2/18/15

THAT is a TEACHER



Haven't written much about any of the authorized and certified teachers I've worked with—Tim Miller to Tim Feldman to Alexander Medin and many others since the departure from Asheville of Naomi Worth and John Bultman a few years ago. Also, two inspiring women—Melanie Fawer and Annie Pace—should be added to my unpremeditated list.

With each one of my many teachers, I have had a profound and unique experience, specific to each one's personality. For that reason and possibly due to the ultimately overwhelming occurrences of studying in India with Sharath (about whom I shall try to find words later), I have not said much about them. 

However, the time has come to talk about one teacher, David Garrigues. 

First of all, any teacher—or anyone—who writes Nisargadatta's words "I AM THAT" on his  wall (see above photo) has me without another word. What a beautiful place the shala wall is to inspire awareness! I am everyone who is practicing in that room and everyone who is NOT practicing in that room and beyond! I am the student. I am the teacher. I am the cockroach; the butterfly; the beast; the saint. I am THAT and THAT too. 

It's a perspective that infuses yoga and life with metta and yes, ineffable Truth

Now read this quote: 
There's nothing, nothing of value that does not require the same level of sacrifice as Ashtanga. Do you see it? Ashtanga is not arbitrarily difficult or demanding-no, the practice provides you with a perfect, explicit model of what it takes to come to the mastery of anything...  
...in order to get creative it requires everyone to be empty of this world. Each artist or person on a spiritual quest must find a way to go into a daily renewal of emptying him/herself out of the mundane, material, physical/visible world. 
David Garrigues 

David understands the big picture, not just form and emptiness —but art and artists too!

As for the every day stuff, he definitely gets the physical/visible! Mirroring the practice itself, David  is demanding, not always fun, but always enlightening. Take a workshop with him;  listen to him break down asanas into doable parts, or watch him ask a class to hold a pose until many of us want to cry!  When I don't agree with something he says in class, I am forced to carefully examine the issue for myself. (Student and teacher, Peg Mulqueen, has also described doing this.) Those hot afternoons in the Outer Banks pushed my awareness, body, and ego to the edge. Apparently, ego would have preferred anything rather than to admit some sessions were too much for me. Rocks and hard places!

Another thing, David is like Sharath in the way he knows exactly what everyone is doing at any given moment in a class. He can be turned away from you, working with someone else and speak to you across the room, "Marya! What are you doing? Don't do it that way!" 

Mostly I appreciate him because he seems to be truly himself, perhaps one might say—realized. I honor and applaud his beautiful intensity, his dedication, and his love for the practice and for his students. Finally, all his posts, like the one above resonate deeply with me.

Maybe the reason I haven't written about David and other wonderful teachers before is because encounters with most of them are similar in their essence and yet so profoundly different on their surface. 

With deep gratitude to them all!
We are (all) THAT
Metta!


2/4/15

FLOATING IN A MOST PECULIAR WAY

"CHIKCEN" CENTRE


On the flight home from Bangalore with our precious Huli kitten, I had sneezing attacks that made my ribs ache. By the last part of the 48 hour journey, I was unable to breathe through my nose and had experienced exactly zero minutes of sleep. I was acutely miserable.

On long flights like this one, 10-hour and 8-hour legs, I usually escape the excruciating hours by watching movies punctuated by brief interludes of sleep. Sleep certainly wasn't happening, and to my dawning horror, the video monitor in front of me wasn't working either.

Locked into seatbelt misery, I was forced to do something I would never have done otherwise: examine rather than avoid. I watched and counted breaths, observed their quality and length, noticed the degree of blockage in my nasal passages and its fluctuations. I felt my parched mouth, nose dribble and tickle before a sneezes.

And in doing so, consciousness shifted and the hours passed.


One of the main discoveries of meditation is seeing how we continually run away from the present moment, how we avoid being here. - Pema Choden

On the yoga mat or off, I think there is also running away in trying to do one's practice well instead of doing the practice

(For me) like the awareness change in the plane, there is on the surface a subtle difference with a significant internal shift.

During Mysore and led classes in India, I had been experiencing a humiliating wobbling, losing balance and bad form in pada-hasta-gustasana. (Standing hand to foot pose) and my usual dread of urdva dhanurasana (backbend) with good form but no results (standing up from drop back). 

