Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Fierce Grace of Kali

A few weeks ago we talked about the goddess Durga and her epic battle with the evil brothers (for that story click here).  During that battle, Durga calls for help and it comes in many forms, the fiercest being Kali.  Kali manifests to defeat the demon-god Raktabija, whose drops of blood fall to the earth and instantly become new demon warriors.  Kali follows him around the battlefield drinking up the drops before they hit the ground, preventing new demons from forming.

The iconography and imagery of Kali is violent and scary: she is depicted as bloody, often blue or black in color, usually holding a severed head and bloody sword, with a garland of skulls around her neck.  It is intense to look at and can be hard to see beyond.  But as Tantrikas we look beyond the surface to see the shree (beauty, auspiciousness) even in what is not pretty:  “The skull in her hands, which her sword has just lopped off, is the ego that separates us from her. Kali’s nakedness shows that she has cast away illusion; in her, the entire truth about life and death is revealed. Even her color is esoteric; Kali’s dark colors stand for the ultimate void state, where all differences dissolve into the absolute beyond all form. Her sword is the force that slices through delusion, ignorance, false hope, and lies.” (Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti)

Kali opens us up to the side of ourselves that the "good girl" or "good boy" we show to the world wants to suppress.  She represents the raw, open (maybe even bloody), exposed parts of ourselves that we feel we have to hide to “fit in” with our culture, the parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable to reveal.  She represents the naked truth of who we are if we are willing to be really honest about it, the part that would hurt the most if, when revealed, it was rejected.  Perhaps this side of ourselves does need to be somewhat tempered, but it is a necessary part of life and one that I think most of us keep locked away in service of fitting inside the box society creates for “good” behavior.  Becoming comfortable with our Kali side means facing our shadow side, our built in contraction and narcissistic tendencies.  Even as I write this I am slightly cringing on the inside, but allowing her in means getting comfortable with your discomfort.  There is nothing subtle or soft about it – if you’re opening up to Kali energy, you open completely, you step into your life in all its beauty and terror and don’t look back.

And yet she is also the great protector.  During the battle she swallows up all the potential demons in order to protect the world, as fierce as a mother protecting her young. Sally Kempton says it like this: “Kali challenges us by daring us to look her in the face and find the love behind the pain of life. The way we see Kali at any given moment has everything to do with where we are in our own journey. Whether Kali seems terrifying, fascinating, or loving depends on our state of consciousness and our level of both emotional and spiritual development…. But she always invites us to a radical form of ego-transcendence.”   Kali invites you to be fierce in your life in all the ways it serves you and those around you, whether it’s in love or in battle.  

Because Kali is a destructive force in the universe, she shows us what is truly indestructible.  The beauty is that in doing this she shows us exactly what cannot be destroyed.  She asks us: what are your non-negotiables? What are you willing to give up, sacrifice in service of living an authentic, meaningful life? What is most important?  Once we are clear on what that is, she inspires us to be ferocious in going after it, fierce in our love or passion or desire for the deepest connection we can make in this realm of existence. 

In all my years of teaching yoga I have never taught Kali until this week.  It was too uncomfortable for me to embrace that side of myself so I avoided her altogether.  As is usually the case, we try to evade that which we need to face, and as I've been getting more acquainted with her through study and practice and contemplation I realized she is exactly who I need to invite into my life.  What she represents for me is looking at my life with stark, brutal honesty, and instead of cowering in the corner and hiding from the demons that threaten to eat me alive, running at them head down, horns out, saying I will literally swallow you up before you can get to me. It means allowing myself to be really vulnerable, baring my soul for all to see no matter how scary that feels, and speaking my truth no matter how unpopular or different that might be from the world I find myself living in.

As I've embraced and opened to my own Kali side this week, for only the second time in my life I lost my voice.  I’ve taught classes channeling the wild Kali-esque beauty of Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin, and instead of feeling limited and restricted by my raspy, raw vocals I felt liberated by it - it was like Kali was speaking through me, that my altered voice was actually hers and I felt like a conduit for her fierce grace.   It gave me a confidence I didn’t know I had and in spite of being sick it’s been a glorious week. 

