Tag Archive: Paul Muller-Ortega

The Importance of Doubt (and Shrada)

I was just led by a friend’s Facebook posting to the website for an upcoming movie about the Siddha yoga ashram (Siddha yoga was part of the teaching and practice lineage of John Friend and Paul Muller-Ortega, and both have told stories about how useful the fierce ashram  discipline was for them, but who adopted too much of the ashram style in their yoga organizations for me ever to have tried to be in the inner circle).   In watching the trailer and reading the background materials for the movie, it struck me that the most important point for me is that the followers who were most injured were those who doubted least and who were the most hungry for an authority and love figure.

As a born and bred doubter (how could I not be one who consistently doubts as part of my spiritual practice, given that I am a culturally jewish, New York intellectual who was raised on the Quaker system of queries and advices, who studied western philosophy and law, and who works inside the Beltway?), I believe that you will always be able to get the good out of teachings without losing your own control, sense of self, and discriminating (viveka) ability to evaluate your commitment to a teacher or organization and the teachings offered, if your faith is in your own intuition and education and not in any one human or organization or specific teaching.

Faith (in Sanskrit shrada), in order to serve us well, needs doubt; it needs questioning; it needs testing at every point of the way or it is superficial faith.  Don’t let anyone–particularly someone with whom you study or engage in religious or spiritual practice ever tell you otherwise.  Sometimes doubting with faith means getting involved or staying fully committed to an organization or teacher despite misgivings or despite troubling  behavior (assuming you are not sticking with being abused yourself or standing idly by when witnessing the abuse of others).  After all, no humans, organizations, or relationships are without their shadow sides.  Sometimes doubting, even with faith, means a radical and complete separation–quietly or loudly.  Sometimes what is best for you is something in between.  Learning to be in community is part of the practice, after all, keeping in mind that you are the company you keep.

All I can say is this:  Please doubt.  Please doubt with sincerity.  Please doubt with love.  Please doubt with respect.  Please educate yourself, and with appropriate doubt, have faith that there is good in connecting and in the teachings, no matter how challenging is getting and sharing the teachings and the practices with and through the filter of others.

Share

Quote for the Day

My chosen reading for the train journey to New York and New Jersey to visit with friends and to attend a weekend workshop at Dig Yoga with Paul Muller-Ortega and Sianna Sherman is Mariana Caplan’s Eyes Wide Open.

I have my reasons to have reservations about some of what she says and advocates. I am finding the book interesting and not untimely reading, though, and fully agree with her caution: “To approach spiritual paths and practices with intelligent skepticism is advisable.” I would add to this statement that the discerning, questioning approach should not just be at first experience, but should be cultivated continuously and progressively more insightfully as explorations and relationships deepen.

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

Share

Great Gary Snyder Quote (and Sadhana)

My friend Dan just posted on his blog a great Gary Snyder quote on the need to do maintenance (of the self) in order to be most creative.  The idea that we need to maintain our tools and toolbox, as it were, in order to be most creative, is exactly what we are taught about the tantric yoga sadhana  — practice.  With our yoga practice, diet, lifestyle, work, consumption, participation in community, we seek to live progressively more in alignment with the undulating fabric of space, time, and apparent world so that we have maximum well-being best to serve ourselves and others with delight. In our sadhana, we include both study and experience (experience includes meditation, asana, and pranayama).  As both John Friend and Paul Muller-Ortega teach, we engage in the practices and studies to learn with ever expanding insight how to see and experience the highest first and live from that place.  Living and practicing with such an intention is, I think, the maintenance done so we can live out all of our lives as a reverential and creative act.

Dan–I look forward to reading the sermon.

Share

Lady Macbeth (and Bhavana)

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.

