The Subtle Body~ October 2017 Subject of the Month

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious – it is the source of all true art and science. ~ Albert Einstein

The idea of the subtle, or energetic, body takes some getting used to for many people. If you came upon yoga as I did- for strength and flexibility, to unwind, or even to learn to quiet the mind a bit-  it wasn’t hard to get a feel for these benefits of yoga with just a little time invested.  I noticed I was stronger, more flexible, my mood was better, and intellectually it all made sense! But when teachers started to talk about the seemingly mystical energetic blueprint of the subtle body, I, as many students, didn’t know where to turn for a reference point, or what to make of it. Resistance came up in the places this practical, comforting science met a kind of “yogaspeak” that made little sense to me.

As a story or a metaphor, I could understand how the map of the subtle body was useful as a tool. Even as the idea sounded fantastically appealing, this vast system with channels of light, vibrational vortexes, sheathes and spirals, its actual existence as a highly developed structure was foreign to me. Coming from a background of hard science, I was used to not accepting something I could not validate through proven research or experience, and I didn’t have enough of either at this point to get past my skepticism. Resistance came up as I didn’t know what I had to believe in this. Luckily for me, my wonderful teacher, Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati, allowed me to put the whole dilemma aside with one precise statement: “You don’t have to believe anything I say about anything, as a matter of fact I much rather you question it all and find out for yourself!”   Ahhhh…something a research scientist could get to work on!

As any good scientist, I began my exploration of the unknown with what I did know, my asana practice. It is said the asana practice is not to be underestimated as a tool for strengthening and opening the channels of the subtle as well as the physical body. When I experimented, I found it is exquisitely designed to do just that, and that it does it well and we can feel it. Each asana shapes the physical and energetic body into a unique yantra, a full body experience that opens us to prana, the force in the breath that vibrates with consciousness. It is truly a marvelous practice that includes but is not limited to the physical body, and through it I discovered my direct connection to the subtle body. Many can begin here, simply by feeling the rasa (loosely described as the mood or atmosphere in the body) during each asana as well as the physical shape. Becoming curious about the physical or mental shifts that deepen the rasa and the ones that diminish it can constantly inform of skillful directions of movement. This connects a practitioner more deeply to their relationship with the underlying force field of the subtle body.

As I continued as a student of yoga and began more diverse practices, I became even more curious about the noticeable shifts in my demeanor, mood and outlook on life. I felt different, and others said I looked different. Still far from perfect, I was evolving in a way that allowed me to feel more aligned with this mysterious energy that lightened life and provided support and clarity when needed. It became apparent that what were once the mystical practices that I resisted, were in fact now fueling this transformative relationship between body and mind, allowing both to be more clear, resilient and strong. In retrospect this is not surprising as these ways in which to clean, strengthen and expand the subtle body and their profound effects have been described by many texts and teachers from many different traditions of yoga for thousands of years. Still, experiencing is believing in yoga and in the experience I gained my understanding. I have become content to let some of it remain mystical to me. The sweetness is better assimilated by the wholeness of the luminous mind, not endlessly analyzed. The mysterious indeed had become to me the most beautiful part of the art and science of yoga.

Enjoy learning about the different ways we map and describe the subtle body this month. Through the koshas, the channels, the chakras, and the vibrational field of the body. simply feel what you feel and remain curious. Explore the practices in asana, pranayama, kriya, visualization, and meditation that point toward your mysterious subtle body. Take it all in, and by all means, don’t believe a word anyone tells you about what you have to feel or think about it.  Find out for yourself!

Subject of the Month~ August 2017 Ramayana

“When I do not know who I am, I serve You and when I do know who I am, You and I are One”~ Hanuman to Ram

Though the protagonist of this epic tale is Ram, the heart hero is undoubtedly Hanuman, the mischievous monkey who only finds his way from endless distraction to presence through devotion. This level of selfless service can be difficult to manifest. Hanuman turns from riches, praise, safety and comfort to serve Ram, the embodiment of love and wisdom as consciousness itself. As an idealized concept in movies and fairy tales, we are regaled with the extraordinary things people do for love. In a lived experience, however, serving love is not so easy when it clashes with the need of the self to be front and center. In yoga philosophy, we are asked to consider all beings as one, and taught that none can be truly whole until all are free. In many religions, “loving everyone as you love yourself” is a central theism. Yet what does it take to continually serve until all beings are free from pain and suffering? How often do we get frozen on the edge of action where the needs or judgements of our “self” clash with what is necessary to uplift another? Hanuman is a manifestation of love and devotion that overcomes the distractions of the monkey mind and the self-centric ego to provide what is needed to take the leap of faith toward universal love.

