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.

Yoga and Great Relief

Today was the first day of my new yoga teaching gig at the Studio on Glover Street in the heart of  Downtown Twisp.  I was pretty psyched about it.  Expectant.  I had my people post flyers around town and had announced it on FaceBook.  The Studio added the class to its Web page.  It seemed like everything was in place.

My beautiful Beloved and I arrived at 9:45 so I could set the bhav or attitude for the room.  I had brought a small picture of my guru, Amma, and turned on the yoga playlist on my iPhone.  Then I stood by the door to wait.

it reminded me faintly of the old days when I gave parties, and I would ask some friends to gather a little early to keep me company while I waited to see if anyone was going to come. If the house and food and drink and music would magically transform into the alchemy of “party.”  Which in the complicated mathematics of the self equals “success .”

As I stood by the door this morning gazing through the red sheer curtain that screens the studio from the street, I felt that old worry. And it metabolized as disappointment. The hands on my watch swept slowly and inexorably toward ten o’clock. My Beloved sat meditating on her mat.

I felt a wash of old uncomfortable feelings: disappointment, unworthiness, embarrassment. At the same time, I remembered when I started teaching the yoga class I’ve taught in Philly for seven years. How many Thursday mornings I felt like the old Maytag repairman, waiting for someone to show up and leaving after half a hour when it was clear that no one would. Or one person would come and how long it took me to feel comfortable with that.

Developing a following takes time, especially being the new yogi in town. My Beloved sat serenely waiting for me to start. I sat on my cushion and closed my eyes and said the words I have said nearly every Thursday for the last three years that I’ve been teaching Yoga for Great Relief: we’ll start with a short closed eye meditation followed by gazing and then I’ll make a few comments and open up for sharing.

The meditation did its usual magic bringing me a deep sense of Being, and the gazing brought us into a communion. It drew me into the font of consciousness, the gateless entrance to what is.

When I began to speak, it was of the feelings that were alive in me, the percolating and shifting flow of those old familiar feelings. Speaking transformed them and cast them in the light of Wisdom.

Being human means being hard wired for self-preservation. And yet, this essential system often becomes our default, a pattern in which we keep our selves coiled in contraction as a way to keep safe from what might cause hurt. Being human means constantly surfing the edge between the finite and the infinite. That requires awareness. How does it feel now? Can I be with that? And Hatha yoga gives us a chance to cultivate and deepen that awareness.

And so we began. Breath, movement, effort and relaxation. And by the end, as we sat quietly after chanting to seal in the practice, I was home again in the great relief that this practice offers. Resting in Trust in Being.

Doing and Being: Facing the Day of “No”

Today, I taught my last yoga class for the summer at Yoga on Main in Manayunk, PA, where I’ve taught a weekly class on Thursdays for a number of years.  It was a particularly sweet class, well attended (for a Thursday morning) with two of my regulars, one new person, and two women who came “to hear me talk.”  It’s a beautiful thing whenever, as the Bible says, “two or more are gathered” in the name, the search for the truth.  I always open class with a silent meditation followed by a brief open eyed meditation, “gazing” with each person for less than a minute, meeting them gaze to gaze, Being to Being.  And then I give a short talk, just whatever’s been up for me recently that in some way illustrates the nature of Being.  Today it was the intersection of a few threads that came together in a recent experience that I referred to as the day of no.

For me, this day of no manifested itself in a jarring realization that the way I perceive myself is not always the way I am perceived by others.  As it happened in the personal and professional spheres at the same time, it felt like quite a combination punch.  A regular one-two to the psyche.  It felt like hell.  It felt like the way I know myself was so out of kilter with the way I was being perceived, or the way I was being perceived somehow missed the core of who I am.  I don’t mind telling you that it knocked the stuffing out of me and laid me low.

One of the women at class this morning, Julie, had some good questions about this.  “What do you do when that happens?” The beautiful thing about this sort of experience, for me, is that I no longer resist it.  Even though I felt contracted around the experiences, I didn’t try use the contraction as a way to muscle through it.  I just let it be there.  It was a soggy day out side, and I let the sogginess infiltrate to the inside of my Being.  I stayed in my pajamas.  I sighed.  I said out loud, “I feel like shit.”  I was aware in this feeling state that there was something to be learned.  Whenever there is dissonance of this degree, Being is really trying to get my attention.

I thought back to the experience I had over the weekend at the Transitions and Transactions conference about my name.  And I got that this self perception is always just that, a perception.  I can continue to refine it, to hone it more and more close to the Truth, and yet, because I am in this embodied form, this physical entity with her various, numerous names, no matter what I call myself, I am essentially nameless: the way that can be named is not the true Way.  My teacher, Allan Morelock (read his two beautiful books, Nothing Other,  and Raindrops Falling on the Ocean) has said “personality is impersonal.”  And that, I know, is the truth.

Julie’s other question was about decisions, and this is one that can take a very long time to parse out, but still I was delighted by her asking it.  For me, there is only Being.  Being is writing itself in and as and through me as My Life.  There’s never really a time when I decide to do something.  I just do things.  It sometimes feels like there is a decision, or a choice, but really, where does that choice come from?  Whether I sit around until I move toward food, sleep, drink, reading, walking the dog, or whether I respond to an invitation with a yes or a no, or whether I decide to go out or stay home, there’s a way in which it’s all the same.  Sometimes what we appear to “choose” to do appears to work out well and feels good, and sometimes what we appear to choose to do works out badly and feels bad.  Sometimes it’s neutral. But good, bad or indifferent; intentional, unintentional or accidental, it’s still Being that’s making it happen.

The Trillium Awakening teacher Rod Taylor told me once that all the stuff we feel like we keep hitting our head against is just Being showing us the core wound.  In Trillium Awakening, the core wound is a way of speaking about the edge between our finite and infinite nature, a place we’re always rubbing up against.  We’re infinite: everything is occurring in consciousness, there’s no separation, no other, and at the same time, we’re in these finite, limited bodies with their complex layers of differentiation, their needs, wants, dislikes, stories, patterns and conditions.

You can always count on Being to show you where you still have something to learn.  Sometimes life is like a rock tumbler, just knocking off the rough edges to polish you to your true shine.  The best and truest way to live is to just let come what may.  Rumi says:

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!

You don’t have to love them.  Welcoming awareness can be anything from a simple act of reception to a deep bow of surrender. Doing and Being are but two sides of the mobius strip of experience. The more we come to trust in Being, to get out of its way, the more easefully we can ride that edge and fall, finally, our true home.