Grace

Landing with grace

Image via Wikipedia

Grace lives somewhere between denial and dissolution.

In the land of denial, the truth tickles our imagination, possibly irritating like a feather, or a fly. But instead of becoming curious and investigating, we wriggle away from the tickle and  white-knuckle through whatever we’re doing, resisting the actual experience of the truth – usually to “get-things-done.”

We usually get to the land of denial through fear of dissolution, but years of denial can indeed lead to a large dissolving event. In dissolution, we are so incredibly overwhelmed by the truth that we melt like sugar into a puddle of goo, in the very spot upon which we were struck by the full force of the truth. In the land of dissolution, there is no “getting-things-done” and not only the list, but the very structure of our lives can lose meaning. This is scary in ways that can keep us in list-making and slaying mode.

Yoga, years of yoga, have helped me wend my way between these modern manifestations of Scylla and Charybdis.  As an athletic, all-out life-loving, really geeky and slightly loner kid, I learned early that “grace” was not a quality likely to be admired in me. I was clumsy. I was the kid with bruises on her shins from climbing trees and jumping fences. Born with an appetite for everything, and not one to shy away from challenge (think bull, red flag, and yes, china shop comes next), I did a lot of white-knuckling and brushing away of tickles for the first several decades of my life. No regrets, either. I have a lot of experiences that are hard to come by and full of the nectar of life.

That life, too, led me to many moments of dissolution, some transitory, others full-on halting stops to the hustle and activity of life. And through the churning in the passage between the extremes I’d created, I became quiet with life and easy with the quiet. And in this quiet arose a voice like that of a child asked to say grace for the family before dinner: thin and reedy at first, finding it’s channel and finally flowing quietly back into the silence.

That voice was the tickle of the truth I’d swatted away so persistently before. I learned to laugh at the insouciance of tickle, and that lightness allowed space to open around the experience.  By actually having the experience, I never had to dissolve. Rather, the experience itself dissolved into another, and often into realization, and into natural action.

Grace is the moment of presence, pure opening, creating space in the now for simply “what is.” Grace can be cultivated in meditation and on the mat by watching, feeling, diving in. Once cultivated, it has a tendency to pop up in the strangest ways. Sometimes the dawning realization of how the body is feeling, and the space to adjust “the plan” ever so slightly to accommodate. Or perhaps it’s the presence of intuition about when to stop or start, or when to speak up or just listen. Grace comes in silence and doing that is not-doing, but actively reveals the truth more eloquently than wrestling and bending to our will.

I’ve always wanted “it all” and never accepted that this was impossible, or even that hard. I just had a different notion of what was included in “all.” Grace is merely opening to the all in the moment. Grace is the union of the opposites into which we try to split our experience. It’s taken a lot of swimming in the churning pool between “balls-to-the-wall” and “puddle-on-the-floor” to find my way to flow: to finding that “all” is not something I do, not merely a gathering of juicy experiences, because all the experiences in the world are meaningless but for the space to drink them in. And that everything I ever sought is here, now, for the price of a breath and a grateful and perhaps-momentarily silent mind.

Morning Practice

well stone after spectacular late summer monsoon….

prepared ground….

….. feet on mat….

hummingbirds…

stone cairns….

grandfather stones…

mother stone….

Hub & Spoke Meditation Link

Upaya Zen Center

This powerful meditation demonstrates and cultivates your second order reflexive awareness, or awareness of awareness. Dr. Dan Siegel leads us to pay attention to the “rim” of awareness by following spokes of sensation, thinking, feeling and connection to others, each in turn. Finally, you “turn the spokes back on the hub” and rest in your meditative center, the hub of consciousness.

The link above will take you to a recording of a talk containing a guided meditation (about 12-13 minutes in) given by Dr. Siegel at Upaya Zen Center just last month. You can listen to the whole series of 9 talks based on his new book MindSight, or simply enjoy this simple guided meditation. Here are some quotes from Dr. Siegel about the power of attention.

“The close paying of attention turns on parts of the brain that make synaptic change happen.”

“Mind is the embodied, relational regulatory process of the flow of energy and information.”

“We know from research that the way you develop your awareness changes the health of your body… changes your relational health… and cultivates mental health.”

“How we focus our attention shapes the structure of the brain.”

“Well-being emerges when we create connections our lives.”

Balance, Acceptance & Integrity

Balance comes from understanding the opposing forces in our lives, and how we can integrate them in an expression of our deepest truth and values. Whether those forces are internal or external, chosen or non-negotiable, understanding their natures and contours as well as our deepest core allows us to most efficiently act from integrity at any given time.

Rather than trying to make our roles, bodies or activity fit a pre-determined mold, balance requires us to recognize what we have, choose and examine our foundation, feel our deepest center, integrate our periphery and unify what might at first seem like opposing demands. When we try to balance without practice or without consciousness, it can make us feel scattered and a bit nuts.

Sometimes this is because we’re not acknowledging the way things happen to be, or because we lack support, vision or strength of our core. But when you practice a little bit each day, you lay a foundation of consciousness, strength, awareness and support from which you can act to transform your world through concrete action.

The Dude Abides, The Writer Comes & Goes…

To abide is to remain, to witness, to sustain and to look upon with kind regard. To abide is one definition of meditation: to remain with one’s own mind in a state of kind regard. To abide is a gift, a discipline and a way of love & I have the most loving readers in the blogosphere!

I’ve been AWOL for months, focused on other areas of my practice, following lights I didn’t at first realize would lead me away from blogging. And yet, you keep visiting, reading & letting me know you are out there. My own practice has become more vigorous and maybe you’ve been following the CampNYoga developments on Twitter or Facebook. How has your practice evolved in recent months?

