Los Angeles has become a hub for all things progressive. We’re the home of veganism, sustainable energy, hipsters, kale, yoga, spirituality and meditation. Most would call us crazy, but to us Angelinos this the norm. With a drastically changing political landscape and stress on the rise, there’s no better time for us to connect with our spiritual side through meditation. Whether it’s in the privacy and comfort of our living rooms or a local meditation studio, Los Angeles provides many options.
Below is a list of great places in Los Angeles to meditate ranging from local studios, state parks, mediation sanctuaries and online courses.
Unplug is one of Los Angeles’s hottest meditation studios. As a lifelong meditation enthusiast, Suze Yalof Schwartz (a former fashion editor and "makeover guru" who's worked at Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire and Glamour Magazine ) founded Unplug after noticing a gap in the meditation market. Located on Wilshire Blvd and Centinela Ave, Unplug offers a variety of meditation courses. Varying from your standard 30-minute silent meditation to the more unconventional hour long breathwork, which pairs common breathing practices with popular music such as Coldplay. If you’re looking for a great way to end your day, I highly recommend their Unplug Awakening class led by Peter Opperman. Also, I recommend any classes led John Sahakian and Steve Ross. I promise you’ll leave feeling relaxed and enlightened.
The Den is one of Los Angeles’s swankier studios and is situated perfectly right off La Brea and 4th Street near The Grove. As a relative newcomer to the world of meditation, I really appreciated The Den’s feng shui aesthetic. When you enter their studio you truly feel as if you’re entering a yogi safe haven. If you have 30 minutes to spare during your work day, try out The Den’s Lunchtime Detox course led by Eben Oroz to help relieve the stress.
This open-air shrine for all religions is one of Los Angeles’s most peaceful offerings. Located directly off the PCH in the Pacific Palisades; the Lake Shrine has become a staple for meditation enthusiasts. With a rich/unique history dating back to the early 1920’s, the Lake Shrine has transformed from a movie studio to meditation sanctuary. Founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, the Lake Shrine opened its gates to the public on August 20th, 1950. This is an absolute must visit for all yoga/meditation enthusiasts and makes for a beautiful daytime retreat.
Too busy to get to a class or too anxious to enjoy the comfort of your own home? Don’t worry, we got you covered too. Agape is a leading international spiritual center in Los Angeles offering meditation courses and weekly services. If you’re a Sunday morning early bird, tune into Agape’s The Way of Meditation led by Reverend Michael Beckwith. This 30-minute class is offered for free every Sunday at 6:30am and is a great way to start your day.
Feeling adventurous? Want to get both a mental and physical workout? Then look no further than Kenneth Hahn State Park’s Japanese Garden. Located in Baldwin Hills, this unexpected getaway is worth the 2.5-mile hike. Once completing your relatively easy excursion you will reach a meditation paradise complete with koi ponds, Japanese style bridges and a calming creek. Prepare to get lost in the soothing sounds of nature while feeling equally accomplished after an awesome hike.
Located in the heart of Venice on Rose Ave. there couldn’t be a more perfect match; Ceremony is a quintessential mediation studio. Playing off Venice’s beach vibes, Ceremony has a beautiful sand garden located on their deck for private meditation, however all classes are offered indoor. Another selling point of Ceremony is their rather convenient schedule. Whereas The Den and Unplug mostly offer evening classes, Ceremony offers classes practically every hour and can accommodate almost anyone’s schedule. I recommend the Return to Calm class led by Aruna Shields, it’s a perfect way to end the day.
Noah Levine, the Founding Teacher of Against The Stream has become a favorite among people in recovery. With studios located in both Hollywood and Santa Monica, Against The Stream offers a variety of classes and workshops. Try out their Wake Up Call class which is held every Friday at 7am, it’s a great way to start the day!
I’ve been reading and absorbing a lot of information lately on the idea of the gentleman, grace, and nobility. Most of the thoughts here are a mixture of many luminaries, who I cite below with some of the quotes that have influenced me the most. There have been many, many bottoms in my life - both emotionally and economically - where I’ve been stripped to nothing in both regards. In those instances, I was often left only with myself and my thoughts, along with the time on my hands to think about those situations and circumstances. The more I read and observe on these topics, the more I’m able to reflect and process the past. Hopefully this will be helpful in you doing the same.
The idea of the gentleman is that beyond fine clothes and expensive things. It is the thought of a refined man in himself. To be stripped of all his material things, he would still be a gentle man, a refined man, a noble man. Not noble in the sense of an aristocrat who merely has a title, and is therefor thought to be infallible even though he be may be a thug, dunce, or buffoon; but in the sense of a truly noble man in nature. This nature being that of someone who is kind, cares for his fellow humans, takes pride in the way he acts, talks, and associates—this is a man of discernment.
A discerning man uses his time on this earth wisely. He enjoys the finer things because he knows that there is more value in an investment into something that will last. He knows how to eat food that will nourish and full-fill him rather than just masking a passing hunger. He knows how to talk his way though a confrontation by finding common ground by finding a win-win for all parties involved, and in doing this, he creates harmony.
