Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

Old News?

I did not post a collection of photos from Miami trip as is my usual habit because I had other things I wanted more to share and because I had other things that were higher priority. At this point, a whole lot of living has gone on for me individually and for my social network and for the country and for the globe.
I find myself falling into the general current assumption that the only news of interest to readers of this blog is what has happened in the last few days, though experiences from all times in our lives are still interwoven in how we think and behave, and all of history shapes our current global cultures and relationships.

Is this picture really already old news even though I only get to go on “vacation” a few times a year (and that many are a great blessing for which I than those who fought for the rights of workers over the decades) and the effects are something to be carried through until the next opportunity? Is the photo any less beautiful an artistic offering for my posting it today instead of ten days ago when I took it?

How has your relationship between news and art and knowledge changed with the progressively increasing available of new images and thoughts and information in vast quantities moment to moment? Does it leave a feeling of being overwhelmed or serve as a reminder that the fundamentals, the very essence of things do not change and that if we pause and go deep, the idea of the vast turbulence of the outer world will not itself be our uprooting, though specific events may well challenge us.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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March Madness–What a Line-Up (Web Version of E-Newsletter)

Dear Friends,

When I was in Florida last week for a wonderful, heart-opening Anusara celebration of spirit led by John Friend, I asked several different people whether they had heard any news about the status of the budget talks and the odds of a government shutdown.  Although the substance of the talks would most certainly impact the communities of every person with whom I spoke–from schools or roads or museums in their own communities, to funding for greening their homes, to the ability to listen to National Public Radio or watch their favorite programs on public broadcasting, to the quality and availability of health care and emergency services–not one knew that there were budget talks where all federal domestic programs were subject to having their budgets slashed, nor that the talks have not included more than the most muted whisper about cutting even a penny from the defense budget.

These discussions called to mind a memory of when I was in Costa Rica several years ago for an Inner Harmony Retreat with John Friend when he suggested that we all should broaden our outlook by reading the part of the news that was not what we usually read.  In that regard, he listed the financial and business pages and international relations as news we should be reading.  As I regularly read those pages, I took his exhortation to heart and have made sure that I read some news about sports and television, though I am not much of a sports fan and do not have a tv.  The point of inviting us to expand our knowledge was, I think, multi-purposed.  First, as those who are choosing a tantric path and live fully in the world instead of renouncing it, we take on a responsibility for our living relationship with others and the planet and that takes knowledge, and not just sensitivity and cheerfulness.  It is also an acknowledgement that there are lots of ways that the play of spirit manifests; being broadminded and expansive helps us appreciate the very wildness and extraordinariness of life.  Opening our minds can also help us open our hearts and deepen our relationships with others and with the planet.

I may not know any more about college basketball than I read in the New York Times (though I once came in second when I was compelled to participate in a law firm pool and selected my teams by (1) picking the favorite; and (2) tossing a coin when the seeds were only one apart), but there’s definitely a March Madness aura to this month’s yoga line-up:

1.  Regular classes.  I’ve only gotten positive feedback from the experimental shift to a group practice style with the Tuesday night class at William Penn House.  With group practice style we all face each other (instead of having everyone face the front of the room) when we practice and invite each student share a particular pose, alignment focus, or challenge or embodiment that they want to work on for the class (ok not to share if feeling shy).  By sharing in this way and experiencing what poses and focuses bring an immediate shift, the practice is both more individual and more collective and also helps each student understand the elements of building a home practice for every mood and physical state.  The more students who come on Tuesday nights, the more support for the work of William Penn House, so please invite your friends.

Wednesday house classes continue to be 100% for environmental causes.  Please contact me directly if you want to attend.  Practice is comparable to John Friend intermediate/advanced weekend workshops.

Saturday noon Gentle/Therapeutic class at Willow Street, Takoma Park, is, as always, a sweet and dedicated group, and always welcoming to drop-ins and new friends.

2.  Workshops and Fundraisers with Elizabeth (me).

Join us for a repeat or the first time for just one more opportunity in the winter session and find out why your friends have been giving rave reviews for Relaxing into Optimal Alignment with Anusara Restoratives, Saturday, March 26, 2:30-4:30p, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $30.  After a little gentle stretching and self-massage to bring awareness to the breath and body, we will enjoy the exquisite application of Anusara’s® Universal Principles of Alignment to restful and supported restorative postures to release old patterns and invite in the new to find greater ease of body and mind.  A great workshop and practice for all levels.

Third year in a row and better every time:  Yoga for Gardeners, Saturday, March19, 2-4:30p, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $35.  Learn optimal alignment for digging in the dirt, while nurturing yourself and enjoying the community of your fellow yogi gardeners.  For beginner and more experienced yogis and gardeners alike, find ways to optimize your experience in the garden and on the mat with therapeutic applications of the Anusara principles of alignment. Elizabeth will donate a portion of the profits to benefit the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum and will host a seed swap at the end of the workshop! Everybody welcome.

