Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Meaning of Chanting

I do a daily chant, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, and I recently found a posting about it online, by a woman talking about the various things she manifests in her life with this chant. True, things do seem to remarkably manifest, within hours of me chanting, but the manifestation of "things" isn't the point of Buddhism. Rather, the manifestation of our "Self" is.

I couldn't restrain myself, so I just had to say something in response to her posting, so here it is!!!...

I've been chanting this mantra for about l5 years and it's very powerful. I touch on it in my new book, Stories From the Yogic Heart.

I may chant sitting, walking or driving, but when I do it in a focused way for several minutes or an hour a day, it works best for me. I feel it's what resulted in my getting an invitation to the White House to do a presentation for my charity, Artists Against Racism, to the UN to accept an award for the charity (Global Tolerance Award), and has made my life so much better and smoother in so many ways. But these things I did not chant for.

What we must remember, is that both Buddhism and chanting are not meant to manifest "things" in our life. They are meant to center us, so that we will be grounded, know our True Selves, and live from our True Selves.

So, when I chant, I don't chant for "things" and neither should anyone else. I chant until I feel as one with the "vibe", one with the "reverberation" of the sound of the mantra, until I am the sound, I am the vibe, and this puts me on a different energy level where everything works out for my highest good--I feel like myself, I attract the highest good for my soul (in terms of relationships and everything else), and I make the right decisions--from my soul rather than my mind. Everything just flows. I am protected, as was Tina from Ike (I learned about this mantra from her movie but that's another story!).

When I was invited to the White House, I didn't chant for it; when my charity won the Global Tolerance Award and received it at the UN on the charity's behalf and I had the rare chance to make a speech that I'd been dreaming of doing all my life, I didn't chant for that either. The Universe is aware of our dreams and if it coincides with the highest good of the planet, it happens when we're in our highest vibration.

The meaning of life is to spiritually transcend, not to attain. Remember this, and you will be on your true transformation in this precious short life you have. A transformation that is more valuable than anything you could ever wish to attain.

and, as my yogic mentor, Erich Schiffman would say, may you "be online" all the time.
Through the ocean of yoga, it is the answer to everything: your true Self.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Everyone needs supporters in life, and Shelly Altman was one of my greatest. She came into my life about 11 years ago, as the long-time manager of Steve's Music, in Toronto, and regularly donated Fender guitars which were then autographed by the likes of Matchbox 20, Pearl Jam, Alex Lifeson and many more when I'd meet them backstage on behalf of my charity, Artists Against Racism.

She was such a brilliant and kind person, that she was soon a pivatol voice on our board of directors.

When not working manically, Shelly could often be found smoking outside on the sidewalk, something I'd often try to stop--offering her yoga lessons, reiki and more--warning her of the consequences of her continual puffing. "Oh, I'll stop one day, when I'm ready," she'd say, a phrase which would make me wince.

The some-day sadly came a couple years ago when she needed to have half her lung cut out due to lung cancer. Then she had to stop, She even began Quigong which she said gave her remarkably more energy, even with just half a lung sharing oxygen with the rest of her system, and embarked on her next-favorite hobby--entering her dog in dog shows. I happily thought this feisty woman had once again beat the odds.

But the honeymoon didn't last long. Steve's Music wouldn't let her return to work when she was ready, and while the cancer metasticized to the rest of her body she spent the final two years of her life taking her former employers to court to win the funds to feed herself.

Sadly, the victory came too late -- almost to the day when she had to begin a series of massive radiation treatments which would leave her frail and anorexic in a hospital bed, her gaunt body devoid of hair except for some sparse fuzz on her head, her eyes barely able to open. Photos of holocaust survivors or prisoners of war were recurring images in my mind.

Shelly died two days ago, fortunately in her own loving home, with her dog by her side, her rabbit under her bed, her caring neighbors taking care of her. I wish I'd been in town to be there.

I try to remember her as she was in her prime, but the images alternate with the images of her near her end. They flash back and forth, disturbingly in my mind. Perhaps the slideshow will slow down as time passes, as it did with my grandmother a few years ago, and my 96 year old friend, Electa, who passed last year.

Perhaps what disturbs me most is that we cannot easily save another human being--from addictions, from themselves, from the trauma in their minds or even from the corporate marketing and social pressures which entice them to smoke, to drink or to use any other addictive products. The fact that billions of dollars are being made on our inevitable demise does not seem to be deterant enough.