Share

The “Highest First” and Knowing What Is a Weed

Webster’s On-Line Dictionary defines a “weed” as”any plant growing in cultivated ground to the injury of the crop or desired vegetation, or to the disfigurement of the place; an unsightly, useless, or injurious plant.”  At first blush, this might seem like an easy concept, but if we start breaking down the definition, we can see how much our education, assumptions, and prejudices come into play in deciding what is a weed and what is not.  We need to recognize individual plants (when they first come out of the earth and when they are in full leaf or flower) and what they offer.  We need to know how to foster growth of what we choose to plant, including knowing what will thrive in our location and bring more health and beauty to ourselves and the planet, and we need to have a sense of aesthetics that will cultivate not only our connection to spirit, but optimize the shining through of spirit in all that surrounds us.

Several years ago, I bought a sprig of epazote in a two inch grower’s pot.  It went to seed and came back all over my little garden.  It grows wild beside highways where it is a native plant.  I really like the taste, and it is hard to find here, so I give seedlings away to friends who want it for their own gardens (locals just ask, and I’ll give you some).  It is one plant I know I do not have to replace; it will come back every year if I let it go to seed.  If I had not controlled it by taking it out of prime planting spaces and either using it right away or replanting it someplace nothing else will grow, though, it would be crowding out other plants in a way that is less than optimal.  It is thus both a desired plant and a potentially invasive weed depending on how it fits in with the whole.

I have seen neighbors using Roundup to kill purslane and dandelions that have grown up between the bricks on the sidewalk in front of their houses.  Although I think both purslane and dandelions are pretty plants and perfect for spots where nothing else will grow, I can appreciate wanting the front of the house to look tidy.  Why not pick the free edible plants instead of spraying toxic chemicals?  I let edible wild plants come up between the crevices and then either relocate them or treat weeding as harvesting, getting incredible flavor and nutrition from something that most are taught to try and eradicate.

There are other plants that are sufficiently invasive or poisonous, though, that I do my best to eliminate them from my space (though I do not use pesticides).  The other day, I was walking down East Capitol Street after teaching the William Penn House class and saw some English Ivy climbing up a beautiful tree in one of the sidewalk tree boxes.  I stopped to pull it all off because English Ivy left unchecked will kill a tree.  While engaged in this activity an older couple who lived in the house next to the tree walked up to me and my fellow yogi who was helping me with the ivy removal.  The woman thanked me, saying that she had been meaning to pull the ivy.  Ivy is an example of a plant people think is pretty and appropriate to plant, but it does not belong in our climate and is incredibly destructive.  By my lights, it is a weed, even though I can buy it in most nurseries in the area.  I am blessed not to have poison ivy where I live, but it should be removed.  It is too hard to live with it.

What does determining whether a plant is truly a weed, whether it causes injury or interferes with what is desired or is unsightly, useless or injurious have to do with the “first principle” in Anusara yoga of “opening to grace?”  The first principle invites us to be ready in the first instance to recognize the auspiciousness of both what we seek out and what we encounter.  In teaching meditation and related practices of Blue Throat Yoga, Paul Muller-Ortega speaks of this as “the highest first.”  As we study and practice (jnana/vijnana), we approach the same and new things with ever more refined technique, knowledge and understanding.  The progressive refinement from our efforts helps us then to open up to a deeper perception of the best of our nature.  We keep repeating the cycle of studying and practicing, always remembering the first principle, and we, despite and because of ourselves, shift our relationship with the world around and inside us.  To be open is a softness, a spaciousness, a willingness to see that is without effort.  We temper what gets in the way of effortless opening with the fire to study and to practice with the intention learn how to be more effortless in understanding how things are part of the whole.

How do we apply first principle in knowing what to weed from our garden (or, for that matter, how to address in ourselves a physical, mental or emotional characteristic or pattern of behavior that may or may not serve us or both–our individual “weeds”)?

Is the “desired” vegetation a desire that would help align the gardener and the garden with nature or is it something that was taught that comes from an unsustainable aesthetic and social paradigm (for example, a perfectly green lawn with no plants other than grass)?  If the crop is one that truly nourishes (so worth preserving from injury or interference), does it just mean that the “weed” needs to be relocated so that both the crop and the “weed” can flourish simultaneously?  In other words, is the “weed” beneficial in its own way, but just needs to be shifted so that its inherent good can truly be appreciated and honored?