In the course of any life, circumstances will bring us again and again to this edge of action where distraction meets presence. When we are called to fill out our dharma (the necessary actions of our particular life) and to serve in ways that challenge us, many times it is because an upheaval has occurred. We are frantic, our sense of order has collapsed, we are left reeling, what we have counted on has failed us!  We waver, unsure if we have what it takes or if we can make a difference. Right at the edge of what is necessary, we hover. If our dedication and trust collapse at this point, we find a million reasons why it is better simply to step down and leave it to someone else. In samsara, this creates a dynamic where fear and ignorance constantly usurp wisdom and love to gain a foothold in our karmic expression. Hanuman, as an avatar of the Divine, shows us a different way. If, as Hanuman, we take a leap of faith in the service of another, we exponentially increase the capacity of our hearts and mind to open to the sweetness and strength inherent in devotion. We melt into the very matrix of universal consciousness when we align with love. Our actions determine whether we cultivate wisdom or ignorance in our karmic field, and love or fear in our hearts. The choice is ours.

We may not have the physical super powers of Hanuman, perhaps we can’t physically grow huge, or shrink, or soar across oceans, or carry mountaintops in our hands. Yet in the story of our unique life and time, presence can lend us the very qualities that are needed in our own battles and challenges as we strive to meet the standard of Hanuman: showing up fully in the service of love. Even in the norm of samsara where we identify with the self, to act in service of the divine and others creates a beautiful path of devotion that becomes our way to liberation and wholeness. Like Hanuman, once committed, we can’t go wrong as each act of loving service transcends the self and brings us closer and closer to the divine. In the presence of this love, we realize through service to others, we always have been serving the truest and most eternal part of our “Self” as well.

Subject of the Month~ June 2017~ Rasa – All the Tastes of Life

“And so I fall in love just a little, oh a little bit, every day with someone new” ~ Hozier

madhurya-raga-anjana-das

A friend recently asked if I had heard this song by Hozier and quoted the lyric. I hadn’t but the lyric caught my interest. I began to wonder if in my travels each day, it were possible to make that level of connection to a person I did not know, to “fall in love a little bit”. Without differing my approach due to who they appeared to be, if I were relaxed and open, smiled, said hello, met their eyes and moved along, would it be possible to have a shared moment of truly seeing each other? After all, isn’t that what falling in love is?

I’m generally a friendly person, yet this consistent approach to truly meet another through a greeting dramatically opened my eyes to how we set the mood for many interactions, even very casual ones, simply by the care taken (or not taken) to be genuinely present in the moment of connection. I will leave it to you to experience the different feeling tone that arises when moving through the world like this if you choose to give it a try. It’s a very different taste of life, or rasa, I can assure you.

Rasa (rah-sa) is a Sanskrit word that carries the essential emotional characteristic of an experience as a mental state. It translates imprecisely as juice, sap, or fluid but perhaps can be better understood as the taste, mood or atmosphere. It is perhaps best described as the all-encompassing felt experience of an interaction. It is traditionally applied in Indian art, literature, music or any creative dynamic between subject and object to evoke mood. It can also be applied to a person’s relationship with an aspect of themselves or the world around them that is deeply influenced by an emotional response.

Each Sanskrit letter of the alphabet has a unique rasa, which in different combinations form unique vibrational matrices of consciousness (liberated emotions) in the space they are recited. To simplify however, we can consider the eight rasas that are outlined in the Natyasastra by Bharata Muna: love/eros, humor/joy, disgust/pity, fury/anger, compassion/sadness, heroism/bravery, terrifying/fearful, marvelous/awe-inspiring.