There were and are more Shelly's in my life who met an untimely end from tobacco or cocaine or alcohol, and each has taken a piece of my heart. I see them every day as do we all. What can we do but send them white light if they choose not the path of yoga. Or we can send them reiki, send them daimoku, to send them love. We can listen, we can share our stories, we can love. We can lead a joyous life they may want to follow.

And when even this seems to fail, we can love ourselves and acknowledge that we've done our best. Even when we often feel that our best wasn't enough.

Feel free to share. Have you successfully helped "addicted" friends in your life? Start by taking a breath, a large one, then share. On behalf of my dear friend and the many others who have passed too early, I thank you. I know that Shelly would too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A friend of mine, who belongs to the Anglican Church in Vancouver, recently asked me to answer some questions for her that she's going to bring to her church's contemplation group. While I enjoy contemplation (though I don't "plan" to do it daily!), I never really thought of the below and I'm glad she asked. Here is what came of it...

1)What is your understanding of contemplation?

hmmmm...well, that's complex, but it's like introspection, but it's about the outter-world. We can contemplate on anything we wish to understand better. I'm assuming you're looking at it in the religious sense, so in that case it would be trying to understand the concept of God, the concept of life, the concept of the universe, the concept of creation, the concept of life after death, etc.

2) Who participates in this practise?

Whoever has a contemplative nature! As a Pisces, I seem to be very prone to it!

3) How has this changed in the last ten years?

I don't know if this makes sense, but I did so much intellectual contemplation before yoga, that now, with yoga and meditation, I let my mind "go" and I let wisdom enter and because I can differentiate and know whether it it wisdom or just my "thinking", I don't overanalyze or try to figure things out as I did before. It's a "knowing" which I touched on in my story in my new book "Stories From the Yogic Heart."

4) How does yoga support your life?

Because it gives me this "knowing", it gives me a great peace in my life due to my tendency to have an over-active mine.

6) Do you have hopes or concerns for the future concerning contemplation?

My hope, as I seem to be running into way too many over-analytical people lately (in the sense that they are hard-fast in their views), is that more people will begin practices such as yoga where they relax their body and mind, and will access not only their intuition and the wisdom of the universe and not lean so much as needing "proof" for everything, where they become less argumentative, more open-minded and more open to recognizing the mysterious and often inexplicable aspects of life.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Be happy

I've been visiting my 96 year-old friend, Electa, in the hospital for the past couple months. As her last hours of breath draw nearer, it's been getting more difficult to see her. Just two months ago, she was a mentally-robust woman who I'd visit almost weekly, who was a wealth of information about worldly events. She'd watch 60 Minutes on Sundays, watch the national news each night, and read a couple books a week (which probably attested to her brain functioning better than mine at 46!).

I've always been attracted to listening to elderly people since I was very young, and would visiting my 70 year old neighbour next door (she looked like 90 to me!). My grandmothers died a few years ago, and there was Electa. I knew her as my best freind's step-grandmother, and visited her one day after she returned from a long bout at the hospital. She invited me back and, enthralled with her kindness and wit, I'd keep returning!

She'd regale me with stories about sledding with her sisters in their l920s childhood, about acting in plays, getting blinded in one eye at a hockey game (but that never stopped her from reading), how much she loved her sisters, and how she wrote letters to the Santa Claus she heard on the radio as a child and told him how good she'd been all year. Then, with a sly smile, she told me how years later, they'd get married, and ironically she found out he was the Santa from the radio days. And a Jewish one, at that.

We watched epic wildlife films on my laptop, rejoiced when Obama won (although in Canadian politics she was a staunch Conservative and I was Liberal), she kindly made me dinners when she could barely eat them herself, pestered me each week to finish editing my book, then drilled me on how I was going to market it. She dreamt of the day she could watch Prince William get married, then played back her memories of the wedding of Elizabeth.

She discussed reiki and yoga with me, questioned how they worked, asked whether they brought it bad spirits as her hairdresser (a Jews-for-Jesus follower) had scared the living daylights out of her that she'd go to "hell" (then proceeded to throw the reiki book I'd given Electa across the room), should she even entertain the idea that these were good for her. I told Electa that Jews don't believe in hell.

Sometimes she believed her, sometimes she didn't. But then her feistiness kicked in. She'd gotten up the guts to tell Chris that she was not really either a good Christian or Jew if she kept trying to enforce her beliefs on others. And proudly told me so. It's good she'd finally taken action, as I was short of being tempted to do so myself!

