The Heart of Earthquake Relief in Mexico

By Sean O’Donnell

In the month of September, Mexico suffered two devastating earthquakes. The first, on September 7th, was a magnitude 8.1 and was centered off the coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas. The second occurred on September 19th. It was a magnitude 7.1, and its epicenter was in the state of Morelos. It was much more well-publicized as it caused significant damage in Mexico City. The Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte has personal connections to both disasters.

Earthquake Relief in Mexico: Aid to Oaxaca

Many of us in the Hridaya Community are acutely aware of the earthquake that struck off the coast of Oaxaca on September 7th, but news of that tremor did not spread very far and it was quickly overshadowed by the Mexico City quake.

In Mazunte, there was some damage to buildings and roads, but the concerns were minor compared to what was experienced in other parts of the state of Oaxaca. Many buildings were toppled, many more were damaged to the point of being unsafe to inhabit, and over 60 people were killed―including at least 36 in the city of Juchitán de Zaragoza. This municipality continues to be underserved as far as aid in supporting recovery from the disaster, but the surrounding villages are receiving even less attention.

At Hridaya, a connection was made through a long-time employee whose family from San Pedro Pochutla was involved in bringing supplies to one such town: Union Hidalgo, located about a 30-minute drive east of Juchitán. Many people in Mazunte were able to contribute canned and dry food as well as money for tents and temporary shelter soon after the earthquake. However, damage to the town church left it uninhabitable as an emergency shelter and there is still a need for supplies both for temporary shelter and reconstruction materials.

Earthquake Relief in Mexico: Aid to Morelos

While Southern Mexico was still reeling from the September 7th earthquake, the earthquake in Morelos made headlines around the world. This earthquake was publicized for affecting Mexico City, where the damage and loss of life was extensive, but many surrounding towns and villages have also suffered and are receiving much less aid.

The Hridaya family has a presence in Morelos, where Tara (Giselle) Trimmer and Paul Baxter run the Sahridaya Refuge in the valley of Tepoztlán, one hour outside of Mexico City. Tara and Paul have been focusing intensely on relief work in their area and their efforts present a unique opportunity for the greater Hridaya community to provide resources directly to the people and places that can use them the most. Hridaya has used their reach to help the cause in Morelos, and Tara has generously taken the time to answer a few questions in an attempt to explain first-hand what it was like to experience this traumatic event, what it has been like trying to repair the damage, and what the outlook is for the future of the area.

Sean O’Donnell: What was the experience of the earthquake like in Tepoztlán as it was happening?

Tara Trimmer: I had just returned home when it happened. My baby daughter Uma Sophia, my partner Paul, my mother who runs the Refuge with us, and John―a guest―were all at home at the time.

When it started we felt that it was very intense and clearly trepidatory (when it is up-down in motion rather than left-right). The tiles started almost falling on mine and my baby’s heads. We all came out into the garden immediately. We located a safe spot and placed ourselves there waiting for it to pass. Tepoztlán, Morelos is just 56 miles (90 km) away from Axochiapan, Morelos—the epicenter.

Trepidatory earthquakes are the most destructive. I was familiar with this, having grown up in Mexico City, a very highly seismic area, with a collective memory of the tragedy that occurred in 1985.

My first thought was: WHAT IS GOING ON IN MEXICO CITY? I thought that if we felt it that strong in Tepoztlán, it would definitely be stronger in the city, as earthquakes don’t normally come from Morelos, but from Oaxaca or Colima. There was a fear of what this meant for them. Was Mexico City still in existence?

Before this fear, though, was the immediate insight that I wanted to anchor my frequency in love. We decided to bring our hands into the center of the chest and just ground ourselves in the Heart at that moment, when we didn’t yet know the consequences of this movement for the rest of the country. Spanda was felt very clearly.

earthquake

SO: After securing your family, how did you go about finding out what kind of help was most needed, and where?

