Jivamukti Focus of the Month: June 2014: Union Through Others, by Sharon Gannon

The state of “yoga,” or “union,” is when the individual self reunites with the infinite, undifferentiated, eternal Self. Yoga has been described as samadhi, or blissful ecstasy, because it is such a relief to finally reconnect with your whole being after so many lifetimes of wandering in the illusionary world of disconnection. The methods of yoga help to bring together that which appears to be separate.

Enlightenment is the goal of all yoga practices. Perceiving others—that is, perceiving ourselves as separate from others—is the biggest obstacle to enlightenment. For a yoga practice to work, it must address how to dissolve the others in our lives. Yoga teaches us that in truth there is only oneness; others are an illusionary projection coming from our own minds, from our own past karmas (actions). The practices help us to purify our karmas, which involve our relationships with others, so that we may perceive the oneness of being.

In the ancient text, the Yoga Sutra, the sage Patanjali suggests a few practices that may help us dissolve otherness and bring us closer to union. Patanjali is speaking to those who are still seeing others but who are interested in dissolving the disconnection between self and other.

He suggests that if we are still seeing others and not the divine oneness of being, then: Number one—don’t hurt them (ahimsa); Number two—don’t lie to them (satya); Number three—don’t steal from them (asteya); Number four—don’t manipulate them sexually (brahmacharya); and Number five—don’t be greedy, taking so much that you impoverish them (aparigraha). He gives these directives in the second chapter, the chapter on practice, and he refers to them as the five yamas (restrictions)—five ways to restrict your behavior in regards to the others you may encounter in your life.

On an immediate practical level, how we treat others will be reflected in our own experience of life. The others in our lives are a reflection of us. If we ourselves desire happiness and liberation from suffering, then our relationships with all beings and things should be mutually beneficial. No true or lasting happiness can come from causing unhappiness to others. No true or lasting freedom can come from depriving others of their freedom.

Patanjali tells us what we can expect to see happen in our lives when we become established in the practices of the five yamas. When we stop harming others, others will cease to harm us. When we practice telling the truth, we will be listened to. When we stop stealing from others, prosperity will come to us. When we treat others respectfully and don’t manipulate them sexually, we will enjoy good health and vitality. And when we let go of tendencies toward greed, we will come to know the reason we were born, and with that our destiny will be revealed to us.

If we want to know who we are, it will have to start with how willing we are to look at the way we are treating others, because how we treat others determines how others treat us; how others treat us determines how we see ourselves; and how we see ourselves determines who we are.

The simple but powerful gesture of placing our two hands together in front of our hearts when we greet or acknowledge others (namaste mudra) speaks without words of the magic of union. Two hands coming together: the left and the right, the sun and the moon, the ha and the tha, the self and the other. This is the gesture that describes yoga: union, the ultimate truth.

—Sharon Gannon

Jivamukti Focus of the Month, January 2014: Fed Up

atha yoga-anushasanam
Now this is yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (PYS 1.1)
Anyone who is engaged in serious yoga practice has come to yoga for the same reason—we’re fed up! That means we’ve had enough.

Atha means “now.” But it’s more than just “now”; it means now in terms of “hereafter,” or “going forward.” The importance of that nuance is that it implies that whatever has been happening will now, hereafter, be different. So in his first sutra, Patanjali is speaking directly to those of us who are fed up with things as they are. Everyone has a different story about the shape that being fed up takes for them—a miserable job, a life on drugs, a troubled relationship, etc. But fundamentally it’s the same for everyone who comes to yoga—at a certain point in life we take inventory of how much is really great and how much is suffering, and we come to the conclusion that it’s mostly suffering—even if the suffering is relatively mild, like “things are fine but I know there’s more to life.” Most people are not there; they’re not quite willing to let go of the old model. Some even like their suffering and identify with it. They’re not at that point where they’re fed up enough to say, “okay, what else is there? I’ll search high and low to get it.” But for those who are, Patanjali grabs us and says, “you’re ready to hear this stuff.” That’s the good news of that first word atha.