She'd anger only when I was late, or brought her flowers or chocolates, the few joys she had left in life. But she believed she had something more, and so right she was. She had books, the best gift one can have and, possibly being the most voracious reader in the world of 90 year-olds, was determined to regain her eyesight against all odds. And, this year, blessed with the "flick" of a laser at an opthomology appointment, she did, showing me the real meaning of tenacity in action.

At the Jewish New Year, in September, she was fine, or as fine as she could be since she's eaten very little for meals, the past couple years. But she was at the house of my friend, her grand-daughter, eating and talking with the rest of us, and dressed in her best.

But during Thanksgiving, she fell ill and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Her 'nightmare' had come true. The last thing she wanted to do was end up in a hospital, she'd told me several times, as she'd been there ten years ago and almost didn't emerge. "The next time, I'll never get out," she told me prophetically, and unfortunately, she may be right.

It's difficult to see someone in this state; a functional brain in a body with its own agenda. And it is no less superfluous to her. "I don't know what's happened to me. I don't know what's wrong." Sometimes she believes she's immortal, sometimes she's aware of the inevitable. Neither of us can handle the reality, nor well-believe it.

I've chanted for her, I've sent her reiki, I've sent her metta. Maybe it's all helped the quality of her last days, but after seeing her as my grandmother was, in her last hours, gasping for breath (with the odd few brilliant sentences emerging from her), I cannot be sure. Maybe I should have done more or could have done more. I will never know. It was both of our dreams that she would live at home, a rare Toronto condo with a view only of trees, until the end of her days. But it was not to be.

The most we can do for another is what we'd wish would be done for us. I get ready to leave for the last time, leaving her small, withered body on the bed, as more visitors crowd the room, hoping that I will just be able to visit her in my dreams and in the visions of my waking-state. Knowing that she'll soon be out of pain, and with Santa Claus once again.

"Don't worry, I told her," as I held her thin, leathery hand, and brushed pink. velvety, flower petals against it. "You are a wonderful person. Follow the light when you see it. And call me whenever you'd like. I will reply. I love you."

To which she replied faintly, "I love you too." And, in her last-ditch effort to impart love to those she couldn't see in the room, cried out, "Be happy, and have a wonderful summer." To which the caregiver and I drew a big breath.

May she as well, in the summer of her between-lives, before we may meet again. But for now, I will breathe for her, and send her blessings, through my grieving yogic heart.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Flight of the Geese

I went to my favourite walking place in Victoria today, Elk Lake, where I first went soon after reading "The Reluctant Psychic" the first time I visited Victoria. It's always held a special spot in my heart since that first time, one balmy BC March about ten years ago, before the huge storm wiped out some beautiful old trees along the path by the lake. That time, a wolf-like dog walked by me, looked at me for a long while, then slowly strode ahead. He or she looked just like the wolf described in Dianne's aforementioned book, the wolf who created a bond with her then invited her into its den to view its cubs. I wished I'd had such an opportunity to relate to the creatures of the wild, and I took this dog's visit to me as a sign. So much so that until its owner walked by, I thought the pup was a figment of my imagination!

Today, after I did my walking meditation then sat down to listen to my buddhist gongyo prayer, I just stared out into the lake, admiring how the trees reflected on the glass surface, revelling in how this looked like a postcard, and how surreal it wall was.

Then I heard the screaming of geese across the lake, a cacaphony actually, as if a great meeting was happening, and before I knew it, they soared into the air one by one, did a l80 and flew right over me--a "V" of outstretched necks, wings and god itself. And for that brief, beautiful minute, I became no longer just one with the trees and lake, but one with all of nature herself.

In the spaciousness that walking and sitting meditation provides, I walked back to my car, stared out at the lake for one more swan song, thought about how how the trees aross the water felt connected with my self, and a message swept through me from the ether.

It said, "this is how the world is supposed to always feel to us and how we are always suppposed to feel in the world; it's just that our thinking messes it up." It reminded me of what astronaut Edgar Mitchell said to melast summer... " There is no such thing as paranormal; it is all normal." I couldn't have felt more that way myself.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Nikki the Wonder Woman

Nikki was a wonder woman. Truly. And she would loved to have been called one. She's probably laughing right now. I can hear her in my head. She was not just the transcriber for much of my book, but she was a wonder woman because she laughed at life, laughed at herself, was brilliant, read copious amounts of spiritual stuff online beyond what many do, and was the likes of a comedian who could have blown Ellen Degeneres out of the water. Seinfeld too. She was Lucille Ball incarnate. Kathy Buckley (a renowned deaf comedian) would have adored her.

