Monday, April 22, 2013

Grief, Joy, Rest

I'm learning yoga nidra. This is the yoga of deep relaxation and complete self-acceptance - the exact
opposite of throwing your body into extreme poses - as "yoga" so often means in the US. Yoga nidra is deeply relaxing. Yet like meditation, the practice brings increased wakefulness and awareness through greater presence to the whole truth of your experience.

In order to accept yourself you have to be present to yourself. You have to let yourself feel.

The version of yoga nidra I'm learning is called Integrative Restoration or iRest. It relies on body sensing and includes the practice of experiencing opposites as they show up in your body: opposite physical sensations, opposite emotions, opposite messages about yourself.

I've found this practice really illuminating, especially when overwhelmed by one or another difficult emotion like, say, grief. Flooded by intense grief, my body wants to hunch over with shoulders curled in and head drawn down. Feeling joy, my head lifts, chest expands, and heart opens.

The cat yoga pose has the drawn in quality of grief while the cow pose has the opened up quality of joy. I was already doing the cat/cow progression regularly as it is great for low back pain, increasing flow and movement in the lower spine. You don't even have to get on your hands and knees, but can do a version standing or sitting in your office chair.

Prompted by my yoga nidra practice, I began to go through the poses while feeling the opposite emotions: cat/grief and cow/joy, cat/grief and cow/joy. I let myself fully feel each emotion while expressing how it showed up in my body. Some minutes into this practice and I would be able to be fully present to both feelings at the same time. Amazingly, the emotions then began to balance. Neither was as intense as before and I arrived at a state of rest. I didn't need to suppress the difficult emotions, deny them, or distract myself from them. I found rest while still feeling the feelings.

How amazing. Joy plus grief equals rest.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

Ordinary Light

After my monastic experience, you'd think I'd be suspicious of any self-proclaimed purveyors of Truth. You'd think I'd look first for the man behind the curtain. Still, I thought Amma was different - what with her free-hug darshan and "all money for charities" cant. Besides, many of my friends were Amma followers

True, her idea of karma was kindergarten simplistic & opposed to my own perceptions (people as completely separate and individually responsible for all positive or negative acts - which are totted up like a bank account). And of course, I never thought her some perfect, ego-less, goddess-on-earth or expected her organizations to be of pristine spiritual quality. Still I thought her a worthy guru, someone who channeled the divine energy more clearly than most

I was so desperate for help cutting through the fog so I could resonate with the divine light within. The way I had done in the monastery. The way I so thirsted for, but could not find in the world. Amma's darshan was thick with that energy. It rose from the crowd to fill the hall. I felt I could happily swim in it forever.

Amma's darshans were equally thick with buyers and sellers. The first time I saw Amma, my desire not to own stuff prevailed. I spent little and the marketplace atmosphere slid by unremarked. The second time...

That it was for charity bolstered my prickling desire for acquisition. The demon avarice overwhelmed me. Oh, not just to buy objects. I spent much on various forms of pure donation. Still... By American standards, I am a poor person. Yet, I spent all my pitiful savings. ALL.

This hit after I came home. To help myself feel okay, I decided to listen to people helped by Amma's charities, people much poorer than me, a homeless person who'd gotten a home, someone who couldn't afford school fees who'd been given an education. I searched the internet for the blogs, posts, notes, letters of real people whose real lives had been changed. I found...

Nada. Ziltch. Zip. Nothing but the glittering ads of the Amma organization, itself.

Huh? Given the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people her charities had served, surely some should have an independent web presence. Nope. Instead, I found disillusioned ex-devotees eager to tell the other side of the story. They gave massive evidence that Amma was but one more victim of the Guru Effect.


Maybe people who truly have a larger opening to the universal, spiritual energy generally start out well. Yet more often than not, they get caught in the snare of pride. Followers are desperate for a divine savior. They want to worship the person, hang on her every word, etc. Glitz, hype & the need to appear as more than she is soon become irresistible. Pride opens the door. Soon all the little demons - desire for ownership, for relationships and for consumption (aka avarice, lust and gluttony) - are holding a rave in her house.

The 4th century, desert Amma, Syncletica, advised against teaching or leading others, saying, "As wax melts when it is near fire, the soul disintegrates in the face of praise."

She went on, "Pride attacks subtly and secretly a soul that considers itself zealous and diligent in discipline... The soul imagines that it has grasped matters incomprehensible to the majority, that it is superior. It forgets all its sins and mistakes. The soul is deluded with positions of command - with teaching posts and displays of healing. Thus deceived, the soul perishes and is destroyed."

In other words: the Guru Effect - when the clay that every guru has for feet rises to consume her or his whole being.

Does that mean there is no divine light, that there are no legit teachers or practices that can help us find that light in ourselves? No.

I've literally seen that light: in myself and in others. I know it is there. Waiting. Loving. Gentle. Eternal. Non-judgmental. Self, yet no-self. Reality. Ordinary.

Yet, there are no magic leaders who can take us there miraculously, cleaning out all our gunk without effort.

The Dalai Lama is another exalted spiritual leader with his own clay feet. He repeatedly says, "I am an ordinary man." It is important to get the message:

We are all equally ordinary. We are also all equally divine. Some folks are born more aware of their spiritual being - with a larger open channel to the universal energy. Some are diligent in practices that open their hearts to that energy through humility and compassion. Yet clay remains part of each and every one of us.

Clay and spirit. The balance goes one way. The balance goes another way. And there we are, doing and being life as a body and a spirit, as ordinary and as light.

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