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??

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Building Meanings Again



Loss of a steady gaze coming back at me
And subtle knowledge that a conscious mind was observing
Recognizing that no arms could hold the child as the heart now yearns
Understanding that those soft voices no longer attend my sleep.

So I begin again, not as though newly begun.
As with memory, there are confusions.
Even my own role has slid quietly into a slow single step
And another. Who to tell of the ripening raspberries?

I don’t want to tell their stories that change the shapes to fit
Nor do I want to sing the songs that erase that phantom cadence
With my own voice.

Some lilies bloom on a rainy day.
Some of the birds eggs are found broken in the grass.

Yet clover blooms and gravel washes in rivulets.

These are the meanings I collect.
Of clouds moving in a backlit sky,
And sounds of poplars whispering of winds and hidden nests.

When I draw breath there is movement throughout my being,
Whether I am really here, understanding, or not.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Prana + Ayama

(my father's last palette)

We embody that which reaches beyond the dualities into the sublime and that which grounds us and manifests in physical properties. To combine this is both an unconscious process and a process of becoming conscious.

The breath is there from the beginning. An infant doesn't have to think about how long a breath to take or whether to breathe into front and back, sides etc. you and I can simply draw inhale and release exhales until our bodies are done and we stop breathing. What is the point of noticing that we are breathing, of observing the nature, texture, impact and space of the breath? 

As soon as you pull your attention from the sky, your lunch, that construction noise, and focus on the subtleties of the breathing process, your mind begins cultivating a different level of attention. This, in and of itself is new territory on the existing map that is your experience of being. 

The quiet observing mind is unusual in daily life and affords the body a respite from the constant reactivity that characterizes our every other moment. The discovery of natural breath and the ability to cultivate the breath settles the mind into its concentrated form. Several seconds of this is enough to give a glimpse of how vibrant and alive we are when we are not cluttered and bombarded by conditional reactivity - our "normal" functional state of mind.

Is it worth slowing down and turning attention to this when it barely lasts seconds? I believe it is, because the mind becomes more and more adept at remaining in this state, with breath as reminder, we can even find ourselves lapsing into this state under totally normal daily circumstances.
Our ease in watching our breath, using disciplined attention, can unlock the door and bring us out into an authentic freedom of mind.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Beauty in Hidden Structures

We are so busy moving ourselves around in the world,  that, like buildings, we see mostly the facade in passing. One of the gifts of living in a transitional bustling neighborhood of a major city is that there is constant building and tearing down so that, along with facades, all the inner structures are revealed coming and going.

Walking to teach my morning vinyasa class, I was stopped in my tracks by this gorgeous metal support structure. Light pouring through parts of it, it's undulations, shapes, reflective nature and span was strikingly beautiful. Just half a block further on, there is another one of these -- so it isn't any one-of-a-kind marvel at all -- that is covered in all the next stages of building with no light in it, and few of its textures revealed. In a week's time, they will both be invisible above ceilings and below floors.

Class was all about this in a subtle way starting with slow rocking in the hip sockets to feel how the thigh bones seat and mindful rolling through the sitting bone supports, to reveal spinal support even as the weight shifts.  Eventually we moved into standing sequences, unfolding and refolding with the breath, and allowing the hidden structures to do their work deep in the interior of each asana (posture). Yet their presence could still be established, felt, and explored.

Walking to my next class I caught a glimpse of a building being demolished. It has stood for decades, though this demolition has been elongated over the last few years it is active once again. At the moment, the remaining structure is like a gem hiding in its case. I think of the breath, its textures, its stalwart nature, its foundational strength, its subtle delicacies.  How grateful I am to live in this moment in a human form that I can explore at so many levels, cultivating awareness of the details and technicalities and the grand scale of the overall plan!



Friday, April 18, 2014

Using what you have

Often I find myself making meals with leftovers or the ingredients that I find in my fridge. This can push me into typical patterns, or can spur all manner of creativity. There are people who see a recipe and go shop for the ingredients. Many will measure these with some care and expect results that resemble the description in the instructions. I see that I am not naturally inclined in that direction in my cooking or my yoga practice.

