Art and Culture

Devil in the Details (and jnanam bandaha)

The second sutra of the Siva Sutras is “jnanam bandhaha” (knowledge is bondage).  In the context of the Siva Sutras, this tells us that getting caught in trying to acquire knowledge of the manifest world and all of its infinite minutiae can lead us away from a sense of connection to a universal spirit.

We have the phrase in the work place that the “devil is in the details” both because getting caught up in the details can take us away of accomplishing a desired result and because the details need to be worked out to realize the result, and the details (not the theory) are the hard part.  At the societal level, for example, working out the details of a health care bill and how it will actually function seems to be preventing us, as a society, from offering health care to all.  On our yoga mats, we need to understand the details of physical alignment so that the practice strengthens and optimizes our health, rather than taking us physically and energetically out of alignment, but we do not want concentration on the details to take us away from heart and spirit.

The “devil may be in the details” but we cannot stop the details from being part of our existence.  As much as we need not to get so bogged down in the details that we have discord, distrust, unhappiness, and ineffectiveness, we also need to cultivate knowledge of the details.  As beings embodied in space and time in the manifest world, we need to cultivate knowledge so that we can recognize when the details are not in optimal alignment, so that we have sufficient knowledge, strength, intuition, and subtlety to be able to shift the details so that they lead towards good for ourselves individually and collectively.

What a devilish conundrum.

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Praying Mantis (and pausing to make offering)

This morning as I approached my office, I noticed in the middle of a wide patch of sidewalk that is flanked by the street on one side and a brick building on the other, with no tree boxes or other plantings for several yards in any direction, a praying mantis stranded in the middle.  I wondered how it had gotten there and worried that it would not survive if it was just stuck in a sea of concrete.

I crouched and put out my finger.  The praying mantis crawled on to my hand.  I did not have time to go all the way back to the park next to the Capitol or to the nearest “island” with trees, but I took it to the nearest tree box, certain that there would be enough mosquitoes for it to eat well.  When I placed my hand next to the bush in the tree box and helped the praying mantis move onto the greenery, it first came back onto my hand again.  So I talked to it (as if it understood English) and encouraged it to get onto a branch (yes, I was getting some strange looks from passers by at this point).  I watched as the praying mantis eventually turned around and started moving into the denser foliage.

With this act, did I make anything in the world better except give myself the joy of interacting with a wonderful being?  Does it matter?

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Global Mala Day Today

I was not able to go to the Washington, DC event for Global Mala Day because I am scheduled to do my regular volunteer work.  I did, however, include the focus of this call for a unified, intentional offering in my morning meditation and asana practice.

Do join in, remembering to celebrate yourself as part of the community however and whatever your offering.  Be mindful of your body and energy as you choose a practice to be sure that the repetition of 108 will serve rather than deplete.

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Acting, Letting Go (and a possible reference for rose garden)

A co-worker of mine said today that he hated that everything we do gets criticized by someone.  During part of the conversation, he also mentioned that once something written was made public and then questioned, an alternative meaning to the one meant (the alternative then necessitating clarification) often happens.

Writing, art, and other expressions do seem to have a life of their own.  We need to do our best to be clear and then just go with the flow as what we say gets interpreted and passed on.  An example, for me, was that until the change in administration, no one thought to ask me whether the name “rose garden” yoga had anything to do with Washington, DC.  After the shift in January, a few people noticed how DC it could be and asked if my intent was to refer to the White House Rose Garden.

It was not my original intent to have that be one of the many things that came to mind when I chose the name, but I it works well enough if people think of the Rose Garden as one of the many possible referrents.

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Negation, Affirmation (and a new yard sign)

I went to a delightful brunch yesterday hosted by friend and neighbor K, who lives on the other side of the Hill.  A number of the guests turned out to live within a couple of blocks of me on the Northeast side.  In describing my house to those who lived farther from the Capitol than I (knowing my block was part of their usual walking path), I said, “mine is the one with the ‘War is not the answer‘” yard sign.  “Oh yes, I know which one it is,” was the uniform response.

