wishing you all a peaceful weekend. rest well darling yogis. below is a section from one of my favourite books. it well encapsulates why practice is so profoundly engaging, and why i love teaching, learning and embodying an ethical practice.
–eight limbs as therapeutic redux–
because our primary suffering is alienation, the yogic path of therapy begins with reestablishing relationship with other. ethics (yama) comes first, because other people mirror your condition very plainly. empathetic relationship with others open the door to a brightening of self-perception (niyama). reconnecting with the flesh and breath (asana, pranayama) folds back into its phenomenal matrix. feeling energy flow evenly back and forth between phenomena is aided by understanding the sensory points of contact (pratyahara).
from here, contemplation of your condition has solid footing, because the most obvious content of alienation—lack of empathy, self-doubt or even self-hatred, and sensory overload—has been witnessed and engaged. one might then turn to witness the very structure of alienation (through samyama, the three degrees of meditation): how consciousness blends sense perception, meaning, concept, and memory into a fluid narrative, and then forgets it is doing so. because it forgets it is a storyteller who takes dictation by chapter and verse from the phenomenal world, it suffers the anxiety of groundless creativity. consciousness fears that it must create meaning alone. but this was never true. consciousness attunes to meaning because it is embedded in larger meanings.
samyama consist of focus (dharana), contemplation (dhyana), and integration(samadhi). focus allows concentration to narrow from the typically scattered state we have inherited from a more fearful era of constant sympathetic (defensive) nervous engagement (and now perpetuated in disembodied form through much of our news media). contemplation imbues this focus with empathy, so that attunement between subject and object begins to hummmmmmmm. (my emphasis on hum–can you feel it?☺) the peak of attunement is integration, in which the subject/object boundary is softened, and feelings of wholeness and connection saturate the flesh and mental flow. sensing this pervasion of empathy, the yogi delights even more richly in the ethics of relationship (yama): the circle is complete.
-matthew remski: threads of yoga: a remix of patanjali-s sutras with commentary and reverie
drawing by rebecca wilson, yoga will save the world
I woke up this morning to the sound of the rain. Did you too? Filled with ideas, sleepiness, a bit of anxiety, curiosity at what the day would bring, interest in my social media worlds, wondering if the rain would continue on throughout the day and if my work calendar would be full.
My general habit is to check the weather forecast in the morning—sometimes to pray for rain, always to hope for a cooling break from the brutally oppressive space that holds Houston for the summer season. Then I started to wonder, what if I don’t look at the forecast, and just go forth with my most prepared self. I will wear my Chie Miharah summer sandals (as I’ve done almost every day since buying them last month in Bilbao), bring a pair of old Birkenstocks and carry my trusty umbrella. I will be as prepared for what may come. And also be cognizant that no matter how much I plan, prepare, read, review, fret, hope, etc.— there will be surprises along my path today.
I am both a procrastinator and an over-preparer. Makes for an interesting balance. Currently I am of the perspective that we are in a culture of too much preparation and too much information; and that that over preparation and information overload does not allow us to be in the real ebb and flow of life. If I think I have everything figured out, what do I do when life smacks me in the face with a new teaching on the regular? And if I am in my practice, breathing, feeling, seeing, allowing, open and prepared to be responsive, not reactive, then I can see clearly as things comes up during the course of my life, and not freak out when things do not go #just.as.planned.
So in the words of the great teachers, I will go slowly, breathe and smile. I will be as prepared as is wise and practical, knowing what I know about where I currently sit. The reality is I am in Houston in the summer. It is hot. It may rain. It will be swampy. I will look outside my window and check the sky, observe the clouds, instead ofmy weather app. And if it rains, and I am unprepared, I have a choice of how to deal with it. The options are limitless; I can duck into a covered space, I can stay and feel the drops on my skin, I can take off whichever shoes I am wearing and feel the earth. I can pause. I can be present with what comes up, and I can choose to respond (not react) to what is. My ethical practice grounds me in being present, open, pragmatic, realistic, responsive and truly interested, at times delighted, at the surprises that life will always bring.
i reference judith lasater’s book relax and renew on an almost daily basis. her gentle and precise instruction grounds me and provides a rich reference for both my personal practice and my teaching. i’m sharing with you her guidance on the centering breath practice because i use it. and as my own human guinea pig, i know this breath practice works to ground and center me.
i feel we can all benefit from this simple breathing practice. i like to add in that whenever we are feeling tension building up in the body, a deep inhale through the nose and soft yet purposeful exhale through the mouth is extremely useful. (little lions!)
The first step is to realize that you need to relax.
1. Take a long, slow, gentle inhalation through your nose.
2. Follow the inhalation with a long, slow, gentle exhalation through your nose.
3. Take several normal cycles of breath through your nose when you feel refreshed.
4. Repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 for up to 10 rounds.
-Never strain or force your breath.
-Remember, each breath is a sign that life is moving through and with you—allow yourself to feel and enjoy each breath.
-The Centering Breath can be used in any position (both on and off your yoga mat.)
if you have relax and renew you can find it on page 24. i’ve just incorporated it into a summary for a gentle and restorative yoga class that rhia robinson and i are co-teaching to participants at a caregiver’s retreat at elm flats ranch on june 7. through the leadership of dear melissa smith, this free retreat is for those who work with and care for people with alzheimer’s!
-Thich Nhat Hanh
i love teaching private yoga sessions because they are an incredible opportunity to connect with another person in a focused, intimate, healing and powerful way. i recently started working with a new student and just emailed him a summary of our practice. it’s a basic practice that incorporates a tai chi warm up, and a focus on the fluid movement of the spine. i’m putting it here with the hope that you’ll take it and give it a go. nothing fancy, just you, your breath and attention. i encourage and support you to do it every day for the rest of your life.
