We begin by listening for what is.

Midtown, Wednesday night 2016.

Midtown, Wednesday night 2016.

Listening. Yoga begins with listening. To tuning into what is actually there. By beginning our beautiful practice, (whether it is a meditation, asana, or pranayama practice,) we open our ears and hear. We make space for the present moment. We listen first to the external world. We listen to the sounds outside ourselves. These sounds may have some emotional charge. A fire engine rushing by could be labeled as bad and a sound of leaves rustling outside the window could be labeled as good. But these sounds tend to have less emotional charge than those of the inner world, so we begin here.

We take the easy path.

We try to refrain from the labeling and just listen.

“ Be like a fish on a beach moving toward wave sound.” Rumi

Next, as we begin to sharpen the mind, we listen to the sounds that are closer to home; perhaps we listen to the sounds in the room. We hear the whirr of the fan overhead or the clock ticking. As the sounds sits closer we may notice a tendency to be a bit more identified with these sounds. That is the sound of my grandmothers clock; it is so nice and reminds me of Christmas when I was a child. Or… I hate that fan, it still squeaks, I need buy some oil; I never have time to do the things I need to do!

“Let yourself be silently drawn toward that which you really love” Rumi

When a sound is closer to home, it generally has more emotional charge but the process is the same; listen and withhold judgment, making space for what is. Draw the mind back again and again to the listening.

Finally, when we have practiced listening to the outer world we sharpen the mind enough to listen to the subtle sounds of the inner world. The sounds of the breath, the heart, and the circulation maybe even a growl of the belly. We move the mind to our bodies.

Oh let me tell you about emotional charge… first you will notice how quickly you are bored with this task. You will listen, and if you are lucky you will make space for what is…your heart rate as it is, your breath as it is, your everything as it is, then something will go off in your brain saying I got this, I don’t need to listen any more.

You might even make a judgment that the systems of the body are boring, trite, or unimportant. You might think that there are more important things to listen to like you own thoughts; then off you go. Into the future. Into the past, into the world of everything else except the truth of what is, what is occurring in this moment.

It only takes a couple of breaths to start your practice with listening and by doing so you will become a better listener. You will be able to listen to your friend when he/she is telling you of their hurt. Your spouse when they are sharing their success. You child when he/she is trying to connect. Listening is one of the most valuable skills we can build in our beautiful practice because it makes us better friends, lovers, and parents.

Listening makes us better teachers. Listening makes us better yogis because we can listen to our bodies and listen to our minds, making space for what is and honoring what is true.

“Your old life was a frantic running, the speechless moon comes out now.” Rumi

Prasad. A Gracious Gift

Traditionally Prasad is something sweet offered to a deity, an enlightened being or the heart of the Self. We are offering everything up, our body our mind, our heart. An offering a gift. Every move we make in the practice, every glance gesture, word is an offering of sort. Lets examine the quality of our offerings. Lets look for a vibrant but consistent offering. An offering that is not a reaction to a should…. but a persistent expression of who you really are and how you really want to connect.

In The Illuminated Prayer, a marvelous book offering countless metaphors for the graciousness of sacred offering, Coleman Barks translates Rumi’s Poem entitled

 One Song.

“All religions,

all this singing,

is one song…”

By looking at life as if it were an offering, you are opening yourself up to the possibility of connection with the divine

The gift once offered with sincerity is surely to be received; therefore, it will have the presence of the divine within it.

 

“The differences are just

illusion and vanity…..”

Lets begin by making an offering of Prasad into the fire. The fire represents the tongue of God. Make sure your offering is sweet and steady. So often we reach out to offer with a burst, and end up drained. We will work on the slow steady offering of everything in a way where we are fed by the residue of that which we offer.

Traditionally you would offer everything into the fire,  into the external fire you offer everything: food, people, animals.  The Buddhist tradition introduces non violence. Then the ritual became filled with symbolic offerings: colored powder, ghee, seeds, but the idea remains the same: to offer everything into the fire.

“ The sun’s light looks a little different

on this wall than it does on that wall,

and a lot different on this other one,

but still there is light…..

 

When you offer Prasad as an internal practice, you are opening to the possibility of acknowledging and releasing everything you think you know about yourself. You are releasing all the things that you think are great, not so great, etc. In this releasing we find freedom. We find freedom in realizing who we think we are is just a mere imitation to the vastness of our reality. 

