Unintended Intention

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A mostly quiet day at home.
A phone call with a friend.
Sunlight flooding the open door.
Occasional breeze playfully moving papers around.
Work in the usual manner. Things get accomplished.
At times a brief burst of construction from the nearby lot.
I have lunch.
I make dinner, listening to Corrine`s new album.
I talk to Eri on the phone. She is on the bus coming home but will be back late.

In the early hours of the day a quote from Enter the Dragon popped into my head.

“It is like a finger pointing at the moon. Don`t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

The pointing finger is an action. All action has a purpose that transcends the action itself. If one gets stuck in the performance of the action itself, then one will overlook the purpose of that action, and thus miss out on the “heavenly glory” of what is being generated. The action is in service to something greater than the action itself that the action will cause to come into being.

It`s like performing an asana for the purpose of “striking a pose.” There is much more purpose to each physical form than simply for the sake of the physical form.

During a brief respite from work I watched John Legend`s video for You and I. It floored me. The message of the video, to me, was to stop getting caught up in the physical form.

The form is ultimately a means to transcend the form.
The action is ultimately a means to transcend the action.

Krishna indicates in the Bhagavad Gita that the one who is established in Yoga performs actions but is not attached to either the fruits or inaction.

Bruce Lee: “No way as the way. No limitation as limitation.”

Action is only necessary as a means to an end.
The form is only necessary as a means to an end.
But the end is not something that one attaches any expectation to.

It is an interesting play!
Only enough focus on action to set in motion enough potential energy to cause effects with the intention for an end result that I am not to attach any expectations to. Yet, generate enough will to have the possibility of the action actually producing the intended result.

And with that…goodnight.

Hands Down

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In February of this year I fractured a bone for the first time in my life. My collarbone to be exact. It took 2½ months to heal to the point that I could once again practice down dog and handstand. Prior to the injury from a standing forward bend I could press up to handstand, legs straight from feet on the ground to soles to the sky. However, when I returned to this pose I could at first not even get my feet to lift off the ground in that straight leg position. Today, for the first time in the 3½ weeks since I began a morning ritual of trying to press up, I was able to root my hands and draw my feet off the floor for two seconds. Progress.

I would have thought that my inability to press up would cause me frustration or anxiety or disappointment or irritation. But as I try and only get as far as I get I find a deep satisfaction in what I am accomplishing and a kind of delighted curiosity in having to take this journey again. What new thing will I learn? How will my approach be refined through having to work through the physical boundary I now have?

The boundary is an opportunity to get stronger and smarter. Always.

I think of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. He begins the text coming up against the emotional boundaries of doubt and despair. It causes him to literally collapse. He lets his bow and arrows drop to the ground and physically sinks down to sit on the floor of his chariot (v.30). Even his warrior spirit diminishes (v.32). He perceives the coming battle as a terrible event that will fragment the very order of the universe (v.40-44).

Because of the limiting doubt of his troubled heart his dear friend Krishna teaches him of the paths of Yoga, of the nature of reality, of the cultivation of clarity and wisdom and of the setting in motion of action and its consequences. He even reveals his true Self to Arjuna as the highest Universal Principle of life.

Arjuna is educated in a way that he never would have been had he not encountered the boundaries he did. The doubt caused him to ask questions. The despair compelled him to seek the truth. And that truth, in the end, sets him free.

So I open to the Grace of my good fortune to be injured and to be healed. I open to the new limitations as blessings.
I place my hands on the floor.
I consciously breathe.
I lean forward.
And invite my boundaries to set me free.

To Know or Not To Know

Yoga should be a tool for understanding who we really are.
This means that our practice should actually dismantle our usual way of perceiving reality. However, many times the practice of Yoga, specifically the physical postural practice, solidifies our sense of limitation.
Because we do not truly know who we are.