It is said that it is easier to act your way into right thinking, than think your way into right acting. If you are in a fine suit rather than rags, you are more likely to stand up tall, and believe in yourself. If you are around a beautiful environment, you are likely to be in a better mood, and be more productive. If you are surrounded by others with good manners, intelligence, and kindness; you too will be more likely to reflect these traits in your actions, or at least start acting your way towards these virtues. This is the idea of discernment by osmosis. It is also said that you are the byproduct of the 5 people you spend the most time around. If you are discerning, you might want to spend your time around those more discerning than yourself, as you might learn something. This might be something that you choose, rather live in default next to the people in your immediate proximity. You may choose to do this no matter what your station in life, or the balance of your bank account. It doesn’t take any money to talk well, or act kindly, or enjoy the beauty of the nature around you—these are all things that just are, and are choices that you can choose to make.
I think about this often.
I think of how can I be a better human? How can I be noble? How can I have more grace?
I reflect on my actions and try to have an awareness of what I will do today, and at the end of the day I review the actions and situations and look at how I dealt with things. Many days while doing this, I start to notice things I can improve upon. Other days I am content with the passing of the day and my actions in it. This is my own awareness, and I also try to be kind to myself, and only strive to be better and not be perfect, though I do strive to be an example.
For much of my life I’ve wanted to sit in the back and hide, to do my work in solitude and later show it as finished. I didn’t want to lead or even be noticed, in fear that I might be a target of ridicule, conflict, or envy. I wanted to be small. This is quite amusing as I think of it, as I’m 6 foot 5 inches tall, and for me to disappear into the background of a room is very difficult.
The older I get the more I’ve had to lead and speak up, had to be an example and the one to make decisions. It’s gotten easier with practice, but it’s not something I’ve naturally had, at least in my own perspective of the matter. But for some reason people believe in me more than I believe in myself, and they want to follow me. They want me to make a decision, and be the guide.
It’s also true with my parents as they are getting older. I often say you know when you are an adult when you start worrying about your parents as much as they worry about you. This has been true for me for some years now, though my mother might protest that she worries more, as I tend to be a bit of an optimist by nature.
In all of this, from being who I need to be to lead, to being who I need to be for myself and others, I often hope that I can be better than I was before this moment or the last, and that with or without possessions, or a title, or status, I can still be noble. I can still be kind, and just, and discerning. I can look for the grace in situations and myself. I can take pride in my clothes, home, and surround in a way that I respect them and the harmony they create around me and in my own projection onto this world. I can stand up and be seen and lead knowing that I’m doing what I think is right in my heart and head, without the worry of either being chopped off.
I can be noble, no matter what.
Venice Beach, CA
Viktor E. Frankl, From Man’s Search for Meaning
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
“If you pour a cup of tea, you are aware of extending your arm and touching your hand to the teapot, lifting it and pouring the water. Finally the water touches your teacup and fills it, and you stop pouring and put the teapot down precisely, as in the Japanese tea ceremony. You become aware that each precise movement has dignity. We have long forgotten that activities can be simple and precise. Every act of our lives can contain simplicity and precision and can thus have tremendous beauty and dignity.”
Bill Wilson, from Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism: The Australian Experience, Commemorat
“You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.”
“The purpose of life is to watch and experience living. To enjoy living every moment of it. And to live in environments, which are calm, quiet, slow, sophisticated, elegant. Just to be. Whether you are naked or you have a golden robe on you, that doesn’t make any difference. The ideal purpose of your life is that you are grateful - great and full - that you are alive, and you enjoy it.”
Photo: Adam Secore
Tired of going through the same insane loop of groundhog day with the different versions of the same situation? The problem is you, and what you think you know. It's time to stop living in your limiting beliefs by seeing them for what they are. Below is a meditation on limiting beliefs, and what dumb luck really is.
Narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness are both ideas attached to someone’s literally narrow viewpoint, which is often linked to their lack of vision/information, tied to their own expectation to a situation, based on past experiences and cultural references to those around them.
This narrow viewpoint (a small hole in the wall, if you will) furthers an idea held onto by your own ego, in it’s need to be right, and for you to be right about an idea you think to be true and yours (an actual extension of your identity), because you thought you came up with it… when in fact, you are just going off of information experienced and processed through the filters of your existence and experience up the point in your life so far.
Being able to tap into the infinite, or even being open to it, will give you more and more possibilities. Being open to a new experience, or new possibility, is the first step. Realizing you know just such a fraction of the million, billions, trillions of data points around you will start to give way the opportunities beyond your own limiting beliefs.
If you have the belief that you are right, you will work to prove that the belief is right to others, and yourself, even if that belief is wrong. If you think 2 + 2 = 5, you will work futilely to prove it is true, even though 2 + 2 = 4, whether you want it to be or not.
If you are open to a new belief, a new way to look at a problem, or to maybe even have the openness to consider there was no problem to solve in the first place, then you are again open to infinite possibilities – or at the very least, you might be open beyond the very few possibilities for a solution that you would have been able to come up with on your own.
So how to you start to tap into the infinite possibilities all around you?
