Thursday, April 29, 2010

Freedom of Non-attachment

Traveling recently, I was struck by how little it takes to release attachment or to enmesh myself with those deep swirling currents. In some ways it matters very little what I do, what I eat, what happens in any one moment -- the impact of any of this is created by the meanings (feelings, significances) attached by my mind. In and of themselves, the moments do not have a hierarchy or embedded significance. One moment offers the same freedom as the next, or the last. A phone call changes the emotions and interactions of the moment, a gust of wind changes the experience of the moment, a cool sip of water changes the sensations of the moment and the mind can play with meanings in every case.

Looking out of my hotel window down to the sidewalk below, I watched pedestrians and vehicles coming and going every which way. From above, each body was a head with moving parts to carry it -- the mind in every person filling and emptying continuously in response to the wind, the traffic lights, the weight of their bags, the morning experiences or projections ... whatever the mind's content. I could not even begin to pretend to know what was going on inside but could clearly see the forms moving in space. My yoga teaching has given me a physical awareness of balance and imbalance -- watching the gaits, feeling the movement. There need not be a story attached unless my interest is in making that story to help control or understand, to predict or participate.

Each moment is a bit like visiting an art exhibition, where I place myself in front of a piece of art and observe it at the same time as I observe my reactive nature in relation to it. I can choose to read the narrative on the wall beside the piece or the introductory explanations as I enter the room; I can choose the sequence in which I experience the exhibit or choose to follow the map provided by the creator of the exhibition. Sometimes I might react to the date of a work, or the colors in it, or my feelings evoked by the image I perceive. My reaction might change if I have "information" about the artist or the history of this art form. It seems the same is true for the moments in my day.

Traveling in a new place made it easier for me to notice that the food tasted particularly yummy, or greasy, or bland as I was seeking out the nature of experience in a new place; and in all those circumstances I got up from the table no longer feeling hungry. Having only so many days in a place, perhaps helped me give more attention to whether the day was misty or sunny or rainy or cold since I knew that this was going to be my experience of that place; and each moment filled with sights, fragrances, tastes, sounds, textures, ideas, interactions, choices, experiences.

I felt a strong positive sense of my own unimportance in these days of travel. It was just fine to walk out and be one of those moving bodies seen from a 6th floor window, walking along with my passing and changeable goals, in rhythm with the moment. Walking to work in my own neighborhood, it was most interesting how this same astonishing joy of being translated once I returned to Brooklyn.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

While Mind Makes the Meaning We Can Let the Story Go

Like a living history of the Boston Tea Party told from all the variant points of view, our minds create us with meanings, triggering feelings that define us as individuals though they don't really intersect or make a solid entity any more than all the Tea Party stories make one historical event. Anyone with siblings knows how confusing and funny it can be to try to get a memory corroborated only to find that no one experienced the same thing at the same time.

During a yoga practice it is possible to notice feelings and emotional reactions, even physical aspects that are fleeting. This introduction to impermanence, to the momentary nature of what we tell ourselves about ourselves, can be an entry into letting loose of that which we use to define ourselves, limit ourselves, and make up our stories about who we are. How we use what we notice is also a choice we make, sometimes instantaneously, sometimes as part of the structures we use for years.

I use the breath as a way of reminding myself of the immediacy of my being. This sounds so new age, but actually there is so much grace in it, so much texture and support. It is the foundation that is always present. Maybe my legs are shaking as my body is struggling with an asana in this moment, or maybe it is my mind that is defeating me with judgments and dismissiveness, or driving me with shapes and goals. When I find that soft inhale, feel my shoulders release on the exhale, I know that everything is still possible, that I am not these stories, not my own or the ones others might tell about me. I am simply this breath, an opening in the moment that my heart can fill.

