Monday, December 17, 2012

Singing in the Dark

One thing I've learned from life and from sages is that on the journey toward self-understanding, we must inevitably experience darkness, grief, and loss to some degree or other. Part of our understanding is to see the whole picture, not only the parts which are peachy. We evolve from our naive understanding of God or the Universe as something which is only beneficent to the ability to hold the fact that to understand the whole picture means that we have to hold both of life's pleasures and life's losses. That to truly fall in love with this life we must somehow embrace the darkness. And I guess the true lesson, that lesson that ultimately will apprentice ourselves to experience the greatest joy, is the lesson of how to sing when you are in the midst of great loss and sorrow, when you feel the most abandoned.  I guess we learn that it's not about that shallow definition of "success," but what "success" really means is defined by who can speak to whatever place they find themselves, who can stand at the end of the battle, when your house is burned down, your life feels like it's in ruins and stand with your integrity and honor and sing into the darkness. Or at least hum a little, even if it's interrupted by tears.

The Winter Solstice is on the 21st of December. This is when the sun is at its lowest point on the horizon, the days are the shortest and the nights are the longest. Solstice means "sun stands still."
Yoga, of course, is a mirror for our life. Our practice of every-day living finds expression and offers us understanding through the ancient wisdom of yoga. So join me this week as we sing to the darkness, as we learn to hold both light and dark and therefore celebrate what it means to be fully alive.  


Monday, December 10, 2012

Seeking Wisdom

It’s cold outside. It’s time to come inside. The Medicine Wheel in Native American spirituality uses the direction north and the season of the winter to invite us to hibernate, draw inward, and reflect on our deeper and true wisdom. One way to think of this true wisdom is the instinctual knowing that is beyond rational thought. It’s instinct. In the yoga philosophy of subtle body (energy), the part of the body associated with this connection to our inner knowing is Ajna chakra, or the 6th chakra located on the forehead between the eyes. This energy center is often referred to as the 3rd eye, the one that looks inward instead of those which look outward.

Consider the idea of using this time of cold to come inside, hibernate in a way I suppose, and further develop this inner knowing by the deep work of looking inward through the practice yoga and meditation.

Try a simple meditation technique I call the “There Is” practice. First, sit. Close your eyes. Start to listen and pay attention to everything you can experience, both inside and out. You could become aware of sounds, smells, textures, thoughts, emotions, images, anything. Without any judgment, simply notice everything and point to it with the phrase, “there is.” For example, “There is cold. There is the sound of cars passing. There are thoughts of work. There is a cat licking my toes.” Try not using personal pronouns (I, me, and my) and let things just be. Before you react to anything, just sit with it and try to be an observer. Allow your mind and thoughts to do what they will, but remain the observer that notices your thoughts, sensations, etc. This practice may help discover that who you are is deeper than your thoughts, experiences and emotions. Those are an important part of who we are but in themselves do not make up our true identity, an identity that is based in awareness, an identity that is this inner knowing.

Come to yoga this week where we will practice the inner knowing as we feel our bodies move and breath in yoga and devote some of our time sit in meditation. If you’re looking for more meditation opportunities, you are welcome to drop in to our 3rd session of our Yoga Nidra series we are hosting at Prana Yoga Wednedsay nights from 7:15-8:45 pm.

Here’s one of my favorite winter poems that speaks to this practice of listening.

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
Silence and winter
has led me to that

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

~  David Whyte  ~

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Yoga Emergency

I’m traveling home from Lander Wyoming, a weekend of teaching some fantastic workshops. Traveling over the pass toward Rock Spring, we just hit a full-assault blizzard with 65 mph winds which trying its best to blow us off the road. We decided to call this stretch 32 miles of hell, especially after we saw the trailer that had just flipped. White knuckled at the wheel, my friend and ride share tries to calm her nerves by singing along to The Grateful Dead (irony isn’t lost on me). She breathes sighs of relief between choruses with big sigh after we reach the summit and start to head down the other side of the hill; the worst part is over.

