It’s natural for the human soul to be called beyond the material frontier. A bird cannot remain forever in its nest. It needs to fly. Trust is the faith of a bird that feels the lightness of the breeze under her wings before she ever opened them. Flying is a leap of faith; it is […]
One moment of Truth is enough, and devotion has found its way into your soul. It comes when you touch upon something of immeasurable value. When your heart opens to the radiance of Truth. Devotion is the face of love that burns away all rationality. It annihilates the delusion of egoic consciousness and brings your […]
“You wander from room to room Hunting for the diamond necklace That is already around your neck.” –Rumi What a mysterious force that binds us to believing that we are a body, coming from a past moment and going towards the next. How ineffable, that we take ourselves to be something that is outside the […]
By Tasha Friedman
At night, all distinctions disappear. Falling asleep to the outside world, you awaken to the life within.
Shivaratri (the “night of Shiva”) is a festival celebrated on the night between the 13th and 14th day of every month in the Hindu calendar, corresponding to the new moon. Of these 12 Shivaratris, Maha Shivaratri, the “great night of Shiva,” is the most important, and it is considered one of the most auspicious days of the year. Shaivas (devotees of Shiva) see this moonless night as an opportunity to overcome spiritual darkness or ignorance.
The new moon represents Shiva: the void, the singularity of consciousness, the black point in the middle of the eye. You look for the moon in the sky, and you don’t find it; you look for truth in external objects, and you don’t find it; you look for yourself in your reflection in the mirror, and what do you see? Only this luminous emptiness, this sense of missing something so intimate and obvious, yet you can’t put your finger on it.
In the monthly lunar cycle, the new moon is a time of withdrawal and reabsorption—as between cosmic cycles or the pauses between breathing cycles— in which all forms dissolve in order to be born again.
Hindus fast during the day of Maha Shivaratri, and many spend all night in a vigil of prayers, chanting, and offerings. We have often held such vigils at Hridaya, staying up to meditate, sing Shiva bhajans, and contemplate the mystery of the night.
What is this fascination with the unknown? What is there moving inside your soul when you stare up at the night sky without a sliver of moon, only stars scattered across that vast darkness?
To go into the Heart is to go into the unknown, or, rather, into the unknowable—into that undiscovered country from whose borders no traveler returns, because to go there means that the one who goes dissolves. Gone, like a flame when the candle is blown out.
And yet, this void calls to you.
Close your eyes to the world of forms, if only for one night. Open the eye of your heart. There is light within the darkness and darkness within the light, now and always.
You may imagine awakening to be an experience of more and more Peace, Joy, and Love. You may think that its magic will solve all your problems. Definitely, awakening is, in itself, Bliss. But many people say that it is also something entirely unexpected.
They seem so real, our ideas and opinions about life—a vast force pulling our entire sense of reality into the domain of intellectual and emotional knowledge. The mind loses its openness and ends up imprisoned in itself. Cycles of thoughts creating one reality after another. We look at things and believe that our description of […]
Can the mind be your partner in spirituality? Does the path to transcendence only run through denial, or is it possible that everything around you is helping point the way? It’s such a relief to step out of the paradigm of conflict—with your mind, your senses, your environment—and discover that the world has actually been […]
Do you perceive yourself as just one limited thing, a body and mind, floating around in a sea of other limited things? This attitude may be the normal condition of your daily life—until every so often there comes a flash of something different. You may be in meditation or watching a breathtaking sunset when suddenly […]
“All of the world is just a narrow bridge. What’s important is not to be afraid.” –Rabbi Nachman of Breslov Even while the wave of coronavirus washes over the world, fear is like a second pandemic. It spreads even faster and touches more people than the contagion itself.
Stop now. Close your eyes. Feel your heart. You are here, you are aware, right now. At this very moment, humanity is meeting itself in a new way. With the global outbreak of coronavirus, fear and uncertainty have become the daily norm for so much of our global family. And yet, with this disruption of […]
Dear one, As you have already realized, the spread of the novel coronavirus is a very serious threat, endangering the lives and health of many people. Please do not ignore it or take its potential impact lightly. Act in wisdom and with great caution, according to the gravity of the situation where you live and […]
By Beata Kucienska
What is your Inner Child? It’s the one you have always been longing to meet, your deepest innocence, authenticity, sensitivity, and beauty. The one who was born to play, create, love, and never wanted to hurt anybody. The source of wisdom, the essence of humanity, the richest expression of life. The one who can guide you to the Garden of Eden. It is YOU in the purest form.
