Sunday, November 29, 2015

    Had someone had told me in early June, that by September I’d have sold my house and moved to an in-town apartment, I would have said, “No way.” Yet here I sit, marveling at the change that brought me here and reveling in the perfection of the timing and lightening of my load.
     One of the many wonders of this stunningly unanticipated shift has been watching my cat Lily adjust to her new home. Lily is ten years old and a creature of profound and sedentary habit. In the language of Yoga we would say she is kapha on steroids, tamasic to the nth degree.  I knew the change would be traumatic for her, but was unprepared for the extent. She spent her first three weeks here hiding under my bed. By the end of the first month, she was slowly emerging. By week six, she’d finally found her groove.
     That’s when I noticed the transformation. And transformation is not a word I associate with cats. Nevertheless, as Lily embraced her new surroundings, she regained that marvelous feline curiosity and a new bounce in her gait. Her eyes looked brighter. Her coat had more shine. Her sedentary habits had slipped away.
     Watching Lily’s transformation was such a confirmation of the yogic impulse to push through limitation. All those narratives, conscious and hidden, that diminish our sense of Self. Physical pain, fears, belief systems, psycho/emotional wounding, habitual patterns, the list of stifling possibilities goes on and on. And as we’ve all experienced so many times, every time we push through these holding patterns, we get bigger. We taste our infinite possibility. We become more of who we actually are. I’ve always known this is true of humans. I had no idea it is also true of cats…
   IMG_2437
    While these individual acts of reclamation may not be enough to transform the toxic narratives that threaten our 21st century world, I think each one adds a drop to the ocean of wisdom, the ocean of light. And one of these days or years or eons from now, that ocean will devour the terrible darkness that knows only how to cause harm.
     For now, we can only do what we can do. Some are called to the front lines. Others work in the unseen corners. But wherever we may be, we can always shift out of stuck patterns. Any small act will do. It can be as simple as saying “yes” if our default is “no,” or “no,” if our default is “yes.” The key is in pushing through our comfort zones. Be they physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. We’ve all had the experience ten thousand times. Every time we move past those self-imposed fences, something wonderful opens up inside.
     I recently fell in love with a new poem from Mary Oliver. She sings this truth so beautifully. If you receive my eNewsletters, you have it in the Thanksgiving blast. If you do not, enjoy…..

Storage
Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room 
for. What does one do? I rented a storage 
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single 
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared 
about grew fewer, but were more 
important. So one day I undid the lock 
and called the trash man. He took
everything.
I felt like the little donkey when 
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful 
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own 
nothing–the reason they can fly.

from Felicity, Penguin Books, 2015. Click here to order a copy. 

 

July 7, 2015: Poems and Readings from Recent Classes

Those who follow this blog are well aware of my (sadly) infrequent posting. Never for lack of caring; only for lack of time. Five years ago when I began this blog, the idea was to create a collecting place for readings I bring to class. In the spirit of that simplicity, I offer a handful of readings from recent weeks. Two poems by Andrew Colliver (with apologies in advance for any WordPress template formatting changes over which I have no control) and a Nasruddin story.  Enjoy…

Come
Andrew Colliver

Every day I am astonished by
how little I know, and discouraged,
 obedient as I am to the demand to
know more — always more.

But then there is the slow seep
of light from the day,
and I look to the west where
the hills are darkening,

setting their shoulders to the night,
and the sky peppered with pillows
of mist, their bellies burnt
by the furnace of the sun.

And it is then that I notice
the invitation didn’t say, Come
armed with knowledge and a loud voice.
It only said, Come.

The Further You Go
-Andrew Colliver

Mercy, there have been revelations.
Grace, there has been realization. Still, you must
travel the path of time and circumstance.

The further you go, the more it comes back to paying
   attention.
The rough skin of the tallowwood, the trade routes of
   lorikeets, a sky lifting
behind afternoon clouds. Staying close to the texture of
   things.

People can go before you and talk all they want,
but only one thing makes sense: the way the world enters
and finds it voice in you: the place you are free.

This is one of my favorite Nasruddin stories. They all tell it like it is but this one is infused with a blush of the heart I find especially appealing…

Nasrudin and the Gardener
-from Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield’s Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart

Mulla Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. But when they came up, his garden was filled not just with his chosen flowers but also overrun by dandelions. He sought advice from gardeners all over and tried every method known to get rid of them, but to no avail.
Finally he walked all the way to the capital to speak to the royal gardener at the sheik’s palace. The wise old man had counseled many gardeners before and suggested a variety of remedies to expel the dandelions but Mulla had tried them all. They sat together in silence for some time and finally the gardener looked at Nasrudin and said, “Well, then I suggest you learn to love them.”

