Equinoctial Yoga

September 21, a day before the equinox occurs here in North Central Washington tomorrow evening when the sun crosses the equator. It’s Sunday, fittingly a hot, sunny day here in the high desert, even though this morning I needed a hooded sweatshirt when I got out of my warm bed, the window open to let in the night’s coolness. I taught a yoga class at 9:00, subbing for a friend who is teaching a workshop in Mexico. It was a small class–people tend to like to stay with their own teacher–but that was fine. I enjoyed practicing with the three folks who came. I spent last night worrying a little about what kind of class to teach. Me worrying about yoga is a rare occurrence. Typically, I enter a sort of flow state once I sit down and start to teach, and the class unfolds from someplace in Being that I have no control over.

But I expected a big group of regulars, and I felt a little uncertain whether my style of class would be suitable to them. I thought about doing a class on balancing, this being the equinox and all, but in the end, I gave up and went to bed, and this morning I felt the ease of my own practice leading me to the one I would teach.

I spoke about the nature of Tantra, and how it aligns with my yoga style. Tantra, to me, is a kind of radical acceptance. Accepting the way things are rather than trying to shift them. Yoga classes sometimes tend toward the transcendental: attempting to shift practitioners into surrender, or bliss, or even acceptance. Yet surrender, bliss and acceptance must arise on their own. Yoga asanas can help bring us more deeply into our bodies, and from our bodies into awareness, and through awareness we can find our way to what is troubling us. Listening to the body. Feeling it. Feeling the stuck thoughts or emotions creates a small space through which release and relief can enter.

This led naturally enough to the equinox, which should be a good lesson to us in the difficulty of achieving equanimity. Only twice a year is the sun positioned so that we have equal hours of light and dark. All the rest of the year our days, weeks and months are a series of gradations from more light to more dark and back again. Autumn. Its etymology from the Old French is “the drying up season.” Harvest. End of summer. The Anglo-Saxon word is fall–a useful metonym and metaphor for what happens around us if we live amongst deciduous trees that shed their leaves in a rain of glorious color. A flaming death.

As the poet Mary Oliver says “the trees are turning themselves into pillars of light.” After the blossoms, the fruit. After the fruit, seeds. After the seeds, sleep, deep and dark and long. This is where we are. The time of shedding, harvesting, gleaning. The sun is on its path; we’re on ours. May the shortening days autumn carry us into a richness of Being, a sowing of mysterious fruit.

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Riding the Emotional Wave

Anger, fear, hate, and jealousy are great gifts. Finally we leave the spiritual mirage behind. We are no longer this sanitized being smelling of lotus perfume. We smell like hate. We stink of it. This is reality. This is unity, at last. Transforming hate into love is like putting Saran Wrap over a container of rotting food; it does not resolve anything. We must go to the raw and direct feeling. There is nothing to transform. To transform is to lose the chance that we have been given to look at reality. The solution is in the problem and not in its negation. The problem is a marvelous gift.

Daniel Odier, Yoga Spandakarika

This passage in Daniel Odier’s beautiful commentary on The Sacred Texts at the Origins of Tantra sang out to me when I read them earlier this week. I felt the great breeze of Truth, the scent of freedom in his words.

In Human Design, the evolutionary astrology based on the I Ching, I am an emotionally defined Projector.  To keep it simple, this means that I am wired to receive emotional waves that arise of their own accord without any direct external cause, and like all waves they subside all on their own.

My role is to recognize the wave for what it is and to take care of myself until it passes. Like ocean waves, the emotional wave picks up everything in its path. So it’s good, to extend the metaphor, to keep the beach clean and free of debris.

This morning a wave arose. I could say it’s because I slept poorly and had an upsetting dream. But it’s just as–if not more–likely that I slept and dreamt as I did due to the wave. As Odier says, the gift is in the “problem,” not its solution.

A lifelong transcender of difficulty, I have had a long process of unlearning this behavior. Getting the Saran Wrap off the rot and letting it have its way, do its stinking work of transforming itself. Seeing the natural beauty of rot has been a blessing. What is composed will decompose. This is as true of bodies as it is of feelings.

It’s bracing to lean into this. To be encouraged to let the raw reality of the moment offer itself to us. In my own experience, this allowance has the power to transform, to bring forth compassion and love like flowers out of shit. But you can’t start with the flowers. You have to start with the shit. You have to get comfortable with the buzzing, stinking, rotting of the moment with no expectation other than your own ability to remain.

Earlier in the passage, Odier says, “When we have the chance to become angry or afraid, we feel a gathering of energy followed by a dispersal. It is in this gathering that we can reach the sacred tremor . . . It is only rarely that we achieve a clear awareness of our emotion in the present moment. If this were always the case, there would be no drive to action, no manifestation of the emotion outside ourselves.”

The cultivation of awareness, to be resting always in its embrace, has the power to bring us into unity with the depth of our Being. Let the wave come. It knows that it’s not separate from the ocean.