The ground of our exploration is how we feel when consumed by one of these rasas in a creative interaction. Rasas are not just suggested or contrived, they are literally formed in the space of the body/mind by the experience so that the “one who experiences” is immersed to the point that analysis and judgement dissolves and pure experience engulfs. Where at this point does the rasa begin and the experiencer end? Can we learn to deeply feel the intensity of emotions in an orchestrated creative space so that we can better hold it in a personal interaction? What do we need to drop so we can fully experience the essence of a life experience, a true connection, even for a moment?

Traditional Indian music, poetry and dance are specifically designed to connect the participant to one or more rasas through precise vibration, rhythm and subtleties of language. Similarly, we often use elements of music, language, literature, mantra and skillful sequencing in a yoga class to create a specific mood or theme so that instead of thinking about it, we are immersed in the wholeness of it. This is what allows us to be fluid, responsive and open in the physical and energetic body during class. This is also why we often feel good, and sometimes we cry, during or after class. It is in the non-thinking mind that the experience arises, and the rasa holds our attention here in the experience so we can more fully feel it, not separate from it.

Some achingly beautiful examples that convey rasas exquisitely are the stringed instruments in ragas and much classical music, poets of the Sufi tradition, Pablo Neruda, and many vibrationally precise kirtan recordings of Krishna Das and Jai Uttal. There are many, many more examples of art, music and experience that don’t merely touch the heart, but encourage and even dare it to expand to its fullness and beyond. If we allow our hearts to remain just a little bit more open each time this happens, maybe we can fall just a little bit more in love each day.

Subject of the Month ~ April 2017~ The Elements and Emotions

Mother Nature has certainly let herself be known in the last weeks, giving us an elemental extravaganza of howling winds, pouring rain, vivid sunshine, spacious blue skies, and the sweetly re- awakening earth. Like any system, our natural world thrives by using the energy of creation to spark rebirth and avoid stagnation. The season of Spring carries this vibrant and fresh energy, and the elements around us encourage our participation, interest and delight. Every day we can look outside and see change and growth, enticing our senses to get us out and play. And everything seems new and animated in the space outside after the winter- the lively touch of the wind, the vividness of the colors, the deep smells of the newly turned earth, the clear taste of food and water. As we enjoy this generosity that Mother Earth abundantly gives, let us consider how we can best interact with these elements that comprise both our inner and outer environments.

 

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Let’s begin with our external environment, and use our senses for what they were designed to do, experience and appreciate this glorious world and season. Let that spark in nature inspire a renewed appreciation in us to connect with her and ourselves. Read or write poetry, sing, take a walk or nap outside (without our phones), get messy in a garden, go jump in a lake, eat farm fresh fruits and veggies! And in return for this beautiful gift, consider what we can do to be a true steward for the earth and her waterways and airways. She needs protection now, and it is only where she is healthy that we as well can thrive. We can serve by fighting the current legislation that removes protections and allows further industrialization in delicate eco-systems. We can work to sustain and replenish her well-being by cleaning up our own neighborhood parks and open spaces and moving outward from there.

We can take a cue from Mother Nature in our internal environment as well and institute our own spring-cleaning, as the spark of transformation within us is also strongest in Spring. We, too, are comprised of the elements, and because of the distribution of each element in our major organs (air in the lungs, water in the kidneys, earth in the spleen and stomach, fire in the liver, and space in our hearts), the elements form the emotional environment of our bodies just like they often set the mood of the outside world. The elements together give us a map (or mandala) of our emotions that allow us to see where there are vital seeds of growth and creativity to nurture and where there is the stagnation of our internal “waste dumps”.  The good news is the map gives us some clear trail markers so we can better identify the places leading to positive growth and the places overrun by poison ivy or quicksand. Just as when we observe the natural environment we can see what is pristine and what is polluted, we can do the same in our internal environment with these markers.

The markers are organized around the elements and their corresponding emotions, with each element having a positive essential emotion (a nectar, or path to sweetness) and a negative essential emotion (a poison, or path to suffering).  The nectars (or sweet spots) to watch for are the places where we feel generosity/ease (earth), stillness/calmness (water), passion/interest (fire),  trust/confidence (air) and wisdom/wholeness (space). The poisons (or toxic zones) to watch for are where we feel pride/intolerance (earth), anger/impatience (water), attachment/distraction (fire), jealousy/anxious (air) and deliberately ignorant/fragmented (space). We all recognize some things on the list as familiar! As much as we can at the beginning, we simply notice the ones of interest, “mark” them as nectar or poison when we feel them, and move on.