TT: In the immediate aftermath, we all took care of our families and intimate relationships and the following day we went to the plaza to meet with the resistance movement here in Tepoztlán. We linked with them because we knew they were an ethical source (non-governmental). We started receiving donations almost immediately, as well as the support of people volunteering to go into the affected communities. It was a very spontaneous, community-involved organization, initially without central management.

We all took our cars and the first thing that happened was there were a lot of WhatsApp groups formed. I was put into one for the coordination of civil movements in Morelos. So basically, we were receiving real-time information about resources, transport, food, and materials. They sent me a contact in Morelos and that’s where I organized a brigade of seven vehicles to go. It was all members of the community and volunteers from Mexico City. Everything was very spontaneous and organic.

You saw everything from mothers cooking to other people just going into the streets to remove stones―all of the town was working. But, there was no government presence. It was all personal, private cars driving private aid. We started getting money immediately which was almost entirely used for fuel for cars for the convoy from Mexico City and for buying tarps for temporary shelter. This was the initial effort and it was all very chaotic.

We spent the first week going on brigades to all the towns every day, helping with the emergency. But then we realized it was a bit chaotic. They were flooded with food and not with materials to remove all the things that fell or professionals to classify the structural damage. We had to learn on the spot—it was like an experiment in self-organization and collaboration without hierarchy, in a way.

SO: What is the current status of relief efforts? Are things stable? And, what is the long-term relief effort going to require?

TT: Our organization now involves taking care of human rights, putting pressure on the government, coordinating emergency aspects (food, shelter, etc.), and finding reconstruction alternatives that are sustainable and loving for the Earth like adobe, super adobe, and other eco-conscious techniques. It’s a way of bringing awareness to these other aspects of a New Earth, even building sustainable communities and connecting.

Other proposals include building community shelters to be used in future emergencies as well as places to host civic organizations that can start organizing and building the foundation for further collaboration.

On a deeper and subtler level, there are many others who feel and know in our hearts that this is a pivotal moment, a turning point, that we cannot look back, but need to see what is spontaneously arising and noticing what is truly important and what truly matters, which is human collaboration, service, compassion, love, and kindness.

earthquake mexico
SO: I really found it amazing how you came back to the Heart immediately after this moment of fear, feeling spanda and centeredness. Can you say more about how a spiritual practice and Hridaya teachings helped guide your reaction in this intense situation?

TT: I realized that that initial impulse of centering in the Heart―it was like channeling into action. Most people were driven from a spontaneous, collaborative, and compassionate state. Everybody forgot about their jobs, money, and anything that may have mattered before―to help others. The whole community here in Tepoztlán was paralyzed, everybody was doing something to relieve this. So, it was impressive to see everyone waking up.

Many people who were not so much into spirituality were realizing this spontaneously and intuitively—I have seen people, for example, the shopkeeper on the corner, that you would never have expected doing amazing, amazing, conscious work directly with the community.

How to Help

Supporting these relief efforts is a long-term project. Hridaya Yoga is accepting donations for this purpose, which can be made via our PayPal account (info@hridaya-yoga.com). Money collected by Hridaya will be shared between efforts in Morelos and those in Oaxaca and given to citizens who are directly involved in providing aid, using 100% of the proceeds to benefit earthquake victims.
 
 
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

Finding Advaita in Daily Life

By Sean O’Donnell



“The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.” –Abraham Heschel

Upon returning to the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, I have been re-immersed in a plethora of tantric, non-dual practices and teachings. The amount of information and reminders of my True Nature has been almost overwhelming, but in a beautiful way. I’m at a point where when I start to feel this way, I like to take a moment to touch base with my past to establish a reference point for where I am now.

Coming Home to a Familiar Experience in a New Light

Last Saturday evening, I took a dip into my expansive pool of freedoms to take advantage of an opportunity to connect with friends, family, and a culture that sometimes seem distant while living in Mexico. On this particular night, tantric rituals were not in my field of awareness. Rather, my entire home state was buzzing about an entirely different kind of ritual―the biggest American football game of the year. This was a feeling that I grew up with, and felt very far removed from, but the buzz from so many of my loved ones still permeated the ether and was calling for me to tune in to a game I had told myself I no longer cared about.