A series of distinctly separate images carry the meanings that any viewer brings to the viewing. We cannot leave our stories completely, but we can come to see them for what they are, as the reflections of stories on the surfaces we see, and with that, we can free ourselves from limitations they impose.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Releasing the Fear of My Own Impermanence

Preparing for a trip by plane has brought my attention sharply to the way I kick into anxiety mode around the idea that if something fatal happens to me, I am not leaving all my loose ends tied up nicely. I found myself on such a fast track to confusion about how to be responsible for others if I am no longer able to be there taking responsibility for others. The fact is so obvious: that if I am no longer there, something else will be happening and it is not my doing or choosing that will be the prevailing wind.

After a while of internally scrambling, I am amused by my grasping for control over that which is not even in existence! And beyond that, it is startling how easy it is to be willing to replace the real with the unreal! Sure there are ways to accommodate change that flow neatly into the legal system, or the family structure, or follow in a similar pattern to what might have been going on before. How things happen is not something I can predetermine though even if I finish all my plans, update all the legal papers, and file everything with clear labels.

When I fly out tomorrow morning, the files will remain as they are, the papers in whatever form they currently hold. Laws change and papers disintegrate. People come and go. Those who step in to take care of others will be missed when they disappear, but others will step in. The likelihood that this plane trip will disrupt my responsibilities depends more upon my frame of mind than whether there is some unforeseeable catastrophe.

I can let it go while I am away, knowing that I can check in if I am still breathing. I can simply go on being, knowing that the bills will wait, the unsorted details will remain unsorted unless they sort themselves. The people in my care and all their affairs will continue as they usually do, or something will spike as it sometimes does while I am wandering in a new place. I hope to absorb whatever I find; like taking a new route from one place to another, perhaps I can allow each moment to be what it is, without carrying the weight of anxiety or the fear of the unknowable.

The morning will come no matter what the time zone, and the evening will too. This is true where I am now, and will be true when I am no where. Somehow that is now very comforting after all my recent sloshing in the big waves of grasping for control and fear of death.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Reducing Reactivity: No goal, No Judgment

Doing it my way, not-so-subtly pushing for my point of view, feeling it as a negative when asked if I am going to do what I am already doing, or being told or asked to do something differently. All these situations depend on ego and reactivity and are traps that very often make for serious suffering in the form of hurt feelings, resentments, rejection. The self takes a beating whether building up in resistance or tearing oneself down with criticism.

What is the point of forcing opinions on someone else? Why the tendency to illuminate each intersection of a disagreement or take someone else's point of view as a personal attack? How is it a benefit to resist the way someone else does something or to feel that they must change what they are doing to meet one's own ideals? Is it really worth the conflict and bad feelings of arguing over doing something a certain way? This way of being comes up over doing dishes, planting seeds, organizing children's schedules or the classic squeezing the toothpaste scenario. Of course it potentially infects anything where individuals cross paths, coordinate actions, rely upon each other, or find themselves interacting. Strangers, intimates and family members, co-workers, anyone can be the source of this reactivity or the spark that ignites it in ourselves.

For me, a bigger perspective really helps. I am learning to be much more effective and generalized about releasing the reactive thought before I act upon it. A friend was just talking to me about how important it is to allow oneself to pause, giving just that instant of time in which to breathe, to adjust, to release, to see the pattern before plunging irreparably into the mess. It's not uncommon as a strategy to deal with anger, the idea of counting to 10 or taking a few deep breaths. This is so obvious, but the reasons that is helpful in adjusting the anger is that it allows the observing part of awareness to see the situation and by delaying the reaction, lets go of the intensity of the need to react.

That is a behavioral strategy, and it does work most of the time. For me, though, getting to the undercurrent has been very revealing. It is the goal I have set, consciously or unconsciously that makes me feel desperate to have things a certain way, and it is judgment that makes it feel so intolerable to have things go any other way than that to which I am attached. A pause can help me see the larger picture, not just delaying the response so that I can see my reaction, but actually enabling me to see the source of the grasping, the fear, the shame, the threat, the self-judgment, attachment or desperation over outcome that underlies my reaction. In the course of normal interactions, does it matter so much if this or that happens a specific way or in a specific sequence or with a specific result?