So in Yoga we are on a quest. A quest for knowledge.
Not merely book knowledge, though that has value, but knowledge of the intricacies of our mental and emotional fluctuations.
We fluctuate because we are unsure of ourselves.
This leaves us open to opinions from others that can sidetrack us and divert us from our true purpose for being because we are unsure of our purpose. So we follow the opinions or the prevailing way of thinking, and we become mired in decisions that are not really based on our own knowledge and understanding but are rather the sum total of opinions of others that may or may not have any true value.

A thing of true value is a thing that proves its value again and again.
Which is why the teachings of Yoga still exist. If they had no value, no one would be attempting to put them into practice again and again and again.

But there has to be sequence and methodology to practice that enables us to move toward a more solid sense of purpose and intention. Without these things we will merely meander down our life path, often looking for the spiritual gas station to ask for directions over and over and over.
“Um…Excuse me. Which way to my higher Self?”

Teachers, Siddha Masters, enlightened gurus can all point the direction, trace the route on the map of our consciousness, so to speak, but we have to do the driving. It is this last part where so many decide to park the vehicle of practice and wander into the pachinko parlor of forgotten aspirations, never to return.

Yoga is a tool to be used to increase our knowledge, so we do not need to depend on other people`s opinions to make us feel like we are heading in the right direction. Instead, with great assuredness we step forward toward our life`s work to embrace the totality of knowledge that is the ground from which our life grows abundant and free.

Nostalgia

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A new super market has opened on the route Eri and I take on our way home from the studio. I went in for the first time the other week and rediscovered Ben & Jerry`s ice cream and a whole treasure box of memories…

When I moved to San Francisco in 2002 I was soon guided to my first long-term yoga teacher. His name was Jamie Lindsay. I took his classes twice a week at Yoga Loft. One class was called Vinyasa, composed of flowing sequences of poses where-in alignment was emphasized, and we often did abdominal work and balancing of both the leg and hand types. I cannot recall the day. However, the other class was every Wednesday evening, 7:30-9:30pm. That class was an Iyengar level 3-5 class. Though I enjoyed the Vinyasa classes, I loved the Wednesday evening classes. The practices were always creative, methodical and challenging. I think that was the only class I ever attended where we did inversions of various types in every practice.

Jamie also taught shatkarma and pranayama practices in that Iyengar class. It was during those practices that I first experienced a palpable connection with the chakras of the throat and the eyebrow center. In Jamie`s classes I was able to ask tons of questions and he was always patient and thorough in his answering of those questions. His easeful mannerism, depth of knowledge, depth of experience and directness were qualities I sought to discover and refine within myself as both a teacher and as a practitioner of Yoga.

So what does this have to do with Ben & Jerry`s?
After each Wednesday class he and I would often talk because of course I had even more questions. Very naturally we began to have that talk as we walked to a nearby convenience market to purchase a pint of Ben & Jerry`s each. Often my choice would be the Chunky Monkey.

I have very fond memories of Jamie`s teaching, the great group of practitioners I met in his class and, of course, the Chunky Monkey.

Though my Japan-sized Chunky Monkey is one-third the size of the pint of ice cream I used to consume, it still elicits huge feelings of happiness and gratitude for those two years of amazing classes under Jamie`s guidance. There are still many things I received from Jamie that I teach in my more advanced classes, workshops and Teacher Transformation courses.

Jamie and my paths diverged a few years after my time studying so intensely with him. We crossed paths for the last time at a mutual friend`s party, a couple who I met in his class, a few months prior to my departure for Japan.

When we met that last time I was very happy to see him again. We talked a little bit about our personal lives, but of course talk turned to Yoga. At that time I had begun studying meditation and Shaiva Tantra with Paul Muller-Ortega. In our mutual friend`s kitchen Jamie excitedly spoke of a text that had recently caught his attention and ignited his passion for study. In his words a most interesting book called the Shiva Sutras. This was a book Paul had mentioned, a text I would find myself undertaking an immersive ongoing study that still continues today.

On the walk home after the party, I recall feeling even more enthusiastic about my study with Paul because of my conversation with Jamie. The teacher still had the power to profoundly affect the student in a beneficial way long after formal study had ceased.

I aspire to be that kind of teacher.

