12/10/17

cabin fever : singularities

 December morning view, Waynesville, NC

Friday morning, I awoke to 

falling snow

crystalline so pure
so perfect—its mounds exude 
galaxies of hush

This little haiku and cabin fever got me. All I wanted to say was that there are no words (or photos) for this experience of new snow, but I couldn't just SAY that because only the poetic allusion and brevity of haiku could begin to express...   or maybe Mary Oliver gets close in First Snow * —"such an oracular fever"  "—not a single answer has been found—"

So snow level reached 14" by Saturday morning, making it impossible to get to or from this house on Balsalm Mountain. I caught up on business; took 2 or more hours with yoga practice; worked on art projects; started writing (this); laughed about cabin fever (this is day 3); walked in the snow with the cats; got snow in my boots; and took loads of pictures. 

friends taking a snow day

Maybe I have "oracular fever," not cabin fever? Thinking they are the same.

Either way, what I love about these kind of events is that they make a dent in everyday reality—habits, thoughts, patterns, schedules, everything! Forced to stay inside, having transportation restricted to walking in snow shoes, I start to look more closely at what I usually do and what I am able to do right now, and both take on new meaning. 

There is nothing like surprises, radical interruptions (and travel) to jump-start awareness and mental clarity. And sometimes these singularities—the second definition below is particularly fabulous and pertinent—appear/disappear in an instant and take on infinite value. 
1. The state, fact, quality, or condition of being singular. 
2. physics mathematics: a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially in space-time when matter is infinitely dense, as at the center of a black hole. {to me this means black holes are truly form AND emptiness.*}  
Who knows when a "singularity" in consciousness may occur? Several years ago, after one of my first experiences with Ashtanga yoga (Jason's class), I went to do some shopping at Earth Fare, an ordinary health food store on an ordinary day (though I did feel a little spacey). 

Looking at a shelf of sugar substitutes, suddenly I heard the most amazing sounds. Music so brilliant and exquisite I was awestruck, ecstatic (no adequate words.)

Then something rearranged itself, and I was hearing a very ordinary, familiar tune, the health food store equivalent of Muzak, maybe. How deeply and sweetly I had traveled in such a short time! 

I have experienced more than a few of these singularities, interruptions, or interferences with "normal" consciousness. Some deep, short, scary, euphoric, or wide. I am grateful for them all, from snow induced oracular fever, to transcendent Muzak. 

Are divine and mundane so different? 
Is the answer in the silent galaxies or the mound of snow? 
In the sound of Aum or the advert jingle?

As Mary Oliver said, "—not a single answer has been found—"

*Heart Sutra: 
"Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form." 
"Gate gate paragate parasamgate Bodhisvaha" 
Gone from forgetfulness to mindfulness. Gone from duality into non-duality. Utterly beyond to awakening.


*Thanks, Kathleen H., who posted Mary Oliver's First Snow poem on FaceBook today. Perfect: Oracular Fever!!


Rishikesh friend with keys 




11/14/17

Playing Hard Ball in Ice Water



some people are 
lucky
they get things 
deeply—not just in the mind
Truth embraces them 
oh 
so 
gently
You get it
coos Truth 
No need to drop you 
in the icy rapids

Never been one of those 
Not I 
No 
take me to the river
drop me 
in the sky 
and back 
so I can see 
de-
light

spiritual hard ball

It has been a year of seeing the light, but not the easy way—the hard way. After an extremely painful episode of shoulder pain, another epiphany struck. Ok, it was forced on me.

I had been setting deadlines and goals in my yoga practice for quite a while. Very shortly after surgery I was cruising toward some of them, bending my arms back in prep for Kapotasana and doing (shoulder) weight bearing asanas. By a certain time or event (I told myself) I will do all the 65 push-ups in First Series, bind with my "bad" arm in Marichasana D; and my practice will be back to the "perfection" it was before the injury.

All very clear.

Of course, none of these things happened, but worse—because I overdid a certain physical therapy exercise with the certainty it would speed progress, I ended up not at square one, but far behind it. I was crushed. Reality had broken my heart, dropped me in ice water and taken my breath away—again.


Inhale. Exhale. Grace. Amazing, I am stepping onto my mat and into life—without a voice telling me what I should do, where I should be, ways to be better, and how I must always be something other than what I am.

