Magnolias in bloom, cherry trees turning dark pink on their way to pale pink. The great unveiling that is spring in DC has begun! Sri!
Last year, some romaine lettuce must have bolted. I have baby romaine lettuce coming up everywhere. Having reverted to the wild, it is quite bitter. It is also taking up a fair amount of space, so to be able to plant more appealing things (new herbs and greens) I will be pulling it up. It has become, in essence, a weed. Later in the year, I’ll also have a surfeit of volunteer epazote and purslane, which many would pull as weeds. Those, I actively encourage, eating young the ones that come up over and over again through the bricks and confining in containers a few others to grow larger and to reseed.
Even though it is too bitter to be palatable raw, the now “weed” romaine tastes fine cooked as a tender green. So it does not get discarded. I just won’t make myself eat it in its bitter form as the salad green that it is “supposed” to be. Instead, since it is nourishing and tasty as a cooked green, it is a welcome early addition to the garden.
Just I have challenges and tribulations from whatever is my overall plan for the garden, I have my share of aches, pains, challenges, and disappointments, in life and in my yoga practice. The question is how to discriminate (viveka) among those that are poisonous, those that are bitter, and those that can be made nourishing and sweet, through the cooking of understanding, practice, and effort.
Yesterday, for the first time this year, there was more daylight than darkness. Today, it will be warm and sunny. Notice if the light and warmth brighten your mood. Then try to observe just where and how you are shifted so that when things seem dark and gloomy, you can find the place within yourself that responds to light and dark and invite in your own light to shift. This is a power of meditation.
My gardening friends have been commiserating and worrying about the abnormally dry weather. For the past couple of days, we have all been concerned that this storm has brought so little needed rain, although we are grateful to get whatever rain comes. Other acquaintances were complaining yesterday that it still wasn’t sunny. When I mentioned drought conditions, they had not noticed. If they noticed once it was pointed out, they suggested reasons why for them personally, it would still be a better thing for it to be a sunny day. Part of the reason I garden is to keep me connected with the rhythms of the seasons and the weather. If we do not grow our own food and depend on the fruits of our labors, nor are taught the relationship between the weather and our survival, there is no reason to know it. We become disconnected from nature and from the earth.
For me, connection to the earth deepens my connection to myself and to spirit. How can we know ourselves if we do not know how the earth nourishes us and how we relate to the earth? How can we recognize the light within ourselves, if we are disconnected from nature? At the same time, the practice of yoga, with its inward questing (antar-vimarsha — the quest to touch or reveal the true Self), by revealing to us the subtle energies and knowledge of the relationship of body and mind, can lead us back to yearning for a deeper understanding of the world around us and for a healthier relationship between the give and take between us and the earth. We can thus reach spirit both by being more aware of the outside and seeing where we are disconnected in our practice off the mat and by reaching inward using our spiritual practice (the Anusara principles are designed to be a pulsation of reaching outward and inward for an ever growing expansion and understanding of mind and spirit) and then knowing the outside is not aligned and needs to be shifted. All this is the process of vimarsha, like a little more rain in the drought to nourish and encourage the unfolding of spring.
This morning, woken by the purring cat from an anxious dream in which I was not doing enough to make things better (I am not making this up), my first thoughts were of escalating war in Afghanistan and deepening economic crisis at home. It felt almost strange and abstract to be worrying about these things from my warm comfortable bed.
I think worrying can have a positive place in our lives. If we just get worried or anxious about things and get trapped in not doing or growing or reaching (both inward and outward) for a sense of connection and spirit, then worrying will cloak or limit us. If we recognize worries as showing us limitations, then we can use them to grow and change and spur us to action.
After the 25 tattvas describing the physical world and our being and understanding of the world that correspond in both the classical and Kashmir Shaivist systems, are Kashmir Shaivism’s six kanchukas — cloakings or coverings. The kanchukas are niyati (limitation of place), kaala (limitation of time), raaga ( attachment), vidya (limitation of knowledge), kalaa (limitation of action), maya (illusion of individuality/manifestation).
From a tantric perspective, experiencing ourselves as thinking, individual beings in the manifest world, constrained by time and space, only binds us if we think that is all we are. If we get completely entangled in these constraints, then our sense of spirit is cloaked, just as if we get stuck in worrying, instead of using worries as a spur to work for change, we become miserable.
I meditate and practice asana, as taught by my teachers, to reveal the restraints of physical being as only part of my being. Spiritual practice can serve to enable us to experience freedom of heart and mind, to bathe in the bliss of the essence of ourselves that is universal and unconstrained by the limitations of individual manifestation. The point of these practices not to escape our individual selves or to gratify them (that would still be “cloaked”), but to find the strength and stability to serve better and to work for a world in which all beings have an equal chance to seek the spirit and experience the bliss of connection.
Join in the call for a friendlier, healthier planet by participating in Earth Hour by dimming your lights on March 28th (and before and after when you can).
A few years ago — just before the Al Gore movie came out — I went to a talk and movie about what we can do about global warming. A Nepalese attorney who had been working on a case before the World Court that related to saving the snows of the Himalayas (good luck), said something that fully resonated with me. He said he did not understand why Americans turn on electric lights on a sunny day. I think about that every time I see a light on at the same time as bright daylight is coming through the window. If I have the power to turn off the light (or not turn it on in the first place), I choose to do so.
My first reaction to the switch to Daylight Savings Time this early, I admit, was to protest and whine, but still to force myself into the new schedule. This is a great example of tamas (the protesting and complaining without doing anything productive) and rajas (the forcing myself into the routine) being out of balance. This resulted in my feeling both sluggish and edgy at times during the day.
