Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Host

I tried an experiment this morning on my walk in the woods with my beloved four-legged friend, Jackson.  See, it's the season where bugs are abundant, especially in New England...and there's these flies, just one fly at a time, really, that buzz buzz buzzes around my head.  Maybe you know the one:  it circles really close to the cranium non-stop, buzzing.  Usually I swat at it just as ceaselessly as it circles.  It's our usual dance, the entire walk.  This morning, in my experiment, I resisted swatting and just let it circle.  Guess what.  It never landed, and before the walk was over it went away!

It was a great reminder about how mind-stuff works.  We make trouble in our minds.  Yes, it's true, we MAKE it.  The potential for mind-stuff is always there in the form of memories, external stimuli, planning our lives, decision making, and straight-up day dreaming.  The critical factor of how it affects us is up to us.  It's like a bacterium.  For an infection to take hold, the bacterium needs a host to land in and a hospitable environment to proliferate.  The stuff in our mind needs to land, for us to feed it, expound on it, and make stuff up about it for it to really weigh on us.  It's said, the amount trouble in one's mind is 100% up to the person and how they work with their mind.  I believe that to be true, however when you consider how long habits have been unchecked, memories of trauma and pain, and the karma we arrived with it feels to me like I've got about 90% control.  With meditation practice that has increased dramatically over the years.  If you would have asked me 7 years ago, I might have felt 40% in charge.   It's a work in progress to be sure, and the work, no matter how difficult and painful, always pays off.

To simplify, there are two parts to this: the stimuli and the response.  Those two parts are also two parted....this is information for another BLOG.  Suffice it to say, we can make mind-stuff all we want including minding all the teachings and analyzing them!  Simple truth is the more we watch the mind, without swatting away phenomenon or grasping on to it, the more power we have as liberated beings to appropriately respond rather than habitually react.

Om on.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ignorance is a bitch.

I've recently discovered Louis C.K., a comedian originally from Boston living in NY with his two children.  Although I found him accidentally, he is by no means obscure. He's rather popular, freaking hilarious, has produced several stand-up performances, produces his own sitcom, and has won an Emmy Award.  While much of his humor is based on his kids' behavior, human nature and human sexuality, quite a bit of his laughs are earned at his own expense.  Comical self-deprecation is a skill he has mastered, with a knack that has an intimate tie-in to the human psyche that most of his audience clearly relates to (including myself).  I've spent an embarrassing amount of time watching and reading everything I could find online about this guy.  You could say I am obsessed.  Honestly, I'm over the obsession now but in the midst of watching him completely annihilate his self-worth with such sincere insight into the nature of things, I sort of fell in love with his childlike curiosity of life and his brilliant insight into human nature.  In my opinion this guy is genius.  It prompted the question, "Doesn't he see it?  Doesn't he see how amazing he is?"  This in turn prompted, "Why don't most people see how amazing they are?"  

I too am inclined to see myself in much less admiration and light as others see me.  Self-love is a scarce commodity.  We love our friends, look up to them, see how amazing they amazing we want to spend time with them!  Yet, we cannot always see why the feeling is mutual!  If we could only see in ourselves what others see so easily in us.  Truth is, this realization is not new for me!  The realization and practice of self-love landed on my spiritual practice radar two and a half years ago, with a painful, resounding, hard to face "thud."  It's the hardest work of all because it's foundational.  It's the root of all other suffering.  The call is for self-annihilation:  a strategic unraveling of who and how we've decided we are.  (“I am strong.  I am capable.  I am giving.  I am kind.  I am generous.  I am… fill-in-the-blank.”)  The stronger the identity to this construct, the stronger the underlying pull of it's opposite that has been instilled in us in since our childhood (“I'm only lovable when I don't show feelings of vulnerability.  I'm only loveable when I am not needing.  I'm only lovable when I'm pleasing some one else.”)  Once we can see through our constructs and the resulting compensatory behavior we can then move to the center of our hearts, be with our own vastness and inherent OK-ness necessary to feed the fire of love for all things:  our vulnerability, our needs, our emotions, our Self.  Then, not only do we see what others see in us, but we see it looking back at us thru others' eyes. Om on.

