Category Archives: Buddhism

Nowhere Man

I’m awake which sucks because it’s almost dawn and if I slept it was fitfully. Frustrated, I hurl myself out of bed, poetry writing itself in my head.

 

Writing words that no one will read

Painting pictures that no one will see.

Huh.

I take stock of my thoughts. Plainly I’ve got work to do.

 

I am way overtired. We’d been to a party of dear friends. We party like it’s a job interview that we will kill. We celebrate with abandon which despite our lovely lives is not our lot.

 

It’s too early and even for a morning after I know I will suffer too much. I make a play for sleep again and it comes though an hour later my new pup wakes me with a muscular swipe at my face. I roll out of bed and throw on my robe as a song starts playing in my head.

He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land…. Oh you’ve got to be kidding.

 

In the 70’s Lennon told Rolling Stone Magazine how he conceived The Beatles song Nowhere Man. “I was just going through this paranoia trying to write something and nothing would come out so I just lay down and tried to not write and then this came out, the whole thing came out in one gulp.”

 

I get that and thank you John for helping me to believe I may be more like you than just the lazy creative free procrastinator I  imagine myself right now.

 

And then there’s the nagging realization that most beautiful creations will go unnoticed. They come from souls who no one will know. But that doesn’t mean they’re nobody.

 

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Sanders, Trump and Yoga

There is a murmur in the corner of the not so tiny yoga community about the state of affairs of yoga.

Bitchin Yoga always weighs in as vigorous claims interest her. For her, what was once surprising is not now. Age teaches. The state is adrift at the surface which is why she’s keen on learning high wire skills. Beneath the surface not much has changed.

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Consider this in terms of this election year. An unsettling season of ferocity seems normal these days. What once seemed weird or alternative or unlikely now seems a solution as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump rise in the polls. Judgment of some kinds ceases as the Status Quo fails to deliver. Unconventional organizers ascend and division is clear.

The time is right for the once strange of yoga to increase in popularity, attract developers and further divide in these days of radical unrest and financial uncertainty.

Yoga practitioners with a pre-modern yoga history had little to distract us from the practice as it wasn’t tied to livelihood or even solutions to specific social problems. Modern yogis have a different experience to reckon with. Survival is paramount and so is unleashed creativity if they want to stay in what has become the game.

 

Yoga isn’t fringe anymore and “mindfulness” has pierced the commercial world. Yoga class as a *“mindful” exercise isn’t necessarily entirely different from a yoga classes twenty five years ago but as an increasing component of the public domain, it is presented differently. Now it is subject to regulations enforced by an outside source. That changes the flavor of things. The outside source used to be the first and second limb of yoga.

 

Before blogging there was a book on the state of yoga in America. Hearkening back to the chapter I wrote for that book, I still think that the first limbs of yoga are the key to the state of yoga and most things in America right now. Attraction or willful rebellion to those guiding principles of ethical restraints as well as the interpretation of those principles shapes the character of our choices. We are flailing wildly perhaps not realizing we are looking for direction. But we look for structure nonetheless.

 

To put it simply, the first limb describes the social offenses to avoid if one wants a peaceful life. The second limb describes the components of that life. In short, if you are doing the right thing you will sleep at night and want to take the next breath in the morning. But what is the right thing if not an opinion these days?

 

Look at the followers of Trump and Sanders and a yogi will notice that what looks like non-violence, honesty, lack of greed or gluttony and overstepping one’s power is not the same for everyone. Perception comes from individual experience of life. In fact there are a disturbing amount of stories of power abuse in yoga studios though the owners seem clueless. How interesting that a major goal of yoga is to break through this veil of perception to see truth.

 

What truth is has become one of the paramount questions of our time. Politicians tell their truths. It is different for each of them. They inform and influence the greater group. The group has shared truths. Some things become evident and absolute but often the case is not closed. This is the state of the yoga studio and teacher as well.

 

Discontentment’s fire fuels us and the West becomes a Wild West again. We will survive at all costs. We will sling guns where we want. We will break boundaries in relationship to all things whether it is sex, drugs, rules, racism and yes yoga. Political incorrectness has become correct. Survival comes first. When you open doors it is interesting to see who and how we choose to walk through them.

 

Is the yoga being taught now working? I’m sure it is working for some students because the interest in walking through a door that advertises illumination is to want that. So if the student keeps walking in and the teacher is at least conveying that yoga is the practice of self awareness or discipline or kindness then some yoga is being taught. Perhaps it is enough if the student recognizes there is work to do and because we are hard working people we can embrace that. We are the work we have to do. Perhaps that is the surface we want to scrape.

