Abundance

Having made some pretty drastic changes to my career life this year, I’m reflecting daily on what abundance and success mean to me. For real. I’ve been part-time as a Paramedic now for a few months, focused on building a practice as a teacher and a business as a yoga camping retreat facillitator.  My two careers are remarkably complimentary and the life I’m crafting is pretty much what I used to imagine when I was a girl. Pretty Cool.

I knew I’d move slowly, deliberately in my building. I knew that like learning yoga, building a practice and a living is best done one brick at a time. I don’t know about the rest of you teachers out there, or entrepeneurs of any stripe, independent, free-thinking crafters of service and beauty, but one of my most determined demons is named “Enough.” Is there enough, do I have enough, do I do enough, do I know enough, Am I enough, will there be enough? Enough knowledge, classes, time, strength, patience.

And the answer every day has been “yes” and that shrinks the demon a bit, but this demon drinks from a deep well, the well of emptiness that is at the center of being a human being, the one we identify with our fears, traumas, shortcomings and failures until we learn that it just is and that that’s Ok. But it really is part of being human, so it remains. And by sitting with it, calmly and persistently I’ve learned the meaning of abiding and of love.

And today I got to dance with it in the park, and we both forgot it was a demon. I’m working on building an outdoor yoga class in a park near my house, so Tuesdays at Noon I go the park and practice. So far it’s been alone, which is only a problem if you were hoping it to be different. I’m promoting it and have garnered interest, but so far I’m alone. More experienced teachers tell me this is part of the building experience. I wonder if I should make it earlier (Albuquerque is rather warmish at Noon, and it’s monsoon season, so it’s what passes for humid in the desert), should I go to a park in a more upscale neighborhood ( we are decidedly working class here in my ‘hood), should…. I should do yoga, I decide.

And I’m about to flip my dog on the second side when I look up and my eyes meet the lovely grey eyes of a little girl watching – she later tells me she’ll be 10 in September – one arm tucked behind her back, hand wrapped in front of her opposite elbow, legs entwined, head cocked to the side. We both smile. I flip & ask if she’s ever done yoga. Once. She joins me in downdog and we laugh at the name. She follows me into pigeon and her sisters and friend join us. We’re all doing pigeon, except for the youngest who is bouncing into people and grass like the park’s a mosh pit, giggling all while, and we join her as I teach them what to call pigeon in Sanskrit, our heads bouncing from side to side as we sing-song through “Eka-pa-da-ra-ja-kap-o-ta-sa-na”, little mosh darling falling down among us.

And I think, “This is IT. This is what I want, this is what I do. This is enough. This is more than enough. This is everything.” And even my demons laugh and all fall down.

Re-Imagining

Yoga allowed me to re-imagine myself.

I realized this today practicing with one of my old faves, Shiva Rae’s Solar Practice CD from 1999. It was one of my first home practice guides, and even today when I need another voice in my head, someone else’s metaphors and images to bring freshness to my Warrior, I slide this one into the player.

And I realized, her metaphors became my own. Her voice helped me re-imagine my body and re-connect to the way I related to my body when I was a girl. I remember squinting my eyes to make haloes and fireworks as I balanced my arm, perpendicular to the earth in its socket, so perfectly that I could imagine it wasn’t mine. It stood there on its own. And I was the earth.

And when Shiva Rae used the metaphor of “wings” for the shoulder blades today (well, the recorded sound of her voice…) I realized, that was the first time I re-imagined my body as an adult. Imagined it wasn’t set in stone as it sometimes felt, or in mud or even bound in cotton as it sometimes felt I was insulated from the world. That my body could become a conduit for energy and images and power. That I could live differently.

I had just delivered my last academic paper about a year before when I was practicing with this CD for the first time: Metaphor as the structure of Truth. Having received much interest, many plaudits and requests for reprints and further investigation, I vanished to the desert. My name had changed (returned to home), my profession, my location, my possessions (mostly left behind), and I had some radical re-imagining to do. I didn’t know it at the time (I had come here to be a Paramedic) but yoga would be the vehicle for my to realize the deep truth of that last talk. And Shiva Rea’s voice would plant a seed in my heart, a seed of wings and of roots.

