Monday, January 30, 2012
Abby quoted the Tantrik scholar, Christopher Wallis, the author of the exquisite book, Tantra Illuminated: The Philosophy, History, and Practice of a Timeless Tradition, who defined this word as the highest state of consciousness "that is, wonder, or aesthetic rapture." Abby, in her newsletter describes this word as "the state of fully self-aware expansive wonder."
As I worked with the Anusara Yoga Universal Principle of Alignment of both "Muscle Energy" and "Organic Energy" in my yoga class this morning - I considered how if we draw in, and wrap ourselves in wonder - that in time, wonder would wrap itself around us, enabling us to embody both of these principles.
When we apply muscle energy to anything - we draw in and connect ourselves to that which matters and grounds us and feeds us. When we apply organic energy, we become expansive - but we never forget or stray far from our source or sustenance.
Looking at it another way, I invited my students to become expansive, like the waves of the ocean, but remembering to eventually come back to the shore. In our own growth and creativity, we venture forth - but we always return to that which fed us and nurtured us.
So yes - if we wrap ourselves with wonder and love and compassion - we become expansive and embody the very qualities we wrapped ourselves with. Only then can we shine them back out, so that they return, mirrored and reflected back to us. And so, in this process of reflection, these very qualities of wonder, love and compassion, wrap themselves around us!
We become what we strive to embody and what we practice. If we wish to cultivate a different trait, we simply "fake it until we make it!"
My themes often take the form of the repetition of a phrase in reverse order - a teaching technique known as "epanados" - one definition of which is the return to a topic or main point after a digression...
We shine out, we draw in... we ride the waves out to the sea, but eventually the waves come back to the shore...
Think for a moment of a quality or trait you wish to embody, and then just practice it. Someday you will shine it out - and it will be mirrored back at you!
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Arrien begins her book with this often quoted pearl of wisdom by Meister Eckhart:
is thank you, that would suffice."
The introduction contains such rich and wonderful material that fed my themes and comments in my classes this past week. If you wish to increase your gratefulness a thousand-fold - or even just ten times, this is the book for you. Let me end by sharing some of the wonderful insights from the Introduction to this book...
"Every language in the world has a way of saying 'thank you...'
Gratitude crosses all boundaries...
Gratitude is essentially the recognition of the unearned increments of value in one's experience...
The Latin root of the the word gratitude is grata or gratia - a given gift - and from this same root we get our word grace, which means a gift freely given that is unearned.
Gratitude is a feeling that spontaneously emerges from within. However...it is also a choice we make...
As writer Alexis de Tocqueville once described it, gratitude is 'a habit of the heart.' Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictan monk, reminds us that 'gratefulness is the inner gesture of giving meaning to our life by receiving life as gift...'
Gratitude is both a social and theological virtue...
Cicero argued that gratitude is the parent of all virtues...
Gratitude often ignites acts of generosity; we are moved to offer ourselves to others without expecting anything in return...
Blessings are the primary, cross-cultural portal through which we experience gratitude...
To bless is to sanctify; to recognize the presence of grace; to confer well-being or prosperity upon others; to endow or to invoke divine favor upon others or ourselves. Giving gratitude for our blessings is a way to recognize and honor them. John O'Donohue writes in his book, To Bless the Space Between Us, 'The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable...'
Blessings are gifts that open doors to healing, connection, meaning and transformation. Essentially, the world cannot exist without blessings."
To be grateful and to bless one another is powerful - beyond even our deepest comprehension. It binds us. And unites us. Let it be so. Let us be grateful for everything, for everything is a blessing in ways seen and unseen...
Friday, January 27, 2012
The morning began with some fog, but by the time I arrived at the river, the sun had started to shine and the fog had partially lifted. It almost seemed like it was hovering - somehow hanging on over the river - in suspended animation. Earlier this week, I went down for a quick peak of the river on a day that the fog was much more dense, and at that time the sky was virtually indistinguishable from the river. I love those moments when you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends. It reminds me of Infinity. Of the Divine. of Unity...
Observing the fog this morning reminded me of a teaching in yoga philosophy called the "malas." The malas are impurities that occlude our ability to see. Some of my yoga teachers have in the past used the analogy of dust on the mirror to explain them. We want to clear the dust off through our practices, in order to reveal our true essence.
