Wednesday, February 29, 2012

starting here, being here

It really is all about cultivating the ability to be aware, and I don't mean hyper vigilant or super sensitive, just aware. The first growth of moss after a cold winter is so vivid, so green, so alive in its context of dry decay. Yet it is also the fallen leaf that draws my eye, the sense of total equanimity in its fall and landing, no judgment, no grief over its new curling, decaying form. That, juxtaposed with the intensity of the moss, stops me in my tracks. And it is my tracks that keep me going like a treadmill made of desires, away away away from the present moment and lost to my self. Even with the errand of walking the bucket of kitchen scraps to the compost bin I was like a mist without present form, drifting until that moss and resting leaves caught my eye.

So how to start here, no matter where "here" might be? I know that I cannot rely on external impulses that really just spark my reactive nature. It has become clearer and clearer that I must seek from within to find that sense of being that can focus my attention. Each breath is ripe with possibility when it comes to inviting focus, and cultivating the ability to be aware and stay present here and now.

Exhale without changing anything about the way you exhale. Allow the breath to slip back in without making any changes in the efforts or the action. Where are you now? Okay so there's a bit of self-absorption in this attentiveness, but keep your eyes open, with a soft focus. Keep your ears open allowing sound to find you from near and far. Keep your attention on the incredible but effortless inhale arising from each exhale.

Just stay here if you can as you walk slowly, mindfully. Notice the expansion of your inner spaces on the inhale and the lengthening and spaciousness of your exhale. When your mind has wandered off to watch a movie in your head, or begins blurring the present in order to see the future, just bring your attention back to the exhale and observe the arising inhale. Creating the seeds of mindfulness, you may find this present moment is fuller than you could ever have imagined with your mind.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's All About "Me," Yoga Is Seeing the Self

After the Super Bowl football match, a TV show aired called "The Voice" in which talented singers are sought to compete for judges who go on to create teams and eventually whittle them down to what they deem to be "the voice" deserving their promotion. Well, that's the gist of it anyway. It is wonderful to hear people singing. Yet I continue to be bothered by the idea that our culture emphasizes the individual to such a degree, pressuring each person into a life-long battle to create themselves in comparison with others, without ever learning the importance of looking into the strategies and techniques of that construction project. Many people feel isolated and under siege for a good part of their lives in this endless struggle, with a few finding a path to peaceful acceptance of their own structures, and an ease of being among others who differ in some ways and are similar in so many ways.

Yoga could be taken as being all about "me" but in the sense of developing a keen level of awareness in an individual to see their own construction and understand the ebb and flow of the reality show we continuously play for ourselves. Our projections in to the next moment, as well as our carefully designed memories and dreams, begin to train us to follow our thoughts like a dog chasing a car down the road. When we attempt to hold our mind to a single point without giving way to this impulse, we begin a new intimacy with the way our mind works, and glimpse beyond the stories to a supported, open ended sense of self. A yoga practice can take a person beyond that series of stories and reactions into a way of being that Buddhists might call "peaceful abiding." I might also call it equanimity, or freedom from the daily traps I set for myself.

There are moments when the great success is simply noticing that the mind is dragging me off someplace away from the moment I am actually living. This is the dawning of awareness! When that awareness can turn my attention back to this moment, this is mindfulness! It would be an understatement to acknowledge that I spend a good bit of time on the seesaw between awareness and what I could call mind-chasing, yet even a few moments when awareness enables me to be fully engaged, mindfully aware, have changed the way I operate in the world, and respond to the circumstances and events around me.

The practice of yoga includes the asana, those physical forms that awaken the body and are so helpful in leading the mind to awaken. Asana practice is one of the "eight limbs" of yoga, the others include practices of restraints and observances that help guide our relationship to our self and to others (representing 2 of the 8 limbs), a similar practice related to cultivating awareness of the breath and its properties (one of the 8), the cultivating of awareness through mindfulness and the practices of withdrawing from the reactivity of the sensory perceptions (2 more), studying the mind through meditation (another 1), and finding just that equanimity and freedom in the process (the bliss of the 8th limb).