The structure of metaphor is a container and yoga helps us explore how we contain our breath, and so how we express our meanings and truths. I still believe the basic tenants of that last talk, that sentences are derivatively true, that when we seek truth we are never ultimately looking for statements and that what makes statements true are neither facts nor objects nor worlds but states of consciousness.  Yoga helped me not only realize the truth of what I discovered, but to re-imagine it and myself in ever more revealing ways. That’s why I practice yoga. Every Day.

Intention

Intent. It changes everything.

But what is it? It’s not a thing, not something added on at the beginning or end. It’s an underpinning, a condition of the act being at all. Intent, or lack thereof, is constitutive.

Intention and Attention are related, but not identical.  Attention is the conscious presence that maintains the space for things & relationships to reveal themselves. In my view, this makes it sacred: it is an ontological, or constitutive, condition for other things, relations and conditions.

Intention is specific attention. Focused Attention. Focused attention, or the lack thereof, is how we create meaning and the lack thereof. There are many different levels on which to focus your attention, and it is characteristically Western to focus it on a thing or an event: a goal.

Often, I think, we think “goal” when a teacher asks us to “set an intention”. Open hamstrings, clear heart chakra, world peace, love in my life.

When we create intention at the beginning of yoga class, we are invoking sankalpa. The usual translation is merely “intention” or “resolve”, but we are really invoking a second order of intent: conscious intention, or intention about intention. What do we want to want?

I suggest we think of intention as a clear, quiet, neutral place to stand. Imagine a platform in the deep, deep forest. Like that from which a biologist might watch. But we are scientists of ourselves. We need a clear, quiet place from which to watch the thoughts frollick. Our sankalpa is an expression of why we practice,  a touchstone to which we can return when we get lost among our thoughts and desires.

But how to find our Sankalpa? How to set an appropriate intention? Well, think of what you’d like to have. Even an old fashioned goal or egocentric desire. Be really honest. Good. Now, what conditions have to be present for this gift to manifest? And what quality would you ascribe to these conditions? It’ll take a few moments to let the mist settle and see what emerges like an island from the surf.  But that quality, the quality of the conditions which enable the manifestation of your deepest desire, that’s a good candidate for your Sankalpa.

Now that’s an intention worth your attention.

energy, doing, service & mudras

Yes, it’s true. Sometimes the yoga teacher feels too tired to teach.

Feels. But here’s what I’ve learned: If I’m blessed to have people to teach, I will also feel better when I’m done. When I’ve dug in, scooped up and given what I thought I didn’t have and needed.

How does that work? Well, for one, what I give isn’t mine in the first place. It’s just hard to remember that when I’d rather draw a bath than get in my car & drive cross town, open the studio, set the mood and invite the magic. But it’s true & it’s real: it isn’t mine & giving it doesn’t diminish me. It feeds me. As long as I’m taking care of the pathways that allow energy to flow into and through me. Which sounds really woo-woo. It’s really about laying the foundation: enough sleep, enough greens, enough gym time (yes, I still love my gym time!).

The other thing is to love, passionately, fervently and without reserve love what you’re doing. I giggle internally whenever a student asks if I would teach a class if only one person showed up. Ok, externally. YES!  In the past when I found myself showing up to a job that seemed to do nothing but rob my energy, you know what the problem was? It was a job I thought I should love, but – you guessed it – didn’t. Prestigious in the field, well-rewarded, feather in the cap. Didn’t love it.

And when I’ve had too little sleep, too few greens and not enough time in the gym and I’m wondering how I can shed my thoughts to welcome my people to their practice (because it’s theirs, not mine) sometimes I call on mudra. Today it’s a dharma mudra. Now, I try these things out quite a bit before I recommend them, because I’m a bit skeptical by nature. I won’t claim to know for certain how they work, but I bet it’s at least two fold: I think they probably do connect up pathways in the body, because the ones I keep change how I feel within moments of first use. Also, after using them in related situations over time, I know I associate taking them with focusing on an intent, and this is powerful.