* * * * *

I learned of Andrew Colliver through poet, anthologist, and webmaster Ivan Granger. Ivan’s online poetry portal, Poetry Chaikhana is an incredible resource for sacred poetry. If you’d like to visit (and see more of Andrew Colliver’s sublime poetry) here’s a link: The Poetry Chaikhana Blog

Monday, July 6, 2015: What We Say is Way Less Important Than What We Are…

We’re currently in a cycle of teachings that constellate around a very important piece of inner work: the balancing act of creativity – how we express ourselves to ourselves and in the world — and compassion – how we interact within ourselves and in the larger world. When these two aspects are out of balance, we open ourselves to all kinds of not so great mental/emotional states. Creativity not held in compassion can be crippling while compassion not held in creativity can be devouring. When they work together however, we can truly live in Beauty…

Along with the exploration/contemplation of Creativity and Compassion, I’ve been adding a parallel immersion of mantras of the sun ….This has been a very rich and profoundly integrative cycle of teachings and practice. I will most likely gather these talks into a small book to be offered as a companion piece to our new album, Volume II of The Mantra Project. This album was initially inspired by the surya namaskar mantras and has now expanded to include all mantras of the sun. We’re looking at a late fall release.

In the meantime, I want to begin posting dharma talks from this time.

Here’s my dharma talk from June 8, which this blog post is titled after:

Here is my talk from June 1:

And here is the introductory talk I gave back in April that introduced this cycle of teachings to Monday Night Class.

There are many poems and other readings from this time that I will post here over the coming weeks. Slowly making progress in that endeavor. For now, please enjoy these talks.

March 10, 2015: Poems for the Inner Journey

Spring arrives Friday, March 20th at 6:45 PM EDT. And while the light has been returning since the solstice turn, there is something about the equinox, not to mention daylight savings time, that makes it all seem more, how can I say, official. Not that the cosmic movements need any official validation from us mere mortals….

Nevertheless, to honor the light and it’s lengthening return, we’ve been chanting myriad rounds of gayatri-mantra each week. For those visitors to this blog who do not actually attend class — and also for those who do not own the version of gayatri we recorded on our 2014 music release, Daughter of the Mountain, I’m including that as a small gift…

I’m posting poems I read at the last two classes.  These carry the essence of my talks. Sit with them and let them take you where they do. Audio clips of my dharma talks and class chanting will follow soon. For now, please enjoy what’s here.

Here’s the version of gayatri-mantra we created for Daughter of the Mountain. If you’re looking for a more traditional vedic style, scroll around this blog where you’ll find any number of clips from class chanting.

 

Here are poems from March 3 Monday Night Class. The theme for the evening was patience. This first poem is from Mary Oliver’s new collection, Blue Horses.

 

Such Silence
Mary Oliver
 
As deep as I ever went into the forest
I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,
And around it a clearing, and beyond that
Trees taller and older than I had ever seen.
 
Such silence!
It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed
all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.
So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.
 
Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.
What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots
Than reason.
I hope everyone knows that.
 
I saw on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.
 
No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

 

The second poem is from Mother of the Universe, Lex Hixon’s ecstatic versions of Ramprasad.

 

Beat the Great Drum of Fearlessness
Ramprasad/Lex Hixon
 
O longing mind,
focus all your longing on Mother Kali.
You will receive pure love and liberating knowledge
tangibly as fruits placed on the palm of the hand.
Release any lingering pride of personal power
and merge your entire being with her.
This is the worship that disappoints Death.
 
Please heed the call of Mother Reality!
Inwardly repeat Kali’s transforming name
and discover the fountain of illumination
where the thirst of her lovers is quenched,
their very being immersed in her being.
 
Infused by Goddess Wisdom,
this poet proclaims with adamantine conviction:
“Sisters and brothers, release your root obsession,
your greed, anger, pride, jealousy.
There are only forms of fear.
beat the great drum of fearlessness
and reach the final goal,
awakening as pure consciousness.”