To develop this a bit more, we can focus on one marker for a few days. It  can be either a nectar or a poison, and watch for when that emotion arises in us. If interested, we can make a note of it, and what caused it, if we know or can guess. Also, we can note what we did or thought when we felt it, and how it influenced our mood. Track the one marker for a time (journaling is great here), and then move to another.  In this way we can start to fill out our own map of what situations and choices bring each of us to feel sweetness in our life and which brings us toward trouble and suffering. As we do this with more markers, we can refine our internal map so we begin to more quickly recognize paths and processes toward harmony and freshness in our life, and the detours that get us stuck and down-in- the-dumps before going so far off-track. With this caring and consistent approach, we can become stewards of our own well-being, as well as the world around us, working toward returning both to their natural state of pristine beauty.

 

The Elemental Emotion Mandala (Map) is adapted from the teachings of Parvathi Nanda Nath.

SOM~ December 2016- Healing (Ourselves and Our Nation)

The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy? The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones, the place where our knowledge can become more fully human.—Terry Tempest Williams

As a nation we have spoken about healing in the last weeks- healing from the divisiveness, the sense of loss and disillusionment, the acerbic atmosphere in general. The kinder and gentler ideal of democracy based on human decency and caring seems to have given away to aggression, rhetoric and isolationism. We’ve seen increased incidences of hate crimes both locally and nationally, and a general worldwide disregard for the welfare of millions of people that have been displaced by war, terrorism, and lack of the barest necessities of life. As a community that is rooted in wisdom teachings of compassion and kindness, this can be especially shocking and cause deep dismay. In order not to get stuck in the overwhelm or hopelessness, it is necessary to heal enough to hear the call to wake up to what each of us can do to have our voices be heard and our actions be counted. The process of healing requires one thing to begin and as yoga practitioners we are familiar with it- the willingness to see things clearly as they are and accepting what is. This is the only approach that allows for movement toward wholeness.

When we remain in denial or avoidance of current events and their underlying causes as they come to the surface, we delay healing and remain stalled. In a medical diagnosis, once we hear and accept what is there, only then do we become knowledgeable, and much more skillful in making our decisions. Healing does not guarantee a cure, or allow the illusion that it will be easy if it is a deep wound. It doesn’t mean we get it the way we want it. It means we begin to want to work with things the way they are simply because that is the only way that makes any useful progress toward a change that can be significant and make a difference. In the current state of our society, once the collapse of our illusions brings the shadowy places to light, we begin to see that this place was not created by any one happening or person, yet a series of patterns and events that were allowed to accumulate for a very long time. A humility sets in as we realize our own blind spots and vulnerability, how we have contributed to the current state of affairs.

Accepting “what is” does not mean giving up or succumbing to this as the way it always has to be. As a matter of fact, when we wake up in that moment of seeing it, we have a singular chance to use that jolt to remain engaged enough to have the energy to sustain the fight toward goodness. We can use this energy more efficiently in choosing our battles, and our methods once we have seen what is wrong. Only when we see the darkness, do we have a chance of dispelling it. But it’s not easy. We need to listen more, ask the right questions, and remain vigilant and committed so don’t allow ourselves to get lulled to sleep again.

Author Parker Palmer gives 5 steps to a sustainable heart-centered process toward establishing a just, kind democracy in his book Healing the Heart of Democracy (2011, JosseyBass). “Five Habits to Heal the Heart of Democracy” written for the Global Oneness Project distills this to its essence (https://www.globalonenessproject.org/library/articles/five-habits-heal-heart-democracy). The steps he lists, and which are expounded upon in his writings, are: an understanding that we are all in this together, an appreciation of the value of “otherness,” an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways, a sense of personal voice and agency, and a capacity to create community. Perhaps we can begin our own healing by inquiring what these steps mean to each of us, and in each of us?

We will set aside time in each class to explore practices including healing mantra,mudra, gentle pranayama, nyasa, Yoga Nidra, guided relaxation, loving kindness meditations to facilitate healing and connection.