You have to let go of what you think you know (your limiting beliefs) and the telescope you look at them through (your filters) . If fact, you have to be open to the possibility that everything that you think you know, might be wrong. You have to even come to believe that everything you know is wrong in order to stop falling back into trying to make the world and yourself think you know the answer to things. You have to stop maintaining this delusion that 2 + 2 = 5, when you yourself might even have a feeling that 2 + 2 might not equal 5, but you haven't had the courage to admit it, even to yourself.
So how do you get there? How do you un-program this idea that you know things (your limiting beliefs that are limited by you)? How do you move beyond your egoic threshold?
Most people require proof that they don’t know things, or they need proof that other people know more things than they do, and so hold the other person’s beliefs in higher regard than their own. This itself would be a good step in the direction of at least admitting that you don’t know everything, and another person might at least know some things that you don’t.
Another way to do this is to fail miserably. You could try to prove that 2 + 2 = 5 to a bunch of people, only to have them laugh in your face. You could try this multiple times until you actually go to the point to consider that you’ve got it all wrong, and you could try proving that 2 + 2 = 5 to a few other groups of people until it sinks it that you are wrong, totally wrong. If you were wrong about this, what else could you be wrong about?
How do you like them apples?
Being Human After Being Humbled.
After either of these options of finding your path to humility, you are now able to be open to the infinite possibilities that actually exist and are happening around you all the time, beyond the realm of your human comprehension (or at the very least, your ego’s bias). Once you are open to the infinite possibilities, they can just jump out at you, mystically appearing like a magic trick. When was the last time you were in a hurry and had to find your car keys, your phone, or your glasses. You run around the house screaming to yourself, “I can’t believe I can’t find my glasses,” when that itself is the problem – you ARE believing that you can’t find your glasses, you are thinking about that belief, and you are proving that belief to yourself. The irony is, you are probably wearing your glasses, and looking through them to try to find them. I’ve actually run around my house looking for my phone, while talking on the phone I’m looking for, and telling the person on the other end of the line that I can’t find my phone! Now, when was the last time you were NOT in a hurry, and didn’t have any trouble finding your glasses? Odds are, there wasn’t any problem finding your glasses when you could take your time and your body didn’t enter into an adrenaline-crazed survival tornado.
I’m lucky enough to be a mellow person with a general calmness about me. If I would say I had a super power, it would be the ability to stay calm in a storm, and even calm down the energy in the people (and even pets) around me. If you don’t have this innate sense of calm, you might want to hit up some meditation or yoga, and maintain a regular practice (it’s called a practice, not a cure, because you have to do it regularly, best to get in the habit/practice).
Even with this innate calm, I have the limiting belief that if I work at something hard enough, or try enough times, that I can accomplish most things. This again, is my own belief that I can’t find my glasses, even though I’m looking really, really hard for them. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…Or maybe not.
I’m sure everyone reading this knows someone that hasn’t ever had to tried hard for anything. You probably have a friend or someone you know that constantly has things fall in their lap! Is this dumb luck? Is there such a thing as luck? You have a 50/50 chance of choosing between door number one for $1m, or door number two for a year’s supply of potatoes, right? It’s just the odds you might say (Aren’t odds, odd?). What happens when you stop trying?
Now I’m not saying that you should stop trying. I’m suggesting that if you stop trying your way, you might be surprised that your odds go up (odd right?). This all circles back to the idea that my ideas are limited and referred to in our culture as being short-sighted or narrow-minded, IE: limited. While I might think there is only the 50/50 chance for choosing between door number 1, or door number 2, I might not even realize that door number 3 is sitting wide open right behind me, and there was a brand new Ferrari with $10m cash sitting on the front seat. I couldn’t even see door number 3 because I was so focused on the other 2 doors.
Don’t you want a Ferrari and $10m? Don’t you want things to fall into your lap? All you need to do is stop tying so hard, stop trying to do things your way, and the possibilities are endless.
Searching for the next big thrill is human. We have a thirst to say “I did this, I beat this.” The great explorers knew this feeling standing on top of giant mountains, knowing they conquered it. Now we look not to conquer but to know how the experience of the adventure changed us. Below are five treks that will nourish your quest for adventure.
One of the best trekking destinations in Morocco is undoubtedly The Toubkal Circuit. Best tackled in the summer, it winds through forests, deep gorges and remote villages. Located 65km south of Marrakesh, Mount Toubkal is the highest point of the High Atlas Mountains at 4,167m. Plan for two weeks to traverse the circuit and an extra few days if you plan to climb Mount Toubkal.
At 17,590 feet, Nepal's Mount Everest Base Camp is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the world. Ancient monasteries, colorful Sherpa villages and Sir Edmund Hillary's Khumjung School are just some of the sites you'll take in. Unsurpassed mountain scenery literally takes your breath away during this two-week adventure.
The Eastern Himalaya is home to one of the most difficult hikes in Bhutan, the infamous Snowman Trek. You must use a tour company, but the payoff is worth it. The small villages, Buddhist monasteries and pristine forests compete with stunning mountain scenery. September and October is prime time to tackle this month-long trip.
Made famous during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s, The Chilkoot Trail is a shorter trek of about 33 miles only requiring 4-5 days. From Dyea, Alaska the historic trail proceeds up and over the scenic mountains through an international border pass into British Columbia.
