Saturday, December 29, 2018

Blessings in 2019

We are shifting into a new month, like we do every 30 days or so, and shifting into a new year, marking another circling of the sun.  For many it's time for new calendars, planners, life changes, resolutions, all marking the passage of another year.  I've never been one who pays much attention to New Year's rituals or making New Year's resolutions.  I've always thought it to be simply another day, another turn of the same calendar, and that renewal is a potential held in each moment–if we are paying attention, and truly desire a change.

For some reason this seems to be shifting for me.  Perhaps it's because I'm getting older, and my half-century mark is creeping undeniably closer!  However I feel the reason is more closely related to the state the world in recent times.  I understand, in the historical context of things, we live in a society which is safer and more secure than any throughout history, and yet anxiety and fear are felt intensely everywhere.  I also know the air and water quality in our country is better in many places than it was 100 years ago, but the danger of us depleting resources our ancestors took for granted is a real concern for scientists and ecologists today. Humans (in this country especially) are living longer and with more physical comfort and security than ever in the past.  And yet, if we don't temper our mastery of the physical world with the wisdom of contentment and connection, our endless desire will be our downfall.

From my perspective, the root of all the dissonance, divisiveness, hateful speech, nationalism, resource hoarding, lying, scandals, and profiteering is that we humans are hard-wired for self-preservation.  We are designed to look after ourselves and those closest to us.  There was a day when that was necessary for the survival of the species.  That day is over.  Greed, oppression, dishonesty, genocide, cover-ups, and resource hoarding are simply unevolved behaviors, if you ask me.  We have developed highly intelligent brains, with the capacity for foresight, hindsight, and most importantly neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to learn and change.  We can use this ability to develop our capacity to expand the circle of our social bonds beyond our family and friends.  We know diversity is better for life!  Our innate human ability to feel the pain of another is, I believe, the only thing that will save this world, and all her inhabitants.  We must learn to feel ourselves and each other properly!  Science has shown that if we have a first hand account of the pain inflicted on another, we are more likely to stop said inflicting.  History has shown our ability to help each other in times of crisis, disregarding differences in politics, sexual orientation, social status, or religious beliefs.  The more we can connect with the real human suffering of this world, the more likely we will act to change it.

What does this have to do with yoga?  As a teacher of yoga for 22 years now, I'm continually contemplating how to refine my craft to bring the most good into the world.  I've shifted from exclusively strong, expressive, and rigorous practices to include more soft, static, contemplative, and reflective practices.  My use of language has shifted from one of presenting "one size fits all" instructions to extending invitations when teaching alignment in poses.  I am creating more space and presenting tools for people to feel the reality of their bodies (anatomically) and respond to THAT, rather than to some idealized formula of movement specifics.  I'm trying to empower students to do what feels integrated, rather than what looks impressive.  I vow to continue in this way–as I am clear that the paradigm I want to put forth in the world is one of sensitivity, compassion, connection, and respect for others' experiences.  I don't want my relationships with others to be dependent upon common preferences and opinions, but rather the shared human experience in all it's infinite flavors.  I'm interested in relating to experience rather than expectation. 

I've not taught any New Year's Eve classes in some years.  I am presenting a special offering at Imago Yoga Lab on New Year's Eve, 5-6:30pm!  I'm also making a few New Year's resolutions this year.  I'm resolving to renounce more in my life going forward.  In the interest of doing my part to be of help in this world, I'm renouncing the urges that may cause me to spend resources carelessly.  I'm renouncing support for businesses that put profit way over people.  I'm renouncing the knee-jerk tendency to pacify garden variety human discomfort with mindless consumption of whatever sort.   I'm renouncing my own tendencies to see "other" and to be influenced by fear.  I'm simply simplifying.  Relinquishing, bit by bit, the narrow path of selfishness, and widening, bit by bit, the circles of love I feel for those around me and beyond.  I'm also continuing to teach in ways that reflect an open-hearted, all embracing practice which invites one to be diligent, have integrity, be honest, be humble, and to work for the benefit of all beings.  I hope to see you on New Year's for class!  Then I'll be in bed by 10pm, God willing!  Happy Just Another Day everyone!  May we all do better for one another, and may all beings be at peace.  Om shanti. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

To be a "master"...

