Get to know your inner world.

An approach to the subtle body.

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The best teacher lives at least two valleys away.

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This proverb instructs us about the importance of time to think, feel, and fully experience the lessons offered by our teachers. By taking the time to digest and assimilate offerings from our guru, we will be able to apply or share those teachings in a way that is authentic and unique.

In the Taittiriya Upanishad

Yagnavalkya is the only student in a large room of seekers to comprehend his guru’s instruction.

The teacher recognizes that everyone except the exemplary Yagnavalkya does not understand.

He asks the bright one to “vomit the teachings.”

Yangnavlkya, being very obedient, proceeds to throw-up all over the floor.

His teacher, a great yogic master, turns all of the other students into a flock of partridge.

The hungry birds proceed to “eat” the teachings voraciously.

This parable illustrates how Yagnavalkya, who matures into a great teacher, can regurgitate the complex texts in a way his fellow students can understand.

Beloved yoga teacher, T.K.S Desikachar says in his book, The Heart of Yoga, that the practice must be individualized to serve the seeker. We too must internalize what we learn and “vomit” so our students can “hear” what we know. We need some serious incubation time for this process to occur.

In the first six months of my yoga practice, I lived close to my teacher. I would go to public class several times week. During this period, I discovered the details of alignment, breath, and dristhi. I built strength and courage under my teacher's guidance.

This first teacher offered a powerful asana class, and at the end of each session he would always say, “If you want more see me after class.” I listened to this closing for a couple of weeks then I asked him what he meant.

He was talking about meditation. It turned out my postural teacher was also an accomplished Transcendental Meditation (TM) practitioner. He studied for decades. The first time I went to his house to learn the technique, he put on a video from 1970. The students, including my teacher, would levitate across basketball courts. Disclaimer: it wasn’t levitation in the cartoon sense. The students didn’t look like hover-craft, but they used “kundalini energy” to take giant hops, sometimes 10 feet, across the floor while remaining in the lotus posture.

Well, that was enough for me; I was hooked. I went to as many classes as possible and practiced on my own every day. I can remember being on break at work and doing poses.

Shortly after this introduction, I moved from the west coast back home. I knew Baltimore had a future for me. My friends and family were calling. Here I had found a teacher I loved, and I was not staying. I was moving two valleys away.

This initial separation taught me the importance of my own insight. It taught me how to keep a teaching in my heart and practice. I learned to dig deeper. I was lonely at times, but in the end, the distance forced me to stand on my own two feet.

At the beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a treatise on yoga and its aim, Swatmarama says, “Due to a multiplicity of opinions there is confusion about yoga.” This quote helps us through the confusion we hear one thing from a book, another from a teacher and a third from our friend.  Instead of getting overwhelmed and maybe even discouraged on the path, we turn to ourselves for the truth.

I need time to explore, experiment and revise understanding, so it feels right to me.

Today, while I was walking with my teacher here in India, he told me five years of digestion was required to practice and integrate what he learned. He needed the time to make the instruction his own. From an American perspective, five years seems impossible, no new sequences, technique, or YouTube videos?

Diving deeper makes any endeavor: painting, music, or yoga, art. There is no single correct way to make a picture. It is also true that there is no one way to do yoga. I find that making time to internalize and individualize instruction is essential to our success on the path.

A student asks his teacher.

Guru, Guru, how long will it take me to become enlightened.

The teacher replied ten years.

What if, the student inquired, I come to class every day? If I practice twice as much, even leaving my job to do so?

The teacher paused and replied,

20 years.

We cannot rush the process of yoga. For some it comes in an instant for others, it requires many lifetimes of effort, but either way, a practice needs alone time.

I am teaching a little in India this year. Sudeepta Shanbhag, an inspiring student, runs her classes and school here in Bangalore. She kindly invited me to offer a session in her teacher training. I walked into her center and was thrilled to see success. Heart-warmed, I notice the students looking at her with adoring eyes. They are savoring each word she shares. Her teachings are articulate and uniquely hers.

The students love Sudeepta. They are grateful for the way in which she has helped them improve their bodies, minds, and lives. I remember when she left Baltimore and how as a teacher, I hated to see her go. She was in the room for every class. She never missed. She moved two valleys away. But we have stayed connected. She returns to my classes each year, and I now come to visit her.

Sudeepta has worked slowly and mindfully over the last few years, developing herself as an independent student and teacher. And then I had the pleasure of attending her student’s class. The student, too, offered an insightful experience. I thought we cannot know the many ways our efforts ripple into the world.

Two valleys away doesn’t do away with the teacher. It just means you do not have to see them every day to maintain a relationship.

Not only is Sudeepta teaching classes, but she is offering a 200 hr training program. I gave a lecture on the subtle body to her trainees.  The talk introduces the yogic concept of a subtle reality that lies just beneath the gross. The subtle body lives in the realm of the physical but requires a soundless mind to perceive. It includes functions like breath, circulation, digestion and lymph. It also includes artful maps designed to describe a sensation like butterflies in the stomach or a racing heart.

The poetics of the subtle body expands the spectrum of our experience. It widens the frontier in a yoga practice. It gives us tools to refine and deepen the focus of the mind.

A certain amount of attention is required to feel your legs in Warrior and adjust their position. It takes a deeper focus to perceive the touch of the breath. This touch is the subtle body

And the breath is just the beginning. In the talk, the sensation of breath is an example of the strongest subtle feeling. We go quieter and quieter from here: heartbeat, thoughts, stillness.

To feel subtleties, you need time on your own, dedicated to practicing. You need peace and quiet to create metaphors.

The subtle yogic body contains a pillar of lotus blossoms; it contains 72,000 rivers; it contains five winds, five sheaths, and a latent serpent. The lotus flowers are metaphors to help us stand upright. The river images help us to explore balance. The winds provide an exploration of contrasts: ground, lift, swirl, reach, and go within.  The subtle body contains five sheaths: food, energy, thoughts, wisdom and soul. They tell us a story: we are more than a bag of bones and blood. The exploration of the subtle body provides a rich landscape of imaginary landmarks. These signposts provide friends on the journey to sitting still.

The lecture was well received. I enjoyed teaching new students in a traditional Indian environment. Teaching here was likes a dream come true. The students were marvelous, and I felt very connected and at home. We are already making plans for a workshop in Bangalore next year. I can’t wait! Click here for a video of the complete lecture.