Whether it’s a tricky spot in winter driving or something else in life, sooner or later we are bound to run into a tricky sitch. When these inevitable crises do occur, what do you have in your yoga first-aid kit? Here are a few suggestions of things you might want to have as a quick go-to that could help in tricky times to keep you going in the clutch moments when you’ve got to be on or when life’s throws you a curve.

First, off: presence. Open your eyes. Times like this make you wake up from that anesthetized state. There is no cruise control, here. If you’ve practice presence in your meditation or yoga practice, it will be easier to really be on when you need to be. If not, no time like the present (I have a pun permit, so back off). Notice what’s going on around you. Even when things are really tough, notice what’s going on in your body. Take a moment, close your eyes (unless you’re driving through a blizzard) and allow yourself to actually feel all of your body’s sensation, all your, emotions, thoughts, etc. without the need to change it. It’s always surprising to me how readily this practice of seeing things objectively, even for a brief moment, helps me develop a clearer perspective of my problems.

Breathe! Ujjaiyi breath, the whisper breath we practice in yoga, is done by breathing in and out through the nostrils and slightly constricting the breath in the throat to feel and hear a whisper. It is one of the most effective things I know to lower anxiety levels and oxygenate the body to perform optimally.

Grounding poses like forward folds and seated or lying-down twists ground the nervous system and reduce tension from the body. Any poses that reduce muscular tension (stretches) would be great to reduce stress and make you feel good. These poses send endorphins running through your body and give you a dose of Feel Good when life is crazy.

This leads perfectly to the next question: What are you doing to take care of yourself? Even if you feel like you don’t have time for anything superfluous, keeping yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically well is not superfluous. Too much relies on you being on and therefore, keep things happy. This might mean taking the morning off and strolling through Red Butte Gardens or take a jaunt into Hatch Family Chocolates (8th Ave between D and E St.) for a Peanut Butter Truffle. Eat well, simple and nourishing meals (with occasional chocolate). Get enough sleep. Especially in times of crisis, doing something for yourself to replenish the source so you have something to give back to everything that needs you. Otherwise, they will have to take care of you. Do it for yourself.

Simplify. Kindly say no to that extra social engagement. Stop trying to be perfect. Minimize and simplify. That’s why this email is going out on Tuesday morning instead of Monday. I had to simplify on Monday after a weekend away. Ha!

Finally, The House Martins help. If you don’t know this band, check them out here. When I feel like life has slapped me down, this band has always helped me get back up.

What is in your yoga first-aid kit? Respond to this email by finding this post on my Facebook page and commenting on what’s in your first-aid kit. See what others are saying.
Take care of yourself! See you in class.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Remembering with Food

