Lynne’s Blog

Runaway Truck Ramp

On a recent van camping trip where we racked up over 5000 miles seeing the beautiful west coast of the USA we passed several runaway truck ramps.   Most of these were on steep downhill grades where heavy machinery could suffer from overheated brakes or loss of power.   They are engineered to slow a fast moving heavy vehicle by diverting them onto an uphill grade with several inches of gravel and often a berm at the end.   There was one however, that seemed to counter all laws of physics and safety in this arena.   We were at first a little shocked and then helplessly laughing at the absurdity of this ramp’s design.  Not only was it slanted downhill, but it had a mere 3 barrels at the end of it after which it dropped off over a precipitous cliff.   Jim said it had to be a ramp designed by the roadrunner for Wiley Coyote!

In the cartoon world,  this struck us as hilarious, but in reality we couldn’t help thinking of the tragedy that could follow.   And then in my mind it became a metaphor of what could happen if we follow leaders that continually overheat and don’t know when to apply the brakes.  Eventually we’ll run off the precipice. 

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

In the current political leadership model what seems to be missing to me is empathy for those who are not in positions of privilege and power or for those of differing view points.  I’m not a politician and have no aspirations in that direction, but I can in my own way begin to build a new model.  The tools of yoga have been invaluable to me in maintaining equanimity under conflict situations. 

Recently a woman literally screamed in my ear when I (very respectfully) asked her if she would share why she held a certain belief.  She was then joined by some of her cohorts and I found myself surrounded by 4 angry screaming people.  I knew at that point that there would be no reasonable discussion and walked away,  I was very pleasantly surprised that my own heart did not race, I did not lash out, nor did I feel much more than, if not compassion,  sorrow for the hellish state of their minds in that moment.

Anita Moorjani, author of What if This is Heaven, and great philosophers from all religious backgrounds, proclaim that heaven and hell are states of mind and of being.  When anger, rage, hatred take over one is in hell.  Compassion, understanding, empathy and peace of mind are heavenly and the new model of reality that will make the other obsolete.

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Affirmative Action

My feet have been gathering no moss for several months now.  A little frost, some sand between my toes but very little hometown dirt has stuck to my shoes since last fall.   Teaching, family and wanderlust have kept me on the move since well before the fall elections and only now do I have the time and desire to settle in and reflect on what appear to be major shifts in the national landscape.

Affirmation has played a part in my path of personal growth for decades.  Positive statements written, spoken and read consistently make their way into mind and find a channel to lead, guide and direct life in ways unexpected and seemingly coincidental or even magical.  The great sage Swami Sri Yukteswar declared that we only need to watch our own thoughts for 24 hours to realize that, as James Allen said, “as a man thinketh in his hearts, so is he.”   And therefore so goes his or her life.   When we take up the challenge of choosing the input and output of our own minds we can steer the course of our lives for the better and influence the lives of others.

Affirmation and how we affirm others is powerful.  Like the scarecrow receiving a diploma then suddenly being able to spout the Pythagorean Theorem our thoughts and actions toward ourselves and others will elevate or suppress us.   I  personally never felt like a geologist until I received the diploma. Then something awakened and stirred the confidence in me to pursue a job search in Alaska. (I AM a geologist!)   Pema Chodran encourages meditators to fake it till you make it (I AM compassionate, kind and mindful in my everyday interactions) and I echoed that in yoga teacher training encouraging students at the end of their studies to “act as if “ you are already a master teacher.   BKS Iyengar said to teach with confidence but practice with humility and questioning.

An affirmation often causes a burble inside.   It is a seed starting to push forward that is still in great danger of withering or being plucked out before it fully manifests.   Because it is not fully formed, the affirmation feels tentative or even like a downright lie (I AM fearless, knowing that the Universe always conspires for my highest good).  I’m not always FEELIN’ it, but still affirming it!   When the statement no longer creates an inner tremor, in my mind it is complete, and it is time tomove on to a new one.

Recently I was reminded of an occasion in the past where I attended an event with a group of friends where the pledge of allegiance was recited.    Some of my friends were of minority groups treated unfairly under current laws at the time did not say the pledge.  They asked me afterward, how I could, in good conscience say, “with liberty and justice for all”.    I replied that I don’t say it as a statement of truth, but as an affirmation of what I hope for.   During election cycles and their aftermath, it has been my personal imperative to affirm the loving kindness meditation for those whom I least desire to see holding office or positions of power.

May you (fill in politicians name here) be filled with lovingkindness.  

