Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Golden Mongoose (and why you shouldn't be one)

In the Mahabharata there is a story of a mongoose who witnesses a great act of graciousness and hospitality.  The mongoose was living beneath the home of a family that is starving during a famine.  When an unexpected guest comes, a stranger, the family readily offers him their last bowl of grain without a second thought.  The guest protests and one by one they all insist he have it.  He does, and the food restores him to his full glory as Lord Yama.  As a thank you to the family, he whisks them way to a lifetime of great abundance.  After they leave, the mongoose rolls around in the crumbs left from this final meal and it turns his fur golden in all the places it touches.  The mongoose then spends the rest of his life searching for more blessed crumbs to roll around in to turn the rest of his fur golden. 

I have my own personal mongoose story (probably more than one, but let’s keep it to one for the sake of simplicity!).  Years ago I had an ecstatic meditation experience that left me euphoric, in a state of absolute elation and contentment for days afterwards.  I walked around like I was in a trance, feeling completely full, happy and peaceful.  Even writing about it now I can remember the effusive joy I felt for those couple of days. I then spent the better part of a year trying to re-create that experience in my meditation practice.  What did I eat that morning and the night before?  How exactly was I sitting?  How much time did I do pranayama before beginning meditation?  What time exactly did I start?

Needless to say, I never had the same experience again.  I had days where my meditations were deep, rich and meaningful, and days where it felt like the time on my cushion was a complete waste of time, but it was never the same.  Each day during that time I would get up from practice somewhat disappointed because I wasn’t able to recreate my ecstatic meditation experience again.  And for all that time I missed out on the gifts of the practice that I was actually receiving.  How often do we miss the offering being presented because we are searching for a different one?  One of my teachers likens it to walking down a hallway past an open door, getting to the end and banging on the locked one at the end of the corridor trying in vain to get in.  When we recognize the gifts that are actually being offered, rather than the ones we were hoping for, we open ourselves to a wider experience of life and can appreciate the fullness that the universe has to offer us.  Are there open doors you are walking by in your life?  Are you pounding on a locked one to no avail?

I heard an interview years ago with Father Gregory Boyle, who relayed this beautiful story: “The desert monks, centuries ago, whenever they were greatly distressed or despondent even would repeat a one word over and over again to themselves. And the word wasn’t Jesus, it wasn’t love – the word was “Today”.  I understand that mantra – it keeps you here, it keeps you facing the person who’s facing you.  It keeps you present to God revealed magnificently in front of you.”

Let your mantra this week be “Today”. 

Off the mat practices:
Do this several times throughout your day:  Take 5 deep breaths and let your mind become still for those breaths.  Become aware of what is good, sweet and happy in the moment you find yourself in.  Take 5 more breaths to revel in it. Proceed with the rest of your day.  Repeat.

When you find yourself focusing on some past happy experience and realize you are allowing it to distract you, first be aware that you are doing it.  Give yourself a moment to feel gratitude for that past moment, then do the exercise above!

On the Mat practices:
This week we worked up to Vasisthasana (Sage Vasisthasa’s pose, otherwise known as Side Plank) in our practice.  Throughout the practice we focused on staying grounded through the medial side of the hand (the pointer finger side, especially the base of the pointer finger) to stay grounded in the present moment, and at the same time externally rotating the head of the arm bone (otherwise known as the shoulder) to open our hearts to the blessings the present moment has to offer.

For the Anusara junkies:
Open To Grace:  Be aware of the blessings of everyday, simple moments.
Take a breath and let it bring your awareness to the joy this moment holds for you.

Muscular Energy: Engage your muscles to engage with what’s happening right here, right now.
Draw in the gifts that this pose has to offer you today.

Inner Spiral: Widen your sit bones and expand your experience of the expansive in the present.

Outer Spiral: Root your tailbone into right now.
Anchor your tailbone to anchor yourself in the gifts the universe is offering you in this pose.

Organic Energy: Celebrate the blessings of this moment.
Revel in the reward of creating the pose to the fullest of your capacity.