Thursday, June 12, 2014

Connection and Unity

I have just returned from teaching at a retreat in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains in Connecticut.  My family and I spent 4 days in the woods at a retreat center, which is also a working organic farm, waking up to the birds, connected with the Earth through bare feet and food harvested next to where we were sleeping, invoking grace with prayers and song and mutual love of life.  We were surrounded by like-minded community, great teachers, family and friends. There was no television or radio and, because it was a Jewish holiday, cell phones were for the most part absent.  In the middle of one of the prayer services there was a huge thunderstorm and it literally felt like God and nature were participating in our prayers (yes, the G word!…if that description of the force of life that spins the planets and breathes life into all things doesn’t suit you, plug in any word or description that does!).  Needless to say, it was a time of deep spiritual connection for me and my family.  

When I got home, like it always does when I return from retreats and trainings, it was hard to land back in Bergen County.  I could feel the shift happen as the roads became wider and less windy, cows and bobcats were replaced by fast food drive-thrus and mini malls.  I felt the cord of my connection to sacred space and wise old souls grow more threadbare with each passing mile and I begin to sink into despair.  Why do I have to come home??  Why can’t I feel at home like I do in the mountains??  The day after I return from retreat I always have a day or two of contemplation about moving my family to the woods, to live off the land where I feel so connected…of course these thoughts only last a day or so, because when I’m honest with myself the thought of being so far away from a decent restaurant, museum, concert hall, and yes, if I’m REALLY honest, shopping mall, sends me into a different kind of despair!   But these thoughts do help me to put my life in perspective.  When it comes down to it, I do love and value my life here, yet I am so grateful for these opportunities to step out of it from time to time and travel to places that connect me so deeply to community and to Source.

Part of what brought me out of my return-to-reality-funk was to look up the poem of the week at Shree.  As always, it seemed to speak directly to me and my experience:

Just like a sunbeam can't separate itself from the sun
And a wave can't separate itself from the ocean
We can't separate ourselves from one another.
We are all part of a vast sea of love
One indivisible divine mind.
- Marianne Williamson


The truth of it is whether we are up on the mountain or in a business meeting, on our yoga mats or on a crowded airplane, in child's pose or caturanga, we cannot be cut off from each other or our Source.  No matter how distant or disconnected we might feel, how far away from loved ones or the Divine, the deepest essence of our being is one with all things. That energy is where we come from and where we return to, as much a part of us as our heart and brain and lungs.  Every yoga practice is a reminder of this – one of the reasons we come to the mat is that it helps us to feel that connection more palpably, and the more we practice, the more it stays with us as we move off the mat.  Yoga is the opportunity to come to a sacred space, surround ourselves with the kula (community of the heart), and to deeply connect to our bodies and our breath as vehicles for awakening.  But we can’t let our remembrance of that connection be dependent on where we happen to find ourselves in any given moment.  Our feeling of connection, or lack thereof, is a prison or a playground of our own creation.   Whether we feel it or not, we are all deeply connected to one another all the time. As I was reminded so beautifully by Chaya and the other beautiful souls who come to practice at Shree this morning, our yoga, or union, is the practice of reuniting ourselves with that connection, and bringing it forth into the world and into every interaction we have so we can celebrate our lives to our fullest capacity. I am so grateful for our sacred space and the amazing spirits who frequent it!

Off the mat:
Over the years as I have studied with many spiritual guides, Rabbis, yoga teachers, and in sadhana with friends and colleagues, one message has come to me over and over again:  In every person you meet, every interaction with every being you come into contact with, see divinity first.  Look into their eyes and see similarity before diversity, oneness before separation, recognize yourself staring back from the eyes you gaze into.  Offer every person you interact with a namaste (this can be done silently, with hands at the heart in namaskarasana or with a simple, gentle nod of the head) with the wish and blessing:

I honor the place in you
in which the whole Universe dwells.
I honor the place in you
which is of love, of peace, of beauty and of truth.
When you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
we are one.

On the mat:
We worked on bound-arm poses, forward bends, and arm balances in classes this week.  Often when we work into these poses the back becomes slightly rounded and a common misalignment is that the shoulder blades slide off the back and we disconnect, causing discomfort in the shoulder joint, and closing our hearts down.  We practiced remembering that even when the outer form of the pose seems to belie it, that we can still work the inner actions that keep us integrated and connected (i.e. Shoulder Loop, moving the palate back, the head of the arm bones back, and the bottom tips of the shoulder blades forward).

Open to Grace:
Breathe into the place in you that is connected to all things - nature, the universe, and all living, breathing beings – and expand your awareness of that place with every breath.
Feel the presence of Shakti in every breath, breathing you, keeping your connection alive.
Breathe in the same breath as everyone in the room and know you are not alone or cut off.
Let the waves of your breath connect you back to the ocean it flows from.

Muscular Energy:
Engage with your Source, feel how your muscles are a container for the divine grace that flows through you and all things.
Hug from skin to muscle to bone to hug into the place in yourself that is connected to all things.

Inner Spiral:
Widen your sit bones to open yourself up to connection.  What it is you wish to connect to is up to you!

Outer Spiral:
Lengthen your tailbone down, anchoring yourself deeply into your connection to Source.

Organic Energy:
Shine your sunbeam to merge back to its source.
Let your eyes and your pose smile and sparkle with the electricity of connection.