Summer is a time of journeying for many of us--we take time away from work and school and often we want to go somewhere new and try something different. I celebrated the beginning of summer with a weekend trip to Westport, on the edge of the beautiful Clew Bay in the Northwest of Ireland (for my US friends). We went for an outdoors adventure, cycling the Great Western Greenway--a 42 Kilometer path over now unused rail lines, carrying walkers, hikers and bikers across some of the most stunning terrain along the Wild Atlantic Way. The following day we climbed Croagh Patrick, a 2500ft mountain that dominates the landscape around Westport. It's name means "the Stack of Patrick", the patron saint of Ireland who, according to tradition, prayed and fasted on the mountain in 441AD. It has long been a place of pilgrimage for Catholics, especially on the Last Sunday in July, when thousands climb together, many of them barefoot (more on that below). I wasn't climbing as a Catholic pilgrim--the climb has become, like the Camino in Spain an experience many are interested in regardless of any religious affiliation--nevertheless, it became a pilgrimage of sorts.Read More
I recently encountered a self-proclaimed critic of mindfulness, and what I found was that the person's critique was based on a misunderstanding of the teachings. This is in itself understandable because mindfulness has become a hot topic, a buzz word—it’s everywhere and unfortunately there are some people speaking and teaching about mindfulness who do not seem to be grounded in the practice or in the wider teachings from which mindfulness comes. Mindfulness come from the teachings of the Buddha and has been tried and tested for approx 2600 years in that tradition. It's worth exploring these wider teachings and seeing what they contribute to the practice and understanding of mindfulness.
I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I have been practicing mindfulness Meditation for close to 10 years and have been specifically trained in Mindfulness and Yoga. I say this not to blow my own trumpet, but rather to say that I have been lucky enough to have spent a lot of time with some wonderful teachers who have shared the richness of the Buddha's teachings. Because I feel so grateful for the healing the teachings brought into my life, I’d like to offer some thoughts on the subject with the hope that those who may otherwise be turned off by confusions regarding mindfulness might be willing to explore afresh. Equally, i'd like to dispel any confusions that any new practitioners this blog may reach might feel.Read More
Listening to the Call for Care
My last blog post was well over six months ago and was about my decision to return to Ireland. I've been here on the west coast of Ireland since August and it's been a wild adventure every day. Everything is so familiar and yet so unfamiliar after having lived elsewhere for so long.
I have wanted to sit and write of my return to Ireland for a quite a while. But for some reason it was hard to do it. I kept allowing myself to be pulled in other directions. Returning to Ireland and moving in with my family has allowed me the financial freedom to try and teach yoga full time without the pressure of rent and utilities (although that’s about the change), and I was really excited about this opportunity even though I knew it would be an incredible challenge. Well, let me report that it’s even harder than I thought it would be, and for reasons that I hadn’t even considered.
It’s not so much the doubt in my capacities (there’s plenty of that but I have tools to work with it and doubting one’s capacities has a role to play in staying grounded), not the difficulty of marketing (it’s certainly a hustle I don’t enjoy, but I knew I’d struggle with it—it’s absolutely my weak area), not the planning classes and actually showing up and teaching (I LOVE this part)—it’s the never off duty part.
I was excited to be my own boss for the first time in my life, but I had no idea how hard it would be to switch off the planning mind. The fretful mind always niggling, “you should be trying harder, doing more.” So every time I tried to sit and write this newsletter, I would find myself pulled into a Facebook shaped abyss to promote a class or event, or wondering what new events I should be booking, or thinking who I needed to call, or where I could better leave flyers for my classes, or what workplaces I could tap into for corporate yoga. Every time my ass hit the cushion whoosh!—planning mind was lit up like a multi-screen Cineplex and futuristic movies were playing at ear-splitting volume on more screens than I could count. I have been feeling exhausted for weeks now. I have been running and racing even when I have been sitting still. Every time I intended to do one thing, immediately I was distracted by another item on the infernal never-ending to do list. My discipline with my own practice has been deeply challenged and in the need to build a business, I have become way too attached to my smartphone. My sleep patterns are all out of whack. This wonderful opportunity to make a living from what I am most interested in, most passionate about, this opportunity for sukkha (happiness) has brought with it this dukkha (suffering) of “busyness” and “succeeding.”