From teaching I have been thrilled to find that no matter what I suggest or introduce in a session, each student has their own experience, guided in various ways and with widely different effects from the words and movements of that moment and the next moment. This is a continuous reminder to me that we are all working with the same material and that our conditional experience is always subject to the individual levels of awareness, patterns and openness. There is nothing finite about us, and in that there is possibility that may escape us at this time, but is never far beyond reach. The practice of letting go that is part of yoga is cultivated in each moment. Savasana (the relaxation of "corpse pose") is when most students "work" at letting go, but in every breath the exhale can be a reminder to release what is no longer necessary.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Being Some Nobody

It is lovely to be nobody.

Breathing in the coolness of the evening.
Scanning the horizon as the sun sinks below the hill.
Wiping the mud from my shoes.
Turning my gaze in the direction of the calling bird.
Feeling the smoothness of the yogurt against my throat.
Stretching the muscles in the arch of my foot.
Watching the man I love kneeling on his kneepads planting onions.
Listening to the slow constancy of the creek down the way.
Straining to distinguish the sounds of the owls in the night.
Cuddling the fuzziness and heat of the cat in the dark.
Giving up all hope of finishing a task on this day.
Finding the soft resistance of the mattress below my hip bone.
Cherishing the depth of my own breath.

It is lovely to be nobody.

This might be the morning I rise in the dark to see the moon shine.
This might be the day I begin with savasana at sunrise.
This might be the day I plant the rest of the onions.
Perhaps there is more than this.
Perhaps there is no more than this.
No matter where I am, I am just here.
No matter who I am, I am just nobody.
How lovely! Free to be, entirely free.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paying Taxes

I do not mind paying taxes. I am so grateful that so many people can collectively support each other in a peaceful, productive way. We have agreed to support on a massive scale the ability of many to travel within our communities, to collect and recycle our waste, to educate our young, to maintain the safety of our work environments, to protect ourselves from oppressive or violent external or criminal forces, to maintain an ever-evolving judicial system, to earnestly approach equity in our civil behaviors, to support those vulnerable and elderly and the very young to ensure nutritious food and health care, and so many other aspects of our common life here on this particular part of planet earth. It is not so in many places.

So many people seem to equate taxes with something bad. Perhaps the "government" is taking something away from its citizens in order to do destructive and terrible things. Maybe the taxes paid because of income earned on investments, and properties, on wages and winnings all came out of singular causes and conditions totally as a result of the efforts of one individual person. We know this is not so. Without each other's help and support none of us would be productive in the ways that we are now.

Certainly people take advantage of conditions and situations, and there are many who are unscrupulous and self centered in their greed. There are those who will sell a bad bill of goods, or not follow through on what they have been paid to do. There are those who take advantage of others in a state of need, and there are some who have no moral compass to help steer them away from harming themselves and others.

I like to imagine that these are the exceptions rather than the rule. I do not think of myself as so unique. The vast majority of people I have known throughout my life are people who, though they may have wrestled with indecision or moral confusion at times in their lives, are generally willing to put their hands in towards the common good or the good of someone else. It is this that I choose to hold when my heart sinks at the news of terrible human behaviors and irresponsible harm towards others.

This is how I conceive of taxes until they are used to pay for a military or industrial or environmental or educational strategy that oppresses others or causes irreparable harm. It is for that reason that I believe a fully functioning democracy is vital to sustain my belief that we can live in the principle of "Do no harm." I do my part to support a civil culture and structure that accommodates various belief systems and respects the individual among the many. Paying my taxes is part of this. I carry the weight on my own shoulders and I share that responsibility when I pay my taxes. A longer view helps me get through the times when I see the government take action that is harmful to others. I put more energy towards opening my ways of understanding, releasing my judgmental mind and being compassionate towards the fears and pain that are the underpinnings of these acts. This is not easy, but helps get me through my own anger and sorrow. I understand that others do not share my views and may feel despair at some of the actions I would perpetrate. Underneath everything, though, I hope we can learn to stop wishing others harm as a solution to our problems.