That grace and glory is waiting for you, it comes as soon as you open the door and allow Kali into your heart. 

Off the Mat:
Short and simple guys – speak your truth.
A friend sent me this quote this week, by Rob Brezsney, the author of the book Pronoia:

I invite you to say this, or something like this: "I pledge to wake myself up, never hold back, have nothing to lose, go all the way, kiss the stormy sky, be the hero of my own story, ask for everything I need and give everything I have, take myself to the river when it's time to go to the river, and take myself to the mountaintop when it's time to go to the mountaintop."

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we worked on ferocious poses – like Uttkatasana (fierce pose), done with our tongues sticking out and a hissing or roaring exhale. It’s hard to be meek or timid with your tongue sticking out!   We  did a lot of core work, connecting us to our “non-negotiables”.   

Getting fierce on the mat means making no excuses - we invoked our Kali-power to lap them up before they could get in the way of our practice, which brought us to a level of deep focus and intention.  We worked on Kali pose, which is a deep wide squat, reminiscent of the pose women used to birth babies in (and some still do).  The goddesses are all related to creation, and this pose reminds us that we need to be fierce in order to transform - like in childbirth, you have to surrender to what’s happening no matter how much it hurts, if you try to fight it you suffer.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

No Mud, No Lotus

Lakshmi is still with us at Shree, this week visiting as Kamala which means “lotus dweller”, and she is closely associated with this resplendent flower which she is often depicted sitting in.  The image of the lotus is one of the most powerful in Tantric and Buddhist philosophy.  The lotus flower is unique in that it blossoms in murky swamps and ponds.  It rises from the muck at the bottom which it roots itself into, then emerges into the muddy water as a bud, reaching upwards through the sludge towards the light at the surface.   When it surfaces and hits air, the bud opens and reveals a beautiful, pure blossom, untouched by all the muddiness it had to travel through to get there.

I shared in my classes this week that my 2 older children are in the “no fair!” phase of life.  It seems to be their response to just about everything I say.  My response is always, “Well, you’re right.  But I’m not sure who told you it was going to be fair.”  Life is not fair.  It’s often challenging and mucky and muddy.  But the story of the lotus tells us that we don’t have to stay there. 

I had a conversation this week with a friend who brought to light some issues I have been avoiding dealing with for a while, and it forced me to have to look at them.   It definitely brought me down into the muck.  And yet, after the initial hurting wore off, I realized that facing my shadow side is what will move me forward.  I’ve been avoiding the muck and ironically that’s what got me stuck deeper in it.  Now that I can acknowledge that I am there I can make a plan to get out of it.  That’s when transformation happens.

Tantra is non-dual system of yoga and life practice.  Meaning that what we are made of, the very essence of who we are, is the same “stuff” that everything in the entire universe is made of, and that “stuff” is nothing other than God*.  There is just one endless cycle and it runs through the entire universe, that which we can see and that which we cannot.  So what does that mean in practical terms?  That whatever the form, the substance is divine.  As the song says, God is in the roses and the thorns, the mud and the lotus.  At the sub-molecular level it all looks the same.  From the perspective of the Absolute this is obvious.  From the human perspective, not always so easy.

It’s been a challenging week for me.   As I sit and write I am making plans to attend the funeral tomorrow for the 24-year old stepson of a mentor, friend and colleague who finally lost his years long, epic battle with cancer.  So incredibly not fair.  It is often so hard to see the good and the beauty.  And yet I know that it’s always my choice. Whether it’s a challenging phone call or a funeral we can always seek the light, in whatever teeny, tiny crack it might be coming through.   It may be that it’s not coming through at all, and we just have to remember it is there and we will find it again.

All this is not to say we seek out negative, challenging experiences, quite the opposite.  What it means is that we accept all aspects of our lives, including those which are muddy, inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unhappy as part of the whole, and yet always seek the light and the ways we can blossom anyway.  As Sally Kempton says: “(May we) root ourselves in life’s muddy soil and use its fertility as compost to blossom the soul.” 