Of course, my teachers had warned me about this. Theoretically, I “know” better, but in the swirl of trying a whole new thing, I very humanly have gone off course chasing security and control. I thought I was prepared. But I had no idea how challenging it is to be your own boss and follow the teachings of the Buddha. To be your own Buddha Boss. Even as I knew I was spinning out of my center, and calling myself home on the mat and on the cushion, I could still see myself out there spinning. What’s next? What else do I need to do? And then what? And then what? Making a both a busyness and a business out of yoga, the art of connecting to the present, was pushing me out of the present.
And then the election. I am not living in the US anymore, but all over the planet, people who value wisdom, compassion, generosity and peace cannot but feel deep pain in this seeming triumph of greed, hatred and delusion. And it’s not just affecting the US; the rise of hatred and division is happening here In Europe also. I have been in a strange state, alternating between feeling schlumpy, depressed, agitated and restless. I have been angry, sad, lonely, despairing of humanity and resolutely confident in the goodness of all beings. In short, I have been all over the emotional and psychological map. What do we do in the face of our own mad spinning selves and the madness that is very clearly spinning in the world?
Of course, there are many actions to take. And it’s important to be able to stand up and take action. But without some kind of calm at the center, the actions at the periphery will be hard to sustain and may even be misguided and harmful. I truly believe, not just because it’s what my teachers tell me but also because I know from experience, sustainability in wise action comes from a conscious turn towards refuge every day.
The crisis state I felt in my being, seemingly being felt all across the US and in the hearts and minds of many here in Ireland also, demanded that business as usual must stop. Busyness as usual had to stop. Conscious refuge became ever more important, whether it be in heart, mind or body. Not that they are separate, but we can approach the room of awareness and love through different doors, and sometimes the key turns easier in some locks than others. That’s why it’s so beneficial to have an array of self-care practices, a number of tools in your toolbox.
Sometimes I have been just too drained to move my body through a stimulating physical practice, and instead I do some down-regulating restorative poses and I trust that they are exactly what is needed. If restorative yoga isn't a regular part of your practice, this can take a lot of trust because we often think restorative yoga is not quite yoga but just what you do when you’re not well enough for “real yoga”. However, my wisest teachers have shown me that Yoga is about connecting to reality and the reality of our world is that we are all moving too fast and pushing too hard and that slowing down and practicing ease may be feel extraordinarily difficult--it's vary hard to drop out of momentum--but it's so necessary if we are to open space for wisdom and compassion to arise.
Sometimes a home physical practice every day just seems too much or too solitary but instead I have been able to sit and play harmonium and chant in a way that warms my heart and connects me to beloved teachers and friends from my yoga community. But sometimes, it’s challenging even to settle into that practice, so I turn to an online source for wisdom, either a dharma talk or a discussion of art, poetry or something creative and inspiring to the spirit (see below for some suggestions). And I knit as I listen; it’s very soothing for the nervous system and has been shown to have some of the same effects as formal meditation. So, there are multiple ways to practice quieting the mind and connecting to the heart. As my teacher Eugene Cash says, play with your practice. Maybe for you it’s taking the time to cook a nourishing meal, or taking a walk in the woods, or playing with your pet or playing the ukulele. There are many possibilities. But cultivate a daily practices that helps you connect with something nurturing and renewing and be conscious that you are doing this activity as self-care practice. Remind yourself you are doing what you can replenish and recharge your connection with your core values. This in itself is worthy and helps stave off the slide into despair; “I am doing something” These conscious self-care practices are the oxygen masks we need as we try to land this plane.
