Food for the Mind (Yoga Philosophy, etc)

Contemplations on readings and yoga philosophy.

Spirituality and Politics Do Mix (but maybe not at the Thanksgiving meal)

Yesterday I received a rather negative email in response to my posting a suggestion on a list serve connected to a religious organization that people write to their elected officials about the health care bill pending in the Senate.  I sent the email because my contribution to this group is to serve as the designated liaison between a lobbying group that was established by the religious organization and the religious organization.  Once of month or so, I highlight issues that are the focus of the lobbying groups email campaigns.  The email took me to task for thinking that politics has any place in connection with spiritual practice and therefore the on-line discussion should never be about politics.  The person assured me that our political views were different, although I did not actually suggest what people should write; I only said that they should write.  I have been pondering this deeply as it is a topic I have thought about, taught about, and wrestled with deeply over the years, especially during the Presidential elections.

As one who believes that body, mind, and community are inseparable from spirit, I am unable to separate political action from spiritual action.  I believe that I have a duty to be knowledgeable about the issues challenging society as a whole, to take action within the framework of society to seek the embodiment of my spiritual beliefs (grossly oversimplified, that the rules, commitments, and support networks of society should recognize the light of all beings — human and not — and foster the seeking of that light by all), and to challenge the very framework of the discussion and rules when they obscure the light and its recognition.

One of the reasons for discussion is to explore, to learn, to be challenged, to expand both knowledge and understanding.  That can be a hard process.  I certainly do not expect people to agree with each other at all times, but that is not the point of discussion. While I think this sort of discussion perfectly appropriate in the context of a spiritual discussion, it might be less welcome where what is being sought is an immediate sense of peace and harmony in the connection of a particular practice.  For example, if it is known that family and friends have strong disagreements about “political” issues, it might be disagreeable for digestion and the day to bring up the issues at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

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“Holiday Madness” (and the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali)

When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness”  this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits.  Yikes!  Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel.  Madness in such a situation is a choice.  We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom.  It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.

The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.

Yamas:

Ahimsa–non-harming.  Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.

Satya — truthfulness.  Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.

Asteya — non-stealing.  Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).

Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma).  Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.

Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness.  Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.

Niyamas

Sauca — cleanliness, purity.  Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.

Samtosha — contentment.  Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have.  Contentment is a practice.

Tapas — fire, ardor.  Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.

Svadyaya — study of text, self-study.  Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.

Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit.  Let go a little.  Surrender to a sense of fullness.  Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words:  “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.

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What is “really” yoga?

Gopi Krishna, in this book The Awakening of Kundalini, writes:  “Yoga exercises can also be directed toward worldly objectives.  There are exercises that are conducive to the health and efficiency of the mind, others that lead to psychic gifts, and still others that strengthen the will and improve the ability to deal with problems.  However, no single achievement of this kind — or even several of them taken together — is Yoga.”  He continues to state that “Yoga is a transhuman state of mind attained by means of the cumulative effect of all practices combined, carried on for years, and supplemented by grace.”  Other texts say enlightenment comes to some just by “grace” with no need for the yoga practices.  Others need various amounts and types of practices.

Me, I have no idea what is a “transhuman state of mind” but I want for myself and those around me being healthier and stronger, with an improved ability to deal with problems.  (Imagine, for example, those gifts applied in the context of providing universal health care, while simultaneously educated and shifting our society to a healthier way of living).  I don’t think anyone can judge or determine whether one’s self or someone else is truly enlightened or can lead others to enlightenment (whatever that means).  But I am certain from my own experience that yoga helps me to be more grounded, more centered, more intentional, stronger, and healthier.  Thus served by steady practice, I am more content and find it easier to be kind.  I’ll take that for now.

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Pratyabijna Hrdayam Sutra 17 (and organic energy)

The 17th sutra is “madhya vikasha cittananda labhah,” which is translated by Swami Shantananda as “the bliss of Consciousness is attained through expansion of the center.”

Madyama, in our physical embodiment is the central channel, the sushumna nadi that runs vertically in the space of the spine.  One of the key actions of Anusara’s organic energy is expansion from the midline.  It is, in its essence, using the body to physically explore the bliss that comes from the expansion from the center.

If we can get bliss just from expanding, then why would we first draw in?  In applying the Anusara principles, we use muscular energy first.  We hug into our core before reaching out.  This parallels the yoga texts.  If, for example, one already embodies the perfect bliss of consciousness, one doesn’t need to study the sutras or to practice yoga, one would just live from that place of perfect bliss.

The way I think about it in terms of the Anusara principles, if one were perfectly open to grace and lived being fully open to and expressive of grace, there would be no need to explore, learn, or study any of the other principles.  That’s a rare being though.  Most of us, and definitely me, need practice to discover and embody even a glimpse of perfect bliss and grace.  So the expansion from the center comes after consciously softening and opening, after intentionally drawing in to strengthen and embrace, after making with discrimination further expansion, and after drawing in to contentrate mind and body with honed intensity.  With ever more refinement and practice, we then can experience and make offering a deeper bliss when we expand from our center.

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Organic Energy (the difference between “navel gazing” and making a difference)

There is a specific sequence to the major Anusara alignment principles even though ultimately we are doing all of the alignment principles simultaneously.  “Organic energy,” the action of reaching out and making offering is the fifth of the physical principles.  We do not reach out until we have softened and listened (opened to grace), intentionally drawn in with nurturing, focused embrace (muscular energy), expanded with discrimination (inner or expanding spiral), and drawn in again with discrimination and awareness to concentrate the energy (contracting or outer spiral).  We do, in fact, need to be aware and open, to be nurtured, and to study and expand with refinement, to enhance our ability to make offering and to serve in the most optimal way.  So we take care of ourselves and draw inward as much as we reach out to keep ourselves in balance.

Once we have taken care of ourselves, though, it has been my experience that without reaching out, there is no true strength or meaning in either a yoga pose or in life.  Organic energy as a physical principle is expanding from bone to muscle to skin, expanding outward from the midline, and reaching from the core to the periphery.  How I experience organic energy at its most supporting is a true reaching out, an offering of the energy created and refined by the other practices.

What is the point of a self-embrace or personal enlightenment if it is not used to serve, to offer the love and wisdom cultivated by the practice?  Organic energy is what changes yoga (on and off the mat) from being enjoyable “navel gazing” and being a source of power that helps us brighten and shift not only ourselves, but our relationships and all around us.

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New Computer (and the benefits of practice)

My friend D the other week had been talking about how much longer every thing takes to get done in a new city and home (he just moved across country).  I was thinking about that as I work to get up to speed on the replacement computer that came into my house yesterday afternoon.  I can tell there is lots of extra functionality, but at first, I am slower than I was with my old computer (at least five generations old) because I need to learn some new commands and navigation tools, as well as recreate my old bookmarks and remembered passwords, etc.

To be able to cope with life, we need to be willing to go out and explore, try new things, to be willing to have the time and struggle to learn enough to feel comfortable with a new place or technique.  To mature gracefully, we need to sometimes stay with the old (whatever choices led us there) and continue to refine so that we can go deeper and deeper into knowledge of what we have chosen.

Sometimes we have a real choice, sometimes we have no choice, sometimes we have an apparent choice, but only one sensible one.  One of the beauties of steady yoga practice is that it prepares us both for the new and for repetition.  It truly shows us the beauty and delight of revisiting, reexploring, and ever deepening our understanding of the complexities of what appears simple.  It also cultivates the fortitude and openness to start anew when necessary.

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