*(Yes, the G word has appeared again!  I try to avoid this word, but it’s really just a word.  The creative force behind all of creation has other names too – energy, source, absolute consciousness, love, the universe – but it’s just semantics.  I am sticking with the G word for now; I hope it doesn’t offend anyone.  If it does, please email or call me so we can chat more about it!).  
Off the Mat:
Make this poem by Erica Leibrandt your mantra this week:

No Mud, No Lotus
No mud, no lotus.
No noise, no silence.
No silence, no song.
No bitter, no sweet.
No low, no high.
No old, no young.
No weak, no strong.
No ugly, no beautiful.
No broken, no whole.
No black, no white.
No white, no color.
No missing, no found.
No fall, no rise.
No work, no play.
No death, no birth.
No mud, no lotus.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we worked with hip openers, towards variations of what else but padmasana, lotus pose.  We worked to externally rotate (or outer spiral in Anusara-speak) the bent knee leg (or legs), which causes the sitting bone of that leg to lengthen downwards (rooting into the muck) and “scoop” forwards towards the top of the thigh bone, allowing the knee to widen out and move towards the back plane of the body, and the front of the hip to blossom open. 

For the Anusara junkies:
Open To Grace:
Take a breath and fill up with wholehearted acceptance of your whole life, every blessing and every challenge, and know that it is all the same continuum.

Muscular Energy:
Firm your muscles and affirm with radical acceptance the muck and the blossom, the thorn and the rose.

Inner Spiral:
Widen the inner thighs back and apart to widen your perspective.
Open up a space in the hips by widening the inner thighs to let some light into the dark, muddy places.

Outer Spiral:
Scoop your (front leg or bent knee) sit-bone down and anchor yourself in the muck of life with radical acceptance.
Scoop your (front leg or bent knee) sit-bone down, rooting yourself into the swampy mire knowing that seed will blossom someday.

Organic Energy:
Rise from the mud and flourish

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Art of Giving and Receiving

As we’ve learned the last few weeks, some of the ways Laskmi’s presence is experienced is as internal abundance and gratitude. The definition of gratitude is not only to feel thankful, but also the desire to give back, to bless others, and this is also one of Lakshmi’s gifts.  She is there in our giving and receiving when they are in balance. 
My husband is in an industry where often different companies will offer “Incentive Programs” to the sales force as a method to drive business.  There is a well-known industry story from years back about a beloved Administrative Assistant who wanted to take her niece on a vacation.  She was patiently and diligently saving what little extra money she had each month.  Some of the upper management got wind of her ambition and decided to, unbeknownst to her, create a program to help send her on her way.  The sales force and customers felt so good about this that they all participated generously and willingly.  Within a month they had raised enough to send her, her sister and her niece on a beautiful trip.  When she was presented with the gift everyone that participated was so proud and happy. She got her vacation, the sales force and the company offering the incentive had a great month – everybody involved won on every level.

This is a perfect example of how when we give we open up channels to also receive.  If you can offer that which you want the most to someone else, it often works to bring the same to you.  Many of us are inherent givers, because honestly it is almost always easier to give than to receive.  But are we opening ourselves up to receive in the same way?

Consider this: all of us are “getting” stuff all the time, but are we really receiving?  It’s a completely different thing.  To receive requires grace, vulnerability and openness of mind and heart.  My husband is constantly frustrated with my utter inability to accept, well, pretty much anything graciously, whether it be a compliment, a gift, or an offer of help.  It is hard to open ourselves up that way!   Yet when we put ourselves in the seat of acceptance of whatever is being offered, we offer the giver the gift of allowing themselves to express their love and appreciation.  To shun that can be upsetting and hurtful to those who making a heartfelt offering.

Think of it this way – have you ever given someone a gift that they have obviously (even quietly so) been unhappy with?  Maybe they were expecting something else, maybe they just felt like they didn’t deserve it, maybe they were just being rude and ungrateful – the reason doesn’t really matter.  Do you remember what it felt like?  Kinda crappy.  That’s what I’m talking about.

