Doing the right thing, for the right reason.

Some of the YogaWorks family that lent a hand.

Some of the YogaWorks family that lent a hand.

Now that I have decided to act, there is so much to do. I volunteered at the Salvation Army over Thanksgiving and it was breathtaking. Making the meals, 300 of them in community, was as warm and rewarding as you might imagine. My job was simple; add the plastic silverware on top of the roll. I took care to get it right. I thought what a drag it would be to get the meal and have the napkin covered in gravy or wet from the beans.

I also connected with community; others like me, wanting to help. I enjoyed the fellowship… But then there was the call, "We need another car, does anyone have a car that can follow the delivery truck around and help?" No one replied. It was the only silent moment of the morning. I know what everyone was thinking because I was thinking it too. I didn’t sign up for this. I have to be at dinner in an hour, I don’t have time…the silence was deafening. Finally, I raised my hand and asked, "will a small car do?" Any car will do was the reply.

So we filled my trunk with supplies and off I went leaving my father and husband to Uber home. I followed a brand new, what we would call in the old days, roach coach downtown. A roach coach is an insulated truck that often pulls up at construction sites and offers meals to workers, this one painted up with a Salvation Army logo and a "donated by FedEx" sign. I wonder where are we going?

While driving I was reminded that in  India, when a yogi has reached enlightenment, they often take on the service of ferrying passengers back and forth across the great rivers. This symbolic action reminds the enlightened ones that their true work is to transport those who are not yet awake from the shore of darkness, across the great river to everlasting life.

Siddhartha did this as did many others including our monk, Balaji.

Balaji was a humble monk who loved his job as the ferryman. One day a well-dressed man, a professor from the university, arrived on the bank of the river. As the professor was stepping onto the boat he asked Balaji, “Have you ever read the Bhagavad-Gita translation by Sri Radha Krishnan? It is the most enlightened and intelligent commentary I have ever read?”

“No,” said Balaji. “I cannot read; I only know the story from the perspective of my teacher.”

“Poor man,” said the professor, unless you can read the text yourself you will get no benefit. My friend you have wasted half your life.”

Later in the ride, the professor approached Balaji with another question. “Do you know the teachings of our great philosophers, Aurobindo, Rama Krishna, Muktananda, or Krishnamurthy, their teaching are essential to true understanding?”

“No.” said Balaji “I do not know these great men, I only know the kind and comforting words of my teacher.”

“Arghhh,” scoffed the professor, “you cannot understand anything without their teachings, Balaji, you have wasted three quarters of your life.”

The trip was long and as professor began to doze the weather changed. The sky went dark, the wind threatened and waves splashed over the edge of the boat.  “Professor, professor,” cried Balaji,  “have you ever studied swimology?”

“Swimology,” asked the professor? “Does that have something to do with swimming?”

“Yes Professor, can you swim?” Balaji replied.

“No Balaji” said the professor, “in all my busy years of study I never found the time to learn to swim.”

“Oh professor,” said Balaji, “the boat is sinking and we have no life jackets…. I am afraid you have wasted all of your life.”

This teaching offers us the reminder that every thing we do in our yoga practice: asana, breath-work, and philosophy must be grounded in real world applications. We ground our insights in our lives so we can swim when the waters of life require that we do.

A posture and the challenge of strong sensation teaches us to keep a clear head, hold steady and relaxed when life is painful. Pranayama teaches us to check in with the breath when we feel a strong emotion arrive.  And the philosophical stories help us discern how to act in relation to others. Is this action part of the life I want to create? We understand that learning just to be smart will not help us on our sacred path. The learning must support our purpose.

Our caravan drove to the tents first, you know the ones, under I-83, near the farmers market. There are scores of them littered along Fallsway and the cross streets. As we arrived people began to appear. Tents unzipped and all kinds of folk: old, young, male, female, and every ethnicity emerged. Some smelled of alcohol, others appeared to have mental disability but most of them just seemed strung out and I am not surprised. It was cold. Imagine your Thanksgiving Day sleeping in a tent under a highway, owning only a bag of stuff and the clothes on your back. Damn straight they were strung out, I could feel it in my body. Lines and lines of people full of gratitude came to visit the truck. We handed each person a bag lunch, a hot turkey meal, a soda and a bag of candy.

We worked for three hours; the truck driver, Luther, knew all the spots. The interesting thing was, so did I. I’ve lived in this city since high school and the places we went; these are the places one might avoid or at least lock the doors and roll up the windows when entering, for safety of course. If you ask Luther what he does, he says I feed people and it was downright biblical. The joy of taking care of those in need, of reaching out to lend a hand when there is no expectation for return is incredible.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. - Matthew 25:35

All things are assigned a task, the heavens send light and rain to the earth, the earth brings forth blossoms and fruits, the mountains offer shelter. As for our human task, we are entrusted with free will and with that responsibility comes our path to wholeness. Often times I forget or ignore this sacred trust. Right now I feel like I don’t know what I am supposed to do. I am unsure what my sacred work is but I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t.

Now I am faced with what to do. I want to join Luther and help out. I also teach yoga most nights and weekends. I like to write these blogs and I like to make paintings. How do I know what to do? How do I know which is the right path for me? How do I know my purpose and does it help? It is said that the path becomes more and more narrow as we continue. Does that mean more refined? Does that mean difficult? Does it mean intimate, one behind the other rather than great migrations?

 Rumi reminds us that  If we perform and remember everything else, yet forget about our essential purpose, then we have done nothing at all. He says we are golden pots more valuable that ordinary pots but we use ourselves to boil ragged turnips. Why not, he continues, use the pot to boil your ego instead and set yourself free?

I am inviting you, as we enter the deepest dark of winter, to walk toward that which lights you up. Take your practices on the mat and use them as a tool for life. In other words, study "swimology". I want you to move towards your joy every moment. I want you to use that joy to help others. Again I come back to Rumi who reminds me with urgency- take an axe to the prison door and escape.

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I just have to do something.

In just a few short weeks our collective yogic actions have made a difference. My yoga teacher would often ask, why do you feel compelled to believe that "what is" is wrong? That "what is" is not exactly the way things should be? And I, in my insistent inquiry, ask back “Even if I think everything is as it should be, does that discount my desire to act?”

I desire to take action and we are creating change!

