Showing posts from December, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love - Part III

More insights from this wonderful book to round out these entries and also the year... Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine... also a relationship - a play between divine grace and willful self effort. Half of it you have no control over; half of it is absolutely in your hands ,and your actions will show measurable consequences... On thoughts You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select what clothes you're gonna wear every day. This is a power you can cultivate... [This is] admitting...the existence of negative thoughts, understanding where they came from and why they arrived and then - with great forgiveness and fortitude - dismissing them... I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore... You may not come here anymore with your hard and abusive thoughts...all these will be turned away...This is a peaceful harbor, the entryway to a fine and proud island that is only beginning to cultivate tranquility...That is my mi

Eat, Pray, Love - Part II

The book Eat, Pray, Love has become quite a phenomena. I can't remember deriving so much pleasure from reading anything else in a long time. Oprah even did a show interviewing Elizabeth Gilbert in October 2007, and I know it was widely watched by fans of the book and many of my friends. In a yoga magazine recently, I noticed a retreat offering entitled: "Eat, Pray, Love, and Yoga." Sounds like my kind of retreat! Several months ago, a friend sent me an email where she compared several passages in the book and the invaluable insights it contained to Byron Katie's The Work. (See my blog entry "Letting Go: Take Two" for a reference and link to The Work ) The first passage she tackled was a discussion on the true purpose of soul mates, involving Richard and Elizabeth at the Ashram. In the next day or so, I want to share a couple of other passages that I also found elucidating and which speak to the general human condition. Whether or not we have had the

Eat, Pray, Love

There are few books I read over and over again. One of them is Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. And the other is - Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It has touched me deeply and profoundly since I first read it almost two years ago. Is there anyone out there who hasn't read this book? Give yourself a great gift and treat: read it! I've bought the book several times because some copies were never returned to me. I presently keep at least two copies at any given time - a clean, hardbound edition - and a paperback version which I have underlined extensively - particularly the section on India. Eat, Pray, Love addresses so much about the human condition on so very many levels. It is a veritable gold mine of insights, sage advice, and exquisite writing. There are sentences I would read and get so lost in, I could not proceed and would instead close the book and savor every word contained in it. I would like to share some excerpts from the section on India that

Many Drops, One Ocean

This beautiful explanation of our essential "oneness" comes from my friend Pat Donworth, and it will be featured on a web site she is about to launch. When I read it, I was struck by how clearly she articulated a concept that is often hard for us to grasp. We are more deeply steeped in our preconceived notions of separation than in our perceptions of the true meaning of union. The quotes that follow are also from her site: Many Drops, One Ocean "Imagine you and I are standing in the shallow waters of the Atlantic Ocean, here in Miami where I live. You dip your hand in the ocean and scoop up a palm full of water. Let's say that scoop of ocean water represents "you." Now I take my hand and scoop up a palm full of water and my scoop represents "Pat." We look down the beach and notice that every single person - hundreds, let's say - are scooping up water into their palms, and those scoops represent Harry, Jane, Rebekah, Thomas, Jim, and Orv

The Bullet and the Cross

One of the most unusual gifts I received this Christmas was a tiny cross that had been fashioned out of a bullet. I didn't know this at first, but I was drawn to this little cross immediately and placed it in a prominent place in my meditation and practice space. I asked my friend Kelly Cleveland, who had gotten it in Liberia while visiting a mission there, to tell me about its origins. She has graciously permitted me to share her thoughts surrounding this beautiful gift: "The little copper cross I gave you has amazing grace written all over it. If you turn it upside down and look at the bottom you will notice it is a shell casing from a bullet. It is from Liberia. During the last civil war, the bullets were so thick on the road that the people were able to scoop them up by the bucket full. The little bullet tells it all. Within it is contained all the pain, fear, guilt, sin, greed, hate, and murder that the people experienced - and then the freedom, forgiveness, love, f


The motto of the Visitandines - the Sisters of the Visitation Order founded in the 17th century by St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal - is to "Live Jesus - " in every thought, word and deed. I received a little card from the Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis, with a caption on one side that reads: "Wage Peace." On the other side it reads: Live+Jesus! Place yourself in the presence of God frequently throughout the day. Live in the present moment and accept all that happens as coming from God, as sent or allowed by God. "Learn of me for I am gentle and humble of heart." Practice the little virtues. God loves you unconditionally and invites you to love everyone unconditionally with God's love. Live out your call to be holy whatever your vocation. A fitting motto for anyone!