 

As for the financial survival of the teachers it is like other businesses today. The price of everything except salaries is going up. Perhaps that’s why so many teachers use yoga as their hobby or second business. Still, more people are putting hard earned cash into teacher training that won’t pay them back in much more than a brief education. There must be some pay off for them. That says to me their yoga experience has got them hooked, hopefully on more than ego. That’s not a bad thing.

 

It is a long time since I had a studio. I was lucky to be part of our local ballet company and my rent was cheap. I did not hire or fire. There were no Groupons and for that, there was no competition. We had punch cards and an honor system and a yoga family that lasted longer than the average attrition rate now. I am grateful beyond measure for that beautiful experience. I cannot say I know the state of yoga now but I know one thing for sure. It is a changing status while beneath the surface the seed of yoga is not.

 

*This is noted because I don’t like the use of the non- word mindfulness when thoughtful worked just fine. I used it here because it is part of yoga culture now.

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Simply Complicated

I can’t remember where I read this mother’s account of her son’s last words: “It was all so simple. “ He was referring to life.

 

I stopped reading though her account had just begun. For the profundity of his finding in that moment took me aback where in another time it might have just seemed another hackneyed observation. And also, because I am a mother of sons.

 

But that statement indicates that there is no reason to worry. It disrobes the drama that is worry. It implies that everything is O.K. while these days it definitely feels like everything is certainly not going to be O.K.

 

It’s simple, eh? We are here to love and be loved. That is simple and beautiful enough. But I have rarely heard of a human life unfolding seamlessly.

Cheekwood optic fiber cotton candy Bruce Monroe by Rob Lindsay

Despite a desire to love and be loved or because of it, when someone doesn’t treat us well a worm of doubt assures us we are not worthy and the bad feelings get paid forward in future relationships.

 

Evolution as actualization begins at birth. In spite of the immense beauty that surrounds and buoys us, it is discomfort by way of desire or avoidance that keeps us moving.

 

Beyond that, we do not live to love only. We live to survive and survival comes first. In a system that demands we compete to survive love can get lost in the shuffle. And the shuffle has gone beyond our inside circle. Our connectivity is both support and pain.

 

Memory says that things are not O.K. We wrestle the future. We enter the news and become part of the stories that shock us. Acts unspeakable and not understandable are committed by people who are like us in most ways. Mutation happens within our tribes. We are tribal. In small ways and large, people act badly. Equilibrium abides because in small ways and large, we also act kindly.

 

We extend a helping hand to nations beyond ours but our service is a form of dominance and the seeds that spawn the grain are tainted. Our produce is a reflection of corporate power. If we enjoy the agricultural that created a Honeycrisp apple we can’t be surprised that technology also brought forth monster seeds. It comes at once. A revolution of technology followed a revolution of industry and fostered worldwide revolutions of disgruntled reactionaries who keep our hair raised and our fear at code red.

 

Nothing is simple. Or is it?

 

Spirit guides point me to a commonplace hearkening I’d become deaf to. Turn the other cheek is not so different from love your enemy or even love no matter what. No matter the circumstances, the human is urged to act alone as an act of rebellion. Defy fear. Do not hate. Love despite all. The act of loving oneself and one’s testy neighbor is revolutionary. That is the telling of non-reacting that is yoga washed in Buddhism.

 

In this midnight awakening it seems true and possibly simple. If we only loved from the first consciousness there would be no fear. Without harm or threat of harm things would be less complicated. But we messy human beings came wired for fear. We come with internal landmines that might or might not be active.

 

 

The wrestle with demons is the fable of heroism, the story of good v. evil we crave. If it is not in our own lives we seek it in stories of others. Perhaps that is what was and is so simple; To know our own nature and abide calmly in it.

 

 

 

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Find Me In the Bardo

I am sick; stricken completely dumb with laryngitis and not at my best. I’m certainly not meant to be teaching a yoga class, that’s for sure. If you wonder how important a teacher’s words are to her craft try taking yoga from a mime. It’s not that satisfying.

But it’s Christmas week and near impossible to get a last minute sub and besides, I’m teaching at the facility whose parking lot was the target of my vandalized car and since no one has offered to help me pay for the damage, I’m working overtime.

My joints feel poisonous and I make the mistake of not giving a shit that I’ve chosen a play list that is completely horrendous. I have no idea how I have this on my I-pod but it says Holiday and Spirit and Jai Uttal is singing something Adonai and that’s the best of it. My body wants a couch and this music will not inspire the rush of endorphins that I’ve relied on in times of inertia and bad attitude past to make me powerful beyond this body. It’s fair to say that in this moment, the once renowned rebel yogi who could move an auditorium of students by example has lost her groove. And I suspect it’s more than this passing illness. Or is it?

