Community and Family

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

Julie and Julia (and “actionless action”)

I went to see Julie and Julia because I, like most other Americans of a certain age who like food, have a history with Julia Child.  Seeing the movie brought back an episode from junior high school.  By seventh grade, I was pretty competent cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and doing needlework.  Being a feminist in training, I wanted to take shop.  Mr. Murphy, my ancient (OK who knows how old he was, but he was gray and bald and had leathery skin, so he was likely over 50 at the time) guidance counselor refused:  “shop is for boys; home economics is for girls.”  I expected my mother to back me up, but for some reason she did not.

I had no interest in making rice crispy treats, which was not the kind of thing we cooked at home and was the kind of thing they taught in home economics.  Part way through the year, when we were told to cook a whole dinner at home and then bring in a report, I decided to cook from Julia Child.  I am sure the meal was perfectly delightful, but the motive on my part was not to make a delicious dinner for the family, but to show my guidance counselor and parents that I should have been allowed to learn something that I did not know how to do and could not learn from a book (woodworking and other “shop” skills).

I enjoyed the movie (it’s a pleasant couple of hours and Meryl Streep is wonderful), but the interesting after thought for me was the difference in the happiness of an individual depending on motivation in life choices.  Is something done for joy (with recognition being delightful, but somewhat incidental) or is it being done because one needs recognition and then feels satisfied on getting it?  From a yoga perspective, is it “actionless action” (see Bhagavad Gita)  or is it acting out of a need to fulfill the ego, which inevitably binds one in the fierce dichotomy and inner tug or war of the opposites of longing and gratification, pain and pleasure?

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A Happy Life is an Engaged Life (and Sadhana)

I have spent most of my life practicing one thing or the other.  What attracts me about practicing in the sense of complete absorption that it brings.   For a time, the absorption can be enough.  Ultimately, though, the absorption should bring joy.  I do not really think that it matters what it is that one is practicing as long as steady engagement brings a sense of inner peace and bliss that enables one to be kinder and to offer service in some way.  I have quit some things along the way either because the practice did not bring enough joy or fulfillment or the practice was detrimental to my nature.

I know yoga and meditation are the right for me at this point in my life because sadhana (practice) continues to brings me ever increasing delight.  I do not think of practice as work (though sometimes I need to use some self-discipline to remind myself to practice), but as an invitation to greater depth and understanding of not only the practice, but myself.

I have friends for whom the right practice is not yoga, but something else — a visual art, music, law.  It is not what one does, but how one does it, and whether it brings a sense of fullness to life, a satisfaction with the engagement in the doing, rather than in what the doing achieves.

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Rudra (and fierce indignation)

Ruda, who is both the ancestor of Shiva and another name for Shiva, is known as the howler.  Rudra is wild and fierce.  Rudra rages.  I heard Paul Muller-Ortega recently describe Rudra.  He said Rudra rages, but offered that there are lots of things against which to rage, such as injustice and inflicted suffering.

The idea of Shiva/Rudra raging has filled my contemplations for the last week.  The questions that arise for me is “what is divinely inspired rage?” “When is fierceness or rage serving to expand love and compassion rather than just destroying the self or others?”

When are rage and destruction necessary to optimize the flow of energy?  I think of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi.  I think of a surgeon removing a tumor.  When I think of the ongoing war in Iraq; the newest reports of torture; the potential that corporate interests, ignorance, and bigotry may completely undermine this country’s coming to agreement on providing basic health care for all, I think that living a quiet life is not fully engaging a life of the spirit.  How do I find a place of non-attached, but fierce action?  How do I find Rudra and not get distracted by personal desires for outcome (and personal desires for simple peace and quiet)?  When should I howl, to whom should I howl, and what?

This rage, this fierceness, must come from a grounding in the heart with the discrimination of study and practice.  If I cannot find it myself, can I at least support those with the courage and wisdom to be directly engaged?