As we know, balance in all things is the key to gracious and mindful living.  When we give too much we become depleted, resentful, undernourished.  When we receive too much without giving back we become narcissistic, arrogant, and entitled (this includes “getting stuff” without really receiving in a heartfelt way).   Sally Kempton: “When you can allow yourself to receive with the feeling that you deserve the gifts of life and then give with the feeling that others deserve them also, you find yourself in the “auspicious state of mind” where shree is just flowing through you.”

When you find the balance between opening up to receive what is offered, and offering back all you are able to, you connect with your family, friends, community and environment in a profound way and with that comes a feeling of deep fulfillment.  

Off the mat: 
An exercise from Awakening Shakti by Sally Kempton:

What would you like to receive more of now?  Reflect on all areas of your life – spiritual experience, love, success in your career, fun, health, money.  Focus on one thing. Ask yourself how your life would specifically benefit from receiving this?  How would others or the world benefit from it?   How are you blocking it?

Now consider what gifts you have to give, what you yourself have to offer.   How can you offer a gift or blessing as an exchange for what you want to receive?  
What specific thing(s) can you do today or this week to make this offering and open up the Lakshmi channels of giving and receiving?  How can you help someone else to receive the gift that you desire?   When we cultivate generosity of spirit we invite more of the same back to ourselves.  And everybody wins!

On the Mat: 
In my classes this week we worked deeply with the breath, the pulsation of which mirrors the pulsation of giving and receiving in our lives.  With each inhale we receive the gift of life, of prana, of breath.  With each exhale we can offer our unique energy, life-force and essence back to the universe.  We worked with the pulsation of Muscular Energy (receiving energy) and Organic Energy (giving energy), the balance of which is needed to work into balancing poses of all kinds. 

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open To Grace: 
Fill up with breath and fill up with what it is you wish to receive more of in your life.  Invite it in by opening up space inside to let it move into you.

Muscular Energy: (related to receiving)
Hug into what you want more of in your life – receive, receive, receive because you deserve it!
Draw in to (the focal point from the foundation) what you wish to invite more of into your life.
The more the muscles tone, the more strength and integrity the bones receive.
What is it you want for your life right now?  How much do you want what you want?  Hug in that much!

Inner Spiral: 
Move the sit bones back and apart and make space for what you want to invite in.  Everything you want is available to you, sometimes its just a matter of opening up to what is already there.

Outer Spiral:
Anchor your intention and your tailbone in whatever it is you want to receive.    
As your low belly tones and engages, solidify your resolve to manifest in your life what you want for yourself.

Organic Energy: (related to giving)
Offer, offer, offer wildly and without abandon the gifts you have to give, because everyone else deserves it too!
Offer energetically what you have to share with those in the room and beyond.
Offer blessings with every cell through the form of your pose.
How grateful are you for all that you have?  Energetically offer back out that much.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Beauty is as Beauty Does

We’ve been talking about qualities of Lakshmi, and second only to abundance, the quality she is most known for is beauty, and her beauty has “an unmistakable set of qualities.  It is sweet, ripe, symmetrical and pleasing…cultivated, nourished and polished.” (Awakening Shakti, Sally Kempton). Think Kate Middleton rather than Sophia Vergara.

We often think of beauty as external because it is experienced through the senses.  But the beauty that Lakshmi represents is a quality that arises from a state of being, the physical representation is just a “result”.  For example a beautiful flower is the result of all the forces of nature coming aligning to make it so.  When everything doesn’t come together in this exact particular way there is less fullness and radiance, and the flower is small, droopy, maybe brown around the edges. It is the same with people - we have all met people that aren’t striking physically yet exude a radiant brilliance because of who they are.   And vice versa.

In Awakening Shakti Sally Kempton writes “Lakshmi’s gift are enhanced through a certain effort and craft.” In our case, when we practice yoga with mindfulness and good alignment we invoke Lakshmi. Last week we talked about sufficiency, and beauty is one of the “effects” of feeling your own innate “enough-ness”.  When you have the inner experience of abundance and beauty you know Lakshmi is with you, expressing herself as you.

