why I did not post an entry about the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq? I obviously care deeply about the need to end the war and to address the tragic aftermath at home and abroad. So why choose not to mark an anniversary? Why instead of marking a dire anniversary, celebrate spring? Sometimes, by celebrating something small in the midst of a crisis, we can give ourselves the grounding and energy to work harder to bring more light and to seek to end needless suffering.
Paul Muller-Ortega, who teaches philosophy and meditation from similar roots to those that inform Anusara yoga, spoke yesterday of the differences between the path of the renunciate and the path of the householder. He strongly stated that neither path was better. What he suggested, though, was that a householder will better flourish practicing yoga designed for the householder rather than attempting to practice renunciate techniques, while still staying in the householder path.
What does this mean? I think it means that we become unhappy and conflicted if we try attempt the practices of the path of complete non-attachment and transcendence of body and mind while we are still very much staying in society and responsible for family, work, and citizenship. The tantric, householder path, including that of the Shaivite tradition of Kashmir and Abhinavagupta, offers practices that enable one to live liberated in society, instead of suggesting that the only way to true liberation is to reject and transcend work, family, and community. In yoga terms, the householder path is one that realizes moksha (liberation), through ardha (physical and material well-being), kama (love/relationship), and dharma (right work/path) rather than by transcending them.
Taking the householder path does not mean just indulging. It still requires sensitivity, dedication, discrimination, and alignment. I think it may be even harder than renunciation. I know it is easier for me to just stay alone and practice, for example, than to bring yoga off my mat to how I work, consume, relate to others, and participate in society. The householder path, though, is the one for me.
This morning, woken by the purring cat from an anxious dream in which I was not doing enough to make things better (I am not making this up), my first thoughts were of escalating war in Afghanistan and deepening economic crisis at home. It felt almost strange and abstract to be worrying about these things from my warm comfortable bed.
I think worrying can have a positive place in our lives. If we just get worried or anxious about things and get trapped in not doing or growing or reaching (both inward and outward) for a sense of connection and spirit, then worrying will cloak or limit us. If we recognize worries as showing us limitations, then we can use them to grow and change and spur us to action.
After the 25 tattvas describing the physical world and our being and understanding of the world that correspond in both the classical and Kashmir Shaivist systems, are Kashmir Shaivism’s six kanchukas — cloakings or coverings. The kanchukas are niyati (limitation of place), kaala (limitation of time), raaga ( attachment), vidya (limitation of knowledge), kalaa (limitation of action), maya (illusion of individuality/manifestation).
From a tantric perspective, experiencing ourselves as thinking, individual beings in the manifest world, constrained by time and space, only binds us if we think that is all we are. If we get completely entangled in these constraints, then our sense of spirit is cloaked, just as if we get stuck in worrying, instead of using worries as a spur to work for change, we become miserable.
I meditate and practice asana, as taught by my teachers, to reveal the restraints of physical being as only part of my being. Spiritual practice can serve to enable us to experience freedom of heart and mind, to bathe in the bliss of the essence of ourselves that is universal and unconstrained by the limitations of individual manifestation. The point of these practices not to escape our individual selves or to gratify them (that would still be “cloaked”), but to find the strength and stability to serve better and to work for a world in which all beings have an equal chance to seek the spirit and experience the bliss of connection.
Join in the call for a friendlier, healthier planet by participating in Earth Hour by dimming your lights on March 28th (and before and after when you can).
A few years ago — just before the Al Gore movie came out — I went to a talk and movie about what we can do about global warming. A Nepalese attorney who had been working on a case before the World Court that related to saving the snows of the Himalayas (good luck), said something that fully resonated with me. He said he did not understand why Americans turn on electric lights on a sunny day. I think about that every time I see a light on at the same time as bright daylight is coming through the window. If I have the power to turn off the light (or not turn it on in the first place), I choose to do so.