When mind is focused on success or failure—striving, an activity lacks its essential joy.

Then I missed a class due lack of sleep.

Came backsomehow it was with a blank mindand I simply did the practice. From the outside I doubt if my practice looked any different that day, but it felt vastly different. Honestly accepting, being, and doing what I am without trying to be or do, was bliss. Practice was easy, enjoyable.


I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in the most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today.

- David Bowie, "Space Oddity" 


I'm going out today! I expect it to be a strange and novel experience. One of the perks of faraway travel is that when going and returning, everything is seen with new eyes. It is also ironic that I've been sick in bed for 30 hours with an upset stomach and flu symptomsnot in India but here!! I will also eat something this morning. Hooray!

I might add that sleep has been a wonderful escape from the discomforts of being sick. But in the event all escape routes are blocked—awareness is always there! 

Grace, Gratitude, Metta!

And this too is yoga!

Weaving yoga into everyday experience is the goal. When we can blur the lines between practice and daily life we are moving in the right direction!

- David Swenson


1/19/15

RIDDLES, ENIGMAS, and SECRETS





Active older people resemble much younger people physiologically, according to a new study of the effects of exercise on aging. 

The findings suggest that many of our expectations about the inevitability of physical decline with advancing years may be incorrect and that how we age is, to a large degree, up to us.

Aging remains a surprisingly mysterious process.

--from an article in New York Times

****

Surprisingly mysterious. 

But then, posers and mysteries abound. Wondering.

Why is awareness so heightened here I can barely get a few hours sleep?
Why such pleasure in washing my clothes by hand and hanging them on a line?
The same for the pleasing  inconvenience of washing dishes in a plastic bowl with hot water carried in a bucket from the bathroom?    
Why am I stuck on backbend and so in love with the Ashtanga system?
Why such joy in the chill predawn darkness riding the scooter with the wind in my face?
Why the wee smile while haggling prices with those bad boys—the auto rickshaw drivers? 
Why is it both deliciously comfortable and uncomfortable sitting on my rolled mat often in the cold for my turn to practice in the mornings? 
Why the heart pounding excitement about collaborative art project with D?
When did the cultural differences that used to annoy me become funny?
Why does working at People for Animals beckon and inspire me to work there? Why do I often resist?
Why the enjoyment (can't find the right words - neutral enjoyment? the aliveness?) in moments of fear or loneliness?
Why are people so exquisitely beautiful? And sometimes so exquisitely horrible?
And finally, why do I dread the 30 hour trip home with our wild thing kitten?!!!

Someone said last week, we like it here because we are out of our comfort zone.

I don't know. I just hope I never get back to it.

Take me to the river! Wash me in the water!

And this too is yoga.

METTA!




1/9/15

MAGIC, METTA, AND MISS PIGGY


Was going to write something (I thought) insightful and clever about self-absorption versus self-awareness especially in relation to yogis here, but something happened today that puts me in the first category -  at least only for the moment.... I hope. 

Sharath said the magic word: Pashasana (first  pose of 2nd Series) this morning.

Not so fast, Ms. Happy Face.

Moi: But I can't stand up from backbend yet.
Sharath: It’s ok. You can do.  It's easy. Stand up!

This I could not do.

What pleases me – far more than the free pass to 2nd Series - is Sharath believes I can and will do it soon and easily. And I am beginning to believe it too!

I’ve felt close, but have also had (quite) a few moments here feeling bad, and have been sneaking out before standing bends because of sleeplessness (my excuse) and ….. Fear.

Sharath is an amazing teacher. He seems to know just when to kick your rear, when to ignore you, and when to offer support.

 I bow deeply  to him.

*****

As for self absorption, it's an easy thing to fall into when one is here. Yoga, asana, doing it all well, advancing, socializing, eating, FaceBooking, etc.

Yawn!

Not just here but in my life at home, I feel happiest at these times:  during yoga practice, when I am doing something of service, engaged in creative activism, or making art. Why? I think because I move from self absorption to self awareness; ego drops and is forgotten! Don't we all drop the burden of ego when performing certain activities? (And at certain moments it often spontaneously happens.) 

