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Winter Gardening, Vikalpa Samskara, and Bhavana

My cherished friend Cynthia for who there will be a memorial service on Wednesday often said that her favorite time of year to garden was winter.  She was not only a passionate gardener who had established an exquisite ornamental garden over a period of decades, but also a scintillating intellect.  In winter, of course, she would tend the houseplants and have flowers from forced bulbs, but that was not “winter gardening;” it was just having some beauty in the house. Winter gardening for Cynthia meant sitting in her nice warm house, reading stacks of gardening books and seed and plant catalogs and planning ways to enhance and develop the garden come the new growing season.  Cynthia did not practice yoga or meditation although she asked about yoga and exhibited her habitual, engaged and polite intellectual curiosity about my practice out of friendship.

After I took care of the house plants this morning, I sat down with a gardening book and read it while I had my morning hot drink and thought of Cynthia saying this was the best gardening time.  This time last year, I was marveling that I had chard to eat from the garden and espousing the joy of sprouting indoors in order to have fresh food year round (still sprouting and recommend it to all especially this harsh winter).  This year I cannot even see the containers (see picture below after five days of melting and before another coating to come this afternoon), much less any plants outside, so spring gardening will be a completely different experience than it was last year.  I go back, then, to my books.  I read about edible container gardening for climates where spring starts later than is typical for DC.  I think about what I can start indoors and whether I will want to start with different plants.  In the space of time when I cannot actually garden, I develop my intellectual knowledge so that my garden skills and experience can still develop.  When I am out in the garden this spring, digging in the dirt, watching things grow, I will experience with joy in my very being the subtle and not so subtle differences from a dry, warm winter and a cold, snowy one throughout the whole growing season.

This pulsing relationship among practical experience, study, and joyous understanding is our true practice (sadhana).  Steady practice includes not just actual doing of postures and meditation, but also repeated study for enhanced intellectual understanding of what we are experiencing (vikalpa samskara), and joyous, non-intellectual contemplation with heart and spirit (bhavana) of the burgeoning of combined experience and study.  When we appreciate on the mat and off that there will be times for practical experience, times for study, and times just to rest with a rich fullness of contemplation of the fruits of experience and study for the joyous recognition of beauty and consciousness, then we will never be empty.  We will not suffer from the confinement of a blizzard or an injury because we will know that it is time to shift our focus from being on the mat or on our meditation cushion or out of the garden (or whatever it is that is your work or hobby or course of study) and more to studying what others can teach us in words or demonstration.  We will know that the more we enhance our practice with both practicum and book learning, the more we can move towards an ever refined and steady abiding of whatever is our passion in our hearts.

Tatah Dvandavah Anabhighatah (and “winners and losers”)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.48, tatah dvandaha anabhighataha is translated by B.K.S. Iyengar as “from then on [after the yogi through steady practice has absorbed him/herself in the practice of yoga), the sadhaka (practitioner) is undisturbed by dualities.”  This sutra follows the only two in all of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that specifically discuss asana, which Patanjali describes as a controlled and perfect ease and steadiness of mind and body.

I was thinking about the freedom from the “pairs of opposites” — pleasure and pain, etc. — when I read an article in the Washington Post yesterday dividing everyone who was impacted by the blizzard as a winner or a loser.   Children off from school were winners, frustrated parents, travelers who were grounded from flying, and politicians sure to be blamed for not having planned in a Southern city to have the snow removal equipment, personnel, and budget of a city like Buffalo, NY, were losers.  I am fairly certain (based on the harangues on the blogs) that the author was not alone in seeing everything as winning or losing.  To me, though, it feels like one of the “afflictions” described by Patanjali.  I was a grounded flyer.  I was much looking forward to a trip to San Francisco to see a dear friend from college and then to attend the weekend workshop with John Friend.  It would have been great fun to be there.  I was disappointed.  But it never would have occurred to me to label myself a loser.  Do so so would just had me hold onto unhappiness.

