January 20, 2019: Welcome to a New Year and New Season of Monday Night Class…

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JANUARY 14. 2019 MONDAY NIGHT CLASS

I so love the above quote from David Whyte. I think he says it so beautifully. There is simply no good reason for us to keep company with anything or anyone that does not bring us alive, with anything or anyone that tries to keep us small.

Choose your greatness…

Here are audio clips and readings from the first class of this new year.

Here’s opening chanting of Om Tara Tuttare Ture Swaha.

Here’s the opening dharana and my dharma talk.

Here’s chanting of Vakratunda II and the Surya Bija Mantra. These are fine for people who want to chant along, but the album tracks are way better for listening. You can find VakII on Sound Cloud and the Surya Bija mantra track is on our Sun Mantras album.

Here are this week’s readings.

TAO TE CHING

32.
The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.

YOGA-SUTRA

1.1 Atha yoganushasanan  (Now, the study of Yoga.)
1.2 Yogah chitta vritti nirodhaha  (Yoga is the stilling of the thought waves in the mind.)
1.3 Tada drashtu svarupe avasthanam  (Then we rest in our essential nature.)

 

Here are the words to Vakratunda II.

vakratunda mahakāya
suryakoti samaprabha
nirvighnam kuru me deva
sarva kāryeśu sarvada

om gang ganapataye namaha

 

As always, the final word goes to Mary Oliver. Particularly poignant this week…

SUNRISE
Mary Oliver
 
You can
die for it —
and idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

 

 

In Loving Memory of Mary Oliver

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As I’m sure most everyone reading this knows, Mary Oliver left this world two days ago. And the world feels somehow different without her. Lonely.

I keep thinking about the way she looked and in her looking, saw so deeply.

She looked. She saw. She took in. She made communion, over and over again.

Who will look the way she did? Who will see the way she saw. We have lost a beloved poet-seer of our time. We have lost one of the great ones.

I never got to meet Mary Oliver. I did buy her books. Lots of them. And am thinking I must now buy the ones I don’t already own. I don’t have shelf space for them. But it seems the best tribute I can make.

She leaves the finest footprint on this earth, zillions of fans who love her and a trail of words, 37 books if I count correctly, imbued with such truth and beauty. Keats would approve. If there’s a poet’s heaven, they are no doubt sitting together, laughing…

Especially at her nose-in-the-air critics who call her poems too simple. Oh please. I read her poetry over and over and every time, discover something new. If her poems are too simple, let us have more and more of that simplicity.

She was a master.

I celebrate her life and grieve her death. She is gone just a couple of days and already so missed. The trees and the swans and the toads and the frogs. The songbirds and the fish and the deer. The dogs and the roses. The blueberries. The goldenrod. The light. Of everything and everyone she sang, to everything and everyone she sang.

I keep thinking of her final breath. I imagine her lying there, gazing at this world she loved so much, breathing it in one last time and smiling, as she slipped from the form of her body and merged into that ineffable spaciousness, that vibrant luminosity she somehow managed to gather and hold in her poems…

 

Messenger
-Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird – 
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

10.8.18 Monday Night Class: “Speak only that which is kind, true, necessary, and at the appropriate time…”

Blue Waves

10.8.18. THE DHARMA OF SPEECH. SPEAK ONLY THAT WHICH IS KIND, TRUE, NECESSARY, AND AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME.

I’m still getting over a very bad cold so will keep this post brief. This week’s class centered around one of my favorite teachings, The Dharma of Speech. And went on from there to encompass the beautiful Tara mantra, om tara tuttare ture swaha; a verse from Mary Oliver’s astonishing riff on the 145th Psalm; a particularly luminous verse from the Tao Te Ching; and a story from Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. While at its root this story is the antithesis of the dharma of speech, still, it makes a fun complement to our contemplation…

Here’s the opening dharana on Tara:

 

Here’s my dharma talk:

 

 

And here are the readings:

Tao Te Ching, Verse 21

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her radiance. 

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

*  *  *

On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate(Psalm 145)
Mary Oliver

7.
I know a man of such
mildness and kindness it is trying to
change my life. He does not
preach, teach, but simply is. It is
astonishing, for he is Christ’s ambassador
truly, by rule and act. But, more,

he is kind with the sort of kindness that shines
out, but is resolute, not fooled. He has
eaten the dark hours and could also, I think,
soldier for God, riding out
under the storm clouds, against the world’s pride and unkindness,
with both unassailable sweetness, and consoling word.

published in Devotions, p. 137.