Goodbye, Shoulder Soldier. Hello, Beginner Brain.

Yes, there are some joyous and beautiful Surya Namaskars these days.
The idea of karma is that you continually get the teaching you need to open your heart. —Pema Chodron
...and the teaching needed to loosen your damn grip, I would add. We can get it the hard way or the easy way.

I'll take it either way—with gratitude.


metta love

Hakuin's MU


10/27/17

karmic dissonance : inferior glide




back yard gold

In the Western North Carolina mountains there has been a disagreement with calendar and trees lately. As time marched on, the mountains stayed stubbornly green until a few days ago, when leaves finally turned to gold and crimson. It is autumn; therefore it follows that colors will change in early October. This year that would be

wrong
a seasonal dissonance
(global warming?)

Other points of disharmony—less sweet and more jarring to me personally—are everywhere. The most obvious is #45 who presents himself one way and acts in another. Bluntly put, he lies to the point of making many of us gaslight-crazy.

More close to home are examples that led me to an epiphany and a namaste of gratitude. One is a teacher, who specializes in anatomy; who did a study on yoga and injuries; and who said, on the first day of a workshop, that he didn't want to change anyone's practice. It would follow that I (with recent shoulder surgery) might therefore, trust his adjustments and feedback and disregard my newly found caution with unknown (to me) teachers. I would be

wrong
a cognitive dissonance

A friend wrote a book on spiritual friendships. Therefore it followed (to me) that she would be open to discussing issues of concern to me and between us. Again,

wrong
a cognitive dissonance

Two months post surgery, I expected strong recovery of my Ashtanga practice and progress in chaturangas, jump backs, poses, strength, and stamina. I was

WRONG
cosmic karmic cognitive dissonance

After a very positive check-in with the Duke Sports Medicine team this week, I was given some shoulder exercises for the "inferior glide." As per my usual MO, I figured doing more and faster repetitions of that exercise would improve not just my shoulder but everything! Completely

WRONG
cognitive dissonance
later
EXTREME PAIN
not an iota of
 INFERIOR OR SUPERIOR GLIDE

However, other parts of me did glide.

Realizing the disunities are infinite, I am released from caring and fretting over my own (abbreviated) list of them. Discord is part of life. Maya is dissonance on both common and cosmic levels. And is there any one of us in the common realm—who unconsciously or consciously presents him or herself with total honesty?  (A post on FaceBook today nailed it, suggesting everyone dress themselves for Halloween the way they appear in their FB photos and posts.)

And so I am gliding: if I feel anger toward people and experiences that are incongruent to me, would I not then resent almost everything? Forget that. We are all at different places on the path, doing our best. We are going to meet and exude dissonance until we awaken. Accepting this part of life brings peace.

wrong...
well   
maybe...  

.... not. Because I am so broken hearted about this new shoulder pain, I am tormented by the fear the operation has been nullified, stem cells are quitting, and I'll never get back to the garden (my former Ashtanga practice.) And yet, am I not always in the Garden? Today for a short time on the mat, something in me just gave up trying and moved without any thought of gain, progress, or self-comparison. It was I believe, superior harmonic glide and totally

RIGHT
perfect
miraculous


metta
GRATITUDE


to feel the goal of yoga is finally possible."

10/2/17

73 Mayas


fall rose at Lake Junaluska, NC


Tao Te Ching - Lao Tsu - from chapter 16
Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind rest at peace.
The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.
They grow and flourish and then return to the source.
Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
The way of nature is unchanging.
Knowing constancy is insight...
Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away


The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.


Today, now, this week, this month, lately - not feeling any sentences, paragraphs, themes.

Though a lot has happened. So much has happened. Ten thousand things. Ten thousand.

