Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The final foundational discipline of yoga is aparigraha or non-possessiveness. Looking at the roots of the words, we again have the a which means not, pari which means away from or fully, and graha which means take, obtain or seize. From these words you can see how we arrive at non-possessiveness as a possible translation. It would be wise to keep in mind that any and all translations are mere approximations, this goes for all the wisdom literature of the world. I read recently that 50% of the youth surveyed in a Harvard study thought Jesus spoke English. Yoga teaches us to find ultimate joy and peace within and prescribes a path to attain that though we can easily fall prey to fundamentalism.
The Path of Poverty
The popular vow of poverty is related to this discipline and there is a great history of choosing poverty as a path to spirituality. Have you ever noticed the tendency we have to be possessed by our possessions? This is the mental affliction that we intend to root out with the practice of aparigraha. There is no need really to give up your possessions in order to deepen your sense of spirituality, however, we must find a way to give up our attachment and identification with our possessions. I spent many years living an unspoken vow of poverty that did more to cultivate resentment and anger than any deeper sense of spirituality.
The entirety of yoga can be characterized by the yogic axiom, "action without attachment". Yoga doesn't really seek to regulate ownership but rather the attachment to the possession. This is a very important distinction also in the process of meditation where practitioners may feel that to meditate is to push thoughts out of your mind so it is “empty”…good luck! Try instead, to relinquish your attachment to the thinking process or specific thought forms. A Tibetan Master was with his student and the latter asked, "Master, what is the difference between my mind and the mind of the Master", the teacher replied, "When thoughts arise in this mind they are like clouds passing in the sky". This is a beautiful expression of detachment.
Attachment and Aversion - Two Sides of the Same Coin
I have certainly experienced both sides of the proverbial coin when it comes to possession and material wealth. Generating large amounts of wealth as a young person was a powerful experience and having a tendency towards self-awareness I could observe the power and beauty of new-found generosity. I could also see how more wealth lead to a greater identification with that wealth. Later, joining a spiritual community that did not overtly preach poverty but certainly lived in poverty showed me the other side of the coin. Living with unresolved debt and a general disengagement from the material side of life was an expression of a subtle aversion to money. Simply the other side of the same coin from attachment. To truly practice yoga is to be fully engaged with the world but detached from the world. Easy to say but not so easy to live.
Freedom from Greed
According to Swami Satyananda of the Sivananda lineage, “aparigraha represents complete freedom from greed or covetousness.” Many Native American traditions seem to naturally reflect a certain non-covetousness. These ancient cultures can offer tremendous guidance towards simplicity in our world that seems to grow more complex every single day. I once heard of a native tradition whereby every seven years each member of the tribe would place their possessions in the center of a circle where they would then be redistributed. This is a powerful example of a practice that would help inspire the character trait of non-possessiveness.
Take a moment now and consider the fact that the things in your life do not come from you but are a part of the natural abundance of life. Those things are temporary and will not survive the test of time. So too is your physical body impermanent. The practice of aparigraha ultimately supports us in conquering the deep-seated and perhaps ultimate fear of human life, the fear of death. As we practice relinquishing greed and attachment to the things in our life we also start to chip away at the attachments to the body and to our life itself. Great peace descends upon the one who is able to act without attachment. This great peace is the fruit of yoga.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
We have been discussing the foundational disciplines of yoga known as the YAMAS and the fourth in our series is Brahmacharya and is most often translated as celibacy. This, as we so often discover, is a very limited view of a vast and powerful concept. The word Brahmacharya has atleast three distinct roots which are Brahman meaning expansion, evolution or the Absolute, char which means go, act, practice, unite with and ya meaning relating to. We may look at this as a committed practice of merging with the Absolute.
Make a Commitment Towards Growth
On this spiritual path we all must make a commitment. This commitment could take any form but in your own way, in your own time resolve yourself to this process of expansion and evolution. Brahmacharya is one characterization of that commitment. A practice of Brahmacharya is to continually direct your attention towards the Absolute or the essence of unity and one-ness. We can do this with every step, every breath, at work, at home and in the bedroom. During your day pay attention to those moments of expansion and evolution and allow your life to be about growth and transformation. Be vigilant and notice when you experience a moment of contraction…this is an evolutionary opportunity.