 

The theme of March 9 Monday Night Class was something like: “get over yourself, drop the stories, drop the ego’s identification, and simply embrace what is…” And who better to express that then the great Hafiz. These three poems are from Daniel Landinsky’s The Gift.

 

Stop Being So Religious
Hafiz
 
What
Do sad people have in
Common?
 
It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
 
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
Worship.
 
What is the beginning of
Happiness?
 
It is to stop being
So religious
 
Like
 
That.

 

Crooked Deals
Hafiz
 
There is
A madman inside of you
Who is always running for office—
Why vote him in,
For he never keeps the accounts straight.
He gets all kinds of crooked deals
Happening all over town
That will just give you a big headache
And glue to your kisser
A gigantic
Confused
Frown.

 

The Idiot’s Warehouse
Hafiz
 
 
I know the idiot’s warehouse
Is always full.
 
I know each of us
Could run back and forth from there
All day long
 
And show everyone our vast collection.
 
Though tonight, Hafiz,
Retire from the madness for an hour,
 
Gather with some loyal friends
Or sit alone
 
And
Sing beautiful songs
 
To God.

October 13, 2014: Unveil the Self-Radiant Diamond of Your Essence

We’re moving into a cycle of wisdom teachings of the Devi tradition, expressed so beautifully in Lex Hixon’s version of this poem from Ramprasad:

 

Unveil the self-radiant diamond of your essence
Ramprasad/Hixon
 

O distracted mind,

why are you indulging in anxiety?
Be still for just the space of Kali, Kali, Kali
and concentrate your gaze on her reality.
Those who worship the Goddess with splendid ceremony
become imbued with pride.
Much better is the inward path of secret devotion,
invisible to the curious state of the world.

Why construct static images of Mother Reality
from metal, stone, straw, clay?
Allow pure mind to compose her form
from consciousness alone.
Place this living image on the heart lotys
and wait for her to come.

Why bother to gather ripe plantains
to present with ritual gestures at her feet?
She delights only in the nectar of selfless love,
offered directly and abundantly,
breath by breath.

Why worship with such profusion of jewels and lamps?
Unveil the self-radiant diamond of your essence,
O mind, and allow it alone to illuminate
the heart’s secret shrine day and night.

What sense is there to sacrifice animals
as worship of Goddess Kali,
when she desires only the death of egocentricity?
Cut through these childish dreams of separation
with her sword of nondual wisdom,
crying: “Victory to Kali! Jai Ma Kali!
May your truth of oneness triumph endlessly!”

The singer of this hymn has no need for flute or drum
but calls ecstatically to everyone:
“Clap your hands and proclaim melodiously
Ma Kali’s universal victory,
until the mind dissolves completely
into her inconceivable reality.”

The poem says it so exquisitely:

“Until the mind dissolves completely into her inconceivable reality” — i.e., the self-radiant diamond of our essential nature…

And that my friends is the path and the goal. Experiencing that, knowing that, moving into that…. That’s the practice. That’s why we practice. That, quite simply, is it.  Or as Keats put it, “that is all we need to know…”

 

* * * * * * *

Here’s the opening chant from last week’s class. I’ve been personally obsessing with this version of Durga, Durga, Durga. I posted words and free translation on last week’s post. Here they are again:

Durga Durga Durga, Jai Jai Ma
Karuna Sagari Ma
Kali Kapalini Ma Jagododharini Ma
Jai Jagadambe Jai Jai Ma

Glory to the Ocean of Knowledge, Compassion, and Truth that carries me across the ocean of the world.

Think of the ocean of the world as the sense of limitation and separateness that wreaks havoc in the ways we conduct ourselves in our inner and outer lives…  (aka “O distracted mind, why are you indulging in anxiety…’)

 

Here’s my 10.6 Dharma Talk. This clip also contains class chanting of Hymn to Devi and my reading of  the Ramprasad poem:

 

Finally, here’s class chanting of Navarna mantra and closing dharana:

Monday, October 6, 2014: “Beauty is Truth, Truth beauty…that is all ye need to know.”

Class has resumed after a long summer break and we’re moving into a cycle of wisdom teachings on and of the Goddess.

