Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ego & Nirvana: Getting There By Being Who We Are

In my opinion, ego is the human structure that distinguishes one's self from the constant barrage of ongoing energies all around us. It is a critical part of the filtering and sorting of what comes in, and to some degree controls and influences what comes out. With our physical senses taking in all kinds of data about touching and texture, color, light, tastes, sounds and fragrances, we physically experience and shape our memory and understanding of experience. The body has myriad mechanisms to code and appreciate this, attach meanings and values, and place most of it in hierarchies of influence and importance. Our own unique ways of doing this make us the wonderfully diverse and peculiar individuals that we all are. The contexts for this and the company we have throughout this experience influence the things we file and where we file them too.

The less physical yogic principles of sensory withdrawal (Pratyahara), deep concentration (Dharana), and meditation (Dhyana) are not goal oriented nor do they aim to obliterate the ego or the senses. It seems to me that these three of the 8 limbs of Patanjali are parts of the process we experience as we separate out the essential-eternal witness consciousness from the individual ego. Or, I could say these principles illuminate the underlying vibration, rather than the ego, that which serves as the recording device for the variety of harmonic possibilities representing our experiences.

On the yoga mat we discover a little bit of this structure when we use the breath to neutralize the recording device (ego) and train our concentration on the more universal aspects of being. We can use the mind, the ego being, to visualize the structures of the body, to place intentions in the form of colors or sensations in a particular chakra or imagine the inner form of an asana without taking the body into it. Another example might be when we cultivate an awareness of energy beyond the body, as in feeling support from the earth and gravity. With the breath we can learn to pinpoint our attention and remain focused so that the flow of constant ego-linked observations and reactions can be seen as the foreground (or self with a small "s"), rather than the entirety of being (or the universal self with a large "S"). This is the path of Dharana, which begins to stretch beyond the physical body, giving a glimpse of where ego resides and opens to more of the authentic state of being.

I suppose this is why meditation is sometimes sought as a way of getting away from the self, or approached with the hope of quieting the mind into silence. Both of these attitudes are just that, attitudes that make the path itself a little more gritty. It seems to me that approaching the practices with a curiosity to know more about thus self, about this powerful and chattering mind, can start with the physical practices, the first of the 8 limbs, Asana practice and Pranayama, and open into glimpses, even for fleeting moments, of the space beyond the physical being. The opinionated recording and organizing device of ego is a bit like the shapes of a face or sound of a voice in its specificity. We all have this, and it seems we all have that which is beyond it as well.

Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam - 1.3 sutra of Patanjali
Then consciousness abides in its true nature

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Song of The Open Field

photo: jesse r meredith

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense. -- Rumi

The analytic mind has its place. The fullness of sensory lushness has its place too. Experience, that instant recording of sense and intellect, combines in giving us a history, a sense of our self, a place to stand from which we can define and evaluate all that constantly shifts around us. Yet even deeper below these aspects there is an ancient urge to inhale and exhale, to shield oneself from harm, to test the truth as perceived. Much in our human experience rests in the responses of this ancient center of the brain and neurology. Call it fight or flight, or anything you want, if not ruled by it, we must consciously recognize it and work beyond its impulses.

I love this poem of Rumi's (Sufi mystic poet) that so simply steps beyond these limitations of mind's self-absorption. Recently I acquired a Tibetan singing bowl, and even with my totally rudimentary skills, the song it sings goes so deep. This vibrational quality resides in music of all times and places, and can be held in the simple tone poem of "OM." In my classes I sometimes say that it is present in all things and we hear it when it rises to the surface, but it works the other way too. Even without vocalizing, just being present, this vibration can reach deep into the being quality without getting stuck on words, meanings, separations of self or other.

Devotional chanting is not something that makes everyone comfortable, kind of like singing in a church choir is not for everyone. There is an uncanny feeling of self awareness when sound emits from your own throat and joins almost indistinguishably from ambient sound. Self begins to separate and merge along with the sound itself. This can happen even without vocalizing. Silent "OM" is often more wide open than even that which we speak.

