Community and Family

thoughts on how we fit into the web of community, family and society

“You Seem Pretty Mellow,”

said the guy who is doing the exterior painting and repairs to me this morning, after we were talking about what needed to be done with the stairs, and we talked a little to the downstairs resident who was on his way out to work.  Then he paused, after thinking about what he had seen of my house and garden and added, “unless it is cultivated.”

“Yes,” I replied, “it is cultivated.”  I will never be completely easy-going, but at the same time as some might wish me more easy going, one of my strengths is my attention to detail and my ability to create order.  I cultivate, though, an ease with necessary disorder — the disruptions that come hand-in-hand with construction, repairs, creation (art, kitchen, garden, home), growing relationships, and comfort where I am.  We may not be able to change our nature, but we can make shifts that ease our being.  Radical affirmation in yoga is accepting our tendencies, but then seeking shifts to make life even fuller.

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The Four Gates of Speech

One of the  offerings in John Friend’s Anusara Teacher Training Manual, is the “four gates of speech,” which I believe comes from Buddhist practice.  The four gates are:

1.  Is it truthful?

2.  Is it necessary to say?

3.  Is it the appropriate time?

4.  Is it a kind thing to say?

It is easy to see this application in terms of speaking with others, though not always easy to practice, especially in a group setting where the culture is to condemn and criticize.

A more subtle practice of the four gates is how we talk to and about ourselves.  I am someone who was raised to have a very strong internal judging voice.  Although with the steady practice of yoga affirmation, my tendency for self-judgment has eased, the propensity reasserts itself when I am stressed.  I have taken to asking myself, when I hear the judging voice, does it pass the four gates of speech?  I find it a challenging practice, but a necessary one.  When we honor ourselves (we can honor ourselves and our own light and still know there are ways we would benefit from expanding or shifting), we will more easily honor, recognize, and affirm the light in others.

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Boycotting Arizona?

Having just returned from Arizona (yes, Sedona is in Arizona, as hard as that may be to believe from any perspective other than cartographically) from a meditation retreat, and having two more scheduled with my teacher at the same location during the year, I have pondered with my usual degree of self-questioning about the potential impact of my choices the suggestions to boycott Arizona.

I had decided — perhaps because continuing to study with my teacher, including on retreat is so important to me now — that as I pretty much go straight from the airport to the meditation retreat and back without shopping, I am probably supporting people who did not support the immigration law.  On previous trips, in addition to paying for the food and lodging at the retreat (my teacher lives in California, so the tuition goes to California), we ate at a Mexican family-owned restaurant and a raw foods restaurant and bought some supplies at the natural foods store (eschewing the Whole Foods in favor of the local natural foods store).  I’ve decided it is OK — perhaps even a good thing — to support those who clearly were not in favor of the immigration law.

What does it mean to engage in a boycott?  Who does it hurt and help?  What impact could the Arizona boycott have? Have you thought about whether to boycott Arizona?

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The Four Agreements

Several years ago, I was introduced to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements in a yoga book group.  I come back to them periodically.  I am not usually one for self-help books, but I think the agreements are a wonderful teaching.

I have them taped to the bottom of my computer monitor at the office because I find them especially useful in the office setting.  In particular, they are helpful in my relations with a co-worker senior to me in the chain of authority who tends to be very critical or speak in a strained or loud voice when anxious about work.  As it involves my projects (or we wouldn’t be talking in the first place), it is hard not to react and take it as personal criticism.  Today, I found myself in two different discussions about them.  First, I found myself reading them aloud to someone who called me to talk about a painful situation through which he is living.  The response was “thank you” and, in particular for Agreement 2, “amen.”  In the second situation, I was talking to two co-workers.  One was describing a work situation, and she said she had found it very helpful to come back to her desk and read “agreement number two.”

The Four Agreements are (I found them on the Facebook page for The Four Agreements, so I feel OK printing them in full here; you can also see them on the “inside flap” view on Amazon.com (I have honored copyright by buying the book long ago for the book club meeting):

Agreement 1:  Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Agreement 2:  Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Agreement 3:  Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Agreement 4:  Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

I find Agreement 1 the most challenging.  When I am under stress, I tend to fall back into the ways in which I was raised and use “the word” to diss myself pretty fiercely, though I am getting better at not doing so persistently.  With Agreement 2, the tricky thing is simultaneously not to take things personally and keep perspective, but still to listen openly for ways in which one might still want to seek to grow and shift in response to what is said.

Are you familiar with The Four Agreements?  How have they assisted you in giving perspective in your relationships and life?

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May News (Web Version of E-Newsletter)

Dear  Friends,

What a glorious Spring we’re having! I’ve just returned from an expanding, nurturing, and deepening time of study in Sedona with meditation teacher Paul Muller-Ortega.  Later in May, I will join fellow certified Anusara yoga teachers in North Carolina to be with John Friend.  Making sure to continue to study and gather with fellow yogis provides ever increasing appreciation of the benefits of practice and enhanced delight for the community.

May Day (May 1) is the first day for my Spring Session classes at Willow Street:  Level 2 @ 8:30 am and Gentle/Therapeutics @ noon.  Both are in the Takoma Park studio.  While session registration is optimal, you are always welcome to drop in, whether you want to rock out in level 2 or get some healing and nurturing energy in Gentle/Therapeutics.

The William Penn House class continues to have the special $12 offering for public interest workers (broadly inclusive), students, seniors, and those in-between gigs ($15 for those who can afford it).  Come join this collegial group 6:30 pm every Tuesday evening.  A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit the work of William Penn House.

