Meditation

Practice, contemplation, and insights

When I am Settled

When meditating and practicing in a group, if I am feeling settled and grounded myself, it does not disturb my practice that others near me are fidgeting or not fully present.  Just as I can meditate on a bus or in a waiting room, I am responsible for descending into my own inner space.  If I am unsettled myself, then I am more likely to notice others fidgeting.  But it is not their fidgeting that disrupts my practice, but that I am having a day when it is hard for me to center on my own.

It is true, though, when practicing with a group, that sometimes we will all be deeply centered and then the power of the group can bring all of the individuals to a deeper experience.

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Nightblooming Jasmine in Winter (and sadhana)

I walked into the dining room yesterday and caught a hint of an exquisitely sweet fragrance.  I knew the paperwhite bulb I was forcing was only in bud.  What was it?  I went to look and saw that there was a single blossom on the nightblooming jasmine.  Inside, in winter, the single bloom emitted as much apparent fragrance as dozens outside.  I have had this plant for 12-13 years, since it was in a three inch growers’ pot.  The last time I repotted it was several years ago, but I faithfully bring it inside and out every winter/summer cycle, and feed and water it plentifully.  In response, it keeps getting fuller and offering blooms.  When it is outside, it can have dozens of blooms at once.  Sometimes I harvest the buds before they open and use them to scent green tea.  When I find open blossoms in the morning, I harvest them by the handful and put them on my alter or in the bedroom, where they will provide scent for a day or two.  Outside in the summer, while profuse, the blooms last only a single night.  Inside in winter (with an average 24-hour a day temperature of 61-62F), the blooms, though coming more occasionally and only a couple at a time, can last for three or four days.

I think the blossoms of yoga and meditation sadhana (practice) are not dissimilar to the way this plant blooms.  With steady care, they will always bloom, though sometimes more than others, sometimes with a different character, and sometimes with just growing periods with no apparent blossoms.  Sometimes, there will be a wild profusion of vision and offering, but those tend to be fleeting.  The memory of the intoxicating perfume, though, keeps us tending the practice, knowing it will come again.  During the time between the wilder experiences, the nectar still comes, and though in less dramatic ways, perhaps all the sweeter for coming in a time wh

en we are just practicing and tending and not expecting any great revelation.

jasmine

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“Beginner’s Mind” (and vikalpa samkara)

Vikalpa samskara is a term that describes the fundamental process of an ever refining yoga practice.  It encompasses both study of text (with a teacher) and experiential learning and practice.  With just experience, we may feel full unto ourselves, but we cannot explain the richness of our experience to others nor can we understand why.  If we just hear something from a teacher or see a picture or read about it in a book, however, no matter how book smart we are, we do not have the understanding that comes from personal experience.  It is by continuously combining and refining study and practice, that we can have a progressive deepening of true knowledge.

We often talk about “beginner’s mind” with respect to asana practice and meditation (and bringing the beauty of that state off of the mat).  We are invited to be receptive and open the way is an ideal beginner, who wants to learn, but does not yet know the topic.

What does “beginner’s mind” really mean, though, in the context of someone who is experienced?  I do not believe that it should mean discarding either book learning or discrimination built of experience.  What it suggests to me is to approach our practice and life with freshness, with open-mindedness, without being bound by preconceived notions.  I think this is the true process of vikalpa samskara. To be able to deepen our knowledge ever more deeply, we have to be willing to be open to shifts and changes in understanding.  Then “samskara” does not become a rut, a bad habit, the inevitable effect from a previous action, but the development of a deepening path for more refined understanding.

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The Space of No Words Required

The other day, after having worked, been on the phone, and continued in the social whirl of the holidays, the thought sprung up in my mind that I wanted to “go to the place of no words.”  It felt absolutely essential that I go into the space of deep meditation.  It was not so much for escape, as for rest.  For me, meditation can provide more of an opportunity for my mind to rest and renew than can sleep.  I rarely have dreamless sleep, and when I am very busy, my dreams get more so.  My meditations, like everyone’s, can be full of thoughts and words.  Thoughts will inevitably arise.  What is different in meditation, though, is that even when my mind is full of thoughts, I know I do not have to follow them.  I can just let them be — as if there were some radio or television program on that I just allow to be on, but to which I do not give my attention.  It is this rest from paying attention, from having to follow and direct thought that I wanted so that when I returned to active thought there would be more clarity, discrimination, and, where needed, detachment.

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The Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin (and Iccha Shakti)

I went today with my younger sister and brother-in-law to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.  Even with only a few of the warriors and photographs of the site, it is possible to imagine the sheer magnitude of the vision of thousands of these life-sized images living underground at the tomb of the Emperor.  I then thought of how vast must have been the Emperor’s yearning for power and the wildness of his vision of this extraordinary tomb for it to have become manifest.  Trying to expand my imagination to understand the reality of such ambition and creativity I thought of the principle of iccha shaktiIccha shakti is the very will of consciousness to be, to creatively manifest, to become diversified embodiment out the universal.  Ego and will are not themselves bad, but our very freedom allows us to choose a path that is out of alignment with the principles of joy and unity.