Peru's Inca Trail is understandably South America's most famous trek, rated by many as one of the top 5 in the world. This 33km Inca trail extends from the Sacred Valley up to Machu Picchu, “The Lost City of the Incas”. Views of high cloud forests and snowy mountains compete with mystical ruins. The 4 day basic trek climbs three high passes and traverses through tunnels and jungles.
I travel often. My job is something in between a documenter of disappearing cultures as well as a travel editor for a men’s magazine in New York. The two aren’t as at odds as you would think. I only found out about the Wirikuta after meeting a Mexican journalist on the coast of Uruguay. He told me of a culture over 7000 years old that uses peyote and makes an incredible, almost unbelievable pilgrimage every year crossing the country of Mexico. The entire time they fast, collect and consume peyote. I found the idea immediately romantic and filled with adventure. To cross the desert and live with an indigenous culture - the only indigenous culture in Mexico to successfully escape the Spanish conquistadors and Catholic conversions. But in the end, Irving Penn and many others have already covered this topic and what does the world need with one more portrait of a native? It is what he told me next that hooked me. The journalist explained that a Canadian mining company had acquired the rights to the lands that the Wirikuta gather peyote in and are going to begin open-pit mining, destroying all the peyote in search of their own sacred object to their culture - silver. What followed was the last thing I needed to hear before I immediately booked my ticket to meet him in Mexico. Nobody had photographed them before.
So here I am. In Mexico driving through Narco lands trying to meet up with the Wirikuta who are in need of help to explain their side of the struggle to keep their lands unharmed. We drive hours out of the way from Narco checkpoints and cities that are known as hot beds for violence. We never drive at night. We are heading 12,000 feet into the Sierra and there isn’t exactly a “road’ that can just get you there.
We often forget that for thousands and thousands of years there were cultures living independently. Each one represents an example of how a community of humans can live. There is no one correct way. As we push the American version of this on the world more and more of these cultures are disappearing. But we are just one example of how to live. And it isn’t right or wrong. Every culture has positive and negative aspects. What I have tried to do here and always am striving for, is to simply document other examples of how communities can live, so if we hit a time when we need to make a dramatic change in our own culture, we have the resources to look back on and see other examples and take what we can to better our own future.
About William: Born in a suburb of Seattle, Washington, William Kaner studied print journalism before going to the Middle East to finish his education. Infatuated with the landscape and political climate of the region, Kaner began a long freelance career before abandoning his life in the west to begin an itinerant life. Traveling with little more than the medium and large-format gear he shoots with, he began collecting images of cultures around the world. In 2009 he made New York City his home base and began making music videos as well as documentary and feature films. However, remaining faithful to the still medium of film photography, Kaner joined At Large Magazine as their travel editor and continues to travel the world shooting foreign cultures.
Who are you? Who are you supposed to be? Why are you here?
Well, you better go find out!
You can go out and find out what you’re made of by climbing a mountain, or just sitting in meditation, wrestling with your mind.
You can go fight the world, you can fight your demons, you can fight your parents, you can fight the system.
You can also go to the edge, and once you peek over that edge, you will see there is another edge -- another line to cross, or mountain to climb. There is always another way for you to get your ass kicked.
Of course, living a hum-drum life of punching the clock and living in perpetual groundhog’s day can start to get to anyone. Without challenge, without growth, we get bored.
I recently attended a Q&A with Jason Wachob of Mind Body Green where he said joking, “Balance is the new achievement.”
We used to want to get on top of things, just so we could prove we could.
Then we moved onto style, proving we could do it better, harder, faster.
Now we’ve moved to a place of wanting to live in a life of balance, where we still want to live huge/full lives while taking the time to breathe and reflect. Time, free time, is the new commodity. Working smarter, not harder, is the new mantra. Everyone wants to run a business from a hammock in Costa Rica (myself included).
I’ve also started to re-listen to Tony Robbins’ Personal Power CD’s in which the old-time announcer proclaims them as the #1 personal achievement program in the world. What’s funny is that in the introduction, good old TR sits down with the man that used to own the store where he used to buy his tapes as a teenager and reflects on how even then, Tony used to really listen to people, and people could really tell how much he cared. The man goes on to talk about how much Tony has achieved, that he’s rich and famous and so on, but what he really starts to tear up about is how Tony is, about how Tony is his highest self.
In all of the things that I did, all of the mountains I climbed, all the parties I went to, all the experiences I had in the city or the country, nothing, absolutely nothing taught me as much about myself or the world around me as just sitting down and meditating, which is how I achieve balance these days.
There were several things that really built some character and humility in me though, like spending days alone on Bugaboo Spire, or attempting to solo the Diamond on Long’s Peak in winter. Physical and mental experiences like that caused me to dig deep beyond my own perceptions of what I could handle, mostly because no one else was there to get me through it but me.
There were other times that I was in the stratosphere of the rich and famous, where all of my possible needs were met, and would be met forever. I actually worked on a book about it with my favorite quote from it being, “We are the dreamers with nothing else to dream about, because we have it all.”
What happens when you’ve climbed all the mountains, done all the drugs, been to all the parties, become famous, become rich, become respected… and none of it fixes you, none of it matters. You, “have it all,” but it’s still not enough.
