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?

4 Responses to “you get what you asked for”

  1. darwin April 27, 2009 at 4:23 am #

    Or could it be that the wisdoms of Humanity have danced around the truth throughout the ages?

    Could it be possible that many have sipped from the tea of truth but the truth itself doesn’t appeal to our taste for wisdom. Thus we reject the truth because it doesn’t fit into the way we choose to understand. The answers we seek are then overlooked and pushed aside for a variation or interpretation of the truth that we fits into our belief system.

    But what’s the truth? And how can we know if we’re dealing with the truth?

    Waves? Oceans? Currents? Streams? Beyond what they are I wonder why they are. And for that matter? “Why we are?” And most important, “Why am I?”

    The truth sits in purpose. United in harmony, the Body, Spirit and Mind move beyond ourselves in pursuing our purpose. Without purpose, the truth is just another idea. With purpose, our lives move beyond the experiment and into union with the divine.

    Namaste my friend.

  2. silvershdws April 28, 2009 at 12:37 pm #

    Beautiful post! I’m so happy that you’re blogging again!

    This post has inspired me to check into tantric philosophy…do you know of any quality books on the subject?

    I’ve experienced a lot of internal resistance to the aesthetic views that are often espoused in Buddhist writing…I definitely feel that to attain enlightenment in the aesthetic sense I would have to “give up” who I am and part of me responds with, “But I’m a good person!”

    For instance when I watched that guy speaking, in the first video you posted, about enlightenment, on the one hand I could see the wisdom of his words, but some other part of me felt very uneasy and was somewhat repulsed by his energy.

    One thing I can say for sure in favor of maintaining a *healthy* ego is that would a man like the teacher in the video be able to reach people who are not already on a spiritual path? I think people, like you and I and so many others at the studio, who do both–think and meditate on the universe and divine energies–but who also hold jobs (run businesses!), raise families, go to college etc. are able to reach an entirely different crowd who would never be touched by someone who was an aesthete, because that energy is just too “out there.” Too drastically different.

    When I was at the metta meditation retreat and the teachers spoke about feeling ecstatic, exuberant, over-joyed as being a bad thing, I know to a certain extent there is truth in that. It is an agitated state and yet it feels good. It feels good to laugh so hard your belly hurts and your eyes water! Is that within the range of aesthetically approved emotions? From my impression, it isn’t.

    It also feels good to share grief with others…to feel deeply. And though I think we must be conscious of our emotions (ie I don’t stimulate them with crappy violent TV shows or movies etc) I also don’t think my goal in this life is to move towards a more “even keel” kind of emotional life. I enjoy intensity, as long as its source is genuine and not melodrama.

    Love and blessings to you!
    Thank you for the sign post.

  3. barefootbhakti April 28, 2009 at 2:11 pm #

    Darwin – Yea! Exactly – I wonder how much truth I’ve missed because I couldn’t SEE it. Can we see it without having our feet grounded in some sense of dharma or belief? Or, is it giving up any holding to all belief that helps us see clearly? I sure find it hard to function as myself without some softly held perspective of the world.

    The why never peaks my curiosity that much. The closer I get to really experiencing what or who I am, the purpose seems to flow right through me and become obvious. Do you experience that too? (I suppose that’s shakti)

    What an interesting response! I find myself hopelessly drawn to the gentleness of ascetic life. The idea that when things are stripped down to essentials with no distraction, it is much easier to see truth. On the other hand, I do embrace practice in the real world – and in my own wisdom I continue to walk this middle path. I don’t think I’ll ever be incorporated fully into the householder way of practicing because for me, there’s an aspect of renunciation that is just a necessary part of the process of tapas in yoga. I am so drawn to Buddhism for that reason, the middle path aspect, just take what works and leave the rest.

    Here’s the other thing for me. I heard Adyashanti (from the video) speak last Sunday. Being in his presence there’s no doubt in my mind that he is enlightened on many things. He’s really extraordinary in clarity. I haven’t gotten that same experience sitting in a room with the teachers of the householder tradition. I totally respect that path, and I am destined to walk it myself, but I just haven’t met anyone yet who has reached some form of enlightenment without renunciation. There are many wise teachers in the householder tradition, but sadly they usually end up getting tangled up in their ego before that wave reaches it’s peak. It’s a hard way to live and keep things in check, this idea of riding the wave of our own magnificence!

    I also think that emotion can be a part of stilling the waves. I don’t think that when we still our minds we turn into emotion-less beings. In just the opposite, people seem to describe life in much deeper richness and intensity AFTER receiving the ability to see clearly. I saw this so well after listening to Byron Katie. She describes crying and laughing and experiencing huge emotional experience – just without attachment to them, or being enslaved by them. Like in Darwin’s book he explains that emotions are valuable ways of communicating. I know… it gets really interesting, doesn’t it?

    For me I guess I’ll foolishly attempt to both still my wave of consciousness and renounce what no longer serves me, as well as let my individualism rise and crest. I may need another lifetime or two when I’m done… but it’s all a game anyway, right? : – ) I like to dance, might as well dance with Natarajasana, I could use a little shakti.

  4. barefootbhakti April 28, 2009 at 2:14 pm #

    OK… I just read that comment and I sound like an aery-fairy idiot. Yep, that’s me – hippy chick who needs a translator. Sorry…

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