Seeing the forest through the trees


 

dont-ignore-your-sufferingSuffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Life can sometimes feel unfair. Our actions, conscious or not, have the potential to fill us with regret, frustration, helplessness, even anger. Sometimes “bad” things happen to “good” people. It’s not unusual in these instances to wish we could turn back time, or to be fearful about what the future may hold; we may even look up to the heavens and ask why? When a seemingly unfortunate event unfolds, self-inflicted or not, physical or emotional, it is our perception and belief that makes us see it that way. We never really know why things happen as they do or what the result of it will be on our life. When we are dealt one of life’s blows, the only thing we can really control is how we choose to respond.

Whether it is human nature or cultural conditioning, often the first inclination is to assign blame and assume the role of an innocent victim. After all, pointing a finger brings an instant sense of gratification and resolve. Longer term, however, this approach begins to backfire when the ego tries to keep the memory of the event alive by retelling it over and over again rather than letting go of it.  Perhaps it’s because of this that those assuming the role of  ‘victim’  in their lives often end up unhappier than those who find a way to let go of the past and not to fixate on the future; those who find a way to ‘be here now’. When we learn to step back from the immediacy of emotion and become an observer, we diminish the context and drama of the story, and this tends to have a calming affect on the mind. The next step is in learning acceptance; instead of witnessing ourselves and our circumstances with a critical and judging eye, we can simply watch (this is called the sakshi in sanskrit, the silent witness). When we focus solely on our suffering, we miss out on the magic and the celebration that co-exists in the world in equal measure. A panoramic view is only available in its entirety from a distance, and we never truly know the length and purpose of a journey until it is complete.

There is a wonderful story from Satchidananda’s interpretation of the  Bhagavad Gita entitled The Living Gita. The story is about a yogi living in the hills of India with wife and only son. The army comes to the house one day and takes the son away to fight in a battle. The wife is terribly distraught and cries to her husband, ‘isn’t this awful, our only son taken from us!’ The yogi replies, ‘I don’t know, we shall see.’ Months go by, and one day the son returns home, and despite his wounded left, the wife is thrilled beyond belief. When she shares the joyous news to her husband, she says ‘ isn’t this wonderful?!’ The yogi once again responds, ‘I don’t know, we shall see.’ Within the course of a week, another knock at the door brings a messenger from the king’s palace to  inform the boy that since he cannot return to war with a wounded leg, he has been called to be the royal gardener. The palace is a long, long way away. The wife once again is left in despair, and looks for consolation from her husband. She says, ‘we may never see our son again, my heart is broken, isn’t yours?’ Again, he responds ‘I don’t know, we shall see’. Weeks pass, and a knock at the door reveals a messenger who has been sent by the royal palace. It has come to pass that the boy and the king’s daughter have fallen in love, and will wed in the coming days with the king’s blessing. As a result, the yogi and his wife have been invited to move permanently to the royal palace. It goes without saying that the wife is thrilled. She laughs, cries and sings with glee, turning to her husband and saying, ‘Our prayers have been answered! Our life is now happily complete.’ The yogi turns to his wife and says ‘I don’t know, we shall see.’

The practice of mindfulness in whatever form it takes, is one of being present, making space for all the shapes and forms of a magnificent landscape to unfold. We practice being focused and specific on a certain task or posture, yet we hold a larger understanding of the world in our periphery; one that we do not try to control or understand, but rather, one with which we can co-exist. This is not to say that moments of joyful celebration and deep despair are not important or meaningful; these are important points along life’s journey. The moment of understanding that both joyful celebration and deep despair come from the same source is a beautiful moment. Being present and beholding the entirety of a landscape as an observer while interacting, enjoying and participating in its creation — this is our great gift called Life.

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.

-Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Jivamukti Focus of the Month: Time was, is and will be, by David Life


/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9b4/18100680/files/2015/01/img_0180.jpg

ksana-pratiyogi parinamaparanta nirgrahyah kramah
The succession of changes (the uninterrupted sequence of moments) is only recognized as distinct moments when one has transcended those moments and is at the other end.
Yoga Sutras IV.33

We regulate and evaluate our lives by time. Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, and decades are all measures of time. Time – that you can see passing in the sweep of the second hand and the sweep of the Sun across the sky. But how accurate are the measures of time that we judge our success or failure in living, the length of our yoga practice and the paycheck we receive? Do past, present, and future actually exist, and can you visit them?

The age-old quest into the nature of time floats somewhere between physics and philosophy. Time is a very mysterious thing. The best scientific minds do not agree on the qualities or nature of time. There are basically two modern theories of how time works:
A theory – past present and future exist and time passes
B theory – no time is objectively past, present, or future, the passage of time is an illusion.

Either theory could be true, or both. We accumulate memories about the past but we have no memory of the future, so time does seem to be traveling from the past to the future. Time moves slowly sometimes and faster other times…or at least it seems to. For example, raising your body temperature can slow down your sense of time as much as 20%. That is why yoga class seems to contain so much – in so little clock time. Time runs faster at elevation too, so clocks run faster if they are raised by just 12 inches. People who live on the top floor apartment age more quickly than on the ground floor. Time passes more slowly at sea level than it does in the mountains. (Time passes slowly in Shavasana.) Your head ages faster than your feet – unless you invert everyday!

Could we travel through time? The grandfather paradox states that if you went back in time to a period before your parents were conceived and killed your grandfather before he had a chance to father your parent, you will never be born — which means, you could never have existed to go back in time and killed your grandfather which means backward time travel will interfere with the future path of the thing which travelled and that the inherent impossibility of this makes backward time travel impossible. This paradox makes sense from a physical point of view, but perhaps time travel takes place in other dimensions, perhaps in the realm of Super Consciousness itself.

The yogic method for transcending time is to dive deep into it. In Hinduism, god is personified as time – Kala, and Time moves in relentless and bloody cycles that repeat. In yoga sutra ksana represents the smallest increment of elapsed time – a moment. A ksana is so small that it actually has no duration. Ksana is time out of time. It is much like the point in geometry. In the same way that a point has no dimensional existence of height, length, or width – the ksana has no duration. The point that is repeated creates the first dimension of length. The ksana that is repeated creates the arrow of time that seems to move from the past to the future, the kramah. The trouble is (according to the sutra,) that we don’t realize the impact of our actions, until it is too late to do anything about it by changing our actions. Hindsight is 20/20!

The reason we cannot seem to link our current actions, with past actions and future results, is because we act unconsciously. When consciousness lapses the continuity of actions is lost. The present moment seems to have unrelated challenges and novel inventions of fate. “How did I get here?” “Why is this happening to me?” The world seems to be coming at us for no fault of our own. Yoga practices reveal how your actions result in the life you experience, and your projections appear – as the world before you.

Too bad we can’t pierce the veil of time and inhabit our past, present and future now!

But you can…and you will reach a state, through yoga practices, when there are no more unconscious lapses – we call it Super Consciousness. You will experience past, present, and future time as continuous and connected. You can free yourself from a time-bound existence.

January 2015 – David Life

Teaching notes:

The art of teaching


Krisna_instruisant_Arjuna“When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

Om saha navavatu saha nau bhunaktu saha viryam karavavahai tejasvi navadhitam astu ma vidvishavahai
om shantih shantih shantih
Accept us both together. Protect us both together. May our knowledge and strength increase. May we not resent one another.

Before I started practicing yoga, I had various people in my life whom I called teachers. I have fond memories of my school days, and have come to realize that each one of the teachers that left an impression on me did so because they shined a light on some aspect of relationship. I suppose I can see these teachers as my first yoga teachers; each one helped me get a better understanding of myself.