“We have borrowed these clothes,

these time and place personalities,

from a light, and when we praise,

we’re pouring them back in.” Rumi

 

The offering represents the opening to the divine, which makes the exchange possible. You can work on the yogic path for eons without taking the risk which brings you into the presence of God. The teachings expound: once you begin to fall into step with the path of genuine opening, of risk taking, a sort of tumbling happens which makes your steps move quickly and perhaps faster than you are comfortable with; you find yourself running. In response, it is said that God is also running at full speed toward you. 

Richard Freeman says,

 “Life imitates yoga. So if the sacrifice is successful and you poured all of your emotion thoughts techniques, presupposition into the fire of awareness, then at the end of the practice all that is left is the residue, the shesha. This shesha is the sofa on which Vishnu reclines; it is the comfort and support of our sustenance.  In this place we can begin to experience who we are, free from the constraints of the small ideas about ourselves.”

 

 

 

The Swan, the mantra Hamso and I am that.

In Hindu Mythology the God Brahma, the god of creation, rides on the back of a swan. The transliteration for swan is Hamsa. The translation of Hamsa is “That I am.“

"Across the wide waters
something comes
floating- a slim
and delicate
ship, filled
with white flowers-....." Mary Oliver 

This season I have had a lot of fun with the “Ham-So” mantra as a means of embracing all of me. Embracing all of me has led to an expansion of my capacity for gratitude. The practice has brought me a lot  of  relief from the sense of separation that comes from thinking I am this but not that.  

This is not to say that I don’t practice discrimination. I am careful in what I say and what I do. I try to act and speak in a way that serves friends, family, the whole and myself. I also rigorously try, through mediation and yoga practices to funnel my thought habits onto the happy side of the scale.

If I were to describe my process I could compare my life to cultivating a garden full of perennials. My practices tend the fertile ground of my body and my mind. My garden is not perfect. It certainly has weeds. But they tend to be benign like dandelions, onion grass, and clover. Tending the earth keeps the kudzu from devouring everything.

"...It rearranges
the clouds of it's wings,
it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here. 
Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy colored beak 
rests in my hand?...." Mary Oliver

In using the mantra “Hamso”, Ham is repeated on the inhale and So is repeated on the exhale. As the breath is followed, the mind becomes concentrated. As thoughts occur you can affirm them with “That (Inhale) I am ( Exhale)” As sensations arise you can affirm them with “That I am”. Do your best to embrace everything that arises if only for a single breath .You can alternate between the transliterations HamSo and the translation That I Am. This practice will foster feelings of acceptance and well being.

Eventually due to the circular nature of the breath Hamso will flip and become SoHam, I am (Inhale)that( Exhale). It is said that when the reversal happens you actually become the swan. According to Hindu philosophy the Swan, because it is Creations' vehicle, can travel  into outer space. When you become the swan you can go places mere mortal cannot go.

Finally the swan, with its long neck is often pictures as a union of Garuda, the eagle, and Naga, the snake. The eagle and the snake are enemies, Hamsa represents the union of opposites, the union of all things.

"....Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those 
white wings
touch the shore?" Mary Oliver The Swan

Love your self, all of your self, and practice gratitude for that.

Unity. The myth of the cave and Paul Fleischman, M.D. on diversity as a unifying force.

I was listening to a Ted Talk this weekend and the speaker, an animal activist and a photographer of wildlife told a story. The amazing thing for me was that I knew this story from when I was a  Campfire Girl, maybe 9 years old. I wondered, as I listened to him, if this story was where my lifelong commitment to oneness, to making space for all creatures began ?

It goes like this: It is said that in the days past, all the animals would come together in the great cave and remove their skin. The elephants, tree frogs, lions, and monkeys all gathered deep in the earth. They would remove their fur, their scales, their hides and come together to become the same. When they saw their oneness the dance would begin. They would dance with much joy and happiness.

 It is said that one day a human made it to the cave, when he saw what the animals were doing he laughed at their foolishness.

 The animals became very embarrassed, felt great shame and ran away, never to return to the cave of unity again.

