Yes, I Knew Him (and the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra)

When my students arrived at William Penn House last night for class, I said, “yes, I knew him; they are both my co-workers.”  I didn’t need to say anything else.  All of them read the Washington Post and know that I work for the Department of Labor in the area of pension benefits.  I said that I was shaken by the news, and I would offer the best practice I could.  At my invitation, we worked on grounding, being heavy in the best meaning of heavy so that we would feel the stability to rise and to stay graceful and open as we practiced some challenging standing poses and backbends, leading to a modified version of natarajasana (dancing in the cosmic fire).

One co-worker is dead (either suicide or murder in his jail cell) after having severely injured another.  Yes, we all worked in the same office for three years when I first started at the Department in 1991 and episodically have worked on common projects for almost 22 years, most recently just three weeks ago. Had it been a fatal accident or a heart attack, a few dozen of us would have been at the funeral and spoken of what we liked about him.  It wouldn’t have been the horrified questioning ourselves and each other of what possibly could have gone so terribly, shockingly wrong.  The grieving and sense of loss are no less present and real, though, for the recoiling from his last acts and the salacious and rapacious local media coverage.

Quaker practice has me holding those affected in the light–he and his family and she and hers, and our co-workers.  On hearing yesterday that he had died in jail, I was moved to chant the maha mrityunjaya mantra.  I was taught that chanting this mantra every day for 30 days can help a spirit cross-over.  What is spirit and to where it might be crossing was not really explained because how could it be?  But I do think chanting with such an intention can be a useful tool to help focus one’s own emotional process and healing in connection with a death.

For some background on the mantra, you might want to start with this overview with useful links published by the Himalayan Institute (be advised that though citing to the YI because of the breadth of coverage, to get to the basic details, I needed to ignore the cheesy graphics and the use of the term “Lord” before Shiva in the linked article on what the author says are appropriate uses of the mantra).

oakleaf hydrangeaMy co-worker gave me this oakleaf hydrangea about 10-12 years ago; his brother had pulled an extra seedling that was an offshoot  from a larger plant in his yard.  It did not start thriving until two seasons ago when I moved it to a different corner of my front garden.


Signs Around Town (and Tuesday Night Yoga)

Xome join us on Tuesday nights. All levels of experience welcome. Suggested donation is truly a suggestion–like the admission to the Metropolitan Museum. Pay what you can. Bring a friend from in or out of town. Comment or email with questions.

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


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.


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.


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.