Archive | April, 2009

Hope

30 Apr

Have you heard this too? Every speaker I hear or book I read lately on the subject of spirituality, continually proclaims that we are on the cusp of a spiritual revolution of sorts. The beginning of a new way of living and a shift in global consciousness.I definitely feel it, but to be honest – I’m a yogi. I practice yoga all day and am surrounded with a pretty cool and enlightened community of practitioners. When I look at the fundamentalist movement that’s gaining hold and the polarization of politics, I have to be skeptical and wonder if it’s just my world, or if these grand sweeping statements might have some truth in them.

Then…

I just returned from the gas station where I witnessed yoga in action. A big burley guy was crouching down to repair something on the base of the gas pump. He grabbed his low back and looked like he was in pain. He then peaked over each shoulder (not well enough, apparrently, because he didn’t see me) and lifted up into a beautiful down-ward facing dog. He then moved into cat and cow, back to adho-mukha, and returned to his repair job. I mean, come on! He didn’t LOOK like a yogi, and this is Danville we’re talking about here. But – that was a killer down-ward facing dog and this dude definitely knew what he was doing.

That’s what I call hope.

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29 Apr

Worth the Drive

29 Apr

enlighten-up1

Jamie, Karen, Suzanna and I had a very fun field trip today. We enjoyed a special viewing of the film Enlighten Up, complete with Yoga-Celebrity sightings and meeting the director in the flesh. I also had my first Thai meal ever, and enjoyed such rich company.

I can’t get over what a great piece of work this documentary is. First of all, I was delighted to be hit immediately with the director’s wicked sense of humor and very masterful editing skills. I can’t remember the last time a movie had me laughing out loud this intensely. Interwoven amongst the humor of the yoga world laughing at itself, were the very real themes of human consciousness, belief, faith, skepticism and inquiry. The big questions of Why? and How? and Who? were explored in a very honest, real way. I LOVE it when things are approached from that perspective of complete honesty, even if it’s awkward or unexpected or better yet – hilarious.

The movie chronicles Kate Churchill’s big Yoga Project, immersing Nick Rosen, a New York resident and yoga skeptic and journalist  through an intense immersion into all things yoga for six month. Nick is thrown into all types of yoga classes, met the big American Yoga-Rock Stars, and traverses to India to practice with and talk to the Indian Yoga-Rock Stars. Some of them are enlightened, and some of them are idiots. The whole time, as a westerner, I went from feeling Kate’s pain as Nick succeeded and failed, and feeling and understanding Nick’s perspective of “c’mon, really?” I definitely enjoyed hearing Nick, as the skeptic interviewing great masters with honesty and respect for something he really didn’t understand.

At the end of the film, I left feeling more connected than ever to my yoga path. I want to hit my mat and I although I’m still extremely curious and skeptical about many things, I feel an extreme release of cynicism. I was reminded by what my friend Suzanna’s philosophy of yoga, “Whether or not you believe that yoga can transform your life, it will happen. All you have to do is make room in your life for some time on the mat. I think of yoga as a moving meditation, a dance of strength and grace that unexpectedly brings the mind in tune with the heart.”

Word.

The film is definitely worth the drive to Berkeley. It will be showing at the Shattuck Cinemas, opening THIS Friday. The director will be there on Friday, and if it shows well, it will probably get picked up for another week or two. The DVD is set to be released this November, and I’m excited to give it out to my non-yoga family members for Christmas.

you get what you asked for

26 Apr

First of all, I have limited time this morning, as I have to head back into the city today. But – I did want to get my thoughts down before I lose them. Please forgive my terrible punctuation and sentence structure.

In my last post, I said I didn’t want to be a dogma shopper, always trading up my beliefs. I wanted to hold them loosely. Yesterday I trekked into the city for a two-day satsang with Paul Mueller Ortega, on Tantric Shaivism. (And no, it’s not about sex.) It’s been interesting because while I love talking about non-dualism and thinking about the differences between the more classical mode and the Tantric approach, I’ve always been more of a Patanjali yogi myself. I’m so drawn to the idea of renunciation.

So I found myself in satsang yesterday being incredibly skeptical about everything Paul was presenting. Mm-hmm. O-kaay… yea right, sure. Then I found myself creating arguments in my mind for why he was misguided in his approach. I’m SO okay with my own skepticism, and I don’t see a problem with that part of the situation. The fact though, that I sat there creating a thesis on why tantric yoga was too far-out there to be effective, helped me realize that I was doing just what I said I hoped I wouldn’t do in my last post on dogma. I’m not giving the new ideas enough time to absorb, and I was letting my mind pit Mr. Ortega as a misguided man (unconsciously) before I’d really considered what he had to say. So, I reminded myself as I sat there (It was a six hour lecture) to fully hold those ideas in my mind, and to see things from a new perspective for today.