"Your work is to discover your work, and then with all your heart give yourself to it."  
                                                                                                         -The Buddha

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

As if....

The wisdom teachings of old invite the practice of acceptance, unconditional acceptance.  Two casual words that pack a wallop.  They say that without question, without resistance, without reaction, without our interpretation or translation:  THIS is how things are.  The teachings don't suggest we have to like the present moment's situation.  In fact, one might define it as unpleasant or even painful.  When we place preference on something that we perceive as counter to our preference, suffering ensues.  The suggestion is that the baseline acceptance of how things are is a practice that leads to the end of suffering.  Wish we may, wish we might, it is how it is.  In and of itself the thing or situation is not bad or good, it's our mind that makes it so.  This realization of acceptance is said to open the hearts and minds of those who dedicate themselves to it.  An equanimous state of being saturates their very core and they emanate peace, love and light!  Sounds good to me!  The simplicity of the teaching (accept things as they are) misrepresents the difficulty of its application.  To clarify, unconditional acceptance is not synonymous with complacency.  It's the clear space of seeing things just as they are that allows for a healthy perspective to make choices… clear choices of distinction without judgment.  This is the foundation for informed discernment. This allows us to live and let live, so to speak. 

In the spiritual community where I live we have chickens:  eleven feathered friends with very low intelligence that provide us sustenance and whose care I have been tasked with.  I am the chicken master.  (In this Zen Center, everyone is a master.... kitchen master, house master, guest master....!)  One evening I had to work and could not put them safely in their coop for protection from the night.  Of all the other residents, only two were going to be present at the facility who could help out.  One was tasked with that evening's practice, the Mok Tok Master.  The other resident, who was also the Head Dharma Teacher (HDT) at the time, was very resistant to anyone altering the schedule or routine of practice for chickens.  The reality is that if the chickens are not safely closed into their coop at sundown, the local wildlife (of which there's no shortage) will eat them.  Between the two residents, one could hold down the practice requirements and the other could tend to our animals.  The resistance of the HDT led to a slight heated discussion with me.  
Me: "Beings who rely on our care and feed us are worth a slight disruption in practice one time!"   

HDT: "THIS is why there should not be chickens at a Zen Center!"

The ultimate outcome: The HDT remained in her room while the other resident did all tasks, unsupported.  My initial reaction was anger and judgment.  As if expectations should be higher for the Head Dharma Teacher.  

As if we should have expectations for anyone!  Everyone on the planet is doing what they do, creating situations which we can unconditionally accept or resist.  The former brings freedom the latter brings suffering.  I would include leaders and teachers in this fold as well.  In light of the recent fall from grace Anusara founder John Friend is experiencing, it brings up for me the notion that teachers should come under higher scrutiny.  In spite of being a teacher myself, I ultimately say, "no".  Unconditional acceptance has many forms.  One can peacefully work for change, one can hold space for things to unfold as they will, one can ask for help, one can also remove themselves from a situation.  We all have to make choices.  As long as the heart remains open and harshness of judgment is avoided, we can live our life and make informed choices about how to do that, who to do it with, who to support and who to choose to support us.  I believe everyone deserves another chance.  This is not to say I will be the one to give it to them but another shot is always valid.  Times change, people change, and we will all die!  What can be that unforgivable?  I'll make you a deal. I won't should on you, if you don't should on me. Om on....

Monday, January 2, 2012

Self Study as Practice...

