June 23, 2017: Reading the Bhagavad Gita in the Age of Trump

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JUNE 12, 2017: BHAGAVAD GITA TALK #15

CHAPTER SIX: THE YOGA OF MEDITATION

“WHEN WE LIVE IN THE QUESTION EVERYTHING WE SAY IS MUSIC.”

Attaining this state, he knows
that there is no higher attainment,
he is rooted there unshaken
even by the deepest sorrow.

This is the true yoga; the unbinding
of the bonds of sorrow. Practice
this yoga with determination
and with a courageous heart. [6.22-23]

This is the week of the Summer Solstice. For those who don’t pay attention to these cosmic moments, it occurred in our Northern Hemisphere at 12:24 AM EDT on Wednesday, June 21. And even the next day’s Senate healthcare debacle could not undermine the wonder of sunlight stretching into the evening. The Summer Solstice is a day I’ve always loved, revered even. But this year, I was strangely out of sorts, a mental state that knocked me from the ground I tend to move from, and, as bad luck would have it, sent me tumbling down a flight of stairs. Well, it wasn’t really bad luck. It was me not paying attention. I tripped on my cat Lily who was sleeping on the top step. I’d seen her there on the way up, but forgot she was there on the way down. And down I went. All the way down. 10 steps down to be exact. It’s a miracle I didn’t sprain, break, or concuss myself. Which is not to say I’m not feeling sore, bruised, and tender. I am. Quite.

Paying attention. One cannot take the practice deep enough. Had you seen me on Wednesday as I headed towards those stairs, you’d have seen a woman who appeared totally focused on what she was doing, who appeared to be paying attention. The problem was, what looked like focus was actually compulsion. Compulsion to complete a task. Compulsion that flung my awareness into a future event that never even happened.

What did happen is I got all banged up and will need at least a week to fully recuperate. But who cares about me. The poor cat was so freaked out, she hid under my bed for hours. My daughter had to sacrifice an evening to take care of me. And I had to cancel a long-planned visit with my niece. That’s a lot of inconvenience to others for my momentary lapse of attention.

Or as our charlatan in the White House would say, “not good.”

We spend so much time in our limited and limiting head space—and I’m not even talking about on our devices—that we miss what’s actually happening. We’re often not really here. Which is such a shame. Because here is so very precious.

Walking seems to help my bruised and battered body so I ambled over to the Farmer’s Market yesterday. Early summer abundance. Heads of lettuce, bags of spinach, boxes of sweet peas, bunches of arugula, turnips, beets, green onions, garlic scapes, herbs, buckets of blueberries, fresh eggs, local cheese. And the flowers. OMG. The flowers were amazing. Walking home I felt so simply happy. It didn’t matter that everything hurt, that I was tired, thirsty, hungry, and needing to lie down. None of that mattered. My joy in the preciousness of life was so much bigger than that temporary discomfort. So much bigger.

Which is what the Bhagavad Gita is all about.  Which is why we’ve been reading the Gita as we live through this Trumpian age. Because the awareness and call to right action articulated in this elegant text is the most potent medicine we have to counter the rampant destruction that will characterize this dark and chilling moment in our history.

Here’s the opening dharana and dharma talk from June 12. I usually edit out class banter but thought I’d leave it in for a change…

 

Here are the Mary Oliver poems we read:

THE MAN WHO HAS MANY ANSWERS 

The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.

While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.

POEM OF THE ONE WORLD

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water 

and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to 

where everything
sooner or later
is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.

 

Here are the Gita verses, [18-23]:

With a mind grown clear and peaceful,
freed from selfish desires,
absorbed in the Self alone
he is called a true man of yoga.

“A lamp sheltered from the wind
which does not flicker’ — to this
is compared the true man of yoga
whose mind has vanished in the Self.

When his mind has become serene
by the practice of meditation,
he sees the Self through the self
and rests in the Self, rejoicing.

He knows the infinite joy
that is reached by the understanding
beyond the senses; steadfast,
he does not fall back from the truth.

Attaining this state, he knows
that there is no higher attainment,
he is rooted there unshaken
even by the deepest sorrow.

This is the true yoga; the unbinding
of the bonds of sorrow. Practice
this yoga with determination
and with a courageous heart.

 

Here’s Om Namah Shivaya and closing words…

Communication, Communion, and the Mind According to Yoga…

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I think a lot about listening. What it means to really listen to oneself. What it means to listen to another. What is means to listen to the world. How do we cultivate ears that truly hear. How do we foster a communication between ourselves and everything of our world that makes communion happen. So much gets in the way of that. So much mucks up the clear space within and around us. So that rather than communion, we often end up with separation. We cling to our belief systems. We cling to our stories. We cling to our idea of being right. Which doesn’t let in much space for listening. We’re too busy telling…

Here’s a talk about listening that weaves in yogic teachings on the mind, aka, the Four-Part Psychic Instrument or antahkarana. Like so much passed down through the Hindu Yogic system, this perspective on the mind is quite simple and profound. I unpack it in the talk, but here are the technical terms spelled out.

