Friday, November 1, 2013


As we prepare to gather with friends and family for Thanksgiving at the end of this month, I wanted to offer some reflection on gratitude, and how it fits into the yogic worldview. 

With regard to gratitude, there are two Sanskrit words that are found in classical yoga, Aparigraha and Santosha, which are two of the ten fundamental commitments essential to the yogic lifestyle. These “ten commandments” are observances and restraints that serve as the ethical and moral foundation for yoga practice, and they are integral components of the 8-limbed path that Patanjali prescribed in the Yoga Sutras, over 2000 years ago.

Santosha means contentment. It is a willingness to accept what life brings with a sense of equanimity, gratitude and joy. It involves developing the ability to move through life’s vicissitudes as witness to it all, rather than being emotionally caught in the waves.  Through the eyes of unconditional love, we see joy and struggle, pain and pleasure, gain and loss without losing our sense of balance.  Santosha involves a deep trust in Spirit’s love, knowing that all that happens is somehow for our highest good and that we lack nothing.

 Aparigraha is the flip side of that same coin--it means non-possessiveness, non-coveting., non-greediness, or phrased in a more affirmative way, "acknowledging abundance." It’s about being happy with what you already have. In this consumer- driven culture that continually screams  “Bigger!  Better! More!”, abundance is a frame of mind that must be mindfully and perseveringly cultivated.

Practicing wanting what you have, rather than succumbing to the incessant desire to have what you want, encourages us to live simply, for our own spiritual health and for the health of the planet.

Santosha and Aparigraha naturally feed into one another. When one practices the restraint of non-possessiveness, contentment is a natural result. When one engages in practices that strengthen contentment, then desire, jealousy and a sense of lack naturally fall away.

Implicit in this practice is generosity—when we realize that we have more than enough of what we need, giving and sharing with others flows with ease.

But, what if one is living in real poverty, unable to meet their most basic needs for nourishment, shelter, and health? Practicing contentment and non-possessiveness is not about minimizing the awareness of true poverty, or about glorifying suffering.  Instead, yoga values cultivating a lifestyle of inward and outward simplicity, which involves becoming clear about true needs versus wants.

The practices of Santosha and Aparigraha do not mean that we should not work to improve our conditions or to create more abundance in our lives. But we can begin with a sense of acceptance of what is, and of what karmic influences brought us to where we are now. We can practice gratitude regardless of our circumstances, noticing what we have been blessed with and where there already is abundance and grace. It is from that spiritual vantage point that we ask Spirit to guide us toward our next right actions.

If you would like to explore the practices of contentment and non-possessiveness more deeply, I invite you to read my previous blog posts on Santosha and Aparigraha.

May your mind and heart be filled with gratitude and ease, so that each and every day is for you a celebration of Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bare Your Sole

Before you read any further, I invite you to watch this very thought-provoking 5 minute video by anatomy expert and yoga Instructor Leslie Kaminoff:

Ever since I was a young child, I have been wearing some sort of arch support in both my shoes.  I was so flat-footed as a little girl that the man at the Stride-Rite shoe store would put a little lift in my shoe (called a "cookie") to keep my foot from pronating (ankle turning inward due to no natural arch). But then I got to be a teen, and being hip became more important than comfort. I kicked off my supportive shoes, and as I went through my rebellious hippie phase, I wandered barefoot on the concrete sidewalks of Manhattan. it's no wonder that at about age 19, I began to experience chronic pain in my knees, as my pronated feet pulled the rest of the joints in my leg out of alignment.

Eventually--after hobbling into my twenties--a chiropractor fitted me for orthotics, which realigned my leg and took the torque out of my joints. I wore those devices faithfully and found some relief.

Fast forward several decades, and I found myself in yoga teacher training at Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA. We were barefoot for at least six hours daily, either doing postures on the mat or walking through large spaces where shoes weren't allowed.

At first I felt a recurrence of that old familiar joint pain, as my bare feet collapsed inward. I wondered how I was going to make it through the rest of the training. But about two weeks into the program, I noticed that my arches were getting stronger, as I practiced consciously using those muscles that had atrophied over the years.