And I say self-care, but it’s important to remember that it’s really us-care. The more nourished you are, the less your loved ones have to worry over your malnourishment and the more likely you are to help nourish others, not only by your example, but also because a nourished heart radiates out kindness and warmth. That’s just its nature. The Buddha teaches that it is the nature of all of us; but don’t believe him, and certainly don’t believe me. Try it for yourself. Practice self-care and see what happens. The traditional practice of metta, or lovingkindness, is a potent medicine in this regard. It changed everything for me. And as it extends out from oneself to offering metta for others, it's the perfect self/us care practice. (click here for more on metta practice)
When I consciously turn to the refuge of self/us-care every day, I have more capacity to be with the pain and confusion of these times, globally and in my own little world. And, crucially, I have more ability to see and feel the joy that continues to show itself also. I have the space to see there is great love in my life. Undoubtedly, there is suffering (dukkha) but there is also beauty and delight (sukkha). To see that, really acknowledge it and relish it is good medicine. In his poem “A Brief for the Defense,” Jack Gilbert reminds us of the importance of seeing joy alongside the pain of the world:
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
So the suffering of my own life transformation and the political transformation has forced me to look at my own patterns of busy-ness anew and reminded me that I have to be vigilant to take good care of my own practice if I am to be of any real use in the world that so desperately needs useful people. The shock and sadness of the election brought me to a full stop and I have been able to take a look at all the ways I have allowed myself to get swept up in fear around “being successful” and “getting things done”. I had been practicing every day, but often with a hidden agenda of impressing myself on some level, perfecting a pose that might impress others or planning a perfect class. I was not giving myself to the practice in a deep way. I was not being with the reality of my vulnerability, my insecurity, my ignorance. I was not listening. So now I’m really focusing on getting quiet again, my whole being is pleading with me for me to get grounded, to slow down and practice this quiet listening.
Before the election, I had been thinking about how the teachings of yoga and dharma had been showing up for me every day in recent months, how sukkha (happiness) and dukkha (suffering) are indeed woven inextricably together, how change is the nature of life, and how fundamentally interconnected we are. These three characteristics of dukkha, anicca (impermanence/change) and anatta (no separate solid self/interbeing) were showing themselves to me in very personal ways. I was very sad to leave San Francisco (dukkha) because I was leaving behind a life with work and play I really loved and friends I cherished (sukkha). Shockingly, over the course of my final days in SF, I was swept off my feet by an unexpected romance and I have fallen head over heels in love with someone who I believe to be one of the finest men I have ever met and he claims to be reciprocally smitten with me (sukkha) but we are 6000 miles apart (dukkha). I have this wonderful opportunity to try to teach yoga full time (sukkha) but it’s because I am living with my parents (dukkha—I love you Mum and Dad, but I miss my own space). I’m soon moving out into a ridiculously picturesque Irish cottage (sukkha) but I have no idea how I’ll stay afloat financially (dukkha). And now while global dukkha is undeniable, it is serving as a wake-up call to many of us to ask ourselves some tough questions and have some difficult conversations. Are we living in integrity? Who and what are we supporting in our activities and with our purchasing power? Are we walking our talk? Are we listening? Are we deeply listening?
The teaching of anicca (impermanence) is manifestly clear. The hope and optimism of 2008 is gone. But the corollary is that the fear and divisiveness we feel today will also shift and change. It may get worse before it gets better, but the truth is, we don’t know. A year ago, few of us thought we’d be where we are now politically. Trump was still considered an amusement. A year ago, I certainly didn’t think I’d be living back in Ireland. It was actually a terrifying idea, and yet here I am, half happy and fully in love. So it’s always uncertain. Will I remain in Ireland? Will this love continue to unfold with more joy than pain? It’s uncertain. But why does that make me feel better instead of worse? Because it connects me. To wisdom. To a lineage of teachings passed from warm hands to warm hearts, connecting me all the way back to the Buddha.