In our American life, we move toward the outer world: new poses, sequences, anatomical understandings and even teachers can keep us on the surface of our practice. Nestled just inside the physical aspect is an inner world impervious to politics, success or failure.

What if we think of the teachings as a meal? How much time do we give ourselves to digest? How often do we need to consume?

For this kind exploration, you need a teacher, two valleys away. I have only seen my teachers once or twice a year since my initial learning. I never really thought about it, but this circumstance forced me to stand on my own two feet. It forces me to practice in a way that is truly me. And then, when I want to share the offerings, they are uniquely mine.

Sudeepta, her mother and I practice together. We roll out our mats and breath. I recognize how connected Sue and I are although she is here, teaching, learning, and growing on her own. When we come together, I offer her what I know, and she teaches me too.

I know the teachers in Charm City will stand strong on their own once I am gone. They will take what we have created together and make it their own. YogaWorks students will look at them with adoring eyes.

Of course, I am saying all this because I am moving. I am moving two valleys away and find it hard to say good-bye. But leaving is not leaving after all. Our circumstance gives you time to digest, assimilate, and do your practice. All is coming

 

 

 

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A beginner in India.

I leave for India in just a few short hours, but for the first time, I am going as a beginner.

Like all newcomers, I contemplate exactly how much effort I should put into practice? It is a true inquiry: how much do I let go and how much do I try? How does one create a new life? If I try too hard I risk injury yet if I stay in a place of safety, I never experience tapas or  “the heat” of change. 

In Archery:
If the strings are too tight, the arrow will not fly,
If the strings are too loose, the arrow will not fly. —Chinese proverb

Last night I taught my last class. It was sweet and quiet with the tender-kind of love a couple might enjoy after decades of marriage. A familiar, rich and satisfying love. I saw myself cueing the students to inhale exhale and realized that this was the last time. I was glad, and when it was over, I found myself facing a vast new world.

“You are this vastness. This vista you see, this grandeur, this enduring strength—if you go deeply enough inside yourself, you will find not something small but something immensely spacious.” Donna Farhi, yoga teacher and author of Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit.

Earlier today, I got out of bed as a beginner might, with care and interest. The world is new; I grabbed my camera. The sun is rising for the first time, like me. It is Wednesday I will not be teaching tonight. My 6:30 class is no longer mine. The class has been passed on to the next generation. I feel free, and as I look down, I see my feet for the very first time.

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again. Less sure about everything it freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Steve Jobs

Yoga teachers often instruct about letting go. But it is not easy. I have a tendency to keep myself tethered, emotionally, physically, and mentally. Being a beginner, I am freed from saying I have to or I should. Instead, I fly in the “not knowing” untangling myself from beliefs I held as “true.

“The notions and ideas we have about happiness can entrap us. We forget they are just notions and ideas. Our ideas of happiness may be the very thing that is preventing us from being happy. When we’re caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form, we fail to see the opportunities for joy that are right in front of us. “ Thich Naht Hahn, How to Love.

In practice, the liberation of letting go shows up as relaxing tension in the postures. On a more subtle level, the churnings of the mind release. These practices teach me how to let go in life as well. Let go of big things and little thoughts that keep me tethered and prevent change.

“Yoga is not about self-improvement or making ourselves better. It is a process of deconstructing all the barriers we may have erected that prevent us from having an authentic connection with ourselves and with the world.” Donna Farhi

Today, after 17years of working in the thriving yoga industry, my bags packed I see my hands for the first time. I’m headed to India to be with my teachers. India is the birthplace of our practice and its roots are in the temples, the people, the schools, and the hills. This time I journey, not as a teacher, but as a student. For the first time, I go as a beginner.

“After ten years of practice, you can call yourself a beginner.” B.K.S. Iyengar

I think, how after all these years can I call myself anything but a beginner? Before Chris and I roll out the door, I roll out my mats and choose. Which one to bring: one is heavy, one is familiar, and is one light? I select the light one; it’s easier. 

When I think about being a beginner, I realize it means moving beyond the edge of what I know. Moving into the realm of adventure, I often tell new students in class, don’t be afraid. You are not broken! You are beginning. There is a courage required to be a beginner. One must allow for surprise! 

I notice a joy as I close the suitcase and lift my purse. One last look around.

“The goal of asana practice is to live in your body and to perceive clearly through it. If you can master the 4 noble acts…of sitting, standing, walking, and lying down with ease, you will have mastered the basics of living an embodied spiritual life." Donna Farhi, Yoga, Mind, Body, and Spirit.

We climb into the car and chatter all the way. It is like a dream for me. I am traveling to one of my favorite yoga-practice-places and when I return, life begins new again. It is an adventure in every sense of the word.

“The first step (in yoga) is accepting that some deep work needs to be done and then deciding to make it a positive, uplifting experience.” Donna Farhi, Yoga, Mind, Body, and Spirit.

Today it seems I feel everything, the good and the bad: happy, sad, excited, afraid, delight and dread. The sky is crystal clear. I say good-bye to my husband. The journey is long but not grueling. I travel business class so the two legs of the 19-hour flight are enjoyable and I get to hang out in some cushy lounges. The plane becomes a metaphor. It is a device to take me from one world to the next. It illustrates my willingness to fly. I try to write a bit in the lounge as I wait for departure but nothing comes. It is too soon. I have not left yet. CNN is on a big screen and the old world is still way too close. 

It’s not until I lie down in my seat, close my eyes and sleep that my old life disappears. I wake up alone but with eyes wide open. As a beginner, I think mindfully. I come back to the philosophical underpinnings of the practice: I am ok as I am, softness is as valuable as hardness, and safety is in my control.

Being a beginner shows me that I am more than I thought I was. 
We are high in the sky; it is 5 AM at home, my regular waking time. Now, I can write.

It is not all pleasure, and I am not so sure of myself, but I am. The widespread feeling of inhaling is reflexively balanced by the contractive exhale. 

“The inner—what is it if not intensified sky, hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming. “—Rainer Maria Rilke

As students, we often want to hear what we already know. Then we can agree. The gifted student listens for what we do not know and opens to the possibility. Listening is the language of beginning.

“The process of perception has no ideal and so the process of practice has no ideal” Donna Farhi, Yoga, Mind, Body, and Spirit. 

