There Is No Spoon

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Every moment is the only moment.  In the midst of tragedy you can choose to go into the Self and find the Eternal Truth.  This is untainted by the transient, and often troubled, world.  Despite what appears to be chaos, there is a substratum where we all are One.  Through meditation on silence and affirmative prayer we connect with this Divine Matrix.  Then you realize, like in the movie, that you don’t have to try to bend spoons.

There are always atrocities on the news.  Anyone of average intelligence knows that sensationalism sells.  But, for me, it feels so close to home right now.  This body I have incarnated in is Black and I am raising children how have incarnated as mixed-race people.  Yes, I deeply believe (and in moments of samadhi I have known) that and we are all One.  Yet, when I open my eyes and engage in the world I, temporarily, forget.

I become angry and I fear for my son–who is the sweetest young man I know.  He is 6′ 2″ at age fourteen.  I plead with him to not wear his hood, to be polite, and not to cut through the neighbor’s yard–because he may be murdered.  Yes, I am deeply committed to my spiritual practices and I know that no one dies.  But, our karmic bond is deeper than philosophical conjecture.

I’m playing multiple roles on the stage we call “life”.  Some of the roles seem to contradict each other.  As a mother, I am a wildcat backed into a corner who is desperately trying to care for her cubs.   As a an aspirant, I uphold the tenet that all life is equal and valuable.  I also strive to remember that those who inciting violence are in pain.  But, sometimes it easier said than done.

Two wise teachers told me, there are two things we always must remember.  First:

Everything is the opposite of what it appears to be and nothing is the opposite of what it appears to be.

Second:

Anything you do everything you experience will either bring you closer to or farther from the Truth (Center of Consciousness, perception of God, Yoga, Unity, Christ Consciousness, and numerous names for Supreme Oneness).

The first principle is that we really never know what is going on beneath the surface level of appearances.  I mentioned, perpetrators of violence are victims, as well.  Karma is intertwined at every level.  What we are seeing is a ripple on the surface of the ocean of cause and effect.  It’s not judgement by an anthropomorphic paternal deity– we are seeing the ripples from infinite stones being thrown into the lake of eternity.

The second principle is to cease throwing stones which cloud the lake and obscure the Truth.  The second principle is supreme compassion for ourselves–at any given moment we can choose to love everyone.  At any moment we can look at someone and choose to remember there is no other.  These are choices made in a nanosecond.

Then we bend, we grow, we advance and we can be a beacon to bring those who are still perceiving separation toward Our Collective Center of Consciousness.

Part 1 of 30 Days of Peace…

Benefits of Mini-Meditation

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Greetings seeker! While you are on the quest for enlightenment (whatever that means to you), there’s no denying our mundane lives are hectic. In fact, an aspect of mindfulness development is acknowledging busyness–as opposed to denying it. With heightened mindfulness (the practice of paying attention to and seeing clearly whatever is happening in our lives) we develop discernment to determine if our busyness is serving us. We also develop presence; we are able to handle what is put in front of us with grace and intelligence.

Recently, I had to make a choice to cleave one of my activities. My time is short and precious. There was attachment, and as a result disharmony; but, I’m feeling lightened. I made the choice from a place of deeper knowing–an awareness cultivated through meditation.

In the Yoga tradition this intelligence, the decider, is called the Buddhi. Yes, it shares an etymological root with Buddha (also bud); the Buddhi is higher wisdom.  Yoga meditation is to wipe the dust of the world off of the decider mirror do it can reflect the truth… So you can see clearly (remember what I defined mindfulness as)!

Meditation bestows numerous other treasures; I call them the fringe benefits. Those are the ones you’ll hear on Good Morning America: lower blood pressure, a healthier brain, and (this is the one they’re really pushing these days) a better sex life.

It’s totally fine if that’s all you want; but, I want the jackpot. The clear lens is just the beginning. It allows the false identities to be set aside so we can experience Union with the Truth–not merely conceptual knowledge. True absorption.

So where does mini-meditation come in? Well, first of all, none of the aforementioned bounty requires retirement to a Himalayan cave. The most important factor is the desire–the desire to attain more awareness, the desire to attain this Union. Once you find that this becomes very important to you portals will open up and draw you in. But, you have to extend your hand. The  Center of Consciousness transcends time and space. But, it does require that you routinely regularly endeavor to visit. Five minutes, even less–if you don’t even have one minute then maybe this isn’t the path for you. Believe me I’ve had to ask myself this question repeatedly.

