Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

Shiva — By Almost Any Name (Summer Session Theme)

This summer, we will be exploring a very few of the names of Shiva and how they can draw us to a better understanding of ourselves on and off the mat.

According to the sources, Shiva has either 108 names or 1,000.  Each name has a different meaning.  All of the meanings point to aspects of our own being that are worthy of contemplation.  Some aspects will resonate more deeply for us.  Some less so.

For me, besides my almost childlike delight in of lists, words, and myths, contemplating the various aspects is of deep usefulness in exploring my understanding of myself on and off the mat.  The various names describe different aspects  human nature and how we relate to others and the earth.

The multiplicity of the names also highlights that each of us names and experiences spirituality in a unique way and should have the freedom to do so.  (As an aside, I think this multiplicity of forms of worship could be seen as a kind of rebellion within a rigid system of religious laws, but that is a whole other set of thoughts).

In using these forms of meditation as part of our yoga practice or otherwise, whether we meditate on highly abstract notion of “Shiva” representing the auspicious nature of all beings or on one of the names that points to individual aspects of personality, contemplation on any aspect or name can be used to deepen our relation to our best self so that we can be more aligned with our world inside and out.

For class this summer, we obviously cannot get to more than a very few.  Feel free to send to me your suggestions about names to highlight.

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Slowing Down (and vinyasa krama)

I wanted to share this article on “ecotherapy,” a term I had not heard before.  I found the article interesting because for years now, I have gradually practiced all the elements listed in the article as treatment for depression, not because I had been told by a therapist to do so, but because, despite my feeling the repercussions of going against the grain, I felt happier and healthier settling in one place, traveling more slowly, connecting with my pets, and tending a small patch of nature.

These shifts in lifestyle simply feel to me more in alignment with my own nature and that of the earth.  I found, incidentally, it gave me much more time overall to do things.  People ask me how I do so much (usually referring to the day job, the yoga teaching, the gardening and cooking, the volunteer work).  Thinking of the way they live, and what they do, they ask when do I rest?  I say that my life is in fact rather slow and restful.  I rest when I meditate.  I rest when I am taking the time to make a home-cooked meal — every day when I am in town, often two or three times a day.  I rest when I am tending the garden.  I do not think of cooking and gardening as chores, but as ways to nurture myself.

I rest when I am commuting because it is on foot or sitting on the bus or metro (note:  instead of getting anxious or angry when metro is slow, think of it as an opportunity to draw into yourself and meditate, contemplate, or read).

Not having moved or changed jobs in years, even though there have been serious challenges with both where I live and my job, I had the time, money, and energy that would have been used up in a major upheaval, to engage in the study and practice to become a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and before that, to study  drawing and photography and to exhibit my art.  Staying in place, I continue to have time to study and to read (not watching TV helps alot, too, for finding time).  The choices are different with children in the house, but it is still possible to make choices that require less racing around for the family.

This, to me, is a larger aspect of vinyasa krama, the art of sequencing.  When we sequence how we move in space and time in a holistic, sensitive way that honors the rhythms and cycles of our bodies and the earth’s, then we feel less trapped or overwhelmed.  When I was trying to keep up with society, I was often sad and anxious.  Now I am much less so.  I have often attributed it to these choices.  Now, I see, society has given us a word for it —  ecotherapy.  With a word coined for it and put in the press, will people feel more comfortable practicing it?

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In Watermelon Sugar (Starting Each Day Anew)

I have in my library books in which just one phrase or just the very beginning is most resonant.  It is this time of summer, when the light seems endless, and the heat just setting in as if on a permanent basis, that my thoughts turn to watermelon in food, and again in literature.  I think of watermelon differently each summer from the perspective of having lived another year, and the same in having experienced the taste and the thoughts of the taste so many times before.  When it comes the time of year when thoughts of watermelon spontaneously arise,  I revisit these words:

“In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.  I’ll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.  Wherever you are, we must do the best we can.  It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar.” (R. Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar).

Refreshed, I put the book back on the shelf, look forward to eating watermelon from the fresh farm market, and set the intention to start each day with open, receptive, and unjaundiced eyes, ready to learn and experience the same old things as glorious new ones, and to do the best I can.

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Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodaha

I slept restlessly last night and woke early with concern for those who were in the metro crash.  Being already a bit agitated, worries about getting things done at work also were arising.  Despite my restlessness, I made sure to sit for meditation.  Thoughts kept arising, but by the time I was into my sit, I was able to find a space, where I was not tangled or unsteadied by the thoughts.  I felt more peaceful and able to meet the challenges of the day.

In times of agitation, I often find myself drawn to contemplate again Patanjali’s sutra 1.2:  Yoga citta vrtti nirodaha. In classical yoga, it means to still the thought waves.  This is meant to be the ultimate purpose of yoga:  to still thought so that what is beyond mind and body can be revealed.

Practicing and studying from a tantric perspective, I think not so much of stilling my thoughts when I practice and meditate, but rather, finding a sense of alignment, an allowing of and making allowance within my being for the rhythm of the thoughts like a sailor getting sea legs on a boat, so that I can be steady (sthira) and have a greater sense of peace (shantaya) and light (tejase), no matter how wild are the thoughts arising and sensations entering in the field of my consciousness.

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Eagerness (and cherry tomatoes)

I am looking forward to going out to the garden to forage for things to bring to work with my lunch.  I know there will be at least four or five tomatoes, and I am expecting a small cucumber.  The greens and fresh herbs are a given.  Having exquisite fresh food and making sure I take at least 15 minutes to savor it always makes a hectic day a much better one.

Don’t have time to garden?  Try joining a CSA.

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What Wakes You Up in the Morning

A little after 5 this morning, the sound of the unexpected rain brought me out of my dream state.  I was not ready to rise, so I realigned myself into a good savasana and just listened — following no other thoughts — until the morning musical awakening arrived at 6.

I could have thought of it in this language:  the rain woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep, but I was still tired so I lay in bed until the alarm went off.

Hotels, I think, were on to something when they started offering “wake up calls,” though the sound of the phone ringing in the middle of an intense dream can be shocking.  When did we start naming the sound we use to bring us from dreaming to waking “the alarm?”  What perspective does it give to our day to think we need an alarm to start it?  Why not at least “alert” or “signal” for the days when the only technology (think about that piece of it) was a jarring sound?

I have been thinking a lot about what wakes me up since Becky passed away.  For 21 years, either Henrietta or Becky was lying on or next to me purring before any electronic signal could go off.  They knew when it would go off and every morning sought a little petting (and then food) before they heard any signal to start the day.  They incorporated it into their rhythm and created a good waking routine around my schedule.

Some of my waking with the cats instead of the electronic sounds must have been me ready to be shifted from sleeping to waking by the cats’ attention, because I am still waking 10-20 minutes before Bose technology utters an automatic sound (usually yoga chants) to make sure I get off to work.  I also know from conscious attention to the effects on my sleep from when and what I eat and what I put into my day and until how late, that when I am keeping my eating, practicing, and sleeping schedule steady, I have no need to be called awake by something outside myself to start the day.

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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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