As I fly, I sit with Kamal; he works at the World Bank. He has sat Goenka Meditation 10-day retreat 2x. He is a Hillary supporter, as he says most World Bank people are…as he says most of Washington is? He articulated interesting ideas about the global economy and the pitfalls as well as the benefits of growth, change, competition, markets, philanthropy, and a natural balance that comes when we insist on one another’s light shining. "Laziness does not help anyone," He says. I listen like a beginner.

“ So every day, before you begin your practice, sit quietly for a few minutes and tune into yourself. Ask yourself, “ What do I need today?” Then let your inner guidance be guided by your voice. Some days this intuition may say, “ I think you should sit for thirty minutes to center yourself and then do just a few quiet postures; other days your intuition will say “practice Sun Salutations!”; and still other days it may tell you it is not good to practice at all. This deep process of listening to yourself will prevent you from being dominated by ideas, concepts and theories, and will allow you to move from the realm of yoga as science to the realm of yoga as art.” Donna Farhi, Yoga, Mind, Body, and Spirit.

 Day one I am a beginner,  and tomorrow I will be a bit more seasoned. Perhaps a bit less aware, but for today, I feel my spine for the first time, and it feels good. 

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How to Grow Your Organization.

Michael Meier, real-estate-rock-star, interviews me! We discuss how to grow your business by educating your own leaders. Learn how Chris and I grew our yoga studio and ultimately sold the organization through creating a culture of education and learning

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I'm Going to India.

Coleman Barks, one of the world’s most beloved translators of Sufi poet Rumi, in his book, “The Essential Rumi” teaches us about the value of secret practices. A secret practice does not mean the technique is secret but, rather, refers to the relationship between our practice and the value of privacy in the work.

“The egg is Rumi’s image for the private place where each individual globe of soul-fruit becomes elaborately unique. Incubation in secret practices produces the lovely differences. Out of one leathery egg, a sparrow, out of a similar one, a snake.”

This privacy takes courage and a willingness to be alone. Every year around this time I notice that my writing begins to wane and that I can’t think of anything to paint. These symptoms, for me, are an inner calling that says it is time to go and practice, in private. Before I go, my attention has been drawn away from myself in an outward direction. I cannot concentrate on my arts in a fulfilling way.  Secret practice, away from it all, is my favorite fix.

“Which is worth more, a crowd of thousands

or your own genuine solitude?

Freedom, or power over an entire nation?

A little while alone in your room

will prove more valuable than anything else

That could ever be given to you.” Rumi, The Private Banquet

The story of Mullah Nasradeen reminds of the value of solitary practice, it also teaches us how to work with the obstacles that show up along the way.

The Mullah was a gifted Sufi seeker. One day he was given a practice by his yoga teacher, which stirred the tingle of awakening. His teacher, recognizing Mullah's progress, told him to go to the forest and perfect practicing with the single goal of attaining enlightenment.

Mullah embarked on a long journey to the forest and found a place to sit and practice. After many seasons the seeker achieved great progress. So skillful was his practice that an angel appeared before Mullah. Very pleased with the seeker's efforts the angel offered Mullah a boon.

The angel said as your gift I have decided to serve you for all of eternity. I will do everything you ask of me as long as you keep me busy. However, the minute I am idle I will ruin you!

Mullah thought of all the difficulties in the world and his list of things to fix was very long, surely it would take the angel a lifetime to carry out the tasks.

“Ok Angel,” said Mullah, “I accept your terms.”

First, the Mullah asked the angel to feed the hungry.  "Ok," said the angel, "that is a good use of my services." And whoosh he was gone... In just a couple of minutes as Mullah was sitting down to his practice, the angel was back. Mullah was surprised by the speed in which the angel solved such a big problem.

Next, he asked the angel to heal all the sick. The angel flew away to complete the task. Mullah once again sat down to do his daily work and after ten minutes everyone was healthy and the angel was back ready for more tasks.

As you can imagine it was not long before the angel had completed every task Mullah had in his mind, and Mullah quickly realized he himself was in trouble if he could not keep the angel busy. This time he asked the angel to go out and impose justice on the world. As soon as the angel left Mullah ran back to his master.

“Do not worry, “ said the teacher, “ there is a solution. First, have the angel install a very tall flag pole at the edge of the forest, then ask the angel to climb up and down the pole until you think of something for him to do.”

Mullah followed his teachers’ instructions. Keeping the angel busy he was able to return to practice, and soon achieved enlightenment.

In this story, my mind is the angel. During solitary practice, the mind is very powerful and able to complete many marvelous things. But my mind must also be restrained, entertained, or otherwise occupied when it is not put to task. I cannot be doing things all the time and this story teaches me how to begin the process of restraining the mind so it is rested when I need it for yoga, writing, or art. Otherwise, worry and distraction can interfere.

The Mullah was working toward enlightenment, the angel, though willing to serve the Mullah, was a distraction to his mission. As I head off into retreat, doubts and worries can arise. I can be overwhelmed by things at home I should be doing or will be doing or should have done. The flagpole in the story reminds me of the inner focus I need to maintain. This way the focus of all of my energy can be directed toward my art. Secret practices require stillness of the mind, a calm approach.

This teaching also comes with an additional message: Everything I need is within. The Mullah, as he progressed on the path, headed for the forest. He needed time alone to immerse, uninterrupted and undisturbed.

“Transformations that happen on retreat are comparable to the changes that come during the 9 months in a human womb. Meditation or any solitary practice (a walk before dawn, a poem every morning, sitting on a roof at sunset) gives depth and expands the soul's action.” Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi

This year I am traveling to Bangalore to stay for a few days with a friend then off to retreat for two full weeks. Full disclosure, although I am staying in a tent residence, this tent is pretty plush. Shreyas is a very nice resort with wonderful yoga and meditation teachers. I often stay there as a stop gap on my travels to Mysore but this year, Shreyas is my destination. The tents are situated in gardens of bamboo, fig, and palm trees. The birds are abundant and the weather is warm. Away from it all, I can practice yoga, read, write and paint. I can be very still for a sustained period of time. My schedule often includes asana and pranayama in the morning and private lessons in the afternoon. I meditate each day with instruction. I have plenty of time and energy to write and paint. It is really quite nice. There is no conversation, no interaction, just me.

“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruption. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty, which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy then. A place apart—to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again…" Mary Oliver, Upstream

I am taking the story of Mullah with me, as a tool. 

Below is a journal entry from my arrival in India 2016:

I always forget what its like. Somehow, I cannot remember the block-like shapes of the houses along the city road. I forget about the Bollywood billboards advertising a luxurious high rise, that is yet to be built but on its way. I forget about the darkness punctuated by sodium lights bursting from retail shops draped in blue tarpaulin or clad in metal, painted red and white, like Coca-Cola or Voda-phone logos.