I hope our existence outlasts our separateness.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Video with Mooji: be grateful, be quiet & observe what arises

A friend sent me this 10 minute video of Satsang with Mooji related to a participant noting a "wave of helplessness washed over" him and he was frustrated by his conditioned self. Mooji explains how one can be quiet and see the whole idea of being frustrated or stuck with our reactive nature without being stuck or frustrated. He says, "look but don't touch," in simple terms expressing witness consciousness! Mooji speaks with gentleness and ease about being the silent observer in relation to whatever arises in our experience of ourselves. Not judging and not getting involved, he explains that "you are not the moving part," It is a marvelous 10 minutes. Take the time, enjoy this deeply compassionate perspective on what we all go through. Being grateful that whatever it is has arisen in order to make our patterns known. Lovely. Thanks, Anh Chi!

For more about Mooji, visit

Words About Words

Perhaps where there is ego there is conflict. As I write my blog, if I speak from a state of separateness – that of ego – it is bound to cause some of my readers to feel I am preaching to or at them. It may cause some of my students to grasp for something they think I have, when in fact the state of being is something that only comes as it is. It is nothing in and of itself. So speaking of conditions, or of my discoveries about practice, I am not meaning to instruct others what to do or how to be or even to value this over that.

How then to express what I am discovering without the ego that creates attachment, grasping, judgment and suffering for me or my readers? Becoming sensitive to the use of words that sound like goals or achievements might be one way. Sharing the moment, the process, without a statement of revelation or value would be another. Perhaps, after thinking through what it is for me, I can turn it around and see if I can still see it without my self in it.

How would Lao Tzu phrase it? Ego-less and time-less, place-less and mind-less? For me at times his writing is so clear, other times so obscure that I taste but cannot identify the flavors. My blog is a continuous journey into finding out who I am as a yoga practitioner, teacher and student. Using words to explain or express, to reveal or explore, is also part of my practice and teaching. With this in mind, I will try to keep the instructional tone to a limit, this is not Me telling You, yet I still use personal pronouns and live a first-person life. My explorations are, quite honestly, about me and my yoga experiences. This blog is a way of sharing this so that others might see what is going on with me, thereby dispelling any illusions about me, while being encouraging in the active seeking of a deeper practice. I am in no way holding up my experiences as a road or a destination.

This life can be an endless experience of being with no specific outcome other than this moment. Perhaps this blog will follow me in this to an eventual state of silence, where there is no ego and are no words to describe that state. Somehow, given the way my entire life has evolved with language and poetry, music and the rhythm of breath at its core, I doubt that silence of that kind is around the corner, yet if it is, so be it! Meanwhile, I will struggle with ego and explore how to integrate, illuminate and expand without being preachy.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weeding the Asparagus Bed

Three-pronged claw tool in hand, the task seemed both daunting and necessary as I faced the asparagus bed choked with field grass, milkweed, vetch and everything else. This has been going on all of 14 years, a continuous process of returning the asparagus bed back into wild field. My part of this is to turn the tide every spring, reminding the asparagus bed that for the next few months its asparagus production will take priority over its field-meadow production.

I am not in conflict with the weeds. I turn the earth to the depth I must, careful not to disturb the dormant asparagus, in order to pull out the roots and extract the majority of the visible volunteer weeds out of the bed. This process aerates the soil and integrates the compost and manure, reveals the health of the earth full of worms, and loosens up the top layer so that the soon-to-be growing asparagus will find its way to the light. The pile of weeds goes into the compost to return in a few months to enrich the soil from which it came.

Mostly I focus on the few inches of earth around where my tool has scraped. When I look up I see the expanse of the bed and all the weeds yet to come. In the same moment that the thought pops up, "this is going to take forever and I am already tired," I smile and acknowledge that as I go, the distance is covered, the bed is weeded, one handful at a time. I do not need to defeat myself by imagining the size of the task as too big, nor spur myself as an endurance test to work beyond my strength. I see how much there is to do, and know that it is this moment and this handful of earth, this grass root in my fingers that are my life, not the beating around the head feeling of how much more there is to do, nor an eventual patting on the back feeling of accomplishing the task.

