to come soon - but it's a great place and y'all should move here.


April 20, 2017 - Comments Off on Backpacking Big Sur

Backpacking Big Sur

Arroyo-Seco trail, underneath Cone Peak and to the coast, then back. Around 32 miles in 4 days.


Day 1


Day 2


Day 3


Day 4

March 4, 2017 - Comments Off on Working With the Energy of Time

Working With the Energy of Time

My volunteer commitment is almost up at Dharma Publishing! I'll be wrapping up my projects in one month and then striking out east. Above is a photo I took of sunset at Stump Beach, in case you were wondering how goddamn beautiful it is up here.

In Skillful Means teachings your accomplishments act as a fuel for your future action, and provide nourishment for continuing projects. In the interests of continuing to grow as a person, I'm going to try and acknowledge some of the things I've accomplished here and sketch out some goals for the next phase of life. If that sounds narcissistic and boring, it definitely is and I also definitely don't care. #myblog

Meditation, mindfulness, contemplation - this continues to be a fruitful field of exploration and I intend to continue seeing where it takes me next. In my time here I've done two levels of Kum Nye Teacher Training; I lead a Kum Nye class three days a week for volunteers and occasionally teach retreat guests at Ratna Ling as well. Continuing to learn and plumb the depths of mind is bolstered by teaching - leading any class requires a more intricate understanding of the subject. To really be a good instructor one needs to be intimate with the body of knowledge you're teaching. This is the same principle in teaching anything- Muay Thai, design principles, or cooking techniques. I would like to attend a multi-day silent retreat, and also am open to learning new techniques and practices over the coming years. To not be curious about the experience of being human is no longer an option for me, and I'm happy to chew anyone's ear off about why that's important and necessary work to do.

Political activism - I'm afraid we seem to be experiencing a "democratic recession" at the moment globally, and domestically we have a dangerous ego-driven wannabe autocrat at the helm. And Jesus Christ, this Russia thing. It's a precarious situation, and as someone who has been enjoying the fruits of liberal democracy for a long time I owe more time and energy spent protecting it. How that manifests requires more thought, but I can dedicate my physical presence more if I'm not way out in the middle of the redwood forest. I've been taking liberalism for granted, and recent events have made it clear that we may be a hair's breadth away from sliding backward into a bleak, autocratic political situation. More vigilance and action is required here on my part.

Learn how to teach basic self defense and begin leading free classes for my community. Learning martial arts has been a very important part of my life, and I hope it will continue to be so. I want to continue to train in martial arts to improve my body and mind, but also would like to give back by volunteering efforts to lead self defense classes locally. This may not seem to jibe with the whole meditation and Buddhism activity — but unfortunately we do not live in a safe world yet. Pretending violence doesn't exist is not a rational option, and I'm worried by statistics pointing to increased violence against various groups being targeted by those in power at the moment politically. I'm fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn principles of self defense and enjoy teaching, so this makes sense as an extension.

Work is our creative outlet in this world. It is a very important part of my life and, when I am being kind to myself, I am proud and sometimes surprised at how I continue to improve in this area. Applying Skillful Means (think of it like a mindful management training program) to my work at Dharma Publishing has been very fruitful.

In less than a year I've been able to learn Premiere Pro and After Effects - not an expert by any means but competent enough to design intro sequences, cobble together clips with basic editing and export/distribute via online channels and physical DVD production.

I also created the new Dharma Publishing Academy, an online portal for learning Dharma teachings like Kum Nye and Skillful Means. It serves two purposes: preserves and presents the mixed media (audio lectures, video seminars, books) and content Dharma Publishing has produced over the years by turning them into Self Study Programs. And, it's an automatic source of revenue. With no human effort required (other than originally creating the online course) money is able to go straight to purchasing paper for the books printed by Yeshe De and distributed every year to the Tibetan refugees in India. Writing and designing the courses has been a rewarding challenge, and working on a digitally oriented project with huge video files from a place in the woods with satellite internet has been a good test in patience.

There's also all those Stupas, and the work I do in the community here, and the days I've been faced with a choice to say yes or no, and learning to choose "Yes" more often. How my work and activity will continue to unfold is a question I'm still working with. But I am excited to try it out "in the real world." I have an entrepreneurial spirit, enjoy leadership and am excited to continue adding tools to my arsenal of creative expression. I intend to live from a mindset of abundance, at least unless that's proven wrong and I end up destitute (spoiler alert: I won't).