Several years ago I studied meditation in Korea. After my very first meditation class, my Korean friend and fellow meditation student, Jin-soon, led a small group of us us down the street to the most unsuspecting little concrete building containing a church on the top floor, a karaoke lounge on the bottom, and something called Purin Nuri ("green-blue world") in the middle. We climbed the stairs, slipped off our shoes, and entered through the door into a different world, leaving the garish and abrasive city behind. Inside, we were embraced by the comforting smell of freshly baked bread, aromatic rice porridge, and steaming soup. Soft Korean music floated through the air as we followed Jin-soon to pick up a simple wooden bowl, spoon, and chopsticks, and began to sift contentedly through the Buddhist buffet, containing fresh lettuce leaves, glass noodles with mushrooms, tofu and veggie dishes, and a traditional cinnamon drink made with jujube berries and new pine needles. This style of food is called monk's cuisine in Korea and attempts to be as close to the earth as possible. In fact, much of the food would be harvested from the wild that day by the owner, Moon-kyung, and her friend and helper, Sun-hee: bitter wild dandelion leaves, sharp-tasting new pine needles, and fragrant and edible flowers. These two were the only people running this intimate culinary temple. Once we filled our bowls, we sat on the floor on a cushion, our legs crossed under a low wooden table. We paused for a moment of gratitude for this feast and for our lives, and then began the long, happy process of mindfully eating. Like tea, our meditation extended through lunch. This, too, became part of our daily ritual. Especially after this wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve been thinking that eating is the sacred ritual of cycling life through our bodies as we ask the life of other beings, plants and animals, to become a sacred part of our own life. We re-member ourselves and make ourselves whole from a dismembered state by consuming other life and making it a part of us. Eating is like many of the old stories and myths from ancient cultures (stories like Isis and Osiris, Rama and Sita, Tristan and Isolde, even the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) where gods, creatures, and people are re-membered, are brought back together and made whole again, after the refining and learning process of death and dismemberment. And like these ancient stories, so are we re-membered, or placed back into a greater wholeness (the whole of creation), as we stop the process of hunger and death, and assimilate other life by eating. We are gathered and re-membered into an even greater whole during the sacred sacrament of sitting at supper with friends and family, laughing, sharing, eating, drinking. This reverential ritual deserves mindfulness. With mindfulness, even a humble meal of rice and beans becomes a banquet. With mindfulness, we may sense the love that went into preparing the meal or envision the farm where the food was raised or grown. We may also sense the financial benefit to our community when we choose to support local sources. This heart and soul of eating can be gone in a flash: a fine nine-course French meal may as well be fast food if it's mindlessly gulped down and barely chewed between commercial breaks, newspaper headlines, or text messages. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, a way of practicing mindfulness is to pause for a moment of gratitude before your meal. If you don't pray, you may be creative in your expression of thankfulness by reading a poem about food or gratitude, offering thanks to the elements that are sustaining your life, or telling your dining partner(s) what you appreciate about them or the meal. I'll never forget the Thanksgiving I spent in Zion National Park, under the afternoon shadows of the red cliffs of Angels Landing, where my small family shared a meal with a wonderful friend and her daughters. For their gratitude for the meal, these friends sang a simple song together, smiling and giggling. After, we all clapped, laughed, expressed how we appreciated one another as well as the meal, and then dug into our cold turkey, green beans, and potatoes, lovingly hauled down to Southern Utah in a couple of giant coolers. At the end of the day, ordinary or extravagant food becomes exquisite with mindfulness. Without mindfulness, anything can become as bland as a chalky protein bar. But with the right mindfulness, even a naked bowl of oatmeal could prove to be very provocative! Here is a quote from one of my favorite poets, Wendell Berry. Post it next to your dinner table, perhaps, as we have: Eating with the fullest pleasure-pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance-is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. (from his essay "What Are People For?") I know this is the week after Thanksgiving, but if you had any sort of wonderful culinary extravagance as I did, you might be interested in continuing the feast of mindfulness with these simple practices. Scott