My husband is a master gardener...whatever it means to be a master.  I'm pretty sure it means this:  he starts from seeds, wraps them in damp cloth, places them in warm light, and patiently awaits for them to bust out of their shell.  As he transitions them to each next phase of their lives he talks to them, looks them over, and assures they are content with each stage in the planting process.  In the event a sprouts is malformed, or not viable for raising, he'll eat it right then.  Over the course of their green fruiting lives he pulls (most) weeds because, you see, some of those weeds are actually a helpful presence.   Daily he checks the weather to decide about watering, sometimes more than once a day––a true sadhana.  He lets some bugs eat some of the plants, because bugs need to eat too.  Over the duration of the growing season (he's recently elongated with green houses!) he'll just stand, gazing over his green babies for hours, pondering, planning, loving, appreciating.  And the bounty produced is epic.  Heaps of  organically grown, abundantly delicious goodness, flavored with love and a golden soak of New England sun....which we give away about half of.

Me?  I just eat the stuff.  I also gaze lovingly at it, sometimes.  My most important role occurs when he's gone -- I do my best to keep it all from dying.  Every summer he visits his mother and goes on a retreat or two.  Initially it was stressful, not killing his creations.  Additionally, I want to eat all that goodness, so best not to muck it up!  In spite of his offering only gratitude for my willingness to step up in his stead, and ultimately his not caring too much if I somehow was not successful in performing his gardenly duties, I feel huge pressure.

Some five years have gone by in this way, with his beloved garden plots expanding each season, and I step up every year with somewhat decreasing angst about not mucking it up.  This year, yesterday, I had an epiphany.  It was one of those "Field of Dreams" moments when it seemed as if the garden spoke to me, saying, "Paying more attention makes it easier.  Paying more attention makes it better."  Paying loving attention to the garden, as he does, makes it grow better, bigger, more beautifully.  Paying loving attention to anything will cause it to thrive.  I recall about 25 years ago, shortly after starting yoga practice, hearing what became one of my favorite definitions of yoga, "The act of Yoga is to pay attention".

When we pay attention we increase energy towards what we are paying attention to.  We can channel that attention towards helpful or unhelpful outcomes.  Unhelpful outcomes arise when we pay too much attention to things that aren't true, aren't helpful to our hearts or psyche, or to things we can do nothing about.  Helpful attention arises when we see what its true, attend to things/ideas/suggestions that have a teaching or lesson, and when we attend to things we can effect.  Interestingly from the perspective of Yoga, tantra, and Buddhism these things are not mutually exclusive!  Something that is true in one context, can be utterly false in another.  Something that teaches us in one moment can confuse us in another.  And with regards to helplessness, I believe there's never nothing one can do.  For example in a world that is corrupt, ruled by greed, and compounded with environmental turmoil;  I can pray, I can vote with my dollars, I can vote at the polls, and I can make lifestyle choices that don't support what I find troubling.  This thing that's causing me pain and suffering can become a tool for insight into said suffering.  It's not the what, it's the how.  The Bhagavad Gita says to do the work not for the fruits, but for the act of the work itself.  The ultimate boon is that it brings more beneficial outcomes for more beings, and for me too!  How I relate to things makes for helpful or unhelpful.  This is true both in the inner realms of my own heart-mind, and beyond me into the community which I live, and beyond that.  The Whole benefits.  As a part of the Whole, selfless actions also serve the one doing them.  This is the beautiful (bonus) paradox!

