philosophy

Wait 30 minutes

canyon ranch

While on our honeymoon road trip through the Berkshires, we spent some time in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was the middle of May and still very spring-like with unpredictable weather.

It would be sunny and warm, then we'd go outside again and it would be gray and windy. Pretty soon there would be a little drizzle. Then it would be overcast and humid.

And that was all in one day!

We were talking to a Lenox resident about the climate there compared to California and he said, "If you don't like the weather, wait 30 minutes." 

We laughed and parted ways.

I keep thinking about this wisdom -- if you don't like something, wait 30 minutes (or 30 seconds) and the conditions will likely change.

Don't like this sensation? Don't like that sound? Don't like this state of mind?

We pass through so many moods, preferences, responses in a day. So much stimulus, so much input. All of it changing, all of it impermanent -- both what is coming at us and our response to it.

Spiritual practice is in part about stepping back from these fluctuations. Like stepping back from a picture on the wall -- when your nose is at the glass, you can't see much of the picture. Stepping back will help see the whole story, the broader context.

Being a witness of your experience. Noticing, with interest and curiosity when possible, the constant flow of life.

I'm trying to keep this playfulness when I notice my inner narrator chiming in about not liking -- or even liking -- what's happening.

"Wait 30 minutes," I tell her.

berkshires

A poem in honor of this wisdom.

Thinking Like a Butterfly

Monday I was told I was good.
I felt relieved.
Tuesday I was ignored.
I felt invisible.
Wednesday I was snapped at.
I began to doubt myself.
On Thursday I was rejected.
Now I was afraid.
On Saturday I was thanked
for being me. My soul relaxed.
On Sunday I was left alone
till the part of me that can’t
be influenced grew tired of
submitting and resisting.
Monday I was told I was good.
By Tuesday I got off the wheel.

Mark Nepo
From The Way Under the Way, 2016

 

Four Favorite Poetry Books

...and one poem.

Yesterday was a day of poetry.

I've been sharing a poem at the beginning and/or end of class on Sunday mornings again recently. Poetry used to be as important to me in class development as the asana, but as happens with the cyclical nature of things, that practice had fallen away for a few years.

It's so lovely to see how people respond to a poem...
The "mmm" murmured after a poem is read.
Coming up after class to ask for the name of the poem.
Wanting to share their favorite poet or poem or line.

It's like we're all a little bit in the closet about poetry, but once we know we're in safe company of fellow lovers, we can pull the tattered paper out of our wallets and compare notes (I carry a few hand-written lines of Rumi, gifted long ago by a friend).

Poetry is delicious medicine that has helped me make sense of life since high school. I have many old poetry collections published by Hallmark that were my grandmother's, one of which is in the Favorite Four below.

 

The second poetry moment yesterday arose out of the online philosophy class I'm teaching. We are exploring Yoga Sutra 2.1 and yesterday the discussion was around Svadhyaya, the practice of Self Study.

There are a couple of notable aspects of Svadhyaya:

  • Foremost, it is the regular practice of self-reflection and personal growth.
  • Drilling down even deeper, we get to the heart by studying ourselves in the context of sacred texts and teachings.
  • Since we are limited in the objectivity we can have with ourselves, it generally is done with a teacher, which could be a study group, a therapist, a mentor or other trusted guide.
  • For the purpose of knowing ourselves more deeply.

Homework ideas for the month included journalling, reading or memorizing poetry, reading other spiritual texts, group discussion, therapy or mentorship. 

All for the purpose of knowing yourself more deeply.

Several people in the group were interested in exploring poetry as a practice. Since it can be hard to know where to start, I offered to share a few of my favorite poetry books.

Here are four favs, with a kitty photo bomb.

poetry books

Poet Healer edited by Chip Spann
Sadly, this book is out of print, but there are a few on Amazon. It was compiled as part of a project through Sutter's Cancer Program. It is my favorite collection of poems and would be my desert island book of poetry.

Red Bird by Mary Oliver
Oliver's poems are nature and simplicity and awe. All of her books are wonderful, I just have a special affection for this one.

Poems of Awakening edited by Betsy Small
Another great compilation of spiritual poetry. From Kabir and Hafiz to Anna Swir and May Sarton, almost every page in my book is dog-eared.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
I've lived on this book like food for periods of my life. This is my grandmother's copy and it lives on my nightstand. Out of use, it falls open to the writings On Love and On Pain, which sound strangely similar. "And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast." (That's On Love!)

 

The other request I received was for the poem from class -- Below Our Strangeness by Mark Nepo. As you know, Mark is a favorite poet and writer of mine. What a lovely poem for our times.

Below Our Strangeness

I've come to believe that we were
all broken from the same nameless
heart, and everything wakes
with a piece of that original heart
aching its way into blossom. This
is why we know each other below
our strangeness, why when we fall, 
we lift each other; or when in pain, 
we hold each other; why sudden
with joy, we dance together. Life
is the many pieces of that great
heart loving itself back together.