I am so enthralled too, with the work Alexander Medin is doing. He seems to prove service, art, and yoga take us out of ourselves toward truth. Medin is changing the lives of heroin addicts by way of an undiluted Ashtanga practice and through ass-kicking (extreme – in the jungles of India) SERVICE. One thing I learned when practicing with his group Back in the Ring in Goa – is  – there except by the grace of God…go I. Who does not seek happiness and peace in life? Who has not walked toward it via paths that are illusory, dangerous, destructive? 

Here's links to Back in the Ring, and Medin’s TED talk is amazing too.
http://backinthering.com
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wzr4NbAkQXU

METTA!












12/22/14

Trees : Cannons : Holiday : Paradox

Christmas tree with cannon at Amratty Green, Coorg, India



Christmas is so gentle in India. It's charmingly reinterpreted and is neither a national holiday nor an obsession. As I practice yoga as usual Christmas eve and day, I will celebrate the sweet ordinariness of the day in gratitude.

So here we are at the Amritty Green Resort enjoying Solstice/new moon rest days and getting in touch with our classist roots! Monday is a new moon day and no yoga - so we took a trip to the lushly cool nearby Coorg area for two nights. 

Aaaah India. The resort overlooks a golf course...with all the snootiness and rules of my parents' country club in California. The good news is Chuck is taking a lesson from the golf pro - a woman!! But he has to wear a collared shirt, etc. So he bought one and is  working on meeting the other rules so he can refresh his ability to hit a little ball with a stick. 

The lesson seemed like a fun thing to do...rather than whine about the oddity and feel of old India at this place. One odd  factor is the mosque just above this property which broadcasts prayers at invasively high volumes 5 times a day. 

 Love and am amazed by India’s paradoxes. Its underlying class/caste base when augmented by British-bred snobbiness seems atavistic and a little ridiculous to me. On the other hand, what golf course in the – oh, so democratic USA - would allow the jolt of screaming Islamic prayers all day long and have a female (God forbid) golf pro?

And this too is yoga!

Merry Christmas! Happy Solstice! Sending to all love and wishes for joy and abundance.

Metta 


12/12/14

WE ARE (SCOOTER)DUST






If you find yourself in some difficulty,
step aside and allow Buddha to take your place.
The Buddha is in you.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Step aside. Allow. The Buddha is in us. 

To drop my heavy load, that ponderous shell - is such a joyous surprise and relief. The stream - I don't like that, this annoys me, I like that, I want that very much, this is too this or that. These judgements drain and  tie down so much energy.

Stepping aside, wow...the divine but unspectacular nothing (!) takes my place. Sitting, waiting for my turn to enter the practice room, during morning asana practice, walking down the street, going to sleep, small or large freedoms can happen at any time and any where.

It can even happen when lost in literal or metaphorical space.

Last week I got this idea that I wanted to rent a scooter and drive around Gokulum's (less) crazy traffic. As friend Anna said, "There are no rules driving in Indian traffic. The only one is to stay alive!" I did manage to cling to life on my first scooter try, but it was a disaster and the mission was aborted. So to my great consolation, lessons were given.

At my last lesson a few days ago, my teacher came by at dusk for our second outing to a quiet street, somewhat far from where I am staying.  He drove us there, and then let me drive with him sitting protectively behind me. We drove around the block a couple of times, and I was feeling good.

Then he got off the scooter and told me to drive. (I do love the Indian “you do!!” approach. It leaves no room for “I can’t.”) No problem! I zipped up the street and rounded the corner. By then, it had grown quite dark. Where was the short end of this block? I kept going, looking for a place to turn...and kept going... finally finding a street. Then I turned again.

Now where was the street where he was waiting for me? I drove back to what seemed to be beyond where I had started, but I wasn't sure. It was dark. I stopped, turned off the motor. Waited.

I could only see shadows of people around me. Each person who passed, I hoped (prayed really) would be my teacher, whose name I did not even know at the time! I did not have my phone. No money. 

And I had not the vaguest clue of how to get back to the Garden... Gokulum.

I waited in the black evening. And waited. What was my plan B? No idea. Throw myself at the kindness of one of the human shadows? Maybe.

Anxious but not freaked, I waited. At long last, One of the many passing shadows came closer and turned into my scooter teacher. Angels sang! He grinned. I laughed. He laughed, jumped on the scooter and drove back. I ate dinner and slept like a happy log…slightly smiling.