I love that line from the movie Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” – it’s so true, as proven by teenagers throughout time (just kidding!). You can really replace pretty much any quality instead of “stupid”, and for this week’s practice I changed it to “Beauty is as beauty does”.  In an alignment based yoga practice, action is more important than form.  What we do is so much more important than how we look.  Beauty is expressed by the heart's desire to connect with our deepest essence, and when that connection is made, to radiate the light that we connect to from the core of our being and express it with every action, whether it’s a yoga pose or a corporate speech, baking a cake or paving a road.  It can be brought to every single thing we do.  

I shared a story in class this week of being in class with a wonderful teacher a few years back.  He was demonstrating Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, which he taught and showed masterfully.  When he sent us off to do the pose, a woman in the front of the class was practicing a much deeper form of the pose, which was also very beautiful.  The teacher pointed to her and called out across the room “I want you all to know that that is what I feel like in this pose.”  We all laughed, but it was such a beautiful lesson of this concept.  We work towards the pose, we do the best we can possibly do in that moment and then we just let it shine – we don’t let it be diminished by whatever else might be going on around us.  That is real beauty. 

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
Beauty "happens" when you are most authentically yourself, when you are expressing without reservation who you really are, bringing forth the unique qualities that make you inherently, beautifully you.  When you cultivate a beautiful practice, whether it’s on the mat or the way you interact with people, or even do your job with the highest artistry, you connect with all the pleasing and graceful qualities of Lakshmi and bring her charm and brilliancy to everything you do.   

May we all let the inherent beauty inside ourselves reveal itself with every act, with every breath, in all we do.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Enough actually is enough

One of the qualities that Lakshmi invites us to explore in sufficiency.  Enough-ness.  When you live in a culture of excess how do you know you have enough?  I read a study a while back about childhood obesity and children’s eating habits.  In it, children in many different countries were asked how they knew when they were done eating.  The majority of children from Eastern cultures replied when they were full.  In Western cultures the overwhelming response was “when my plate is empty” or “when there is no more food left”.  We have become so used to over-consuming we have lost the inner compass that tells us when we are actually satisfied and we end up having to look outside ourselves and use external markers to try to figure it out.  This of course spills over from food culture into every aspect of our lives including habits of work, exercise, over-scheduling, and consuming in general. When you live in a very affluent area this becomes an even more challenging path to navigate as we are lucky to have so much available to us.

Brene Brown says “When we value our lives based on how much we produce, when exhaustion is a status symbol and busy-ness earns us recognition how can we value rest and play time?”  When is enough enough??  Life in this culture is intense and it is easy to convince ourselves through the prism of mental scarcity that we aren’t going to have enough of anything (since there is always more), so we cling and hoard and consume more and more.  It’s a vicious cycle, and one admittedly I find myself and my children in often. And yet I know that when we identify with our lack rather than our abundance we contract and we cling.  We start to see the whole world from that viewpoint and we forget that the universe is ever-expanding.  That there is always enough of all the things we seek for all beings everywhere. 

Because what is it we really need enough of?  For me: enough courage, enough inner strength, enough wisdom, enough energy, enough love, enough happiness, enough peace. The really lasting knowing of which comes from looking inside rather than outside ourselves.  At some point in our spiritual evolution hopefully we realize we don’t need more and more of anything. Instead, having just enough is plenty, and when we take a step back and look at our lives through the lens of sufficiency most of us see that we are already there.

Yoga practice re-attunes us to our inner compass.  Lakshmi's invitation is to recognize the fullness, the beauty, the wisdom, the joy, and the radiance of who we already are.  It awakens us to faith in an inner fullness that tells us that we have enough.  When we practice with self-love and self-compassion we see that we are enough.  

Since we live in a culture of chronic over-spenders, over-eaters, over-achievers this can be really hard to do, but sufficiency means that you don’t have to do it all.  Mostly because aren’t you tired of being perfect all the time? I am. 

Off the mat:
Choose one aspect of your life to practice recognizing sufficiency in.  Two examples are:

Eating: Chew every bite 30-40 times.  Put your fork down between bites.   Close your eyes after every few bites to notice if you feel full.  When you do, stop eating regardless of how much is left on the plate.

Work: Take a piece of paper and fold it into thirds.  At the start of every day, make three lists with the headings: Have To, Should, and Only If I Have Time.  After finishing your "Have To" list, evaluate whether you have time and energy to get to the next list with full awareness and presence.  If not, save it for the list for tomorrow.