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Freaky Twin Connection

I’m a twin. We are identical meaning we came from the same egg and therefore have the exact same chromosomes. We’ve done time together: 9 months in the womb listening to that same momma’s heartbeat, sharing the same pulse. All this made us feel more at home when we were together than when we were apart. My parents would place us at opposite ends of the crib and by morning time they would find us entwined together, just like we were used to in the womb. We learned to speak late in development, probably because we already had our own twin language that suited us just fine, why would we need to speak anything else? We’d stand up at the ends of our butted cribs jibber jabbering for hours like two neighbors gossiping over the picket fence. There’s a connection there, clearly. And it still continues even today. A couple of months ago, a friend loaned me a fantastic book called Fargo Rock City, by Chuck Klosterman. It’s a great read, hilarious writing about a great topic: Heavy Metal. You gotta know, I’m not much of rocker. Growing up, my twin and I shared a music collection of bands like the Cure, The Smiths, and the Pixies. So a few weeks ago, I’m reading a fascinating chapter in Fargo Rock City about the very important distinction between the different types of Metal bands, i.e. glam metal vs. speed metal vs. death metal, etc. and which band should be qualified by which metal prefix and what not. That same day, I get an email from my brother who doesn’t know I’m reading this book and who has a billion other things to reference but who chooses to ask my opinion on the very important philosophical questions regarding metal bands and which type of band qualifies with which metal prefix. It was like he’d read the very same book. Hadn’t even heard of it. Yeah. Freaky twin connection. So then I’m writing this, or at least a draft of it, and my brother calls and having not mentioned Metal philosophy since our last conversation months ago, and brings it up again. At first I thought it was because he’d read my newsletter, but then it dawned on me that NOONE had read my newsletter ‘cuz I hadn’t sent it, I was drafting it. Metal was on my mind and therefore somehow on his. Yeah. Freaky twin connection. And even if we aren’t all twins, we’ve all had this experience to some degree or other, right? Who hasn’t been thinking of that friend that you haven’t seen in a couple of months or weeks and suddenly that minute received a phone call or a text or email from them? What is that? It’s freaky Friday is what it is! Or is it? What is that connection that seems to transmit like a frequency across distance so readily and timely? I don’t know but I like the question. I know the human experience is a complex system and network of everything from bones and blood to neurons and nerves. Then there are emotions and thoughts and the soul, whatever that is. I guess our work as humans, and therefore in our yoga practice, is to practice and experience the process that unveils how it all works and is connected, not so much to answer the question of “how” but “who” or “what.” Who am I and what is this all about? Clues to these bedrock questions are found right at my fingertips, I suppose, as I practice yoga and inquire. One thing that all the parts of human beings and everything else in the universe have in common is energy, vibration, and frequency. I mean every particle and atom in the universe has movement to it. That seems to be the constant, that everything is quickened by some force, right? Energy. In yoga that energy is called Prana (hey, great name for a yoga studio. I’ll keep that in mind). Energy is simply the potential to do work. In yoga, the system of energy channels networked together and converging at particular points is called the chakra system. These seven principle energy centers align at different points along our spine. And when one thing that is conditioned, or designed, or just happens to be aligned with something else, those things resonate. Like twins. This coinciding vibration reminds me of this concept called sympathetic vibration. It goes like this: Notes represent sound waves which travel at a certain frequency. Different frequencies, faster or slower, plays different notes. I’ll be practicing my saxophone in my living room with my guitar hanging on the wall and when I play a note, an E for example, on the sax, the E string on the guitar, tuned to play at the same frequency, starts to vibrate. I’ll take the sax out of my mouth and hear a “ghost note” the residual vibration of the guitar string. Freaky cool. I think we work much in this same way. When people say things that resonate with us, it’s like we are predisposed, operating under the same frequency, to feel that same way. Thus we listen to politicians, see a great piece of art, watch a dance, hear a sermon, and something resonates with us; we vibrate at the same frequency. These vibrations gotta be different than light, different than sound, but something nonetheless sends a message. What is it?! Yoga is where we get to both feel and understand better this idea of prana, vibration, and resonance. In yoga, we refine our listening skills, we clear the energetic channels, and set the conditions for our bodies to ring more clearly. Again, what is this vibration that connects us all? I don’t know. But I’d be very interested in hearing your take on it. Click over to my Facebook page and let me know your thoughts on the subject. See what others have written. Please share your stories about being connected or on the same wavelength as someone or something else. In the meantime, I’ll see you in Yoga. Join me this Thanksgiving from 10 am-12pm for a special practice where we vibrate together to the frequency of gratitude. See you there!

Monday, November 12, 2012

I Don't Know the Name of This Bird

White-Eyes by Mary Oliver In winter all the singing is in the tops of the trees where the wind-bird with its white eyes shoves and pushes among the branches. Like any of us he wants to go to sleep, but he's restless— he has an idea, and slowly it unfolds from under his beating wings as long as he stays awake But his big, round music, after all, is too breathy to last. So, it's over. In the pine-crown he makes his nest, he's done all he can. I don't know the name of this bird, I only imagine his glittering beak tucked in a white wing while the clouds— which he has summoned from the north— which he has taught to be mild, and silent— thicken, and begin to fall into the world below like stars, or the feathers of some unimaginable bird that loves us, that is asleep now, and silent— that has turned itself into snow. I read this poem and imagine this bird wrestling with its idea in the tops of the trees manifesting in the brilliant winter storm we have experienced over the weekend. I think of something large and definitive, a creator or director or maybe simply a grand observer, who puffs and blows the turbulence we all sense in the storms of our lives. I imagine this being as blustery at times, yes, but one who ultimately reaches me softly, a real touch, by sending gentle, delicate, and cold kisses floating through the air, landing silently on my face and shoulders and eyes. Something as simple as the snow falling silently around me manifesting the Divine’s love for me. “I don’t know the name of this bird. . .” but I can feel it. It stops my stomping in my tracks, ankle deep in dark and cold, my brow furrowed and mind brimming with business, and lifts my gaze for a moment to watch the dazzling show of fat, silent flakes, filter through the streetlight. The beauty of it all! “I don’t know the name of this bird,” but I can feel it move through me in yoga. It breathes me and makes my body move and sway, undulate and reach. It arrests my busy mind and opens my eyes. Come and listen and watch your deeper self this week in the warm studio as the Divine, who has turned itself into snow, sifts softly down and touches and blesses the ground around us.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Faces in a Crowd