The word shasanam can be understood as a set of rules, a discipline applied to us from the outside, a set of instructions for what we’re supposed to do next. But when we put the word anu, which literally means “atom,” in front of it, it means the instructions or ways to act that come from the inside. For example—“I’m thirsty, so I’ll go get a drink of water.” It’s that simple: we don’t think of it as a rule that when you’re thirsty you have to go drink water, or when you’re hungry you eat, we just do it. In this sutra, Patanjali is telling us that yoga is one of these things that comes naturally. It flows from us, through us, and basically if we could just get out of the way, then it would be free to manifest in our lives. And that’s the practice of yoga—the practice of getting out of the way.

Of course it’s very difficult to let go of the parts of us that disable the natural flow of wisdom and purity, because they’ve become enculturated and neuroticized. They are the ways we cope with the world, our No. 1 defenses: they are how hard we’ve got it and how impenetrable our problems are. But Patanjali is saying that these are the parts of us that are unnatural, that have been inflicted upon us, and we could take them off like we take off a set of clothes. But it’s not so easy. One hundred percent of what restricts us is in our minds and has been concretized in our bodies in different ways. So yoga practice is meant to point out to us where that energy is stuck, whether in our minds, our shoulders or our hips. In this way, yoga is often referred to as a discipline. But it’s important to understand that it’s not the kind of discipline that’s forced on us from the outside, or in the case of teachers, it’s not a discipline that we’re forcing on others. It’s a discipline that’s naturally arising. As we move through our difficulties in the practice, whatever they are, we understand that the encounter with difficulty is a blessed moment and an opportunity. It is not a fail, but a chance to reflect on what separates us from each other, the nature of suffering in our lives, the role that prejudices and fixations play in our lives, etc., and just let them go. It can happen very quickly, in just an instant, but it can also take some time; it’s not easy to shed a carefully constructed armor. The great teacher Dharma Mittra likes to say, “Get mad and do it!” Get fed up! But don’t do it because a teacher tells you to do it or because it’s a rule; do it for your own reasons, because you’re fed up with the way things have been and you want them to change. Do it because you want to do it. Do it to get rid of a cruel dictator—your identification with your mind. Do it as your personal revolution. Atha…

— David Life

Back to Love

Lord_Krishna_1yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
-Bhagavad-gītā 9.27

Whatever you do,
whatever you eat,
whatever you offer or give away, and
whatever austerities you perform —
do that, O son of Kuntī,
as an offering to Me.

Being human can be a bitch. It means that no matter how wide or open our hearts, we are susceptible to the flood of emotions, the unpredictability of life, the mental tug of war that reminds us we are alive.

The past week or two have been challenging for me in the hospital because the floodgates of emotion were unexpectedly filled and opened, and the trajectory that the doctors envisioned for me was inaccurate. Just like all humans, doctors do the best they can based on the information they are given and past experiences, but the body and its internal chemical lab creates complex actions and reactions that, at the end of the day, nobody can account for, even the world’s most renowned and brilliant doctors.

While the doctors were challenged with the factual numbers of my blood trying to decide what was going wrong and why, I was challenged with the abstract questions of “Why can’t I just feel grateful and happy?” “Why can’t I get back to letting go of sadness and frustration?” “Why can’t I get back to Love?” The answer didn’t come immediately, and I had to sit with my sadness, my discomfort, my frustration, until something shifted. This is not unusual, in fact, I’ll bet if you ask ten people how they get rid of feeling any of these emotions their answer would is some way be related to time, and finding an outlet to vent those emotions. Some may say something about learning to stay; a few might even use the word ‘surrender’.

The above quote is from the ancient and renowned text called the Bhagavad Gita meaning the “Song of God.” In the text, God is in the form of Krishna, a Hindu God whom among other Awesome things is Love itself. He is talking to Arjuna, who is a warrior prince about to fight in a battle. Arjuna represents you and I; a human being who has let life take him at least somewhat unconsciously to a place where he ends up on a battlefield with people whom he knows and loves on both sides of the impending war. In a moment of clarity he wakes up and realizes he doesn’t want to fight. What will he do?

Luckily, Krishna is his charioteer and tells him he must participate in the battle. If he does, and if he is able to place all his trust in Krishna, Krishna will show him another way to live, another way to be in the world.

