Monday, April 30, 2012

Riders on the Storm

"...What we choose to fight is so tiny! What fights us is so great! If only we would let ourselves be dominated as things do by some immense storm, we would become strong too, and not need names. When we win it's with small things, and the triumph itself makes us small. What is extraordinary and eternal does not want to be bent by us..." (from Rilke's poem "The Man Watching") In light of Rilke’s poem, one of these "extraordinary and eternal" powers is what we can access in yoga. And none of us really understands it. And, truly, none of us can really control that extraordinary and eternal force that is larger than ourselves. When we practice yoga, we are submitting ourselves to something great and powerful, within and without us. Yoga is mysterious and strong stuff, as is Life itself. We have the opportunity to dance with it and to learn from it and access something greater than our small everyday minds and lives because of it. Sometimes we "use" the yoga to feel like we have total control, over our bodies or minds or relationships or circumstances. And this makes us feel temporarily safe, like we can somehow order this mystery in a way that keeps us from pain or loss. But, in the end, we've been disillusioned: our bodies change, grow old, our lives change, people disappoint us, etc., and we feel a sense of our vulnerability and our tenderness. In the meantime, something powerful and wise and mysterious has been trying to spend time with us, change us, heal us, "have its way with us." Yes, we can come with intention to our yoga mats, with intention to our lives, (which helps give us direction and helps flex our muscles in making what we love out of our lives) but then we can let go. We can empty our cups, admit sweet defeat, and approach our mats ready to watch and learn, and ready to be taught and surprised. We can enter each day the same way. Rilke finishes his poem: "Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by constantly greater beings." There is probably nothing harder for human beings than to soften into our lives (and our yoga practices!) with a sense of wonder and humility. However, in the end, this is what will best serve us and everyone else. There is so much we DO have say over, using our wills to GET to yoga class for one, to step into the mystery in the first place, to work with our thoughts, to forgive, to love, to change, to help others. There is so much we can create, there is so much strength we can access in ourselves, yes, BUT nothing good can come out of our trying to control our lives, our bodies, our yoga from a place of fear . And until we learn to befriend the mystery, we're missing the opportunity to be taught by something wiser: "This illusion of being in control, that we can control everything that happens to us, is so destructive, so aggressive" (Treya, in Ken Wilber's "Grace and Grit"), destructive because we avoid being changed and taught and grown, which hurts us and those around us. Not to mention that if we believe that WE'RE in control, then that implies that everyone else is too and we feel judgment and lose compassion for other human beings, who are also subject to the mystery. Eventually we can befriend the mystery: we can see we are neither victims of our time on this earth, nor are we sole authors. We are in a dance with the Storm itself (to use Rilke's imagery), with Life, with our bodies, with Yoga, with ourselves, with our families. We are the other player in this cosmic chess game. I'm going to focus on letting go and befriending the mystery myself this week, in classes and in private. Please join me! We're all in this mystery together!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Master teacher and author Donna Farhi wrote in her book, “Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living”:
One of the most devastating consequences of skewed perception is the longing that grows in us for someone to see us as we really are. We long to have someone, somewhere, even for a moment, really see us. When someone sees the “us” that is our essence, we say that we feel loved. My teacher taught that the primary thing to learn is how to be this loving, accepting presence. . . . When this longing to be seen by another is great, we become susceptible to chronic manipulation of our image. We may continually rearrange and reinvent ourselves in the hope that this new rendition will please our audience. Instead of being present, we perform. (pp. 179–80)

The Poet David Whyte says, “To be constantly explaining who you are is a gospel of despair.” He further invites us to simply be ourselves and in so doing give permission to all around us to do likewise.

In yoga, we practice self-witnessing as we breathe, move through poses, and meditate. Without this self-witness you can’t see you. No amount of others seeing or perceiving you will supplement for a lack of knowing yourself. It’s the paradox of rock stars feeling so lonely. Like a friend told me recently, it’s as if in our quest to experience and really discover/remember who we are, we feel like being seen by others is synonymous to being. There must be something there to see, right? But being witnessed isn’t witnessing. Yoga philosophy suggests that who we are fundamentally is the ability to truly witness ourselves.

Thanks, Mr. Oblique Yoga Philosophy Guy. That’s some awesome yoga thought but give me some real-life ways to relate that to getting up in the morning and facing another day of work and family and the every-day. Well, the easiest way to apply this is to just pay attention to your life. What does it feel like to sit in a warm shower and let the water flow over your skin? What do the blossoms smell like when you walk down the sidewalk? What does your breakfast taste like? What does it feel like when your boss walks by? Yoga practice is simply a condensed and refined way of paying close attention. Besides yoga makes us feel great, helps us have a healthy body, calm mind, and open heart. Here’s the deal: once we start practicing this self-witnessing business in yoga, we won’t stop at Namaste. We’ll be feeling our hamstrings in practice one night, and wake up extremely aware of the way the shower feels or maybe start to see the deep feelings in your heart. These are the most real ways of just being. The deeper we pay attention, the more we notice what’s behind the surface, what’s animating the outer form, what’s sensing, what’s seeing. Eventually, with practice, we become more and more familiar with this Inner Self. What’s amazing is how this knowledge of Inner Self gives us amazing confidence to just be. We stop trying to produce the image of ourselves, and we just be ourselves.

