Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where I must begin ...

"You're late! ... Why you so late?"  I'm not sure if he is referring to my arrival at the tail end of the season or the daily registration time.  I am late on both counts.  Add it to the list of all the ways I've fallen short lately.  "Come here. Sit."  With this, my teacher welcomes me back to the shala.

I arrived in Mysore just over a week ago, my third trip in as many years.  I arrive here feeling like a broken, tangled up shadow of myself.  I had planned to be here at the end of December, but I've been wrestling with serious demons the universe has thrown in my path.  The last six months or so have been as close to a living hell as I've ever come.  Old traumas have been resurfacing in ways that have been wreaking havoc in my life and in my closest relationships.  If complex PTSD was a formal diagnosis, I'm pretty sure it would apply to me.  So here I am with yet another deeper, darker layer of samskaras to burn through.

My first year in Mysore cracked me open, quite literally.  My second year, I was filled to the brim with so much light and the deepest sense of joy I've ever felt, a joy that I took home with me and continued to cultivate over many months.  Out of that substantial joy and clarity, one of my best friendships turned into something much more.  In that friend, the universe presented me with a relationship that has brought me face to face with the depths of my love and all the beautiful gifts I have to give, along with the darkest and most terrifying parts of myself that have remained hidden in shadow.  These shadowy parts are beyond my rational thinking and cannot be reasoned with.  They behave like a wild animal engaged in a life or death struggle, complete with a fight or flight response that has a broken off switch.  I come to Mysore this year with the sole intent to face these darkest edges of myself and do the work required of me to heal and integrate them so these old traumas can no longer hijack the ship and sabotage all the beauty and wonder I have worked so hard for all my life.

My friend James Boag taught a class on the yamas on my first full day in Mysore.  And a couple of days later at the first conference I attended at the shala this season, Sharath also talked at length on the yamas and niyamas.  The yamas are moral and behavioral principles, practical references for how we ought to deploy our energy.  Patañjali refers to the yamas as the maha-vratam, the Great Vow, which must be observed at all times, in all places, by all people, regardless of circumstance.  As I measure myself against each one, I can see just how far off course I have veered.  To be more honest and more precise, I feel like I am a wretched human being.  How on earth did I get here?

Ahimsa.  I have caused tremendous harm to myself and to others whom I love most dearly... in thought, in word, in deed.  The specific kind of harms manifest more clearly in the rest of the yamas.  Satya.  I have lied.  I have abandoned my truest self and my deepest desires, and I have been untrue to my dearest friend.  I have allowed myself to be driven by the fear and darkness of old traumas and not by my genuine, authentic self.  Asteya.  I have stolen from myself the things that matter most, so recklessly sacrificing the eternal for that which dies in an hour.  And I have stolen from one I love dearly by asking for far more than he was able and willing to freely give.  Brahmacharya.  I have squandered that most potent of creative energies in careless ways. I have been unfaithful to my own heart and to the timing of life circumstances, and I am implicated in my friend's unfaithfulness to himself.  Aparigraha.  I have clung desperately to the darkest parts of myself, to fears of abandonment, to parts of myself that do not and cannot serve my deepest desires.  And I have allowed that darkness and those fears to drive my interactions with one I love.  I have grasped and held on to him as if it was life or death.  I have taken far more than my share of my dear friend's time, energy, and heart.

I don't really know how I arrived here.  I'm not sure it much matters.  Regardless of how or why, this is where I must begin.

My heart was heavy with grief before I left Austin, and now that I'm here in Mysore, the grief has been pouring out by the bucket load.  I grieve for not being strong or courageous enough to face the darkness with the grace and kindness that has been shown to me.  I grieve for all that has been lost, for succumbing to the darkness and watching in paralyzed horror as it destroyed the things I love most.  I grieve for the beautiful things not seen and not born, for all the moments full of love that I will never know, that were destroyed before they ever could begin.  I grieve for falling short, so tremendously short, and my heart breaks over and over and over again knowing how much I have hurt the people I love so dearly.  This is the place where I must begin.  It hurts like a living fucking hell.  It's suffocating and nauseating.  It's hard to breathe and I can barely eat most days.  It's dizzying and disorienting, and my whole body has been shaking like crazy during my asana practice and even during chanting and kirtan.  It is soooo not pretty, it's anything but comfortable, it is most definitely not easy.  But this is what I must face head on.  Wholeheartedly.  I must tap into a hidden reservoir of courage and strength that I do not yet know.  I must stand up, no matter how many times I fall, and put one foot in front of the other.  I must do my practice and do it with all my heart.  I must have faith in the moments of deepest fear and doubt.  And when the darkness threatens to take hold, I must keep my eyes turned firmly toward the rising sun.  All that I love depends on it.

अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तथाहिंसा परॊ दमः।
अहिंसा परमं दानम अहिंसा परमस तपः।
अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तथाहिस्मा परं बलम।
अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम।
अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम।।

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The sweetness of home practice...

The biggest challenge for me coming home from India this time around was going back to practice at the studio I'd been at for the last year.  Maybe I changed, or maybe I was just seeing things more clearly, but I just couldn't shake the feeling that I didn't belong there anymore.  I love the people there, but it was clearly the time for me to move on.  There is a time for departure even when there’s no certain place to go.

And I don't know exactly where I'll end up.  There are not a lot of ashtanga options in Austin.  Aside from where I was practicing, there are two other options, one way across town during evening rush hour (not ideal time or location) and the other - taught by the only teacher I know of in town who has actually been to Mysore - is a weee bit too early for this night owl, and it's held out of a local gym.  But a third option has presented itself.  In the last couple of weeks, a new ashtanga program started up at another studio where I practiced a couple years back.  The time and location are both good.  I don't know the teacher, although I have heard good things.  So I may go check that out sometime soon.  And I got word that the studio up north will be switching their evening classes to morning next month, so that may become a more viable option.  I plan to explore all these possibilities and just see what feels right. 

I'd like to find a teacher in Austin.  And at the same time, I recognize within myself a certain skeptical resistance to feedback from people who haven't been to Mysore.  Especially when that feedback is contrary to the way things are done in the main shala.  The general etiquette in a yoga class is that you do what your teacher tells you when you are practicing with them, even if it is contrary to how you normally practice.  But a big part of me thinks that is totally bogus.  Especially over here in the west where a couple thousand bucks and a few weeks of your time can buy yourself the title of 'yoga teacher'.  And especially in a lineage-based yoga practice like ashtanga that has a specific tradition and way of doing things.  Luckily, most ashtanga teachers have a well established practice and much better grounding than most.  But still, there is often a massive gap between those who go to Mysore and those who don't - not just on the outer appearance of the practice but energetically too.  I think it's important to critically reflect upon feedback and not accept it blindly, being open to what is useful and letting go of the rest.  I don't think this is disrespectful - I think it is what a responsible, engage student ought to do.  I think it is what being accountable to yourself and your practice looks like. 
Afterall, "two gurus will kill one student."

Sharath is my capital T teacher.  I trust him implicitly.  He sees what I am capable of before it's even on my radar, and he helps me see that in myself.  He helps me become that.  There is some ineffable quality in his presence, in his watchful eye, in his laconic instruction, and in his sense of humor, that instills in me total faith in him.  Not blind, unquestioning faith but a faith tested in the fire of experience.  A faith that is so wholly hearted it burns all doubt to ash.  Śraddhā.  Guruji used to say, “Many teachers, crazy making. One teacher, shanti is coming.”  And I feel that peace with Sharath.  There is no doubt in my heart or mind.  I have found my teacher.  And so, maybe I'm not even looking for a teacher here in Austin, per se.  Maybe I'm looking for a mentor, someone who can provide valuable feedback while also recognizing and honoring that Sharath is my teacher.  And maybe they're even interested and curious to hear about the way things are in the main shala.  Maybe I'm looking for a place where the integrity of the tradition is respected, even if no one has been to Mysore.  Maybe I'm just looking for a solid adjustment every once in a while.  Maybe I'm looking for the sense of familiarity and community you develop with the people you practice with every day, even though you may rarely even say a word.  

Every day in utpluthih, I hear Sharath saying, "Lift up.... lift up.... lift higher..."
So where does this leave me...?  I have departed without any certain place to go.  And I'm okay with not belonging anywhere in particular for the moment, not having a teacher here or even a community of other ashtangis to practice with.  And I'm okay with the prospect that I may not even find those things here.  I'm open to the process of discovery and this in between place of the unfolding.  And you know what, for right now at least, I am really enjoying home practice, even with its challenges.  I've been on a major huge intense creative streak since I've been home, and so it's been all too easy for me to start working on one of my many exciting projects first thing in the morning and get so wrapped up that before I know it, I look up and it's already late in the afternoon and I haven't done my asana practice yet!  So what if I hit the mat at 4pm?  The inconsistency in my practice timing has actually been helpful in some ways.  It keeps me from getting too comfortable, from taking anything for granted, and it allows room for all this creative energy to be expressed in all kinds of juicy ways.  But inconsistency can also be an uphill battle.  It's much harder to hit the mat as it gets later in the day, so I am working towards a little more consistency - just enough to keep me reigned in and focused but not so much that things become too rigid for deep, sustained creative work to unfold in that unpredictable way it so often does.  I like having room to improvise when the muse comes to visit.  I will say, I am continually amazed at how much discipline and commitment it takes to keep up a home practice, especially since I work from home and there are plenty of ways to detour myself.  And I am nothing short of shocked (shocked, I tell you!!!) that I have become a person who could even remotely be described by the words 'disciplined' and 'committed'.  Oh what a potent and peculiar sort of magic yoga is!!! 
Asana practice itself has been great.  Except, to be honest, I miss those rock solid backbending assists in the shala. "Catching?" "Yes catching, no problem!" Every day catching. I could totally catch my ankles on my own if only I can find my balance.  Even so, my backbending is deep and steady, my breath is more full and calm than I thought possible that deep in it... Backbending has gone from a fear and panic inducing thing I had to force myself to confront every day, to my very favorite part of the day... All is coming!  Who could of guessed?!