When I first started practicing yoga, I was fascinated with the idea of having a Guru. I studied about the importance of the teacher, and was determined to find mine. I searched near and far, and at some point I even felt a little bit like the duckling from the very popular 1979’s children’s book, Are You My Mother? With each new teacher I encountered, I waited for a magical moment, the moment I knew I’d found “the one”. Years went by and I attended many classes, workshops and retreats with many renowned and wonderful teachers. I went through at least one life crisis, and eventually I found myself at the Jivamukti teacher training in 2007. I embraced this method of yoga and its founders, Sharon Gannon and David Life, whom I had never met until the training. My head wanted me to feel an electric current drawing me ever closer to these masterful yogis, but my heart was conflicted. While I certainly felt vulnerable in their presence in a weird and wonderful way, I was confused, scared and uncertain. How could I know for sure?

In addition to my own uncertainties, there was almost a cult-like encircling around the teachers that I had never seen before. I was dumbstruck by the reverence and devotion other teacher trainees bestowed upon Sharon and David. Part celebrity-styled idolizing, part deep-admiration and love, it was sometimes difficult to discern the difference between the two, and hence my understanding of the complexity of relationship between student and teacher grew. Perhaps I was simply not far enough along on my path at that time to understand the nature of teacher-disciple relationship, or perhaps I understood the word Guru to be something so revered that I would only bring myself to use it only when a most divine bond had been cemented. Whatever the case may be, by the end of the training, I had come to realize that the relationship in question was as much about the teacher nourishing the student as the other way around. I left the training with unanswered questions. Is the student chosen by the teacher, or the teacher chosen by the student? How can a student see them self in the teacher without the teacher seeing them self in the student? As long as there is a divide, is it yoga? Is there a difference between a teacher and a guru?

For many years, I carried these questions around like extra baggage, being naively let down by teachers who showed their ego at times I deemed to be inappropriate; disenchanted by others due to my own narrow-minded expectations.

Still and forever on my journey, I have come to realize a few things.

First, to refer to the quote above: “When the disciple is ready, the Master will appear.”

We all have a variety of teachers in our lives that become our teachers when we are ready to see them as such; ourselves included. Friends, family, loved ones and nemesis are not to be overlooked. When a time rich in potential for transformation unveils itself, you can be assured, the right teacher in that moment will be there to guide the way. It is our choice, or course, to be open the form in which they will appear. It may not be what we are expecting.

Then, the mantra: Om saha navavatu saha nau bhunaktu saha viryam karavavahai tejasvi navadhitam astu ma vidvishavahai om shantih shantih shantih Accept us both together. Protect us both together. May our knowledge and strength increase. May we not resent one another.

In times when I have been in the presence of a great teacher, I have learned over time that it is always up to me to embrace the relationship. I am in the presence of magnificent teachers every day, and my biggest obstacle is my own ego, filled with judgement, preferences, and avidya (ignorance). The moment I see a teacher as human, flawed, capable of using their power to harm or manipulate, embarking in selfish actions, I succumb to fear, and miss out on the opportunity of learning, of growing. In these instances I fail to see clearly from a state of love. I create a separation.

Of course, we all have insecurities, and sometimes in the presence of a master, those insecurities can feel like they are being unmasked and magnified for the world to behold. This is in equal parts terrifying, diminishing and enlightening. The teacher who holds this power is a Guru, as they are lifting the veil of darkness, or avidya. We see ourselves as we are; all the beauty and potential, all the flaws. The challenge and work at hand is to accept this, and understand our responsibility to oneself. The Guru is not necessarily there to hold our hand and cater to our every need and weakness. Far from it.

It may seem for some that the remover of darkness, the Guru, is there to deliver the disciple into a field of rose petals at the dawn of a new day, with nothing but peace and freedom from the word ‘go’. In my experience, this ain’t how it works. In reality, the Guru may lead us to see great suffering and pain before finding enlightenment. Darkness can take many forms, including believing that happiness comes solely from material gain or physical appearance. Imagine you have spent your life amassing fortune in torturous, harmful conditions….or starving your body to an incurable state of illness in the hopes of finding happiness, only to be told it was all for naught. Not a field of rose petals at dawn, I can tell you.

