Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

The Great Game: Afghanistan

I am writing this from the terrace area of the Shakespeare Theater, in between parts two and three of “The Great Game: Afghanistan.”. It is a testament to the quality of the writing, acting, and production that we still feel ready for the third set of plays. What “The Game” emphasizes, whomever authored the segment or what moment in history is being emphasized is that we are all connected and that if we do not learn from our history, we are destined to repeat ourselves and so suffer.

I am certain that there is little that I can do as an individual to prevent history repeating itself in Afghanistan (though I write letters to President Obama on occasion). I can, however, pay attention to the lesson here with regard to my own, individual life. I can strive to unravel and dissolve old patterns from my history and to create new patterns that will better serve me. In asana practice, I seek therapeutically to realign the physical body and the energetic body so that old pains and struggles do not continue to interfere with my living as fully, joyously, and expansively as I can in my body. Through meditation, I seek to know the true joy of being and to have the light of consciousness illuminate how I respond to people and events. When I can do this, I have the choice not to create new hurts and problems that are just like the old ones.

What I know from my own practice and life is that not repeating history is hard, but it is what gives the possibility of living in true freedom. Is it enough to work on just my own self not repeating history? Do we need to try and bring shifts to larger patterns to truly be of service? I do not know the answer to the latter question, but I do know that the duty to try and shift myself is not just for me, but extends beyond me, like the ripples extending out from a pebble thrown into a pond.

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What If?–Part II

Yesterday I asked about setting an intention to be blissful in every thing we do for a day. Having the intention is a good start (I might not even have thought of such an intention without my yoga practice). What I really want is to be able to manifest that intention. For me, I know that it is important for me to live more consciously and with more subtle discrimination (viveka) if I am to come close to living such intention.
A rare few live in bliss without effort. For the rest of us, that is why we have the practices. So we can practice moving into and resting in bliss.

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What If? (an Invitation)

What if for a whole day you did every single thing with the intention of becoming blissful? If you have them, taking care of pets or kids or elders? Every thing that you did at work? How you went from one place to another? Every morsel of food and drink you selected, prepared, and ate? All your errands? Your getting dressed and undressed? Your correspondence?

Would you even need to “practice yoga” by doing postures or meditating if you were living yoga–fully unifying the day to day with the conscious intention of experiencing the full bliss of consciousness at every moment?

Why not try it for a day and see what happens? And then let us know.

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What a Good Murder Mystery Can Teach Us About Sadhana

Surely that’s what life was all about?  Opening doors and peering through them–perhaps even finding the rose gardens there… (Colin Dexter, The Dead of Jericho)

The good murder mysteries — the ones that teach much about human nature and do not dwell graphically on gore and violence — can teach us much about the power of sadhana (yoga practice).  The best mysteries are ones in which the protagonist teaches us by his or her investigation into the mystery that with careful, steady discipline, the application of well-developed technique and study, consistent effort, and an openness to trust intuition tempered by discrimination, we can reveal to ourselves the truth of the matter.  The truth revealed is not just the identity, means, and motive of the murderer (mystery solved), but the knowledge of the extraordinariness of human being in all of its manifestations, both good and evil.

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I Was Browsing Looking for a Poem

I was browsing; I was looking for a poem to read to a friend because I was not ready to write one myself.  I found several that were right for me to read, but not to share, and this one I wanted to share more widely because of the delight it is bringing me to read it:

Karma Repair Kit:  Items 1-4

1.  Get enough food to eat,

and eat it.

2.  Find a place to sleep where it is quiet and sleep there.

3.  Reduce intellectual and emotional noise

until you arrive at the silence of yourself,

and listen to it.

4.

Richard Brautigan, The Pill v. the Springhill Mine Disaster

I had a real fondness for Brautigan when I was a teenager.  Every once and a while, I will pick up one of his books and remember why.  If you enjoyed reading this poem, please go buy a book by Brautigan to thank him.

