Undoing Doing

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The need to protect ourselves is an intrinsic part of our being.
I feel it in myself every time I steer my bike around a certain corner where a few years ago I wiped out because of a sheet of ice. Every time I make that turn, which is quite often, I feel my body tense up a little bit in preparation for a possible wipe out, even though I now automatically slow down on that turn.

This is a pattern that has been deeply grooved into my consciousness. It is called a samskara. Samskara literally means “integrated doings.” These are usually produced by repetitive action over a period of time. In my case, I only fell down once but the action had such a strong impact on me that it has lasted much longer.

Any action will cause a groove.
I notice, for example, that I often tend to go to bed too late. No matter how hard I try to get everything in order for an early bedtime it never happens. This is a samskara. I have to break the pattern in some way that allows me even a little bit more of a chance of successfully getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

We need to perform actions, so how do we do it well and without leaving traces of the actions?
This takes practice and patience.
I find patience is a huge cornerstone that can anchor us in a place of not trying to simply get through the action. Instead, as we do something with patience there is a feeling of honoring the moment-to-moment doing. With that kind of awareness we can do and let go of the action in one shot. We consciously acknowledge what is being done, augment it with our purpose, will and intention, and then allow it to dissolve as it is being manifested. It sounds odd, but if we can do this kind of simultaneous expression and dissolution, we begin to notice that all of our actions are being affected to some degree.

This does not mean tossing actions to the wind in a rather casual manner. It means placing the action in the right place at the right time so that it fulfills its intended purpose and can then be let go.

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Wounds

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Today many Facebook posts seemed to be calling attention to the particular negligence that occurs via misappropriation of other cultures and overlooking of the socioeconomic challenges of fellow human beings.

Maybe this is why this insightful musing from Roberto Calasso on the Sanskrit word ahiṃsa, usually translated as “non-violence”, came for a return visit.

Ahiṃsa, Gandhi`s nonviolence, was already there in the writings of the ritualists, some three thousand years before him. Literally, it means “not to wound”, from the root hiṃs-, “to wound.” Ahiṃsa doesn`t mean to refrain from violence. But to exercise violence—which is there in any event and involves everyone—in a certain way; without wounding. To wound is more serious than to kill. Violence cannot be eliminated, because it is a part of life`s pulse. But wounding . . . A wound can be inflicted in a thousand different ways. There may even be cases where it is not perceived to be a wound.”
~ Robert Calasso [Ka: Stories of The Mind & Gods of India, p.151]

When I first read this book years ago this part caught my attention. Especially the last line.
“There may even be cases where it is not perceived to be a wound.”

Evolution takes place when we get better at perceiving the wounding that we may be committing. At first this is usually after-the-fact. We cause harm to another being then recognize the damage that has already been done. The time gap between that wounding and the recognition of having wounded can be very immense. A hurtful thing is said. An unskillful action is performed. Time flows by. Days. Weeks. Months. Decades. And then, we catch a shadow flickering at the corner of our peripheral vision. We see the lack of recognition in what we have done or said.
Then we have choices. We can make amends.
But until that uncomfortable flicker of our shadowed self is noticed, we are operating in unconscious mode. Where there is no recognition there is no opportunity for choice. There is just a trail of damage scattered behind us along the path.

When we take up a practice and/or study of any kind of system or information that is supposed to improve our ability to more clearly perceive the potential outcome of our actions, we begin to create the possibility for recognition to take place.
Over time that gap shortens. From years to months. Months to weeks. Weeks to minutes. Eventually there is the awareness, “I am about to say or do something that will wound.” And we then have the choice to eradicate it before it is done or said. Or to not eradicate it. But we have the choice.

This is the building of freedom through skillful action. The freedom to consciously make choices.

It requires intention, will, determination and discernment. But it is possible for every one of us to do. If we feel it is important enough.

Steady & Comfortable Seat

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I woke up 3 hours late this morning.
Which meant an orange eaten standing in the kitchen, gathering my things needed for the day into my backpack then out the door to the studio.

Still arrived with time to offer Ganesha some mantra love and prep the studio prior to the first class at 8:00.
After the class, a small bowlful of almonds. As I am munching and beginning to answer emails Eri calls in a tizzy. She is trying to get to her bus to Yokohama on time and has sent me a flier I need to look at right then and there and then print out.
So much for emails.

Next class, then finally my meditation practice that I missed because of my oversleep.
Since I had another class to teach in Osaka, which is a train and two subway lines away, I needed to get a good lunch/dinner.
Tadka, my favorite Indian restaurant of course!

While waiting for my meal Eri called again, this time from the bus, to say that maybe the flier was not the exact way she wanted it to be and should the pricing be different?
Me: Excuse me, but my meal is ready.
Eri: I will talk to you later.
Me: Later?
Eri: After your meal and before Osaka.
Me: I will talk to you tomorrow.
Eri: But…
Me: click
I sat down, had my first bite…then called Eri to say I would call her after my meal.
Had an outrageously fantastic lunch. Dai is the best chef of Indian cooking in Kansai. Period.

Called Eri from the super market, where I was grabbing dinner in the form of bananas and an acai drink. Things got straightened out.

So I arrived at the Shijo-Karasuma train station pretty early, which meant I could ride the train back to Kawaramachi, the last stop in Kyoto, and get a seat on the train down to Osaka to be able to do some work.
Perfect timing put me in the swankiest Hankyuu train in Kansai (see above photo). This train only stops at a total of 5 stations, which is the least amount of all of the Hankyuu trains. It is more of a tourist train. Thanks to my early timing I got to be a tourist. After arriving at Kawaramachi, the train parked for about 20-25 minutes.
I was able to luxuriate in this pause. The seat itself was designed well: a little wider than usual, solid wood frame, with just enough padding on the seat and back to make it quite comfortable.
Yoga Sutra II.46 is a very famous aphorism that states, “The seat is comfortably steadfast.”
I felt that way in that seat. I settled in, digested the fantastic meal I had and did a bit of work prepping materials for the upcoming TTC I begin next Friday.
The train ride was lovely. I felt quiet and spacious all the way.

The Osaka class was also “comfortably steadfast.” I felt settled and at ease and had a wonderful post-class chat with everyone.
Then home to clean up the house a bit before bed.

My day was a string of time upon which events, both small and not-so-small, hung like pearls on a necklace. When I think of the Yoga Sutra I also think of this same image. Sutra means string. Each word of each aphorism is like a beautiful and unique pearl. As those pearls are strung together there is a coherent string of meaning that begins to display itself and take the form of a necklace of sorts. When we can fully understand the meaning of any particular sutra, we become as if adorned with a necklace of understanding.

As understanding of the nature of reality and its denizens grows, that understanding bit by bit begins to generate a comfortable steadfastness. We become anchored into freedom.

That anchoring into freedom was the feeling that I had all day, because I was sitting in the most comfortably steadfast seat of myself.

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.