In Tadasana (the mountain pose), and in any standing postures, we engage the arches of the feet. We pull them upward, as if we were drawing life energy up from the earth and inviting it to come streaming into our bodies to enliven us. Doing this over time strengthens the arch, which in my body had become weak due to reliance on orthotics.

Our feet are amazing structures of Nature's design. They contain 52 bones, 66 joints, 40 muscles, and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons, and ligaments--collectively forming two of the body's most beautifully efficient mechanisms.

Feet are excellent at collecting information. All those neurological receptors send valuable information to the brain to tell your body where it is in space and what the terrain is like. Actively stimulating these receptors improves balance, increases circulation, and enhances overall foot health.

My time practicing on my mat--or even better, outdoors on the grass--gives my feet an opportunity to remember what they were designed to do by nature--to feel the direct connection with Mother Earth, and experience all the variances, irregularities and textures of the natural ground.

It's interesting to note that in this shoe-oriented culture where we've come to associate the phrase "just do it" with Nike shoes, barefoot running is now becoming an increasingly popular fitness craze. Vibram's FiveFingers shoes (which I am not endorsing but am simply curious about) are a bold alternative to the highly-cushioned running shoes that have become the convention in the athletic world. 

To be honest, I haven't completely weaned myself of using arch supports. I do wear them when I walk and run, and even around the house on my hardwood floors. But I do notice that when I'm on my mat, my yoga practice has cultivated so much more awareness of my feet, ankles and knees. I feel great gratitude for all the many miles they've carried me, and all the hours of energetic dancing they've endured.

"Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."
~Kahlil Gibran


Monday, September 2, 2013

Syncing Up

The following article was sourced from blog entries by writers and yoga teachers Scott Lewicki and Danny Arguetty, with a little bit of editing from me:

First, check out this video.  If you don’t have a clue what this has to do what this all has to do with yoga, read on…

A grid of metronomes all start with different timings, creating a cacaphony of rhythms, then ever so slowly (over a period of about two minutes) become synchronized, beating together almost like magic. The ultimate process of bringing all of these oscillators into synchronization is called entrainment.

Entrainment describes a phenomenon whereby two rhythmic processes interact with each other in such a way that they adjust towards and eventually “lock in” to a common periodicity. The physics behind this is well-known and is not particularly mysterious or complex. In fact, it was first identified by the Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens in 1665.

Entrainment shows up everywhere, in mechanical and biological systems of every scale: from galaxies and stars to quantum particles; from the ecology of the planet earth to the firings of neurons in living creatures.

We experience entrainment directly in our lives constantly, though sometimes it might not be obvious or even conscious to us. Sometimes it might come about unintentionally. Sometimes entrainment can be easily and scientifically measured. Or, entrainment can show up in systems that have too many variables and are too complex to be measured.

Entrainment also has profound metaphoric implications for life, the connections that individual humans make to each other—whether in society, community or pairs—or to the environments and systems around us.

That’s what gives this simple video its power—there’s a kind of gestalt. At some level each of us recognizes this.

Entrainment shows up in the lives of everyday people and everyday yogis in many ways: scientific and metaphoric, conscious and subconscious, intentional and unintentional, simple and complex.

Another place to experience the energy of a group is in a yoga asana class.

Each person is moving and taking poses in time with the breath individually (like the individual metronomes), but the group dynamic is obvious. Each student is inspired and affected by all of the other students in the class. Often, there is an experience of going deeper into the asanas physically, energetically and spiritually that is shared by the group as a whole.

It goes to show that we are more interconnected than we might think. Everything we think, feel, say, and do has impact and the power of the collective–whether that be in the micro of your body or the macro of individual people coming together–is potent.

In Yoga we create this type of harmonious fluid orchestration as we synch  body, breath, mind/attention. When these three line up we often have moments of insight, ease, sweetness, and a feeling of belonging. 

The pulse and rhythm of life is often challenging to access in the hectic stressed out modern world. 

Yoga and other contemplative practices can support us to sync back up with the intelligence of life. 

Not only do we entrain with one another as share sadhana (spiritual practice) together, but yoga, meditation, and other contemplative practices can support us to sync back up with the intelligence of life, with the essential Divine energy that orchestrates the great rhythm of the universe.