Starter list of 73:
  1. fall 
  2. shoulder
  3. surgery
  4. yoga 
  5. strength
  6. pain
  7. the blues 
  8. Buddy Guy
  9. fall sounds
  10. windfall
  11. prana
  12. prajna
  13. heart beats
  14. deep red
  15. gold leaf
  16. bagging
  17. baggage
  18. leafing
  19. raw carrots 
  20. sprouted oatmeal cupcakes
  21. earthy
  22. leaving
  23. Bon Iver
  24. winter is coming
  25. daggers
  26. heartbreak
  27. therapy
  28. aging
  29. ashtanga homies
  30. friendship
  31. falling
  32. letting go 
  33. FaceBook
  34. politics
  35. #45
  36. vises
  37. headaches
  38. purple 
  39. Lululemon underwear
  40. raking 
  41. unwanted poplar saplings
  42. granite 
  43. skylight
  44. sun
  45. birthday
  46. stem cells
  47. roses 
  48. long stem 
  49. handstand
  50. balance
  51. equinox
  52. Sharath
  53. Mysore 
  54. idlis
  55. fermented
  56. backbends
  57. shoulder soldier
  58. making peace 
  59. loving
  60. warfare
  61. open hearted
  62. sleep
  63. cat nap
  64. cat eyes
  65. blind mice
  66. running
  67. Tesla
  68. yearning
  69. betrayal
  70. heartsong
  71. bird song
  72. Om mane padme hum
  73. one song
metta


The ten thousand things, the boundless multiplicity of Maya (illusion) is a Chinese expression used to mean the indefinite multitude of all forms and beings in manifest existence. - Internet


Form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. 
Form itself is emptiness; emptiness itself is form. - Heart Sutra




from Rubin Museum, NYC

post script:  I originally intended this blob or blog to be for older Ashtangis to share what was going on with them. That never happened! Better suited for FB in this page —Ashtanga Home Practitioners (#50AY) and I am pleased that Ashtangis 50 and up are now sharing there.
Yoga, art, and everything else have so much blended together in this head/heart, that I've lost track of why I started blogging in the fist place .  -M



7/22/17

The Yard Buddha and a Meat Purchase

Yard Buddha
Above is an ordinary, nothing special Buddha (with lichen spots) who has been sitting in my yard in Asheville for several years, and throughout it all, he has been consistently still and calm. In all circumstances and weather, covered in snow, leaves, poison ivy, or pounded by rain and heat waves, his subtle smile is unwavering. He has been completely unruffled by Trump's election, greed, twitters, corruption, and narcissism. He calmly faces threats to climate and civilization, and as for changes in immediate landscape—new moss carpet, pine needles, flowering plants—and his appearance—coats of spray paint (to cover lichen), Windex baths, he is completely indifferent. His smiles at me serenely, regardless of my changing moods, illusions, and suffering. I am in awe of him for these things and particularly struck by his disregard of bitter cold, something I cannot bear. 

And If it sounds like I view him as a living being, I doIn one flash of awareness he was this remarkable creature of pure equanimity, chilling out in the yard for years on end, and in the next, he was the unchanging being/truth inside me and us all. 

Yes, alive! Outside and within. And at the same time, an idea I had always considered this way: pictures or statues of deities, enlightened and holy beings are merely attractive symbols for the religious-minded and the hipster to display or masterpieces for art historians to study (the latter—me, now and then.) And so it follows that if I had met this Buddha guy coming down the road at one time in the past, I would have killed him. 

Maybe.
Note:  “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” is from a koan attributed to Zen Master Linji, founder of the Rinzai sect. There are various interpretations, but I prefer - whatever your concept or image of the Buddha and enlightenment is—get rid of it!  IMO using the word "kill" is just shocking enough to stun the Buddhist-trained mind into silence/emptiness. 
Maybe not. 

Maybe I'm not an iconoclast any more, or just a selective one. Am thinking of the power of Tibetan Buddhist images and how they are intended for the creator and viewer to transcend ego/illusion. My heart and soul need these masterpieces, but apparently spirit can also be moved by a mere lawn ornament or a piece of meat(!)* (See story below)




17th C. Tibetan thanka of Guhyasamaja Akshobyavajra, Rubin Museum of Art

Anyway— this nothing-special Buddha led to something 

recognition
gratitude
whatever

much needed.

In the midst of the political and world messes and my personal joys, euphoria, heartaches, and physical and psychological pain (shoulder/yoga practice/surgery) there is something unchanging and forever. It's there like the Buddha's smile, no matter what. 

I've scheduled surgery with stem cell therapy in August.
Yard Buddha: still smiling.