Subject of the Month ~ November 2016: Lojong Teachings

                                     LOOKING TO AWAKEN YOUR HEART?                                   DON’T GIVE UP, GROW UP!

 The Buddhist Lojong (mind-training) slogans have been on my mind quite a bit over the last months as the nation has become increasingly reactive and divided on many fronts. It seems hard to feel that we are one community, one nation, or even one human race when so much has pulled at our deeply held concepts of right and wrong, and propelled us on the wild search to find fault. There is plenty of blame to go around, yet blaming can’t mend the damage this chronic cycle of corruption has caused. Corruption is the result of repeated misuse of power which quickly deteriorates trust, communication and respect between all involved. Whether in a societal relationship dynamic or a personal one, the misuse of power propagates more and more division, blame, harm, resentment and superiority. It sets a pattern that causes fragmentation in society as we have seen, yet also in ourselves as individuals. Our mind can provide a very good place to start if we are interested in becoming more responsible in our own use of power, and this is where the lojong teachings focus. If we apply the teachings and do the work, we will feel less hopeless and move toward growing up into fully present beings.

 

In the lojong teachings, forward movement is never about blaming or shamIng ourselves or others. We use practical slogans, or training methods, to “re-mind” the mind of what its natural function is. These are necessary and compassionate teachings, whether they are prompting us to be accountable, to be kind, or to be curious in discovering where life may be leading us if we clear out some of our junk. They instruct us in how to practice watching our thoughts carefully in order to reclaim the counsel of our own clear, unbiased intelligence and reflect its radiant light out to others. Just as young children often fail to fully see (or care) how their actions affect others, our untrained mind can lead us to hide in the shadows of irresponsibility and complacency or bake in the glaring spotlight of unchecked ego. We never pause to consider how we use our mind, or how we might better direct its power of attention. The lojong slogans are not “brain-washing” in the usual sense, yet they do serve in ultimately clearing a whole lot of junk from the mind that clogs up the works! All we have to do is pick one, be attentive, and practice, practice, practice!

 

This month get ready to watch the wily mind as it goes through its twists and turns, like a cartoon villain that sets off the fuse of the gunpowder trail far from the dynamite yet still gets burned each time! Through lojong, we practice redirecting the thought patterns of the mind from constant focus on needs of the individual self to the clear wisdom of the universal Self. This is a broader perspective that recognizes our needs but is not controlled by them. Pick one slogan to work with each day, each week, or all month. Practicing even one of these slogans can help us follow our patterns back through all the permutations to the source. There, we can begin to see what drives our mind and how to reclaim our power from unhelpful habits (and avoid lighting a few fuses that may explode in our face along the way!) Practice in this case may not make perfect, but it can make sure we don’t give up before we grow up to our full amazing potential. That is where we will discover our awakened heart <3

 

Pema Chodron has recommended 19 lojong slogans out of the 59 as representative of the essence needed in our training routine at http://www.lionsroar.com/dont-give-up/.  It’s a great reference with just enough explanation to be clear without confusing! Scroll through the list, when one grabs your attention, start there. More in-depth discussion of Lojong, can be found in “Start Where You Are” by Pema Chodron as well as many other resources on shambala.org and Buddhist texts.

Subject of the Month Oct 2016 ~ The Subtle Body

The Subtle Body ~ October 2016 Subject of Month

 “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious – it is the source of all true art and science. ~ Albert Einstein

The idea of the subtle, or energetic, body takes some getting used to for many people. If you came upon yoga as I did- for strength and flexibility, to unwind, or even to learn to quiet the mind a bit-  it wasn’t hard to get a feel for these benefits of yoga with just a little time invested.  I noticed I was stronger, more flexible, my mood was better, and intellectually it all made sense! But when teachers started to talk about the seemingly mystical energetic blueprint of the subtle body, I, as many students, didn’t know where to turn for a reference point, or what to make of it. Resistance came up in the places this practical, comforting science met a kind of “yogaspeak” that made little sense to me.