Looking to strengthen your practice:  join me for Standing Steady in the Light: A Standing Balance Workshop, Sat May 8, 2:30-5pm, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $35.  Find a place of deeper steadiness and balance in your own light and worthiness.  Learn how to use the Anusara principles to enhance your ability to stand or your own two feet or on just one foot at a time.  After we playfully explore a progressively expansive array of standing poses, we’ll finish with a few upside-down restorative postures to let our legs and feet feel the bright light created by the practice.  Whether you find standing poses a challenge or revel in the dance, this workshop will illuminate your practice.  Everybody welcome.  To register, please visit www.willowstreetyoga.com.

As always, please take the time to enjoy and comment on the blog and if you haven’t already done so, friend me on Facebook for the latest news, photos, and quotes.

Looking forward to seeing you soon.
Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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When was the last time you noticed a “Hare Krishna?”

Yesterday morning, before I read the article in the Washington Post I discussed in yesterday’s post, a memory of an acquaintance from Quaker youth camp entered my seated meditation.  I had not thought about C in at least 30 years.  He was a couple of years older than me, and all the parents were a buzz with talk and worry when C decided that instead of going to college, he wanted to give away his possessions, live in a community devoted to simple living, a vegetarian diet, daily worship, a like-minded community, and spreading what they believe is the word of God.   Nowadays, many of the people who are in my broad social network would have nothing but admiration for someone who lived by and practiced such tenets, including the daily chanting of the name of Krishna (or some other deity).  In the late 70s, the parents were deeply concerned:  “He is in a cult, he is brainwashed, we need to get him back.”  “Back to what?” I remember thinking at the time.

I have not seen a member of ISKON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in years.  Why not?  Not because the “cult” has disbanded.  Rather, it has grown substantially and become part of the fabric of our global religious society.   Now, by virtue of its longstanding existence,  its members blend in with accepted norms of social and religious behavior.

What makes a cult?  What makes a religion?  How do cults and religions foster, spread, or interfere with our own relationship to spirit and our recognition of spirit in others.  What is the difference between ritual and religion?  Ritual and spiritual belief and practice?

ps Craig made a good point yesterday about being sensitive to the practicing Hindus when we take part in some of their practices, but not in the context of the Hindu religion.  He also noted a number of rituals that have morphed and shifted with changing religious groupings in society.  ISKON “took” something that was part of the Hindu religious practice and opened it to the masses (proselytizing with enthusiasm).  Is that not analogous to the development of any religious sect?  Think about the meaning of the word “protestant.”  When is an off-shoot of a religion a cult, a “legitimate” religious group, or an offense to the group from which it parted in terms of stated belief or practice?  Does it matter that some take offense?  What if offense is taking because of a disturbance of a status quo that diminishes and constrains large elements of society (such as women or people of certain classes)?  What about practicing a ritual to honor members of another religion — I am thinking, in this regard, of the recent example of the White House seder?

pps. How is this relevant to our yoga practice in the United States?  Many of us listen to and practice our asana to the music of “chant.”  Krishna Das has a CD called “All One” that has nothing on it but variations of the maha mantra “Hare Krishna” that became so notorious when ISKON was just being known here.  What does it mean when we listen to such music, buy such music, share such music, chant these words?

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“Taking Back” Yoga

I read today a piece in the Washington Post about Hindus needing to “take back” yoga.  I read the article and the comments with great interest because it has been a matter of much discussion with those in my meditation and philosophy course as to the extent to which the practices we are learning are “religious” practices and whether they can be practiced consistently with other religions.  There is much difference of opinion and strongly heated and held positions.

What I think is missing from the article is the question of distinctions between “spiritual” and “religious” practices.  It is a simple fact that practicing yoga with depth and sincerity entails learning practices that are observed by Hindus.  Does that make one a Hindu?  Does it mean that one is “dissing” Hinduism if one learns and benefits from the practices, but does not self-identify as a Hindu.

What about Jews who have trees at the Christmas holidays (a tradition co-opted from the pagans in any event)? Is it OK that I have a mezuzuh even though my parents (who were born Jews) raised me in the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and I continue to be a member of a Quaker meeting, and observe no other Jewish laws or practices.

Is it OK for me to chant “Hindu” chants if I do not identify myself as a Hindu or attend Hindu temple?  If it is not OK, for whom is it not OK?  Quakers?  Hindus?  Jews? Me?  Who is to decide or judge?

It seems to me that “religion” (as specific sects, identities, and strict rules) tends to highlight difference and disunity, but sincere spiritual practice — whether or not done in a religious context and observance — should be unifying because all religions at their highest and most universal, call upon us to recognize the unity of spirit in ourselves and in all beings.

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Thoughts on Democracy (and “Actionless Action”)

My friend Dan posted some interesting thoughts about democracy on his blog.  He is writing in the context of the Unitarian Universalist community, but the thoughts are equally applicable to our lives as citizens.  The thoughts on democracy also for me highlighted what is really meant in the Bhagavad Gita about “actionless action.”  To embody our spiritual practice in the way we live our lives, we serve to our best ability out of love, out of delight in acting, out of a sincere joy in serving, but we do not get attached to a particular outcome.

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The Front Garden

I don’t talk much about my front garden because it is not as exciting for me as the back garden with its edibles and herbs.  I give a sincere effort to make the front garden beautiful and welcoming since it is my interface with the neighborhood and all who walk past my house.  The front is very shady and two maple trees block the rain and drink most of the water that gets past the leaves, so it has taken some effort to find plants that thrive.  Much of what is in my garden comes from other gardening friends.  Plants that come from friends near-by are likely to do well moved down the street.  As my garden has matured, it has needed divisions, thus giving me an opportunity to share, in turn, with younger friends and neighbors.  It thus nourishes in important ways, though it offers nothing to eat.

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