“We do not see things as they are.

We see them as we are.” ~ The Talmud

 

The bardo is a Buddhist term for the place between lives that Christians might equate with Purgatory or Limbo. Depending on how you’ve managed your life, you might spill from the bardo toward the light or you might not. It is a purification ground and can be a painful process. One thing is for sure, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. And you might not immediately recognize that you’ve left.

There is a point in life in which you realize you are not the person you always knew. It seems like it happens overnight but it doesn’t. You don’t think the same way. You don’t like or feel the same things. You don’t teach the same way. How did this happen? That’s always the question. The answer is you stayed alive. The answer is you stopped or were stopped to notice what was inevitable. In the stopping comes the temporary pain of knowing, the sweet realization that you are more real than ever and the power of choice.

It’s the bardo time of the year though we have just passed the darkest day. We barely notice under the glare of holiday lights. We make a purposeful choice as a community to herald the darkness by laughing at death on Halloween and later hoping for life with the Christmas messiah and Hanukkah’s message of eternal light. Too busy to notice the boogeyman, we are uncomfortably comfortable in an accelerated life that does not allow for time off anyway. We run through and from the darkness. It is our nature to be afraid of anything as still and dark as death. The year begins with bold declarations and resolutions that come less from stillness than the ceaseless adrenal rush of hope and denial.

Still, transitions happen. Bridges to somewhere else abound. It’s not just an age thing but the many cycles of a life. But what might seem less profound in younger years is undeniable when no longer camouflaged by youth’s intensity.

Sickness stops us when all us fails but I am not it’s servant and in 25 teaching years have only one memory of stopping for one day for illness. I pride myself on racing through the bardo of viral war, wielding my sword of energy born of yoga, dance, chi gung, plant medicine and defiance. It has worked to pull me quickly from the abyss without a blip.

Now dumbstruck with the viral beast I’ve still ploughed on in surety that ignoring it will dispel it but laying limp on the couch follows every effort. Still with every burst of renewed energy, I’ve driven myself forward like this foolish rhododendron in my garden that has been sneaking forth blooms with every thaw since the first frost, well before her time. No wonder her flowers are frostbit and limp. Can I not see how alike I am?

If ever nature screamed: SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP, it is now but I declare, I AM NATURE TOO AND I WILL DECIDE WHAT IS NATURAL FOR ME!

I spent years unaware in the bardo expecting the same students, the same appreciation. When old students reappear decades later, I am sure I will fail them now. I will not be giving that exact thing they loved, like that favorite food they remember from their mother. I have changed and that might disappoint.

No fan of marketing, I would not reinvent myself by anything other than the quiet way I have done it but still, when students ask if I will teach my old dance class or talk about me, in front of me, as the teacher who did this and that, I feel a bit un- tethered. I have run ceaselessly to avoid the darkness and for all of that, must deal with the bardo as I can say with surety that I have long been its guest.

Is this too melancholy for this joyous time of year? No, it is perfect timing. This purification is not really painful but wistful and I think done for now. Anyway, I’m a mournful poet. Sorrow is just so beautiful. And hope is the unseen side of sorrow.

If you are looking for your old teacher, come find her in the bardo. She’s on her way out.

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How Do We Labor: A Yoga Labor Day Muse

How Do We Labor? A Yoga Labor Day Muse

How Do We Labor? A Yoga Labor Day Muse

 A noteworthy section (the Eight Limbs) of a major yoga text, The Yoga Sutras, offers specific components of a worthy life. We yoga teachers wear the heck out of it because it’s a tidy template; relatable, easy to apply to asana and by extension behavior off the mat.

 

Herein is advice to keep fire, the manifestation of desire, under one’s feet. One is also advised that contentment is essential. Beyond that, keep your sunny side up and your eyes open is what I’ve extrapolated from the word cleanliness.

Ascetics wrote this body of work which I reinterpret for our times; times of “it’s all good”, which it is not. People like to pretend.

It’s tidy that the author or authors thought to group fire/desire, contentment, positivity with reflection and tied them together with the suggestion of surrendering to a higher power. I mean when you try your damndest and this life still acts like a bag full of cats it’s nice to have that to fall back on.

 

And it was never going to be easy in a world in which everyone’s and everything’s survival depends on eating someone or something else. The map points to a rough road. Wouldn’t you agree?