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” ~ Herman Melville

There are hundreds of thousands of stems linking us to everything in the cosmos, supporting us and makinit possible for us to be. Do you see the link between you and me? If you are not there, I am not here "  ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Declaration of Interdependence

This is 4th of July, and today all of America celebrates Independence Day.  I have been thinking about the idea of independence, juxtaposed with the notion of interdependence. I wanted to explore the difference between them, and to reflect upon the spiritual significance of interdependence.

Now, I don’t want to minimize the importance of independence, and the significance of this day in our nation’s history. In the social and political realm, and in the world of economics, independence is essential to the quality of life. Autonomy is a basic human need.

We need to be able to make our own choices about how we live our lives, on the personal level as well as how we govern ourselves as a nation. I’m very grateful that we are no longer a colony owned by another nation.  I’m grateful for my personal independence, that I can choose what kind of work I do, the people  I associate with, who I marry, my freedom of movement, of speech, of religion.

The concept of independence is inextricably linked with social equality and freedom. The most famous statement from the Declaration of Independence has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language"[2] and "the most potent and consequential words in American history:"

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

So, on a socioeconomic and political level, independence is an essential key to our well being, to the “pursuit of happiness.”

In the spiritual realm, however, independence is an illusion. To the Buddhist mind, for example, the concept of independence doesn’t even exist. I will explore that in a moment.

I first want to share the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from a sermon he gave on Christmas day in 1967:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can't leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that's handed to you by a Pacific Islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that's given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that's poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that's poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you're desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that's poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that's given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Now, back to Buddhism. There’s a principle known as Dependent Co-Arising, also called Dependent  Origination. It’s seen in Buddhism as one of the basic laws of reality.  The Buddha described it by saying:

When there is this, that is.
With the arising of this, that arises.
When this is not, neither is that.
With the cessation of this, that ceases.

So what does all that mean? It means that everything relies on everything else in order to manifest. 

When we look at a wooden table, we think that the origination, or the cause, of the table is the carpenter who made it.  Maybe we also think of the tree that is the source of the wood. But we often think very simplistically about the causes of things. The causes of the table are actually infinite.

If we look more deeply, we can see that there had to be certain conditions that came together, all in perfect timing, in order for the table to manifest: there had to be nails, screws, certain tools, wood, time and space.

Okay, that may be obvious.

But there also had to be the carpenter’s mother and father, and their parents and grandparents, spanning back countless generations to the beginning of time. There had to be food grown to nourish him (or her). There had to be medicine, shelter, clothing, over many years in order to sustain the life of the carpenter. There had to be someone to train him in his work—and for each person who trained him, who fed him, who supplied the materials, there also needed to be all those things, all that support, and all those infinite generations of ancestors. 

So, the entire universe had to come together to produce this simple table.

When we look at a flower we see the same thing. The gardener is only one of the causes. There must be the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the rain, the compost, the seed, and many, many other conditions. If you look deeply, you will see that the whole cosmos came together to help the flower to manifest.

If we continue to look deeply, we see that a cause is at the same time an effect. The gardener is one of the causes that has helped to manifest the flower, but the gardener is also an effect. She has manifested because of other causes: ancestors, father, mother, teacher, job, society, food, medicine and shelter. Just like the carpenter, the gardener is both a cause and an effect.

This is true for everything—every phenomenon in the universe. There is nothing that we can call “pure cause”—every cause is at the same time an effect.

So the crux of this teaching is that nothing can exist by itself alone. It has to depend on every other thing. This is what Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh calls interbeing.  There is no being—there is only interbeing.

When we look at the flower, we can see that the flower is made of non-flower elements: Sun, rain, soil, insects and animals that are part of the ecosystem, etc. We can describe the flower as being full of everything—there is nothing that is not present in the flower. If we were to remove one element from this interconnected web of causality, the flower would not manifest--it would not exist.  So we can say that the flower inter-is with everything else.

So how does this relate to us and how we live in the world?

Everything we do ripples outward in all directions, sometimes further than we can ever imagine. 
Everything we do impinges on all beings. What we buy, the choices we make as consumers, what we throw away and how we dispose of the things we use…The way we parent our children, the way we use speech, how well we listen to one another.

