Posts Tagged ‘enlightenment’

Moments That Change Our Life

When I say this phrase ‘moments that change our life’ I imagine we all think of an event of magnitude.  Something that anyone witnessing would immediately identify as a life-altering event.  But what if it isn’t?  What if the experience is so small, or ordinary that it virtually goes unnoticed by anyone other than oneself?  In my mind these are the big moments because the meaning is not inherent in the event but comes in the form of a personal message.

I had one of these moments when I was twenty.  I was at the home of my soon-to-be husband, Bill.  Bill’s family consisted of his parents, Betty and Howard, and his four brothers: Jimmy, Bobby, Johnny, Tommy.  Bill was the eldest.  As the new addition, I was the girl.  Bill and I had our own apartment but we were often at his parents house with the other brothers.  In this instance, we were around the dinning table when Jimmy asked John to get him something from the kitchen.  John, without hesitation, got up and retrieve whatever it was.  That’s it!  The whole story is in that moment.

What struck me was John’s action.  It wasn’t easier for him to get it, more convenient, or requiring knowledge only he had.  He just did it!  In my family we kept an emotional distance to one another.  I don’t recall us doing for one another unless it was perceived to be one’s duty, or a chore, or a response to a demand.  We did not just act because asked or, at least,  I never recall such an event.  In the world in which I grew up, acting from self interest seemed quite ordinary.

When Jim asked John I remember thinking “get it yourself”.  Perhaps that is why John’s response stuck with me.  He didn’t do what I thought everyone would do, he did the opposite – he acted without any self-interest.  He didn’t make a smart retort or an exaggerated act of compliance, he wasn’t doing it because Jim was older/bigger or he would get some future payback.  He just did it.   It was a simple act of generosity.

We live in a culture that laughs at snarky remarks, the glib put-down, the humor of aggression.  A world where the clever remark demands to be noticed; wants to know that the arrow has hit the mark.  We also live in a culture of quiet generosity, where the act of open-heartedness often goes by unseen.  Where there isn’t any intention to teach or insist on acknowledgement of virtue.

I like knowing that in any moment someone is acting from pure generosity, no strings attached.  I like that generosity is quiet and the moment often goes unnoticed.  Unless, there is someone there who is ready to benefit from being the witness, then that moment changes their life.

What moments have changed your life?


Do You Have a Yoga Butt?

I recently saw an ad for Old Navy.  The question was, “Do you have a yoga butt?”.  The answer – buy the pants and then you would.

If I take the ad as a reflection of what’s in, then I need to ask myself:  Do I have a yoga butt?  Do I want one?

Its no news to anyone that we are a culture obsessed with our appearance.  The ads that surround us testify to that fact.  Though having a yoga butt may not be my personal issue I am not immune to the wish to look good.

I can laugh at this ad but at the same time know I’m part of this culture that wants to stay youthful.  But the question arises: is that enough?  If it is, then buy the pants or do enough yoga to have the desired objective – a yoga butt.

Still the question persists and I ask: Am I missing something?  Is it enough to have an attractive body?  Is this why I practice yoga?  For me the answer is no, this is not enough.  This last week I read a short work from Rachel Naomi RemenEverything Has a Deep Dream.  You can read the full text at the end.

She says “There is a hidden seed of greater wholeness in everyone and everything.”  She encourages us to befriend life and to “uncover something that is already happening in us and around us and create conditions that enable it.

I like this reading.  She says in her few words truths that I hold dear. For me, she speaks to the deepest meaning of Yoga.

When I come to my yoga practice I am a friend to myself seeking this seed of greater wholeness.  I am coming with the intent to create the conditions for ‘what already is’ to unfold.  In moments of stillness,  I know deep in my bones that all is with me right now, there is nothing else to get.  I say this last statement not out of a hubris of self aggrandizement, but from a place I have touched occasionally that knows without thought that I am complete, fully realized, and that I could not be anything else.