Christmas Day

From a couple of Christmas Cards... "In the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, was born in Bethelem..." (Liturgical Proclamation) This Christmas in a torn world, may you truly know He is Peace An Irish Prayer May the peace of Christ rest in your heart, the joy of Christ shine in your eyes, and the light of Christ brighten your path. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve

While setting up the Christmas tree this year, I found the program to the Midnight Mass I attended at St.Olaf's Church in Minneapolis in 1985, the year my son was born... In the beginning was the Word; the Word was in God's Presence, and the Word was God. He was present to God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, and apart from him nothing came to be. Whatever came to be in him, found life, life for the light of men. The light shines on in darkness, a darkness that did not overcome it. May this Sacred Season and its Silent Softness embrace you in the arms of the Christ Child.

On Grief and Grieving

Over 30 years ago, when I was in my late teens and in college, I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture given by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. In the early to mid seventies, her research with the dying and her newly minted five stages of dying was still very novel and intriguing. I remember her clearly. She was very petite and unassuming. She eschewed the lectern and instead perched herself at the edge of the stage with her feet dangling, and proceeded to talk to the audience in that lecture hall in a very intimate and compassionate way. I was fascinated with Dr. Kubler-Ross and from that point on I followed her life with keen interest. In her later years, when she dabbled in areas that would be considered "New Age," some of my professors in graduate school considered that she had gone off of the deep end. In the 90's she started a farm in rural Virginia to take care of AIDS patients, but it was torched to the ground because of prevailing biases. While I was still at col

Winter Solstice and Quotes

At 1:08 AM EST- approximately - the Earth offered her exhale into her inhale - and there was Stillness for a moment... Those in tune - witnessed and experienced the Earth's Kumbhaka - the Winter Solstice - a truly Sacred and Auspicious Moment. Even the time it happened is significant - 108 is a sacred number in the East and the repetition of 108 mantras is a most holy endeavor. I pondered that as I sat for a very long and still meditation this morning. This is the moment in our meditation practice that yogis teach and write about. Except here was Mother Earth experiencing it herself - taking an infinite moment to pause - in a year that has brought so much turmoil to many. Last night, before retiring to read, I collected a number of quotes that came to me recently from various sources - students, teachers, and friends - given to me in support of impending new beginnings in my life. I will share a few: "...and the time came when the risk it took to remain in a tightly close

Molchanie: The Silence of God

This morning, as I sat by the river after finishing my morning prayers, I contemplated how irrevocably the landscape of my life has been altered from solstice to solstice, and I made the spontaneous decision to stop wearing my watch. I am no longer bound to schedules of any kind and I am free to get lost in the Present Moment. As I sat in the Silent Stillness of this grey Winter morning, I recalled a book I read a quarter century ago, and rediscovered a couple of nights ago: Molchanie: The Silence of God. This book was written by Catherine De Hueck Doherty, a Russian immigrant to Canada in the early 20th century. Her vocation drew her to minister to those who lived in impoverished areas in Ontario, and she is best known for establishing Madonna House, a lay apostolate and community. I retrieved the book before meditating at midnight. It took me a while to find it in my collection of books. And then I sat and read sections underlined a half lifetime ago... This book discusses the many k

A Christmas Song and Prayer

For a friend today... Michael W. Smith writes some of the most beautiful Christian music. His new album is titled It's a Wonderful Christmas. Here are the lyrics to "All Year Long:" This Christmas Season I wish you joy The wonder in every girl and boy I wish you gladness The warmth and cheer Of good friends and family gathered near May children's laughter and falling snow Rekindle sweet scenes of long ago May every carol and candle bright Remind you why angels sang that night If trouble finds you, this is my prayer May peace guard your heart and make you strong And I wish you love, the kind to last All year long