Does this make life dreary, taking out challenge, motivation and accomplishment from the job? Not for me. I accept that my goal is to be happy in this moment. I can acknowledge my tired fingers and appreciate the depth of the root I am struggling to pull. When I stand by the compost bin to catch my breath and see the fullness of material I have just dumped in there, I can see the asparagus bed too, clear of weeds for the moment, rich earth ripe and ready for asparagus and weed alike. What I know is that the sun is still shining, the wind is pulling at my hair, and I'm ready for a drink of water. I'll be thrilled to see those asparagus tips come up, even though there are sure to be a young crop of new weeds right along with them.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Exploring the Body I Live In

It amazes me how different my body feels one day from the next, one moment from the next. Yoga gives me a way to honor those differences, rather than trying to create something uniform out of my asymmetrical parts. Working with asana, I can encourage more openness on the stiffer side, I can explore the flexibility on the more open side, and I can find a sense of balance without having to either ignore or judge what may not be or what may be my condition at the moment. In my practice I am learning to listen to my own inner teacher. The one who says "wow see how tight that is!" is the same one who says "release around the shape of your breath" and "drink from the well of space beyond this thought of tightness." My human curiosity asks, "how will the other side feel?" and my natural mind notices small changes and differences in condition.

The key word here is "condition." My body is not a finite thing, nor is there a perfect set of ways to be in my human condition. We each live in a body with a mind that tells us all about that, pretty much all of the time. Using the mind to explore the body in any given moment can reveal so much about how the mind works and how the body works too. Using the breath to explore the body, gradually, if judgment can be released about how it should be, ought to be, used to be, etc., there is a sense of unity of being. The breath continues to rise and fall, to open and empty the body. The breath can be counted on to do this for the body and for the mind. Mind can rise and fall too. You can see the thought or judgment and move beyond that. I sometimes use the analogy of clouds. When a cloud catches the intense light of the sun and appears quite dramatic, it draws our attention. Thoughts can do that too. But all clouds eventually dissipate, continue in the cycle of forming and releasing their moisture and particles, transferring to other ways of organizing these materials, and literally transforming continuously related to the conditions in which they exist. Our thoughts can do this too, and through my yoga practice, I am finding that the body can also.

It no longer makes any sense to me to define myself by the elements of this hip or that kidney, by this thought or that gender or age. I know that these elements are like the particles and moisture of the clouds, forming and reforming, transferring and transforming. By discovering that I can breath slowly and relax around that breath, my headstand is a constantly changing state of being, my firmness of footing in Virabhadrasana III (I think of this as flying warrior) wavers and still supports me. That experience is a strong encouragement to stop judging and pre-determining what I think I am doing, who I think I am becoming, and how I think I ought to live. In this way, I can just be. Just being, I can see more clearly, act with more energy, live more fully without grasping for constancy of conditions.

A little discipline helps in this exploration. Not the kind that dictates "do this, must do this!" but the kind that allows me to act rather than excuse and to explore rather than follow a routine. The inquiry itself is encouraging. Today I may fall over trying to find my flying foot in Virabhadrasana III, or today I may fly with my foot in my hand. Am I failing if I try and fall? No, I don't think so any more. I am totally happy to discover the body I am actually living in at any given moment. I am so grateful to feel this way after nearly a half century of judging this body in order to rank it in some way related to its past or its future or someone else's body or someone else's idea of it. What a waste of energy!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Boiling the Water

Sometimes in yoga a teacher will speak about finding your edge, or pushing to your edge. This has, at times, raised my hackles, since I do not think of a yoga practice like a competitive sport where one has to continuously try to get beyond where one has been before. But then, as I think (say or write) this, I realize that it happens all the time in yoga! What keeps us up in headstand?

