Practice, contemplation, and insights

Some Books About Gurus

As I have discussed with a few of you, I have been contemplating deeply and for a long time the questions of what is a guru and who is a guru.  In the context of this contemplation, I read to enhance my background and understanding, deepen my contemplation, and give myself food for thought or additional exploration.  Here are some books that I have in my library about gurus or those who have been labeled gurus (in no particular order).  Some are written with loving devotion by disciples.  Some question or comment on the interrelationship between the status of guru and the sometimes all too human foibles of the guru and his disciples.  Some are of the guru’s own experience of practice and his relationship with his own guru.

Be Love Now, Ram Dass, HarperOne (New York, NY 2010)

Miracle of Love — Stories About Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY 1979)

Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, Self-Realization Fellowship (13th Ed., reprinted 2001)

The Golden Guru — The Strange Journey of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, James S. Gordon, The Stephen Green Press (Lexington, Mass. 1987)

My Guru and His Disciple, Christoper Isherwood, Penguin Books (New York, NY 1981)

Ramakrishna and His Disciples, Christopher Isherwood, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY 1970)

Great Swan — Meetings with Ramakrishna, Lex Hixon, Shambhala Dragon Editions (Boston, Mass. 1992)

Bhagawan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, Swami Muktananda Paramahamsa, SYDA Foundation (South Fallsburg, NY 1996)

The Buddha from Brooklyn — A Tale of Spiritual Seduction, Martha Sherrill, Vintage Books (New York, NY 2001)

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, Stephen Cope, Bantam (New York, NY 1999)

At the Eleventh HourThe Biography of Swami Rama, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Himalayan Institute Press (Honesdale, Pa. 2001)

Play of Consciousness, Swami Muktananda Paramahansa, SYDA Foundation (Oakland Ca. 1974)

The Great Oom — the Improbable Birth of Yoga in America, Robert Love, Viking Press (New York, NY 2010)

ps Jess–Yes, the widget for Library Thing is coming for the website.  I just need to add more books, so that it is a decent start at a representation of at least the yoga-related portion of my library.


A Helpful Reminder

At the weekend workshop in Bryn Athyn yesterday, John Friend reminded us of the scientific fact that our energy flows to where we put our mind. As a physical matter, if we think about our little toe or our tailbone, for example, we will be better able to access it.

As a mental matter, if we think about something we just did or need to do or think we should do, our energy will be diverted to that place.

There are even more profound implications with respect to where we let our mind dwell when we are practicing. Our practice deepens and helps us embody intention (sankalpa). If we dwell on something that is making us angry or suffer while we are practicing, we will actually etch those emotions more deeply into ourselves.

This is not to say that we should not practice when we are suffering or in conflict. Nor does it mean that we should beat ourselves up when “negative” emotions or thoughts arise during our practice. Rather, the awareness of the repercussions of dwelling on and feeding what does not serve is a reminder of the benefits of turning our minds towards the good — perhaps a yearning to be at peace or free from suffering or other positive intention while we are practicing when we are feeling challenged. We use the practice not just to release what does not serve, but choose to refocus our minds so that through the practice we can embody a state of mind and body that better serves us and helps us to respond from a higher place to those things that are painful or hurtful. Ideally, we turn towards what is light, nourishing, and balanced (sattvic), not out of compunction, but because it is more delightful.


The Walk From My House to House of Hands (and the start of Standard Time)

It felt good to sleep in and still wake up at my usual 6am.  I did my morning practice, went to meeting for worship, joined in at a fundraising lunch for Pakistan flood relief, looked at the Truth Beauty exhibit at the Phillips, took a walk in the neighborhood, and then took a short nap.  Then I took one of my favorite walks in the neighborhood — from my house to House of Hands, the home of my neighbor, friend, and wonderful massage therapist Patrick.  As you can see, the sun was setting as I walked to a 5pm appointment.  In honor of the change of seasons, the heat was on the massage table.  Nice.  It was dark when my massage was finished, but I had hot soup for dinner and am looking forward to my evening meditation and practice.  I do not have many days that are this luxurious and free of commitments.  I enjoy them to the fullest when they come.


If Only It Were So Easy

The problem with trying to run away to make things better is that we still bring ourselves with us. We don’t have the luxury of hitting the “reset” button after we’ve done things that we wish we had not done.

Yoga and meditation practice can help give us a sense, though, of being reset by giving us more and radical acceptance and compassion and the ability to simply marvel at the very intricacies of the dance. From there, we can release what binds from our history and continue on, knowing that it is a choice to respond in the same way as we have in the past when the old patterns confront us again (which they inevitably will).


Samskara (and the awesome and the awful)

Those of you who have been attending my classes for the past couple of weeks already know that my overall theme for the fall session is cultivating a sense of wonder (abhuta). Feeling wonder is one aspect of the Anusara principle of “opening to grace.” It is seeing who we are and what we are within space and time with a sense of amazement at the limitations and the foibles, as well as the strengths and delights.

This week I was thinking about abhuta in the context of samskara — the markings or grooves or scars in our being from how we have lived our lives (and perhaps past lives, if those were also lived by us — personally not sure about that). I had a dialogue earlier this week that resulted from over 110 years of combined history that was not optimal. Reflecting on the precipitating factors, though, and marveling at the web of history, environment, education, and action that combined to give rise to the conversation led me to a sense of wonder indeed. It is by cultivating the ability to step back and appreciate the wondrousness of the dance that we learn from a steady practice that, I think, can help make it possible to shift in how we behave and react to things.

From a physical perspective, most of our challenges and difficulties are based on what we have done with and in our bodies over the course of our lives. We use the yoga alignment principles to create new grooves and to shift from the old repetitive patterns, so that we can not only alleviate pain and misalignment, but to expand the possibility of discovering ever more joy and wonder in and through our bodies and senses. Both the physical and meditation practices help us shift similar patterns (dissolve and transform samscaras and their impact), so that instead of deepening old grooves, we erase or dissolve them and create new life-enhancing ones.

It may seem odd to marvel at our stuff, especially when it does not appear to be serving us, but keep in mind that both the awesome and the awful, being both all about awe, can give rise to a recognition of the great and exquisite mysteries of being.


Last Night I Slept At My Parents House (and akrama)

I slept last night in the room that I slept in as a child. My mother now uses the room to store some of the vestiges of her old antiquing business. The carpet, wallpaper, and curtains from the 1960’s are gone, but the bed is the same one in which I had slept. The picture on the wall is a kit for making a stuffed animal that my Grandma Rose had bought me (probably when I was about 8) at the Brooklyn Museum of Art that my mother decided would be better as framed art than a sewing project for me.

The neighborhood looks different–it is far more developed as is everywhere near a big city–but the bones are the same.

It is a challenge not to feel the weight of my history and ancestry when I return. Taking the time to meditate when I woke helped me stay fully in my adult self.

When we meditate, we ideally dissolve our individual consciousness into the luminous spaciouness of universal consciousness. In that space, where we are temporarily not experiencing ourselves as an individual, we are also not experiencing our individual self in the sequence (krama) of time. The luminous spaciousness of meditative consciousness is sequenceless (akrama) and, as universal consciousness, is the place in which the sequences of being in time and space arise.

What I experienced this morning when I meditated was that I did not have to be flooded with the emotions of my, to try to graciously describe, emotionally challenging childhood. In the space of meditation I could bring to my day an acceptance of all of my life and be where I am at present, coming to a place of recognition that although I lived all of my history, it neither defines me nor binds me from expanding into a space of growing love and light.