Author Archive: Elizabeth

Akasha (space)

When we can connect to the essence of the element of akasha, space, within ourselves, we feel less crowded by things pressing in on the outside, whether it be actual confinement or overcrowdedness or the sense of crowding from having too many pressing things to do.  For those of us who live in the District of Columbia, this weekend, with the extra million or two or three people in our neighborhoods and using our transportation systems is a great opportunity to discover the spaciousness within.

Practice dwelling in a supremely spacious place in your heart when you meditate this week.  Start by visualizing a vast space just beyond your third eye (the point between the eye brows).  Once you can visualize that space, the chidakasha, draw the space into your heart and rest there.  Then, when you go out onto to the Mall or onto the metro or onto crowded streets, bring enough of your consciousness into the vast inner space that you can feel comfortable with the crowding outside.  When dwelling in the inner and outer at the same time, it will be easier to marvel at the outside crowds.

For those of you who are extroverts who get exhilarated by crowds, of course, this practice would seem less critical.  I invite you to give it a try anyway.

Share

Hard Freeze Forecast (Heyam Dukham Anagatam)

My favorite sutra in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s is, II.16, “heyam dukham anagatam.”  This translates roughly as “the pain that is yet to come can be avoided.”  What does this have to do with a forecast of a hard freeze?

My chard, beets, and turnip greens are still flourishing.  They can manage with a night or two in a row in the high 20sF, and that is all we have had so far.  The forecast for later in the week, though, is for the first true cold snap since 1994 (you may remember that as the year when lots of people’s pipes froze).  My winter garden (which does not have a cold frame due to lack of space — maybe I’ll get more creative next year, and I’ll try an experiement with plastic bags on Thursday night) cannot survive lows in the low teens highs in the twenties.

I could suffer today by bemoaning the coming cold, worrying about the garden, and remembering that I don’t like cold.  That would be present suffering in anticipation of potential future suffering.  I certainly can avoid that.  I can also do what I did yesterday, which was harvest lots of the chard and most of the beets, put the beets into cold storage (vegetable bin in the refrigerator) and make pasta with sauteed garlic and chard.  Between now and Wednesday night, I’ll harvest most of the remaining greens.  I’ll make a big vegetable soup with the beets and the chard, maybe make chard pie or calzones (truly delicious), and eat the rest over the following days.  I’ll feel grateful that in the bitter cold, I can be eating fresh garden greens.  I’ll be even more grateful that I can just shop at the grocery store or the farmers’ market and don’t need to rely on my garden feeding me year round.  I’ll also be happy for the hard frost.  Part of the reason the aphids and the mosquitoes have been so bad is the absence of a hard frost in winter.

Some bitter cold in winter in a temperate zone is inevitable, as are sickness and death.  We can avoid suffering by not just getting anxious and unhappy and suffering in the present, but not taking action to alleviate potential suffering.  With preparation and practice, we can avoid some suffering.  Just has preparing for winter in the garden can allow it to be productive for greater parts of the year, so too, with a steady practice of asana, pranayama, and meditation we can avoid some physical and emotional pain and suffering.  Most important, with steady preparation (preparing for the potential for difficulties in the future is not the same as being anxious about it), when the inevitable comes, we will likely suffer less, at least in our hearts, if not in our bodies.

Share

Winter Reading on the Tattvas (the elements)

I am returning to a contemplation of teachings about the tattvas (the 36 elements in Kashir Shaivism; in Vedanta only 25).  Each time I go back to study, practice, and contemplate the tattvas, a new understanding arises about how I am in the world and how I might want to shift my alignment to be better able to serve, for want of a better word, the good.  The tattvas provide a way of understanding the structure of consciousness [Consciousness], from the most metaphysical, universal elements to the most diverse, individual, physical elements and the relationship between the two.  Practicing asana with the Anusara principles of alignment at the same time as reading these teachings has, for me, helped bridge the space between the intuitive and concrete understandings of being in the world.  The point of trying to understand these extraordinary philosophical ideas is not for the sake of acquiring academic learning, but rather is an invitation to use the joyous experience of wrestling intellectually, intuitively, and physically to illuminate understanding, as a way to dwell more consistently in the heart.

