When we do a yoga pose, it is an act of creation; asana is in its own way a dance form. Every time we practice, it is our choice whether to make a pose a full and deep expression of our embodiment or just a routine physical workout no matter how many times we have done it before.
So too, everything we do is in some sense a creative act. How we choose to express ourselves and what we make of our day–no matter that it is the same commute and work we may have done for years–is up to our own creative intention. What did you create today?
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
On the Friends Meeting of Washington list serve this week, there has been a fair amount of email exchanged about an upcoming “meeting for discernment for peace.” Very roughly described, a meeting for discernment begins with a period of silent worship in which those present settle into the silence and surrender thought to allow the light of spirit to illuminate a specific subject of contemplation. The subject of the meeting serves to enlighten both the individuals participating and to further both the business and spiritual state of the meeting as a whole.
As I read the emails and invited myself to contemplate the questions offered for the meeting (I will not be able to attend because I had previously committed to volunteer work), it led me to think not only about the topic under discernment, but about how similar it seems to me to the yoga practice of bhavana and how bhavana supports the Anusara teaching method of “heart-oriented posturing language.”
When we practice bhavana ,we invite the fullness of consciousness to illuminate ever deeper levels of understanding of particular teachings from the yoga texts or similar ideas. It is similar to meditation in that we don’t try to think our way through the concept, but rest with it. Bhavana differs from meditation exactly because it is focused on the deepening of a particular concept rather than simply going into the space of meditation as an end in itself.
Although a meeting for discernment is practiced as a form of collective worship rather than an individual practice, it is much like bhavana, and I brought the Quaker method of resting in the light to reveal deeper insight regarding a concept when I first starting teaching Anusara yoga with its emphasis on having a class theme and using heart-oriented language to invite myself and students to experience a heart quality through asana practice.
The queries for contemplation at the meeting for discernment for peace, include the following:
The young woman sitting next to me on the train north from New York, who is impossibly tall and has lovely, strong features (i.e., is perfectly cast), is memorizing Lady Macbeth’s lines.
I had on my own lap print-outs of mantras that Paul Muller-Ortega has invited us to memorize as part of our continuing studies.
To enter the character of Lady Macbeth, one of the first steps is to memorize the lines, to know completely what she says and not just to hear it and appreciate it. Memorizing the lines is an essential part of the route to becoming Lady Macbeth.
Paul Muller-Ortega has suggested that the reason to memorize various mantras is not to acquire them, not to be able to demonstrate a superficial knowledge or skill, but to aid in the profound practice of
bhavana–deep contemplation at the heart level. It is not the fact of memorization, but the activity of memorizing. It is no accident that we call memorizing, “knowing by heart.” We seek to learn by heart to invite ourselves into the space of concentration that requires. It is a slow and difficult process for me. I persist, though, because of the deepening and expanding understanding it facilitates.
I note for those yogis (and other readers) who might find the idea of learning mantras alien or uncomfortable or apparently at odds with your own religious beliefs or practices, that studying the mantras does not require or make one a Hindu. I think of it as an invitation to understand and embody the highest archetypes and principles they invoke and represent and compatible with my other observances.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
I contemplate (practice bhavana on) the yoga principle abhuta (wonder) on a fairly consistent basis. When we can find wonder in sheer miraculous diversity of manifestation, we can enter a space of joy whence we can more likely respond in the highest.
This afternoon, perhaps because I have so recently gone on a practice intensive, I experienced a spontaneous uprising of delighted wonder on receiving an email that would otherwise cause me some consternation and annoyance. Instead, my first reaction was, “My goodness! Another one just like the others, but still new and different! Amazing how that happens. And now I will have to respond.”
I felt that way again as I joined the rush hour crowds on my way from work to go lead the restorative class at Takoma Park. (If you’re in town, drop-ins welcome. Thursdays at 8pm at Willow Street Takoma Park through the end of May).
