Art and Culture

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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Robber Barons v. Philanthropists (a memory triggered by reading the 1994 New Yorker article on SYDA Yoga)

When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher, Mr. B,  assigned to the class engaging in a debate as to whether Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon were philanthropists or robber barons.  We were put in teams and told which side we had to argue.  When we were given the assignment, I went to Mr. B privately and said it was not possible to argue one side or the other.  These men were only able to be philanthropists at their level of giving because of the money they had made as robber barons.  My teacher said that was an unacceptable position.  I was to argue the position I was assigned, I was wrong that it was not an either or debate.  I should understand that what was critical to this debate was which aspect was the elemental identifying characteristic.

Where I think was our real difference of opinion was that Mr. B thought that one could/should not recognize both enormous evil and enormous good in the same person.  If one was evil, then the good was essentially irrelevant.  If one had done tremendous good, then it should not matter if there was bad along the way.  I tend to see the whole.  I take the good where I find it (for example, I have found great truth and utility in the writings of Swamis Muktananda and Chidvilasananda although I would not recognize either as my “guru”), but do not expect the “bad” to be absent or non-coexistent with the “good” and tend to be outspoken in my recognition of both.  I still sometimes get in trouble for this.

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6:50am flight from BWI (I’ll be off of the computer until Monday)

I am lucky to have a non-stop.  The storm is supposed to have passed through.  So I can enjoy myself know matter what travel brings, I pack up a variety of reading materials — philosophy, handouts for the workshop, and fiction.  I switched my ankle warmers to bamboo knitting needles so I could get through security and knit (the ankle warmers are on size 2 needles, so it is taking me as long as a sweater).  I have my journal and a pen.  Best, I am traveling with two friends (all different flights, but no one waiting alone in the airport) with whom to visit, who are going to the same retreat.  Takes the edge off of the early wake up time.  Starts the retreat when I leave the door instead of when I arrive at the retreat center.

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Spirituality and Politics Do Mix (but maybe not at the Thanksgiving meal)

Yesterday I received a rather negative email in response to my posting a suggestion on a list serve connected to a religious organization that people write to their elected officials about the health care bill pending in the Senate.  I sent the email because my contribution to this group is to serve as the designated liaison between a lobbying group that was established by the religious organization and the religious organization.  Once of month or so, I highlight issues that are the focus of the lobbying groups email campaigns.  The email took me to task for thinking that politics has any place in connection with spiritual practice and therefore the on-line discussion should never be about politics.  The person assured me that our political views were different, although I did not actually suggest what people should write; I only said that they should write.  I have been pondering this deeply as it is a topic I have thought about, taught about, and wrestled with deeply over the years, especially during the Presidential elections.

As one who believes that body, mind, and community are inseparable from spirit, I am unable to separate political action from spiritual action.  I believe that I have a duty to be knowledgeable about the issues challenging society as a whole, to take action within the framework of society to seek the embodiment of my spiritual beliefs (grossly oversimplified, that the rules, commitments, and support networks of society should recognize the light of all beings — human and not — and foster the seeking of that light by all), and to challenge the very framework of the discussion and rules when they obscure the light and its recognition.

One of the reasons for discussion is to explore, to learn, to be challenged, to expand both knowledge and understanding.  That can be a hard process.  I certainly do not expect people to agree with each other at all times, but that is not the point of discussion. While I think this sort of discussion perfectly appropriate in the context of a spiritual discussion, it might be less welcome where what is being sought is an immediate sense of peace and harmony in the connection of a particular practice.  For example, if it is known that family and friends have strong disagreements about “political” issues, it might be disagreeable for digestion and the day to bring up the issues at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

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“Holiday Madness” (and the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali)

When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness”  this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits.  Yikes!  Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel.  Madness in such a situation is a choice.  We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom.  It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.

The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.

Yamas:

Ahimsa–non-harming.  Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.

Satya — truthfulness.  Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.

Asteya — non-stealing.  Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).

Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma).  Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.

Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness.  Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.

Niyamas

Sauca — cleanliness, purity.  Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.

Samtosha — contentment.  Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have.  Contentment is a practice.

Tapas — fire, ardor.  Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.

Svadyaya — study of text, self-study.  Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.

Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit.  Let go a little.  Surrender to a sense of fullness.  Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words:  “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.

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At Your Request (Grown Up Cranberry Sauce)

I was first taught how to make cranberry sauce in 3rd or 4th grade.  We made the recipe off of the back of the bag, which recipe I am fairly certain is still on the bag of “conventionally grown” cranberries.  The recipe is:  One bag cranberries + one cup water + one cup sugar.  Bring all ingredients to a boil.  Maintaining a vigorous simmer, stir continuously until most of the cranberries have popped and the liquid has thickened.  Allow to cool.  OK to make in advance; store in refrigerator.  From that time on, we did not eat cranberry sauce from a can, which was a big deal in the late 60s, early 70s.

This year’s variation is organic and uses some local ingredients.  Three generous cups (this is about the same as the typical bag of cranberries) of cranberries + one cup apple cider + 1/2 cup sucanat + a splash of cognac or brandy.  Maintaining a vigorous simmer, stir continuously until most of the cranberries have popped and the liquid has thickened.  Allow to cool.  Optional:  add another splash of cognac while cooling.  OK to make in advance; store in refrigerator.

Variations:  (1) use pomegranate juice instead of cider; include a vanilla bean and a sliver of lemon rind while cooking.  (2) replace cognac or brandy with Calvados and include a cinnamon stick while cooking. (3) replace the cider with orange juice, the cognac with triple sec, and use turbinado sugar instead of sucanat.  The variations are many.  Just have the types of fruit, flavorings (spices and liquor) meld with eachother, and make sure there is enough sugar to gel the sauce.

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