When You Think You’ve Got “It”…

…”It” can be so challenging to not slip into self-judgment. When, you believe you’ve crossed some magical threshold and you can let your spiritual practices take a back burner. Ironically, this may happen even though you may be striving to “improve” your life.

The endeavor of entering seminary has been amazing for me. I’ve developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for an array of the world’s spiritual traditions. But, finding time to do my studies added another layer of busyness.

Next thing I know, old behaviors creep in… 

…After a long day the couch and T.V. beckon.

As a mindfulness instructor, I know it’s not the T.V. that’s inherently evil. It’s the diversion instead of relaxation that causes harm.

Diversion is when you don’t make an effort to clear the mind and set down your obligations. Diversion is pleasant; but, it is ephemeral. Relaxation takes effort; but, it is cathartic.

Intrinsic relaxation is a skill. You don’t turn on music. You don’t do more–you subtract. There are an array of exercises for autorelaxation: yoga postures, shavasana, pranayana to name a few.

Paradoxically , it’s recommended to do something more engaging when the mind is busy (or if your newer). Move your mind around and it’ll settle down and focus.

As I share this, I remember a great quote, “put down the book [turn off the T.V, computer, device] and meditate”.

That’s what I’m going to do now.

(Post 12 of 30 Days of Peace. Better late then never. Let peace begin with me.)

Small Steps Toward Inner Peace

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Part 5: 30 Days of Peace

Why is it difficult to simply sit and meditate?

The practice should not be seen as daunting–it is your right and privilege.

Yet, so many people plan on beginning to meditate for years…

First of all, I speculate, when we sit in the silence uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, memories, and emotions come forward.  It can be a stark contrast to the idealized bliss we associate with the image of a meditator on the beach.

In order to meditate successfully, you must develop a different understanding of your how your mind works (you don’t try to stop thinking or suppress the thoughts) you learn to  look at them as an experience–consider their transience. In a sense, you have thoughts; but, you are not your thoughts.

The problem is, at the beginning (and maybe for a long time afterwards), you identify with them– I think therefore I am (not)!

If you wanted to learn to speak a new language or learn calligraphy, you start with small steps. Instead of expecting to sit for 30 minutes and experience nirvana, just hang out with your mind.  But, do this with a playful attitude– be amused and amazed at your inner workings– 1,2,3 minutes in a quiet room, just watching the stream of thought is amazing.

The other reason people do not meditate is lack of discipline.

I know it sounds judgmental; but, I am speaking from experience.  There were many years when I liked the idea of meditation more than I really wanted to do it.  It was a great leap forward when I acknowledged that I really would rather do something else.  When I was honest with myself I could see there is greater value in getting up a few minutes earlier or turning of the TV and getting off my couch.  Believe me, I have to recommit regularly.

If you really want to go further, just begin to work with the breath.  Don’t over complicate it, deep breathing, awareness at the diaphragm (below the breastbone, above the navel) 1,2,3 minutes.  Just focus on the breath and let the thoughts come…  But, you have to get up and do it.

But, if you begin a sincere practice, I can promise the world unfolds to aid you in coming to the Center of Consciousness.

You are what you are looking for… You are the Inner Peace.

There you go, you’re on your way.

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

The Eye

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

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.

 

All Yogic approaches require the implementation of Discipline and Detachment.

Part 7 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga?

People think that sadhana–the yogic path–means the day-to-day process.  In a way it does, it is what practices you do (meditation, breath work, etc).  But, abhyasa is the moment to moment committment to this way of being and living.  It’s the cultivation, not obsession, of remembering your committment to reach Yoga.  But, all of the work you do has to be done with surrender–if you expect an exact outcome you are living in the world of control.  Control is an illusion.  There are many factors affecting us at any given time; our karma is coiled and spiraled in ways we cannot imagine.  So we do the work, we commit to the path, and we let go.  We make mistakes and we try again.  Life throws curve balls and we still meditate, contemplate, pray, and offer gratitude.  We are not bargaining with the Center of Consciousness– we are trying to connect to it.  Although, the irony is, we are never away from it.  Let the trials help you remember that every moment is Holy and Divine.

From Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

Ripples and Tsunamis

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I saw the quote above on PDAN Teen.  The I rememebred, Ma Tri once described thoughts as ripples on the lake of the mind. She went on further to described emotions as Tsunamis. Then she expounded, “Imagine you could harness the energy of a Tsunami. Imagine if you directed that to whatever your life’s goal is”.  It left me speechless. I long to crave self-realization with the same fervor as any other Tsunami which has roared through me. Until then, I’ll ride the waves and learn to surf.

Moving towards Mindfulness

Rena Kilgannon is our first guest blogger of FGTS.  Please contact us if you would like to share lesson, personal experiences, meditations, and poetry from dharmic traditions and mindfulness.  Thank you for blessing us Rena.

A balance stone in a zen water

A balance stone in a zen water

When I was a child, my family suffered a significant tragedy. I was eight years old and trying to adjust to our new normal was difficult. One of the experiences I remember is riding in the family car and finding myself going into a deep state of consciousness. I retreated so far back into my mind that it transported me. The experience was so profound; I remember it fifty years later. I also remember being shaken and frightened by this – I had no name for it.

