Community and Family

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

Why Study Yoga? (and Pete Seeger’s 90th)

In the session yesterday, in discussing the Siva Sutras, Paul Muller-Ortega said that the whole of the teachings are in the very first sutra, even in the first word (caitanyam — consciousness).  For students who, on hearing the first word from their teacher,  say “got it, I understand fully,” no further teaching is necessary.  For the students who say, “please explain further, what does it mean?” more elaboration is needed.

What does it mean, though, to “get it?”  What do we do with the teachings of yoga?  How do we integrate them into our lives?  I practice and study yoga because it is teaching me how to be stronger, more flexible, more grounded, and better able to serve.  Some people I know already have that.  They are already living the yoga, so they do not need the details and the practices.

As a reminder of one who has been living a rich, full life of service and love, enjoy this video of Pete Seeger in honor of his 90th birthday.  (If you cannot see this link, please just do a search for videos, using your favorite search engine.)

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Why Practice; Why Teach

Last night in class, I asked why people continued to come to class.  “To see how I can expand,” “for the community,” “for the delight,” “for relaxation,” were some of the answers.  Orie asked me what led me to teach.  The first reason I gave (and the one that was the primary reason for entering teacher training) was that I had been so inspired by what yoga had offered me that I wanted to share it.

The second reason I gave was that teaching helps keep me disciplined about my practice.  I cannot abide hypocrisy, and so, I feel compelled to try my best to practice what I teach.  I do not always embody fully the teachings in my own life and practice, but I am always trying.  Knowing how the teachings and practices have shifted me and witnessing how the teachings inspire my students, leads me to continue to study, to practice, to try and align better on and off the mat.

Today, with a day of stressful meetings and phone calls ahead, it will be a good day to try to live the practice.

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Okra Germinated; First Roses Opened

First flower on a cherry tomato appeared overnight.  Peppers are budding.  They all like the heat.  Dill is going yellow around the edges already.  It does not like the heat.  One of the things I love most about gardening is noticing what thrives to excess and what struggles, depending on the weather patterns.  With the right balance of plants, there will always be a bumper crop of something (both edible and ornamental).  Eating locally, with consciousness acknowledgement of the limits of space and time in an affirming way,  requires accepting what are the crops of the year and being creative with them rather than finding a recipe and insisting that the ingredients be available to the detriment of flavor, pocketbook, and environment.

Fostering such a relationship to my garden and my food helps me also accept that although I can grow and shift, I ultimately cannot change certain fundamental things about myself.  It is better radically to affirm what I have been given than to try and contort myself into something that it seems society (Heideggerian “they”) would prefer.

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Ready or Not Here It Comes (Summer Heat)

This morning when I stepped out into the back garden, I heard the sound of clippers on the other side of the fence.  It was my back garden neighbor of over 15 years.  “Is that you?” I asked.  “Yes,” was the reply and we both walked up onto our decks so we could see across the fences.  “It must be summer,” my neighbor said, in acknowledgment of it being the first morning of the season we coincided in the garden.  “I am so ready,” he said, and we caught up with the winter news and discussed what was going on in our gardens.  I told him about Becky, marveling at her wonderful long life of 21 years.  “It was time, then,” he commented.  “I still miss her, though,” I replied.

Yesterday, several people said to me that they were not ready for summer.  Whether people were ready (or not) for the 90 degree weather seemed to depend a lot a preference cold or warm weather.

It hardly matters whether we are ready for a shift in the seasons, the loss of a precious being, or the arrival of gray hairs and degenerative arthritis (I am finding myself  not ready for any of these, really).

Life comes to us, ready or not.  We can use our yoga practice, especially asana, to help us expand and shift and be prepared for whatever comes, by inviting all of our practice and our growth (which includes both expansion and contraction) a rich exploration.  We can experiment with where is our edge, listening to both ourselves and our teachers to discover not only what we are ready for, but also how we react when confronted with that for which we think we are not ready.  By seeking the subtle knowledge of when our mind is ahead of our body and when our mind is holding back our body, we can enhance our ability to respond to what comes in the most open, sensitive, discriminating, flexible, and thus, life-enhancing way, on and off the mat.

In the meantime, I give in to the premature summer heat.  This morning, I picked spinach and herbs to go with mushrooms from the fresh farm market for breakfast and made a posy of pansies for the altar.  Why leave them in the garden if they will just wilt in the heat?  It was a great afternoon for a siesta and a treat to be out in the city in the morning unencumbered by sweater or jacket.  For my evening practice, I will emphasize deep, cooling forward bends and pranayama.  Will I be ready for the cool days to come back at the end of the week?  I do not think I will have a choice.

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Sadness (Sukha hara, dukha hara)

Last night I was feeling deeply sad not having Becky with me any more.  The first week, I was telling myself how lucky I was to have had her for so long, that she lived a long, happy, well-loved life, and that it was truly time.  Then I threw myself into work, errands, the garden, etc.  This week, I have been filled with a deep sense of grief and loss.

Classical yoga would have us try to transcend the pair of opposites — pleasure and pain.  Tantra would have us experience the full range deeply, knowing it is all part of the play of being manifest in human form.  I have been thinking about my teacher, John Friend, who often talks of the intensity of grieving for loved ones who have died, because of having loved truly and fully.

Thinking about Becky, this chant started repeating itself in my head (I have it recorded by Dave Stringer):   “sukha hara, dukha hara, hara, hara Shankara.”  “Hara” is an epithet of Shiva, from the root word to bear away or destroy.  “Sukha” means ease; “dukha” pain.  “Shankara” is another epithet of Shiva in benevolent form.  I think of this chant not so much a call to have Shiva energy destroy or remove both pleasure and pain, but rather a  reminder that both pleasure and pain are integral parts of our experience of being.  Recognizing that grief and loss are as much part of our own humanity as love and pleasure, helps remind me of my own connection to spirit.  It ultimately inspires me to try and live in a way that is more benevolent and generous, and to respond with the most light, whatever I face.  (This of course is a life work).

