Tag Archive: actionless action

What Students Hear

Last week I took a lovely all-levels yoga class where the emphasis was on fully engaging in the practice rather than striving to achieve a particular outward notion of what the poses should look like.

Near the beginning of the class, but after the emphasis on not striving had already been discussed, the teacher said that the ideal form in uttanasana — standing forward fold — for classical hatha yoga is with the feet together. But, he said, however, he said, but not, the teacher explained, if your back is curved like a “c” in the pose, and your lumbar vertebrae are higher than your sacrum. In that case, you want to take your feet wider apart or you will strain or injure your low back.

As I was fully into the pose, I could see the rows of students behind me. At least two fellow students in my immediate line of sight, promptly put their feet together, even though they had tight hamstrings and bulging lumbar spines and were clearly pushing themselves hard to get their fingertips to the floor. As soon as the word “ideal” was uttered, they could not hear the caution or could or would not apply it to themselves.

The evident intent of the teacher in his exposition of the pose was to give an example where the “ideal” form is most certainly not ideal and will not further the reasons we practice asana. But for so many in this society, striving is such an ingrained way of being, that yoga class can become just another way to achieve.

It was useful for me to witness how carefully one must teach to high achievers this principle of the “ideal” being what suits and not what will win accolades. How do we teach (and learn) the practice of goalless goals, of enjoying working for fitness (of the mind, body, and emotions) without pushing and striving? I’m pretty sure that invoking the principle of actionless action from the Bhagavad Gita would not have made a difference here. It seems a shame to think that the only way to protect all the students’ backs is never to mention the classical form of the pose, and to have to tell all the students (especially in a big class) to have their feet apart (or some similar alignment rule)for protection of the few who do not (or are not yet ready) to hear the whole lesson.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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Meditate Only for Its Own Sake

Last night I had the singular pleasure of hearing Gary Snyder read his poetry at the Folger Shakespeare Library.  At the end of the reading, Mr. Snyder answered a few questions.  In response to one question about advice he gives to aspiring poets, he said:  “Don’t be journalists.  Do hard physical labor that leaves y0ur mind open.”  This is not surprising advice, coming from one who has chosen a life requiring regular manual labor.  “Meditate only for its own sake,” he added, in an apparent non sequitur and without elaboration.

Gary Snyder’s poetry is evidently influenced by his dedicated study and practice of Buddhism.  The insight and clarity of his poetry surely reflects not only his intellectual study, but the deep wisdom of a dedicated, long-standing, and steady meditation practice.  The advice to “meditate for its own sake” seemed almost the offering of a koan by the master (poet) to his pupils.  Meditation, in my experience, definitely  enhances clarity, insight, creativity, and health.  Meditation is not meditation, though, unless when engaging in meditation that is all one is doing and without any goal (like the “actionless action” of the Bhagavad Gita).  It is the deepest of practices to engage fully, but not be doing except for the sake of doing itself (and in alignment with the deepest truths).

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Signs Around Town

What do you dream of creating?
Do your dreams include influencing the dreams of others individually?
What about influencing our collective dreams?
Is it possible to seek change while simultaneously letting go of control? (An aspect of the “actionless action” that the Bhagavad Gita teaches as a primary goal of the yoga.)

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.

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Thoughts on Democracy (and “Actionless Action”)

My friend Dan posted some interesting thoughts about democracy on his blog.  He is writing in the context of the Unitarian Universalist community, but the thoughts are equally applicable to our lives as citizens.  The thoughts on democracy also for me highlighted what is really meant in the Bhagavad Gita about “actionless action.”  To embody our spiritual practice in the way we live our lives, we serve to our best ability out of love, out of delight in acting, out of a sincere joy in serving, but we do not get attached to a particular outcome.

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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?

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