<Exhibit A>  Exhale, go back... Breathe 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... Inhale, up!

I've been taking some video of my backbending at the end of practice.  I thought it would be good to see how it looks for myself.  It's been helpful to see myself in motion, how I fidget too much sometimes, but also how beautiful and deep backbending has become!  Slow and controlled, steady and focused.  And you know what else?  Looking at myself backbending, it occurs to me that my ass is so big it's damn near a miracle I can bend back over that thing!  As I told my friends who were quick to defend my derrière, I'm not saying fat bottomed girls are a bad thing.  Au contraire mon frère!  I think it's funny!  And kind of awesome.  Clearly, I don't have the ballerina-esque body that seems most commonly found amongst yogagirls... certainly amongst the most naturally graceful and flexible yogagirls.  Hahah, and yet!  I've discovered that my body is plenty capable of doing some damn amazing things.  <see exhibit A, above>  I've been struck with an overwhelming clarity and peace of mind that comes from recognizing how this body is an ally, a comrade on the battlefield, the dearest most loyal friend in life.  I've spent far too much time and energy struggling against it, berating it, trying to force it to be something it's not.  But no more.  How could I have anything other than love and gratitude and respect for a body that does this every day? 

And so... practice is practice is practice... whether you're on the other side of the world, waiting for the "one more" that signals you to enter and roll out your mat to begin your practice as seventy other people are in the midst of their own... Or whether it's just you at home all alone... Practice is practice, and it is so very sweet, same same. 


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Everything is divine...

Well hello from Austin!  I've been back from India for a little while now, and I'm excited to tell you about my experience this go 'round.  I have so many amazing things filling my heart and mind, so much creative energy, I feel like I'm on fire!  Instead of attempting some kind of linear exposition, I'm working on a little series of writings illustrated with photos and videos which will hopefully paint a good picture.  This trip to Mysore was beyond all my imaginings... very different from last year in so many ways, but also it feels like my experience this year only could have happened in light of how things unfolded last year.  No matter pain or ecstasy, India is sweet same-same, the motherland that cracks the heart open and pours in the light.  This year I feel like my lights were turned up to high beams, everything became illuminated in such a powerful way.  And coming back home to Austin has been a smooth transition.  Even the not so smooth parts have vibrated with a clarity that makes my response an effortless one.  I've been enjoying the process of bringing the sweet soulshine of my experience in India to bear on my life and relationships here.

One of the highlights of my recent time in Mysore was the philosophy/chanting/Sanskrit classes I took with James Boag.  James has been living about half the year in Mysore for the last seven years to work on a masters degree in Sanskrit.  I met him briefly on my first visit, and I am glad I reconnected with him this year to practice and study in a substantial way.  I dedicated a large chunk of my free time to study with him, and in the process, we collaborated on a series of short films that I think capture the beauty and power of his chanting and teaching - and a bit of the magic of India.  I'll be posting some of those videos here in upcoming blog posts, and you can always go to my yoga channel on vimeo to see them all.  

Today, I am pleased to share the first of these videos, one of my absolute favorites, Harireva Jagat (Everything is Divine).  We shot this one on location in the Devaraja market in Mysore after I had an image of Neitzsche's parable of the madman in the marketplace taking place in the beautiful madhouse that is India.  But instead of the madman proclaiming, "God is dead!  It is we who have killed him!!!" the madman would tell us how "God is alive!  Look!  Look inside, that is where you will find him!  When you see him there, you will see him everywhere!"  Because indeed, it is we who must tend to the holiest and mightiest within ourselves if we ever hope for something more.  Because there is so much more… And the whole universe opens itself up to the ones who dare to look at (to re-cognize, to re-member, to be at-one with) their indwelling, divine potential.  The whole universe conspires on behalf of those who set themselves aflame in that glory.

Harireva jagat (Everything is Divine) from Laura Lea Nalle on Vimeo.