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A Key to a Steady Home Practice (Letting Go of Preconceived Notions)

One of the things most likely to keep us from having a steady home practice (whether asana or meditation or both) is being unable to live up to our own expectations or preconceived notions of what is a proper or good home practice.  If we think that we need to do a certain amount for an established length of time or that we have to feel fit enough to do a particular range or poses than inevitably we will be challenged in practicing regularly in a busy life.

It is good to have a set time and place for our practice and to try and practice for a length of time that will foster the growth and balance in ourselves that we seek from our practice.  To stay steady, though, we have to be flexible with our expectations.  When we are sick or injured or exhausted, it will be appropriate to do restoratives or a gentle practice rather than a more vigorous one, even if we are accustomed to doing more advanced asana.  If we are pressed for time, even if we like to spend 45 minutes to an hour in the morning, perhaps we will do 25 minutes.  If we usually meditate in a special place in the house, but we have to leave for the airport at 6am, we can find a quiet moment to breathe for three minutes before we leave the house and then meditate on the plane.

This morning, for example, I knew that the only opportunity to have a walk would be early morning because the electricians are coming for more work towards installing the solar panels.  Having a walk on days I am working at home is critical for my ability to sit at my desk and concentrate.  Instead of doing my usual 45-60 minutes of practice, which gives me time for some asana and pranayama before sitting for meditation followed by savasana, I chose to sit for 25 minutes and then go for a walk.  I will practice more this evening when I am off work.

Once we give ourselves permission to be flexible about how much to practice and what, then it will be easier to stick to practicing.  I think it is far more important to practice several times a week than to have a practice that is thorough and “by the book” but is only done sporadically.  What are your challenges in developing a steady practice?  If you have a steady practice, what has helped you stick to it?  Have your expectations about what a practice should be interfered with your practicing?

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“Inspiration Cards”

I adore having a library and will rarely say no to a philosophy text or a book about anatomy, therapeutics, or yoga methodology.  I am less interested in “self help” types of books or gadgets.  Every once and a while though, I come across something that truly supports my practice and my teaching.  When I first went to Inner Harmony to study with John Friend in mid-2003, there was an altar in the corner of the practice room, just at the entrance.  On the altar was a set of cards (a little smaller than 2″x2″).  Each card had a word in English, the devanagari, and the sanskrit of the word transliterated into our alphabet.  Following the lead of others who had been to Inner Harmony for previous retreats, at the beginning of the day, I would select a card and think about how the word on the card might inform my practice and intention.

At that time, I was first starting to use Anusara’s “heart-oriented posturing language,” using a theme for class that was designed to lead the students into a deeper place in their hearts through their asana practice, and I found that the cards were an excellent source of inspiration.

Even though I first bought the cards in 2003 to serve as a basic class preparation aid, I have continued to use them regularly for my own practice and contemplation.  Often, the word that appears resonates with something that is of immediate concern.  The day after Becky (my beloved cat who lived to be 21) left her body last year, I went to the set of cards, which I’d not used in a couple of months.  The card that I selected at random (like picking a card from a deck when someone is showing you card tricks) was moksha — liberation, and in classic yoga, literally liberation from the body.  I was moved to tears.

This summer, with myself and my students, we have been working on manifesting intention.  As I’ve blogged about previously, I invited us to think about an intention.  Whether an intention is something basic with the body or mind or something more universal, whenever we seek to manifest an intention, ultimately it is because we want to be more blissful, more open, and more at peace with ourselves and others.  The question becomes how do we use our practice both to discover an intention and to seek to make it manifest.  To help me with the contemplation of this question, I have gone again to the cards as a source of inspiration.  This week, the card that turned itself up was racanatmakata — creativity.  “Perfect,” I thought, when I saw the word.  Creativity is a human reflection of the wild, pulsing, diverse and ever-extraordinary dance of all being.  When we open to our creative impulse to allow things to unfold, we can witness the fullest range of possibilities and the variety of paths to manifestation.

