Quaker

Disobedience and Isvara Pranadhana

MoveOn just posted this Howard Zinn quote on Facebook:  “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

It spoke my mind and resonated with what I wrote about yesterday with regard to how to be open to yoga’s invitation to practice humility without ceding power to authoritarian structures.   This quote is spurring me to think aboutPatanjali’s eight-limbed path of yoga, and particularly the niyama (observance) of ishvara pranadhana (surrender).  I  don’t see why a true, radical yogini could not simultaneously surrender to the mysterious outrageousness of being while still being appropriately disobedient to authoritarian structure.  But maybe that is because I was raised a Quaker; there’s quite a bit of overlap between some of the tantric yoga principles and the teachings of Quakers.

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Received Exhortation (Tantra?)

I’d seen a photo on-line, and discussion before and after a friend took to the street and the park to write exhortations, prayers, pleas.

I might not have seen it live had it not been directly on my way home later in the day. Though I had not gone looking for it, I recognized it when I saw it–the exhortation triggered by a planned display of bigotry, rage, ignorance and hate.

The exhortation to embrace diversity is a fundamental precept of the tantric yoga philosophy (my friend was making the exhortation based on different practices, but it hardly matters from what source one gets a true teaching). I always benefit from contemplating ever more deeply that the only way to experience unity/union is to ever more fully embrace diversity (while still, of course, practicingviveka–discrimination).

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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Summer Greetings–Make[a]Shift (Web Version of E-Newsletter)

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, summer officially arrived with the Solstice, bringing with it blistering heat.  Friend and student Jessica said at practice last night that it was as if Mother Nature–always in the know– looked at her wrist watch, said “hey, it’s summer” and then turned up the dial on the thermostat.  The cats who are ever in tune with what will make their bodies happiest under the circumstances, this morning declined to go out on the catio or curl up on upholstered furniture, preferring instead to lie stretched out on the floor in a dark corner or under the furniture where it is coolest.   In the heat of DC summers, I walk first thing in the morning after meditating and at the end of the work day, which both avoids the hottest part of the day and takes advantage of how long the day is light.  It is for weather like this that the gods created the siesta.  I walk a lot more slowly than I do when it is below freezing, but as long as I remember this inevitable seasonal change in pace, I arrive on time without getting overheated.  I feel blessed to live in a society in which I can go out in sandals and a sun dress (and a big cotton hat–portable shade) and not transgress societal notions of respectability.

Adapting to the seasonal shifts in climate, diet, and dress may seem seamless at this point, but I know that it has come from decades of mindful practice and study (of cooking, gardening, nutrition, amateur meteorology, yoga and related practices, and techniques for nurturing  and supporting my mind-body generally) and there is always more I can learn to be better attuned.

In this regard, the following quote from Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook, which I had picked up the last time I worked a volunteer shift at The Lantern, made me think about how much the yoga (especially asana practice) has taught me about the balance of recognizing limitations and making the best of what is:

“Makeshift is a wonderfully expressive term for ‘making a shift,’ shifting your thinking to come up with a creative solution that accomplishes the task at hand in an unexpected way.  There’s only one rule:  whatever works.”

In my own improvisational cooking style, I am inclined to emphasize different ingredients and methods than Schneider, but I like what she teaches about how to be a cook.  I really appreciated her use of “makeshift” rather than “make do” in this context.  “Makeshift” indeed gives room for thinking of limitations as an opportunity to shift potential outcomes, including our own feelings of empowerment and enjoyment (bhoga).  In Schneider’s case, she gave as an example using a fork instead of a citrus reamer to juice a lemon, but I think that the principle of making a shift to maximize and celebrate what is at hand rather than getting tangled up in or stymied by what one does not have applies to any learning to enhance our efforts and experiences through technique.  One of the greatest gifts of yoga is how it teaches and invites us to deepen the understanding and recognition of how we are in the world so that we can make a shift rather than just making do or being disappointed by our challenges and limits.  Ever increasing sensitivity to ourselves in the world as an essential part of our practice enables us to take this tool that is our body-mind and live the most creative and enspirited expression possible of being an embodied participant in this community of the earth.

Most of you are likely to have your schedule constrained by summer travel plans and work and visitors coming, but including yoga will only make this energetic season better.  You might not be able to take class every week on the same night, but making the time for yoga by choosing to register for a class or planning regular drop ins will make it easier to stay committed to your practice and reap its benefits.

Registration has opened for the summer session at Willow Street.  The Gentle/Therapeutics class Friday nights from 5:30-7 in Takoma Park continues, and as part of free class weekend, I will be offering a free class on Friday July 13th to introduce the offering to those new to Willow Street or the class.  Willow Street is running some great deals for registered students and has a fantastic and flexible make-up policy.  Check it out and register.

Join us any or every week this summer for the all levels/all are welcome class at William Penn House on Tuesday nights from 6:30-7:45.  Please don’t let means keep you away; if the suggested sliding scale does not work for you, bring what you can.  If you’re working with a challenge of embodiment or seeking to advance your practice in a particular way, I always offer suggestions and variations for each student.  As always, extend the invitation to participate to friends and family.  More experienced yogis should email me separately about joining the house practice.

