Monday, May 21, 2018

Equanimity as a Method of Problem Solving

My personal problems are so insignificant in the scheme of things, and yet my reactivity can completely consume my energy.  The facts are clear that if I am kind, the world around me is a better place for other beings. The facts are clear that if I am not gripping one opinion above all others, there is more room for change and possibility. The facts are clear that there is enough misery and desperation in the world without my petty emotional attachments and rationalizations.  But even so, I am a human being and my basic design puts me and my emotional upheavals at the center of my universe, until I learn how to see that pattern and shift my weight towards equanimity.

I saw a portion of a PBS Newshour program in which children of displaced families were being treated for the most severe life-threatening conditions of malnutrition, basically babies and children spending their earliest time here on earth starving instead of growing.  One doctor was asked, "who does she blame, or what is the primary cause of this terrible situation?' She answered, "the war." What I saw in a matter of a few moments on television is just the surface of a very deep and deadly problem my species seems to have... the inability to embrace each other with compassion and acceptance. War is the expression of conflict -- acts of war are horrific destructive behaviors towards our own human family, and the very world in which we all live.  The doctor, in spite of the unbearable sadness, devastating cruelty, and endlessness of the situation, is dealing with families, the dying, her co-workers, her community with compassion and acceptance; working flat out to ease the suffering for those for whom nothing can be expected to change for the better, and somehow being an island of equanimity in the sea of chaos.

Every mouthful since that program aired has brought me gratitude, sadness, and confusion. I walked to my local food co-op to buy groceries, passing a flattened baby bird on the sidewalk with a sparrow on a wire above me singing ceaselessly. This little bird baby, like the little human baby who weighs 7 pounds at 11 months old, had a beginning with possibilities. What can I do to change these outcomes?

I can walk more slowly, make eye contact, listen more and speak less, offer more and take less, support those who are in positions to take actions that I cannot take to directly assist others who are suffering, prioritize generosity, do my utmost to do no harm, and most importantly see my own reactivity and self-importance more honestly as distractions.

It hurts so much that communities and governments do not open their borders and coffers and food supplies to their own citizens in need, nor to other people from or in other places, without asking for some kind of power or control in return. What if that power and control is useless in the face of the loss we are living with as a species, as a family? So I will continue to build myself as a safer place for others, developing my practice as a person of no importance who is changing the world by observing my own gyrations as gyrations, and growing compassion and acceptance in every way I can.

A life could be spent making pilgrimages to places where human beings have been unspeakably cruel to each other, but perhaps more can be done by making every place I go part of a path that offers equanimity, compassion and acceptance. And so I will continue being joyful, even as the weight of sorrow becomes part of my normal weight.  Perhaps I can make space for others to find these two parts of the same possibility and act from a state of balance. The image in this post is a painting my father did in a food court in suburban Maryland. He looked for beauty and love in relational spaces. Even though he has been gone 7 years, his vision still comforts me.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Beginning again and again

Yoga is repetitious, like exercises, or practicing a musical instrument, or learning a new language. Each engagement with the practice posits questions familiar and unknown. The body responds to repetition. It builds muscle, it builds strength, it gets sore, it inflames, it stretches. The mind responds to repetition too, creating patterns, offering resistance, placing goal posts, questioning, criticizing and comparing. When approaching the yoga mat, or turning attention to the breath, or trying to speak in a new language, the possibilities are endless for how this combination of body and mind will coalesce in the moment. Yoga as a practice offers truthful, skillful means to combine these possibilities.

Even as I gain knowledge, I forget something. Even as I gain physical competency, I find pieces of the posture missing, or parts of the body unwilling. This is where the practice of yoga asks to put yoga philosophy into action: to take a light grip on what must be and adopt an ever widening view of what is possible; allow a truthful vision of what is actually so and develop a warm hearted acceptance without judging that vision.

It is nine years since I certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance, after 8 years of classes and my own practice. I've racked up nearly 1,000 hours of teaching, and many different types of trainings pertaining to the body, the mind, the breath, conditions, and even trends in practice. Yet, each time I approach the mat, I am a simple practitioner, like my students, like immigrants learning English, like children starting the school year in a new class. I notice the jumble in my mind, and scan the open and closed spaces in my body. Like looking for familiar faces in a community meeting, I hope to find aspects of my self that I can rely upon as familiar, and yet, as I begin my centering breath and movement, in a most essential way I am meeting my self as for the first time. Who is this? What is this? How is this? Feeling this, being present.