On the Mat:
We started practice in my classes this week in a restorative pose, because one thing I know is that none of us get enough rest!  We practiced antara kumbhaka (retaining the full breath in) as a way of experiencing the fullness of our lives.  We remember that there is always enough breath, it doesn’t run out, it’s always available for us to draw on in a deeper way, just like the deep wellspring of abundance that is our true nature.

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open To Grace: Align (the foundation of the pose) to align with all that is full and abundant in your life.
Settle into the breath and allow yourself to settle into “what is”, knowing it is enough.

Muscular Energy: As your muscles embrace your bones, embrace your life just as it is, knowing we have enough wisdom, energy, love, happiness, etc., etc.
Work at 100% effort – not 99%, not 101% - let 100% be enough and stop there without over-doing.

Inner Spiral: Move the inner thighs back and apart, expanding on the fullness that already exists inside you.
Move inner thighs back and widen your experience of what is already there and full in your life.

Outer Spiral: Outer spiral balances inner spiral – the poses wouldn’t work if we just kept widening and widening – so feel inside when you’ve expanded sufficiently and anchor your tailbone to say “enough”.

Organic Energy: Let the beauty of your pose radiate from a deep feeling of sufficiency, feeling its perfection in whatever form it takes.
Whatever you have to offer is enough – let it the pose sparkle with the radiance of you just as you are.

For those who loved the poem we read in class this week:


It's enough to offer love, 
no matter how imperfectly 
received or given.  It's 
enough to try and fail
at a difficult task; enough 
to fall and rise, stumble, 
fall again, sigh, and start 
to walk, however slowly, 
in the direction the soul 
points.  it's enough to 
seek peace and find pain, 
to gain nothing but a 
vision of truth, and take 
the long route home.  

It's enough to feel 
temptation, the dance 
of the senses, the hot 
pull of desire; enough
to call on God, walk 
through fire, sleep and 
cry and fear or welcome 
dying.  It's enough to be 
and breathe, to feel the
touch of wind on skin.

It's enough to take the 
day as it comes, to watch 
the ripples on the lake as 
the rock sinks to the 
bottom, to see the wild
reflection of the surface
calm into a mirror once 
again.  it's enough to 
hear the voice of fear 
and hide - or seek it out 
and face the shame or 
shadows.  It's enough 
to set out to tame demons
and watch them multiply 
instead.  it's enough to 
be buffeted by the winds 
of change and not blown 
over.  I and you and 
all of us, more than enough.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Wisdom of Durga: Asking for Help

The myth of the goddess Durga begins with 2 brothers, Shumbha and Nishumbha.  These brothers want to maximize their spiritual power and to do so undertake a host of intense yogic austerities - standing on one leg in a ring of fire, holding their breath for 1000 years w/arms raised overhead, etc. When Brahma sees their intense practice of tapas (discipline, dedication), he rewards their efforts by granting them the boon they had been seeking: that no man or god can defeat them in battle.   (One of the lessons of this myth is that everyone is offered gifts - it is up to the receiver what they do with the gifts they are given.  Not the lesson I want to talk about today, but worth a mention. Back to the story....)

With their new found power the brothers (known as asuras or demon-gods) become invincible and set about wreaking havoc on the world – they amass enormous armies and conquer everything worth conquering, including land, prisoners, art and women.   When it gets too much to bear, the gods come together to discuss what to do and realize there is a loophole to this boon:  the one thing the brothers can be defeated by is a woman.  Unfortunately there were no female warriors on Earth.  The Great Goddess, up until this point, has been hidden, happy to channel her skills in the form of consorts to the male gods and has ruled from “behind the curtain”.  But the gods realize she alone can solve their problem, so they go to her and for 20,000 years entreaty her to come to earth and set things right.

This is the central teaching of the Durga myth - the Goddess is waiting to be asked.  Sally Kempton in Awakening Shakti says, "Because she is hidden, in order to act in the world the Goddess needs us to ask for help."  To access her transformative power we need to call it out, ask for it, pray for it.  "The power is there, but we have to summon the courage or desperation to ask for it, and it is only in doing so that we bring it forth."