You’ve achieved everything.
But what are you achieving? And why are you achieving it?
Have you ever had one of those periods in your life where it seems like the stars align, and everything falls into place? You get the job of your dreams that you love, and then you go to work and tackle problem after problem, you help everyone that you encounter, time flies by and the sun has set and you sit at your desk maybe a bit tired from the time, but refreshed and fulfilled on a soul level?
Perhaps this all happened the day after you got fired. You might not have even told your wife yet, and you go ahead and get dressed for work, and just go the nearest coffee shop and sit there wondering what you’re going to do, how are you going to pay the bills… When all of a sudden, the phone rings, and it’s that friend from college that is opening up a new company, the one you always talked about starting, the one you both dreamed about…
Carl Jung called it synchronicity.
You may call it: just being in the flow.
It’s like when you’re thinking about someone and they call you. Or when you’re talking to your best friend and you both say the same thing at once. Something is happening…
For me, when things are their darkest, I’m usually about to have a breakthrough. When things get tough, I’m usually on the edge of something great, or being pushed in the right direction.
When I’m in the flow, when things are in sync, or synchronistic, I’m usually living in the realm of my highest self. I’m living my purpose.
For many years, I didn’t really know what this next purpose was – this was the hard part, my lost years, that came after my climbing years. Up until then, life was simple, my purpose was to work to make money to go climbing, and then go climb until my money ran out, and then go work some more. Climbing was the purpose, and there would always be more mountains to climb. What was I supposed to do without climbing? Make money for the sake of making money?
But still, that’s what I did, I got a real job and got a respectable car, a place to live, and my purpose was to make money. I did that for a while, trying to live in the real world. But something wasn’t right. I felt like a fraud most days. I felt a pain in my gut and chest. Ever day my heart seemed to break as I sold my soul for a steady paycheck, health insurance, and a car payment. I was living a life the world told me I should live, even though I knew it wasn’t me -- I was playing a part in the movie of life. It was a pointless hamster wheel of existence. There was an edge I knew I was walking towards as the pain inside kept getting harder to take. There was something missing and I didn’t know what it was.
Eventually that pointlessness came to an edge that I stepped over. I took the red pill.
I’m not saying enlightened, but I’m definitely awake. A few things happened all at once about four years ago that caused an emotional purge, a dam broke, and on the other side of the Matrix, I wished I would have taken the blue pill.
Once I was on the other side, once I woke up, things became clear. Things seemed to fall into place. People and opportunities seemed to come out of the ether. They usually came to me in my darkest hour, after I thought really hard about something, and then let go of the idea, but kept looking for the next thing to appear out of the corner of my eye.
To have those synchronistic things happen, I had to let go of the fear that was blinding me from even being able to notice the opportunities around me. Once I stopped wondering about how was I going to pay my bills and started to look for ways I could be of the highest use to the world around me, I was able to see the unique skills and experiences that I had that put me in a position to be able to do things no one else was capable of.
We are all snowflakes.
All of us have had millions and billions of unique experiences in our lives that make us all unique snowflakes, capable of solving unique problems with our unique skillsets.
I coach and consult on the side for individuals and small businesses. When they seem lost, or are going through a transition I ask them a few questions:
You want to make a million dollars? Tell a joke for 1 million people for the price of one-dollar. Don’t tell them just any joke, tell them the unique joke that you’ve crafted from the life you’ve had that resonates with them because you’ve told it in a way that no one else has told it before.
Be of your highest use by doing the things that you are good at, that will provide the most value to the people around you, that will provide you with the highest income and highest fulfillment because you are doing what you love. You are living your highest purpose.
To do this, you usually have to listen to your gut and your heart. You have to be awake and aware of what that feeling is when you are in sync with what you are best at, and when you are there, when you have that feeling - you will seem to flow through life.
You are a snowflake.
You are awake.
I always thought meditation was stupid. Even as a child I can remember cartoons mocking the ommmmmm and woo-sah chants and engraining in me an idea of buffoonery involving the whole process. As I grew older, celebrities that I looked up to started to endorse it, saying that daily meditation unlocked their creativity or let them step away from the stress of their everyday lives - because being rich and famous was sooooo stressful, I’d thought. It honestly seemed a lot like some sort of hippy-dippy thing to make people feel like they were being productive while actually they were doing…well, nothing. Also I didn’t wear any beaded necklaces, Birkenstocks or oversized linen shirts so I couldn’t possibly have a place in the world of meditation, right?
I should mention that I’m a guy from the Midwest who grew up in a relatively closed-minded area. Aside from my close group of friends, the majority of people from my hometown believe mostly the same things that everyone else believes and do the same things that mostly everyone else does. You couldn’t even get away with dressing differently than your peers, let alone expressing interest in something as free-spirited as meditation. If you’re feeling like something’s missing, have a drink. "That’s what beer is for man," I can picture them saying. Thankfully, in the years since I moved away, my town has progressed leaps and bounds in the field of open-mindedness. I even have friends who are yoga teachers and mental health coaches. It’s really awesome.