“Your Inner Child will be your guide to Infinity,” my heart told me during a long meditation retreat—seven weeks in silence. I started to listen deeply to its voice, which was like inner music guiding me through life. It was revealing my vulnerability and beauty. It made me fall in love with myself.
Your Inner Child is so delicate that it is difficult to speak about it. It is almost like trying to catch the wind. The Child doesn’t want to be classified, placed in any category, turned into a doctrine, or put into a structure. The Child is the poetry of life.
While you are reading these words, try to feel the essence behind them. The Child emerges from the spaces between words, looking at you with curiosity. It wants to play with words, it wants to play with everything. It perceives life as a never-ending game of wonderment.
When you connect with your Inner Child, you feel the joy and pain of life with an incredible intensity. When you love, you give your whole heart, as small children do. Following the voice of the Inner Child is not for the faint of heart. It is a path for the brave.
The Inner Child: Meeting Your Beauty
When I speak about the Inner Child, I go beyond any psychological definition. Even small children can have tendencies towards violence, but the Inner Child you discover in the depths of your heart is pure and innocent. It is a place where your humanity and divinity unite and its beauty is breathtaking.
I met my Inner Child during Hridaya’s 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat and the discovery was such a treasure I couldn’t believe she existed. She was too sacred, too delicate, too vulnerable, and more beautiful than I have ever been. I felt her clearly inside, a tiny bird with transparent wings, and I look for her in every moment of my life. There is a constant longing to meet her, to become her.
Other people who have done long meditation retreats have had similar experiences. It is a universal experience because the Child lives in the heart of every human. We can meet this inner treasure when we go beyond the walls we build our entire lives—our protections, defenses, and the strategies we develop to survive in this world.
I had the blessing to do the seven-week silent retreat in a beautiful place where I felt safe and taken care of. I didn’t even have to think about food, it was delivered to my door every day. All this helped me abandon my worries and defense strategies and go into a space where I could relax very deeply. When the Child felt safe, she came to meet me. It didn’t happen immediately, I had to face many painful memories. But, the constant focus on the Heart and Self-Enquiry led to inner Stillness, a beautiful freedom from the burden of the mind, and the Child emerged from this space.
Meeting your Inner Child is a meeting with God within you. It is a window to the sacredness of life, to unforgettable beauty. When you are in that place, you feel like you would prefer to die than to lose it. You have arrived at the Home that you lost before being born.
Meditation, nature, art, love, silence, and sexuality are all gateways to experience this return to the Garden of Eden. Sometimes an unexpected door opens and fills your eyes with wonderment. The rest of your time is guided by this deep longing for Home… and the various human expressions of the Inner Child are your guides.
The Inner Child: A Guide to the Depth of Life
The Inner Child is a wonderful guide through life. Its deepest desires are the most authentic expressions of your soul and show you the direction to go. Superficial desires (like addictions and defense strategies) are only cheap substitutes for the deepest longings of your heart.
In ascetic spirituality, there is a tendency to emphasize surrender to the things you don’t like or don’t want to do. For some people, this is a valid path and can be a powerful tool for transcending certain undesirable traits. But if you suffered a lot in childhood, your emphasis is best placed on the freedom and joy of doing the things you really love to do. The inner voice that knows where to find authentic joy and delight is your deepest guide. It can be as simple as watching trees, listening to the birds, feeling the earth, or breathing rainy air… and, yet, many years can pass before you realize it, before you give yourself the time for wonder.
Child-like joy is a beautiful guide on the path of healing and it is okay to find joy in the things you love to do while avoiding what brings you suffering. This stage of healing, self-love, and self-compassion should be deeply recognized and acknowledged. Later comes the stage of feeling joy in the Heart even when sorrow appears, but there is no need to follow the path of sorrow. Offering yourself the time to deeply feel life, to discover the voice of your authentic delight, and to follow it, is the greatest gift to your Inner Child.