So the Great Goddess descends to Earth in the form of Durga, riding on a lion and bearing an impressive array of weaponry.   In the midst of the epic battle that ensues many other goddesses are born from Durga’s body to fight the onslaught of the huge army the brothers had amassed: first Kali emerges from her 3rd eye (ajna chakra), then Indrani, Saraswati, Vaisnavi, Chinnamasta, and Bhairavi all emanate forth.  The goddesses of course defeat the brothers and their armies, and as Durga lays the killing blow, the asuras realize who she is, and smile with the ecstasy of the goddess filling their being as they dissolve back into her body.

Durga manifesting Kali from her 3rd eye during the fight.

This battle represents the inner battle that happens in us when we undertake any transformative spiritual practice.   For most of us, it is harder to ask for help or to say we don’t understand or we don’t know how to move forward, than to just keep doing what we’re doing and on the surface muddle through.  Yet when we do this, no shift or change in the underlying pattern occurs and so it repeats itself and we stay stuck where we are. It’s like that old saying “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”  The times in my life when I have been strong and courageous enough to admit what I couldn’t handle, given voice to my stuck-ness, and either asked for exactly what I needed or admitted I didn’t even know what to ask for are the times when I have had huge breakthroughs, when my life has changed direction and charted a new course.  Even the Great Goddess couldn't do it alone, so why do we think we have to?  I was just reading an article about some of the most successful CEOs in the world, and one of the traits they universally share is the ability to choose a good team and to delegate.  They know who and how to ask for help and this is not a weakness but a testament to their wisdom and strength.

In Awakening Shakti we learn that “The grace of the goddess is a 2 way stream.  There’s the movement from the subtle - the movement of grace descending into the human world.  But it can’t land unless there is a calling from below.  It can take different forms – mantra repetition, meditation, prayer – but the calling has to be there."  Help is often hidden and yet always there.  The great work of yoga is to soften out of your own self-consciousness and self-effort and open to help from beyond. 

Off the Mat:
Where are the places in your life where you feel stuck, in a rut, stagnant?  Durga summons the other goddesses into the world to help her fight the battle of her life – who do you need to summon?  What do you need to ask for to get you where you need to go?  If you don’t know, just giving voice to the not-knowing often leads to the answer.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we are working on backbends. Asking for help requires a certain degree of humility, of finding the balance of self-love (individual) and Self-love (universal).   In the body this can be felt through the actions moving the shoulders back to open up the upper back which is chronically stiff from both biomechanics and held stress, while simultaneously resisting the low ribs and belly back which for most of us is much more mobile and flexible.  Drawing the belly back mimics a posture of humility, helping us to more easily admit to what we need.  And once we are ok with that, then the work of opening up the heart happens, moving the back bend to the subtle upper back, which is so hard but so radically transformative.

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open To Grace:
Use your breath to create a fullness of the inner body and open the back body, softening out of any tough guy persona, and examine what needs to be asked for.
Open to the possibility that you don’t have to do it all alone, that you can ask for what you need to get you there and invite it in with the breath

Muscular Energy:
With the ferocity of Durga firm your leg muscles.
With the fierce desire to transform yourself, fire up every muscle.

Kidney Loop:
(Durga is known as the protector – when we draw the front ribs back before opening the heart we protect the low back during backbends.)
Draw the front ribs back, softening the self into the Self.
Resist the low belly up and back, creating a new pattern of self-discovery and transformation.

Organic Energy:
Let the brilliant light of the Goddess come to you and enliven and brighten your inner fire.
Let the fiery shakti of Durga radiate through you and take the form of your pose.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cosmic Hide and Seek

My two-year-old, Rakhi, is just starting to get into hide and seek.  There are parameters to this new game: he won’t hide alone, he has to have a brother with him while the other one searches.  He only wants to be found, he doesn’t want to be the seeker.  And he hides in the same place, every time.