Relationships, do them better - I would like to continue improving here, my connections with other humans is a great space to do self-work from. Family, friendships, romantic partners, coworkers, community members - there's always room for improvement and making things better. Not to get all woo-woo but the bedrock underneath most of our life seems to be love — when you penetrate the layers of mind deep enough that's been my experience, at least. If that's the case then one would be wise to start acting like that more often. Appreciate and have more gratitude for those around me, through daily practice. Develop my patience and equanimity when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

Broaden horizons through travel and new experiences. Learn Spanish. I would love to commit to writing something more substantial, mostly to tell others condescendingly that I'm an author. I want to explore virtual reality and immerse myself in technology again. The creative possibilities with VR sound exciting — at Layerframe we got the first Oculus dev kit and it was cool but basically just made you nauseous. I think the blending of sensory experiences and ability to manipulate perceived reality like they are able to know is ripe for exploration. And it's still nascent enough that there are real opportunities to innovate with the technology and drive change, which is exciting. Continue to read, at least one book per month. I feel like that's a major "lifehack" that people seem to be forgetting, which is worrisome. It might just be because I currently work at a publishing company so I feel it more acutely here.

I'll continue to jot down thoughts as my experience here winds down. If you have questions let me know in the comments. And if you want to work with me or collaborate come springtime holla at ya boy: ryan@ryanegan[dot]net

December 28, 2016 - Comments Off on Reality vs. Perception vs. Happiness

Reality vs. Perception vs. Happiness

First a very important update: I've been wearing the same sweatpants and hoodie for several days now, and it's glorious. Merry Christmas.

I was fortunate to recently participate in some training at Ronin Athletics and in between getting strangled the head coach, Christian Montes, told me about how the Gracies used to sell laypeople on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is back in the eighties, before the emergence of modern MMA and when there were still karate schools practicing death touch and breaking boards. To prove Brazilian Jiu Jitsu's effectiveness as a self defense discipline they would have a prospective student lay down on the ground and put them in full mount:

From there the black belt would just tell the neophyte on bottom to try and get out, like their life depended on it, there was someone taking away your loved ones right over there, you have to get to them, etc. etc.

Anyone who has trained modern martial arts can probably guess what happens - the person on bottom will not be able to escape, inevitably and quickly become exhausted, and a realization sets in. That you had an perception of reality that was at odds with the way things actually are. I would bet a lot of us who train in BJJ had an experience similar to this the first time we stepped onto the mat.

How you take that new understanding and move forward is up to you. In my case the absolute decisiveness of the practice (you are in essence fighting for your life every time) and the depth of knowledge required to get good led to it becoming a borderline obsession.

Now I can give you this same experience, but for meditation or contemplative practices.

Just do this: Try not to have a thought. I'll wait.

Probably didn't take long. Meditation, like martial arts, is many things but awareness of thoughts and how mind operates is one major benefit of the practice. This is important because, arguably, identifying with thoughts and as thoughts causes roughly all of our problems as human beings on a day-to-day basis.

You can take this realization and cognize it, process it and think about it and that's fine. But in my opinion until you practice meditation regularly this won't become apparent in daily life.

Just like I can learn the escape from full mount, and that there are actually a couple of very easy ways to get out most of the time in the space of five minutes, but without practicing the technique over and over my mind won't fully realize it. Eventually you want it to become muscle memory (which is a flow state of mind and body unified) where it feels like you don't even cognize what to do next, you just do the technique and get out.

The same principles apply for contemplative practice - without taking the time out of your day to sit, pay attention to the breath or the body, and work with the ceaseless stream of thoughts that we think are "us", then we will not be able to have this awareness become muscle memory. In daily life, when we are upset, we will not be able to recognize (what a wonderful word by the way, re-cognizing) that upset is just a thought and pull ourselves back into a better frame of mind to deal with the situation. This can be done more and more effortlessly and quickly the more you practice paying attention and bringing mind back to a focal point.

