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“Sometimes I have nothing to say”

Several years ago, when I still had a working art studio in my house, the favorite thing to do of a friend’s child when the family came over was to go into the studio to see what I was painting.  I had just finished a piece on which I had painted the words, “Sometimes I have nothing to say.”  D was five or six at the time — just learning to read full sentences.  He chortled delightedly, pointed to the painting, and exclaimed, “I get it!  I get it!”

As I have been studying and contemplating yoga philosophy in a group setting recently, I have been thinking about the tension between saying and not saying, the conundrum of yearning to communicate the indescribable, and the countervailing desire just to experience and not to try and describe or communicate.

Creating Healing Energy (and communal knitting)

A friend of mine who is an avid and wonderful knitter decided to make a shawl for a friend who is about to have surgery.  Instead of whipping out a shawl herself in a few days, she invited other friends to knit squares and bring them to her.  She is going to piece together the squares to create, in essence, a physical manifestation of a gentle, loving, communal embrace.

I loved this idea.  Though I could not put name to face for the friend who is suffering (I think I would likely recognize her), to support my friend who is setting such a strong intention of sending healing, I am knitting a square or two with some beautiful handspun yarn leftover from a sweater several years ago.

As I knit, I am setting an intention to infuse the cloth with healing energy.  In having been invited to participate in this project, I have been given the gift of a potent reminder of how strongly our attitude and intention in whatever we create and offer can shift how it goes forth into the world — whether it be gifts, practice, speech, food, work.

It is the days

when I have too many different things to do that sitting for meditation and doing a little asana is most important.  We always have 25-45 minutes.  It is just a matter of understanding where they are and how we want to use them.

Having sat sweetly for 25 minutes, I am calm and relaxed as I get ready for work, take care of the garden (if only it would rain), wait for a meeting with a contractor, etcetera, etcetera.

I do not believe in using the benefits of practice to enable multitasking, but on the days when everything coalesces in a less than optimal way, I am grateful for the calm center it provides.

Julie and Julia (and “actionless action”)

I went to see Julie and Julia because I, like most other Americans of a certain age who like food, have a history with Julia Child.  Seeing the movie brought back an episode from junior high school.  By seventh grade, I was pretty competent cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and doing needlework.  Being a feminist in training, I wanted to take shop.  Mr. Murphy, my ancient (OK who knows how old he was, but he was gray and bald and had leathery skin, so he was likely over 50 at the time) guidance counselor refused:  “shop is for boys; home economics is for girls.”  I expected my mother to back me up, but for some reason she did not.

I had no interest in making rice crispy treats, which was not the kind of thing we cooked at home and was the kind of thing they taught in home economics.  Part way through the year, when we were told to cook a whole dinner at home and then bring in a report, I decided to cook from Julia Child.  I am sure the meal was perfectly delightful, but the motive on my part was not to make a delicious dinner for the family, but to show my guidance counselor and parents that I should have been allowed to learn something that I did not know how to do and could not learn from a book (woodworking and other “shop” skills).

I enjoyed the movie (it’s a pleasant couple of hours and Meryl Streep is wonderful), but the interesting after thought for me was the difference in the happiness of an individual depending on motivation in life choices.  Is something done for joy (with recognition being delightful, but somewhat incidental) or is it being done because one needs recognition and then feels satisfied on getting it?  From a yoga perspective, is it “actionless action” (see Bhagavad Gita)  or is it acting out of a need to fulfill the ego, which inevitably binds one in the fierce dichotomy and inner tug or war of the opposites of longing and gratification, pain and pleasure?

A Happy Life is an Engaged Life (and Sadhana)

I have spent most of my life practicing one thing or the other.  What attracts me about practicing in the sense of complete absorption that it brings.   For a time, the absorption can be enough.  Ultimately, though, the absorption should bring joy.  I do not really think that it matters what it is that one is practicing as long as steady engagement brings a sense of inner peace and bliss that enables one to be kinder and to offer service in some way.  I have quit some things along the way either because the practice did not bring enough joy or fulfillment or the practice was detrimental to my nature.

I know yoga and meditation are the right for me at this point in my life because sadhana (practice) continues to brings me ever increasing delight.  I do not think of practice as work (though sometimes I need to use some self-discipline to remind myself to practice), but as an invitation to greater depth and understanding of not only the practice, but myself.

I have friends for whom the right practice is not yoga, but something else — a visual art, music, law.  It is not what one does, but how one does it, and whether it brings a sense of fullness to life, a satisfaction with the engagement in the doing, rather than in what the doing achieves.