*Story : Equanimity : Enlightened by Meat:
When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer. 
"Give me the best piece of meet you have," said the customer. 
"Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best." 
At these words Banzan became enlightened.


deep bow
metta




6/4/17

Nothing Special : Valley View Part 2




Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand, India


"You don't need to try so hard." 
Years ago in Seattle, I went with my friend Anita to see someone whom she described as a "seer" of sorts. Hearing him say, "You don't need to try so hard," I exhaled with relief and felt infinitely lighter. Since then I've come to believe that many, myself included, who exert large amounts of effort, are overcompensating and avoiding a fear that perhaps we are not good or not capable. 

"How you do one thing is how you do everything." 
A once-teacher of mine was fond of saying this. True or not, it's an interesting consideration.

"What's true on the mat is true off the mat." 
Ashtangis often say this, and in my experience it is true.


***



"But as long as you think, 'I am doing this,' or 'I have to do this,' or 'I must attain something special,' you are actually not doing anything.... When there is no gaining idea in what you do, then you do something."  - Shinryu Suzuki 


hotel stairwell, Aurangabad, India

Nothing special that's how I feel—not in a bad way, but in an everyday Zen way. So I am finishing this post after letting it sit for several weeks, and indeed, the post and I are—nothing... special. No gaining idea/not trying (so hard) resonates and tastes of freedom to me. 

Guru Sharath says it in a yogic way. (Substitute "practice" for any activity or "life"): 
You should not be practicing to have a "good" practice.... We should do practice happily regardless of whether it is good or not.
Sharathji and (many) scriptures have also said the divine can take any form:
In Indian philosophy they say Nirakara—this means that the Divine, the Supreme.... can come in any shape. It can come as human, it can come as a dog, it can come as an elephant, it can come as a tiger. So there is no... specific form... It is just an energy which we have to experience.
He is saying essentially that everything is an expression of the divine and—not to get off topic but—that would include #45 and other Rakshasas, ALL beings, and all we experience. To me, this is also liberating (even as I resist politically—with awareness, or so I hope.)



hotel hallway, Aurangabad, India. (actual color from EXIT sign)


Saying everything is a divine manifestation may sound like parroting the cliche, "It's all good." However, at the same time, no, it's not all good! Will leave it there. Gotta love what defies "logical' thinking. 

Well, the mat, cushion, and life are (mostly!) always there for us. Just watched a David Garrigues video in which he describes what he calls the "arc of Ashtanga." Basically, as we change, our practice changes; and just so in life, as we change, so does life/our life. 

And lately, while experiencing freedom in so many ways, I have also felt stuck and longing for change. The shoulder improves or worsens and the mind obsesses or lets go, often focusing on relationships of all kinds, past and present. All the ghosts of unknown, unspoken, withheld, refused words and interactions appear before me—without resolution. Stripped to the core, this feels like one of the last layers of the the onion-ego (duality.)

And how healing it is to come to my mat, to art, to life, to this writing—to come home to Truth. 

Nothing special.

Love and blessing to all! (And a big smile to my political, personal, and inner Rakshasas.)

metta
“Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy.” Nisargadatta Maharaj

Lake Junaluska, North Carolina morning





4/22/17

Seeing Heaven from the Valley

Go Blank: Encinitas, California, February 2016


BLANKETY : BLANK

Rock exuding Zen wisdom? Implied profanity? Enlightenment on the beach?  


EMPTINESS : FORM

     An Ashtanga teacher stops teaching in a graceful, wise way. 

     A father passes away in a beautiful, peaceful way. 

     Yogis and yoginis learn when to let go, when to go blank. and when to push: 
     that suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases.  (Samadhi and Third Noble Truth):
"I wrote and thought a lot about the wish to be invincible, the wish to always be healthy, the wish not to age, not to die….about how yoga does not make us invincible physically or mentally, that we must age and die. Here is the magical blessing that yoga gives us: equanimity and peace with whatever comes. This is truly magical. This is powerful." 
Karen  Cairns
GRACE : CHANGE
A yogini close to my age whom I greatly admire, always has her eye on the prize. 
And what is the prize?  I believe it is accepting what is in the present moment, an "equanimity and peace with whatever comes." 

For most of us, isn't the prize the perfect something or other? Perfect achievement: asana, money, solo "show," love, likes, and so on. For me it has been about progress, getting somewhere else, or returning to a previously attained state—anything but where I am right now.


