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This morning my sit was full of lots of random thought waves. This was no doubt, in part, due to my having four meetings, a call, and a lunch scheduled. When I was finished, I went into the library, picked up the Christopher Isherwood/Swami Prabhavandananda version How to Know God and opened it randomly to see if it could help guide my thinking today. I opened to sutra I.40: “The mind of a yogi can concentrate upon any object of any size, from the atomic to the infinitely great.” My first thought was, “how nice.” My second thought was, “I need to look at another translation; that does not sound quite how I’ve read it elsewhere.”
I opened my trusted B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali. The translation there is “Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest.”
These translations are not so different from each other. It was also most timely for me to read this classical sutra in connection with what I have been contemplating in the Pratyabijna Hrdyam.
I read the Isherwood translation as saying that as long as one concentrates as a yogi with full and loving attention, then all actions are in union (yoga). I understand the Iyengar translation to say that mastering yoga allows one to perceive in the most individual, differentiated being or object, the infinite universal. With that knowing, just as the Kashmir Shaivist teachings say, one is living liberated (jivanmukti).
However I read this thread of teaching, it is most relevant for how I live and what I must do today with the worldly commitments I have made. With the intention to stay present with yoga concentration and aims, I now head to my day of meetings.
The sanskrit is: “paramanu parammahattvantah asya vasikarah”
The Self in man and in the sun are one./ Those who understand this see through the world/ And go beyond the various sheaths/ Of being to realize the unity of life./ Those who realize that all life is one/ Are at home everywhere and see themselves / In all beings. They sing in wonder:/ ‘I am the food of life, I am, I am;/ I eat the food of life, I eat, I eat./ I link food and water, I link, I link./ I am the first-born in the universe;/ Older than the gods, I am immortal./ Who shares food with the hungry protects me;/ Who shares it not with them is consumed by me./ I am this world and I consume this world./ They who understand this understand life.’ Taittreya Upanishad, 10.5, trans. Eknath Eswaren.
As one who is immersed in the joy of growing, selecting, creating, and tasting food and studying and practicing yoga, it is no suprise that the Taittreya Upanishad (which Eknath Eswaren subtitles “From Food to Joy”) is one of my favorite readings.
The Taittreya Upanishad explains the five sheaths or koshas that make up the self — the food body, the energy body, the mind body, the intuitive body, and the bliss body. What we take in with our senses and what makes us flesh and blood can, with right observance and practice, lead us to a consciousness of self as joy and spirit embodied. This is the yoga of eating and of food.
For more details on the Taittreya Upanishad, please see Jon Janaka’s article, “I am the Food!”
Upanishads, trans. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford World Classics 1996)
The Upanishads, translated for the modern reader by Eknath Eswaren (Nilgiri Press 8th Printing 2000)
The Ten Principal Upanishads, put into English by Shree Purohit Swami and Wm. Butler Yeats (Faber and Faber, London, Reprinted 1952)
Yesterday I went out into the garden first thing and fed and deadheaded and trimmed and harvested and pulled seedlings and rearranged and swept for several hours. One of the most delightful things about planting decoratively with herbs and greens is that trimming and pulling things back transforms directly into meals and gifts for neighbors and friends. My visitor to the garden walked away with bunches of oregano, lemon balm, and mint and lemon balm with roots to plant in her own garden. We drank a cool lemon-mint infusion (mixture of spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, and lemon verbena) and ate a few strawberries (some from the garden, some from the farmers’ market). Later in the day, my lunch included a salad with lettuce, radishes, baby spinach and chard, spring onions, and various herbs. For dinner, I used chard, beets, and green onions to make a stew of chickpeas and greens.
With today’s rain, everything will keep flourishing, and I’ll be out there doing the same later in the week. My morning visitor and I agreed that one of the great delights of gardening is that the garden always welcomes more attention. The garden never asks to be left alone; it drinks in whatever attention and nourishment we are able to offer and returns it with grace. There are few things that both are comfortable with steady attention and fully nurture us the more attention we give. I find that meditation, too, always gives and receives graciously steady attention, which is one of its great gifts and joys.
I have been revisiting these cooking and gardening books from among my varied collection as I prepare for the “Yoga of Eating” Workshop. In addition to having recipes and/or gardening techniques each teaches about health, ecology, plants, and seasonal eating, is written in a way that would appeal to both novice and expert cook/gardener alike (including some recipes in the gardening books), and some have very pretty pictures. The key words for this focus in the titles: enjoyment, art, healthy, ecological, seasonal, healthy, earth, practical — essential attributes/attitudes/directions for eating with yoga consciousness.