There are three types of malas or impurities. Anava-mala impedes us from seeing our true nature, and so we have this tendency to perceive ourselves as incomplete. Mayiya-mala occludes our ability to see unity, and instead, we dwell in separation. Karma-mala refers to the bondage which results from our actions and the activity of the first two malas. So, to neutralize this last one, we must be able to recognize the Divine within us, but we must also be able to recognize the Divine in everyone else as well. Only then do we truly see and experience unity.
Of course, this is a very simplified explanation of very sophisticated teachings. But today, I realized, the river was speaking to me once again...
In the last couple of weeks - and most especially the last few days - I have examined my life, my teaching, my purpose, and my fundamental beliefs very carefully, as we begin this year of 2012. I have considered what my place in this world is - what my strengths are - and what they are not. Some of it was not easy to accept. For example, physically - I've had to accept the reality of where my asana practice and body are, and how it impacts on my teaching. On the other hand, the quieter practices have enriched my life very deeply, and these I can more adequately share.
I also examined how I want to spend my time and with whom. One of the things I decided to do, was to set aside regular time for the study of a diversity of subjects. And so, as a former theologian, I decided to go back and study things I wasn't able to do in graduate school, and also review recent scholarship in former areas of expertise. This week, I studied some of the Gnostic Christian texts and Tantra - and found myself looking at each subject through the lens of the other. It was actually quite fascinating to make connections which opened the doors to other explorations.
I also had the blessing and the privilege to openly engage in very vibrant and deep discussions with members of my yoga community about several very pertinent issues which enabled all of us to see a number of things with greater clarity. The very process of our discussions was addressing the malas on many different levels. I was in awe of the amazing insights and wisdom that were shared, and I was proud of my friends and colleagues and my community. I felt the bond between all of us - I felt the Unity.
And this morning at the river, as the fog was lifting, I realized it was a metaphor for the work I had recently done in my own life and the work being done collectively within my community. Attention was drawn - in both situations - to where the work was needed.
This morning, as I drove back home, after doing a Lovingkindness meditation, I had no doubt where I belonged. I had no doubt of who I was - and what I needed to do. I felt supported. And I felt blessed. All that remained, was to go out and share that!
Thursday, January 19, 2012
There is nothing
that is not me.
I read this quote a few days ago, and it was perfect in every way. It defined my weeks, and defined my days, so far this crucial year of 2012. And, it even showed up in my theme during my first week back to teaching yoga.
Since the holiday season ended, I have had the wonderful and delicious opportunity to make a slow re-entry back into daily activity, and I am grateful for the many wonderful opportunities to slow down. To be still. To enjoy solitude. And to be silent...
There have been cold days when I visited a wind-swept river or walked among barren trees in prayer. And even once, on that rare day, when snow flurries came down as well. There have been many moments of reflection. Punctuated by goal setting. Days of assessments made - with one day flowing seamlessly into the next.
I began my first week of classes by working the First Principle of Anusara Yoga - "Opening to Grace," as I usually do. The challenge, of course, is always to remain fresh while doing this.
Recently, I was talking to a friend and colleague of mine, about what our theme for the session was going to be. Usually, we have a very lively and insightful conversations. It seemed we were both leaning to having a whole session dedicated to opening to grace. As my friend noted, she had been very impressed with something that Ross Rayburn, an Anusara certified teacher had said to us, when he visited Willow Street Yoga Center, last year. He said, that his greatest openings in a practice came, when he opened to grace...
And so, I told my students during the first week, that when we open to grace, we soften and listen. And conversely, when we soften and listen, we are opening to grace. This opens the door to everything. It opens the door to transformation. Listening, is key.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said the following, in an interview for a documentary that I watched in the early 80's:
in the silence of the heart,
and we listen."
Yes, we listen. But it is always our choice to do so. And to respond as well...
Everything in our lives comes bringing a message - every person, every encounter, and every experience...
And so, in several weeks filled with animal dreams, or roosters and deers crossing the road in front of me, I was invited to listen to their messages in my life...
So I said to my students:
and if you deeply listen -
you will open the door to grace."
What do you need to hear? What do you need to know? What do you need to learn in this coming year? What do you need to embody?
Or not. Intuition comes in silence. And stillness. If you open to something bigger than yourself and soften - you surrender to it. It is no accident that one of the greatest prayers in Christianity, is referred to simply, as the Prayer of Surrender. So many saints and mystics have prayed variations of this prayer throughout the centuries. Being a product of Jesuit education, one of my favorites is the Prayer of St. Ignatius, here paraphrased:
all I have and possess.