As a story or a metaphor, I could understand how the map of the subtle body was useful as a tool. Even as the idea sounded fantastically appealing, this vast system with channels of light, vibrational vortexes, sheathes and spirals, its actual existence as a highly developed structure was foreign to me. Coming from a background of hard science, I was used to not accepting something I could not validate through proven research or experience, and I didn’t have enough of either at this point to get past my skepticism. Resistance came up as I didn’t know what I had to believe in this. Luckily for me, my wonderful teacher, Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati, allowed me to put the whole dilemma aside with one precise statement: “You don’t have to believe anything I say about anything, as a matter of fact I much rather you question it all and find out for yourself!”   Ahhhh…something a research scientist could get to work on!

As any good scientist, I began my exploration of the unknown with what I did know, my asana practice. It is said the asana practice is not to be underestimated as a tool for strengthening and opening the channels of the subtle as well as the physical body. When I experimented, I found it is exquisitely designed to do just that, and that it does it well and we can feel it. Each asana shapes the physical and energetic body into a unique yantra, a full body experience that opens us to prana, the force in the breath that vibrates with consciousness. It is truly a marvelous practice that includes but is not limited to the physical body, and through it I discovered my direct connection to the subtle body. Many can begin here, simply by feeling the rasa (loosely described as the mood or atmosphere in the body) during each asana as well as the physical shape. Becoming curious about the physical or mental shifts that deepen the rasa and the ones that diminish it can constantly inform of skillful directions of movement. This connects a practitioner more deeply to their relationship with the underlying force field of the subtle body.

As I continued as a student of yoga and began more diverse practices, I became even more curious about the noticeable shifts in my demeanor, mood and outlook on life. I felt different, and others said I looked different. Still far from perfect, I was evolving in a way that allowed me to feel more aligned with this mysterious energy that lightened life and provided support and clarity when needed. It became apparent that what were once the mystical practices that I resisted, were in fact now fueling this transformative relationship between body and mind, allowing both to be more clear, resilient and strong. In retrospect this is not surprising as these ways in which to clean, strengthen and expand the subtle body and their profound effects have been described by many texts and teachers from many different traditions of yoga for thousands of years. Still, experiencing is believing in yoga and in the experience I gained my understanding. I have become content to let some of it remain mystical to me. The sweetness is better assimilated by the wholeness of the luminous mind, not endlessly analyzed. The mysterious indeed had become to me the most beautiful part of the art and science of yoga.

Enjoy learning about the different ways we map and describe the subtle body this month. Through the koshas, the channels, the chakras, and the vibrational field of the body. simply feel what you feel and remain curious. Explore the practices in asana, pranayama, kriya, visualization, and meditation that point toward your mysterious subtle body. Take it all in, and by all means, don’t believe a word anyone tells you about what you have to feel or think about it.  Find out for yourself!

September 2016 – Subject- Myths of Yoga

shiva and sati
B. K. S. Iyengar said that the study of yoga is not about mastering posture; it’s about using posture to understand and transform yourself. Myths can be a portal into understanding our inner worlds and our potential for transformation. These wonderful stories of enlightened beings, human, animal, god and goddess, provide a source of inspiration and precise information so we can learn from those that have striven against injustice, soared beyond their known, and fell down only to rise again- bigger, stronger, smarter and faster.
The beautiful language, expansive imagery and larger-than-life feats in the stories of yoga encourage us to truly embody the asanas, both physically and energetically. We get a deeper feel for what is required, delving into the taste, touch, form and shape of them through the stories of how they were born. We feel the fierce strength of a warrior rising in justice in defense of a woman, the courage of a friend taking an impossible leap for one whom he loves, the exquisite compassion of a wise healer and teacher who declines being released from suffering until all beings around her do not suffer any longer. Through these myths, we connect to the shared and deep human yearning to immerse in something greater than our own needs and wants. Once we touch this yearning, we can begin to transform our energies more and more into creating a personal map toward service and our own leaps of faith, courageous stands, and beautiful dances of love.

Enjoy story time for September as we head into class to be schooled by the ancient rishis. The encoded lessons in these myths are truly allegories for what it takes to fully fill out our poses on the mat for sure, but more importantly, they point to what it takes to fully fill out our place in our life.

August 2016-Subject- Bhagavad Gita, Yoga for When “I Just Can’t” Isn’t Good Enough.