Native American Spirituality teaches us to ask ourselves: Are we thinking about the effect of our choices and actions on those who will inhabit the planet seven generations from now?  Since everything we do has an impact, either positive or negative, how does that call us to be more conscious in everything we do?

These teachings offers us a vision of life or an understanding in which we see the way everything is interconnected—that there is nothing separate, nothing stands alone.
We don't have to invent or construct our connections. They already exist. We already inseparably belong to each other, for this is the nature of life.

Among All Beings

We hold these truths to be self-evident:
·       That all life is interconnected, and endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and responsibilities,
·       That among these are presence, compassion, and the pursuit of happiness.
That to secure these rights and responsibilities,
·       We open our minds and hearts to the needs of others, and our own true needs,
·        We hear the sound of the living universe in our ears, and add our voices to the song,
·       We live every moment with awareness of the purity and power of existence.
And for the support of this Declaration, we pledge to each other our love and our breath,
·       For the freedom of the one is the freedom of the all, and the pain of the one is the pain of the all;
·       The breath of the one is the breath of the all, and the breath of the all is the breath of God.

Melanie Bacon

Friday, May 17, 2013

Coming Home to Your Yoga

Having a home yoga practice, whether it be first thing in the morning, a break for transitioning out of your work day, or a delicious way to wind down before sleep, is an essential tool for our well-being as yogis.  Home practice helps us to stay connected to our yoga in between classes, and it sustains us during  those times when group classes don’t fit into our schedule or budget.

One student recently asked me for some suggestions for audio recordings for guided yoga at home.  I did a little research and compiled the list of resources below.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but there is plenty there to get you started.

Some thoughts on yoga videos: While DVDs can be very useful,  offering  us helpful visual cues for proper alignment, and providing inspiration as we watch master teachers move with grace, they are not always practical or desirable. Many of us spend way too many hours plugged into our computers, iPads, and televisions.  Our yoga practice is an opportunity for a respite from staring at a screen.  If you desire a guided practice at home, an audio recording might be just the ticket for you to unplug, and perhaps bring your mat outdoors to enjoy the fresh air, or light some candles indoors and enjoy a time of sanctuary from all your visual devices.

But what if you don’t have time each day to follow a guided routine that may be up to an hour and a half in length? While using media for practice can be immensely helpful ,  developing a self-guided Sadhana (spiritual practice) is a way of meeting our individual needs and cultivating tapas--loving self-discipline and motivation, or inner fire. To learn more about the yogic observance of tapas, click here.

A home practice session does not need to be as long as a class, although it’s wonderful if you can take 75-90 minutes  for your Sadhana. You can enjoy much benefit from a half-hour, and once you find the groove of your routine, it will be something you will crave, like a half-hour date with your Beloved.

So what can you do in that precious half hour? Below is a suggestion for how to divide up the time. If possible, use a timer with a soft sound to gently ease you into the next phase. I use the timer on my ipod with the harp setting, which is a lovely, non-jarring sound.

30-Minute Sadhana
3 minutes centering and deep breathing, setting intention, and or prayer
17 minutes asana
3 minutes savasana (or some restorative pose)
7 minutes pranayama and meditation

Feel free to tweak this to meet your own needs, which may vary from day to day.  If you are feeling tired and stressed and want to do a longer relaxation, it’s fine to shorten some of the other segments. If you have a lot of nervous energy, you might benefit from a longer, more vigorous asana flow (note: sometimes  it is most beneficial to do the opposite of what your body says—engaging in a few minutes of power vinyasa can be very effective in shaking off sluggishness;  a series of long-held restorative postures can nourish your yin when you are feeling excessively yang). Part of yoga practice is learning to tune in and listen to the shifting and changing energies in your body and mind. 

Exactly what you do during that half-hour is not really as important as consistency--developing a regular, committed practice. In other words, do it every day, or three times a week, or whatever you have set as a reasonable expectation for yourself.  The” 7-5-4” rule is a helpful guideline that my coach shared with me: if you can do it 7 days a week, that’s awesome. If you can do 5 days, that’s really great, and 4 times a week meets your minimum requirement. So, aim for 7 and be satisfied with 4. And, if life deals you a wild card that makes it so you can’t practice for a whole week, serve yourself a healthy dose of self-love and forgiveness. You are human.