The Inner Child and Sexuality
Your Inner Child inhabits a body with its physiological, sexual, and emotional functions and experiences the world through the body. When you follow its voice, you transform various levels of your humanity. What used to feel dirty or covered with shame becomes innocent and sacred. People who walk the authentic path of the Heart naturally experience a powerful transformation in their sexuality.
Hridaya Meditation is a wonderful tool to support this transformation. When the focus is on the Heart, sexual experiences feel like entering a cathedral without walls, a landscape full of mysteries. Sexual energy flows into and out of the Heart and transforms the physical body into a field of tenderness. Making love becomes an act of wonderment, adoration, creation, and the most wonderful prayer. It is an innocent exploration of unknown lands, mysterious energies, and sacred places. Sexual energy elevates your life, expands it, and converts everyday activities into the act of making love to the Universe. Everything is somehow soaked with erotic energy, which is sacred, playful, and intense. Listening to the birds feels like making love with their songs; they enter the depths of your heart. There is a constant play of separation and union, distance and penetration, longing and encounter.
The Inner Child and Pain
I have spent about nine months in silence in different retreats (including two 49-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats). I thought that my wounds from childhood would heal from so much practice, and for some time I believed it happened. Well, it didn’t. When I came back to my parents’ home, something triggered my deepest wound. I let my body express the pain and I was surprised by its intensity, which seemed bottomless. The child cried out her loneliness, disappointment, helplessness, vulnerability, injustice, fear, and abandonment. She came to this world to play and create. Why did it hurt her so much?
Meditation didn’t make my deepest wound disappear, but it helped me get deeply in touch with it and express it while maintaining the inner Witness. The long practice of silence and solitude gave me the courage to face the well of my pain, to look there directly without closing my eyes. And, when I came back to my family home and my old pain was triggered, it was no longer the time for silence. It was the time for the full expression of my soul.
I felt the healing power of crying aloud, of letting the pain express its depth and the full spectrum of its colors. I don’t know if my deepest wounds will ever heal. I don’t know if I have ever met a completely healed human being. But, maybe healing is not what I thought it to be. Maybe it is not about the disappearance of wounds, but about feeling them completely and using them to create beauty. As Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
After crying out my pain, I felt powerful. For the first time in my life, I was able to have an honest and balanced conversation with my parents, without accusing them or devaluing the burden of the past. It was not easy for any of us, but in the end, it brought relief and I felt closer to them.
My deepest pain didn’t heal, but long periods of meditation definitely transformed me from inside. I feel more compassion for the people who hurt me, but I am also able to set boundaries in toxic relationships. My Inner Child guides me and shows me which relationships are worth cultivating. The Child has a deep longing for harmony and beauty, and she deserves to experience it. And yes, she finds the places and beings that feel like Home: the wonderful doors to the lost Garden of Eden, the reflection of her origin.
The Inner Child and the Game of Life
use all the colors
in this wonderful game
your joy and pain
loneliness and ecstasy
anger and tenderness
your paintbrush whispers
It is singing:
make me free
let me jump to the highest trees
and then to the clouds
let my eyes embrace
the vastness of creation
let me fall to the mud
with a great splash
paint with the mud
paint with my blood
everything is sacred
Touching the Hearts of Our Local Community
By Blanca Amezcua
If you read our recent Community Development Department newsletter, you know that exciting steps have been taken towards our goal of integrating the Hridaya Yoga Center with the local Mexican community. This interconnection was part of Sahajananda’s founding vision, and as the school has grown since its inception in 2012, so too has our capacity to reach out to our neighbors. With the help of sangha members such as Dee, Alba, Beata, and Sunny, our Community Development Department has created relationships with members of the local community that have expanded our understanding of the culture and allowed us to begin to share the non-dual teachings that we hold so dear.
The Vision of the Community Development Department Is Two-fold:
- To create strong relationships with the local community, touching their hearts by showing interest in and care for their lives.
- To share the teachings of the Heart. This sharing can be formal (classes) as well as informal (modeling what it means to “Live with an Open Heart”).
Manifesting Our Vision
So far, our vision has led us to reach out in the following ways:
- Educando el corazón (“Educating the Heart”): This program in the local schools teaches children to connect to their inner spiritual compass, giving them tools to thrive in school as well as in life. Read all about our work with kindergarteners here!