THE BHAGAVAD GITA ~ YOGA for when “I JUST CAN’T” ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH

Krishna_Arjuna_Wallpaper_g0mp2

At a local festival the other day, I watched, along with thousands of other music lovers, as one of the featured artists came out on stage and rather than singing, began a rather convoluted, disjointed and extensive rant. To paraphrase, he asked what the bleep was going on, how the fans could even be there at the show supporting entertainment (which he classified as stupid and meaningless) with all that was going on in the world. He questioned the intelligence of those that bought his songs and snapped at those that clapped in response to one point by telling them they should not applaud, to just try listening for once and taking one moment to try to understand what was going on around them. He left the stage after half-heartedly piecing together a couple songs, not staying even half the allotted time, saying “I’m sorry, that’s all I can do today.”  The perplexed crowd stood in a mixed state, some disparaging, some sympathetic and some wondering what just happened. At the heart of it, whether performance art, breakdown or genuine angst, it was an emotional display most of us can relate to these days as the world ignites around us and tension escalates in ourselves. The question becomes, as we are confronted seemingly everyday with news of more violence, hatred and ignorance, how do we find what we need to show up in matters of life, both big and small, when we feel that it’s just too much, we just can’t.

This dilemma is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, the Bhagavad Gita told the story of an archer named Arjuna, who froze on the top of a hill, overwhelmed by the task at hand that was his alone to do and said the very same thing to his charioteer, “I just can’t”. Racked by despair and confusion, and even though thousands were relying on him to act, no action seemed possible in the enormity of what was going on around him. Lost in the endless cycles of a mind steeped in doubt and controlled by fear, he enumerated the reasons eloquently and convincingly as to why he could not do what was needed of him that day.  As it happened, his charioteer in the story is Krishna who, as an avatar of Vishnu, is wisdom and divine love embodied. Krishna listened, and in response to Arjuna’s litany, provided the reasons why “I just can’t” is not good enough when life requires us to act. The teachings in this epic poem have become one of the most renowned works of philosophy in the world, providing the framework for how we can find what is needed to act skillfully and decently in accordance with our dharma and the flow of consciousness under the most difficult of circumstances. The practical applications can be learned as we consider three of the aspects of yoga detailed in the text-  jnana, karma and bhakti yoga.

Jnana yoga is the yoga of knowledge. The ultimate knowledge is understood to be the realization that the universal Self is eternal, unthreatened, unchanging and divine. However as this is not our experience in the messiness of everyday life, we get caught and confused in the constant chatter and urgings of the unchecked mind which always focuses on the “I, me and mine”. How do we step through this self-serving chatter to the strength needed to stand against the ignorance, violence and intolerance that is gaining more of a foothold in the world, especially when those actions require us to look and move outside the comfort of our familiar views of ourselves and the way the world is.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us the most important thing is to be vigilant in watching what our thoughts are telling us when we are despondent, afraid, overwhelmed or feel threatened. We have more than enough to work with here in the current world – watching our thoughts escalate when we see or hear a political viewpoint with which we strongly disagree or agree. Seeing the thoughts behind our different reactions when something tragic happens to someplace or someone with which we identify, as compared to when it seems far removed from our own life. In being vigilant, we can begin to see the tricky ways our own story lines and fears can supersede and obscure any clear and legitimate understanding of what is needed. We may not know immediately what to do, but at least we understand that when we are reactive, we do not have the state of mind necessary to be clear in our next step.

Karma yoga is the yoga of action. We may not always feel we have a divine charioteer to guide our actions, but we do have vast access to knowledge and support. We can educate ourselves about the issues so we know fact from rhetoric. We can connect with those that have made a difference in an area we care about, and ask what we can do to help. We can take one small step outside our comfort zone to act or speak in support of those people that are dismissed or diminished because they are not deemed important enough. Inaction when our action is needed is said in the Gita to have major karmic repercussions, and any effort and action on our part that increases love, justice, decency and unity is never wasted. This becomes our ground, we do not have to succeed in our efforts, but we do have an obligation and karmic responsibility to show up fully and try.

Bhakti yoga is a celebration of selfless service of the divine. It cuts the chatter of the “I””, me and mine” mindset right out of the process. See the divine in anything that you know uplifts the capacity for kindness, justice, equality, and respectful communication in yourself and in the world and orient your actions toward moving closer to and serving that. With a commitment to watching the mind and skillful action, answer the call to move beyond your known comfort zone when it breaks through the chatter. It is often not easy, but you may find what your divine charioteer is guiding you toward if you stay the path. We will never know what we are capable of doing unless we are courageous enough to recognize and step through those mind moments of “I just can’t” and actually try.

