Sankalpa and planting seeds

ImageSeeds. Every seed has a miracle inside. When a seed planted is in fertile ground, given space time and necessary elements it sprouts and grows. This happens according to certain principles but still there remains the miracle that each seed knows what it’s meant to be. Not so for us. We often get confusing and conflicting messages , maybe even from the time we were embryos: While each cell knows what it’s function or purpose is, when we come out into the light and onto the earth we seem to lose our way.

There needs to be receptive ground for any seed to be fertilized and grow. That’s part of our Yoga practice. Noting what seeds we want to plant, preparing the terrain and then nurturing or observing even if what we observe is that we can’t see the growth. Seeds also need a period of dormancy before they’re ready to transform.  Sankalpa, our intentions or goals, are seeds. It takes more than a bit of patience and a dream for the future to plant seeds and nurture them to grow. In the garden of the mind we must do some tilling to sow new seeds. What we reap we sow. We hope that what we desire will grow but often see that it’s our fears that grow like weeds planting conflicting seeds, vikalpa, that take root and don’t allow the desired seed to grow.

To help my seed flower, I created a Mandala: flowermandala                                                          intersecting circles drawn with a compass which for me represent the inter-connectedness of the various parts of my life. What I love about this simple figure is that it starts with a bindu, a point in the center of a blank page. Then it takes form as the circles are drawn. But then, depending on what I color, different shapes or forms emerge. I like to do this exercise every once in a while as I plant new seeds.  Also, there’s something very satisfying somehow in coloring and seeing the form step by step appear starting from the bindu at it’s center.

It’s hard work and sometimes painful to cultivate and grow our sankalpa and weed out those vikalpas . We fear both not getting what we want, or need, and losing what we have. Even as we see again and again that clinging is a form of violence counter to the fundamental principle of yoga non violence, Ahimsa .  Sometimes we habitually cling to what we know, causing ourselves pain while seeking the pleasure of security of the known because we’re afraid to die to our current self.  At least I do.

The sutras, which come from the same root as suture to bind together , help us to see the connections between our thoughts action and experience as well as leading us step by step on a journey of transformation. I’m just a beginning student in the Sutra even though I’ve been doing yoga over 35 years. It’s nice to be a beginner and learning continues, yoga having prepared the ground from rocky soil where it was difficult for things to take root to more fertile ground.

The Klesha begin with avidya , ignorance . We identify with the form, asmita ,seeking pleasure, raga, and avoiding pain, dvesha . The false identification of self with form or body creates fear of death, abhinivesah. But, just as the caterpillar dies to it’s caterpillar self and becomes a butterfly , a seed must break open and in a certain sense die to live, to fulfill it’s Dharma or destiny. While it’s true that we practice acceptance we also have the option, or maybe even the necessity to change.   Life is change.  Growing, letting go, transforming and sometimes dying even as we live before the final moment of transition.  I know that I have at times felt a sense of resignation about my flaws, even pleasure in saying “Well, that’s just the way I am.”  I used to call it the “I’m syndrome.” Yoga practice is in part observation, in part examination ,  seeking the company of people who are seeking to know the light and the guidance of a teacher who has walked the path… and walks the way they talk…. Hopefully in a light-hearted though serious manner.

As Autumn is here ,  I start this ‘school year’.  I rejoice in the changing colors and the beauty of the falling leaves.janefall2  I cry a bit at the changing landscape of my face.  I am aware of habits I have, some of them seem good others less so. When I seek to create new awareness, I find  both a need to become conscious , to make a choice and to change what I can in my actions and to let go of results .  To plant some new seeds I have to also pull out the weeds. Have you ever noticed that they grow without any help? I practice svadyaya, self examination to see what it is I want to grow, which direction to take and what actions might lead me towards or away from realizing the sankalpa. Also to ask myself if it’s in alignment with Dharma, the purpose of my life.   The flowering of potential…flowers

We share in yoga, so I’m sharing with you that I’ve planted a sankalpa and without being specific as to what or how, I can already see how unseen forces are coming together to move me in directions I hadn’t thought to go. It’s all an adventure. I put up the mandala in our kitchen where it makes me smile and reminds me that to breathe life into my intentions takes action… and also willingness to play, to be curious as a child and vigilant yet playful as a maturing human.  While exploring new horizons every once in a while there is in current text lingo a sense of “omg!”…. At the wonder and beauty of the creative force .

