When I became really still and awakened, I discovered that I was nothing. Nothing separate from the rest of the world. Wisdom sees that I am nothing. Love sees that I am everything, and between these two my life flows.
– Jack Kornfield quoting Nisargadatta
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.
i’m currently sharing much of my time reading and being with dear teacher thich nhat hahn, known affectionally as thay. thay’s ability to distill down the practice has always been very appealing, and i’m finding the simplicity of his words particularly useful at this point in my life. as i’ve deepened my practice it seems that mindfulness, or heartfulness, is where the real healing occurs.
whether on my cushion, teaching asana in the comfort of the garageshala, or while sitting as the mediator in an extremely challenging mediation by the jail in harris county, breathing in i feel my body, breathing out i smile, dwelling in the present moment, this is the most beautiful moment.
thay’s book true love is a particularly poignant and useful guidebook for mindfulness in relationship. he highlights the importance of creating time in ones life to understand and recognize the person you love. in the book he explains the four aspects of true love from a buddhist perspective:
1. maitri: loving kindness or benevolence
2. karuna: compassion
3. mudita: joy
4. upeksha: equanimity or freedom
he says a beautiful question to ask your beloved is, “Dear one, do you have enough space in your heart and all around you?”
he also includes four effective mantras for slowing down and bringing true presence to the here and now in the context of relationship.
below are the concepts followed by the mantras. let’s practice them together with our beloved friends, family members and partners, si?
- love is being there
Dear one, I am here for you.
- recognizing the presence of the other
Dear one, I know that you are here/there and it makes me very happy.
- being there when someone is suffering
Dear one, I know that you are suffering, that is why I am here for you.
- overcoming pride
Dear one, I am suffering, please help.
dear ones, thank you for reading this post. please let me know your thoughts about how these mantras participate in bringing you closer to the present moment.
an in-depth asana, pranayama & meditation exploration. two hours to go deeper into your practice through the theme of energy, elegance & ease. in practice. in life. in love with both.
the yoga institute houston, 10-noon
sunday, october 19, 2014
looking forward to seeing you on the mat!