“Don’t you think the ladies, who come here to practice yoga, come to ‘do their bodies’—just as they ‘do their hair’ or ‘do their nails’ at some salon?”
The perfect sense of the question switches a bare, bright bulb ON above the object of my inquiry, during a conversation with one of my mature and well-respected students—also a fellow teacher.
The yoga boutique classes I have been teaching are not allowing me to create learning situations that follow a defined arc, with philosophical concepts and postures introduced so that students’ individual paths become clear, change directions or open to them. In this venue, attendance is erratic, and most students are not willing to commit to a series of classes designed to ‘advance’ them. The boutique setting makes it impossible for me to accomplish what I am used to being able to do—open doors.
Consider these issues when you are in the process of selecting a studio, yoga classes or a new instructor. Ask yourself, “What do I want from this experience?
Because yoga—authentic yoga—offers so much more than a physical workout. Why settle for ‘do your body’ when you have the opportunity to find your Way?
Among my closest friends, I have observed a trend. Most of us have taken serious forays into the practices, theories and sacred literature of a variety of spiritual traditions, as well as the theologies of Christian denominations, including phases of attendance among many devout peoples. We have neither strayed nor lost our identities nor misplaced our moral compasses. We have not abandoned the dearness held in our hearts for the religious traditions in which we were reared, but which no longer seem a fully adequate fit. Nonetheless, in listening to the questions raised in and around these forays, I hear my friends looking for the “oldest, closest to the original, best translation or most authentic” sources.
And, I have to ask, “Of what? Sources of what?”
In my own case, my phase of comparative spiritual study involved wanting to discover and build a vocabulary—which I simply did not possess from the context of my childhood tradition—for the states I was experiencing during meditation, receptivity or periods of contemplation. Then, at some point amid my search, I realized that the authenticity I sought—which was the “oldest, closest to the original, best translation and most authentic”—could neither be found nor adequately represented by an external literature or tradition. The road to authenticity, in my experience, is opened only through one’s own ability to connect with that something deep inside, which is radiant and whole in each of us.
Now, I am able to talk with you using three different words, from three different spiritual traditions, about that authentic something—the place of peace. But, in the end, words are completely inadequate.
Search for the oldest known texts, closest translations, most original practices or the best of teachers. The very act of searching, in safe circumstances, aids us in building lines of communication to our place of authenticity. But, what I tell you is that the daily practice of remaining in that precious seat, involves picking up the ringing phone in one’s own heart to listen and know peace.
“Waste not food, waste not water, waste not fire…”
–Taittiriya Upanishad (Trans. Easwaran)
Grabbing the dog leashes hanging next to our front door, I tie a plastic grocery bag on each in preparation for our morning walk. Handing the leashes to my husband, I sit down in a chair to finish putting on my socks and shoes. My husband finishes leashing the dogs, walking them outside to wait for me by tethering them to our parked truck.
With shoes on, I step outside into the intense heat of late summer. My lungs fill with muggy air. I wonder how long the three of us will last outside today.
“A solo trip to the pool might be in order later” I muse.
After a few blocks, I bend to pick up after both of my dogs. That was efficient. Maybe we’ll only need to use one bag today. Continuing along a less-traveled route, I bend to pick up scattered drink containers, littered water bottles and empty cigarette packs clogging the way. We top off the bag the dogs just used with a variety of refuse. While collecting, I try to remember that bending and stooping are good for long-term health rather than lose hope about our environmentally myopic and selfish species.
At some point during my trash collection practice, I have filled more than an estimated five-hundred bags. To keep our personal trash bin from overflowing, I start using a few of the neighborhood dumpsters (with permission) along our walk routes. Today, as I toss the over-full bag into an almost empty dumpster, I notice a multitude of unopened cases of whole-grain breakfast bars at the bottom. This is not a regular food dumpster, so it is clean. I am surprised by the find. Anyone, who has ever grown a garden, knows the sacredness of food. And, anyone who knows me, knows that I love economy and loathe waste—especially the waste of perfectly good food.
It is Sunday. I decide to tether the dogs to the closest fence and return to the dumpster. Sliding my foot into the giant metal holster half-way-up and on the side, the place used by the garbage truck’s hydraulic forklift to empty the bin, I place my hands on the receptacle’s edges. Taking a deep breath for strength, I hoist myself up, over and into the bin to investigate the individually-wrapped packages of bars.
Amazing. Four large cases of in-date, unopened pristine boxes of granola bars, brownie bars and cake bars. One box has a hand-written note on top, “Throw these out.” But why? After flipping one of the cases out of the dumpster, I rest a foot lightly on the corner of an empty box, being careful not to crush it. I must rely on my arm strength to get me back out.
