The yoga of hidden goals that rearrange your life

Rearrange

Rearrange (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Svadyaya, self-study, is one of the guiding practices or values of yoga, one of the niyamas, and is often taken to mean the study of texts or of the breath.

Studying habits and patterns, though, can make tectonic shifts how you live your life. This kind of study, though, has to be courted; it can’t be undertaken on a schedule. You have to be ready when the text opens itself and clear enough to see what it’s telling you.

Yoga, you’ve heard over and over, means “yoking.” Yoga is the union of seeming opposites – sun & moon, light & dark, active & inactive, inbreath & outbreath, effort and surrender. Yoga also happens when we’re able to see how opposites intersect in our own bodies, lives and psyches and not take sides. Like that moment when you realize that you really can be happy for someone else and sad for yourself (or visa versa) at the same time, and they’re not like matter and anti-matter, canceling one another or causing your very substance to blink out of existence from the seeming contradiction.

“Yoga” refers to the internal logic of life. When you begin to listen to your life and view it from a place of expansive consciousness, it gets a little Joseph Campbell on you. The deeper reality that allows the seeming contradictions to co-exist begins to surface like artifacts in the desert after a rain and the thing that’s always bugged you about how you live your life, react to stress or talk to yourself in between the words you say out loud becomes utterly clear, obvious and undeniable, like a skeleton bleached under the sun on a vast landscape of air and sky.

Only when you make space for these seeming revelations (the truth has been there all along) can you begin to see how your own internal logic has been using all your well-planned, deeply cherished goals to weave its own fabric from your life.

This is the reason I come to the mat. Not because this will happen on any given day, or because I can make it happen or force understanding where, right now, there is only longing. But because without this time alone, quiet, in movement and stillness, the internal logic of my life – the thing that’s trying to work itself out, the call that I can almost hear in everything I do, the voice that might be calling out for help and for care, or might be driving me forward – won’t surface through the sands of time, won’t be heard, made scrutable and understood. Without taking this time, the voice in the desert continues calling, unheeded, unheard, mistaking itself for alone.

 

Foundations for Practice

Yama & Niyama are variously described as rules of Ethics, yoga’s “Ten Commandments”, attitudes towards community & self, observances for dealing with others & self. The bottom line is that they are the foundation for practice.

One of the things that makes these principles fertile is the breadth of their application. Here’s an application to Personal Yoga Practice itself:

Above all, practice with Ahimsa, Non-violence:

practice is about self-observation, Svadyaya.

Notice your feeling, your breath, your body with kind attention

Respond with compassion and encouragement.

Be fierce in your commitment to being present. (tapas)

Be as clear in your estimation of your ability and need as you can be (satya)

Notice what bolsters your energy, intention and presence: cultivate this. (brahmacharya)

Don’t push past your limits: there is nothing you don’t have that you need. This includes yoga pose J (aparigraha)

Balance your practice in the context of other things: don’t steal time for practice from places you are responsible & don’t steal yoga time for places you are not. (asteya)

Make your actions intentional, focus on being present for your practice (saucha)

Allow yourself to feel the full measure of pleasure from what you’re giving to yourself (samtosha)

There’s nowhere to get to, no goal to attain. Set your foundations, follow through, evolve and let go! (Ishvara Pranidanani)

Roam the Hub of All Sacred Places….

“The light which shines above this heaven, above all the worlds, above everything, in the highest worlds not excelled by any other worlds, that’s the same light  which is in you.” ~Chhandogya Upanishad

What if all the thinking, all the words, ideas aren’t our minds? What if they’re the covering over our minds? Don’t get me wrong – they’re great tools. But what’s overseeing the job site? They’re not the tools you’ll need if you’re looking for your true self or for a steady place to stand.

Science tells us our minds are decentralized in the body. Yoga helps us settle into our heart, where wisdom and intelligence reside. Of course when we talk about heart in yoga, we’re not just talking about the juicy pumping muscle to the left of center in our ribcages. There are a lot of bits housed around there – chemoreceptors, baraoreceptors, lungs, thymus, arteries, lymph nodes, spine, circulating blood and air, esophagus, diaphragm. When we bring our attention to this area, when we just feel what comes up, we are contacting the heart of yoga. Our yoga.

Bringing ease to the muscles and joints around this area can be the beginning or development of this process. This is where many of us Western Yogis start, with asana. Maybe a little breathing practice. Then we might start calling that pranayama. Maybe we meditate for stress reduction. Somewhere along the way we realize these pesky emotions are less pesky, the aches are less achey, the mind is less muddled.

