Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

The Nyaya of the Cat and the Bunny

A nyaya is literally a recursion, something which leads back to an essential principle.  In my recent studies of meditation, we have been taught various nyayas that help to explicate the experience of meditation and the whys and benefits of steady practice.

At the place where we have been staying for our meditation and study retreats with Paul Muller-Ortega, there is a wonderful cat named Oberon.  I first met him last summer when I was walking the labyrinth just before dawn.  I’d heard a meow off in the distance.  Lonely for cat company since my Becky had so recently left her body, I called to the cat.  He came running to me and walked the labyrinth with me.  Each time I have visited, I have had some special moments with Oberon, who lives fully up to his name — Oberon being the King of the Faeries.

Oberon loves the meditation hall and often tries to get in.  He also brings offerings.  Last winter, he brought us a mostly dead bird.  As well intended as it might have been on Oberon’s part, it was not particularly welcomed in the meditation hall.  On the final night of our retreat this time, we were reveling in the good fortune of having fellow students (and my sometimes teachers and the creators of many CDs in my music collection) Heather and Benjy Wertheimer lead us in kirtan.  At one point, I left my place to go to the facilities.  A fellow student, stopped me, “Elizabeth, the cat has a really big mouse.”  I went to look.  Oberon did not have a mouse; he had a young bunny.  “It’s a bunny I said.”  The other students who were outside were horrified.

Without thinking, I went to him, “Oberon, drop it!” I said, as if it were appropriate to speak to the King of the Faeries as if he were an obedient dog.  He listened though and dropped the bunny, which remained frozen.  I held Oberon by the scruff of the neck.  “Go bunny; bunny run,” I said, but the bunny did not move.  I then tapped the bunny on his back at the tail.  The bunny remained frozen, though it did not appear yet to be injured.  I let go of Oberon and went to get a towel or something to pick up the bunny.  Then Oberon tapped the bunny just where I had touched it.  Off ran the bunny through the shoes neatly piled outside the meditation hall.  I caught Oberon and picked him up.  The bunny again froze, looking back at us.  At this point I was completely oblivious to anything other than the cat and the bunny.  “Bunny run; go now.”  Oberon squirmed, but did not scratch me, letting me continue to hold him.  Finally, the bunny ran off into the scrub and disappeared.  I put down Oberon.  He sniffed the trail, but then came back to me for a petting when I called.  “Thank you for the offering Oberon; I know it was well intentioned, but we are not so keen on bringing dead baby animals into the meditation hall.”  He sniffed, lifted his regal head, and sat down to wash.

Leaving aside what my actions may have done to the fabric of the world order and the pondering I could do about the interrelationship between destiny and free will, I felt that I had been given a wonderful lesson about life and practice. Practice can bring us great freedom if we stay steady on the path.  Like the bunny, though, we can stay frozen in fear and old patterns, even when we are given a glimpse of the freedom of self we can get from practice.  As dire as things may be (or perhaps even when they are at their worst), we return to the familiar, regardless of whether we are unhappy with it, regardless of how old patterns are limiting our ability to grow.  Sometimes it is dissatisfaction with and pain from the old patterns themselves (revealed more clearly by practice already begun) that push us to go further, just as it took Oberon getting the bunny to run again for me to realize he was sufficiently healthy to be able to run off.  And just as I stayed with Oberon and the bunny until the bunny finally took his chance at freedom, the practice and the truths and freedom practice can reveal will always be there.  No matter how many times we forget or return to the stuck and the familiar, the opportunity for growth and freedom continues to await.

When I am feeling stuck, when I am finding myself returning to patterns that do not serve, I will think about my own personal nyaya of the cat and the bunny.  I hope it will serve to keep me moving forward, less stuck, less attached to the familiar that no longer serves.

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Coming Home from Retreat (and Savasana)

How do you plan your return home from a retreat or vacation?  Do you come home at the very last minute, so that the travel is exhausting and the first day back at work is a struggle?  Or do you plan to have a day — or at least several hours — to unpack, make sure you have fresh food to eat, and have brought the feeling of vacation back into your home life before getting back to work?

When I was studying on retreat in Arizona, Paul Muller-Ortega took particular pains to emphasize the importance of doing savasana for at least a few minutes after sitting for meditation for a “slow re-entry.”  Without the resting time in between practicing/adventuring/celebrating/retreating and working, it is like eating a loaf of bread right out of the oven, rather than giving it at least 10-15 minutes to rest.  Right out of the oven, the is too hot and the texture is not right, and we cannot taste how good it is.  Give it a chance to rest, and it is exquisitely hot and fresh and perfect.

We need to rest, to reintegrate, to settle or we can feel like there is no point in going on vacation.  How many people do you know (perhaps you have said this yourself) who say there is no point in going on vacation because it just makes work harder on return?  When I take a shorter vacation/rest/retreat to account for reintegration time, and then fully reintegrate, the rejuvenating properties of getting away definitely last longer.