The four levels of antahkarana or the Four-Part Psychic Instrument

Manas: often translated as mind-stuff. From our western perspective, think of it as your conscious mind.

Chitta: translated in a myriad of ways. From our western perspective, think of it as the unconscious.

Ahamhara: in the yogic system, this is the sense of “I.” Often referred to as the ego.

Buddhi: the discriminating faculty.

Here’s the talk:

And here is a wonderful poem from Mary Oliver who is perhaps one of the greatest listeners we have.

 

The Fist
Mary Oliver
 
There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—

heaven’s own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear
little by little,
the voices—

only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
suggesting
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

from Thirst, Beacon Press, 2006.

6/06/16 Monday Night Class: Sun Mantras, Ganesha, and the Incredible Lightness of Being…

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This week’s class fell on 6/06/16 which got me thinking about the significance of the number six. If you stop think about it, the number six is composed of 2 3’s and/or 3 2’s. The 2’s represent opposite poles and the movement towards balance. The 3’s represent a unifying synthesis, the sacred trinity we find in so many traditions. When you put that all together, you can see why you end up with a number that is connected to the exuberant amazing glorious expressive, and most of all life-giving Sun…

Here’s a quote from Vicki Noble’s Motherpeace Tarot:

Sixes: Exuberance

The Sixes are full and expressive, a peak number, always expansive and positive in some way. Six represents exuberance or triumph, being on top of things. Like the Sun sitting at the center of the solar system, Six sits at the center of the Kabalistic Tree of Life and radiates out in every direction, saying, “yes!” Six represents a moment of decisive action or a climax of some sort, a moment of glory.

Which all seemed an excellent jumping off point for a class that constellated around the fifth Sun mantra, the creation story of Ganesha, and the inner possibility of soaring…

ॐ खगाय नमः
om khagāya namaḥ |
Salutations to Khaga, who travels the sky like a bird…

I love all the Sun mantras, but this is one that always jumps out at me. I love the image of light traveling through the sky like a bird. I also love the way “light” as in light and “light” as in lightness are so connected. Which gets me thinking about the incredible lightness of being we feel in the presence of people who are, well, full of light. People who have a buoyancy of spirit and soul that soars like a bird. And what a delight (there’s that word again) to have them in our lives. Because let’s face it. Most of us lean towards the heaviness of being. We are gravity-based creatures. And that’s not just the gravity of Earth. There’s a potent gravitational force in the demands of daily life, in the stress we hold in our bodies, in the narratives and belief systems that can (and often do) keep us down. Although we don’t like to admit it, many of us prefer to be stressed out. It’s familiar, provides solid reasons for everything that’s not working in our lives, and most of all, distracts us from remembering we are finite being living in an unfathomable mystery we will never be able to control. The irony being that the Mystery does seem to be made of light…

 

Here’s my opening dharana on the mantra Om Namaha Shivaya  as a bird with two wings:

 

And here is this week’s dharma talk, a weaving of the well-known creation story of Ganesha from the Shiva Purana with 5th Sun mantra. I’m interested in what it takes to foster the incredible lightness of being embodied in Ganesha and articulated in this mantra. One point I didn’t get into in this talk is looking at Ganesha as a threshold keeper. If you look at the two common epithets assigned to “him,” Lord of Beginnings and Gatekeeper of the Sacred Feminine, you can see what I’m talking about. But what does that really mean, to be a threshold keeper. Ganesha resides in the space between, embodying a perfect balance, a lightness of being that makes it possible to ride on the back of mouse without crushing it. In my opinion, this is the reason for spiritual practice. So that we can walk lightly on the Earth, lightly through ups and downs of daily life, and perhaps most important since it makes these first two possible, walk lightly within ourselves…

 

 

The Glow of Your Presence
Hafiz  [English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler]

Where have you taken your sweet song?
Come back and play me a tune.