When contraction happens due to the ego’s reaction resist the urge to blame another and come back to expansion through forgiveness, first of yourself and then of the other. The practice of relentless forgiveness is the path back to the expansion that is the subject of Brahmacharya. A simple example may be to begin noticing the more subtle reactions to thought processes happening throughout the day. Given the fact that Brahmacharya so often relates specifically to restraint of sexual activity take a moment and consider your relationship with sexuality. Where are you contracted around sexuality; in thought word and deed? You may notice a sharp contraction resulting from a sexual fantasy or memory. You may contract around the possibility of a sexual encounter with your partner or another. The sensations in your body are a language that can lead us to great realization when we pay attention.
Redirect Your Attention
Once you notice a contraction relating to something you are thinking or something you have said or done, be grateful. You may be feeling shame or anger or sadness or regret but whatever you are feeling simply feel it deeply and hold yourself with an attitude of loving kindness. Do not indulge the mind that will take that emotion and spawn a thousand thoughts. Stay with the feeling and let it move through the body. This is a body practice of forgiveness. Know that there is a powerful photon of energy that is bound by shame and guilt and by simply allowing yourself to feel the mind-body reaction you can liberate that energy and allow yourself a quantum leap in your consciousness. Be brave and know that you are not your thoughts, not your past, not the decisions you have made. You are a being of light, radiant love and unlimited power. You are an integral part of the Absolute, Brahman, the Source, the One without a second. Direct your passion, raw and powerful, towards the realization of who you really are.
Brahmacharya is a commitment. It is a commitment to take responsibility for our thoughts and emotions, to be present with shame and guilt and practice deep forgiveness for ourselves and others. It is the liberation of expansionary energy trapped in memory and fantasy. It is the passionate union with the One Being, the Absolute. It is the path to the unbounded joy and bliss of conscious living.
Friday, November 6, 2009
There are many externally imposed ideas around right and wrong but this is an invitation to go deeper into a very important principle of conscious living. Clearly taking something from another is inappropriate but this form of discipline is self-arising which means we practice asteya in order to preserve and protect the sacredness of our beingness not out of some externally imposed sense of morality. Taking on another's belief system or mimicking their actions is often a form of "covering up" a void that we are not willing to feel in our lives.
When I was a child I was so enamored with my father that it was clear to me I was going to be like him, no matter what. He was a pilot in the military and so that was my automatic preferred career path. I was devastated as a young teenager when I was hit in the eye with a puck and being a military pilot was no longer an option. Still, as a young adult in university I joined the military as an Aerospace engineer which lead me to a period of deep sadness and profound lack of fulfillment. I see now how this was a violation of the asteya principle. I had taken on my father's vocation as a means to fill a void of love that was painful for me. Just like taking money when we do not feel we have enough we take on beliefs, language and behaviors because we feel we lack something in our lives. A practice of asteya would be to begin to notice the ways in which we do not feel like we are "good enough" and adopt attitudes, behaviors and belief systems as a way of compensating.
You are perfect just as you are. You are an integral part of the great consciousness continually manifesting as life itself. The spiritual path inspired by the ancient teachings of yoga begin with the five yamas. This word yama may also be translated as "death" and when we make the effort to deeply let go of old patterns and habits that are so ingrained in how we identify ourselves it may feel like a death. The absolute beauty that is your simple essence is waiting to shine through the clouds of the ego. Commit yourself to the practice of asteya by being so full and complete within yourself and your faith that you need not seek to be filled by another.
We will use our practice tomorrow morning at 8:45 at Milo Boathouse to fill up on the simple essence of life through a deep awareness of body and breath. I hope you can make it.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
We continue our exploration of the grounding principles of yoga known as the YAMAS. These five disciplines can provide a powerful grounding influence in our daily lives. The second discipline that follows non-violence is truthfulness (satya). This word may also be translated to be genuine, real or honest. Like all aspects of yoga the more we are able to cultivate these principles within the more effective we can be in expressing them in our relationships with others.