It reminds me of Jack Kornfield, my teacher Katchie Ananda’s teacher, talking of his teacher Ajahn Chah, who used to just shrug and say “it’s uncertain isn’t it” to almost everything anyone asked him. It sounds infuriating, but it always makes me laugh when I hear Jack telling the stories. And when I hear Jack talk, I hear my teacher Katchie, and I see her smiling as she talks about Jack because of how much she loves him, and I think also of my other teachers, Eugene and Pam and I smile thinking of how much I love them and I think of them smiling thinking of their teachers and there’s just so much warmth, gratitude and love in this connection. The love is sure. It’s not gooey and sweet and mushy. It’s tenacious, it’s gritty, it’s not polite and it’s sure as hell demanding of everything you have to give, but it’s what has held me together in recent years when there was tremendous loss in my life. The love from my friends, the new love in my life, the love from my family, the love I feel for all the people I left behind in San Francisco. The love I feel for the faces I have seen on television news reports, people who are scared just like me and looking for something to believe in. I say believe in love. It’s the only way out of fear and hatred. And it starts at home. In your own heart.
This is how I know we are not separate or solid selves. I am happier when I see someone else is happy. I am sad when I see someone else is sad. This love that ties us together is not a feeling; as my teacher Pam Weiss says, it’s a force. A charge. A pull. Everything we do matters. Everything. When we feel hopeless, defeated, overwhelmed, it can be empowering to remember this. Even the seemingly small things we do towards healing ourselves and others are important. We are fundamentally interconnected and if every harmful thought becomes a harmful word becomes a harmful action, adding to the division and pain around us, and I believe this is how it happens, then by the same logic (that’s for you my Logical Lover) every kind thought, every kind word, every action contributes to the dissolution of that pain and suffering. Every thought, every word, every action. Are we listening to the thoughts behind our words and actions. Now more than ever, let’s listen to ourselves, let’s listen to one another. That’s the love that will bring about the change needed to release us from this suffering of what my brother calls "crocodile living": big mouths, small ears. Let’s model Ganesh. Big ears, small mouths. Let’s listen.
Here’s a story from Pema Chodron
“Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed to aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instruction for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?” Fear said “thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.” Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?” Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast and I get very close to you face. The you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.” In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear”
As yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar famously said, there is a lot of movement in the world, but not a lot of skillful action. Let’s practice the skillful action of inquiring into the wisdom of all this momentum. Let’s stop believing our often fear-based busyness and accepting all the "doing doing doing" it demands. Let’s slow down, learn to focus less on the question of "what should I do?" and listen more to the question "how can I care?" Stephen Batchelor sums up the final teaching of the Buddha as follows: "Things fall apart, tread the path with care." Batchelor describes "Care" as the overarching virtue that includes within it all the other virtues, and he says that living according to the noble eightfold path and the four noble tasks (truths) a journey of teasing out and cultivating our understanding of care, and then putting that into practice.
So let's set our intention to spend more time consciously listening to this call to care. I leave you with this poem from Mary Oliver, a beautiful rendition of the call and the natural response of the wise heart.
Little Dog’s Rhapsody In The Night
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
He turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
“Tell me you love me,” he says.
“Tell me again.”
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.
Your True Home is Waiting with Open Arms
Not surprisingly, as I attempt to sort through and pack up fourteen years of living on the wild west coast of California and move the 6000 miles back to the wild west coast of Ireland, my thoughts turn to questions of Home: where is it? What is it? Am I leaving my home or am I returning to my home? Is it a place? An external or internal experience? Who is there with me?
As I allow these questions to evolve into answers and see those answers shape shift into further questions, what could be a unnerving churn of uncertainty is steadied by turning again and again each day to my mat and/or my cushion for whatever length of time that day allows. We are modern yogis with busy lives--work deadlines, bills to pay, family responsibilities and friends to catch up with. But turning to your practice each day, even if it's 10 minutes of breathing, helps to steady and simplify.