- English Classes: The large number of international visitors who flock to this tropical beach town means that a grasp of the English language is a must for locals who work in tourism. Based on this need, we offer regular English classes for adults at the library in San Agustinillo.
- Literacy Classes: As reading and writing are a challenge for many, we also offer weekly literacy workshops.
- Heart-based Projects: Over the last two years, our sangha has joyfully contributed to over 25 different initiatives supporting the local community. These projects have included fundraisers, yoga and meditation classes, environmental cleanups, and more.
- We are currently collaborating with local leaders to identify the biggest challenges facing our greater community and are committed to focusing our actions in line with those needs. At this point, it seems the most pressing issues are environmental and economic empowerment, so future projects will likely center around those exigencies. Stay tuned!
- As we want everyone at the Center to be good neighbors, we are actively educating our students about respecting Mexican culture and encouraging them to engage appropriately with locals.
- We will soon invite the global Hridaya Community to make financial contributions to worthy projects in the state of Oaxaca.
- We are creating a dedicated Community Development Department page on the Hridaya website. This page will feature information about our outreach efforts as well as links to blog posts and videos about the causes we are supporting.
Do you have a great idea for how Hridaya can better impact the local community? Feel free to leave a comment below. Or, email us with your suggestions or to find out how to get involved.
Blanca is a Hridaya teacher and our Community Development Department Coordinator.
By Natasha Friedman
Give Them Everything
It’s not about you.
Sun. Sand. Waves. Vast, open sky.
A simple place.
Do it for them. When you’re tired, when you’re vulnerable, when you’re ecstatic, and when you can barely pick yourself off the ground. Give them everything.
A simple life, waking in the magic hour before dawn to sit in silent awe. Chopping fruits and vegetables, stirring rice, washing dishes. Putting mantras and blessings and so much love into every bowl.
Last winter, I served as the Karma Yogi responsible for supporting the 14 students journeying inward in Hridaya’s 49-Day Pratyabhijna Retreat. It’s impossible to convey this experience using words, since there are no words that can take the truth of what happened, contain it, and deliver it to you in a form that we would both understand and recognize as reality.
Still, I will give you some words and I hope they inspire you on the path.
Karma Yoga: The Path and the Destination
Karma Yoga is often translated as the yoga of action: the path to direct recognition of reality through conscious activity in the world. Acting with love, detachment, and awareness. It is selfless service for the benefit of all sentient beings.
One of the fundamental branches of yoga (along with Jnana, Raja, Bhakti, and Tantra), Karma Yoga is both the foundation and the coronation of the practice—just another of those paradoxes in spirituality that can melt your mind a little bit if you try to hold such seemingly divergent ideas simultaneously.
From one perspective, Karma Yoga is the ground we’re standing on as yogis and spiritual aspirants. Serving others is how we learn humility, care, and devotion. It’s how we purify our intentions and deflate the overblown ego blocking our view. It grounds us, gives us stability, and lends authenticity to our efforts at transcendence.
Serving others is how we build a vessel to receive Light.
In another sense, a true practice of Karma Yoga is the end goal of the entire path. “Before enlightenment,” goes the Zen saying, “chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
Being able to act fully in the world with complete detachment, holding the view of emptiness while busy accomplishing whatever mundane task the moment requires, is somehow the real practice for which all our eyes-closed-back-straight-awareness-turned-inward efforts is truly preparing us.
I would never say I am a perfectly accomplished Karma Yogi. Very far from it, actually! But, my experience in the 49-Day Retreat left me with so much reverence for this path that I have only just begun to explore.
Back to the retreat. So, there I was, living, along with the 14 angels in solitude, in a hotel on a remote beach halfway between Mazunte and Puerto Escondido. I served every day from days 11 to 49, on average five hours per day. My days started with fruit delivery at 5:30 am and ended with dinner at 6:00 pm, followed by evenings spent writing notes and planning meals.
When I wasn’t in the kitchen or taking my daily walk on the beach, I was practicing yoga and meditation.
I was in silence the whole time, although I had to write notes and send occasional texts to communicate with the retreat coordinator or make food orders.
I had help from Pedro and Isabel, the Mexican couple who manage the hotel. Isabel would join me almost every shift, helping to cut vegetables and clean up. This was a beautiful, wordless relationship. Before leaving on day 49, we both cried and hugged. Never speaking, never knowing each other as personalities, our souls knew the other.