This week, President-elect Trump has softened on several important issues facing his administration: Obamacare, climate change, the wall,  and coal. The alt-right are disavowed and racism is denounced. Our environment, endangered species, and our children can all breathe a sigh of relief. But the work has just begun.

CC Yoga 500 hour TT-87-S.jpg

I see infinite opportunities to give. Giving is a rewarding task and I do make a difference. I also see the many ways I find excuses not to help. But as we say in the yoga world, awareness is the first step to healing.  Awareness shows me that I am not too busy to lend a hand. Awareness shows me I will not initiate a barrage of petitions if I sign one, three, or ten online. Awareness shows me that I do have room in my home for a friend in need. There is so much I can do and it feels good.

An inspiring Facebook post by my friend Jon Gorman is an example of actions one person has taken this month. I like how he found opportunity on a local, national and global level. He honed in on three tasks in an infinite sea of options. His intelligent approach is inspiring and I hope it helps you to take action.  It goes like this.

My biggest takeaway from my utter shock and horror at the election results and aftermath is this: to have a perspective based on morals, to vote for the more progressive candidate, and to share relevant articles and opinions on Facebook is not enough. I had been standing behind these acts throughout this election but if I'm truly honest with myself, these acts are what allowed us to pretend we are making a difference despite an underlying complacency that allowed Trump to get elected and prior to that, have allowed injustices to be perpetuated for decades. Opinionated posts on Facebook don't change anyone else's opinions and don't advance the change that is needed. There is so much more that these times demand of us, and so much more that we can and need to be doing.

 Here is how I intend to take action:
1) I set up a recurring monthly donation to non-profit organizations that support education for underserved communities, protecting the environment, and a social cause I care about.

2) I am volunteering with an organization in Baltimore that aims to engage underserved youth and help them succeed and have more opportunities in life.

3) I started a therapy private practice this past September. I will be re-evaluating my business plan to determine a way to provide low-cost or pro-bono mental health services to individuals in marginalized, low-income communities starting within the first half of 2017.

... I challenge all of you reading this to take similar steps. If you don't have time, donate money to important causes. If you don't have money, donate your time or other resources. If you don't have money or time, why are you spending so much time on Facebook reading my ramblings?

I want you to notice how his three specific actions, not too big but also not inconsequential, will change the world for the better.

1. Jon reached into his wallet and gave. Imagine if every one of us set up a recurring monthly donation to an organization we love? What if we gave every month to an organization that advocates for the environment, endangered species, human rights, arts or humanities? Imagine if we all give a single dollar to 5 groups each month? Our actions would not only help these organizations financially but our donations would be a voice that tells the world what we value, love and cherish.

2. Jon has found an organization that operated locally and his time will make a difference. I was listening to Jane Alexander, actress, environmental and endangered species activist, speak at the Miami book festival. She suggests we help in three ways.

A. Find a local organization where you can get involved.

B. Find an organization you are passionate about at a national level, one that works to make the United States a better place to live and support them with time or money.

C. Find an international organization, one that is working for the betterment of our global community and support them with time or money.

3.  Jon is altering the way he does business to advocate for diversity. Imagine if each of us, in our local area, found a way to include students, clients, and colleagues from diverse economic backgrounds into our endeavors? Imagine what the world would be like if the guy who worked in the Starbucks lived next door to the politician? Imagine if the construction worker was valued as much as the banker. Imagine our world if the entrepreneur and the artist stood on equal ground.  Imagine our neighborhoods if they were a tapestry of people all working together creating community. Imagine if we found a way to insist upon diversity, diversity of all kinds. Imagine what the yoga classes, shopping centers, and the schools would be like if we altered our business plan to insist on diversity.

I love how Jon says, if you don’t have money, donate time. This Thanksgiving, I recruited my family to go and help out at the Salvation Army! We are going to serve food and you know what? I am more excited about Thanksgiving than ever. I absolutely cannot wait. You know what else, when I signed up the online form said: share what you did on Facebook, we still need help. As a result of the share, we filled the quota needed for serving this year. I made a difference, Facebook made a difference and so did everyone who chose to come and help.

It’s hard to know how much one can do. It is hard to know, as a yoga teacher, when students need a break from it all, just to stretch, relax, and go inside for some peace and quiet.

But I wonder, where is the peace and quiet when the house is burning down? How can there be peace and quiet, when your children are hungry and need a helping hand?

When I was 20, I took a vow of the bodhisattva. This vow promises that I will not reach enlightenment until every other being on earth has been helped along the path. The vow of the bodhisattva asks, where is the joy in my own awakening when there are still others in the dark? I vow to continue to work on this earth until we all experience unity. I am asking for your help.  We live in this world together, so for today, in the name of Thanksgiving, lets lend a hand. Find a way to give, and don’t go back to sleep.

The Sun by Mary Oliver

Have you ever seen

anything

in your life

more wonderful

than the way the sun,

every evening,

relaxed and easy,

floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,

or the rumpled sea,

and is gone—

And how it slides again

out of the blackness

every morning

on the other side of the world

like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,

say on a morning in early summer,

at its perfect imperial distance—

and have you ever felt for anything such wild love—

do you think there is anywhere, in any

language,

a word billowing enough

for the pleasure

that fills you,

as the sun

reaches out,

as it warms you

as you stand there,

empty-handed—

or have you too

turned from this world—

or have you too gone crazy

for power,

for things?

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Is that so?

A monk was living at the base of the Himalayas.

He had a small hut, at the top of a crest, about five miles outside a nearby village.

He was very content with his holy life, full of peace and practice.

In the nearby village, a young woman lived with her family.

The young woman found herself pregnant.

Her parents, furious, about her unwed status, demanded to know who the father was.

The young girl trying to protect her boyfriend said, "The monk on the hill is the father."

The baby was born and the village family stormed up the hill and knocked on the monk's door. When he answered they thrust the baby into his arms. "This is your doing now he is your responsibility.” They turned to walk home.

“ Is that so?" replied the monk as he held the baby and looked at his new life.

The monk abandoned his formal practices to care for the baby. He learned how to provide for the child: food, clothing, and love.

After 5 years, the young woman could not stand it anymore. She missed her baby and wanted to marry her boyfriend. She told her parents who the father really was.

Mortified the parents made the journey back up the hill. They knocked on the monk’s door.

Full of apology they let the monk know there had been a mistake. They now knew the truth and took the young boy to their family home.