Home Practice Resources:

Yoga Journal website: Here you will find ideas for sequencing, detailed descriptions of poses, and downloadable videos.
Kripalu Shop: Peruse their catalog for a wide selection of  instructional audio cds, DVDs with master teachers, and music  to support your home practice.
YogiTunes:  A fabulous resource for yoga music. They have both a download store as well as a subscription service, where you can get playlists of fresh remixes by master DJs that specialize in music that has just the right vibe for yoga.
Podcasts: Need a little yoga fix in the middle of a busy day? Check out these "Yoga Break" mini podcasts from the faculty at Kripalu Center. These 5-minute podcasts are free to download, and are a wonderful way to gently refresh and revitalize yourself anytime during your day. Yoga Journal also has a series of podcasts, offered in both audio and video versions, that are 20-30 minutes in length and available for free through iTunes.

Finally, I’ll close with a mantra that honors our own inner teacher, which is That which we show up for on the mat each day. May your sadhana be enjoyable and fruitful.

Gurur Brahma
Gurur Vishnur
Gurur Devo Maheshvara
Gurur sakshat
Param Brahma
Tasmai Sri
Gurave  namaha

The Guru is Bramha (the creator)
The Guru is Vishnu (the Sustainer)
The Guru is Shiva (the Transformer)
The Guru is truly the Supreme Absolute
To that Guru I bow

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Hello Dear Friends,

I am so excited to announce that the promo video for my band, ONE LOVE, is finally finished and up on YouTube for your viewing pleasure! It's been six months of gathering footage and editing, distilling it down to four and a half minutes, and we are delighted with the result. One of the reasons we like it so much is that so many of our friends (that would be YOU!) are featured in this sampler of our music and testimonials from participants. We think it beautifully encapsulates the ONE LOVE experience, and gives the viewer a sense of the power of ecstatic chant. Please check it out and let us know what you think!

Many thanks to all of you who shared your enthusastic voices and hearts with us on this project, and to Moving Box Studios for their expert production. Please help us make it go viral by sharing it with your friends, neighbors, your bank teller, your grandmother--and especially those you know who appreciate kirtan and might like to host us for an event. Enjoy!

Stay tuned for another video, still in the final editing stage, which will showcase our Body Bliss yoga classes with live improvisational music. I'll post that one as soon as it's ready.

Monday, March 25, 2013

In Class with the Infinite

At the beginning of March I attended a weekend workshop with Erich Schiffmann, Internationally renowned yoga teacher and “star” of the 1994 video  Yoga Mind & Body­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ with Allie McGraw.

At first glance, Erich Schiffmann does not look like a typical master yogi, with a chiseled body and intense gaze. Instead,, he looks like a big teddy bear, with long curly locks that frame his soft face. But listening to him speak for even just a few minutes, his wisdom and spiritual depth become clear. 

Although he teaches regular classes at his studio in Venice, CA,  his focus has become less about postures and more about living yoga through learning to tune in to Spirit’s wisdom and grace. When one becomes adept at doing this, asana practice becomes an expression of the Infinite Mind.

This practice, which Erich calls Freedom Style Yoga,  is very much akin to Kripalu’s practice of Meditation in Motion—listening to where prana wants to flow and following that.

The following is a distillation of the notes I took while attending the recent program at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires.  More of Erich’s teachings can be found at .

Yoga is more than something we do for an hour or so at the gym, a couple of days per week. Yoga is a lifestyle.  But the “yoga lifestyle” does not require one to wear Lululemon clothes, become vegetarian, and stand on your head every morning.  It is more about a commitment, day after day, to be aware of “Big Mind.”

The Sanskrit word yoga means to “yoke” or “join.” What we are doing when we practice yoga is joining, or yoking, small mind to Big Mind.  Erich likens this to plugging into the internet--we can use our minds, our intention and focus, to “get online.”   

Small mind, however, is so often full of static and distraction. The practice of meditation (which is one of the central practices of yoga) helps us to learn to think less and listen more, so the “download from Big Mind can come through. “

Erich says that the main reason to meditate is that it allows us to “slide into a feeling of peace.”  He teaches that there are three ways to practice meditation:

1)Sitting quietly. He suggests a few minutes every morning and evening.