Parker on Parker: I’m a dude in his 20’s still very much figuring everything out. I hail from the Midwest but have been dwelling in Los Angeles for the last few years, being a pretty stereotypical aspiring actor. I’m a fashion geek, I love to walk (a LOT) and I do my best to find the bright side. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please get in touch with me via my social networks or at firstname.lastname@example.org - www.thelooksmith.com
Back in March I almost died. It wasn’t something expected, like an avalanche or a big fall or something that might have been in the forefront of my mind back in my climbing years. No, this was a sucker punch from the universe.
“What will you do with this life?” and “Make Your Arc,” are the two main taglines for Conrad Men’s. This has been a huge driving force since I was a teenager. Around 16 or 17 I really started to have to think about my future. Would I go to college, become a landscape architect, park ranger, or artist? Or would I simply experience youth? Even then I knew life was short and I really wanted to make the most of it. I knew I didn’t want to go to school to just start the debt cycle, be forced to get a job to pay my student loans, and then buy a house, and then have to stay in a job to pay the mortgage. I also knew I didn’t want to be famous (I was extremely shy) or rich. All I really wanted was adventure, and an extraordinary experience with the little time I had in this world.
With the passing of David Bowie, I realized how many different experiences he had with all of the different personas he had, from Ziggy to the Duke. With each persona he played a different part, experienced the world in a different way, and created other experiences for the people that experienced him in this world.
In my short life I’ve already had several lifetimes. I’ve been a climber, an artist, the talent, a CEO. I’ve been poor, I’ve lived in the jet-set life, and I’ve lived somewhere in-between.
I’ve had all of these experiences sometimes by chance, but often with an idea of the direction I wanted to go. Sometimes I had no choice (or gave myself no choice). When I graduated high school I left home on a Greyhound to Oregon with $600 and a bag of clothes and climbing gear, which gave me just enough time to go west and get a job before the few dollars ran out. I often gave up the experiences of one thing (like a warm bed and good food) to save money to fund my adventures (by living in my van during the winter in Salt Lake and eating tuna and ramen).
I write this now from Joshua Tree, where I spent a lot of time during my climbing years. Right now I’m on the verge of 40 and the climbers out here are the next generation, and they talk about the generation before me. This might go on for generations, but likely just one, maybe two.
The greatest climbers of their time, like John Bachar, will be known forever because of their boldness, but also because their legacy had been captured in photos, film, and writing. The climbers of secondary or tertiary achievements in their generation may disappear into obscurity, but even the John Bachars of the world will eclipse one day into the abyss of forgotten achievement. The few at the immortal legacy level- the emperors, innovators, revolutionaries, and pharos live on through their accomplishments, monuments, and legends. This is history, but history is really a record of those who wrote it or those who remember it, for good or bad.
So what good is history, or for that matter, what good is legacy to those creating their own?
If you’re doing something important, say revolutionary, are you doing it to be significant or to change the world? Maybe both?
For me I wanted to live an amazing life. I didn’t see any point in living a simple life. I didn’t want to go through life watching the people in movies live artificial experiences for me to artificially experience. If you think about it, even the actors are having an artificial experience -- they are having the experience of being an actor, but they are playing out a fantasy in an artificial creation. They are being paid to play make-believe.
Unfortunately, if you are in a wheelchair, or physically or mentally handicapped, you can’t physically have those exact physical experiences, but just like the movie Avatar, actors can be the avatars of an experience for you.
For a large part actors are the highest ideal a culture has at a moment for what a hero should be, and his experience should be. If it wasn’t, no one would go to movies. There is a balance though, as movies have to have something somewhat expected, with a few surprises. It can’t be too extremely new, or too extremely predictable. Either one will be disappointing for your average person to experience -- No one wants their avatar, who is living their experience for them, to die at the end and not ride off into the sunset with his great love!
So say you are able-bodied. Say you have a few bucks saved up: maybe enough to go hiking this weekend, or take your partner out to a nice dinner, or buy some paint and create some art. What would you do? Would you do these things mentioned above, or would you turn on the TV or go to the movies and have someone experience these things for you?
When I was climbing a lot, I had to think about death a lot, as I had plenty of friends and heroes die fairly regularly. The funny thing was that many of them didn’t even die climbing, skiing, or base jumping. I knew plenty of people that died in car accidents or other random things that your average person could die from.
So like I was saying, back in March I almost died. I was in a very unexpected car accident on the PCH when I was struck nearly head on by a drunk driver. My car was totaled but I walked away with a sore neck. The thing about the accident that was so shocking was the people that really showed up for me -- when something like this happens, you really see who your friends are, and who will be there when the shit hits the fan. The other thing was this jarring push of motivation: What would have happened if I would have died in the accident, or been paralyzed from the waist down? Would I have regretted not doing something that I’d had on my to-do list? Would I have regretted not calling someone to tell them I loved them as I lay dying in an ambulance? Would I have regretted the way I’d left a situation or relationship in this lifetime?
You don’t have to get in a car accident, or almost die climbing, to get to this emotional state though…
Tony Robbins popularized the idea of the Dickens Process- reflecting on your life like the Scrooge character in the Christmas Carol, where he is forces to experience his life’s present, past, and yet to come. How are you living your life and how would you like to live it? What would happen if you died right now? What would you regret? How would it make you feel? How do you use that feeling to motivate yourself now to take action?