I have my own unique views when it comes to the guru principle. I hold my teachers in my heart always; they come to me in dreams even when I am not able to be physically near them. Their words resonate within me and I aspire to be near them, to be with them. Ultimately, however, I have come to believe that the Guru exists in its purest state, within. It is something ignitable in each of us that can be turned on by tuning in. Sometimes it takes an exceptional teacher to help us find the switch, but when we do, we become powerful beyond our imagination. We become an instrument for divine will.

The true art of teaching then, comes from learning to tune in long enough to find our own ‘guru’ switch, and then empowering others to do the same. We can only do that when we embrace, accept and protect each other, and that takes a lot of letting go of fear, resentment and anger. The master will appear, it’s just a question of time.

Keep Calm and Travel on


IMG_0150-0.PNG

I have come to acknowledge after many years of vagabond voyages, that travel can be stressful. Especially transatlantic air travel.

Granted, I’m not in my twenties, or even thirties anymore, but the uncomfortable seats, the queues, the airborne germs trapped in that ever-so-snug cabin just don’t seem to do it for me like it used to. And then, something extra-ordinary happens to remind me just how unsophisticated the human face of travel can be.

A few days ago I was due to travel from Baltimore to London, when just before take off, the plane fully boarded with passengers, discovered a fault in the cooling system. For four hours we sat on the plane at the terminal while the crew tried to identify and fix the problem. They served us snacks, cocktails and even dinner. Then, amoung the single serving entrees served without any turbulence due to the fact we were at the airport on the ground, they announced we would, in fact, not be travelling that evening. Half eaten meals, tray tables and drinks exploded through the aisles as people scurried to get off the plane as quickly as their sardined-in bodies could move.

Once we disembarked, the terminal was mayhem. Passengers wanted answers and no one on the ground staff know what to do. The good citizens of India on the other end of the 1-800-airways number, there to solve all our travelling needs, had not been informed of the glitch. All parties pointed fingers in any direction other than themselves to try to put an order to the chaos. Peggy, with her BA badge on upside down, told us all about how much better it used to be when the airlines actually cared about their customers. Dan, also of BA acclaim, complained that all the flights had already been oversold and if the people in the call centre couldn’t help, no one could. On and on it went while customers and passengers alike locked horns without solutions. Everyone, except the captain of the plane.

There he stood in his captain’s hat, behind the checkout counter addressing each passenger with kindness, respect and patience. While he hadn’t done anything personally to contribute to the fault, he took responsibility and worked quickly to start finding new flight assignments. He delegated the hotel management to another staff member who took names with pen and paper. Peggy was reassigned from whinge-master to taxi-voucher-lady, and within two hours, we were all on our way somewhere.

IMG_0149.JPG

I arrived back at my mothers house eleven hours after being dropped off at the airport. The next morning as I proceeded to rebook my flight I reflected on what had occurred the previous evening. Despite the pushing, finger pointing, frustration and anger of some passengers, we all arrived, more or less, in the same situation, with a place to stay and a re-booked flight. How we each arrived into our circumstance, was different.

One of the big questions I used to ask when starting out with my yoga practice was, how much do we let go, and how much do we take control? If we have faith in God, does that mean that we leave it all up to Him or Her, sit back and do nothing to propel change? One of my doctors once said it best when he confided in me ” most of the time, we are doing the best we can to make the best choices at any given moment with the information available at hand”. One way to see it is, it’s God who gives us the time and the choices, and it is up to us to make the choices. If we can let go of the ego and our selfish reasons behind our choices, then it’s also God in each of us who is the decision maker, rather than our small self, the one who often makes decisions for the wrong reasons.

In the end, I chose to sit back and assess the situation at the airport. I chose to ask questions about my options when it was my turn in the queue, and based on that I chose to ring up British Airways and to ensure I had a seat assignment before showing up at an airport in a different city the next day. Even though I was just as upset as the next passenger, I admired and aspired to be like the pilot; I chose to keep calm and travel on.

