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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.

August News

I am continuing to get bounce-backs from email addresses on the mailing list that I know are valid.  If you want to receive my occasional emails, please subscribe to the mailing list and make sure to check your spam filters.  In the meantime, I will try to remember also to post the content of the newsletters on the blog.

Hope all of you are enjoying the glorious bounty and light of summer and that you are well.

For those of you who are in town, there are some wonderful yoga opportunities:

Saturday, August 15th — the anniversary of Anusara yoga — come up to Willow Street for “Free Your Head, Open Your Heart” for a gloriously celebratory and healing backbending experience. Great for those who love and those who have trepidation around backbends.

Saturday, August 22nd — Treat yourself to an afternoon of summer R&R with “Serenity Saturday” at Capitol Hill Yoga.

Drop in to Tuesday night classes at William Penn House (6:30pm) or Saturdays at Willow Street Yoga.

Or RSVP for the Wednesday night group practice. August’s donation recipient — in honor of yoginis extraordinair Jess and Marlene — is Advocats, which rescues and provides homes to dozens of local cats.

IMPORTANT REMINDER: I will be in Oregon the first week of September (that’s the week before Labor Day) studying and celebrating with John Friend. There will be no Wm Penn House or house practice that week (9/1&2).

Hope to see and hear from you soon. As always, feel free to share your thoughts, needs, celebrations, and challenges with me by email, comments on the blog, or through Facebook.

More information about the classes and workshops on the website.

Dreams (and Maya)

In classical yoga systems, we are taught that all the world is an illusion (maya) and the only thing that is “real” is Atman (spirit, the One).  I do not subscribe to that belief, but I do believe in the principle that is espoused in the Bhagavad Gita of actionless action — working because it is my nature to work, but accepting that I ultimately am not in charge of the results.  I thus can be fully engaged in my work, but be freer of anxiety, disappointment, and frustration or overcharged attachment to pleasure and success.  From a tantric perspective, I believe it is all real and full and something to be experienced as part of the marvelous complexity of being.

This principle carries over into my relationship to my dreams.  I have always had extremely vivid and present dreams most nights.  Sometimes, like last night, my dreams are full of convoluted challenges and difficulties that could be filled with anxiety.  I used to chew on dreams like that through the day.  Now I wake up and think:  what an amazingly inventive mind I have.  Isn’t the subconscious fascinating?  I pay attention to what lessons might be in the dream  and let them release the dreams from holding on to my day.  As I get more skilled with meditation and yoga, I often can find this place of simultaneous engagement/non-engagement even while I am still dreaming.  This makes it so the dreams have no more hold on my ability to sleep or act than would watching a movie that raises challenging issues.

The Swimming Spot (and Karunabdhe)

swimming To find water deep enough for swimming and fresh enough for drinking in the desert is absolutely exquisite, sweet, refreshment.  It is love, nectar, and bliss all at once.

A half a mile away on foot in certain directions, this swimming spot was invisible.  All that was readily apparent was dry heat and scrub.  Sometimes, we feel similarly separated from inner nurture and support amidst the challenges of the world.  When we are steady with our sadhana (yoga/meditation practice), we will more and more easily find our own inner bathing spot — karunabdhe (ocean of compassion, an aspect of shiva), even as we engage in and encounter the vagaries and tribulations of daily life.  When we know the ocean of compassion is right there in which to bathe whenever we need refreshment, we can engage more fully and with more light and compassion, better to serve and love and delight, whatever difficulties come our way.