Monday, July 29, 2013

The Naked Truth

If it hasn't happened already, there will come a time when we stop trying to produce that infallible vision of ourselves and allow ourselves the radical permission to be exactly what and how we are. This permission revolves around the yogic principle of Satya or truth. To be honest with who and where we are, both our strengths and weaknesses, allows us a solid platform from which we can skillfully step to the next place. We stop trying to be everything that we're not and finally find how perfectly we belong to exactly where we are.

With intention, direction, work, and most of all appreciation for our present situation, our dreams of where we want to end up will start to fill out. If we feel stuck, indecisive, depressed, or angry, our truth is to speak to that place. We can speak to all our situations with yoga, an embodiment of all our inner landscapes.

What we want is within our reach; it's simply laced with a bit of irony: the key to fulfillment in the future is to be content now. If we're committed to the honesty of where we are and are content for what is, knowing things change, we create a bridge of present content moments which links us to contentment in our fulfilled future. Without present contentment, without appreciating the truth of where we are, we may find ourselves where we previously hoped for only to discover our habit of malcontent, and, disgruntlement, wishing we were back where we started or somewhere else. We're back in the viscous cycle of hoping for anything but what is true, what is here.

Our main task as I see it is to understand where we are, where our love lies, and bravely organize our lives to focus on what matters most.

I hope that this truth and brave path may lead you to yoga this week.

Here is an offering I learned from my teacher that you may want to use in your meditations:

By the power and truth of our simply practice,
May we and all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May we and all beings be free from sorrow and any causes of sorrow.
May we and all beings never be separated from that sacred happiness which is beyond sorrow.
And may we and all beings live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion.
And may we live recognizing and honoring the equality of all that lives.

Sarva Mangalam (May the greatest goodness unfold)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hello from Italy!

Ciao!  We made it to Italy! I came on the lest expensive flight possible, through Moscow. Yes, Moscow. No, I did not see Edward Snowden, but I looked. I did, however find some of the most rich hot chocolate I've ever tasted in my life. Whoa! I had a great 24 hour layover in Paris on the way to Italy and will be heading back to Paris after the retreat. This is going to be a great trip!

We are starting our yoga retreat today. Kim Dastrup and I are hosting the retreat at a restored farmhouse called Ebbio, located in the Tuscan countryside. This farmhouse is 800 years old and you can tell by the almost millennium of footsteps that have worn down the stone steps. Fortunately it's completely modernized and comfortable but in a way that has kept all of its charm.

The theme of our retreat will follow Dante's La Comedia, or The Divine Comedy. This book was written in the 1300s at a time when Dante was exiled from his home in Florence and had to learn to reinvent himself in a totally different land, with different people, and different way of life. He was probably exiled to somewhere close to where we are staying because he references the castle nearby in his book.  Dante's new life had to be built not from any sort of competency, but rather from a radical form of investigative vulnerability. He had to learn to make friends with the unknown and find his power in a way that was also completely foreign to him. That's why this book has been considered a classic for all these years is because of it's invitation to be vulnerable, not because it supposes what to do.

Please join me in spirit this week as we all look at the possibility of making friends with that which we don't know and allow ourselves to grow in this way. I'll update you all with photos as much as possible on Facebook.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Chanting A Love Supreme

Chanting A Love Supreme

Gayatri Mantra
Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreṇ(i)yaṃ
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt


Everything on the Earth and in the sky and in between is arising from one effulgent source. If my thoughts, words, and deeds reflected a complete understanding of this, I would be the peace I am seeking in this moment.

There is a mantra that I’ve been working to understand for several years. It’s The Gayatri Mantra, one of the oldest mantras in existence. It’s more than 12 thousand years old and comes from the Rigveda, an ancient Sanskrit text containing hymns and mantras that are mythological and poetic accounts of the origin of the world. I struggle to understand it because it suggests that when I’m feeling freaked out by something, I already have peace or am the peace that I feel I lack. Likewise, this mantra suggests that somehow through one Source, we are everything else. And to any mind that is caught up in limited a conception of Self, this is ridiculous.