Beneath our skin all creatures are one, perhaps this is be why the first moral precepts of any spiritual tradition is ahimsa non-harming. Our human tendency to laugh at what we don’t understand, at what we fear, to scorn and dismiss relationships that which appears to threaten our ability to be more than, to dominate, or to pursue our personal dreams.

In reality though, Our community thrives because of its diversity and our planet does the same. Our individuality thrives when we can embrace our oneness.

Mysore, 2016

Mysore, 2016

 

Let’s take time to remember our sameness so we can make space for diversity.

Fertility happens in the realm of diversity. We all know about the shortsightedness of monocultures. Fields flourish when there is complexity of varied plant life, the same is true of the earth with its species and our communities as well.

One of My favorite books on Vipassana meditation is call Karma and Chaos by Paul R. Fleischman, M.D. he reminds us:

"If there is too much of one thing there is rigidity, dogma, and an imposed order that lies in the realm of dictators and religion. Too much chaos is the place of hurricanes and floods. But at the meeting place where these two worlds meet lies fertility, thriving life, possibility, like young children studying new subjects full of wonder and possibility."

 

Boredom, not what you think it is.

I desire to be bored. I yearn to build a capacity for boredom. I remember my mother always said, only boring people are bored. I think she was teaching me to make use of my time and invent things to do. Which I have done and as a result I have done very well. But now, I feel, as I imagine my life, and what I want to wake up to each morning a bit of boredom might be good?

Quotes on being bored make it seem like the very worst affliction on the planet. For example, Kierkegaard said it is the root of all evil. Bertrand Russell, in defense of boredom, reminds us that we are less bored than our ancestors but more afraid of being bored than ever. He goes on to say that we spend much of our time trying to create excitement as an antidote to the dreaded state of being bored.

This excess activity may be at the root of much of our collective and individual anxieties.

Many artists and creative thinkers ponder boredom as the very soil out of which all art arises.

Boredom is a natural state that puts us in touch with the slow boring rhythms of nature and the natural world.

Agnes Martin says if you are not bored there is no stillness and if there is no stillness there can be no inspiration.

I have to admit, boredom can be an extraordinarily frightening. It can bring up feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.

But boredom also offers its body as a soft bed. This is where I lie and watch the stars, listen to the ocean, and contemplate the inner world. The inner world consists of imagination, memory and felt sense. The inner world is where we experience our body.

Boredom helps me to set the discipline of a regular practice, whether that practice is yoga, writing, drawing or being. It provides the white piece of paper for a painting, the empty mat onto which I can step my feet, and the words that flow onto paper, all of which facilitates my process of thinking, understanding, and ultimately being in the world. ‪

 

A sketch is the best.

I made this little drawing 15 years ago. It was a placeholder for the graphic designer. It was supposed to serve as a sketch before I did the real drawing for the Charm City logo. The sketch stuck. Life is often like that for me. A sketch grabs my heart and it becomes real, not the practiced finished performance. See my article on MBG about imperfection. Life is not what I think it should be: polished, fancy and the best life ever lived. Life is fun and quick, full of impulse. It is imperfect, full of improvise and doing the best I can. I love my life, my family, and my friends. I never want to forget, not even for a minute how quickly time passes and sometimes, the quick sketch is the best.

The path is clear.

Yesterday just beneath my window a great blue heron flew by. I opened my computer and Googled it’s meaning here is what I read: “When a heron flies by it signifies and clear calm path.” Then I looked on the pier and 7 heron landed, all together. I have never witnessed a flock, their majestic shapes floating onto land, balancing on their broomstick legs. The path is clear. For some time I have wondered how will we midwife our community into the care of competent hands? How will we ensure the future for our teachers, staff, and students? As of today, all Charm City Yoga Studios are now part of the growing YogaWorks family.

Rumi reminds me, into this new life die, your way begins on the other side. We have truly loved building and owning these yoga studios and being part of the Baltimore community. We have loved seeing you on your mats every day and watching as your yoga practice has evolved. We have loved having the studios as the center our lives. We are deeply grateful to all students, teachers and staff for allowing us to be part of the beauty that is Baltimore. We can honestly say this has been the most rewarding experience in our lives. As I say good bye to my old life, I cherish my future as yoga teacher first and foremost. Chris will, after a long career relax, restore and begin his next venture. I wanted to thank YogaWorks and please join me in warmly welcoming them to Charm City!