I never really cared for the things of this world.
It was the glow of your presence
that filled it with beauty.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

    Had someone had told me in early June, that by September I’d have sold my house and moved to an in-town apartment, I would have said, “No way.” Yet here I sit, marveling at the change that brought me here and reveling in the perfection of the timing and lightening of my load.
     One of the many wonders of this stunningly unanticipated shift has been watching my cat Lily adjust to her new home. Lily is ten years old and a creature of profound and sedentary habit. In the language of Yoga we would say she is kapha on steroids, tamasic to the nth degree.  I knew the change would be traumatic for her, but was unprepared for the extent. She spent her first three weeks here hiding under my bed. By the end of the first month, she was slowly emerging. By week six, she’d finally found her groove.
     That’s when I noticed the transformation. And transformation is not a word I associate with cats. Nevertheless, as Lily embraced her new surroundings, she regained that marvelous feline curiosity and a new bounce in her gait. Her eyes looked brighter. Her coat had more shine. Her sedentary habits had slipped away.
     Watching Lily’s transformation was such a confirmation of the yogic impulse to push through limitation. All those narratives, conscious and hidden, that diminish our sense of Self. Physical pain, fears, belief systems, psycho/emotional wounding, habitual patterns, the list of stifling possibilities goes on and on. And as we’ve all experienced so many times, every time we push through these holding patterns, we get bigger. We taste our infinite possibility. We become more of who we actually are. I’ve always known this is true of humans. I had no idea it is also true of cats…
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    While these individual acts of reclamation may not be enough to transform the toxic narratives that threaten our 21st century world, I think each one adds a drop to the ocean of wisdom, the ocean of light. And one of these days or years or eons from now, that ocean will devour the terrible darkness that knows only how to cause harm.
     For now, we can only do what we can do. Some are called to the front lines. Others work in the unseen corners. But wherever we may be, we can always shift out of stuck patterns. Any small act will do. It can be as simple as saying “yes” if our default is “no,” or “no,” if our default is “yes.” The key is in pushing through our comfort zones. Be they physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. We’ve all had the experience ten thousand times. Every time we move past those self-imposed fences, something wonderful opens up inside.
     I recently fell in love with a new poem from Mary Oliver. She sings this truth so beautifully. If you receive my eNewsletters, you have it in the Thanksgiving blast. If you do not, enjoy…..

Storage
Mary Oliver

When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room 
for. What does one do? I rented a storage 
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single 
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared 
about grew fewer, but were more 
important. So one day I undid the lock 
and called the trash man. He took
everything.
I felt like the little donkey when 
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful 
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own 
nothing–the reason they can fly.

from Felicity, Penguin Books, 2015. Click here to order a copy. 

 

July 7, 2015: Poems and Readings from Recent Classes

Those who follow this blog are well aware of my (sadly) infrequent posting. Never for lack of caring; only for lack of time. Five years ago when I began this blog, the idea was to create a collecting place for readings I bring to class. In the spirit of that simplicity, I offer a handful of readings from recent weeks. Two poems by Andrew Colliver (with apologies in advance for any WordPress template formatting changes over which I have no control) and a Nasruddin story.  Enjoy…

Come
Andrew Colliver

Every day I am astonished by
how little I know, and discouraged,
 obedient as I am to the demand to
know more — always more.

But then there is the slow seep
of light from the day,
and I look to the west where
the hills are darkening,

setting their shoulders to the night,
and the sky peppered with pillows
of mist, their bellies burnt
by the furnace of the sun.

And it is then that I notice
the invitation didn’t say, Come
armed with knowledge and a loud voice.
It only said, Come.

The Further You Go
-Andrew Colliver

Mercy, there have been revelations.
Grace, there has been realization. Still, you must
travel the path of time and circumstance.

The further you go, the more it comes back to paying
   attention.
The rough skin of the tallowwood, the trade routes of
   lorikeets, a sky lifting
behind afternoon clouds. Staying close to the texture of
   things.

People can go before you and talk all they want,
but only one thing makes sense: the way the world enters
and finds it voice in you: the place you are free.

This is one of my favorite Nasruddin stories. They all tell it like it is but this one is infused with a blush of the heart I find especially appealing…

Nasrudin and the Gardener
-from Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield’s Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart

Mulla Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. But when they came up, his garden was filled not just with his chosen flowers but also overrun by dandelions. He sought advice from gardeners all over and tried every method known to get rid of them, but to no avail.
Finally he walked all the way to the capital to speak to the royal gardener at the sheik’s palace. The wise old man had counseled many gardeners before and suggested a variety of remedies to expel the dandelions but Mulla had tried them all. They sat together in silence for some time and finally the gardener looked at Nasrudin and said, “Well, then I suggest you learn to love them.”

* * * * *

I learned of Andrew Colliver through poet, anthologist, and webmaster Ivan Granger. Ivan’s online poetry portal, Poetry Chaikhana is an incredible resource for sacred poetry. If you’d like to visit (and see more of Andrew Colliver’s sublime poetry) here’s a link: The Poetry Chaikhana Blog

Monday, July 6, 2015: What We Say is Way Less Important Than What We Are…

We’re currently in a cycle of teachings that constellate around a very important piece of inner work: the balancing act of creativity – how we express ourselves to ourselves and in the world — and compassion – how we interact within ourselves and in the larger world. When these two aspects are out of balance, we open ourselves to all kinds of not so great mental/emotional states. Creativity not held in compassion can be crippling while compassion not held in creativity can be devouring. When they work together however, we can truly live in Beauty…

Along with the exploration/contemplation of Creativity and Compassion, I’ve been adding a parallel immersion of mantras of the sun ….This has been a very rich and profoundly integrative cycle of teachings and practice. I will most likely gather these talks into a small book to be offered as a companion piece to our new album, Volume II of The Mantra Project. This album was initially inspired by the surya namaskar mantras and has now expanded to include all mantras of the sun. We’re looking at a late fall release.