So, I took a walk and found the perfect spot: an empty café across the street from the beach, owned by my friend Lorenzo. I needed a break from spiritual work, and as I opened up my computer, found a stream of the game online, and started talking to Lorenzo about sports, I was much more interested in escaping from daily life than trying to see Advaita in daily life. I expected to quickly escape into my past and reconnect with my secular roots. But, as a popular American football commentator would say, “not so fast, my friends!”

Seeing Unity in the Profane

My friend Lorenzo and I, at first glance, could not seem any more different. Both of us are a long way from where we were born, but have found a sense of “home” in Mexico. Aside from that, Lorenzo fills the role of a fit, stylish, European café owner. I have the form of a tall, pale, and scruffy spiritual aspirant. Lorenzo goes surfing every morning when he wakes up. I have an irrational fear of fish biting my toes when I go in the water. Lorenzo grew up watching Italian football where they almost never score and don’t use their hands. I grew up watching American football with pads and helmets and lots of TV commercials.

As we sat and chatted while watching the game, I started to share about what football meant to me 20 years ago, and what it meant to me now―and so did Lorenzo. My father started taking me to games when I was very young, and I bonded with my dad over this Saturday pastime. Lorenzo and his father had a similar bonding experience. Lorenzo’s hometown team was known for having the loudest and craziest fans in the entire country, exactly the same as my hometown team. I shared with him how I can still get goosebumps on command while evoking the feeling of being in the presence of the amount of energy that is created when 70,000 people are in the same place and focusing their attention on the same thing. Lorenzo smiled and agreed as he looked at his arm, experiencing goosebumps the same as mine. My father and I sat with the same people week after week, year after year, and so did Lorenzo and his dad. I sat next to a guy who would high-five everyone after every touchdown and behind an old lady who always gave me a lollipop after every point. Lorenzo sat next to a guy who would hug everyone after every goal and behind an old lady who gave him a cookie after every point.

As the conversation went on, the sense of wonder and delight started to become obvious to me. I was amazed at the similarities in experience. I was 5,500 miles (9,000 kilometers) and 9 years apart from Lorenzo’s experiences, but he had an almost identical experience to mine. Beyond that, I had strong emotions surrounding this part of my life, and Lorenzo shared that with me as well.

Even more fascinating was how my relationship with this aspect of life evolved the same way as his. After some time, these football teams started to become very popular. Tickets to games became ten times more expensive than they used to be. The stadiums were filled with wealthy businessmen who didn’t have the same passion as the loud and crazy people who used to attend every weekend.

In short, everything changed. As it always does. The experience was made even more powerful for both Lorenzo and me because it was temporary, but at the time that it was occurring, it was so magical that it never crossed my mind that life would ever be different. As time went on, I’d start to see my friends getting very angry every time my team lost a game. This became exhausting. I had seen them win so many times before and seen them lose so many times before, the success of the team rising and falling with such consistency, I realized that the only lasting enjoyment of this passion could be found by detaching myself from an outcome. The transition was very much one of watching a game with a strong desire for my team to win to one where I just witnessed the game taking place and finding joy in so many parts of it that had nothing to do with my team winning or losing.

Lorenzo shared a very similar process in his life. He didn’t want to shun his culture, his past, his family, and the friends he grew up with who love to use sports as a means to come together and connect. There really is no need for that. I avoided football at times because I felt repelled by a lot of the violence it evoked in people that I loved. Last Saturday night, though, I found as much joy in it as I’ve ever found in my life, but this time from a much more sustainable place.

Advaita in Daily Life: Teachers are Everywhere

I set off that evening with the intention of experiencing something mundane. I ended up experiencing something divine. To me, this is one of the most powerful aspects of a tantric worldview. I found a connection with another person that reminded me that I could see myself in others, and they, too, could see themselves in me.

Advaita In ways that might seem superficial at first, in the context of my limited knowledge of Advaita, I felt that these similarities were easily taken as a definite reminder that the reality of my origin was not separate from other people’s origins. The experiences shared were very worldly, but the identical nature of our perception of them pointed to something far deeper.