3.  Incredible Out of Town Teachers Ross Rayburn (March 11-13) (for all levels) and Desiree Rumbaugh (March 18) (intermediate/advanced) will be at Willow Street’s Silver Spring Studios.  I’ll be taking some of the sessions with Ross and the special class with Desiree.  Hope to see you there.  For more information and to register, visit Willow Street’s website.

4.  Book Club at Willow Street. On March 20th, from 5pm-7pm, at the third meeting of the new Willow Street Yoga Center book club, we will be discussing Anodea Judith’s Awakening the Global Heart. Discussions at previous meetings have been engaged, lively, and thought-provoking.

5.  But Wait, There’s More.  Yoga classes all over town taught by my friends and colleagues, meditation every day, teleseminars as part of my meditation and philosophy course with Paul Muller-Ortega, the reverberations from my trip to Miami to be with John Friend and the wider Anusara community, and — not exactly yoga, but pretty delightful and yoga-enhancing — DC Contact Improv Jam every Sunday on Capitol Hill.  Also check out the new “District Kula” web page hosted by my friends and colleagues to bring us all closer together and subscribe to get news about Anusara yoga events around town.

Gear up your own March Madness yoga line-up and email me with any questions or comments.

And as always, please check out and share the blog and Facebook to keep in touch and expand our community.  I’ve also set up a new “Rose Garden Yoga” Facebook page.  Please “like” it (from the page or from the home page of the website) to get the latest sweet yoga thoughts and info in your FB news feed.

Looking forward to seeing you soon around town.
Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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What Do You See? (and What Does It Mean to Respond in the Highest?) (DWTD)

What do you see when you look at this picture? What would you have thought if you had come upon a mass of seaweed and jelly fish, having dressed in a bathing suit for a morning plunge into the ocean while on vacation?

Both my yoga teacher John Friend and my meditation and philosophy teacher Paul Muller-Ortega teach that we want to respond in the highest, to seek always to see the good and to respond from that seeing.

I found myself thinking about this morning when I saw dozens of jelly fish on the shore and contemplating a conversation I had yesterday about the topic with a fellow student.

For some, the t-shirt adage “it’s all good” may really ring true. Most every day is naturally bubbly and bright and difficulties or a need to shift or change to find better alignment is not of much importance. I am not naturally effervescent with bliss, though I find a deep and abiding and growing joy in life that comes from a combination of discrimination (viveka) and appreciation for the wonder and complexity of life.

Some may just not notice the jelly fish and just see the sun glinting on the waves, plunging in to swim with delight, not caring much that it resulted in itching or stinging from the jelly fish. The itching and stinging are just minor irritations that wouldn’t change the joy of the day. That’s a great way to live, but not all of us are by nature that care free.

For those of us who see the jelly fish and know that swimming with them can cause potentially significant discomfort, we have two choices: we can get all bummed out that a care free swim in the ocean is not going to happen. That is not responding in the highest. We can also look at what beautiful and amazing creatures are jelly fish, look down at our feet as well as up at the ocean and the sky so that we don’t step on any (walk with discrimination), and then choose to swim in the pool.

Responding in the highest and looking for the good is not the same as being blind to pain and difficulties. It is how we choose to react and our align ourselves within a world that presents both opportunities for delight and for challenge and pain. Responding in the highest is not being oblivious to pain, but rather, choosing not to suffer or cling to disappointment in the face of inevitable pain or difficulty.

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“I See It Every Morning” (and Jnanam Bandaha) (DWTD)

When I walked out of the back of the hotel through the pool area just after day break, one of the pool side assistants was out getting things ready for the guests. “Windy,” he said, as I was wrapping and knotting my meditation shawl around my neck into the face of a strong breeze coming from offshore. “But look,” I replied, pointing to the sun rising over the ocean, “it’s so beautiful!”

“I see it every morning,” he answered, partly with a shrug of weariness and partly with a grin of delight. I guessed he was in his mid 50s–hard for me to tell, his skin was so leathery from the sun. Probably an old stoner surfer was my thought, and the shrug of resignation was for the fact that taking care of the lounge chairs and umbrellas for endless legions of tourists was what he needed to do to eat and still be with his dearest love–the sea and the sun. The smile was for the sun and the sea itself and to be able to share their beauty once again with someone who is seeing them with fresh delight.

During the course this week of study, we spent time discussing the Shiva Sutras. The second sutra–jnanam bandahah–literally means “knowledge is bondage.”

“Why do we automatically assume bondage is a negative?” John asked us at one point. Any time we make a choice, we are to some extent binding ourselves because we are, by making a choice and being limited by space and time as we are in this human form, forgoing other possibilities.