Bishop, Jack, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen: Easy Seasonal Dishes for Friends and Family (Houghton Mifflin2004)
Sass, Lorna, Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen, Healthy Meals for You and the Planet (Wm. Morrow & Co. 1992)
Shaw, Diana, The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook (Clarkson Potter 1997) (Your Guide to the Best Foods on Earth: What to Eat; Where to Get It; How to Prepare It)
Tiwari, Maya, Ayurveda: A Life of Balance (Healing Arts Press 1995) (The Complete Guide to Ayurvedic Nutrition and Body Types with Recipes)
Waters, Alice, Chez Panisse Vegetables (Harper Collins 1996)
Bremner, Lesley, The Complete Book of Herbs: A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs (Dorling Kindersley – London 6th Ed. 1993)
Gilberti, Sal, Kitchen Herbs: The Art and Enjoyment of Growing Herbs and Cooking with Them (Bantam 1988)
Guerra, Michael, The Edible Container Garden, Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces (Fireside 2000)
Lloyd, Christoper, Gardener Cook (Willow Creek Press 1997)
Pavord, Anna, The New Kitchen Garden (Dorling Kindersley Am. Ed. 1996) (A Complete Practical Guide to Designing, Planing, and Cultivating a Decorative and Productive Garden)
Yesterday, a former student of mine stopped me in the hallway at Willow Street and asked whether the “Yoga of Eating” workshop I will be leading on June 13th will cover Ayurveda. “I will mention it,” I said, “but I will not be teaching it.” I didn’t have time to explain further because I was about to lead class. As far as I got was to add that I was not sufficiently trained to teach it.
Ayurveda is a wonderful science, and I honor and respect my yoga friends and colleagues who study, practice, and teach Ayurvedic principles. Ayurveda is a much broader discipline than yoga, though, and is really medical practice rather than yoga. Asana are among the practices that might be recommended by an Ayurvedic practitioner for a client or patient, but eating in accordance with the Ayurvedic principles is not the same as bringing yoga to how we eat. For me, many of the principles of Ayurveda I have read or been taught are useful, but it has not resonated for me as a governing system, just as I do not believe in applying all of the principles of Western medicine to how I heal and nourish my body.
Bringing yoga to my eating, like bringing yoga to all of my life off the mat, is both simpler and harder than being taught a science such as Ayurveda with fairly clear, but quite complex, do’s and don’ts and then following them. For me, practicing the yoga of eating, is practicing conscious eating. It is practicing reverance and moderation. It is balancing nourishment and pleasure. It is knowing deeply when the will to eat is serving us or getting in our way. It is both simple and subtle. It is easy to say, but deeply challenging and sometime complicated to practice — just like practicing the Anusara yoga principles of alignment.
Spotted in my backyard in the last month (in no particular order): carpenter bees (concentrated wintergreen oil spray works to get them out of the deck; no need to use chemicals), yellow jackets, wasps, mosquitoes, house flies, aphids, sparrows, pigeons, morning doves, starlings, cardinals, robin redbreasts, mocking birds, gnats, earthworms, cabbage butterflies, slugs. I have invited in praying mantis (hoping for the best). I choose to trap the rats and monitor for termites (or I would be seeing them). The ants are late this year.
Teeming with life or full of unwanted pests? It’s all a matter of perspective. What I do know is that the beings whose presence I welcome and enjoy would not be there if I just had a pesticide-laden chunk of concrete.
Although I never specifically studied ashtanga yoga, my life and practice have been influenced by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois‘s yoga and his offerings to the west. I practiced a good flow this morning to honor his teachings and his life. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois died earlier this week at the age of 94.
Yesterday, while watching the Capitol City Symphony and Capitol Hill Chorale’s joint performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Atlas Theater, I noticed with some amusement the cymbol player reading a novel in the wings through the first three movements. (The triangle player appeared just in time for the fourth movement).
This reminded me of an anecdote John Friend told at the Anusara Certified Teachers’ Gathering in Denver the other week to illustrate the importance of every person and element to the whole. He spoke of the triangle player. What do you say to him after the show, John asked, “great job man; I love the way you came in right when you were supposed to?” Even if showing up and playing one beat at the right time is the triangle player’s only job, the triangle player still is an integral part of the composition, though perhaps not as evidently crucial as the first violinist.
We may not know how we are essential or how we will shift things, but we should always revere and recognize each and every being, including ourselves, as part of the web of existence.
Unless you have to wear a uniform, there is probably a little flexibility in what you can wear to work (aren’t we lucky to live such a bountiful lifestyle that this is a dilemma). A tie might be required, etc, etc. You can always choose, at a minimum, to have clothes that fit properly and allow some freedom of movement.
My choice to be comfortable rather than “lawyerly” in my office attire except for special occasions possibly has impacted my career, but it is salutory for me on a day-to-day basis to wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather (when we dress inside for the weather outdoors, we need to use less energy for heating and cooling; wouldn’t it be great if we could get everyone to do this) and allows for freedom of movement (this includes shoes).
When I pick out my clothing, I want to be able comfortably take a full breath (think waistline), easily raise my arms overhead or interlace my hands behind my back (how do the shoulders, chest, and back fit), do uttanasana (coverage, waist line, tightness around the legs, back, and shoulders), and run for the bus (tightness of clothes and shape of shoes; forget heels). If you need to wear a jacket, there still is nothing stopping you from wearing a shirt underneath that allows for free movement nor having the jacket properly fit.
There are a lot of ways our choices can enhance freedom rather than constrain it. Choosing to wear comfortable clothing (which usually is better able to be cleaned at home than at the dry cleaners — helps the environment) and comfortable shoes (which helps avoid bone deformation and possible surgery — good for you; good for the environment), is just one of many.