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?

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.