I forget how the scrub is so much like Spain --- dry, low, and seeking a life out of the dusty red rock. I forget about the trucks and buses painted as happy as any tattoo. Gods on the dashboard, blessing the ride. The fences in India are worth remembering too, they are always painted in swaths of alternating color, white and blue or yellow and red.

There are entrances everywhere but only darkness behind them as I ride from Bangalore to Mysore. We don’t have this kind of darkness at home. The kind of darkness where you can see the stars. Here, the headlights illuminate the road, vehicles, and reflective signs but to the left and right is dark, black--dark. I forget about the wedding halls in every town, covered in Christmas lights, bright red, yellow, pink, and blue. I forget about the curbs painted black and white, zebra or skunk, warning of turns and circles. The village buildings are pressed against one another, ATM, snack shop, tailor.

I guess that’s why I keep coming back because a memory is so fuzzy, so dim. The bright lights of AC Residency don’t stick in my mind until I see them again and then I remember the taste, sweet like home.

In India, we drive on the left and the driver is on the right. To me, he sits in the middle of the road, where my husband, who is very British, says, “only makes sense.”

Indians flash their lights to pass and cooperate with each other. It is a sort of symphony as we beep and bump our way along the speed-hump dotted road that connects Mysore to Bangalore. India is waking while Baltimore settles in for supper, then sleep.

I forget the early riser wrapped in his shawl and the ubiquitous woolen cap. Where are they going I always wonder? How many ways are there to fill a life? To feed a family? To occupy one's mind? In two’s and three’s at bus stops or on scooters, India wakes. The trucks have been rolling all night but the pedestrians appear just before dawn. Our headlights illuminate their small frames. I forget their structured faces with deep brown skin.

When I get to India I remember I am home.  I see my own size and shape. I see my face reflected everywhere.

And so finally my entrance to India is arriving. I look forward to heading off and being still. I hope you will find a way to join me on retreat. Perhaps create a simple practice that you can do each day alone. It can be anything, private, just for you. I also hope you follow my blog during this journey. This way we can remain connected, even as we do our work alone.

“There is a basket of fresh bread on your head,

and yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on your inner door. No other.” Rumi, A Basket of Fresh Bread

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A yogi plays with fire.

“The streets are paved with gold.

 No they are not.

 In fact they are not paved at all.

 And I just realized I’m going to be the one who paves them.” - 1900’s American Immigrant.

We have all come to yoga as a result of a promised golden path. There is much to savor and explore. The catch is this: you are going to be the one who paves the way. We have to do the work. Let me explain.

In class I have been teaching about Agni and the way sophisticated sacrifice can teach us, as practitioners, how to play with fire without getting burned. At the same time I have been reading a selection of essays by Arundhati Roy and John Cusak, who hold pretty extreme notions about the state of our world, what history looks like and how we should move forward politically. This blog post comes with a warning. Their views are extreme and shared here. They are not necessarily my own, however their voices are powerful and offer an opposing perspective to many of the tenets I assume are inherently good like Nation and Capitalism. In this post I have tried to connect Agni and these essays as a vehicle for my own transformation. I am attempting to widen my view as a means for creating change.

In the yogic tradition, Agni is the god of Fire. His face is bright and his long red hair is made of flames. He wears a golden beard that covers a sharp jaw holding shiny teeth. When Agni opens his mouth, he reveals 7 tongues and they shout the truth. This fire-god carries a banner of deep black smoke announcing his arrival in every home, wealthy or poor.

“Agni exists as fire on the earth, lightening in the sky, and the sun in space. He is a communicator that has the ability to consume, transform and convey.” -Douglas Brooks, yoga teacher

In our body, the fire sits in the center of our belly and is responsible for digestion and assimilation of food and ideas. Our impulse, gut feeling, and intuition all arise from the fire of Agni. Our Agni is what helps us honor our values and work as a force for good on the earth.

In Things That Can and Cannot Be Said co-authors Arundhati Roy and John Cusak pave a new and provocative path. Roy and Cusak along with Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the pentagon papers during the Vietnam War) travel to Moscow — they want to have a conversation with exiled Edward Snowden. The result is a set of essays that undoes much of what I know. The book is a deconstruction of assumptions I make about lifestyle, priorities, power and nation. The book is a civilized arbitration; four minds coming together to understand the state of things and suggest radical change.

Agni too is a means of radical change. We humans take dangerous energies like fire and we tame, civilize, and domesticate its wildness — we learn to cook, forge, and weld. Our very survival is contingent on this understanding, and yet in order to work with fire we must learn to obey its rules.

“Agni’s character is that of a priest, a mouth of the gods and goddesses. He acts as the medium who carries our yearnings to the divine, our inner world.” Douglas Brooks  

Agni stands for the voice that makes tasks and our way of doing things acceptable to the gods. Here I use gods as a metaphor for “the right way”.  My usage assumes there is not only one right way; there is not only one god. There is a manner of looking inside to a deeper truth; one that honors all beings. Truth arises out of love not fear and it speaks softly and kindly. This is the realm of the gods and Agni. Just sit before a flame and you will know what I mean.

Daniel Berrigan is quoted in the preface ofThings That Can and Cannot Be Said. Berrigan is a catholic priest, author, and one of the most vocal critics of nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War.

 He writes, “Every nation-state, by supposition, tends toward the imperial: that is the point. Through banks, armies, secret police, propaganda, courts, jails, treaties, treasuries, taxes, laws and orders, myths of civil obedience, assumption of civic virtue at the top…Still it should be said that of the political left, we expect something better. And correctly. We put more trust in those who show a measure of compassion. We agree, conditionally but instinctively, with those who denounce the hideous social arrangements which make war inevitable and human want omnipresent; which foster corporate selfishness, pander to appetites and disorder, waste the earth.”

His preface gives voice to the yamas and niyamas (the ethical considerations) of our yoga practice. Peacefulness, truth, and shared responsibility abound. He crushes our notion of nation as inherently good and offers a crack in the façade as we face issues concerning privacy and the marginalization of civil liberties in the name of security. A security with no guarantee.  Arundhati Roy brings up strong arm techniques used in the name of nation, security, and stability. This history, which is often forgotten or ignored, is considered a “necessary evil” to achieve an end.