John Friend talks of “plugging into the source” when we need more power to serve, to offer, to fulfill our responsibilities, and also to find our own connection to the greater consciousness in asana practice. I understand this to mean to understand that we are not alone, that when we tap into the strength of community and spirit, we are empowered to do more.
In asana, as in anything else we do, I believe this means moving and acting with integrity and deep integration, rather than just powering through things for the sake of ego or other external goals. This means softening and opening to a greater purpose before moving or acting (opening to grace). We then use the other Anusara principles of alignment — especially muscular energy — to integrate muscle and bone into our core, so that we reach from an informed place of strength.
These principles help us stay healthy when we engage physically outside of ourselves, whether it is offering someone else a hand, lifting and carrying, gardening, or doing housework. When we slow down and steady ourselves with purpose and then plug in by using our own power as leverage, we will not only be healthier ourselves, but will have more to offer.
Plugging into ourselves in this context means not reaching out before stabilizing ourselves, moving from the core not the periphery — not “telescoping” to some goal without staying grounded and steady. To plug in mentally, we remember our ultimate purpose and stay connected no matter how diverse the issues. To stay plugged in physically when we are doing physical activities off the mat such as gardening or housework, we start aligned and stay there and then use our own body as leverage, for example, bracing one arm against our side or thigh before using both hands together before moving, pulling, or shifting something. If we can keep with this practice with whatever we are doing, we are not guaranteed to be free from injury, but we are much more likely to stay healthy and strong.
Yesterday afternoon when I came home from teaching I wanted to be out for a walk in the neighborhood more than I wanted to be alone in the garden, but I also wanted to be serving the garden. I combined the two by walking the ten blocks to Gingko Gardens — our wonderful Capitol Hill nursery. It is a little more expensive than some of the nurseries out in the burbs, but I know the owner and have friends in common, I always bump into neighbors when I am shopping there, and they are experts in what grows and works in our little urban gardens. I was thrilled when they opened a number of years ago and want them to continue to thrive, so I make a point of shopping there. I bought some seeds and some planting medium for starting seeds indoors and ordered a few containers and organic potting soil for delivery.
In addition, after having done a bunch of research on rain barrels over the week, I also asked whether Gingko would deliver and install rain barrels from Aqua Barrel, which is located in Gaithersburg. Answer, “yes.” (For those of you in the suburbs, Amicus Green also carries and installs them). It took me a long time to assess what style barrel would work for me and where it should be placed. I was hoping to support a local manufacturer to cut down on wasteful transportation. I also know that given my circumstances it is critical that it be installed correctly with a good diverter system. It is good for me to do the research but then bring in a professional to make sure it is right. I made an appointment and am looking forward to being able to align a little better with nature (by using rain water run-off instead of scarce, potable water for the garden) and to support the neighborhood (by buying locally and hiring resident professionals). And I bumped into a fellow yogi and gardener while I was shopping; inspired by the chat, she, too, made an appointment to discuss rain barrel installation.
To me, this is one way of bringing yoga off the mat. One of the key principles in Patanjali’s yoga sutras is the practice of brahmacharya, which literally means aligning with Brahma. The classical translation is celibacy. Many modern translators substitute “moderation.” This way of living, is of course, moderate. It is living a western lifestyle on the grid, but choosing to consume in a way that supports friends, neighbors, and manufacturers who use recycled materials to create products that will help us all to be a little kinder to the environment, while nurturing my home and self.
It was wonderful to visit another city, to enjoy a change in climate and scenery, to see friends, and to study. I am happy to be home, though, even with the responsibilities and obligations. That I am always happy to come home from a trip away (even when I have gone to places perhaps more spectacular or interesting than where I live and met people who are able to do things that are outside of my reach) is one of the things that reminds me that my unassuming life suits me well enough. Part of this delight in coming home is my having for the past decade steadily practiced the principle of sauca or contentment.