From there it opens up. How far you choose to pursue it and integrate that into your life is entirely up to you. In my case the style of practice sort of found me, and I currently subscribe to the Tibetan Buddhist practices and general perspective on the practice. There are more secular alternatives if the very concept of religion freaks you out, but I would also argue that religion is just that- a concept, and of the spiritual practices available (that aren't a cult) Tibetan Buddhism has almost 3,000 years of creating contemplative masters.

You can completely ignore any magical elements and still receive extraordinary benefits by learning more about it. I'll plug a different book this time, I recently read Sam Harris' book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion and would recommend that if you'd like a logical presentation of contemplative practice and Buddhism in particular.

We are being driven around by thoughts and emotions for most of our day. You don't need any sort of spiritual practice to see this is the case. Just try and not have one. Sam Harris used a great example in the above book - imagine you're in a room of strangers and you find your glasses. You might say out loud "There are my glasses" when you found them and no one would really react. Now imagine if you kept talking, "Oh, there are my glasses. I am always forgetting things. This is probably why Cheryl stopped talking to me. I'm such an idiot!" The people around you would probably be freaked out. But we do this in our own heads all day, without even realizing it most of the time.

I am much better off now because I am able to more fully understand the depth of this simple fact, by taking a little time out of my day and paying attention. Compared to when I began earnest meditation practice, I generally get 'hooked' less by thoughts and am able to better recognize patterns of behavior that seem integral to my being but aren't at all. I'm not great at it by any means, but any advancement is improvement and I try to acknowledge it as such.

So big thanks to Christian for bringing that to my attention recently, as I love to draw parallels between the different obsessions that I have and gradually become an even bigger nerd. If you want to learn more about any of that, whether related to strangling people or becoming more mindful just leave a question in the comments and I'll try to respond!

OmAhHum and Osssss


November 4, 2016 - Comments Off on Road Tripping Across California

Road Tripping Across California


So I recently re-upped my commitment here at Ratna Ling / Dharma Publishing for another six months of volunteer work, and took a little vacation to celebrate! The eminently photogenic Kate has a friend named Alex who has a lovely spot out in Lake Tahoe. We had a (tragically cancelled) AirBnB that turned into a semi-seedy motel stay in Sacramento, hiked around a bunch, popped into Reno and generally had a great time.

Photos below!

First up, Old Sacramento. According to local legend and also a brochure that we found, there is a whole city built underneath Old Sacramento. I would tell you more about that, but we tried to take the tour and it was sold out. So you'll have to use your imagination like us, sorry.

Not contented with one tourist trap, we moved on the next to Appleville, where they grow all the apples you eat! This isn't true but they had a $hit ton of apples and apple byproducts. Also, pumpkins.

Finally we got to Lake Tahoe, which is stunningly beautiful in a natural splendor way, and a little weird in the Ritzy Ski Resort Town way. It got really cold at night, but it was so gorgeous during the day it really didn't matter.

Shoutout to Alex for letting us crash at her lovely pad for so many days! We also went four wheeling which was pretty fun, and off roading at night which maybe made Kate a little sick. I'm not into skiing enough to live in Lake Tahoe but it was nice to visit - Sacramento, eh. Leave it.

Positive customer service experience - AirBnB was very good to us when our host cancelled last minute - full refund, offered to help us find a new place (we opted for shady hotel) and paid $40 worth of food and drinks while we abused wifi to find a new place! Not the company's fault and appreciated the extra service and responsiveness. So good on them.

That's probably the last trip until I head home for the holidays. I haven't been able to write much because I've been really busy with the 60 hours working and we just started a gang of new classes in the evenings. I usually have about 1 hour of free time a night and that's typically spent staring at the wall until falling asleep at 9:30pm.

It is still wonderful and mostly sunny here! The rainy season did start, and things are green again which is really nice to see. The rain is kind of hilariously soaking when it does come though, sideways rain, upside down rain, etc.


Till next time! Adios.

September 12, 2016 - Comments Off on Mi Familia visits Ratna Ling

Mi Familia visits Ratna Ling

August 20, 2016 - Comments Off on On Rabid Monkeys, Yoga and Mindfulness

On Rabid Monkeys, Yoga and Mindfulness


This week it was revealed that research scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have taken the Buddhist school's training your monkey mind concept to a new level by essentially trying to recreate the plot of 28 Days Later.

But in the end, it turned out we were really the monsters. But also the actual monsters were monsters. 