In this time of intense transformation, my yoga and dharma practice teaches me the refuge of simple things, especially the breath. Some days, when I don't have the energy to do much of a physical practice, I still lie down on the mat and breathe. Sometimes it turns into a few twists, maybe a downward dog and then a child's pose. Sometimes the permission to do nothing more than breath actually opens the space for some sun salutations. Sometimes it means I wash the dishes and do the laundry. Who cares, as long as I'm inhaling and exhaling with some awareness, it's all practice.
More and more I return to the mantra when in doubt, breathe--deeply! Sounds simple, but the paradox is that the movement of breath is both uncomplicated--I don't even have to do it, it just happens--and wonderfully complicated--affecting respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular and psychic systems and patterns. As you've been reading this, not particularly attuned to your breathing, its been going about its business, giving you what you need, removing toxins, filling so much more than just your lungs and fueling your whole life. It does all this without you even being aware. Think how much more filling and fueling and detoxing could be done if we were to get involved. How much more aliveness is available to us if we consciously tap into the wisdom of the breath, if we step into an intentional engagement with this mysterious vital force?
It is said that the Buddha breathed his way to enlightenment. When speaking of concentration by mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) the Buddha told his followers "this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the passing away of pain and dejection, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of Nibbana." Sounds pretty good to me! Why not give it a try? I invite you to pause right now and take 10 deep breaths.
Are you enlightened? Probably not, but I bet you feel a little more grounded, a little more relaxed, a little more connected. You can call it yoga. You can call it Buddha Nature. Or you can just call it turning towards home. Try it for ten minutes ... twenty minutes ... thirty ... imagine a whole hour of luxuriating in what becomes "the beautiful breath" when you very close to it. You don't have to be sitting in any formal posture, you could be walking slowly, you could move the body through some easeful yoga poses, you could just stand in one place, you could even lie down. But stay with the breath, looking to see if you can find what Rumi calls "the breath inside the breath." I like to think about the tantric teaching of Shakti, the great Goddess--each time I inhale, this is the Goddess exhaling, and each time I exhale it is because the Goddess inhales. Whatever path you choose to explore the breath more deeply, the great teachings of yoga and dharma advise us to follow the breath all the way home, into the awakened heart.
As my questions about the meaning and shape of a home place continue to turn and turn over in my mind, I know that the true homecoming is into the awareness of the wise and radiant heart. It is the radiant abode, the Brahma Vihara, the dwelling place of our divinity. This is the home living inside each of us. It comes with us wherever we go. When we are connected to the heart in this way, we are connected to each other regardless of geography and a sense of freedom and possibility is available anywhere. This doesn't mean we live in a land of unicorns and candy floss: we don't escape pain or suffering, we miss loved ones who are not present, and we get lonely in faraway places and shit still happens (see my July workshop) but it's all workable because you know you can take refuge in your breath, in your wise heart and your radiant mind where all the love you have given and received continues to resonate. Even in challenging times, this is the happiness of yoga. This is the happiness of Buddha Nature. This is the happiness of Home. It is always waiting for us, with open arms. Whatever your journey is, I wish you Bon Voyage and Bon Courage!
"Try to be mindful, and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha"
~ Ajahn Chah
The Power of Devotion, Faith and Friendship in Practice
What Does It Take To Make Your Own Leap and Make Your Leap Your Own?
Are you facing a big leap in your life? What are you waiting for?
That's a question I had to face recently when I received bad news about my mother’s health. I knew it was time to make the decision to return to a life in Ireland. It had been 18 years of making my life elsewhere and I had been afraid to make this leap because I knew it would lead me away from everything I felt comfortable with; it would lead me to a place where I had no yoga or dharma community, no job, and I would be flying solo into this space of unknowing. Of course every breath, every step, every moment ushers us into unknowing, but we forget that reality in the regular habits and patterns of everyday living. We think we know what's going on. And we do, but only to an uncertain extent. As my teacher Eugene Cash says “Reality is wild!”