By stepping back and observing that the feeling of being out of balance could be related to the time change, as well as the erratic weather, I was beginning to bring the elements back into balance, allowing rajas in the form of mental discrimination to bring me to a place where I could take action.
Last night I practiced seated forward bends andchandra bhedana (alternate nostril breathing, in breath through the left nostril — the moon side — and breathing out the right nostril). I went to bed at my regular time and slept sweetly. This morning, it was still hard to get up in the dark, but before meditating, I practiced kapala bhati (skull shining breath) and surya bhedana (alternate nostril breathing, with the in breath through the right nostril — the sun side — and the out breath through the left nostril) in the morning to bring in light and energy. I now feel energized and light and ready to face a long work day.
By practicing in this way I used rajas, as will, knowledge, and determination, not to force myself to get through the imbalance, but rather to try and balance my energy. Tamas predominated at bedtime where it was in balance, and the rajas needed to get out of bed with the alarm led me to my seat for pranayama and meditation without forcing.
John Friend talks of “plugging into the source” when we need more power to serve, to offer, to fulfill our responsibilities, and also to find our own connection to the greater consciousness in asana practice. I understand this to mean to understand that we are not alone, that when we tap into the strength of community and spirit, we are empowered to do more.
In asana, as in anything else we do, I believe this means moving and acting with integrity and deep integration, rather than just powering through things for the sake of ego or other external goals. This means softening and opening to a greater purpose before moving or acting (opening to grace). We then use the other Anusara principles of alignment — especially muscular energy — to integrate muscle and bone into our core, so that we reach from an informed place of strength.
These principles help us stay healthy when we engage physically outside of ourselves, whether it is offering someone else a hand, lifting and carrying, gardening, or doing housework. When we slow down and steady ourselves with purpose and then plug in by using our own power as leverage, we will not only be healthier ourselves, but will have more to offer.
Plugging into ourselves in this context means not reaching out before stabilizing ourselves, moving from the core not the periphery — not “telescoping” to some goal without staying grounded and steady. To plug in mentally, we remember our ultimate purpose and stay connected no matter how diverse the issues. To stay plugged in physically when we are doing physical activities off the mat such as gardening or housework, we start aligned and stay there and then use our own body as leverage, for example, bracing one arm against our side or thigh before using both hands together before moving, pulling, or shifting something. If we can keep with this practice with whatever we are doing, we are not guaranteed to be free from injury, but we are much more likely to stay healthy and strong.
After the five mahabhutas (great elements), the five tanmatras (subtle elements), the five karmendriyas (organs of action), and the five jnanendriyas (organs of cognition or sensing), come the three antahkaranas (internal organs). The antahkaranas are manas (mind), buddhih (intellect/intuition), and ahamkara (ego, sense of self as an individual). These 23 tattvas describe the objective world and our place in it as manifest physical beings and as beings who sense and think about our place in the physical world.
The next two tattvas are more in the subjective realm: purusha (nature) and prakriti. In the classical system, the 23 described above plus purusha and prakriti are the sum of the tattvas. In that system, prakriti, is interpreted as “spirit.” It is not the world spirit or the transcendent spirit, but more our individual spirit. Nature is divided from spirit and all of the objective world and individual spirit are different from “Atman” or “Brahma” what is real. In Kashmir Shaivism, there are another 11 tattvas — the six kanchukas (cloakings or coverings) and the five suddha tattvas (pure elements) that describe the relationship between the individualized, diverse, perceptible and perceiving realm, and the purely universal.
Purusha (nature) is a name or way of looking at the 23 earlier described tattvas and prakriti describes the sense we have of there being something more that is unifying and universal among all that is manifest, but still from the perspective of our own individual perception. When we look at nature (purusha) from a more universal perspective, we look at it from how it behaves generally, how it moves, and what moves it, as we look at the laws of nature of physics. In yoga, nature is described from the perspective of the three gunas — tamas, rajas, and sattva.
Tamas is dark, dormant, inert, and heavy. Rajas is fiery, energetic, and impassioned. Sattva is pure, clear, and light. From a classical perspective, tamas is a state we need to transcend to connect to spirit, rajas is the motivating energy that helps us move past tamas to a sattvic state. From the tantric perspective that underlies the Anusara principles, we recognize that tamasic qualities are part of nature and we embrace it where it leads us to a place of balance. At night, for example, it is better to be still and dark for optimal sleep. In this latititude, gardens need a period of dormancy in winter to thrive. When we are sick or exhausted, restorative postures may be more healing and balancing than would be power flow or even meditation. When tamas is out of balance, though, we are sluggish and slothful. We can be stuck in our ways — ways that are unhealthy for ourselves or the planet. We then need to cultivate more rajas. We use fire and passion to transform, to find new ideas, to shift our behavior, to find discipline. If our bodies are weak or inflexible, rajas helps us activate our practice to build power. The rains and warmth of spring make the garden grow. From this perspective, being light and pure based on particular dietary and behavioral strictures is not necessarily the ideal. Rather being sattvic is being in optimal balance; it is knowing ourselves well enough to know when darkness, earthiness, and stillness or light, activity, and “spiritual” practices best serve ourselves, other beings, and the earth. Being sattvic is being clear enough in the multi-faceted relationship between the world around us and our own mind, body, and spirit that our sense of spirit in all things and ourselves is unsullied, and illuminated.