2) Doing asana practice. Let your posture flow be a meditation-in-motion. Structured practice should eventually flower as intuitive practice. Once we know where to put our feet and how to align our hips and spine, etc, this focus on alignment can then blossom and become alive. We can move beyond “Simon Says” to an experience of channeling the poses, guided from an inner knowing.

3) The Rest of the Time (which is most of the time!). We can practice meditation while we are cooking, shopping, driving (eyes open, of course!), and in all of our daily activities. What this means is that, throughout the day, we practice thinking less and listening more, so we can “get online.” Erich emphasizes that if we are listening and aware, we are online all the time. We are connected if we are conscious.

With regard to pranayama (breathing) practice, Erich teaches a very simple, basic technique:  just  breathe in like you are inhaling the fragrance of a rose. He says that there is no need to do anything fancy. But be aware that it’s not just air you are breathing—it’s Life Force. He invites us to let that Life Force tell us what to do, rather than manipulating it.

The repetition of mantras is a practice that can help still the mind. You can use any traditional mantra that calls to you, or make one up that feels appropriate.

When mantra works, eventually it will dissolve. When any discipline works, ultimately the form dissolves, and the energy of the practice takes over. Erich calls this the “flowering” of one’s practice. This is true for asana, mantra, meditation, or any other discipline. We first focus on the mechanics of the practice, and then we let it flower. We hone our instrument and our skill set, and then we open ourselves up to become a channel for the spirit of the practice to come through.  In this way, we may find ourselves inventing new poses, just as the original yogis did.

When we first start a yoga practice, many of us prefer having a teacher guide us. We come to class and listen carefully to every move the instructor guides us to do, focusing on proper alignment and getting it “right.”

Erich emphasizes that such training is important.  Get good at it—isolate specific movements and become deeply attuned to what is happening in the body. Then, let it flower as intuitive practice. Our training should culminate in letting the energy dictate the flow.  So we begin with structure, which eventually dissolves and blossoms into a more organic, free-form movement with heightened sensitivity.

“Advanced” yoga means learning to trust yourself.  “Knowing flows in…then trust yourself to do what you need. Dare to do as you are guided to do.” Through meditation, we get better at paying attention to this guidance.

When we practice on our own and begin to allow ourselves to be guided from within, it’s a good idea to bring a pen and paper to our practice space. Erich also suggests a tape recorder, or even a video camera, to capture the cool patterns and original sequences that will be channeled through us. “You’re in class with the Infinite. Take notes!”

With all that said, Erich says that asana practice is “highly overrated. Being more bendy doesn’t make you enlightened.”  The essence of yoga is about life—about learning to be “tuned in.”

One of the ways we can practice tuning in and developing this intuitive power is to pay attention to how we make decisions, however small.  Erich says, “Whenever you have a choice or decision to make, slow down and tune in. Don’t make up your mind right away. First, pause, ‘get online’ and ask for guidance.

Whenever you find yourself having to make a decision about something, it means that you are not clear. If you were totally clear, then there would be no decision process—you would just intuitively know and act accordingly. But when you are faced with a choice, then there is a momentary lack of clarity.”

So, tuning into guidance is the practice of listening and waiting until we are completely clear. At that point, it is no longer a choice. It’s a clear direction—“the choiceless choice.” But Erich stresses that “we don’t make up our own mind—we ‘get online’ and ‘google’ the answer.”  Googling is Erich’s quirky and endearing way of describing prayer, or downloading God’s guidance with regard to each situation.

Getting online and googling is something we must begin to practice with the relatively easy decisions in our day-to-day life. Do I put on the blue or red shirt? Eggs or cereal? Bowling or a movie? Pause, ask the question, and then follow the choice that “glows.” Think less, listen more. Use your thinking to listen more.

When you get “online,” you begin to connect with the Awakened Ones who are already online (It’s kind of like a chat room with the great sages—Jesus, the Buddha, and all the great saints and boddhisattvas.  Our spiritual practice is about staying online and connected with these great beings and asking for help.

Three things to practice every day:

   Relax. Practice relaxing all day long. Become aware of the current tension level in your being, and then use the power of your exhale to allow it to diminish. Awareness and breath is a powerful way to release tension.