Father, Mother, God

I received this wonderful poem by Maya Angelou from Sr. Mary Frances Reis, VHM, a long time friend, in her Christmas Letter. It is beautiful and I would love to share it with everyone... Father, Mother, God Thank you for you presence during the hard and mean days. For then we have you to lean upon. Thank you for your presence during the bright and sunny days, for then we can share that which we have with those who have less. And thank you for your presence during the Holy Days, for then we are able to celebrate you and our families and our friends. For those who have no voice, we ask you to speak. For those who feel unworthy, we ask you to pour your love out in waterfalls of tenderness. For those who live in pain, we ask you to bathe them in the river of your healing. For those who are lonely, we ask you to keep them company. For those who are depressed, we ask you to shower upon them the light of hope. Dear Creator, You, the borderless sea of substa

The River and the Tree

I approach The River reverently, after an absence of 4 days and after a night of prayers and sorrow deep into the night. There is still frost on the ground and bench. I do not see the tree at first. The tree at the right side of the bench - is so young. I have imagined it growing up and providing ample shade in the years to come. Though it did seem like it had been planted too close to the bench. But the tree is not there. I look at the ground and notice it is lying there - snapped off nearly at the base. I don't know if the strong winds that prevailed for days did it - or whether if was actually broken by something or someone. It doesn't matter anyway. I walk over to it and bend down, and start saying over and over again like a mantra, as I gently touch its trunk - "I am sorry, I am sorry!" My own grief for so many things this year mingles with what I imagine to be the grief of the tree - for its own unfulfilled dreams and potential. My tears run freely. I th

Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas

Some months ago, I read the book, The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas, in preparation for a workshop I was giving. The author, Marshall Govindan, studied at Georgetown University in the '60's, and had the good fortune to be mentored by Father Thomas King, a very open minded Jesuit. In this book, Govindan describes his journey into the teachings of Yogananda. While practicing Kriya Yoga, he wondered about the compatibility of this practice with his Christian background. Father King told Govindan to follow his heart - that Yogananda's teachings were definitely from God. Govindan now resides in Canada and has written a number of works published by Babaji's Kriya Yoga Publications. He has initiated thousands of people into this practice. The book contains an interesting section where Govindan compares similarities in the teachings of Jesus and of the Siddhas. A "siddha" is one who is accomplished and has attained supernatural powers. They are perfected maste

Letting Go: Take Two

This comes from a friend, Patricia, who is a facilitator of Byron Katie's The Work, here in the Northern VA area. She received it from Orly, in Israel, another friend of The Work. Have you tried to let go? You cannot. No-one has ever succeeded in letting go. Letting go is not for you. Letting go is the end of someone trying to let go; so do not try to let go. It will strengthen the whole game. Don't try to not think; it will strengthen the thinking. Don't try to transcend your patterns; it will strengthen the patterns. The biggest pattern of all patterns is trying to get rid of patterns. ? What should I do then? ? Nothing. Simply be available for this moment to kiss you. When your partner comes home, you are available for him to kiss you. Maybe he will, maybe he won't; but you are available. Then the kiss is really sweet, because it is free of 'me'. Let whatever is here now kiss you. Just receive life without doing. Just receive what is given. We are so bus

Yoga Nidra

I awaken early, to pray for my students - and for myself - as I prepare - not only for the last class of the session - but my last class after teaching on Saturday mornings for 9 years. It is a bittersweet moment - but as a therapist friend reminded me recently - the number 9 is symbolic of completion. I pray that I may say whatever my students need to hear - and offer in my teaching - whatever meets their needs on this day. Traditionally, on the last class of the Fall season, I do a three part class of about 30 minutes apiece: A Yin practice, a restorative practice, and a mini - Yoga Nidra. During the first two parts I read my students spiritual poetry as they surrender their bodies and restless minds into longer holdings of forward bends and restorative poses. They let go into the embrace of the Season and all that it invites in all of us. Yoga Nidra means "yogic sleep." It is a type of progressive relaxation that can leave one just as refreshed as if one had slept for hour