You and I are Arjuna, and our battlefield is the daily life we are confounded with. According to yoga philosophy, our thoughts, words and actions of this life and past lives determine the battlefield and who we confront in the war. When we come to a point that we are aware of what we think and how we behave in response to those thoughts, it also becomes easier to remember how to change our intentions and actions. This can act as a trigger to remember Krishna, or God, because at some stage in awareness building, we start to understand the only way off the battlefield is to surrender. Surrender to Something, to Someone; surrender to God. To offer our intentions and actions to God is to experience God because in the yoga philosophy, God is Love. It goes further to explain that we each have the same, limitless potential for God within us, and in fact, we are God. We are Love.

Throughout these weeks when my mind and emotion have gotten the best of me, I’ve thought a lot about God. I’ve thought about how lucky I am; I’ve also thought a lot about those who have it far worse than I do, and the wonderful aura of Love around me in the form of friends and family. As life would have it, the shift back to feeling God and Love is sometimes not as simple as it seems. When the mind gets a firm hold on emotion, surrender means learning to stay. Staying with the sadness or whatever emotions come up is like forfeiting the game of tug of war with the mind (the mind always wins). There is no opposition of force with which to initiate the game, and the ropes go slack by disengaging, by surrendering. Eventually, the ropes fall away and there is no longer a battle to fight, there is no longer a battlefield. At this moment it’s back to Krishna; back to Love.

the blues (reds, oranges and greens)

Being in the hospital going on six weeks can sometimes feel like a marathoner at the twenty-second mile. “The wall”, as it’s called in marathon terminology, turns what for runners was a physical pursuit into a mental discipline, and makes every second of the last four miles feel like an hour.

On Friday, I hit my wall. As luck would have it, I am both an ex-marathon runner and practicing yogi, and know enough about physical ambition and mental focusing to see its relativity to long-term hospital stay. There have been a lot of shifting variables since I have been here at the Royal Free; in fact, nothing, except the facts that I had a liver transplant and am still alive has been pinned down. The two variables that have been identified most recently, my overall health and unending list of medications, are in an elaborate tango, pirouetting around one another in a constant dance of tension and re-balance.

Over the past week my pain medication has been reduced to a sixth of it’s original dose (from 30 to 5 mg). The steriods I’ve been on have been reduced by a half (from 20 to 10mg), and a variety of other medicines, all with side effects of their own, have been introduced and taken away like a change of clothing. My mind and body notice, but it’s my emotions that react.

Friday was the first day I realized something had dramatically shifted in my state of mind. I cried on and off all day, mostly because of what I identified as pain; my arms swollen and black and blue from the cannulas and jabs, my abdomen with a hole in it and a foot long drain running to the back of my liver, my back, sore from the inflatable bed and the collection of bile the drain is tapping behind the liver. But the more I considered the pain and worked with my breath to release all the held tension in my body, the more I realized I was actually deeply sad to still be here in the hospital. I had hit the five week mark on Wednesday night, and something deep in my subconscious was telling me I wouldn’t be here this long; I shouldn’t be here this long. On Saturday the relationship between emotion and medication became increasingly clear as I woke up feeling pain but was relatively happy; an hour later, however, after taking the steroids I became anxious and frustrated. A few more hours went by and I was hit with sadness. As I gazed out over the grey horizon, I asked myself, is this depression? After the lunchtime dose of medicines I was exhausted, but by evening I was grateful and embraced by Love. The array of emotions I experienced in one day startled me, and was augmented further by being asked by doctors, surgeons, nurses and transplant coordinators how I was feeling every hour or so. When I explained I had been having a difficult day, no one was surprised, and they all responded similarly by either encouraging me to keep my chin up and keep going because I was doing so well and almost at the end of the road, or sympathizing, stressing that I had been through an unusual amount of complications and anyone would be expected to have bad days through this process. Not one of them mentioned the impact of the medications on my overall well-being, although when I related the two together, no one denied the strength of the side effects or symptoms of withdrawal.