By injecting the rabies virus into Cebus monkeys the researchers were able to trace an interaction between our adrenal medulla (located just above our kidneys) and the cerebral cortex. This is important because it's the first evidence that there is a direct connection between our body's reaction to stressful situations (the adrenal medulla secretes hormones like dopamine and epinephrine) and the mind.

As in most things related to science, I just accept they're telling me the truth here. We could be made of Play Doh inside for all I know.

Basically it helps us cope with physical and emotional stress - when someone calls you a "Gross ginger with no soul" for example, it squirts out a little bit of smack into your belly to help you maintain your calm and not fuck up that person's day (which I absolutely will, so don't test me).

There are specific regions of the cerebral cortex that control the adrenal medulla, and this is the first time we're actually able to see what those regions are and how they relate. This matters because if we responded to stressful situations with a purely physical reaction we when a minor stressful situation arose we'd have an animalistic automatic action, kind of like the mini horses here at Ratna Ling do, which is to say, completely lose your shit and try to kick people for no good reason.

As one of the researchers, Dr. Strick put it:

"Because we have a cortex, we have options," said Dr. Strick. "If someone insults you, you don't have to punch them or flee. You might have a more nuanced response and ignore the insult or make a witty comeback. These options are part of what the cerebral cortex provides."

Baby if witty comebacks are a sign of a powerful cortex than I should be something something I don't know this isn't a comeback I've had too much time to think now stop pressuring me here look at these cute fucking bunnies:


What's interesting is these areas that activate are in the primary motor cortex, specifically the parts of the brain responsible for body posture and axial movement.

This is pretty big news for a couple of reasons:

  1. This may change the professional medical perspective on psychosomatic illnesses - there's now proof our mind can cause very real physical symptoms in the body.
  2. Training the body can have a verifiable impact on the mind, and vice versa.

From an article on the report by The Science Explorer:

This input to the adrenal medulla may explain why core body exercises are so helpful in modulating responses to stress. Calming practices such as Pilates, yoga, tai chi and even dancing in a small space all require proper skeletal alignment, coordination and flexibility.

Of additional note is these are the same regions of the brain that light up during mindfulness and meditation techniques. These are concepts that may make intuitive sense but this is a breakthrough study in that physical, biological evidence has been provided for the first time.


One can also extrapolate this further. This article in Brainpickings breaks down the work of Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist recognized for his work in the field of trauma. His work is revolutionary in that he takes a holistic approach to treatment, integrating body work and body therapies alongside more traditional or accepted treatments, like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

From his book:

The body keeps the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heartbreaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and skeletal/muscular problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communtherapeutic assumptions.

If stress is interpreted by the mind and passed down to the body, then it stands to reason that developing a clear line of communication between our body and mind would help us cope.

While van der Kolk deals primarily with more extreme levels of trauma and PTSD, this concept applies to all of us. The greatest tragedies in our lives are the ones we experience, even if we've been lucky enough to have a relatively privileged life. Not to mention the impact that another person in our space dealing with a trauma can have on the us, people around them.

There's an interesting concept in Kum Nye yoga that, when we are young, and acts of openness, creativity or vulnerability aren't reciprocated we respond by instinctively "protecting" ourselves. Usually by shrinking away, erecting a wall or withdrawing in order to not experience that feeling of rejection again. Untreated or unaddressed this creates a "blockage" or psycho-physical knot in our mind-body system that can manifest in all sorts of unpleasant and subconscious fashions.

Maybe you go to show your parents a drawing you made, they're busy stressing over a tax issue that has nothing to do with you and brush you off. That one instance, which is really no one's "fault" can lead to a walling off of that creative ability, and can manifest not only in a reluctance to draw or display creative acts but can also create a general negative attitude toward sharing, being open in relationships, social situations etc.

This is a small example of what is potentially a much larger psychic event in your life. Kum Nye yoga in particular attempts to address it by working to relax the body, which then allows these "knotted" or dense areas to release and start flowing again. It becomes harder to explain at this point because it's actually best experienced, but this relaxation can sometimes display itself physically as euphoria, nausea, crying, nodding off. Usually though you just feel pretty good. Kum Nye is not the only way to release these knots but it's an interesting way of thinking that I haven't seen specifically addressed or brought up with in any of the 30+ different yoga teachers/styles I've tried over the past ten years.

