Monday, April 28, 2008

Resisting living

Have you ever found yourself turning down an opportunity that you have been preparing for a long time because you were not "ready"? Or suppressed a desire for change out of fear? How can you commit to a different path if you don't even know where the path begins?

Aaah, perfectionism. For me, perfectionism is another name for judgment. The real question is - how can I get anything done when I can't stop judging myself? What if despite my best efforts I am still not (gasp) perfect? Welcome to the human condition, the clearer side of my mind jests. If I believe mistakes are inevitable, where is all this intolerance coming from? What am I resisting?

Maybe the resistance is to accepting things as they are. For example, I could say (to myself) - "I don't want to be inexperienced in something new. I want to feel safe and confident in my decisions, and to be viewed with authority. I don't want to be wrong - or - I don't want to be embarrassed." Whatever happened to compassion (giving myself a break)? How can anyone learn anything without making mistakes? And what is worse - the pain of resisting the inevitable or pushing past the fear of potential ridicule?

Nityananda says: "If you are afraid of water, you cannot cross the river even by boat. If you are afraid of fire, you cannot even cook a meal. For anything to be done, first you must have courage." The thing is, courage is not the absence of fear. It's always scary because life isn't safe or predictable. But when one acts in the face of fear, and pushes a boundary, a shift happens. A self-defeating habit is challenged. Confidence is gained.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Expressing gratitude by receiving

When I was a little girl my mother forbade me from accepting any food or drink from the hosts at the home we were visiting. Even if I had been emanciated I would have still refused that icy cold Coke or fresh baked toll house cookie. "No, thanks," I would say slowly, glancing sideways at my Mom hoping she had changed her mind. "Don't look at your Mom, I'm asking you," the hosts would invariably say, "do you want a Coke or a cookie?"

After I grew up, my Mom and I would joke about my disappointment over not having the freedom to accept what I wanted. However, I don't think I ever gave a thought to the potential disappointment of the hosts who presumably only wanted to treat me out of love. It never occurred to me that a visitor is a gift that might inspire, even if not require, reciprocation - at least not when I was the visitor.

Today, a new acquaintance read the following excerpt from Cheri Huber's book Transform Your Life: "Today, allow yourself to receive your giving". Could rejecting our giving stop nature's assembly line somehow? I look forward to a time when all beings find intrinsic value in actions performed naturally, with inspiration, with unmotivated tenderness of heart - in "just" being Your Self.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Disattaching to the fruit of one's effort

You bring the thirsty horse to water, and it shakes its head no. You work hard to find your contribution to the world, to help someone in need, to improve a negative situation, or to enjoy your life. What is the point?

Sometimes the point is just to try, to keep trying. We are all but bite size pieces in a cosmic puzzle. We have our part to do and we do it, even when it seems to yield no fruit. What do we know? Is everything that happens perceived by our individual senses? Everything we do has an effect on others so responsibility over our actions is never pointless. Have you noticed how you could easily get stressed out if your boss or client is stressed out, and, conversely, how relaxed you may get when your boss or client acts like he/she trusts you and is pleased with your work? Each individual has an energetic effect over others, positive or negative. Have you ever encountered a time when someone remarks over something you said or did that you don't even remember? Just because you don't remember doesn't mean someone else doesn't remember. We all hang on to different things, a different kaleidoscope of memories we choose, which we call our past, which help form our image of ourselves in the present. This collage of memories could very easily tell an untrue story. I encourage you to take a piece of paper out right now, and write down a list of positive things that happened to you in the past two weeks. If stuck, start the list by writing: "I'm breathing". Then take out another piece of paper and write down a list of all the different things you can think of to try out that interest you. After the 2 lists are done, you can re-create the map of your past and gain perspective about your present and future.

The Bhagavad Gita reminds us that we are all foot soldiers in this field. We are not fighting on behalf of our individual identities, but on behalf of the one Self that permeates the collective - the same energy that ignites the stars and makes planets orbit around the sun. We are all part of something so much bigger than we can see, but we get lost by our own expectations, which are shaped by our limited vision. There are so many exciting possibilities we cannot even imagine yet!

Trusting that we are cared for, we march on.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Meaning of Love by Rumi

"Both light and shadow
are the dance of Love.

Love has no cause;
it is the astrolabe of God’s secrets.

Lover and Loving are inseparable
and timeless.

Although I may try to describe Love
when I experience it I am speechless.

Although I may try to write about Love
I am rendered helpless;
my pen breaks and the paper slips away
at the ineffable place
where Lover, Loving and Loved are one.

Every moment is made glorious
by the light of Love."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Friendliness toward happiness

Have you noticed how the same activities feel different day to day? One day you wake up early to go to work, another day you are dragging your body. One day you exercise with ease and enthusiasm, the next day lifting your head feels like lifting weights. Same activity, completely different experience. What changes?