The Sutras also say that knowledge is freedom. Though the sanskrit words are different for the knowledge that binds (limited knowledge) and knowledge that leads us to freedom (highest knowledge or knowledge of the divine), using logic equations, one could say that if knowledge is bondage and knowledge is freedom, then at some level, bondage, too, is freedom.

If the pool side attendant regards himself as being utterly beaten down by his job, feels stuck with drudgery because he had nothing else he could do to survive, and then forgets about the beauty surrounding him, that would be an example of knowledge constricting or limiting us, putting us into bondage that takes us away from spirit.

If, on the other hand, he looks at the ocean each morning with joy in his heart and recognizes that he chose his job to be able to be with the ocean and sun every day, that would be knowing that bondage can actually free us (in our limited form) to dwell in and from the heart.

What the tantric yoga and meditation practices that come out of such teachings as the Shiva Sutras are designed to do, is to help us find the freedom in our limitations, to make choices in our associations and actions — our bindings — that lead us to love and wonder rather than disappointment and fear.

What do you choose?

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“Now Write in Your Journals…” (and What It Means to Be a Good Student) (DWTD)

The first day of the advanced intensive this week, John Friend invited us to write in our journals about what we wanted to get out of the three days from both an energetic perspective and from the perspective of a particular asana that has challenged us. This was not long into the first session of the first day, but it was after he spent some time speaking about what he believes it takes to be a good student–of yoga and of life. Though he did not specifically relate the qualities to the Anusara principles or the mahabhutas (elements), based on what I have heard him teach before about studentship, which is a significant aspect of a committed yoga practice, the qualities of studentship he outlined are parallel to the principles of alignment.

The first quality of studentship, he explained, is having a simultaneous sense of wonder and of humbleness (openness to the teaching and the teacher). This is about being spacious (akasha) and an application of the first and highest principle–opening to grace.

The second is steadiness, which includes showing up, paying attention, being consistent, being diligent. This is being like the earth, being muscular and strong (muscular energy) in how one studies.

The student also needs to be accommodating, to be able to be fluid (like water), to go with the flow of the teacher, the studies, and the class as a whole. This is similar to how the expanding action of inner spiral helps us make more space to grow in a pose.

Third, the student should always do his or her best, to be on fire to learn and grow. Doing one’s best in this way is like the action of tucking the tail bone to engage fully outer (or contracting) spiral to draw into the inner power to shine.

Finally, just as air reaches out in all directions and the Anusara yogi, in asana practice, uses organic energy to extend outward, a good student makes offering of all he or she is learning, to make studying an act of loving service (seva).

When John asked us to take out our journals this week, I took mine out and wrote on what he asked. As I did so, I found myself remembering the first time he asked me to write in my journal, which was at an Inner Harmony retreat in 2003, when I was in the middle of my Anusara teacher training. I have been keeping a journal steadily since I was 11, and though I was on fire for studying yoga, being told what to write in my journal felt a little like an invasion of sacred and intimate personal space. I think others probably expected this; they had “yoga” notebooks with them and did not need to write in a personal journal when the received this instruction, but all I had was my regular journal.

I am still in Miami; tomorrow I will be visiting a friend and then joining with others for the Mahashivaratri celebration, or I would pull out my journal entry from the week at Inner Harmony to see what I wrote. I know that I wrote as much about why it was hard for me to be told what to write in my journal as I wrote on whatever was the topic on which I had been directed to write. I know also that was the week I really decided how important it was to study with John. Finding the balance between knowing what was my own space and truly understanding where I would best learn by following completely the teacher, was a critical part of my yoga studies. Being a good student is not always easy, but it is an evolving part of the sadhana (practice) of relationship, which is the true yoga. This is why how to be a good student initiated the week’s teachings for a group of advanced students, most of whom were teachers themselves.

This afternoon, at the end of the last session, John asked us to get out our journals (I am still using my regular journal as I am not much for taking notes and separate notebooks for yoga just get left behind mostly empty) and look at what we had written on the first day. Did we get out of the training what we had written that we wanted, he asked. For me, the answer was mostly yes, and in some profound and unexpected ways. Would I have gotten so much in that regard if I had not done what my teacher directed and thereby focused my intention for the training? I think probably not. And part of what I wanted, though I did not write it down that way, was to be yet still a better student of my teacher, the teachings, and the spirit.

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Advanced Intensive Morning Clouds

When the sun first appeared over the horizon, it was obscured by a low lying bank of clouds. As the sun came up, it gave beauty even to the clouds–illuminating and beautifying that part of our vision of the light that was clouded. When the sun rose high enough, the clouds at the horizon were scarcely noticeable in the bright light of day.

