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Nilakantha (and personal strength and practice)

It takes incredible strength to take on the sorrows and poisons of others.  How many times have you witnessed someone who is awe-inspiringly dedicated to bringing out change to society, but does so at the expense of his or her own health or intimate relationships?  Have you felt yourself getting worn down by trying to make things better?

The archetype of Nilakantha (who drank up the poison churned up by the devis to save humanity) includes what most of the tales of Shiva tell us:  that Shiva was able to drink the poison and become stronger from the experience because he was already strong from deep, long term practices.

When we ourselves wish to serve, we must serve ourselves also, and perhaps first.  To have the strength and boundaries to ourselves live richly and fully while serving those who are suffering or wreaking destruction without such service destroying ourselves means we must have a practice that enables us to come from a place of light even when going into darkness.  (Doesn’t get much more challenging than that).

To some extent, for modern yogis, this includes a physical practice.  For all yogis, it means a steady practice of meditation and a way of life that aligns with nature.

What Grows in a Very Small Space (and living freely within limitations)

Sometimes when I am blogging about my garden — the joys I experience and its wonderful produce — I feel like I might be presumptuous.  I am no Christoper Lloyd or Alice Waters.  I just have a tiny space behind my urban, rowhouse that I have turned into a personal celebration.

A visitor from out of town graciously commented that in some ways the limits of my garden make it even more wonderful.  In this sense, I know, perhaps best,  from my garden the yoga teaching that ultimately to find freedom in this life we need to celebrate all we are within our limitations to find an inner space of unbounded, liberation.

(Shown here, cucumbers, mint, nasturtiums, peppers, greens, sage, savory, basil, okra, onions, more peppers, red and yellow cherry tomatoes (well picked), brandywine and roma tomatoes, eggplant (slow to start this year), echinacea, lavender, orchid.)

cucumbernasturtium-pepper-mint-eggplantpot-garden

brandywine-romaechinacea-lavenderorchid

Upheaval (and Nilakantha)

Last night when I arrived to teach, I found that the room where I teach had been booked with something else (mistakes happen) and the alternative offered by the space just was not viable.  I was peeved, but just canceling class did not feel right for the space (which has treated me well), my students, or myself.

Instead, I waited until class time, gathering the students together and giving the options.  Fortunately, class was small because it is summer.  Two  students agreed to drive us to my house, which is usually a walk, but one already had her car with her on her way home from work; and the other had hers just a couple of blocks away at her house.  All the students, including two brand new students who came along for the adventure, arrived at my house less than 10 minutes after the usual class start time.  To honor everyone for being so flexible, I turned the class into a donation class, with the proceeds going towards July’s cause:  the ACLU.

This turn of events seemed to me to fit well with the message of the Shiva archetype Nilakantha, which just happened to be the name of Shiva that I have been contemplating this week as I have been preparing my classes.

Shiva drank the poison that was stirred up when others were searching for the nectar of immortality.  In the quest for the unrealistic, these beings brought to the surface a poison that would have killed all humans.  Shiva drank this poison and trapped it in his throat, which turned it blue.  This gave him the name blue-throated, or nila-kantha.

The challenge I encountered yesterday was certainly one of the well-off middle class.  If it were not for our lifestyle, the abrupt change of plans and disruption could not have even felt poisonous, but we are creatures of our place and time.   We took the potential chaos from having been stirred up and instead of letting it ruin our evening, we made it into a celebration and an offering.

And I am working with the space not to have it happen again.  Many thanks to the students who came and were so gracious.

Of Course I Have Already Seen Harry Potter (and being open to what comes)

I went on Saturday evening after teaching two classes and a workshop.  I arrived at the 5:20 show of Harry Potter just as the opening credits were rolling, having intentionally missed the ads and the trailers (17 minutes of them by my clock).  After the movie was over, and I was walking to catch the bus home, I overheard a young woman loudly giving a blow by blow to a friend about the ways the movie was unfaithful to the book.

I was raised to think the book was always better.  I read all of the Mary Poppins books (yes, there are several), first seeing Mary Poppins in college.  In the books, Mary Poppins has quite an edge; she is not the saccherine being of the movie.  I’d read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory years before I saw the first movie.  The book is fantastic.  The movie is its own art.  The list could go on.

I’ve taken these days — thank goodness I never did realize the ubiquitous adolescent dream of being a movie critic — to just enjoying movies about books for their own sake, without undue comparison.  (It does help, sometimes, though, to be familiar with the books on which the movie is based, for example:  Cheri).

If it had not been for the yoga practice, I do not know whether I could have reached a stage where I could watch the movie without comparing it to the book after my Woody Allenesque how to watch a movie upbringing.  To be open and fully accepting of what comes takes many forms.  This is just a very small and rather unimportant one.  Having come with no expectation of the movie being faithful to the book, though, gave me a much greater possibility of enjoying it for the bit of summer afternoon entertainment it was.

Potage D’Ete Au Mid-Atlantic (and jivan mukti)

potage Could not resist the french name.  More fun than summer local vegetable stew.  An alternative name could be:  how to make three okra and six beans into dinner for two.  Or maybe four.  When I was out in the garden this morning, I simply picked what needed to be picked.  Featured here:  three okra, six beans, one jalapeno, two ancho chiles (one partly dried on the plant), two large tomatoes (both of which are only partly viable), two ripe and one green (fell off while I was picking the ripe ones) roma tomatoes, one very small garlic clove, baby leeks, garlic chives, tarragon, parsley, dill, and herb fennel.  Serve over quinoa, couscous, rice, or pasta, and it is easily a meal for two.  Add some red beans or other dried beans, and it could be dinner for four.