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Tomato Blight (and the web of life)

One of the conjectured reasons for the amazingly quick spread of tomato blight in the northeast this year (besides the crazy weather) is the upsurge in home gardeners.  It is wonderful that so many people are growing their own tomatoes.  If they buy the plants from a “big box” retailer — a retailer that gives less care and attention to the quality and health of the plants and more to easy shipping and cheap prices — then the new plants entering the eco-system are more likely harbingers of disease.

When we do anything, we have to be conscious of how it fits in with the world as a whole.  From seed to meal, how we get our food impacts ourselves and our health.  I am lucky so far with my tomato plants.  I bought seedlings from local, organic farmers.  I am checking them every few days for signs of blight.  My harvest has been delicious and abundent.

In reading about the blight, I am painfully reminded that what we eat impacts the earth, the animal and plant life that was displaced for the growth of food, the humans that labored to bring it to our table.  What we choose to eat, over our life, can dramatically shift our life physically, energetically, and emotionally.

Don’t forego homegrown tomatoes and other easy to grow urban foodstuff, but be careful about where you buy it, how you tend it, and understand that you have entered into the agricultural network.

As Chief Seattle did NOT say, “man does not weave this web of life.  We are but one thread within it.   Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

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August News

I am continuing to get bounce-backs from email addresses on the mailing list that I know are valid.  If you want to receive my occasional emails, please subscribe to the mailing list and make sure to check your spam filters.  In the meantime, I will try to remember also to post the content of the newsletters on the blog.

Hope all of you are enjoying the glorious bounty and light of summer and that you are well.

For those of you who are in town, there are some wonderful yoga opportunities:

Saturday, August 15th — the anniversary of Anusara yoga — come up to Willow Street for “Free Your Head, Open Your Heart” for a gloriously celebratory and healing backbending experience. Great for those who love and those who have trepidation around backbends.

Saturday, August 22nd — Treat yourself to an afternoon of summer R&R with “Serenity Saturday” at Capitol Hill Yoga.

Drop in to Tuesday night classes at William Penn House (6:30pm) or Saturdays at Willow Street Yoga.

Or RSVP for the Wednesday night group practice. August’s donation recipient — in honor of yoginis extraordinair Jess and Marlene — is Advocats, which rescues and provides homes to dozens of local cats.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: I will be in Oregon the first week of September (that’s the week before Labor Day) studying and celebrating with John Friend. There will be no Wm Penn House or house practice that week (9/1&2).

Hope to see and hear from you soon. As always, feel free to share your thoughts, needs, celebrations, and challenges with me by email, comments on the blog, or through Facebook.

More information about the classes and workshops on the website.

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An Excellent Sufficiency, Homegrown Tomatoes (and the Isha Upanishad)

The Isha Upanishad starts, “That is fullness (purna).  This is fullness.  Fullness comes from fullness.  Take fullness from fullness, and the remainder is fullness.”

My maternal grandfather died when I was just a toddler, so I never got to know him.  My mother used to tell us that when he had eaten enough at a bounteous meal, he would say “that was an excellent sufficiency and any more would be a superabundency.”

On Sunday I went over to Lovejoy Gardens to my little plot (approximately 3′ X 7′ raised bed on concrete, half shaded by a fence) and harvested tomatoes.  There were about 15 ripe tomatoes.  The first thought was that it was too many tomatoes.  Then I thought of all the neighbors I had who didn’t have their own tomato plants.  I knocked on one neighbor’s door.  He gave me tea while I played with the cat.  I gave him tomatoes.  I went for a massage in the afternoon.  I brought tomatoes.  I was sent home with freshly made spanakopita.  I invited another neighbor over for dinner.  We at pesto with basil from the garden and cucumber and tomato salad (cucumber, tomato, and shallots all from the garden drizzled with a little of the best balsamic vinegar and seasoned with just ground sea salt and pepper).  We had a lovely visit, and I sent him home with tomatoes.  In the next day or two, I will make a batch of tomato sauce and put it in the freezer and have someone over for dinner another night.

There is only “too much of a good thing” or a “superabundency” if we hoard it or try to ingest it all ourselves out of fear, greed, or desire for power or control.  When we have enough ourselves and then share the abundance, we simply create more abundance.  Once again, I am given again from my garden another sweet insight into the yoga teachings.  I am also reminded by this small example that I could share even more broadly from my blessed lot of fullness in global society.