As a yoga teacher, my job is to teach you to practice and live without employing “necessary evils” yet still thrive.  From one perspective, effort could be misconstrued as pushing to the point of injury. I would ask, is this how we want to treat our bodies, our friends, our world? Yes, our effort builds heat in the body and mind. We can perceive the heat in practice as we sweat and feel the friction of a concentrated effort. Instead of fighting, freezing or running, a sustained yoga practice asks that we turn our attention inward and wake up. Inner gaze is like the light of a candle; when the light illuminates darkness, false perceptions can be seen, evaluated and ultimately changed. It is only when we shine a clear light, as Berrigan does, on false perceptions relating to inevitable war or insatiable appetites, that transformation can take place.

“Deep connectivity with nature and creativity is Agni’s message. He represents the civilization of power.  Agni turns us back toward nature reminding us that there are forces in the world we cannot live without. In his somewhat priestly nature Agni asks for sacrifice as we learn the rules of his power, work with them, and create change. He is the stately course of transformation that is the civilization we adore.” Douglas Brooks

He can cook. He can pave the streets.

“If there is something to be done, then one thing is for sure: those who created the problem will not be the ones who come up with the solution. Encrypting our e-mails will help, but not very much. Recalibrating our understanding of what love means, what happiness means—and yes what countries mean—might. Recalibrating our priorities might. An old growth forest, a mountain range, or a river valley is more important and certainly more lovable than any country will ever be. I could weep for a river valley, and I have. But for a country? Oh Man, I don’t know.” –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said.

 Agni turns us toward nature to remind us there are primal powers that are part of the world and we cannot survive without them. With them we can cook, be warm, and nourish ourselves. Agni teaches us that how we act counts. He reminds of us the importance of our tone, tenor, and means while working with fire. He is the messenger through which we touch the depth of our inner experience. Agni will burn us if we misuse or misplace him. If we do not follow the rules of playing with fire, we will get scorched.

The ideas offered in this book are not flawless, but in their imperfection they also got my brain moving in ways I had never considered. Is it possible that international trade agreements like the TTIP gives multinational corporations the right to sue sovereign governments for acts that threatens its profits?

“Such offenses could include, governments increasing minimum wage, not seen as cracking down on terrorist villagers who impede the work of mining companies, or say having the temerity to turn down Monsanto’s offer of genetically modified corporate-patented seeds. Is it possible that global trade is just another weapon like intrusive surveillance or depleted uranium, to be used in the Lifestyle wars.” –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said

How can we even begin to we betray the consumer ideology? Do we have the courage to be with the discomfort of saying no thank you.

“If Agni is not civilized then he is dangerous. On the other hand, we can take the primal energy of fire and allow it to be creative, nourishing, and warming. Agni is a representation of our next destiny, our future.” Douglass Brooks

Agni is any force that consumes and dispels a state of darkness procreating and transforming that state into an enlightened realm. Agni will not put up with our ignorance, the rules of the fire will burn down any house that leaves the hearth untended, it will also provide sustenance to any home that honors it’s power.

“Our tragedy today is not just that millions of people who called themselves communist or socialist were physically liquidated in Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, not just that China and Russia, after all the revolution, have become capitalist economies, not just that the working class in the United states have been marginalized and its unions dismantled, not just that Greece has been brought to its knees, or that Cuba will soon be assimilated into the free market- it is also that the language of the left, the discourse of the Left, has been marginalized and is sought to be eradicated.”–Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said

Agni’s creation myth tells us: before there was anything, Prajapati, the father of all things sat in the unlimited causal ocean; Agni emerged from his third eye. The light and heat of fire brought forth day and night. From this duality all of nature was formed.

“Isn’t the greatness of great nations directly proportionate to their ability to be ruthless, genocidal? Doesn’t the height of a country’s success usually also mark the depths of its moral failure? Our best first strike, then and now, has never, for a moment—since the mid ‘50s—been able to keep the Soviets from annihilating every last person in West Europe. By the way, you know we were going to kill—depending on how the wind blew—which depended on the season…our private, top secret estimates were that we kill every European, a hundred million Europeans, without a single US or Soviet missile landing on West Europe. Just the fallout, just the fallout.” –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said

 An additional creation myth names Agni’s parents as “two pieces of kindling”. Their loving rubbing made an initial spark. Agni is described to have emerged delicate and easily destroyed. Agni needs care and tending so that he, as a roaring fire, can become big and powerful. At this point Agni consumes his own creators, he embodies change.

“What mattered, perhaps even more than what was said, was the spirit in the room. There was Edward Snowden…what the two of them (Snowden and Ellsberg) clearly had in common was a strong, almost corporeal sense of moral righteousness—of right and wrong. A sense of righteousness that was obviously at work not just when they decided to blow the whistle on what they thought was morally unacceptable, but also when they signed up for their jobs—Dan to save his country from communism, Ed to save it from Islamist terrorism...We talked about war and greed, about terrorism and what an accurate definition of it would be. We spoke about countries, flags and the meaning of patriotism. We talked about public opinion and the concept of public morality and how fickle it could be, and how easily manipulated.”  –Arundhati Roy, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said

The content of the conversation between Roy, Cusak, Snowden and Ellsberg, did not draw any conclusion. It did shine a light. Both Cusak and Roy, in their respective essays, were moved by connections both physically in Moscow and ideologically. All four have taken great risks and made great sacrifices to embody truths they believe in. Their thinking is not dangerous but free. Although I may not agree with everything the authors say, I am grateful for their willingness to gather, speak and share. I learned a lot about history from a different perspective. I learned a lot about taking action. Mostly I learned to pay attention, our reality is changing quicker than any of us could have ever expected

Our spark is tender and easily extinguished.  Many of us live a life of luxury where our daily struggles shade in comparison to Snowden and Ellsberg. It will be difficult to tend the fire of change we desire. Agni always requires discipline and sacrifice.

Change is a practice and that is why we are on the mat. We want Agni to become big and powerful. We want him to be fueled by love and devotion. We want him in our lives. We, as yogis, need our flame to consume the kindling that gave it birth. On the other hand, we have to pave the streets.

Keep the fire burning and do your practice

 

 

 

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On Desire.