In addition to fear of the unknown, my heart has unfinished business in San Francisco. But who knows how or when the business of the heart will be finished. As a dharma buddy wisely said to me the other night at Sangha, sometimes there are things you just never get over. She recounted a story she'd heard about an interview with the Dalai Lama: he told the interviewer about an old monk who came to him to ask about a particular meditation practice and the Dalai Lama told him not to bother with it, that it was a practice intended for young monks. The old monk later took his own life, presumably hoping to reincarnate and be a young monk able to engage in the practice in question. The interviewer asked the Dalai Lama how he got over the tragedy of his advice been received in this way. He answered simply. He said he has not gotten over it.
We live in a world that expects us to get over things, to take charge of situations, to know how to go about things the "right" way. In other words, to be in control.
Being in the know and being in control is prized. It’s what is expected of us and often it becomes what we expect of ourselves. The space of unknowing scares us, it makes us feel powerless, small, and quite alone--we assume other people have "got it together" and we're the only ones who don't know everything.
So it's no wonder we hesitate when faced with stepping, let alone leaping, into the unknown. We usually wait because we don't feel courageous enough, strong enough, supported enough to jump! We hesitate because we want so much to get it right and we think we should know what "getting it right" looks like!
This is where our yoga and dharma practice comes in. On the mat and on the cushion, we practice not getting it right, but setting our intention on acting with intelligence and heart. We sow seeds and we accept that we don't always see the fruit in ways that are exactly predictable. We practice with being uncomfortable, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. In many ways, I think the most powerful yoga happens as we maintain an attitude of friendliness with what we don’t control, with what we’re not “getting right.” If we can remind ourselves that ultimately, yoga practice is grounded in a wish for our connection to wisdom and well-being, we can soften around the difficulty and bring a curiosity to the practice; What’s needed here to best serve myself and others?
It's the Chinese year of the monkey, AND it’s a leap year, so not surprisingly, many Yogis are thinking about Hanuman, the Monkey God from Indian mythology. There are many stories about Hanuman, but probably the most famous is that of his great leap from the southern tip of India to the island of Lanka. In the service of Ram, Hanuman was in search of Sita who had been kidnapped by the demon Ravana. The story of Sita and Ram is the subject of the Indian epic, the Ramayana and this episode of Hanuman’s leap is just a small piece of a vast narrative that recounts many adventures and contains many important teachings, but the story of the leap to Lanka holds a special place in my heart. My introduction to this story of the separation and eventual reuniting of Ram and Sita was from my first yoga teacher, the beloved Katchie Ananda and in Katchie's telling Ram represents wisdom and discipline and Sita represents love and devotion, which are two aspects of one reality, the wise and loving heart. The reality (Sat) is made up of consciousness/wisdom (chit) and bliss/love (Ananda). The demon Ravana is the knot of ego that confuses this interrelationship of wisdom and love, obscuring the awakened intelligence of the heart. The ego likes to separate things, to categorize and label them so that it can feel in control. This is a helpful function at times, but if we forget that we are just projecting our idea of separation and categorization onto what is essentially a oneness of being that we do not control, we are in big trouble. Great suffering ensues; all kinds of prejudice, bigotry and conflict follows from the egoic insistence that categories we create are real and unimpeachable. So Hanuman is acting in the righteous mission of re-uniting what the demon ego tries to separate; reunite wisdom and love.
If we can remember, like Hanuman, that our intentions are are in the service of wisdom and love, or the awakening heart, we are more able to overcome the hesitations of our scared egos. By infusing the practice with an attitude of friendliness and loving-kindness we can build a tolerance for falling out of challenging poses, not quite getting into them or not even getting near them at all, and not knowing whether we ever will. Such friendliness towards the practice itself allows us to come back for more and we get to work the muscle of compassion every time we fall and think we fail. This crucial work of the heart is what really builds confidence and courage.
