Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Letting the Sunrise and Ocean Instruct - Myrtle Beach, SC, Dec 23, 2011

I have always loved the ocean, I suppose in part because my family spent their annual vacation there throughout my childhood.  I loved being in the water, letting the waves carry me to shore and plunging back out again. I could play for hours on end; what delight!  My parents now live on the coast and I am often only back for the holidays, and I find each year I’m drawn more and more to the solitude of the beach in the winter time. This year we had an unexpected invitation to spend some time in Myrtle Beach, SC, away from everyone’s regular schedules and holiday busy-ness. Very grateful for the slowed pace of this interstitial time, I was able to enjoy a few walks on the beach, finally waking early enough to see the sun rise on my last morning there.  Amazing how forty-five minutes can be so incredibly full.  Following are some observations from the morning; I’m sure I could ponder them for the whole of next year and not be done.

    •     I was out on the shore just as light was first beginning to show, the waters were still dark. The morning was quite cloudy, with just one strip of clear sky in which to see the changing light.  It was magnificent to watch each moment pass offering something different, the colors in the sky and the reflection of the light off the ocean waters. In every moment, a great gift is being offered, a seam or gateway into a revelation that can change us forever, and this gift changes, moment to moment.  Am I attuned enough to apprehend what is being offered and present enough to receive it?  Each moment is so precious, so gorgeous, I don’t want to miss a moment of it.

    •    This slow attendance to the changing of the light was a quintessential experience of purna, or perfection and completeness. Each view was spectacular and then the next one even better.  Having thought I’d “seen it all”, I turned toward home facing a much darker sky.  At some point I got the urge to turn and look back once more, only to realize that the view had become even more magnificent.  I saw the first touch of the sun appear ringing the clouds below in gold.  I then stood there transfixed for another ten minutes or so as I watched the sun make its way through the clear patch of sky into the next layer of clouds.  The perfect becoming more perfect. This urge to turn around, to look again, was for me such a clear moment of what we call grace, “anugraha” , that which grabs hold of you, that which reveals to you what was hidden in plain sight.
    •    And how is it that I was so fortunate to be a part of this experience?  Because I woke early, I set my intention to be up in the early morning light, I set my feet in the place where it would be possible to see such a thing.  It wasn’t easy!  I had stayed up with my family late the night before and could have easily slept through it all, but I was committed to take advantage of what the last day of this place out of time might offer.  It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth the effort.  Because I had stepped with intention and attention into the moment, I became capable of receiving the grace that was pouring forth.
    •    It is interesting to me that what makes the sunrise and sunset so beautiful is just the right amount of clouds in the sky.  It is the contrast of light and dark, of clarity and opacity, that weaves together the stunningly beautiful tapestry of all the brilliant colors. 
    •    People often say that being in the grandeur of nature like this, oceans or mountains or canyons or limitless sky, makes them feel small.  That’s not the way I see it; it’s humbling for sure, but not because I feel small and insignificant, but because I somehow feel so much bigger, knowing that the same creative energy that is shining the sun and moving the tides is forming and reforming my body and breathing me into life in each moment, and is actually looking through my eyes to see another aspect of itself.  Yoga teaches us that the only way any of us has the capacity to recognize such splendor is because we ourselves are splendid.
    •    And there, amidst the changing light, was the constancy of the ocean, as steady as the breath.  Stillness in movement and movement which contains such constancy.  I could learn this lesson for years.
And here is a favorite poem of mine from one who is an expert in allowing nature to be her teacher.

Why I Wake Early -- Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Engaged, or Just Busy?

One of the things I often say in my yoga classes is that I’m only ever talking to myself, instructing my students on what it is I need to learn.  Sure glad they’re there!  So, true to form, my last blog entry was about slowing down and turning inward during this season, making these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas a sacred time by paying attention.  Mere days later, I was rushing out the door on a Sunday morning (supposedly my day off) to hear one of my teachers, Douglas Brooks, even saying to my husband, “I’m trying to do too much at once.”  I’m walking towards the door of the studio right at the start time, walking and texting at the same time, taking care of one last piece of business, when the notoriously untrustworthy sidewalks of New Orleans rose up to make sure I was indeed paying attention.  I twisted my ankle fiercely, so fiercely that after listening to Douglas for a few hours, I still needed to cancel the rest of my appointments for the day…remember that day off? 

In one crystalline moment of Douglas’s lecture, he was talking, as he often does, about how yoga is an invitation to engage our lives purposefully and skillfully.  He made the statement, ”It’s easy to be busy; it’s hard to be engaged.” Convicted.   