Today has been a better day, the ward is relatively quiet and I’ve had the room largely to myself with only one other patient in the opposite corner. I also had the benefit of seeing my father, whom I haven’t seen in over two years, as well as my son and husband, which gave me something to look forward to and cheered me up for a good part of the day. Even with all the activity that comes along with special visitors, I have remained acutely aware of the rising and falling levels of pain and emotion in my body.

It is uncertain when I will go home at this point. My donor had a common virus called CMV (cytomegalovirus) that many people have dormant in their bodies but that I did not have. Since I am on the immuno-suppressant medications, the virus was not only given to me but became active, and I have been unlucky with the anti-viral IV fluids; the numbers continue to rise instead of fall, and as a result tomorrow they will assess what to do based on blood tests. To add to the complexity, my arms are so battered that I’m no longer able to withstand a cannula in either arm, meaning they may need to find another location for the cannula in order to get the IV into my blood. The other issue is the drain, which is still working to empty the ‘collection’ of bile and infection that has accumulated from the bile leak. The doctors have maintained that it may take weeks before the drain can be removed, but luckily, as soon as the virus is being managed,  I will be able to go home and manage the drain with the help of local nurses.

Despite the fluctuation of the medicines, emotion and mental state, I continue to feel mainly well and forever blessed by the presence of family and wonderful friends. When I have a blip of the blues, I am able to bring myself back to the big picture, which is to get home to my family and to have a Love-filled, happy existence outside of the confines of the hospital. I am able to acknowledge the reds, oranges and greens of the pills that will eventually go as I stabilize into four magic medicines that I’ve been told I will have to take for the rest of my life; I’m also more acutely aware of the various hues of emotion and their potential origins. This will inevitably continue to be a rich dialogue between my smaller, ego-bound and ego-driven self, and my cosmically-connected. Love-filled and Love-fueled Self, aware of the Oneness all beings.

There are multiple factors in all of our lives that contribute to emotion and mental state. Many aspects of what we put into our bodies and minds are not unlike the hospital drugs I’ve been taking; they are mind-altering. Consider the food you may eat, the media you consume, the messages you tell yourself and the messages you receive from others in your life. Any or all of these sources could act as a drug and have side-effects, addictive potential and withdrawal symptoms. We all have a choice about what we let inside our hearts, minds and bodies, including how we fuel and nurture ourselves. It is well worth it to once in awhile become acutely aware, even for a short period of time, of how these outside elements affect thought and behavior. We may even try eliminating some of the elements identified as ‘toxic’ and see how we react.

To be a ‘sakshi’ is to be a silent witness; one who observes from a distance without judging or feeling without any sensation based on the observations. The sakshi is greater than pleasure and pain, virtue and vice, likes and dislikes; the sakshi is being colorless, self-luminous and unaffected by the color of emotions, unaffected by the rainbow of elements that bring individual suffering into focus. Being a sakshi enables us, even for a moment, to see through all the elements and veils of mental thought and emotion we wear; it enables us to return to our source as Love itself.

Love Invincible

PYS III.24 Maitri Adishu Balani
Through friendliness, kindness and compassion, strength and success will come.

heart-meditationWhen we let go completely of the ego, our insecurities, our need to please others and ‘act’ according to societal norms, then we can live through the heart. When we live through the heart with nothing to lose and nothing to prove, compassion and kindness shine through as our true nature, and we become more capable of saying what we mean, and meaning what we say. This leads to great strength, for we are free of the fear of our potential to be greater and more powerful than we ever thought possible.

Since I’ve been in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant, my relationships have undergone a transformation along with my mind and body. So many Beautiful Beings have offered up all of themselves with tremendous power of intention to my health and healing, and this has manifested in a number of different ways. In general, I value my friends more than I thought possible – I love them like family; they are a part of me. I sometimes have difficulty compartmentalizing the animate world as everything and all of us are so interconnected; and therefore the word acquaintance doesn’t register with me; rather, colleagues, nurses, doctors, yoga ‘students’, ‘teachers’ and strangers alike all fit nicely under the friendship umbrella.