Would you create a legacy—anything from having a child, creating a painting, or a foundation that will carry on your mark on this world?
Or would you live a legacy, a legacy that you could experience in this life while you were here on this world? Your personal legacy.
You can do both.
You can live an extraordinary, exceptional, or even plain life RIGHT NOW if you choose to.
Or you could turn on the TV and watch someone living your experiences for you.
What will you do with this life?
It’s an important question and something I ask myself every day. What will I do with today? What will I do with this minute, this moment? What can I say that needs to be said? What dream can I live today that I’ve been putting off for, “one day…”
How can you live your dreams today, before you’re gone.
Norman is a coach that has a dramatic sincerity to his approach - it's not about his ego's success as a coach - his motivation is helping his clients succeed.
I first met Norman after moving to Venice a few years back. He's one of those chill guys with a laid back surfer's vibe until the subject of climbing, music, art, or skateboarding comes up--then his eyes light up with a passion that you can tell has always just been sitting beneath the surface. Along the last few years I've also see him almost weekly at Rockreation coaching kids and adults. He's the type of coach that you can tell has a dramatic sincerity about his approach--it's not about him succeeding as a coach, his motivation is seeing his clients and students succeed through his coaching.
Conrad Men's Founder Alex McAfee had the opportunity to sit down with L.A. Yoga Teacher Sean Gray to talk about Yoga, Surfing, Travel, and Fatherhood.
Alex: We’re going to start right off with-- How did you get into yoga?
Sean: Well, let’s see...
Alex: Or were you doing something before yoga.
Sean: I used to work out a lot. I was a gym guy. I’ve always been an athlete. I grew up playing sports and I used to do triathlons, and I used to run races. I’ve been a surfer since I was 11 years old. So I’ve always been active and using my body. In my early 20s I started lifting and then like around 22 – 21, somewhere around there, I started lifted weights and was enjoying that. Lifting and running, and like I said, swimming and doing triathlons and just doing that; riding bicycles. There was a yoga class at my gym, I was working out of Gold’s Gym at the time, right here in Venice. There was a yoga class there that somebody invited me to, and I was really resistant to do it. I didn’t want to, and I just didn’t understand it, I just didn’t know it, and I was really happy with what I was doing. I was happy with the results I was creating--I liked it. I was just doing my thing. But I decided to go to the class, and I hated it.
Sean: I didn’t know what I was doing; I felt embarrassed. I’ve always been good at activities and sports and I felt very--not good, it was just painful. I was just really resistant. It took me about six months to go back to another yoga class. But after that second one--I went to that second yoga class--I started to like it a little more, started understanding it a little more and before I knew it, I was only going to yoga classes. I wasn’t even going to the gym to work out.
Alex: No lifting?
Sean: No lifting, I was just going to the yoga classes. So then I started expanding my yoga practice to other studios, and that was what my yoga world consisted of for probably a good year, year and a half; it was just Gold’s gym, which was just fantastic. It was relatable for me, it was convenient and it came with my membership.
Alex: Then how did that transition into teaching?
Sean: I was practicing for probably about seven or eight years before I decided to become a teacher; and once again, I resisted. I didn’t want to do it. I was working in other industries, and not happy. I was traveling throughout Brazil at the time. I was on an island called Florianopolis, which is the second most southern state of Brazil; it is an island just off the mainland. I was traveling through Brazil and then I realized that I needed to do something different in my life. And what I did is, I wrote down my three favorite things I liked doing the most; because I know that you can pretty much find a way to make a living doing almost anything, you just have to figure out how.
I wrote down my favorite things that I like to do the most. Figuring if I did one of those, I’d be happy doing it. Those three things were surfing, traveling, and yoga. I looked at my number one, surfing, and I was like...okay. I looked at it and, like, I’ve got to be honest, I’m a good surfer, but I was no Kelly Slater, and you have to compare yourself to him if you’re thinking about becoming a professional surfer. The idea of opening a surf school and wearing a wet suit all day just wasn’t appealing to me.
So then, I looked at the second one, which was traveling. I was traveling at the time so I thought maybe I could create a travel blog and build some momentum. So I did. I started the blog, started getting it out there to see if I could get some sponsors. But I found out pretty quickly that in order to sustain your travel, you’ve got to be kind of already doing it. It has to be a well-established lifestyle.
Then I looked at the third one, which was yoga, and I had resistance--I didn’t want to do it. I was like no...I like my practice, I like walking into a studio, just anonymous, unrolling my mat, practicing, and getting out of there. Like well, it’s in my top three; I’m not going to overlook it just because of the resistance. I know now with resistance there’s probably a big lesson behind it.
I looked up teacher trainings that were convenient for me, close to me. I found one at the Yoga Collective, Tamal Dodge was teaching it, signed up, and like around halfway through the training – I had started teaching privates for friends and family just to gain experience. Just free privates, I was just giving them out so I could get some experience.