In the meantime, I want to begin posting dharma talks from this time.

Here’s my dharma talk from June 8, which this blog post is titled after:

Here is my talk from June 1:

And here is the introductory talk I gave back in April that introduced this cycle of teachings to Monday Night Class.

There are many poems and other readings from this time that I will post here over the coming weeks. Slowly making progress in that endeavor. For now, please enjoy these talks.

March 10, 2015: Poems for the Inner Journey

Spring arrives Friday, March 20th at 6:45 PM EDT. And while the light has been returning since the solstice turn, there is something about the equinox, not to mention daylight savings time, that makes it all seem more, how can I say, official. Not that the cosmic movements need any official validation from us mere mortals….

Nevertheless, to honor the light and it’s lengthening return, we’ve been chanting myriad rounds of gayatri-mantra each week. For those visitors to this blog who do not actually attend class — and also for those who do not own the version of gayatri we recorded on our 2014 music release, Daughter of the Mountain, I’m including that as a small gift…

I’m posting poems I read at the last two classes.  These carry the essence of my talks. Sit with them and let them take you where they do. Audio clips of my dharma talks and class chanting will follow soon. For now, please enjoy what’s here.

Here’s the version of gayatri-mantra we created for Daughter of the Mountain. If you’re looking for a more traditional vedic style, scroll around this blog where you’ll find any number of clips from class chanting.

 

Here are poems from March 3 Monday Night Class. The theme for the evening was patience. This first poem is from Mary Oliver’s new collection, Blue Horses.

 

Such Silence
Mary Oliver
 
As deep as I ever went into the forest
I came upon an old stone bench, very, very old,
And around it a clearing, and beyond that
Trees taller and older than I had ever seen.
 
Such silence!
It really wasn’t so far from a town, but it seemed
all the clocks in the world had stopped counting.
So it was hard to suppose the usual rules applied.
 
Sometimes there’s only a hint, a possibility.
What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots
Than reason.
I hope everyone knows that.
 
I saw on the bench, waiting for something.
An angel, perhaps.
Or dancers with the legs of goats.
 
No, I didn’t see either. But only, I think, because
I didn’t stay long enough.

 

The second poem is from Mother of the Universe, Lex Hixon’s ecstatic versions of Ramprasad.

 

Beat the Great Drum of Fearlessness
Ramprasad/Lex Hixon
 
O longing mind,
focus all your longing on Mother Kali.
You will receive pure love and liberating knowledge
tangibly as fruits placed on the palm of the hand.
Release any lingering pride of personal power
and merge your entire being with her.
This is the worship that disappoints Death.
 
Please heed the call of Mother Reality!
Inwardly repeat Kali’s transforming name
and discover the fountain of illumination
where the thirst of her lovers is quenched,
their very being immersed in her being.
 
Infused by Goddess Wisdom,
this poet proclaims with adamantine conviction:
“Sisters and brothers, release your root obsession,
your greed, anger, pride, jealousy.
There are only forms of fear.
beat the great drum of fearlessness
and reach the final goal,
awakening as pure consciousness.”

 

The theme of March 9 Monday Night Class was something like: “get over yourself, drop the stories, drop the ego’s identification, and simply embrace what is…” And who better to express that then the great Hafiz. These three poems are from Daniel Landinsky’s The Gift.

 

Stop Being So Religious
Hafiz
 
What
Do sad people have in
Common?
 
It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
 
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
Worship.
 
What is the beginning of
Happiness?
 
It is to stop being
So religious
 
Like
 
That.

 

Crooked Deals
Hafiz
 
There is
A madman inside of you
Who is always running for office—
Why vote him in,
For he never keeps the accounts straight.
He gets all kinds of crooked deals
Happening all over town
That will just give you a big headache
And glue to your kisser
A gigantic
Confused
Frown.

 

The Idiot’s Warehouse
Hafiz
 
 
I know the idiot’s warehouse
Is always full.
 
I know each of us
Could run back and forth from there
All day long
 
And show everyone our vast collection.
 
Though tonight, Hafiz,
Retire from the madness for an hour,
 
Gather with some loyal friends
Or sit alone
 
And
Sing beautiful songs
 
To God.