For the past week, I have had laryngitis. Obviously, this resulted in my being more selective about when I was going to speak and what I was going to say. Less obvious, was that the limitations on speaking led me to listen more carefully. Listening more carefully helped me choose what to say and when to speak. At a surface level, this did not change whether I was analyzing or judging. It just led me to be more discriminating. As I pondered this issue, though, I found myself wanted to listen more freely, to try and listen first without analysis, without judgment, without any anticipated response. This was, then, even a listening to my temporary limitation. Not judging it, not lamenting it, not trying to change it (although I treated the cough and the sore throat), but listening to what was there. This deep listening to the body, to events, to what comes to us (in conversation or otherwise), can lead us to the true deepness of meditation — true listening for how spirit speaks to us.
Even though we had real, hard frosts this winter, there are already aphids on my roses. I went out this morning and picked the aphids off of the new buds — yes, my roses are budding. It was too cold to stay out long, but I did a little weeding and planted a couple of pots of pansies.
I was thinking about how I garden in my tiny space — using my fingers to take the aphids off of each rose bud, pulling up individual weeds between new plants in containers, choosing to let some volunteers come up between bricks because it expands my planting area. How different it would be if I even had a small yard by suburban standards. It would not be possible to attend to all the detail that I see, unless I were to spend every waking hour in the garden. If I had an acre, it would take three full-time gardeners to attend without tools and sprays the small things I touch by hand.
It seems we make our world as big or as small as we want it. My tiny garden is as much a universe for me as a gardener as would be an acre garden — though of course I cannot grow sprawling things like melons and potatoes and fruit trees.
But the fullness of how much I see and experience, how much calls out for love and attention, how much I am enriched by tending and observing what is there, is not diminished by what I do not have. Rather, I am called to expand to the greatest what I have within my limits. This is true, too, in our yoga and meditation practice, and our lives. We can choose to live expansively no matter what our limits or we can choose to feel bound and diminished by our limits. The garden, this morning, helped me remind myself of that choice. It helped me turn towards possibilities for growth instead of towards constriction.
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.
Ultimate fullness or ultimate emptiness? I think I believe in the former rather than the latter, but is that a distinction without a difference? Certainly not one worth fighting over. Worthy, perhaps, though, of discussion and contemplation.
The shiva-shakti tattvas, the two highest tattvas, are completely subjective. The shiva tattva is, according to the philosophy, the ultimate reality, the pure “I,” undiminished and undifferentiated consciousness. As something purely subjective, it is both everywhere and nowhere, in every being and simultaneously beyond them. It is not dissimilar to Hegel’s Absolute (though I believe Douglas Brooks, who knows far more than I in this area, might disagree with me on this one), which “is and is not,” or Kant’s “unmoved mover.”
Shakti tattva is power — the power to tranform, create, manifest, diversify, cloak. Shakti is the power to become embodied in objective form. Shiva and shakti tattvas are thus inseparable. Ultimate unbounded consciousness and freedom (shiva) only has meaning to the extent the power to move, create, and diversify (shakti) pulses and transforms the subjective into the objective, the unimaginable to the observable.
In our yoga practice and meditation, we seek to use the practices to reveal to ourselves the ultimate pulsation (spanda) between the objective and subjective, the observable and the unknowable, the individual and the completely universal. One way I experience the first principle of Anusara yoga (open to grace), is taking the mat or my seat with an openness to sense and experience this ultimate pulsation (spanda) and play (lila), so that by using my body, mind, and will, I can better recognize the spirit that shines in all of us and use that recognition to inform how I relate to myself, society, and all beings.
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.
After teaching my classes this morning at Willow Street, I will be studying with Paul Muller-Ortega, who is leading a workshop on tantric philosophy and meditation today and tomorrow. It will be good to study, to learn, to meditate with direction. To be able to teach, it is essential for me to study.
Yesterday, for the first time this year, there was more daylight than darkness. Today, it will be warm and sunny. Notice if the light and warmth brighten your mood. Then try to observe just where and how you are shifted so that when things seem dark and gloomy, you can find the place within yourself that responds to light and dark and invite in your own light to shift. This is a power of meditation.
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.
Ether (akasha) is the fifth of the mahabhutas. In science and perception, it is the space between the other elements, it is that in which the other elements reside. It is to some degree, the critical element of how we are able to perceive the other elements. I find focusing on the Anusara alignment principle of “open to grace” is the best way to experience the element of ether in myself. By softening, opening, and inviting spaciousness, I can better experience the subtle elements and appreciate how it is that I experience them.
The subtle elements or the panca tanmattras are smell (gandha), taste (rasa), form (rupa), touch (sparsa), and sound (sabda). The subtle elements are not what we sense (which is composed of the mahabhutas) nor are the tanmattras our sense organs. Rather the tanmattras are, as it were, the space in which perceptions arise, the ability to be perceived.
The next sets of elements are the panca karmendriyas, the organs of locomotion, which correspond to how we physically move, digest, and change in the physical world, and the panca jnanendriyas, the organs of perception or cognition, which correspond to our sense organs themselves. Our movement in and perception of the world bridges the physical elements, the perceptability of the physical world, and ourselves as physical beings, beings who move in the physical world, and beings who perceive the physical world. All of this, I think of as needing space or residing in space. As I consciously think of space giving a place for the world, my movement in it, and my perception of it, I become more conscious of consciousness. The physical practice of “opening to grace” and experiencing the element akasha makes possible for me in my practice knowing or experiencing a greater consciousness.
To start discovering your own understanding of akasha, try this meditation: listen to the sounds beyond the room without trying to analyze or change them. Appreciate how far in space your senses and consciousness can be. Then bring your attention into the room and hear the sounds in the room. Then open your ears to the sounds within you — your heart beat, your breath. Then open to all the sounds (don’t try to change or analyze them), both those physically far away and those within your own body, and be aware of them as all residing within your own consciousness. Appreciate that your consciousness is as spacious as the world around you and within you. Rest in the space of consciousness.
See whether spending a few minutes using this meditation technique helps you when your day has gotten too busy with work, errands, family or other demands. I find it very helpful.