Tag Archive: vikalpa samskara

Winter Gardening, Vikalpa Samskara, and Bhavana

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.

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“Beginner’s Mind” (and vikalpa samkara)

Vikalpa samskara is a term that describes the fundamental process of an ever refining yoga practice.  It encompasses both study of text (with a teacher) and experiential learning and practice.  With just experience, we may feel full unto ourselves, but we cannot explain the richness of our experience to others nor can we understand why.  If we just hear something from a teacher or see a picture or read about it in a book, however, no matter how book smart we are, we do not have the understanding that comes from personal experience.  It is by continuously combining and refining study and practice, that we can have a progressive deepening of true knowledge.

We often talk about “beginner’s mind” with respect to asana practice and meditation (and bringing the beauty of that state off of the mat).  We are invited to be receptive and open the way is an ideal beginner, who wants to learn, but does not yet know the topic.

What does “beginner’s mind” really mean, though, in the context of someone who is experienced?  I do not believe that it should mean discarding either book learning or discrimination built of experience.  What it suggests to me is to approach our practice and life with freshness, with open-mindedness, without being bound by preconceived notions.  I think this is the true process of vikalpa samskara. To be able to deepen our knowledge ever more deeply, we have to be willing to be open to shifts and changes in understanding.  Then “samskara” does not become a rut, a bad habit, the inevitable effect from a previous action, but the development of a deepening path for more refined understanding.

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World Wide Knit in Public Day (and Vikalpa Samskara)

World Wide Knit in Public Day is this weekend — June 13th (and 14, 20, and 21).  What will you be knitting?  I have started a pair of leg-warmers.  The pattern was really for ankle warmers, but I have chosen to make them longer than the pattern suggested.  The nice farmers who raise the sheep, spin and dye the yarn, and sell it at the Dupont Fresh Farm Market, called them “yoga socks.”  The yarn is beautiful.  The sample pair looked like something I would want on my feet in colder weather.  The project was small enough to tuck into my carry bag.  Definitely a go for summer knitting (unlike the three-quarter finished mohair shruggy that has become a lapful of furry stuff).

“Why are they so short?” I asked.  “We had originally designed them to be longer, but our teacher said we might need to grab our ankles?” they explained.  “When would you do that, when it would not matter whether you were touching fabric instead of your skin,” I puzzled out loud, not out of criticism, but really wanting to know, thinking maybe in Pilates.  The farmers could not really think of a reason.  I bought an extra skein along with the kit to make the — oh, let’s call them footless socks — calf height.  The yarn has a bit of a stickiness to it, so they are not slippery.  They will be good to wear for yoga.

I’ve never knitted on double-pointed, size 2 needles, in the round before, though I happened to have four in the house (picked up at a yard sale for a $1 a decade or two ago and put in the sewing box).  I tend not to knit from patterns for whole projects.  So I had a little learning to do.  The pattern did not explain how to use the double-pointed needles; that knowledge was assumed.  I am not used to the contraints of following a pattern.  Doing so, on occasion, though, forces me to learn a new technique.  It took my a couple of hours to get into the rhythm, but now I’ve eased into the project.

I sometimes seek the same type expansion with cooking.  Though easily able to cook something delicious without a recipe with most ingredients, sometimes I pick out a complicated recipe just to expand my skills in the kitchen.

Yoga, most of all, benefits from a combination of free exploration and attentive development to the knowledge imparted by a teacher.  We are most full and expanded when we combine experience and teachings.  We receive the teachings and then we practice again and again to make it not just our own experience, but part of our being.  This process is called vikalpa samskara.

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