Meditation can be an invitation to be in that place, that field Rumi refers to, where the dualistic right/wrong, me/you cease to exist. Even being there for one second as you read Rumi's words, even one second in that field can change everything else.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude without Measure

No need to pile up the gifts or the blessings, marking the gains.
No need to sort the losses, the wounds, the sorrows, noting the missing.
No need to reach beyond the moment into memory or projections of what might come.
No need to fight despair, or grasp for happiness.

Here I am.
Letting go when the time comes.
Cradling with love when the time comes.
Sinking into the earth, or rising to meet the sun.

Here I am.
Or perhaps no longer here.

Not stacking the logs of what has come my way.
Not picking through the ashes of what is gone.

Perhaps there is no difference between that which makes me happy
and that which makes me sad... except the way I respond, attaching
to the idea, my body circuits reacting and flooding me with the chemicals of the moment.

A carrot from our dirt comes,
a walnut from a tree far away,
an apple from the yard, dropped,
a raisin dried from grapes of another season,
bread baked in someone else's oven,
herbs saved from the side yard,
squash found grown in a friend's compost,
cranberries from a New Jersey bog,
oranges from a hill in California,
potatoes from the nearby Middleburgh Valley,
and faces around the kitchen table
made of hope and willingness.

Do we measure this, on which yardstick?
The category of gift or loss? The levels of love or tolerance?
The measuring cup of last year's meal?

I am here, and the greatest joy for me
is the gratitude of this moment.
That I am in this exploration,
human and conflicted,
humble and proud,
loved and loving,
and not knowing
the next moment
until now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ahimsa & Judgments

There was a children's book my kids loved when they were little that was set up so that each page offered a “that’s bad” or a “that’s good” set of conditions. Each set of pages illustrated the same situation from a different point of view. Sometimes it was hard for my children to figure out at first why it was good, or why it was bad… and they delighted in turning the page to discover the instant reversal of fortune. There are many jokes and riddles like this as well. The biggest is the one we present to ourselves daily, reacting constantly to the conditions around us.

Seasonal change, holidays, markers like New Year’s or birthdays often seem to bring out the “that’s good – that’s bad” in us as we project and remember. We look ahead and say, “Oh no, this is going to be …” or perhaps “Phew, now we will be able to ….,” as if the mere fact that there is a next moment offers us a “good” or “bad” set of conditions. Of course some of the conditions we project or remember are related to economic hardships and climate, to physical conditions and types of community in which we live. Yet even with these conditions there are those whose basic approach is “now I can change everything from what it was,” while there are those whose attitude is “look how this will limit me.” We do not control conditions of the sun and seasons, the wind or the age of our bones, yet we do live with those conditions and have choices how and whether we react.

Here, where I live in the Northern Hemisphere, East Coast of the not-quite-New England United States, we leave behind the summer warmth, as we watch the vegetation lose its green vitality, drying through the phases of colors and textures until all becomes more starkly browns and russets against evergreens and stone. Days shorten, nights lengthen and the air cools, beginning to require layers of protection on our subtle, fragile flesh. Animals living outside in this changing world grow thicker coats of fur, fluff their feathers for insulation, bed down in nests and burrows, sometimes even turning down their own biological thermostats to better match the outside world. They do not judge the harshness or the coldness, the darkness or the lack of fresh greens. The adaptation to the physical world is as natural as the breath itself, and some do not survive the shifting seasons, either by design or by circumstance. We humans uniquely assign values.

It is deer hunting season in upstate New York, suddenly as of yesterday morning. The sounds of gunshots reverberate in the hills. I associate this sonorous punctuation with death and destruction. By late afternoon, driving to or from anywhere there are carcasses hanging from trees. It is a horrifying time for me from one point of view, yet the deer laying dead by the side of the road is also done with this life due to human behaviors, and the deer bones found in the field after the coyotes have finished with it is done with this life as well. It is my own mind, my own judgment that attaches the sense of horror, assigns attributes to the people who roam the hills with their powerful rifles aimed at another species. It seems different if they aim at our own species yet we, humans, do that too and assign a different value to that based on context and intention. We make rules about shooting deer, which some hunters keep and some do not, just as in the context of armed conflicts among ourselves. Some feel the rules are arbitrary, restrict their freedoms to act as they choose, or pin them down in situations where there is ambiguity of choice.