Keep your sankalpa to yourself , it’s to be shared only with a trusted friend or teacher until you see it bloom, but if you do a mandala and want to share it please post it!

Recognize the beauty in all things and you become what you perceive .  Or to paraphrase an old song by Ray Stevens, “Everything … and everybody’s beautiful in their own way.”     Find your way to flower, you’re beautiful.    Om Namaste

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Om is where the heart is.

ImageThe first day I arrived at the Himalayan Institute I saw two beautiful caterpillars walking cross my path, one black with a vibrant red stripe, a holly bear caterpillar, the other silvery grey, shimmering in the morning sun. I don’t recall having ever seen caterpillars like these and I thought, they are not only beautiful when they transform into butterflies but also sensuously slithering, undulating along the way to their destiny.

The days are shortening and I am home in Trieste. I find that between jet lag and old ideas though I’m happy to be where I am there’s still a fair amount of wishing and wanting to be somebody… other than who I am. I feel once again like the caterpillar but now not so much longing to become a butterfly as to weave a cocoon to let the transformational cells within work to reveal the next form . I am inching my way along the road me towards what I hope is my Dharma, my life’s path, certainly guided along the path created by Karma, my actions and reactions. It continues to be a constant sorting out, weaving threads together while at the same time snipping off loose ends or strands that tie me to my past.

Neti neti, not this not that- No-Where is home till I’m at home inside myself.

The sutras say that with discernment we begin to distinguish what is real from what is unreal. In the changing tides of feelings this is a challenge. Feelings may not be facts but they certainly feel real. And reacting to the changing circumstances of one’s life with grace is not always , in my own experience graceful. I seem to flounder around with same ole same ole more than I’d like given the amount of time I’ve been practicing Yoga . I continue to see the Beginner’s mind in the enthusiasm to explore but also as though I keep walking the same ground. This can feel discouraging.

Once again I apply the principles of observation, witnessing the scene in the latest drama, or comedy… or soap opera that I call my life. Now maybe there’s a bit of the root of the problem there the My of life. “Oh my,” she cried in dismay, “here I am again, again.”  Well, recycling garbage may be a good thing but it does take energy and discernment not to get caught up in the muck.

“It’s a rainy day I cry, the sun will never shine again. A bright and sunny day I smile, now I feel content.” What’s wrong with this picture? People show up for class or call me for privates, I’m a good teacher. People disappear and I feel concern that I have somehow mistakenly not given them what they needed instead of holding fast to the principle that my job is to give people tools so that they no longer need me. In other words, making it all about ‘me’. Many years ago I learned that if I am not teaching from my ego I am happy to share with whoever is there or even to practice alone but the ego is a fragile thing needing, it seems constant care and attention so as not to feel diminished but also not to feed upon itself. And so with trust and a certain amount of trepidation I find that I am still on my own little wheel spinning tales.

