Seeing Heaven from the Valley

Go Blank: Encinitas, California, February 2016


Rock exuding Zen wisdom? Implied profanity? Enlightenment on the beach?  


     An Ashtanga teacher stops teaching in a graceful, wise way. 

     A father passes away in a beautiful, peaceful way. 

     Yogis and yoginis learn when to let go, when to go blank. and when to push: 
     that suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.  (Samadhi and Third Noble Truth):
"I wrote and thought a lot about the wish to be invincible, the wish to always be healthy, the wish not to age, not to die….about how yoga does not make us invincible physically or mentally, that we must age and die. Here is the magical blessing that yoga gives us: equanimity and peace with whatever comes. This is truly magical. This is powerful." 
Karen  Cairns
A yogini close to my age whom I greatly admire, always has her eye on the prize. 
And what is the prize?  I believe it is accepting what is in the present moment, an "equanimity and peace with whatever comes." 

For most of us, isn't the prize the perfect something or other? Perfect achievement: asana, money, solo "show," love, likes, and so on. For me it has been about progress, getting somewhere else, or returning to a previously attained state—anything but where I am right now.

So like yogini Karen, scheduled for her second hip surgery in May, I contemplate (shoulder) surgery while I learn, observe, accept, and find the way to truth in my own body and spirit day by day. Karen's essay (shared with her permission) below astounds and inspires me. It reveals that she and perhaps all of us—can access yoga's Eighth Limb. I am grateful for the reminder and proof that in aging/change, there are inherent gifts. 

Field Notes from the Valley of the Shadow of Death 
My elder ashtanga is a deeply satisfying practice. I don’t think about it; I just do it. Gone is any struggle over doing it or not. There is nothing I am working on. No new poses. Nothing to “deepen” in any way. No adjustments needed. Whatever I do is fine. I actually practice more these days, just taking Moon Days off. Elder ashtanga is everday ashtanga, nothing special ashtanga. This is truly magical. 
.... No need for renunciation- things just peel off when no longer needed, without struggle, without loss. Endless talking about asanas? About teachers? About Guruji and Sharath and Saraswati? About the practice? Less and less…  I think I was noticing a space to talk about everyday ashtanga, about elder ashtanga, which anyone can do.  
The practice that is slow and steady with no bells and whistles. No YouTube videos. No glamour photos of poses on a beach, in front of an ashram or a temple, by a river…. No special clothing needed- just everyday clothing. Nothing to talk about. 
Adjustments are plentiful and come from within. Or not. Insights are plentiful and come from within. Or not.
Really, this ashtanga can be done at any age, with any body, with any mind, anywhere. You do not need to be old for elder ashtanga, but perhaps it helps. As we age, we tend to learn firsthand that “it’s okay until it’s not okay”….and that this can happen at any time. It is not an “if” but a “when.” Some learn this earlier, while young, of course, through illness or injury, perhaps. When recovered, sometimes we forget and once again feel invincible. 
With aging, this is no longer possible. We know we are permanently more vulnerable, fragile- our skin thins and tears easily, eyesight may get dim, hearing less acute. We can fall more easily and we know that recovery is both more problematic and partial. Our practice becomes even more important but changes fundamentally. It becomes everyday…nothing special but completely special.
Before my left hip replacement in 2014 I was very apprehensive. I’m not a fan of surgery- well, who is. Before this surgery I made a Yatra or pilgrimage, my first one to northern India, to the Himalayas…to be blessed. And I was indeed blessed. The surgery went well and practice healed me on every level. I wrote and thought a lot about the wish to be invincible, the wish to always be healthy, the wish not to age, not to die….about how yoga does not make us invincible physically or mentally, that we must age and die.   
Here is the magical blessing that yoga gives us: equanimity and peace with whatever comes. This is truly magical. This is powerful.
            —Karen Cairns


forty-five. taxes. escape.

We are in the universe and the universe is in us—in the most unlikely places

For 10 days I:
1.     sat quietly for at least 15 minutes with focus on #45's higher self;
2.     made note of processes, failures, and epiphanies;­
3.     made simple images relating to this process. 

link to what happened next:
Ten Days of #45 
March 26 

I'm avoiding tax prep today. Such a tedious unpleasant chore from which I seek to escape!
Ah, escape. It's much more than taxes I wish to elude. After the #45 focus (see above), felt both clear and peaceful about life and politics. That is, until some dormant parts of self awoke from their sulk in the dark. 

Feeling things so deeply, I cried helplessly after reading the story of a cat called Ugly. Later, sensing other energies, I felt sad, bad, irritable, and miserable. 