Long before I started to consciously cultivate a spiritual outlook, I was given a quote by the artist formerly known as Richard Alpert, and he sums up the perfect reminder of the beautiful insights we have to gain by being open to learning about Advaita in daily life. This is exactly what I experienced watching football in a café on a very ordinary Saturday evening:

“Now, in our culture, we have been trained for individual differences to stand out. So you look at each person and the immediate thought is: brighter, dumber, older, younger, richer, poorer … and we make all these dimensional distinctions, put them into categories and treat them that way. And we get so that we only see others as separate from ourselves and in the ways in which they are separate. And one of the dramatic characteristics of (…) experience is being with another person and suddenly seeing the ways in which they are like you, not different from you. And experiencing the fact: well, yes indeed we are brothers, in the true sense, of that which is essence in you, which is essence in me is, indeed, One.” –Ram Dass
 
 
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.

pure intention

Beginning the Path of Pure Intention

By Sean O’Donnell
“If you maintain the constant wish to benefit others, the power to actually do so will come by itself, as naturally as water runs downhill.” –Dilgo Khyentse

The power of intention is an often overlooked force in the Universe. But, we find that the same words and actions can carry entirely different effects and result in different outcomes based solely on the intention behind them.

Our intentions may not always be communicated on a tangible, surface level. But, often, we can immediately perceive if someone has crude intentions. There are many subtle layers to this, and the process of purifying intentions is something we refine as we navigate the ever-unfolding mystery of life.

The Purest Intention

In Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 2, we discuss Pure Intention as one of the 14 Hridaya Yoga Attitudes. There are many actions, words, and thoughts that can come from a pure intention, but this attitude culminates in an intention that can be succinctly communicated by an ancient Sanskrit prayer: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu, meaning “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

To some, this may seem like an impossibly lofty aspiration. Trying to measure every action against this highest intention would be crippling. Is brushing our teeth in the morning with a plastic toothbrush that will end up in a landfill benefitting ALL beings? Is going to yoga class in a car powered by fossil fuels and killing bugs with the windshield for the benefit of all beings? These might sound like absurd examples, but hopefully, they illustrate how we can become paralyzed by the mind if we take an all-or-nothing approach when first starting to explore our aspiration for this purity.

What’s important to keep in mind is that it is just that―an aspiration. Just because we are not there yet (and we may never be in this lifetime) does not mean we should stop ourselves from consciously aiming in that direction.

Another key component is the idea that we are aspiring to contribute in some way towards this happiness and freedom for all. Meaning, we do not have to come up with a way to achieve this for all sentient beings before we leave the house in the morning.

Where to Begin?

We can cut the grandiose nature of this ultimate intention a little by looking at it from different angles. It is quite daunting to try to benefit all beings with each action. There are many fascinating ways that the eight limbs of yoga and the Hridaya Attitudes can overlap, support each other, and become one with each other. But, one helpful way to begin the journey of benefitting all beings is to practice ahimsa (“to do no harm”)—the first of the yamas.

Instead of asking “Does this action, word, or thought benefit all beings?,” we may find less resistance in simplifying our analysis to “To the best of our knowledge, will this action directly harm any being?” This question is a lot easier to work with when we have a decision to make or are contemplating an action and are not sure if it will fit with our desire to practice pure intention. Obviously, if we can think of someone who will have their happiness or freedom stifled by the ripples of our behavior, regardless of how we perceive it may benefit us, it may be worthwhile to find a different approach.

If this sounds overly simplistic, remember that that is by design. It is often easier to solve complex problems by working with many small, stable, and strong solutions than trying to work with mechanisms for change that involve convoluted and esoteric tools that can become fragile if we try to operate them under pressure, as beginners.

