Communication, Communion, and the Mind According to Yoga…

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I think a lot about listening. What it means to really listen to oneself. What it means to listen to another. What is means to listen to the world. How do we cultivate ears that truly hear. How do we foster a communication between ourselves and everything of our world that makes communion happen. So much gets in the way of that. So much mucks up the clear space within and around us. So that rather than communion, we often end up with separation. We cling to our belief systems. We cling to our stories. We cling to our idea of being right. Which doesn’t let in much space for listening. We’re too busy telling…

Here’s a talk about listening that weaves in yogic teachings on the mind, aka, the Four-Part Psychic Instrument or antahkarana. Like so much passed down through the Hindu Yogic system, this perspective on the mind is quite simple and profound. I unpack it in the talk, but here are the technical terms spelled out.

The four levels of antahkarana or the Four-Part Psychic Instrument

Manas: often translated as mind-stuff. From our western perspective, think of it as your conscious mind.

Chitta: translated in a myriad of ways. From our western perspective, think of it as the unconscious.

Ahamhara: in the yogic system, this is the sense of “I.” Often referred to as the ego.

Buddhi: the discriminating faculty.

Here’s the talk:

And here is a wonderful poem from Mary Oliver who is perhaps one of the greatest listeners we have.

 

The Fist
Mary Oliver
 
There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—

heaven’s own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear
little by little,
the voices—

only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
suggesting
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

from Thirst, Beacon Press, 2006.

6/06/16 Monday Night Class: Sun Mantras, Ganesha, and the Incredible Lightness of Being…

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This week’s class fell on 6/06/16 which got me thinking about the significance of the number six. If you stop think about it, the number six is composed of 2 3’s and/or 3 2’s. The 2’s represent opposite poles and the movement towards balance. The 3’s represent a unifying synthesis, the sacred trinity we find in so many traditions. When you put that all together, you can see why you end up with a number that is connected to the exuberant amazing glorious expressive, and most of all life-giving Sun…

Here’s a quote from Vicki Noble’s Motherpeace Tarot:

Sixes: Exuberance

The Sixes are full and expressive, a peak number, always expansive and positive in some way. Six represents exuberance or triumph, being on top of things. Like the Sun sitting at the center of the solar system, Six sits at the center of the Kabalistic Tree of Life and radiates out in every direction, saying, “yes!” Six represents a moment of decisive action or a climax of some sort, a moment of glory.

Which all seemed an excellent jumping off point for a class that constellated around the fifth Sun mantra, the creation story of Ganesha, and the inner possibility of soaring…

ॐ खगाय नमः
om khagāya namaḥ |
Salutations to Khaga, who travels the sky like a bird…

I love all the Sun mantras, but this is one that always jumps out at me. I love the image of light traveling through the sky like a bird. I also love the way “light” as in light and “light” as in lightness are so connected. Which gets me thinking about the incredible lightness of being we feel in the presence of people who are, well, full of light. People who have a buoyancy of spirit and soul that soars like a bird. And what a delight (there’s that word again) to have them in our lives. Because let’s face it. Most of us lean towards the heaviness of being. We are gravity-based creatures. And that’s not just the gravity of Earth. There’s a potent gravitational force in the demands of daily life, in the stress we hold in our bodies, in the narratives and belief systems that can (and often do) keep us down. Although we don’t like to admit it, many of us prefer to be stressed out. It’s familiar, provides solid reasons for everything that’s not working in our lives, and most of all, distracts us from remembering we are finite being living in an unfathomable mystery we will never be able to control. The irony being that the Mystery does seem to be made of light…

 

Here’s my opening dharana on the mantra Om Namaha Shivaya  as a bird with two wings:

 

And here is this week’s dharma talk, a weaving of the well-known creation story of Ganesha from the Shiva Purana with 5th Sun mantra. I’m interested in what it takes to foster the incredible lightness of being embodied in Ganesha and articulated in this mantra. One point I didn’t get into in this talk is looking at Ganesha as a threshold keeper. If you look at the two common epithets assigned to “him,” Lord of Beginnings and Gatekeeper of the Sacred Feminine, you can see what I’m talking about. But what does that really mean, to be a threshold keeper. Ganesha resides in the space between, embodying a perfect balance, a lightness of being that makes it possible to ride on the back of mouse without crushing it. In my opinion, this is the reason for spiritual practice. So that we can walk lightly on the Earth, lightly through ups and downs of daily life, and perhaps most important since it makes these first two possible, walk lightly within ourselves…

 

 

The Glow of Your Presence
Hafiz  [English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler]

Where have you taken your sweet song?
Come back and play me a tune.

I never really cared for the things of this world.
It was the glow of your presence
that filled it with beauty.

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…
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    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. 

 

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.

February 16, 2015. The Lakshmi Work: Rest in Your Own Splendour

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Class resumes tonight after a long break. Back in December however, we were working with the deity field personified so beautifully in the Indian tradition as the goddess Laksmi.

One of the most beloved faces of the Sacred Feminine, it is said that when we remember Laksmi, great sins are overcome, good fortune ensues, and the great enemy ego is destroyed. On the inner plane, we experience Laksmi as a radiance that sweetens every aspect of life. This is an inner power that draws us into our full potential, enhances our innate beauty and gifts, and nurtures the possibility of our own magnificence. On the outer plane, we experience Laksmi as good fortune and grace.

What I find most interesting however, in the myths and teachings surrounding Laksmi, is often left out or glossed over. She is born from an alliance between the gods (think of the gods as your noble and/or divine possibility) and demons (the inner obstacles that cloud your way.) And it is through this alliance of opposing tendencies, and the great churning that ensues, that Laksmi comes into being. So for me, the creation myth of Laksmi has a lot to say about the process of inner transformation. It is not about discarding that which does not please us, or for that matter, that which seems to get in our way. It is about making an alliance with all the myriad aspects of ourselves and churning together, until something new and fine is created. Churning is an essential action of this mystery. If we want to realize the expansive possibility of Lasksmi within ourselves, we have to be willing to churn…

Here are audio clips from the Dec. 1 Class on Laksmi.

This is the opening dharana:

This is my dharma talk:

This is chanting of the laksmi-bija-mantra (om srim mahalaksmiyei namaha):

And the final dharana:

*****

In closing, a beautiful poem from Gabriel Rosenstock’s Year of the Goddess:

From each and every pore look how the sun beams
On your eternal dance
The dark side of the moon is bright
If you open Your mouth
Stars will escape and chant their hymns for You
You are they
Swiftly swans fly backwards
How can I imagine Your embrace
Without exploding in Your galaxy?

And note from the poet on a literary device he uses which strikes me as extraordinarily mantric in the way sound and meaning are embedded deeper and deeper within the words… So that each word becomes like those Russian dolls, within and within and within…

Some words in this poem sequence are ‘shaded’ to allow for another reading of a line, or a faint echo, a game much cherished by Celtic poets of yore. Thus the reader sees the word as the world when written as world and encounters bhakti invocations such as ma (mother) hidden in the word mad!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.