One experience I had that helped me to understand this mantra a little better happened about three or four years ago while I was on an early-morning run in Hawaii. Because my body was used to a different time zone, I was up and running while most of everybody else was sleeping. On that beautiful morning, I ran along a paved trail that contours the ocean and stretches for miles. All the elements including myself were harmonized to make a perfect storm of physical, mental, and spiritual bliss. My mind was clear, the weather, temperature, altitude and humidity were all perfect. As I ran, my mind opened up to incredible clarity. In this clarity, I began processing some of the jazz improve theory that my sax teacher had been teaching me, specifically regarding works by John Coltrane. My feet tapped along the trail and my lungs bellowed the humid ocean-air while my mind thought about scales, intervals, harmonics, chords, and all of the underlying structure of jazz. My sax teacher tells me that if I want to find those notes coming out of my horn, I have to not only feel them in my soul, but I also gotta know what is possible to feel and that takes a little head work. With all this mental clarity some fairly complex music theory simply started to make sense to me. Deeper musical ideas began to percolate to my mental surface causing new lights to go on. I was figuring it out and it was happening without any teacher or even the reference of my sax or even music paper. I realized that somehow, a lot of this understanding was already in there. Amazed at these musical revelations, an immense thought dawned upon me: even if it’s waaaay down there, there is a John Coltrane in me somewhere. The perfect run connected me to Source, even just a little bit, and that led me to somehow understand Coltrane a little better. If I truly understood the connection of all things, if I were truly tapped into Source like the Gayatri Mantra suggests, I’d be able to access that same power, soul, and knowledge that John Coltrane did. Me! John Coltrane!

Coltrane was connected to Source. He demonstrates this plainly in his most spiritual work, some say the most spiritual of all of jazz, his album called A Love Supreme. In it he makes circles both in the arc of the sound in music as well as in its form; this chord and this phrase makes a logical, mathematical, and aurally pleasing transition to the next, and the next until the formula causes it to arrive back to where it started. Just as you might hear Brahman priests chanting the Gayatri Mantra from the Rigveda, in this recording you hear these priests of jazz chant, “A Love Supreme” repeatedly in the background evoking Source. You see, in certain disciplines initiates get a new name. In yoga your name might become Yogananda, or Ram Das, for jazz it might be Trane or Bird. I believe that in the métier of transcendent jazz (read: heaven), God was given the nickname, A Love Supreme. Fitting. I think God uses it as a Facebook handle, or something. In part, Coltrane’s message was that everything is inscribed within A Love Supreme. A Love Supreme is The Effulgent Source mentioned in the Gayatri Mantra and to fully comprehend this Source means to understand everything, including peace, including jazz, including yourself. This is enlightenment and whether your path there incorporated practicing either poses or jazz theory or anything else, you still end up at the same place.

Alice Coltrane, J.C.’s wife at the time, said that one day Trane locked himself in the attic and didn’t come down for three days. He spent the entire time meditating (understand that Coltrane meditated with his horn in his mouth) and when he came down, I imagine that it was like Moses coming down from the mountain after talking to God, he looked at his wife and said, “I’ve got it!” A few days later he was in the studio with a few hand-picked musicians to record A Love Supreme, one of the greatest pieces of music ever conceived. We are still chanting the Gayatri Mantra 12 thousand years later. I hope people are chanting A Love Supreme, or at lease spinning the record, 12 thousand years from now.

Understanding, even theoretically, that knowing Source means to know everything, doesn’t discount the hours, weeks, years, and lifetimes of work and practice necessary to get there, but still the idea is provocative that our work isn’t to build or gain anything new, rather to dismantle that which prevents us from seeing what’s already there. What we practice in yoga is paying attention and we use breath, poses, and mediation to open our eyes and to take off the bandages to reveal what’s underneath.

Another reference to understanding this universal Source comes from the story about the day Zen came to be. It is said that long ago an assembly gathered to hear the Buddha’s Dharma talk. Instead of a discourse, The Buddha simply held up a flower saying nothing. He stayed like that for a long time much to the confusion of most everyone. Only the sage Mahakashyapa understood, and noted it with a wry smile. With his flower, the Buddha was saying that which could not be spoken by words. He was showing the assembly that Being or Reality had no boundaries and was found in everything, including a flower, and to even try to define Being or Reality by words would create a boundary for something that had none. Anything defined would have been a contradiction yet at the same time he was revealing that which was everywhere, if your understanding would allow you to see. “If my thoughts words and deeds reflected a complete understanding of this unity,” . . . I would realize that I’m no different than this flower, or my music, or you, and I would understand that peace is already within me. And yet to understand this, like myriad myths throughout history also suggest, it might take me traveling the entire world to realize that what I was searching for was at home all along, locked within the vault of my heart.

Join me this week as we practice understanding the Gayatri Mantra better and practice unraveling anything that would prevent us from seeing our own Effulgent Source, our True Nature, our Love Supreme. And since it is said that Visvamitra was the one who gave us the Gayatri Mantra, we’ll work on exploring Reality through Visvamitrasana. Speaking of “getting Real,” once I start working on my inflexible hamstrings, something necessary for that pose, things get real, really fast.