Those who practice mindfulness and meditation, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For many, the ability to move into a quiet and peaceful place in your mind where you can shut out the noise is a great goal to achieve. Since I began my practice nearly one year ago, I am in the beginning stages of understanding what it takes to get there.

In an article published by HuffingtonPost, Mindfulness Meditation Benefits, there are a number of reasons why you might want to consider incorporating mindfulness meditation into your daily life. Here are a few of them:

  • It lowers stress — literally.
  • It lets us get to know our true selves.
  • It could help people with arthritis better handle stress
  • It changes the brain in a protective way.
  • It works as the brain’s “volume knob.”
  • It could help your doctor be better at his/her job.
  • It makes you a better person.
  • It could make going through cancer just a little less stressful.
  • It could help the elderly feel less lonely.
  • It could make your health care bill a little lower.
  • It comes in handy during cold season.
  • It supports your weight-loss goals.
  • It helps you sleep better.

This practice is new to me as it is for many who have chosen a different path to physical and mental well-being. I was always a runner and reached levels of calmness (runner’s high) through my running routines. In my 30s and 40s, I ran for exercise regularly – from 3-4 mile a few times a week to 10Ks, half-marathons and, eventually full marathons. Like many who run, I ended up with too many injuries and eventually had to give it up.

Then came my 50s when I was diagnosed with a health challenge that forced me into seeking gentler forms of exercise. I tried many: Pilates, tai chi, yoga, strength training, group cycling, and low-impact classes. More injuries sidelined me, but I kept searching.

My search led me to restorative yoga, mindfulness and meditation. I have found this to be instructive, strengthening, and most important, it brings awareness to my practice as a beginner. My yoga and meditation coach, Avril James-Hurt, an experienced exercise physiologist with Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta explains how to begin a practice in this video:

I have already seen health improvements as a result of this practice. Working mindfulness meditation into my life will always be challenging – and I welcome it for it has truly been the start of a journey to life long well-being and peace.

 

Rena Kilgannon runs Kilgannon Group, LLC, a small business consulting firm. She ran an advertising agency in Atlanta, Georgia for 25 years before selling her firm in 2012. Her book, What’s the worst that could happen™ is available on Amazon.com or at www.renakilgannon.com.

A Special Visit

MaTri Flyer

Ooh Formless Divine Mother…. hear my longing, hear my prayers for strength to keep going to use every moment for increasing awareness and to allow the surrendering into formless Love. None of the sensory impressions are me, none of the thoughts are me… ooh take me in Your formless arms, take it all, as I have nothing to loose as none is my. Most deepest gratitude for the sages and the selfless offerings to show us the path… humbly I walk in these golden footprints together with my fellow sadhakas friends, which company I value tremendously. Standing ever stronger for what I know to be true: Aham Brahmasmi ♥ And so are all of you! We are all sparks in the divine ocean of bliss, splashing around but One is true essence. See the Absolute smiling, giving and sharing through the human beings… What a joy to be aware in Vaishvanara!  Have a wonderful day ahead full of play, love and giving ♥

 Swami Ma Tripurashakti BharatiWorkshop Registration

All Yoga Paths Subscribe to Dharma

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Part 4 of “How Do You Qualify Yoga

Please let me forewarn you, this may be a polarizing post.  Humans, on many levels, enjoy their misidentification with nonself (to borrow a Buddhist term).  We cling desperately to all that we are not–all that we are attached to.  The ego is a collection of false identities, which the teachings of Yoga systematically deconstruct.  The ego gets particularly obnoxious when we perceive we are being told that we are doing something “incorrectly” (or at least differently from how it was intended).

Dharma is a Sanskrit term which is utilized in many traditions; however, it has no true English translation.  Dharma can mean, law, right-way, and order; Feurestein ascribes it to morality.  Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism are all called “dharmic traditions (or religions)”.  Truthfully, there really is no “religion” called Hinduism.  Hinduism is a term that originated from the British trying to describe the various traditions of the people Sindhu River.  Hinduism is a collection of philosophies, among them: Shaktism, Vaishnavism, and Shaivism–all of whom, like the branches of Yoga, describe the Ultimate Reality in different ways.  Sanatana Dharma means the “Eternal Way” (or law, morality, etc.).  It is the wellspring out of which the dharmic traditions sprung.

Yoga and Sanatana Dharma cannot be separated.  Their lines are intrinsically blurred.  While it’s possible to practice Yoga and still adhere to other religious tenets–Christianity is very much a Bhakti Yoga practice–the origins are one and the same. Conversely, it is possible to be a Hindu and not practice Yoga; however, they originate from the same source.

All types of Yoga (not mere asana practice), have a dharmic component.  In some paths the tenets are spelled out in recommended actions and restraints.  In other paths, there is a call towards looking inward towards ones own moral compass.  Regardless, there are no Yogic recommendations towards: competitiveness, hyper-sexuality, greed, or lying.  However, that is often the case in the contemporary Yoga scenario.  Studios are selling expensive clothing, hyper-mobility is lauded, scant dress is praised, and teacher’s don’t have a personal sadhana.  It’s not a judgement, you aren’t bad if you’re doing these things.

Yoga is not about a punitive deity waiting to judge–it’s about becoming so clear and so aligned that you wouldn’t want to do these things.  Patanjali calls this the “great vow”.  It is not about becoming pious either; but, there is nothing wrong about being aware of what Yoga is and is not.