Great Blue Heron at Croatan National Forest (ckg photo)
Today Mom moved into an assisted living facility. For several reasons, she couldn’t manage to live on her own anymore. Watching the family locus reshuffle has been a sad event.
Even though my brain knows it was necessary and inevitable, my heart grieves for what has past and will no longer be.
I’ve been spending time practicing, opening to the full panoply of emotions in an effort to create space for the light to shine through.
Yoga Sutra 1.36 says it so well:
1:36 Patanjali: visoka va jyotismati
Bouanchaud: Mental stability also stems from serenity linked to luminous lucidity.
Iyengar:Or, inner stability is gained by contemplating a luminous, sorrowless, effulgent light.
Feuerstein: Or restriction is achieved by mental activities that are sorrowless and illuminating.
Desikachar: One of the great mysteries of life is life itself. When we inquire into what life is and what keeps us alive, we may find some solace for our mental distractions. Consideration of things greater than our individual selves helps us put ourselves in perspective.
LaughingYogini: Do I allow the light of the universe to penetrate my life? What do I do that blinds me from this light? Can I participate in a full and engaged life with the same serenity this Blue Heron seems to embody?
Do I truly believe that there is a light in this universe? What do I learn from contemplating this light? Can this light help me grow in a positive manner?
Do I see the light in others? In myself? How can I cultivate this vision?
Grieving with friends and family of someone who has passed blesses us with stories we may not have ever known otherwise.
While in Houston, E.’s father shared an inspiring account of a homeless man living beneath a highway overpass near their home. Over time, they recognized and began to speak with him. Eventually, whenever father or daughter saw him there, they began leaving plates of food and some clothing. Because of their generosity, I was moved to make a donation to a homeless shelter in Houston. It’s true that generosity inspires generosity!
Patanjali tells us that compassion is one of the tools we can use to calm the mind:
Though I’m focusing on compassiontoday, the practices of friendliness, gladness, or equanimity would bestow similar benefits that I’d like to discuss in future posts.
This aphorism, or sutra, reminds me of Simon and Garfinkle’s ode to loneliness, “I am a Rock.” The following video is from the unofficial Paul Simon Page, located on 2dannyc89′s Channel.
This is the path I get stuck on …stuck in grief, alienation, and self-absorption….when I don’t practice the outward-looking virtues.
The ideals expressed in yoga sutra # 1.33 have been used to transform human relationships and better society since ancient times. Barbara Stoler Miller in Yoga, Discipline of Freedom, says they echo early Buddhist monks practices even as they are relevant and useful to us in the 21st century because:
These practices work to demolish the boundaries between oneself and others, and to break through the barriers that lock people into egoism….bring about a transmutation of personal emotions into immeasurable virtues.
We are reminded in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Sutras of Patanjali to not limit our social work with these four virtues, but to include practice of the five virtues named in the yamas mentioned in sutra 2.30: nonharming, honesty, non-stealing,moderation, non-grasping.
We call these social virtues because they benefit not only ourselves, they also bring society into a state of health. Can we live in a health-ful rather than a dys-functional society? If we take these aphorisms to heart and into our lives, it certainly seems possible!
A friend on FaceBook posted a thought-provoking video that cuts to the heart of this sutra. I hope it will benefit you today just as the story E.’s father shared, inspired me.
MEDITATION: Georg Feuerstein, in The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, says that there is a meditation wherein the four virtues: friendliness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity are radiated from the practitioner into the universe. This sounds very similar to metta or lovingkindness meditation that I have mentioned before. Beginning with oneself, and eventually including all sentient beings, the meditator offers the following phrases (or others that resonate more deeply):
So how’s your energy level lately? What is it that you’ve become manic about? Summer sports, writing, gardening, studying, a work project, yoga classes? Too much working, too much recreating, too much tweeting, too much online, too much shopping, too much eating ~ the list is endless, isn’t it? And to make matters worse, there are possibilities to substitute one excess for another ad infinitum.
Or is it that you’ve become a slug and can’t seem to find the ooomph to get up and do anything? The day swings along each merry hour and you have not moved an inch – as if time stood still for you? Have you noticed your energy slumping more and more with each passing year? Ever wondered if there was a way you might reconnect with some of the juice of your youth?
Vitality appears in one who is firmly set in moderation.
The fourth principle of yoga ethics is Brahmacharya, aptly named after the god of creation, Brahma. It is linked to the energy which creates the universe. How can you harness this energy? That is the task of the yogin. We learn and practice continence of thoughts, emotions, movements. Wasted energy is like credit card debt; there is interest to pay long after the initial expenditure.
We begin to see and then to direct the flow of energy through our being. And we do so moderately. In the Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi uses the example of eating:
“If you are accustomed to eating three large meals a day and many snacks, begin to eat less at meal times and half as much when you snack. Instead of two handfuls of nuts, take one.
The tendency would be to eat only one meal and eliminate all snacks. That would swing the pendulum from one extremes to the other. Remember, the idea is to practice moderation. we already know how to be excessive!”
Classical Yogic scholar, Georg Feuerstein links Brahmacharya directly to the practice of chastity. He translates the sutra:
When grounded in chastity, [great] vitality is acquired.
Since the practice of yoga is such a demanding endeavor, Feuerstein suggests that “such vigour is indeed imperative.”
What does this really mean in our practice and in our teaching? Iyengar practitioner and teacher, Aadil Palkhivala discusses this topic in an informative article, “Teaching the Yamas in Asana Class.”