Often times in the yogic world we confuse non-attachment with the relinquishment of desire. This is a misunderstanding of spiritual philosophy. Desire is an important tenet in our practice and I was reminded of this teaching during a recent visit to New York City. Chris and I saw three outstanding exhibitions: The Rolling Stones “Exhibitionism” in the West Village, “Agnes Martin” at the Guggenheim, and Kerry James Marshall “Mastry” at Met Breuer and I was struck by the desire saturating each of these shows. Each artist saw something specific in the world and wanted nothing more than to fulfill that aspiration.

Perhaps the world could exist without art, music, and practices like yoga, but life is surely more enjoyable because our creative endeavors and desires endure.

“Think that you are gliding out from the face of a cliff

Like an eagle. Think that you’re walking

Like a tiger walks by himself in the forest.

You’re most handsome when you’re after food.” -Rumi

As yogis’ we must ask clearly for what we want. Desire is an essential endeavor on the spiritual path. James Martin, author and Jesuit priest says, “Without desire we would never get up in the morning. We would never have ventured beyond the front door. We would never have read a book or learned something new. No desire means no growth, no change. Desire is what makes two people create a third person. Desire is what makes crocuses push up through the late winter soil. Desire is energy, the energy of creativity, the energy of life itself.”

Agnes Martin, James Kerry Marshall, and the Rolling Stones achieved their unique art by mastering a specific want.  In yogic terms we call this “the object of concentration.” For the Stones, the thing was rhythm and blues. Kerry James Marshall was lit up by the tradition of painting. And Agnes Martin embodied the lofty goal of illustrating subtle emotions like innocence.

 Each of these artists dedicated everything to their endeavor.

Rumi reminds us, “You must ask for what you really want and don’t go back to sleep.”

As yogis, we identify an aspect of our practice that really turns us on. This passion leads us to desire more. The desire then results in a mastery of our craft. By establishing excellence, comfort, and fluidity in our work something unique (art) is a natural residue.

In his inspiring book, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, James Martin refers to a bible story. Jesus, approached by a blind man, asks the beggar, “What do you want?” The man replies directly, “I want to see.” Only then did Jesus perform the miracle of returning the sightless man’s vision.

One might ask, why would Jesus, the all-knowing maker of miracles, ask a blind man what he wanted? Surely the prophet already knew the answer. The teaching clearly instructs us that the question is not posed for Jesus’ benefit, but for the seekers. By asking for what he really wants the blind man names his desire. Knowing what you want and asking for it is half the game.

Can the path be as simple as that?

Exhibitionism, a retrospective of the Stones history includes a recreation of the bands first apartment at 102 Edith Grove in Chelsea. It is a mess. There are dirty dishes piled in the sink, rumpled soiled clothes, unmade beds, cigarette butts and beer bottles strewn about but there is also a recording of Keith Richards describing why.

“We were too busy, you know, avidly learning to be blues players and that was all we had time for.”

The Stones were infamous for 10, 20, even 30 takes to get a song right. They would not give up until the sound they heard in their head came out on the record. Their desire was specific, clear, and unfinished until fulfilled.

Imagine if your desire is exactly what the world needs?

"Come, come whoever you are, wanderers, worshippers, lovers of leaving. Ours is not a caravan of despair, even if you have broken your vow a million times…still come, and yet again, come." -Rumi

James Kerry Marshall, who has classical and modern painting elements in his large identity-driven artworks, said in the audio tour of “Mastry”, that he desires to learn everything painting has to teach. He wants to know how to paint classical portraiture, landscape and even modern techniques like “Jackson Pollock” drips. His deepest desire is to insert the black figure into an overwhelmingly white cannon of painting. He masters painting and as a result introduces a more complete perspective on African-American life. His artworks, which include overtly black figures in every walk of life - artist, prophet, business owner, student, family member - has changed the history of painting by including African Americans in roles beyond slave or exotic other.

His intelligence, facility and insight bring a powerful voice to issues of race and equality. He adds to the conversation, through art, a clear past, illustrating injustice, persistence, and power that sustain black people despite the unfairness of their treatment. His work is so potent and necessary as we try to right wrongs of the past and move forward into an era where refugees, immigrants and “others” need to be treated with care and respect.

“Be like a fish moving toward wave-sound.”- Rumi

Agnes Martin wanted to understand and paint subtle emotion. She sat in her studio for a long time, asking for a vision of innocence. She waited. She emptied her mind and waited some more. Then she saw the image of a grid. She said to herself, this is innocence but is this what I am supposed to paint? No one will think a grid is art?

She moved forward anyway. Martin surrendered to her desire and began a lifelong career in abstract painting. She concretized the grid as a tool for experiencing subtle emotions.

Her work requires the viewer to slow down and look closely. If we take time to look and perceive the tiny irregularities, we see the same subtleties we experience in our yoga practice. We feel bodily sensations arising and falling away. We listen to the soft voice and notice our response. Our intimacy with her work brings up subtle emotions like innocence, kindness, love, and happiness. This is exactly what Martin desired. The monastic experience is a consistent characteristic in her work.

 “Try to make an idea move from ear to eye. Then your wooly ears become subtle as fibers of light. Your whole body becomes a mirror, all eyes and spiritual breathing. Let your ear lead you to your lover.” - Rumi

In yoga, as we study traditional forms of asana and pranayama, we find our passion in the practice. My passion may be different from yours but since yoga is an art, our commitment to our individual desire is the actual work. This commitment is what will push us forward on the path and keep us interested.

Sufis call this wanting Nafs. Coleman Barks, the beloved translator of Rumi’s poetry talks about Nafs: “from the urgent way lovers want each other to the Sannyasin’s search for truth, all moving is from the mover. Every pull draws us to the ocean.”

Agnes Martin, Kerry James Marshall and the Rolling Stones, dedicate everything to their desire without hesitation. These exhibitions illustrate this idea clearly. Agnes Martin says painting is not putting down pink or green because you like them; Painting is something you cannot resist, something that drives you.

James Martin continues, “To live our deeper desires, the ones that shape our lives, help us know who we are and what we are to do. This is exactly what the world needs.”

Desire may lead us from power yoga to restorative, from abstract painting to still life, it may move us from writing prose to poems but it is a voice that we should follow.  The intelligent pursuit of our deepest desire makes us great. For more on desire read about Astavakra and his persistent, insistent, desire and how it helps our asana practice.

Other exhibitions that I have written about this year, include El Bosco, Julio Gonzales, From Rye to Raphael, Eusebio Sempere and Campo Cerrado.

 

 

 

 

 

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Embrace your alone time.

The Old Poets of China

By Mary Oliver

Wherever I am the world comes after me.

It offers me its busyness. It does not believe

that I do not want it. Now I understand

why the old poets of China went so far and high

into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

 

Mary Oliver in her new essay, Of Power and Time, explains the phenomena of solitude in relation to our creative endeavors. The form of the endeavor can be varied: yoga, writing, painting or anything else that quiets the mind. She says,

“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to a certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once.”

I was thinking about the yoga practice, and how Swatmarama, in the Yoga Pradipika, informs the yogi that our practice place should be small, situated in a solitary place… free from stones, fire, water, and disturbances of all kinds…

Each day, I rise early to be alone, write, draw and paint. In Sanskrit this time is called Brahma Muhurtha, which literally translates as the creators hour. This hour begins in the dark and as one works our world is formed. The sky becomes striped in red and the greenest blue. Silent orange yellow sun stains the atmosphere. The land, water, and boats in the harbor are touched by a bit of fire. This is the time for me, when the world is quiet and the morning sun is begins to rise.

Oliver continues, “Privacy, then. A place apart - a place to chew pencils, to scribble and erase, and scribble again…Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among the easements and comforts and pleasures, it (creativity) is seldom seen.”

Often we go to our mat in community, we see our friends, find pleasure and pain in class together. But our deep creative work happens alone. It can happen in a moment of silence during class. It can happen when we close our eyes and find the inner world. It can happen when we are home alone, stretching and pointing our face to the moon.

But both texts remind us what's next, distractions inevitably arrive. External and internal obstacles arise when we sit down to focus. This is the nature of the task. In Indian mythology, Ganesh is a symbolic remover of obstacles. A big elephant-headed being that uses his girth to sweep our path clear. But the funny thing is, Ganesh soon becomes an obstacle himself. This symbolism teaches us that the obstacles cannot be avoided; they must be met and worshipped as part of the creative process. The process then becomes the yoga.  We can wrestle with Ganesh but he is too powerful. We can try to out-maneuver him but he is too smart. Instead we embrace the distraction and keep our butt in the chair or our body on the mat or our brush on the canvas, no matter the pull. We persist, endure and the work itself becomes a satisfying and illuminating endeavor.

Today, I am late to my desk, and the construction outside is already banging. The light reveals things to be done, remembered and acted upon. How I crave a bit more of the darkness, the cave of in-between day and in-between night.

Oliver continues, “The world sheds, in the energetic way of an open and communal place, its many greetings, as a world should. What quarrel can there be with that? But that the self can interrupt the self, and does - is a darker, more curious matter.”

What is it that draws us out of engagement with our work? Continuing with our reference to the Pradipika, Swatmarama speaks of 6 obstacles to success in the yoga practice:

1. Overeating: too much of anything creates a problem. Overeating in particular can lead to health issues related to disease and destruction of the body. We need the body to do our work.

2. Exertion:  strain or pushing leads to attachment. When we are so busy trying hard, we lose sight of the present moment. The breath and mind become distorted. We need a clear mind to work well.

 3. Talkativeness: the inner world is a silent world. My teacher always reminded us to begin the practice by quieting the language function. Verbal chitchatting is a distraction. So is inner talk that distracts the mind from actually feeling.

4. Adhering to rules: Yogis are not fundamentalists. The inherent belief that if I do something the “right way” the result will be “holy” is an obstacle on the path. In yoga and art, the rules must eventually be broken. Understanding this takes integrity because in the beginning disciplined study is required. Once the habit has been set, yoga and art only occur after the form is blown away by the wind, like Tibetan sand paintings.

 5. Company of men: if I accept every invitation and fill every spare moment with friends, I have no time for solitude. No space for me.  Without solitude there will be no success in the practice. We need to be alone to listen, feel, and allow.

 6. Unsteadiness: this refers to extremes in the practice. Often times we come to yoga to increase flexibility. But too much is not good. Though we need alone time in our practice, this time must be grounded in connection. Though we should not eat too much, eating too little will also make us sick. Yogis call this balance grounding. Grounding leads to steadiness and steadiness leads to success.

These obstacles, which are the impediments to yoga, writing, and all art making, are to be met with any variety of tools. The sole aim is to steady the mind for sustained concentration.

Agnes Martin, one of my favorite painters, thinks of “nothing” to calm her mind. Mary Oliver offers a loyalty as an antidote…“a complete loyalty, as the loyalty of water to the force of gravity”. The Pradipika says, by whom the breathing has been controlled, by him the activities of the mind have been overcome.

Calming the mind reinstates concentration that will help one stay on the mat, at the keyboard or easel. The aim of our practice has nothing to do with achieving a specific form. For example, the path does not say that every writer must produce a novel, every painter a large format work, or that every yogi must accomplish handstand. These notions seem silly indeed, but how many times do we confuse the form for the task? For me, this is where the art of practice comes in. Practice is a mystery. It forgoes form to the invisible, and it facilitates magic in our lives.

Agnes Martin says of the work, “in your work, in the way you do your work and in the results of your work, yourself is expressed. Behind and before self-expression is a developing awareness in the mind that affects the work. This developing awareness I will also call the work. It is the most important part of the work. There is the work in our minds, the work in our hands, and the work is a result.”

I don’t stay up late to write, I am too tired. Dreams call me to the total stillness of sleep. But 3am, 4am, and 5am I’m up and at the keyboard with a cup of coffee, alone. I engage discipline to stay away from Facebook, Instagram, and the news. Instead turning to the “news” of the book I read the night before, or taught in class on the previous day, I see what is inside me. The inner world offers content for understanding, study, and art. Somehow, I am swept away. Before I know it, the coffee is gone, I need to stretch my back, and there are words on the page.

Martin continues, “My interest and yours is artwork, works of art, every smallish work and every kind of art work. We are very interested, dedicated in fact. There is no halfway with art. We wake up thinking about it and we go to sleep thinking about it.

We go everywhere looking for it, both artists and non-artists.

It is very mysterious the fast hold that it has upon us considering how little we know about it. We do not even understand our own response to our own work.”

It is extraordinary that we heed the call.

Mary Oliver says, “In creative work, creative work of all kinds, those who are the artists are not helping the world go round, but forward. This is something altogether different from the ordinary… Certainly there is, within each of us, a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity...The working, concentrating artist is an adult who refuses interruption from himself, who remains absorbed and energized in and by the work- who is thus responsible to the work.”

