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  • The Examined Life by Bram Levinson

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    Bram Levinson

    Bram Levinson

    Author, Yoga Teacher, Retreat Coordinator, Mentor

    Author of The Examined Life (www.theexaminedlifebook.com), Bram Levinson is a nationally known yoga and meditation teacher, blogger, mentor and lecturer based in Montreal. He has been on the faculty of the Montreal & Burlington Yoga Festivals, as well as multiple Wanderlust Yoga Festivals. His yoga retreats bring students across the globe 2-3 times a year, with previous locations including Istanbul, Berlin, Tulum, Santorini, Paros and Mljet in Croatia. 2015 will see Bram bring students to Ravello on the Amalfi Coast and back to Paros in Greece. Bram is forever grateful to Seane Corn, the Darbys, Jennifer Maagendans, Richard Miller, and Joan Ruvinsky who initially offered illumination on his yogic path. His insights and observations can be followed on his blog connect to the sky at https://bramlevinson.wordpress.com, his website at www.bramlevinson.com.

This Is War

Posted by bramlevinson on February 10, 2015

25153f_83cd4e4697ce48038b1d73d9f99c7a52.png_srz_p_525_188_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzI have often spoken to students about how modern-day western culture has not lived through wartime in the same way our grandparents and great-grandparents did. Wars have, and are being waged globally, of course, but our day-to-day comfort and stability has never been drastically compromised. The Iraq war, the fight against the Taliban, ISIS… these are the conflicts that come to mind when we think about wars waged in our lifetime that affect the global consciousness. But there is a war that has actually hit much closer to home regardless of where we call home, one that rarely makes the headlines because the crimes to its victims, by and large, go unreported and, in some cases, get immediately dismissed, swept under the rug. This war is the war against women.

Women have been targeted for thousands of years. Creation myths in ancient times revered the female as the source of power and life, especially in Pagan cultures and rituals, but this reference for the Divine Mother shifted around 1700 B.C.E. with the Babylonian Seven Tablets of Creation. This story essentially told the tale of a mother who is killed by one of her male children, no less at the moment where her belly is greatly swollen, resembling a woman in the final stages of pregnancy. The murderous son then creates the world out of the dismembered body of his mother and becomes a God in his own right. This God murders and dismembers the divine female and Goddess worship begins its downward spiral until most, if not all, cultures and religions begin to assign greatness to the male archetypes by devaluing and demonizing the previously-held female ones.

In one of my earliest blog posts entitled The Devil and Greta Garbo, I discussed the stigma that left-handed people faced and referenced the Italian usage of the word “sinistra” (sinister) to signify that which relates to the left. In the Yoga tradition, amongst others, the left side of the body is equated with feminine energy, and so I deduced that the correlation could not be coincidental. I believe that the true power of the Divine Female, the energetic force of a Mother Earth and everything she encompasses, stood in the way of the male need to dominate and rule and served as a very real threat. As a result, the power that had once been relegated to the Goddess was not just taken, it was done so violently, shamelessly, ruthlessly and intentionally. All that related to the female was labelled less-than, suspect and sinister.

And so here we are. According to www.canadianwomen.org, “Gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Both men and women receive many messages—both blatant and covert—that men are more important than women. This fundamental inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse, and even murder. In this context, it becomes easier for a man to believe that he has the right to be in charge and to control a woman, even if it requires violence. This is not only wrong, it’s against the law. Violence against women is rooted in the belief that women deserve less social power and it is therefore acceptable – maybe even necessary – to exert power over them. This mindset also drives many other forms of violence, such as racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and religious persecution.”

Women today carry more than they should in their daily lives. From not being able to walk down the street without the fear of being singled out presenting itself to being called bitch/whore/slut/cunt for the most innocuous of perceived slights by both men and other women, the symbolic and energetic weight of being a women today demands that females draw on that ancient strength and power that initially commanded our devotion to The Goddess. Women have to be more aware, more resilient, more shrewd and more careful then we men do. The double standard is disgusting, and I, as a man who adores and reveres women as the source of wisdom and life, am fed up with violence and abuse towards women being an accepted demon that lives amongst us.

