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.