Thursday, December 22, 2011

Applying the Practice

I look out the window and see the bare hills, the dark leafless trees, the bright gray cloudy sky. Birds are busy at the feeders, and though I am North now, I know that there are roses still budded and blooming in Brooklyn. Today the winter's day will shift into the longest winter night and from here on the daylight grows by tiny increments. Mild temperatures and moisture could fool me easily into imagining it is early April and Spring is around the corner.

But that is not so. Choosing an image for a season's greetings, my husband and I agreed on a deeply snowy image.

My elderly mother-in-law is no longer traveling and so, my closest clan of four will transport ourselves to spend this next weekend together with her and my sister-and-brother-in-law. This makes me feel happy and grateful even as I pack a bag and try to organize for departure. Convenience and ease are not the reasons I exist on earth. I am acutely aware that there is no knowing what comes next, and there is virtually no point in imagining what the next winter solstice will bring, snow or blooming roses.

Sadness washes through my system with regularity these days. I feel a turning of my gaze towards the faces that are no longer here with me, and the small actions of preparing for the ritualized holiday season bring up the softly dark spaces once occupied by people dear to me. Last year I did not know they would be gone now, and here in this moment, I can allow the feelings to arise, see them for what they are -- love and longing, appreciation and gratitude -- and go on about putting candles around the house. I do not try to push the feelings away, ignore them, or feel sorry for myself. I simply feel the feelings, as energy arising around my heart and filling my mind with memories that add a dimension to everything I am doing.

In meditation teaching I often say that we are not trying to erase or stop ourselves, correct or change ourselves. We are making the space to see ourselves, experience our self and begin to explore possibilities that are otherwise drowned out by the constant shifting and noisiness of mind and reactive nature. On the mat, the yoga asana flows from physical effort to an understanding of energy and attention.

At this time of year, it seems these practices come directly into my every day moments. I am not on the mat, I am in the kitchen preparing for a family meal, remembering turning my hands towards other meals. I am not quietly sitting on a cushion, I am sitting in a zooming crowded car on a busy interstate highway. It is even more amazing to open up my awareness and focus my attention in these contexts. I feel the sadness, nod at it and let it slide past like the blur of exposed tree limbs. I am glad to be on my way, and there are roads I no longer need to travel. It is complicated to understand this delicate balance of love and loss. The first aspect is to go ahead and feel it, notice it, see what it is. So I use my asana practice here too, to be present in body and energy, connected beyond the reactive state of mind and filling with joy.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Asana is not sport, yet leads to the dance of life

I really don't know what it is like to be an athlete who has a routine of training in order to ever more confidently master the ways and means of the body. I came to the physical practice of yoga at a stage of life when, truth be told, I thought my physical prime was clearly or at least obviously behind me. It was an emotional and foundational search that brought me to the mat in the first place, looking for the well upon which I could draw to assuage my deep thirst to be worthy of well being.

What happened was simple in a way, as I almost immediately came to understand that I was already whole and the sustenance I needed was within my own grasp, if I could pay attention to the patterns I already had, and learn to release my grip on giving meanings and stories to everything. Meanwhile, I tackled the athletic aspect of asana practice without really knowing what this was, or that I was entering an entirely new way of living in the body I had thought I knew.

My first experiences with yoga asana were inexplicable. I felt as though I was trying to follow instructions while someone spoke in languages I could never hope to understand. I was unfamiliar with my body as a mechanical entity, and knew nothing about sanskrit or prana, as such. It didn't take long for the practice to have its way with me, though, and before long I was taking classes with teachers of various "types" if the class fit into my schedule. So I experienced a little Kundalini yoga, and some Hatha, some Kripalu style yoga, Iyengar and vinyasa. There was a little meditation and a little chanting. And pranayama was taught as it fit into the mood or plan of the teacher, with little explanation of effects or properties. And so I grew in my own curiosities and explorations.

Years went by in which I practiced on my own, even gave up practicing, and then returned to classes in various studios. This is so far from the tradition of a student seeker finding a guru who nurtures and guides a practitioner to trust fully and surrender to the practice! And yet, my own research and experience led me to deepen my practice, take trainings and begin teaching. In this aspect my course has definitely been part of the tradition of inquiry at the source of experience, cultivating awareness and leading to study what other practitioners have also discovered.

Now I physically experience my every day, contemplating the meanings of muscles, the powers of the mind and the intricacies of support in the breath. There are definitely asana that physically elude me, and I admit that athleticism is not my goal in practice, yet I am curious about the mechanisms that enable and disable at each point along the way. I am investigating will and fear, ease and dis-ease, judgment and joy. I seek to help my students find a fuller experience of themselves, without needing to pre-judge or pre-qualify themselves. I ponder the drives within the physical practice, seeing in some students the addictive qualities of exertion and attainment, while others rely upon pattern and repetition to reduce their fear of the unknown. Seeing or experiencing what is true in the moment, and just letting that be so, is a transformative practice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Back to Basics Again

There is a constant cascade of words, feelings, sensations, ideas, memories and sounds. I could be watching a student breathing, or riding on a subway, or drifting in and out of sleep and this would still be so. Somehow there are ways to narrow the focus of attention and at the same time open up levels of awareness. It turns out that it never works to try to shut all this down, turn it off, ignore it, block it out. The only thing that works is to open awareness even wider so that, in some way, all this billowing, thrashing, distracting material becomes just a very small bit in a much much more vast expanse.

Sounds unbelievable even to me, and yet, if the breath is the raft and my attention is floating on that, everything else is just part of the ocean.

So sometimes the swells are noticeable, or a wave crashes in and totally pulls me away from the breath. The funny thing is that it doesn't matter at all, because I can smile at this (or not even react beyond noticing that it happened) and turn my attention right back to my breath. Not getting sucked into judging the situation, or hanging on to the idea or the feeling that splashed onto my raft and caught my attention, I lose nothing.

Who is measuring how many times I climb back onto my breath-raft? Who is laughing at the object that managed to pull me off? Just me, all me, not me at all. There is a swirl of energy around my breath that contains everything -- that which will distract me and that which grounds me. The ability to focus my attention gradually gets stronger, more able, more adaptable to the movements of words, feelings, sensations, reactions in general and conditions in particular.

So I come back to the most basic practice again and again: simplify, experience, abide. And it is the breath that takes me, follows me, holds me, sends me, returns me and enables me to play this game at all of observing and being my self.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Relaxed Awareness

Right this moment, I see that the limbs of the trees are dark and bare against a bright gray morning sky, yet I can dwell among the jeweled leaves in this photograph. My heart can open to the beauty and sensation of the curving canopy arching over the street, and revel in a sense of wonder and gratitude. Yet I am actually sitting at a computer, typing, aren't I? Feeling the starkness now of damp tree limbs silhouetted against the clouds, I begin to crave a hot cup of tea. These feelings, reactions and observations are the product of mind, my own mind! Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, speaks of the constant fluctuations of mind and offers a systematic study of human experience through yogic practices that can see beyond these radiating fluctuating waves into the core substance of being.