Get out of Yourself, but Not at the Expense of Your Self

power-of-intentionSelflessness is the natural attribute of people who embody the mindset of living to benefit all beings. However, in order to properly serve our highest purpose, we are wise to find a balance—honoring both our aspiration for purity and our current level of consciousness. When we dedicate ourselves in roles such as teachers, healers, mentors, karma yogis, etc. we may take on these identities with such a passion that it is possible to get in our own way, adopting masks instead of acting from the Heart. It is often not particularly easy to see this imbalance and we may not recognize when we are acting from the ego. Resting in awareness, being honest with ourselves about our underlying motivations, and taking care of our own well-being will allow us the space to open deeper to true selflessness.

Anyone who has traveled via airplane may fondly remember in-flight announcements about oxygen masks in the overhead compartments. In an emergency situation, we are reminded to secure our own devices before assisting those around us. It is clear that we will not be of much help to others if we neglect our own well-being.

This little analogy is a beautiful reminder. A reminder that, when embracing selfless service and following the yearning to benefit all beings, if we give to others without first connecting with the pure intention stemming from our hearts, we will never reach our full potential to serve. Going deeper, we can acknowledge that when we are centered in the Heart, the concept of “self” and “other” dissolves completely and we simply understand that anything that benefits anyone benefits everyone.

Thus, we can best stay true to the pure intention of benefitting all beings by keeping a balance point that encourages a mutual flow of freedom and happiness between our perceived selves and our perceived surroundings.
 
 

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all his posts here.

sitting meditation

Sitting and Health: Sitting Is the New… Sitting?

By Sean O’Donnell

In many respects, trying to heal from sitting for long periods of time is what led me to visit the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte in the first place.

Like many people entrenched in modern society, I’ve spent huge chunks of my life sitting. Staring. Specifically, at a computer or phone screen. This has become the predominant posture in so many aspects of daily life. You are on the computer in order to educate yourself. You are on the computer to earn a living and forge a career. You get on a computer to entertain yourself and to escape. You may even rely on a computer or phone for the majority of your social interactions.

Now, this may apply to varying degrees depending on your profession or hobbies or ability to resist the new “normal” environment. For me, it certainly became all-encompassing, and as can be expected from any kind of substantial imbalance, difficulties in my life soon followed.

Sparing some dramatic details, through these difficulties, yoga found me. After I got comfortable with yoga, I begrudgingly opened up to meditation.



Sitting and Health: Is the Problem Separate from the Solution?

In one of the most ironically non-dual experiences of my life, I had gone on this great journey to cure myself of all the ailments associated with the plague of too much sitting, and the best medicine ended up being… sitting!

I’m fond of the Albert Einstein quote “No problem can be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.” But, can a problem be solved by the exact same action that created it? Well—yes and no. In a very crude way, sitting in meditation and sitting at a computer desk can be considered very similar. But at a higher level, important differences exist between how these two types of sitting are normally carried out.

If you do any research on the subject of sitting and health, you’ll find a huge market for all kinds of ergonomic support—advice, routines, equipment, strategies. These are all finely tuned to keep your body in some “ideal” position in an attempt to delay the cycle of pain, fatigue, and injury that can result from a sedentary lifestyle. In my personal experience, however, all of these methods missed the mark, the underlying cause, the genesis of the problem: the general tamping down of the spirit that can occur when you are “stuck” at a desk, looking at a screen, for the majority of your life.

Sitting and Health



Looking beyond Posture

It is often said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Remember, though, that they are not a one-way mirror! The eyes are a gateway like no other and are susceptible to being polluted and strained, which can have a cascading effect on overall health. I’m not a doctor and if you are experiencing or trying to prevent posture-related maladies you certainly should listen to your own body and follow your own truth. But, I’ve found that a lot of healing can come from being aware of what I’m doing with my eyes while at my desk.

What I’ve found fascinating is how my posture and my eyesight are related. I started sitting with better posture but found myself slowly leaning towards the computer screen in order to more comfortably read small text. So, if you have glasses, wear them. If you suspect you need them, or need an updated prescription, get that done. Not being able to see clearly is something that is easy to get used to, but can sabotage many other aspects of your health without being detected as the culprit.

Another factor that I had previously overlooked is how the body’s systems are interconnected. The lack of mobility and increase in tension in my eyes was actually becoming strain in my jaw and neck, which, in turn, affected nerves and blood flow all the way into my arms, wrists, and hands.