July 2016- Subject of the Month- Sat-chit-ananda, Freedom of Choice(lessness)

We are what we choose!
Janis Joplin sang “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”. From a yogic perspective, she is on to something! In our life-long search to feel happy and free, we strive to add on many things, but the real freedom comes in when we begin to let go.
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When we are very young, most of our choices are controlled by others. This is for safety, for convenience, and to adhere to the norms of the family, culture and society in which we are raised. Without realizing it, we are deeply assimilating many belief systems on how we should act, look and think. And we begin to fear that we have a whole lot to lose (at least in terms of approval) if we don’t make choices that align with these early lessons, some being beautiful and useful, and some not so much as we continue to grow as individuals.

As we reach our teenage years we begin in a natural way to want to separate from this control, longing for liberation, to be free to choose for ourselves. In the process to establish our own identity, we make some good choices and some bad choices and we begin to understand that with freedom to choose comes responsibility for our choices. This supports growth when we let these lessons inform us and do our best to be accountable for what we have set in motion with our thoughts, actions and words. But many times we find it difficult to fully make or own our choices even as adults, especially when what we truly want clashes or gets buried by these internalized belief systems of what it means to be successful, attractive, intelligent, talented, worthy. As we mature as beings of consciousness, our deeply ingrained desire for approval constantly collides with our longing to experience a self not so defined by expectation and societal/cultural norms.

Far from feeling liberating, freedom to choose now can carry a lot of weight if we keep selecting more and more of the same life experiences that support  how we “should be” over who we “really are”, or not shifting our course when some choices no longer serve. This fear-based process can have us feeling trapped in aspects of the life fabric we have woven for ourselves, and not feeling very happy much of the time. So where do we find that freedom for which we long? Use the getting tired of this constant struggle as a juggernaut to choose a new way of doing things.

Ditching all our responsibilities (though perhaps appealing!) will not give us the long term ease and happiness for which we yearn. As yoga practitioners however, exploring where we  fully show up in life by examining and owning our choices can begin to give some ease in this dynamic as we learn more and more about ourselves and our fears. Defending “my truth” becomes more informed in the space of a more eternal, universal truth. We learn how we might operate more fully present in our lives if we use each choice as an opportunity to learn what scares us, what excites us and what bores us and by not dismissing any of these out of hand. We can simply begin to examine each choice as an opportunity to move closer to what we truly long for, and make that a priority again and again in our words, actions, and yes, even which of our our thoughts we listen to.

It is often not easy as we challenge the constant chatter of these ingrained belief systems, but it is necessary for any true individual growth.  It takes commitment, honesty and maturity, but it is doable as a life game-changer as we identify the fears that limit us, and courageously choose something else that allows us to move toward a fresh and responsive way of living, and ultimately less conflict and more happiness.
Freedom of choice eventually dissolves into the freedom of choicelessness. This liberated state comes as we practice making conscious choices (and seeing where we don’t)  so consistently, that it becomes natural in us. Like a top athlete or musician, seemingly without having to decide, we simply and effortlessly know and do what best serves in the moment (from a yogic perspective, what is most highly aligned with consciousness and serves the greatest good). We still may not get the result we want every time, but we know we did our best in that given situation and are content in that.
Seems impossible? We have all had the experience when in that one certain moment we have instantaneously known just what to say or do and it was exactly what was needed! We all have the capacity in us to operate like this and  share a basic human longing to join these moments in life to a sustained state of happiness and freedom, of sat-chit -ananda. This is loosely translated to be a kind of “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” a pointer to our natural state of being whole, eternal and one with consciousness, free from the fear and struggle from which we used to make our choices. In sat-chit-ananda, we have nothing left to lose …the fear of knowing and expressing ourselves as we are is gone, and our natural radiant state is shining brilliantly through, inclusive, undefended, open-hearted, clear and loving.  We do not merely feel, but truly are, free.
Om Ananda Om Ananda Om Ananda Sat Chit Ananda