Do I live in this state of awareness, enlightenment?  No.  The Tibetan Buddhist teachings tell me that complete enlightenment is my natural state, that I am already enlightened.  The fact that I don’t experience this are the veils that cloud my vision.  My “avidya”, ignorance and misperception, that fool me into thinking I’m separate, a part of the whole, not wholeness itself.  So I walk the gradual path.  I come to my yoga each day, I carry it with me, and I pick it up when I have dropped it and lost my way.

Do I want a yoga butt?  Do I want enlightenment? Absolutely, I want it all (I’m a baby boomer)!  The joke is, if I’m ever in the experience of enlightenment, there won’t be a Linda to know if she has a yoga butt.

Everything Has a Deep Dream

I’ve spent many years learning
how to fix life, only to discover
at the end of the day
that life is not broken.

There is a hidden seed of greater wholeness
in everyone and everything.
We serve life best
when we water it and befriend it.
When we listen before we act.

In befriending life,
we do not make things happen
according to our own design.
We uncover something that is already happening
in us and around us and
create conditions that enable it.

Everything is moving toward its place of wholeness,
always struggling against odds.

Everything has a deep dream of itself and its fulfillment.

Rachel Naomi Remen

Keep Dancing

Heritage of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:  2.5  Ignorance (avidya) is misperceiving permanence in transience, purity in impurity, pleasure (sukha) in suffering (dukkha), an essential self (atma) where there is no self.

What is the perfect pose, the perfect instruction, the perfect practice?  Where am I going with my yoga practice, what am I getting, who am I pleasing?  In my old age what will I have?   So easy to get lost, to forget the clarity of a moment, to fix an experience, become bored with routine.  Dukkha

A spiritual teacher of mine once told me that our happiest moments often hold the greatest suffering because we refuse to see their essential impermanence.  Avidya

It is wonderful to feel strong, be flexible, to have health and vitality, to move one’s body into extraordinary positions.  Sukha Yet the question arises like the song of Peggy Lee’s:

“Is that all there is, is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing”.

The song has notes of despair but it is also possible to hold that idea as a way of working till I live in the direct experience of enlightenment.  Where I don’t see permanence in transience, purity in impurity, pleasure in suffering, an essential self  where there is no self.  So if I am not to fall hopelessly into the mire this sutra speaks of, what does it mean in the context of yoga to keep dancing?  Could I hold dancing as the gradual path?

I experience the joy of a yoga pose.  I love the feeling of my heart center in Trikonasana, the stretch over my back hip and the reach of my top collar bone and arm.  I like how grounded I feel in Downward Dog, the texture of the mat under my hands and feet.  There is power in the Warrior poses and sweet surrender in Uttanasana.  I can do Handstands until my arms will no longer hold me.  Head back, chest open in Ustrasana or snug as a bug in Child’s pose.  I like to hear and feel my spine adjust in Jathara Parivartanasana and sit in the quiet of Gomukhasan legs.

There are lots of poses I don’t care for.  The ones where my body flounders and my mind finds little rest.  But some I have come to like as we have become better acquainted.  Is this dancing?

I like the moments of connection, when insight connects disparate experiences into a whole as vast as space.  For a moment there is direct perception.  An instruction I thought I understood gains a depth I hadn’t experienced before and I think, “Oh, that’s what they meant?”  Or something I read revels a profound insight.  These moments of clarity are fleeting.  Soon I fix them with my thoughts and they evaporate into a memory.  Is this dancing?

I am never tired of my yoga practice.  It does not bore me or seem of little value.  I am always learning something.  If not about my own practice directly then something new about my students which in the end informs my own study.  It is so wonderful to see another’s body and communicate in such a way that they share the perception.  For a moment our eyes join and the veils of separation lift.  I experience love in these moments and hold such gratitude for my students.  Is this dancing?