~Mark Nepo

 

poetry month

Are you interested in receiving a poem a day?

April is poetry month, and as part of my spiritual practice, I am going to read, sit with and share a poem a day.

Get on the list to be a part of it. <--Click!

Starts April 1st.

Magic (the cat) will be there!

        

The practice of perplexity

"Part of the spiritual tradition is to unsettle us."

That's a line from a recent On Being podcast with secular Buddhist teacher and writer, Stephen Batchelor.

The discussion is about what Batchelor calls the immediacy of the mystery.  Many traditions have practices of perplexity, wonderment, astonishment, curiosity and even doubt at their core, connecting us to possibility and surprise rather than certainty and answers.

Yesterday I taught my last class at the studio as It's All Yoga. This week the name will change to Ritual. This is a change I knew was possible when I sold the studio last year, and still, there was sadness as I watched the new coats of paint being put on the building as I left class. Never a moment of regret...but, surprise...some sadness.

rose quartz

Batchelor spent months in deep meditation with the question, "What is this?" His experience of stillness and quiet with that question eventually led to a place where the words fell away and the question became a physical sensation, infusing the consciousness with a deep sense of curiosity.

What is this? is not a question in search of an answer. It is intended to help us penetrate the mystery more deeply so that it becomes more mysterious. Where every situation and experience becomes truly surprising. A place outside of our habitual views and conditioned responses.

A non-reactive stillness.

Softening the grip around what happens next.
Putting down the article on The 5 Steps to....  
Actively engaging in the art of not taking things for granted.

mark nepo

There is no certainty, there is just the Immediacy of the Mystery.
The possibility of continual surprise and wonder.
A way of life guided by engagement and openness.

The practice is here for us. All the time.

 

Under the sadness I find relief. Curiosity. Aliveness.

I'm excited to see how Ritual unfolds and what beautiful new offerings it brings to this community. And I'm delightfully unsettled and unanswered with how It's All Yoga will evolve in its next iteration.

So brilliantly described in the Long Way Home by Mark Nepo -- this is our practice.

long way home
 

yoga philosophy for today

You know the phrase, "You get better at what you practice?"

The follow up to this truth is the real wisdom: "So be careful what you practice."

The spiritual path is hard work, and sometimes it's lonely. 

But we do it because we want to grow and learn and evolve as human beings. We want practical support for the things life throws our way.

We do it together because we need each other's support, encouragement and celebration.

It's essential to have a group and time we can discuss these topics and share stories with people of various ages, backgrounds and life experience. By sharing, we are reminded that we are not alone.

When I put out a feeler to gauge interest in a philosophy "work group," many of you responded!

Topics and texts will vary and we'll do short series style so that it fits into your regular life. This will also be a remote format, using a group video conference, so you can be anywhere and participate. And the sessions will be recorded so you can make up or watch again.

elephants

New Year Philosophy

For our first Yoga Philosophy for Today workgroup, we will explore Yoga Sutra 2.1. The Yoga Sutras are 196 aphorisms compiled by a man named Patanjali around 400 CE. It has become a main text in today's yoga world, with practical yet powerful guidelines for personal growth.

Sutra 2.1 tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya-yogah

Especially relevant at the start of the year where our best intentions can create rigidity and pressure -- maybe we let things slide over the holidays due to overwhelm, and then we hit new year's eve and resolve to end all bad habits. Forever.

The Yoga approach is a little different. According to sutra 2.1, it goes like this: 

Commit your attention and action, increase your knowledge and understanding through this awareness, and then surrender.

Specifically...

Commit — Show up with your attention every day, whether it's on the mat, the cushion, in your relationships, to yourself, in the moment. This is discipline. It's the action behind intention. It's also love (courtesy of Mary Oliver, If you love something, you pay attention to it).

Awareness is learning from the information you get, it's honesty and realism, it's reflecting on yourself (your Self). 

Surrender (which can be a loaded word, so you might try yield or release) is letting go of the fruits of your actions. Doing the work (committing attention, action and awareness), then setting it free. Surrender is drenched in compassion.

The cocktail of these three qualities is the practice of Yoga.
It takes effort.
It is not linear. 
It's simple but not easy.
And it is never ever "done."

Awareness, action, surrender.

roses

Series Details

This series is for you if you:

  • love philosophy
  • want practical guidance that relates to today's issues
  • struggle at the beginning of the year
  • desire more support and community in your practice
  • are a serious/curious student of yoga and want to learn more
  • are a teacher and want a deeper understanding of yoga philosophy

This is a three-part online series meeting once a month for three months to explore the brilliant trifecta sutra 2.1 offers.

We will use an online video "classroom," so internet connection and a web-accessible device are required.

We will be able to see each other, interact and ask questions. Like being together, but you can be in your pajamas.

