from Laurie Anderson, in her testimonial to her husband and partner, Lou Reed..."As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou's as he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved the most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn't afraid. I had gotten to walk with him to the end of the world. Life – so beautiful, painful and dazzling – does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love..."
"That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly." -George Saunders (from his commencement speechat Syracuse, 2013)
los angeles offers a very sweet return in exchange for its intense, hot days: the jasmine that blooms here at night; so pleasing and so bold that it's almost audible, as song. the hotter the day, it seems, the more dulcet this atmosphere of scented-night.
When we hear the beckoning of the heart, we are being asked to open.
Sometimes this heart-speaking will be quiet; other times, deafening. In this domain, the force of silence is as powerful as pot-clanging loudness.
We are being called to some action. Whether it appears grand in nature or of a tiny dailyness, every request of the heart takes us directly into the center innermost part of some thing, thereby returning us to the heart of everything.
When the heart next summons, we will have the choice, once again, to open or to remain closed.
Often, the possibility of opening collides with the impulse to close. Both are real; we are both. To describe these moments: standing on the edge of our territory of comfort, wanting to dive, and then pulled back, often as though by some physical force, to the apparent safety of familiar ground, my teacher says we are being, 'wrestled into smallness'. There is real desire to open, but then the gale force of the fear of the vulnerability of the opening pushes us to the ground, nails digging into dirt.
At this 2013 Spring-time, flowers that have been fed by sun and water in their below-ground chamber begin to stir, being called upward, cracking from seed and pressing their first green into the springtime air. I am reminded of Anais Nin’s oft-quoted words about the flower, flowering-forth: ”And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
There is a yogic teaching about the nature of the rose...in order to unfold as the open rose, the flower can no longer be a bud. This is simple, descriptive: the bud must cease to exist in order to take its new form as the open flower. In order to open, we must give-up our closed state. In order to open, something must die.
So, the next time your Heart calls you to new places, you will, once again, make the choice whether to risk your next opening. Perhaps, this time, you will allow the fertile death of your next birth. Allow the death of your smaller state. You will not mourn your smallness.
practice idea ask; and write. often, the action of inquiry, as well as the question itself, will assist in piercing through the dullness/agitation/fatigue of any given moment, and return us to the heart. sit in a quiet space, perhaps after meditation, ask; and write. any authentic question, posed into the subtle field, will work. here's one possibility:
what does it mean for awareness to rest into itself?
*the heart's silent impulse is as loud as its mountaintop proclamations...in this great domain, silence is audible, as love songs settle back into their place of origin, to rest and then echo forth again through the eyes of another beloved.*
"By churning the innermost space of our deepest Reality, we are inviting benevolence, goodness, love, intelligence, clarity, and strength. We are inviting the exquisite upsurge of compassion, wisdom, divine Love, and divine blessings in our life."
nerding out at the tadasana festival in santa monica a couple of weeks ago...i'm on the left in this pic, trying out these new yoga 'eggs' (http://www.threeminuteegg.com)..in the place of traditional blocks, they're pretty incredible, for realz.
Often new students of yoga are put-off by what feel like the foreign or even seemingly religious elements of the yoga room. In addition to yoga mats and props, one is likely to find an altar as a central element in most any studio in the country. It can feel affronting to walk into a studio and find an altar with Hindu statues or other Eastern deities adorned with flowers and candles, or photographs of the Guru and other spiritual teachers. If the student is connected with a religion of her own, this iconography might feel like contradictive or even sacrilegious idolatry. If she is an atheist or skeptical about the verity of religion, an altar can be disorienting all-together. In order to understand our feelings toward the altar at the yoga studio (or in the church, temple, or Prince concert for that matter) we need to examine how we feel about DEVOTION. What does it mean to be devoted? What is reverence? Is devotion always 'to' something, and if so, what? We’ve gotten so ensnared in this question of ‘to-what?’, that it is literally killing us. We find ourselves perched on devotion’s most pernicious outer fringes: atheism and fundamentalism. Religion has gotten us into trouble, and we’re confused. We think that belief will en-trance us into submission and mind control, or, on the other hand we’re not thinking at all, and our critical lack of critical thinking is mistakenly being though of as devotional. For many of us, religion looks like extremism, and we don’t know how to talk about God without thinking of a fictitious patriarch in whose name many have suffered ordeals of discrimination and death.