We seek in Yoga, to diminish the power of Asmita, ego, and to expand our experience of that which is eternal? There is the promise ( sutra 1.16) , “Drgdarsana saktyoh 
ekatmata iva asmita” , When there is no longer false-identification , confusing the nature of the seer or Self with the nature of the instrument of perception, the ‘seeker’ will no longer be disturbed by the distracting and ever-changing influences within and around .” I wish I had more equanimity but recently I was taught other than , “This too shall pass,” that even Dukha, the suffering of change , is part of the divine. In other words to quote the Bard, “There is no good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Dukha, has the literal meaning of bad axel hole, so the wheel falters or doesn’t turn smoothly. It’s opposite is Sukha, which we’ve seen means sweet and can also be the sweetness of acceptance that as long as we are human we will continue to see through a veil rather than seeing the true self. My looking glass is still a bit cloudy and prone to showing false images or asking “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all.” In other words, old ideas and images die hard but when I stop looking for and start looking with , behind my eyes the light shines and I can see a new horizon and the promise of Yoga, “Freedom from the bonds of self.” The caterpillar cannot fly but it is a beautiful thing just as it is . When it is time to transform it does, and not a minute sooner. For now I’m back to the Second Sutra, Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodha, citta all that is mutable in human beings and 
vṛitti , thoughts rippling on the surface which distort the view of the depths of the still , tranquil sea of Nirodha,when one is no longer the sea or the waves or that which rides the waves but everything… and nothing. Turns out that the wooly bear is an Isabella Moth when it matures. So much for butterfly stories, but sprouting wings all the same.Image

Until I reach the state of Nirodha, I will practice compassion for my humanity and ride the waves of change with a certain “Yi ha, oh my oh my oh my….” till I get to “OM” and there to coin a variation on an old phrase, “Om is where the heart is.”

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Sweet, Firm delight in yoga

lamp

Yoga is a lamp lit from within the heart and soul of the person practicing. It is also passed along or shared teacher to student, yogi to yogi. Once lit, we can perceive what is shadow and what is real, dancing with the shadows into the light all with alertness and trust.   (Painting: Ed Pahr)                          

Patanjali sutra 2.46 Sthirasukhamasanam                                                                                    

Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation.                                   In all areas of our life, Sthira and Sukha, firmness with compassion or sweetness are good principles to apply… not just to buying fruit but to enjoying the fruits of yoga, pranayama and finding the sweet, firm stillness of meditation and being present for the gift of each and every moment.

Sthira is defined as steadiness ness and alertness. Sukha is relaxation or the sweetness when we release effort. Both are part of Yoga. One of the many definitions of Hatha Yoga is the yoga of force. We know that to move into any position, it is necessary to exert some effort. Some action must be taken. When we meet with obstacles it depends upon our state of perception as to whether we need to relax back , perhaps practice more or find another way or to exert a little extra effort to overcome. The last is generally more dangerous than the first because often when we meet our obstacles, they are both physical and mental often with an emotional component as well so we go to war with our selves. A primary principle of yoga is Ahimsa, non violence . Often we find that by standing still and observing the right action is revealed. Sometimes, it even allows the apparent obstacle to soften or yield so that we come into relationship other than adversarial with that part of ourselves. This is very sweet.

In teaching this principle I was reminded that succo in Italian is the juice of the fruit. It got me thinking that the fruit is best picked when it is still firm but not hard, when the flesh of the fruit yields a bit to the touch the fruit will be juicy and sweet. Just so in our yoga practice to get the Sukha, the sweetness of balance between effort and release. The word Sthira brings to mine stirare, to iron out the wrinkles . In a certain sense we must be firm yet gentle, have just the right amount of heat in order to stirare our wrinkles. Our joints tend to stiffen and creak when there’s not enough juice and muscles need to have the wrinkles, or kinks ironed out to lengthen and support as well as being able to either tense or relax as needed to move or be still and know that “I am…”   But still, not to take ones’s self too seriously, we had a good laugh because of my pronunciation when students asked me if I meant zucca, or pumpkin.  Well, I was talking about the light within and we do often scare ourselves with the faces we make or see and the masks we wear so maybe that’s another lesson for All Hallow’s Eve, we come in all shapes and sizes but all have a light within.

jackolantern

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React or respond?

 

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Reagire o rispondere… to react or respond.  Reagire,  is to go on the same spinning wheel, girare,  where as rispondere offers other possibilities.  The Hardest  yoga to practice: Relationships.  For me, to react is instinctual and useful in life threatening situations producing the fight or flight instinct .  However it is less useful in continuing to have relationships and in growing in my own capacity for tolerance of difference , accepting that there is a force or power or consciousness working on levels I cannot see and often do not understand and that my experience at best is still in the world of appearances, Maya or illusion filtered through my Samskara, patterns set in this or other lifetimes.