Reading Sources:

Kashmir Shaivism, The Secret Supreme, Swami Lakshmanjoo, ed. John Huges, Universal Shaiva Fellowship (2003)

Kashmir Shaivism, J.C. Chatterji (SUNY Press, 1986)

The Triadic Heart of Siva, Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega (SUNY Press 1989)

Share

A Hawk

I saw a hawk when I was walking to work this morning.  It was in one of those stately oak trees in the park just north of the US Capitol.  I have occasionally seen hawks in the neighborhood alleys, but never one at the Capitol.  The hawk stood out for two reasons:  it was very large, and it was the only living being about.  Usually, there are a number of squirrels, pigeons, and maybe crows, sparrows, and common grackles about the park.  This morning, it was unearthly quiet; all of the other animals and birds were all in hiding.  It was probably a red-tailed hawk.  As I stood to watch this special being, a woman walked past me with her head hunched down, her hands shoved in her pockets, her briefcase weighing down her shoulder, and her face preoccupied, a common going to work look.  I called out to her, “look, a hawk.”  She was startled, maybe even a little upset at first that I had interrupted her thoughts, but then she, too, stopped and watched.  When I finally continued on to work, she stayed watching for a while, and she no longer looked preoccupied.  At the bottom of the steps of the park, I went past the police, who are there every morning with their cars parked on the sidewalk (blocking the way).  The police rarely say hello.  One of the cops, who had his dog out of the car, called out a good morning to me today, though.  I greeted him back, “good morning, did you see the hawk?”  “Yes, I’ve been watching it,” he said.  We had a nice chat about the hawk and about his being able to watch the bald eagles at Blue Fields in Virginia, where they do the training for the police dogs.

It would have been easy for me not to see the hawk.  I use my morning walk as a time for contemplation, and when I am in the park (leaving aside the Architect of the Capitol vehicles that sometimes intrude), it is a time I can be less careful about traffic and be more inward.  But it is also a time to look and to appreciate the opportunity to be outside, whatever the weather and the season.  The trees and birds and small animals and plantings and sky look different everyday.  While I go inward on my morning walk, I am also always noticing.  This is a kind of mindfulness — to be able to be resting with inward attention, but still be open to observing whatever is in view.  Is it less mindful to be so drawn inward that the outside disappears?  That perhaps depends on whether one has deliberately gone so far inward that the outside ceases to exist for a time, which is a meditation method, or whether one is just so preoccupied with the churning of the mind that one becomes less conscious.

Share

Cold, dark, and rainy

It is always a temptation for me to stay home when it is cold and dark, to miss yoga class (when I am student, not teacher), to do my own practice and read and cook and play with the cat, rather than to be more engaged with all that is outside — friends, group yoga, and all the offerings of the city.  I am always happier, though, for having gone out.  Home is much more pleasing after an interlude with the outside.  And if I dress right, it is even enjoyable to walk out in the cold, dark, rain, and say hello to all the dog walkers.

Share

Perihelion

Yesterday was this year’s perihelion — the day of the year the earth is closest to the sun in the earth’s annual orbit around the sun.  I find in interesting that the perihelion is at the coldest and darkest time of year.  The relative proximity of the earth to the sun is of far less import for warmth and light than the tilt of earth away from the sun.  So, too, with matters of the spirit.  It does not matter how close we are to sources of illumination and learning, if we turn away from them.  When we turn towards the light, even if the sources of light are farther from our reach, (the aphelion is in July, our hottest month), we are more likely to become illuminated.

Share

Sankalpa (Intention)

In the tradition of our culture’s “new year’s resolution” I like to practice yoga nidra at this time of year to help establish a new sankalpa or intention.  A sankalpa is different from a new year’s resolution.  It is short, affirming, and is both in the present and forward-looking.

Usually it takes a couple of weeks for me to be certain of what sankalpa is right for me to work with for a period of months.  One year, I had been very sick for the entire fall and early winter, so it was easy to choose “I am healthy.”  For the past two years, as I struggled with my place this time of war and societal struggle and thought about my own role in creating and avoiding conflict, I chose the sankalpa “I will come from the light in all I do” (“light” for me meaning an inner place of peace, compassion and spaciousness).