“Is that so?” was the monk's reply.

There are two yogic principles this tale brings to mind.

The first is that yoga is the path of action.

I’ve been thinking how unlike the monk my first reaction to the election results have been. How I thought to myself, everything is turned upside down. The monk too, must have felt that way about his quiet peaceful life. But because he approached the situation with an air of inquiry, he could see clearly and respond in a loving way. He took on the task of loving the boy as a priority over everything else. I too have been thinking about how I can respond to the election results in a way where I can see more clearly. I have taken time to reflect on how little I have done because I  felt everything was safe in the hands of the government: the environment, immigration, equality. I noticed how, in a sense, I have become passive.  I have been busy pursuing my personal goals because everything out there is in good hands. Today, I made a donation to WWF and inquired into donating my time at a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving.

The second principle says that the yogi, like a lamp in a still place, is undisturbed by the winds of life.

The election didn’t go my way and that is ok. As President Obama said in his Rose Garden transition speech yesterday, the sun came up this morning anyway.

The monk in our story must have been incredibly upset when the baby and the false accusations arrived on the doorstep. His reputation as a good man must have been ruined. His practice, routine, and simple ascetic lifestyle was turned upside down. But in the wisdom of his equanimity, he replied with an inquiry into the inevitable change that was before him. The monk was not being passive - he actually seems fiercely clear in his actions. I am sure he weighed the consequences of a fight to defend himself. I am sure he reconciled the cost to his own sense of peace and the health of the baby if he pushed back. He chose to care for the infant.

And can you imagine, 5 years later, how much he must have loved the boy? How his life must have been settled, after such a long time, into the joys of family living. Tucking the boy into bed, watching him grow, and sharing meals together. Can you imagine the loss the monk must have felt when the family arrived to take him away? And still, he replied, with the inquiry. His curiosity grows into the equanimity of wisdom. Wisdom tells us, change is always right around the corner.

The teaching is not saying we will not feel a spectrum of emotions. We will. And the stillness of the lamp allows it’s light to shine clearly. So we can do our work.

I liked the passage below published by Huffington Post, when they decided to remove the footer they put at the end of every article about Trump,  that declared… I'm paraphrasing here, that he is not such a nice guy.

“It was a win that was at once foreseeable, yet one we failed badly to see.  Where we find fault with how Trump governs, we won't hesitate to call it out. If he targets minority groups or encroaches on our democracy we won't hesitate to say so loudly and clearly...  We have hope that the man we saw on the trail at his worst moments is not the man who will enter the White House. If Trump can reverse the economic inequality he decried during his campaign, bring back manufacturing jobs, find a way to give people better healthcare for less money, invest in infrastructure, and otherwise make the country great again we will cheer him on... We'll find out."

President Obama reminded us, “We are all on the same team. We are not Democrats, Independents, or Republicans first. We are Americans first and we all want what is best for our country.”

Obama continued, referring to Clintons remarks earlier that morning, “To the young people. Stay encouraged don’t get cynical. Fighting for what's right is worth it. Sometimes you win an argument, other times you lose. The path has never been a straight line, we zig and zag, and that is ok. If we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we brush ourselves off and we get back into the arena. We go forward with good faith.”

Let's be here as yogis to care for one another, despite our politics. Let us look at the world and ask, “Is that so?”  Although the emotions and feelings may arrive like storms, the wisdom of the practice reminds us that the more quickly we can recover the better. Only then can we get back in the arena and be effective at working for what we love.

 

 

 

 

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Creating change: noticing, laughing, and practice is all that's required.

One of my favorite Sufi tales gives a teaching about a charming mullah named Kahil. A mullah is an Islamic guru, someone versed in the theology and philosophy of the Muslim religion. Kahil was a kind man and with a large and loving congregation. He had several assistants who came each day to help him with the administrative tasks at the mosque. Every day at noon, they all sat down for lunch. Recently, the mullah had been complaining about his food. Basically, he was tired of what was packed in his lunch bag. Every day it is a cheese sandwich. He would say, "I am so tired of eating cheese sandwiches."  Another day he would yearn, "I would love something else for lunch." Almost to the point of whining, "I wish had something else for lunch." Time went by and Kahil's complaints became more vociferous and angry. The brothers began to worry about the mullah’s health and happiness.

“Mullah” they inquired, “why don’t you just let your wife know you are tired of cheese sandwich? Why don’t you ask her kindly to make you something else for lunch?”

The mullah tilted his head to the side, as if reflecting on the question.

“Why my dear brothers.” he answered, “I make my own lunch.”

 

Do you yearn to change the way you are doing things yet find yourself repeating actions, thoughts, and patterns that no longer serve you? What is it that drives us to live in the trap of our very own habits? In yoga these habits are called samskara.

Whenever I need inspiration to create a mindful change, I turn to Agnes Martin. I find her to be brave. She is clear about the importance of the inner work that impels us to make a different kind of sandwich. A sandwich that is truly nourishing.

"The process of life is hidden from us. The meaning of suffering is held from us. And we are blind to life. 

We are blinded by pride. Pride has built another structure and it is called “Life,” but living the prideful life we are frustrated and lost. 

 It is not possible to overthrow pride. It is not possible because we ourselves are pride. Pride the Dragon and Pride the deceiver as it is called in Mythology. But we can witness the defeat of pride because pride cannot hold out. Pride is not real so sooner or later it must go down." Agnes Martin, Writings

 Where Martin uses the word pride, I often insert the word ego. The ego is important and the habits (samskara is sanskrit) we develop are what gives us a sense I, me, or mine. Understanding the world and creating short cuts are skills that allow for our very survival. Imagine if you had to discover each step every time you cooked.  We turn on the heat automatically, get out our ingredients and cook for our children, all while talking to our spouse, writing a thank you note, and planning a day date with a friend but our short cuts are only one way. Sometimes we confuse our way of doing things as reality (the unchangeable) and this is where the suffering of pride or ego can come into play. And sometimes our way of doing things becomes, from our perspective, the only way to get the task done. This perspective can be extremely painful especially if we want change.

Yoga teaches us that we can approach a pose from a certain perspective for a while, then out of the blue, one day we will have pain and we need to modify our approach. Changes in flexibility and strength will also eventually ask us to approach the pose in a new way. The ability to change how we do things is an embodiment of the very flexibility we are searching for in the practice. Haughtiness relating to our way, as the only way or the best way, can cause a sense of separation from real joys in life. In the previous passage Martin introduces to the ideas behind the mullah story, as he complains about the sandwich he is blind to his own habits. He is blind to the possibilities and his ability to change.