You have given all to me,
and now I return it."
Be silent. Listen. And Open to Grace. And you will open the door to Miracles!
Sunday, January 8, 2012
On my way to teach a meditation introduction class at Willow Street Yoga, in Maryland, my heart was brimming with so much joy and well-being. I felt as fully present to each moment as I could possibly be, taking in every detail of my surroundingsl. I felt one with the trees in downtown Silver Spring - with every twig, and each and every color that I perceived looked so brilliant and radiant.
After a wonderful class, attended by some lovely people, I drove home, ambling up the bucolic Georgetown Pike, taking in the broad expanses of rolling hills and the beautiful landscape, in addition to the occasional horse here and there. All of a sudden, traffic came to a virtual stop on this two lane road. And as I looked ahead, I saw three roosters crossing back and forth on the road. One of them kept coming back, oblivious to the fact that traffic had stopped dead in its tracks. In any event, it put a broad smile on my face!
Then last night, I dreamed of worms all over the place - not a lot of them - just a few - but they were on my bed, and that definitely grossed me out.
A friend suggested today, that the roosters were a powerful totem. It occurred to me, that perhaps the worms were as well. Maybe they were both delivering messages to me. So, I took the time to look up what they signify:
"A Rooster brings enthusiasm and humor and a sense of optimism.
The Rooster is a totem of great power and mystery with ties to the ancient past and clues to your own hidden powers. It is the enemy of evil spirits and can bound them with the light of day.
When Earthworm appears, it is a time to work over all we have experiencing, a time to examine and digest what has occurred in our life. then we can cast off what is not beneficiary or necessary - clean house emotionally. This allows new growth.
Earthworm reminds us that no matter how small our efforts seem, we are reshaping the earth around us. The past influences the present and the future. Unless we recognize and acknowledge the past, we can repeat the same mistakes...
Earthworm reminds us that no matter how difficult thing might have been, new growth and new hope await us.
Earthworm teaches grown, regeneration, healing and reflection. He shows us to ground our spiritual and emotional sides to emerge transformed and renewed..."
Everything in your life comes bearing a message of some sort, if we have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear - every encounter, every experience, everything! Today - and everyday - give intent to listen a little deeper. It is part of my yoga theme for this coming week!
Thursday, January 5, 2012
It is said, that the energy on the birthday of a guru, spiritual teacher, or saint, is strong - and that the prayers we offer and the intentions we set on this day - are very powerful indeed. I have felt that in the past, and I felt it again this morning during my meditation and subsequent prayer.
Without disturbing the deep sense cultivated during that hour, I headed down to the river with a cup of coffee in tow. I had not visited my beloved river for a while, and when I arrived, no one else was there.
The riverbanks were frozen at the edges, but I could side step those thin areas quite gingerly so that I could survey the broad expanse of the river. It was wide. But not as wide as the heart of God, or the Love of God, I imagined...
Eventually, I walked up to the the high point, and from my perch I marveled that the river was not only as calm as I had seen it, but there was a clarity to the water that enabled me to see into its depths for about a third of the way across. I could see every boulder, rock, remains of a trunk and the occasional twig, here and there. I thought that if I stood there long enough, I might see a bass merrily swimming along, or watch a blue heron fly by me. But, that was not to be.
Instead, I was taken by the clarity and depth of the water, and the expansiveness between both shores. It was infinite. It reminded me of eternity. And of possibility...
Such is the mind and the soul of the one who is One with God! Such is the gift that arises from the fruits of meditation. I only hope to attain that in this lifetime...
As I reflected on my over-arching theme for this winter session's yoga classes, and particularly for the themes I was thinking of using the first and second weeks, I felt "plugged in" to the river, and it conveyed so many insights in a seamless stream of consciousness. It was simply beautiful.
I will share some of the beautiful readings from Yogananda's Spiritual Diary, beginning with an excerpt for today, his birthday, followed by others addressing the New Year, and finally by two selections from other sources that I read this morning which were both meaningful to me.
Today, take a moment to think of one of your spiritual teachers and connect with him or her. Ask for what you need, and be grateful for whatever comes...