Walking over to the dogs, I collect their leads and turn to gather up the rather unwieldy box. We hoof it home; sweat drips down the center of my chest.
At home, I relay the sum of the situation to my spouse and then head back to the dumpster to collect the rest of the cases with an over-sized backpack to the mantram, “Waste not, want not.” We have a disabled neighbor, a few blocks away, who is trying to support himself and his troubled child on one disability check. I split the cases with this family, keeping half of the bars for our family. My husband has the only serious sweet tooth in the house.
Why do people waste food? As my husband works his way through the bars as a treat with his morning coffee, he notices a rare packet among the many that is not properly sealed because the edges do not quite match.
“Do you think they threw them all out because of this minor packaging glitch?” he muses.
“I don’t know. I am just glad that we saved them from the landfill. What a waste of resources. People forget how much energy goes into food production, packaging and shipping. It is as though we are completely disconnected from the land and production processes.”
A knock comes on our door. Our generous neighbor has come with an unexpected, reciprocal food gift for us. I am filled with gratitude for this unexpected kindness as I pack several packages of pantry staples into our cupboards, remembering my place in the grand scheme of things, “From food are made all bodies. When you feed the hungry, you serve the Lord…”. Taittiriya Upanishad (Trans. Easwaran)
After teaching a particularly rigorous set of large-group, hatha yoga classes one day, I went to renew my body at the local Indian restaurant. I had not been there in awhile, but had once been a regular patron.
Moving on autopilot, I only wanted to grab a quick take-out tray of curry. Striding purposefully into the restaurant and fixated on my mission for nourishment, I watched in stunned amazement as, all at once, a perfectly choreographed scene of three sari-clad woman rose from their seats with their hands moving like small birds in flight into prayer position at their hearts, they bowed in genuine warmth and dignity to greet me. “Namaste,” they proclaimed in poetic chorus like a group of dear relatives whom I had not seen in a very long time. The heart-felt sincerity behind their kind gesture caused me to stop mid stride as I recalled the reverential throngs in the film, Gandhi, bowing and greeting him on hi s salt march to the sea. That scene first contextualized this gesture for me.
Namaste is translated many different ways: “The Perfection in me acknowledges the Perfection in you; The Purity in me bows to the Purity in you; The Light in me sees the Light in you.”
Language and gestures outside of their cultural context often lose depth, subtle nuances and the impact they can have on the healing (or sometimes injuring) of the heart. Traveling in yoga circles for decades now, I have witnessed with amazement as this genuine, heart-centered word of respect and its accompanying gesture of delivery has been transformed into a pert curtsy, tumbling in an overly automatic manner over the attendees of many mainstream yoga classes. As Westerners, I become concerned that we really cannot begin to understand the reverential and positive weight this acknowledgment possesses until we have had a sensitive, direct experience of namaste’s sincere delivery from an individual who carries within him or herself the depth of cultural context that accompanies meaningful usage.
For myself, I know that the day those three women greeted me, my stride was broken, my heart reopened and my linguistic consciousness began the process of realigning to accommodate the protective umbrella that this gesture possesses over the sacred Self. I also know that my own delivery of this greeting became more thoughtful. I must move into the space of my heart before I speak it. May we all become guardians of sacred gestures.
Packed in our car, we three—husband, wife and infant child—are headed east for another academic summer of intensive foreign language study. Both rear-view mirrors are in constant use, as no one can see beyond the boxes of books, belongings and the dual coolers holding the sum of our trip provisions. Precious among the cooler items is a single, large loaf of homemade chocolate-chip, banana bread, a raving party-tray favorite. It makes an exceptionally rich breakfast food. I plan to share part of that one loaf, the first morning out, with a dear friend who always put us up for a night whether we are heading east or west.
Dragging in at a very late hour, my dear friend meets us all graciously, even though we three are damp with sweat from the late June heat. Showers are had. An extra bed with fresh sheets is turned down for us. Husband and child are put to bed. I stay up later still to visit with my friend.
How are you? How did you find this place? Who and how is your new roommate? Are you happy? I did not realized how much I missed my friend until we sit alone together conversing in half whispers. At 2:00 am I patter off to bed, damp again from the heat, overly late conversation and wee hour.
At 10:00 am the next morning, as we finish our breakfast together, I begin repacking the coolers. My friend hints about keeping the rest of the chocolate-chip, banana bread.
“I’ll leave you an extra slice,” I say. My mind fancies itself generous. My heart cramps with stinginess.