Get up in the morning, and before you begin your tasks, splash a little cold water on your face. Next, sit for three minutes. Move your attention around your physical body. Then, take some deep diaphragmatic breaths. Shift to holding your attention in one space–the bridge between the nostrils is effective for steadying attention. You can repeat this process again at work, in a bathroom stall. Repeat it again before retiring. Nine minutes may change your life.

This is how my practice is at this time. I have two children, I’m a single mother, and I have a full-time job. I sit for three to five minutes in the morning, then I sit for, at least, 10 minutes in the evening. When opportunities arise for longer sittings I take them. I don’t judge myself for my life, I embrace it.

Re-Opening My Eyes

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Many students ask me, what is the point of meditation.  Well, it is subjective.  Yoga (Unity, Mindfulness–the goal of Yoga Meditation or The Himalayan Tradition) is a state of being that I, as an exercise physiologist, compare to fitness.  How do you attain fitness?  There are many different ways, walking, weight lifting, pilates, etc.  But, when done regularly, for some time, this elusive state manifests for us.  Also like fitness, Yoga is multi-faceted.  One can run daily; but, they are not really fit unless they eat well, too.  Similarly, one can meditate regularly and enjoy many states of bliss; but, the Yogi wants life to be the meditation.  Witnessing, being fully present, is an exercise which can be done adjunctively and during meditation.  Any action, sensation, or thought can be a portal to presence-simply pausing during a meal As I am typing I am just pausing to really be aware of my fingers on the keyboard, then contemplating the intricacy of the movement, and the moment it sparks in my brain.  There is so much going on; but, we are too busy doing everything else.  When you are present to your life it opens up portals for gratitude, savoring, and joy.  I originally posted this in Spring of 2015.  It resonates with me as much today and then…

One day while walking along the Ganges, my teacher was told, specifically, by his Guru , “Witness Everything“.  He knew that Swami Rama did not incline towards repeating himself; so, he grunted to acknowledge that he heard the instruction.  But, the sound also signified he needed to digest this morsel a bit longer.

“Witness Everything”,  what a specific, yet, elusive instruction.  As my teacher paradoxically says, “it is simple; but, not easy.”

Often, during the opening of an asana (yoga posture) class, when we begin to focus on the breath, I remind my students we take about 20,000 breaths a day–but, most of them come and go unconsciously.  Yet, it is the most essential of all our bodily functions.  If we were forcibly made to stop breathing, for even a few seconds, we would suddenly become very grateful for our lifeline!

Witnessing = Observing + Non-Attachment

Why on earth would we want to cultivate this state of detached observation?  Witnessing is the essence of mindfulness–the practice of paying attention to and seeing clearly what is happening in our lives.

If we always act from the perspective of the self, life happens to us–it is very personal and selfish. The person that cuts us off is doing that to us personally.  The traffic is affecting us personally.  When we begin to witness we are able to “see” the person cutting us off is actually thinking about themselves. Maybe they were rushing to an emergency! We begin to see all of the people stuck in traffic–we may even develop compassion for so many frustrated individuals.

But, on a deeper level, when, in our meditation practice, we bear witness to our thoughts (remember, this is done with non-attachment or non-judgment), we begin to notice the patterns, trends, and colors of our thoughts.  We begin, without necessarily having to analyze the source of our tendencies, to have more space from the fluctuations in our mind-field.  We begin to see the mind as it is, an infinitely creative tool that is a blessing and a necessity to navigate this earth-plane–instead of seeing the mind as a source of our frustration.

Wake up, or do whatever you will… Swami J

Mind, Please be My Friend…

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When the modifications of the mind have become weakened, the mind becomes a transparent crystal…

Sutra 1.4

I originally posted this a year ago. This posting is extremely close to my heart. I’m always seeking a friendship with my heart and mind.

The last few weeks have been fairly hectic: I am planning a meditation intensive retreat, I am taking some continuing education classes, my work schedule is changing, the children have a bunch of activities, and I am a little over-extended.  So working on a blog post has been demoted on my list of obligations.

But, despite all the busyness, my mind-state has been fairly steady, or ekagra.  I attribute this to regularity in my practice.

In the Yoga Tradition, the mind is viewed as an instrument through which we receive information about the sensory world (manas), where we store memories and formulate opinions (chitta), it is where our sense of individuality arises (ahamkara), and where our conscience resides (buddhi)–but, not our consciousness.

The four aforementioned aspects of the mind are collectively called the antahkarana–or the inner instrument.  The word “instrument” is so profound.  Yoga science expounds, the mind is not who we are; but, mind is a tool, which can be sharpened to glean clearer understanding of who we are and what needs to be done to Realize our True Nature.