Making time to be alone allows me to create. Sometimes, I travel half way around the world for this time and daily, I crawl out of bed deep into the night to find it. Sometimes I think my body breaks down and I get sick, insisting on this time when I push it aside. Sometimes I think I am crazy to spend so much time alone and be perfectly content. I, like all people, require connection, but for me alone does not mean separate. In fact, when I honor the time I need to concentrate, make art or write, I can love more fully, listen better, and be there for the people I love.

Oliver concludes with a powerful statement, a sort of love letter to those in her life this need for alone time has impacted,

“ The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time… My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.”

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Doing the right thing, for the right reason.

Some of the YogaWorks family that lent a hand.

Some of the YogaWorks family that lent a hand.

Now that I have decided to act, there is so much to do. I volunteered at the Salvation Army over Thanksgiving and it was breathtaking. Making the meals, 300 of them in community, was as warm and rewarding as you might imagine. My job was simple; add the plastic silverware on top of the roll. I took care to get it right. I thought what a drag it would be to get the meal and have the napkin covered in gravy or wet from the beans.

I also connected with community; others like me, wanting to help. I enjoyed the fellowship… But then there was the call, "We need another car, does anyone have a car that can follow the delivery truck around and help?" No one replied. It was the only silent moment of the morning. I know what everyone was thinking because I was thinking it too. I didn’t sign up for this. I have to be at dinner in an hour, I don’t have time…the silence was deafening. Finally, I raised my hand and asked, "will a small car do?" Any car will do was the reply.

So we filled my trunk with supplies and off I went leaving my father and husband to Uber home. I followed a brand new, what we would call in the old days, roach coach downtown. A roach coach is an insulated truck that often pulls up at construction sites and offers meals to workers, this one painted up with a Salvation Army logo and a "donated by FedEx" sign. I wonder where are we going?

While driving I was reminded that in  India, when a yogi has reached enlightenment, they often take on the service of ferrying passengers back and forth across the great rivers. This symbolic action reminds the enlightened ones that their true work is to transport those who are not yet awake from the shore of darkness, across the great river to everlasting life.

Siddhartha did this as did many others including our monk, Balaji.

Balaji was a humble monk who loved his job as the ferryman. One day a well-dressed man, a professor from the university, arrived on the bank of the river. As the professor was stepping onto the boat he asked Balaji, “Have you ever read the Bhagavad-Gita translation by Sri Radha Krishnan? It is the most enlightened and intelligent commentary I have ever read?”

“No,” said Balaji. “I cannot read; I only know the story from the perspective of my teacher.”

“Poor man,” said the professor, unless you can read the text yourself you will get no benefit. My friend you have wasted half your life.”

Later in the ride, the professor approached Balaji with another question. “Do you know the teachings of our great philosophers, Aurobindo, Rama Krishna, Muktananda, or Krishnamurthy, their teaching are essential to true understanding?”

“No.” said Balaji “I do not know these great men, I only know the kind and comforting words of my teacher.”

“Arghhh,” scoffed the professor, “you cannot understand anything without their teachings, Balaji, you have wasted three quarters of your life.”

The trip was long and as professor began to doze the weather changed. The sky went dark, the wind threatened and waves splashed over the edge of the boat.  “Professor, professor,” cried Balaji,  “have you ever studied swimology?”

“Swimology,” asked the professor? “Does that have something to do with swimming?”

“Yes Professor, can you swim?” Balaji replied.

“No Balaji” said the professor, “in all my busy years of study I never found the time to learn to swim.”

“Oh professor,” said Balaji, “the boat is sinking and we have no life jackets…. I am afraid you have wasted all of your life.”

This teaching offers us the reminder that every thing we do in our yoga practice: asana, breath-work, and philosophy must be grounded in real world applications. We ground our insights in our lives so we can swim when the waters of life require that we do.

A posture and the challenge of strong sensation teaches us to keep a clear head, hold steady and relaxed when life is painful. Pranayama teaches us to check in with the breath when we feel a strong emotion arrive.  And the philosophical stories help us discern how to act in relation to others. Is this action part of the life I want to create? We understand that learning just to be smart will not help us on our sacred path. The learning must support our purpose.

Our caravan drove to the tents first, you know the ones, under I-83, near the farmers market. There are scores of them littered along Fallsway and the cross streets. As we arrived people began to appear. Tents unzipped and all kinds of folk: old, young, male, female, and every ethnicity emerged. Some smelled of alcohol, others appeared to have mental disability but most of them just seemed strung out and I am not surprised. It was cold. Imagine your Thanksgiving Day sleeping in a tent under a highway, owning only a bag of stuff and the clothes on your back. Damn straight they were strung out, I could feel it in my body. Lines and lines of people full of gratitude came to visit the truck. We handed each person a bag lunch, a hot turkey meal, a soda and a bag of candy.

We worked for three hours; the truck driver, Luther, knew all the spots. The interesting thing was, so did I. I’ve lived in this city since high school and the places we went; these are the places one might avoid or at least lock the doors and roll up the windows when entering, for safety of course. If you ask Luther what he does, he says I feed people and it was downright biblical. The joy of taking care of those in need, of reaching out to lend a hand when there is no expectation for return is incredible.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. - Matthew 25:35

All things are assigned a task, the heavens send light and rain to the earth, the earth brings forth blossoms and fruits, the mountains offer shelter. As for our human task, we are entrusted with free will and with that responsibility comes our path to wholeness. Often times I forget or ignore this sacred trust. Right now I feel like I don’t know what I am supposed to do. I am unsure what my sacred work is but I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t.

Now I am faced with what to do. I want to join Luther and help out. I also teach yoga most nights and weekends. I like to write these blogs and I like to make paintings. How do I know what to do? How do I know which is the right path for me? How do I know my purpose and does it help? It is said that the path becomes more and more narrow as we continue. Does that mean more refined? Does that mean difficult? Does it mean intimate, one behind the other rather than great migrations?

 Rumi reminds us that  If we perform and remember everything else, yet forget about our essential purpose, then we have done nothing at all. He says we are golden pots more valuable that ordinary pots but we use ourselves to boil ragged turnips. Why not, he continues, use the pot to boil your ego instead and set yourself free?

I am inviting you, as we enter the deepest dark of winter, to walk toward that which lights you up. Take your practices on the mat and use them as a tool for life. In other words, study "swimology". I want you to move towards your joy every moment. I want you to use that joy to help others. Again I come back to Rumi who reminds me with urgency- take an axe to the prison door and escape.

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