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Nilakantha (and personal strength and practice)

It takes incredible strength to take on the sorrows and poisons of others.  How many times have you witnessed someone who is awe-inspiringly dedicated to bringing out change to society, but does so at the expense of his or her own health or intimate relationships?  Have you felt yourself getting worn down by trying to make things better?

The archetype of Nilakantha (who drank up the poison churned up by the devis to save humanity) includes what most of the tales of Shiva tell us:  that Shiva was able to drink the poison and become stronger from the experience because he was already strong from deep, long term practices.

When we ourselves wish to serve, we must serve ourselves also, and perhaps first.  To have the strength and boundaries to ourselves live richly and fully while serving those who are suffering or wreaking destruction without such service destroying ourselves means we must have a practice that enables us to come from a place of light even when going into darkness.  (Doesn’t get much more challenging than that).

To some extent, for modern yogis, this includes a physical practice.  For all yogis, it means a steady practice of meditation and a way of life that aligns with nature.

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Upheaval (and Nilakantha)

Last night when I arrived to teach, I found that the room where I teach had been booked with something else (mistakes happen) and the alternative offered by the space just was not viable.  I was peeved, but just canceling class did not feel right for the space (which has treated me well), my students, or myself.

Instead, I waited until class time, gathering the students together and giving the options.  Fortunately, class was small because it is summer.  Two  students agreed to drive us to my house, which is usually a walk, but one already had her car with her on her way home from work; and the other had hers just a couple of blocks away at her house.  All the students, including two brand new students who came along for the adventure, arrived at my house less than 10 minutes after the usual class start time.  To honor everyone for being so flexible, I turned the class into a donation class, with the proceeds going towards July’s cause:  the ACLU.

This turn of events seemed to me to fit well with the message of the Shiva archetype Nilakantha, which just happened to be the name of Shiva that I have been contemplating this week as I have been preparing my classes.

Shiva drank the poison that was stirred up when others were searching for the nectar of immortality.  In the quest for the unrealistic, these beings brought to the surface a poison that would have killed all humans.  Shiva drank this poison and trapped it in his throat, which turned it blue.  This gave him the name blue-throated, or nila-kantha.

The challenge I encountered yesterday was certainly one of the well-off middle class.  If it were not for our lifestyle, the abrupt change of plans and disruption could not have even felt poisonous, but we are creatures of our place and time.   We took the potential chaos from having been stirred up and instead of letting it ruin our evening, we made it into a celebration and an offering.

And I am working with the space not to have it happen again.  Many thanks to the students who came and were so gracious.

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Potage D’Ete Au Mid-Atlantic (and jivan mukti)

potage Could not resist the french name.  More fun than summer local vegetable stew.  An alternative name could be:  how to make three okra and six beans into dinner for two.  Or maybe four.  When I was out in the garden this morning, I simply picked what needed to be picked.  Featured here:  three okra, six beans, one jalapeno, two ancho chiles (one partly dried on the plant), two large tomatoes (both of which are only partly viable), two ripe and one green (fell off while I was picking the ripe ones) roma tomatoes, one very small garlic clove, baby leeks, garlic chives, tarragon, parsley, dill, and herb fennel.  Serve over quinoa, couscous, rice, or pasta, and it is easily a meal for two.  Add some red beans or other dried beans, and it could be dinner for four.

One of the things I like about eating from the garden is the necessity of being creative.  Cooking from a cook book, who wants an ingredient list this long?  I could also be disappointed that no one of my plants is giving me enough to create a dish out of mostly one or two ingredients.  If I were getting these ingredients from the store, I would get more okra or beans or peppers.   There is a great joy in finding a sense of abundance and sparked creativity and celebrating pleasure, art, fulfillment, delight, offerings with what we have been given, whether it is the food from our garden, our bodies, our talents, our families, or the time and place into which we were born.  In finding the highest sense of abundance and creativity within our limitations, we are truly experiencing the yoga concept of jivan mukti, living liberation.

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