Jivamukti Yoga Focus of the Month, December, 2014: Mantra, by Sharon Gannon


IMG_0151-0.PNGThe ancient yogic scriptures declare that God is sound and sound is God: Shabda Brahman. There is nothing but God. God is everything. God is real. God is reality. God is sound. All forms of reality are sound forms—music—their very substance composed of vibration. What we see as material existence, matter, is sound slowed down so that the eyes can see it, the ears can hear it and all the other senses can cognize it. Sound gives birth to matter—in the beginning was the word.

Our minds—through our words, whether spoken out loud or silently—create the reality we live in. Most people are unaware of the powerful force their words unleash upon the world. None of us like living in a world of chaos, conflict, destruction, pollution, disease and despair, yet few of us realize that it is our words that create and maintain such a world. We misuse our words when we use them to deceive, condemn, complain or blame others. Words spoken in anger and despair create a destructive atmosphere.

If we feel bound or limited by our reality, if don’t like what we see, a mantra enables us to change our perception of what is by going beyond what appears as normal to us. The Sanskrit word mantra means to “cross over the mind”: man means “mind,” and tra means “to cross over.” Mantras are magical words with the potency to shift reality, or at least our perception of it, which may well be the same thing. But to utilize this magical potency of mantra to shift our perception of reality, we must acknowledge that mantras are spells, and like all spells, to be effective, they must be uttered with sincere intention and pronounced correctly. Most of us must repeat a mantra many times for the desired effect to manifest. As the alchemists of old used to say with encouragement, “with repetition the magic will be forced to rise.”

One might ask, If God is everything then how come there is so much ugliness and suffering in the world? Think of it this way: Right now the Earth’s environment is being destroyed due to human greed and ignorance. Nature is harmonious with God’s laws. We take naturally occurring, pristine resources and refashion them into all kinds of material things to buy and sell. Money seems to be our God and money is our mantra. Most of the things we manufacture end up as garbage thrown into landfills and the ocean, creating a polluted world and releasing toxicity into our environment. Nearly all of the stuff we have made from the Earth’s basic raw materials we have also altered in such a way that this stuff is unable to break down naturally into components that will biodegrade and re-nourish the environment. The garbage we have made is poisoning our world and causing all kinds of suffering—an indication that we have lost our musical sense and have become out of tune with the Cosmic laws of harmony. God provides the basic raw materials but gives us the option to fashion those materials in accord with the laws of nature or not. In a similar way God gives us voices and a choice to play and sing in His orchestra or one assembled from our own selfish, short-sighted egos. God allows us to choose which words we want to think and say, and our choices will determine the kind of world we live in now and in our future.

It is said in the Bhagavad Gita and in other scriptures that whatever you are thinking of at the time of your death will propel you into your next life. That being said, it is sad to know that many people when they meet death unexpectedly, like in an accident or plane crash say the mantra, “Oh Sh-t!,” unconsciously giving direction to their next incarnation. The great yogi Gandhi was practiced in his recitation of mantra, and when the assassin’s bullet hit him, he remembered to utter “Ram,” which no doubt pointed his soul in a good direction for his journey.

The nature of God is satchidananda—existence (sat), knowledge (chit) and mostly bliss (ananda). God is omniscient and omnipresent, but if you want to know His blissful form—and who wouldn’t?—you must focus on that with every thought or word you say. God is polite and does not interfere with us unless we reach out to Him and ask for His presence to be in our lives. When you want to get someone’s attention, knowing their name is important. It is the same with God: to get God’s attention you must call his name. “Hey you” is not enough. It is better to be specific.

Sanskrit is the spiritual language of refinement. Sanskrit mantras composed of the names of God are particularly potent. Most people unconsciously fill their minds and their world with words that manifest as mundane, destructive forms, ensuring negativity and suffering. The wise work to deconstruct a negative reality through chanting God’s holy names. Sound precedes form. His name (nama) creates his form (rupa). There is no difference between God’s name and God. If you want to dwell in the bhav of the Divine then use the mantras of his holy name to lift your mind from conflict, fear, anger, despair and all ordinary concerns and bring you into the reality of ananda—your true h(om)e.

—Sharon Gannon

%d bloggers like this: