THE YOGA OF TURNING AND RETURNING

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!


 "Simple Happy Pose"     Portrait of a Yogi  by my niece Jayme Murphy. Needless to say,   I am a very proud auntie! 

 "Simple Happy Pose"


Portrait of a Yogi  by my niece Jayme Murphy. Needless to say, I am a very proud auntie! 

 

"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