So as I approach Thanksgiving, I turn my own pages, “this is good” and “this is bad.” I watch my own predisposition to say “This is harm” and “This is natural,” and I find myself exploring the world of human intentions.

Do no harm, Ahimsa, is a basic fundamental part of yoga awareness and practice. It begins towards the self, towards other living beings, and in the way we offer our teachings, making all efforts to leave space for others to find themselves. How to apply Ahimsa to the porcupine chewing on my front porch, to the hunter from next door shooting off into the woods, to the broken hearted driver who realizes they have run over a darting squirrel? How to offer Ahimsa in a room full of older people who suffer from attachment to the memories of what they used to be able to do in bodies that no longer do those things? How to practice Ahimsa towards myself as I see my judgmental nature turning and twisting at the toll booth, the body of a dead deer strapped to the SUV roof next to my car?

The hunter from the hungry family who will hunt and shoot the deer, bringing home meat for the freezer to feed them all winter is not killing any differently than the sporting hunter seeking the 5th set of antlers to adorn the wall in their home. The death of the deer is not different. The intention is different. Why does this matter to me? Who am I to sit in judgment of the one or the other?

We make choices about what we do or we fall into patterns of habitual action. We can make choices about whether we judge something or not, and recognize the values we assign to our judgment. I do not foresee a time when I cease judging others or myself. Yet I come closer and closer to practicing Ahimsa in my judgments, leaving just a little more space for myself to choose right action, right speech. Perhaps this also makes a little more space for others to do that too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Not an Escape Hatch

Right in the middle of a hard time, I throw myself on the mat. Oh to clean out this mess in me, oh to just erase the hard stuff and feel peaceful. Why can't I just step outside this snarl by meditating and doing yoga?

Even though the practice is not an escape, my practice brings me closer in to what is going on, if I choose to allow that to happen. Meditation and yoga-on-the-mat practice does heal some of my internal wounds, and perhaps these inflammations and old gashes support the current mess. It can lead to the illusion that the practice helps me escape... because I feel so much more equanimity and space for my own breath in the practice. I can let my body unclench from its reactivity and that brings more energy to every situation, even the hard ones. Giving myself space can also change my entire view of what's going on.

So the impulse to throw myself into practice in order to escape and erase is also reactive nature, and though the result is not escape or erasure, the practice itself can help me step back and observe my own clenched hand, my own part in the story from whence the trapped feeling comes.

There are moments when my mind shuts down with the overload of information, when I cannot figure out what to do. There is a misconception that I must solve the problem. Practice helps me notice the specificity of my own posture. Where am I tightened up, where can I lean into the earth for support, how can I let go and make more space? This is the same approach that works best in the middle of a snarl. In its nature a relationship reaches beyond the individual components into a shared energy, an interaction. If I can find my own breath, feel my own foundation, free my own clenching, then there is a much better chance I can actually see and accept the conditions and reactivity around me with more than just tolerance.

My attachment to the outcome of the situation exacerbates the snarling, and my practice helps me see the source of my attachment. That, in and of itself, can set me free from the entrenched place where I was stuck, defending, attacking or drowning in confusion.

Practice, in its nature, helps me see that there is nothing "wrong" and nothing "right." This way of seeing what is, without judgment, eliminates the idea that "problem solving" is relevant or useful. By addressing my own attachments and judgments, I free myself to be more open to all the aspects of whatever the current brings in.

Practice, not to erase, not to escape, but with the possibility of seeing more and more clearly, being present even more fully. Using meditation and yoga will help, not to slip away and disappear, but step into more space for your awareness, for your compassion, for your intellect as well.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Inhabit the body, Focus the Mind & Find This Moment

Within a few breaths, the room full of office workers feel their shoulders melt, let their attention rest lightly on the breath drawing into their bodies and begin to let go. We had lifted each leg and felt its weight, then released that weight into the floor, into the structure, into the earth itself. Lightness had already begun to seep into the faces in the room. I cannot imagine they had ever sat together in a room with their eyes closed, breathing gently and feeling so complete.