And we may find as we devote ourselves to this practice of making friends that we are able to soften around the idea of getting it right. The poses that elude us are no longer hostile territory we need to conquer, but fascinating puzzles we can have fun playing with. We become more interested in what they can show us about our bodies, minds and hearts than how they look on the outside. And we can be our authentic selves in this friendly yoga, accepting that we will all look different as we deepen our poses. So, for example, my Hanumanasana is not a spectacularly open split with a proud chest and arms raised in triumph, but it’s strong and stable, and I’m taking care not to hurt my body as I nuzzle up to and expand my edge. My body and I are good friends. I love her and appreciate all she has done and continues to do for my happiness and healing, so I want to care for her and do whatever I can to protect her from harm, so I practice a sustainable yoga and my poses may not always seem big on the outside, but I feel their power, intelligence, and vibrancy deeply. For that, a deep bow of gratitude to my first teacher Katchie Ananda and my currant teacher Stacey Rosenberg.
Although my Hanumanasana is still not as open as the classic pose, I’m steadily making my way there and every step feels expansive, feels exciting, feels sweet. Every time I do the pose, it takes me deeper into my faith in the sweetness of devoted practice as being both the goal and the fruit of devoted practice. As my pose deepens, so does my devotion to showing up on my mat or meditation cushion whether it feels like a good day for practice or not. Just as Hanuman was capable of great feats once his friends reminded him of his powers, so we are capable of much more than we think possible if we make friends with our yoga practice, not just on the mat/cushion, but in life. The trick is not to assume that friendliness means sloppiness or that we know what our leap will look like. True friends hold us in integrity and yet allow us to evolve, to take shape as who we are, not what we think we should be. It’s a day by day dynamic relationship that requires ongoing engagement—we can’t say in advance what it’s going to look like.
Life is not a play of ideal forms. Like Hanuman in other parts of the Ramayana, it can take a stunning variety of shapes and sizes. We can’t get stuck on idea of form and say “It’s got to be like this.” That’s why I chose the Hanuman in the picture above. He is making a leap that’s not the classic Hanuman expansive split; it’s more relaxed but it's still bold and beautiful and it fits him perfectly. The question becomes, "can we relax into the perfection of our own heart as it expresses its potential in the present?" Can we find our authentic balance of our wise effort and our heart's ease. Now that’s yoga!
Yoga practice is not a solitary practice. Sure, it requires a certain amount of solitariness, but ultimately it is a practice of relationship, with the mysteries of self and not self, and the mysteries of other and not other. So we must work alone and we must work together and we must understand that these are not actually different. As our practice deepens, we really get to appreciate the power and the peace in the paradox of "alone/together." In one of the most beautiful dharma talks I have ever heard, Love is the Fabric of Reality my dharma teacher Pam Weiss says "Love is not a feeling; it is a force." We are magnetically drawn together by the reality that we are of one Beingness and while no one can do your practice for you, but you cannot do it alone. This is the message in the story of Hanuman. He is not acting for himself and he is not acting by himself. As he hesitates at the edge of India, unaware of his divine powers, it is his community of friends that remind him of his true nature, and his great capacities. I write in the present tense, because the greatness of myth lies in its power reveal truths in the present; a potent myth is true because even though it never really happened, it is always happening.
So what are you waiting for? I was waiting for courage. For healing and strength in my heart. And thank Goodness I found it. In my friends and in my practice. I found capacities I didn't know I had. And I found them through failure, loss and grief and the compassion that sprung up to meet them, like healing spring water.
Like Hanuman, we are all in the service of love, even if we don't yet know it, our mission is one of reuniting, reconnecting, with ourselves and with one another. We try to do it in a wide variety of ways, some more or less skillful, but the drive to connect is what propels us. Let's do it with more wisdom and kindness. Let's allow ourselves to fully make friends with practice and deepen our friendships in community. Let's allow ourselves to give and receive support, courage, and devotion. Let's leap into the wild future together.
In the words of poet Mary Oliver
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.