And it doesn't really need to be talked about, because just by doing the practice you're establishing that mind-body link. On a purely physical level, with this study we now know that just by working on your core (or probably putting the body through any number of axial movements or postures), whether that's doing planks in Pilates, squatting during Crossfit, or holding side angle pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana, or, Why I Can't Teach Yoga the Names Are Too Goddamn Long) you're developing your mind and altering how it responds to stresses in general.

Namaste, bitches.

It's more about having some kind of body discipline, and how you integrate that with your mind that I think is important. I loved training in martial arts for that reason, and it's why I run to the river and back here at Ratna Ling, playing with my impulses and inner nature uphill the entire way back. It's not just a release of endorphins (though that is part of why it feels good afterward for sure) but there's a mental dialogue happening, a negotiation with the self and the mind to push on and keep going that I can then take into my daily life, work and relationships. The mind tells a story about the body, and during physical movement and strenuous positions you have an opportunity to notice the story and reshape it into a form that better suits your life.

So the bottom line is - just move your body through space and sometimes pick up heavy shit. That will make you a better, happier person. For sure. Science says so now.

Personally I find exploring this mind body connection endlessly fascinating, and through Kum Nye practice and study I'm learning more about how the Tibetan Buddhist systems approach and deal with it.


By the by I'm not pro-injecting-rabies-into-monkeys, but in the grand scheme of things learning how our mind functions is probably a more worthwhile endeavor than testing eye shadow. But the rabies virus is apparently very good at displaying neurons and how they connect, so it was the only choice. And it's a strange coincidence that we're learning about our monkey mind (as a metaphor for our out-of-control thought patterns and automatic responses) by viewing an actual monkey mind. With rabies.

Just food for thought!


Till next time, fellow primates.

July 29, 2016 - Comments Off on Chipping Away at the Glacier

Chipping Away at the Glacier


"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms."
-Some Bard. That last sentence is my favorite. Going to find ways to use "Quit your mewling" more often.

I've been considering change recently, mostly in terms of my own life. This is because I'm selfish. And if I considered how much you are changing that would be weird and frankly none of my business.

A lot of the work and study we do here deals with heavy-duty self reflection and examination of the mind and all of it's nonsense. Ratna Ling is a very supportive environment for self-work, it's even integrated into our actual jobs via Skillful Means and daily meditation practices during work hours. If all that self-work doesn't have some sort of impact I feel like you're probably not paying attention. I certainly think I'm different than when I was dropped off here for example, and I am happy to say 99% are clearly positive changes.

I'm slowly learning to tolerate cats and that's pretty awful. Otherwise positive.

To be clear change is happening to all of us, constantly. Curiously it's by fighting our ever-changing nature that we tend get into trouble - "I am a Liberal, I'm no good at math, I like football and hate mornings." When you suddenly have to start waking up in the morning or realize you don't actually like football there's this massive drag and battle with the self (and in the case of football potentially your social circle and external factors at large). If we could make the mental switch to "Well I'm a morning person now" then theoretically mornings would become way easier. I'm terrible at this, by the way. I've just come to believe that flipping the switch is possible with hard work and willpower. It's a big, invisible, sticky switch.

Question: If you view life as an experiment, or a performance, how would you want to lead it? Either works, the scientific method allows for a methodical and playful approach. For example, you could try smiling more during your interactions with people for one week and note what happens. Or, if you have a flair for the theatrical, take the performance route and consider yourself the hero in your own personal movie. What does he or she do, if the film were starting right now?


I think both of these would fall under the Path of Transformation, which (and this is where I throw up my "I'm learning" disclaimer so bear with me) works with your experiences and the energies you encounter during daily life. This path exists next to (separate but not necessarily opposing) the so-called Gradual Path - where the approach is based on finding solutions or antidotes to problems that arise in order to create a "worthwhile" existence. As I understand it the Path of Transformation is a more participatory but also more challenging approach to that age old existential question, "What the Fuck Are We Doing and How the Fuck Am I Supposed to Do It?"

Our language isn't terribly well equipped to discuss internal experience - the Tibetans have a gang of words for mind-states, probably because the language arose (or was refined) in conjunction with Buddhist practice which delves deeply into consciousness and states of awareness. So I'll be using the word "energy" here and there, but sometimes as a catch-all for words we don't have. I'll try to elucidate it as much as possible, but my intention is to stay far away from the "woo woo" because I believe there are practical and effective insights to be learned.