My explorations start with seeing what's obviously there, deepen into digging for complementary or supplementary ingredients and building the design from these. An overarching concept develops, balancing the intuitive growth of the design with my actual experience. The results are always unknowable, though not entirely unpredictable.

In my cooking this results in portobello-red cabbage-poblano tacos or millet-teff-rosemary-garlic-pepper sticks. There are plenty of examples of this in my eat2thrive blog. In yoga this can evolve into a practice focused on Virabhadrasana 3, evolving lunge into its dancing, flying forms, and ending up in supine one-legged poses and a sequence of Anuloma Krama (breathing in stages with retention of breath). Unlikely that I would take someone else's formula and follow or teach it. I see now that I had trouble as a child in my violin lessons for just this reason! I wanted to follow the sound and feeling as I experienced it. This seemed to flower in chamber music and chafe in the orchestra. I learn a lot from both contexts- especially that the path to discovery and joy goes in all directions. Makes sense to me now.

Admiration for effective methodology attracts me. This is where I learn from others. I can see or experience their ways and experiment while absorbing this into my own inquiry. Since taking yoga classes, I have been deeply moved by the unfolding of this kind of personally proven processing by teachers of various yogic stripes. The offering of what a teacher has experienced has a genuine ring to it -- like the sound of a crystal ringing. I am humbled to be among them now, masquerading as one of them while still stirring around in my own cabinet for this or that to shore up the hip here or the fearful mind there... Making sweetness in the posture while adding a bit of hot sauce in the mix.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ironing: Present but not Perfect

The season of ironing has returned. The school year has begun, the temperatures have dropped slightly and it is time for me to catch up with the ironing pile of my husband's shirts that has waited through the summer, growing slowly. He has always worn cotton shirts, and somehow over the past 25-30 years, I've taken on the task of keeping them somewhat free of wrinkles.

It was with some surprise that having started ironing the back of the fifth shirt, I could not remember if I had completely ironed the back of the previous shirt. Stunned for a moment, I stood, wracking my brain and then I actually went over and looked at it.  I had indeed ironed it. Where the heck was I when that happened that I couldn't remember doing it? Was I on automatic pilot?

No, not on automatic, but more present in the moment than in recording the results and committing my actions to memory. As I am ironing, I am acutely aware of the texture of the fabric under my hand and the weight of the iron, feeling the heat of the steam rising, the breeze from the window. My eyes, hands and mind are synchronized with my breath and my attention is fully on what I am doing. Or so I thought. In fact, my heart is also holding the person for whom I am smoothing out the wrinkles, in some ways encircling the shoulders upon which this placate will rest, envisioning the arms and hands that will emerge from this sleeve, once it is rolled up, as it always is when my husband is in action.

So how can it be that I am so present, yet I've finished one shirt and begun another without memory and certainty?  Perhaps it is not the goal of my action to remember ironing the back of each shirt. The goal of my action is to act in the moment, transmitting my love for my husband, and this is what engages me. My physical attention is fully in the present moment, observing the weave of the fabric beneath my hand and the implications of the back pleat for my task. Will the shirt be perfectly ironed because of my full attention? Perhaps not, especially since there is quite a pile and I have evolved a speedy treatment! If I wanted perfectly ironed shirts, I would ask my husband to do it as he is the one who attachs to the specificity of physical results. This is part of what makes his woodwork and sculpture so beautifully crafted. Yet even without attachment to perfection, the task is accomplished, and my goal satisfied.

In the moment of ironing, I am accomplishing a repetitive quotidien task, acting out of love, savoring textures and sensations of being and doing, and relaxing my grip on perfection and judgment.  For me this is yoga off the mat, and I am grateful that my attention was called into question by my thinking mind so that I could see my action for what it truly is. How many times in a seated meditation does the mind ask, "what are you doing? where are you?" and answers itself, "I've taken my seat and I am meditating."  This is harder to count than even counting the breath itself!