So while the Dude Abides, I come & go and I’M BACK! I’ll be posting about weekly and next week I’ll have an update on the first, invitation only CampNYoga, complete with photos 🙂 Twice daily yoga and meditation classes, dharma talk with Kirtan on Saturday evening, massage in camp, gourmet organic camp cooking, wine sponsored by Meagan the Wine Goddess at ABQ Whole Foods. We’re not calling it a retreat, because it’s an advance: we’re retreating from nothing, we’re embracing our lives with Love. Love, Truth, Beauty: Here, Now. Peace.

Cool Media to Inspire Your Practice & Your Life

Yogis need yoga, teachers need teachers and bloggers… need bloggers!

Here’s one I discovered today & I just love Davidya’s title “In2Deep“. “Basic Skills” is an extended reflection on attention & intention, but what grabbed me was the opening. She spoke to me where I am, reminding her readers that when our influences feel unsupportive, our attention can change our influences and that support is a breath away.  Speaking of a seemingly unsupportive “culture,” she says “it’s more a boogy than a monster.” Indeed, our focused awareness contributes to our culture and our support.

This next one is my current obssession: The Zen Brain Lecture Series. Time to get your geek on, and I mean seriously. If you’re not scientifically minded or not in a space where you can concentrate, pick something else. These are some smart people – neuroscientists, pathologists, researchers, journalists – reviewing recent research and making hypothesis and reporting on results of experiments with meditation. It’s about way more than Zen, or Buddhism. It’s about being a human being. This gathering in January was influenced by the gatherings initiated by the current Dalai Lama, during which leading lights come together to discuss the intersection of science and mindfulness. Goldmine for inspiration as well as confirmation that your yoga mat & yoga butt are “worth it” as well as some ideas to expand your notions of “mind” & “body.”

And finally, this on HumanKind this morning over our local public radio station, KANW: An interview with Bernard Lown, a Nobel Prize winning doctor speaking out for healing as part of the medical “model”.  His voice, stories and wisdom regarding the role of compassion in well-being are deep and touching.

Yoga Teacher, Heal Thyself

What happens when the yoga teacher gets gimpy?

Well, denial is a great first shot. Right? Isn’t it? I mean, I’m healthy, I have healthy habits, aches & pains – phww! These things come & go, the practice goes on. Right? Right? Anyone?!?

OK. So the practice is to cultivate awareness of what is, which includes the aches & pains. Paying attention to the space between the feelings is a great way of taking perspective, but if I forget to be with the feelings, then I’m just avoiding, not meditating.

In practice, we can vacillate between poles, diving deep into a contemplative bent and swimming back to experiential, just to find how the currents mix & mingle and are never seperate. I tend to dive in deep, at least, and maybe you do, too. It’s one of the reasons that I keep a little bit of yoga mat (active yoga asana & pranayam) and a little bit of yoga butt (sitting meditation) in every day.

But even with such habits as safeguards, fear, pain and my inner control freak easily override my best intentions at times… because my “best” intentions aren’t the only ones I have. In my case, chronic hip pain is one of the little beasties that dance around my campfire and whom I befriend. But sometimes I slip into thinking my practice should safeguard me against aches & pains, keep the beasties at bay. There’s some Protestant Calvinist strain of virtue dispelling sin & pain spilling from sin that tells me all the good things I’m doing should prevent injury, pain & discomfort.

So I “address” the pain, practice relieving asana, stay “aware of” the pain. Instead, I aim to seek pure, clear awareness, with pain, without pain, in the moment. Sometimes the hardest thing is to dive in, and sometimes even when I think I’m diving in, I’m dog paddling away like a golden retriever. How do we ever know???

Certainty isn’t what I seek. Just the ability to recognize what’s in front of my face. I help people who are in pain, seeking relief from pain whether from lifestyle, spinal stenosis, tightness in the hamstring or the heart. I have gained this ability and priviledge as a result of having worked with my own, studying, seeking guidance, integrating.

And so have all the other yoga teachers &  meditation masters. So why have we built up a culture that damns pain, scowls at injury and tsk-tsks those who dare to acknowledge all the shadings of their experience? Maybe its just the circles I’ve frequented, or maybe it’s a “studio” culture: those with the “right” to teach are those who are able to cover any trace of their struggles with the smooth, even facade of a socialite emerging from a spa.  

One of my lessons from this current emergence of my little beastie called pain is to find a way of being who I am in any given moment without hiding under seaweed entanglements of guilt & shame that engender fear and running. One of my lessons is rest.  One of my lessons is to recognize when I’m exceeding my limits. These are heady, exciting, invigorating times of growth & learning, with deeply rewarding accomplishment and pride in re-learning old ways of being. And, such exciting, invigorating times require the roots to go as deeply inward as the leaves are reaching out.

More restorative practice, more meditation, simply breathing with the pain- not to make it go away, but simply to be with it. It’s true that it & “I” will change – such is the nature of time dwellers. But the change is not to be sought or resisted.  Observed, smiled upon, witnessed. Inhaled & exhaled.

Inhale, Exhale. Maybe pain isn’t the enemy. Maybe the notion of opposition is part of the pain. Maybe the glossy studio notion of yoga as skillful facade is as much running as other Hollywood excesses.  Maybe healing comes not in never limping, never falling out of headstand, never feeling let down by your practice. Healing thyself comes from truly embodying well-being, which translates “eudaimonia” from the Greek. A more literal translation is well-demoned. Time to practice with the demons 🙂