The purpose of my time with them, all the countable minutes of one hour, was simple: to offer a release from stress. Basically help them relax into a genuine experience beyond analysis and words, goals and priorities, to live in their bodies without criticism and learn a little more about who they really are. Just get them out of the dualities of thinking. Just offer them a view of their own personal roller coaster. Just let them be free. That's all. Oh, and do it sitting in standard issue office armchairs, under fluorescent lights, surrounded by tables and chairs.

That evening, I gently tucked a blanket under the head of a 60-something year old woman in Savasana who was experiencing her first yoga practice. She had her knees propped on blocks, and her shoulders open beneath her ribcage. Her palms were softly open, her mind focused on the glow of her energy pooling there. Her breath was so light, her body weightless. If I had the right kind of camera, I bet I could have captured an image of her energy body along with the other 15 glowing beings on the floor around her at the medical center. Practice began with them spreading mats and distributing blankets to each other, commenting and taking care of each other while waiting for everyone to arrive. Just settling on the mats took time, tending to the truth in their bodies, accepting those findings, and encouraging the breath to discover them too.

This morning, as the sun rose, I watched seven beautiful young faces, eyes closed, breathing in and breathing out, each envisioning a pool of luminous energy in their pelvis as they sat on the mat. With every breath I could feel the energy radiating from them, deeply concentrating as they lifted a blind face towards the ceiling on the inhale, then releasing the chin towards their heart with the exhale. It took a few minutes to get them here, inhabiting the body using the mechanism of the breath, cultivating a focus of attention in the mind on this inhale, this exhale. For just a few minutes, they could let go of the outside shapes of the asana and gave up on competing with themselves, not needing to be more than this, accepting right now.

It only lasts a moment. But that is all we ever have, isn't it? This is why I practice and teach yoga. So far beyond the rush of exercise, so deeply moving in the cells, so full of open space and endless possibilities, regardless of time, place, props, age, body weight or condition. I mean what I say: the only pre-requisite is if you are breathing.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let's Not Talk About It

A vital part of teaching yoga is allowing students to hear their inner voices, to rest in the awareness of being, to find their reactive natures and witness themselves in action. Verbal cues can make a huge difference in directing attention and cultivating awareness, and they can also blur into a sound wall that blocks all those inner levels of investigation.

In conversation the same thing can happen, and I know that I, specifically, can be totally the perpetrator of a wall of talk. I grew up in a family where there was competitive talking -- and had to learn as the youngest in the gang, how to enter this, or even whether to enter in. Then, out of that context, I had to learn how to hear myself stomping all over the possibility of an exchange. Part of it is probably defense. Okay, I am a passionate type to begin with, but believing in what you say is not an excuse for not listening.

Believing in what you say is not an excuse for not listening.

Listening. Believing.

Believing in what you say can also mean not listening to what is inside your self. Taking a position, holding a position, knowing something so firmly, so elaborately, that it can, all of its own massiveness, block out the possibilities inside your own head, body, awareness as well as anything coming from any where else.

Silence is not a negative quality. Not talking offers a possibility, rather than a negation of speech. The mind is always full of chat, and if we let the chat fill in all the spaces, well, where's the space for awareness?

So, yes, meditation is a way of observing all of this, but yoga practice is that too, and attending yoga classes, and teaching yoga classes, and having breakfast with your lover, and walking your dog or without your dog. Even engaging in casual conversation with someone on the subway is an opportunity to observe, to listen, to find the spaces that surround the piles of words and ideas, yours and theirs.

Sometimes it is infinitely richer to listen more fully than to talk more about it. Not saying that keeping things to yourself is the deal; there are plenty of times when it is essential to share and words are one mechanism.

Words are one mechanism.

Exploring the others is a marvelous journey. So for just a minute, let's not talk about it! As Jacques Pepin says at the end of every TV kitchen episode, "Happy Cooking!" Do the doing, be the being, listen to the fullness and emptiness of whatever you come across, inside or out.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Most Important Thing

It struck me recently that as soon as I assign a most important thing, my opportunity for freedom from attachment begins to seep away.

Sometimes while teaching I will say, "just notice what you notice, then let it go." So I am trying to encourage awareness without elevating any particular sensory data or any of the meanings we like to attach to that information to "most important thing" status.