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
Walking has always been my preferred form of getting from one place to another; if time and distance require it, I intersperse a lift from bus, metro, or taxi on one end or in the middle of a walk. All I really wanted to do with my time off–I don’t have to go to the office or teach class until January 3rd–is to walk and practice and visit with friends and family and look at art and cook and read and study and eat and play with the cats and write and photograph and dance (an open-ended term) and maybe knit or draw. For me, walking is walking in itself; time to practice bhavana — deep contemplation; time to practice japa–repetition of mantra; opportunity to open the mind and senses to allow the flourishing of creative projects–mostly writing and photography; a way of going from one place to another for shopping, working, visiting, etc; and sometimes an activity to share with friends. And of course walking to get food is wonderful both for stimulating the appetite and for aiding digestion.
Yesterday, we were given 90 minutes of administrative leave. On leaving the office at 3:30, I walked west from my building to the last Thursday until spring of the Penn Quarter Farmer’s Market. I didn’t really need anything, but wanted to support the farmers who were braving the cold, so I bought a wild oyster to eat while I stood there and a bag of arugula and a few apples and pears. From there I walked back east, traversing the Capitol grounds to East Capitol Street and stopped in and browsed at Capitol Hill Books. It was turning dark when I walked east into Lincoln Park before turning north to go home.
In less than an hour, a good friend will arrive at the door in her walking shoes. We are going to head out on foot to the Mall to talk and to look at art and to share a meal in Penn Quarter or back on the Hill. Later in the day, I will walk along the bus route to Dupont or walk to the metro to go to a Christmas Eve potluck dinner at Friends Meeting of Washington.
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, I will celebrate Christmas in the manner of New York Jews (Chinese food and a movie). After walking through Lincoln Park and down Kentucky Avenue SE (where are some of the most beautiful trees in the neighborhood) to get a massage, I’ll walk to the U.S. Botanical Gardens to meet a friend I have known since third grade who is town with some of her NY friends for the holidays. We will probably walk up to Chinatown after that. Then I’ll go see a movie. Whether I walk or take the bus will depend on whether it is dark by the time the movie lets out.
On Boxing Day, I will go to Georgetown to volunteer at the Lantern Bookshop. I will walk some of the way and take the bus the rest of the way. The length of the walk will depend on the amount of time I spend making breakfast, caring for plants and cats and house, and writing. How much of the return trip ends up being on foot will depend on how many books I decide to take home from the Lantern. Sometimes I only get one or two.
Here’s an aerial view of the back garden on the equinox after I spent several hours cleaning, deadheading, repotting, mulching, etc. As you can see, the moss is ecstatic from having had the weight of the snow on it for several weeks. Coming up in quantities almost enough to pick are lettuce, spinach, cilantro, parsley, chives, onions, lemon balm (always have too much of that — if you’re local let me know if you want some). The first rosebud emerged sometime between Friday and Sunday. It is hard to believe that just a month ago, I was blogging about indoor gardening — how to find delight even when snowed under (scroll to the bottom of the linked post to compare pictures of the same view).
As you can see from comparing the two photos, things were still growing under the snow or getting ready to do so. That is what practice is like for me. Sometimes I feel completely snowed under by an injury or rush jobs at work or personal circumstances beyond my control. I keep practicing, but I don’t have the time or energy for long practices or full weekend workshops, when it is easy to get to a place of delight. Other times, things are less pressured, and I feel brimming over with health. Then practice feels wildly effulgent. For my garden to offer its full potential (as is true with my practice), I need to spend lots of time and effort in it for the next several weeks. I know that if I do so, I will be blessed with fullness.
My friend and Willow Street colleague Natalie Miller taught a lovely class on Monday night, using sauca as her theme. She said that she had recently read a book that described the yamas as things we do to be better persons, but that the niyamas were precepts for our spiritual practice to lead us better on the path. In that sense, she suggested, sauca is about clarity or purity of intention.
What I love about contemplating and practicing with these concepts is that they are so pregnant with meaning; they have so much to offer wherever we are in our life and on our individual path of spirit exploration. The more we contemplate and visit and practice and discuss, the more we will discover both about the meaning of the concept and about ourselves.
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.