When I was out at lunchtime to run an errand, I crossed paths with the neighbor (or visitor) wearing this shirt. I asked if I could photograph him. He seemed a bit taken aback, but posed for me when I said that I would only photograph the quote. After all, anyone who would walk around Capitol Hill with a Bayard Ruskin quote on his chest would likely want to motivate as many people as possible to think about that quote and act accordingly.
Reading today’s article in the Washington Post, “Women Fight for Access to Sacred Places in India,” and appropo of my recent blog post on Ayyappa, reminded me of what led me to the law. I am conscious that relative to most of the billions of women on this planet, I have had extraordinary opportunities.
I think I have a responsibility to live to the fullest the opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to have. And I think that part of that responsibility is to make my own contribution to eliminating injustice and to keep working with creativity and dedication and passion, while ultimately, like Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita and his right action, letting go of the result, knowing I am not in control of any particular outcome or sequence of events.
What is your story? The opportunities explored? The barriers that need not have been there?
Shakti Pilgrims, Tamil Nadu, India, 12/11
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.
How do you react when you see signs of neglect, disinterest, disregard for the health and well-being of the earth and other beings? Do you get stuck in a sense of helplessness or rage? Do you think we’re all screwed anyway and decide no effort to make things better is worth it? Are you moved to political action? Are you moved to take better care of self, family, and friends, even if you think you cannot make much of a greater impact beyond your intimate circle? Can you remain engaged and still find joy, whatever the apparent immediate results and how hard the battle seems to be?
The Bhagavad Gita, says that to live a life of yoga, we must do the last of these. The first teaching from the Bhagavad Gita on this point is that we must live in accordance with our dharma (duty). The second teaching, and more important for having peace of mind in a life of duty, is that of “actionless action.” The true yoga is to live a life of action in accordance with dharma, but without attachment to the outcome (i.e., live in an orderly way, accepting the tendency of the universe to be chaotic).
Dharma in the Bhagavad Gita, of course, contemplated rigid roles in terms of livelihood and place in society. In the paradigm of citizenship in a democracy that does not so narrowly circumscribe one’s livelihood or place in society, I wcould argue that it is all of our dharma to participate as a citizen, voting, speaking out for our beliefs, and otherwise using the freedom we have to live a life that best supports the twins of individual and common good, including not just human good, but the whole ecology in which we exist. The actionless action part is to keep seeking (without despairing) to make things more in alignment even if the forces against healing, nurture, and alignment seem to conspire against positive results that we will see or actualize ourselves.
Are you registered to vote? Have you watered your trees? Casey Trees reminds us that this week in DC is dry; trees need about 25 gallons of water or 1 1/2 inches.
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).
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.
When I read Kate Swift’s obituary yesterday, it lead me to think more deeply about a recent conversation I had about the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita, not surprisingly, is required reading for most yoga teachers. It is an integral part of the history and philosophy of yoga thought and practice. It is, though, about a battle in the middle of war, in a time and place where a woman’s highest and best (and arguably only role in life) is to be obedient first to parents and then to husband. Purity, obedience, and beauty (as decided by society) are the great virtues of women. As a dialogue between a male warrior (Arjuna) and a male incarnation of the deity (Krishna), all of the spiritual and social teachings are presented in terms of men and males, right down to the pronouns. The translation that was being discussed was that by Juan Mascaro. As a mid-twentieth century translation by a Spaniard at Cambridge University who has lectured on “Literary and Spiritual Values in the Authorized Version of the Bible,” the translation no doubt perpetuates (without any specific or willful intention to do so) the inherent sexism that is also found in the English language and in the Bible and its notion of God.
The question raised was how a book that perpetuates sexist stereotypes could be required reading to be a yoga teacher. (See my previous blog entry on how we, as yoga teachers, can rely on a book that is primarily about war.) How would it read, it was suggested, if all the pronouns in the Gita were changed from he to she? The person raising the question said that making this change made the spiritual guidance more accessible to her. For me, shifting the pronouns from male to female does not address the challenge because I do not believe in spirit that can be given gender. I read the Gita and other yoga texts in two ways: (1) as historical and literary/philosophical documents that are products of the author’s time and place in history; and (2) as a source of universal human truths. The Gita, as a dialogue between a warrior and a male avatar of “God,” does not have much place in the ideals I hold dear. Neither the caste system nor the roles for women espoused in the text support my own beliefs about equality, justice, fairness, or love. The extraordinary teachings of yoga, though, transcend the history out of which they arose. To do justice to the yoga texts — and not just the yoga texts, but the great teachings and texts that are an integral part of our social fabric — we must both recognize their historical context and be open to learning what has transcended history and cultural boundaries to make them living words.
In attempting to make the shift to a modern interpretation that allows for “feminism,” I know many who try to address some of the challenge for modern readers by saying that we all have characteristics of the masculine and the feminine, and so we can read the guidance in the texts as being valid for both sexes. The problem I have with that is Kate Swift’s point. If we label various personality traits and characteristics as being elementally male or female, we are still perpetuating sexism through linguistic bias. It is not enough for me to make the warrior female and allow her “male” characteristics. What I think is that all human characteristics are gender neutral. If the teachings are not to be biased when we as teachers transmit our reflections on the texts to our students (after recognizing how history has done it), then we need to say that all people can be assertive or passive, strong or sweet, rigorous or soft, etc, but not just say that some are masculine and some are feminine and that in having all of these traits to some degree, we are showing that we are both god and goddess, masculine and feminine.
Or we could just not do any labeling at all, instead concentrating on the truly universal yoga teachings of right action, selfless service, and deep abiding love–none of which have anything to do with gender.