"If I don't see you, remember I am working for you in some other place. My seeing you all the time will not necessarily help you. You will receive more by meditating deeply and regularly. I am not here only to help you in this life, but in the beyond also...
Choose which habits you are going to destroy in the New Year. Make up your mind about them and stick to your decision. Resolve to give more time to God: to meditate regularly every day..so you can feel your spiritual progress in God. Resolve...that you are going to control your appetites and emotions...
For the New Year my greatest wish and prayer for you is that you cast aside wrong habits of thinking and doing. Don't drag your bad habits into the New Year. You don't have to carry them with you... Leave behind all useless thoughts and past sorrows and bad habits. Start life anew!"
Watch the horizon for a glimpse of God's face."
"It takes trust to believe that right behind the illusion of all the things
you've been taught to accept as true,
lives the effervescent and glorious Reality of God
that shapes itself through your heart into the world of Love
and brings you the experience of Heaven on Earth,
as Heaven as the place you dwell,
of Heaven being the unlimited and joyful consciousness
of the whole in which every part of life
is yours to share, yours to love, and yours to rejoice
with in the miracle of abundant life.
It takes an active act of trust and faith
to make the choice for Love and abundance
and make it so deeply that it brings you joy,
that you can feel it as a reality so palpable
that the curtain of the ego plays parts
and you are standing in the world of Love."
"Messages of Love," Circle of Light, January 5, 2012
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
But as the year began, I realized that turning to wise friends would actually help me put them all behind, and so I did. Each one, offered words of wisdom and insight, that were similar to ones that had come to me in the silence of prayer and meditation, for it is there that God speaks.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, once said, during an interview for a documentary, that "God speaks in the silence of the heart, and we listen."
But the truth is, we make the choice - whether to listen or not - and whether to respond or not to the inner promptings of the heart...
As my analytical brain examined each situation from various vantage points, I came to see that there are many ways to look at each individual one. During meditation, I was able go to another plane and look at things from a distance, and remembered how Paramahansa Yogananda would often instruct, that our lives are lived on a stage. What happens is not as important as how we react to it all. In the end, God would consider how well we had played our roles. Our lives are fleeting after all, when one considers the incomprehensible vastness of eternity.
One dear friend reminded me, that there are so many different interpretations of reality. This, after I had read this quote from Pema Chödrön this morning:
"Seeing when you justify yourself and when you blame others is not a reason to criticize yourself, but actually an opportunity to recognize what all people do and how it imprisons us in a very limited perspective of this world. It’s a chance to see that you’re holding on to your interpretation of reality; it allows you to reflect that that’s all it is—nothing more, nothing less; just your interpretation of reality."
It was a beautiful reminder of our humanity and its flaws...
I shared with this friend, that intellectually I knew, that God forgives everything - in an instant. But that it is often much harder to forgive ourselves for our many failings.
I shared with another friend, whose family had been thrown their own curve ball at New Year's - a year begun with so much anticipation, followed by devastating news, how in the midst of all these set backs, and the challenges many were predicting for 2012, that it was important not to go to this place of fear - not be ruled by it - but instead - to radiate love in every way...
We all face our own challenges - each and every one of us. The four people I spoke to, each gave me an important insight - but each one also confirmed one that I had arrived at, because I had been listening, and praying, and waiting, and asking for answers...
God does speak in the silence of the heart, if we are willing to listen...
I realized afterward, I should have shared these events more readily, and on one of my prayerful walks, I sent blessings to many in need - those I have been asked to pray, those I have slighted, and those connected to me in deep suffering...
We can be bombarded by so much at times. But in my prayer, I gave intent - with God, Miraculous Mary, Yogananda, and all spiritual beings and teachers, guides and angels, ancestors - indeed, all who look out for me on the other side as my witnesses - to only meet - to the best of my ability - all waves of anger, negativity, and so forth with waves of love - sent out from the shores of my soul. May everything that I ever encounter be neutralized and united there - made ever one in God. I gave this intent - for this lifetime - for all lifetimes - and in between lifetimes - forever!
Sunday, January 1, 2012
As we begin this year, let us be enriched by these wise sayings and instructions by Paramahansa Yogananda, that they may indeed, provide a framework for us to chart our steps and this year's journey, enabling us to walk in the path of Light!