Yoga has become a household word. The concept of “enlightenment” is
being used to sell everything from cars to honey ham. Over the past decade
yoga's popularity has grown so much that its classical images (the Om symbol,
practitioners in postures, words written with the hanging scroll of faux-
Sanskrit letters) are seen emblazoned on clothing and jewelry and have become
commodities, trends and fashion statements. Sacred mantras are given new
melodies, set to a drum beat and stream through hip-hop yoga classes and
dance parties in cities all over. The proliferation of yoga's physical practice –
hatha yoga and asana – continues to birth a never ending stream of variations
that include slow flow, power glow, yoga fight club and yoga-booty-ballet with
the emphasis on BIGGER backbends, STRONGER core, HARDER postures
and MORE achievement. This is not inherently good or bad. In light of Mark
Singleton's 2010 book, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Postural Practice, and the
discovery that even the more known "traditional" systems of yoga are only
about a century old (and are in fact a creative collection blending wrestling
moves, gymnastics, calisthenics and charismatic leaders' polishing the package)
gives credence to the idea of creativity and exploration beyond the boundaries
set forth by those who previously trod this path. More yoga, in all its variations,
arguably will create more opportunities for more people to embrace its healing
benefits. The point that its ubiquitous representation via Shanti-Shakti-Om
emblazoned paraphernalia and stamina-driven sweaty-yoga workouts will water
down the ancient wisdom teachings that preceded the physical practice so
popular today remains to be seen and ultimately depends on the practitioner.

The aphorism that variety is the spice of life might be applied in this context.
We could consider it a blessing to have so many options to approach the
spiritual practice of yoga. It is the nature of humans to be creative and
thoughtful and to utilize individual expression. This quality of self-reflection is
the very thing that sets humans apart from other sentient beings on this planet.
Humans have the capacity to think about their thoughts, their actions and
words. Choices can be made about what could be done, how well the
individual and others will be served or harmed by an action and what the end
result will be. Human animals have so much more than basic instinct and habit
and are the only animals that have full vertical, upright capability... placing the
brain on top of the rest of the physiology. This is the anatomical foundation of
the chakra system in yoga. The top four chakras are said to be responsible for
sensitivity in giving and receiving love, clearly communicating ideas and
connection to others, seeing the truth of life and death and knowing ultimate
reality. Without self-reflection, study of the self is not possible. Self-study, or
svadhyaya, is the practice of noticing one's habitual tendencies in speech,
actions, thoughts… including practice!! Through the experience of svadhyaya
one notices their tendencies, their ruts, or samskaras and then works to create
their opposite, fulfilling a balanced and evolved life. This is often the missing
piece. Tias said once, "Svadhyaya is tapas. Tapas is svadhyaya." Self-study is
austerity in practice and austerity in practice is self-study. The crux of this is
that if one does not know one's self, they'll end up falling blindly,
unconsciously, into whatever ol' practice suits their fancy. Without svadhyaya
and tapas, whatever is popular, whatever feels good, whatever appeals to our
potentially very out of whack nervous system is what we are drawn to, like
moths to a flame! This manifests as “like attracts like: The intense, strong, fiery
types flocking to strenuous hot yoga classes; loving, nurturing, bhakti types
gathering at kirtan circles; silent, intense and introverted types sitting at the
local Zen center; detail oriented, strong, perfectionist types gearing up for
Iyengar yoga… and never the ‘twain shall meet. It's the skillful practitioner who
can clearly see what their tendencies are and begin to include the opposite.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2.33 suggests this very notion, to cultivate the opposite
wing in one's practice for a balanced life force:

When these codes of self-regulation or restraint (yamas) and
observances or practices of self-training (niyamas) are inhibited
from being practiced due to perverse, unwholesome, troublesome,
or deviant thoughts, principles in the opposite direction, or
contrary thought should be cultivated.

What's popular in a culture and society is generally the result of the energetic
of desires and fears gone amok. The trend is overly available, opportunistic,
appealing to the masses, usually watered down and inevitably over the top in
order to draw as many consumers as possible. Nothing in nature reflects these
tendencies in popular culture. All animals (save the human animal) change
their behavior in an attempt to bring balance and they do it by instinct alone! A
skillful practitioner will work in a system intentionally varied that is inclusive of
stillness practice, sounding and devotional practices, rigorous asana, restorative
asana and introspective healing work. This is the gift of yoga. This is the call of
the yogin and yogini.  Om on.