“The heart is the resting place of the pranas, the senses and the mind. It’s your true self, which is identified with intelligence and which finds repose in the space within your heart.” ~Nikhilananada’s Intro to The Principal Upanishads

So then we explore pratyahara – sense withdrawal. But then, where do the senses go? Niky above, says to the space within your heart, your true self. Makes some sense – it’s quieter there than the head or stomach. The feelings come up, but maybe we’re in a place where we can uncouple them enough from the words and judgments to just let them be a bit.

Now we’re practicing saucha in our hearts. Saucha – cleanliness, purity. We don’t often think of it in regard to our hearts, but after we’ve gotten glimpses of the Love that lives there, it makes sense not to store our crap on the porch. If we keep the windows clean maybe it will shine more brightly. The Sanskrit word for this place – Anahata – can be translated “unstruck”. “The space within your heart  is omnipresent and unchanging.” (~Chhandogya Upanishad ) Always with us, always available for us to touch and feel is a place that is unstruck by the blows of life, unmoved by the compliments and criticisms, the lost jobs and the awards. It is always what it is. We are always who we are. Sometimes we just cover it up with judgments, which are really old experiences in new clothes. Film on our windows.

Maybe this is the impetus to poke our noses into the pesky ethical side of yoga.  But if you’ve been cleaning your windows all by yourself, and someone gives you a step ladder and an extension for your sponge, you’ll be pretty glad to pay attention. And they’re pretty simple, deceptively so. Love, Truth, Conserve your energy, Be quiet, Be fierce, Stay Open, Be present, Learn you’re not in control, Study your experience, Respect Others’ Boundaries. But Wow! try to practice ’em all at once! That’ll give any college Ethics Professor a run for her money.

So you keep coming back to the place of quiet stillness to which your mat has become the doorway. “The heart is the hub of all sacred places; go there and roam.” ~Bhagavan Nityananda 

Sustained Practice

By sustained practice of all the component parts of yoga, the impurities dwindle away and wisdom’s radiant light shines forth with discriminative knowledge.

Sutras of Patanjali II.28(tr. Stiles)

bendy-pigeon-2.jpgWait…. let me get the last of this sand out of my ears… oh, never mind, I kind of like the reminder. Just returned from a vacation on one of the Georgia islands, the highlight of which was yoga on the beach, so close to the surf that I caught a wave at one point! “Gorgeous” doesn’t begin to touch the experience. “Oneness” might… if it weren’t a word.

What does this have to do with “sustained practice of all the component parts of yoga”?  Everything and Nothing.

I’ve been engaged in an experiment in balance the last few months, and the plate I’ve been dropping is blogging.  I could give you all kinds of reasons. Suffice it to say that I’ve fallen in love with regular sleep since switching to a day shift – luscious, deep, dark descending sleeps of eight and ten hours – and this has required choices.

One of the choices has required me to investigate the role of words in my life: do I use them to reveal or conceal? And how? What I’ve learned is that I conceal by what I don’t talk about. Sometimes I conceal from myself by my story about “needing” to blog.

So I’ve chosen regular practice instead of blogging mostly and have revealed a deep need to shift the priorities of  my life. I’m scaling back on my career, or maybe I’m switching. I’ll let the radiant light reveal which in time. I’ve been working on patience. I’ve been listening to my internal monologue, creating  space for it. I’ve been practicing mantra japa. Reflecting on the yamas and niyamas. I’m finding Ahimsa – nonviolence – really difficult in ways that have shocked me. I’m thinking of tapas – fierceness – having a role in forgiveness. I’m processing a lot Eckhart Tolle’s book.

Oh, yeah, and I’m keeping up certs in stuff like Pediatric Advanced Life Support and stuff. Oh, and vacay.

Going to go practice some saucha and clean up more of this sand we’ve managed to treck back across six states and two airplanes 🙂 What have you been up to? What has your practice revealed?

Stay tuned for practice tips, links to podcasts, reviews of awesome (and, yes, satya urges me to say so, too) and not so awesome yoga books. And of course, reports from the mat on the state of the mat. But that’s the part that doesn’t change as the impurities dwindle away….

"Radical Acceptance"

Yesterday’s post has certainly generated some reactions. My central idea is simply that while emotions sometimes call us to honor specific stories, they always connect us to our basic humanity. After we let the story go, we are in a position to be present with the emotion in the moment, each moment.

Last night while listening to Tara Brach on AudioDharma talk about her book Radical Acceptance presented through Zencast, which I highly recommend, I was struck by her clarity in addressing this presence. She focuses the issues quite beautifully. One of the problems that “being present” or “accepting” often brings up for us is a version of the problem of evil. By looking at it, am I condoning it? By acknowleding the existence of something hurtful, dreadful am I decreasing my resistance, my approbation, am I allowing it into my life? What if everything is sacred (my word)? What do I do with the dark side then?