The antonyms of pride, it’s opposites, are characteristics admired in all spiritual traditions. In order to free ourselves from the tight grip of the ego we embrace the qualities of nature: humble, meek, modest, and yielding. These freedoms are the space of inquiry. The place where the sunrise is a marvel, the crunch of autumn leaves is like music, and the apple is the first you have ever tasted. The mullah was far from this place, yet he was also very near.

Martin continues, "When pride in some form is lost we feel very different. We feel the victory over pride, and we feel very different, being for a few moments, free of pride. We feel a moment of perfection that is indescribable, a sudden joy in living.

Our best opportunity to witness the defeat of pride is in our work, in all the time that we are working and in the work itself."

 In yoga, as we come to the mat each day, we meet our work. The form of the work is irrelevant. Our work is the place where we meet who it is that we really are. If we come to the mat, with a cheese sandwich in hand, oh the suffering and the woe that will follow. I can’t do this, I am so good at that, I hope we do this pose, oh she better not teach that - these preferences, aversions, and grooves in our thinking create a tedious experience that is rigid in form. The remembered experience is separate from what we are experiencing today. It is a misunderstanding to think that the practice will be the same each day. Even if we practice the same poses everyday the sensations arising as a result of our efforts, will change. Our emotional state is different each day and the work, in this sense, is a defeat of pride. Or as I might say, we cultivate humility and yielding by recognizing the immensity of what stands before us: our miraculous body, mysterious mind, and intrinsically good soul.

My teacher Richard Freeman, in his book, The Mirror of Yoga, says, that the practice always begins with the listening. Listening makes room for what is. Lending an ear prevents approaching the practice from a mechanical perspective. The practice becomes art, born each day from sincere work.

"Our best opportunity to witness the defeat of pride is in our work, in all the time that we are working and in the work itself." Agnes Martin, Writings

 Many of us don’t want to think of the practice as work, but I would say that it is. Work doesn’t have to imply a predetermined amount of effort or struggle; it does imply a certain amount of concentration, focus and discriminative thinking. Practice as work implies that we engage in our process correctly and efficiently. It implies that at the end of the session there is an outcome and this outcome is measurable. I call the outcome a residue: that which remains when the work is done. If we examine the residue of our practice, we can approach tomorrow’s work with more intelligence. This is a way to explore the self. If, at the end of lunch, I do not feel good after eating a cheese sandwich and if I am aware of this, tomorrow I can try peanut butter and see how I feel.

 "Work is self-expression. We must not think of self-expression as something we may do or something we may not do. Self-expression is inevitable. In your work, in the way that you do work and in the results of your work yourself is expressed. Behind and before self-expression is a developing awareness in the mind that affects the work. This developing awareness, I will also call “the work.” It is the most important part of the work. There is the work in our mind; the work in our hands and the work is a result." Agnes Martin, Writings

 Work as self-expression can make us, not only better at our jobs, but better at our practice. The hope that who we are comes through in everything we do, or do not do, invites me to relax as I effort.  In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna reminds Arjun that even inaction is action and a reflection of who it is that we really are. Self-expression is inevitable. Underneath action or inaction is the breath and beneath the breath is the mind. If we come to our practice with an understanding that the developing awareness is a subtlety we are moving towards, there is almost no way to eat the same sandwich every day. Martin calls this awareness the work. I call it the practice. She says it is the most important part. What is happening in your mind is the most important part of the practice. Are we watering seeds that we want to nourish and are we allowing the bitter seeds, parched by the heat of our efforts, to die.

Where Martin talks of the work in our minds, the work in our hands, and the work is the result, she is referring to art work, but this logic a can apply to our practice:

There is the practice in our minds, the practice with our body, and the achievement of yoga is the result. One cannot be without the other. Success on the path requires and engagement with both the mind and the body. The mullah was not using his mind in relation to  his discomfort around a cheese sandwich. He was not recognizing his own habit, the only thing necessary to make a change.

"In your work in everyone’s work in the work of the world, the work that reminds of pride is gradually abandoned. Having, in moments of perfection, enjoyed freedom from pride; we know that that is what we want. With this knowing we recognize and illuminate expressions of pride." Agnes Martin, Writings

 We illuminate expressions of pride so they can be abandoned. It is one thing to feel content at peace, or even pleased with our efforts.  But suffering comes with: I nailed it, I got it, and it’s mine. The mine will be a cheese sandwich before long. Expectations of solidity, in a practice that boasts of nothing but change will cause the student to suffer. Awareness of change and embrace of change is the means to be free, but it requires we stay awake to our preference and aversions. We can recognize them through statement like: that is I and that is not me. One is drawn, once you have tasted the freedom of mystery, toward practice as an inquiry. To the listening and looking at who I am, as if for the first time.

Mary Oliver in her essay, Staying Alive, says, “I did not think of language as the means to self–description. I thought of it as a door - a thousand opening doors - past myself. I thought of it as the means to notice, to contemplate, to praise, and thus to come into power… I saw what skill was needed, and persistence – how one must bend one’s spine, like a hoop, over the page - the long labor. I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. Reading, then writing, the desiring to write well, shaped in me that most joyful of circumstance – a passion for work.”

She goes on to say,

“I don’t mean it is easy or assured; there are stubborn stumps of shame, grief that remains unsolvable after all these years…but there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness, and because, more interesting, more alleviating.”

Our practice is our work. We go to the mat with eyes and mind wide open. Here we meet everything that ever was and every thing that ever will be, a banquet that is our own unique and marvelous life. You do not have to be puffed up about the life that is yours, you do not have to be filled with pride; instead, we bend our spine mindfully over the mat, watching, with curiosity, kindness, and love.

 

 

 

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About Shame, How Yoga Helps.

I suffer from the embrace of shame. I feel ashamed of my needs, desires, personality, physicality, and intellect.

“Through the long lonely years of my childhood, when my fathers palace seemed to tighten it’s grip around me until I could not breathe, I would go to my nurse and ask for a story.” Chitta Banerjee Divakaruni writes as she takes us on a journey with a heroine of remarkable character in her book, Palace of Illusions.