Jamie, wherever you are in this world, I wish You many blessings for a life that is filled with the wonder and delight that your classes imbued in me.
Namaste, my Dear Teacher.

Here Be Absolute

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This afternoon I was musing about the movie I ♡ Huckabees, in particular this exchange:
Tommy: What are you doing tomorrow?
Albert: I was thinking about chaining myself to a bulldozer. Do you want to come?
Tommy: What time?
Albert: Mmm…one, one-thirty.
Tommy: Sounds good. Should I bring my own chains?
Albert: We always do.

“We always do.” Indeed.
What are the chains that I bring with me? What am I chaining myself to? Not just principles and beliefs, but preferences, aversions, people…

Then this evening a dear friend called me to ask a few questions…
“What is the Absolute?” “Is it considered God?”

My belief is that the Absolute is not God, but a formless eternality from which all form arises. It is then us, human beings, who call this formlessness God and give it a mask that one can relate to based on one`s personal theological and/or cosmological belief system.

God becomes what one wants God to become: avenging, charitable, all knowing, kind, wrathful, playful, wise, just, compassionate, etc.

From eternal formlessness arises all form.
From silence begets sound, particularly language of all types.
From that which is utterly still and apparently empty emerges movement and any thing and every thing.

Then came the old cartographer`s phrase: “Here Be Dragons.” A phrase used to designate a place that is beyond the known territories on old maps, usually written in Latin: hic sunt dracones. A phrase that I can imagine gave rise to fear, caution, curiosity and the sense of a profound mystery waiting to be known.

This is the Absolute.
A formlessness, from the essence of which all form, all life arises from and is then subsequently reabsorbed into when that physical life ceases to function in its entirety.
Beyond the known territory of one`s own body, town, friends, loved ones. Beyond the known territory of one`s own reality.
A profound mystery waiting to be known.

If it weren`t for the chains we bring, we would experience that formlessness, that absoluteness, that mysteriousness as a part of who we are. As the essence of who we are. As the unchanging eternality of our own finite identity.

In my experience, the only way to even begin to release the chains is via a sequence of authentic and efficient meditation. It is this type of meditation practice that gives us the capacity to switch from a subjective view of reality to an objective view of life. To not just explore the territory of the Absolute, but bit by bit become that territory. In other words to know it. To know this Absolute is to truly know ourselves.

What are the chains I have wrapped around my own heart that keep me in what I perceive as  “safe” territory? That hinder my access to a land of profound mystery that is myself.

In Between

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A summer day in the best way today.

Biking around this city with the warmth of the sun soaking into my skin, immersed in the moment to moment experience of color and shapes, people`s faces, gestures.

Then that prior time becomes a memory of teaching and running errands and a destination of home where I will spend most of my afternoon refining teaching materials.

In this in between place, of completion and expectation, I am part of the everything around me. Life flashes by and I am enjoying the feeling of movement, of guiding my bicycle through narrow streets, houses and small businesses politely crowding the edges just enough to be noticed, just. Streets which quickly become less and less populated as I leave the downtown area and streak northward along quiet backroads.

My present is perfect in its emptiness of doing. Pedaling the bike is well worn muscle memory. Guiding the bike through these streets is second nature, invisible threads which gently draw me homeward.

Happiness is the flavor of this in between. Freedom gently arises within me to fill the spaces of my senses and open me to the wonder of each street corner, each splash of stillness and sound fanning out in the spaces around and within me.

Home.

Studentship

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I just returned from a night in Kobe.
While there Eri and I stayed with our very dear friend, Yoko Miki, a fantastic teacher and seeker who hosted me to teach last night and this afternoon at her wonderful studio, Karuna Yoga.
After the lecture last night we spent some time relaxing and talking at her home.
The conversation turned to teaching and the role of the student in the teaching process. Yoko made an observation from a recent class she attended that she asked a question but the teacher`s answer was ambiguous. She then overheard another student ask a question and the teacher`s answer seemed very clear and easy to comprehend. She contemplated her experience, and came to the understanding that she had asked her question in an ambiguous way and thus had received an ambiguous answer. Meanwhile, the other student`s question had been worded in a clear and easy to understand manner, which resulted in a clear and easy to understand answer from the teacher.