I asked James to elaborate on the origin of this piece, as it has a very interesting story behind it.  Here is what he said:
This is a real favourite with me. I learnt it from fellow devotees of Swami Lakshmanjoo Maharāja at his Īshwar Ashram, in Ishber, Srinagar. Among devotees of Swami Lakshmanjoo in the lineage of Trika Shaiva Masters, this pair of verses are often added when we sing Bhairava Stava, this stava (hymn) which was given to us by the great Master who adorns the middle of the lineage, Śrī Abhinavagupta, one of the greatest personages in the whole history of Indian philosophy, Indian art, Indian aesthetics, Indian thought: one of the greatest intellects, one of the great masters, one of the greatest Beings of all time one might say!
As I understand it, these two ‘extra’ verses were given to us by Swami Vivekananda and Swami Rāma (Swami Lakshmanjoo’s great guru). And the composition of these verses is a wonderful story.  At a certain time on his spiritual journey, Swami Vivekananda was riled by doubts. His Master Swami Paramahansa Ramakrishna told him that he must go to Srinagar, to the ashram of Swami Rāma, this great master of Trika Shaivism. And you can imagine that just the journey itself afforded so much insight back then, from Bengal all the way over to Srinagar.

Anyway, Vivekananda has been on this journey, and all along, these tremendous doubts about the nature of ultimate reality and the nature of God, have been his companions. He arrives in Srinagar, finds Swami Rāma’s ashram, and there’s satsang going on. He goes in, as satsang’s in progress, and during the discourse, these doubts start to be, as it were, acted upon, worked upon, and they start to dissolve. At the culmination of the satsang, Swami Rāma’s devotees start singing this glorious hymn that Abhinavagupta left us, the Bhairava Stava, which really communicates the essence of Trika Shaiva Śāstra, the essence of Kashmir Shaivism. As Vivekananda hears the devotees singing this hymn, it’s like his doubts just get obliterated, completely dissolved. Like raindrops becoming one with the ocean, there’s just no more of them!

Then, in rapture with his doubts cleared, when the devotees finish, Vivekananda, his creative genius set free and aflame, composes and utters forth, on the spot, this additional verse:

Harireva jagajjagadeva hariḥ harito jagato na hi bhinnamaṇu
Iti yasya matiḥ paramārthgatiḥ sa naro bhavasāgaram uttarati

Then, Swāmi Rāma, pleased with Vivekananda’s understanding and his summary of the preceding verses of Bhairava Stava, follows immediately, with a second half to this colophon to the great Bhairava Stava, and he says:

Ādāvante cidrasa rūpam madhye cidrasa budbuda rūpam
Bhātam bhātam bhārūpam syāt no bhātam cennitaram na syāt

So this pair of verses added to the glorious Bhairava Stava provide a glimpse of the wondrous rasa or flavour of the teachings of Kashmir Shaivism. Also, when we hear them sung, they give us an immediate taste of the richness and transportative power of the way that Kashmiri devotional songs are sung.

Jai Guru Deva!

What a remarkable story, thanks for sharing that with us, James!  For now, I'll leave you with one more video from the Devaraja market - James reciting the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling.  I included this poem in a post while I was in still Mysore, so if you want to read it after watching the video, you will find it here.... Enjoy! 

If (poem by Rudyard Kipling) from Laura Lea Nalle on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for more, coming very, very soon!
Laura Lea
ॐ भद्रं कर्णेभिः श्रुणुयाम देवाः ।
भद्रं पश्येमाक्षभिर्यजत्राः
स्थिरैरङ्गैस्तुष्टुवांसस्तनूभिः ।
व्यशेम देवहितम् यदायुः ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥ 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What happens...?

What happens when your soul
Begins to awaken
Your eyes
And your heart
And the cells of your body
To the great Journey of Love?

First there is wonderful laughter
And probably precious tears

And a hundred sweet promises
And those heroic vows
No one can ever keep.

But still God is delighted and amused
You once tried to be a saint.

What happens when your soul
Begins to awake in this world

To our deep need to love
And serve the Friend?

O the Beloved
Will send you
One of His wonderful, wild companions ~
Like Hafiz.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

If you can...

My last two months in Mysore have been an exquisitely unfolding series of one potent experience after another, so rich and deep and infused with the sweetness of fresh mango.  Tomorrow is our last day of practice at the shala, and then there will be a mass exodus from Gokulum.  I will linger here another week or so, holding satsang with a few really remarkable human beings, continuing our studies in the yogic philosophies.  Chanting, listening, connecting.  Practicing.  I have so much to tell you about my time here, and yet, now is not quite the time... It would be like trying to talk with my mouth full.  I am relishing these last few bites in all their delicious sweetness and will give it all a moment to digest before I attempt to relay in words and images what really must be felt to be understood.  I will do my best when that time comes, for your sake, and for my own.  For now, I will leave you with a poem, one that has come up a couple of times recently - once just before I left for India, and again just recently in a course I've been taking on the Gita.  If you want to know what yoga is, and perhaps taste a bit of the sweetness I'm soaking up here in Mysore, then enjoy this as you would a fine wine, slowly, deliberately, lingering on the delicate, unfolding flavor of each sip as it rolls over your tongue...