  Practice Love More. Begin with things that are easy  and natural for you to love, and love them more than you normally would. Pet the cat with more conscious affection. Savor your food. You will start getting wowed by the “asanas of life” more. Then, when you are not being loving, you will notice the contrast more easily.

“Love” is the willingness to recognize that which is real and true. Therefore, “I love you.” means “I am willing to recognize that which is True about you (your Divine Nature).” Be willing!

 Trust Your Insights. Learn to trust your deepest impulses about what to do. This becomes easier to do when you are relaxed. Don’t worry about explaining your choices to others.

Erich also spoke about the meaning of the word “God.” The dictionary definition of “God” is “Supreme Being.” Now, if we think of this Supreme Being as a noun, that creates an anthropomorphized image of God, and implies duality and separateness. I am here, a lowly human, and God is up there in the sky and has dominion over me.

But if we think of Supreme Being as a verb, then wow!—it becomes a way of being in the world that is accessible to and inclusive of everyone.  We can cultivate Supreme Being as a way of moving through our lives, cultivating exquisite presence and an open heart.

Each of us is a finite expression of the Infinite. The great Totality is temporarily showing up as you. You only exist because the Totality exists as you. 

When you feel the loving goodness inside yourself as yourself - as who or what you really are, you will acquire new self-appreciation. You will realize there is no basis for being self-critical or self-condemnatory, or for harboring guilt for some known or unknown transgression in the past, and that you have done this until now simply because you have accepted as true certain erroneous ideas about yourself. It's obvious to you now that when you wipe the slate clean and take a look at yourself for yourself, when you experience yourself as you actually are, you encounter a very different you from the "you" you thought you were. It now makes sense to disbelieve what was never true and embrace the new self-appraisal. You are You; God's specific Self-Expression.    ~from Moving Into Stillness, by Erich Schiffmann.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Dance with the Beloved

There was a 16th century Indian saint by the name of Tulsidas, who, when he was first married, was so in love and passionate toward his bride that he had to be by her side all the time. He was so infatuated with this beautiful woman that he couldn’t be without her for even a few hours. One day she decided to visit her parents in another town. She had not been gone more than a few hours before Tulsidas found himself not being able to stand being without her. Before the day was over he showed up at his wife's parent's home.

At this point, his beloved turned to him and said, “You know,Tulsidas, if you were to take all this passion and devotion that you feel toward me and turn it toward God, you’d be enlightened in no time.”

He thought about this, and something began to shift in him. He began to take her advice, practicing turning his heart toward the Divine, and it is said that he became one of the greatest bhakti yogis (one who practices the yoga of devotion).

It has been said that relationship is the hardest kind of yoga. Yoga means "union,", and there are many different kinds, beyond what we typically think of as yoga—there’s Bhakti Yoga (the practice of love and devotion), Karma Yoga (the yoga of selfless service), Raja Yoga (the eight-limbed path that emphasizes states of meditation), just to name a few. These are all seen as paths to union with the Divine.

Many say that union with God through loving another person (in any kind of relationship) is the most difficult of all paths.  Stories have been told about devoted spiritual seekers who go to live in monasteries for several years. They become very masterful at sitting with themselves. They achieve great states of concentration and bliss. They experience great insights, expanded awareness, and deep peace. Then, when it’s time to re-enter society, they go home to their family of origin, and it all goes out the window at the dinner table.

Meditation teachers joke that if you really want to test how spiritually evolved you are, go home to be with your family for the weekend.

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps
the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the
last test and proof, the work for which all other work
is but preparation.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

The challenge we face as humans is that we have this heart that seeks union, but we also have this ego that wants to protect, defend, hold on to its separateness. Through the workings of the ego, we blame, go victim, are overcome with jealousy, attempt to dominate and control, compare ourselves and our loved ones to everybody else, and on and on.

The heart, however, our wellspring of True Love, wants to surrender, to lose its separateness, to merge. It is spacious and open and soft, whereas the ego is hard and contractive.

The greatest longing that we have in this life is known as the "Great Desire," it is the longing for union with the Beloved, with that presence that is the Source of all Love. Our own beloved, our partner, becomes a vessel into which this Love is poured, a channel through which God’s love flows.