According to Yoga science, our minds becomes colored by our experiences— think of it as a dusty layer on a window.  Therefore, they do not allow the truth to diffuse through. We are colored by perceptions of race, social status, gender, etc.  Reflect for a moment on a baby who lacks these associations.

Through meditation we wipe off the layers of dust and eventually the clear mind allows the truth to shine through.

But, the mind is only capable of becoming crystalline… 

What is the light that shines through the crystalline mind?

Eventually, the mind, like all good tools must be set down.  Would you walk around in the house you built clutching the hammer?

Over time, with dedication, consistency, and faith, the mind is set down and total awareness of the Self will shine through.

Until then, tell your mind “thank-you” for all that it does.  Do not be angry with your mind for thinking any more than you would be angry with your hand for grasping or your ear for hearing.  Ask your mind to be your friend, so that you can dust the lens, and see the world as it truly is.

As always, click the links!

Heartbreak Catapult

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It has been a powerful 10 months–although when does life cease to provide opportunities for growth?  My husband and I separated and are in the process of divorcing; due to my spiritual prowess (sarcasm oozing) I thought I was over “it“.

I know grieving is a natural process– I even wrote a post about it!  Yet, somehow I hallucinated I had earned spiritual cred and would ascend the proverbial staircase effortlessly. Well, it hasn’t been flawless.

I, a long time aspirant, rebounded, ate too much sugar, slacked on my meditation practice, called into work sick, grumped with my children, and finally acknowledged that I am unhappy to be uncoupling.  But, the heartache is also bringing me to a place that is so real and fertile.

About a year ago, when I couldn’t even imagine that we were on the verge of separation, I was hosting a meditation retreat.  My group skyped with Ma Tri  and she shared a beautiful insight about devotion.  To paraphrase, she explained that these practices are not about suppressing emotions; rather, an adept harnesses them to fuel their quest for self-knowledge.  Emotions are energy–the energy of desire.

Right now, I have to be with this pain.  It is my teacher, it is teaching me about attachment.  But, it is also teaching me about gratitude.  I have gratitude for the skill of self-inquiry, which I have developed during this spiritual journey.  I have gratitude for the ability to shift from my sadness to reflect on what is working in my life.

When I feel that I am beating myself up, I return to my favorite Rumi poem, “…even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come”.  Then I know that these practices, my sadhana, is working.

The Driving Dead

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I have a visceral reaction to rush-hour traffic–it is abhorrent. But, I live in metro-Atlanta, it’s unavoidable. It’s also a great opportunity to test my spiritual practices It’s my own laboratory: I listen to “edutaining” audiobooks, I try to remain present, I avoid judging other drivers, I resist the phone.

The Yoga Sutras suggest five behaviors for a spiritual seeker to cultivate; one of these attitudes is mindfulness (smriti).  Which is simply, paying attention to whatever you are paying attention to.  It is also seeing that the path is every step you take; not compartmentalizing spiritual life and secular life.  I am learning a great deal about myself while I am behind the wheel.

Recently, while wrestling with the traffic juggernaut, one of my greatest teachers abruptly tested me.  She wanted me to see if I was grounded in my practices. During a particularly frenetic moment, my five-year-old daughter, Clementine, exclaimed from her booster seat, “I don’t want you to die and leave me alone!”

This was seemingly out of nowhere; yet, in a previous post, I noted our home is in a state of transition. So, the outburst wasn’t entirely unwarranted.

My mind was in a whirl; how do I explain impermanence to a child while, paradoxically, trying not to kill us on the road?

The answer was simple, my practices had prepared me, I surrendered.  Yoga practices make you flexible–not as a contortionist.  Sadhana is a process of systematically reducing reducing attachments, such as expectations, and attaining a state of pure spontaneity.

So, without being too kerflummoxed, I was in a new role–Teacher Mom.  Off went the radio, deep breathing resumed, and a truly beautiful moment ensued. I told Clementine that everything she can see is a cosmic ocean.  I explained we are all waves in the ocean.  A wave rises and falls; but, is never removed from the ocean.  In the same manner, we have not and cannot ever be apart.  She continued to be emotional; but, she found comfort in knowing she and I are One.

I offered a prayer of gratitude for my car temple.  What a sublime moment of intimacy in the sea of automotive chaos.  Every moment is Divine.

 

Be the Best “Version” of your Self

Truly, there is no “better” or “worse” version of You, or I–we are the Center of Consciousness.  How can there be a flaw?