So if we take this Path of Transformation approach then every experience in life becomes an opportunity. If you're the hero in that film or the scientist doing the lifelong experimentation, the decision to tip your barista or give $1 to the homeless man outside the the coffee shop are both opportunities for minute internal transformation. What's cool is that without judgement (you may not tip or give money to that man for a good reason), and simply through the act of noticing these things as an opportunity, a decision, you've already taken one step on this path.

But when you're on the path you should look up from your phone, dummy.

This is one example but it could apply to business decisions, how you interact with a romantic partner, or any other daily experience just as easily. Recently I had a fun little episode with jealousy, which, despite my being fully aware of what was happening insofar as it was a mental construct and not real or really consequential in any way, still managed to throw off my mental stability for a disturbing amount of time. In retrospect I like to interpret it as a good sign, that at least now I'm able to recognize just how messed up these thought patterns that I can't always control actually are. Used to be I would just assume my mind knew what it was doing and go along for the ride right off the cliff.

Now, where it gets challenging is when you apply the same approach to internal experiences that you do to some of these external experiences. It's not so easy to just "have a different perspective" on something like sadness or depression. And theoretically that's where a physical practice like Kum Nye (or really any practice that anchors you in the body, approached with proper mindfulness techniques) can help. It's particularly challenging because these mental conditions have an energetic or egoic quality that's difficult to shake because we identify so strongly with them. "I am depressed." "I am upset." "I can't believe people are so stupid."

A cross mind/body discipline such as Kum Nye (don't mean to keep hawking it but I'm doing it every day here so give me a break) helps to create space for those conditions to loosen a bit. I don't think we're purely mental organisms (floating brains), nor are we just electrical impulses attached to walking meat bumping around until we turn into worm food. We're something in between, sort of like consciousness expressing itself via walking meat for some purpose which, clearly for some reason, we're not supposed to quite figure out (or maybe the figuring out is the process/purpose). Our internal events cause actions that take place in the external world, and it reflects back to us in a very real way. This is going down the road of karma a bit, but by beginning to be aware and work on these mental patterns and events we can actually adjust not only our perspective on life but affect the actual shape that our life takes.

Ufbr5ej - Imgur

I've been working with this practice almost every day for about four months now, and the best way I can think to describe the overall experience is like a glacier. You take something like the 'heart', which starts from a place of:
"What is the heart besides an organ that pumps blood and who gives a shit, shut up hippy" and then you stand with your arms out at your sides for a while and just tell your mind "heart, heart, heart, heart heart heart heartheartheart" and eventually a chunk of ice comes loose.

Now this ice chunk doesn't just disappear, it slams down into the water of emotions, energy, that time someone threw acorns at my head when I was 10 years old - whatever - and causes waves that manifest in my life in various ways. For example sometimes I'll get really sleepy for no good reason during meditation, or I'll have a really terrifying image of a clown pop into my mind's eye, or I'll get nauseous, or suddenly come to in the middle of a jealous episode where I realize I'm acting like an ass.

Seriously, you may see some fucked up things if you meditate enough. I think it's fine though. I dunno.

Slowly over time more and more pieces come off the glacier, the pieces get smaller and before you know it 'heart' starts to make more sense. It's not the kind of thing that could have ever been explained to me, it seems to be something that requires experience and showing up over and over while being nonjudgemental. Now when I hear someone talk about "heart" I don't immediately react from a place of ignorance, confusion or smug confidence in my perspective on reality. I still don't fully "get" it, but by experimenting with the experiences of "heart" I've broadened my experience and now have a more measured reaction.

That's also why this particular path can be considered esoteric or experiential, in that if you just do the practice (holla Nike) - whether it be yoga, meditation, mindfulness, prayer, running, whatever - it will happen, your perspective will change. And like I said earlier, this change is going to happen anyway, but to me it's preferable to direct it in a way of my choosing as opposed to rolling the life dice every time.

