Community and Family

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

Bhagavan (what does it mean to be prosperous?)

Bhagavan — another name for Shiva — literally means “possessing fortune, blessed, prosperous.”

What does it mean in this context to be possessed of fortune, to be blessed, to be prosperous?

What does it mean in the context of balancing individual and societal needs, hungers, and wants?  What could it mean the current conversation about taxes, government spending, and healthcare?  In the discussion of budget, war, etc?

We live at one level in a paradigm in which communal wealth is finite and is fought over to obtain individual wealth.  How do we live within that paradigm and still find a sense of inner prosperity with what we have been given?

Share

Construction and Reconstruction

I have lived in my house for almost 20 years.  The house came with a bottom of the line, circa 1977 Hechinger’s bathroom.  The bathtub has been rusting for a over a decade, part of the faucet would come off when turning it off, etc.

Finding myself without any pets and between tenants, it seemed like a good time to renovate.  Last week, in just a day, what was a bathroom, is now a gutted space.  Amazing how quickly something can be rooted out and undone.  It will be taking a lot longer to reconstruct.

What I am finding most challenging is not the physical chaos.  I am used to it as an old house often needs work, and this house needed work (though it was not the kind of fixer-upper that was completely missing floors, electricity, and plumbing).

Rather, what I am wrestling with is my emotional reaction to the idea of having a brand new, beautiful bathroom.  There is a big feeling guilty component to be spending money on something that feels not entirely necessary when so many are in need.  So while the contractor is working on the construction, I am working with a wonderful opportunity to help reconstruct (post deconstructing) my emotional relationship with things.  How do I find balance between honoring those in need, my impact on the planet, maintaining my house, and my enjoyment of beautiful things?  How do I feel at peace with my decisions once they already have been made?  How do I apply discrimination in my aesthetics to assist in this balance?

Share

Creating Healing Energy (and communal knitting)

A friend of mine who is an avid and wonderful knitter decided to make a shawl for a friend who is about to have surgery.  Instead of whipping out a shawl herself in a few days, she invited other friends to knit squares and bring them to her.  She is going to piece together the squares to create, in essence, a physical manifestation of a gentle, loving, communal embrace.

I loved this idea.  Though I could not put name to face for the friend who is suffering (I think I would likely recognize her), to support my friend who is setting such a strong intention of sending healing, I am knitting a square or two with some beautiful handspun yarn leftover from a sweater several years ago.

As I knit, I am setting an intention to infuse the cloth with healing energy.  In having been invited to participate in this project, I have been given the gift of a potent reminder of how strongly our attitude and intention in whatever we create and offer can shift how it goes forth into the world — whether it be gifts, practice, speech, food, work.

Share

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?

Share

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.

Share

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?

Share

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.”

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share