Tantric teachers, in my experience have been a little out there. They don’t eschew the Self in the same way that Buddhists or Patanjali yogis would, and I sense a certain feeling of frustration from my tantra friends – as if they’re practicing in this really helpful way and nobody gets it. Perhaps there’s a little arrogance that comes through in the communication because most Tantric practitioners that I know are VERY well educated on their spirituality.

Regardless, I was able to put that aside and really listen. Paul has a lyrical, verbose way of talking, repeating what he’s saying many times over with new language. At first, this drove me nuts because he’s not succinct and I struggled to take notes or absorb it. Thankfully – by the afternoon, I had met his rhythm and was really enjoying him. He has become a really good teacher for me and I’m learning a lot. Paul is a wealth of knowledge and I have never met anybody who knows more about religious history, tantra, and ancient texts. He is a real scholar.

In the afternoon, Paul talked at length about how to approach these teachings. To put hours of Satsang down into a small blog post, I’ll just mention a few of the ideas that hit me as really insightful. He spoke of two approaches: the Renunciate approach (how how I occasionally long to don the orange robes and relinquish everything and head off to an Ashram) and the Householder approach (everybody living in the “real” world). He used a great analogy for these approaches.

When Buddhism spread out from India, Buddhist Pilgrims trekked out to China, making the treacherous journey and losing many along the way. When they reached China, they were viewed as rather crazy and strange and were ostrisized. The Daoists were already off, living in sort of a hippie fashion on the outskirts of society, and they were open to compare notes with the Buddhists. As Buddhism eventually spread all over China, becoming the main religion – it evolved and grew. In isolation like this, the Chinese adapted Buddhism as they added their own creativity and insights, giving it a new approach and flavor. The same thing is happening with yoga as it has come out west, and is embraced even in India as a modern way of practice. It should grow and evolve as we all evolve and grow.

So, the classic yogic struggle. There’s the yoga approach of the ascetic. Giving up attachment to everything, dissolving the Self to become part of the greater whole, and practicing some extreme ascetic ways of living. How does the modern, average person live with this approach? How is it possible to really function in this world without the ego?

Paul holds that the way of the ascetic is not the way for everybody else to practice. Enter the Tantric yoga practitioner. The tantrics see it this way:

There is an ocean of great consciousness, with individual waves along the ocean that rise and fall. The individual waves that rise are still part of the ocean, made up of the big ocean, even if they are individual. An ascetic approach would be to find a way to calm the waves completely, to help them recognize that they are OCEAN, not WAVE and to subside peacefully into the whole of the ocean, stilling the waves.  The Tantric approach is to allow the ocean to rise up through the wave, unlimited – until the ocean rises up through the individual wave and meets the crest of it, creating one amazing sea of individuals, swallowed up by the ocean at large. A rising consciousness of shakti, like a rising water level, so to speak. It seems like in Tantra, the ascetic version of the waves subsiding into the larger ocean is seen as repression.

So, while we are mindful of teachings and work to be smart in all things yoga – in Tantra we work through the individual form, not viewing the ego as a bad thing. (although recognizing that it can be harmful) The idea with Tantra, is that the mantra work, the approach, and the practice of yoga – organically unfolds a more intelligent, more spiritual, more beneficial way of life. That through the practices, we crave doing good things and dropping off bad habits. I’ve seen this happen in my life – a literal desire to stop eating meat, a physical shift out of depression, a desire to be more loving. That practicing yoga in itself, naturally creates a shift, and an organic one at that.

Moving on from there, the idea is that by embracing parts of the individual – like our roles in life – I am Yoga Teacher, I am Mother, I am Environmentalist, then Shakti has a way of moving through us, using us as a vehicle and really cruising. Paul very provocatively described the “doldrums”, which is a lack of wind for a sailor. Sailors in years past died when stuck in the middle of the ocean and they hit the doldrums of no wind for weeks, being stuck out in the big ocean. He said that practicing as an ascetic in a non-ascetic world can be dangerous like this. That often, without a vehicle, Shakti hits the doldrums and we see the wind come right out of the sails of our personal spiritual lives. I have experienced this as well.

This is where I get a bit skeptical – mostly because while listening, I’m getting pretty excited about this, I’m really starting to “get” what he’s saying. Here’s my question, “If I practice with an individual approach, will I not see the doldrums there too?”, Because – expansion and contraction seem to be a given in life.

On the other hand, the minute I give Shakti a form – it definitely seems to ride like a wild wave through me. Yoga studio owner – there goes shakti. Mother – there goes shakti. Artist – shakti. Writer – there goes shakti. Buddhist – there goes shakti. He spoke poetically about Natarajasana. How she wants to engage us in the play and dance of life. That when we embrace form, she can move through us and we can engage in the beautiful dance of life. That’s talk I understand. And, I have to admit – I suck at asceticism. I’m not convinced that renunciation isn’t the way to go on a middle-way sort of approach, but I am entertaining new thoughts. And, I am most definitely willing to dance.