The statistics pertaining to violence towards women are staggering, and to be honest, I’d rather have you research them yourselves than list them here and have people tune out to the point of this blog entry. My life is Yoga, and Yoga is my life, and Yoga is not about physical movement or postures. Yoga is not about breathing consciously or Lululemon clothes. Yoga is understanding that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Yoga is recognizing oneness and unity and turning wounds into purpose. Yoga is standing up for those who have either been silenced or feel that their cries would fall on deaf ears. I want to add my voice to those cries to help amplify them so they can be heard. I am begging you to raise your voice as well so that WE CAN ALL BE HEARD.

Join me on Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day, at the YM-YWHA (5400 Westbury Avenue) from 1-3pm as we come together as human beings who have decided that enough is enough. Let’s all stand united for all women who have ever felt diminished in any way simply because of their gender. This is a fundraiser and an awareness-raiser. Bring your yoga mats if you plan to participate in the asana practice, but don’t feel pressured to partake. I want everyone to simply show up authentically, in whatever way they deem relevant.

Bring your cash and chequebooks as well. 100% of funds raised is going to Women Aware/Femmes Averties (www.womenaware.ca) and tax receipts will be issued for donations $25 and greater.  Organized almost 20 years ago by a group of survivors of domestic abuse, this Montreal-based organization is actively making a difference by providing long-term support to victims, increasing awareness to this issue in our communities and working both independently and in conjunction with other local organizations and teams.

This is not going to be an opportunity to rip apart men or point the finger of blame. This event is a moment of healing, of community and of social awareness and activism. If we stand for nothing, we fall for everything. Let’s refuse to fall apart as a society. Let’s refuse to turn a blind eye. Let’s refuse complacency. It’s time to stand. For something and for each other. It can only happen if we’re all in it. Together.

See also: All Hail – a post from 2011 written for International Women’s Day.
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Simple

Posted by bramlevinson on January 16, 2015

I’m lying in a pitch black room finding myself awake when I expected to already be asleep. The window to my right is recessed slightly and between the drawn shade covering it and the wall that frames it is the faintest strip of night that has wedged itself in. That strip is everything to me right now because it reminds me that there are degrees of darkness, that nothing is ever black or white and that when I veer off into the darker reaches of my mind and get too caught up in identifying with those reaches, there is always a lighter hue to point my mind towards.

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A Prayer for A New Year

Posted by bramlevinson on December 28, 2014

IMG_5331On the cusp of the new calendar year, we ask that we be guided to clarity as often as possible, so that we can see events, people and circumstances for what they are and not what we think they should be.

We ask for presence of mind so that we can remember to love, as often and as fiercely as possible, so that we can know and express ourselves to be energy born of love and incomprehensible wisdom.

We expect that “bad” things will happen, and ask that we remember to love in these dark hours while also remembering that they are simply hours, not eons.

We ask for the presence of mind to think for ourselves, to not succumb to the banality of evil, to expectation, to division, to the tsunami of stupid that continues to wash over humanity and keep people greedy, silent, ignorant, afraid, asleep and blind to truth.

In the knowledge that not everything will go according to the plans we imagine for ourselves and the world we live in, we ask for the certainty of knowing that we will always end up where we are meant to be, regardless of whether we would have chosen it for ourselves.

We set an intention to invoke truth and authenticity into every possible moment so that we can show up in the world with our own individual voice and expression, in full knowledge that the world is waiting and starving for it.

We go forward into this new year with the knowledge that beneath the realm of appearance and separateness there is an undeniable current of unity that connect us all. We pray for the well-being and safety of everything and everyone in the knowledge that what happens to one of us happens to all of us.

We ask that we be blessed with the presence of others who reflect back to us truth, empathy, inspiration and cohesion and we set the intention of emanating all of these things for the reflection to occur.

We offer our existences up as offerings so that we may be used as channels to bring light into a world of encroaching darkness, healing to those suffering and connection through cooperation and collaboration to those muted by loneliness and isolation.

