Antara Drishti

I've been studying the fourth chapter of the Sutras with one of my teachers this summer.  It's all about finding our own way.  We each see the world differently. We practice so we can turn down the heat that gets the mind all frothy, so we can take action without an agenda.  Meditation is training for having awareness in the midst of life.  Though there are patterns to being human, though past and present exist for us all, we each have our own unique path.  We must pay attention to find our own way, rather than relying on what works for someone else.  This is lonely, we long for others to "get" us.  We attach to being understood.  I have faced this quite intensely in my life and though I surrendered in a big way several years ago, the desire crops up again and again.  I want to be known and understood deeply!  The ache of loneliness can take my breath away.  And without breath I lose my connection to the present.  In reality, each inhale and exhale draws me into a new moment, a different self than the one just before.  Each breath brings hope and freedom. Tonight I notice the sun setting just a tad earlier and the reality that we're edging towards late summer begins to sink in.  For the first time in my life, I'm in school during this lazy season and to my surprise I'm not at all resentful.  Turns out permaculture is as much about yoga as it is getting my hands dirty.  I'm reading this amazing book - The One Straw Revolution -  which is about life and philosophy as well as agriculture.  I found a passage that seems straight out of the Sutras fourth chapter, if I substitute "yoga/students/practice" for "agriculture/farmers/ farming."  Here's my adaptation:

A truly successful practice requires not so much arduous labor as awareness, observation, connection and persistence.  In today's yoga culture, businesses lure us into products and brands promising that by applying them to our practices according to fixed, prescribed schedules, without much thought about our unique circumstances, yogis can be sure of reliable results.  This might be termed "know-nothing" yoga - very different from "do-nothing" yoga which calls on the self to question conventional practices that may be needless or even harmful to her/his own unique body.  Let's advocate for a curiosity, openness, and willingness to fail so that we can trust.  This is not simple yoga but a more complex, aligned yoga.

Summer is a good time to explore your practice in new ways.  To break out of your usual habits.  What does this look like?  Perhaps the heat of the season poses a significant challenge.  I usually avoid evening class at all costs when the temperature rises above 70 degrees, but this year I've surrendered and found myself loving the heat.  By pushing just a little past my comfort zone I find a whole new depth to my practice.  This isn't by any means the only option.  Why not try out a new class time with a teacher you're unfamiliar with?  Or pull out your mat at home.  Both are opportunities to assess your practice through new eyes.  A vacation can also become a chance to practice alone, to explore asana, pranayama and meditation without a teacher and others surrounding you.  It can be scary and uncomfortable, and it can also be freeing to discover the teacher inside you.  No one knows your body as well as you do, practicing on your own is a way to build trust with yourself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for an end to group yoga.  There is power in community, in joining together with our breath and intention.  I think balance is the key.  We seek out space to explore on our own so we stay true to self when we come together.  We give up mindless yoga and come to class with an awareness and sense of responsibility for our own journey.  Rather than rely on someone else to point the way, we find alignment from within.

Slow and Steady

Here we are, over the hump of the summer solstice.  Once we actually pass over into summer, the incredible momentum and energy (usually enough to drive me insane) leading up to June 20 gives way to something more mellow.  If we let it, if we give in, summer is here to carry us along at a leisurely pace as it meanders towards autumn. Summer Sun

Speaking of pace of life, I've been thinking quite a bit in the last week about choosing a different path than "full speed ahead."  Not just how much I pack into a day or week, but how I manage and respond to what comes my way.  I think this is actually a harder road to travel.  I find it easy to go to extremes.  It's easier to decide at the beginning of a yoga class that I will practice intensely throughout - no matter what.  Trickier, much more so, is to be open to how I feel and what I need in each moment and then adjust.  This is why I practice.  Yoga teaches me awareness.  This awareness of self is not someplace I arrive at and then stop working towards, it's a continual commitment.  And I find that slowly, over time, it gets just a little bit easier to accept and surrender to.  I learn to trust myself as I know myself better and better.  And it's in this trust that I can approach life in a less extreme manner.

My dearest friends in the world just left Seattle.  They sold their house, packed up all of their things and their dog and their kids and headed east to the Rockies.  The night I said goodbye I experienced a broken heart for the first time in my life.  If you'd asked me before last week I'd have said "sure, of course I've had a broken heart before."  I just figured it was the same as sadness, as intense anguish felt after a loss.  I didn't realize it is an actual, physical pain at heart's center.  It hurt to breathe, I felt ripped apart inside.  Anytime this week that I slow down and sit in quiet, I feel it.  I am overwhelmed by the intensity and I literally can not bear it for too long.  I know myself well enough at this point in my life to recognize that this isn't avoidance.  The sorrow is so great, it must be felt and I simply can't take it on all at once.  What an inconvenience.  Wouldn't it just be easier to totally ignore it or just get it all over with at once?

Doesn't it seem that our culture would tell me to pick between those two options?  We like to fixate on all or nothing, don't we?  We're either lost or found, we're good or bad...  Once we realize we need a change, it has to come all at once, BAM, and then we're on a different path and we don't look back.

What if we adopted a different approach?  We could embrace the challenge that comes with self-awareness and commit to taking it slow, to trust that we will find our way.  Sure, we might have to fuss around a bit, it might not be a straight path (oh how we like our linear roads).  It's harder this way, less gratifying.  And it is also life-giving.  When we slow down - take life as it comes, are willing to let grief come in waves and not race to get it over with - we are rewarded with moments of peace.  We shouldn't be in such a rush to arrive at some perfect state that is painless.  We'll miss the good stuff, the space in between pain and bliss.

In a class I regularly attend, we've been practicing a stair-step pranayama lately.  We inhale for a specific count and then pause for the same count.  And then we inhale again.  This last part is an "echo breath."  It isn't logical.  I feel full of breath before the pause, and then magically, I suspend the inhale and somehow create space for even more breath.  My capacity increases just by pausing.  What a lovely lesson for life.  I take in what I can - be it pain or joy - and then rest.  At some point I will find I can take in more...effortlessly.