I would not give up the full and wonderful years of companionship I had with Becky and her sister Henrietta (and others who I have loved) just to avoid the grief of loss.

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Change of View (and the tree rebate program)

In October through early November, I have autumnal color right outside my bedroom window as the red maple in my front garden and the sugar maple in the tree box right in front of it, blaze into glorious color.  Through the winter, the view is decidedly urban.  I look right out at the apartment building across the street and must keep the venetian blinds down for privacy even during the day.  If we get snow or an ice storm, I look out at branches gilded-jewel like with winter frost.

Only two weeks ago, there was only a hint of red and green on the two maples.  Now they are in fresh, full leaf.  Not only is my yard shaded, but my view is changed and my privacy veiled by a curtain of leaves.

These trees cool my house and the street, help make the air more breathable, provide needed habitat for birds, and give me the pleasure of their beauty.  If you have space, consider planting a tree.  Extra bonus, the District has extended its rebate program for planting trees on private property.

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Healing (and the Garden)

After sitting for meditation and writing in my journal this morning, I went out in the garden in my slippers to see what opened after yesterday’s juicy rains.  My journal-writing is feeling lonely because that was one of the times Becky (and Henrietta before her) and I always sat together.  Once I was in the garden, though, my heart lightened.  The beans and snow peas I planted a couple of weeks ago finally have started germinating.  Some of the seedlings I planted on Saturday have already doubled in size.  There are a few buds on the peppers that were not there Sunday and twice as many leaves on the basil.  The clematis seems to be a foot taller; is that possible?  (The okra still has not germinated; will it ever appear?  I do not know, not having tried okra from seed in a container in my yard before.)

Though, as my sister said to me on Sunday, I will always miss Becky and Henrietta, I appreciate that my grieving is in the time of renewal, new life, and expanding light, and that I can spend the morning time that I used to devote to Becky and Henrietta nurturing the garden and myself in the process.

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A Session of Coincidences (and Shiva Tattva)

Towards the end of a yoga session I start thinking about what would be a good theme for the next.  I start by observing what is going on in the world — from the change of seasons, to whether it is rainy or drought, to what is going on in the political climate, noticing what is recurring in my own practice and the practices of my students, watching what is arising in my contemplations and meditations, and seeing what is resonating most in what I am learning from my own teachers.  I will go into my library, reading and rereading things to see what resonates with what I am observing and experiencing.  I also take into account the length of the session to be sure that it will fit well within the number of classes.  Once I have set the session theme, I spend the week in which I will teach a particular principle, contemplating it, reading about it, practicing with it, and thinking about its relationship to my life off of the mat.

When I selected the tattvas this session it was for a whole array of reasons (some of which have been set out in previous posts).  The order I picked to teach them, and which I chose to emphasize, were for what I thought would be the best way to share knowledge and experience and not for the outside calendar.  It was then, by sheer  serendipity that the themes fit as they did with the calendar:

  • Vayu — the mahabhuta air, the element associated with the anahata chakra (the heart chakra) on Valentine’s Day
  • Purusha/Prakriti — nature and spirit, was the week I was leading the “Yoga for Gardeners” workshop
  • Shakti — power, expansion, opening, was for the week of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Now this week, the last week of the session, parama shiva — the highest tattva. Shiva tattva is the most subjective principle and the most universal.  It represents the essence of being (sat), consciousness (cit), and bliss (ananda).  It is everywhere and nowhere, in all beings and not.  It is whatever ever we think of as spirit or force or web of being or light or pulsation or divine — whatever we believe is the very essence of being.  It is most interesting that by my series of contemplations and choices over the winter holidays, that I gave myself the homework assignment, as it were, to be specifically contemplating, practicing with, and studying the shiva tattva as I offer peace to Becky as she departs and seek my own peace in my grief over the loss of her physical presence.

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Moksha

I have a set of cards that I keep on my altar that are designed to be used for contemplation.  There are about fifty cards, each of which has a sanskrit word and its meaning.  Just as one gets a fortune cookie randomly or picks a tarot card from a deck, but the message often seems right on point, the word that arises from the card picked from the stack often seems uncannily timely.  Early Saturday morning, after not having used the cards in a few months, I picked a card from the middle of the stack to see if it would help guide my contemplation and meditations as I was getting ready to say good-bye to Becky. The word on the card I picked blind from the middle of the stack was “moksha” or liberation.  In classical yoga, moksha does carry with it the implication of being liberated by transcending body and mind.

Later on Saturday, when I was on my way home from teaching for the appointment with the vet, I stopped at the metaphysical supply shop for a piece of rose quartz (to use in a ritual to assist with the transition and loss that a friend taught me).  At the check out were “dolphin saying cards.”  There was a sign next to the cards inviting customers to take one for free.  The sign also said that it was not necessary to take the one at the top.  The cards were face down; I did not look for a particular saying.  I dug a few cards down, and the one I selected read:  “freedom has its roots within yourself.”  In other words, “moksha” for the second time on this day, when I was facing with Becky her transition of the spirit from the body.

Was it a message?  Was it a coincidence?  I do know that I knew when it was time, as I did with Henrietta.  Becky just did not want to be embodied anymore.  When I held her in her arms after she stopped breathing, she was released and relaxed in a way she had not been in months.  That the signs were saying “moksha” resonated with Becky’s power and connectedness.  I hope that when I am ready to go, I will truly understand moksha, that I will be released.  It is so resonant of Becky’s life, for all her quirks, that she was still teaching me even as she was dying.

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