I returned very late Sunday night.  Yesterday I practiced at home, did my laundry, cleaned the yoga room, petted the cats, had a massage, did a little reading, cooked delicious food (homemade granola, kitcheree, greens from the garden), and went to sleep early.  Now I am off to work, seeking to bring what I learned into my day.

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Azalea Walk at the National Arboretum (and Sadhana)

As it is every year, the Azalea Walk at the National Arboretum fills me with joy and wonder.  “Was it really this splendid last year?” one of my companions asked.  “I go every year,” she said, “but I forget how gorgeous it is!” She comes back each year to remember the beauty and the awe.  So, too, it can be with our practice.  We stop going to class or practicing our meditation or asana for a while because we get too busy.  Then we come back, and we ask ourselves how we could have forgotten the joy and beauty a steady practice brings us, and we are inspired to commit again.

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Thinking Things Through v. Overthinking

It is good to act consciously, to move and react from a place of sensitivity, discrimination, and understanding.  It is good to know both the big picture and the details.  When does paying attention and thinking things through, though, become “overthinking?”  I think (ha ha) that it is when thinking things through takes us away from the heart, when it desensitizes, instead of assists us in acting with discrimination.

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Gratitude and Self-Acceptance

On Friday night, Betsy Downing was at Willow Street’s Silver Spring studios leading a weekend workshop.  The focus of the weekend was learning how yoga practice can assist us in “interesting times.”  In this regard, Betsy invited us to recommit to two practices that we know support us when we fully practice them.  I did not feel the need for more meditation or asana or pranayama.  I do those steadily.

I have been struggling, though, with where I am lately — I think something was triggered with all the confined time during the great snows.  This morning I decided that for me, this invitation would best serve if I allowed it to help refocus my practice.  In getting a little off-kilter, I forgot to practice fully gratitude and self-acceptance.  Remembering to practice those fully will nourish me well in these challenged times.

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What a Difference a Month Makes

Here’s an aerial view of the back garden on the equinox after I spent several hours cleaning, deadheading, repotting, mulching, etc.  As you can see, the moss is ecstatic from having had the weight of the snow on it for several weeks.  Coming up in quantities almost enough to pick are lettuce, spinach, cilantro, parsley, chives, onions, lemon balm (always have too much of that — if you’re local let me know if you want some).  The first rosebud emerged sometime between Friday and Sunday.  It is hard to believe that just a month ago, I was blogging about indoor gardening — how to find delight even when snowed under (scroll to the bottom of the linked post to compare pictures of the same view).

As you can see from comparing the two photos, things were still growing under the snow or getting ready to do so.  That is what practice is like for me.  Sometimes I feel completely snowed under by an injury or rush jobs at work or personal circumstances beyond my control.  I keep practicing, but I don’t have the time or energy for long practices or full weekend workshops, when it is easy to get to a place of delight.  Other times, things are less pressured, and I feel brimming over with health.  Then practice feels wildly effulgent.  For my garden to offer its full potential (as is true with my practice), I need to spend lots of time and effort in it for the next several weeks.  I know that if I do so, I will be blessed with fullness.

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Samtosha (and the “Founding Fathers”)

I am subbing Fusion Flow tonight up at Willow Street. Natalie, for whom – am subbing, has been teaching the yamas and niyamas this session. She asked me to cover “samtosha” tonight.

In contemplating this principle of practice again (it is high on my contemplation list), I thought of the what was drafted by the “Founding Fathers.” We are not guaranteed the right to happiness, but the right and freedom to pursue it.

That leaves open the question of what is happiness and whether and how to pursue it. It contains, I think, a hidden agreement that to keep the right open to all that happiness cannot be realized by the acquisition of external power and things that will prevent others from having the same freedom.

When I get caught up in our current societal vision of what we are supposed to have or be, a reminder that “samtosha” — contentment — doesn’t just happen, but is a practice, always regrounds me. I choose to come back to a space of gratitude, and my my whole self eases. I return to a place that serves me and enhances my own freedom to find happiness, while bringing me to a place that is aligned with that freedom growing for what and whom I touch.

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Sauca (Another Perspective)

My friend and Willow Street colleague Natalie Miller taught a lovely class on Monday night, using sauca as her theme.  She said that she had recently read a book that described the yamas as things we do to be better persons, but that the niyamas were precepts for our spiritual practice to lead us better on the path.  In that sense, she suggested, sauca is about clarity or purity of intention.

What I love about contemplating and practicing with these concepts is that they are so pregnant with meaning; they have so much to offer wherever we are in our life and on our individual path of spirit exploration.  The more we contemplate and visit and practice and discuss, the more we will discover both about the meaning of the concept and about ourselves.

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