K said she did not have the yard sign because she did not want a negative message in her front yard.  It served its purpose for a time, she claimed, but she wanted a more positive message.  I replied that if the sign said “peace is the answer” it would not have the same p0litical meaning.  People would just think, “yes, peace is nice, but whatever,” and keep walking.  We all agreed that was likely, but I left still thinking about the conversation.

One of the reasons K gave for wishing to turn the sign on its head, was she did not want something renunciatory, and she referenced the principle of “negation” in Buddhism.  I knew what she meant.  Advaita vedanta has a phrase, “neti, neti” or “not this, not this” which means extinguishment of the individual self and a life of the senses and mind to unite with the ultimate Spirit.  The Buddhist “nirvana”  literally means “void.”  I did not engage the conversation in such a way as to bring it to tantra lest I go too far in the direction of yoga geekiness, but the conversation certainly led me to think in that direction.  Tantra seeks to do exactly what K was seeking:  to turn the phrase, “not this, not this” into an embrace that will reveal truth and light by means of affirmation rather than negation.

Interestingly, though, I think a possible inspiration for K’s yard sign dilemma could come from from Buddhism:  metta meditation (note:  I have been offered this meditation in various settings and have practiced it many times, but it is not my regular meditation practice, so I hope I am not misinterpreting or mischaracterizing it here).  The theory behind metta meditation is to distance one from anger to cultivate calm.  In this creation of calm comes a general demeanor of loving kindness and compassion.  I personally become calmer by embracing and aligning with all my emotions, including grief and anger, but still find the languaging of the metta practice beautifully inspiring.

In that spirit, I suggest as a possible rewording of the yard sign that still serves the political message, the call to serve:   “may all beings be free from war.”

Or maybe FCNL should make a sign with the query:  “what do I do in my life to remove the causes of war?” Is that still a negative, if we are calling for positive actions to remove causes?

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9-11 (and personal choice)

Secretary Hilda Solis sent workers at the Department of Labor an email invitation yesterday to do some volunteer activity today to honor those who lost their lives in the tragedy of 9-11.  She did not remind us of terror or enmity or need for war.

It resonated with what my teacher John Friend, who often discusses the need to serve as part of our practice, counsels in times of distress.  He admits that it is not, as the t-shirt would have it, “all good.”  We can choose, though, how to respond to violence, to suffering, to meanness, to evil.  We can, he urges, seek to respond from “the highest.”  We personally have the choice to try to bring light when we encounter darkness.

I do not always succeed, particularly with the small things, but I continue to try, and I deeply appreciate all the teachings and reminders I get.

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Taking Woodstock (and spanda)

Kashmir shaivism, using the term spanda, talks of the ultimate pulsation of life itself, all being a vibration, everything a play of opposites, a constant dance of concealment and revelation.

Yesterday I when I went to see Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, I thought about about what a dance of moments, desires, emotions, motivations, opportunities, and relationships made Woodstock the phenomenon it became.

I remembered when I was a teenager asking my mother why we had not gone; I had some idea that good family friends had made the trek from Long Island.  She said it did not seem sensible to bring three girls under 10.  I am sure that if we had gone, my memories would have been of being dirty, hungry, tired, wet, and overwhelmed.  Instead, I grew up with the instant nostalgia of someone who was just a few years too young to make it up there on my own.  In this contemplation, I marveled nearly as much at the play of spanda in my own life as in the world around me.

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Breitenbush Retreat (and bringing joy back home)

rainbowI returned home last night from eight days away, five of which were truly on retreat — just meditating, bathing in hot springs, hiking, eating well, practicing yoga, and celebrating with dance and music.  To see pictures, click here.

The focus of the week was honoring the past and engaging in the present so as best to serve the future.

We left Breitenbush Hot Springs mid-afternoon on Thursday.  Rather than take a red eye, I stayed Thursday night at an airport hotel and took an early morning flight home on Friday.  I woke early Friday morning and rested in meditation to ease the shock of going from an off-the-grid community in the forest to an airport hotel.  This rainbow glowed over the airport while I was waiting for the hotel shuttle to take me there for my flight.

The rainbow reminded me to carry the deep joy of the retreat home with me.

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