I’ve talked about the Goddess for so many years, images of, mythology of, paths of, mantras of, wisdom of, on and on it goes. And nothing against any of this. But at the end of the day, it is so not about personified forms. Lovely as the images can be, lovely as the stories, that is all dust. The only thing that matters is our inner experience, that inner flash of light we experience as insight, inspiration, clarity, truth — and perhaps, most of all, love…

If the goddess is anything, it is this, the inner pulsation that not only gives life, but charges that life with wisdom, meaning, purpose, possibility, and once again, love. We need to find this inside ourselves as ourselves. Only then can we really know it, nourish it, reflect it, recognize it, and once again, love it…

I don’t know if Keats was thinking of the Goddess when he wrote Ode on a Grecian Urn.  Nevertheless, his ending couplet, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” could be a bumper sticker for goddess wisdom. More on this over the coming weeks.

For now, audio clips from 9.29 Monday Night Class.

Here’s the opening chant (and words to), Durga, Durga, Durga, Jai Jai Ma:

Durga Durga Durga, Jai Jai Ma
Karuna Sagari Ma
Kali Kapalini Ma Jagododharini Ma
Jai Jagadambe Jai Jai Ma

Glory to the Ocean of Knowledge, Compassion, and Truth that carries me across the ocean of the world.

Here’s my dharma talk which runs around twelve minutes:

Finally, we chanted the Hymn to Devi from Chapter 5 of Devi Mahatmyam as a prelude to chanting Om Namah Shivaya before moving into silent meditation. This audio clip contains these two chanting segments plus a dharana on ONS in the context of goddess practice:

July 14, 2014, Vijnana Bhairava III, Part 1: A Crash Course in Couples’ Communication

My last post focused on the way the introductory verses of this text celebrate the dialogue between that within us that asks the question and that within us that knows the answer. Another teaching we can glean from this text comes when we pay attention to the way Devi speaks to Bhairava. I spoke about this at length in my dharma talk on June 9. And while I titled this post “A Crash Course in Couple’s Communication,” the lessons apply across the board.

So much of our interaction with other people happens in a way I will call out of time. Out of the present moment. Out of the possibility of speaking and listening with Heart. It’s understandable. We’re a wounded culture, very much under the influence of an external value system that has little to do with our humanity and gifts. Many of us have never truly been seen or valued. So no big surprise much of our communication tends to be fear-based, shame-based, advice-based, distracted, etc.  How many times have you caught yourself thinking about what you’re going to say next, rather than actually listening to what the other person is saying. How many times have you found yourself self-referencing when talking with others, rather than just listening and giving them the space for their own experience?

Here’s my June 9 Dharma Talk on this topic. We had a new person at class so there’s also introductory material here, woven into a free-wheeling talk. Enjoy.

Here’s the text I quote in my talk. Regular visitors to this blog will note this text posted a few weeks ago. I’m including it again for those who like to read along while listening to the talk:

This is from Lorin Roche, The Radiance Sutras: A New Version of the Vijnana Bhaira Tantra:

One day the Goddess sang to her lover, Bhairava:

Beloved and radiant Lord of the space before birth,
Revealer of essence,
Slayer of the ignorance that binds us,

You who in play have created this universe
And permeated all forms in it with never-ending truth –
I have been wondering. . .

I have been listening to the hymns of creation,
Enchanted by the verses,
Yet still I am curious.

What is this delight-filled universe
Into which we find ourselves born?
What is this mysterious awareness
Shimmering everywhere within it?

I have been listening to the love songs of
Form longing for formless.

What are these energies
Undulating through our bodies,
Pulsing us into action?

And this “matter” out of which our forms are made –
What are these dancing particles of condensed radiance?
The Goddess then asks,

What is this power we call Life,
Appearing as the play of flesh and breath?
How may I know this mystery and enter it more deeply?

Beloved, my attention is ensnared by a myriad of forms,
Innumerable individual entities everywhere.
Lead me into the wholeness beyond all these parts.

You who hold the mysteries in your hand –
Of will, knowledge, and action,
Reveal to me the path of illumined knowing.

Lead me into joyous union
With the life of the universe.
Teach me that I may know it fully,
Realize it deeply,
And breathe in luminous truth.

 

And here’s the wonderful parallel text from William Blake’s, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

The Voice of the Devil

 All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:

    1. That Man has two real existing principles: Viz: a Body & a Soul.

    2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body; & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.

    3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his energies.

 But the following Contraries to these are True:

   1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five    Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.

   2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.

   3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

  Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling.

 And being restrain’d, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire.

  ********

This post is too long for the template so I’ve broken it into two parts. Scroll down for Part 2.