For me, I've noticed it sometimes has to do with my body (not enough sleep, wrong foods) but always with my thoughts. For example: "I am so tired" or "I don't want to do this", or "what if I can't do this?", or "what if this doesn't work?", or "you always do this," or"I can't believe I have to deal with this", or "how dare so-and-so do this?" You get the idea. It's about resisting whatever I don't like. Tough for me, because it is what it is. It's not about me.

Patanjali defines aversion in the Yoga Sutras as "the dwelling upon pain", one of the primal causes of suffering. At the other end of the spectrum is attachment, "the dwelling upon pleasure". It's enough to give anyone whiplash. It seems to me that the suffering happens because I am too quick to make my happiness contingent upon experiencing pleasure. So does that mean I am doomed to give up my happiness every time I don't like what happens? The actions of others are not within my control! I don't want to give away control over my happiness. It occurs to be that if I identify as a calm observer, a peaceful soul having adventures, experiences, that don't have to go one way or another, then what happens doesn't matter as much. Patanjali suggests cultivating an attitude of friendliness toward happiness. Inviting it in when I don't feel it. Also, compassion toward suffering. Does that mean I can allow myself to be happy anytime AND forgive myself and others for forgetting? Hmmm...

What do you think?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Practicing rescue 911, again and again and again

We all permeate the same field of consciousness. Our being is the universal mind-stage that holds every actor and every prop manifested within it. Yet the on occasion the mind thinks - I am alone, or I don't belong here, or, there are no options, or I am too young/old etc.

One can always count on self deception. In reality, is any character separate from the novelist? Is any one wave independent of the ocean?

Our essence is a pure mind, free of the delusions created by guilt, fear, anger, greed or selfishness - the delusions that dirty the windshield of perception. Our true Self is peaceful, blissful, quiet mind. A mind that has the ability to manifest whatever it wants - to materialize, sustain, edit or delete any storyline at any point.

But how to clean out the dirty filters from the mind? The same way one replaces a dirty Brita filter - by throwing it out and putting a clean one. Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras that "when you consistently cultivate the opposite (positive) thoughts and emotions, the unwholesome (negative) tendencies are gradually destroyed."

Of course, who learns these things in theory? It takes an angry call from the boss, or the news that one of the kids crashed the car, or that someone borrowed your credit card number, etc. Like everything, it's all about practice. Consistent practice.

In the Hindu tradition, Hanuman is a monkey warrior that rescues Sita, a goddess who was kidnapped by a demon who shape shifted as a monk to trick her. The demon symbolizes the "hooks" that trick us into forgetting our true nature. Hanuman, in turn, represents our breath, which is the tool for a "time out". When the breath slows, thoughts slow. When thoughts slow, it becomes easier to observe our feelings and needs before reacting (or not). Sita in reality is getting kidnapped over and over again, but the warrior Hanuman, steadfast in his service, is never too far off.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Toby, the 7 year old yogi (click here to see his Mom's web site)

"Today I opened the shades on the window window to my heart. I found out that love looks like a lovely wind that sings in a voice so beautiful I just can't listen to it. It is like the sun, you can't look at it or touch it but yet the voice is so nice and there are musical notes in the air. Love is like a nice summer day and you are doing nothing but laying and relaxing in the sand, in the hot tub, and looking at the water. Love is what you want it to be; whatever you think love is, that is what it is."

Toby, 7
New York City

Self taught - Katherine Arnoldi (click here to access her site)

"I started to do yoga in 1972. I was living in Arizona under very
difficult circumstances (see The Amazing True Story of a Teenage
Single Mom (Hyperion, 1998)). I was a battered woman, trapped and
unable to leave until I could get the money for a bus ticket out. In
the meantime, I went to the local library and discovered some very old
books about yoga. I followed the drawings and photographs and taught
myself a yoga routine and read everything on the philosophy. I
especially remember a book called Beyond Yoga. Finally I was able to
escape, I felt in part because of the strength I gained both
physically and mentally. It was then, as I was on the road, that I had
a spiritual experience that has sustained me ever since. Later I took
a yoga class in college and I still have my own practice and take
class from many different disciplines."

Katherine Arnoldi, New York City
author, The Amazing True Story of a Teenage Single Mom, a graphic
novel (Hyperion, 1998) and All Things Are Labor, stories (University
of Massachusetts Press, 2007)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The individual merges into the universal

"Until the brain develops,
A baby sees no differences in the world
Around him.
A rock and a diamond are the same to him-
Something to grasp and toss away.

A true yogi is like this.
A lump of dirt and money are the same
To one who has realized the Self.
Such a person is not attached to either one,
Seeing all as the Self-
The Self in all and all in the Self.

This is inner vision, subtle thought;
This is Shiva-Shakti,
The creative power of the indivisible One.
And God's creative power is the Self,
The One reality."

-B. Nityananda

Friday, April 18, 2008

Practicing trust and opening to humility

Patanjali emphasizes in the Yoga Sutras the importance of consistent earnest practice. My teenage rebellious mind often responds by saying: "why do I have to make the bed if it's only going to get messed up again?" When that mind set is prevalent, I forget to be grateful for all that I have, and instead focus on everything I think I can to control, such as the exact date I will find a "permanent" apartment in my price range.

