Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

On Reading Patanjali (to help get ready for work)

This morning my sit was full of lots of random thought waves.  This was no doubt, in part, due to my having four meetings,  a call, and a lunch scheduled.  When I was finished, I went into the library, picked up the Christopher Isherwood/Swami Prabhavandananda version How to Know God and opened it randomly to see if it could help guide my thinking today.  I opened to  sutra I.40:   “The mind of a yogi can concentrate upon any object of any size, from the atomic to the infinitely great.”  My first thought was, “how nice.”  My second thought was, “I need to look at another translation; that does not sound quite how I’ve read it elsewhere.”

I opened my trusted B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali.  The translation there is “Mastery of contemplation brings the power to extend from the finest particle to the greatest.”

These translations are not so different from each other.  It was also most timely for me to read this classical sutra in connection with what I have been contemplating in the Pratyabijna Hrdyam.

I read the Isherwood translation as saying that as long as one concentrates as a yogi with full and loving attention, then all actions are in union (yoga).  I understand the Iyengar translation to say that mastering yoga allows one to perceive in the most individual, differentiated being or object, the infinite universal.  With that knowing, just as the Kashmir Shaivist teachings say, one is living liberated (jivanmukti).

However I read this thread of teaching, it is most relevant for how I live and what I must do today with the worldly commitments I have made.  With the intention to stay present with yoga concentration and aims, I now head to my day of meetings.

The sanskrit is: “paramanu parammahattvantah asya vasikarah”

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Fine Day in the Garden

Yesterday I went out into the garden first thing and fed and deadheaded and trimmed and harvested and pulled seedlings and rearranged and swept for several hours.  One of the most delightful things about planting decoratively with herbs and greens is that trimming and pulling things back transforms directly into meals and gifts for neighbors and friends.  My visitor to the garden walked away with bunches of oregano, lemon balm, and mint and lemon balm with roots to plant in her own garden.  We drank a cool lemon-mint infusion (mixture of spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, and lemon verbena) and ate a few strawberries (some from the garden, some from the farmers’ market).  Later in the day, my lunch included a salad with lettuce, radishes, baby spinach and chard, spring onions, and various herbs.  For dinner, I used chard, beets, and green onions to make a stew of chickpeas and greens.

With today’s rain, everything will keep flourishing, and I’ll be out there doing the same later in the week.  My morning visitor and I agreed that one of the great delights of gardening is that the garden always welcomes more attention.  The garden never asks to be left alone; it drinks in whatever attention and nourishment we are able to offer and returns it with grace.  There are few things that both are comfortable with steady attention and fully nurture us the more attention we give.  I find that meditation, too, always gives and receives graciously steady attention, which is one of its great gifts and joys.

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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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“Jiva is Shiva”

The inside book flap on Jaideva Singh’s translation and commentary on the Pratyabijna Hrdayam, say “Jiva is Shiva.”  Singh notes that “pratyabijna” means recognition.  The tantric philosophy underlying this work holds that by have acted from absolute freedom (svatantriya) to become embodied (jiva), Shiva has forgotten his true nature.  The point of the teachings in these 20 sutras is to help us, as embodied beings who have forgotten, to remember our shiva nature.  What does this mean from a practical perspective?  I think the point is to teach us to try to act and live reverently, to try not only to choose to seek the good for ourselves and others, but to see it.

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Early Morning Rain

This morning I stayed in bed after the alarm sounded and listened to the rain.  It was peaceful and pleasant, but it was not meditation.

Listening to the rain made me extra glad to have spent so much of the weekend in the garden.  The new plants are drinking up the fresh water and will almost soar when the warm sun returns at the end of the week.

Thinking about how the garden will flourish because I laid the ground to enable it to get the best of the rain and the sun inspired me to get up and take my meditation seat, even though I was late.  It is practicing consistently that lays the ground for us to be ready to have the fullest, most joyous, and most optimal experience of ourselves, the world, and our spirit whatever comes and whenever it comes.

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Listening (and laryngitis)

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.

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Aphids (and limitations)

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.

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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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Shiva-Shakti Tattvas

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.

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