There are plenty of eye exercises that can be performed, but, for me, the simplest and most effective is to follow the “20/20/20” rule.

This means looking at something at least 20 feet (6 meters) away for at least 20 seconds at least every 20 minutes. At first, it will probably be beneficial to use a timer, app, or browser extension to remind yourself to practice this rule because some of these patterns run very deep and it can be hard to maintain awareness when focused on a task.rule-20-20-20

Something I’ve added since visiting Hridaya is combining this 20/20/20 practice with the “stop” technique. Several times a day, typically during meal times, a gong sounds and, for a short time, everyone stops what they are doing, centers themselves, and rests in awareness.

I’ve found that regardless of my posture, desk sitting can be an unhealthy habit if my breathing and my attitude are not also in tune. Certainly, the breath, mind, and posture all support or defeat one another. I now use the 20/20/20 rule to not only rest my eyes, but to take a moment to become aware of my breath, focus on my spine, center in the Spiritual Heart, and cultivate Open Attention. Afterwards, I resume my task from this space of presence. This has multiplied the benefits of the practice.

In the end, I realized I blamed a lot of my suffering on sitting. Then, I came to a place where I set myself free and healed by… sitting! For me, the lesson is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with sitting. It’s your breath and your mood and your posture and your awareness of subtle tensions in your body that can separate an experience that used to be excruciating, soul-sucking, agonizing, and destructive and turn it into a type of sitting that brings inner peace, freedom, limitlessness, love, gratitude, and spiritual healing.

A final word of advice: If you really just want to get up out of your chair, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the opposite of sitting is standing. The opposite of sitting is DANCING! Give it a try!
 
 
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read his post about the power of laughter here.

laughter hridaya yoga

The Divinity of Laughter: The Natural State Is a Playful State

By Sean O’Donnell
“To me, there is nothing more sacred than love and laughter, and there is nothing more prayerful than playfulness.” –Osho

The Vibration of Laughter

In Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry method, we learn to continually ask the “Who am I?” question. In Ramana’s words, “The question (…) is not really meant to get an answer, the question (…) is meant to dissolve the questioner.”

In my experiences in 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats, as well as through other deeply spiritual events in my life, I have often found that asking myself this question under the right conditions shifts my perception. It brings me to a place where everything around me vibrates, and all the levels of my being are also vibrating. Everything interacts with everything else—the smallest particles of my physical body, emotions, thoughts, and intentions dance with one another and dip their toes into the sea of vibrations around me, rippling out and affecting everything infinitely. At the same time, the ground, the wind, the trees, the birds, and the bees are also vibrating. Those ripples are being received and having an effect on every layer of my being. In this state, it is very easy to comprehend the idea that our perceived separateness is an illusion.

hridaya yoga meditation classIn a meditation retreat, we remain silent order to allow ourselves to more easily perceive these other vibrations. In a Dark Room Retreat, we take away external sound and light to reveal even deeper levels of perception. However, these deeper levels of perception are always present—most of us just need reminders and practices to cultivate our continued awareness of them.

My takeaway from these experiences is a confirmation that we are all, always, in constant communication. How easy is it to tell that someone is in a bad mood before you’ve even asked them how they are doing? How many times have you met somebody who was radiating love as you passed them on the street, and you knew this without ever exchanging a word?

When we start to incorporate vibrational communications into our tool box, it is easy to see how much they influence our surroundings. They are powerful! And one of the most powerful incarnations of these vibrations comes in the form of laughter. Whether it’s an uncontrollable giggle or a belly-laugh so strong that it hurts, laughter can jump around a room and build to a crescendo after starting with just a single seed.

Laughter is contagious, and in a state of freedom, I’ve yet to meet anyone who is immune to it!

Laughter as Medicine

Something I notice is that when I’m upset, or lost, or in a heavy place, or worn down―whatever the case may be―it becomes really hard to laugh. Even when something is objectively funny and clever, I can acknowledge it, but the laughter just doesn’t come very easily, or I block it out. On some level, I believe that the ego just doesn’t want healing to be that easy (but, that is a topic for another time…).

