Art and Culture

Novelization of the Mahabharata

I found used a novelization of the Mahabharata a couple of weeks ago, which I am now reading.  I’ve read other versions put into English prose, all of which have some stamp of the presenter (author?).  The version I am reading brings to the fore that those who are deserving of the love of people and who are blessed by the divine are physically beautiful, wealthy, and possess great military prowess.  Righteousness includes unquestionably obeying the orders of rulers and parents and accepting your station in life as the determination of God.

The book jacket proclaims the Mahabharata “the greatest spiritual epic of all time.”  I agree that it is a great epic and a rather amazing one.  Some of the precepts, like all presented in great writings that have lasted over the centuries are worthy of contemplation for one’s own life (I am all for recognizing guests as divine visitors and treating them with due regard, for example), as well as for understanding the society in which the work was created.  But any work that mostly reflects the societal mores of the time in which it was written and is designed to perpetuate the powers that be is perhaps best read as fiction.  Saying this does not mean I do not recognize the good of some of the teachings interwoven into the fairy tales, but rather that I think it must also be understood in the confines of its context, lest we perpetuate societal evils that no longer serve.  (This, of course, has Western parallels.)

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Taking a Better Look

When I was walking to work yesterday, I was delighting in watching a pair of red-headed finches cavorting at the very top of a newly blooming cherry tree just outside the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s building, which is across the street from the Hart Senate building.  An impeccably suited man in a suit who was walking towards the Hart building said to me, “it is wonderful to see everything starting to bloom, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is indeed,” I replied, and pointed out the finches.

“I hadn’t noticed them; good eye,” the man said, “look, they’re eating the blossoms.”  The finches were tearing blossoms off the tree and singing with great enthusiasm.

“You can see them even better from the other side of the tree, because the sun is lighting them up instead of shadowing them,” I added.

“I’ll have to go back and take a look,” he said and walked back to the other side of the tree to watch the birds as I headed on to work, with my day brightened by this interchange.

I often get caught looking at the birds or the trees or the sky when walking around town.  When there is an opening, I talk to others about what I am seeing to invite them to pause and delight along with me.  It is a rare day, though, to hear from someone who is clearly busy and has important work to say, “I’ll have to take a better look.”  It is so important to me, and for all of us, to pause and wonder, to remember and recognize the beauty as we go about our day.

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Great Inspiration

Saw this as an email signature from an email on a list serve I follow and had to share:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Yoga for Gardeners (a little more detail and a request for questions)

At the Yoga for Gardeners Workshop, I will be ordering the workshop into (1) yoga to prepare for a session in the garden; (2) yoga pauses to do intermittently while gardening; and (3) yoga post-gardening.  I’m off to enjoy the bright sunny day, to volunteer at The Lantern, and to take care of a neighbor’s cat, but I’m really enjoying getting ready for the workshop.

Feel free to send me question, as a comment to this post, and I will do my best to incorporate what you want to know into the workshop and/or the blog.

Please remember that I will be giving a portion of my profits to support the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum.  Even if you cannot come next Saturday, do please consider supporting one of your local, teaching gardens.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Grown-up? (and Householder Yoga)

My friend Dan posted a blog entry earlier this week talking about getting distracted by a rainbow.  He wrote that he was sure that other “grownups” did not get distracted by the rainbow. As I was observing the way people were commuting this afternoon, grimly looking down, hurrying along, texting and phoning, and apparently completely disconnected to the beauty around them, I thought of Dan’s blog.  I thought not seeing the sky or turning away from its beauty is not being fully “grown up.”

Part of my friendship with you, Dan, is sharing the wonder of looking at rainbows.  It is the “distraction” perhaps that is the invitation, at least in my own practice, for more skill.  In seeking to live the life of a “householder yogin,” I am trying to be the grownup who always sees the rainbow and takes time to see it, but has the skill to illuminate even the most mundane of daily activities with the wonder of seeing the rainbow.

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Bulk Trash

I am working from home today or I would have missed the arrival of not one, but two very large bulk trash hauling trucks pulling up on the block.  For the past two hours, a team of workers have been loading furniture so decrepit that it would be impossible to give away on Freecycle or to have the Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries take away and resell.  There have been dozens of huge plastic trash bags and who knows what else (I am only watching intermittently as work presses on) going into the trucks.

When I first moved in to my house 20 years ago December, Mrs. J was already elderly — probably in her mid to late 70s) and her son, who lived with her was not a young man.  I tried being polite when I first moved in, but there was no receptivity even to ordinary saying hello and good day.  The son (I had originally thought husband by his looks; he was gray, heavy, and unhealthy), used to sit on the porch at night and smoke cheap cigars that stank so much I needed to keep my front windows closed.  After he died, only a few years after I had moved in, Mrs. J, started having even more difficulty connecting and making sense and was progressively more hostile in her interchanges with me.  She did still go to church and people from the church would visit, unfortunately often to take advantage of her.  A grand daughter also would stop by on very rare occasions in recent years (more it seemed to check out the property then to take care of her grandmother).  As the years went by, the house has fallen into serious disrepair to the point that it, being attached to mine, has started impacting my house as well.