In my own studentship and teaching I have observed in myself and others that the student`s way of approaching the teacher will directly influence what is conveyed by the teacher. I feel when I sit before a teacher I am seated before a well of knowledge and experience. It is then my choice as to how much I wish to receive from that well. If I want only a small sip, as if dipping a tiny ladle into the waters, then that is what I will receive: a tiny ladleful of knowledge that may not be that deep. But if I want to grab the bucket of the well and drink fully and deeply of the waters within then I will receive a large amount of that teacher`s wisdom.

On to this intention there has to then be my clarity of expression of what I would like to receive. If I am not so clear in articulating my questions or experiences to the teacher, then the teacher will be unable to convey an answer that is clear. Instead I would get a rather vague and somewhat hard to understand response.
I also feel that whether or not I can assimilate what is given is another aspect of this exchange between myself and the teacher. If I have done the practice and study that needs to be done that would prepare me to receive the capacity of the knowledge that is being offered to me, I can assimilate what is being offered, even if it is only at the first level of assimilation. However, if I have not done the preparatory work, then what I receive will most likely be undigested and maybe even give me a sort of “stomach ache,” a sense of having received too much and feeling a bit dull and not-so-clear from the consumption of something that, at that present moment, is too much for me to digest.

Like Yoko, I have had the experience of feeling like I was not clear in my question and then receiving an answer that was equally unclear. As a teacher I find that if a student comes to class with the intention of, “I just want to move and exercise a bit”, then that is all I will impart to them. If however, the student has a passionate question that they are burning to address and/or specific knowledge that they which to learn, I find that at times I wind up conveying sequences of knowledge that I had never contemplated in that way prior. Yes, I have learned and studied all of the parts, but never before had I attempted to assemble those parts in that  particular way that at that moment enable me to address a deep concern of the student. It is as if the disparate pieces of knowledge assemble themselves.

This is the synergy of the student and teacher, a necessary component for the study and practice of Yoga, or any other modality in life.

By the way, Yoko is an amazing teacher and Yogi. If you would like to check out her blog, please go here: http://yaplog.jp/karuna-yoga/

Impact

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I was moving too quick from the living room to the kitchen today and BAM! hit my head on the head jamb of the door. Literally, I “jambed my head.” Hard. So hard that I bent over the sink, elbows resting on the ledge of the counter, head cradled in my open hands, just feeling the sensations of pain pulsing from the point of impact.

During the next few minutes I watched a parade of emotional responses go by: cursing myself, cursing the way Japanese houses are designed, feeling an immense anger wanting to rise and then allowing it to flash through me like a Summer lightning storm, humiliation at my perceived lack of awareness.

As quickly as it arose, all of that anger and self-loathing dissolved as if with an audible POP! sound. What followed the bile was nectar, the sweet nectar of a calm, grounded and spacious presence. And a bit of laughter and head-shaking at my quick descent into suffering.

Reaction hinders my ability to respond and supports the growth of limitations, contractions and low opinions of myself. It is a fascinating play, the play of my own consciousness as it merges and mixes with reality in a variety of ways.

The Great Beauty

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I just watched a movie called The Great Beauty, set in Rome. The central character, Jep, is a writer, semi-famous from one book written in his early 20`s. Jep spends much of his time attending and throwing parties. He also has a fondness for wandering the streets, alleys and piazzas of Rome.

At one point he introduces a new friend, Ramona, to his long-time friend Stefano who “has all of the keys to the most beautiful places in Rome.” Stefano leads them to a series of spacious rooms holding statues and paintings nestled away behind locked doors and through winding pathways.
As the trio unhurriedly move from room to room, Ramona asks Stefano, “How come you have all these keys?”
Stefano answers, “Because…I am a trustworthy person.”