Yoga teaches us to look for the good, to accept what we cannot change, and to seek to respond in the highest.  In essence, we are changing what we can change, which is how we react.  If my only reaction to the storm was pain and sadness from having the pleasure of my planned trip taken away from me, then I would in fact be a loser.  If I just accept that no one can anticipate when record-breaking winter storms are going to arrive and then have the best day I can under the unavoidable circumstances, then I am a winner.  I am not a winner in a game where someone else is a loser.  I am not a winner in that I did not let Mother Nature win.  Rather, I have learned that the steady practice of yoga makes life more easeful and delightful even in challenges and disappointments.  I am motivated to practice more.  The lessons learned from being confined a blizzard when I was warm, well fed, and surrounded by friends are a hopeful prelude for how the yoga will serve when I really face a challenge.

Cherry Blossoms

When I ventured out into the streets yesterday morning to get some air, greet some neighbors, and get some fresh vegetables if possible, I saw that a very large branch had come off of a cherry tree a block from my house.  I have lived in my house long enough to have watched the tree grow from a three-foot sapling to a tree that has swollen past the confines of its row house corner yard.  The branch that broke off in the snow was four or five times the size of the sapling when it was first planted.  I spent an hour walking and then made sure I went back to the tree.  It was starting to bud.  It was warm last month, and it’s getting lighter every day. I don’t have high confidence that the buds were far enough along to force blossoms.  I thought I’d give it a try.  Whether I see blossoms early or not, I can use the branches to stake young herbs in another 7-10 weeks.

Abundance of Caution (Wm Penn House Class Cancelled Tonight, Tuesday, Feb 9th) (Web Copy of E-Mailing)

Dear ,

I went for a walk earlier when it was still reasonably warm and the sidewalks were pretty impassable in some places.  The snow has begun and the slush is freezing into icy patches, and I expect it will only get worse after dark.  For the safety of all, with much reluctance, I am cancelling the William Penn House Class tonight.

On your own, please do a few sun salutes, some integrating and hip-opening standing poses, and then a few forward bends and twists (including legs up the wall).  Enjoy and don’t forget to thank your feet with a massage!

Hope to see you soon.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

Winter Weather Advisory (Web Copy of News Mailing)

Dear Friends,

As I sit inside writing, listening to music, and preparing for a long afternoon yoga practice, I am filled both with gratitude for protection for the elements and an unflagging ability to amuse myself and complete awe at the power of nature.

I don’t usually feel the need to post anything about the possibility of weather cancellations.  If I can walk to class, there is class.  Depending on when the snow gets here tomorrow, the amount, how long it continues, and just how high the winds will be, could make winter cancellation possible.

I will decide late afternoon tomorrow.  Keep an eye out on Facebook, the website, and your email box for updates.  In the meantime, enjoy your home, the company of yourself and others living with or around you, and the beauty.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

A Moment of Insight (and suddha vidya)

A rather conservative co-worker, who was one of the people who would have to go grocery shopping last night lest the family be without perishable food for a few days, was talking to me about the impending snowstorm (including me advising him of the one forecast for next Tuesday/Wednesday).  “It shows,” he said, “how easily our infrastructure and food supply can be disrupted.”  I gave it a little pause, and then replied, “this is why I talk about gardening in our own yards and switching away from agribusiness to a more sustainable and self-sustaining way of living and seek to shift myself, though it is difficult.”  He said, “hmmm,” letting the idea stick in his mind, but not wanting to carry the discussion further.  I know him well enough to have dropped it for the time, but also know he will think about it and perhaps over the years, for his beloved daughters or out of perceived necessity, start making small shifts.

In yoga practice, the concept of suddha vidya — illuminative wisdom — is both revealed and practiced.  When we start practicing or even before, we may have occasional and early insights into fundamental truths of being, but without steady practice and contemplation they will be fleeting and not shift our way of living.  If we practice and study continuously, though, our insight will become steadier, more consistent, and will start to illuminate all states of our being on and off the mat.  The more I practice, the more it is illuminated for me the connection of all beings and my need to live in a way that is more open, tolerant, loving, and aligned with the complex web of our interconnection.  My co-worker’s insight might not have been “yoga,” but it was indeed a moment of illuminative wisdom in its recognition of a misalignment of society that tears at the fabric of our being.