Joy! To have faced and been released from a fear different (but maybe similar) to what I experience in back bend. There I am out in the unknown - outer space/inner space…upside down and backwards literally or figuratively --and I just might not get back!

I like to think that my yoga/spiritual practice provided me with the equanimity to wait -  to step aside -  mostly in calm for either my teacher to arrive or a course of action to arise. 

We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves 
Back to the Garden.
-Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”

Glory be! 
Metta!




12/2/14

MU (EMPTY) HEAD in INDIA

Form is not different from emptiness, emptiness not different from form. You will not find emptiness apart from form;nor form apart from emptiness.- Heart Sutra 

Just off the plane in Bangalore after over 30 hours of travel followed by two hour nap and the urge, the need arose. So, in late afternoon cool, near deserted hotel swimming pool, this weary one strung together first series poses intuitively. Such simple bliss!

In Goa Alexander Medin's** workshop* included chanting "Aum Gam" and pranayama until the mind was so focused it just quit and emptied. Walked out of the Shala with head in the sky, body in the stars.

Today the first practice was inspired by the energy, the Mysore Magic.

So all this is leading to an awareness: I know from experience I cannot perceive what is true in a state other than emptiness. What I think  (and project) taints perception. I can know neither simple reality nor Truth without a quiet mind. Is a rickshaw driver cheating me? Am I being treated differently because of my age; am I the object of ageism? Can I listen to another person completely, perceive what is happening around me, and accept it whether I like it or not - without interference from a chattering self? Can I perceive, accept, and allow both small and magnificent Truth?

 Can I know Truth/Form through Emptiness and experience the Emptiness in Truth/Form?

MAYBE!

MU!

HEAD!

EGO IN A BUCKET!

Day 2 in Mysore - 60ni Yogini with a scrambled happy brain/body and ready for an empty (teehee) nap!


*** More about Alexander Medin and his group Back in the Ring later.





11/9/14

Cheers and Fears : Ego in a Bucket

Tibetan painting at Bayalakuppe, India

The students I love the most are the ones who are broken and beaten yet unbowed. The survivors and the addicts. The humbled and hurting, the kind that sometimes laugh at death and always laugh at life. 
Old young fit fat doesn't matter. I like the one's with the devil on their tail and their ego in a bucket somewhere back in whoknowswhere. I love my wounded warriors. Give me 10,000 more so we can help each other, clean it up bit by bit, breath by breath, one day at a time. 
This yoga is daily trial by fire type of sadhana. Spirit world ancient undeniable. Keep on burning for that third eye fire. 
Awakening that which is not. Unfettered by the fear, the eternity. In awe, in gratitude we actively and consciously surrender. Imagination opens Opening another drop of sweat. One more. One more. One more. a subtle smile as we enjoy the maturated taste of bitter sweet. 
Cheers to all of you who face your fears even in tears continuously through years and years... 
PJ Heffernan *(from a Facebook post)

What an amazing post from PJ Heffernan - all heart and soul.  It gets to the true passion at the core of Ashtanga and all things—of life. It makes me want to jump and shout. Pure poetry—pure truth!


It is so easy for me, all or us—I would guess—to avoid fears in the comfortable familiarity and safety of our nicely arranged lives here. In a little over a week I will discard most or all of (my) usual ways of avoiding the uncomfortable as I experience a culture both bitter and sweet (as they all are) made intensely more so because it is not my own.


So thank you Mother India, though you are neither more wonderful nor horrible than my own culture—I will land in your midst and see you and myself with new eyes that will not and cannot turn away....


...with my ego in a bucket

    breath by breath
   metta metta metta



9/26/14

Art, Love, Yoga, Baseball, Peaches










Yoga is all about love.  The deepest postures crack your heart wide open, so especially when you feel that your heart is breaking and you feel vulnerable then you can rest assured that your practice is doing exactly what it should be doing.  
 So many people think that love coming into our lives is just about the happiness, but love is so big that it sometimes needs to break our limited notions of self before it has the space to move in.   
Yoga practice does just that—it breaks our hearts so that the new expanded terrain of the inner world is big enough for love to embrace all the aspects of our life, light and shadow, pleasure and pain, with compassion and equanimity.         —KinoMacGregor


Things are changing. The equinox has passed. Green diminishes; earth colors emerge. Dawn comes later; dusk, earlier. She sweeps the back deck daily; more leaves appear. Her hair whitens even as she watches the inevitable lurch toward another birth anniversary.

