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


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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:

Fear, Faith and Gratitude


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The universal forces of nature keep all of life in check and balance through the equinox; auspicious times of year when transformation is apparent in the change of season, light and darkness, the birth and death of nature. It is said that the fabric of space and time becomes more porous during these times of year.

Every year, Halloween and All Saints’ Day occur around the time of the fall equinox. As the atmosphere is more transparent, the spirits play between the realms of the gross and the subtle, between the worlds of the limited manifest, and the limitless ethereal.

Although the words ‘limited’ and ‘gross’ imply some negativity, and it certainly may not always feel wonderful or magical to live in this world, having a body is a tremendous gift. Not only do we have the capacity to feel, share and express love, but as it turns out, it is easier to work out our karmas in a body. Our physical body is a precious vehicle, something to value rather than take for granted. Even so, many of us neglect this gift.

“Hungry ghosts” is a term that some traditions use to describe disembodied souls. These bodiless souls are hungry for a vehicle to resolve their past lives so they can finally find lasting peace.

Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve as it was called historically, is the night these hungry ghosts reveal themselves to the world of the living. Due to the atmospheric conditions of the equinox, they are able to pierce through the boundaries that normally separate the dimensions of life and death. They make mischief as they seek to have the same experiences and feelings as those living, and will do just about anything to inhabit a body with a weak soul they can boss around, even briefly.

People anticipated the arrival of these ravenous ghosts by preparing food offerings for them. The goal was to ensure the food would be so delicious that the ghosts would be satisfied by the food alone and forget about trying to possess their bodies. Today, this tradition is still practiced. People leave food on their doorsteps for spirits at certain times of the year, hanging scary, demon-faced masks above their front doors in the hopes unwanted guests might be scared away.

In the old days, no one who valued their life would have left their house on All Hallow’s Eve. Most likely they would have locked their doors and bowed down at their altars, calling upon all saints, gods and goddesses. The next day, awaking in their human form meant that their faith saved them, and the entire day was spent in gratitude. Therefore, the day after All Hallows’ Eve is reserved for remembrance of the saints and is called All Saints’ Day.

Sound Advice


600394_421617931239046_1475004198_nOn October 11 and October 18th there will be LIVE MUSIC in class, provided by Luc Acke and Javier Rodríguez Huertas at Indaba Yoga Studio, Marylebone, 10-11:30am. Please come!

Tasya vachakah pranavah
Always chant OM; God is OM, supreme music
-Patanjali

Living and working in London means that all around, there is sound. Police sirens, bus horns, jack hammers and cars whizzing past provide a colorful if not distracting backdrop. Sometimes moving beyond the chaos of the cataclysmic sound waves can be challenging.

The practices of yoga provide a framework of moving from the gross (large) elements to the subtle. We work from the outside, in, so to speak. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali outlines and eight-limed path (ashtanga) the provides steps for transformation; transformation from our belief about being rooted in our belief about who we are as a physical form, to being something more subtle, something timeless. The eight-limbed path consists of the yamas (restraints), niyamas (self-restraints), asana (seat/connection), pratyahara (looking inward), dharana (concentration), dyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment).  Throughout these practices, we learn to cultivate our listening skills, ultimately arriving at the ability to hear even the unstruck sound, the soundless sound of Om.

In the sanskrit dictionary, there is a word nadam, which translates loosely to sound. Nada Yoga is the yoga of deep inner listening. The related word nadi means river or stream. Nadis are the channels in the subtle body through which consciousness flows.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that samadhi (enlightenment) is achieved when the anahata (unstruck) nadam can be heard. The ultimate goal of Hatha Yoga is to hear this soundless sound which is Om, the dissolution of all sound and the music of the spheres. To do this the yogi must first perfect the ability to listen.

Sound is the essence of all energy. The first vibration, the Nadam, was “unstruck,” meaning that it occurred at a time when there were no things to strike against each other to make a sound. This first very subtle vibration is still resonating through each and every vibration that has arisen since the beginning of time.

To begin the practice of Nada Yoga, the yogi first practices pratyahara, shutting off as many external sights and sounds as possible and drawing inward. The first stage of pratyahara is to become still and quiet, and allow an inner tranquility to permeate the senses.

This is not easy to do, so a prerequisite might be to refine the ability to really listen. One way to do this is by appreciating good music. Be selective; it is helpful to choose music that induces an inner state of well-being. Practice listening to your own voice and to those around you. See if in walking through a busy city you can look for the sound of Om, even in the jackhammer, even in the car’s horn.

Once external listening is refined, we can cultivate the ability to listen inward. Yoga practices provide techniques for tuning our instrument, for transforming an ordinary body into an extraordinary instrument for Divine Will; for love. Through the practices of Nada Yoga, the yogi’s mind becomes absorbed in the inner sound of Om.

Footprints


IMG_0121-0.JPGFrom an early age, well before we are born into our physical body, each of us begins making our mark in the world, our imprint. As we develop, we find our feet and intuitively understand the sensation of movement, and also our relationship with gravity. We learn to fall, and to get up. Sometimes it is easy to regain our balance after a stumble; sometimes it is more challenging. This pattern of falling down and picking ourselves back up remains a thread in the tapestry throughout our physical and also our emotional lives.

Over time, our brain evolves and involves us in numerous and increasingly complex concepts and activities, and falling down and getting up become almost as automatic as a reflex. Most of the time we don’t think about it, unless there is a particular instance that is cause to slow down, evaluate and even change how we approach being in our body, or being in our life.

When we take a tumble, either physically or emotionally, it can sometimes be painful, even traumatic. It can also be seen as a wonderful opportunity to titrate past experiences, to break habit patterns that may not be serving us, and to re-establish a simple, steady foundation and to affirm the path beneath our feet.

The path is important, because beyond the up and downs of our lives, there is also the potential to traverse and transform. The process of bridging, whether it be connecting two physical places or two seemingly disparate moments in our lives, is an powerful aspect of integrating our life’s story. After all, being truly present in a moment, stabile and grounded yet alert and up-lifted, includes not only how we stay in the moment, but also how we span; how we journey through hardship and joy to incorporate an expansive landscape of life as one rich experience.

In today’s world where the motto of moving ‘onwards and upwards’ is celebrated as a mark of success, all too often the obsession with making, meeting and surpassing goals overtakes the importance of simply staying still and finding the joy and the beauty in the sameness, in the quiet of a forest or in the journey we have taken. Reflecting on the past enables us to acknowledge where we have come from and informs where we are now; it can also provide guidance to where we may be headed.

Recently, I have travelled back to a place important to me; a place rich with family history, and a place where I grew up. It had been a few years since my last visit, and during that time I went through a period of life threatening illness resulting in a successful liver transplantation. While I had been excited to return to family and friends, I had no idea how emotional and reflective it would be to be back in a location imbued with such meaning, in the presence of beings whom I love so dearly. At every sign post memories emerged, and I was forced to dive deep into the reflection of who I was from an early age, to who I have become today. The result has felt like both heartbreak and celebration. I have observed past footprints dissolving into deep waters while standing in my present reality, and have given pause to allow a path to unfold for my future.

Like the oceanic tides, we must fall to rise again. All of us will eventually but inevitably witness the passage of time and the transience of all of life. May each of us learn to appreciate each and every moment, for these are the imprints we leave across the diverse landscape of our lives that makes each of us unique and complete.

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