I live in this contemporary world, that of alternate side parking and washing machines, store bought packaged products of every kind and instant messaging. Yet my goal in this moment, and in my life it seems, is to seek out this substance of being. Sounds completely impossible but in any given moment my own breath can make this available to me. I have to pay attention. The kind of attention is something that I am actively evolving, honing, enabling. Whether through physical yoga practice, or meditation, or deciding what will be dinner, or noticing my husband's breath in the middle of the night, this kind of attention can open the possibility of relaxed awareness and access to being fully present.

Relaxed awareness falls into place naturally when the grip of judgment is loosened, so I am not attaching to outcome or object, and my mind can observe the widest range of details and all my reactions to the details freely. I see the glorious canopy above me, and the stark limbs; I feel the rising spring sap and the cold chill of snow on the branches. Do I attach to meaning? Do I hold tight to a preference of one over another? Must I put values on the sentimental qualities of longing and loss, of joy and rejuvenation? I can feel anything and all of that, yet still be free. This freedom doesn't inhibit commitment, since even that is conditional and within the context arises naturally too. It seems that commitment relates to where I turn my attention (as in a yoga posture I can focus on my ribcage or my feet and change the whole experience). Does this make me dull and monotone, without intensity or specificity? I think not. The water of the self remains responsive to the wildest sea, the choppy whitecaps, the smallest waves, the subtlest ripples in the pond; and with all of this available my experience of life is enormous!

Friday, November 18, 2011

All that is solid melts into breath

The breath has a way of discovering space, just as the air itself seems to find the smallest crack or most enormous canyon. It has been seeming to me lately that my practice and my teaching are growing from this discovery. Directly. My ability to notice the breath, or be aware of it, has encouraged an internal investigation among all my own cells... and this branches out into everything I do.

So when I take a yoga class, I follow directions, just like my students do in my classes. Yet what I experience is my breath slipping under my shoulder blades, no matter whether the teacher says "lift your breastbone" or "press into your heels" or "reach for the ceiling." In some cases there are other sensations, the pulling and twisting, the pressures, and collapses of interior spaces or bones, or muscles, or ideas. I walk on the sidewalk feeling signals from all the points of the body, full of reactive chatter, and the breath quietly expands beneath my ribs, swinging my pelvis just a little this way, and releases my throat as my pelvis quietly swings just a little that way on the exhale...

I am beginning to understand something.
It starts with noticing.
Expands into observing and alertness around what I notice.
Then I sort and contemplate the rising ideas and reactions, eventually letting them all slip out on the exhale.

And I begin to notice that I am understanding something.
This expands into examination and inquiry into what I notice.
Eventually I release what I think I understand and experience my breath quietly slipping between the hairs in my nostrils.

When I can no longer enable my breath to investigate and expand my awareness, I believe I'll be ready to leave this body and try something else.

And so, as usual, I bow to that which sustains me. Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Being: A Balancing Pose of Bones & Breath

Lately I've been balancing in an open space, where ego defines the self and awareness enables no self. It has been hard to rationalize writing in this blog, as though I hold some kernel or seed, acting to share its potential and growth by posting in cyberspace. This tends to lean a little too far towards ego and I lose my balance. Yet I seek experience in my body -- the practice of yoga, the making and eating of meals -- to validate an existence that is totally normal and real and designed around accommodating ego. Then I meditate and sometimes lean a little far into no self, finding a vastness continues to open that is still unfamiliar and surprising.

The temptation to meditate is leading me towards compassionate action as well as withdrawal from the senses. Walking, teaching, studying, interacting, I can operate from vital energies emerging from that vast open space. But I remain an individual ego - opinionated, full of feeling, clutching at experiences and reveling in reactions.

In these days of lengthening darkness, I cherish those boundary moments when deep awareness saturates, and there is no understanding at all of a defined named sort. Dawn and dusk seem to embody this sensation even as the brightness of day and the layered shadows of night thrill me. I continue to revisit the moment in the hospital when my father and I mutually arrived at the boundary between his living and his dying. It was wide, vast, endless and precise. Universal and personal. Everything was present - fear, love, unknown and known, hope, grief, but the deepest sense was vastness and utter connectedness.

So I've neglected the blog. This has also been clarifying since I let go of defining it. I have been keeping a journal of notes that speak in words - telling of experience or observation or feeling or idea. Journal perhaps acting the role of non-judgmental, all-accepting intelligent parent. Journal as wise, kind, compassionate teacher. Journal as interested and disinterested, informed companion. Not much influence on what arises, the blank or scribbled open page.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Shadows in August

The clouds slid across the hills yesterday in the form of shadows fluid and dark. I could see this dance of darkness and light changing the tree and earth surfaces in my view, yet being under the cloud shadows was a different story. The intense heat of the August sun halted and the coolness in the breeze stepped forward. Colors changed, and for a moment there were thoughts of those possible predicted thunderstorms. Fleeting, soundless and insubstantial, the clouds continued moving; tall grasses rustling in the sun. This is how we live, here in the shadow, here in the sun. We notice and we don't notice and each moment is just this.

So it is with the day lilies that open their blooms for one day. Clusters on a stalk promise blooms tomorrow or next week until the day comes when it is the last lily bud on the stalk. The bees find their way to the open blooms, the deer nibble off buds with no care for the bloom that is forever lost to sight. Lilies come and go, clouds shift, shadows come and go. Summer months that appear and beckon on the horizon from mid-winter are here and gone too.

So I am here in this moment at the computer, seeing the shadows move, watching the sun illuminate that particular clump of trees and blooming goldenrod, picking the blackberry seeds out from my back left molar. Not dead yet, no longer a child nor childbearing, seeking still a way to express the love I feel and comfort myself as a human being by sharing this moment in a blog post. Easier just to appreciate the raucous sound of the jays, and the fluttering dance of maple leaves in the sun.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Here Today, Here Now

I am puzzling over the odd illusion that I get things done, that there is an endpoint, that I do something until it is finished. There is great resistance in me over giving this idea up, yet I clearly see it as "an idea." Even in the setting of a goal there is really only the doing. I might finish a meal and wash the dishes but I am not done with eating. I may weed the garden but I am not done with gardening. I may hold headstand for a specific number of breaths but I am not done with headstand.

The lessons of the summer continue with every poppy and daylily bloom.

Living fully within the constraints of this very moment, not reaching into the future, nor grasping at the past, seems to require releasing this idea of "being done." It is not the same as leaving things unfinished, nor does it mean not accomplishing anything, but rather truly letting go of results. I think humans quite naturally construct beginnings and ends for emotional and psychological convenience and to feed the illusion of certainty that we find so comforting. It is a huge shift to loosen my grip on this way of understanding. Once I see it clearly, it seems to have pervaded everything.

Moments of being offer me great freedom from this clutching. In those moments when I can fully be in-the-being mode rather than in the doing-to-get-done mode, there is even greater happiness than from the illusory constructs. But my oh my how I do fight against this! That is where practice makes all the difference. Plodding along, moment by moment in meditation or a yoga session or in the garden, or the kitchen, or with a list, or in conversation, or contemplating my calendar, I can actively see my tendencies and practice loosening the grip.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wild Raspberries

This deal we make to take human form does not exempt us from the cycle. Just as with the wild raspberries, some dry on the twig, some half eaten by a bird or slug, some flower and never bear fruit, some ripen and fall, some ripen and rot, some get plucked for jam, and as the canes die and the summer storms rage, there are those not yet ripe, those pink and hard, those purple and dropping, those red to perfection.

I do not care which I am, but understand these raspberries: bushes thick, brittle and thorny; berries fragrant from a good distance in the hot sun.

Just as I understand these raspberries, I find myself to be that oriole waiting in a nearby thicket for a safe moment to swoop in and feast.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Separately We Seek & Seek What Exactly?

We meditate and struggle to find awareness. In fact what is being asked or sought? Aren’t we simply asking to open the mind; making the time, taking the time, to cultivate focus in order to cultivate open mind? Perhaps not knowing anything about what that is, and that, in and of itself, doesn't matter.

I think meditation is this gift of time to watch oneself be. To experience being, to find out something about awareness and see reactive mind in action. To see our own habitual postures, attitudes, judgments. To notice and drop the frantic (and constant) grip on thinking, judging, making oneself into something. So scary, and full of judgment cycles, to drop that grip -- until it happens and the world does not collapse.

Why do it? Approach this question of cultivating awareness in order to do or gain what? For a while we imagine there is a goal or specific benefit. Do we want to target and pin down the self as someone or something? To allow for self acceptance and find peace from the constraints of judgment? And just how does that result from this gift of just sitting and observing the self, of training the mind to focus?

Perhaps the simple act of consciously sitting the self down, or walking or laying the self down, with all it's burdens and stories, is enough. This is already the success being sought. The step is the goal.

So maybe by breathing in and saying "breathing in, I am breathing in" we allow space for a subtle structure in which we discover in ourselves that we can cultivate awareness without gripping.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I am not gone, not mist either

The enormity of being present through these strange and miraculous weeks, in which both my parents died, has left me unsure of my physical shell. I feel the breath, counting on it as a reminder of what it takes to describe the line between living and not living. Its qualities have changed, and I wait for the waves of gratitude to return.

I cut the first asparagus. I weed the blueberries and untangle the mesh netting from the delicate branches budded for bloom and berry. There is celebration and grief in my every action.

It is too easy to say that I am quietly turning my attention towards the earth. More complex to draw my heart away from tending and caring for the people I love who have drifted out of this realm. My eyes soften just below the horizon, widening the view without focusing.

Memory and experience are collections of my mind, rotated at will to allow for varied levels of engagement and reaction. My heart beating has its own imperative, driving my body and leading to possibilities that calibrate a normal life.

The apple branches dip just in front of the window, buds amid leaves, blooms amid twigs. This was true last year too, and without any storytelling, the birds peck at the damp bark.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some Words of Rabindranath Tagore

Sent (on April 29) by Ruth Waddell (my aunt) to Josh Holland (my father) in condolence for the death (on April 27)of Anabel Holland (my mother), read when received by Josh (in hospital) on May 5th by Sarah Meredith (me).

Read at his graveside by me on May 8, 2011

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet,
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into a memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.

I know that this life, missing its ripeness in love, is not altogether lost.
I know that the flowers that fade in the dawn,
the streams that strayed in the desert, are not altogether lost.
I know that whatever lags behind in this life laden with slowness is not altogether lost.
I know that my dreams that are still unfulfilled, and my melodies still unstruck,
are clinging to some lute strings of thine, and they are not altogether lost.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Jane Hirshfield poem

from The Lives of the Heart, 1997, Harper Perennial

Late Prayer

Tenderness does not choose its own uses.
It goes out to everything equally,
circling rabbit and hawk.
Look: in the iron bucket,
a single nail, a single ruby --
all the heavens and hells.
They rattle in the heart and make one sound.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Seeing the Whole

The body defines us like a fence. We imagine it keeps us intact and we judge ourselves, often incredibly so, based on what we see as the self in the body.

I've been spending much time with my dad in the hospital and separately with my mom in hospice care. It seems clear to me that the person we are exists both as a kind of saturation in the body and at the same time without any physical attachment to that body. Obviously the state of the physical self influences a great deal in the way of our conditional experiences and prompts the reactions we have. Mental attitude or positioning, awareness and the habitual level of gripping have an even more dramatic influence on our reactive nature or our responses or even our comprehension or perception of conditions in the moment or in the mind.

It is remarkable to me that I can be intimately connected to a quality of being whether or not there is active physical presence or interaction. Even hundreds of miles can separate me from these individuals and I remain open and alert to the quality of their being. I understand when I am with them, that the physical body is of paramount importance to them, defining their physical existence in the conditional world of cause and effect, reaction and response. And yet the entirety of who they are actively separates from this physical entity even as I sit with them, even as we talk or hold hands. The touch, the word, the sound, these are fleeting conditions. The quality of being stretches beyond that in a direction-less way, without physical attribute, not subject to time or space, or conditional nature.

With deep gratitude I am catching glimpses of the non-dual nature of being.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ordinary & Extraordinary

The string of tensions and joy that make up life are patterned like beads, yet one moment is mindless and routine and the next extraordinary. Whether sitting zazen or flying through movement on a yoga mat, sitting at a desk or waking from sleep on the couch, it is only this moment that we experience.

Mind chemistry has its hold on all the rest of it. What is remembered, what is expected, what is felt, what is responded? This moment, possibly the only action is this breath, this glance, this touch. The practice is so simple: Let go of the patterns that attach this moment to what was or will be and fully experience being.

No, it isn't a state of bump on a log, where everything must fade into nothingness. And it doesn't require a thousand years of training to control every aspect of the physical body. This moment may hold every emotion, not reserved for only one or another. In fact, it is the vastness of this moment that turns the routine into the extraordinary.

In my Tai Chi for Arthritis classes, I say again and again, "Focus, and Relax." Training the mind to be useful with its powerhouse of possibilities, while allowing the physical and emotional self to dwell in spaciousness with communication lines open, well, there you are. Being present. The good and bad of it all becomes a pattern like slides projected on the walls around you, and can be seen for the illusions that they are, as reactions, as conditions, as patterns.

Wake to it, and awareness saturates the dark and the light, opening the moment and illuminating it.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Come She Will

I've been traveling strange terrain these past few weeks. From barely melted snows in upstate New York, to full blown cherry blossoms in Washington, DC, to palm trees and azaleas in New Orleans, to uncurling greens on the bushes in Brooklyn, and again the brilliant yellow of daffodil slopes in Maryland. My heart is traveling strange terrain and the world around me seems to reflect the vastness, fragility, beauty, starkness, and unpredictable but inexorable movements of life and death.

For the first time I missed a class at my neighborhood studio where I've taught since Inauguration Day 2009. By missed, I mean simply couldn't show up and had no substitute available to replace me. My father's urgent medical situation required my full presence. There was much sweetness in teaching last week and hearing that a few of my beginning students stayed to practice together.

I've sat with my mother, who is floating on a gentle sea of pain medications and freedom from the constraints of conventions. The tenderness with which she touches her own hands, strokes her own cheek as though forming the shapes in clay; she opens her eyes with clarity and space so enormous that my feet feel lighter as I meet her gaze. She has drifted quite a way in this nearly a month in hospice care. Her room at the group home feels like a soft safe nest. What an act of grace that after a life of such turmoil she is finding her way with such an openness of heart.

I've held my father's hand as he went through procedures, humming the violin part to his humming the viola part of duets we have played, keeping his attention aloft of the changing chest tubes and with the breath itself. His clarity of mind and good humor more endearing than my heart can bear, and his suffering finding a place within my own ribs. He stood by me through all my childhood surgeries, fainting as the anesthesia took me out to sea. I can still feel his two large hands holding my one right hand. So I gaze at the delicate fuzz of spring tree branches against the sky as I walk around the assisted living facility to which I am hoping he can move when, in his words, "the white cells win."

What is a yoga practice? I find my center, my core self, sitting on the Amtrak train speeding from New York to Washington to New York to Washington. I breathe into that three-dimensional space where all three of his chest tubes are draining away the mess that ought not be there. I walk up the stairs to my 4th floor apartment, grateful that my sprained ankle is recovered enough, knowing that each step I take is a practice in letting go of expectations and outcomes; that each breath is truly the gift of presence, in this moment is the fullness and freedom of my life.

There are so many of us on the path. The footprints fit my feet perfectly no matter which way I turn. I feel graced by each and every one of you. I will return your gaze even when I have no eyes with which to see.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Tenderest Shoot

Pastel by Ruth Waddell

In Upstate New York the earth is frozen hard until the sun's rays reach into that first few centimeters, softening, and warming even as the air temperature rises just above freezing. On the shady slope under the old maples the snow still holds its piles and drifts, though they've sunken and crystallized from thaw and freeze.

The tiny spikes, translucent yellow-green, flat and luminous, pierce this frozen layer and poke up above the earth into the bright sunlight. The garlic is coming up. The day lilies, too, have begun their journey from the dark to the light, just as the length of day equalizes with the length of night, here in the Northern Hemisphere -- and equally in the Southern Hemisphere. Equinox, "equal night," began with an enormous and unusual "perigee" moon, closer to earth due to its elliptical shape.

How can something so fragile make it through such a forbidding environment? Even once above ground the variations in temperature seem impossible to bear for my skin, and the wind when calm is fine but it kicks up into biting nose-running cold.

Living in this fragile human body I am in awe of the tiny garlic spike. My own strengths are also in my tenderest parts, those that open to awareness, draw my attention, expand my view beyond the frozen and hardened into the wildness of conditional fluctuations. The ability to see my self in all my reactive nature comes directly from this place of openness, where anything might pierce the luminous and let the darkness in, yet just as easily break through the darkness with light.

I cherish my understanding of how the roots dig in and suck in nutrients; the garlic bulbs swell and form cloves in heads just below the surface; the spike lifts and rises into elegant spears of leaves and stems sending up a globe of blooming flowers, the flavors and aromas of garlic in every bent stem, in every bloom.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Beginning and End of Meaning

Every moment hangs like a water droplet from the edge of the leaf.
Luminous, tenuous, distorting and beautiful beyond all words.
Why rush through the living and the dying?
Why push the moments into cubicles of attachment?

This is pain.
That pulling, wrenching feeling of wanting something other than what is.
That darkening tenderest of reaching for that which is not so.
That sharp claustrophobic grasping to get beyond the already piled and defined.

Oh it is an odd and disorienting feeling to let this droplet be.
Letting the droplet be detailed -- only as an illusion that it is separate from the air, the water and the elements that define it in the mind as a droplet.

Imagine you are the surface of the sea.
Experience this.
The rain. The air.
The spray. The currents.
The waves, the deepest fault lines.
Non beginning, non end.
Experience being.

What if all we could ever hope to be is exactly what we are in this moment?

This is joy.
Feeling open to the gentle movements of breath.
Sitting in silent vast spaces where mothers birth and mothers die.
The sounds are the echo of inhales and exhales.

Month of March.
This transitional instant,
when I can feel the beginning and end in the mountain mist.
The swelling buds, the frozen mud.
The hot fire and hustling wind.

Taking down the wall between joy and pain,
the droplet becomes the sea.
And I am but the interstice
between air and earth for a moment.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Finding What Supports You

When I say, "allow your feet to soften into the earth," it might sound like gobble-de-gook or hocus pocus until we begin playing with the way we actually use our feet. This shift in attention brings a level of understanding that can help with balance, with organizing your bones above the earth in ways that help transfer weight without stressing joints, and also lightens the load even in an emotional sense. First we try the communication system between the feet and the brain. Are the signals getting through in both directions? It's good to let yourself laugh when that little toe just doesn't hear you, or when the ball of the foot rises instead of the toes. As with any relationship, humor can help a lot as we gain an appreciation of the other's point of view.

In any posture, whether doing yoga or not, you can explore the grounding of your body. It isn't always your feet either, sometimes it's your sitting bones below you, or the angle of your pelvis that help settle you so that your spine can follow its natural rise. Investigate the way the bones rest on the earth -- exploring while laying down on your back for example, you can just notice the way your breath lifts and releases you and discover exactly which parts of you are touching the surface below you. Cherish this discovery of how your spine works, and allow your attention to follow the breath as it gradually releases tensions and more of your body can relax into the support below.

Standing you can do the same thing while gently leaning your weight into the inner edges of your feet and then the outer edges. What does that mean? Well, can you feel any weight in the inner side of your heel, or do you tend to feel yourself resting on the outer edge? Perhaps more of this than that in one or the other foot? Just find out. Try bending your knees slightly and feel the weight naturally seep into the heels, stretching the front thigh into the hip socket a little can do the same thing -- draw your attention to this and play with it. It may feel like you will fall over, but relax into it with a little shake, a little boogie woogie, and then settle back into it.

Once your communication lines are open, you can really draw energy up the legs from the earth; you can relax into your seat and feel an energetic lift in the deep core muscles; you can ease the shoulders down your back upper rib cage and feel your ribs freely floating over your hips.

If you find the support below you, you can rise lightly and feel freedom in the joints as well as the mind. Give it a try. Focus on it for a moment, whatever posture you're in! The deeper support will become evident once you allow the exploration to begin with the surfaces of things.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Magical

Gently lifting arms with an inhale, wrists flacid, and on the exhale allowing the hands to drift back down to the thighs like seaweed softly undulating in the waves. A genuine effort for most of the 80+ year olds in the room, but their faces glow with peace and relaxation. Letting go of the tension in their fingers, of the clenching in the shoulders, they begin to sit taller, and settle their feet under their knees.

Eyes glowing after class, smiles readily spreading on faces, even with the very serious business of standing up and taking hold of their walkers, these students do not care if they are "practicing yoga" or "doing Tai Chi." We are sharing a morning of breath and presence, letting go of judging ourselves and each other. Sometimes I cannot help but exclaim, "Who would have thought we could be working so hard and feel so relaxed!?"

We do hard things. Sometimes the hard thing is communicating with toes, or attempting to lift one leg. Sometimes the hard thing is trying to inhale just a little more in a three-sip breath, or perhaps hold on the chair seat and lean to one side. Each body has its struggles, each mind has its resistance and predisposition.

Yet what happens is magical. Gratitude that we can inhale an arm upwards and release it on the exhale, that we can sigh an out-breath together to relish our effort and relieve more tension, that we feel lightness in our legs as we align the bones and let the earth carry us. It is this sharing, sweet and complex for every person in the room, that heals and encourages, that carries us through the dark times and hard losses. Again and again I bow to my students with reverence and gratitude.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winds of March

Walking on two feet, my sprained ankle gently seeping deep gratitude with each movement. I was able to return to teaching at the Shelter this week, adding in this piece I had cut away to make space for my healing. Now the students bring their joy and sorrow to me, quizzically and laughing out loud, eyes closing, sighing and silently.

I pass through the seasons as I walk from shade and wind into sun and warmth, remembering the tornado that ripped through the neighborhood and took down big old trees. One huge sycamore trunk stands truncated with one large limb reaching out askew - a remnant still enormous. The piles of snow, gone.

I've been substitute teaching for a fellow teacher who went to India for 6 weeks, and her delicate aged student has offered me an open well from which to draw, dipping the bucket, winding and unwinding the rope. These days I feel the energy pulse from my palms when I am near her, and can feel her breath moving towards me.

My mother is dying. She is saturated with happiness to know that the path is now clear and no one is pretending anything about what kind of living she will do. Criticized all her life for not carrying a tune, she now hums to herself. When asked what she is humming she grins, yes, grins, and says "Why, I don't know!" Delightful. No need, no need to know, to hang on, to grip and clench, to explain, to ask, to argue or deny. No need, no need to put up with, or put down, to reach in or pull away.

This is a most remarkable time. I revel in it even as I careen a bit wildly on the road, as though a powerful wind is blowing and I'm giving in, just a little.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Nothing is Wrong, It's just Fear

It wasn't hard for me to tell my mother that she could let go if that's what was right for her. It slipped out as though it was always there, our eyes smiling at each other. She was fingering the scarf I made for her that only a month ago she said had reminded her of the taste of strawberries. Somehow, I was completely calm and relaxed telling her that I will miss her but that it was okay. Maybe it was because I could feel that the stream was already flowing in that direction. Perhaps it was because she seemed so happy to be floating on the water headed towards the falls. I can hear the falls, I just don't know exactly how far away they are.

Attachment. I suppose it is the big attachment, that we hold on to the idea of being alive, of other people staying alive, that life is what we hold dear and hold on tight. The practice of seeing my own attachment to anything, an opinion, an outcome, a schedule, a relationship, has been so revealing of how I make meaning where there are really just constantly shifting conditions whose visibility depends on the light.

So I sit in one place, open to the deep contentment I saw on her face, feeling the fear of the work I will have to do once she is gone, knowing that her presence is not some thing nor does it belong to anyone, not even to her. Her presence is the surface of the water that is everything in the sea: wave, froth, air bubbles, sand, beach, conch shells, sand crabs, sky, wind, the sound of the falls in the distance.

I don't know the way, but all paths lead there.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

This Asana is Contraindicated for ...

me, and yet I practice. Listening to my own arguments, I hear fear and I hear determination. There is goal setting and there is wishful thinking. There is regret and self-doubt, and there is hopefulness and curiosity.

When I began practicing yoga I took any class that fit in my schedule. I was approaching 50 years old and I knew less than nothing about the lineage, names of luminaries, history, even potential health benefits. I didn't even know what shape I was aiming for in the Asana of the moment. I listened deeply, worried on the surface about mixing up my right from my left, and began breathing into a new space of awareness inside.

This fall my practice will be much the same as it was 10 years ago... I will be discovering that I can change the angle of my lower spine by remembering my big toe, and I will use the wall to prepare for Ustrasana (camel pose) just to see how much energy I can raise from my Tadasana (mountain pose) knees. There are many Asana I can explore in my practice, and of course, my practice does now include teaching which is a magnitude of exploration I could not have imagined in those first few experiences.

Every Asana has benefits that reach into the basic functioning of the body -- circulation, nervous system, muscular strength and flexibility; and the mind -- judgment, intention, challenge, determination, curiosity, resilience and focus; and the organs -- etc. Every asana has contraindicated conditions, for example shoulder or ankle injury, stages of pregnancy, frailty of bone, uncontrolled high blood pressure, etc.

As a teacher I may mention a few of the "if you have this, modify in this way" instructions, but I find it hard to say, "just don't do this." I find it especially hard to say it to myself. At the moment, I have two physical variables that would contraindicate nearly everything I do in my yoga Asana practice -- including what might seem simple like sitting in a cross-legged position.

So here is the secret: Do not hurt yourself. Follow the path of the breath and prepare your physical body for practice with an open mental attitude of exploration rather than goals and end results. Use props and find out what is actually happening in as full a way as you can in that moment. It is not getting into the full pose of Ustrasana that will help you if you have low back issues or rotator cuff problems. Yet many of the steps along the way will be exactly what your body can best use to mobilize, stabilize and strengthen, stretch and explore.

It is the mind that wants to take the full expression of Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel). Deepening and exploring a supported heart opener over a bolster or block, or using blocks to support your sacrum and your upper back in Setu Bhandhasana (Bridge pose) will give you more possibilities to experience your life than you could imagine.

So it can really help to find a teacher who can help guide your practice into the deepest places you can explore, and slow things down, rather than attending classes that continually show you what you can do to hurt yourself. It helps when you don't believe that everything rests in the final pose, and keep an open mind about what might open your practice.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let Go of That To Do List!

I resist the whirling vortex of the list of what must be done and relax into this moment, fully free. You could say that I am taking refuge in the completeness of acceptance, or just that idea of "being here now." There really is nothing that must be done, (I am breathing in and breathing out), though there are many many ways I could use my energy, (I need to call the hospital and take that package to the post), and I do turn my energy. Every where I turn, my energy turns. Where I turn my drishte (my focus), so my attention turns.

This is a direct learning from my yoga practice. It is the focus of the attention that draws the energy to that point. We are breathing all the time we are alive here in this body, and yet when we sit still and focus on our breathing suddenly we hardly know how to breathe in and breathe out. We watch ourselves struggle to simply hold our own attention in one place. So it is a worthy practice to let go of the judging and the constant review of the items on the list, and practice simply being present.

Just when I start thinking, "oh my life is so complicated, I don't have time to do this, no one would imagine all the things I am juggling," someone else says these same things to me about them! I smile, maybe even laugh, fully accepting this is human nature. Celebrating that we are alive, we have nearly infinite (did I say "nearly?") ways of using the moment-to-moment life we have. Yet so often the focus is far away on something projected or remembered. That way is the path of anxiety, stress, insufficiency, and sorrow, in a word "suffering."

Resisting that whirling vortex of "must do this" and "should have done that" and "how will I ever get all this done!" I can quietly wash the beets, enjoy the red stain on my cutting board, hear the happy clicking of the oven lighting, and feel the firmness of my hand gripping the knife. Later, after I teach a few sessions of yoga, I will share these delicious roasted beets with someone I love. I do not have to put that on the list, nor resist it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Learning the Lyrics by Singing Along

Repetition and patterns are powerful ways of teaching ourselves, so it is no surprise that when we have the same reaction again and again, we learn to cement that response. Perhaps it is laughing at jokes that are not funny, perhaps it is swatting the fly that buzzes nearby, perhaps it is resenting another day on the job.

Think of how much easier it is to sing along with the song on the radio, or the ipod, then it is to remember the lyrics on your own. We sing along and sing along and with the support of the music we begin to remember those lyrics, hum-humming where we don't quite remember the words.