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

~Rudyard Kipling

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The time of god...

The thing about practicing at Brahma muhurtham
the 'time of god' three hours before sunrise
is that by the time I am finished
I step outside to cool undisturbed air
stars still overhead in the pre-dawn twilight
distant chanting and prayers 
ringing in surround sound through the neighborhood
only the occasional tuktuk or far off train or dog barking
hint at a city on the verge of waking.  
And then, almost in one fell swoop
the darkness gives way 
to the tangerine and violet rising of the sun
pushing back that impenetrable stillness
that only moments before rang out 
from the center of my chest like church bells,
now an echo of a dream I dare to remember
as a deep sapphire sky fades to bluish white
ushering in the chaos and cacophony 
of another crazy beautiful (extra)ordinary day
in the madhouse that is India,
the motherland that cracks hearts open
and pours in the light...

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्माऽमृतं गमय ।
ॐ शान्ति: शान्ति: शान्ति: ॥

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Everything to give...

Well, I'm back in Mysore.  Feels like I never even left.  

I had another dream before I left Austin.  I had been feeling quite anxious about some circumstances that presented me with the opportunity to practice non-attachment in a big way.  I was conflicted about whether I should stay in Austin to deal with the unfortunate situation, or go to India as I had set in motion months ago.  When India calls, it is not a subtle argument.  It is not the sweet whisper of a lover.  No, it is the full force of a new moon tide pulling me toward shore.  There is little option but to surrender.  And my dream whispered to me, "Go.  Go, and take nothing.  She has everything to give..."   

So here I am.  And it is a beautiful, sweet homecoming.

I haven't even been here for a week and already Sharath has me catching my ankles in backbends.  Remembering the lessons from last year, and being thankful for them and integrating them into my practice every day, my practice is so much stronger, more focused, more refined - which is most definitely apparent in my asana practice, but also moreso apparent (to me, at least) in my inner devotional practice.  Last year cracked me open, stripped the outer artifice of the practice away, and let me see all that remains.  With a dislocated rib and pulled intercostals, I was crawling and crying my way through the most basic practice, in terrible pain with every breath, and I realized that everything I need was right there all along.  Yoga is really not about the asanas.  Referring to the asana practice, Guruji said, "Yoga is showing where to look for the soul - that is all."  And in the last year, the sweetness and devotion I found in my cracked open heart has grown and taken root in a much more substantial way, in ways apparent from the outside, and, most importantly, in the infinitely more nuanced inner workings.   

Yesterday was my first day of self-practice at the shala.  I attempted to have a nice leisurely stroll of a practice.  I did a few dropbacks with just a little moral support from one of Sharath's assistants while Sharath kept a watchful eye on me, and then he tells his assistant to 'make her catch' in the final dropback.  To which I responded the only way a person really can to such a direction, with a look of complete shock and terror!  For all you non-ashtangis out there, that means dropping back into backbend from standing and grabbing both your ankles.  I didn't do it quite because I sort of panicked and just ended up landing my hands about two inches from my heels, but I feel somehow like I've been found out, and I should be very, very afraid of what's in store.  'No fear, no fun!'  

And then today, I did dropbacks all by myself without the mental safety net of someone standing right in front of me.  And then another one of Sharath's assistants comes over to do half backs and the final deep dropback.  He asked me if I catch and I'm sure I had that scared look in my eyes and said I never even tried or thought about it until yesterday.  So he talked me through it.  My hands landed nice and close to my heels, and I walked them in until they were just a hair away, then he told me to straighten my arms and he grabbed my right hand, put it on my right ankle, and then did the same with the left.  Then he readjusted me a bit higher on my ankles and told me to straighten my arms again, and I took the usual five breaths before coming back up.  As I was getting squooshed in forward bend, Sharath asked, 'Catching?'  And his assistant replied, 'Yes, catching.  Easy for her.'  Ummmm, yeah... easy.  Hahah!  Not so easy inside my head!  But also not as crazy scary as I could have imagined if given a little more time to think about it. 

So there it is, once again, experiencing first hand how the impossible becomes possible, and one day the possible may actually become easy.  So go do something that scares you, aim for something just out of reach.  Practice.... All is coming!

Friday, December 21, 2012

What satisfies our spirit...