“It’s so rich. Do you think it will last in this heat?” my friend gently hints once more.
“Oh, I think it will be okay in the cooler,” I reply turning a deaf ear to his subtle request.
One day and two states later, I open the remaining half loaf to the stench of chocolate-chip-banana-beyond-wine-bread featuring small pockets of foul liquid like unctuous pock marks in a brown field of contaminated soil. Inedible. What a miserly fool I was.
Walking the dogs through the neighborhood, I appreciate the street’s quiet and fresh air. The dogs and I meet a rare vehicle or two. There is only moderate foot traffic and a few bicycles here and there. Most everyone waves or nods a hello. What causes the most noise in our neighborhood is what happens domestically in and around the edges of houses. This particular neighborhood suffers terribly from the noise, static and discordant sounds of a multitude of voices in inefficient and angry communication with one another. There are words of harshness, betrayal and abuse.
When we first moved into this region, we had come from the American Southwest where the code of ethics among certain local First-Nation peoples required that extra attention be paid to the issue of speech because, it is believed, a person has the power to talk things into being. There is also one First-Nation group that follows a no-gossip policy because it is considered unethical to talk about anything which one has not witnessed directly; and, if one has witnessed something, that “something” should not be talked about unless the witness is asked to report about it directly. Thus, unbeknownst to us at the time, we had spent a full five years—de facto—living in a community which was like an exclusive monastic retreat . This unique culture around speech invited us to reassess our own habituated and inefficient patterns of communication. Thus, on some days in our new location, it seems as though we are growing quieter while the neighborhood around us grows louder.
One day among my many walks stands out above all others in my mind, while reveling in the beauty of the weather, breathing deeply and walking with my dogs, I witness two young children come running out of a house into the middle of a quiet street crossing. There is a lot of shouting coming from the front door that has swung open as a result of the children’s departure. Fear and terror are in the eyes of the older boy. The younger boy has opted out emotionally, working to file this event away somewhere in his clay-like psyche rather than deal with it. How can he? The older boy, perhaps six years of age, approaches me. Fear having taken his words away.
“Do you need some help?” I ask him, not really knowing what else to say or do.
He nods at me, still mute with fear.
“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
I feel that calm stillness that accompanies me when I am in alignment. So, I decide to proceed to the house with dogs in tow.
Stepping onto the porch with both of my dogs, I witness a huge man, of perhaps two-hundred and eighty pounds, on the floor of the living room with another huge man and a leaner woman on top of the downed man, both of them are pummeling the downed man with closed fists and shouting about how the downed man “needs to get his sh*t” out of the house. An issue with rent might be involved. (This is surmised conjecture on my part.)
“Do you folks need some help?” I ask from the open doorway, being careful not to step over the threshold. For a moment the physical assault stops. The pummeling stops long enough that the man under attack is able to right himself and run to the back of the house with the other two individuals in close pursuit while they continue their verbal assault. At this point, I leave the porch with my dogs to reenter the street where the older boy is waiting.
“I am sorry that I cannot do more than that,” I tell him. The large man under siege is now out of the house and in the process of leaving in his car. The emotion around the incident hangs in the air. I begin the walk away from the house with my dogs, leaving the violent, confusing, irrational, raw emotion that permeates those people, their circumstances, the house and its vicinity. Calmness returns to me again.
People. Things. Things. People. “People and their sh*t,” as they say. When will we learn to bring our calm, adult selves to the table?
Perhaps it is unethical for me to report this to you. I have considered that. You did not ask me about my walk on that day or the status of things in my neighborhood. I tell you about this experience because there were children involved—there are children involved. We, as human beings, still need a lot of help with basic communication skills. We need help with ethics, learning how to read and understand our emotions, as well as how to address uncomfortable circumstances and unethical behaviors with diplomacy because our children are always watching and learning.
In reality, we are so much more than the body—being neither tall nor short, lean nor round, strong nor weak, healthy nor compromised nor any other external, physical attribute for that matter. And, yet, how we choose to care for our earthly home of genetic issue reveals a great deal about our life experiences, emotional states of being and our attitudes toward physicality in general. Have you fueled your vehicle today? Washed and buffed your carriage with care? Lubed your chassis? Scheduled your regular maintenance?
In one of the world’s oldest philosophical traditions, if we were to boil things down, we might take one of three views toward living:
The physical realm is an illusion—a mask—covering the luminescence of the ultimate Reality and Beauty of the Supreme Spiritual Realm.
Or, the physical realm is as real as the non-physical, Spiritual realm, but the Spiritual realm is of far greater importance.