It may sound like a plan of positive thinking, but allowing yourself to experience the possibilities of reacting differently, and practicing that, can have the same impact as humming along until you get most of the words. You can learn a new song and enjoy even humming along til you know it better. Maybe stuffing envelopes feels demeaning or is boring or obviously doesn't use so many of your other positive attributes and skills. You can try stuffing envelopes with an awareness of this attitude, and open yourself to enjoying even this job more. Perhaps you will come up with ways to improve the work itself, offering to translate the mailing into a series of pre-printed postcards or emails, making those envelopes unnecessary. Perhaps you will come to appreciate the reaching out that each envelope represents.

Give yourself the freedom to choose, separating from a repeated negative pattern.

There are so many more songs that you can sing.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Sense of Humor

When in doubt, smile. Did I just miss my stop?

Let the laughter come. What made me think that I could do more than this today? Funny hopeful me. How lovely this day has been, taking me all day instead of 3 hours! This just opens the possibilities for tomorrow.

Taking out those stitches for the third time... grinning ... amazed at how thoroughly I can explore ALL the possible ways to do this incorrectly! And nodding at my bravery to try it one more time, not knowing if I will recognize the correct pattern I seek to knit, having discovered so many others ...

No, its not embarrassing to fall on my ass in a yoga class! It is my human nature expressing itself and making me laugh! It is my heart that reaches up towards the ceiling through my feet. Maybe by the time I'm 60 I'll be able to move away from the wall... or not.

Checking the level of personal investment, in the opinion, in the judgment, in the appearance or the action, by the self or an other. Can there be humor towards the effort, in the process of being present? It's a trap too easy to catch one's self in. Is there something good about feeling bad about one's self? Learning to see truth, we can separate from the judgment and live more fully.

I can think of so many times my children got something done to their own satisfaction, having left out important elements, or mistaken one thing for another. The effort was still good, the effect sweet if incomplete or "incorrect." Let the compassionate heart smile, even if perhaps we watch a heart break apart; we can know that it is love and kindness that will find the way back to wholeness, not judgment or emotional dissection.

Meditation: Find a comfortable seat and center physically, or can be done walking or laying down. Allow the space behind your eyes to soften. Fill that space with warmth and gently smile in just the corners of your eyes (yes, even closed). Feel your cheeks begin to lighten. Allow the warmth of this smile to find the corners of your mouth (loosen your jaw). Breathing, softening, feel this smile seep around your lungs, your heart, your hips, your knees. Smile softly at your toes. (Even just the idea of toes!) Staying here in the warmth of your own compassionate acceptance, friendly, kind and open to whatever you find. When your mind wanders, return to the softness behind your eyes and once again slip into a smile.

Smiling at our own attachments to sorrow or pain, we can see our path and find freedom.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Deconstructing a Flood of Words: Using the Yamas

Imagine meeting a friend and as you are standing there, the friend begins handing you one thing after another. The first thing you take with one hand and keep making eye contact with your friend. You can hold this thing easily in one hand. The friend immediately hands you something else, a handful of small things. You put the other object in the crook of your elbow and take the handful carefully in one hand. The friend then hands you a large awkward object and places it across your outstretched forearms. Another object follows immediately that is sloshing in a container. You stand still while your friend continues to pack every possible crack and balance point with one after another thing.

How many times have you had a "conversation" that felt like this?

Words are mental objects. They represent ideas, carry the kernel of reactive emotions. Words can literally transform the inner landscape with visual information, and can reconfigure a thought process by eliminating or adding elements.

Speech is a powerful way to communicate, yet words are often used without any idea of their actual impact.

There are moments when each of us suddenly feels the weight of our words. Awareness is intense in those moments when the call for clarity is great, or when the emotional impact of each word is evident. We feel it when each word is painful; we feel it when words reassure. Words can bring fear, excitement, calm, joy, anger, confusion, clarity.

Teaching yoga requires specificity in language when directing other bodies, when inviting the minds of others to focus, when suggesting visual or emotional constructs. It is one sided, directive-suggestive-instructive talk. This is a collectively agreed upon inequality. When this kind of inequality occurs among people in typical conversations, it implies the same tacit agreement, and can be very uncomfortable for the listener, and sometimes leaves an unpleasant feeling afterward for the talker too. For some, this kind of one-sided hand-over-the-stuff talking is a challenge to compete, or sets up a verbal jousting match. The listener might make an effort to break the cycle or show equal fortitude, or feel a need to claim some equal worthiness for attention. The deep need to be "right" or "have the last word" can easily arise.

The person who storms you with object after object probably does not realize that you cannot hold on to all of it. It is likely they cannot see that this transfer doesn't afford you any opportunity to make any use of the objects. It may be that the intent is not to gain your understanding, but simply a desire that you take all this stuff to lighten their load. The odd part is that the objects actually remain in the custody of the person who gave them, even as they weigh you down. It seems those same objects can be handed over again and again. Perhaps they are not the actual load, but simply represent the burden being felt.

Taking stock of the deeper layer of communication can help slow this flood and might actually help shift that burden through awareness. If the friend (or you) are lonely, it may be a desire to feel a shared experience of life that provokes the stream of words in one direction. Perhaps a sense of isolation creates an urgency in having another person confirm the stream of experiences or reactions. Perhaps it is uncertainty that pushes a person (or you) to such an effort to be convincing, taking each point and covering every detail of the subject just to be sure and reinforce this version of them. Sometimes it is a deep need to be appreciated, or acknowledged, that prompts a person to disclose too much of what they know, or how they feel or how they arrived at their conclusion.

Kindness and respect can stem this flood. Allowing the undercurrent to rise to the top can be as simple as saying, "It must be hard to go through all this on your own," or "It is interesting to hear how you think about this, and I can tell you have thought a lot about it;" "There are many who would react the way you reacted." This stops the flow of details and returns to the core of the communication. It is also sometimes useful to simply say,"I am interested in what you are saying, but cannot absorb all these details. Can you tell me the part you really want me to know?" You can even ask, "Do you want me to respond to this, or are you simply telling me so that I will know about this too?"

These kinds of responses come directly from an investigation of the yogic principles of the Yamas (one of the eight limbs of yoga as outlined by Patanjali from centuries ago).

The Yamas are yogic principles of outward and inward behaviors. Each of the outward principles relate to the concepts of how we function, and interact. Taking on any one of these will lead to the others. Ahimsa - non-violence - applies to being kind, refraining from the domination games, being patient with yourself and others, and practicing compassion in speech as well as action. Satya - truth - again relates to the deepest awareness rather than the surface feedback. Being kind in the truth you express will enliven and enrich, rather than dominate and degrade others. Asteya - non-stealing - is a practice of respecting the energy and time of others as well as your own, not simply refraining from taking objects, but also making unnecessary demands of others. Brahmacharya - restraint - the source of celibacy practices and also of relinquishing overindulgence and repression, embracing moderation and respecting the divine in all beings. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness - is the cultivation of non-attachment, honoring of the many strands that weave the fabric of life without dictating or grasping, making space for the self and others to simplify rather than vie for control.