In the past several months, mostly due to having thoroughly enjoyed creating meals from the garden and the farmers’ market, I am a little heavier than works with the clothing I own and my sense of comfort with my body image.  Instead of having a new year’s resolution to lose five pounds, which would likely fail, I am working with the sankalpa “I love and respect my body.”  The former buys into societal expectations of what my body should look like, imposes mental will over my body, and reinforces a mindset of negative judgment and denial.  The latter is joyous and affirming.  I believe that if I truly love and respect my body, I will eat in a way that is healthy for my body and the earth.  I will either lose the few pounds or be more accepting of my body as it is.  This sankalpa thus gives me much to contemplate in terms of my relationship to the mirror, my clothes, my asana practice, and my way of eating.  How much it gives me to contemplate expands if I think of the body extending beyond just my flesh and bones and physical appearance, but also to my energy body and all that I bring in through the senses.

What sankalpa would be transformative for you this year?  What would help you embody your sankalpa (other than, of course, establishing a regular yoga nidra practice — see yoga nidra resources).

Share

Blustery Walk

It was great to get outside for a walk on this blustery day.  Sometimes the sun was out and the wind settled and it felt almost balmy.  At other times, the wind howled and the sun hid behind a dense cloud, and it felt like we were about to get a blizzard.  In between, it was either cloudy and still or sunny and windy.  What a refreshing way to get ready for the new year.  Hot tea and soup were specially welcome when I returned home.

Share

Yoga Nidra Resources

The practice of yoga nidra is a wonderful way to deepen the connection between the full range of consciousness and your physical body.  It is enjoyable and helpful to practice it on an occasional basis — we did it for the last class of the session in the Willow Street gentle/therapeutics class and you all are welcome to come to the New Year’s Yoga Nidra workshop on Sunday, January 4th — but it can be even more productive as a regular weekly practice.

Here are some good resources if you have found yoga nidra helpful and want to find out more about it and establish a home practice:

To read more about yoga nidra, I recommend the following books, both of which I believe are available at Willow Street Yoga Center.

  • Yoga Nidra, Swami Satyandanda Saraswati, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, Bihar School of Yoga (1988)
  • Yoga Nidra, The Meditative Heart of Yoga, Richard Miller, PhD, Integrated CD Learning, Sounds True, Inc. (2005) [this comes with a CD]

These CD’s lead you through yoga nidra practices of various lengths and emphasis:

  • Experience Yoga Nidra — Guided Deep Relaxation, Swami Janakananda, www.skand-yoga.org [my favorite — maybe it is the soothing tones of an Indian swami speaking English with a Swedith inflection]
  • Yoga Nidra with Robin Carnes, Robin Carnes leads a yoga nidra class at Willow Street Yoga Center.
  • Moving Into the Garden of Your Heart, Betsy Downing, Ph.D [Betsy Downing, the “grandame of Anusara” will be at Willow Street Yoga in January 2009]
  • Relax Into Greatness with the Treasure of Yoga Nidra, Rod Stryker [Rod Stryker is an exceptional master and leader of tantric yoga practices, such as yoga nidra, and I highly recommend his meditation CDs and his workshops. This is an older CD, and I sometimes find that the body scan is a little fast for my comfort].
Share

Krishnamurti’s Daily Thought

Three or four weeks ago, I came out of my morning meditation thinking about the teachings of Krishnamurti.  (I read a lot of Krishnamurti when I was in high school, so his teachings have influenced me with varying degrees of subtlety).  Two or three days later, I was “spammed” with Krishnamurti’s Daily Thought.  Someone, apparently somewhere in Europe, somehow got access to an email list to which I subscribe.  As I had just been thinking about Krishnamurti, though, instead of hitting “unsubscribe,” I read the thought for the day.  I’ve been reading it since, and I am exploring how much my readings in high school have been part of my foundational thinking.

When I was volunteering at the Lantern yesterday, one of the other volunteers called and reminded me that there were books put aside for me.  It is not my habit to put books aside, and I had no recollection of so doing, so I was curious to discover the books were there.  One of the two books was a slightly water damaged paperback of Krishnamurti On Right Livelihood.  The universal energies are obviously suggesting I examine this early influence.  I am contemplating what the following question means for me in today’s current context of multiple wars, a deep recession, and burgeoning environmental degradation:

Is it not necessary for each one to know for himself what is the right means of livelihood?  If we are avaricious, envious, seeking power, then our means of livelihood will correspond to our inward demands and so produce a world of competition, ruthlessness, oppression, ultimately ending in war. Krishnamurti, Ojai, July 1944

Share