Or, finally, all realms emanate from Source with the physical realm having been expressly created so that Source might delight in the totality of her supremely rich, broad and deep Creation.
This final model invites us to respect and delight in our special place in the world, as well as asking us to look upon our bodies with special care. It also invites us to look upon the world in wonder while we respect and delight in the body’s physicality and the physical manifestations (other bodies) of Source’s many other forms—no matter how different those physical frames may appear to be from our own. How different our days become, when we hold this idea in our hearts and when we respect each other as aspects of Divine design or as components in the Divine creative plan.
“I had a dream that we were all at a party for your mother. I think your mom needs a party or something,” I suggest while talking on the phone with a friend.
On the other end of the line, I hear her laughing as she responds, “Well, her birthday is two weeks away. Maybe we can do something for her birthday.”
Two weeks pass while preparations are made.
The party is a smash hit. It is a true surprise party pulled off in grand fashion—not in terms of numbers—but in terms of quality and depth. As a newly but closely knit group, we share incredible stories about favorite trips, closest relationships and lengthy narratives about taste experiences. When the party ends, everyone leaves feeling nourished, heard and whole.
“This is really funny, I have to share this with you,” I hear my friend on the other end of the telephone several days later. “Do you remember Dianne, my other friend from the party? Well, she said to me later, ‘I thought your friend who had the dream would have long flowing hair and wear long full-length skirts or head scarves or something. She didn’t look anything like an intuitive.'”
“An earth-mother type? Maybe I need to invest in a head scarf with fake coins and purchase a crystal ball? Or would rag-wool socks with Birkenstock sandals under my long skirt be better?” I offer these two scenarios in an amused tone.
“I don’t know, but I thought you would find that funny.”
“The issue of appearances is a strange thing. I have learned that is difficult to discern the contents of another’s heart or learn about their concerns, loves, skills or gifts based upon physical presentation or a superficial collection of accoutrements. Even speech can be misleading. Apparently, I will have to look into the crystal ball, if my gift is to be taken seriously.”
Sitting in my vehicle on the edge of a parking lot, three cars back from a stop sign, I am waiting impatiently to enter six lanes of busy traffic. Mentally, I drum my fingers on the steering wheel. The tattoo of my consciousness thumps, “Come on. Come on. Me. Me. Me. I am late. Repeat.”
Suddenly and from the right, the blaring scream of an ambulance breaks in, affecting a complete shift in my consciousness.
“Where is my compassion?”
I stop the flow of “I, me, mine” to ask that the individual or individuals who are in need of emergency assistance please receive optimal care in a timely fashion. Then, I ask the Powers That Be to guard, guide and protect the responders, helping them make solid decisions as they serve.
Time slows. Impatience evaporates. Peace settles in.
In releasing a false sense of self-importance the world opens up, and eternity flows in.
In my mind, I live on a rare corner of the linguistic and spiritual earth where the terminologies of several religious traditions and their respective denominations collide. It is like a look-out point—of a particularly high elevation—that may be climbed in order to view an extraordinary vista showcasing a place on the map where the boundaries of five or six different states meet. (And, there is an understanding that comes from this vantage point: “Boundaries” are essentially artificial. The edges of our skin are the only things separating me from you and you from me.)
So, I arrived at this location because of the unique trek I took in an effort to understand who I am, why I am here and how I am meant to live and serve. I tell you all of this, so that there is a greater context and opportunity for the following story to be understood.
Sitting in meditation, a note is dropped into my metaphorical inbox: “Pack your suitcase.” I have learned—the hard way—to heed the leadings that come addressed to me during meditation. After meditation, I dutifully pull out my small suitcase and pack. Because the thread of meditation is still humming, I make a quick inquiry about how long I might be gone. I am guided to pack for ten days. When I am finished, I set my suitcase into an empty corner of my room with a feeling of anticipation.
The next day in meditation, as I send out careful probes about the pending trip, I am told: “The healing has occurred.” (i.e. “You do not have to travel for this.”)
All at once, I experience a wave of various emotional responses: disappointment—because I love reasonable trips, and I was so looking forward to going “somewhere” to do “something” for “someone”; mild joy—because I do not actually have to leave my comfortable domestic routines; frustration—because, when I am in my cranky, lower-self, I still occasionally feel I have been jerked around by Providence, albeit for a holy purpose (F O R G I V E M E, P L E A S E); amazement—because Grace continues to fill me with awe and wonder when the sacred gust of pure intention sweeps into someone else’s life and sets things right just because I was willing to pack my small suitcase in service to God on an errand for which I do not even have any name, place or stated case of concern.