Starting with any one of the Yamas as an investigation is like having a walking stick for uneven terrain. Everywhere you go, whatever you may do or experience, let the Yama you choose help you feel the structure below that supports you on the path.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Seeing the Inside Space

Today as the sun rose something dawned in me too. I heard an echo of myself saying that I was disappointed in someone and suddenly knew what that really was. It felt as if literally the walls had blown out and the truth was left standing in an open space. This disappointment, standing in that space, was a state of my own mind, an attachment of mine, built out of patterns in me, and had nothing to do with that other person. In fact, as I looked back on times in my own life, I could blow the walls out there too, seeing my individual self doing exactly what I needed to do in that moment, as I experienced it, based on conditions and patterns. Do I really need to hold on so tightly to the judgments and conditions of those moments? Can I truly let go of that and simply see the shifting sands for what they are?

Why do we situate ourselves this way? Putting the emphasis on hardening into the judgment as to what someone else (or our self) should-would-could be or do, rather than allowing the present conditions to be visible, and the choices clear as choices?

We can build inner support for this -- with enough practice! It is not that difficult once there is understanding. I don't mean the kind of intellectual understanding of "oh, yes, I see how this works..." but the deeply embedded understanding that no longer requires building all the walls to hold up the ceiling of attachment, judgment and isolation in the moment.

In it together, without separating self and other from compassionate acceptance, it is much more natural to see how we, as human beings, live and act within the boundaries of our reactive nature. We don't judge a bird for landing on a particular branch rather than another. Can we tolerate the notion that the whole process of our living on earth is a miracle of unforeseen consequences and that we can remain open in each moment to the possibilities without attaching to one particular outcome?

As the people of the Middle East experience the earthquake of their own making, I hope that they can individually and collectively let go of the idea that only one set of conditions is acceptable. With so many competing interests, there are bound to be many possible strands in the weaving of the new rope with which to make the basket they want to carry their hopes. It is by turning this compassionate acceptance towards ourselves that we can learn to let go more deeply. Finding that we do not need to turn off connections, we practice breathing around and through the harder moments and the confusion of reactions, allowing the straightforward view of the structures we build to hold our feelings of disappointment, approval, etc. more clearly.

Then we can look openly into each others' eyes and see. The emergence of a beautiful new human being gives rise to the vastness of possibilities, constrained only by our vision of choices and attachments to reactions. It is no coincidence that the form of that beautiful new human was once the inside shape of another beautiful human being.

Just a note in the moment: Farewell to dear Beati who transitioned onward (age 90), and welcome to new darling Rylen, just getting the hang of the breathing air thing.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

When Things Seem So Much Farther Away

Halfway into the last snowstorm I noticed how all my normal errands seemed so much farther away. My yoga practice has seemed a bit like this too, since I sprained my ankle.

Turns out it is not really my body that puts long distance in my yoga practice, nor the snow piled on all sides that makes the local food co-op any farther away. It is all in my mind.

Making adjustments in yoga practice is a natural part of practice, and comes with the territory if you are going to practice on your own or in a class. Just because the teacher or the person next to you can lean on their wrist does not necessarily mean that you can... or put your heel down when squatting or lift your arm next to your ear. Each body comes with its own patterns and structures and it is more than half the amazement of a yoga practice to discover all this about the body you actually live in.

The same is true when injured or not feeling well, or under special natural conditions. A dear friend of mine is very near to the end of her pregnancy and just this last week ran into three specific movements in her yoga practice that had been fine last week but her body just said, "nope, skip that one this time." This indicator is helping her understand the deep changes taking place as her child prepares to emerge. My ankle tells me many stories even as I work into a seat for meditation! In this way, my teacher is always with me, drawing my attention to sensation, to the shift in the breath, to my own wandering awareness.

And of course my food co-op is right where it has always been, but the journey there and back has been brought sharply into focus as a moment-by-moment experience. I am making constant adjustments for my ankle, for the ice, for other passersby, for the beauty of the nearby fence all decorated in snow. How wonderful to be aware and alive! Of course I will be happy when the pain subsides even further, but do hope I can remember to notice when my attention shifts and many things seem closer while others move farther away.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union: knitting and purling

When I began knitting again I couldn't remember how to even get stitches onto the needles. Then I began looking at all these awesome patterns and thought perhaps at this stage in my development I might have cultivated sufficient attention and patience to try making something that requires attention and patience. I was surprised to find that some of the most intricate looking patterns are actually the very same simple stitches that I have known since high school days... the basic knit and basic purl stitches. It is how they are used, dispersed, slipped, knit together and so forth in patterns that might just be two or four rows, but could be as elaborate as 16 row patterns... Well, it just amazed me that so much variety, beauty and usefulness could come from such simple stitches used with intelligence and diligence.

Last night as I listened to the State of the Union speech, I was reminded of this idea of how basic stitches can be used so variously. It depends upon the skill of the hands holding the yarn, the appropriateness of the attention to the level of difficulty in the pattern itself, and the willingness to focus fully -- yes, even tearing out what has been done to get to the mistakes, figure out what happened, and, while still maintaining an even temper, continue on in the pattern.

In my estimation, our current president is keeping just such a steady hand on the yarn. He was handed a terrible tangled snarl and a very complex pattern two years ago. There was much to untangle, much attention required to see and then re-establish the pattern chosen by the election that put the needles in his hands. Now he is seeing the pattern emerging and can go back to clean up a few missed stitches, while beginning to add the shape required for this new stage in the work. He can change the lighting to see better, and he has asked for help in spinning the yarn he needs, but his hands remain steady throughout.

Some will say, ditch the pattern. Some will say, change your yarn. Some will say, oh, just leave that mistake no one will notice it later. Some will say, this piece you are working on will never fit. Some will say we do not need this knitting any more, just stop knitting and let everyone figure out for themselves how to card, spin and begin again.

I say steady hands and focused attention will continue to create a thing of beauty -- resilient, useful, and adaptable to the changing climate. Each will have their chance in turn to take the yarn, but not many can see the pattern in the tangled knots. Lucky we have such a one just now.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Inquiry & Acceptance

Prodding, poking, pushing at the self, at others, at conditions, into what seems so: this is reactive nature at work. Curiosity sometimes masquerades as the motive for questioning things, for aggressive inquiry. Fear may be hiding at the core in some of the pulling, pushing at and away; flowing under both timidity and boldness. How can we practice yoga, or meditation for that matter, as an essential inquiry and accept the inquiry without all this manipulation?

Deep in this tangle of branches the sun simply shines on the snow. It doesn't matter if the snow is covering old pine needles or is clinging to the branches of the wintry tree. The sun simply filters through anything it finds and interacts without hesitation in its specific seasonal angle, heat, duration -- all of which are conditional upon where on this earth's sphere we are observing that it is shining.

This is the magic of awareness and acceptance. With a focus of attention, and deep openness to whatever the attention finds, like the sun's light our attention can continue to shift and reach anything in its path. So with attention, and the key is acceptance. If we must control, name, categorize, and react to what we find, we are lost in the constant push-pull interaction of the surfaces, forever entangled.

The inquiry can be the beginning of noticing how "I," the person I have built out of experiences and meanings, with materials like conditions and reactions, respond to the inquiry itself. Do I resist? Do I tense up? Do I weep? Do I compete with myself? What is the pattern I have already created for this category of "inquiry?" Once seen, let the reactions rise and fall. Allow the light of your awareness to filter as does the light of the sun, reaching whatever it finds in its rays. The ability to witness the rising of responses, like feelings and thoughts, tensions and spaces, comes as you accept that you can continue observing without getting lost in the tangle.