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What Does It Mean to Be Yogic? (and “The New York Times Article”)

This weekend, a friend whose marriage of decades is precipitating towards dissolution, said to me, “I am having trouble reconciling being yogic and still needing to do what I need to do in connection with divorce.  How do I deal with that?”  I told her about a yoga principle I learned at the first Inner Harmony Retreat I attended with John Friend in the summer of 2003.  He had asked a student a question that yielded as the answer the four yoga principles of ardha (physical and material well-being), kama (relationship, including intimate and love relationships), dharma (life path or work), and moksha (liberation or freedom).  The fellow student answering the question, who was also my teacher, gave the classic yoga explanation that we try to do the first three elements in alignment so that we can then transcend and go beyond them to become free (enlightened).  John replied that was the traditionally correct answer in dualist, classical yoga, but that from the tantric perspective of a person living in the world as a yogi, we look apply the principles differently.  By living in a way that we have taken care of our physical and material well-being, have happy and loving relationships, and work with delight and passion that we will be embodying a life of the spirit; we will then be living and embodying freedom (jivanmukti).  That encapsulation of tantric yoga resonated deeply and is a significant part of why I have chosen a path of tantric yoga rather than one that preaches renouncing the body and mind (which I think is impossible for one staying in the world).

My friend’s question seemed especially significant to me in light of the dialogue that has ensued following the publication of the New York Times article on John Friend, John’s blog in response, and the Elephant Journal interview.  The essence of the article and the reactions, to me, seem to be about the intersection of our “outer” notions of societal success–fame and fortune–and yoga and whether the two can be reconciled.  The New York Times article is obviously intended to be sensational and to create controversy; that is what makes a journalist who gets fame and fortune.  But the alleged tension highlighted in the article is indicative of a bigger societal confusion of how and whether we can be spiritual or religious beings and also have human needs and wants.  Ours is a society that hungers for panaceas and palliatives.  In “discovering” yoga and its benefits in the late 20th century, far too many have put onto it expectations that have no basis in what is yoga and how it is supposed to aid us.

There is no word in yoga philosophy or in India for “yogic.”  The word “yogic” is a western creation of relatively recent vintage.  Webster’s dictionary does not have it as a separate word, but just has it at the end of the definition of “yoga” as “adj, often capitalized.” What do we mean by being “yogic?”  It seems that we have gotten this notion that if we practice yoga seriously or teach it, that means we must be perfectly pure and good.  We will need only light and air to nourish our bodies (and maybe a little local raw food in season); we will have neither needs nor desires; we will be so suffused with peace, compassion, and equanimity, that we never feel or show anger or grief, even in the face of injustice, violence, pain, or outrageous behavior.  We expect that somehow we will be a perfect monk while still living with family and going to work.

We expect this not only of ourselves, but even more so of our teachers.  In essence, we somehow expect yoga to release us from the realities of being human.  To have such expectations inevitably will lead to disappointment in ourselves and our teachers (for being unable to reach this impossible ideal) or in the practice (both for not yielding this ideal and for, in our delusion, creating this expectation in the first place).  My meditation and philosophy teacher Paul Muller-Ortega would say that to have such expectations is “adolescent” spirituality.  When we practice “adult” spirituality, we take responsibility for ourselves and our own practice.  We expect our teachers to offer us the teachings, but we honor and recognize them as human beings.

To practice yoga sincerely while still living in the world should make us more humane to ourselves and to all around us, not beyond being human.  This is the true essence of Anusara yoga.  To be richly and freely and wonderfully human and feel great love and compassion for that, even as we balance the realities of life with attempts to live in greater alignment.   I am incredibly grateful for the teachings and the community that John Friend has created and the offering to study and get as deeply into the yoga as makes sense for me.  Whether there are things I might do differently in the realm of ardha, kama, or dharma if I were “the yoga mogul” is of little moment because to find moksha we all strive to do our best in our own way (and one thing I know of John is that he always strives to do his best).

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