A lot of this can be thought of as a combination of creative imagination and useful metaphor, but what's interesting is that the more you allow for that to happen the more the mind adjusts to allow for those possibilities to actually exist. Over time this develops into a very real level of insight, perspective and intuition that has been drastic and clear in my experience. Of course this is difficult to prove because ultimately it's a subjective experience. But there is an objective observation I would point to - lifelong meditators or luminaries like the Dalai Lama, Ram Das, even the new Pope. Is it true they generally seem like pretty happy, grounded people? They're difficult to offend, have a good sense of humor, and life around them seems to have an effortless, yet energetic quality.

Smart human, good point.

In the Joy of Being book the recurring theme Tarthang Tulku uses is inner completeness, or the idea that we are actually already fine but unable to just be, which has us grasping for entertainment, fried food, bad relationships, and so on. While my clunky glacier metaphor doesn't quite match up it works for me as it carries a sense of revealing, or uncovering what is already there underneath the surface. This Path of Transformation is appealing to me because every moment can become an opportunity to change or a challenge if you allow for it, and you can also kind of just turn it off when it becomes too much. Watch some TV, read a book, whatever. And it can also remain entirely secular and be just as effective - if we view events and internal processes like sadness or depression as opportunities for growth at a bare minimum we'll become a more aware, loving person. And I think that's something we could sorely use right now as a species.


July 12, 2016 - Comments Off on Kettlebell Swings and Meditation Cushions

Kettlebell Swings and Meditation Cushions


In my life I've been witness to and participated in the death of traditional martial arts. I took karate classes as a child, punched from the waist and hurt my hand trying in vain to break a piece of wood. I assume this was to prepare for the impending invasion of our small upstate New York town by the Tree-Folk but I'll never know for sure, as the karate school closed for good pretty soon after my parents pulled me out.

Throughout the 80's and 90's the martial arts were mostly doughy white men with mustaches combining the power of raw undeserved machismo with new age flavored nonsense. Basically it was this:

Then mixed martial arts (most notably the UFC along with Pride and others) came along and practicality became the name of the game. Once you could actually test these martial arts in competition that allowed for grappling and striking, several core disciplines survived and thrived. From 1993 on there has been a startling evolution in martial arts, with hundreds of years of tradition being thrown away in favor of the most effective solution.


For sure there's something a little sad about the loss of tradition and spirit of those martial arts, but it's difficult to argue against effectiveness - especially when it comes to a spectacle as black and white as combat sports are. There are plenty of videos on YouTube of Kung Fu masters being strangled by Jiu Jitsu practitioners if one cares to look. Unfortunately the untested qualities of these arts allowed for bullshit artists to creep in, and when the cold reality of a proving ground was introduced we lost some of the spirit and meditative qualities as those traditions were left on the side of the road.

-f2c23b96b355b1caKind of like this, if Holly Holm were strip mall Karate schools and Miesha Tate were integrated MMA.

It's also not particularly surprising it was a distinctly American/Western entity (UFC) that took that practicality and effectiveness to it's capitalist zenith - having just sold to a media conglomerate for over four billion dollars after holding a landmark 200th event.

Interestingly there's been a corollary evolution in the sphere of pure fitness by itself- with the rise of functional, varied exercises notably championed by the brand Crossfit. Like anything popular Crossfit has taken it's share of lumps for being a "cult" whose acolytes won't stop talking about it - but I've personally found the surge in popularity fascinating to watch. There is a real community among it's members, and a shared sense of purpose and support to complete a physically challenging daily task.

In a country where churches and places of worship are becoming more and more empty, it seems like we're organically finding new places to gather and commune. And testing oneself physically can be a very spiritual practice, whether you're aware of it or not. As someone who's gone through the crucible of several rigorous exercise disciplines over the years I can attest to the fulfillment one can achieve through pushing the physical body to it's limits. There's a state of consciousness reached at peak exhaustion that can become a healthy addiction, and leveraged properly, lead to serious insight.

CrossFit Training Push UpsKettlebells are really the best.

And this is a very good thing - I believe physical fitness is crucial to a well functioning mind and this country is sorely in need of well functioning minds as we move into the future. These are already tricky times (see: Donald Trump) and sharp, clear heads are going to be absolutely crucial as we deal with seismic social shifts that will only be exacerbated by the exponential technology growth we're currently living through.

