It is always a temptation for me to stay home when it is cold and dark, to miss yoga class (when I am student, not teacher), to do my own practice and read and cook and play with the cat, rather than to be more engaged with all that is outside — friends, group yoga, and all the offerings of the city. I am always happier, though, for having gone out. Home is much more pleasing after an interlude with the outside. And if I dress right, it is even enjoyable to walk out in the cold, dark, rain, and say hello to all the dog walkers.
Yesterday was this year’s perihelion — the day of the year the earth is closest to the sun in the earth’s annual orbit around the sun. I find in interesting that the perihelion is at the coldest and darkest time of year. The relative proximity of the earth to the sun is of far less import for warmth and light than the tilt of earth away from the sun. So, too, with matters of the spirit. It does not matter how close we are to sources of illumination and learning, if we turn away from them. When we turn towards the light, even if the sources of light are farther from our reach, (the aphelion is in July, our hottest month), we are more likely to become illuminated.
In the tradition of our culture’s “new year’s resolution” I like to practice yoga nidra at this time of year to help establish a new sankalpa or intention. A sankalpa is different from a new year’s resolution. It is short, affirming, and is both in the present and forward-looking.
Usually it takes a couple of weeks for me to be certain of what sankalpa is right for me to work with for a period of months. One year, I had been very sick for the entire fall and early winter, so it was easy to choose “I am healthy.” For the past two years, as I struggled with my place this time of war and societal struggle and thought about my own role in creating and avoiding conflict, I chose the sankalpa “I will come from the light in all I do” (“light” for me meaning an inner place of peace, compassion and spaciousness).
In the past several months, mostly due to having thoroughly enjoyed creating meals from the garden and the farmers’ market, I am a little heavier than works with the clothing I own and my sense of comfort with my body image. Instead of having a new year’s resolution to lose five pounds, which would likely fail, I am working with the sankalpa “I love and respect my body.” The former buys into societal expectations of what my body should look like, imposes mental will over my body, and reinforces a mindset of negative judgment and denial. The latter is joyous and affirming. I believe that if I truly love and respect my body, I will eat in a way that is healthy for my body and the earth. I will either lose the few pounds or be more accepting of my body as it is. This sankalpa thus gives me much to contemplate in terms of my relationship to the mirror, my clothes, my asana practice, and my way of eating. How much it gives me to contemplate expands if I think of the body extending beyond just my flesh and bones and physical appearance, but also to my energy body and all that I bring in through the senses.
What sankalpa would be transformative for you this year? What would help you embody your sankalpa (other than, of course, establishing a regular yoga nidra practice — see yoga nidra resources).
It was great to get outside for a walk on this blustery day. Sometimes the sun was out and the wind settled and it felt almost balmy. At other times, the wind howled and the sun hid behind a dense cloud, and it felt like we were about to get a blizzard. In between, it was either cloudy and still or sunny and windy. What a refreshing way to get ready for the new year. Hot tea and soup were specially welcome when I returned home.
The practice of yoga nidra is a wonderful way to deepen the connection between the full range of consciousness and your physical body. It is enjoyable and helpful to practice it on an occasional basis — we did it for the last class of the session in the Willow Street gentle/therapeutics class and you all are welcome to come to the New Year’s Yoga Nidra workshop on Sunday, January 4th — but it can be even more productive as a regular weekly practice.
Here are some good resources if you have found yoga nidra helpful and want to find out more about it and establish a home practice:
To read more about yoga nidra, I recommend the following books, both of which I believe are available at Willow Street Yoga Center.
- Yoga Nidra, Swami Satyandanda Saraswati, Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India, Bihar School of Yoga (1988)
- Yoga Nidra, The Meditative Heart of Yoga, Richard Miller, PhD, Integrated CD Learning, Sounds True, Inc. (2005) [this comes with a CD]
These CD’s lead you through yoga nidra practices of various lengths and emphasis:
- Experience Yoga Nidra — Guided Deep Relaxation, Swami Janakananda, www.skand-yoga.org [my favorite — maybe it is the soothing tones of an Indian swami speaking English with a Swedith inflection]
- Yoga Nidra with Robin Carnes, Robin Carnes leads a yoga nidra class at Willow Street Yoga Center.
- Moving Into the Garden of Your Heart, Betsy Downing, Ph.D [Betsy Downing, the “grandame of Anusara” will be at Willow Street Yoga in January 2009]
- Relax Into Greatness with the Treasure of Yoga Nidra, Rod Stryker [Rod Stryker is an exceptional master and leader of tantric yoga practices, such as yoga nidra, and I highly recommend his meditation CDs and his workshops. This is an older CD, and I sometimes find that the body scan is a little fast for my comfort].