 

There’s a warning watch list of qualifications, of things not to do in order to make those components of a happy life possible. The list is called Just Don’t Do It. I made that up. They called it Restraints. It’s also known as the first limb of yoga. Number one: Don’t be an ass and you won’t feel guilty. If you don’t feel guilty you’ll have more energy toward positive things, like keeping your sunny side up while you bust your butt in happy endeavors that satisfy you. That’s in the second limb. Keep climbing. You can be an ass by being a mean, stealing, jealous, arrogant hoarder or any of the above. So it’s easy to be an ass at least once a week if not once a day or an hour.

 

In a country where kindness has one leg out the window and common courtesy is standing on the ledge, where the population suffers from epidemic attention deficiency it’s tempting to be an ass as it’s practically become acceptable but it’s also tempting to ‘give it up to God’ as a vacation from effort.

 

I’m reminded of a car I steered clear of because the bumper sticker said that Jesus was driving. Poor Jesus comes back and the best job available for someone of a certain age is to chauffer a guy who’d rather take the back seat. Yes Jesus, my friends and I are having big birthdays. We get it.

 

I saw the show Sunday Morning today. It is Labor Day weekend so there were three separate segments on employees in this country. One pointed out that only three out of ten people like their jobs. A second revealed that if you take your entire tiny handful of vacation days, 15% of your employers will think you’re a slacker and 10% will overlook you for a promotion. No problem, most of you don’t have the money to go on vacation anyway.

 

The third was like baby bear’s bed; just right. A bit of socialism in a company goes a long way. When the employees are treated like worthy individuals of a shared community, productivity goes up and happiness reigns for all.

 

This is the best we can offer in a shared experience of humanity that is an ongoing experiment in survival. What does it take to treat someone like a worthy individual if you are not the boss? What does it take for happiness created to translate to personal happiness?

 

Here’s a radical concept of authenticity: Manners might be the answer. Manners are not superficial but I think quite the opposite. Manners say that I see you beyond your facades and treat you as I would have you treat me. Manners are my restraint; as I don’t honk my horn at you or flip you the bird, as I do not put my cell phone on your dining room table, as I honor the acceptance of your invitation by showing up as planned. Manners mean I have reflected. Manners mean I understand Namaste.

 

There is no template but the vastness of everyday life. In this life where we cut and eat someone or something to stay alive even a silent thank you for that in the presence of ourselves might be the beginning of a labor of love on a planet where:

“We’re all just walking each other home”

                                                                                                                                ~ Ram Dass – author of Be Here Now

                                                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Will I Do With This Awareness?

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In this season of silver grass and sharp light I reflect on the shadows that do not reflect but absorb light.

I am a yogi, a yoga teacher, a teacher of clarity; of awareness sustained, of purpose defined and attitude checked.

Yoga teacher:  One who shines light?

Light shone at light makes a blind spot. There assumption may ripen.  Shine light at darkness to reveal what was not there before.

Embrace the yogi who points to the darkness. Do not tell her about the poverty of negative thinking or that her vision reflects her soul. She calls attention to the unattended which even if born of light is not always bathed in it but sometimes hidden in shadow.

And what will I, the yoga teacher, shedder of light, do with my own awareness?

Will I find happiness or comfort? Will I be better off?

As the day dawns on another threat of a government shutdown I ponder the little project I just signed on for; teaching a tiny segment at an event to bring yoga to the warring tribes of Africa.  The video that persuaded me to participate indicates that yoga has had a positive effect on a few thousand people and the hope is that it will enhance the opportunity for peace. I see no harm in it but I wonder at yoga’s effects on our own warring nation.  In fact I see that Lululemon seems to have some part in promoting this event, a business known more for the havoc it wreaks than any humanitarian bent.  And indeed I am aware that some yoga community politics are in play even here.

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The fragmented tear sheet of harmony amongst us is a scrapbook that sits on the shelf of hard covered hard edged, dusty tomes that set the tone of both our doing and undoing despite our best intentions. Still, we cannot stop doing. It is what we are.

That is why yoga has begun an evolution as a social service for the at risk and less fortunate who are more than the churches can handle, more than the families can handle while the government; an overwhelmed, ungainly lumbering beast rumbles through the mist trampling delicate underlings in its myopia.  It is a noble thing to help others find peace.

Here’s a news clip that shows a line of very overweight people waiting for free food boxes. The correspondent reveals “all sorts of things to keep a family going: donuts, pancake mix, white rice, pasta, commercial peanut butter and mayonnaise”.

We are unevenly informed even if we share a heart. Our perceptions are different even when we are evenly informed. We are a diverse, disparate people. We will not storm the gates together. Our greatest cohesiveness is majority vote. Cohesion is a patchwork quilt of mismatched swatches.