When taking classes I am curious about the ways in which teachers draw attention to a wide variety of possibilities for the mind, directing and encouraging, hoping to bring focus and awareness where there was blur and oblivion. Some speak of alignment points, I know I sometimes do (knees over ankles). Sometimes its energy flow patterns, as in "allow your spine to rise with the inhale," or maybe "radiate from your heart through your fingertips." Then there are the emotional/psychological instructions "open your throat chakra and allow your true voice to sound," or spiritual encouragements like "feel the universal self in your back body."

But what's the most important thing? Attentiveness? Non-judgment? Focus? Alignment? Dedication? Perseverance? Faith? Putting in the time? I really think that as soon as I allow a "most important thing" to take hold, I close off possibilities and become attached to outcome. It's that simple.

In almost any context, if I ask myself "what is the most important thing?" what I really mean is, "Can I focus in on this a little better?" or it might mean "Can I get this situation under control?" The first is cultivating awareness and drawing my attention more to whatever it is, the second is grasping and attaching and hanging on more tightly to what I think. The first definitely makes it easier to maintain my equilibrium, the second tends to lead to willfulness and letting reactivity run the show. Either way, my practice at this point goes back to "noticing what I notice, and letting it go."

Being is such an interesting way to live a life! I am deeply grateful to spend less and less time in that state where I am a puppet and my reactive nature holds the controls.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sugar Candy: A Beautiful Practice

When someone compliments me, I know they are making judgments, but it is deeply sweet. Just like sugar candy, we so easily learn to crave that sweetness. Beauty is in the mind, a way of appreciating or noticing some thing or attribute, and that has this sweetness too. Like watching a dancer move through a choreography suited to their nature or the musical score, or when the light at 4pm strikes the tree tops just so, or when the breath carries me through Surya Namasakar (sun salutation) from the inside. It is grace made visible.

When I go to different studios, sometimes teachers come up and actually say to me, "You have a beautiful practice."

The first time it happened it was like the candy, a little shock at the sweetness, and that warm melting feeling that comes with pride and ego growing. Then, like steam dissipating, the little sweet droplets began separating on my tongue and I wondered what does this mean?

It happened again today. Not saying it happens all the time, but I am beginning to find that it is not unusual. And I am finding that I can see the candy as the confection it is, without having to eat it.

My practice is simply me, connecting to the energy that the breath brings me, and trying to hear what the teacher is offering me. I can feel clumsy, funny, and smooth. I can find all kinds of things interesting along the path that another teacher is offering me. Sometimes I rebel against a tone or a sequence or an attitude, but when that happens it becomes my practice too. The practice of watching myself judge myself as somehow mismatched to the moment. That is, of course, impossible, since there is nothing else but that moment and obviously I'm right in it! So it is me chafing at being... which more often than not makes me laugh when I see that it is happening.

Actually, now, today, when it happened again, I saw that it was simply the grace of the breath made visible.

So I looked around and wondered if the teacher also saw beauty in the man standing there fighting with himself about balancing, rather than taking an accommodation for his hamstring situation and letting his body rest in balance. Maybe seeing it in that woman folded in child's pose instead of taking a twisted Ardha Chandrasana balance (standing half moon, with opposite hand down). Or could it be seen in the practice of that dancer in the corner with the incredible lines from fingertips to toes, or that young man who was finding new space in his spine while he tried to relax his forehead. Every one of them was beautiful to me, as they searched their souls for freedom in that moment to let the body twist, rise, extend, stretch, deepen, breathe, and be in a most specific way! Willingly, and with concentration, each one of them was expressing grace as it was in that moment, for them, in that body, on that day.

So next time I see a piece of dark chocolate and crave that sweetness melting in my mouth, I will think of grace, and simply take a piece. There is no need to reject the compliment, nor to make any more of it than its intention of appreciation. I'm learning to leave ego out of it, and just be grateful for the flow of grace.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Not So Special, Just Being Authentic

There is such a temptation to build ego! Even as the yoga practice works to dissolve the dualities, drawing attention to the energy rather than the definitions within which the energy moves... Meditation is walking in the wind, watching the world move in response, feeling it, and even while feeling it, letting the feeling slip out of the sensory realm.

