My trip to the Anusara Grand Gathering was some loop of a trip, spiraling and pulsing between urban and rural, quiet time and enthusiastic gathering, old places and new scenery. Last Saturday, I took a morning train to Manhattan, where I went to the Rubin Museum–one of my favorite spaces in the City, walked to see the Ai Weiwei sculptures in front of the Plaza, and ate good food. On Sunday morning, I got back on the train, this time heading north to Saratoga Springs. Just north of Croton-on-Hudson, I saw soaring over the river a raptor with an enormous wing span, white head, and brown body and wings — most likely a bald eagle.
My friend Suzanne picked me up at the Amtrak Station in Saratoga Springs. We went back to her house for lunch. Before driving to Stratton Mountain for the Anusara Grand Gathering, she showed me her studio, which is a wonderful space; I look forward to visiting again. And then we were in Vermont with John Friend, the scholars, the certified teachers leading the break out sessions and assisting, the musicians, the outdoor art, and a few hundred committed yogis. (See previous four posts for my thoughts o the Grand Gathering).
On Wednesday afternoon, I rode back to New York with a fellow yogi and teacher I have long admired. I decided on pure impulse, since we were getting to the City a couple of hours early, to visit my parents. We were able to spend the evening and morning talking, and then my mother and I went to Old Westbury Gardens (check out the new Facebook profile picture my mother took in the rose garden on my personal page and please “like” my public page, if you haven’t already).
I caught the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station and then Amtrak back to DC. The next morning (Friday), I worked a full day, returning to quite a slew of emails. In the evening I had a massage and went into the garden to reground myself. Went up to Takoma on Saturday to teach, circling immediately back into the rhythm of home.
The photo montage below gives an idea of the wide variety and quantity of input into mind and senses. There was actually much quiet time in this whirlwind. I spent all the time on the train listening to teleseminars, studying, writing in my journal, watching the scenery, contemplating, and napping. More important than the quiet space of the train rides, every day of the trip, I sat, as I do each day wherever I am, for meditation morning and evening. While on the road, my meditation gave me a space that was home; when I came home, it helped get me settled and able to carry forward the openings and shifts from going on vacation into my at home routine.
A steady practice gives us a still point, a space that stays steady and nourishing. The more consistent we are, the easier it is to access this space (hridaya), no matter how much life seems to whirl and spiral around us.
Photos are in order of travel: Manhattan, Upstate New York, Vermont, Anusara Grand Gathering, Old Westbury Gardens, points on route, and back home with offerings from the garden on my kitchen counter (welcome home).
The first two days, including the Solstice, of the Anusara Grand Gathering were bright and blue and sunny and pleasantly cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon–“perfect” New England summer days. The third morning dawned cloudy. By the time the morning session was underway, a pleasant drizzle had turned into a deluge. Rain started coming in from the sides where the tent was open, and then the roof started leaking. The clouds were sufficiently dense that the light was no more than at dawn or dusk. It was getting pretty dark and wet in the tent. At one point, after having told stories about rain being regarded as blessings in Hindu rituals and exhorting us in surya namaskar to jump forward and splash in a puddle like a kid, John said, “I would turn the lights on, but there aren’t any lights to turn on. So this is perfect!”
One of the conundrums in explaining the philosophical principle of purna, which means “perfect” or “fullness” is reconciling it with the evident fact that our divine perfection or fullness aside, we are still working to shift and realign our minds and bodies through the practices. The divine consciousness, which is everything, say the yogis, is utterly perfect as it is and completely full (or fully empty and thus all potential, depending on how you look at it). We are told that we (and all of being) are the divine consciousness manifest and then given a slew of techniques and instruction to help us change ourselves.
If we are completely perfect and full, what is the point of learning all the technique and seeking to expand and shift our bodies and minds? The yoga teachings say that we forget that we are this fullness and perfection, and it is our forgetting that leads to suffering (which is different than pain, but discussing that distinction will have to wait for another blog entry). The practices are not to perfect or improve us, but rather to shift our alignment (mind and body) so that we remember the perfection of ourselves as spirit. When we remember, we are better able to recognize the perfection in ourselves, other people, beings, things, or events, even what we find challenging or difficult. From this space of recognition, in my experience, we naturally become happier and more generous of spirit.
I think that moment at the Anusara Grand Gathering is a perfect (word choice intentional) illustration of the apparent dichotomy of seeking change and appreciation of the perfection of every moment. If there had been lights to turn on, John would have turned on the lights so that we could have observed the alignment better during the demonstrations and he and the assistants could have seen the students more easily. The universe did not have it in store for us to have a light-filled dry day; we were getting a wet and dark one whether we liked it or not. Having no lights to turn on, John reminded us in a light-hearted way that the teachings and practices would invite us to fully embrace and enjoy the weather we got and practice space we had (while staff were busily making alternative arrangements for classes later in the day), getting the most out of it. I thought it was pretty fun to practice in the cool rain, though it’s easy for me to say since I and my things stayed dry, and the rain was a welcome respite from the worsening drought in the DC area.
One of the most profound and essential teachings of the great yogis is to “watch the gap.” We are given the practice of watching the gap, the space, the pause, the turning point between the in breath and the out breath, the out breath and the in breath. In the gap, we are able to witness perfect fullness (purna) and perfect emptiness (sunyata). In minding the gap, we can experience perfect stillness and serenity. It is an extraordinary practice in its simplicity and in its gift of peace and repose.
Whether you have never heard of this practice, learned it at some point but have mostly forgotten about it, or just did it with your own practice, I invite you to take a few minutes on reading this: make your seat steady and as comfortable as possible, close your eyes, invite an intention of finding a still spaciousness in your heart. Draw your attention to the breath and start to notice the space (maybe almost instantaneous and unobservable, maybe a real pause) between the in and out breaths.
If you are moved, comment on your experience to share with each other. There is no one right reaction nor a wrong one. If it was challenging to sit still and focus, just be gentle and soften to how enjoyable it can be to do nothing other than watch the breath, like the sweet and easy restfulness of watching the movement of waves at the beach.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
The light woke me early on this summer solstice. The sky is bright blue, the air clear and pleasantly temperate, the mountains lushly green, and friends surround me. The practice yesterday was lustrous, and the next two days promise to be equally delightful.
The delight from being surrounded by beauty and good friends can give us a taste of the possibilities of experiencing true bliss. As the surface enjoyment of being on vacation (albeit an extraordinarily good one), though, it has a shadow side, just as the picture below of a smiling ganesha at the base of a tree in the middle of a heart is flanked by a fire hydrant and a pile of trash bags.
It is really easy to imagine ananda — divine bliss, under these circumstances. It is important for all of us to find moments within our means when it is easy to experience the spark of spontaneous happiness. When it is challenging to find it, when grief or hardship confront us, it is ever more important to be able to tap into a space of bliss so that we can bring the most light to our challenges. Having the sweet times helps us find it in the bitter.
Ananda, John reminded us at the afternoon philosophy lecture yesterday, is the joy that has no opposite. It is a deep contentment with what is–hearts and trees and fire hydrants and trash bags and all–that fully accepts the play of opposites.
Those of us who do not know and live ananda spontaneously and naturally all of the time have the yoga. We challenge ourselves on the mat, knowing the exhilaration of heart opening and the challenge of stiffness; we sit for meditation on good days and bad, finding sometimes the pulsing, vibration of the fullness of consciousness and other times our to do list; we practice pranayama to open our energy channels; we chant to remind ourselves of why we practice: to open our hearts and discover the best in ourselves and in all beings.
Happy solstice to all and hope see you soon for the yoga.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.