OM SHANTI OM
mi querida amiga: the law of making friends with yourself
in the law a “shall” is an always, and a “may” is permissive. so here’s the law of self-compassion: i shall pay attention to my heart. i shall remember that i am love. i shall best friend myself. i shall practice daily awareness and gratitude.
i shall participate in sangha. i shall advocate for those who can’t and don’t. i shall teach and be taught. i shall learn and forgive.
sometimes this practice is easy, and at times it takes me a while and a lot of work to remember and really feel, know, and trust that my best friend is me…and that the way i hope to treat others, with kindness, respect, and authenticity, is the way i shall be treating myself. the practice of self-compassion is one that requires frequent practice, as the habituation of the mind towards internal critic mode is generally high. (thank you ana forrest for teaching me how to connect with the breath to be present when this occurs.) although i know this, and have tools to be present to the patterns of the monkey mind, i still need reminders and support. for this i have much gratitude for dear friends and teachers, both old and new on the dharma road. their help allows me to rein “it” in. when googling ideas about self-compassion and mindfulness practice i came across a truly remarkable free mindfulness based stress reduction (mbsr) program. dave potter has archived a treasure trove of practices that are free and available online for everyone from moscow, idaho to moscow, russia. thank you dave, you are a new friend and teacher.
while perusing dave’s website i came across a distillation of teaching by pema chodron called the 4 keys to waking up by andrea miller. the article originally appeared in shambhala sun in march 2014.
below you’ll find a summary of the points, i’ve included the entire text of the making friends with yourself one as it’s particularly poignant and relevant at this stage in my path and feel that it may resonate strongly with you:
1. stabilize your mind
“You could call it training or taming the mind to stay present,” Ani Pema says, “but a more accurate way of describing it is strengthening the mind. That’s because we are strengthening qualities we already have, rather than training in something that we have to bring in from the outside.”
2. make friends with yourself (or mi amiga querida)
One of Pema Chödrön’s students wrote her a letter. “You talk about gentleness all the time,” he began, “but secretly, I always thought that gentleness was for girls.” When Ani Pema recounts this story, the retreatants—predominantly female—laugh. Unsurprisingly, once this student tried being gentle with himself, he had a change of heart. In the face of things he found embarrassing or humiliating, he realized that it takes a lot of courage to be gentle.
Ani Pema points out that practicing meditation can actually ramp up our habitual self-denigration. This is because, in the process of stabilizing the mind, we become more aware of traits in ourselves that we don’t like, whether it’s cruelty, cynicism, or selfishness. Then we need to look deeper, with even more clarity. When we examine our addictions, for example, we need to be able see the sadness that’s behind having another drink, the loneliness behind another joint.
This brings us to unconditional friendship with ourselves, the second quality that Ani Pema teaches is critical for waking up. As she explains it, “When you have a true friend, you stick together year after year, but you don’t put your friend up on a pedestal and think that they’re perfect. You two have had fights. You’ve seen them be really petty, you’ve seen them mean, and they’ve also seen you in all different states of mind. Yet you remain friends, and there’s even something about the fact that you know each other so well and still love each other that strengthens the friendship. Your friendship is based on knowing each other fully and still loving each other.”
Unconditional friendship with yourself has the same flavor as the deep friendships you have with others. You know yourself but you’re kind to yourself. You even love yourself when you think you’ve blown it once again. In fact, Ani Pema teaches, it is only through unconditional friendship with yourself that your issues will budge. Repressing your tendencies, shaming yourself, calling yourself bad—these will never help you realize transformation.
Keep in mind that the transformation Ani Pema is talking about is not going from being a bad person to being a good person. It is a process of getting smarter about what helps and what hurts; what de-escalates suffering and escalates it; what increases happiness and what obscures it. It is about loving yourself so much that you don’t want to make yourself suffer anymore.
Ani Pema wraps up her Saturday-morning talk by taking questions. One woman who comes up to the mic says she’s been on the spiritual path for a while, yet it doesn’t seem to be helping her. Ani Pema—as she always does—fully engages with the questioner.
“Do you have a regular meditation practice?” she asks.
“And how does that feel these days?”
“It feels hurried.”
“I have a child with disabilities, so meditation has to be fit in. I can’t just decide to go sit down. It has to be set up.”
“I get it,” Ani Pema says slowly. “So, okay, that’s how it is currently—uncomfortable, hurried. Things as they are.” Then she comes back to what we’ve been talking about this morning: unconditional friendship. Ani Pema’s advice is this: don’t reject what you see in yourself; embrace it instead. Feeling Hurried Buddha, Feeling Cut Off from Nature Buddha, Feeling No Compassion Buddha—recognize the buddha in each feeling.
3. be free from fixed mind
“Fixed mind is stuck, inflexible. It’s a mind that closes down, that is living with blinders on. Though it’s a common state in everyday life, fixed mind is particularly easy to spot in the realm of politics.”
4. take care of others
the understanding that our sorrows and joys are not separate from the sorrows and joys of others.
buddha is famous for his lists: the 4 noble truths, the 8 fold path, the 3 refuges. pema’s list of 4 keys to waking up is modern, cogent, and could be added to leigh’s excellent site. (thank you leigh!). there is also a grounding self-care component in each of them. as the path unfolds with her many twists and turns, the practice of make friends with yourself is home, wherever we are. right here, in this body, in this awakened state of presence. mi querida amiga, i shall take good care of you on this journey.