The Terracotta Warriors show the immense possibilities of exercising will.  In their very existence and the manner of their coming into being, they evidence both enormous cruelty and disdain for life and a wondrous manifestation of human creativity, collaboration, and effort.  One of the goals of yoga, in teaching us the possibilities of our own freedom and creativity, is to lead us to choose a life that is progressively better aligned with nature and with all of beings.  This is the path of one who practices, and I find it ever a challenge.

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Affirmation and Iccha Shakti (Pelvic Loop 2)

Instead of being able to walk into the office with the first thing scheduled a regular 10am conference call, this morning I have to be across town to appear on a panel discussion with the Director of my Office.  This means I have to leave the house at least an hour earlier than I usually do.  As I am heading into a more stressful workday than a typical one, skipping meditation and my morning walk would not be optimal.

I made sure I was out of bed the minute I got my wake-up call (currently Vedic chanting).  It was the will to practice (the embodied, stepped down version of iccha shakti, which is the ultimate will to being) that got me into meditation cushion.  It will be getting out of the house 20 minutes earlier that will give me the time to walk to a more distant bus or metro stop so that I feel invigorated and refreshed before the talk.

Sometimes we do not get into poses because we lack the will to do so.  Keeping pelvic loop engaged requires will.  Some people naturally love the feeling of keeping the buttocks engaged, the pelvic floor lifted, and the belly toned.  Others (myself included) have to develop a keen sense of will to keep the lower torso engaged, to keep with and enhance the intensity of sensation and concentrated action.  The more I practice, the more will I have to stay engaged because I have experienced that the challenge of staying intensely engaged is worth the lightness and freedom that ensues.  For me, this is true in my yoga and meditation practice and in nearly everything else (which includes, sometimes, having the will to rest and relax).

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A Reason to Get Out of Bed

Today, when I was trying to burrow more deeply under the covers when invoked to wake by the usual sounds, I thought about the way young children or pets are eager to get out of bed and to get you out of bed, even if it is for nothing more than to say good morning or eat breakfast.  The moment they open their eyes, the day looks promising.  At what point does bed (even if we have had enough sleep) come to seem more desirable than getting up?

I am not particularly eager to go to work today — things are rather stressful at this juncture on my project.  I do know, though, that sitting for meditation is always good.  I also know that on the days I practice fully in the morning, my day is more enjoyable no matter what happens.  Knowing that I have the time and space to practice if I wake timely is always a good reason to get out of bed and is what drew me out of the comfort of lying under the covers this morning.

Now that I am done with my practice, I can also enjoy what spectacular weather is on offer today.  An added bonus.

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What is Beauty? (and “Ankle Loop”)

When I was meditating this morning, the last lines of Keats’ ‘Ode on A Grecian Urn’ welled up in my thoughts: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  How odd, I thought, for this to appear, as if out of nowhere.  I have been contemplating this week on what it means to be refined, but not in the way of an aesthete.  Rather, as I have been concentrating on the Anusara alignment principle of “ankle loop,” I have been thinking about how deepening our practice with repeated exploration and study we are able to refine our understanding and the flow of energy within us so that we can be more connected to ourselves and each other.

As I understand the essential structure of the Anusara principles, the “loops” are really tertiary principles.  The primary principles are those of “attitude, alignment, and action,” which are the principles of how we practice.  The secondary principles are the fundamental physical and energetic principles — “opening to grace, muscular energy, inner/expanding spiral, outer/contracting spiral, organic energy.”  The loops serve to refine the secondary principles.  Ankle loop, for example, which starts at the base of the shin bone, travels down the back of the heel and then back up through the arch, energizes the foot, lifts the arch, supports our stance and helps us focus muscular energy.  When we are feeling challenged finding as much muscular energy in our feet and legs as would be optimal for a full expression of the pose, we can use ankle loop to refine our understanding and practice of muscular energy in the legs.  Keeping in mind the primary principles of practice, though, the refinements should also always lead us towards the heart and not just get us into details.  Getting more sophisticated and refined, likewise should not lead us to disdain for that which is unrefined.

Funny, then, that the aesthete’s call to beauty should arise in my meditation while I have been consciously thinking about refinement.  What does it mean to appreciate and study refinements, but still honor and delight in a novice’s full expression of “attitude, alignment, and action” as much as an impeccably aligned and skillful pose that does not reveal a yearning for spirit?  Beauty may be truth, and truth beauty, but what is “beauty?”

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