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

a blip in the continuum


Well, folks, I am still in the hospital, week seven starts tomorrow. The nurses and doctors are frustrated. My regular visitors are frustrated. I’m practicing patience (hard) and doing my best not to be frustrated; some days it even works.

Today I’m getting blood results back from the CMV test, which, if negative, means that I will need one more negative test on Friday to be discharged. My fingers are no longer crossed because, frankly, it doesn’t work! If the test is positive, they will put me on a stronger but more controversial medicine that my kidneys will not like. C’est la vie. If it’s positive I’ll be in at least another week. The hospital stay has become Groundhog Day on steroids.

In other news, the drain lodged through my stomach and behind my new liver is has just come out, and hopefully, some of the pain will go with it. It was actually due to come out yesterday, but then, that’s sometimes the way time moves in the hospital.

Most of us think that seven weeks is a long time to be in the hospital. It sure feels like it to me. Eight of the nurses have undergone dramatic hairstyle changes. Three of the doctors have had haircuts. I’ve seen the leaves on the trees change from green to red to brown, and start to disappear to the earth below my window. The passing of time is evident, yet there is a bigger picture that reminds me that the haircuts, the transitioning of seasons, my stay in the hospital are all just a blip in the continuum.

I have been watching the BBC series called Earth: The Power of the Planet. Not only very educational and beautifully filmed, the episodes each highlight one key point: the earth is changeable and changing even as we speak. The moon moves 4cm away from the earth every year. Glaciers melt and meteors collide into the earth’s surface. We humans walk around so concerned with our individual lives, worrying about things that could be rendered meaningless in an instant if the universal forces were to interfere. And they will interfere, at some point, just look at the dinosaurs, or to the most recent planetary disturbance, the typhoon in the Philippines moving towards Vietnam. The Jurassic Coast of south western England is losing ground every year due to erosion, and as the climate warms, the delicate ecosystems in our oceans and on land are jeopardized with global impact. It is a fact that the earth is changing. What we do with those facts, how we perceive those facts in relationship to our own lives, that’s not so measurable.

Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras:
vastu-samye-chitta-bhedat tayor vibhaktah pantah (YS IV.15)

Which translates as “Each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.”

Everything and everyone we see is coming from our own minds. Our perspective is actually just a product of our past actions; in yoga we call this karma (action). Those of us who are invested in the practice of yoga are interested in cleaning up our actions. Through practice and shastra (self-study, reading the ancient texts) we come to understand that many view the world as black and white, or the good guys vs. the bad guys. In reality, there is no black or white, good or bad.

Through the practice of yoga, we come to realize that everything is in our mind; the world as we know it is a figment of things we have done in our past. This is a massive concept to fully comprehend, but when it sinks in, we realize that the way we treat someone will be the way we are treated in the future. We see the value and expansiveness in our actions, and become more aware of how we want to automatically respond when someone is unkind to us or things don’t go the way we want them to. We may even come realize that we don’t have to wait for others to change the world so that we can be happy.

The practice of yoga is (in part) about taking responsibility; responsibility for the earth we live on, for other beings, and for our own happiness. I’m amazed at how many people openly voice their frustration at my situation. I have certainly had moments of frustration, sadness, even anger and the moments of feeling like a victim; however, these have been fleeting and rectifiable. Through my practice, I am brought back to the other ‘reality’, the one that reminds me how lucky and blessed I am to have holy beings looking after me; how grateful I am to have been given this monumental gift of a healthy liver.

Time moves slowly and quickly, all governed by our perspective. There is one fact, and that is that sooner or later, everything will change and disappear. It’s our responsibility to find the pockets of happiness in the present moment, where time stands still.

the line


The world we visualize is given definition through shape. A line, seemingly a simple shape with two ends, gives rise to a world of complexity and dimension through its easily and endlessly replicated structure. Building definition and spectrum by its vertical, horizontal and diagonal depth, a simple line births an awareness of front, back and side spaces, informing our proprioceptive universe.

I remember a time driving through Kansas many years ago in an area where the road was slightly submerged for endless miles on a flattened landscape of green below and blue above. Looking out the window, my gaze met the line between earth and sky, and in this moment the whole of my visual field was drawn into a lateral, parallel space. Turning my head back to the front windshield, the lines of the straight road sent me through a forward and back plane of dimensionality, linearly disrupted only by lightning bolts in the distance as a storm signaled in the vast distance.

The line takes on a new spectrum of depth and color when used it to define ideas: the line between the sleeping state and wakefulness; togetherness and separation, wellness and dis-ease, for example. In some instances the line is associated with safety, a haven of known, bound and welcome containment; in other cases it acts as a limitation, a restriction. Regardless of our current perception of the many lines tethered in and around our lives, the more we can be aware of it as a tool to harness us in or repel away, the more it can be a resource. When the body/mind is stiff and avoiding, the line can be used as a place to soften into; contrarily, when the body/mind is overly fluid, the line can draw us back to foundation and structure.

The line is a visual aide for exploring the world. Superficial stockings of body and structural relationships of manifest objects begin to melt away as deeper sensory connections are evoked through space and containment.

Practically speaking, a physical embodiment practice such as yoga or dance stimulates the bio-mechanical matrix of the body, bound by relationships of magnetism and opposition. The more that core structures can find relationship through the gravitational forces rather than held tension, the more unbound the fluid sacs of the body muscles and organs are to move freely. This leads to greater extension into self and also out into the world.

More metaphorically, understanding relationships and belief systems as a matrix of connections with availability for change, leads to a shift of intention and action even when the line is initially tightly fixed to a predefined set of ideas. When we are open to dissolving the stiffness of a line with only two points and see a line as instead a set of multiple point on a single plane, we can more easily engage in a creative dance with other beings, belief systems and activities, ultimately enabling organic expansion.

At the end of the day, a line is just a object existing in space or in our mind. It invites us to interact with it or not, to fill it with meaning or leaving it empty. In fact, there is no line but a series of points…

Wild Geese


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

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