Part of the answer is that we don’t keep hurt and harm from our lives by resisting its manifestation. The notion that we can keep harm at bay by intellectually refusing to acknowledge it, though full of  Captain Kirkian nobility, conflates two notions of resistance. When a harm is potential we can work to mitigate or even negate it. When it is actual, it no longer is helpful to “resist”, if this means acting like it’s not there because we don’t know what we’d do if it was: it is. One is positive action. The other is a veiled state of mind.

Tara Brach uses a Buddhist teaching on acceptance to demonstrate a way of “Being With” what is difficult. The Buddha invites Mara in and treats the demon gently, acknowledging its presence and effects. By acknowledging Mara, some of the sting, of the wrongness and the power is taken from the effects and the participants are free to be present.

Relaying in my words her clarity and gentleness would distract from the point: go listen to her. Her stories are amazing and I’m still processing the deep teaching behind the story about her student with Alzheimers.

Stories are amazing, but they are also Wittgensteinian ladders: meant to be kicked away. Everything important is right now.

Security & Consciousness

Whenever I hear radical advice, my natural inclination is to find the way between dichotomies created by bianary thinking. Do this, don’t do that, embrace this, have faith in that, abdure that other thing. “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” “So I made up my own little sign. It said thank you Lord for thinkin’ ’bout me, I’m alive and doin’ fine!” If you remember The Band, you’ll remember the song from which those lyrics spring. They talk about signs blocking out the scenery and breaking the mind. Then, the very tool which priorly felt oppressive, divisive, ignoring the most important parts of life is used to express what is most important: underlying unity of opposites, well-being, acknowledgement, Spirit & humanity.

I just received some advice: “Let go of security consciousness.” Security, though is something I’ve fought hard for in my life and I recognize it’s value. What does this “security consciousness” mean anyway?

What if security lies in consciousness. What if true security – knowing that you will handle what comes your way even if there are difficult surprises, that you can’t loose what truly secures value in the world – comes from consciousness itself? What if security simply comes from cultivating awareness, which implies acceptance of what is rather than imposing templates of imagination?

We can aspire to this kind of clear awareness. Is it in our grasp? Can our consciousness function outside of imagination? Can we apprehend without grasping, trusting, not that we’ll get what we asked for, but that we can remain open to what we receive? Can I?

Samtosha – Contentment

umbrella-alone-beach.jpg  Vacation started today at about 11:30 am, after about 20 hours in uniform, and with a spring in my step. The spring was as much for the feeling of  satisfaction of good night’s work as for the knowledge that tomorrow night I’ll be somewhere beautiful I’ve never been before. Wide open mental spaces.

With the ease of vacation ahead, contentment isn’t hard. Or shouldn’t be. Contentment is one of the qualities which supports and reinforces the changes in consciousness that yoga practice cultivates. Here’s what todays Yoga Journal Daily Insight Email had to say about it.
Samtosa is a niyama, or guiding principle of yoga. This principle encourages us to develop contentment. It prescribes the merit of striving to be grateful for what we have rather than yearning for new and different things. The word “samtosa” is also sometimes translated as happiness, because, by finding contentment with what we have, we also find joy, relaxation, and peace. ”

 So here’s my contentment conundrum: I have a career in a high volume service where my skills are kept at an edge by sheer repetition, where I have excellent people around me and opportunities to grow as a medic and a manager. The volume generates it’s own stress, though, and predictable burnout. The schedule was fantastic when I was single, but feels like it splits my heart now that someone else also occupies it.

 I may have an opportunity to join a rural service, and this would offer its own challenges such as longer transport times and fewer people on scene. The money is less, the prestige is less, the opportunity for management advancement in EMS is less. The burnout is less. It fits better with my life as a yoga teacher. It doesn’t make me want a cigarette.

Where does samtosha take me with this decision? Remain content in the midst of rich opportunities with a high price, or find contentment with less. Less stress, less of what hardens my heart about what I do, less adreneline, less money… but more wide open space.

This is what I will be sitting with as I drive and camp and walk and eat fresh fruit. It feels like a crossroads, a decision about who I’m going to be. I guess we never know that until we wake up in that person’s bed, after having the dreams and fears that the person we will be will have. Perhaps what I need to do is take an honest look at the dreams and fears I have today. Truth and honesty, clarity, presence. This is what I will keep coming back to, this is what I will seek and cultivate on the road. I’ll let you know what I find.