 

Draupadi, also known by the name Panchali, is a female character in the Indian epic poem, The Mahabharata. Her story of rising beyond shame is brought to life in A Palace of Illusions. This book elevates Panchali as an enlightening character who lived in a world of literature where the potency of mortal women is rarely articulated.

Panchali is a deep and complicated person. She is married to 5 men, the Pandava brothers. This is a daring circumstance even in our modern world. Her plight and life’s work is often credited as the inspiration behind the great battle, the Kurukshetra, described in The Bhagavad Gita.

At one point in Palace of Illusions, Panchali, after refusing to sweep the kings floor, is taken before a court to be punished for her insolence. Panchali’s sari is forcefully removed as a means of inflicting shame. The exposure is considered a serious degradation in old India. The shame of her nakedness is so grand that society would have expected Panchali to commit suicide after such an assault.

 

I often feel shamefully imperfect. A few years ago, a friend referred me to Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You Are Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are.

“Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.

Her Guidance helps me to know my shame, recognize it when it arises, and gives me tools to set myself free to live a radically alive life.

Brown, a researcher, author, and professor, tells of an “ah-ha” moment in her work on shame. There was a moment when she noticed there are some individuals who do not suffer from the infliction of shame. She calls these people the whole-hearted.

She studied the group and compiled a list of their shared do’s and don’ts: 

“The do column was brimming with words like: worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude, and creativity. The don’t column was dripping with words like: perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment, and scarcity.”

Brown says, “Whole hearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”

Panchali as imagined by Divakaruni, in the midst of her affront begins contemplation. Her concentration is so powerful that the sari being unwrapped becomes limitless in length. The endless unwrapping simultaneously illustrates Panchali’s strength of focus and the results of her single mindedness. The object of her meditation is the face of her friend, Krishna, who also happens to be the god of love.

Panchali’s concentration is so strong that she sees Krishna’s expression with impeccable clarity. This vision sets our heroine free. She sees the smile that sometimes appears on his face. She feels him carry her off into a garden that is filled with swans and blue flowers falling from a canopy of trees. The fragrance of sandalwood fills her body with pleasure and tastes sweet in her mouth.

Over the years, I have added some of Brown’s do's into my daily thinking. Love, gratitude, and authenticity fill my yoga practice and teaching each day. But too often, when life takes me by surprise, I can fall back into a feeling of not belonging. I will sacrifice my persistent creative drive to try and fit in, be perfect, and have value. Somehow I attach these ideas with my very survival.  If I am not perfect I will end up alone and ultimately I will die, abandoned and miserable.

Brown continues, “Our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re are in this together, imperfectly but together.”

She says shame is different from guilt; whole-hearted individuals have a certain amount of both. It makes us human. The differentiation between shame and guilt is illuminating.

Guilt = I did something bad

Shame = I am bad.

“Panchali no one can shame you, unless you allow it.” The Palace of Illusions, Chitta Banerjee Divakaruni

Brene Brown speaks about three tools she considers essential on the journey to Wholeheartedness: Courage, Compassion and Connection.

In the story of Panchali’s shame we can see that she overcomes her predicament and survives whole-heartedly by employing the very same tools Brown suggests.

Courage:

“Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves  the experience of vulnerability...we are all made of strength and struggle." The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown

Panchali did not choose to marry 5 brothers. She loved Arjun, one of the brothers, and thought she was joining the family to marry him alone. Tradition required Panchali to submit to her mother in-law's wish that she marry all five sons. Can you imagine the courage that took? Panchali also shows courage in the Mahabharata as she faces the difficulties and judgment aimed at a woman with 5 husbands. This same courage is present as she defies the king and faces the shaming. Panchali also shows her courage after the shaming, when she refuses to wash the blood and dirt in her soiled hair until the king is revenged.

Compassion:

“Compassion is not the relationship between the healer and the wounded, it is a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others” The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown

In the yogic tradition, compassion is one of the three classic means of accessing energy. Along with merging and boundaries, the practice of compassion facilitates awareness of the happiness and inevitable suffering everyone experiences. Brown describes the practice of compassion as: I understand, I’ve been there.

Panchali’s compassion, like many mythical liberators, does not imply a sweet sticky Hallmark abbreviation of the fierce experience. It insists on a whole-hearted comprehension and presence with what is. What is in another and in our self.

“Compassion is daring.” Pema Chodron

Connection.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship...we are both those who offer help and those who receive it.” The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown

Krishna, Panchali’s long time friend and god incarnate, provides the opportunity for connection. Panchali’s ability to put her mind on the face of her friend offers comfort. Everyone needs connection to be healthy. We know that babies need touch or they perish. According to Brown, the ability to make and receive connection is required to be whole-hearted. For Panchali, without the ability to connect, she would have died.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerability is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging, and joy.” The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown

Brown says that story, in our case the story of Panchali, is about worthiness and embracing the imperfections that bring us courage, compassion, and connection.

“Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown

I bring Panchali’s story to you, not to condone the actions of the King and his court, but to help us remember that although we have had extremely difficult events in our life, we can use the tools of our yoga practice to cultivate a steady mind. This focus transforms our suffering into a garden. In this garden we can be free of our shame and lose ourselves to love.

Women, by Adrienne Rich

My three sisters are sitting

on rocks of black obsidian.

For the first time, in this light, I can see who they are.

My first sister is sewing her costume for the procession.

She is going as the Transparent Lady

and all her nerves will be visible.

My second sister is also sewing,

at the seam over her heart which has never healed

   entirely.

At last, she hopes, this tightness in her chest will ease.

My third sister is gazing

at the dark red crust spreading westward far out on the

   sea.

Her stockings are torn but she is beautiful.

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How Can I Help? From Rye to Raphael and how a generous donation changed the face of a collection.

Tao Te Ching

That which shrinks

Must first expand

That which is weakened

Must first be strong.

That which is abolished

Must first cherished.

Before receiving there must be giving. 

This is called the perception of the nature of things.

Soft and weak overcome hard and strong.

 

William and Henry Walters, the art they acquired, and the donation of their collection to the city are Baltimore treasures. 200 artworks from the Walters Museum and the story of Charm City’s important family are on view in “From Rye to Raphael”. The exhibition illustrates the evolution of the family, the collection, and it’s complicated context.