 *  *  *

from The 48 Laws of Power, by Robert Greene

Down on his luck, the screenwriter Michael Arlen went to New York in 1944. To drown his sorrows he paid a visit to the famous restaurant “21.” In the lobby, he ran into Sam Goldwyn, who offered the somewhat impractical advice that he should buy racehorses. At the bar, Arlen met Louis B. Mayer, an old acquaintance, who asked him what were his plans for the future. “I was just talking to Sam Goldwyn…” began Arlen. “How much did he offer you?” interrupted Mayer. “Not enough,” he replied evasively. “Would you take fifteen thousand for thirty weeks?” asked Mayer. No hesitation this time, “Yes,” said Arlen.   [p. 32]

September 17, Monday Night Class: It’s Never Too Late to Become What You Might Have Been

After weeks of brutal heat and humidity, the rains and cool weather have come. Reminding me that nothing, NOTHING, is forever. And while everyone tells me I don’t look or seem my 70 years, the reality is, I’m standing on seven decades. I now know in my bones what I only knew in my mind even just a few years ago. Every moment is a blessing and a gift. Cherish it…

Class has resumed after a long summer break. And what a joy to be back in the Monday Night groove. Driving to class I was listening to an All Things Considered interview with Sally Fields who cites the quote (attributed to George Eliot) with which I’ve titled this post.  It’s never too late to become what you might have been…

Yes.
This is the truth.

Here’s this week’s dharma talk and reading from David Whyte’s book of essays, Consolations.

This passage from David Whyte perfectly articulates my feelings about the essence of what class, in fact, what all of my work is about…

…the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

Here’s audio of class chanting. With apologies for recording quality. Daniel was at class so listen for his amazing tabla…

The Mangalam 

Gayatri and Om Namah Shivaya Mantras

July 22, 2018, Back Home in Princeton…

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I came down to my office a couple of weeks ago. It was early morning and I needed to get something. Once down here, I thought I’d check the AC filter. I was expecting dust and cat hair. What I found was a small handful of ants. A bit of a shock but nothing I couldn’t handle. I took the whole mess outside, sent them on their way, and slipped the filter back into place. Or tried to. Except I couldn’t get it back in. And since I’d turned the unit off before pulling out the filter, and since it was already hot and humid outside, the room was heating up.

It was only then, so intent had I been on the filter, that I noticed the real problem. A huge stream of ants was pouring in through a tiny opening at the seam where the window meets the wall. Hundreds of ants, winged and wingless, invading my now sweltering office.

I raced upstairs, grabbed the vacuum, brought it down, plugged it in, and began my attack. It was brutal. I was brutal. It was overwhelming. I was overwhelmed. And those ants kept coming. At a certain point, I had a moment of pure terror.

And that was when it hit me. I realized that what I was feeling was not so different from what people opposed to immigration feel. My border was breached and I was desperate to protect it.  That was the moment my heart opened.

Which is not to say  I’ve changed my position on immigration, refugee crises, and open borders. I have not. Closed borders make no sense to me. I’m as engaged as I can be in the fight to right what I believe is a terrible wrong. But those ants showed me I’m not so different from those “others” I tend to vilify. We may profoundly disagree. But I am damned if I’m going to let my heart close down. The ants taught me that.

There is no great moral to this story. I tell it to bear witness to my determination to stay open to people with whom I disagree. It’s really that simple. If I’ve learned one thing in seven decades of life, it’s that staying open is actually much safer than shutting down. And a whole lot more interesting.

I’ve been catching up on Krista Tippett’s On Being podcasts this week. If you’d like some excellent soul medicine for staying open, I highly recommend her conversation with Luis Alberto Urrea. Click here to listen.

 

A French Interlude, Part 3

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May 23 – June 5, Haut de Cagnes

This most recent trip to France was the first time I’ve returned to Europe in 50 years. I was last there in the summer of 1968. We travelled for a couple of months, driving from London to Rome and back up to Denmark and Sweden. I still remember key moments from that trip. But the one that’s haunted me ever since was my experience at the Foundation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence. I was twenty years old with no sense of who or what I was. But walking through the sculpture gardens there I felt a profound sense of self-recognition. It was years before I fully understood this experience. Which was an awakening of my artist mystic self. It was so powerful however, I never forgot the place or the way it felt inside me.

And this is the memory — what we’ve taken to calling my “through the stones” moment, that was the inspiration for this most recent journey. If you’re wondering if I felt the same mystical sense of aesthetic rapture in 2018, the answer is “Yes and perhaps even more.” If you’re wondering why it took so long to return, well, that’s a question for another time…

We decided to spend our first week in Paris because really, how can one go to France for the first time in half a century and not go to la Ville Lumière — and to then head south and spend two weeks in Provence. Ideally in a medieval village halfway between St. Paul and the Côte d’Azur. Which is how we ended up in Haut de Cagnes, a place neither of us had ever heard of. And hats off again to Coby, my amazing daughter who discovered this place so many artists call home, it’s been nicknamed the Montmartre of the Côte d’Azur. Talk about perfection…

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There is something exquisite about living in a medieval village. I think this has partly to do with the abundance of stones. One has the sense they’ve seen everything. Not just seen it. Sheltered it. Supported it. Protected it. Haut de Cagnes dates back to 1340. So  those stones have some stories to tell…