Those beings who have helped me through managing my transforming body have gotten to know me in different forms: Lizzie with more and less body; Lizzie with more and less mental capacity; Lizzie in Love with life; Lizzie in great pain. Throughout this five week process I have been 25 kilos heavier than I am now with water weight, my face and body inflated nearly twice my current size; in fact, I was so over inflated with water that it was literally leaking out from my pores. I have had friends bathing me, changing my oozing wound, helping me to the toilet, washing my hair. These friends have surrendered themselves for my well being, and I believe that I can fairly say we’ve both benefited and grown stronger from this process. We’ve become One pillar of strength and love. I am wholly devoted to this growing circle of friends, and feel truly that there is no separation of heart or spirit. The Love is a result of surrender, of devotion, of offering everything up to the supreme source, that is You, me, all of us. Together, the power of Love is invincible.

Despite the Love, despite the deep connection with so very many, I am an introvert by nature. When in the hospital, my innate tendency is not to engage with patients, keeping my curtains drawn and earphones on. While I’m able to speak casually with the doctors, nurses and support staff, I observe myself doing all I can to not get caught up in other patients’ dramas. I used to feel awkward, even guilty about this, but have since come to terms with my method of coping, which I have rationalized as related to saving energy and keeping myself as calm as possible while not yet in a stable physical condition. Perhaps this is selfish, when I could be doing so much more to help those around me in their beds. I honestly feel I do the best I can, but it can become overwhelming, especially when the three others in my bay suffer from a confused mind and are continually doing strange things that I can’t help them to avoid. Example from this morning: pouring coffee into a jug of ice and letting it overflow all over their bedstand. This is par for the course of day to day in the room I’m in, times three.

There has been one exception to my generally introverted self since I’ve been here. After being on 10N for a week in a very loud room, one of the patients was sent home, thus there was a bed free. At about 9pm on a Friday, a new patient was wheeled in as if she’d just landed in a helicopter with an entourage of very happy, excited Spanish nurses and family. A bright energetic aura blew into the room with her, and over the next days I came to know this spark of energy as Eva, from Spain, who had just had a double kidney and liver transplant.

Eva and I commiserated about many things, we shared information about our lives, and quickly we got into deeper subject matter, like how to quiet the mind and learn to let go; even discussing our experiences regarding the space between life and death. Eva’s daughter and my mother came in every day, and within a few hours, the four of us were like life long friends. Every morning we got up and ate breakfast and talked a little more. Then, two weeks ago Thursday, we were both given the green light to have a trial weekend at home. Thursday turned into Friday, but over the course of the night we both took a turn for the worse. I woke up being taken for a liver biopsy; Eva was gone.

It turns out that Eva was taken back to the ICU for two immediate surgeries to try to stop an internal bleed that was accompanied by a large blood clot. She has remained in the ICU for the past weeks in unstable condition. Then, two days ago, her new liver died as a result of the blood clot. She was put on the urgent transplant list, which meant she had 72 hours to find a new liver for her to live. Today I’m unsure of what has happened. Her daughter must be exhausted and dependent on how the call out for a donor has gone, she may even be in surgery as I type. I have been praying blindfolded.

Every moment since receiving the call on the evening of September 25th I have been basking in the glow of gratitude and compassion. I have felt compassion for my donor, for all the very ill, blessed beings I have encountered in the hospital, my incredible circle of friends, and those incredible beings of light energy, like Eva, that contribute so much to the life force. In or out of the body, I’m continually reminded of the tremendous power of compassion, friendship and the sending out of positive thoughts, words and actions into the universe. Eva is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, and that strength comes through the kindness in her eyes. I surrender all up to the great Lord knowing she is filled with God’s Grace.

When we’re down, we need a helping hand.
And when we lose our heads, it’s cause they’re always buried in the sand.
But when we get stuck on our selves, feelin’ sorry for our selves.
Will you help us grab a hold and please don’t patrionize our souls.
When we start to lose control, when we get irrational, when we start to get too high,
You see us come floating by, I say,

Touch us with the morning sun, when we feel impossible.
Touch us with the morning sun, show us what is possible.
Touch us in the morning sun when we feel impossible, show us what is possible.
Teach us love invincible.
~Michael Franti

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