Wind, River, Chainsaw: The Profound Nature of Space

I have always had a deep sensitivity to sound.  When I was teaching, side conversations among my students created such pressure in my head that it felt like it would implode. Once, living in South Jersey, I had a neighbor who kept beagles caged and chained in his backyard, and their barking so disturbed my sleep, my “peace,” that I took him to court twice. When I discovered meditation, then, sound became a longtime teacher.  The woodpecker that seemed to wait until I sat on my cushion to begin his relentless knocking.  The housemate whose shoes became like wooden blocks being dropped down the stairs.  The silverware drawer that clattered like a garbage truck in the kitchen. Whenever I sat to meditate, sound became the foreground, a magnetic pull on the myriad filings of my mind.

As I progressed in my practice, I had the good fortune to be introduced to Ajahn Chah, the great Thai Forest Master, by two teachers who were his former students and monks.  One time when he had traveled to England to give a teaching, there was a very loud band playing at a pub across the street.  In response to the agitation of those who had come to sit with him, he asked “is the noise bothering you, or are you bothering the noise?”  I came to understand that sound is a function of the ears, and noise is a function of the mind.  Once, walking with his young monks, they came upon a very large rock.  Ajahn Chah asked them, “is this rock heavy?”  To a person they agreed, “yes, it is very heavy!”  His response was “Ha!  Only if you try to lift it!”  This is a fairly common Buddhist teaching about the nature of perception.

It’s been some years since my Buddhist studies and practice although I still meditate most days first thing in the morning as part of a regular practice: puja, prayer, yoga and meditation.  Part of my journey into awakening as consciousness has been the continual differentiation between experience and Being.  I almost wrote “reality,” but what is reality but a perception?  Awakening as consciousness shift one’s relationship to every thing.  The dissolution of the boundaries of the self bring about the dissolution of the “other.”  It’s a realization of the complete subjectivity of being in a body.

Once I realized that there was no separation between “me,” and what “I perceived,” I knew inherently that everything was me.  Daniel Odier says “The self contains the void, the nonself, plenitude, the worlds, the Buddhists, the Sufis, the Christians, the Jews and the tantrikas!  The mystical experience is one; abolishing all dogmatic limitations, it is silent fusion, the annihilation of all disputing.”  This appears in a chapter on the way tantra differentiated itself from the “excessive” teachings of Buddhism of “understand[ing] the void with nonconsciousness.”

What the Buddhists called the “void,” a cold, emptiness, the trantrikas called space, which contains everything including the void.  Meditation, Odier goes on to say, “becom[s] almost ordinary . . . at the occurrence of any c0ntact with things and beings . . . because all of reality is transformed.  Our presence in the world becomes so open, intense, and refined that the sacred tremoring (awareness of consciousness) is continual.”

Moving to the country, here in the mountains where the population is around 6 people per square mile, my relationship to sound has blossomed as a direct result of this spaciousness that contains everything.  Sounds typical of my day are the rooster who starts his morning prayers these days around 4:30 and his hens beginning their daily song of laying–there’s a whole blog post on the sounds of laying hens!  The river comes into my awareness once Roosty rings his alarm.  When I go outside, the wind is moving in the aspen and cottonwood leaves.  There’s a rich layered texture of white sound. It permeates me and holds me in this tender time as I come more fully into conscious awareness after sleep, and I cherish it.

Yesterday, however, something happened.  Around 6:30 a persistent high pitched whine came in, gas motors revving and slowing, screaming and keening.  It was as if a dirt bike rally was going on in my mind, up and down the trails, long runs and short hops over hills to rev and return and go again and again and again. Almost instantly this scenario became embedded in my awareness.  It touched on years of sensitivity that have more or less healed but have left scar tissue that resonates at the slightest touch.   Still, my relationship to it felt different.  I both felt its irritation and also its essential there-ness.  I allowed this dichotomy to just be.

Later in the day, when my Beloved and I were driving down from our land to the road, we could see far away, across both the road and the river, a white truck parked at an angle where the well watered green of our friend’s pasture gave way to the natural brown hillside of the season and then the trees just beyond.  Immediately on seeing this I felt a shift in my relationship to the sound.  Magically, the dirt bikes dissolved back into the ether from which they had sprung and were replaced by this image of “work.”

This morning they started up again as usual just as I knelt before my altar to wave some incense around Ganesha and do the prayer that has been my regular daily practice for at least five years: please remove the obstacles from my path today by giving me the wisdom to see every difficulty, delay or setback as a gift from my exalted lord Shani for the removal of karma on this path to liberation.  It’s an old-school prayer from my days as a student and follower of Vedic astrology that examines the relationship between our desire for freedom from “obstacles” and their indisputable purpose of instruction.

Throughout my daily prayer of thanks to my yoga asanas and into my meditation they kept up their strange music.  While meditating I knew that they are no different from the sounds of the wind and the water.  Each is chewing away what is.

Thus, in this great unity, everything touches everything else.  A world, a movement of the body, where emotions pour out from the infinite, navigating through the infinite, end in the infinite, only to give rise to another movement.  Act and actor, subject and object, perception and perceiver are united. This is the realization of the Mahamudra.

Daniel Odier, Yoga Spandakarika