Food for the Mind (Yoga Philosophy, etc)

Contemplations on readings and yoga philosophy.

Sadness (Sukha hara, dukha hara)

Last night I was feeling deeply sad not having Becky with me any more.  The first week, I was telling myself how lucky I was to have had her for so long, that she lived a long, happy, well-loved life, and that it was truly time.  Then I threw myself into work, errands, the garden, etc.  This week, I have been filled with a deep sense of grief and loss.

Classical yoga would have us try to transcend the pair of opposites — pleasure and pain.  Tantra would have us experience the full range deeply, knowing it is all part of the play of being manifest in human form.  I have been thinking about my teacher, John Friend, who often talks of the intensity of grieving for loved ones who have died, because of having loved truly and fully.

Thinking about Becky, this chant started repeating itself in my head (I have it recorded by Dave Stringer):   “sukha hara, dukha hara, hara, hara Shankara.”  “Hara” is an epithet of Shiva, from the root word to bear away or destroy.  “Sukha” means ease; “dukha” pain.  “Shankara” is another epithet of Shiva in benevolent form.  I think of this chant not so much a call to have Shiva energy destroy or remove both pleasure and pain, but rather a  reminder that both pleasure and pain are integral parts of our experience of being.  Recognizing that grief and loss are as much part of our own humanity as love and pleasure, helps remind me of my own connection to spirit.  It ultimately inspires me to try and live in a way that is more benevolent and generous, and to respond with the most light, whatever I face.  (This of course is a life work).

I would not give up the full and wonderful years of companionship I had with Becky and her sister Henrietta (and others who I have loved) just to avoid the grief of loss.

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What I’ll Be Reading This Session

You may have noticed that I do not say what I will be teaching.  In my blogs and classes, when referring to the philosophy that inspires me, I speak of what I will be reading, what I will be contemplating, and what I will be exploring.  It is not false humility.  It is a recognition that reading and contemplating a work even several times over a few years is not enough to be “teaching” it.  My teaching can, however, authentically be inspired by that level of exploration.  I make offerings of what sparks me to think, to practice, and to want to continue to delve ever more deeply into the yoga practices.

This session, I will be reading, contemplating, and inspiring my own practices and my class plans from the Pratyabhijnahrdayam.

Pratyabhijnahrdayam:  The Secret of Self-Recognition, J. Singh (Motalal Banarsidass Publishers, Reprinted 2008)

The Splendor of Recognition:  An Exploration of the Pratyabhijna-hrdayam, Swami Shantananda with Peggy Bendet (SYDA Foundation, 2003)

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Louise Bourgeois at the Hirshhorn

The other day, I went to see the Louise Bourgeois retrospective at the Hirshhorn.  The works are a combination of exquisite technique and in-your-face, challenging emotions.  I had a friend who raged at me once because I had created a piece that was radically, polemically feminist.  “That’s not art; art is only meant to be beautiful and aesthetic, not to be political,” said my friend.  Although he could not have questioned Bourgeois as an artist — her technique is too good — he might still have raged at it.  (The high school group being shown art on a field trip, while I was at the exhibit, was scurried through a room or two, much to my amusement).

Seeing the exhibit led me to think of the purported purpose of left-handed tantric practices, which are meant to challenge us, turn us upside-down and inside out, and question what we recognize as the divine.

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Be Careful

what you wish for.  Or at least enjoy it when you get it.  I’ve been praying for rain.  It was supposed to come yesterday afternoon, then last night.  And it did not, and I worried about another storm passing to the northwest or southeast of us again.  (We are, in fact, getting alot less rain from this storm than originally predicted).

Now, this morning, when it is time for me to walk the ten blocks to the metro to teach class at Willow Street, it is pouring.  It has been so dry I am grateful for the rain.  So I’ll have to dress right and enjoy the wetness for its nourishment and not whine about the cold, damp discomfort.  Darn!  Sometimes it is more fun to whine.

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A Session of Coincidences (and Shiva Tattva)

Towards the end of a yoga session I start thinking about what would be a good theme for the next.  I start by observing what is going on in the world — from the change of seasons, to whether it is rainy or drought, to what is going on in the political climate, noticing what is recurring in my own practice and the practices of my students, watching what is arising in my contemplations and meditations, and seeing what is resonating most in what I am learning from my own teachers.  I will go into my library, reading and rereading things to see what resonates with what I am observing and experiencing.  I also take into account the length of the session to be sure that it will fit well within the number of classes.  Once I have set the session theme, I spend the week in which I will teach a particular principle, contemplating it, reading about it, practicing with it, and thinking about its relationship to my life off of the mat.