Okay, so meditation can take a person beyond that ego, but the ego still wants in on it. You can feel it, hovering, wanting to get its sticky fingers back into the deliciousness. There's nothing wrong with ego. We need it, definitely, to function properly in the world. But it is not the same as being, it is the separate "self" rather than the universally connected "Self."

Taking a yoga class is a wonderful exercise for me. It is like the way your core feels when you first try to invert into headstand... all wobbly and strangely new. There's a sense of identity, yet an observing identity, and yet still another body of energy that is simple and clear. I have to laugh at the teacher person on the mat who is laughing at the student person on the mat who is laughing at the blissful energy person on the mat who is hovering over the aching knees and softened heart person. All of them are me and yet this does not make me into any thing, or any one in any hierarchy. Each body in the room has this fullness of knowing, not knowing, feeling, perceiving, and witnessing. How wonderful is that?

The fact is that nothing I do on the mat, or off the mat turns me into a pot of gold. I remain a breathing entity wobbling through the moments I get, sometimes lifted off the earth in a blissful state by a gust of wind in the leaves, sometimes slogging in the mud with a shovel made of the heaviest steel. And so it is for everyone, I suspect. We have our separate faces so we can tell better stories, otherwise we might be like bees and all there would be would be a sound of communal buzzing. Actually, some of the most marvelous moments are those when we listen for that very sound among us.

The big part of practice in this regard is to let go of my attachments to putting values on "me." It is not that I am worthless, but that there is no measurable entity when it comes to "being me." It doesn't matter if I can do a particular asana or not, or if it looks just so or not. This way of being without judgment means that I don't feel "special" in any way that elevates me beyond the other human beings (or frogs for that matter) around me in the mud of yoga practice. This helps me really be compassionate towards myself and others. We are all just riding this particular wave, even if we cannot distinguish this wave from any other. The riders who fall into it sooner are no less riders than those who are riding it still.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Judging the Falling Leaf

Walking in the detritus of Autumn. Traversing a landscape with piles of leaves, leaves blowing across the streets, swirled in corners against buildings, damp, dry, brilliant and crushed to brown soggy pulp. What a beautiful reminder of this constant cycle in which we all exist, that of our budding beginnings, coming into full leaf, pulsing with chlorophyll and the means of production to sustain life. Then at a certain moment, draining of that functional ability, turning into something of a different color, a flare marking our existence before detaching, letting loose from the juices of breath and voice, and drying, crackling, falling, drifting, rejoining the substance from which we came in the first place.

So what is beauty? What has value here? What is the meaning? Where is the kernel of justification for everything? Do these definitions and categories change anything about the bud, the green leaf, the tinged yellow, falling brown or decomposed leaf? It is natural for the mind to see the details and acknowledge attraction or repulsion -- does a rotting tomato appeal to you the way a red ripe one does? I don't think so, usually. But if you look without the judging as to whether you want to eat it or not, or touch it or not, perhaps you will see it within the confines of its own beauty.

Some practices put forth the contemplation of the dead as a way of understanding ourselves. To watch the decay of the body is a reminder that we are all one with the dust, one with the microbes and bacteria, one with the water flowing, the leaves falling, the next breath taken by someone else. It is a tough lesson to learn that way, and yet there is much beauty in it. The decay process is not ugly or beautiful, just as the brown leaf or the red leaf is not ugly or beautiful. It is the mind that makes it so. This judging mind is so often turned up to a high setting, aimed at ourselves or others, at each corner of the world in which we spend our days.

The yoga mat, or the site of any meditation, offers a place where for even a few moments you can contemplate letting go of the judgmental mind. Pick up a few leaves -- green, fall colors, brown -- and use them as a focal point for your practice. Let them suggest to you that judging them is a mindless inquiry. Seeing them is an awareness practice, can lead to single-pointed focus, and help you let go of pre-conceived ideas even of your body, your possibilities, your self. Allow yourself to feel the leaves as part of your own cycle, to feel your own beating heart as part of theirs.