By the same measure, when life is great, we’re in love, everything seems to be going our way, and we’re walking on the clouds, it seems so easy for the littlest blessings to bring a chuckle to our day.

Laughter and the Spiritual HeartOne of the things I find fascinating about laughter is that we laugh the same in every language. It is something that transcends any learned behavior or culture. It is a universal expression. It is a root human experience that we all share.

 

When something happens that is funny, or somebody tells a good joke, a huge amount is communicated. Laughing with someone is a bonding experience. Ah, yes! Somebody else is experiencing the same feeling in the same way as me, at the same time as me, based on the same sensory inputs! Connection! Unity! Love!

Unconsciously, I believe these experiences are what make laughter such powerful medicine. It is a reminder, universally understood and beloved, that we are not separate.

Laughter and the Spiritual Heart

When I first came to the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, my trip was preceded by a year of self-work. I started really holding myself accountable for what I put in my body. I started really tasking myself with controlling my reactions to situations. I started to really budget and criticize how I was using my time every day. All of this self-work became just that: work! Serious business! And all for a reason. But, I always wondered if this seriousness was sustainable. It was certainly necessary in order to get closer to an effortless balance point, and I was doing it all in the name of healing, but I had shut something out that had always been a very important marker of my personal health: levity.

This realization had poked me a couple of times in the year but didn’t really break through until a month after I arrived in Mazunte, near the end of my first 10-day retreat. Sahajananda spoke about returning to and living from a natural state. The part that was music to my ears was his proclamation that “the natural state is a playful state.” It was that simple! Why didn’t somebody tell me this when I first got here? That revelation, perfectly timed, opened up the floodgates for me. I had taken this state of determination, devotion, and stoicism into my retreat. I went through a lot in the meantime, but when I came out, the personal message I chose to receive was that if I wanted to go deeper with this practice, I needed to stop letting my power be consumed by the seriousness that brought me to this place.

The first place I started was with myself. It really helped to start making fun of myself again. In many respects, if you can’t make fun of yourself for something, the ego is probably highly involved in the matter. It really helped to acknowledge the seeming absurdity of many of the decisions that led me to this point in my life, and to laugh at them!

Trusting Life laughterWhich led to being in awe of them. Which led to being in love with them. Which made it easier to laugh at them all over again! And a much healthier, more sustainable, and more playful samskara was created. 

Suddenly, I found myself able to enjoy the sacredness in sitting around a table with people from all over the world, taking turns pronouncing the word “banana” in dramatically different English dialects, but laughing all the same, together.

I’ve always known that I’ve loved to laugh, and I’ve always known the beauty of making others laugh and of laughing together, but I may have taken it for granted at times. Through my experiences at Hridaya, it has become clear to me that laughter is yet another pointer, and our openness to it is yet another marker. A marker and a pointer towards our True Nature, towards the Divine, and one of the most powerful manifestations of spanda that we can access at any given time.

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read his post about Yoni Puja here.

A First Experience with Yoni Puja

By Sean O’Donnell



There are many tantric rituals that are practiced with the intention of deepening devotion and raising awareness of higher states of consciousness. Yoni puja is a ceremony designed to cultivate a reverence for Shakti and all other manifestations of the Divine Feminine. More information on the specific steps included in a traditional yoni puja can be found here and here.

A Beginner’s Yoni Puja

This past February, while visiting the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, I had the chance to participate in a large group celebration of Maha Shivaratri  or “The Great Night of Shiva.” It was my first encounter with structured worship in a group setting and was orchestrated by many senior Hridaya teachers. I had no expectations going in other than to spend time singing and meditating with good friends, but the experience ended up having a profound effect on me.
Despite the deep sense of devotion that arose from that celebration, like many other things that have undeniably been breakthroughs in my spiritual practice, my ego has done a good job of keeping repeat experiences at arm’s length. Having left Mazunte for the summer, there is every excuse in the world to continue to put off these experiences―no group support, nobody to guide me through something new, and plenty of distractions and patterns that want to compete for my attention. However, I recently heard about yoni puja. Upon reading the details, I decided that I would put my reservations about whether I was doing it “right” or not to the side, clear some sacred space, and give it a try! I didn’t know whether I was “qualified” to organize such a ceremony or whether or not it would “work.” But, I convinced myself that those were relative concepts. So, despite it being my first time arranging the specifics, I knew if my intentions were pure and my mind focused, I would be sure to perform the most important aspects—inner devotion and appreciation.