And this was life for those 39 days. So simple, yet so incredibly rich and vivid, with so much more nuance and intensity than I have ever felt in the speaking world.
The Grace of Wanting Nothing
The idea of Karma Yoga in a retreat is that you are doing everything for the participants and the retreat is not yours. Even your own yoga and meditation practice is secondary. At least, this was how I conceived it. My intention was to want nothing from the experience, to achieve nothing, but to give the other yogis the best possible conditions for their immersion in Reality.
There is so much grace when you put aside your own interests and dedicate yourself to others. I’ve heard this many times before, but I felt this with absolute clarity in the retreat.
Working every day is tiring, especially when keeping to such a rigorous practice schedule. Cooking for 15 people means several hours of physical activity and the mental/emotional exertion of dealing with everything that can go wrong with kitchens and food deliveries in Mexico.
(Spoiler alert: everything can and will go wrong! The trick is that if you take a deep breath and trust—which can include knowing when to ask for help—problems somehow solve themselves.)
By the last weeks, my alarm would go off in the morning and I would have to just lie there for a minute silently groaning before finding the strength to get up and turn it off.
But, when I was busy serving, I didn’t experience even a trace of tiredness. I felt my daily consecrations holding a protective bubble around me and everyone in the hotel.
The more I put aside my personal wishes and desires—even the seemingly lofty desire to have more time to practice—the more this flow of cosmic energy moved through me and carried me through everything I was set to accomplish.
It’s a blessing to have the chance to serve others. It’s not a means to an end, but the highest grace we can come to in this life.
Of course, I went through my own processes during the retreat. Things surfaced and melted away, patterns flared and resolved, cycles completed themselves.
Sometimes, life seemed like a hall of mirrors. Sometimes, everything was so incredibly clear. And sometimes, there was nothing at all. Looking out the window at the sea and the waving coconut palms and seeing absolutely nothing. Cutting the peel off a ripe papaya and there is nothing there. Scooping hot vegetables onto plates and nothing. Catching, for just a moment, Isabel’s dark, luminous eyes and seeing that nothingness looking back at me.
In some ways, serving is a completely different experience than sitting a long retreat, and in another way it’s not different at all. I can’t say if I would have gone deeper or less deep had I been sitting, though several people have asked me this. It was exactly what it was.
There was less of that sense of absolute detachment, of being so far gone that not even your shadow flows into the world. There was more embracing of reality in all its mundane, incomprehensible detail. I am neither this nor that, but somehow I am all of it; I can recognize myself in every inch of this world; there is nothing that is not me.
At some level, this feeling has stayed with me since the retreat. At the moment of writing this, I am at a shabby-chic café in my New England hometown, where students huddle over their textbooks and loudly discuss their performance art pieces. It’s a world away from the deep silence of the retreat and the shifting patterns the waves left on the shore of that wide-open beach.
Still, there is something here that is the same. Patterns flow through my awareness—ah, here’s sadness again! Here’s self-doubt! Hello, fear of failure and financial insecurity! Welcome back, family conflict!—and I recognize them with love, with a huge sense of relief that finally these broken pieces of myself can come back into the whole.
I will leave you with a poem I wrote for my retreat angels, out of gratitude. They all thought I was serving them, but really they were supporting me in more ways than I could have imagined.
When you go down to the ocean,
I’m happy you know that sweet mystery.
I’m happy your hands are empty
and you, too, love to feel
that cool nectar pooling around your feet.
I’m happy you hear that purring
in the back of your ear,
an unknown music and words
that melt in the light of day.
Here there are colors for you
and they are deeper colors.
Here there is day and night and moon and sun
and thoughts and words and the morning
and it is, all of it is,
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.
By Sunny Rucker
“The gift to each child in the world should be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”
Educating the Heart
Our Community Development Department shares aspects of the Hridaya teachings in local schools via our Educando el corazón (“Educating the Heart”) initiative. We visit students at the kindergarten, elementary, and middle school levels, touching the hearts of 175 students each week.