IMG_3691.JPGIMG_3686.JPGOne of my favorite activities was wandering around the village. I loved walking down to the market in the morning. Even loved walking back up the hill. Which was so steep that  depending on how full my basket was, required two or three rest stops. How great though, to sit for a moment to catch my breath and gaze at the Mediterranean. And then come home for le petit dejeuner and feast on warm croissants with butter and jam, apricots, peaches, and comte, the ubiquitous cheese of Provence. OMG. I never eat this way in the States. I’m allergic to wheat and have lactose intolerance… In France, we ate croissants in the morning, cheese and baguettes in the afternoon and evening. And I always felt great. Vive la France...IMG_3792

The doors in Paris blew me away. They are stunningly majestic. Clearly I am not the only person to think so. Check out Raquel Puig’s book, Doorways of Paris. She also has an Instagram account.

The doors in Haut de Cagnes are built on more of a human scale. Which makes them very welcoming. Even when they’re closed.

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On one of my first walks down to the market I discovered Modigliani’s house and garden. Just a few doors down from where we were staying. It’s not clear in this photo but if you peek through the arch and over the trees, that’s the Mediterranean off in the distance. I loved walking by this dreamscape every day and breathing in the creative magic still alive there…IMG_3632.JPG

Another thing about living in a medieval village is the sense of timelessness. There’ such a strong connection to the past. I mean really, it’s right there. Right here. Ancient past and immediate present have merged into one. Which has a very softening effect I think on that ego-driven sense of our own importance. Life comes into a much truer perspective I think in a place like this. I can only speak for myself but for me, there was such a comforting sense of my infinitesimal place in the great matrix of time and space.

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A French Interlude, Part 2.

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May 23, Paris – Nice – Haut de Cagnes

People talk about the haughty French, especially Parisians. This was so not our experience. Even Olivier, the meet and greet guy at our apartment warmed up after his initial disdain. My cousin Lorin (who manages this apartment for his in-laws) had warned us — Olivier is very punctual and has a very French way of being (this is a way of saying that he behaves somewhat like he’s annoyed all the time). Nevertheless, he will meet you at the apartment at a pre-established time, give you the keys, show you around, and reluctantly answer your questions — so we were appropriately zipped up and met his Parisian attitude with our own 😉

That first day in Paris we were in an “I simply cannot believe I am here” state.” Coby’s sixteen years of studying French 2nd grade through college came back within moments of landing at CDG. I’m in awe of her facility with this language. When I don’t understand someone or can’t communicate what I want or need, I just point to ma fille and she takes over.

Once Olivier had departed and we were all settled into the apartment, we went down to the street in search of le petit dejeuner. And right downstairs, among a plethora of boulangerie, was one with a line snaking into the street. Baguette and croissant perfection. A designed in heaven pear pistachio tarte. And a smoked salmon, creme fraiche, and cucumber sandwich to die for.

Although I have a great appreciation for food, I’m nowhere near foodie status. And  have realized on this trip that I am not an adventurous eater. In other words, I pass on organ meats, sweetbreads, rabbit, lamb, foie gras, and pigeon; am not a huge fan of goat cheese, even when it’s really really fresh; or truffles; or for that matter, caviar or cassoulet. That still leaves an abundance of plenty and walking through the markets here (les marchés) is like entering heaven.

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Every French market we visited was a feast for the senses and medicine for the soul.  So satisfying to walk through stalls laden with fruits and veggies, eggs, fish, cheeses, breads, meats, desserts, spices, dried fruits, nuts, flowers, on and on it goes. And to buy directly from another human being so there’s that moment of exchange between two people. It’s quite intimate really. Very different than shopping in the supermarket. There’s that sense of community, of camaraderie. Of we’re all in this together.

People generally thought I was British, not American. At the Bastille Market the day after Harry and Meghan’s wedding, every shopkeeper I spoke offered congratulations on the joyous event…

Here I am at the flower market in Nice. In all my years of buying and arranging flowers, these were possibly the freshest and most aromatic roses I’ve ever encountered. We walked all around Nice carrying that huge bouquet. Stopped for lunch, then a 40-minute bus ride back to Cagnes-sur-Mer, 15 minute shuttle up the hill in Haut de Cagnes, and the final walk from the shuttle stop to our house. I was concerned that so much walking and riding in the afternoon sun would take a toll on our roses. That they’d be wilted and sad when we finally got them home. Au contraire. These were, after all, French roses. They had attitude. They had joie de vivre. They had shakti!

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Late lunch in Nice and a glass of shimmering rosé.  I tried to drink a glass of rosé every day. Didn’t quite make it but came close. It really was like drinking sunlight. Then I came across this quote attributed to Galileo. Yes!!!

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”
                                                            -Galileo 

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