Clearing a Space

Without any guidance in preparing for this ceremony, I had to surrender to the idea that I was going to have to make it my own. Being in a setting that wasn’t very reminiscent of the practice halls at the Hridaya Center, I needed to be resourceful to find objects that would help me direct my reverence and to realize that my offerings, even if they didn’t seem special, could be made special for the occasion.

 

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I ended up covering a workout bench with a shawl from Oaxaca that is very significant to me. I adorned it with a couple of crystals, some fresh-picked wildflowers, and a few meaningful pendants and tokens that I had as keepsakes from my time in Mexico. As far as offerings, I took some care in selecting items that were fresh and of high quality, but I also knew that the intention behind the offerings was more important than their perceived material value. Incense, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and an egg all seemed fitting and were readily available. For the final, key component, I selected a seashell set inside a triangular piece of china— a representation of the womb, of creation, of the Divine Feminine—to use as a vessel for the puja. I’m not sure anyone’s ceremony has ever quite looked like this, but it was mine, of my creation, unique, and special to me. In hindsight, I think this had the effect of making the entire experience more meaningful and personal. Even if I had had expensive statues or objects blessed by a guru at my disposal, I don’t think the significance of the ritual would have been amplified one bit.

Receiving the Power of the Divine

With everything in place, the process of settling down to begin the ceremony already commanded my full attention. It was a very welcome feeling, one that I had not connected with so easily since leaving Mazunte. I was confident that a set of conditions had been created to properly and respectfully show devotion to the motherly essence of creation. With this, a calm came over me, and the practical steps of the ceremony began to move through my body very naturally, all the while reinforcing a reverence for the energy that illuminates our existence.
While I consider myself familiar with the meditation techniques taught at Hridaya―focusing on the Spiritual Heart and letting myself return to that space from a background of Stillness―this ceremony called for a slightly different approach. I found myself spending time being still, but with open eyes―gazing at the representation of our divine source set before me. I found that the more I attempted to project my rigid, focused, steadfast gaze on the centerpiece of the altar, the more that energy was reflected back to me, asking me to become more receptive―to letting things be as they are, to the beauty of creation that is always inside of us and around us, and to the ridiculous power of life that is encapsulated in the ever-present feminine energy of change itself.

 

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Feeling the Echoes

As the ceremony wound to a close, I definitely felt connected to a state of being that I hadn’t accessed in a while. Living in the Hridaya Community, it was easy to take such profound experiences into the day with me. But, now, it crossed my mind that practicing this ceremony may only be a momentary boost to my awareness. I wondered about my ability to integrate this awe and reverence after closing the ceremony.
after-yoni-puniMuch to my delight, there were some lasting effects after the ceremony! All of a sudden, the peach sitting in front of me was not only a reminder that I was hungry and craved sustenance, but that it, too, was a pointer to something being born into this world, that was to be held sacred, and that had the energy of all creation wrapped up inside it. The milk beside me wasn’t just something useful for washing down dessert, but a convenient representation of maternal nourishment. The jar of honey was no mere replacement sweetener, but a precious nectar―fit for a queen! I walked outside as the full moon was rising, and it graciously illuminated the patch of wildflowers I had visited earlier.

The scene had dramatically changed since I sat down for the ceremony, with all of my surroundings now colored by this soft, lunar essence. It was a very fitting setting for me to realize that I had reconnected with an appreciation for that same essence―not just around me, but inside me, as well.

 

 

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read his post about the power of laughter here.