IN A STATION OF THE METRO The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet black bough. –Ezra Pound Written in 1913 in a Parisian metro station, for me this poem suggests the transience and beauty of human experience. It is the anonymous crowd but highlights the faces of individuals, key part of a person’s identity. It speaks to that question of uniqueness vs. sameness. Speaking of uniqueness, I’m just now discovering Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Guns N Roses. When I was in high school and junior high those bands were popular. Really popular. That kind of popular precluded my interest. Cuz my merry band identified with being different. We were unique. Those other bands were the clarion of a different crowd, in my mind musical and cultural lemmings that could all run off a cliff with their Teen Spirit or Appetite for Destruction and what would I care because I enjoyed a smug uniqueness that they wouldn’t appreciate let alone understand. Or at least I thought so. Stupid I know because in my quest to be unique, I missed out on some great music. I mean really, Slash’s solo on Sweet Child O’ Mine has to be one of the greatest guitar solos in Rock history. It’s an institution. Decades later, I rock to those bands like everybody else. So what is it about the need to be unique? Are we really as individual as we think or hope we are? In this social media age it’s so easy to project the image of how you want to be seen and identified as special and unique. The irony here is that as poet and speaker David Whyte says, to be constantly explaining who you are is a gospel of despair. But to simply BE yourself, that is more like what it is to experience a real existence. Like the guy who parked next to me at the trailhead the other day. I came off a run and was stretching next to my car and looking at someone’s ride. This thing was a piece of work, like an election billboard but less subtle. It was a hummer with all the super rugged equipment on it: lift, tinted windows, gnarly hitch, exhaust snorkel, front wench, industrial jacks, extra gas tanks on top, mauls, hammers and axes hanging on like he was on a fire squad (maybe was and wanted everybody to know) cuz who knows what kind of trouble you might run into on the way to Dan’s, you know? This dude was prepared to forge his own trail across Africa. And by the stickers plastered over his car I could easily read that the driver was a proud whiskey drinkin’, apple computer using, Black Widdow bike shop sportin’, Alta Skiin’, Hummer Drivin’, Back Country shoppin’, outdoor lovin’, The Front climbin’, adventure seekin’, Patigonioa wearin’ . . .person. Ego in the most pure way, a misidentification with what we think we are. A real mountaineer just is without needing to broadcast it. Like nature is just nature. A horse doesn’t prance around all day shouting, “I’m a horse, people!” It just does its thing and in so doing shows its regal majesty. And who isn’t like this this Hummer dude in some way? I know I am. We all want to be known and seen, right? We all want to be unique. Does that make us all the same? When you step back we are like Ezra Pound says in his poem, just “faces in the crowd.” We are all part of the masses trying to make our way home. But when you zoom in and look at the individual, there is something special about each person. I believe that our individuality and therefore identity isn’t based on what we do as much as how we are uniquely paying attention to the world. There was only one person in all of existence who paid attention to the world the way Monet did. Or Dali. Or Miles Davis. Or Mary Oliver. No one else in history will ever see the world the way that YOU do. So how are you paying attention? What do you see? For me, I notice movement, jazz, kindness in people, the smell of a chocolate shop. Ah, but there I go, just like Hummer Guy, broadcasting my identity. Maybe not. Maybe it’s different because I can like those things regardless if anybody else is watching. Maybe that’s the test. So if we are all unique by how we are paying attention to the world what is this malarkey we hear in yoga about us all being one? I have tried my whole life (at least through high school) to be singled out from the crowd, to find a unique identity that could be distinguished from the faceless crowd. The truth is that we are both. We are the unique person who likes the music and sees the world just as we do, but we are also all made of the same matter. We are individual members of a larger organism. You are part of a being which has 2400 eyes that is reading this newsletter. We belong to the yoga community. And yes we are all part of that large thing too, made from the same star dust, the same basic elements but we express those elements differently. The hostas and the hibiscus might be in the same garden but they need different things to flourish. And when you step back it is all one garden. So yeah, we’re unique expressions of the same thing. Would you agree? For me, that’s how we contribute to the larger organism is by watching the world exactly the way we do and sharing those gifts of perception with each other. This way the whole organism grows. If you are happy, healthy, and well, you are contributing to the wellness of the greater being. That’s what’s so wonderful about the many souls in a yoga class, everybody is so different but all part of the same thing. This week, I invite you to contemplate sameness vs. uniqueness and notice the way you are paying attention to the world. Come practice paying close attention to body, mind, and heart in yoga class. I’ll be there. And you can bet that this week when I’m not teaching yoga I’ll be paying attention Guns N Roses, particularly to Slash’s face-melting guitar solo. By the way, I’m going as Slash for Halloween.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sattva: Finding Middle