We’re missing something so fundamental that it could be at the heart of everything that ails us. We are already connected. We are not, nor have we ever been, truly separate from eachother, from ourselves, or from that source to-whom we might be devoted if we were willing to give it a shot. At the heart of our lack of devotion we encounter our deepest isolation.
The yoga lineage calls this anava mala. In simplest and admittedly limited terms, anava mala is the primary misunderstanding of humankind: we perceive ourselves as separate from a greater whole. This is the human condition. This is our primary human injury, the stuff wars and deceit and simple day-to-day anxieties are made of. We yearn for connection yet fail to recognize it; we ache for this connection yet we resist its grace.
Back to the question of ‘to-what?’: to what would we be devoted? Our dis-ease with this condition, and even the very question itself, stems from our sense of separateness. If we are separate from a cohesive unifying force, devotion resembles subservience. If we are devoted to someone or some outside power, we fear that we are interned by ‘his’ or ‘its’ superior authority. We fear a loss of autonomy and freedom.
There is a Sanskrit term for devotion that changes things entirely. The word is saranah, which most closely translates as: ‘taking refuge’ . Our taking refuge is INTO freedom itself. We aren’t shackled by our devotion, we are freed by our devotion. The power of the great FREEDOM is received, and it begins to flow through our lives. If we can SURRENDER into devotion, we find ourselves more alive and deeper in love than we could have ever imagined. Having dropped our perceived separateness, we sense that we are devoted ‘into’ something, rather that ‘to’ some outside entity: the river flows into the ocean.
This entire inquiry is explicated by the image of pranam, a fully prostrate bow. The concept singes the edges of our Western comfort zone perhaps even more than the image of the altar. Outside of specific rigorous religious traditions, this is foreign to us. We are starkly uncomfortable throwing ourselves at the ‘feet’ of anyone or anything.
Herein lies the yogis’ radical shift in perspective, the magical changing of the lens of perception: what if we were to look again and see the pranam as a DIVE. It is essentially the same corporeal shape: the arms are overhead and the head is down-turned, belly facing down. Seen as a dive rather than a bow, however, we can see devotion the way yoga sees devotion: as a full, willing surrender, as a dive into the ocean. The individual wave settles back into the deeper waters of the sea; the raindrop falls to the surface of the lake and becomes the lake. The wave is still there and the raindrop is still there, yet by dissolving our basic resistance, our shelled-in anxiety, we find that we can take refuge in the great source that we were already a part of all along.
We don’t lose ourselves when we surrender, we RECEIVE ourselves when we surrender.
Further on the subject of altars: a portable altar is a valuable addition to spiritual practice. It enunciates the idea that our practice itself is portable, as its true residence is within the inner heart. We are the location for practice, wherever we happen to be. It is helpful, though, while traveling, to assist your grounding by setting up a simple altar when you arrive at a new destination. The anxiety that is often stirred by travel is anchored by the altar--we are reminded of our practice and re-stabilized by its support.
I have a mini altar set in my car all the time, and when I go anywhere I pack it into a silk pouch and take it with me. You can make an altar out of anything...a few suggestions below:
-travel candle -any small statues of deities that you are drawn to -crystals/rocks/other beautiful objects -photographs of teachers or beloveds -incense/sage or rosewater (to clear space) -it is nice to place a flower or plant on the altar once you arrive
below are photographs of my portable altar, set-up at various places where i've been over the past few months. (a couple of them belong to friends who did the same:)