Let's look to the paired opposite to deepen our exploration of truthfulness. In which ways are we not honest with ourselves? One of the things that has been coming up for me is a tendency to look for a distraction in a painful or uncomfortable moment. I can imagine these distractions taking many forms from as simple as changing the subject to having a drink to expressing anger. There are infinite possibilities but as we become more aware we can hesitate and hold that "uncomfortable space" and be honest with ourselves by allowing ourselves to feel what there is to be felt.
This is a practice of compassion, of honesty and most certainly of yoga. On the mat we get accustomed to being present with sensations in the body and this training is directly related to practicing this presence with our emotional nature. We are all carry conditioned reactions based on our past, family and society; to indulge in these conditioned reactions is to avoid reality. We all have the opportunity to experience and express, more fully, the principle of truthfulness in our lives. Become familiar with the triggers that "set you off" and start to infuse a little space between the trigger and the reaction. Be courageous in your truth and be forgiving in your reactions.
Truthfulness is about Getting Real and when we take steps to be present with ourselves and with one another there is a tremendous amount of energy released into your life. What we do not see is that holding onto these conditioned reactions consumes a tremendous amount of energy. The process of enlightenment is like small photons of light being released in our being each time with choose to act with compassion and awareness.
Our yoga class tonight at the Milo Boathouse (7pm) will center on developing the skills of truthfulness by learning to be more present with our bodies, our minds and our breath. Meditation (8pm) allows us to go even deeper into the process of releasing unconscious reactive tendencies. If you have never experienced our meditation group consider joining us for no other reason than to more fully experience your own nature.
I wish you all great courage in practicing truthfulness this day in every way.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Perhaps the most potent aspect of yoga is its universality and inherent secularism. Patanjali, the founder of the yogic system was very clear that this path of awakening was not ever to be tied to any particular religion, culture or creed. The eight steps of awakening known as the Ashtanga Marga (eight-limbed path) are a step-by-step guide to becoming who we are as human beings. The first step on this spiritual ladder is self-control or the five YAMAS. The first of these five points of discipline or principles of conscious living is non-violence (ahimsa).
In our yoga practice we honor those who have come before us and practiced the disciplines and realized the fruits of that practice. In looking for a model of ahimsa, Mahatma Ghandi comes to mind. He was a passionate practitioner of non-violence though dealt with some very challenging questions. Many would suggest that in starving himself and emaciating his body he was in violation of this principle though he did it for the "greater good". In small ways in our own lives it is important to strive for non-violence in thought, word and deed and it is not always clear what behaviors are having a violent effect in our lives or the lives of others.
Our practice on the yoga mat provides us with an interior focus that serves to empower our reflective nature. This is an important step in giving us the ability to be present with our thoughts. When we can be present with our thoughts we gain the ability to hesitate before saying or doing something that may be of a violent nature. One of the dictionary definitions of violence is, "intensity of feeling or expression". As we continue on the path of yoga we invariably become more and more subtle in terms of our awareness. We learn to transmute our intense feelings and emotions without denying or repressing them. This is something that I am continuing to learn and it can be very difficult.
We all have violent habits that can be rooted out with awareness, practice and discipline. I tend to put up a wall in moments of feeling hurt. This defense mechanism is designed by the ego to protect me but invariably makes me emotionally unavailable. In moments of intense feeling this can lead to a "violent silence" that can be quite painful to the person with whom I am relating. My practice this week will be to cultivate the courage to lower that ego-based guard and be vulnerable as a path to deepening my understanding and expression of non-violence.
Take a moment and consider the role of violence in your life. Subtle forms of violence include gossiping about someone, thinking negatively about another, secretly hoping for another to suffer, indulging in gratification over another person's pain. There are infinite ways in which we may step towards the principle of non-violence. Please let me know if there is something that "clicks" for you with respect to the practice of non-violence in your life and practice.
Yoga with Claudette (thank you!) at the Milo Boathouse in Yarmouth tonight at 7pm. I will be back in town for our Wednesday class. Remember that by developing your Beloved Yoga practice you are improving your ability to practice non-violence and thereby improving the quality of your life, those around you and at some level the entire planet. Afterall, we are all connected!
Namaste: "The ONE in me greets the ONE in you",