We move forward into this coming year as bearers of light and ask for the strength to see that light and allow it to refocus and re-centre ourselves as an example for others, especially when we are faced with our own battles.

Let this year be the one that changes everything. Let love obliterate everything else. May all of us be blessed with happiness, health, compassion, peace and understanding.

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A Prayer To Awakening

Posted by bramlevinson on December 19, 2014

There’s an unspeakable amount of turmoil in the world these days, and as the turmoil mounts so does the free-floating anxiety that emanates outward from it. From rogue terrorists to institutionalized ones, from cyber censorship to blatant corruption, from abuse scandals rocking yoga communities to the mind-numbingly relentless stream of aggression and fury directed towards women…I could go on, but I won’t.

I believe that turmoil in our environments is the direct projection of our inner turmoil. I believe that we find ourselves surrounded by the energy that we usually find contained in our thoughts, and because they’re contained in our thoughts and those thought patterns of rumination are so familiar, we don’t find anything shocking or toxic about them. Until we see them manifest outside of us. And then we pass judgement, criticize, blame and preach the moral highground, when, in fact, all that we’re finding fault with is simply a reflection of what occurs in our human minds on a non-stop basis.

None of us are untarnished. We all get pissed off, we all fall prey to envy, we all covet and we all resent. Every single one of us. We get tired, annoyed, irritated and rude. Every single one of us. There are aspects to each of us that aren’t social media friendly, that would never make it into a status update or into dinner party chitchat. And because our inclination is to relegate those aspects to the hidden recesses of our minds and to unconditionally accept that it’s ok to have a dark passenger that stays in shadow, we deny ourselves complete integration of all that makes up our human identity.

The expression, “You have to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else” has always been somewhat of an enigma to me until I realized experientially what it meant. To love yourself is to accept and respect yourself. All aspects of yourself. To do so is to finally, and completely, find unconditional love for yourself. From there we can love another. Unconditionally. And from there we can show up in the world as love embodied. To express kindness and compassion regardless of who we encounter. To have a smile at the ready for whomever we cross paths with. To honour the energy that animates these human bodies and express its essence of peace and compassion. To literally be love.

All the turmoil we are seeing points to this: we are drifting further and further away from love as a collective. When we move further away from the nature of who we are, we invite in mental anguish which eventually manifests as physical disease in the body. Our collective and individual bodies are riddled with dis-ease because we’ve forgotten to love. In the moments where judgement wedges its foot in the door, we’re meant to remember to love. In the moments where we feel the need to seek revenge, we’re meant to remember to love. In the moments where we feel isolated and alone, we’re meant to remember to love. It’s only by remembering to love that we will heal this fragmented moment where we’re desperate for connection and riddled with fear. We have to love.

And so do it. Love. Without a specific destination for it and without conditions on it. Accept and respect all the magnificent aspects of what makes you YOU, and love. As 2014 grinds to a halt and we move through the energetic shift of another calendar year, set your intention to love. Make your future better than your past so that we can make our future better than our past. With love. Above all else. It will save us. And it will save you.

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The Hypocrisy of Belief

Posted by bramlevinson on November 15, 2014

I don’t believe in karma. I don’t believe that our actions in this life dictate the quality of the rest of our lives or what happens in the next life, and I don’t believe that what happened in a past life is responsible for what this life has in store for me. I believe that our thoughts, actions and words contribute to the world around us, and to not be mindful of the energy we emanate is irresponsible. I believe that we are meant to fuck up to then see the error on our ways and learn from it. I also believe that our responsibility in this life is to be as authentic as possible, especially when that authenticity’s expression is diametrically opposed to popular opinion.

I believe in a healthy dose of doubt. Doubt can be an absolute killer, or it can be the road to salvation, truth and knowledge. I believe that questioning is necessary, that to take what others present as being true is to totally and irrefutably give away your personal power and the opportunity to expand your knowledge of your own unique truth. Truth is subjective, and we all have different understandings of what is true based on our own sentient experiences. To adopt another’s concept of truth blindly is to abandon one’s own journey towards becoming an awakened soul, aware of itself by experiencing everything that is its specifically to live, learn from and which contributes to its expansion of awareness.