Every morning when I go to the river, one of the things I practice, is a variation of the Lovingkindness Meditation. The particular version I like and have been using has been very powerful for me: May I be filled with lovingkindness. May I be well. May I be at peace and at ease. May I be happy. Normally, one begins the practice of lovingkindness with oneself and then proceeds to include loved ones, those with whom one has difficulty, and in the end, the whole human family. One of my favorite mantras is "Lokah Samasta". I chanted this mantra for the first time during an incredibly powerful and transformational workshop with Seane Corn - in a beautiful setting called The Barn - in Charlottsville, VA, in the Fall of 2005. There is a beautiful rendition of this mantra in the new CD, "Soul in Wonder," by Miten and Deva Premal. Lokah samasta sukino bhavantu om shanti, shanti, shanti This mantra is basically a mantra of lovingkindness: May all beings be ha


Okay, I admit it...I am fascinated by channelings, intuitive readings, and numerology. Yesterday was 12-12. This powerful numerical sequence is symbolic of a cosmic connection - it is a bridge to the future and signifies a level of completion or graduation. One of my favorite intuitives - (besides my my dear friends Deborah and Sharon of course!) - is a woman named Karen who has a wonderful site called - What's Up on Planet Earth?. This is her web site: The following is an excerpt from the newsletter she sent out yesterday. Go to the site for the complete reading of her latest piece: "2007 was a rocky and challenging year for many…especially the latter six month period after the solstice. And now, another solstice is due to arrive, marking the final point of this deep transitional and preparatory period. This deep period of excavation that lasted for so many months was vitally necessary to our spiritual evolutionary process, as it pr

Giving and Receiving

I have thought a lot about the season and its emphasis on giving and receiving, and what it really means. This year I find myself in a different relationship to both - reviewing the motives and reasons for gift giving, and the impact it has on both giver and receiver. This afternoon I received Todd Norian's newsletter and I love the way he addresses what this symbiotic relationship is all about. Todd is a Senior Certified Anusara Yoga Teacher, and I excerpt his remarks on the subject. For more information on Todd, his wife Ann Greene, and their newsletters, and teaching schedules, go to: "Lately I've been reflecting on how to become a better receiver. It's only when I can allow myself to receive fully that I can give from my heart unconditionally. To be able to receive I consciously empty myself of doubt and fear and create an open space inside for listening... When I allow myself to receive fully, I fill up with gratitude. Then my givi

Lessons and Carols

It is the season for Lessons and Carols. It is the season of expectancy - and pregnancy - luring us into our deepest core. It is the season for Silence and journeying inward. It is the season that invites us - as Emily Dickinson once wrote - "To dwell in possibility." I awaken over and over in the night with a choir singing in my soul: "A voice cries out - Prepare the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert, A highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up And every mountain made low. The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed..." The music coaxes me from a deep sleep and gently urges me to go deeper into my heart to prepare the way of the Lord. (Words by LLoyd Larson)

Soul in Wonder

My teacher's theme for the last yoga class of the session was the experience of wonder. She deftly wove the theme and a myriad of examples - both seasonal - and from her own life, into our practice. It was truly a moment of synchronicity that on my way to class I was listening to the new CD by Miten and Deva Premal appropriately titled: "Soul in Wonder." The title track is a simple piece with simple lyrics: "Inarticulate speech, inarticulate speech of the heart, I am a soul in wonder... " As I sat for a long time at the river this morning - which was as still and as peaceful as I have seen it for a while - I thought of the lyrics of another piece on this CD: "spirit of the river i can hear you i feel as if i am deep inside your song i see you laughing intoxicated, dancing will you carry me with you when i'm gone?"