I have excerpted his piece on brahamcaharya:
We practice brahmacharya when we consciously choose to use our life force (especially the energy of sexuality) to express our dharma, rather than to frivolously dissipate it in an endless pursuit of fleeting pleasures. Brahmacharya reminds us that our life force is both limited and precious, and sexual activity is one of the quickest ways to deplete it. As yogis, we choose to use the power behind sexuality to create, to fulfill our mission, to find and joyously express our inner selves. The practice of brahmacharya is not some archaic form of moralizing, but rather a reminder that, if we use our energy wisely, we possess the resources to live a fulfilling life.
We can teach brahmacharya by helping our students learn to use the minimum energy to achieve the maximum result. Teach them not to use small muscles to do the work of large muscles, and to bring their minds into the poses so that their bodies do not become fatigued. Also, teach your students to channel lines of force and internal power, which will add energy to their lives.
In all poses, teach students to keep the lift of the pit of their abdomen, and explain to them that this actually conserves the life force. Tell them that dropping the lower belly splatters our life force out in front of us. Once conserved, this pelvic energy can be channeled up to the heart. In this way, we can continually teach brahmacharya in class, encouraging students to lift the pelvic energy toward the heart center, the home of the indwelling Self. After all, isn’t this the true purpose of a complete yoga practice?
Are there ways you have found to practicecontinence or moderation?
Have you noticed any shifts or increases in your energy level?
I’m going to practice by diminishing those handfuls of nuts I gravitate towards every afternoon, and by paying more attention to lifting the pit of my abdomen when I practice asana.
Yoga Sutra 2:36: For one established in truth, the result fits the action.
Yoga Sutra 2:37: All the jewels appear for one who is firmly set in honesty.
Asteya includes intention behind all actions, speech and thought—not just truthfulness.
Most of the time I exist, unaware of my intentions. Yoga, however reinforces just how powerful intentions can be. Practice on the mat becomes a strong lesson in mindfulness that has begun to weave into my life off the mat. To become aware, truthfully aware of intentions is one of the most difficult lessons of my life. This means I have to deal with my blasted ego identity—yuk! who wants to deconstruct? Who wants to really admit that even when I think I’m being altruistic, I am simply feeding my ego!
Cormorants in Galveston Harbor 2008 (NateGrady photo)
TRUTHFULNESS: It’s a matter of communication — to myself and to others. It’s a way of looking at life from the perspective of “the real me” unadulterated by a lifetime accumulation of others’ voices, pressures, and agendas.
Am I truthful in my self-talk?
How can I change what I say to myself?
Do I honestly believe that what I say to myself will effect change in my perspective or actions?
What would help me speak more honestly in group situations?
What would give me courage to speak up about perceived injustice?
How often have I been silently dishonest?
Whose truth am I reflecting when I speak to myself or when I chat with my friends and coworkers?
How much does pride or previous damage inflicted shape my present speech?
Are there habits I’ve acquired which keep me in a state of dishonesty with myself or with others?
Have I noticed a deepening of a self-inquiry regarding the embodiment of satya?
SUTRA II.48 tatah dvandva-anabhighatah Tatah: then, at this point dvandva: opposing pair or couple, duality, dualism Anabhighatah: invulnerability, undisturbed
As a result, one is invulnerable to dualism. (Bouanchaud)
Then one is no longer assailed by pairs of opposites (D.Brooks)
When these principles are correctly followed, asana practice will help a person endure and even minimize the external influences on the body such as age,climate, diet, and work. (Desikachar)
From then on, the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities. (Iyengar)
Can our yoga practice truly free us from the ambivalent feelings and thoughts that pervade our lives? Is there a Middle Path? And do we seek it?
If we practice faithfully, do we have faith that yoga will take us there as this aphorism asserts? Does svadhyaya (self-study) help us master this aphorism? In my mind, this is the most important teaching of yoga; this is the most important lesson of asana. It is the hardest to learn and takes the longest time–usually many years–for most of us.
Is all life, including our personal qualities and gifts a double-edgedsword? One side of every gift positive, the other side negative?
Can we develop the ability to see ourselves this way, thereby helping us walk an invulnerable path? A middle way?
Can we see others in this light?
What is the effect on self-confidence when one looks at the world through a nondualistic lens?
What does invulnerable mean in terms of one’s everyday life and relationships?
Is there a relationship between being invulnerable and acceptance, or between invulnerable and contentment?
Are opposing pairs intrinsic to the universe, or are they a construct of the human psyche?
Do we consciously seek out relationships with people who accept the world’s dualities? Do relationships enable a nondual existence?
This aphorism tells us that our asana practice will result in a “yoking” of our world on all levels. Making a conscious decision to practice seeing the world in all of its duality will take us a long way toward achieving a non-dual mentality. Here is the ironic duality: Through a lens of the duality inherent in life, one can achieve a non-dual state. Perhaps here is the crux of the classical yoga/tantra argument regarding dualism!
The foremost yoga scholar of our time, Georg Feuerstein writes about this sutra in his book, The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali:
This drives home the all-important point, usually overlooked by western Yoga enthusiasts, that asana is not just a physical exercise, but has a strong psychic component as well. Relaxed posture is the foundation of the practice of sense-withdrawal. When the body is perfectly relaxed, a pin-prick and, at a more advanced stage, even the dentist’s drill fail to cause the familiar sensation of pain.
What are the effects of yoga and-or- meditation in your life? Are they inward? Outward? Can you handle pain in a softer manner? Do you feel life’s challenges and the global suffering more deeply, but with more equanimity perhaps? Do others remark upon how you’ve changed? We’d love to hear how!