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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.

For The Love of Baltimore

Posted by bramlevinson on April 28, 2015

IMG_5152Events over the last couple of weeks in Baltimore have gotten extremely volatile with the suspicious circumstances surrounding Freddie Gray. What we know is that there is a massive race issue begging to be looked at in the USA, especially when it comes to the approach the police have towards the African-American community. The protests that have ended in rioting and a state of emergency officially being declared are slowly dwindling as calm is being restored in the city, and I’d like to take a moment to speak to the community I was welcomed into at M·Power Yoga exactly one month ago.

We did some serious personal digging last month going through the Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Astavakra Gita, Hindu & Yogic Mythology and meditation techniques and approaches. There were underlying concepts and insights to all the work that we did together that spoke to our individual and personal challenges and struggles. We discussed the need for every single on of us to begin the healing process using practical tools that can bring us closer to shifting from being cemented in the human experience to spending some time in the spiritual and energetic aspects of who we are and why we’re here. We also discussed how stories of battle and war, like in the Bhagavad Gita, are representative of the battles that are waged in every single one of our minds every single day, and that the tools that Krishna offers Arjuna in the book are the tools that we are meant to use to find our own way through life with peace and light, respecting universal laws and concepts.

There are some very fresh wounds in your city with the events of the past couple of weeks. There is collective healing that needs to happen in Baltimore. It pains me to see this occur in a city that was so welcoming and inspirational with its “phoenix-from-the-flames” resurgence I was witness to. And as I remind others of whenever life seems to dip closer to the darkness and further away from the light, our responsibility in moments like these is to rise up and meet the darkness with equal doses of light. We do this by practicing the universal laws of love and mercy: placing the welfare, concern and love for others above the love of the self AND forgiving the errors of others. This may seem impossible to do given the suspicious circumstances surrounding Freddie’s injuries that led to his death, but for the sake of your city, for the love of Baltimore, just do it. Healing will not take place right now with the vibration of chaos that has been stirred up. With peace one has clarity and perspective, the two essential building blocks needed to build a sold structure of community and unity.

You at M·Power now have your work brought to your doorstep. It is yours specifically to do, on a scale you probably never thought you’d be exposed to. You have been presented with a massive opportunity to put into practice what we have theoretically gone over. Ask how the events have affected you and how you have experienced thoughts and sensations of protest, anger, rage, chaos and violence in your own life up to this point. Ask how you can be a vessel for light and how you can help heal this tears in your community. Go out into your city and do your work. Your students need you. Your city needs you. Be a part of the enlightenment that is inevitable following dark passages like this one. Go our there and light up the night with what you know to be true, and do it for whatever you believe in: peace, community, love, unity, your personal dharma. Dedicate your efforts to something bigger than you. It’s your time. For you and for Baltimore.

I’m sending you energy and whatever else you need…I may be back home, but I’m with you. Have no doubt about it.

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On The Fringe

Posted by bramlevinson on April 22, 2015

struggleI’ve often heard it said that the older we get the more defensive armor we don to protect ourselves from the harshness of life. What I know from my experience is that when you’re a kid who’s not the jock or the popular one, that armor falls into place very early on in life. If you were ever teased, ridiculed, treated differently or ached to get the hell out of the environment you felt trapped in in your youth, then it’s safe to assume that you’ve gone through some pretty important spurts of personal evolution and growth.

Not everyone does. Remember that guy you knew (or knew of) when you were much younger? The guy who everyone thought was the shit? The one who looked good, always knew the right thing to say? The one who had that “it” quality that attracted the pretty girls and the envy of all the other guys? It’s safe to assume that that guy didn’t get propelled down the same road replete with spurts of personal development and growth that you did while you were struggling to make sense of your stranger-in-a-strange-land situation.

I knew some of those guys in later life: the ones who had it all as children and didn’t need to do any work because why fix what ain’t broke? Those guys who used to cheekily smoke a joint in the back of the school with their gangs of hangers-on never changed. Some of them ended up in the same towns they grew up in smoking the same weed, but the gangs dwindled until all that was left was an aging dude with a load of dead joints and some awesome memories of being the golden child. And then their life lessons began.

I was an oddity as a kid. I was drawn to other oddities. I spent time with people who knew what it meant to be on the fringe. Adopted kids, punks, rebels, orphans, geeks, ugly ducklings, prostitutes…the damaged, the isolated, the hurt and abandoned. That was who I felt compelled to spend my time with, because as I knew suffering, so did they. And I fucking trusted that, way more than the high fives for the star athlete at summer day camp.