I often feel the leaf in me as I drift to the earth for Savasana, not judging where I fall, noticing the support wherever I touch the earth, and feeling the lightness of my curling parts in the air, never minding the next gust of wind that takes me flying.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making Peace With The Body

Just completed a training session based on research into the measurable effects of yoga on the quality of life for people living with arthritis. A totally wonderful period of focus on softening, acceptance, open heartedness and the strength that mind-body-and spirit can bring towards healing.

It seems so clear that the beginning and the ending of healing is learning that one can turn the compassionate heart towards oneself, accepting that the body is ours as a gift, in spite of the issues that arise and perhaps in particular because of the issues that arise. These joints and aches are reminders that awareness and acceptance will open the way, towards peace, towards joy, towards the true self. We could go blithely along never noticing our self, simply running on reactivity and conditions, setting goals and reaching, grasping for that next brass ring. The ache in the knee, and the understanding that this moment is truly all that you have, go together in a most amazing way to bring a person into the present, vividly.

Not saying pain is good or bad, not saying deformity in the joints is a goal or to be avoided... just being. More on this when I have more time.

There are so many people walking on earth now who have come to understand the gift that each moment brings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Defending An Open Heart

So much of my practice and teaching, daily life for that matter, is related to right action and an open heart. This way of being has long been a part of my basic character, or nature, but I have had a bumpy ride with it. There has been a lot of suffering, let's just say, and misplaced trust, disappointed hopes, and tremendous energy expended in ways that seemed to dissipate into nothingness.

I also grew up feeling that other people's happiness was somehow my responsibility, though I have long since come to understand that it is only through a person's own awareness and being that the freedom of joy can emerge. That joy can be shared, which is something I definitely do. Somewhere along the way I have learned that I can live with my compassionate heart available to share joy and sorrow, yet feel safer, and can even at times offer a safe space for others to experience themselves more fully too. It is my yoga practice that seems to have shifted me here.

It boils down in some ways to releasing attachment to outcome, making the offering without the goal of making the offering, rather by simply being available to be offering. In this framework we cannot give away anything, nor lose nor gain. Oh that doesn't sound easy, does it?

It is not impossible to practice strengthening this sense of safety in openness. Just as we might practice sending compassion in a meditation towards someone for whom we have not always felt positive feelings, or we might now see others' behavior in terms of conditions of pain and suffering rather than letting it jerk our reactive nature around; we can learn to see and label dangers, and get more familiar with recognizing and using the strengths within us.

It all begins with the breath and cultivating awareness. That really is a simple exploration that can last your whole life! The physical yoga practice helps enormously with this, in my opinion. Breathing is a mechanism of balance, and balance offers the equanimity of a much wider range of motion whether it is the heart or the feet in motion. Through a sequence of Asana, tensions can be released that allow access to muscular strength and flexibility. The movement of the muscles and deeper support they can offer the bones, the greater a sense of foundation to every posture, every action. The process of gaining awareness, of stretching and strengthening, of focusing on moving within the movements of the inhale and exhale, produces a most amazing increase in the body's ability to feel ease with what is actually so. This enables movement in the emotional world as well as the physical one. Access to strength while remaining relaxed is a beautiful way to describe how the heart can be open, yet not be subject to changing conditions or harmed from operating without foundational support.

There are spiritual and other energetic practices that strengthen the heart and its ability to let go of the attachments that cause so much pain. Something as simple as a Mudra (hand posture in this case) of balance and grace as with Anjali Mudra (fingers gently resting upon each other, base of palms touching loosely resembling "Prayer" hands), of protection, as with Vaikhara, the shield (thumbs tucked into fists, forearms crossed in front of chest with hands held against the body), can help marshal the energy body's resources. I also find Garuda Mudra, (Eagle) of hooked thumbs, crossed wrists held with palms facing the heart to be particularly healing for feelings of being trapped in conditional nature. This is just one more tool to help balance energies, balance out the mind-body authority struggles, and give heart energy a little more support!

Locking up the movements of the heart will not hold them, just like holding one's breath will not stop the moment. As awareness grows, attention becomes more focused, breath becomes more available to the energetic needs of the body, and the body can develop in its ways of supporting alignment and finding balance. In this way the heart can also begin to feel more freedom. It is not something a person makes happen, it will happen on its own as the practice supports that opening.