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Human Size in Relative Space and Time

My friend Dan just posted an insightful piece about the sweetly humbling (without diminishing) perspective on the single life or the whole collective human being in the context of the whole universe.  It resonated with the passage I had read for group practice last Wednesday from Ramesh Menon’s rendering of the Shiva Puranas, which talks about all the units of time from a nimesha, a human moment, to the life of the highest Siva principle–an immensity of infinite time that is incomprehensible at a human consciousness level.

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My Own Personal Cloud (and the Malas)

Last night another storm front passed us by with only a trace of rain, leaving us deeper in drought.  The wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and the clouds scattered, leaving the sky scrubbed bright blue and the air fresh.  Though this morning on my walk to work there was hardly a cloud in the sky, a rather menacing gray cloud hovered directly over the building where I work.  Observing this odd cloud led me to ponder about how I often feel that I have my own personal cloud–everyone else has purpose in their lives and is worthy of love, but not me (this is a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea).

The reality is that all of us get such feelings to a greater or lesser degree some of the time.  It can be a helpful step in clearing away feelings of unworthiness to remember that it is part of the human condition.  The tantric yogis say that there are three cloaks or malas (anava mala, mayiya mala, and karma mala) that result from the manifestation of diversity from the pure universal out of its own play.  The sense of unworthiness we sometimes feel (anava mala) comes from forgetting that we are spirit, and anava mala– in whatever form it appears to manifest–is just because of the loneliness of not remembering our true self.  When we experience or create conflict or unhappiness out of the illusion (maya) that separateness and distinction are the only state of all that is real then we are in thrall to mayiya mala.  When we think we are completely in charge and responsible for everything we do and how it impacts the world, that is karma mala at work.

We practice to pierce through the clouding of our individual consciousness by the malas.  By inviting ourselves to open to the luminous space of consciousness and to surrender to the very fullness of our being, we reduce the impact of the malas on how we conduct our lives.  Our practice helps us to remember our worthiness so that we can be happier and freer and do our work and engage in our relationships with more love and light.  It helps us remember the light in each being so we are naturally drawn to respond with more compassion and friendliness to everything on the planet.  The grace of dissolving  kriya mala is that when it is not obscuring our vision, we can engage fully on our path, but still accept that we are ultimately not in charge and do not know what the universe truly has in store.

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Changing the Paradigm to Find a New Way (and “Opening to Grace”)

A student and friend sent me a link to an article posted by the Center for Consumer Freedom alerting consumers that excessive levels of heavy metals have been found in the reusable bags being sold by some of the big box retailers and supermarket chains.  The analyst reached the conclusion that consumers should be allowed to use disposable plastic or paper bags [environmental consequences ignored] so that they are not forced into the untenable position of having to use bags that are manufactured with unacceptable levels of toxic ingredients.

It is fantastic that the folks at CCF advised people of the potential hazards associated with the manufacture and use of certain types of reusable bags.  What I do not follow is the absolutism of the “either or” choice presented:   poisonous bags (forced on you by environmentalists) or disposable plastic or paper bags (with all the attendant hazards to the environment).  Why does the bag you use have to come from the grocery store?  The types of retailers identified might have seized another retail and advertising opportunity to make cheap, hazardous reusable bags in nations with cheap (i.e. inadequately paid and treated) workers in countries with lax environmental and consumer safety standards.  But this is just another example of how corporations prosper at the expense of the health of the planet, as if the worth of the stock of corporations — the part that is separate from the world in which the corporation operates — in itself is the highest good (that’s a discussion for another day).

I write about this article because it seems to me to be a perfect example of how staying within paradigms, choices, and societal constructs presented can keep us in the kind of ignorance (avidya) that prevents us from being in alignment, from seeing the good, and from responding in the highest.  I am sure you, as can I, can think of far too many other examples of how if we stay with the question as it is framed, can prevent us from finding a peaceful, loving, healthful solution.  The choice here is not bad for the environment and your kids (or pets) reusable bags or bad for the environment disposable bags.  The choice is between bad for the environment bags and reusable bags that made by you or someone you trust not to use poisonous materials.

I have been carrying my own bags on a progressively more consistent basis since I was inspired to invite people to participate in Earth Day when I was in junior high and high school in the 1970s.  The photo shows some of my favorite carry bags.  From left to right:  (1) the day pack I bought in 1984 to carry my law school books, which were very heavy; it cost maybe $20 and it is still going strong; (2) cute organic cotton bag with “make love, not war, haight-ashbury 1968” silkscreened on it; I get complimented on it whenever I use it, especially when I turn down super cool disposable bags at fashionable stores in NYC (“no thank you; I have my own bag”); freebie canvas bag from Barney’s Coop; cannot be sure that it was made with union labor, but am pretty sure it isn’t one of those toxic bags described in the article.

Next time you are struggling with what seems like an choice between Scylla and Charybdis, invite yourself to soften, to open to the bigger picture, to open your heart and mind as wide as the widest space of meditation, and ask whether you are asking the right question.

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