The beloved yoga teacher, TKV Desikachar, tells us that: as yoga teachers our primary task is to serve the seeker. We cultivate the yearning to help others and work tirelessly crafting offerings to meet individual needs. He reminds us that teaching is not about me, not about making me a popular instructor, not about this style or that studio; teaching yoga is designing and modifying the practice to serve the student.

 The Walters Museum, now admission free, a feature that increased attendance by 40%, is a palazzo style building in the heart of Mount Vernon. The building was erected by Henry Walters and was bequeathed along with the artwork to our city, a gracious gift.

 But what does Desikachar's statement mean to anyone who desires to help? How do we know what is actually required? Ram Dass, in his classic book, How Can I Help, speaks of service as an endless series of questions. The questions are actually the map.

 

I took the elevator to the 4th floor and walked into a hall filled with paintings, furniture, sculpture and objects gathered by William Walters for the purpose of enjoyment, for his home. William and his son Henry were interested in and collected Maryland artists. To my left is a bust of Henry Walters by Hans Schuler. The Schuler School along with names like Maryland Institute of Art and Rinehart School of Sculpture were supported by this turn of the century family and are today, premiere institutions of art education. 

Ram Dass says that in helping, we meet our own limitations; we can see how our intolerance for difficulty can lead us to avoid suffering, and in the end leave us helpless. In our helping profession we might experience a feeling likened to an open heart. Reaction can cause us to close down when we feel such a vulnerable state. Feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, and burnout can sabotage our ability to help. Ram Dass says awareness of our reaction is the first step to a sustained ability to lend a hand.

Then I see the whiskey. A bottle and two glasses sit in a vitrine. The glasses are fine crystal and I realized the magnitude of wealth required to purchase this much art. The fortune, which begins with the production of Rye and increases with profits resulting from investments in railroad built a ton of money for the Walters family.

I couldn’t help thinking back to Barkskins by Annie Proulx. Her historical novel tells a story of clear cutting in America. The industry provided immense wealth for a few determined families. This wealth was multiplied with the arrival of the railroad and the expanded opportunity rapid transportation would provide. In early America much of the labor for endeavors like railroad and timber was garnered from slaves, indentured servants, prisoners and those who were victims of extreme poverty.

Does this mean we always have to help? Ram Dass asks: Do we always have to give to the person asking for money? Must we always invite the person who is obviously late to have our space in line? He suggests we are conditioned to rationalize and formalize our helping. Conditioned to give in a church setting or to specific non-profits that we have researched and approve of. We are trained to withhold from someone who might be spending our spare change on alcohol. Awareness of our conditional approach can help us to see the limits of our rational mind and our giving obstacles. So while giving may not always be the answer, we can develop a capacity to feel empowered and energized to give in our personal and professional life

 “Awareness of conditionality toward true service is not resistance to overcome but a pathway to deeper understanding.” Ram Dass, How can I Help?

 We can access energy. The three methods.

1. Merging – the ability to identify a quality you admire in another. You can find increased energy when you bring these qualities into your body. If you can perceive it, you can find a felt sense of what it is like to own it. If I embrace someone’s happiness, I feel happy.

2. Boundaries - the ability to recognize when another embodies qualities you do not want to live. Put a boundary around those qualities and simply say no. I can perceive your anger but if I do not want to get caught up in the cycle of anger. I recognize the feeling as yours and not necessarily mine.

3. Compassion - the ability to recognize that whoever stands before you has experienced true success and joy in their life. Compassion is also the ability to recognize that this very same person has endured great suffering and loss. From this experience blooms the flower of deep understanding.

 As I walk around the first corner, I meet another bust, his back to the door. He sits on a wall directly behind the Schuler portrait of Henry Walters. I look at the title, Bust of Dr. Dio Lewis. The subject was an abolitionist. The work, made by Edmonia Lewis, the first African American artist to achieve international fame, is a beautiful form. Next, I see Sylvia and Eddie Brown added the Bust of Dr. Dio Lewis to the Walters collection.

Can we experience Boundlessness? Make a list of who you are. Brainstorm for a full minute, even if you are repeating yourself. I am a yoga teacher, I am an artist, I am a wife, I am a daughter, I am a friend, I am an enemy, I am a spiritual person, I am a business person, I am a person of nature, I am a city dweller, I am a loving person, I am a frightened person. Don’t stop… you will find that at the end of a minute there is still more that you are. You will find that even if you write all day long you could not capture everything that you are. This is boundlessness.

 The Browns must have met the discomfort of inequality when they first looked at the Walters collection. It is remarkable that their response to the discomfort was to lend a helping hand. They reached into their pockets and gave generously. They gave to rectify a vision that was only half true. Standing back to back: Henry Walters and Dio Lewis. One facing the door, greeting visitors, the other like a shadow; present but only visible if one looks. Both works made by accomplished artists: one white, one black. Both sculptures are included in the show due to generosity and the desire to help.

In the same section of the exhibition I noticed the porcelain from Sevres, France: a toothbrush and a sponge holder, delicately built with fine glaze, the toilet seat was not on display. I thought about the toothpaste that would be gross in the holder and how servants would be necessary to keep the porcelain clean. I couldn’t imagine Henry Walters cleaning out such delicate china.

Can we be with Suffering? There is much suffering in the yoga room, physical, mental and emotional pain. Often, as teachers we do a lot to avoid the experience of suffering in our classroom. We might employ a fast sequence, or an easy sequence; we might blast loud music or insist on quiet. The plan is relative and may be a reflection of our professional tactics to avoid suffering.

 Ram Dass suggests that to be with suffering is to be able to help. Our tactics can be addressed; they can be brought into the light so we can increase our capacity to be with difficulty. I know this may seem uncomfortable but Patanjali, author or the Yoga Sutras, tells us there is a way out of suffering, and the path eradicates it’s return.

 “With suffering, our capacity to be still with intense sensation equals our capacity to give. We do not have to help; we are help itself.” Ram Dass, How can I help?

It is challenging to imagine the details of daily life in the 19th century. What and who were required to support the lifestyle of the Walters family? At the same time, the collection is magnificent and Henry Walters, unlike John Pierpont Morgan or other turn of the century collectors, always intended his artwork to be a gift donated for the benefit of the public.

The French painting room included Delacroix and Ingres. I was struck that these masterpieces are right here in Baltimore. I feel proud to know that many pieces in this collection are included in art history lectures. They are considered significant examples of their genre.