I can only start from where I actually am, with honesty, with generosity of spirit, without judgment, without defined goal or limitation. When I have conversations in Spanish with my teacher in Oaxaca via Skype, the first series of "¡Hola! ¡Hola!" (hello, hello) in which we see and hear each other across so many miles, brings such joy to us. We begin each class with boundaryless smiles, with rising heart energy, and joy in the moment. Ready to communicate, to listen, to share who we are and exchange what we know and what we don't know. So it is also with my yoga practices, with my yoga teaching. I can accept my always aging and changing physical body, my always remembering and forgetting mind, my always opening and closing energy. Truth is not as complicated as the grasping hold on a fictional certainty or judgment we have told ourselves. Starting with truth in this moment opens possibilities, no matter what the truth in this moment may be.

I propose allowing energy to fill you as you breathe in, and to relax your body as you breathe out. Let go of the tight grip on what you expect, or fear, or want, or hate, or need, or have lost. Breathing in what is so, breathing out possibility. Whatever the reality is, you are here, now, breathing. Practicing this form of breathing gives you a beginning in this moment. Your breath and awareness combined in this way offers continuous support for being, allowing some freedom from the inner structures from which comes so much suffering. There is no exemption from this suffering. I recommend beginning in this yogic journey, again and again.

Sharing this inhale with all living beings. Honoring the possibilities for all living beings with this exhale. May all beings displaced from their familiar and beloved people and places take solace in the breath we all share.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Peace in Any Form Begins in Us

Take a breath.
Feel how the earth supports you? 
Gravity holding you here,
breathing with all living beings.
Here you are.
I'm here too.
Peace in any form
starts in us.
One breath in, 
One breath out.
That's the way.

Enjoy being loving.
Enjoy being loved.
Enjoy being.

Start with this breath.

December 2016

image by Rob Meredith of Back Road Yoga Studio in former granary building, Gilboa, NY

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Trembling Leaf

Is it just fine to spend this moment focused on the trembling leaf outside my window? I can see the wind in its effects.  I see the terrible cold that stunted the earlier leaf buds on the ginko tree, yet I see the juicy green of the leaves that have unfolded at the very tips of the branches. So I consider Syrian refugees, and families that have been washed away by floods in East Texas, and I think of my students and am amazed at the level of focus as I say, "notice..." and "feel..."

I listen for their breathing and I can feel the way they share their energy, whether they mean to do it or not.

My heart has so few protective layers when I teach. I feel this time of year like the growth of new skin on my finger tips. I am like the cucumber seedlings on my windowsill.  Each tendril on the cucumber plants seeks something to support it -- wrapping around the stem of its neighbor, or the stick nearby, or simply reaching out into the unknown to see what it touches, not caring too much if it is a fence, a stick or a weed. Aren't we just like that too, until we curl back towards ourselves in protection or just stick with what we know?

Can't we simply sit in the fading evening light and take both delight and sorrow in the trembling leaf? Of course we can. And it helps to know that others can give themselves permission to do this too. I can say in this blog, however public that may or may not be, that it is fine with me if you do likewise. No matter who you are, where you live, who you love, what you are fleeing, or how you dream.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Mindful" by Mary Oliver (Inspiration as August ends)


Every day
  I see or I hear
        that more or less

kills me
   with delight,
       that leaves me
          like a needle

in the haystack
   of light.
      It is what I was born for ---
         to look, to listen,

to lose myself
   inside this soft world ---
     to instruct myself
        over and over

in joy,
   and acclamation.
      Nor am I talking
          about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
  the very extravagant ---
     but of the ordinary,
        the commonplace, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
   Oh, good scholar,
       I say to myself,
          how can you help

but grow wise
   with such teachings
       as these ---
          the untrimmable light

of the world,
   the ocean's shine,
      the prayers that are made
         out of grass?

from Why I Wake Early, Beacon Press, 2004

Friday, November 21, 2014

Love + Contentment = Gratitude

When asked, "How do I love myself?," Thich Nhat Hanh began with these words: "You breathe in. This is an act of love." Can you allow yourself to believe this? Can you begin turning towards yourself with love simply by breathing in? There is a depth of acceptance and compassion here that melts my heart. 