When I selected the tattvas this session it was for a whole array of reasons (some of which have been set out in previous posts).  The order I picked to teach them, and which I chose to emphasize, were for what I thought would be the best way to share knowledge and experience and not for the outside calendar.  It was then, by sheer  serendipity that the themes fit as they did with the calendar:

  • Vayu — the mahabhuta air, the element associated with the anahata chakra (the heart chakra) on Valentine’s Day
  • Purusha/Prakriti — nature and spirit, was the week I was leading the “Yoga for Gardeners” workshop
  • Shakti — power, expansion, opening, was for the week of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Now this week, the last week of the session, parama shiva — the highest tattva. Shiva tattva is the most subjective principle and the most universal.  It represents the essence of being (sat), consciousness (cit), and bliss (ananda).  It is everywhere and nowhere, in all beings and not.  It is whatever ever we think of as spirit or force or web of being or light or pulsation or divine — whatever we believe is the very essence of being.  It is most interesting that by my series of contemplations and choices over the winter holidays, that I gave myself the homework assignment, as it were, to be specifically contemplating, practicing with, and studying the shiva tattva as I offer peace to Becky as she departs and seek my own peace in my grief over the loss of her physical presence.

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Moksha

I have a set of cards that I keep on my altar that are designed to be used for contemplation.  There are about fifty cards, each of which has a sanskrit word and its meaning.  Just as one gets a fortune cookie randomly or picks a tarot card from a deck, but the message often seems right on point, the word that arises from the card picked from the stack often seems uncannily timely.  Early Saturday morning, after not having used the cards in a few months, I picked a card from the middle of the stack to see if it would help guide my contemplation and meditations as I was getting ready to say good-bye to Becky. The word on the card I picked blind from the middle of the stack was “moksha” or liberation.  In classical yoga, moksha does carry with it the implication of being liberated by transcending body and mind.

Later on Saturday, when I was on my way home from teaching for the appointment with the vet, I stopped at the metaphysical supply shop for a piece of rose quartz (to use in a ritual to assist with the transition and loss that a friend taught me).  At the check out were “dolphin saying cards.”  There was a sign next to the cards inviting customers to take one for free.  The sign also said that it was not necessary to take the one at the top.  The cards were face down; I did not look for a particular saying.  I dug a few cards down, and the one I selected read:  “freedom has its roots within yourself.”  In other words, “moksha” for the second time on this day, when I was facing with Becky her transition of the spirit from the body.

Was it a message?  Was it a coincidence?  I do know that I knew when it was time, as I did with Henrietta.  Becky just did not want to be embodied anymore.  When I held her in her arms after she stopped breathing, she was released and relaxed in a way she had not been in months.  That the signs were saying “moksha” resonated with Becky’s power and connectedness.  I hope that when I am ready to go, I will truly understand moksha, that I will be released.  It is so resonant of Becky’s life, for all her quirks, that she was still teaching me even as she was dying.

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Shiva-Shakti Tattvas

The shiva-shakti tattvas, the two highest tattvas, are completely subjective.  The shiva tattva is, according to the philosophy, the ultimate reality, the pure “I,” undiminished and undifferentiated consciousness.  As something purely subjective, it is both everywhere and nowhere, in every being and simultaneously beyond them.  It is not dissimilar to Hegel’s Absolute (though I believe Douglas Brooks, who knows far more than I in this area, might disagree with me on this one), which “is and is not,” or Kant’s “unmoved mover.”

Shakti tattva is power — the power to tranform, create, manifest, diversify, cloak.  Shakti is the power to become embodied in objective form.  Shiva and shakti tattvas are thus inseparable.  Ultimate unbounded consciousness and freedom (shiva) only has meaning to the extent the power to move, create, and diversify (shakti) pulses and transforms the subjective into the objective, the unimaginable to the observable.

In our yoga practice and meditation, we seek to use the practices to reveal to ourselves the ultimate pulsation (spanda) between the objective and subjective, the observable and the unknowable, the individual and the completely universal.  One way I experience the first principle of Anusara yoga (open to grace), is taking the mat or my seat with an openness to sense and experience this ultimate pulsation (spanda) and play (lila), so that by using my body, mind, and will, I can better recognize the spirit that shines in all of us and use that recognition to inform how I relate to myself, society, and all beings.

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