I once told a friend that just because I can't think of an answer, that doesn't mean there isn't one, or that there is even a problem. I know I said it because it's in writing but at times can't believe I wrote that, can't believe I felt that with every fiber of my being, because I forget. Forget to trust. That's when the stress comes.

Doesn't the sun rise every day, without my interference? Doesn't digestion take place without any guidance from me? There is so much that I don't know, perceive, explain or control, yet is there anyway. There is a larger perspective. Bhagavan Nityananda says that "while the ocean has plenty of water, it is the size of the container you bring to it that determines how much you collect." I take this to mean that if we can keep ourselves empty enough, open enough, humble enough, we will have space to grow, learn. I obviously have a long way to go, as the obstacles keep coming. Nityananda says: "when a person overcomes one obstacle, another presents itself. This process continues until one's experience is complete and the mind is able to face any situation with the right perspective."

In the meantime, I find strength in the increased self-confidence gained by curbing a debilitating habitual response to a situation. Confidence in the Self that makes the sun rise and our tears fall. The well of infinite possibilities. Our True Self.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Online satsang?

The hardest thing about leaving my beloved New York City was leaving behind a community of inspired, hard working, and courageous individuals. That was my perception when I left, anyway, which did not take into consideration the amazing people I have managed to meet in every city I have lived in and visited thus far. We are all sparked by the same flame, after all. So who's to say a community has to be physically present in the same room, especially when in reality we live in each other's hearts? I call for you to join me in this newborn baby blog by creating a post with your thoughts on how an everyday challenge affects your world view. Or, how the philosophy you presently adhere to shapes the way you tackle a challenge.

If interested, please e-mail me or write a comment to this post and I will add your name to the "authors" list so you can post. I love you all!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Climbing back into the driver's seat

Three mornings ago, I was half awake when I realized I was dreaming. In my dream, I was attempting to convince a police officer that I hadn't hurt anyone. I parked my car at a red light behind another car while I went out for a few moments (?!) As soon as I re-entered the car, the light changed. I struggled with the gear shifts and the car jolted forward, bumping the car ahead of me. It was a light bump. The first cop at the scene saw it, and said as much. But the woman in the car ahead of me, she wanted to "think over" whether she was hurt or not. "I'll get back to you later," she told the second officer. He nodded. I was so caught up in the drama that I didn't want to stop arguing with the cop, even after I realized the entire drama only existed in my head - it wasn't real. I felt so angry, and I wasn't even up yet!

After I left the bed, I checked in with of my breath. It was shallow and rapid. I checked in with my thoughts. They ran into each other in a long run on sentence: "I'm just trying to do the best I can, and this happens to me/I'm so hungry/I wonder what time it is/I hate driving/I need to get milk/how long have I been here already?/who gets to "think about" whether they are hurt?/I'm so thirsty/I haven't even meditated, how much time do I have left?/this is so ridiculous."

Slower breath led to deeper breath. The thoughts slowed down. Whenever the image of the cop came back, I gave it permission to go. It's not real, I'm safe, I repeated over and over. After a few minutes, I calmed down, even started chuckling. A few stretches later, I faced the new day with a smile and a fresh outlook - until the next drama.

The mind is like an teenager with a new license - it always wants to drive. If you you snooze, you lose! The good news is, the choice to get back into the driver's seat is always there, even if it at times it feels like it's an ejection seat. Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras that self-study, self-discipline and devotion are the practical means for attaining higher consciousness. Listening to what's up is self-study. Listening to what's up every morning is self-discipline. Listening to what's up with a compassionate ear is devotion.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Checking in with one's intention

Have you ever stood in line at your local FedEx for 20 minutes and realized, just as you are nearing the front of the line, that you should have gone to the post office instead? You remember that FedEx doesn't ship to PO Boxes, but you decide to try to convince the clerk anyway, just so you don't feel like you wasted those 20 minutes. So instead you waste an extra 10 minutes, at the end of which you run to the post office to find the clerk locking the door under your nose. "Please," you beg, "It's only two minutes past 5 o'clock, I wasted 40 minutes on the FedEx line, can't you just cut me a break?" The clerk shakes her head and turns away. The patrons inside point and stare. There's no avoiding it now: your package will be late.

Attachment works like this. Wanting something to be the way I want so much that I won't pay attention to any alternatives, like a child covering her ears singing lalalalalalalalalala.

Remembering the FedEx policies in time to get to the post office before closing was the gift that made up for the 20 minute wait. Since I was not receptive to change, I missed it. By doing so, I forgot the intention behind the entire process: to get the package out that day.

It is so easy to get caught in habitual responses. By checking in with our intention, however, we give ourselves the freedom to explore different approaches when our plans fail to bring us closer to our goals. Recognizing that the goal is not perfection may be the first step.