If awareness is turned inward so that we might discern what to let in and what not to let in, will the world wait for us? How many invitations to save the world, how many pleas, invitations, how many e-mails, texts, tutorials will wait as we contemplate?  Eyes and ears tuned to beauty, love and light will give respite though we cannot remain there without pause or interruption.

1694 Golden Grass by Rob Lindsay

I am teaching a class at Vanderbilt. People are losing their jobs en masse. We share our thoughts about why, when and who.  Extending the conversation from the astonishing to the absurd, one of my students evenly says, “My new yoga mat can cause cancer”. The room of scientists, researchers and medical professionals are aghast.

She hands me the cardboard wrapper from the yoga mat bought at Wal-Mart. The label says; this product contains one or more chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm.

The mat is named “Lotus”.

I think back to a sign I saw posted outside the walls of the new age/yoga Chopra Center in Carlsbad last month. Chemicals used in this facility have been known to cause cancer, birth defects…….

My cancer causing mat owning student says she was born in the 70’s and purposefully stays there. She lives in the country, listens to old rock and does not watch the news. She describes herself as a woman of faith who keeps her eye and mind on the good words of the good book. She says nothing about returning the cancerous yoga mat she is lying on. She picks the battles she feels she can win.

I asked my students what yoga does for them. I want to know if the work has the desired effect of creating awareness and if heightened senses bring peace or agitation. They tell me that they come to class frazzled and leave refreshed; that yoga helps them manage stress more efficiently for about 24 hours.  Then they do it again. I think of a friend who has just confided that she’s taken a pill every day for 10 years to keep her positive. She’s afraid to go off.

We are so aware that we can’t handle all that confronts us. Nothing in this life will let us go back to sleep. Is yoga a break, a temporary fix with a cumulative effect? Perhaps that is enough. But as the yoga teacher, it is not a break but a constant call to awareness that has no filter.

Cheekwood optic fiber cotton candy Bruce Monroe by Rob Lindsay

I am driving from one job to another and traffic is not on my side. I finally get around the driver with a handicapped badge on his rear view mirror who drove with infuriating exactitude 10 mph below the speed limit. I have reflexively unwrapped the chocolate bar I’d stashed for the infusion I’ll need three hours from now. It’s still early in the morning.

I look at the old gentleman beside me in his upscale car and careful attire, well groomed hair. I imagine him a native to this once sleepy Southern town; a man who has deep roots while all around him is changing as immigrants like me have changed his home. I imagine him gracious about that, generous in his acknowledgement of the good that has come with the traffic, crime and bad manners.

I see a picture from my childhood; a picture that is a feeling collage more than one image. I am relaxed. Life is good in my 50s middle class world. There is slowness.  There is quietude. There are friends and there is time and there is a wide open empty highway in the darkness that two headlights pursue in sureness toward a promising destination. It is gone. Maybe it was never there.

 

What will I do with this awareness? Will I live like a prisoner making paper dolls? Will I storm the prison walls?  Or will I expand my revelation that silver grass in light sharpened by a darkened  sky  is the field of all of us.  I choose always to be reborn by this temporal  beauty as the mud beneath and the sky above will shift and shift again.

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Total Recall

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In the worst of winter you recall a child;

 

A simple creature who did not rush

But digested the life; one thought with one action.

Not parsing time or pausing to weigh the worth of a task

But wholly absorbed as only one who has nothing to answer to can be absorbed.

 

Who asked for what was wanted without assuming the answer

Who ate only when hungry and drank from thirst not habit

In the times before moral outrage

The short window of innocence

When you constructed your dreams from nightmares;

Manifested desires in fantasy that went unchecked.

 

Before you were restless,

And burn -out became numbness.

 

Remembering what you turn to others to teach you now            

Before you ran to textbooks and spiritual guides

Before you quoted others to make your point

And distractions replaced your memory with advice that crowded out the cells that knew before.

 

When stacking stones was holier than parent’s handclapping at your grammar school play

No one told you consciousness creates matter

But you expected that.

In the days before the whirring machine blocked the flow of your thoughts;

Your fancy created the world

Just hand from pen to paper.

 

You were fertile

But not yet fertilized.

 

Child hood ripostes were correct but you were not so clever yet.

Protected by the castle walls, you could not yet comprehend the battlefield

While chanting songs to ease the smart of other’s glances:

I Know You Are But What Am I

I’m rubber you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks back on you.

It takes one to know one.

You had the words but no comprehension to back them up.

The knowledge you had, had no words to describe.

You made no choices but time chose for you. It would not stop. 

Inner guides met outer guides and plotted to keep you and those did collide at the first reckoning

But age made you sober;

For better where collusion carved awareness

 And worse when you forgot yourself.

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