I am all things (as we all are) And though ALL things are neutral, they lose their innocence through the spin story we put on them.  Welcome to the entire truth—neutral AND illusory—whether grasped, avoided, or observed.

I sit quietly and do yoga practice for the equanimity to observe. And there are things I don't want to look at—far beyond the annoying drag of tax materials**—my own and humanity's cruelties, heartbreaks, helplessness, judgements, mostly heartbreak....

Sigh! True. 
image of the Sanskrit version of the Heart Sutra (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya)

** And on that note—why should I pay taxes to support #45's trips to Florida?  
OK, back to taxes... 
or study the Heart Sutra for a while—yes!


Burning Down the House: politics-yoga-spirituality

Talking Heads, "Burning Down the House" 
(full lyrics below)

Hold tight wait till the party's over
Hold tight we're in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

House as metaphor for ego.... and politics. What a mess. Heartbreaking and frightening (for me) just one week after inauguration and the women's march in DC.

So - Adyashanti has a story. It goes something like this. In the early days of his teaching he held retreats at a location where the early morning was graced by the sunrise, bird song, and peacefulness. Later, local residents blasted Led Zeppelin and others at full volume out on the streets. As Adya says:
It is easy to stay conscious to the birds, to the pleasantness, to the beautiful manifestation of the Divine, to your own true self...until the first power chord... And there it is. There's the invitation. 
 Well the political powers are shrieking at me right now. I see how easy it was to stay in a state of peaceful awareness of self, others, etc during Obama's presidency. Now I am put to the test:

  • Can I maintain equanimity and awareness now that the "sweet sounds" have ended?
  • Can I keep an open heart while at the same time feeling outrage and heartbreak? 
  • Can I engage in a way that is positive, pro-active? 
  • Can I refrain from reacting in-kind to energy that feels negative or bad?
  • Have I closed my heart to some as a result of pre-conceived ideas about certain people with whom I disagree? 
  • And if so, am I not doing something essentially similar to what the head of the US government today wants to do to Muslims? 
  • Can I view the US president as "bad" in a neutral, matter of fact way? That is, without the added injection of hate and anger?
  • What can I DO that promotes inclusion and peace on both an individual and governmental level?
I'm watching, looking for answers. I will say for certain that being open to "those" people FEELS much better than shutting down as I learned in DC after the march.  Two women got on the trolley we were riding. One carried an anti-choice sign and the other, roses. We muttered among ourselves about them, and then chatted joyfully with some other pussy-hatted women, all the time eyeing the two. (And I, sending them some evil-eye.) When we got off, I did something I can only attribute to my (unconscious) higher self. I smiled at them from the heart and smelled their roses.

The result of good energy from march, meditation, and yoga practices?

Don't know, but yoga practice in particular seems vital to clarity, equilibrium, and equanimity for me—particularly since resuming regular practice after dealing with shoulder injury/pain.

And here I should interject what I've learned since Andrew Hillam's workshop in India about the integration of bhandas and breath. Amazing! Breathe right and your bandhas will be there; if your bandhas are present, you will be breathing correctly. Aaaah, the breath. Everything said about it is true!

And to also interject—have learned about everything since injuring my shoulder. One down to earth thing: at Duke they will do arthroscopic surgery AND stem cell treatment at the same time. Amazing! So excited by that I signed up and scheduled immediately. (But at this moment with shoulder so much improved wondering if it wouldn't eventually resolve for the better on it own. To be decided after consult this week.)

Questions! Answers! Some say questions are far more important than THE answers.


May prosperity be glorified. 
May administrators rule the world with law and justice. 
May all things that are sacred be protected. 
And may the people of the world be happy and prosperous.

(Ashtanga closing mantra)

Talking Heads – Burning Down The House Lyrics 

Watch out you might get what you're after
Cool baby strange but not a stranger
I'm an ordinary guy
Burning down the house

Hold tight wait till the party's over

Hold tight we're in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

Here's your ticket pack your bag: time for jumpin' overboard

Transportation is here
Close enough but not too far,
Maybe you know where you are
Fightin' fire with fire

All wet hey you might need a raincoat

Shakedown dreams walking in broad daylight
Three hun-dred six-ty five de-grees
Burning down the house

It was once upon a place sometimes I listen to myself

Gonna come in first place
People on their way to work baby what did you expect
Gonna burst into flame
Burning down the house

My house's out of the ordinary

That's might don't want to hurt nobody
Some things sure can sweep me off my feet
Burning down the house

No visible means of support and you have not seen nuthin' yet

Everything's stuck together
I don't know what you expect staring into the TV set
Fighting fire with fire

Burning Down The House lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.