The big difference is that in yoga finding our edge is a process of discovering that which is sustaining the effort and releasing into that support rather than pushing past something. Sometimes, as with headstand, there can be fear that might be "pushed past" yet the joy of yoga is finding the core strength that makes the inverted lift feel light and allows the breath to continue to flow comfortably. This is not the result of pushing past the fear, but rather of seeing it and letting it go. What's the worst that can happen? One attempt, two attempts, many many attempts only lead to that frantic quality of reaching for a goal. Preparing for strength, for balance, focusing on the breath and alignment, the inversion begins to rise on its own.

I was boiling water for tea and realized that there is something to this idea of an edge in practice. Like reaching the exact temperature at which water boils, each of us in any given moment has that specific temperature at which the impurities or impediments can be released and the kettle of the self begins to sing. Avoidance and resistance are part of our human nature, and so in any practice there will be moments when you will need to find a little encouragement in order to stick with it, to breathe more consciously using Ujjayi pranayama (ocean sounding breath) or even Kapalabhati to maintain your focus while your legs shake, or your heart wavers. We know it takes a consistent application of continuous heat to get that water to boil. It can be the same in our yoga practice, then let your kettle sing!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Investigate the Structure that Is YOU

Recently two close friends have expressed their deep suffering to me. Both of them seem deeply trapped in the boxes of their own structure. Though they are versed in the tenets and principles of yoga, their practices seem to remain external to the source of their struggles. As yoga becomes more widely practiced, and there are so many names for "types" or "styles" of yoga, so many studios, and classes offered through gyms and community organizations, this is bound to happen. As with all activities, one can study almost endlessly and participate in the activity without letting go, squeezing what is learned into the structure that is already there. It is both dangerous and liberating to allow the structure to shift and integrate the new level of understanding. In Kripalu yoga, where I gained my certification, it is not about any set sequences or required practices, but about the inquiry towards radical self acceptance. For me, radical self acceptance is the cessation of suffering and the offering of one's energy as part of the world, rather than separated from it.

There is so much difference when I practice on my own and when I take a class. The external direction of a class is so helpful to draw attention to unusual and revealing aspects, giving a carefully organized sequence of events based on well known and understood processes of the body and mind. It is this that I offer as a teacher, and I benefit from so many times as a student myself. This was not just true at the start of my yoga journey, but is true now and probably will be at every stage of my practice.

Along with classes, I encourage each person to approach their own practice with curiosity and patience. This seems to me to be the path to understanding oneself fully and integrating what we are into our daily lives. One way is to choose an asana and just explore getting there, being there, and where it goes. Another is to try following the sequence you remember from classes and see what your body remembers, allowing yourself to spend more or less time on the way, adding what your body asks for, and giving yourself permission to breathe all the way through. An exploration can focus on a particular theme - for example, working with twists, or adding in asanas to sun salutation sequences to build strength, or focusing on energy and breath relationships through pranayama using bellows breath and kapalabhati followed by soothing nadi shoduna.

I feel deep compassion for my friends. So many times I, too, am feeling trapped in my own structure or that of the relationships I have created, or the mindsets I have taken related to the world around me. The structures within which I can feel so stuck are some that have served me in the past but no longer do so. The suffering my friends feel is the life guard's warning flag to indicate the strong rip tide current. It is not the rip tide itself, nor the life guard. And yet, it is as though they are watching the life guard waving the flag without understanding the signal itself. As long as the focus of their attention is on their suffering, it is the suffering they experience. Like swimming into a rip tide, this is exhausting and fruitless. No strategy seems to work, no amount of strength seems to end the travail.

Turning attention towards the causes of suffering allows us to understand that the current is there, a defined and clear circumstance. Once you see it there, you do not have to choose to swim against it. As with self knowledge, one can use energy to swim across the narrow band of the rip tide through to the other side, or if exhausted, even allow the tide to carry one until its strength is dispersed. The part of the self that pushes into that tide and fights and struggles, suffers and feels hopeless and defeated, lost and overwhelmed is a part of the self that can be seen for what it is. This strategy for dealing with the situation as it is perceived -- the current is terribly strong I must swim against it with all my might -- can be seen for what it is.

