Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Beginner's Mind

Last week I took a guided “intro ashtanga” yoga class in the evening. As I was driving home I realized that it had been at least six years since I had taken an evening yoga class!

And what a breath of fresh air! I’ve got to say, the change of time, space, teacher, and class setting infused new life into my practice.

As the class began, whilst sitting with eyes closed focusing on my breath, I became acutely aware of the smell of the musty walls and floor, mixed with the heat and faintest sent of sweat from a previous class.

This aroma sparked memories of my very first experiences learning yoga in the upstairs space of an old heritage building, home to the much loved ‘Yoga In Motion,’ the yoga studio which first introduced me to the practice of “Ashtanga Vinyasa” and “Power Yoga.”

As we began our first sun-salutations I became immersed in the divine sensation of clearing my mind of all distracting thoughts, only breath, movement, and the one guiding voice of the teacher existed for me.

The practice took on a life of its own, and the “I” part of my mind began to dissolve into a perfectly synchronized dance of breath and movement.

There was no place to go, nothing to rush off to, no demands to perfect or perform, no expectations, judgments, or evaluations.

It was like everyone else in the room had faded into some hazy distant background, and I felt both completely alone, and yet somehow intimately connected to every cell, every breath, every being, and everything.

There was a feeling of complete surrender. The atmosphere was soft, warm and safe, allowing me to fully relinquish my sovereignty and let go to the experience.

I realized that finding the time, space and atmosphere to facilitate this complete release was a real luxury, and its presence was an unexpected gift.

It actually came as a surprise, that somehow in this small unassuming class, I would rediscover the heart of my practice, and the reason why I was drawn to this ancient discipline so powerfully from the very beginning.

There it was, that familiar homelike warmth; kind of like wrapping myself inside an old, soft, faded, cashmere sweater liberated from some long forgotten drawer.

That space within was nurturing and calm. For a little over an hour I found myself relaxing more, sinking into it, and drinking from a deep refreshing pool, one I visit often, but frequently only have time to just dip my feet in, before rushing off to the next activity.

This experience reminded me that as we integrate the practice of Yoga into our daily life, it is important that we don’t allow these practices to become so routine that they are simply done mechanically, making them little more than another box to check off on our “to-do” list.

It really is essential that we keep our awareness steady as we practice, and always remember the reasons for our practice. Otherwise, instead of creating more space, more clarity, and more energy, our yoga becomes a chore, another mindless activity added to our already desperately over-scheduled and hectic lives.

It also rekindled the wonder of entering a class with a ‘beginner's mind,’ and a delight in rediscovering all the hidden gems that each posture has to offer, along with the pure joy of sharing and learning with others.

We are all teachers for each other in one way or another, and the more open we are to receiving, and being in relationship, the more we will grow. We can learn something from everyone, if we choose to; but it requires us to set aside our preconceived ideas, and become receptive to other points of view, and knowledge.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji) would always repeat that there were no “teacher trainings” only “student trainings,” and he would remind us that he, himself, was still a student.
We would all do well to remember these words.

Some days taking a step back, and starting over from the beginning is more helpful then pushing forward. It may seem at times like we are not “progressing,” but if we are sincere in our efforts we will realize that as long as we remain open to learning, growing and expanding, we are always moving closer to the goal of Yoga.

Every challenge we encounter is an opportunity for us to extend beyond our own perceived limitations, and to soar off into new horizons.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is Your Love Enough?

It seems to be everywhere these days, the great debate: to vaccinate or not to vaccinate – that is the question... or is it?
My attention has certainly been aroused lately, but it seems that whatever side of the proverbial 'vaccination fence' we find ourselves sitting on, the real issue is: How much will we allow the collective fear of the world to infiltrate our hearts and minds?

The pull to buy into the hype and fear-mongering propaganda pushes against our psyche more and more. It drives us into darkness. Makes us feel isolated and alone.

On both sides of the issue there is fear. We vaccinate more and more as a way of avoiding pain, sickness, suffering and death; but over the years there has been some correlation between S.I.D.S, autism, and several neurological disorders and the administration of vaccines, and so we see a growing backlash against vaccinating, based on a fear of iatrogenic sickness, pain, suffering, and death.

There are a great many industries that benefit from keeping a large percent of the population in fear. The more fear we have the less able we are to expand beyond ourselves and to make connections with others; the less real connection we have in our lives, the more powerless and alone we may feel. The more powerless and alone we feel, the more insecure we become.

These feelings of insecurity make us more susceptible to the onslaught of images and ideas that bind us to a perpetual cycle of fear and contraction.

We hide our insecurity through consumption, attempting to create an image of confidence, to feel protected and powerful, and as a way of covering up our tireless longing to be desired, loved, and respected.

The more we consume, the more we buy, the more we buy, the more debt we create, the more debt we create, the more trapped we feel. The more trapped we feel the more we feed our feelings of isolation, insecurity, and weakness… and the cycle continues. More and more we feel trapped by a system that is profiting off our enslavement.

We become dependent upon the media to tell us what to think, believe, and feel.

This constant presence of fear prevents us from retreating into that soft silent place of knowing inside ourselves. The fear makes it difficult to really hear that still quiet voice guiding us from within.
Our daily yoga practice is a sacred time that allows us to reconnect to that inner space. We breathe into the silence of our soul, and somewhere in the emptiness that lingers between our thoughts, we begin to listen and respond to the soft voice of our gentle inner guide.

So, in my opinion, the real question is: How do we regain our independence amongst all the fear and pressure to conform on either side of an issue when there is no clear, definite, or undeniably correct answer?

We start by letting go of our need to be right. There are extremely educated people on both sides of this issue, each with good points and opinions, and data to back up their beliefs.

We begin to recognize and trust that being kind is more important then being right. We all know there are many issues we can debate, and the truth may just be that there is no unequivocal "right" answer that can be applied universally, but rather, it is an inner feeling that directs each individual to a conclusion that supports their personal choice.

And still we fear.

So, we might ask: How do we conquer fear?

The answer is so simple to say, and yet so challenging to act upon: Love is the antidote for fear.

We choose to love.

And this requires constant practice and perseverance. We must resist giving into the barrage of fear through love and actions based in love.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out all fear” (1 John 4:18), and the foundation of love is ahimsa – non-harming.

When we learn to love each other, with a sincere love that is true and untainted by our lusts, we empower ourselves to give, to serve, and to support.

Real love does not seek its own gratification, it asks for nothing in return, but only seeks to give of itself fully and completely, without conditions, control, or manipulation. It always acts with the heart of compassion, and non-harming, seeking the highest good and growth for all.

When we begin to love with the explicit intention of giving, caring, and nourishing one another, we find ourselves in true relationship.

When we can create the space to support each other, to listen without judgment, and without always needing to agree or prove our point, we can preserve our mutual freedom, and these authentic bonds of love will begin to transform our own self and our world.

When we start to listen with love, we will sense the heart behind the words.

We will realize that we are not alone. We are intimately connected to each other in ways we cannot see or imagine.

Love will strengthens us; love will keep us healthy and strong.

Love will take care of the sick and weak, and continually offer to help those in need.

So what is the real question we should be asking ourselves?

The singer, songwriter, and poet, Michael Franti, sums it up perfectly when he rightly asks:

“Is your love enough? Or can you love some more?”