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 

Love, Bodies, and Demons

I’ve been listening to Iyengar’s Light on Life, read by Patricia Walden (yes, I’m inseperable from my iPod). I’m not an Iyengar practitioner and have always been disturbed by the stories of striking students and denigration of the body. All third (or twenty-seventh) hand, mind you, but repetitive none-the-less. His dualistic perspective seems to me evident from Light on Yoga, and is not one towards which I gravitate.

But I was listening to Lara’s last YogaPeeps show (yay Lara! see my blogroll for a link…) Light on Life was one of the books highlighted at the end. And it was one of those turns of phrase that tells you, “hey, that’s something to check out.”

So here I am, listening to a book I’ve passed over many times before. And I am not only impressed, but awash in his wisdom. These are not, to my ear, the words of a body denigrating yogi. In fact, the bath of tears I find myslef taking when Walden reads his words about loving every cell of your body, putting love into every cell of your body, tells me the shoe may have been on the wrong foot.

I’ve been engaged in a practice aimed at dissolving obstacles recently. I began with exterior obstacles. I quit smoking. I’ve created healthier routines. I’m rearranging my work life to align with my creativity. All well and good. And then I became aware of some stirrings of internal obstacles, stirrings of bonds being shaken. Old bonds. Strong bonds. And then there was fear protecting those bonds. And I was able to dissolve some of that. All the while, mind you, I’m still not sure what the bonds hold, only that it’s part of me and that the binding is keeping it hidden. Also, this is taking weeks. Slow, wordless, sometimes dubious process.  I plod on.

And slowly I am aware of a subtle rumbling, an undercurrent of unhappiness. Not with this or that. In fact this and that all are well. Slowly I find it’s with myself. It’s a secret, long hidden but ever-active seemingly endless cavern of self loathing. That’s right. Self-loathing yoga teacher. if you want to put a label on it.

And actually this is where labels are helpful. Because when I’m teaching I feel the farthest thing from self loathing. I feel transparent and powerful and awed by my students’ power all at the same time. I feel beautiful.

But when I look at myself or find myself wearing the role of yoga teacher (as in “what does your wife do for a living? Oh, how interesting! kind of role) deep feelings emerge that don’t fit with my pictures. Unsettling feelings, feelings familiar from long ago, from things and times I thought I’d processed and released. The ugly little girl (not the truth, but my picture of myself). The chubby girl. The athletic girl (not used as a compliment). They’re all here with me once more.

And Iyengar’s wisdom in Walden’s voice is helping me to care for them, to love every cell of them. To enjoy all my steps, to realize my samskara, meet it with tapas, svadyaya, surrender and find samtosha. My bonds are little by little being released, and the prisoners are escaping. They didn’t need to be locked up. Only to be acknowledged and loved.

Suffering, Individuality, Joy and Selfishness

So, I quit smoking five weeks ago.


Suffering (Photo credit: Loulair Harton)

I’ll just let that sink in. Yes, the yoga teacher smoked. I could give you all the mitigating factors I always gave myself… I only smoked on duty as a Paramedic, in uniform, in the middle of the night… but it doesn’t matter. The yoga teacher smoked. Everyone gasp in unison.

I gave it up when I gave up believing that my suffering was necessary. I knew for at least a year before I quit that the reason I smoked was to keep from crying. It was also an effective way to stay awake, but I knew the deep down reason was so that I wouldn’t cry. It is impossible for me to smoke and cry simultaneously. Perhaps it’s a chemical, maybe it’s the inhalation pattern, or maybe it’s some meaning thing I played …. tough girls smoke but don’t cry …. but it’s how it works for me.

And one day I decided it was too high a price. I’d rather cry. Yes, on duty, in uniform, I cry. Didn’t used to, saved it up for when I got off duty, after the uniform was in a pile on the floor.

And then today I was bubbling in a hot tub at 10,000 Waves in Santa Fe, overcome by beauty, love and fortune, and felt a deep seated sense of suffering just rise up out of me and dissolve in the mist and mountain air. I had a pang of ownership, of needing, of wanting to feel like I had done something worthy of this dissolution, like I had purified and purged myself in some deserving manner. Suffered enough.

And in the mist and beauty it came to me: who says it’s your suffering? What made you think God wanted to you bear it? or purge it? or purify it? or own it in any way?

And I knew why I thought so: because, I thought, my suffering makes me who I am. I created it or it is my legacy from things done to me, a badge, a mark, a stigmata of individuality.

I must bear the mark until I thouroughly purge the cause, whether I committed it or had it committed upon me, this was my way of making meaning, making sense of the pain and incongruities of my life.

But, what if we are not atomic selves, individuals cast adrift in a sea of randomness in search of meaning? What if we are each unique expressions of consciousness, but consciousness is itself a relational factor? What if we are God’s way of experiencing itself, deeply inter-related? What if God knew – knows – that limited consciousnesses aren’t equipped to bear all the pain of knowing? What if God never expected we would try to bear it, try to act is if our integrity & sovreignty as human beings depended upon this suffering born of limitations and bodies and what we do to one another? What if this is the remnant of an adolescent revolt against the connections of childhood, connections we must find a way to contain within the more expansive scope of an adult life?

And I felt a deep sense of Joy and connectedness at giving up what once seemed to define me. What once seemed so selfish to let go of now seemed selfish to retain. Armor I no longer need against threats that long ago ceased to threaten. Selfish conceit, this attachment to old!

And vulnerable freedom this acceptance of connection, rendering of responsibility for something I couldn’t possibly contain, accepting limitation, but also the limitation of what harms. If both capacities for joy and pain are limited, perhaps we are free to feel each in turn, only when they are necessary and to let them go when the moments have passed. Perhaps I can be free to meet the moments without injunctions of feeling or attachments to old meanings and selves. It doesn’t leave much of a self, but perhaps it leaves enough. Enough to love.