Make New Determinations: Be What You Want to Be!
by Paramahansa Yogananda
The following excerpts are from a talk given by Paramahansa Yogananda at the International Headquarters of the society he founded, Self-Realization Fellowship, on New Year’s Eve, 1934. The entire talk is published in Journey to Self-realization, Volume III of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Collected Talks and Essays. (Self-Realization Fellowship, copyright © 1997, Los Angeles; reprinted with permission.) For more information about the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, visit www.yogananda-srf.org.
"Make new determinations as to what you are going to do and what you are going to be in this next year. Set a program for yourself; carry it through, and you will find how much happier you will be. Failure to keep to your schedule of improvement means you have paralyzed your will. You have no greater friend and no greater enemy than yourself. If you befriend yourself, you will find accomplishment. There is no law of God preventing you from being what you want to be and accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Nothing detrimental that happens can affect you unless you sanction it.
* * *
Let nothing weaken your conviction that you can be whatever you want to be. There is no one obstructing you unless it be yourself. Though my master Swami Sri Yukteswarji again and again told me that, it was hard to believe it at first. But as I used the God-given gift of will power in my life, I found it to be my savior. Not to use the will is to be inert like a stone, an inanimate object—an ineffectual human being.
* * *
Constructive thought will absolutely, like a great hidden searchlight, show you the pathway to success. There is always a way to be found if you think hard enough. People who give up after a little while bedim their power of thought. In order to gain your end, you must do your utmost to use thought until it is luminous enough to reveal to you the way to your goal.
Cast away all negative thoughts and fears. Remember that as a child of God you are endowed with the same potentialities as the most excellent among men. As souls, none is greater than another. Attune your will to be guided by the wisdom of God as expressed in the wisdom of the sages. If your will is yoked to wisdom, you can achieve anything.
* * *
Bad habits are the worst enemies you can have. You are punished by those habits. They make you do things you do not want to do, and leave you to suffer the consequences. You must drop bad habits and leave them behind you as you move forward. Every day should be a transition from old habits to better habits. In this coming year make a solemn resolution to keep only those habits that are for your highest good.
The best way to get rid of your undesirable tendencies is not to think about them; do not acknowledge them. Never concede that a habit has a hold on you….You must develop “won’t” habits. And stay away from those things that stimulate bad habits.
* * *
Do not limit yourself with the narrowness of selfishness. Include others in your achievements and happiness, then you are doing the will of God. Whenever you think of yourself, think also of others. When you think of seeking peace, think of others who are in need of peace. If you do your utmost to make others happy, you will find that you are pleasing the Father.
To live in harmony, to live with strong will power to do the will of Him who sent you, is all you should be interested in. Never lose courage, and always be smiling. Have the smile of the heart and the smile of the face completely in harmony. If your body, mind, and soul register the smile of the inner consciousness of God, you can scatter smiles about you wherever you go.
* * *
Be always with people who inspire you; surround yourself with people who lift you up. Do not let your resolutions and positive thinking be poisoned by bad company. Even if you cannot find good company to inspire you, you can find it in meditation. The best company you can have is the joy of meditation.
* * *
Your cup of life within and without is filled with the Divine Presence, but because of the lack of attention you do not perceive God’s immanence. When you are in tune, as one tunes in a radio, then you receive Spirit. It is as if you take a bottle of sea water, cork it, and put it in the ocean; although the bottle floats in the waters, its contents do not mix with its oceanic surroundings. But open the bottle, and the water inside merges with the sea. We must remove the cork of ignorance before we can come in contact with Spirit.
* * *
Infinity is our Home. We are just sojourning awhile in the caravanserai of the body. Those who are drunk with delusion have forgotten how to follow the trail that leads to God. But when in meditation the Divine gets hold of the prodigal child, there is no dallying anymore.
Enter the portals of the New Year with new hope. Remember you are a child of God. It lies with you as to what you are going to be. Be proud that you are a child of God. What have you to fear? No matter what comes, believe it is the Lord who is sending that to you; and you must succeed in conquering those daily challenges. Therein lies your victory. Do His will; nothing can hurt you then. He loves you everlastingly. Think that. Believe that. Know that. And suddenly one day you will find you are immortally alive in God.
Meditate more and believe in that strong consciousness that God is always with you regardless of what happens. Then you will see that the veil of delusion will be taken away and you will be one with That which is God. That is how I found my greatest happiness in life. I am not looking for anything now because I have everything in Him. Never would I part with That which is the richest of all possessions.
This is my message to you for the New Year."