In this series, you will receive:

  • relatable handouts and readings
  • homework - reflection and writing prompts
  • a general overview of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
  • ideas on how to work with each aspect of sutra 2.1
  • another layer of understanding about philosophy (it takes time to integrate these principles)
  • the foundation for a lifelong practice grounded in compassion
  • email support in between calls

Classroom sessions will include:

  • guided exercises and discussions
  • clear and practical interpretations -- philosophy does not have to be complicated!
  • community with like-minded people
  • practicality -- instantly useable principles
  • fun -- it has to be!

Meeting Dates:

February 25, 1-2:30 pm
March 25, 1-2:30 pm
April 22, 1-2:30 pm

Price: $55

Register here.

Come Together

Sharing ideas, lending a hand, offering silent support -- these are the things I've seen over and over that make a difference, make us feel less alone and give strength in the moments of hardship.

Yoga philosophy can be practical, relevant and instantly usable. Join me in discovering more about the Yoga Sutras and the wisdom of sutra 2.1 -- commitment, awareness, surrender.

 

two things i got wrong

No sure thing

I’ve always appreciated the saying you don’t know what you don’t know, but never more than this.

I was preparing for the Yoga Philosophy series, and I thought I’d double check the pronunciation of Saucha, our concept of the week, which means purity, pure, radiance, to shine, to be bright.

When it comes to yoga, yoga history and sanskrit, Richard Rosen is the go-to guy. So I sent an email to him with a few questions about Saucha, including clarification on how it is pronounced.

S’s in Sanskrit can be a little confusing. There are three sibilants — one is pronounced like our ‘s’ as in such. The other two are pronounced very similarly, both with the “sh” sound, as in should. It depends on the markers on the letter s. This is why savasana is pronounced shavasana — there’s an accent acute on the s, giving it a sh sound.

Turns out there’s also an accent acute on the s in Saucha and I’ve been mispronouncing it for over 20 years. Even teaching it incorrectly. It’s pronounced “show-cha” (the “ow” sounds like the “ou” in “loud”).

This really rocked my world! I pride myself on being a perpetual student, continually learning and fact-checking before I make claims. And here I was spreading misinformation.

This was on the tails of an informative podcast on the word Namaste. I know Namaste is a traditional salutation, but I did not know that it has not historically been used as a closing to a yoga practice. Nope, it’s just another add-on — probably in the mid 20th century — to make yoga more marketable and attractive to a Western audience (or shall we say, consumer).

The lessons we learn from “mistakes” are often the ones that sink in the deepest, and I’m grateful to be able to learn and discover…and be forgiven when I’m wrong (mostly by myself).

So for you….

  • Are there things you thought you knew that turned out to be untrue?

  • A favorite Buddhist mantra is No sure thing. Is there something you could be a little less certain about?

  • Try responding with “I don’t know,” rather than hypothesizing or having an answer. How does that feel?

Would love to hear any stories or thoughts you have!

Michelle

joy *and* sorrow: santosha

“We try so hard to separate joy and sorrow into their own boxes,
but the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama tell us that they are inevitably fastened together. Neither advocate the kind of fleeting happiness, often called hedonic happiness, that requires only positive states and banishes feelings like sadness to emotional exile. 
The kind of happiness that they describe is often called eudemonic happiness
and is characterized by self-understanding, meaning, growth, and acceptance,
including life’s inevitable suffering, sadness, and grief.”

This is a quote from The Book of Joy. In Yoga philosophy, we might talk about the qualities described here as Aparigraha (non-grasping or letting go), Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender), and Santosha (contentment), which I’d like to highlight today.

All of these concepts are layered like sedimentary rock, and to say that Santosha means passively accepting whatever happens in your life is overly simplistic.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 4.28.03 PM.png

Let’s take the example above from The Book of Joy. Every life will have moments of loss, disappointment and grief. Does that mean we should just be “fine” with it? Not exactly.

While the translation of Santosha is usually contentment, acceptance, satisfaction, ease or harmony, the deeper layers reveal a quality of openness that acknowledges oneself and one’s environment as it is.

Rather than being at war with reality, Santosha invites us to stop relentlessly chasing the next thing — more more more — and instead, rest into ourselves as we are. That place of willingness and honesty is the only place from which true change can occur.

It could also be described as the lack of trsna, or craving. This speaks to the common definition of suffering as “wishing things other than they actually are,” which is the opposite of Santosha.

Is this easy? Absolutely not. Which is why we need support, reminders, and a healthy dose of discipline to keep practicing (because like strengthening a muscle, we can get better at it).

Arguably, the practice of Yoga could be described as the process of self-reliance, self-examination and self-development.

For me personally, this is the heart of practice and teaching — to become aware of myself more honestly, to see what I would otherwise try to camouflage, and ultimately to develop the aspects of myself that do not serve me or the world.

Consider what your intention is in practice:
How does the way you approach practice create its outcome?