So like yogini Karen, scheduled for her second hip surgery in May, I contemplate (shoulder) surgery while I learn, observe, accept, and find the way to truth in my own body and spirit day by day. Karen's essay (shared with her permission) below astounds and inspires me. It reveals that she and perhaps all of us—can access yoga's Eighth Limb. I am grateful for the reminder and proof that in aging/change, there are inherent gifts. 


metta
Field Notes from the Valley of the Shadow of Death 
My elder ashtanga is a deeply satisfying practice. I don’t think about it; I just do it. Gone is any struggle over doing it or not. There is nothing I am working on. No new poses. Nothing to “deepen” in any way. No adjustments needed. Whatever I do is fine. I actually practice more these days, just taking Moon Days off. Elder ashtanga is everday ashtanga, nothing special ashtanga. This is truly magical. 
.... No need for renunciation- things just peel off when no longer needed, without struggle, without loss. Endless talking about asanas? About teachers? About Guruji and Sharath and Saraswati? About the practice? Less and less…  I think I was noticing a space to talk about everyday ashtanga, about elder ashtanga, which anyone can do.  
The practice that is slow and steady with no bells and whistles. No YouTube videos. No glamour photos of poses on a beach, in front of an ashram or a temple, by a river…. No special clothing needed- just everyday clothing. Nothing to talk about. 
Adjustments are plentiful and come from within. Or not. Insights are plentiful and come from within. Or not.
Really, this ashtanga can be done at any age, with any body, with any mind, anywhere. You do not need to be old for elder ashtanga, but perhaps it helps. As we age, we tend to learn firsthand that “it’s okay until it’s not okay”….and that this can happen at any time. It is not an “if” but a “when.” Some learn this earlier, while young, of course, through illness or injury, perhaps. When recovered, sometimes we forget and once again feel invincible. 
With aging, this is no longer possible. We know we are permanently more vulnerable, fragile- our skin thins and tears easily, eyesight may get dim, hearing less acute. We can fall more easily and we know that recovery is both more problematic and partial. Our practice becomes even more important but changes fundamentally. It becomes everyday…nothing special but completely special.
Before my left hip replacement in 2014 I was very apprehensive. I’m not a fan of surgery- well, who is. Before this surgery I made a Yatra or pilgrimage, my first one to northern India, to the Himalayas…to be blessed. And I was indeed blessed. The surgery went well and practice healed me on every level. I wrote and thought a lot about the wish to be invincible, the wish to always be healthy, the wish not to age, not to die….about how yoga does not make us invincible physically or mentally, that we must age and die.   
Here is the magical blessing that yoga gives us: equanimity and peace with whatever comes. This is truly magical. This is powerful.
            —Karen Cairns

3/20/17

forty-five. taxes. escape.




We are in the universe and the universe is in us—in the most unlikely places

For 10 days I:
1.     sat quietly for at least 15 minutes with focus on #45's higher self;
2.     made note of processes, failures, and epiphanies;­
3.     made simple images relating to this process. 


link to what happened next:
Ten Days of #45 
March 26 

I'm avoiding tax prep today. Such a tedious unpleasant chore from which I seek to escape!
  
Ah, escape. It's much more than taxes I wish to elude. After the #45 focus (see above), felt both clear and peaceful about life and politics. That is, until some dormant parts of self awoke from their sulk in the dark. 

Feeling things so deeply, I cried helplessly after reading the story of a cat called Ugly. Later, sensing other energies, I felt sad, bad, irritable, and miserable. 

I am all things (as we all are) And though ALL things are neutral, they lose their innocence through the spin story we put on them.  Welcome to the entire truth—neutral AND illusory—whether grasped, avoided, or observed.

I sit quietly and do yoga practice for the equanimity to observe. And there are things I don't want to look at—far beyond the annoying drag of tax materials**—my own and humanity's cruelties, heartbreaks, helplessness, judgements, mostly heartbreak....


Sigh! True. 
image of the Sanskrit version of the Heart Sutra (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya)
metta


** And on that note—why should I pay taxes to support #45's trips to Florida?  
OK, back to taxes... 
or study the Heart Sutra for a while—yes!