Over the past few weeks, many people have shared with me that life seems very tough right now. I have been told these difficult feelings are not pinpointed to any specific events; rather, the feelings seem to be a general overall sense of “malaise” and even sadness. While I feel I can not offer a tangible “solution,” for navigating rough emotions, I try to listen and empathize. If you are sharing in these feelings right now, know that you are not alone. Tumultuous politics, serious environmental issues, and concern for the future can all feed a sense of dread. I too have had recent questions: Why does there seem to be so much suffering, both in the world and personally? Isn’t all this yoga practice suppose to help with that?
This morning while pondering such thoughts I opened this little green booklet written by Swami Gurusharanananda, one of my spiritual teachers. The words I read told me that in order to advance towards Self Realization (the goal of yoga), the seeker must continually remember the divine. Never lose sight of the sublime, no matter the hardship. While performing all duties, keep your mind aware of that greater purpose. Choose your associations carefully, as all that we experience leaves an imprint on the mind. And most importantly, practice your yoga and meditation, over and over again.The power of discrimination (viveka) and correct thinking comes with greater ease the more you dedicate to your personal practice. When such thoughts of despair find their way into your mind, notice them not as a sign of a failing practice, not that you are failing, but that you should practice with more dedication. In this way, you will see that there is a oneness that pervades each and every form and person you meet, there is a oneness behind every sect, every creed, and every religion.
A flash of thought: Is Minimalism intrinsically Masculine? An effort to seek the formless- or to pair down form to its barest essentials? Pure Consciousness- Purusha?
While the world of Prakriti- the Feminist essence of life, teems with abundance and fullness. An overgrown forest floor, vs a barren dessert? Our full luscious bellies, vs trim starvation? Is our obsession with minimalism another mark to override the feminine fullness?
Wandering thoughts of a Vata mind… My question to you: Is Minimalism intrinsically Masculine?
I had a lovely chat with my friend and neighbor, Linda Churchill not too long ago. Linda is a yoga teacher who has a strong following. She has charisma and people just connect with her friendly and wise approach to yoga. She encourages people to honor their bodies, and stay connected. I hope you enjoy this conversation.
Black light, nude, hot yoga…with wine. Right, or wrong? Extreme? Perhaps, but it is all too easy to fall into a mindset that believes things “should” be one way and not another. How often do you find yourself mentally scoffing at someone’s idea or actions, even if you wouldn’t say it to their face? I often like to say “It’s all yoga”, but then even I have ideas about what constitutes “true yoga”. The aforementioned example would be a tough sell for my “true yoga” mindset. But, I enjoy wearing colorful yoga pants that come in modern designs, and am not yet comfortable with my greying hair and feel the need to cover it, and enjoy laughter and music in a yoga class setting, and some could say that I too do not offer “true” yoga. Its fine with me if they do not agree with my practice or “style”. I do not need to have another person’s approval to pursue a path unique to me. But where do we draw the line? Do we set standards for our practice? Or is it a free for all? These are questions to ponder as yoga becomes more popular and comes into contact with modern American marketing schemes.
The question is “what is yoga”? If we know what it “is” that should help us to decide what it “isn’t”. Neti- Neti: A yoga practice of defining what is by determining what it isn’t. The definition of yoga we are all familiar with is “union”. The joining of body, mind, soul, with the divine. You may call it “God” or “Goddess” or “Great Spirit”, its all ONE. If there is a union, it has to be with something. I ask you, is it possible to not be in union? Is it something that magically happens only when we begin practicing the “right” kind of yoga? Or is the real issue simply a matter of not realizing that union is our true nature. If that is what we are experiencing, then we are always in a state of union and perhaps our actions, no matter what, express divine will and desire. How clearly we understand that union, how clearly we see, feel, and express it, takes shape in our actions. Some see clearly, some not so clearly. It is said that the greatest saints and sages of our times saw with great clarity. But were they more “unified” than we are? Is yoga union, or is it clear seeing of our union? I beg to believe our union is unquestionable, it matters not who you are- YOU ARE UNION, YOU ARE DIVINE EXPRESSION. How we get out of our own way in order to see more clearly (Vidya) is the true work of our living, our practice, and yoga.
Back to the original question. Is there a right or wrong to yoga? If its a matter of seeing more clearly, then we can ask, “what will help us to see more clearly and what will only further cloud our vision?” Ahh… now we have a direction. It isn’t simply a matter of following whatever whim comes into our minds eye. If we blindly follow whatever seems like the most fashionable way, or popular way, or event the most “fun”, we can ask ourselves, “Will this help me to see more clearly? Does it feed my ego? Is it serving me, or the greater community?”. Its ok to have fun. I wouldn’t want to stop someone from having fun, as long as it was rooted in ahimsa- non harming to self or others (others as in person, animal, place, environment, etc…). ( Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who thought a fun time in college was sitting in the library and reading. Introversion at its greatest expression, folks.) Nevertheless, I understand that others find fun in ways that don’t fit my conservative model mind. If your “fun” does cause harm in some way, or it only acts as an escape from your bigger issues, then it may not be serving your clear seeing.