When we practice yoga,  we include the idea of not harming our self.  Can we accept the radical practice of contentment - being fine with what is so -- not falling into the wanting/needing/regreting/envying? Can we see that this inhale is the resource that sustain us, and through which we are free to release ourselves from the patterns of thought and action that harm us and others? This simple breath in -- this inhale -- can be enough to bring us a feeling that in this moment we have what we need. (Try this when confronting the issues of overeating over the holidays!) 

Thanksgiving is a pleasant moment to stop a few minutes and acknowledge the wonder of the body in which we experience life. It is the ground for all our opportunities for adventure and inquiry that being a human being allows us, no matter what we own or what we look like, who we are with or what we eat! The essential quality of breathing in is such a gift to the self - the living body! And with each inhale there is the release into the exhale, the letting go of the gripping, the fear, the worry over whatever it might be that limits your sense of being fully happy with who you are right in this moment. 

May your next few weeks of shorter days and longer nights, be exhilarating! Enjoy the cold winds and the contrasting warmth of an interior life. Allow each inhale to bring you happiness and each exhale to express gratitude for that. Take a few minutes now -- and later -- to breathe in love towards yourself - giving yourself what you need; and breathe out all that you no longer need - allowing yourself to accept what is so and feel content.

I feel grateful for this breath, for the breath we share. As I recenty told one student struggling with the uncertain outcome of another round of chemotherapy, "Even when I am sleeping, I am sharing the breath with you." That comforts us both.

Explore your ability to turn towards yourself with love in this very next inhale -- and allow your exhale to feel sweet. Enable your sense of contentment! These two principles are part of the underlying core of yoga practice. Not to harm, Ahimsa, is one of the Yamas (social disciplines), and to accept contentment, Santosha, is one of the Niyamas (inner disciplines). The Yamas and Niyamas are part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as described in Patanjali's Sutras. Fertilize the seeds of gratitude, "Breathing in Love, Breathing out Contentment."

Friday, October 31, 2014

Enjoy the Illusion, Return to the Truth

This weekend not only do many of us put on costumes and play at being other-than-normal, but we change the clocks -- "falling back" an hour. Such a good opportunity for seeing the way we use the mind to organize the world around us! Seeing the world from behind a mask, makes us feel so different. Clearly the sun rises and sets at its own intervals based on relationships of rotation of sun and earth, yet we call some hours day or night, make these longer or shorter based on hours we assign, and our work schedules. For example, "my day at work" could mean an all night shift, or a morning of teaching.

The truth is one of construction by the mind to help us be organized, and yet we attach so much more to create the illusory world we live in. What am I talking about? For example, we have feelings about getting up "early" to go to work. We attach meanings to staying "late" or "finishing early." We feel "pretty" in our silks,  "fierce" in our claws, and hidden with just a simple mask. 

We attach meaning through judgments and associations to just about everything. This makes life rich like a multi-layered embroidery. It can also fill us with anxiety, frustration, lethargy and even feelings of entrapment and oppression, even as it can liberate the dancer, the lion, the mysterious being behind the mask.

Here's the thing -- just a few moments of stopping the cycle of attachments and judgments can help loosen the grip of illusion! It won't make it harder to do what you do or take away the fun of the costume when you want it. It can reduce the way these unseen patterns of attachment and illusion chafe, worry, stress and oppress you.  

Return to the truth.   Let go of the good-bad/early-late attachments even for THREE BREATHS every so often during your waking hours, and you will feel the shift back into your own vital energies, no longer pushed and pulled entirely by the mind's gripping. See the darkness and enjoy the shadow shapes and twinkling lights. See the sunrise and revel in the turning of these astrological bodies that give us that which sustains all life on earth! Find the grace of your inner dancer, the power and ease of your big cat, the deeply mysterious nature of your own being without the masks and costumes. 

The best part of this interruptive breath focus is the way it helps to re-align you with your life energy and gives you the space to see the mind's gripping, being alert to your reactions and patterns. Some of these ways are traps, and some are facilitations. Once you see them, you can begin to use the facilitations and step away from the traps. You will have choices about the mind patterns that otherwise run your world.

Breathing is with you throughout every moment of your life. LOL! but true! That is why it is such a natural place to turn your attention, again and again. What else could be so stalwart, steadfast and supportive??