I know that’s a huge over-simplification of what Paul is talking about (remember he spoke eloquently, for hours), but I have to wonder, “How do you practice this way without losing your memory of the big ocean. Is this the danger of practicing Tantra? Do any of these things really bring me closer to enlightenment, to seeing more clearly?”

And again, I’m reminded of my life mantra from Thich Nhat Hanh, “Your own life is the instrument with which we experiment with the truth.”

Tantra anyone?

dogma shopping

25 Apr

Why am I constantly surprised when I find the words for things I can’t find words for? So what if I wasn’t the one to use them first..

My beliefs have radically changed over the last several years. As a result, things have become more clear and I am less attached to my beliefs. When my old paradigm dissolved, it went with a big fight. I was really convinced that the belief structure I was clinging to was absolute truth. I had a long list of reasons why. I was still open-minded, but there were certain core beliefs that were Dogma for me: doctrine set in stone. Any new information I was considering would only be accepted if it fit into that given construct of what I already viewed as True. (And why I couldn’t for the life of me fully grasp, The Power of Now the first time I read it!)

Thankfully for me, I hit a huge, massive depression. It was either drive off of the freeway and leave this earth quietly (which seemed like a refreshing thought at the time), or try anything and everything to survive and scramble some semblance of happiness together. I looked at my little boys and I knew I wanted to figure it out. For me, healing started with physical yoga and opening my mind to try ANYTHING that might help. I was in desperation and I knew it. I tried aura readings, meditation, counseling, medication. Piece by piece I was able to glean little things here and there that helped. What I discovered was that my past spiritual framework provided me with very little REAL knowledge on the subject of happiness, what it was, where it came from, and how to live in it’s abundance. I had no clue before hand, what the architecture of the Spirit, or the Mind were. I started to wake up to things that were right in front of me that I never saw before. I couldn’t get enough yoga and buddhist philosophy. I still can’t. Not because it’s superior, not because I feel that it’s truth with a capital T, but because I see so clearly that much of it is helpful, and much of it matches up with reality. I have found that by living what Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Your own life is the instrument for which we experiment with the truth”, that I’m waking up more every day as I work honestly through these teachings.

Now that I’m well versed and practiced in this yoga world of mine, and I feel very little suffering in comparison to years past – I’ve been wondering… Have I become a DOGMA SHOPPER? You know, switching one paradigm out for another, hanging on to my new beliefs and dogma so tightly that I can’t see the clarity around me? I’ve decided that I’m hugely relieved to be asking myself that question. 

A while back, when having lunch with a friend who shared my old belief system and had really helped me back during my dark depression days, she was asking about my shift and I was able to share with her how happy I am now. Her response was “I’m sorry”. She was so upset that I had left behind what she saw as true, that she couldn’t see happiness right in front of her.  It’s true, we need some structure of belief in order to function. We need a helpful viewpoint of the world in order TO function in peace and happiness. Having said that, I don’t want to end up living in a kooky world of magical thinking, replacing one set of self-soothing man-made beliefs for another, but still having no proximity to deeper awareness. I do not want to spin my wheels in quicksand.

It seems to me that the key to functioning healthfully within the given belief structure, is to just hold on softly and gently. To hold those beliefs in your hand and keep looking at them from every angle. Work them. Feel them –  but never feel that they are yours to hold on to for dear life. Only hold on to what works and what is simple and clear right out in the open. Dogma seems to be the death of personal enlightenment and to be a little selfish here, I don’t think I can go on living without those a-ha moments. Those times when we discover truths so obvious, so simple that they are hiding right out in the open, under our noses. A-HA… click, got it! 

No, I don’t want to just be a dogma shopper, simply replacing one set of beliefs for a new-improved version. I want to experience more clarity. Not because I want Truth, but because I want peace. I want happiness. 

In true yoga fashion, things are working in synchronicity. I found myself listening to Adyashanti again tonight, and of course – he is speaking much more eloquently, the exact ramblings of my mind. 

warning – nudity

24 Apr

It’s not what you think… I would be surprised if any of y’all get offended over this, but at least the title will get some more traffic coming to my blog. Probably, readers who REALLY need some yoga. Anyway, a friend who shall remain nameless sent this to me today. It’s hilarious because it’s true.

I’m so impressed with her sirsasana. Smart baby!

me too!

22 Apr

Check out Drew’s Upa! It’s probably not a yogic thing to be jealous of your 4-year old, but check out that range of motion.

drew-upa

Today we were walking into preschool with her friends Sabina and Tony. They were all running to the door and Drew was straggling. I caught up to her while she sat on the stairs catching her breath. “Mom – my legs are BORED.”

Yep, me too. Maybe I can use this line on Dan, the personal trainer next week. Although, I don’t think I have the right to complain to him ever again after he gave me the news this week that I am not eating enough. That’s right, you’re reading correctly, I’m not eating enough. Maybe there IS a god after all. And, let’s say she like chocolate. I SO know already how I’m using those new-found calories. You are officially sworn to secrecy.