One of the things I like about eating from the garden is the necessity of being creative.  Cooking from a cook book, who wants an ingredient list this long?  I could also be disappointed that no one of my plants is giving me enough to create a dish out of mostly one or two ingredients.  If I were getting these ingredients from the store, I would get more okra or beans or peppers.   There is a great joy in finding a sense of abundance and sparked creativity and celebrating pleasure, art, fulfillment, delight, offerings with what we have been given, whether it is the food from our garden, our bodies, our talents, our families, or the time and place into which we were born.  In finding the highest sense of abundance and creativity within our limitations, we are truly experiencing the yoga concept of jivan mukti, living liberation.

Serenity Saturday Today (at Capitol Hill Yoga)

If you are in town today and feeling the need for some R&R, please come join us at Capitol Hill Yoga (scroll down the page, past the Itsy Bitsy workshops, for SS info) today for this month’s Serenity Saturday.

It has been a long work week, and yesterday I though that I’d like to be taking a two hour afternoon restorative workshop myself this weekend.  Last night I gave my self serenity Friday night (not so alliterative).

I’d been feeling a bit testy, and my thoughts were starting to be somewhat all over the place.  I stepped back and thought about all that I’d put into my consciousness in the past couple of weeks: how many work telephone conferences and meetings in which I’d participated, how much the email and other computer communications, how many errands, movies I’d seen, parties I’d gone to, etc.

Diagnosis:  overstimulated.  So instead of going out and getting more stimulated (which can be the immediate reaction to feeling like one wants to get away from work and errand thoughts), I stayed home, cleaned the house, and did a long combination restorative, recumbent, and forward bending practice.  This morning I woke up refreshed and newly receptive, ready to teach all day and share the yoga.

Nataraja (and dancing blissfully in life)

A work colleague of mine graciously said to me that he did not know how I got through certain meetings without yelling, he did not know if he could do it.  I replied that lots of yoga helped.  “Maybe I should get back to transcendental meditation,” he said, “but I found it did not really help; I should find something, though.”

I said that I tried to think of the challenges at work as just part of the dance that yields such rich abundance for me.  The discussion carried on, and we not only resolved the minor problem that had led to the phone call, but also felt a deeper connection that will make it easier in the future to resolve work issues that we mutually encounter.

What I like best about the myth of Nataraja is that the dance is not for the purpose of creating the world or with any particular design, but for the sheer bliss of dancing — anantatandava.  The dance makes possible both destruction and creation, but it is not its reason.  When we engage in the dance of our own lives, yoga invites us just to dance fully with wonder at the rich diversity of experience.  We make choices and seek to be more aligned, but ultimately we are just dancing.

Ways to Eat Day Old Bread (Is that “fresh” food?)

Ayurveda says one should only eat “fresh” food.  What does that mean?  How does that translate into having delicious food making the best use of every bit of it without waste and without having all of our time being devoted to creating it (from start to finish).  Is making a fresh dish from a food item from yesterday’s meal “stale” food?  I don’t think so, but then, I am not an ayurvedic practitioner.  I am fairly certain it is less “stale” than “fast” or packaged food.  And I am too much the New York grandchild of peasant immigrants to forego making the most optimal and complete use of all the food that enters my kitchen.  Also, the simple efficiency of leftovers are too important a component of having the most personally and lovingly prepared food I can with my life style.

Here are some of my favorite ways to eat bread the day after it was a fresh accompaniment to a salad, sandwich, or larger, festive meal.  (Obviously, this is not for all of those who cannot or do not like to eat bread, which I think of as indeed the staff of life.)   Here are some of my favorites, not in any particular order:

Crostini/Bruschetta (topped with tapenade, salsa, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, etc.)

Bread salad (with the best of the summer tomatoes and fresh basil)

Croutons (for salad or soup, my favorite is rubbed with a little garlic)

Red pepper spread with pomegranate molasses and walnuts (bread is the thickener)

Skordalia (also can be made with potatoes or a mix of bread and potatoes)

Stuffing for squash

Bread crumbs for a whole variety of things

Savory bread pudding

Observing Another Storm Pass without Raining (and a moment of truth)

The third front in a row.  It is starting to be a long while not to rain in the summer.  It is a tough gardening year:  extreme drought conditions all winter, overly cool and wet spring, now no rain again.

Watching how the erratic weather patterns are impacting my garden, I am reminded that I am not a purist about gardening or food or my impact on the earth.   As much as I enjoy tending my garden and eating its fruits, there is no hesitation in my mind that if my garden does not produce, I will buy more food at the farmers’ market.  If the pickings are slim at the farmers’ market because of local conditions, I am in no doubt that I will buy food from whatever source, even if I try to make sure it is first local, then humanely picked, then organic.

When I write about gardening and eating and yoga, I am sharing what I enjoy, what makes me feel healthy.  I do not think of myself as trying to set an example.  In some senses, my yoga practice is similarly about what works for me personally and no more.  The yoga teachings are fairly clear that the design and purpose of aligning with the subtle energies, including living in a more peaceful, less destructive way, is for the enlightenment of the individual practitioner and not for “making the world a better place.”  If by seeking to live in a healthier, more aligned, more peaceful and compassionate way ourselves also brings more global benefits, that is a bonus.

Looking at our lives from this perspective could cause discouragement.  I hear this question all the time:  “why should I change what I am doing [consuming/eating/driving]?  My behavior is not going to change the world when there are all of those billions not changing.”  In some senses, looking at shifting our behavior from a completely selfish perspective makes it more accessible and meaningful.  If we see our choices having the possibility of making ourselves healthier, happier, and more at peace with ourselves and the world around us, why would we not want to try to live more consciously?