Aligning with Grace

As I approach the end of another teaching session in my yoga classes, I end the same way I have begun every session - by inviting my students to align with grace. The First Universal Principle of Alignment in Anusara Yoga is to: "open to grace" - or to the universal. We open to something good and we respond by softening in our bodies - so that we can receive the gifts of that opening. I often tell my students, that the operative word - is opening. We cannot invite change and transformation in our lives if we do not open - if we are not receptive first. This opening implies a vulnerability at some level because we have to cultivate the attitude of allowing whatever must be - to be - but we must also cultivate the art of accepting whatever comes into our lives as well, and trust that the Divine in His Infinite Wisdom and the Universe know what is best for us. This is what I call Faith. I can think of no other practice or style of yoga that begins this way. It is a practice

Fire and Rain

The December issue of American Songwriter has the same picture of James Taylor that was on his Sweet Baby James album over thirty years ago. James Taylor is one of the most prolific, creative, and enduring singer-songwriters of his generation. I was in love with him in high school, and “Fire and Rain” has to this day, remained one of my top five favorite songs. The interviewer makes this poignant statement: “Fire and Rain” is such a direct, authentic statement from your soul. And Taylor responds: “It is sort of almost uncomfortably close. Almost confessional. The reason I could write a song like that at that point, and probably couldn’t now, is that I didn’t have any sense that anyone would hear it…[At the time I wrote this song] I was totally unknown…So I assumed [it] would never be heard….” This song haunted me for years. It seemed so intimate. Truly, almost confessional. As if one were peering into Taylor ’s soul. Yet he denies the song was a product of any

Divine Kirtan

The River was misty this morning. And beautiful. And quiet. Except for the birds. There was no one else there. No car parked with the motor running as is often the case. Instead, it was just me - on the bench - praying - and listening to the birds. For the first time since I have been coming here - I was enveloped in a veritable symphony of melodious singing, coming from both sides of the Potomac River. As I drunk in the beauty of nature's improvisations - I was struck by how reminiscent the call and response on both sides of the river echoed the singing of the psalms of the Divine Office by monastics in choir. It also reminded me of the experience of chanting Sanskrit mantras in "kirtan" - which consists of the repetition of sacred chants, simple mystical syllables, or sound vibrations - in the same call and response pattern - but at an increasingly faster pace - building up to a crescendo - until slowing back down again. Kirtan is a form of meditation. For some i

Containing the Infinite

Last night, while browsing the latest issue of Shift , the magazine for the Institute of Noetic Sciences, I came across this piece by Hadewijch, an early 13th century Flemish Beguine. Beguines were lay women who dedicated themselves to living out their spirituality without entering a convent - a very radical notion for its day. They espoused to return to a pure living of the Gospel message through the expression of deep devotion. Hadewijch conveyed her intimate and emotional - yet visionary mysticism - in her poetic musings. Her spirituality is characterized by a type of "love mysticism" - which affirmed that union with God could be lived out as a love relationship on earth. Here is the piece I came across last night. As I read it, I was struck by its Tantric perspective: All things are too small to hold me, I am so vast In the Infinite I reach for the Uncreated I have touched it, it undoes me wider than wide Everything else is too narrow You know this we


The Spiritual Diary contains Yogananda's inspirational readings for each day of the year. The theme for a particular season changes and the focus is on silence during this season. Today's entry comes from his Autobiography of a Yogi , in reference to his own guru, Sri Yukteswar: "The silence habitual to Sri Yukteswar was caused by his deep perceptions of the Infinite. No time remained for the interminable "revelations" that occupy the teachers without Self-realization. A saying in the Hindu scriptures is: 'In shallow men the fish of little thoughts cause much commotion. In oceanic minds the whales of inspiration make hardly a ruffle.'" What a simple, but great reminder and lesson!


OM - or more appropriately - AUM - is a mantra that is regularly chanted in many yoga classes, though students may often not understand its origins, and may resist joining in the chanting. OM is a seed mantra defined as The Primal Shabda . Mantras typically begin and end with the chanting of the sacred syllable of OM. Ancient yogis believed and understood OM to be the very sound of creation - of universal consciousness - and ultimately the very Sound and Manifestation of the Divine. All other Sanskrit mantras are generated from this Primordial Sound which exists in everything in the Universe and which the yogis taught their students to perceive and actually hear in meditation. In the ancient Vedic texts the Divine expressed this one thought : "I am only one - may I become the many." This Divine desire resulted in a vibration from which all of creation sprung. Similarly, the Gospel of John begins with these verses: " In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with G

Prepare the Way of the Lord

This piece, sent to me by Carolyn, is exquisite. It brought back many memories of being a liturgical musician and singing in church choirs. It is truly moving and uplifting and fitting for this Advent Season. Truly, a voice cries out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord!