Letting go is the deepest part of practice. Seeing one's own structure is beyond the strategies and the tides: the fear, the uncertainty, failure, shame, loss, the defined and limited self. The choice is there to get out of the rip tide. Choosing to swim against it is perhaps the most painful choice and will continue to cause the pain until the swimmer sees their choice.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Finding the Jelly Beans

I did not grow up celebrating Easter, but my life began to include some of the traditions when I had children. One of our family activities was to hide jelly beans in plain sight all around the kitchen and invite the kids to find them. Some years we wove little paper baskets, other years just handed out small collection bowls. Always we made sure there were high ones and low ones, that the colors of the beans matched as many of the objects upon which they were hidden, and that it would be fun rather than a chore to find them in unexpected places.

Discovering that which is hiding in plain sight seems to fit in naturally with a yoga practice. Maybe it was those jelly beans helped teach me to look more closely for the parts that merge into the form or color, the pieces that actually are not part of the object. Even my own breath can shed bits and pieces that have attached to it. If I really allow my attention to follow my breath, I discover that I can release a certain amount of unnecessary effort even there, that there is a specific texture to the breath in this moment, that the breath can direct the body or that I can choose to direct the breath. Over time I can see that I use my breath in specific ways, and can discover new ways to allow my breath to support me.

Our habits seem obvious to others, but sometimes remain strangely invisible to ourselves. The jelly beans are hiding in plain sight. Patterns that have evolved as useful in the past, placed carefully at one time, become less useful and sometimes a great inhibition in the present. Simply turning attention on this helps reveal the little bits that have been added and sometimes reveals the structure. These can then be taken apart and set aside for use when useful, or simply let them go.

Through yoga practice we see obvious but unrecognized elements, like our tendency to cross right leg over left, and not so obvious, like holding our breath in utkatasana (chair/fierce pose). Noticing the pattern that is right there in the open is the first step... like finding the red jelly bean sitting on a red milk cap, or the yellow one resting between the bananas. This is the beginning of seeing who we are, and once that begins, the study of oneself can lead to all the treasures resting in the nature of being, being human, being part of the larger world, feeling alive.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Energy Rising

Get up and be.
Take myself there, even if I feel the resistance.
Acknowledge the backwards pull and seek the source.
Is it fear? Is it lack of faith? Is it judgment?
Can I tolerate that I have no other moment than this one?
Let that change everything.

Sometimes I think, "one day I will do this or that, this way or that way..."
That is thinking.
Now I understand that if I intend to do it, that is an intention.
If I do it, I do it.
If I do not do it, I do not do it.
Now is now.
Giving myself this is the gift of my own life.

Perhaps it is giving myself the time to do yoga.
Perhaps it is sitting and not doing any asana.
Perhaps it is ensuring that I keep my words, perhaps that I let all my words go.
Perhaps it is drinking the wine, perhaps it is not drinking the wine.
Eat the meat, do not eat the meat.
Watch the sun rise, watch the sun set.
Keep my eyes closed. Open my eyes.
Everything in the mind is in the mind.
Is the body in the mind?
Is the breath in the body?

I make choices. I choose to live this moment.
Do I put off breathing? I breathe in, I breathe out.
Sweep myself up in the energy of breath.
Let myself rest in the peace of breath.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Catching & Tossing That Emotional Curve Ball

Yesterday I was hit by the curve ball of my old emotional patterns. My equanimity was gone. I felt as though I was alone in a sailboat doing everything I could just to keep from capsizing. This is a pattern that kicks in when I am judged negatively about behaviors that seem to be part of my nature. So it was a deep exercise in my practice of non-attachment, non-judgment, witness consciousness, self-acceptance, and breath.