I remember having a talk with a friend a number of years ago about practicing sauca. She expressed surprise that contentment could be a practice. She said she had always thought that happiness was something that just came to you. Happiness may come more easily to some than others, just as some are born with physical beauty or material comfort and others are not. It is my experience, though, assuming our basic needs are met, that by practicing sauca, we will be happier both with what we have chosen and what we have been given.
I am delighted to be going on a short trip to a warm place (Tucson) to do nothing but yoga and visit with friends and acquaintances.
My work life is such for the next several months that I cannot take a long vacation. I can find a few days here and there, though, and it is critical to my working well. I find if I work with too much effort or for too many hours or days in a row, I lose my sense of humor and my creativity. These are truly essential components of doing a good job.
If you cannot get away for a day or two or five, take five minutes to just breathe without following your thoughts. It is not a vacation. It is meditation. It will not serve in the way of a vacation, but it will provide a needed break from attachment (perhaps to the point of misalignment) with the mindstuff (citta) and will enable you to continue with your efforts more at peace with both the efforts and yourself.
Last night when we walked out of William Penn House from the Tuesday night yoga class onto East Capitol Street, we could see a convocation of police cars in front of the Capitol — presumably in preparation for the President’s speech. Karen asked, “where are the helicopters?” “Maybe, Obama doesn’t need them,” I replied, “maybe he is choosing not to live in fear.” There weren’t any army or police helicopters all night. This was the first Presidential speech in eight years where helicopters did not relentlessly drone overhead, calling people to be afraid and to act from a place of fear.
Patanjali’s yoga sutra II.3, says: avidyha asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah. BKS Iyengar translates this sutra as follows: “The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of ‘I’, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life.”
The world is far scarier now than it has been for most of the past eight years. In some ways, though, at least in my neighborhood, it feels less frightening because the signs of being afraid are not being emblazoned everywhere to call all to share in the fear.
We can practice choosing to turn to a place of strength rather than fear on our yoga mats. When we choose to do the difficult poses that are at our edge that bring up fear and aversion, we can notice the fear and aversion, but not become fully engaged in it. By using the Anusara principle of opening to grace, we can accept fear and aversion as part of human being, but then soften and open to the full range of being, and not just cling to the fear. Instead of avoiding the poses or beating ourselves up for being afraid, we can choose to use the yoga principles we know to invite a full experience of the moment and the possible poses. Remaining open to witnessing the full range of our being through the pose, we next engage muscular energy (strengthening by embracing the muscles to the bone, hugging into our center [midline], and drawing from the periphery into our core). Having found our strength, we expand more fully (expanding/inner spiral). We then have space to draw more deeply into our core power (contracting/outer spiral). With this balance of embrace and expansion of ourselves, we then can fully embody strength by reaching outward (organic energy) and making offering. This pulsation of principles in poses has led me to discover physical and energetic abilities in my middle age I had not dreamed possible.
Off the mat, the same principles can lead us to move from love and strength instead of fear and clinging. As I got into bed with the peace of the night uninterrupted, I pondered how these principles can manifest and gave a profound thanks to whomever decided the harbingers of fear — the helicopters — were unnecessary.
Snowdrops have been showing up for more than a week, but crocuses? They seem a little incongruous with the bitter winds and as much a reminder of global warming as of spring. I feel a bit confused seeing them, though delighted.
It has been a good winter. I have learned to appreciate the cold and dark, which gives us time to enjoy the pleasures of home and introspection. Now, I am looking forward to spring, the effusive colors, the warmth, the ability to get back out into the garden.
This time of year, with the radical contrasts of cold winds and flowers does highlight the play of opposites, the very pulsation of existence — in yoga terms, the spanda. This time in society seems to have a similar play of bitterness and sweetness. Staying steady with our yoga practice and our community, we can delight in what we see and what we have, even as we may be worried and working for change. That too, is part of the play (lila). To invite in a steady warmth and support from our practice and our community, even as we see difficulties and challenges, want things to be different, and know that our work may not necessarily bring about the change we seek.