Art and Culture

Happy “Independence” Day

I received a half dozen emails over the past week from various sources inviting me to think about what Independence Day, and correlatively, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, mean to me? What does the Bill of Rights mean to a progressive, feminist, environmentalist (contrasted, for example, with someone whose life passion is to prove that true freedom is the right to carry a gun)?

When was the last time you thought about the Bill of Rights?  What does it mean to you?  Does it have a different meaning for you as an individual and you than as part of a collective?

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Darshan or Puja?

The other day I was telling one of my regulars that I’d described the group house practice as starting with receiving darshan — receiving sacred knowledge, sitting in the presence of the divine embodied in a great being — from Uma and Sully, who wait downstairs for the students to arrive and expect a petting before everyone goes upstairs to practice.

” Is it darshan or puja [performance of ritual worship]?” my student asked.  The two are intertwined.  We naturally offer our gratitude and worship for those in whom we recognize the divine and from whom we learn to know the sacred.

What would our lives be like if we treated all our encounters and relationships as both darshan and puja, if we came to each person and being open to receiving a glimpse of the divine and the knowledge the divine imparts and approached each encounter as an opportunity to make puja, to formally act with reverence?  The cats certainly expect it.

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IRS (and Opening to Grace)

It is a gloriously cool and breezy morning of the type that is common for New England and very rare for DC, especially heading into Independence Day weekend. I had a longer and earlier walk than I usually do. I have an early morning meeting at the Internal Revenue Service.

As I walked down Constitution Avenue past the museums and federal buildings, I wondered how many of the hundreds of millions of people whose lives are impacted by the IRS ever think of it as a building with real, live human beings working inside of it.

It can be tremendously difficult to see a broader perspective when faced with things that cause us burden, obligation, or challenge. One of the key reasons to practice yoga, and in Anusara yoga to practice (it is indeed a practice we have to work on) opening to grace, is to recognize our humanity and the light in all things so that life feels more beautiful even when we are struggling.

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Shiva Lingam?

This fountain is at the main entrance (not on the Mall, but around the corner) to the Department of Labor. It is only on every once and a while, and I do not usually use this entrance, so the fountain is not a main part of my relationship to the building.

One day, a couple of years ago, when I was sitting quietly near the fountain to get some soothing energy from the sound of the water and being outside, I thought about how much it resembled a shiva lingam. Was I seeing symbols that were not intended? Was the artist pulling one over on the government by submitting a design that carried symbolism that, in 1974, would not have been acceptable to many in charge? Was the symbolism there and understood when the design was permitted to be implemented? Do the answers to any of those questions matter with the fountain and all its imagery present in all its effusion?

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Ecstatic Serenity

When I was eight or nine, a teacher asked everyone in my class to say what they wanted to be when they grew up.  The other children named the various jobs or professions that appealed to them at the time.  I responded that I wanted to be independently wealthy.  At that age, I was expressing something I already knew from family issues.  Though I did not have the words for it or a clear understanding, what I was saying was not just false precocity.  I knew at a basic level what is taught in yoga:  I would need enough material support (ardha) to follow my heart in love (kama) and work (dharma); then my life could be free (moksha).

When I was 22 and visiting my friend Dan, he asked me what I really wanted to do with my life.  We had just graduated from college.  Dan was working for a sculptor who was a professor in the art department; I had just moved back to New York, had just gotten over a failed attempt to serve as an office manager for an off-off Broadway theater, was in a place of deep emotional and financial struggle, and was trying to determine what work and corresponding further education I wanted.  “I want to be content,” I said.  “That’s too passive,” he replied.  “No, that’s not what I mean,” I tried to explain.  “For me being content being satisfied and engaged with my work and life, but still working hard and having goals.  It’s not just hanging out.”  I had all sorts of things that I found interesting and possibilities for a life path, but I didn’t have one specific career or life plan that I was certain would be more fulfilling than any of the others.  They just would have satisfied me in different ways.  Because of the dilemma of too many choices, I wanted to be able happy with whatever choice I made, even if it seemed like a compromise.  I was conscious that once I picked, because of the inherent limitations of time and space, that I would either have to be content with my choice or be unhappy.  I have since learned to think of contentment (samtosha), which is one of the niyamas of the path of yoga expounded by Patanjali, as a practice rather than a goal (and it is a very important and continuing practice for me).  Contentment is not an end, as I had thought when I was 22; it is just one part of the path to a goal of living liberated (jivanmukti), experiencing self as spirit in all that one does.

On a recent telephone seminar, Paul Muller-Ortega, my meditation and philosophy teacher, in the midst of a broad dialogue regarding various studies and practices, spoke a little of ecstatic serenity.  Memories of the discussions I had had long ago about what I wanted welled up in the forefront of my thoughts.  In thinking about what is my intention now, especially with regard to my practice (sadhana), I witnessed my previously stated intentions as just stages on the path to this discovery.  As soon as I heard Paul say the phrase, I thought, “that’s what I want; I want to be ecstatically serene.”   I seek to be always in some part of my conscious being still and peaceful, while simultaneously being passionately engaged in what life brings to me and I bring to life.

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99 Cent Dreams (and Sadhana)

What I love about this sign is that actually to get anything on offer costs more than your dreams, albeit here only a penny or more.  Really, I think, dreaming should be free (except for the time it takes us from doing other things).  But actually to discover our dreams, to embody them, to find the real, that takes a steady commitment of time and energy.

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What’s Up with the Heavens?

I am no astrologer, but I tend to be sensitive to the subtle energies. After having a week of wild shifts, things not functioning, and sequences not behaving in their usual manner, I resorted to asking a question of my friends on Facebook. Is Mercury in retrograde again, I asked, knowing from the general word I hear that it was not. But it felt like that only more so. This generated a whole dialogue.  My friends commiserated and a couple educated me and gave me some reading material.  I read it, and thought, “yes, that’s what seems to be happening.”

Have you been noticing any especially wild energetic occurrences for you?

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The Parable of the Guru, the Disciple, and the Mad Elephant

It is a constant dialogue that arises for me with others in my various communities about the place of political discussion in a spiritual community.  Is there a place for examining the state of the world, calling for action, and trying to change things when we believe (or are seeking to understand) everything as being at its essence infused with the light?  I just happened to read this parable today, after being advised that spiritual and political dialogue have no place being conjoined (today, it was about the budget and the war; it could just as easily have been about how to address from a place of spirit the complexities of how to shift and respond to the Gulf oil spill):

“RAMAKRISHNA: … [W]ater remains water, whether it stands still or breaks into waves.  Divine Reality remains exactly the same when one is silent and one speaks.  Relax your mind a moment and consider this parable.  A guru teaches his disciple that every being and event is simply God.  The ardent disciple, while walking home meditating on this truth, encounters a mad elephant.  The elephant-driver, who has completely lost control of the animal, shouts to all who are in the way, warning them to run.  But the stubborn disciple refuses to deviate from his path.  He continues his contemplative exercise, regarding himself as God and the elephant as God.  The crazed beast picks up this foolish man with its trunk and dashes him to the earth.  The guru, famous for his healing powers, is called to revive the unconscious victim.  After certain prayers are recited and holy  water is sprinkled, the young man regains consciousness.  He is surprised to find his guru gazing at him.  When asked why he did not run from such evident danger, he replies:  ‘Why should I run?  My guru, you teach that all beings and events are God.  I have implicit faith in your inspired words.’  The venerable master then addresses his immature disciple:  ‘But my child, why did you fail to heed the inspired words of the elephant-driver, who is also God?'”

Lex Hixon, Great Swan:  Meetings with Ramakrishna (Shambala Publications 1992)

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