Hide and seek mimics a “game” the Absolute “plays” with us.  The One, in choosing to become the diverse world of all beings, conceals or disguises Itself in the form of everything in creation – this is called tirodhana.  Unity is disguised as multiplicity.  We, as embodied beings, have forgotten that the “stuff” that we are created from is the same “stuff” that has pulsed in and out of being since the dawn of creation.  And hence our experience on this physical plane is one of separation.

Why does the Absolute need to conceal Itself at all?   For the same reason Rakhi hides – for the utter anticipation, joy and connection of being found (or so the resounding shrieks through my house when this game is being played would suggest).  Why does he do it again and again?  Because it’s fun!  This is essentially the nature of life itself.  The Divine conceals itself merely for the pleasure of finding Itself again and again through the power of anugraha, meaning revelation or grace.  It’s like that old maxim, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.   When we have been separated from our beloved the union is so much sweeter afterwards. This is the innate nature of our entire existence, why we come into being at all - simply for the joy of remembering who we really are.

Yoga is the practice of experiencing the formless through form.  It is one of the ways we remember.  This is why embodied practices are so important - if we are not remembering, we are unhappy because we continue to feel separate and disconnected.   It is through this embodied and therefore limited form that we are able to see beyond limitation and form to our essential nature: unity, pure awareness, and unbroken joy. We use our embodiment as a vehicle for discovering and rediscovering the divine essence that is at the core of our being.  

The reason yoga is called a practice is because we do it again and again.  The Divine act of tirodhana makes us forget.  Yoga brings us to anugraha, to a state of remembering.   

Just like Rakhi's game, there really isn't a mystery - grace is hiding in the same place she always is, but we have to actively seek.  Each time we find her, we remember a little more clearly how to get there the next time. 
In her book Awakening Shakti, Sally Kempton quotes the eco-cosmologist (I’m actually not even sure what that is, but read on!) Brian Swimme: “The universe story is our story, our bodies are made up of split-off particles of star-stuff, the breath we breathe has been breathed by every being that has ever lived.”  She goes on to say “A Tantrika takes it even further.  Our awareness is not only connected to the power of awareness in other creatures, but it is also a miniature version of the great awareness that is the Source of all that is.  The subtle worlds that lie between the transcendent vastness and the physical universe are also inside our own subtle bodies, ready to be experienced by anyone who has the stamina and grace to enter into the inner world of the heart.”

Are you ready to enter the inner world of the heart??   I am listening deeply for those shrieks of delight.

Off the Mat:
This week was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and it is a good reminder of the ways that humanity concealed the unity shining through the diversity, and how far we’ve come as a people in allowing that light to be revealed through all beings.  It’s not that way in all the world yet though, so every time you come to your mat, offer the yogic light you create to shine out beyond the studio or room you are practicing in, beyond the towns and cities in our country, to all the places in the world where the light is even more concealed.  Whatever moment of grace or wonder or peace you are able to connect with during your practice, let that moment awaken you to the power of anugraha so that you may help shine the light of consciousness wherever it might be needed.

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we worked on finding the balance between waking up to our inner essence through Muscular Energy and engagement, especially the inner thighs which tend to be weak and "asleep".  Once we feel that inner connection, we can let the light of awareness shine through the pose in the form of Organic Energy.  It is the balance of these two essential energies of the body that creates strength, radiance and beauty in our bodies and our poses. 

For the Anusara junkies:
Open to Grace:
Breathe in and let the subtle inner body fill with all the aspects of yourself you cannot see yet you know are there.
(As you step into poses) Place sacred feet on sacred earth - aligning the feet to align with Source within and without, that takes the form of all of creation including you. 

Muscular Energy: 
(this energy is a co-participating w/divinity – engaging muscles to engage with Source)
Wake up your inner thighs to wake up to your inner essence of unity, pure awareness, and unbroken joy.
Firm your muscles to affirm your own unique embodiment of the Divine Source.
When we engage skin to muscle to bone we engage with what is concealed to our eyes (from what we can see to what we can’t) and remember that we are much more than just skin, muscle and bone.

Organic Energy:
Shine the light of the Absolute through the vehicle of your body.
Let the pose reveal the Grace that is your highest bliss.
Let Grace reveal itself through you, in the form of the pose you are in.