Quaker

The Importance of Doubt (and Shrada)

I was just led by a friend’s Facebook posting to the website for an upcoming movie about the Siddha yoga ashram (Siddha yoga was part of the teaching and practice lineage of John Friend and Paul Muller-Ortega, and both have told stories about how useful the fierce ashram  discipline was for them, but who adopted too much of the ashram style in their yoga organizations for me ever to have tried to be in the inner circle).   In watching the trailer and reading the background materials for the movie, it struck me that the most important point for me is that the followers who were most injured were those who doubted least and who were the most hungry for an authority and love figure.

As a born and bred doubter (how could I not be one who consistently doubts as part of my spiritual practice, given that I am a culturally jewish, New York intellectual who was raised on the Quaker system of queries and advices, who studied western philosophy and law, and who works inside the Beltway?), I believe that you will always be able to get the good out of teachings without losing your own control, sense of self, and discriminating (viveka) ability to evaluate your commitment to a teacher or organization and the teachings offered, if your faith is in your own intuition and education and not in any one human or organization or specific teaching.

Faith (in Sanskrit shrada), in order to serve us well, needs doubt; it needs questioning; it needs testing at every point of the way or it is superficial faith.  Don’t let anyone–particularly someone with whom you study or engage in religious or spiritual practice ever tell you otherwise.  Sometimes doubting with faith means getting involved or staying fully committed to an organization or teacher despite misgivings or despite troubling  behavior (assuming you are not sticking with being abused yourself or standing idly by when witnessing the abuse of others).  After all, no humans, organizations, or relationships are without their shadow sides.  Sometimes doubting, even with faith, means a radical and complete separation–quietly or loudly.  Sometimes what is best for you is something in between.  Learning to be in community is part of the practice, after all, keeping in mind that you are the company you keep.

All I can say is this:  Please doubt.  Please doubt with sincerity.  Please doubt with love.  Please doubt with respect.  Please educate yourself, and with appropriate doubt, have faith that there is good in connecting and in the teachings, no matter how challenging is getting and sharing the teachings and the practices with and through the filter of others.

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A Guest at William Penn House

When I arrived at the William Penn House to teach yoga tonight, there were a couple of suitcases in the room. I asked one of the interns to help me move them. A guest came to help as one of the suitcases was his. I invited him to join us for yoga class. He expressed interest though declined this visit because he had a plane to catch. He stayed to chat while I was making the room ready.

The conversation started with snow and New York State and then Quaker peace activities–the latter hardly surprising for someone staying at William Penn House. The guest was older than me and had been an activist for a long time. I thought he would certainly know my Dad who has been doing peace-related volunteer work in New York for 50 years give or take a few. Yes, he knew my Dad and so I will send regards.

The guest said on parting that he thought all workshops for activists should start with some type of movement practice such as yoga. I agreed. Not only does it help bring the group together, but it invites all the participants to be stronger, healthier, and more flexible to better carry out their purpose.

My students began to arrive–the first, who came in the middle of the conversation, expressing the opinion that the guest would have been a great addition to the class. The guest went on his way, saying he would be thinking about yoga as he waited in the airport for his flight. And I brought the sense of deepened community and purpose from this chance encounter into my teaching.

Photo of marker outside the Friends Committee on National Legislation

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

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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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