Is a determination of injuriousness, uselessness, or unsightliness based on ignorance or true discriminative wisdom?  We cannnot know unless we both sweetly open to recognize the potential for discovering the good in what seems most harmful (perhaps one day scientists will find an extraordinary benefit from poison ivy, just as the deadly poisonous plant digitalis is also a powerful heart medicine) and continue to study and practice with an intention to open ever more deeply.

 

From left to right: volunteer epazote, lemon balm, purslane and dill.  Dinner:  black beans flavored with epazote; greens, including purslane.  Lemon balm (aka melissa) makes a delicious and quieting evening tea.

Share

Nyaya of the Rosebud and the Rose

As I walked through the neighborhood for the past couple of days, going from one place to another, I have seen hundreds of rosebuds. In enjoying the exquisite form of the buds before they open, I thought about the teaching I have heard from Paul Muller-Ortega of the rosebud and the rose.

The buds are lovely ad perfect in their on right, and at some level, we hate to see them go. But the rosebud itself must dissolve or be destroyed for us to get the rose. The transformation into the full-flowering of the rose requires the dissolution of the bud.

So too, with everything in life. When we can fully appreciate this cycle of dissolution as part of creation, we will be less attached in a way the leads us to be bound up in grief and loss, and instead find a fuller appreciation of whatever beauty is present in where we are in the cycle.

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

Share

Web Version of E-Newsletter “New Year’s Greeting”

Dear Friends,

The changing of the calendar gives us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the past year and think of how we might wish to grow or shift to best serve ourselves and others in the coming year.  2010 was such a difficult year for so many, with suffering of a magnitude of which I can hardly conceive, even though I have had my own struggles.

In the midst of the challenges we are facing globally, societally, and locally, 2010 was a good year for me, although it had some partings and disappointments that were painful.  With all the challenges and suffering of so many, I am especially conscious of how fortunate I am.  John Friend, at the weekend workshop in Bryn Athyn, reminded us that with the privilege of having the material, physical, and intellectual well-being to be able to study and practice hatha yoga as we do, comes the responsibility to serve, to share in the best way we can and to seek to illuminate not only our inner world, but the world around us.

In 2010, most important of what filled my year was that I deepened and committed further to my studies of meditation and tantric yoga philosophy with Paul Muller-Ortega.  I have been invigorated by my continuing studies with John Friend and other senior Anusara yoga teachers.  I am almost overwhelmed by how much joy I get from practicing and studying and the community of fellow practitioners and look forward to going deeper and sharing my explorations in 2011.

Three new things that were not part of my formal yoga practice brought great joy into my year, and I am sure, in the years to come.  The magnificent and enormous middle-aged cats, Uma and Sully, who moved into my house on an emergency fostering basis, quickly became permanent inmates and  unceasingly offer entertainment and comfort.  I had a solar array installed on my roof, which was an inspiring way to see technology in a positive light.  I look forward, as the days start lengthening, to watching the electric meter run backwards. Most recently, I was led to the DC Contact Improv Jam, which I am finding just wonderful.  I am sure the delight of dancing and the freedom and play of contact improv will shift my own practice and expand the offerings for class.

What I have learned during my time practicing is that when I am sick or injured or feeling excessively challenged my practice supports me and helps me remember what is good and nourishing and sweet.  When I am feeling exuberently full of life then my practice just expands the joy.  Most of the time it is somewhere in between.  With the expansion of my own studying and practice, I will be teaching a little less and, in my offerings at Willow Street, emphasizing healing, nurturing, and a sweet opening to supportive shifts; all are welcome both to the Gentle/Therapeutics Saturday noon-time class (registration preferred, but drop-ins always welcome) and to one or all of the restorative workshops that will be held the last Saturday of January, February, and March.  The William Penn House class is as all levels an embrace and invitation  as you need it to be for your support and delight–from chair yoga to drop backs, depending on your practice and the day. Drop in any week; no advance notice required.