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Be the Best Version of your “Self”

In Yoga Philosophy, a human is viewed as an expression of the Center of Consciousness.  As the Center of Consciousness “moves outward” it appears to condense (for lack of a better word) and become the individual.  But, the Center of Consciousness remains eternal, undiminished, unchanged.  

There are various sheaths (koshas) appearing to veil the Center of Consciousness; they are like layered lampshades covering a light.  At the outermost level there is the physical body; the next, more subtle, layer is the energy/breath body; the next, subtler, layer is the mental body; the mind is preceded by the wisdom body; at core is the Self–the point where Center of Consciousness initiates individuation. 

Whether or not you subscribe to this philosophy, we can intuit that we are more than we appear to be. What we hold to be as our “True Nature” is a personal belief.  However, the busyness of our lives causes us to misidentify with all of the actions we are doing instead of our illusive “True Nature”.

Furthermore, our addiction to moving outward–as opposed to focusing inward–causes many of us to fixate on our failures and challenges.  We can become mired in a victim persona, subjecting ourselves to a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Meditation is a tool which can shift us to a state of empowerment by: improving our physiological functioning, depersonalizing the thinking process, and relieving us from attachments.

When the human nervous system evolved, it bifurcated into two aspects which work like gears on a manual transmission.  The sympathetic nervous system causes humans to jump into action.  It triggers the “fight or flight” response via the release stimulating hormones, which includes: dilated pupils, accelerated heart rate, and increased rate of respiration.  Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with feelings of safety and wellbeing–reflect on the feeling holding a calm baby.  Unfortunately, many people are primarily tapped into the sympathetic nervous system–they are reactive, anxious, and judgemental.  

Most systems of meditation are practiced in a relaxing environment and incorporate techniques, such as: body scanning, diaphragmatic breathing, and focusing attention–all of which elicit a parasympathetic response.  When this is stimulated, thoughts are inclined to be uplifting and positive.  In fact, a recent Harvard study indicates, 8-weeks of mindfulness meditation cause the brain to grow new gray matter. This asserts you can rewire your brain into new thought patterns. Despite the catharsis of improving the quality of our thoughts, it is important to understand that we are not our thoughts.

As previously mentioned, we identify with our accomplishments and roles; however, we also identify with our thoughts.  Thoughts, like the material objects of the world are “objects” we have created on the mental plane.  Many people have an antagonistic relationship with their thoughts.  They tend to believe that they are good when they are having positive and altruistic thoughts.  They tend to judge themselves when they are having negative thoughts.  All minds are creative–even Buddhist monks have thoughts of murder.  However, acting on a thought is a different scenario.

Although there are benefits to positive thinking; it’s important to get distance from your thoughts.  This is not an attempt to have cessation of the thinking process; rather, the goal is to become detached from the activity of the mind. In most meditation traditions, practitioners are taught to allow the mind to behave naturally–not to interfere with the thinking process.  Over time, one is able to become aware of the transient nature of thoughts.  Ultimately, as one becomes dispassionate about thoughts, the mind begins to relax; this is not unlike a pond settling after it is undisturbed for a while.  Then one becomes aware of spaces between the thoughts.  In meditation we attempt to move into those spaces–not to shut the mind down.  

After one develops a regular practice they may observe that thoughts are of two sorts: neutral and colored.  Neutral thoughts are benign, they do not elicit an emotional response. Colored (klishta) thoughts are shaded with attachment.  Attachment is twofold: attraction and repulsion (aversion).  We cling at what we are attracted to and we push against what we are repulsed by.  Yet, these are two sides of the same coin–in both cases one is attached.  We expend a great deal of energy trying to get more of what we want and an equal amount of energy trying to keep away what we abhor.  The rationale of this behavior is happiness; but, true happiness is not determined by what is outside of us.  

As a meditation practice develops, one is able to discern which thoughts are colored. A regular meditator is detached from their thoughts, they are able to uncolor them and decrease incessant craving for the the material world and it’s ephemeral pleasures.  Many philosophies believe attachment is our greatest downfall; whether is desire for more accomplishments and experiences or the fear of death.  Meditation does not make us apathetic; a healthy yearning for that which brings us inside and towards truth is amplified with regular practice.

Meditation is a wellspring; it allows us to set down the many false ideas and identities that burden us on a daily basis.  Then, as if we hang these on a clothesline, after meditation we pick these up and they feel lighter. With meditation we begin to perceive ideas of lack are not our true nature; they are fantasies we created along the way.  During meditation, we still the body, smooth the breath, quiet the mind, and steep in the silent Center of Consciousness.  How can we be undeserving, unworthy or unlovable if our true nature is perennial and connected with the True Nature of everyone?