But many of the paintings in the French room are also stereotypical. The role of blacks as slaves, the portrayal of Muslims as dangerously exotic, and women as objects, are ubiquitous. These paintings, selected by father and son, increase our sense of otherness. They re-enforce prejudicial beliefs. In this room there are no minorities making paintings of minorities and as a result, there is no lived experience in the works.

How do we hold these two truths? How do we embrace the painting, the pursuit, and the execution of art in the 1800’s while recognizing the homonymous of this collection?  Eddie and Sylvia Brown, instead of rejecting the collection, offered their money as a helping hand. In 2002, a challenge grant, consisting of $500,000 matched by the museum built a 1 million dollar fund dedicated toward adding African American art to the Walters permanent collection.

The gesture blew me away.

Do we have the ability to listen? If our mind is everywhere it is impossible to be where we are. If we are trying to listen to another but are worrying about the future or the past we cannot be present. This internal drama is a real drain and a hindrance in our effectiveness to help. Richard Freeman says that yoga always begins with listening. That listening allows space for the present to unfold. Siddhartha, in Herman Hess’s novel, famously said that the river taught him to listen with a still heart, with a waiting open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinions.

 Nobody is perfect and I don’t want to project that expectation on William or Henry Walters. When I was a teenager and entered this museum for the first time, these very same works sparked my interest in art. I remember trying to paint like Ingres. The craft, the beauty, and the creativity cannot be undervalued. These artworks are a very generous gift, perhaps priceless. What I am wondering is, what does it mean to give? What does one have to do to be a real help in the world?

What might make us feel trapped in our roles as helpers? Expectations, personal agendas, attachment to the outcome are all things cast us into the prison of helper. The idea of know-how versus how can I help, may also put a lot of pressure on the giver.  Ram Dass implies, as we continue our training, that more certificates can make us prescriptive in our inquiry around teaching. We can begin to see each other in categories: good teacher, bad teacher, students who work effectively, students who don’t. These judgments can result in labeling ourselves and isolating ourselves in the role of helper, perhaps even fostering an environment where we cannot ask for help.

 

 

The collection includes a beautiful Turner painting, a few famous impressionist works (Henry Walters was not very fond of the genre) including a Sisley, Monet and some Pissaros.  There is a room set up like the Walters home gallery with an absolutely perfect Fortuny (my favorite piece in the show). The collection includes, Madonna of the Candelabra, one of the most sought after Reuben’s in the world and an exquisite Faberge egg. There is a Tiffany brooch with more sapphires than stars in the sky.

I see how early America provided opportunity for amassing great wealth, such immense wealth that one could collect the most desired art in the world. But I wonder, how do we embrace this work and these gifts when we know that the wealth was garnered on the back of slaves, indentured servants, and workers sentenced to a life of poverty until death?

Eddie and Sylvia Brown found a way.

Is Social Action Helpful? Many times as yoga teachers we come face to face with the idea of social action. Should we be vegetarian, should we be sponsored by corporations, should we teach with content relevant to big problems facing our culture like global warming, politics, and conservation? How much time can we dedicate to making these changes? We may find ourselves in a place where we need to change minds: do we use tactics like fear, anger, anxiety, or dread? Is this helpful?  

 “ There is a way to oppose without opposing.” Ram Dass, How can I Help?

 Eddie and Sylvia Brown reached out with the challenge grant. They opposed without opposing by adding the art that Henry and William Walters missed. The additional works create diversity in the collection. My favorite challenge grant work is titled River Scene. Painted by Robert Seldon Duncanson, it’s subject matter includes African Americans boating and relaxing on the banks of the Ohio River.

Will I Burnout? The seeds of burnout are often visible in how we approach our helping deed.  When we identify our desires: to be important, liked, needed, responsible, worthy, we can begin to see how we might manipulate the helping deed.

By choosing to serve the kinds of students who fulfill our needs and by denying those who don’t we multiply the habits of aversion and attachment leading inevitably to our own suffering.

Awareness and equanimity are the method to happiness. Ram Dass says we can dispassionately identify our personal needs and take the risk of releasing our doership who requires result.

 Name three ways you approach the helping deed conditionally?

The Brown’s deed creates an environment that does not erase the past. It does not reject the work of white artists, but gives a very peaceful voice to the unheard. It is present with their suffering and helps simply by being there. In this case the unheard voice is that of African American artists at the turn of the century. For me, the additional works also give voice to those who washed the Walters' toothbrush holders, and poured their coffee into the tiny porcelain cups. For me, these works offered an opportunity to reflect on how to help, even in the face of suffering. The works of Robert Seldon Duncanson, Edmonia Lewis, and others allowed me to ponder the generosity of William and Henry Walters, the Walters Museum, and that of Eddie and Sylvia Brown.

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Every experience has value. Spanish art, Valmiki’s grief and making space for what really is.

“Tapping into our discomfort is the most available resource for personal transformation.” Pema Chodron

On our last day in Madrid I went to a very complex and moving art exhibition at the Reina Sophia Museum. The exhibition was called Campo Cerrado. With the intricacies of US politics and the difficulties of inequality pervading our daily life, the show felt timely to me.

Campo Cerrado, which translates to Closed Country, originally comes from the title of a book written by Spanish author Max Aub. He writes of unrest in Spain during its conservative rein and about the liberal resistance specifically in Barcelona.  But the story is a tragedy because both offenders and resisters metaphorically suffer from Homonymous. Homonymous is a physical condition that divides the field of vision, right down the center, either the inner or the outer side is blind. You can only see half of what is in your line of sight

In Sanskrit, krouncha translates to heron.  Two herons are often inspiration for traditional Indian poetry, most notably the epic poem the Ramayana. The Ramayana tells the story of Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu (the sustainer), Sita (his wife) and their battle to triumph over evil

“Equal to Vishnu in valor; grateful to the sight as the full moon: in patience still as the earth; in generosity like Kuvera; in truthfulness the personification of virtue. Such are his great qualities – Rama.” Valmiki, The Ramayana

Campo Cerrado looks to fill in some of the missing vision surrounding art during the Spanish civil war. It’s hope is to show expression and creation that results when a country is faced with a dictator and his regime. Although the show consists of artworks that date from 1938, the painting, sculpture, and films feel extremely pertinent. How does one find right action in the face of an autocrat while at the same time grieving the ravages of conflict?