Patanjali speaks of the pitfalls, the subtleties of ignorance.  When I think I’m clever, or my practice is about accomplishment, when I think I am teaching and feel separate from my students, I am in the state of ignorance.  The shades of this ignorance are vast.  Occasionally I wake for a moment, but in general, I work within ranges of distorted perception.  But in the moments of lucidity when the veils lift I experience the freedom Patanjali speaks of.  I believe it is these moments which inform my experience, let me know what is possible, and keep me dancing.

Hatha Yoga and Enlightenment

Heritage of Yoga

Shakyamuni Buddha: From my perspective, what does it mean to be enlightened or awakened?  Do I want to be enlightened?  Do I think it is possible to achieve enlightenment through the practice of Hatha Yoga?

Enlightenment is the direct experience of one’s true nature and the true nature of all phenomena.  It is the sustained state in which one has the direct experience of the emptiness of mind.  That is, that mind can be experienced but has no fixed characteristics (e.g., location, shape, color, etc.).  It is the direct knowing that our true nature is consciousness which includes perception and experience.

In the state of enlightenment all one’s thoughts and deeds benefit all sentient beings.  One is the state of grace.  It is said that the Buddha had non-referential compassion.  Having transcended duality there was no I, no other; all his actions and words were the expression of enlightenment.  When one is fully awakened there is nothing outside of this awakened state.

Do I want to be enlightened?  I sincerely wish to benefit all sentient beings.  I hold this as an aspiration and the wish to accomplish this as the blessing and fulfillment of my precious human existence.  I value that in this life I have the potential and opportunity to realize my true nature.  I’m not sure I have the intensity of practice to accomplish realization.  There have been moments when my aspiration has been strong.  Years where I have spent hours a day in formal practice.  Formal practice being the time where I hold my awareness in the structured teachings of my spiritual path.  At this time in my life I carry my daily life as my practice.  I do not fool myself by thinking this is enough to bring enlightenment.  I sincerely wish that at some point I will resume a formal practice, for I believe that one needs both.

When I ask myself is it possible to attain enlightenment through the practice of Hatha Yoga alone I must first ask the question: Is Hatha Yoga separate from the whole of the Eight Limbs of Yoga?  The myth of the gradual path is that each step is separate.  Yet my own experience of yoga has shown me that at any moment all limbs are present.  The limitation is our perception of separation.  If we don’t bring the larger teachings of the Buddha or the Yoga Sutras to our asana practice then Hatha Yoga is not sufficient to accomplish a sustained state of enlightenment.

In my yoga practice I develop insight into my habitual patterns, a steadiness of mind, an inner peace, an experience of transcendence.  But how does this arise?  It may be argued that enlightenment may come in any circumstance.  I agree.  Nothing occurs outside of this moment, but there are many moments that surround this one.

If I return to my yoga practice to validate my understanding, I need look no further than the moment I finally pushed up into Urdhva Danurasana after many years of failed attempts. Though I did this one day without any warm-up or daily practice leading in this direction I cannot separate it from all the other things I had been doing:  opening tight joints, releasing held trauma, building strength, hearing the wise instructions of my teachers, and in the end, letting go of the accomplishment itself.

When I practice Hatha Yoga I bring the wealth of all my practice to bear.  If one doesn’t have a spiritual practice isn’t this an insight into why many see yoga as a good workout?  For those who have a foundation in spiritual awareness, yoga practice includes the bounty of our spiritual merit, the truth of our spiritual teachings, the blessings of our teachers, the support and practice of our community and our unflagging aspiration to travel the path and bring it to fruition.  Even the hermit of the Upanishads was not without support (tradition & acceptance by the community) in his search and accomplishment of awakening.

There is a quote from Trungpa Rinpoche that I love, “We all want to witness our own enlightenment.”

Just as it is ignorance to believe we can hold to our separateness and awaken, it is delusion to believe there is realization in Hatha Yoga separate from all our lifetimes of spiritual practice.