Happy winter solstice!  I'm amused at all the end of the world banter on ye ole social networks.  Why such a literal interpretation?  Why not an infinitely more subtle one, one that involves the transformation of things unseen?  Here is one of my very most favorite quotes from Hegel which illustrates that internal turning away from the light, and perhaps portending a turning back... 
Formerly they had a heaven adorned with a vast wealth of thoughts and imagery. The meaning of all that is, hung on the thread of light by which it was linked to that heaven. Instead of dwelling in this world's presence, men looked beyond it, following this thread to an other-worldly presence, so to speak. The eye of the Spirit had to be forcibly turned and held fast to the things of this world; and it has taken a long time before the lucidity which only heavenly things used to have could penetrate the dullness and confusion in which the sense of worldly things was enveloped, and so make attention to the here and now as such, attention to what has been called 'experience', an interesting and valid enterprise. Now we seem to need just the opposite; sense is so fast rooted in earthly things that it requires just as much force to raise it. The Spirit shows itself as so impoverished that, like a wanderer in the desert craving for a mere mouthful of water, it seems to crave for its refreshment only the bare feeling of the divine in general. By the little which now satisfies Spirit, we can measure the extent of its loss.  ~GWF Hegel
And because I can't talk about a satisfied spirit without thinking of the good Reverend Al Green... and because with all the apocalypse talk, the irony of 'Jesus is Waiting' is just too good... I offer this little gem of heavenly soulshine goodness to you... Turn it up!  May it satisfy our spirit and turn us back toward the light...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Something missing in my heart tonight...

I realize that the dawn
when we'll meet again
will never break,

so I give it up,
little by little, this love.

But something in me laughs
as I say this, someone

shaking his head and chuckling
softly, Hardly, hardly.  


Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God


Monday, November 26, 2012

A full moon in each eye...

Admit something.

Everyone you see, you say to them
"Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud:
Someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,

With that sweet moon

What every other eye in this world
Is dying to 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Tired of speaking sweetly...

Tired of Speaking Sweetly

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.
If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,
Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.
The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:
Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.
But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.

~ Hafiz

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On friendship... this is the training ground part 2...

In my last blog, This is the training ground, I wrote, "It is this place - between the running and the staying, the closing and the opening, the hardening and the softening - where we see precisely what we're made of.  This is where we can initiate meaningful and substantial change within ourselves.  This is where we become better people, more integrated, more open, more loving, more clear.  No one is exempt from fighting this battle within him or herself.  The only real choice you have is which side you fight for.  It is the choice you make - between the fear and the love - that becomes the story of your life.  Which side are you fighting for?  What story do you choose to tell?This is an internal dynamic as well as a dynamic we take into our relationships with others.  There has been lots of talk on the wind lately of friends having difficulties with other friends, questions about how to be a friend, how to stand in your own integrity when a friend is struggling in their own darkness, how to stay open instead of shutting down.  It has been at the forefront of my mind lately, tooOne thing I know for certain is that unless we each confront our own darkness, there is no way to have deep, meaningful friendships with anyone else in this world.  The good news is these difficulties are opportunities to become better people, no matter which side of the scenario you fall on.  As we head into the dark of the year, it is an ideal time to turn our focus to the internal work required of us to become the best people we are capable of becoming...
Meaningful relationships depend upon our individual, ongoing self-reflection.  It's crucial to know where our landmines are, our triggers, our hard edges that cast the darkest shadows. We need to be mindful of all the ways we escape, shut down, short cut, run away, numb out so we can be accountable when those things come up in our relationships.  I hold myself to high standards of integrity and accountability, and I likewise expect that from my friends.  We all fuck up sometimes, it's not only okay, it's to be expected.  This isn't about being infallible, it is about actively working on being the best we can be, and being accountable to ourselves and others for our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions when we fall short.   
 So what do we do when another person's shadow butts up against our own?  We are not alone out in the cold, there are tools we can use to bring clarity to our own internal dialog so we can bring clarity into our dialog with others.  If I see a friend trying to pound a nail into the wall with a sock, I go give him a hammer!  There is no judgement or blame here, none of us have these tools when we come into this world.  Some of us are very lucky to find them along our way, and many of us still need someone to give us a goddamn hammer!  Now if my friend keeps using a sock to pound the nail after I give him a hammer and show him how to use it, then there is not much I can do other than feel compassion for his folly as he becomes increasingly despondent at the failure of his method.  Afterall, we all have blind spots and stubbornness that obstructs our view at times.  It can be challenging and often futile to reason with someone who is already convinced of things being a certain way.  As a stubborn person myself, I know how frustrating it is for my friends to try to convince me of something I don't want to hear or think I already know.  But if we tune into the nuances of our own inner workings, our emotional reactions become a light that shines precisely on the places we ought to be looking.
Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them.  So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences... What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self- love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. ~Martha Nussbaum  
Feeling emotion deeply can be a gift when we are equipped with the tools to properly manage it.  When we don't have the tools or know how to use them properly, our emotions can be overwhelming and outright destructive to our lives and the relationships that are most important to us.  They can undermine and sabotage everything we desire and work so hard to create.  We end up living out our greatest fears.  But when we employ the proper tools, our feelings can be a great catalyst for transformation.  They can propel us toward our dreams.  They can be a bridge that connects us in the deepest and most meaningful ways to the people in our lives.  We have the choice, every day, to approach our emotions with interest and curiosity and to use them to initiate beneficial change in our lives and in our friendships.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom... The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.  ~Viktor Frankl 
Our thoughts generate our emotions.  If we change the way we think about something, the way we feel will likewise change.  When I am upset about something, I work to understand what is at the root of my discontent.  I inquire within myself about my own needs, motivations, judgements.  What is my role in this?  Oftentimes, creating just a little bit of space between the situation and the emotional reaction is necessary to have enough clarity to responsibly manage the habituated response which, more often than not, is counterproductive to our contentment and the wellbeing of our friendships.  How do we create that space when things are heavily charged with fear, hurt, pain, vulnerability?  We take a breath.  We breathe just enough space around our fear/hurt/pain so we take a moment to ask ourselves some important questions.  In my yoga practice, fear comes up in backbending almost every day and can induce something close to a panic attack.  This is a helpful place for me to practice creating that space between the situation and my immediate reaction, even if it's just pausing for one breath before I cave to the fear.  The next day might be two breaths, and my capacity to make that space continues to grow as I continue to practice.  Learning how to fall is also helpful, so when that fear comes up, you can ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen?  And you answer, I could fall.  Well, as silly as it sounds, it's quite helpful to test it out so you know you won't die if you fall, and it hardly ever hurts as much as you fear it will.  For me, yoga is a safe place to practice this, and there are also relationships in my life that are safe places to practice making space in my emotional reactions.  No matter how safe these places are though, it always feels risky.  That's okay so long as we are continually pushing our capacity to stay open.  The greatest things in life involve the greatest risk.
Gamble everything for love, 
if you’re a true human being. 