Rudra (and fierce indignation)

Ruda, who is both the ancestor of Shiva and another name for Shiva, is known as the howler.  Rudra is wild and fierce.  Rudra rages.  I heard Paul Muller-Ortega recently describe Rudra.  He said Rudra rages, but offered that there are lots of things against which to rage, such as injustice and inflicted suffering.

The idea of Shiva/Rudra raging has filled my contemplations for the last week.  The questions that arise for me is “what is divinely inspired rage?” “When is fierceness or rage serving to expand love and compassion rather than just destroying the self or others?”

When are rage and destruction necessary to optimize the flow of energy?  I think of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi.  I think of a surgeon removing a tumor.  When I think of the ongoing war in Iraq; the newest reports of torture; the potential that corporate interests, ignorance, and bigotry may completely undermine this country’s coming to agreement on providing basic health care for all, I think that living a quiet life is not fully engaging a life of the spirit.  How do I find a place of non-attached, but fierce action?  How do I find Rudra and not get distracted by personal desires for outcome (and personal desires for simple peace and quiet)?  When should I howl, to whom should I howl, and what?

This rage, this fierceness, must come from a grounding in the heart with the discrimination of study and practice.  If I cannot find it myself, can I at least support those with the courage and wisdom to be directly engaged?

Tomato Blight (and the web of life)

One of the conjectured reasons for the amazingly quick spread of tomato blight in the northeast this year (besides the crazy weather) is the upsurge in home gardeners.  It is wonderful that so many people are growing their own tomatoes.  If they buy the plants from a “big box” retailer — a retailer that gives less care and attention to the quality and health of the plants and more to easy shipping and cheap prices — then the new plants entering the eco-system are more likely harbingers of disease.

When we do anything, we have to be conscious of how it fits in with the world as a whole.  From seed to meal, how we get our food impacts ourselves and our health.  I am lucky so far with my tomato plants.  I bought seedlings from local, organic farmers.  I am checking them every few days for signs of blight.  My harvest has been delicious and abundent.

In reading about the blight, I am painfully reminded that what we eat impacts the earth, the animal and plant life that was displaced for the growth of food, the humans that labored to bring it to our table.  What we choose to eat, over our life, can dramatically shift our life physically, energetically, and emotionally.

Don’t forego homegrown tomatoes and other easy to grow urban foodstuff, but be careful about where you buy it, how you tend it, and understand that you have entered into the agricultural network.

As Chief Seattle did NOT say, “man does not weave this web of life.  We are but one thread within it.   Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”

Heat Advisory (and Gratitude)

It was already hot when I went out into the garden after I sat for meditation.  I try only to water every third day it does not rain and have used soil supplements such as “soil moist” to make that possible, but it was critical that I water so that the plants survive today’s blazing heat.

Before I went out, while listening to the weather forecast, I drank my second glass of filtered tap water.  I thought how lucky I am to have fresh drinking water from the tap, shelter from the heat, ice if I want it, and water for the garden.  All those warnings to stay inside, keep cool, and drink plenty of liquids are meaningless unless one has access to those things.

I am grateful, too, for my practice.  I know that a slow, quiet practice helps keep me cool and rested,  and that I can get extra enjoyment from the way the heat warms my muscles without any effort at all on my part.  In the heat, stillness is so welcome that sitting is as sweet an activity as I could know.

Refinement (and the Anusara loops)

One of the things that I love about a slow, therapeutic practice is the joy of delving into details.  Seeking mastery and refinement of understanding can itself be exquisite, even when the subject matter is not of our choosing.  Although I would like not to have places of constraint or tightness in my body, they are a fact of my life.  I find great freedom and delight, though, in exploring in detail how to go into the constraints and untangle them.

Last night, after having taught two classes, cleaning house, and walking 5-6 miles commuting to teach and running errands, my hips and low back were not feeling pained, but they were tight.  Going to bed without a good, long practice was not an option.

So I dug in deeply, working to isolate different muscles better to open them.  One of the things that works best for me to open my hips and low back is to work the Anusara “loops” separately.  When I work the loops independently to refine the major principles, I find it optimal if I move the right and left side independently.  If they are moved as one, I find the tendency is to have the thigh bones and spine shift with the muscles, instead of having them be supported in their optimal alignment by the movement of the muscles.  So, for example, in working kidney loop with refinement, the action of kidney loop lengthens the psoas muscles and brings them more into the back plane of the body, but the inward curve of the lumbar spine remains unshifted.

As I continue to practice, I look forward to ever refining my understanding and ever enhancing the optimal flow of energy.