I turned to contemplation to help me as I felt myself spiraling down into the abyss. I wrote a poem that it was a hard day to be me. Then went out to weed in the garden. I used my energy to observe, nourish, clarify and act without too much analysis. Then I took a half hour for pranayama practice -- beginning with dirgha 3-part breathing very deliberately sprawled on the floor, arms outstretched, bringing my awareness into my entire body. Breathing in, I was breathing in. Breathing out, I exhaled Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya (May I Surrender to That Which Sustains Me). I felt as though I was pinned to the surface of the earth by its slow rotation as it revolved around the sun. Then I sat up for several rounds of kapalabhati breathing, using all the bandha locks between sequences. Phew. Centered after that, I weeded some more. This was a case of going on ahead and continuing to be active in the world, rather than curl up into that pattern of negativity and erasure. Gently extracting the weeds and placing them in the composting heap to return to the earth transformed. This was engaging and comforting. I, too, will return to the earth transformed. I, too, am just a speck of organic dust or pollen or breath.

Sitting on a stone wall, I closed my eyes, opening my heart to the waves, using "just" on the inhale and "this" on the exhale to pinpoint my attention. All the while, I was feeling the heat of the sun on my left shoulder, the coolness of the breeze from the valley on my face, the solidity of the stone beneath me, the softness of the air drawing in and out of me. All this was there this moment, this moment, this moment.

I began to feel grateful to the person who threw all the cold water on me, smiling as I realized that without being thrown back into that pattern again of questioning my basic being and worthlessness, I would not be gaining this strength in my practice. Finding that I truly can trust that being is all there is for me, that I can see judgment is an external spin that reflects the mind of the one who judges, that everything is conditional until I get beyond the conditional mind, and that I can get there... It was a quiet day. There were meals made and shared, chores done.

This morning I woke up feeling love in the inhale and joy in the exhale. It amazed me that I could so simply and happily be waking up. Then I remembered my feelings from yesterday and the incident that drew them out. I saw all this like a stagnant pool next to where I lay. Oh yes, I could go dip a foot or dunk my whole self in that pool, but I could also just stay on the path and see where the next footfall will land as it lands.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Women's History Month

Voices of Our Mothers & Grandmothers, Celebrating Women’s History 3/31/2010

Gently stroking a fragment of soft green moss with her fingertips, a woman began reciting the nursery rhyme “Hickory Dickory Dock.” A few minutes later, another woman picked up a small broken branch from a cherry tree with one blossom opening at the end, saying, “we had these all around when I was little, but I don’t remember any songs right now.” Another woman, holding a dry brown leaf offers, “my mother used to sing a song ‘autumn leaves, hmm mmm, mmm, hmm mmm mmm, when the autumn leaves fall’… that’s how it went.”

Part of a celebratory day at the end of Women’s History Month at the Camba Park Slope Women’s Center, this small gathering of women brought tears and smiles to all the participants, including a staff member or two who joined in for a few moments of remembering songs from our mothers, grandmothers, and childhoods. When the recreation director at the center asked if I would consider doing something for women’s history beyond my weekly yoga class, right away I thought, "yes, yes, let’s sing from the memories of our mothers and sisters. Let’s celebrate the history that resides in each human being, that of the passage from the mother into the self."

After a 45 minute chair yoga session, in which we celebrated our breath and our bodies, we turned to a plate of natural objects: a fragment of bright green moss, a dry leaf, a broken branch with cherry blossom, a bright red berry, a dried seed from a tree. Letting each participant contemplate the collection, I asked, “do you find anything here that reminds you of when you were very young, and are there any songs that come to mind, even fragments of songs?” The reactions were immediate for each woman. One began to sing “Amazing Grace” as her grandmother had always done, and a soft chorus began from women all over the room, even those who were not officially sitting in the circle. Another woman remembered the beginning of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and when her memory failed, the others filled in the words.

As with my yoga classes, I feel so grateful to these beautiful women when they allow me to facilitate their own blossoming. Making the space among us feel safe and real is my job, bringing effort, laughter, the softness of memory, the hardness of loss, all out in the open where we can meet each others' gaze and be happy that moment. The moist eyes and wide smiles around the circle are quite a celebration of the strength, generosity, endurance and joy in the women who pass through the shelter in any given week.