I love this idea of the keys needed to access places of extraordinary beauty being held by one who is trustworthy. It reminds me of a central philosophical idea that says there are levels of access in life. Of course we know this is true in all types of professions, that one often begins at an entry level position with the opportunity for advancement. But the access this particular teaching is conveying is the access to ourself. That we are only aware of a very limited part of ourselves. To gain access to the places of extraordinary beauty within us, we have to become “trustworthy.”

The word ‘trust’ is rooted in the meaning of “strong.” ‘Worth’ has a connotation of a thing or a person that is valued and is derived from Gothic and Latin words meaning “to become” or “to turn.” So trustworthy then has this root meaning of “becoming strong.”
The person who becomes strong within themselves is one who values themselves. It is this person that can be trusted.

I feel we have to first earn the trust of ourselves.
As I practice and seek to explore the space of myself in relation to everything around me, I want to cultivate trust in my own capabilities and decisions.
Am I making good decisions? Am I meeting my capacity in all that I do?
If I can consistently do those things then I will “become strong” enough to gain access to higher and more refined levels of my own capacity to act in the world. To gain additional levels of capacity is not merely about putting in the time but also having the permission, so to speak, to enter into that next level of achievement. Once access is permitted, my increased capacity has the space to activate and grow. It is like having the proper upgrade in computer software so that the newer programs will run with even more efficiency.

We hold all of the keys to our own extraordinary beauty. Beauty here meaning the shining forth of our inherent creative power in benevolent ways that convey goodness and nourishment to all beings who stand in the light of our shining forth. In other words, those who seek to receive what we each are here to give. Each of us can then shine forth supreme kindness and generosity and receive that conveyance from others as well. If many people in a group have each harnessed themselves to this intention, then it is like a group of generators both receiving power from each other and generating power for each other to receive.

Mutually reciprocal upgrading of the software of our consciousness! Access to new rooms within ourselves that are filled with exquisite works of art, so to speak, which become inspiration for us to inspire others.

Loud & Clear

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Today I was listening to a recording of my teacher, Paul Muller-Ortega. He was telling a story about his time at Gurumayi Chidvilasananda`s Siddha Peeth ashram. At the ashram the children would sometimes put on plays based on stories from the Puranas, a vast encyclopedic series of texts from India that cover a wide range of topics, with a strong leaning toward myths and legends of the gods and goddesses.

At one such performance, when the child playing Krishna presented himself, Gurumayi said to him, “Well, if you`re the avatar you have to have a message. Every avatar has a message. What`s your message?” The child was caught off guard and did not know what to say, but Paul points out that Gurumayi`s question was for everyone present: What is the message you wish to bring?

This has been sticking with me all day.
It is interesting to me that she did not use the word “teach.”

I often talk in terms of what I wish to teach to others, how I would like to guide someone. In other words taking on a role of actively leading someone in some way. Like reaching a hand out for another to take hold of so I may assist their ascent. A very active stance, and one I feel is appropriate when seeking to disseminate intellectual and experiential knowledge in a systematic way that another person could follow to reach a certain result or end goal.

But when I think of conveying a message, I feel a more open-ended no-activity. It feels like an offering that is given without any intention beyond that of conveying the message and the intent held within the message itself.

The word “message” comes from the Old French, mittere, meaning “send.”
So immediately “Message In a Bottle” from the Police comes to mind. A message carried to another being hundreds or even thousands of miles away. A message sent with no known destination. Yet it still carries intention.

The message is given with conscious intention attached to it. In that act of giving there is not the physical taking of the hand to help another up. Rather, there is the letting go of the hand. The message is handed off, with the subsequent action being hands off.

“It is in action alone that you have a claim, never at any time to the fruits of such action.”
~ Krishna, from the Bhagavad Gita, 2.47

What is my message?
What would I like to hand off to another without expectation or longing for some kind of predetermined outcome to take place or destination to be reached? Yet still convey an intention that may support whatever is set in motion by the receiver of the message.

What do I wish to convey?
Not teach, but convey.
To communicate in a way that impels someone to act without clinging to the action yet still remembering the intention.