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….

Suffering, Individuality, Joy and Selfishness

So, I quit smoking five weeks ago.

Suffering

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 suffering.ch-ch-ch-changes!

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.

Imagination

When transgressions hinder, the weight of the imagination should be thrown on the other side.

Yoga Sutras

So much I find fascinating about this. I believe it’s a translation of II.33 and the translator Rolf Gates lists in his biblio is one Charles Johnston who lived (or at least published) in Albuquerque, NM in 1912. The translation seems to me to have a distinctly modern slant, though perhaps Johnston had been studying Kant’s schematism.

Part of what I like is that any time we engage the imagination on purpose, we’re de facto dropping certain assumptions and judgment algorithms from our field of consideration. Obviously, we want to keep certain minimum ones on the filter going to action, but the process even helps us to properly consider those.

Imagination is also the place (acc to the aforementioned Kant, and greatly oversimplified) where impressions from our embodied senses and the categories we are capable of using to organize them are synthesized. So to throw the weight of the imagination “on the other side” of our challenge really opens up a whole new world.

Kant was on to the same thing Yogic Philosophy addresses by noting that the world is “nothing” without “us” (interpreters, perhaps.) Certainly we like to think that it’s “there” regardless of the existence of animal interpreters such as ourselves. But, there is no “there” there without a “here” and without self-referential subjectivity (yes, that’s us) there’s no “here”, thus no “there” there.

Why does this matter in my journal? Isn’t this a lot of logical round-n-round, just the sort I left Academia to get outside? Well, first of all a certain amount of this is good exercise for imagination. But most of all, the quote turned out to be quite important for what I called my procrastination journey yesterday.

So, bad things happen to people, and something rather horrible happened to me a year and a half ago. I was out of the country and for all sorts of reasons kept it to myself for months. Until I realized (yes, another “dur” moment) that whether I wanted it to or not it was still affecting me and – more importantly to me at the time – my relationship with my then fiancee, now husband.

So, when really awful things happen, it usually happens that it takes calender pages to sort out the aftermath. More if you try to ignore the original fact, which I did.

So, we started our day yesterday tending to some of that. It left me raw but also lighter. So what did I do? Yes, you may have guessed it… I’m not an overachiever. I’m an excellent avoider.

So, I made lists in my mind (always the first sign my thinking’s going awry) and within hours felt lost and without any space or meaning. Yeah, that sucks. So I made my plan: grocery, eat, brush dog, yoga. Grocery & eat: check.  Pet Hank: break down. Ahhhhh! progress. She realizes she’s raw, she releases and recognizes. She is learning! (Thanks, Hank.)

She makes an appointment at the local massage school for a massage (lovely). She does yoga (feels great). She teaches (such wonderful people at class!).

Back to home with strong, wonderful, attentive, tender Hubby.  Some cobwebs cleared. Imagination was indeed the way out. Some Tapas, some Saucha, some Satya, then trust and process (Ishvara Pranidanani). Ahhhhhhhh.