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Giant Grasshopper from Outer Space (and Maya)

The camera may not lie, but it certainly, like our own perception of things relative to that of others, have a distorted or unique perspective. One of the essential principles of the yoga world view is that of maya or illusion. In classical yoga, everything in the world is illusion; the only thing that is real is Atman–ultimate consciousness or god. In the tantric world view, the role of maya is more complicated. It essentially boils down to the idea that we are under an illusion when we think of the world and divinity as separate, and that this illusion of separation leads to a suffering of the individual spirit. Whether one hold with either of these world views or not, it is always true that thinking our limited perception is the only truth will likely lead to discord, misunderstanding, and strife.

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A Key to a Steady Home Practice (Letting Go of Preconceived Notions)

One of the things most likely to keep us from having a steady home practice (whether asana or meditation or both) is being unable to live up to our own expectations or preconceived notions of what is a proper or good home practice.  If we think that we need to do a certain amount for an established length of time or that we have to feel fit enough to do a particular range or poses than inevitably we will be challenged in practicing regularly in a busy life.

It is good to have a set time and place for our practice and to try and practice for a length of time that will foster the growth and balance in ourselves that we seek from our practice.  To stay steady, though, we have to be flexible with our expectations.  When we are sick or injured or exhausted, it will be appropriate to do restoratives or a gentle practice rather than a more vigorous one, even if we are accustomed to doing more advanced asana.  If we are pressed for time, even if we like to spend 45 minutes to an hour in the morning, perhaps we will do 25 minutes.  If we usually meditate in a special place in the house, but we have to leave for the airport at 6am, we can find a quiet moment to breathe for three minutes before we leave the house and then meditate on the plane.

This morning, for example, I knew that the only opportunity to have a walk would be early morning because the electricians are coming for more work towards installing the solar panels.  Having a walk on days I am working at home is critical for my ability to sit at my desk and concentrate.  Instead of doing my usual 45-60 minutes of practice, which gives me time for some asana and pranayama before sitting for meditation followed by savasana, I chose to sit for 25 minutes and then go for a walk.  I will practice more this evening when I am off work.

Once we give ourselves permission to be flexible about how much to practice and what, then it will be easier to stick to practicing.  I think it is far more important to practice several times a week than to have a practice that is thorough and “by the book” but is only done sporadically.  What are your challenges in developing a steady practice?  If you have a steady practice, what has helped you stick to it?  Have your expectations about what a practice should be interfered with your practicing?

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Shiva Nataraja

This murti of Nataraja has been in the window of a store near where I work for at least 20 years. I often walk past is and just as often stop to admire it. I have never really considered taking it home, lovely as it is. The murti is simply too large for any of my rooms. I have mentioned its needing a home to a couple of different friends, who were looking for large murtis of Nataraja, over the past few months, but none have followed through.

Today, when I was walking past it on a lunchtime walk to the bank, I noticed a “commercial property for rent” sign in the window. I will miss having this resplendent image in my work neighborhood, but not enough to buy it and bring it home. I decided, though, to take a photograph. I know the owner only very casually, but well enough to know he is retiring, rather than being driven out by rising rental costs or the recession. The neighborhood has gotten trendier since Nataraja first appeared in the window. Nataraja might be replaced with a delicious restaurant or a fabulous store purveying things that entice me. Or the space could stay vacant or be used for something that holds no interest for me whatsoever.

Nataraja–lord of the dance of concealment and revelation, of dissolution and manifestation–is dancing here. The murti will be sold or transported away when the shop closes and will physically be gone.

I will have my memories of the image, a photograph I took with my BlackBerry, and will have had a sweet opportunity to observe the lord of the dance dancing away his own image.

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Cloud on Cloud

At first glance, it might appear that there is just one fluffy white cloud in the sky. A more careful look shows one strangely sunlit cloud amidst a skyful of thunderously gray clouds. How often is what we think we see or experience not reflective of what is actually there?

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Outrageous Light (and Sadhana)

I just spent a week looking at the celestial realms — inner and outer.  Fifty of us spent a week meditating and studying with Paul Muller-Ortega at a retreat center in Sedona.  It might seem from these pictures that there was not a moment when we weren’t exclaiming in awe over magnificent visions.  The truth is that many times of the day, the sky was not spectacular, but I was always looking and always had my camera in my pocket, whether the sky was dull or flat when I left my room or whether it was engaged in some outrageous display of light.  The photographs below are in chronological order to show the pulsation of night and day, the progression of the moon from almost full to full, the shift in mood from day to day.  But, the images show a completely edited view.  There were the views for which I did not take out my camera at all.  Those were the majority, but I was still looking.  There were the views I photographed, but deleted from the camera memory, choosing not even to save them.  There are the photographs that I downloaded onto my computer, but did not even enlarge to get a better view.  There are photographs I enlarged, but decided not to edit.  Then there were the photographs I chose to edit by making decisions about cropping, brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation.  The photos below are a subset of the last group.

If I were doing a show where I printed and framed the work, I would have worked from at least ten times as many images and would have done multiple prints of each image before choosing what to display.  In this persistency and discrimination, photography teaches much about meditation practice.  To show what is seen in a way that shifts the soul of the viewer, the photographer has to look over and over again.  For example, Robert Frank took over 20,000 images for “The Americans.”

Anyone (especially these days with the technology available) can take an extraordinary picture or two if in the right place at the right time with the camera.  But to have a body of work takes consistent devotion, work, and presence.  So too, with our meditation practice.  Some days exquisite visions arise.  Sometimes we are pulsing with extraordinary energy that fills us with a sense of the very fullness of being.  Other times, old issues or the to do list or even feeling trapped by sitting still is what comes.  If we sit consistently over a long period of time, though, we will witness — just as the camera did — the extraordinary.  We will know from being consistent that it is our very consistency that reveals bliss.

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