I only believe in what I know to be true on a level where words somehow minimize the knowing. There’s a difference between not knowing something and being unsure of it, and feeling a deep-rooted sense of doubt. I believe that visceral doubt is way more a pure expression of the energy that animates my body than the adoption of a concept like karma that keeps us adhering to laws that may not resonate entirely but to which we attach for fear of getting it wrong and suffering the consequences.

You know what lands well with you and what doesn’t. You know what lies in the space between what you say you believe and what lands in your body and your soul as being true. You may KNOW karma as reality because every fiber of your being tells you this is so, and so your truth is unwaveringly yours to live. But if you somehow don’t align with its principles but adhere to them anyways, you’re living outside of your truth, and I know, viscerally, that our purpose in life is to abide in that which resonates undeniably within us. It’s for this exact reason why certain principles from the Ashtanga Yoga System seem completely unrealistic and impractical to me, while certain principles from Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism ring true. On an energy level.

I use karma as an example, but we blindly ally our beliefs to ideas and regulations that ring absolutely untrue to us.

And so…ask yourself…how are you giving your personal power over to dogma and doctrines that you know you don’t agree with? What risk would you run of detaching from them and being inwardly and outwardly honest about what you truly believe?

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Fess Up and Get Real

Posted by bramlevinson on November 13, 2014

Ask yourself: Am I afraid of living or am I afraid dying?

Most people would say they’re afraid of dying, but live their lives in fear. Fear of failure, fear of what others think, fear of others, fear of illness, fear of being fat/thin/short/tall, fear of not fitting in, fear of heights, fear of water, fear of spiders, fear of closed spaces, fear of hurting themselves, fear of drowning, fear of flying, fear of wide open spaces, fear of being crazy, fear of getting to know themselves. The list goes on and on.

Now ask yourself again: Am I afraid of living or dying?

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Enter The Devil

Posted by bramlevinson on November 12, 2014

I got into a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about spirituality and faith, and it got me thinking.

Some of the questions I was asked by my friend were:

– do you believe in God?
– do you believe in luck?
– how do you reconcile being born into privilege versus being born into poverty in a third-world country?
– do you believe in reincarnation?
– do you believe in ghosts?

Midway through last week’s yoga retreat in Bali I got into another conversation with one of the students there who had been a teacher and who told me about the fallout she experienced by bringing the first Harry Potter novel into the classroom to read with her students. She told me how visceral some of the parents’ reactions were to having their children exposed to magic and sorcery, and how these parents equated the concepts of magic and sorcery with the devil and with hell.

Our beliefs dictate how we live, what we cling to, and, more importantly, what we recoil from in fear-based judgement. Personally, I believe that the devil, the embodiment and gatekeeper of hell, is simply the mystical figurehead of living a life based in fear, based solely and specifically in the lower chakras, based in attachment to and sole belief in the tangible, the material world experienced through the 5 senses. I believe that living in fear and doubt as a result of being afraid of the existence of more than the physical is literally hell on earth.

Enter the devil. Watch yourself cling to him for dear life. God forbid we should maintain open minds. God forbid we should pay attention to and trust our intuition, or sixth sense. God forbid we should know ourselves as contracted forms of God and reside in that Awareness and witnessing as a seventh sense. God forbid we should let go of the devil we know so that our faith in something else can carry us to a place of awakening, knowing, connection and deep spirituality.

My friend who asked me all the questions mentioned earlier is also a student of mine who has participated in classes and retreats. I understood that despite being privy to my take on things in the classroom environment, she still had some fundamental and relevant queries that needed to be asked to help guide her closer to her own understanding of spirituality and connection to forces greater than us. And so we got into it. God, ghosts, luck, work ethic, life, death, karma, reincarnation… It was a great exchange. We discussed our beliefs and allowed them to be challenged as the conversation evolved, and eventually walked away from it deep in thought and contemplation.