Advent Prayer

This comes from Carolyn Bluemle, a dedicated yogini, friend, and fellow traveler on the spiritual path - who agreed to let me share it! Advent Prayer What is the goodness I long for? What within me whispers to be born, aches to be born, cries out to enter the world, to fall to the world, to lift the world? What is it I need to nourish this dream? What is it I need to be quiet long enough to recognize its voice? What is it I need to be able to say, yes? What is it I need to be able to receive what has been faithful to me since before time?

Ong Namo

Last spring I had the good fortune to hear Snatam Kaur in concert. The evening was magical and the sense of oneness and Divine Love that permeated the packed yoga studio, was intoxicating! My favorite song is "Ong Namo." Snatam sings with the exquisite voice of an angel. She is one of those rare beings who is truly mesmerizing and much better live than on her recordings. I was truly transported. On her recent live album she improvises on this piece with these lyrics. I listen to them every day on my way down to the river, on my way to teach, and on a number of other occasions. Her voice is haunting: "I bow my head to God. And God took all of me. Every imperfection - God took all of me. And every day God lives And breathes Through me Oh, my Beloved! Kindness of the heart! Breath of Life, I bow to you. Divine Teacher, Beloved Friend, I bow to you, Again and again!"

The Infinite Lord of Stillness

I read this last night - before my late night meditation - and going to bed - and I was reminded again of this prayer and affirmation this morning as I read the inspirational words of a yoga teacher, written and sent to me while she was overlooking the Ganges River this morning. This comes from: The Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga , by Goswami Kriyananda and is so appropriate for this season. The Infinite Lord of Stillness Oh, Infinite Lord of Stillness, May we approach Thee at the altar of stillness. May we who gather here at this most holy altar, Lay flowers of silence at Thy Holy Lotus Feet. Oh, Lord of Stillness, Teach us to meditate with fervent, silent devotion. Oh, Lord of Stillness, Teach us to commune with Thee; Teach us to contact Thee. O, Infinite Lord of Stillness, Teach us how to gently decree Thy Holy Presence. Remove from us, Oh, Lord of Stillness, All mechanical meditation, all mechanical words, And offer at Thy altar of silence, our souls to Thee. Teac

Teachers and Students

What makes for a good teacher? First of all, a good teacher is a good student whose commitment to learning never ends. It goes without saying that both good teachers - and good students - have open minds. In Sanskrit, the word "adhikara" is used to refer to a type of studentship characterized by a deep commitment to learning and by a life-long pursuit and dedication to imbibing wisdom. I have often told my students that in considering a teacher they should also consider the teacher's dedication to learning. Does your teacher regularly study with another teacher? Does she seek to deepen her understanding of her subject and all related areas? In Yoga this would encompass not only the teaching of "asanas" or poses, but also include an understanding of the philosophical system that undergirds this practice, in addition to anatomy, kinesiology, and other areas. And what constitutes a Master Teacher? What defines them? We certainly all know when we have encountered on

Letting Go

This entry comes from an email a dear friend and yoga student sent me yesterday and I reprint it here with her permission. "Yoga is not about standing on your head. It is about learning to stand on your own two feet." Letting Go As I witnessed the devastating loss experienced by our friend Elena in the passing of her partner of 46 years, I was struck by her strength and calmness. Some said it was shock at the suddenness of the whole thing. I perceived it as a woman with deep experience at letting go. Years ago she and Billie tragically lost their son Michael, in an accident. Her grieving through that was the ultimate act of letting go. Elena knows the difficult path ahead of her once again; but she knows letting go is part of life as we shed one passage for another. I came home from the funeral today and turned to my yoga mat for comfort. I thought of Elena's courage and how difficult it can be to let go of so many things. As I did that, in an instant, I was able to let