The exhibition kept reminding me, through the thoughtful arrangement of works, that perfection and the quest for perfection can be a manipulative action, especially if it is imposed. It is not inclusive. One man's idea of perfection leaves swaths of people, their beliefs, and their ideals out of the picture. To demand one ideology through artwork or anything else is to create a separation and a sense of otherness.

One day the sage and poet Valmiki was walking through the woods and saw two herons engaged in love play. The vision of the birds was beauty beyond description. Then, out of nowhere, a hunter arrives, lifts his bow and shoots the male bird with an arrow. The heron falls to the ground and lay dying in a pool of blood. The female bird let out a cry that was potent and illustrative of her agony.

“Valmiki the poet held all the moving world inside a water drop in his hand. “ Valmiki, The Ramayana

And how easy it is to succumb to propaganda. For example, in 1938 Spain entered idealized art into the Venice biennial. The work was not representative of a modern sensibility much of the country embodied. Many of the paintings and sculptures were completed before the war began and Spain’s contribution turned out to be an attempt to restore academic art. There are films showing the exhibition and the ideal it promotes. The work all looks “perfect” and everyone depicted in the works look “perfect”. But this idealized exhibition suffers from homonymous.

Another part of the exhibition showed works made during the rein of the dictator, Franco. There are cultural propaganda works that illustrate the joys of a simple life, but the people were oppressed. There are also works illustrating the sadness pervading the city of Madrid, often referred to as the city of a million dead. And somewhere in between are artists who are working in a covert subversive manner, hinting at discontent in a language that can slip below the radar of censorship.

Upon hearing the sound of the birds grief, Valmiki was pierced in the center of his heart. He too was overcome by grief and let out a sophisticated curse aimed at the hunter.

“ You cannot count on the proximity of someone you love, all the time. A seed that sprouts at the foot of it’s parents tree remains stunted until it is transplanted.” Valmiki, Ramayana

The exhibition included idealized architecture and housing imposed by the dictator. Old dwellings torn down and futuristic projects were built just outside of Madrid. The projects are illusion and photos showing the key ceremony are set against a backdrop of unfinished homes. These projects were executed throughout Madrid and thousands of political prisoners were responsible for the labor. Spain’s political prisoners were people who wanted to make abstract art, wanted to teach liberal ideas or practice liberal politic. They were prisoners because of who they wanted to love, who they wanted to worship, or whom they wanted to vote for. And yet the resistance continued.

Listening to the sound and the force of his own voice, Valmiki realized he was speaking in verse, 16 syllables per line and 32 per couplet.

“They reached the holy ganges, beloved of the sages. On beholding the lovely river rendered beautiful by swans and cranes. Rama was filled with delight.” Valmiki, the Ramayana

The show also included the work of artists, who during this period were forced into exile: Picasso, Miro, and Dali were just a few. They travelled to places like France and Buenos Aires where they found other exiled artists and made potent work. Many of the pieces from artist-exiles in this show are reflections of grief and loss: loss of country, loss of friends. Lorca, a dedicated Spaniard, poet and playwright, was shot outside his home in Granada when he was still a very young man. Picasso’s police record was on exhibition, it was five pages long and had a terrific mug shot!

Stunned by his impulse to curse another person, Valmiki immediately sits down in meditation. Brahma the creator soon arrives. He tells Valmiki that because the curse arose out of deep grief its form and feeling should become the epic poem, the Ramayana.

“ Be gracious Rama, and allow the worlds to rest from trouble.” Valmiki, the Ramayana

The artists that remained, were either willing to make work that fit into the ideal, some of them subversively, and at great risk. They walked the line of respectability with great risk to their career and their lives.

A big part of the exhibition was the work that came just after the civil war, work imbued with grief and the expression of grief through telling the truth. War and ethnic cleansing ravaged Madrid; the post war painting of artists like Goya was dark and foreboding. Others sought to offer consolation and some humor as a relief from reality. There were artists who were trying to create visual movements and those resisting the pull of it all. The artists of Spain wanted to express their version of modernism. They wanted to be part of modernism that was sweeping the world outside of Spain. Eusebio Sempere and Julio Gonzales were two such artists.

In India, the Ramayana is considered one of the first and foremost of all poems.  It contains 24,000 verses. It’s purpose is to awaken the reader spiritually and send them along the path toward liberation. Moksha.

“ Great gifts are not easily given, I waited years before I had you.” Ramesh Menon,  The Ramayana, a modern retelling.

Campo Cerrado concludes with the official embrace of the modern in post-war Spain. The art included architectural renovation and healthy, robust figuration vs. abstraction debates.

Every society should have healthy disagreements, different points of view. Diversity is what allows creative fertility to flourish. I feel so lucky to have been taught that the best of yoga happened between the schools. It occurred in the alleys where those who could see the best in individual perspectives gathered and discussed ideas. This is how Buddhism and Vedic thought came together. This is how the hybrid of vinyasa yoga has emerged and evolved today. Ideas and perspectives keep changing; we must continue to let our vision expand, refuse the Homonymous, and see as much as we can see.

As we practice it is important to make space for whatever is, in your body, in your mind, in your spirit. Only when we illuminate "what is" can we begin the process of transformation. Suppose you have a pile of old stuff in your closet. You know you need to sort through it, give some of it away, throw some of it out, and finally fold some of it for use next season. What will happen to that stuff if you never open the closet door and turn the light on?….Nothing, in fact if you leave the pile there eventually dust will gather, maybe even little bugs or rodents will make their home in that pile, have their children there and oh the eco system begins…. what was a pile of clothes now becomes an entire universe, a mountain of detritus, a problem. 

My advice: open the closet and turn on the light. Adrienne Rich's potent poem, Our Whole Life, about our imperfect entirety illustrates beautifully the pain that results from the compromises we make. It is seeing the whole that inspires poetry and if you are in Spain, Campo Cerrado is very inspiring.

 

Our Whole Life

By Adrienne Rich

Our whole life is a translation

 Of the permissible fibs

and now a knot of lies

Eating at itself to get undone

Words bitten thru words

~~

meanings burnt-off like paint

under the blowtorch

All those dead letters

rendered into the oppressor’s language

Trying to tell the doctor where it hurts

Like the Algerian

who walked from his village, burning

his whole body a cloud of pain

and there are no words for this

except himself.

 

 

 

 

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