Here are a few poems that also speak to connection and revelation to Self and Source.
If you have the means, I suggest listening to A Love Supreme this week.

Excerpt from Prelude

Two miles I had to walk along the fields
Before I reach'd my home. Magnificent          330
The Morning was, a memorable pomp,
More glorious than I ever had beheld;
The Sea was laughing at a distance; all
The solid Mountains were as bright as clouds,
Grain-tinctured, drench'd in empyrean light;    335
And, in the meadows and the lower grounds,
Was all the sweetness of a common dawn,
Dews, vapours, and the melody of birds,
And Labourers going forth into the fields.
--Ah! need I say, dear Friend, that to the brim             340
My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly,
A dedicated Spirit. On I walk'd
In blessedness which even yet remains.           345

~ William Wordsworth

Initiation, II

At the crossroads, hens scratched circles
into the white dust. There was a shop
where I bought coffee and eggs, coarse-grained
chocolate almost too sweet to eat.
When I walked up the road, the string sack
heavy on my arm, I thought
that my legs could take me anywhere,
into any country, any life.
The air, dazzling as sand, grew dense
with light: bougainvillea spilled
over the salmon walls, the road
veered into the ravine. The world
could be those colors, the mangoes,
the melons, the avocado evenings
releasing their circles of moon.
I climbed the pink stairs, entered
the house as calm and ephemeral
as my own certainty:
this is my house, my key,
my hand with its new lines.
I am as old as I will ever be.

~Nina Bogin

Monday, July 8, 2013

To Know the Dark

We love darkness, The Shadow. And I’m not just talking about getting it pitch black in your bedroom so you can sleep well. We love the sinister, the bellicose, and the morbid. This isn’t new or unique. Human’s love for The Shadow is a time-tested, cross-cultural phenomenon present in virtually all myths. We’ve celebrated The Shadow with narratives like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, gothic tales of vampires, and novels like Frankenstein. The Shadow is present in our spiritual ceremonies and narratives. We call it The Devil, Brother Crow, Shiva the Destroyer, Kalima, and Sedna. We even have entire days devoted to The Shadow like Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Time has proven that we love the Shadow.

We love The Shadow because it helps us make sense of what it means to be human. In non-dualist thought, the darkness is simply the tails side of the coin to the light. The integral approach to The Shadow would suggest that to fully celebrate humanity means we must embrace both the light and dark, the good and bad, ease and difficulty. If there were only goodness, we’d be watching Barney 24/7.

In our every-day life the Shadow might not come in the form of a vampire, The Joker, or Cruella De Vil (though those who have had dealings with SLC Parking Enforcement might debate this). Rather, we might experience the Shadow in the form of that one uber cynical person on our team at work, or an economy that is slow to recover, or the bad blood between you and a former partner or spouse. Relatively light manifestations of The Shadow might look like getting stuck in traffic on the way to something important,  or splitting your favorite pair of jeans as you bend over to assemble some Ikea furniture (yeah, it was terrible, I’m still traumatized). More poignantly, the Shadow might manifest as cancer, death, an accident or depression. In some way or other our collective incarnations of The Shadow represent all of what we might not love in this world as a way to help us make sense and process it.

In yoga we practice creating a presence that no longer hopes only for “good” things to happen, one that can hold the good with the bad, in yoga terms, one that can balance the steadiness and the ease. Louis Armstrong once said, “What we play is life.” I echo that sentiment for our yoga practice. Our yoga practice is the mirror of our every-day living. In it we practice the tools that will help remedy life’s pain and intensity, but we also simply practice the struggle that sometimes is life. Don’t worry; we also practice the joy and sweetness, too. And as a result of our practice and our presence, we will feel our own innate goodness and learn to expect to see goodness and light manifest around us, knowing that Shadow is just behind the next corner and that we do not need to be afraid of it because it is a part of life. And when Shadows do manifest, my hope is that we will have the presence to, like Sufi poet Rumi says, “meet them at the door laughing.” The less we fear The Shadow the more we see the magic that lies within it. Maybe this is why we love Halloween so much, because somehow we sense the magic in the darkness.

To Know the Dark

To go in 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.

~Wendell Berry

Maybe we don’t necessarily need to wear fangs, but can we somehow celebrate The Shadow in our every-day the same way we celebrate Halloween or Dia de los Muertos? Perhaps true transcendence isn’t to obliterate the darkness, but to embrace it as part of the whole and in so doing enlighten it as one of the beautiful facets of everything that is. I invite you to see the ways in which The Shadow plays a role in your life and develop a practice that grows a presence which can hold both the light and the dark.