May you be well.  May you be peaceful and at ease. 

May you be happy.

A woman activist was asked by a cynic why she stood on the corner with a peace sign every Friday for years.  Did she think she was going to change the world?   Her reply was, “ I don’t do this to change the world, I do it so that the world does not change me.”   The lovingkindness meditation may not change the politician but it does change my inner perception of them.   Anger, frustration, and harsh judgment transform into calmness, clarity and compassion.  Its clear which attitude will foster affirmative action.

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Settling for Less

Do you think that yoga can change society? Can it help those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in their society, particularly women?

This question was posed to me in a recent Skype interview with a woman who is working on her Ph.D thesis on Women and Yoga at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. My response to this, and to many questions regarding the effects of yoga practice, is that it depends on the motives and sincerity of the practitioner. For yoga to be transformational the student must be willing to settle for less.

Less of what? Less mechanical and emotional reactivity, less distraction, less addiction to whatever takes us out of the moment, less restlessness, less egoism.

A meditation teacher recently quoted from a study by the Center for Disease Control that expresses the concern that we are becoming a nation of addicts. To paraphrase the psychologists who wrote the report, we are becoming a population that wants to not be present for significant portions of their lives. One that wants to be distracted by drugs, alcohol, Facebook, Twitter, TV, shopping and any number of activities that keep one on the surface of life. Addiction makes one unable to summon the vision to confront real life situations and the courage to meet challenges. Addicts have no capacity to tolerate suffering or to see the future clearly. They cannot summon creativity from deep within themselves.

This last comment is significant in regard to how yoga can help in transformation of the individual and collectively help to transform a society. By its very nature, addiction creates restlessness and anxiety. By its very definition, yoga creates restfulness and peace of mind. Paramahansa Yogananda once said:

If at this moment you could completely calm your body, your thoughts and your emotions you would instantly become aware of your true Self throbbing with the joy of Spirit.”

Krisna, in the Bhagavad Gita, directs his pupil Arjuna to Settle the mind in ME (in the heart where this consciousness abides), settle the intelligence and you will find abiding joy. Yoga practice itself can be an addiction if practiced for ego gratification, or with distracted senses and mind, as just another item to check off of the to do list. But, when it is practiced as a means of developing self acceptance and self awareness, for settling deep within oneself, it is transformational. Self acceptance is defined as satisfaction and happiness with oneself; the acceptance of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Yoga helps us to see ourselves clearly and then to go even deeper into conscious knowledge of our character, motives and desires, to develop self awareness moment to moment. With this understanding we develop self respect which leads to dignity and inner strength.

When we truly SETTLE the mind, a magnificent state of Being is revealed within that cannot be shaken. When we see that the same state is available and in the heart of everyone, and act accordingly with respect for all, that will change society.

I have more thoughts about the impact of yoga and women’s roles in society and will write more in my fall blog.

In every moment we are getting closer to, being indifferent toward, or falling away from the Divine.” – Brother Bishwananda

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Being Complete

To have negative traits is not to be flawed, but to be complete. – Deepak Chopra

This quote reminds us that expressing our authenticity means to embrace all of our ambiguity as human beings.  How many times have we pledged to be kind, stay calm, or get up early and do our practice and then lashed out, stressed out or slept in the very next day?  Being authentic, not perfect, is a quality of self acceptance, of being comfortable in our own skin and often, needing to find the humor when we fall short of self imposed rules and regulations.  Authentic joy fills the space of our inner witness when we are neither attached to our perceived good qualities or repelled by the “bad” ones.   This is often followed by a big belly laugh of recognition of our wholeness.

Although I’ve had many “enlightenment tests” of my own over the years, one that came to me recently in a written essay from a student brought a great big belly laugh of recognition. The assignment was to write about one’s understanding of a selected yoga sutra from its final and most flabbergasting book, number 4. They were asked to contemplate its meaning and feeling; what it invokes in them.  This student chose Sutra IV.4 which, in one translation, reads, “Only the ego-sense can create minds.”

She wrote, in part:

I have created minds that I thought were superior to my other minds; like the mind that I am somehow “special” because I do yoga, teach yoga, meditate, etc. I have sometimes identified with a new-age prototype mind that I have perceived as desirable. However, sometimes that new-age mind has proven to be just that, another ego-created construct, when it was tested. An example of this happened one day when I was riding my bike home from work.