It is a classic of Yoga teachers or for that matter anyone to need practice what we preach because we don’t always  walk the way we talk.  But, no finger-pointing here so I’ll say…Though I do my best but sometimes seem to react as though someone were threatening my life, becoming defensive rather than curious to see their side.  I sometimes feel jealous .  I get confused with standing for principles, wanting to be right and wanting to be liked.  I find the world beautiful and in conflict at the same time, often feeling powerless as I look at the lack of peace in the world.  I want to blame them, the politicians or people in power like business etc but the only place I know to look is inside  to try to see what part of ‘me’ is greedy, wants power, thinks to be in the right.

Fortunately for me, my battles are small.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the direct line to Krishna the way Arjuna did in the Mahabharata.  My own inner voice is sometimes like the team of wild voices or unclear.  But if I sit silently, with an inner smile and wait to be called to action I do less harm.  However, Arjuna still had to fight for his principles though he wanted to withdraw, and so do I.  Or at least to stand firm, seeking to be open and accept whatever knowing this too shall pass.

My life at the moment is tranquil, mostly except for the inner storms but the world is not.  As I prepare to go first to New York City then on to the Himalayan Institute in Pennsylvania for 10 days of Tantra yoga practice I reflect, they seem very different but both good place to enjoy and practice yoga.  When I do my practice, I feel less at the effect of my habitual patterns of reacting and more in the flow of responding so looking forward to the next phase of the journey.  I need to do a lot of practice!  Let’s do it together to find where our rough edges rub up against each other and let that polish the diamond so it shines and reflects light rather than cutting, except to cut through the illusion.  The Diamond sutra is in Hridya, the heart where true wisdom is so for a moment, let’s close our eyes together and feel the breath and lightness there. Om namaste.

To reflect upon:  “The world is an ocean of bliss, my body is but an island.” Shankara

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Hanuman: Living… and leaping… between two worlds.

Screen shot 2013-09-14 at 4.37.48 PM

As I’ve said , “The pose is not the point.” But, it is often a place to start to explore and connect.  Hanumanasana connects the future and the past in one moment,  stretching forward and back while rising up from a firmly planted base with an open heart to fly.  Hanuman leaped between two worlds to moving mountains and battling forces that would pervert love to an act of possession. He’s a monkey faced deity, who serves Rama, the light with all his force carrying the image of Rama and his divine hanumanheartconsort Siva, a manifestation of Lakshmi the Divine Mother and a symbol of prosperity and creativity, or abundance.

Those on a spiritual path will find that as long as we are embodied, we live between two worlds. Sometimes the stretch is almost impossible. I am not going to talk about the asana or even the legend, just use the image to explore. We all seek to thrive not just survive and well, for that we each in so far as it is possible seek the environment where this is possible. Not every one of course has the luxury of choice and really we all just try to do the best we can at any given time or place.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage…” We all play many parts in our lifetimes . One of the yogic questions is to ask “Who am I? ” When I was acting it was my experience that losing myself in a role was often a way to find new horizons but not to step off the edge into indulgence, always maintaining a certain awareness. This is akin to witness consciousness where acting is less for show than for expressing a deeper truth. Life is for living and Karma Yoga is action. We are born into this world and play our parts. Some of us are lucky enough to find something beyond fulfilling roles called Dharma, our destiny.

Somewhere as we emerged from that infinite sea of Purusha, potential, into Prakriti , manifestation we moved from Buddhi divine intelligence to Chitta ,illusion , Manas , the senses, and The Ahamkara or the “I- maker” . I’ll leave that evolution to more expert explanations except to say that maybe the capacity for awareness was the original function but we humans are great forgetters and separated ourselves completely from source in an attempt to become independent, instead finding just the opposite has happened. That’s just a theory of mine that there’s a right sized awareness of self that is not the inflated ego of I, me, mine which is appropriate for a healthy two-year old discovering itself but not so helpful or healthy for a grown human. Ego is quick to assume credit and assign blame , “My way is the right way …”, while I believe the real “I” is without preference, or back to the earlier discussion a human… being.