And she was a writer who could have written the next Pulitzer Prize. Plus her own award-winning "Sweat the Small Stuff--after all it's Only Small Stuff" books. And probably novels. And movies. And more. Nikki would have liked to hear this too.

All the more amazing because Nikki had a disease which had made her very small with severe scoliosis and more, and was in a wheelchair since birth.

She wanted to learn yoga, she wanted to learn reiki, she burned with passion to try all. But last week, due to a staph infection from a hospital operation, she passed away.

I never met Nikki in person, just on the phone when we'd discuss my book. I wish we'd discussed more of her stuff. But over the past few months I got to know a person who was a sage in a small body. Such a powerful sage that she was probably a yogi in a past life, or a Tibetan Reiki Master. She would have loved to hear that too.

We read to learn, we do yoga to expand yourselves and feel more connected to the universe, we turn to "gurus" to teach us more. But sometimes the "guru" is life itself, including the person right next to us, who can teach us volumes just through the way they live their own lives. Nikki was one of those.

She'd have loved to hear that too. And maybe she can.

Drawn to her reply to an ad I posted last summer for transcribers, I followed my intuition and gave her a call. I'm sure it wasn't by chance that I'd meet one of the most beautiful people I've ever met-- and one of my greatest gurus. To me, her legacy will be that she has lead all she has met--including myself--to strive to live our lives as she would have wanted hers--fulfilling, exciting, with grace and service, and willing to try anything.

My blessings back to her will be living my life with as much grace and kindness as she did her's, and keeping her in my buddhist chanting prayers daily, in my yogic prayers, and in my passion for life. May it always equal her's.

You may send blessings in your own way, as well. Glimpses of her soul are at

May we be blessed to encounter souls such as hers in all of our lives.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Rising Above Swine Flu Fear with Yoga and Love

A few years ago, during one of this century’s worst viral epidemics, SARS, I dared to venture outside. “Don’t go,” pleaded my friend. “Don’t hang out in coffee shops anymore or go to yoga. You’d be crazy.”

I had been going to coffee shops but not to yoga and I could refrain no longer.

So, one blizzardly night when I really thought I’d lose my mind staying inside, I did it: I trudged by all the passersby wearing masks as they skidded along Toronto’s slippery snowy, downtown streets, and I made a beeline to the yoga studio.

I left the darkness of the city to enter darkness once again, but this darkness had a serene glow as it was lit by what seemed like dozens of tealights encircling the reception area and the yoga room itself. Peace immediately enveloped me.

Prayer flags hung from the ceiling, the room had a warm glow of the many flames flickering, and my favourite teacher, Vislev, was teaching the class. And it appeared that he was trying to especially cheer us up by enhancing his usually movie-like classes with the romance of candles. What more could I ask for?

Surrounding me were twenty other supposedly crazy devotees and one right across from me who would cough every time he inhaled in cat pose. Freaked me out a bit, but I decided to put it out of my mind. After all, I had to live my life, so whatever would be, would be. I’d just returned from the rainforest of BC and pretending I was still in paradise would be my saving grace.

For the next hour, Vislev acted as the conductor, leading us through an ethereal flow of downward dogs, upward dogs, bakasanas, and uttanasanas, and as I joined the surrounding sea of slowly moving human silhouettes. I felt a deeper peace flow through, immerse my blood, engage my cells and entrain my mind as I moved at one with the pulse of humanity surrounding me.

“Pretend you are the sky,” Vislev said. “The clouds pass through, but the sky remains a constant, undisturbed.” The music of ocean waves from the stereo reverberated in the background, the lights of the high rises obliterated by the windows’ reflections of flames.

As we lay in savasana, our breathing in sync with the oceanic waves, we almost felt like that’s all we knew.

As we slowly rose, about to roll up our mats, Vislev called one of the students to the front. “He has something to say,” Vislev told us, beaming. And as the student knelt in front of a young woman, I sat stunned at what I knew was about to happen, and time slurred still.

“Will you marry me?”, he asked her. Silence. Then, affirmation flowed from her lips.

It is said that one candle can bring light to the greatest darkness-- even in a cave that has not seen light for eons, just as a full moon can light up the night sky.

That night showed me that love can also rise above all darkness and bring light to all in its midst--love, hope, and the knowing that all is possible. When I emerged back into the night, a glow would lead my way. And when fear may arise, to this day, to that feeling of light and love I go again, and I am all the stronger for it.

Lisa is the editor of the soon to be released book, Stories From the Yogic Heart, at