The Samkhya school of classical yoga philosophy describes the universe and all its qualities using three main humors, called Gunas. These are Rajas, Tamas, Sattva. Rajas is generally building, full of fire, or energizing, while Tamas is generally grounding, calming, and inert. The skillful negotiation of the two brings us to the precious middle path, Sattva. If we went into a yoga class feeling sluggish and tired and came out feeling wired and spastic, we would not have served ourselves other than to experience the opposite end of miserable. Instead, we use the balance of steadiness and ease (in the yoga Sutras, Patanjali calls these sukum and sthirum) to bring us to the place where we feel both energized and calm. We are neither looking to be revved-up and wired nor to be too sluggish and sleepy, but rather to optimize the perfect balance, the Sattvic state. This is why savasana is so essential at the end of an energizing yoga practice. This is also why it sometimes helps to go on a gentle walk after a very relaxing practice. Middle feels like home. For those of us who love to bliss out on Rajas and train or play really hard, don't worry. Just remember that there is a time to sit and meditate too. Also, those of us who could indulge in Tamas and stay on our cozy meditation cushions all day long and then celebrate with a box of Hatch Family Chocolates, well, maybe you could try at least walking to the Avenues to get your chocolate. Most importantly, these principles remind us that balance is not only comfortable, but optimal. If you need to add more Tamas to your life, more ease, come to my Restore class at Sego Lily (see schedule on the left side of this email). If you could balance out some sluggishness by adding a little Rajas, come to my flow class on Tuesday morning. Yes, it's early but it feels great.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

It's Time to Harvest

It's Harvest time. I think that this meant a lot more to our grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom were raised on the farm or who were agrarian for much of their lives. Even if we aren't running our hands through the soil for our daily sustenance, I believe there are many forms of harvests in life. These Harvests equal understanding what you've cultivated, understanding what is, and learning to enjoy the present moment. Yoga teaches us that now is the time to feast on the banquet of what life is offering. We celebrate the life that causes us to grow. We celebrate understanding that we are all somewhere in our season of growing, of blossoming into our own potential. We make several harvests along the path to this potential. These harvests are not only harvests of years or experience, but also harvests of understanding and realization. Perhaps we have ripened in our career and its time to ask for a raise; perhaps its time to try a more advanced yoga practice, or commit to a consistent meditation practice. Or perhaps our harvest is realizing that things are perfect the way they are and we can learn to be still and appreciate that. I believe one of the richest harvests is simply being present with what is right now. These harvests come and go, and if we are not prepared to see them, if we are not present and mindful, the opportunity, the realization, will pass us by. Rainer Maria Rilke says in his poem, "Ripening Barberries," that unless we learn to harvest what is here and now, unless we come to realize this cornucopia of abundant being inside, we are lost in a world of seasonless stagnancy. Kinda harsh but very true. Here it is: Already the ripening barberries are red And the old asters hardly breathe in their beds. The man who is not rich now as summer goes Will wait and wait and never be himself. The man who cannot quietly close his eyes certain that there is vision after vision inside, simply waiting for nighttime to rise all around him in darkness-- it's all over for him, he's like an old man. Nothing else will come; no more days will open and everything that does happen will cheat him. Even you, my God. And you are like a stone that draws him daily deeper into the depths. We cannot wait for some other time to gather what we are searching for. We must find it, to whatever degree, now. We cannot base our life on contingencies. Unless we learn what abundance is present here and now, we can never hope to see it in the future. Yoga, meditation, breathwork are all ways of learning to open our eyes and see what is here. Every practice is a harvest. We practice until we find the harvest in every minute, where the regale of the world opens up to our understanding and we feast on our lives. See you in class.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Dark Feet and Dark Wings