And here is the real problem, I do believe only YOU can determine what is causing your blindness. Some may argue- “No, you need a Guru. They remove the darkness to reveal the light of seeing”. I dare say, not true. It is only ever you. ParamGuru. I am sure most folks KNOW when they are doing something that isn’t serving their highest self. Until you can stop yourself mid-cycle- mid samskara, and say “that is enough, I can’t do this anymore because it doesn’t serve me.”, then you will not have true enlightenment. You will always be dependent on your own ego driven whims, or another persons judgement of you and direction for you. When they leave or depart, or let you down, as so many Guru’s have, where will YOU be then? Only YOU can direct your clear seeing… As Hamlet said “Aye, there’s the rub.” Yoga is Union with your Self and your clear seeing. Can you get out of your own way to see the path ahead?
I may have opinions about what will serve others in their clear seeing, but it isn’t very useful. I could say “Hey- you shouldn’t practice that way, its not Real Yoga- or Real Yogi’s don’t (fill in the blank).” but its not going to help anyone see more clearly, and it certainly won’t help me. It really is just me being bossy, self- important, and judgmental. I need to focus on my seeing, my practice, my actions, which has nothing to do with what someone else is doing. If black light, nude, hot yoga with wine doesn’t resonate with me, then I can choose another way.
Who am I to say what may or may not help another person to see themselves more clearly? I only see out of my own eyes and live my own path and expression.
As you may have noticed, I LOVE cooking and having food at our events. It’s probably my Italian background, “Mangia Mangia!, You’re not eating enough!”. For me, feeding others is an easy way to give, to nourish, to connect and be in community. One Yoga student has described me as the “Martha Stewart of Yoga”- That gave me a good laugh! But I do enjoy nourishing people and nothing makes one more comfortable than good food. Last year, our yoga teacher trainers ate lunch downstairs on our yoga weekends, & sometimes there was a common dish to share. But this year, it has opened up to a full community eating event! Now I wish I could turn the clock back and invite last years trainees to eat at my table too. We are taking turns making food, and everyone gathers around my kitchen table and dining room upstairs to eat together. It feels so much nicer! Food is such a simple way to give and to connect with others.
At our recent home Kirtan, we took in cans to donate to the HAVEN. THANK YOU- to those folks who came out and brought cans, and joined us in that event! We collected about 10 pounds of food. It may not be a huge amount, but think about it, 10 pounds of food for someone with no food, that might mean everything to them. It feeds my soul to think that others are being fed by our community.
You can give in so many other ways besides food. In Sanskrit, the term for giving is “Seva”- it means “Service”. You can serve others in any infinite number of ways. There are many charities you could give to. Too many to list here! But you can serve others by simply sitting and listening to someone talk to you or tell you their troubles. You are giving your whole self, your presence to them in that moment. What greater gift can you give! Can you just sit and listen, make eye contact and be with them, without thinking about what you have to do, or what you should say? Its very difficult, more so than it sounds. I work on this practice when listening to my own daughters, I find it too easy to nod and half listen, instead of really looking at what they are showing me and giving them my whole presence.
I used to have a quote on my refrigerator by Mother Theresa. It said something like this: “If you want to have world peace, go home and love your family.” Your service and giving can simply be loving your family. How great is that! If more people practiced this, I think a lot of problems would be resolved in the world. And a little love goes a long way.
I will leave you with this Quote by Marianne Williamson:
“If you give your life as a wholehearted response to love, then love will wholeheartedly respond to you”.
I have something special for you today my Yogi friends. Last Friday, I had the joy of talking with Karen Kenney, a Concord, NH area yoga teacher. Karen is the type of person who can light up your soul. She speaks honestly and in a no- nonsense manner. She is a gifted story teller. As she told me the story of her traumatic childhood, her journey into acceptance by meeting the spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson and the time she spent with Marianne deep in the heart of an Egyptian Pyramid, I felt transported. She gives her candid opinion of the latest trends in Yoga, and explains what lights her up about being a yoga teacher. Karen also has a great sense of humor, so you will find yourself laughing with us while you listen!
There are many gems in this interview- but you have to listen to find them. Its a long interview, and I didn’t want to edit out anything, its that good. Click the link that follows to join in Karen’s journey. I was left inspired after talking to her.
Karen has many inspiring workshops and projects that you can take part in. Her WEBSITE and subscribe to her blog posts, she is a gifted writer. You can join her at OMEGA for a Yoga and Writing workshop this May. She is also leading Thai Yoga Trainings this spring.
But the event she is most excited to share is Yoga and Nonviolence: A Practice For Peace, Fundraiser for the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, on Thursday May 14th, 7-9 PM at the Concord NH Audobon Center. You can go to the Facebook Event Page for more information.
Grab a Hot Cup of Tea, and a Warm blanket, rest your feet, and listen to Karen tell you of her journey.