The one I used today was featured in a Yoga Journal article this month. Join the thumbs to the pointer fingers of each hand. Left palm toward heart, Right turned out, tip of middle finger of Left hand touching thumb of right. With this, I ask myself (as suggested in the YJ piece!) “What is next?”, “How may I be of service?” Words may not appear (or they might!), but mental dust settles and clarity dawns.

From there, anything is possible.

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 

Shut your piehole, Watch your mind.

Is that too harsh?

Sometimes you need to interrupt. Just Stop. And watch.

And from there, we can see what’s to do. Then just do it. Not Nike style, not white knuckled, not competetively, factually, because it’s the only thing to do. You put you + this evolving situation + you watching, noting you AND the situation… soon, the thing will emerge. It will. Trust me.

And if you act before that, it doesn’t matter that it was “right”, it will be more complicated than it needed to be. It will have unintended consequences. Practice waiting for the dust to settle. I promise it gets easier, it’s quicker than you think. Even in a bonafide emergency – and there are precious few of these, really – the half breath to become present before choosing which of the myriad necessities to engage first is totally worth it. That necessity will flow into the next, because you’ve eliminated the competition between the necessities. You’ve entered the moment.

So time on the mat matters. In asana, in pranayam, in meditation. It matters. It’s a laboratory, it’s practice. Literally. It’s how you train. So show up, do it. Shhhh… your mind is talking. Watch it. Hear it. And move on. Feel your mat.

The Challenge

I’m well into the week of the Camel and some days I’ve indulged in a long Camel-centered practice, breathing length and openness into my shoulders, exploring the relation of my triceps to my shoulder girdle, using them to open more fully. (More on that in another post!) Some days I’ve had 5 minutes there of Sun Salutes, 10 of standing and busted out a camel in between.

I’m reminded through all of this that what camels do is store water. So, am I storing refreshing hydration for extended use, or shedding what has been stored because I didn’t digest it when I first took it in?

And I realize, the camel can’t drink until it creates room anew. It has to use its precious store of glistening droplets before it can drink deeply once more.

And the beauty of this pose is that I’m releasing and drinking simultaneously. I am storing sustenance. I am also letting go to make room. Exchange.

And the letting go can be hard. I’m through the initial terror I wrote about last year (see previous post) . And your responses have taught me that I have been in good company: many of us have stored scary and scared feelings in our guts, hearts and voices.

My new challenge is to release through all the layers of my existence. I’m finding that little – one might even say, petty – annoyances and feelings are coming to light. Feelings, judgments, ideas, words I thought I’d left behind. Ones that don’t bear repeating, but let me assure you they’re embarrassing to find tucked away. And they don’t just confine themselves to my mat. They help themselves to the rest of my day, too. Rude these little judgments are. See! There’s another of those rascals!

What is different is that while they register as feelings, they register as “mine” at first, I am finding it possible to let go of the embodied hooks, see them as “not mine, not not mine”, and not re-store them in new the clothes and layers of new judgments. Now, this isn’t a seamless process, and I’ll be perfecting it a long while. But I’m noticing noticing these packages I’ve left for my new self from all my old selves, and it’s allowing me to be more loving to all of them. And to let a lot go.

So that’s my challenge in the week of the Camel: to be a witness to my own experience, to not get lost in it, to let it do what experience does, which is to pass. And so to be able to fill up anew.

What’s yours?

The week of the Camel… will you join me?

Why isn’t there a groundhog pose in yoga?

I’m feeling like groundhog emerging and realizing Spring. Of course Spring is putting on Summer clothes just now, but the flowery, rainy wardrobe of emergence is not yet shed, and is suiting me just fine.

Coincidences intrigue me, especially as I don’t believe in them ;> so I was intrigued to find that it was just about a year ago that I was playing with Camel and the emotions that it offers up. I wrote a series of blogs over about six months and recently had an interesting comment from Patrick on one of them that beckoned I return to this most inciting asana.