I find something magical about being willing to step away from what is comfortable and stable into the darkness, into the unknown. It's these blind steps which strip all the haze that blocks my vision. And you know, I find that when I make those courageous steps, everything narrows, and for a breathtaking moment everything is dark. But it's amazing how what really matters suddenly starts to shine, like fireflies dancing against the pitch, leading me forward. I feel like for me, creating a relationship with the unknown is sometimes the price to grow in the ways I really need to grow. I have amazing presence in those moments when I can't see where I'm going but walk forward nonetheless. This relationship with the unknown empowers me with a simple yet crucial investigative vulnerability. It shakes me enough to really open my eyes. With my faculties honed, the sleepiness of mundane life shaken from my eyes, I feel alive, more present, more like myself than I have in years. Yes, the darkness can be scary. It can also be mystical and magical. Like Wendell Berry says in his poem To Know the Darkness: To go into the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings. I invite you to take a step into the darkness. You know that scary thing that sort of nags you, that you almost don't dare to consider because then you may have to confront it? I invite you to consider stepping toward that thing. Yep. And even thinking about it, it's already begun. Take that step. Rest assured, you will be challenged. But you too will create a relationship with the unknown and you will grow and bloom and discover new things about yourself that will most likely surprise and amaze you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pardon Me While I Slimp into Something More . . . Conscious