So we practice. "Practice" implies that it is an ongoing experience, not a once-and-done kind of knowledge. Each moment that I inquire and accept is a living present moment, connecting to something far more universal and open than the reactive nature I observe.

My sprained ankle is healing, gradually giving me insights and experiences of myself functioning in the world. With each step I find I am inquiring as to the balance between the constant friction of judgment and testing and the open space of acceptance.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Is This?

Here it is, mid-January, cold, freezing in fact, and yet the sun shines brightly in the rolling landscape of upstate New York. Snow blankets all but the most windswept fields, and icicles are forming from the roof. The sun's warmth has its effects, the wind has its own, the shadows of the old mountains cause their own colder micro climates. At some level I accept all this, just as it is, as long as I am inside a warm place, protected as is appropriate for my thin-skinned, fur-less, warm-blooded body. I can appreciate it, even revel in it, as long as it doesn't directly threaten my sense of personal comfort and safety. Yet I can understand the harshness of it too. I have deep respect for the blue jays who puff up as they sit on the branch, yet dive into the sunflower seeds in the feeder after the sun has warmed things up just a bit. The world is not cruel, it is what it is, too cold for me, tolerable with adjustments for the blue jays.

It is in the realm of human interactions that things are not as easy to accept as they are, and what they are is not so clear. Judgment forms about the way someone does or does not do something, says or does not say something, wants or does not want something, feels or does not feel something. Yes, even the way someone does or does not understand or notice something can be judged, and categorized, filed and stored for reference again and again. This becomes the building block of interactions and relationships. This can also barricade me from seeing my own way.

In situations where I do not like things as they appear to be, I can go on ahead and judge others and myself, creating internal structures filled with longing that things be different than they are. Whatever the motive may look like, it is of no use, as this does not change anything except my own reactions. These, in turn, set traps that hold me, caught in my frozen idea of how things seemed in that moment. Ensnared in longing, with no idea of the real source of that craving, aversion or attachment, and with no way to let it go.

The first step is asking, "what is this?" and letting the answer continue beyond the first layer. Perhaps that first layer is frustration or anger; perhaps it is sorrow or shock; perhaps it is anxiety or the compression of being in a hurry that floats up first. Letting the answer continue means asking again, "and this?" in response to that first answer. Maybe the anger is a feeling of failure or hurt feelings; perhaps that sorrow is loneliness or disappointment. Ask again, "then what is this?" Allowing the body to relax, to find its way to the sources of self-judgment and the fear of external judgment.

Sometimes different words help, instead of "what is this?" I might ask "is this me?" and this can help me see that none of this, none of this emotional reactivity actually defines me. "And is this me?" for the next layer will reveal that it too is not me. These are like transparent layers I can learn to see through, through the sad heart, through the loneliness, through the fearfulness.

Then what do I do with those peelings of my reactive self? Can I let them drift off in the cold wind, or set them down gently in the glittering snow, and feel how my heart continues to beat? Allowing my body to rest for even a short span of a few breaths, the flood of reactive, judgmental behaviors and feelings can be seen and separated from who I am. This is where choice begins as to being where I am in that moment or staying stuck in the structural patterns of judgment and blame, even admiration that turns over the power of possibility to someone else, rather than recognizing this in my self.

This common struggle to be present becomes a foundation upon which I can stand. In some ways it is the core of my practice, allowing myself to learn and unlearn these patterns and find freedom. It is not mine alone, but part of human nature, a vastly shared experience. Ah, and here come the chickadees now that the temperature has risen just a bit. Doing what they do, as they are, in this very moment.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Teaching with Myself as the Unknown

I am very curious to discover my teaching this week, since my own inner balance has shifted to be ever more obviously unknowable. I twisted my ankle a week ago as I walked on slippery sidewalks. The process of recovery has been revelatory so far. Aside from the literal experience of sensation and changing forms, of course I have had to change my behavior and expectations. I've chucked normal patterns and am observing how I react. It is using a lot more energy than I thought it would, just to watch all this, and be in it.

The coming week I have shaved off a few classes and obligations, canceled a couple appointments and spread a few things out over the week. The plan is designed to give me more time between everything to elevate the foot, to recharge my energy, to take the time I will need to travel slowly from place to place. Even with these changes I am going to negotiate carefully as I go teach this and that class. The getting to and from the teaching will be as much to learn for me as the teaching itself.

There is no way for me to know what will happen, how it will feel or what the progression of events might include. It amuses me that my mind keeps asking how I might find a solution in the form of someone else who might take away the uncertainty or the discomfort. I know that fundamentally it is my own body that will heal itself if I can stay out of its way. Exploring what helps that healing and what subtracts or detracts from that healing is really at the center of my attention.

I'm struck by how this is yoga practice as everything. Tenderly, non-judgmentally I am exploring the range of motion of the rest of my body, and consciously relaxing my mind in its tendencies to grip and attach, to project and to figure. I practice as I knit. Practice as I wait for help with something, practice as I step down each stair, practice as I move in my sleep. It is a fascinating process of integrating and experiencing. The shift in my view is what changes this injury from a deficit to a gift.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sensations as Sensations

This morning I slipped on the icy shoveled sidewalk. One foot began moving away and the other ankle folded to catch my balance. Pop, twang, and back on my feet. All in a moment, yet in that moment I had a flood of sensations that triggered a heightened awareness. Gratitude that I was standing on a sidewalk, fear that I was injured, amazement that so little had happened and so much had changed, fear that I could not trust my body to function normally, curiosity about the condition of my ankle, pain, hesitation, gratitude the foot took my weight. This all took just seconds. Each momentary feeling took hold and let go, took hold and let go. Then the investigation began.

I have been using a meditation of noting sensation and allowing sensation to be sensation, freeing the sensation itself from the tag lines of feelings, interpretations, anxieties, memories and projections. For me, this means actually choosing not to name the sensation that arises, simply sense it. Each sensation has the potential to reveal the way I operate, attaching thoughts and feelings, assigning meanings, planning etc. in response to the sensation, which has by that time passed into something else. What remains is the construction I've built around it.

So I tested my range of motion, began tentatively walking, using leg muscles and experimenting with how I put my foot down, when to transfer weight to the heel, how high to lift the leg to relax the ankle before its landing, etc. Very slowly and with attention to each step, I got where I was going. It was an amazing journey.

Sometimes I speak about the space in each breath when we remember to notice. I have often spoken about awareness of how we transfer our weight to the earth. Today every single step is an experiment in awareness, letting the fullness of the sensations be just that, and watching the moment unfold.

A friend posted a quote on FB "Every setback is a detour to my goal." -- NFL Colts Head Coach '09 This is a marvelously subtle way of letting go of the steering wheel and the judgmental mind and allowing experience to be just that. We cannot get anywhere from here, we can only be here. By being here, fully, we are just where we need most to be.

I have canceled or postponed all my teaching for today and tomorrow to tend my new project, to experience my body and allow rest and healing to be part of every step. What a blessing my practice has turned even pain into curiosity, even fear into openness. The saying attributed to The Buddha is "Pain is part of life, the suffering is optional." My twisted ankle is such a good teacher!