Crossfit is thriving as chain gyms like Crunch and Equinox experience decline for many reasons - community is only one of them but it is powerful. I think the same forces of practicality, metrics and effectiveness that choked out the traditional martial arts is also subtly at work here. Admittedly it is less drastic than seeing a Dimmak "master" debunked:

But I think the functional, practical aspects of a Crossfit style workout, combined with the communal & supportive nature of the environment has contributed in no small part to it's current status. Chain gyms on the other hand tend to be solitary experiences, treadmill farms where everyone has headphones in, watching TV.

Now the exercises done in Crossfit gyms aren't new. They certainly haven't invented the squat or Olympic lifting. In fact when I was training at Ronin Athletics we had conditioning classes that were remarkably similar to what Crossfit became before anyone (to my knowledge) had heard of it. What is innovative is that Crossfit made fitness into a new discipline and brand that stands by itself. You can "do" Crossfit. You can "be" a Crossfitter.

I know I will always be involved in a fitness discipline. I don't function optimally without it. I'm pretty convinced that other people don't either. There is too much evidence for the positive effects of exercise on the brain to argue otherwise, as far as I'm concerned.


Now I've also been getting pretty deep into meditation for the past few years. And, as I continue to learn, I've been considering what prevented me from practicing these techniques before as well as reflecting on how I finally did buckle down and begin.

In my opinion, as a discipline and field of study meditation has yet to really find it's footing in the United States - although that is changing. There are interesting intersections of technology too - applications like Headspace have gained in popularity and businesses like MNDFL are receiving good press and doing good work. Headspace even started creating some well-designed meditation pods.

The success of Indian yoga in the west speaks to a little bit of both the community and spiritual hunger here - and despite how you may interpret my previous blog post I do think there's a lot of value in that discipline. Some aspects of meditation and mindfulness are addressed but often not wholly integrated or focused on - and occasionally ignored entirely.

Personal aside: there have been two monumental perspective shifts that happened in my adult life - one was when I began regularly (3+ times per week) training my body and mind in mixed martial arts (and the requisite strength & conditioning training). My aggression and anger decreased dramatically, my mood improved, and I began sleeping better.

The other was when I started doing Kum Nye and regular meditation. I remember specifically getting a very angry phone call from a client's lawyer at Layerframe - lots of cursing and screaming in a Long Island accent came over the line. What was strange was my first reaction was to feel sorry for him, rather than cursing back, being angry or acting out of anger. It wasn't something I was trying to do, it had just happened naturally and was quite a surprise.

So I've been thinking about how to try and blend these two components - Kum Nye already does a great job anchoring the mind in the body for meditation but it does not emphasize physical fitness. This is in part because it (admirably IMO) aims for a broader audience, and airs on the safer side of exercises.

As technology brings human beings closer together, it's also bringing up a host of issues that require some serious conscious thought and action. A community of fit and happy people, flexible of mind, body and spirit is going to be crucial in the immediate future. I think it's worth investing creative energy into, a new Human Development System to help us deal with the pull of smartphones, virtual reality and Pokemon Go.


I think that a new type of fitness discipline - one that truly integrates both body and mind - is not only necessary for modern society but inevitable. By applying the lessons learned from the evolution of physical exercise/fitness and martial arts, I wonder if these principles of practicality, community, and measurable effective results can be applied to an integrative practice. Could the kettle-bell meet the meditation cushion?

One thought is that classes and exercises could be themed around an awareness or mindfulness practice - for example a Balance themed class could incorporate postures influenced by yoga, single-leg deadlifts, and gymnastic exercises, with a guided meditation on finding Balance within thoughts and mental events. Flexibility, Endurance, Energy Stimulation and even Breathing could be suitable topics for discussion, exercise and practice.

An online component could help to foster a community, with participants able to share their experiences in applying awareness techniques during "real life" outside their practice sessions. Quantifying mindfulness and meditation techniques is obviously a little bit of a challenge, but perhaps a standardized questionnaire or something like a "Mind Coach" who interviews you could work as well.

Religion tends to freak people out in the United States but a more secular approach to Buddhist teachings could inform design elements and some of the primer content. That's a little tricky as well, you would have to pay proper respect and be very careful using those teachings - but there is obviously a ton of material and tradition to source from there that I find personally very valuable.

So this is something that came up as I've been rolling some of these ideas around my brain - if you're into it or have thoughts please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!