As I know that my evolution was one of starting off feeling totally alone but certain of how I was meant to show up in the world, I have always gunned for the underdogs. For the lost, the forgotten, the runners-up and the late bloomers. For the ones who everyone else dismissed or ignored, for the second-chancers. I always have. And I always will.

The people who haven’t had it easy are the ones who typically make it happen on their own. On their own terms, using their own language, in their own time. These are typically the ones referred to as the freaks, the wrong-uns, the wastes of space. Society tends to dismiss these people, and leaves them to rot. But they don’t. They get up and they barrel forwards and they end up making something of themselves and the world around them that eventually gets everyone’s attention. And then they’re sent love and props and admiration.

I am that person who many people dismissed early as lost, disappointing, sadly not bound to live up to my potential. Guess what? I’m getting shit done. I was right the whole time. I just refused to dumb myself down or play by the rules for everyone else to be able to wrap me in a box and tie it up nice and tightly.

I want to dedicate these words, and this week’s classes, to those who have spent time on the fringe. To the belittled, the alternatives, the other ones, the freaks, geeks, emos and hippies. To the discriminated and the ostracized, the odd and the misunderstood. Know that your struggles are your education. Know that you will know monumentally more about how to navigate life than any straight-A student, and that the earlier your growing pains, the easier you’ll have it later on when life is truly yours to live with the freedoms you’ll be afforded as an adult.

To those who have and still struggle – I have your back. I know what you’re living and I know where you’re going. And I fucking celebrate you and all that you represent.

See you at class this week.

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Intention

Posted by bramlevinson on April 17, 2015

i don’t have time to pay attention to critics.
i don’t have time for judgement.
i don’t have time to look at all the photos of beautiful bodies in intricate yoga poses.
i don’t have time to get caught up in gossip.
i don’t have time for blaming.
i don’t have time for finger-pointing and name calling.
i don’t have time to try to convince people to pay attention.
i don’t have time for hypocritical speech and false “friends.”
i don’t have time for justification of bad behaviour.
i don’t have time to make sense of any person or organization who believes that anyone is better or more deserving than anyone else.
i don’t have time to get caught up in your bullshit competition game.

i make time for education.
i make time for community.
i make time for compassion.
i make time for the awakening we’re approaching from this long slumber of unconsciousness.
i make time for self-study.
i make time to speak for those whose voices are silent.
i make time for collaboration.
i make time for the advancement of collective freedom.
i make time for helping others move forward on their journey of illumination, understanding and spiritual development.
i make time for embodying love and doing my best to let it emanate with no specific direction.
i make time for the creation of space within which both you and I can do the work that matters.

How is your i spending its time?

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Minority Rising

Posted by bramlevinson on April 2, 2015

 
In this moment in time, a moment of almost daily terrorist attacks and overpopulation somehow leading to unheard of statistics of isolation and loneliness, we have a responsibility. 

In a moment in time when women fighting for education and equality in war-torn countries are being raped, tortured and killed for it, in a period of history when unhappiness bleeds into daily life and our leaders react by stripping away basic human rights, in a time when children with every luxury available to them are losing their childhood to the overt sexualization of a society with no direction, we have a responsibility.
In a world where technology affords never-before-seen methods of communication and yet we have an inability to speak face to face about issues that affect our happiness and well-being, we have a responsibility.
That responsibility is to be a source of light and connection to each other, to focus on hope and togetherness, to love bigger than anyone has ever proven capable before. To rise up out of the cesspool of our own dramas and bitchery, to recognize how blessed we are and ensure we stand up and speak for those whose voices have been muted, to prioritize peace at any and all costs.
 
We, in this part of the world, are in the minority. We are the minority who can speak our minds and engage in stimulating debate and not be shot for it. We are the minority who can pursue our dreams and goals and not be struck down in the process. We are the minority who can love freely, without shame or fear, and not tremble as we wait to be forcibly separated and punished for the simple act of loving. We can study, regardless of gender, and we can voice our opposition to our governments and not disappear mysteriously, never to be seen again. We can inspire and be inspired and actually make our lives better through that inspiration.
 
We have a responsibility to focus on everything that cannot be taken from us: love, peace, spirituality, kindness, faith, trust, brotherhood, sisterhood, light, hope and certainty. 
 
Remember that responsibility. Every day of your life. Don’t let yourself get complacent. Remember how good you have it and remember your responsibility. Don’t get tricked into believing that all is lost. We are found through intention and unity. We are found through the ties that bind us one to the other, not through our differences. We are found through the simple energy and act of love.
 
On this Easter weekend, remember your responsibility and focus on everything you’re blessed with, and send a prayer out for those struggling for a fraction of your blessings. Love huge, and be peaceful.

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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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