Every once and a while, Mrs. J would ask me for help.  She was afraid of the young men who lived next door (who appeared based on both things I have witnessed, circumstantial evidence, and interrelationship with law enforcement authorities to be consistently involved with drugs, guns, and a variety of criminal activities).  But that family had lived next door to her for years, and she did not know how to lock her door to them.  She asked me what to do, but I did not really have an answer that would serve.  Over the years she occasionally would come out and yell at me about the rats in her yard, even though she had open garbage cans stored on the side of her house.  I did not disabuse her; what would have been the point, but I did regularly treat for rats in a way that would take care of both of our yards.  A couple of years ago, when she had gotten truly frail, she came outside one day when I was working in the garden and complained to me that a homeless person she had met at church brought bed bugs into her house.  I found someone from the church and asked the church to find someone to treat for the bedbugs.  It appeared that the matter was resolved, because she did not bring it up again.  Over a year ago, Mrs. J was hit by a bus and sustained a minor fracture to an arm.  It was discovered, though, that she was incapable of taking care of herself, and she never came back.

Now the bulk trash trucks are here.  What would it be like to have lived for decades with things that others see only as trash?  To have had (along with whatever good) so much fear, bitterness, and frustration for that time?  What will happen to the house now that the trash and the memories are being cleared out?  To some extent we choose how we will live.  The house itself is in structure almost identical to mine and in the same wonderful location just blocks from the US Capitol.  Although the contents do not seem able to be salvaged, will someone treat the house as a treasure?  Witnessing the trash hauling makes me want to be ever more mindful of what I consume (materially and energetically), what I hold on to, and what I release and send out.

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“Stabilize the Periphery; Move from the Core” (and blogging)

For the past week, I have been contemplating, practicing with, and teaching the axiomatic sequenced alignment principle of Anusara yoga “stabilize the periphery; move from the core.”  It means exactly what it says.  We stabilize the outer edges of the pose (feet, hands, head) and move from our core to get into the full expression of the pose.  For example, have you noticed how often the yoga teacher will have you put your hand on your hip when you are first in a standing pose and working the alignment of the foundation and core body?  Only when the central alignment has been reached, do you extend the arm and hand to complete the full form of the pose.  The reason Anusara teachers are taught to use this technique is that it stabilizes the periphery, so that the students can concentrate on the major alignment and then move from the core.

Off the mat, this principle means to me that we start with our overall goals and needs and the essential principle of trying to move from and respond in the highest before getting distracted by the details of whatever is going on.  As I contemplated and taught the principle this week, I found myself thinking and talking about lots of different examples on and off the mat.  The central idea was there, and then as the classes progressed, depending on the level and the students, I wove in illustrative examples that made sense with what was happening in the classes.

I found myself struggling, though, to write about this principle.  I had too many different things I wanted to explain about how it helps in yoga asana both as an important therapeutic practice and as a way to expand one’s core abilities.  A plethora of examples of how it works off the mat came to mind.  To write coherently when one has limited space/attention span of reader/number of words, one has to first stop getting into the details and start with the central theme.  Then it is necessary to flesh out the central theme with very select details that enhance the understanding of the central premise.  The writer chooses not to scatter the central theme into so many details that the central point is obscured or lost in the details.  My struggle to write about this principle served then as a perfect example to myself about the very principle about which I was choosing to write.  I needed to “stabilize” the details, so that I could express coherently the core principle.

Do you have good examples of how applying this principle has helped you on or off the mat?

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Sunchokes (and Anusara “first principle”) (a bit out of date, but not really)

I realize that this blog entry was in my drafts page; I never hit the publish button.  As I ponder the few intervening weeks of snow (in some ways it feels as if time just stopped, except for the work that piled up and the lengthening of the light of day), I treat this as a reminder to myself to come back to “first principle” to respond with the most light — even in this unusually harsh winter:

On my way to Friends Meeting yesterday, I stopped at the Dupont Circle Fresh Farm Market yesterday to buy whatever was fresh.  When I got in line with a daikon radish, a bunch of turnips, and a couple of leeks, I noticed the way the woman in front of me in line was holding her selection:  sunchokes.  Her hands were held as if she had just received prasad — the offering sometimes made after a puja so that the fruits of worship may actually be tasted and injested, incorporated with our senses and our whole bodies into our being.  “Your hands and those sunchokes are so beautiful,” I said, “may I take a picture and use it for my blog?”  “Sure,” she replied, “and shifted her hands a little so that it would be easier for me to frame the picture.”  We talked while we waited in line about potential ways to cook sunchokes and how happy we were that the farmers (these particular farmers’ must be incredibly good at working with cold frames) were out all year.

Seeing this offering of the earth itself, the farmers who tended the earth and grew the vegetables, the workers who made and repaired the vehicles that enabled the food to be brought into the city, the city and neighborhood for allowing the market to block off a street, the shoppers for supporting it, brought me back to my contemplations this week of what “first principle” means to me.  I mentioned in an earlier post that my focus for winter classes would be Anusara sequencing principles.  No matter what else we are doing or focusing on, it always starts with “first principle.”  The “first principle” is what we call in Anusara “opening to grace.”  For me, a large part of “opening to grace” is a recognition that all the nourishment we receive is a gift.  When we practice such a recognition, then we practice receptivity, openness, gratitude, courtesy, respect, delicacy, and reciprocal desire to serve and make offering.  How could one mindfully receive nourishment such as this fresh, beautiful food on a bitterly cold winter day, and not want to celebrate it by giving thanks, nurturing the earth, supporting the farmers and the market, learning how to prepare it as tasty and healthful as possible, and share it and other things with those around us?

gift

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