I am lucky to have a non-stop. The storm is supposed to have passed through. So I can enjoy myself know matter what travel brings, I pack up a variety of reading materials — philosophy, handouts for the workshop, and fiction. I switched my ankle warmers to bamboo knitting needles so I could get through security and knit (the ankle warmers are on size 2 needles, so it is taking me as long as a sweater). I have my journal and a pen. Best, I am traveling with two friends (all different flights, but no one waiting alone in the airport) with whom to visit, who are going to the same retreat. Takes the edge off of the early wake up time. Starts the retreat when I leave the door instead of when I arrive at the retreat center.
How different the tone of these two photos just from the direction the camera was pointed, how much was included in the overall image, and the shift in the shape of my mouth. The clowns with their paint, the angle of the camera, the reflection all pointed out for me how little I sometimes understand, despite my best intentions and efforts, in going about my day and interrelating with others. Today I went to visit a friend who is in the intensive care unit. She has been struggling with severe illness for many years. Though she cannot really speak at present, I thought she was trying to reveal something of great moment. Not knowing how to react or what to say, I held her hand and told her I loved her. As I was leaving, I told her husband what I had observed (carefully not saying what I thought, which is hard for me). Later in the day, thinking of the limits and perils of common speech, I composed this found photograph, wishing for more insight, more clarity, and more power to help, but knowing that love was all I could offer.
I give thanks to and for all of you and wish that you find a true sense of gratitude in your very being.
Yesterday I received a rather negative email in response to my posting a suggestion on a list serve connected to a religious organization that people write to their elected officials about the health care bill pending in the Senate. I sent the email because my contribution to this group is to serve as the designated liaison between a lobbying group that was established by the religious organization and the religious organization. Once of month or so, I highlight issues that are the focus of the lobbying groups email campaigns. The email took me to task for thinking that politics has any place in connection with spiritual practice and therefore the on-line discussion should never be about politics. The person assured me that our political views were different, although I did not actually suggest what people should write; I only said that they should write. I have been pondering this deeply as it is a topic I have thought about, taught about, and wrestled with deeply over the years, especially during the Presidential elections.
As one who believes that body, mind, and community are inseparable from spirit, I am unable to separate political action from spiritual action. I believe that I have a duty to be knowledgeable about the issues challenging society as a whole, to take action within the framework of society to seek the embodiment of my spiritual beliefs (grossly oversimplified, that the rules, commitments, and support networks of society should recognize the light of all beings — human and not — and foster the seeking of that light by all), and to challenge the very framework of the discussion and rules when they obscure the light and its recognition.
One of the reasons for discussion is to explore, to learn, to be challenged, to expand both knowledge and understanding. That can be a hard process. I certainly do not expect people to agree with each other at all times, but that is not the point of discussion. While I think this sort of discussion perfectly appropriate in the context of a spiritual discussion, it might be less welcome where what is being sought is an immediate sense of peace and harmony in the connection of a particular practice. For example, if it is known that family and friends have strong disagreements about “political” issues, it might be disagreeable for digestion and the day to bring up the issues at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
My students this fall and those of you following the blog know that I have been teaching the basic Anusara physical principles of alignment in sequence as the focus of my weekly classes. I did not set out to do so at the beginning of the session, nor did I pick it just for this week, but it just so happens that using my session theme and sequence brings us to “kidney loop” for the Thanksgiving week.
John Friend’s Anusara Teacher Training Manual explains that kidney loop starts in the core of the abdomen, just below the navel. It flows up the back body to fill and open the kidney area to the bottom of the shoulder blades, moves forward through the top of the diaphragm (heart focal point) to the base of the sternum, and then down the solar plexus to just below the navel. The act of opening the back body at our core before engaging the front body helps enhance and refine the physical aspects of the fundamental Anusara alignment principle of “opening to grace.” By opening the back body, we open to the unknown, to that which is greater than ourselves, to untapped sources of power. Opening in this way, draws in and strengthens the front body and helps us find our own inner power.
Among other things for me to give thanks is the very beauty of this magical sequencing moment: What better way to celebrate and honor the tradition of Thanksgiving than by recognizing that we are not fully in charge, by opening in such a way that we are not hardening, demanding, or constricting ourselves, but rather are seeking an opening of the spirit that can bring us to a place of recognition and empowerment.
When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.
I hope you weathered Ida and are enjoying the glorious days that are following her cleansing rains as we move into the first of the holidays. Although I may have some thought-provoking questions about the historical basis for our Thanksgiving Day, I love taking the time as a society to get together to remember, to heal, and to share the abundance and give thanks for all that we have. For me, one of my greatest sources of gratitude is the practice of yoga and our wonderful community. Please join me for a gratitude-filled week of inner abundance:
Serenity Saturday: November 21st, 3pm-5pm at Capitol Hill Yoga
Oxfam Yoga Fundraiser: Thanksgiving morning, 10am-11:30am, at Willow Street Yoga, Takoma Park
Class Schedule: All open classes will be held as usual Tuesday, November 24th at Wm. Penn House (6:30pm) and Saturday, November 28th (Level 2 at 8:30am, Gentle/Therapeutic at noon) at Willow Street, Takoma Park.
Regrets: No house group practice, Wednesday, November 25th.
I look forward to seeing you soon and sharing the joy of the holiday season.
Peace and light,