In this sense, there are many paths to the center. My own is a blending of Christian mysticism and Tantra Yoga. The Christ is in a certain sense, Rama.  It is the light in each and every one of us and when illumined is divine. Not that I expect or even claim to be close to that but it seems in our current world as I once heard, “Christ has a lot of fans but very few followers.” As near as I can see, there are many roads to the center and many paths may cross without it being necessary to be the one and only one.  Meantime, let’s be kind to one another even those we don’t ‘like’.

Tantra is defined by Rod Stryker in The Four Desires is “That which allows us to safely expand or grow beyond limitation.” Tantra is defined as weaving, “to weave the richness of spiritual experience and everyday life into a single vibrant tapestry.” This tapestry is called Indra’s net where as each strand is woven there is a brilliant jewel reflecting all the other strands. It is also the toolkit or methods which will help us to touch the real nature of who we are and to move towards fulfillment of divine destiny or Dharma. Ultimately it is from this reuniting, a dissolving of self into other while at the same time finding one’s self,  that we experience love.

When we step out of the spotlight and become or experience that we are light itself then something magic happens . We see who we really are and maybe who ‘they’ really are.  Then there’s no more us and them. At least that’s the theory.

hanuman1

In the meantime, we can find delight  as well as challenge, stretching from the inside out and dancing on the edge between darkness and light without  fear, or even with it,  in this theater of life. Practice Hanumanasana, not the splits of the asana but the leap between two worlds  opening your heart to the light .

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Life is for living, considering all…

bridgethegapUrdhva dhanurasana is fun and full but in the wheel of this lifetime, life is for living not posing… and sharing in loving consideration of all living beings as part of the fabric woven and rewoven through eternity as Indra’s Net.

The important thing is not what pose you do but rather letting go of the image of who we think we are while at the same time nurturing and growing in relationship to All.  No backbend will do it, the bridge we must build and continue to maintain is that which stretches from within our hearts , heart to heart, mind to mind, being to being.  That is built in the silent sacred place of being.  The inner cave of the heart meditation  is a good place to start: you can find that meditation online or just look in your own.cave

Sometimes the gap between human and being seems to be an insurmountable barrier or an uncrossable chasm.  We build a bridge with conscious action.  If in fact, as yoga says we are all one, then the apparent space between us is in fact part of that one.

Life is indeed a koan, a riddle , but living it to the fullest as an expression of the creator, creating  and sharing the space is a gift.

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Human being, an oxymoron

bloomIs the term or compound word human being an oxymoron: words which when connected are incongruous or contradictory like dry rain, sweet pain or make haste slowly?  Human, a limited finite form .  Being , essence and infinite.  Yes , it would seem that it’s an oxymoron this human being.  As we are born we descend to the earth and  take on the form which we identify as ourself.  It appears to be separate from all the other ‘selfs’ around.  Yoga says this is maya, illusion and yet it’s a pretty darn convincing appearance we call reality.  In meditation there is a sense of dissolving the boundaries and experiencing the infinite eternal omniscient essence , being present in and yet not of this world.  When we experience this , with time we begin to bridge the gap between human and being, but we definitely make haste slowly.  The faster we run in our lives of getting somewhere and seeking to be somebody, the farther we seem to be away from that deep reservoir of being.  But, the good news is that it is nearer to us than hands and feet, as close as our breath.  We we stop for a moment to drink for the eternal spring in meditation we are refreshed, the dry ground becomes lush and fertile.  We call lit Prana Shakti, that which rises up from the unseeable and  feeds the soul.  All worldly success is ultimately like dry rain, but the sweet pain of the realization of our impermanence as form and our infinity as being makes for a rich life.

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