And so I ask you: what do you believe? How would you answer the questions I was asked? Have you ever considered what your beliefs are and what your answers would be about birth, death and everything that happens between the two? What about what happens after death? Do you believe in karma and reincarnation? Is luck everything to do with success or do we earn our glory? Why are you alive today and how do you think your time on earth is supposed to be managed? Is the path you’re on already set out for you or do have any degree of influence on its trajectory?

I bring these types of questions up at every possible opportunity because I know the meaning of life to be the unifying force behind these topics, and I want to help focus others to the issues that matter so they can begin to see past the literal to the symbolic, replete with underlying purpose.

This is an opportunity for you to do some work, work that will matter long-term. Go ahead and ask yourself some of these questions and see what you come up with…and if you feel like sharing, the forum is open!

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Maya

Posted by bramlevinson on November 10, 2014

The illusion is that we are separate.
The illusion is that we are alone.
The illusion is that we are powerless.
The illusion is that we are the physical bodies we see reflected back to us.
The illusion is that our things define our worth.
The illusion is that we can’t.
The illusion is that we shouldn’t.
The illusion is that we don’t deserve.
The illusion is that everything we can see, smell, taste, hear and touch is all the exists.
The illusion is that there’s no illusion.

The illusion is fear. Pure and simple.

Our work in this life is to recognize the many facets and appearances of the illusion, to call it out when it insidiously gets the better of us so that we can see past the illusion to the meaning, the symbolism, the connection swirling below all that trickery. We will be tested repeatedly until we can see past what triggers the selfishness of the ego to the lessons begging to be learned. That is when and where true freedom begins. Past the constraints, the insecurities, the second-guessing and the fear.

Look past the obvious until you can see exactly why you are presented with the lessons you’re presented with. Keep doing it, especially when you get pushed to extremes.

The illusion will set you free once you can identify it as illusion.

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All The Single Ladies (and Fellas)

Posted by bramlevinson on November 2, 2014

I’d like to speak to my single friends out there.

I know single life. Despite being in a long-term relationship, I remember all too well what being single was like. People shocked at why I was single, trying to fix me up with who they considered like-minded suitors, and occasionally eyeing me up with a look that insinuated that perhaps there was something about me that they didn’t know about that was at the root of my “single” status, a built-in personality quirk, a relationship-assassin, if you will.

By the way, the fact that the term “single” even exists is just one example of the fuck-wittery that keeps us isolated and apart from each other. We are all single, even when we’re coupled. We are born single. We die single. We spend time with others, in some cases intensely and in close quarters. But don’t fool yourself. We are always one person alone with our thoughts, hopes, fears, battles and dreams.

I remember when I was single for longer than I wanted to or expected to be, I started to become my own enemy: that person who eyed me up suspiciously with that look that suggested that I might be my own worst relationship saboteur. I started to consider that I might actually be unworthy of coupling, that there actually might be something unloveable and intolerable about myself that was causing my single-ness. And I strongly suspect that some of you out there might be nursing similar suspicions about yourself.

Let me offer you this: there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s everything right about you. You are not your body. That means that your self-esteem shouldn’t be based on your bust size or the size of your penis, that your hair colour or height are actually irrelevant. Yes, we live in a moment where the Kardashians are celebrated, when the vacuous and the vapid have captured the collective attention. Don’t get caught up in the tsunami of stupid. Be better than that, because you are.

The truth? You are energy. That energy keeps you as a living human being in a body that allows you to move forward into the world with purpose and intention. It provides you with the ability to alleviate suffering, beginning with your own. It allows you to recognize that same energy in everything in existence. That energy is everything you need it to be: peaceful, capable of loving, capable of being compassionate, allowing you to handle whatever life throws at you and continue to move forward. The more you buy into the literal interpretation of life and the appearance of things, the longer you’ll suffer by thinking you’re worthless and harming your body to make it look the way you think it should to finally be appreciated. All to not be single.