Then when the training was over I was offered three classes on the schedule at the studio I did my training at and took those and started teaching. Then I got classes at other studios like The Tree Yoga and then I got a class at Power Yoga and some other smaller boutique yoga studios. That’s where the teaching began. Right there, so it’s been about five and half years now. Now I’m teaching at YogaWorks exclusively. I don’t teach at any other studio. And I teach retreats, and workshops, and I have private lessons and I’m moving in the direction of becoming a teacher trainer for YogaWorks.
Alex: Can we talk about the retreats? Especially about travel, because travel is a huge part, I believe, of change. So how did traveling change you, and how do you think traveling can change other people? Especially traveling for a yoga retreat.
Sean: Well traveling changed me in so many ways, as it does. You get to look at different perspectives, different worldviews, and different ways of how people live and how they treat their families. How they treat their work and how they treat their lives. When I first started traveling, I was going to Europe. I went to Europe, which I think is a very easy adjustment for Americans because it’s kind of similar perspectives and worldviews. I started going to Australia, which is much different; and then South America, which was really different. So I think it really changed me; just opened my eyes to the different way people live and it also made me realize how good I have it here in the states compared to so many other places around the world. We’ve got it good! We really do. So, I just think it changes people in that way. It gives them a different worldview, a different perspective on how other people are living. So maybe it can just change. Even if it just changes the way people think of how good they have it, and just having some gratitude for things that we do have; the luxuries that we have. So that’s how traveling changed me. And speaking of retreats, I’m actually leading my fourth.
I started teaching retreats, let’s see, it’s almost going on three years ago. Three years ago and actually, my first retreat I led was in Nicaragua. I went to Nicaragua and we went to a couple different locations. And one of the participants in the retreat was talking to me pretty much about how I started and I told the basic things I just told you about my top three list and how I started moving in that direction and then I realized--here I was In Nicaragua traveling, leading a yoga retreat where I can surf! So, it brought my top three together! Yoga brought my top favorite things that I like to do the most, into one, and it’s a dream come true. Now I’m leading a retreat in a couple weeks to Bali, which has some of the best waves in the world, the most beautiful scenery in the world, and I get to do the three most favorite things I like to do the most. That’s amazing!
Alex: Let me ask you how yoga, as a practice, has changed you as a person.
Sean: How much time do we have, because it has changed me tremendously! I mean night and day, night and day. You know what I’ll do is I’ll tell you...I keep pulling realizations left and right, you know, almost every day. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but every once in awhile I’ll have a realization about how the practice has changed me. But one of the first ones I had, like it almost committed me to the practice, because I realized what a big change that it actually had made. I was, and I learned it pretty early on in my practices, probably around the sixth, seventh, maybe tenth class that I had taken. I realized half-way through the class I would take a break. You know because I always started off everything really strong. I started everything off at 110 percent. Then, I realized how that was in the rest of my life and I had the realization that was how I was doing everything. That’s how I was working, that’s how I was relating to friends and girlfriends, family; starting off really strong at 110 percent and when it didn’t go the way that I liked or I got a little uncomfortable, a voice would pop into my head saying, “You’ve been working really hard, you deserve a break.” And then I’d back off--and that kind of crushed me at the time because I realized I wasn’t a finisher. That I wasn’t finishing what I was starting.
So when I realized that’s how I was living every aspect of my life, it gave me the opportunity to make a decision of whether I wanted to change it or not and I did. I wanted to change it. So the very next day I got back on my mat, doing the same thing because that’s how I do things, I start strong. Then, at the same place, same time, the voice popped into my head – “You deserve a break. Go ahead and take it, it’s yoga. Take it, it’s all good.” But I didn’t, I said no, I can finish this, I want to finish what I start.
So the yoga practice not only made me realize how I was being. It also became the playing field of transformation for me. Because every time I got on the mat, I had an opportunity to be challenged by that.
Alex: It showed you how you live your whole life?
Sean: Oh yea, and how I was living it, in that way at least. Yoga shows you how you live because we all have one way of doing things and we do everything one-way—that’s our way. We work our way, we play our way, and we do everything our way — including practice. So the practice asks you to look at how you are being, what you are doing. I noticed that I was doing that in everything and then it became a playing field of transformation for me. What it did was--it gave me the opportunity to practice integrity--and that was huge. You know, having integrity is huge. Then it also gave me the opportunity to reflect and look at what I was about to start, and figure out if I wanted to finish it or not. Because before, subconsciously, I would want to take everything on. Because subconsciously I knew I had a really good excuse to leave it if I wanted to, because I took everything on—jobs, girlfriends, just everything. Because I knew if it doesn’t go the way I wanted it to, I can just say goodbye. So that was really big for me too, because it gave me the opportunity to really make sure I knew what I was getting myself involved with; and it also gave me the opportunity to practice saying no, which was big. It’s hard to say no to people sometimes. So it gave me the opportunity to practice integrity, reflection and contemplation, and then it ultimately changed my life, forever.
Alex: Then the last question is: How has your yoga practice helped you with fatherhood?
Sean: Oh, patience. Patience, acceptance, connection, love – I mean everything, because yoga practice just cultivates all the good qualities in us and enables us to look at maybe the not so desirable qualities that we get to practice letting go of.
For more on Sean check out his website: Click Here
For his upcoming yoga and surf retreats: Click Here