We have lingered in chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown. *


Kino's beautiful encouragement to embrace all aspects of life—light and dark—leads to tranquility in facing every circumstance, sorrow to bliss. Back bends, my personal heart breaker, are said to be heart openers. And indeed, this beating core with its "limited notion of self" has been cracked—wide open—by this practice and by life itself. 

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.**

And art and yoga mats and love and baseball and autumnal joy and kitchen demolition and striving and pain and anger and fear of losing what? Vigor, ego, zest, a yoga pose, life? Is it not all the same? Call something by one name and does that particular name also include every other name and thing? 


I grow old...I grow old
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. ***

There is a such an overt melancholy to Prufrock—that to me has always seemed funny. In high school a pal named Georgeanne Coffey (later called Annapurna) and I, full of youthful mockery, used to quote Eliot and giggle. "Dare I eat a peach?" and "I grow old" were cues for fits of laughter. (Dear Georgeanne, here I am, long after you have gone, quoting TS Eliot, enjoying doleful Prufrock in a new way and remembering you fondly.)

Ah, Monkey Mind—Tarzan Mind—swings from tree to tree this anniversary eve, never settling, never still! Is everything happening all at once? We leave for India in about six weeks; the kitchen will rebuild itself before friends arrive in two; and this broken (open) heart is vulnerable, full and loving
 now and will be long after "I" have disappeared. 

Is spring not included in fall? Summer in winter? And vice versa?


All is well!


Dare I eat a peach????


Metta


 *  ** *** from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, by TS Eliot
In its entirety (undeconstructed by teenagers) this is a truly beautiful poem!

8/15/14

Facebook + Me = Backbends + Fractals

We are all fractals* and part of Mandelbrot's magical image. 

Today, August 14,  I dropped back into Urdhva Dhanurasana (backbend) unassisted. Quiet hurrah.


Only a small cheer because I haven't been able to do a drop back without one of my teachers, Nicky Murphy, standing nearby and watching, which is a (lovely) form of assistance. At home—as I hover upside down and backwards—it seems I am miles from the floor. Yikes, this is impossible! I lose my nerve and pop up. 


Nevertheless, slowly, very slowly it all may be coming. 



Practice and all is coming. 
-Patabhi Jois. 

I see the truth of that, Guruji. Right now, I am feeling happy and a little victorious because until recently, I had never been truly challenged by my Ashtanga practice. Dealing with a stopper—has been, well—an astounding opportunity to observe physical and emotional states of ALL kinds. 

So maybe in mini celebration I'll post a video of my backbend on Facebook. What? Facebook? Isn't it a superficial ego forum and a waste of time? 


Perhaps not. 

An acquaintance from Mysore now back in the USA, posted something reflective today: 
I feel like there is too much serious shit going on in the world right now for me to post about my yoga classes, or cute animal pictures, or great things that I eat. I feel helpless and it's bumming me out.
Indeed, I think. Look at Ferguson, Missouri, the Middle East, the children stuck in Texas. The suffering, the conflict, everywhere. To face it is heartbreaking and our helplessness, overwhelming. I reply that microcosmically if we sincerely do our yoga and meditation practices, we are doing something. 

However, later something more, a Zen phrase, arises:



Buddha nature pervades the whole universe
existing right here and now.
I dedicate the merits of this practice 
to all sentient beings.
Together we will realize liberation.

I start to cry. 

And what are the merits of this practice? Dropping back? Maybe. Maybe not. More, I think—the blessings of wisdom gained via the angst, joy, and sweat on our mats and taking the "me" out of backbend and everything else. With joy I return energy to the whole and celebrate the merit of others.

I hereby dedicate any and all grace received to the people of Ferguson, children everywhere, and to all suffering sentient beings, animals included.

And this too is Yoga. 

Finally, micro-me is still around just the same, wanting to post a photo or video of that insignificant  backbend. (It is such a sweet, little breakthrough.) 


And this too is Yoga.

Rejoice! 

*fractal: a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the wholeThe Mandelbrot image above is a set intricate never-ending shapes.