Proceeds from the house classes will continue to go 100% to environmental causes in 2011.  In March, I will again be offering at Willow Street, “Yoga for Gardeners,” with my profits going to benefit the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum.  And if you are ever looking to browse for used books — or looking for a good place to donate some of your own — please visit the Lantern Bookshop in Georgetown, where I have been volunteering one Sunday a month for 15 years or so.

Whether 2010 was a more a year of challenges or joy and expansion, I wish you the best in 2011 and hope to see you soon, sharing in the joy and support of the yoga.

Peace and light,

Share

Airport Delay (and “Unreasonable Happiness”)

I am sitting in Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International airport waiting for the plane that should already be carrying me home to finish being repaired. After having done a full hour of practice this morning in my room, having a last delicious breakfast at the retreat center, and enjoyed the two-hour ride with friends to the airport, I find myself perfectly happy to sit in the airport. I am warm and well-fed. I have bought a novel to read on the plane — Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” — and put aside a philosophy handout to write. The handout, a translation of the beginning of Abhinavagupta’s “Tantrasara” that was given to us by Paul Muller-Ortega to support our meditation practices, teaches us to seek the power of bliss through the practices, this bliss being true knowledge and true freedom. The more we practice, the more we can draw on this power and abide in a state of true happiness. Paul Muller-Ortega sometimes says that we want to be “unreasonably happy.” As I sit here feeling perfectly content after my weekend of practice and community and watching others in the airport get progressively grumpier with the delay, I feel unreasonably happy. I also feel fully motivated to practice and study ever more deeply so that I can abide ever more steadily and this glorious unreason.

Share

Going on An “Advance”

I am sitting at the airport getting ready to fly to Phoenix. At Sky Harbor International, I will join friends, and we will drive together to Sedona for a weekend of study, meditation and other practice, and companionship.

On the most recent study call, our teacher Paul Muller-Ortega said that we are not going on a retreat. We are not joining together to get away from things, to escape from our lives. Rather, we are taking an opportunity to deepen and expand our practice to live life more fully. Would it not be more accurate, then, Paul suggested, to think of it as going on an “advance” than on “retreat?”

Share

Outrageous Light (and Sadhana)

I just spent a week looking at the celestial realms — inner and outer.  Fifty of us spent a week meditating and studying with Paul Muller-Ortega at a retreat center in Sedona.  It might seem from these pictures that there was not a moment when we weren’t exclaiming in awe over magnificent visions.  The truth is that many times of the day, the sky was not spectacular, but I was always looking and always had my camera in my pocket, whether the sky was dull or flat when I left my room or whether it was engaged in some outrageous display of light.  The photographs below are in chronological order to show the pulsation of night and day, the progression of the moon from almost full to full, the shift in mood from day to day.  But, the images show a completely edited view.  There were the views for which I did not take out my camera at all.  Those were the majority, but I was still looking.  There were the views I photographed, but deleted from the camera memory, choosing not even to save them.  There are the photographs that I downloaded onto my computer, but did not even enlarge to get a better view.  There are photographs I enlarged, but decided not to edit.  Then there were the photographs I chose to edit by making decisions about cropping, brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation.  The photos below are a subset of the last group.

If I were doing a show where I printed and framed the work, I would have worked from at least ten times as many images and would have done multiple prints of each image before choosing what to display.  In this persistency and discrimination, photography teaches much about meditation practice.  To show what is seen in a way that shifts the soul of the viewer, the photographer has to look over and over again.  For example, Robert Frank took over 20,000 images for “The Americans.”

Anyone (especially these days with the technology available) can take an extraordinary picture or two if in the right place at the right time with the camera.  But to have a body of work takes consistent devotion, work, and presence.  So too, with our meditation practice.  Some days exquisite visions arise.  Sometimes we are pulsing with extraordinary energy that fills us with a sense of the very fullness of being.  Other times, old issues or the to do list or even feeling trapped by sitting still is what comes.  If we sit consistently over a long period of time, though, we will witness — just as the camera did — the extraordinary.  We will know from being consistent that it is our very consistency that reveals bliss.

Share