Three or four weeks ago, I came out of my morning meditation thinking about the teachings of Krishnamurti. (I read a lot of Krishnamurti when I was in high school, so his teachings have influenced me with varying degrees of subtlety). Two or three days later, I was “spammed” with Krishnamurti’s Daily Thought. Someone, apparently somewhere in Europe, somehow got access to an email list to which I subscribe. As I had just been thinking about Krishnamurti, though, instead of hitting “unsubscribe,” I read the thought for the day. I’ve been reading it since, and I am exploring how much my readings in high school have been part of my foundational thinking.
When I was volunteering at the Lantern yesterday, one of the other volunteers called and reminded me that there were books put aside for me. It is not my habit to put books aside, and I had no recollection of so doing, so I was curious to discover the books were there. One of the two books was a slightly water damaged paperback of Krishnamurti On Right Livelihood. The universal energies are obviously suggesting I examine this early influence. I am contemplating what the following question means for me in today’s current context of multiple wars, a deep recession, and burgeoning environmental degradation:
Is it not necessary for each one to know for himself what is the right means of livelihood? If we are avaricious, envious, seeking power, then our means of livelihood will correspond to our inward demands and so produce a world of competition, ruthlessness, oppression, ultimately ending in war. Krishnamurti, Ojai, July 1944
I am having my bedroom painted over the holiday break. Yesterday, I took all of the pictures off of the walls, moved most of the other furniture into other rooms, and rolled up the rugs in the hallways. The room is in the middle of the plastering and sanding stage and is filled with the painter’s tools, and so, the door is shut.
Becky only has two places she likes to be for most of the day: on the bed in the bedroom and on the sofa in the living room. When I meditate in the morning and then write in my journal, I sit in the living room. I used to try to sit in the yoga studio, but after her sister passed away, Becky howled until I sat in the living room with her. Becky now will fetch me to the living room if I do not go to meditate right after I have fed her. This morning, she woke me up early because the bed was not in the right place, and she was not happy that the bedroom door was closed. When I went to sit after feeding her, she stomped back and forth, instead of coming to sit with me. When at first I did not pay attention to her, she got more agitated. I finally got up to check on her. She raced up the stairs to be outside the shut bedroom door. I picked her up and brought her back to the living room to sit with me. I pet her until she relaxed. Once she had been shown that her morning sitting place was still there, I was able to sit in meditation without disturbance for 25 minutes.
Our own minds are like that. If there has been a disturbance in our routine that ripples our mind waves, whether it is celebration or upset, small or large, it can feel very challenging to meditate. If our thoughts continue to be in a whirl while we are sitting, we need to just bring our thoughts back to the mind space of meditation over and over again, just as I had to remind Becky our sitting place was still undisturbed even though her daytime sleep spot was disrupted. The more we practice, the easier it becomes to shift to an inner place of peace and light. The less often we allow changes in routine to disrupt our practice, the stronger we become in the face of challenges.
There are lots of ways to clean out a closet. Partly, it depends on what is in the closet. Per my earlier post about freecycle, I think that part of the practice of sauca or cleanliness, is making sure that the hidden parts of our homes are not overfilled with stuff we do not use. Cleaning out the closet, does not mean throwing everything out. It can mean creatively rethinking where things should be and how we should use them. It also means for every artist, cook, crafts person, periodically making use of all those things you picked up or saved because they would be of use in something.
I was raised to save things that possibly could be used later, and to try and make every scrap usable. I was taught this because my father was born in 1929 and my mother in 1936 of Jewish peasant immigrants. Now, we are re-learning how to maximize the use of objects and minimize waste for ecological, rather than financial reasons, though the two are inextricably intertwined. As the recession progresses, it will be interesting to see whether financial constriction will foster more environmentally conscious living.