It reminds me of tales of Mark Twain giving lectures back in the day. He would walk out on stage in front of a packed theater and just stand there looking at the audience. The crowd would applause, would eventually quiet down and wait silently for him to talk. Instead of saying anything, he would just stand there and stare back to them, like he was staring down the whole place. The tension in the room began to build second by second as he just stood there looking back at them all. One man looking at thousands. He didn’t have to perform. He didn’t have to say anything. He was Mark-Freekin’-Twain! Finally, when the tension became almost unbearable, he could say one word and have the entire audience in his hands because he was completely real.

Writers, poets, yogis all have this one crucial thing in common: they all pay very close attention themselves and the world around them.
I’ll see you in class and we’ll practice some of this self-witnessing. Maybe this is what John Lennon meant by “let it be.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Change Rooms in Your Mind for a Day

Change Rooms in Your Mind for a Day

I climb out of the car after 6 hours of freeway driving, fun holiday-weekend traveling and an amazing change of scenery, and jump into a different landscape, a dark, cool, spring evening. Summed up: short sleeves, short shorts, short run. The fragrant spring blossoms! I climb the hill to 13th and run by past East High with The Chili Peppers and Higher Ground rocking loudly in my ears; Adele, past the fire station; Marven’s Garden’s Is She Comin’ My Way, a band that has been very influential to me, as round the corner and back to my house; a little GnR as I climb my steps. Home. Maybe some Life cereal, write this bit, and then some sleep and things will feel different. They already do.

When shit goes down, and you don’t know where to go and what to do with whatever is troubling you, try simply changing your environment for a little while. This is what came to me on my run. One of my dear teachers, Jaisri, would tell me to just go walk outside, to connect with nature which is regulated by the principle of harmony. I guess that’s what Wallace Stevens meant when he said, “Sometimes the truth depends upon a walk around the lake.”

I guess that’s what I’m thinking about: Truth. Or at least truth as translated into what I believe at that moment. Because I think, and I’m sure you’d maybe agree with me here, that sometimes what we believe is true and what is True with a capitol T isn’t always the same thing. That’s because beliefs are constantly changing. For example, I used to believe that if I ate watermelon seeds, I’d grow a watermelon in my belly. Sure, I was 4 years old but that belief changed. I don’t worry about watermelon belly anymore but I still worry. Some things that I believe are true are True and others aren’t. The important thing, I think, is to understand there is a difference.

Yoga philosophy teaches us that our beliefs are a part of us but are changeable and therefore not the best representation of our True Self. Beliefs are just beliefs. Once we place our awareness above our perceived beliefs, and this includes worries, then we raise our consciousness to see something broader. We then escape the trap of thinking that things have to be all black and white, this way or that, right or wrong. We can see past our own rigid ideology (a schema of beliefs) and in so doing invite others to do the same. I believe this rise above ideology, to a paradoxical place where both sets of beliefs can be right, or to a place that is ultimately more important if either is right, is what harmony really means.

As I write, at this very moment, I’m looking next to me at the Zen painting hanging on my wall that I bought in Korea, where a monk with his giant calligraphy brush painted the symbol for harmony. I think I really understand this painting for the first time.

To raise our consciousness like this, to exit our old beliefs, the engines that make us worry, means we need to take a vacation from our own mind, from the way we’ve been previously thinking. Not that we have to change very radically. Just see a different something different. Like Hafiz says, we’ve gotta change rooms in our minds for a day. When you don’t know where to go, change your environment. Go on a walk. Get into nature. Jump into a yoga class and get out of those worry landscapes, those fear landscapes, and connect, even in a small way, with that part of you that is Harmony, that is the rue part of yourself.

One of my dear family members, a German scholar, loves to quote a Prussian general speaking to another general as he looks over a devastated battle field, “the situation is hopeless but not serious.” Thanks, Alan.


Here are a few poems I love that I feel relate to this topic

The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry

All The Hemispheres

Leave the familiar for a while.
Let your senses and bodies stretch out

Like a welcomed season
Onto the meadows and shores and hills.

Open up to the Roof.
Make a new water-mark on your excitement
And love.

Like a blooming night flower,
Bestow your vital fragrance of happiness
And giving
Upon our intimate assembly.

Change rooms in your mind for a day.

All the hemispheres in existence
Lie beside an equator
In your heart.

Greet Yourself
In your thousand other forms
As you mount the hidden tide and travel
Back home.

All the hemispheres in heaven
Are sitting around a fire

While stitching themselves together
Into the Great Circle inside of

— Hafiz

Monday, April 2, 2012

Homeward Flight

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

For me this poem says that is enough to just be. That we aren’t human doings, but human beings. That even grief is part of the human landscape and that no matter your circumstances, you belong to this amazing world which is constantly assuring us that we belong in a spirit of abiding contentment. You don’t have to prove yourself. You already are.

In yoga we practice being more than doing. The movement and the postures simply arrest our attention and show us the being part of human being. Practice with me this week as we all find our place in the family of things. Somehow this practice, just like the wild geese, is the journey back home.