If not, leave this gathering.  
 Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.   

You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping 
for long periods at meanspirited roadhouses.  


So how do we make space in our reactions to a friend?  Well, we embark on a process of self-inquiry.  For instance, if a situation arises where I do not get what I need from someone, I look to see... Did I ask for what I need?  (When I ask myself this question, the answer is almost always a resounding no!  And I'm always shocked!  Shocked!  I mean... but... how... uhhh... what... but.... if... damnit!  Why can't you read my mind?!  (Note to self: Be fearless in asking for what you need.))  If you don't ask, the answer to your question is always no.  And as the guy who picked me up hitchhiking one time many years ago said, "If you've got the balls to ask, the only answer is yes!"  I've realized this is a profound insight into the inner workings of the universe.  Regardless of whether or not I asked for what I need, was I open to receive what was given to me?  Was I open to recognize what I need in unexpected forms or from unexpected sources?  Did I express gratitude for the kindnesses extended to me?  Did I give freely to others what was needed of me?   
If I judge someone else as having fallen short, say, by being unkind.... I ask myself, "In what ways have I been unkind?"  If I already know the person to be a good person based on our shared experiences and history, then I am inclined to give a more generous interpretation for their actions.  I ask myself if there are other factors at work: Are they under duress?  Do they have the proper (physical/emotional/spiritual) tools to deal with the situation properly?  Are they doing the best they can under the conditions?  Are they willing to acknowledge where they fell short?  Are they actively working to be better?  And then I turn every single one of those questions on myself. 
Hopefully that line of inquiry turns up a new, more positive perspective on the situation and my friend and I can start working things out from there.  But if it doesn't, I consider if I could be mistaken in this assessment of my friend.  Is there a more fair and generous interpretation?  Am I projecting my own fears/biases/beliefs/pain/anger onto this person?  How is this triggering my own pain/fear/darkness?  Did this person unknowingly step on one of my landmines and go explodey all over both of us and now I don't know which way is up?  What is at stake if I act on a potentially inaccurate or incomplete understanding?  Is this friend important enough to me to do the work required of me to gain greater clarity?  Do my feelings about the situation or attachments to my defense mechanisms outweigh the care and regard I have for my friend?  Is my friend willing to help clarify the situation, their motivations, their feelings?  Am I willing and courageous enough to stay present and open even though it's uncomfortable/scary/confusing/triggering me? 
Don't turn away.  Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That's where the light enters you.  ~Rumi 

What is at stake is not just the friendship.  By running away or shutting down or closing myself off, I am reinforcing my own negative patterns, defenses, and fears.  What part of me does this serve?  Does this serve my deeper desire for connection and intimacy?  No!  Does this serve the love and care I have for my friend?  No!  How do these defenses obstruct my ability to have meaningful and substantial relationships with myself and the people I care about?  And most importantly, how do I serve the higher parts of myself, the desire for connection, the love I have for my friend?  