What if what we are fundamentally is what the poet Mary Oliver says we are in her poem conveniently also titled Poem, “pure light that shines where no one is”? She describes our essence as an “Airy and shapeless thing,/ it needs/ the metaphor and the body. . . to be understood/ to be more than pure light /that burns/ where no one is”. If that’s true, than this essence of being, this pure light, is shrouded with not only our fallible body, perfect in its imperfections, but also layers and layers of emotions, thoughts, memories, etc. like gossamer wrappings around a mummy. Yoga philosophy suggests that all these layers aren’t the real self, but merely the costume we wear to cover what is really real. And how does one substantiate that? Who knows. Come to know yourself and see for yourself, I suppose. Practice and listen and learn. And that our practice is to bit by bit learn to uncover the real version of Self. I suppose that all these other parts of us—body, emotions, thoughts, etc., — are all real enough ‘cuz they take form, right? I can see it and feel it, right? But when we really get down to it, anything that is changeable doesn’t qualify for the truest part of being that by definition can’t change. It always is. And here’s the tricky part, because even though these lesser parts of self, like body and emotions and what not, don’t equate Self with the capital “S” (read: pure light), they are the most easily accessible parts to see and experience, to pay attention to. And here’s the beautiful part, from these lesser “not real”, or at least not absolute parts, like body, and breath, and emotions, we experience a tangible realm in which to practice experiencing the Real part, the part aggrandized with all the capital letters. All these mummy wrappings, while not the whole deal, suggest at least at what’s underneath. So that’s good. For me, yoga is the dance between that pure light Self and the mummy wrapping outer self. It’s finding where those two realms meet and converse and then periodically looking under the wrappings to hint at what is real while still enjoying the wrappings. We unravel the mummy bandages, just enough to see clues of Self. With practice we might become so adept at this peeking that we begin to piece together a working knowledge of the underlying form our true radiance. So, first we mistake the wrappings to be the Self. Then we notice the Self under the wrappings and may even begin to loathe the dirty wrappings. Eventually we stop seeing the dirty wrappings when we start seeing the wrappings form as the expression of what’s underneath. Then something really magical happens and that’s when we look at someone else and see or sense the same brightness beneath their wrappings of pain, ego, cynicism, whatever, and understand that person with complete compassion, even if they neither see us or themselves in that same way. When we’ve seen ourselves and others from this deeper vantage point, we won’t/can’t go back to not seeing or knowing. Plus, we may suddenly start to notice other, once subtle, things that perhaps have been around us all the time. Only now we truly see them because we’ve learned how to pay attention. We may feel the breeze on our skin, smell the garden, or truly hear/feel the music because we sense this same aliveness in all of this as we did inside of ourselves. This is because or basic make up is the same basic make up of everything else. One of the oldest mantras is the world is The Gayatri mantra which states, “Everything in the heavens and in the earth and in between is arising from one effulgent source. If my thoughts, words and deeds reflected a complete understanding of this unity, I would be the peace I am seeking in this moment.” It’s just sometimes we forget. We forget our true nature. We forget our source. It’s nice to know that forgetting who we are is also very natural. Don’t beat yourself up about it because we all do it. The question is how do you set those practices up in your life to help yourself continuously remember? Yoga and meditation provides the practice to always work on remembering literally to re-member to come back together until we realize we are all part of the same big source of vital aliveness. We come to realize that this work is never ending that we will always have to work and continue to refine our ability to see. When we see a lifetime sentence of work sometimes that can be a bit daunting, but here’s the kicker: IT FEELS GOOD! It feels good to practice. It feels good to see. It feels good to experience the world with this kind of clarity, especially when balanced with the two tempering qualities of steadiness and ease. Why wouldn’t we want to undress this radiant being from its foreign and clunky costume? Oh, just cuz I’m ranting on about the subject, don’t be fooled into thinking that I’ve got this figured out. I don’t. I, like all of you, have some time or other just had a momentary glimpse at the light while in practice, meditation or during a trail-run. In her other poem, Bone, Mary Oliver says this: and what the soul is, also I believe I will never quite know. Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking, and touching, and loving, which is the way I walked on, softly, through the pale-pink morning light. She says that we will never know. Not truly. But the degree to which we do know is the ability to simply practice of awareness which can happen while looking, touching, loving. This is the essence of our practice, the practice of every-day living. The conscious crooner Leonard Cohen so eloquently addresses this topic in only the best Leonard Cohen fashion possible. Quirky factoid: from a young age Leonard Cohen has always felt most comfortable wearing a suit. I’m talkin’ full-on jacket and tie 365 days a year. I think his dad was a tailor. In his song Going Home, recorded on his most recent album Old Ideas (at 78 years old?!), you get the sense that he understands his own imminent mortality as he drops these poetically poignant lines: I’d like to speak to Leonard he’s a sportsman and a shepherd. He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit. . . . He will speak these words of wisdom Like a sage, a man of vision Though he knows he's really nothing But the brief elaboration of a tube Going home Without my sorrow Going home Sometime tomorrow To where it's better Than before Going home Without my burden Going home Behind the curtain Going home Without the costume That I wore Leonard Cohen is talking about finally taking off that damned 3-piece suit but of course is simultaneously talking about shedding the small self, the old rags if you will—body, ego and all that—to see the radiant Self beneath. This shedding of the costume could be the enlightenment after a lifetime of lyrical contemplation (in this case set to iambic pentameter none the less!) or perhaps the radical change that happens when we die. After all, like he notes of himself, aren’t we all (physically, anyway) simply the brief elaboration of a tube? Check out this song. Leave it to L.C. to speak to the most sublime holy and eternal part in all of us directly and bluntly while his raspy voice poetically paints the perfect picture with his concise lyrics. Such clarity in vision can only be express with equally clear words, after all language is a philosophy, an art, and a practice in itself. So join me this week as we practice dancing between the realm of self and Self. Perhaps this will help us see ourselves and our world more clearly.