The most conscious love relationships are ones in which both partners are “triangulating with God.”  Spirit becomes the focal and guiding point in the relationship.  The love then becomes less about your own individual desires and needs, and more about the big picture. Something Loves through you. Something that is bigger than both of you is loving through you.  And the purpose of the relationship is to lift one another’s hearts up to God, rather than the satisfaction of your desires and my desires.

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now,  says that “The purpose of relationship is not to make you happy, but to wake you up.”

So what about this experience of falling in love? Ram Dass has a wonderful way of describing what really happens when we fall in love. He explains that we go through our lives like hungry ghosts, insatiable, needing and wanting to be filled up with love. There’s a sense of desperation for that feeling, and we feel deprived when we don’t have a partner. When we do feel adored by another person, we get so high from it that we can get hooked on that kind of attention --so it is very much like an addiction.

It’s as if the love inside of us is all locked up, and we are like these human locks walking around looking for a key.  Then, one day we find the person who acts as our key, and boom! We say that we’re in love. And that feeling of being in love makes us feel expansive,as if we’re walking on air. Colors look brighter, we feel fully alive and joyful. The experience of loving someone cracks us right open.

But where we get confused is that we say “I think I’m in love with him or with her” rather than "I think I’m in love." Where we get fooled is that we believe we’re in love with the other person, but what’s really happened is that that person has become the key that has unlocked the vast reservoir of love that is our own true nature. It was in us all along.

So, said rather unromantically, “I love you” means: “You are the key stimulus that is opening me to the place in myself where I am love, which I can’t get to except through you.”

Now whether we touch into that vast ocean of love within us through a romantic partner, through meditation, through a guru, or taking psychedelic drugs, we get addicted to the method that got us there. We want to hold on to that state so badly, because this person or substance has worked to tune us to the place in ourselves that is the Awareness of Love. So we end up becoming very addicted to the vehicle. So, if it is another person that has opened us up to this love, we get very attached to being in the presence of that other person, and then starts the fear, possessiveness, jealousy, “I can’t live without you” “don’t ever leave me”, and all those other states of mind and behavior that are really not love at all (just listen to pop songs on the radio--it's all there!). We create a hell realm around the addiction to the vehicle for coming to love.

In other words, we get so caught in the relationship that we can’t ever arrive at the essence of dwelling in Love.

The mind has veiled the heart from its boundless merging with everything else in the universe. And when we fall in love with somebody, that veil is lifted, at least temporarily, and we come back into the place in ourselves where we feel whole and complete and expansive.

In a spiritually-based relationship, we move from the place of “I Love You” to “We are In Love together.” We are meeting in the space of love. Once we can unhook from seeing the other person as the vehicle to get us there, then we realize that this is something arising from within us, and the neediness and desperation around being in relationship starts to dissolve.  We can move beyond needful relationship to partnership as celebration. Loving is happening through us.

What about those of us who are single? Not being partnered, whether by choice or not, provides us with an opportunity to practice being one’s own beloved, to practice dipping into that wellspring within. If loneliness arises, it can be a great gift that turns one's heart toward Spirit. The great Sufi poet Hafiz has written:

Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender,
My need of God absolutely clear. 
So we have this Longing, this Great Desire, for union with Spirit, and essentially all other desires we have are sublimations of this Great Desire. Even the desire for a loving relationship is our longing for God. Because when we do connect with another human being at the heart level, where we feel completely and fully loved and understood and cherished, it is for many of us the closest we get to God in our lifetimes. There are other avenues, but a loving partnership is for many of us the access point, the portal, to that experience of oneness with God, of God loving us completely. And the challenge we face is learning how to sustain that experience of being in Love in our journey through all the pitfalls of the egoic mind the landscape of the personality, and to eventually come to see this love as originating in ourselves.

Once we can see Loving as originating within us, and happening through us, then we can see Love everywhere, and anything can become the stimulus. The curve of a branch covered with new fallen snow. A fragrant blossom, the song of a bird, a trickling stream… our own breath moving in and out…

If we see all of that as God’s love for us, then everything we do becomes a dance with the Beloved.


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