Additionally, many of you have written to me of your own emotional releases and offerings in this asana, and I’ve found other blogs make mention – notably, NiceMarmot (I love that name! and the blog…) Yoga aids us in digesting not only our food, but our spiritual food – our experience. And sometimes digesting, in breaking down the substance of a thing and absorbing what’s nurturing or nutritious and flushing the unnecessary generates heat, discomfort and intensity. It depends on what you’ve been eating. And daily life puts much on our plate that we might not choose all on our own. That’s its offering to us. Nurturing is not always warm and fuzzy.

And here I am again, with you Gentle Reader, on the precipice of Summer. I celebrated Spring with Twists (see the May 2nd blog on yogaeveryday.org) and I’m baring my heart to Summer with Camel this week. I invite you to join me in making camel part of your practice this week, and if you haven’t started a home yoga practice, to start with this asana. Abide in your awareness of your heartful center, know that whatever comes up is not you, it is a residue of experience, and experience of its own, connecting us to the world of other experienciers. In the posts above is a class with Ustrasana as its pinnacle pose, or you might dive in with these videos below. They are different in approach, but each offer valuable instruction.

How does it feel to remain vulnerable in your life? Does it seem a worthy spiritual quest? What are you offering today? As always, I love hearing about your experience on and off the mat. Leave a comment or email me privately. Either way, find your yoga today and dive in, heart and all.

 

Inner Purpose: aligning with the present moment

Chapter 9 of a A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle is entitled “Inner Purpose”.  We’ve brought our reflection on pain bodies and time and flowers and ego and roles to this chapter . Our inner purpose is all the same, according to Tolle:  “to align to the present moment”, “say yes to life”, “say yes to now.” How has your awareness changed with your reflections? Do you find more moments of presence among your everydayness? Has the process been gradual or startling for you?

“You can only be successful.” (270) How does it feel to read this?

What do you know when you are still?

Do you have an outer purpose? Does it bring you joy? How aligned are your outer purpose and inner purpose? What do you do to bring inner purpose into everything you do?

“Whenever you become anxious or stressed, outer purpose has taken over, and you lost sight of your inner purpose. You have forgotten that your state of consciusness is primary, all else is secondary” (p. 266). What do you do that reminds you that you are awareness, to “say yes to now” and align to the present moment?

How does it feel when you give people your 100 percent full attention? “Am I total in what I do?” Eckhart urges us to ask. Do you notice the activity – the buying or selling or caretaking – takes a secondary seat? Do you enjoy surrendering yourself to each interaction?

“…the most significant thing that can happen to a human being has already happened within you: the beginning of the separation process of thinking and awareness.” (p. 262)

Join us at ANewEarth.Gather.com at 7pm EDT (that’s 5 MDT) for discussion!

Meditation: The Anti-Bedtime Story

Around our hose we’re re-vamping ritual and routine as I settle into my daytime schedule and more yoga teaching and trekking. Last night we meditated together for 20 minutes right before crawling into the sack and I realized it was the ultimate anti-bedtime story.

Now, you may have children or remember your own bedtime story experiences fondly – I know I do. It seemed stories were a ticket to dreamland back then. But I was a much less accomplished multi-tasker back then, and the stories seemed somehow closer to my normal life. My imagination was so free and so rich and I had so little figured out about how the physical world worked that stories almost felt like an escape: everything got explained, everything had a trajectory and a place, everyone had a character – someone to be. It was comforting, and my Dad’s voice made it seem so stable and real.

The stories I tell my grownup self are not so comforting, and reading a book doesn’t interrupt them as completely – probably because my stories are about the details of my everyday life, and I think I have so much figured out about its underpinnings – certainly more than a 8 year old girl who still wonders who decides on floor tile patterns and if they mean anything and whether I can decode it by squinting my eyes just right.

Or do I? Meditation was the perfect anti-bedtime story. I didn’t have to listen to anyone else’s voice (NPR podcasts are a favorite of mine for being lulled to sleep. Not because I find them boring, but like my childhood stories they are neat and delivered in soothing voices…) or to my own endless internal chatter.

While meditation is a bit strenuous on its own, all that awareness and breathing can wear a girl out!, I snuggled into bed, the stream already diverted, the feeling of sheets on my body and feet on my feet absorbing my being. The anti-story: Meditation. Try it… and let me know what you find.