The illusion that we’re presented with is that regardless of being single or coupled, we are separate from each other and everything in existence, and that simply isn’t true. We all exist. We’re all here. Together. Shouldn’t that speak louder than anything else? And yet we continue to assist in the construction of the walls that keep us isolated and alone, refusing to see past the illusion of otherness.

Celebrate your singularity. Fuck labels. Being in a relationship may give off the illusion of acceptability (and conformity), but it doesn’t mean anything. It just means that how you were on your own is now shared with someone else, potentially magnified and reflected back to you. Yes, relationships have the potential to bring us to a higher stratosphere, closer to light and further from bleakness. But they also have the potential to knock us to our knees struggling to breathe. How we are with ourselves is how we’ll be with others. It’s really that basic.

So…if you’re single and struggling, stop. Look past your inherited sense of isolation and ask yourself what you’re supposed to learn from this precious time you have to yourself. Do your work. Find stillness and happiness alone. Get your hands dirty and bring your shadows into the light. It’s only then that you’ll be able to sustain a relationship worthy of your expectations. Respect yourself and start to grasp just how miraculous you are as an energetic being in the most perfect packaging you ever could have hoped for. Work from there. And don’t ever settle for a physical body whose energy isn’t the one that will elevate yours. It’s a waste of time, and time is not renewable.

Just wanted to get that out there for all of you who can’t handle the questions, stares, insinuations and awkward wedding interactions. Hope it landed with some of you.

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Human Being Human

Posted by bramlevinson on October 30, 2014

We fuck up.

This little nugget of insight might seem childishly obvious, but for some reason it’s also the little nugget that instigates the most destructive thought patterns and behaviours in us mere mortals.

I’m a thinker and an observer, and I live my life looking through a philosophical lens. The by-product of doing so is that I tend to pay less attention to the tiny mistakes we all seem to make and more to the energy of the one making the mistake. Energy and intention are the lighthouses whose beacons convey the relevant information to me, and so when someone messes up and I’m affected by it, I’m hesitant to get caught up in reprimanding and blame and more apt to know the essence of the doer so I can stay in action vs reaction.

Working in yoga allows me to study ancient scriptures and texts whose teachings are as relevant today as they perhaps were at the time of their inception, but there’s a shadow side to working with concepts and ideals that have the potential to be sermonized. It’s great to remind people to practice non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-hoarding, etc… , but by doing so we, as teachers and leaders, run the risk of insinuating that we are perfectly moral examples of how to live our lives and creating the false sense of our own idolatry. Politicians are the most extreme example of this situation: they spout ideals as to how we should behave and in which values we should place importance, and we believe that if they’re encouraging such grandiose virtues, they must be walking the walk themselves. Cut to the sex scandals, the financial scandals, the drug scandals.

We ALL fuck up. We prioritize sheen and gloss and post it all over whatever outlets allow us to promote our fabulousness, and we relegate our fears, vices, quirks and shame to the realm of shadow. And in doing so, we totally miss the mark and waste the time we have in this life.

We all end up harming something or someone. Every single one of us has monopolized time away from someone else, and in doing so is guilty of theft. Every single one of us has lied. In the past 24 hours. Every single one of us.

You fuck up. So do I. Own it. Share it. Laugh about it and celebrate it. Understand that the universe will continue to provide you with the opportunity to fuck up so you can finally see the end in the beginning and eventually choose to NOT fuck up. Until then, you’ll be given that moment again and again and will potentially fuck up again and again. The universe doesn’t measure success on how much comfort or cash you have, it does so based on how much you’ve learned, so pay attention and learn from your fuck-ups. They’re simply moments to potentially learn from and evolve spiritually and emotionally.

Stop letting your fuck-ups open the door to shame, doubt and fear and start seeing them as the gateway to finally making better, more deliberate decisions for yourself and the world around you. Stop making everyone else pay for their fuck-ups and life lessons. We are all doing our best, so let’s see THAT through a philosophical lens and stop taking everything so personally.

It’s time to no longer waste time.

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