FYI, I will be on travel the week of 4th of July to visit with friends and to study yoga philosophy with Professor Douglas Brooks.  This means no Capitol Hill neighborhood classes July 3rd or 4th, but I will be bringing home lots of new thinking to share the following week and those to come.

If you haven’t already, feel free to join me on Facebook or subscribe to the blog to get in-between newsletter updates and offerings.

I look forward to seeing you and sharing the best of summer.
Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?

For me, an important part of living yoga off the mat is knowing how I fit into the flow of energies (and money is a big flow of energy and power) in community and what I do to try and shift things where and when I can.  One big step in being empowered is not to accept powerlessness, but to act even if yours is only one small voice.

Click here to see the analysis prepared by the  Friends Committee on National Legislation to show where your tax dollars go, along with some suggestions for individual action.  Participating (at a minimum by being educated about the issues, registering to vote, and actually voting) is important for all of us.

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“They’re Still Here”

“They’re still here,” said the evidently conservative (by other things he said and his dress) and cynical young man sitting on the seat in front of me on the bus, as we drove past the “Occupy DC” group. The bus moved forward, and the running commentary on what was outside the window moved to derogatory statements about the homeless. I thought about the discussion a group of us had after meeting for worship this morning about seeking to live witnessing and honoring the sacred in every being. This includes, of course, recognizing the universal spirit worthy of love in those who proudly do not do so nor feel the need to try. Easier said than done, but that is true of most of the profoundly deep practices.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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What About Love? (and Conflict Management Training)

Last week I attended a work-place training entitled “Conflict Management–Dealing with Difficult Conversations in the Workplace.”  I do not do much training at work; the several hours a week I spend doing professional reading generally satisfies the needs of my position.  When the offer for this two-day  training came into my inbox, I decided that it might be useful.  I am responsible for a project that involves several different offices in multiple government agencies all of which have perceived differences in agendas and jurisdiction and real differences in expertise and personality.  I am also about to get another new supervisor, and people in my division have been edgy.

The training, which had about 15 attendees even though it was the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving started simply enough.  We all identified ourselves by name and job function and where in the agency we worked  and then took the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, which helps give a broad general idea of how one typically reacts in situations that involve conflict.  All pretty straightforward workplace training stuff.  Then the facilitator suggested that most conflict between people (and within ourselves) arises when our feelings of worthiness are or are perceived to be threatened.  My ears perked up.  “Anavamala,” I thought.  It’s just like what the tantric philosophers teach us, that the unreal cloak of unworthiness is what leads to suffering and discord.

The workshop continued.  We did some roleplaying and engaged in discussion to consider how we can better lead the best out of each other and ourselves, whatever type of negotiator we are.  It was interesting to see how this fairly diverse group of workers — young, old, experienced, brand new workers of varying levels of seniority in the agency — were able to be engaged and brought together in exploring these issues, but nothing was particularly surprising.  It was almost time to break for lunch on the first day, when the facilitator asked, and then let drop  the question, without discussion or seeking a response, “what about love?”

“What about love, indeed?” I thought.  That’s a word we do not hear in the workplace unless it is in an interview and someone claims to love their work, or it’s idle conversation and someone declares that he or she loves a sports team or a restaurant.  The next morning I commented privately to the facilitator that I thought it a great question, but was not surprised, given the context, that he had not discussed it further.  He said that he would bring it up more, and he did.  He suggested that when we love, we are more willing to allow, respect, and listen to differences of opinion; when we love, we are also more motivated to resolve conflict in a way that serves best those with whom we are in conflict.  This teaching made sense for most of the participants with regard to conflicts with friends and family, but it was harder for them to see in the context of the workplace because they did not think of love (as this society has come to classify it) as something that is part of the workplace.

How can we bring love into our non-intimate relationships (although I would argue that in some ways, the workplace is very much an intimate relationship as it so deeply relates both to our sense of purpose and to our survival)?  The tantric teachings suggest that there is a universal ground to all being, one aspect of which is, in essence, love (prem).  When we recognize that we are all made of the same stuff and that an aspect of the universal is love itself, then we are invited to see the unity in diversity and to respond in the highest in the face of difficulty or challenge.  (Quakers similarly teach us to recognize the light or good in every being and to treat all as divine).   Truly loving universally does not necessarily come naturally and can be a challenging and advanced practice , but it has been my experience that it is a practice that is worthy of all our relationships, including those in the workplace.  It may be too much to ask us to like our co-workers, but seeking to recognize that they are worthy of love can go a long way to making our work day a brighter, more productive, more effective, and more compassionate place.

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As I Read This Poem

This morning, as I read this poem by Janet Hoffman, which is collected in Plain Living–A Quaker Path to Simplicity by Catherine Whitmire, I thought of friends and family and students and colleagues who are living with loss and illness and other struggles.

I wish sometimes that I could heal or make happy everyone I know. Knowing that is not possible or even right, I wish for myself and those in need to know strength and courage and joy even when faced with causes for deep suffering.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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