Very little grows on jagged rock,
Be ground, be crumbled,
So wild flowers will come up where you are.
You've been stony for too many years
Try something different


Our defenses are thorny weeds, the more we indulge them, the more strongly they take root.  So long as we submit to the spurious whims of our shadow, we will remain complicit in our own suffering.  We are making a choice, whether we realize it or not, every time we run.  But there is another choice we can make.  We can ventilate those claustrophobic places, we can uproot those thorny weeds.  We can choose to stay present in those moments we want to run, we can choose to stay open instead of closing ourselves off, we can choose to feel the depth of our emotions instead of numbing ourselves out.  Choosing this course of action chisels away at our defenses and opens up greater possibilities in our inner landscape.  It also brings us into greater integrity within ourselves and our friendships.  Standing in integrity means our thoughts, words, and actions are in alignment and turned toward the Good.  Breaking down our reactionary defenses and integrating the shadow part of ourselves is necessary if we are to live contented lives and enjoy meaningful relationships.  
We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life.  ~C.G Jung
It's worthwhile to look around your life every so often and take inventory of things.  It's helpful information to know if you've surrounded yourself with people who serve the lowest parts of you or the highest.  Take a good look around to see what kind of people populate your life and bear their influence upon your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.  And ask these questions of yourself, as well, to see what kind of friend you are to others.  Does s/he hold herself and her friends to high standards of integrity and accountability?  Does s/he manage her emotions responsibly?  Does s/he call me on my negative patterns?  Does s/he refuse to coddle my weaknesses?  Does s/he challenge me to look at the dark places within myself?  Does s/he encourage me and support me in becoming a better person?  Does s/he celebrate my successes?  Does s/he see the best in me even when I fall short?  Is the care and regard for our friendship mutually reciprocated?  Do I feel lighter/clearer/more energized after spending time with him/her?  Am I a better person for knowing her/him?  
If we are earnest in our inquiry, it is likely we've turned up some unsavory aspects of ourselves and our friends that may cause alarm.  Fear not!  This is to be welcomed and expected as the natural result of sincere self-reflection.  Afterall, I do not know a single soul who is as good as they'd like to be.  And the very best ones are often filled with the most doubt and fear and questioning.  So long as we are moving toward our goodness, that thing perpetually on the horizon ever out of reach, we are headed in the right direction.  When we fall short or do wrong, know that it is possible to repair the infraction.  First, acknowledge your short-falling at the very first opportunity you have to do so.  The more time that passes without acknowledgment, the more damage is potentially done to both you and your friend.  Then, account for the short-falling.  Explain to your friend what was going on in your heart and mind that caused you to behave the way you did.  Show your friend where you have clarity and where you are still struggling, and ask them to show you the same in return.  Listen to your friend's side of the story, and be open to really hear what they say so you can both better understand how to support each other and more gracefully navigate any difficulties moving forward.  Next, make amends by making the situation right in whatever ways you can and committing to yourself and your friend to actively work on becoming better.  Finally, forgive your friend for their short-fallings, and ask for forgiveness for your own.  Now hug it out, you two!

Life, and love, is short.  The forgetting, and regretting, is so very long.  Be fearless.  Be the first one to pick up the phone.  Say I'm sorry.  Extend a hand.  Ask for help.  Ask for clarity.  Ask for forgiveness.  Be forgiving.  Cry together.  Express gratitude.  Laugh at yourselves.  Celebrate the little things.  Friendship must be tended to, cultivated.  It takes continual, sustained effort over time.  It takes devotion.  It takes practice.  It takes showing up even when it's not convenient or pleasurable or easy.  It takes good days and bad days and falling down and getting back up.  It takes fighting for what and who is important to you.  It takes courage and a willingness to go far outside what's comfortable.  It takes vulnerability and sacrifice.  It takes looking your fears in the face.  It takes staying instead of running.  It takes being seen by another, shadows and scars and all.  It takes bearing witness to another person's pain and darkness and loving them still, even more.  It takes a goddamned impeccable, unshakable sense of humor.  It takes risking everything for the chance of love.   

This is the yoga of friendship, and it is one of the most beautiful and worthwhile things in the entire world.

Street art by Swoon

Lovers gather and give each other shade,
relief from the direct sun.
Stay closeby that community.
Be shade with them,
until you yourself are full of light
like the moon, then like the sun.