Walking has always been my preferred form of getting from one place to another; if time and distance require it, I intersperse a lift from bus, metro, or taxi on one end or in the middle of a walk. All I really wanted to do with my time off–I don’t have to go to the office or teach class until January 3rd–is to walk and practice and visit with friends and family and look at art and cook and read and study and eat and play with the cats and write and photograph and dance (an open-ended term) and maybe knit or draw. For me, walking is walking in itself; time to practice bhavana — deep contemplation; time to practice japa–repetition of mantra; opportunity to open the mind and senses to allow the flourishing of creative projects–mostly writing and photography; a way of going from one place to another for shopping, working, visiting, etc; and sometimes an activity to share with friends. And of course walking to get food is wonderful both for stimulating the appetite and for aiding digestion.
Yesterday, we were given 90 minutes of administrative leave. On leaving the office at 3:30, I walked west from my building to the last Thursday until spring of the Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market. I didn’t really need anything, but wanted to support the farmers who were braving the cold, so I bought a wild oyster to eat while I stood there and a bag of arugula and a few apples and pears. From there I walked back east, traversing the Capitol grounds to East Capitol Street and stopped in and browsed at Capitol Hill Books. It was turning dark when I walked east into Lincoln Park before turning north to go home.
In less than an hour, a good friend will arrive at the door in her walking shoes. We are going to head out on foot to the Mall to talk and to look at art and to share a meal in Penn Quarter or back on the Hill. Later in the day, I will walk along the bus route to Dupont or walk to the metro to go to a Christmas Eve potluck dinner at Friends Meeting of Washington.
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, I will celebrate Christmas in the manner of New York Jews (Chinese food and a movie). After walking through Lincoln Park and down Kentucky Avenue SE (where are some of the most beautiful trees in the neighborhood) to get a massage, I’ll walk to the U.S. Botanical Gardens to meet a friend I have known since third grade who is town with some of her NY friends for the holidays. We will probably walk up to Chinatown after that. Then I’ll go see a movie. Whether I walk or take the bus will depend on whether it is dark by the time the movie lets out.
On Boxing Day, I will go to Georgetown to volunteer at the Lantern Bookshop. I will walk some of the way and take the bus the rest of the way. The length of the walk will depend on the amount of time I spend making breakfast, caring for plants and cats and house, and writing. How much of the return trip ends up being on foot will depend on how many books I decide to take home from the Lantern. Sometimes I only get one or two.
How we collectively yearn for the light, though we seek it in different ways! For anyone who can tell me exactly where I took each of these photos, I will give a donation to charity in your name (total for all persons guessing correctly $250). Hint: All photos except the last, which was taken this morning, were taken on the solstice, and I did not go out of my way to take the photos.
Peak of the Eclipse with my Point and Shoot (and while out on the street, we also got to see a drug deal go down)
For finer photos, take a look on line at what photographers with big lenses and tripods (or maybe even telescopic cameras) have done. If I’d gone for a walk, I could have taken a picture of a big red moon over the dome. I’m just imagining that I did that (imagination sometimes being as good as the “real thing”), as I get ready to get back into bed under a cat for another hour and half of sleep before getting up to practice.
Tonight (technically very early tomorrow morning), will be the first full lunar eclipse on the winter solstice in 350 years. Part of me wants the sky to be clear so that I can witness this extraordinary event. The other part yearns for a cloudy forecast so I can stay warm in my bed at 3 a.m. without feeling that it would be my own inaction that led me to miss the eclipse.
I think we all feel this way about our practice sometimes. We want to have the great openings that come from a deep and steady practice, but it would be oh so nice if they came without effort. And an excuse not to practice that comes from somewhere out of our control makes it so much easier to accept not getting the benefits.
Unlike a cloud cover blocking our view of the moon, though, there aren’t many things that actually prevent practicing, although they might change what kind of practices we can do at a particular time in our lives.
This morning is the last Saturday in the foreseeable future when, even waking up before dawn, I have to cut short my morning practice to get on the metro to go teach. I have a strong memory of a relatively novice teacher telling me, before I started teaching, that she was going to stop teaching indefinitely because she needed more time for her own practice. At times over the years, when my other job was at its most demanding, I would think about that statement. Mostly, though, I have circumscribed other activities to fit in time for work, teaching, and a full practice.
It came time to admit, though, after nearly two years of steady study with 0Paul Muller-Ortega, which expanded my meditation practice from 25-30 minutes a day, in addition to asana practice and studying, to an hour a day plus additional practices and more studying, that there are not enough hours in a day for all I want to do.
I have been teaching on Saturday mornings for a number of years now. I love my Saturday morning students and have embraced the discipline of getting to class to teach.
The energies have shifted. I will still teach my noon class on Saturday and my weeknight classes, but I will have more time for a full practice and perhaps some extra garden time from this shift. I expect that this time to deeper into my own path will bring new energy and light to my teaching. I hope trust I will see my Saturday morning students at other classes and workshops, both when I am teaching and taking class together at Willow Street.
I saw this water main break while I was walking to work this morning. Several people walked past it without a glance–could they really not have noticed? It looked relatively recent because the puddle was still modest and had not started freezing. I paused, took out my mobile device and telephoned the mayor’s city-wide call center (in DC “311”–whoever answers will transfer you to the right place; in this instance, “water emergencies”). A couple of people who saw me calling looked at me as if it must have been my fault or else why would I be calling,
I thought about what it was that moved me to call. I saw harm to the environment (colossal waste of water while we are in a drought if the leak was allowed to continue without the earliest possible intervention) and potential danger to people from spreading icy water that will turn into ice late this afternoon. What is it, though, that leads one to take action to change or fix something that is technically not one’s business. What makes it part of one’s duty or responsibility when it is not directly related to one’s individual property or person? At some levels, it is just social contract. By choosing to live together in closely proximate society, it is in all of our self-interest to take care of shared areas, though the ubiquitously unshoveled sidewalks leads me to believe that most people haven’t been taught or grasped the principle that if we all contribute “our share” the whole place and our own lives would be far more enjoyable.
These thoughts led me to think of the application of the yamas and niyams in Patajali’s Yoga Sutras and in particular, the principle of brahmacharya, which is one of the five yamas on the first level of the eight-fold path of yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Brahmacharya literally means being like Brahma, but it is often translated as celibacy. Brahmacharya, from a less socio-morally result-driven interpretation, could also be thought of as aligning with the divine. Before we are enlightened, though, how do we know what will help us align with the divine? I once heard Professor Douglas Brooks say, in a lecture I attended a number of years ago, that the yamas and niyamas, the ethical precepts that lay a foundation for the practice of yoga are for the goal of the individual reaching enlightenment. I was a bit taken aback by the statement at the time. It sounded as though the yoga precept was that the purpose of ethical behavior was self-interest, and was not because ethics was summum bonum. I am less troubled by the idea after much contemplation. What is the harm of the goal enlightenment serving to motivate and shape our behavior? The methodology that includes the yamas and niyamas would have us engage in certain ways of living and practices in order that we can change our karma by shifting the patterns (samskaras) that take us away from spirit rather than lead us toward spirit.
To me, this means acting in away that not only does not harm (ahimsa–the first of the yamas), but seeks to expand the possibility of fostering the collective good, including the good of the earth. In this sense, to the extent that brahmacharya is a precursor to enlightenment–the merging of the individual self with the greater “Self” or spirit, acting from a placed of enlightened self-interest can be seen as helping us to find the true Self (as long as we are not attached to a particular good or outcome, but that is a whole other topic).