So I’ve been circling around those few words for a couple of weeks now asking myself how to tell the difference. How can I know in any given moment if I’m engaged or just merely busy?  I mean many of us have lives in which it is important that we get things done, move projects forward, take care of family, and the list goes on.  Indeed, this teaching came forward in the midst of a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita in which one of the primary messages is to act. I am realizing, though, that so much of what I “have to do” is distraction from that which truly deserves my attention and engagement.  What I’ve come to, at least for now, is that in busy-ness, my mind is disconnected from the body and the breath.  Often we have so much skittering around in the mind while the body is doing its thing, whether working out or running errands or just sitting there. Air sign that I am, I tend to be very mental and also very much in love with my own ideas (thankfully, a great gift of yoga is that most of the time they’re uplifting ones!), I can go huge periods of time without any idea that I’m in a body and breathing.   

The genius of the yoga asana practice is that it is a very effective way for bringing the three all to the same place and time, though it doesn’t necessarily happen that way.  We can still bring all of our disembodied and distracted habits to the mat if we insist, but that’s another great benefit of the practice, that it reveals to you the ways you are and aren’t with yourself.  If however, we come to the practice with intention and attention, then true engagement follows. What I so love about Anusara yoga particularly is that the body is seen as sacred, equal in glory to the mind, the breath, the heart, and seeks very deliberately to bring all into harmonious engagement. The slower pace and precise alignment give me the time to move the light of awareness through the entire body and feel very present and engaged there.  When my mind, body, and breath are together, I find that my actions seem all at once slower, more deliberate, and yet more efficient and sure.  I am better able to ascertain what actually needs doing, what my heart is longing to do, what will move me towards freeom, and what is mere distraction.  Come to think of it, it’s after these contemplations and practices of the type described below, that this blog moved from lots of ideas skittering around in my head for years into a more grounded and concrete form.  Finally, I’ve engaged this particular calling of my heart, and it is freeing indeed! The world needs your attention, intention, and engagement much more than it needs your busy-ness; it needs you to spend your time and attention on what really matters to you.  In the next cycle, what one distraction can you drop to make space for true engagement? 

(For the Anusara yogis reading this, a great practice to move you from busy to engaged is to focus on the lower body loops, moving the mind into the densest form of consciousness in the legs.  Feel how your energy flies up and out of the body when you move from engaging the lower body loops to hyper-extended knees. Keep the loops going and root into fronts of heels as you move from tadasana to uttanasana and back. Utkatasana, Garudasana – really ground down into feet to stand up, Handstand with Garudasana legs.  Stay low in the lunges, especially during transitions, try moving from Warrior I to Warrior II and back again staying deeply committed in the front leg.  Also, notice any tendencies of unnecessary movement and adjusting. Let me know what you think!) 

Right now, I am keeping a much more sane pace while spending some time at the beach.  The ocean is a great teacher on this topic and many more. More on that later!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the Season

This is my favorite time of year.  I love the cloak of the early-descending darkness which invites a turning inward as nature is moving into a state of dormancy where so much is happening under the surface.  In the Christian calendar, the Sunday after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the season of Advent.  While I no longer practice in this tradition, this time of preparing the way for the Light that comes in the midst of darkness resonates strongly with me.  For me it is a time to look back at the year gone by, to take an accounting, so to speak, of all of the blessings, challenges, opportunities (often all rolled into one) that I have experienced, to give thanks for it all, to clear out the residue, and to make space for what will unfold in the year to come. Interestingly in our culture, we have turned this time into a very external and distracted time, with shopping and parties and lots of time spent with family and friends. For many, the busy-ness, the weight of obligation, or perhaps painful circumstances past or present, make this time anything but joyful and peaceful.  We run at breakneck speed through the next weeks and breathe a sigh of relief when it is all over, and then we resolve to do things differently next year. 

The invitation of our yoga is to make our meaning, to turn what is being presented in each moment, whether mundane, challenging, or glorious, into something sacred – something worthy of reverence and respect, highly valued and important. How each of us does this is our choice entirely, but we start by paying attention, and by paying attention to what we are paying our attention to. Simply paying attention slows us down and turns us towards a place of quietude. What can you do to make this season sacred and meaningful for you?  One of the ways that I do this is to extend the season of thanks giving by writing and sending a note of gratitude each day to someone who has supported, inspired, or challenged me in the previous year. You might decide to be more intentional about the gatherings you attend or the shopping you do, purposefully choosing how you spend your time so you can be more fully present. Maybe making time to be in nature more, paying your attention to the way the light is changing now, will help you slow down and prepare for a fresh start and new growth.  Maybe you take time to look people in the eye as you shop and exchange gifts so you don’t miss the greatest gift of all, that of presence. Maybe you read inspirational words each day or commit to even a short daily yoga, meditation, pranayama or mantra practice. Maybe you simply pay your attention to your breath, to your incredible aliveness, for five minutes each day.  Maybe you let go of old resentments and make peace with your past so you move into the new year freed of the residue from years gone by.  So many choices!  When we use our attention and intention to turn each moment into a sacred moment, then we prepare the way for that which is sacred, unassailable, inviolable, and light within us to shine more brightly.  How will you pay your attention during these days?