Food for the Mind (Yoga Philosophy, etc)

Contemplations on readings and yoga philosophy.

Dharma without Karma (Please Vote Next Tuesday)

It’s no surprise:  I find myself more and more consumed by thought and activity regarding the state of the country and what I can do as a citizen (including voting) to make things better.  As I seek to stay engaged, but grounded and without anxiety, I find solace of the teaching in the Bhagavad Gita that true yoga is action without attachment.  To be detached is not the same as withdrawing from action.  In fact, the Gita suggests that the path of action is better than the path of renunciation.

What is actionless action?  Given the Gita’s fundamental premise that we must act in accordance with our duty (what that means is the subject of much debate that is beyond a simple blog), actionless action does not mean disengaging from the process.  It also does not mean not caring.  Rather, it means that we should act fully in accordance with our principles (which principles should be shaped by the yoga guidelines of non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, alignment with nature, non-greediness, cleanliness, contentment, fervor, self-study, and surrender), but with the mental understanding that we are ultimately not in control of the outcome.  We act because not to act is a cop out.  We offer the fruits of our action to forces beyond ourselves.  We act out of love — not selfish love for personal gain — but with loving gratitude for being able to act at all.  We engage fully and then still seek to be free of being unsettled by either pleasure or pain from the outcome.  Whatever the results, we keep acting, we keep doing our duty, fully and with loving engagement.

See:  BG IV.19-20:  He whose undertakings are free from anxious desire and fanciful thought, whose work is made pure in the fire of wisdom:  he is called wise by those who see.  In whatever work he does such a man in truth has peace:  he expects nothing, he relies on nothing, and ever has fullness of joy.  (trans. Juan Munoz)

He who has abandoned all attachment to the fruits of action,/ Always content, not dependent,/ Even when performing action,/Does, in effect, nothing at all./ Performing action with the body alone, / Without wish, restrained in thought and self,/ With all motives of acquisition abandoned, He incurs no evil.  (trans. Winthrop Sargeant)

P.S.  I will have voted in the morning and will be teaching at Wm Penn House on Tuesday so come join me resting in yoga before going home to watch the returns.

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Fall Reading — The Yoga of Discipline

Each Willow Street session, I choose an overall philosophy topic or book to inform the themes for my classes.  I choose them based on something that I believe is relevant to what is going on in the world, something that has captured my interest, or something that I believe supports the growth of the groups of students attending my various classes.

When exploring particular readings for this purpose, I do more than read.  Rather, I contemplate, journal, practice asana (in a sense choreographing the philosophy using the principles of alignment), and meditate with the reading in mind.  Paul Muller-Ortega calls studying by going beyond book knowledge and continuously contemplating, refining, and exploring its living meaning for us is vikalpa-samskara — the practice of study.  (Siva Sutra Pravesana, An Introduction for Practitioners of Yoga).

This session, the central text I am reading is Swami Chidvilasandana’s The Yoga of Discipline.  The book contains a series of lectures discussing how being steady and constant in our yoga practice (including bringing yoga principles to our daily lives) will help us become more gracious, happy, and able to serve society.  The lectures draw on teachings from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and from the Bhagavad Gita (suggested translations in another blog entry to come).  I am freely drawing on those as well, even those sections not discussed in The Yoga of Discipline.

I picked this text at this time because I am feeling such a deep need and such gratitude for my yoga practice, study, and community in this time of uncertainty.  It has been my own personal experience that longer I have had a steady practice, the better able I am to come from a place of light in times of flux, pain, or complexity.

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Santa Fe and Home

I just came back from a wonderful week in Santa Fe, studying therapeutics with John Friend.  It was most wonderful to be among friends with a shared passion for nurturing and healing through yoga, all of whom are deeply committed to continuing intense study. It was also delightful to be in a beautiful place, away from the cares of the day to day.

Although I have many friends from around the country I have met on previous study trips, I found that I spent the most time outside of class with fellow teachers from Willow Street.  It was not because I know them best and it was expedient for me as a person who is by nature introverted to stick with people I know better, but rather because when we are home, we all are fully engaged in our daily lives and do not have much time to see each other.  That we need to go away together to be free to see people close to us is a mindset that I am working to shift.  If I have time to go away for a week, then I should be able to make time to see someone for lunch or tea.  How do we make this shift?  Part of it is just a conscious recognition that we need each day to pause and reflect, to make time to connect to our own spirit and to our home community.  Living this way will not diminish the joy of going away, but it will make us more grounded and rested at home, while we are working.  We will work better, be happier on a day to day basis, and be better able to serve.  Yes, this is another aspect of enriching life by simplifying.

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Viveka and the Carbon Fund

Viveka means discrimination.  Being able to recognize the meaning of what we do and what are the potential consequences of our actions is an important aspect of our yoga practice and our lives.  Living discriminately does not mean that we reject what is pleasurable.  Rather, it means that we recognize the consequences to ourselves and other beings when we partake of the fruits of the earth and the labors of others or choose one activity over another.  We think about whether it makes sense and then, once having decided, we fully engage and enjoy and don’t beat ourselves up after the fact.  If we think we made the wrong decision, we choose differently the next time.

How does viveka relate to the Carbon Fund?  The Carbon Fund’s motto is “reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.”  I replace “can’t” in this phrase with “choose not to,” as what we think we must have (in this society generally) does not necessarily correlate with what we actually need to survive.  Otherwise, all we’re doing is throwing a little money as a superficial balm without thinking through with discrimination.

When I think about what I can reduce, and what I choose not to in terms of my carbon footprint and my overall lifestyle, I am struck by the irony that my biggest carbon footprint after heating and cooling my house is plane trips to John Friend yoga trainings.  It would be disingenuous to think that I can’t not go to Santa Fe next week.  I do not think, however, it makes sense to shrink our lives to the point that we are not engaged in society and that we do not relish the opportunities we have, just to feel good about diminishing our impact on the environment.

Studying and practicing Anusara yoga all around the country, getting to know the wider kula and establishing a greater sense of connection while deepening my knowledge and experience of the practice continues to be wonderful and joyous for me.  So I choose to go, and I anticipate having a great time next weekand bringing back great things to share with all of you.  And I’ve gone to Carbon Fund’s website and offset my trip and then some.  And I think about other ways to reduce what I can.

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