About four years ago, when I was engaged in a periodic review of what was in the hall closet, I came upon my big box of leftover yarn. In the late eighties and early nineties, I traveled extensively for business, and spent many hours in airports and evenings in hotels. I found it comforting to have a lapful of mohair, homespun, or other delicious to touch yarn. Airport security was less invasive, and it was possible to knit in the airport and take knitting needles on board the airplane. As I love working with multiple colors, that resulted in a leftover skeins from each project. Over a 10-15 year period, even with only a couple of aborted projects and no yarn bought for imagined future projects (unlike a really serious knitter), I ended up with enough yarn for a queen-sized blanket (shocking, really). As you can see, I designed it like a crazy quilt. It took an educated sense of color and line — imagine this as a painting or pastel and you can see the influence of the Washington Color School, but it did not require much in the way of knitting skills (the whole blanket knit in panels of “mistake rib” — (k2, p2), end k2, p1 — about 50,000 times). The patch of fire engine red and the grape juice purple next to it, came from my friend Sara, who is a fabulously talented knitter. I felt the need for those colors, so we swapped for some of the teal and green that I had.
The blanket took almost four years to knit because I only did it in fits and starts. Finally, last year, I decided that I needed to finish it in time for Becky be able to curl up on it. As you can see, she thinks it is great. Now my closet is not stuffed with a big box of yarn, I have an extra warm blanket that helps me keep the house just a little cooler, I made a thing of beauty where I might have been tempted to go out and buy something new, and Becky has a new happy spot.
Between Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner I spent time with four cats in four different households. One is the cat who lives with me — Becky, who has been with me since she and her sister Henrietta were just under five weeks old. Becky will be 21 years old in April. Becky likes to be near me, but prefers to just sit still on my lap and be petted very gently. She still goes up and down pretty steep steps several times a day, but she needs a cushion next to the bed and a low coffee table next to her favorite sofa to be able to climb up to her favorite sleeping places. She is very affectionate. When I have guests, she always comes out to greet them.
On Christmas Eve, I went to a party at a neighbors’ house. There were lots of children running around, tumbling with each other; those who were not in the play basement climbed on adults and furniture, filling the house with energy. After most of the children went home (departing early in bright-eyed anticipation of Christmas morning), Tabitha, who is about 13 came downstairs to visit. She checked out most of the people in the room and jumped up and down off of the sofas several times before picking my lap for a nice petting. Although she is still is solidly, physically able, she has slowed down since I first met her 8-10 years ago.
At lunch on Christmas Day, Sunshine, who is about three, sat in my lap, wildly draping herself into fabulous contortions as she was petted. She lives with two elderly huskies. She was feeling spunky because one of them just had a major operation, and she was feeling safer and more confident, being far the nimblest of the three animals. She even played with her feathery thing on a string toy right in front of the huskies, neither of whom had the energy to disrupt her play. She engaged in some tolerably strenuous antics, but only for a short while before she got bored and took herself off for a bath.
The cat guest at Christmas dinner was seven-week old kitten Toulouse. She does not walk. She bounces. She likes to dance around on her hind legs. She has figured out that if she gets a running start, she can leap onto, instead of clambering up, the sofa that is about five times her height. She played the whole time before dinner and then after dinner played madly with any hand, string, dust mote, rumpled up piece of wrapping paper, computer cord, shoelace, shadow, rug corner, pants leg, cat toy, etc, etc, that flitted across her vision. Like the children, she is still building her strength and flexibility and discovering how to get around and where she can go.
Watching those cats made me think of my continuing coming to terms with the range of my asana practice. I often practice with a group of yogis who are, for the most part, 10-20 years younger than I am. They are beautiful and flexible and strong and a joy to witness. Sometimes when I am practicing with them and I am feeling the aches and pains of an aging spine, it is hard for me stay at peace with the fact although I have a fairly strong physical practice, I cannot have the same one that I would have had if I were working from my level of competence and was 15 years younger. Even when we stay physically engaged throughout life, the realities of aging will change our way of being in the body. Just as it was a delight to sit with all four cats at such different places in their lives and observe their grace, we will age more peacefully if instead of fighting always to have the physical state of youth, we celebrate what enhances our feeling of well-being wherever we are in life. And regardless of previous practice or physical fitness, a steady asana practice at every age, like the play of a cat, can help keep us more vital.
I used to note the first day of winter as a marker of the long, cold and dark season ahead. Now I mark the first day after the solstice as the an opening to the light. In only a few weeks, even though the weather will be wintry, the days will be noticeably longer. This time of year, I walk on the sunny side of street and choose the middle of the day to be outside, in contrast to summer, when I walk in the morning or late afternoon on the shady side of the street. When I went out at midday for a long walk, the light was almost blindingly bright. The blazing sun seemed that much more of a treasure for the cold blustering wind and the shortness of the day. That the light was so clear and vivid seemed an apt reminder that going through periods of cold and dark can clear us for newly illuminated paths if we are only open to the sources of illumination — inside and out.