I was reflecting on how spiritual I am because I am teaching yoga and riding my bike to and from work. I was feeling a sense of self-satisfaction that I described as bliss.  Just then, as if on cue, a group of “gurus” drove by me in a car. This was a little red car with several teenage boys in it; as they drove past a couple of them leaned out the window and dropped the F-Bomb loudly, leaning over to wave their middle fingers at me and honking. Their car was moving in the direction of oncoming traffic, so I could tell that they were directing their enthusiasm at me because we made eye contact.

In an unconscious instant as I felt a surge of anger I yelled their greeting right back at them and flipped them off too. Once my anger calmed I laughed at myself and the absurdity of the situation; I laughed at these boys flipping me, a woman old enough to be their mother or grandmother, off because (I assume) they did not like the fact that I was riding a bike. I laughed at my own response which so quickly matched their drama.

And I laughed at my sense of smug spiritual superiority just moments earlier. It was then I thought the universe sent me an instant pop quiz; and I realized I have more studying to do.  I had simply replaced one ego-formed mind by another I judged to be as better.

In my view, the fact that her recovery time was so short and that humor was the immediate next response shows much progress and enlightenment in dealing with the human condition. In Light On Life, p. 165, BKS Iyengar’s last book, he says, “Humor helps people move away from fragmentation to wholeness, too.  It lightens the mind and makes it easier to guide and focus.”

As spring brings light into our outer world, let humor and self acceptance bring light into our inner world as well. It will surely shine out and lighten our lives and those whose lives we touch.

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Calm amidst the Crowds

Yogas Chitta Vrtti Nirodha

Most of you who have studied yoga for any length of time are familiar with this definition of Yoga by Patanjali. Yoga is the calming of the whirlpool of the mind.

At times the mind feels like a busy shopping district crowded with panicked last minute shoppers 3 days before Christmas. Every thought is bumping and jostling for first place in line. All the while trying to find that special something that will grab you with its need for attention, fulfillment, and gratification. [···]

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GOING WITH THE INWARD FLOW: lessons from four legged friends

Book Three, Sutra 2 of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras states: “The continuous inward flow of consciousness is meditation” (Nischala Joy Devi translation).

When I was a child we adopted our first dog, a spirited toy poodle.   Predictably, the care, feeding and training that was promised by us kids, failed to materialize and fell onto mom.  With 5 children and little extra time on her hands, dog training became a low priority.   As a result we spent many hours frantically trying to find, catch and retrieve “Pepe” who took every opportunity to escape the home front and run free.  At the time we thought of this as people with a “bad dog” problem, but looking back, I see it was a dog with “bad owners” problem.  We were too preoccupied to give the dog the attention, discipline and love it really needed.  [···]

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Delving into Our “Super” Natural Gifts

Book III of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras can be intimidating and vexing to our logical linear way of thinking. There are layers of meaning and even practical ways to look at the seemingly miraculous powers that Patanjali says are bestowed on the adept practitioner of yoga.

Although the outcomes may be super, the process is natural; Tapas the spark of interest and enthusiasm, Svadyaya, the deep and childlike curiosity to learn about our true nature and Isvara Pranhidhana, the realization that there is no end to the profound and awe inspiring nature of our own Being. [···]

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Dwelling in Wisdom

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali  Book I: 48   “When consciousness dwells in wisdom, a truth bearing state of pure spiritual perception dawns”

With age comes wisdom, so the saying goes, but the passage of time alone does not guarantee that one will also become wise.  I often ask in classrooms, how students perceive an intellectual person and a wise person.  The words associated with wisdom are commonly;  calm, patient, insightful, humble, joyful, peaceful and innocent.   Although certainly not mutually exculsive, the strictly intellectual generally brings a feeling of egoism and proprietary attachment to what they know, while the wise often have no desire to take credit for their knowledge and wisdom.  In fact, to become wise is a process of reliquishing long held beliefs while being open to deeper and more profound understanding.

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Trusting the Process of Yoga

Awareness and understanding of yoga, or of anything that is important, grows at a unique rhythm and pace for every individual.  Trying to force a shortcut to maturity results in resistance, confusion, and separation.  This is the antithesis of yoga, since yoga is the unity of heart and soul from which trust and respect arise.

Approaching yoga as a process, more akin to falling in love than to working toward a promotion, will make the experience one of expanding freedom.   Mastering technique and striving for accomplishment give way to joy and wonder.  In gaining trust in yoga’s process there is a loss of trust in old responses that once may have “worked” to attain position or favor.  Relationship takes priority over results.  Trust is gained in the the kind response, the compassionate response to bring about deep and enduring supportive connections that are divinely human.

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