How one does something is typically how one does everything.  If I want to find grace, poise, and connectivity in my asana practice I must attend to grace, poise, and connection in washing the dishes or cleaning the cat tray, and everything else.  If I want to hold my mind concentrated, singularly focused in work, or engaging with others, I must practice that in other contexts.  If I want to be a kind, loving person no matter what, I must attend to the turnings of my mind all the time and cultivate that attitude as often as I remember to do so.  If I want to be a better person on this planet I must pay attention to what kind of residue my thoughts, words, and actions leave behind.  If I want to fully inhabit my awakened nature I must pay attention to what is happening, how I'm touched by it, what I do in response to it, and reflect on that for growth and transformation––all the time.

This practice of awakening is not a part time gig.  It is a constant investment in every moment and it has three main components:  First, realizing and and connecting with ones awake nature.  Secondly recognizing, cutting thru, and uprooting the ways one identifies with ego structure and behaviors that stem from protecting it.  And thirdly cultivating the inner scaffolding to fully inhabit ones awake nature full time.  These all fall under the main thing of paying attention.

This quote from B.K.S. Iyengar sums it up nicely in the context of the microcosm of the body, "While I continuously try to improve my practice, I do my best and am contented with what I am able to attain. Even as the body ages and is able to do less, there are subtleties that reveal themselves, which would be invisible to younger or more athletic bodies. You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated in the smallest pore of the skin, the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body."  May we all take this notion, attend to it in whatever macro context we find ourselves in...making for more love, affection, and intelligence on the planet.  May we all be "masters" of our inner realms in the service of doing the most good for the most beings, and beyond.  Om shanti.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Perhaps you've been told...

that bit of anecdotal realism:   In moments of struggle, or decision making, if you push too strongly against the flow of Life you are setting yourself up to lose.  The Universe will win.  My teacher says that does not quite capture the truth of it, but that the Universe has already won.  It has been written.  The Dharma suggests, and I believe, our capacity to navigate Life is an inside job.  Being a victor in this Life is not determined by how we strategize our outer layers (job, home, failures, successes, friends,where to live, or how to represent oneself in the world).  From the perspective of Yoga, success is largely how we meet those things that determines the victors or losers, as it were, in this Life.  It's not about what's happening to us.  It's about where the phenomenon of Life touches us inside, and what kind of subtle body feedback we have to it.  Then what we do as a response may compel us towards freedom from delusions that cause us to suffer, which is that winning what is already won I was talking about.  We are all human.  We all have our own personal, specific wounding that can capture us and cause us to see the world through a specific, limited lens.  If we continue to buy into our old wounding, it keeps us small.  What we experienced as young beings shaped our relationships in subtle ways that we are only just now beginning to comprehend the implications of.  It turns out the ones we love the most will touch our deepest wounds, trigger our ugliest or most damaging behaviors, and challenge our Life navigational skills with the relentlessness of a good teacher.  ....teacher?   Life is the best teacher I've found.  When I pay close attention to the outcomes of my actions and choices, I learn the best lessons.  When I cultivate more ease in any moment or when I feed the seeds of pain, I get INSTANT feedback in the present moment and beyond.  In particular, when I pay attention to more than just myself, Life's lessons have the most positive impact.  Path as guru means I learn to cultivate space in my inner koshas, so I've time to review my possible responses to the stimuli I register.   Immanuel Kant spoke of enlightenment as being an appropriate response.   What is the best outcome for all involved?  Life has won.  Things are happening.  I would say we can 'control' nothing in this life, but we can be in relationship to everything.  So, loser or victor can have many implications, all of which can be used for better or worse...just like the vrttis in Patanjalii's Yoga Sutras (YS1.5).   How are you relating to the events in your Life these days?    Is your Life informing your practice?  Is your practice helping you to relate to your Life in appropriate ways?  Can you be a good sport, a gracious loser?  Are you a humble winner?  Do you learn from all your experiences?  What gets in your way and what does it get in the way of?  With Dharma as the backdrop to your Life experiences, asana is always way more than just asana.  If you want more questions for your answers, full spectrum practice opportunities with Dharma discussions,  you might enjoy my offerings.  Check my website for details.   All my love...