Kindergarten Program: Heart-Centered Teachings for 3-6 Year-Olds
Our Kindergarten Program has a natural openness thanks to the children’s profound and wonderful instinct to live with open hearts. Our weekly classes aim to plant the seed of the awareness of the Spiritual Heart and empower the children with the tools to live from a place of love, centeredness and calm. The kindergarteners are 3-6 years old, so the program requires plenty of imagination, creativity, and fun! Students send “heart rainbows” to family and friends and have written unique songs that generate healing energy for themselves and others. The children have also learned sun salutations and nadi shodhana pranayama.
Program Curriculum: Connection, Engagement, and Lots of Fun
Each class begins with everyone coming into a circle in a playful way. We share how we are feeling or, perhaps, a favorite memory or the most delicious food we’ve ever eaten. We share about what excites us and what we love doing most.
Then, we begin passing love through the circle. This may be by passing a squeeze of the hand, doing a massage train, singing songs, or blowing love into our friends’ hearts. Once we’re all sufficiently connected to each other, we start bringing our awareness into the Heart. We have learned the Sufi technique of “Blowing upon the Embers of the Heart,” and if there is a more restless energy in the room, we may send blessings or become aware of our heartbeats.
This is when we bring in the physical body with partner stretches or sun salutations set to an engaging song. We always encourage the children to stretch their bodies intuitively as well.
Sometimes we’ll throw in our fun asana cards—each one is associated with an interesting animal that we can discuss. When we’re feeling extra brave, we bring in a chakra-themed class. When the class is calm, we incorporate a few minutes of pranayama. Nadi shodhana, sama vritti, and maha yoga pranayama are the more recognizable “pranayamas” that we perform, but we also breathe into different body parts and fill them with love and light. We also blow bubbles, blow out candles, and count seconds on our fingers.
To cultivate a love for meditation and, more simply, concentration, we practice bringing our attention to the space between thoughts. We also do Tibetan micropractices such as evoking the experience of being “wide open like the sky,” “shining like a flame,” or “radiant, lucid like a crystal.” We’ve even done trataka on a candle flame!
To inspire the imagination, we visualize the sun in our chest or a healing light moving through the body. We use blindfolds and identify objects and smells. We imagine ourselves as animals or plants and we draw our emotions or sensations in correlation to where we feel them.
We round off the curriculum with a few holistic add-ons, including social skills, hand-eye coordination, and environmental awareness—bringing attention to the Earth that supports our lives. The class always ends with a short shavasana, a Yoga Nidra session, or a goodbye song.
If you feel inspired to support our Kindergarten Program by sharing your time and skills or by contributing financially, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.
“If a man prays to Thee with a yearning heart, he can reach Thee, through Thy grace, by any path.” –Ramakrishna
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ALTARS
The English word “altar” comes from the Latin altare or altarium, which stem from the root altus (“high”). Altare referred to an elevated place or structure, such as a mound or platform on which religious rituals were performed and/or offerings to deities were made. Therefore, since ancient times altars have been sacred places dedicated to worship.
Across the major world religions, altars are seen as “holy tables” on which sacred texts or symbols are elevated. In Buddhism, altars are physical displays made in support of the spiritual practice. On a deeper level, altars are a representation of the goal of the practice. Their images and Buddha statues are reminders that it is possible to follow the path to achieve Enlightenment.
In Catholicism, the “holy table” symbolizes that “the rock is Christ”—the white cloth is His vestment, the candles are His light, and the containers of bread and wine are the sacred vessels of His flesh and blood.
In Orthodox Christianity, the altar is located at the east end of a church, usually behind a screen known as the “royal doors.” The altar is considered a very sacred place and is often referred to as a sanctuary. The altar has multiple symbolic meanings: the “Throne of God,” Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified), and the tomb of Christ. In the center of the altar is the “holy table” upon which all the liturgical objects are placed.
In Bhakti Yoga, an altar is a place of awakening bhakti (“devotion”), expressing bhakti, and reinforcing bhakti. It serves to help us, again and again, aspire to prema (intense devotion to the Divine). As bhakti yogins and yoginis, it is very important to remember that all Bhakti Yoga rituals are not ends in themselves, but tools to cultivate love for the Divine until such time as this love turns into prema, the supreme state of Love—“love-being.”
“There are two stages of bhakti. The first is known as vaidhi-bhakti, or love of God qualified by scriptural injunctions. For the devotees of this stage are prescribed regular and methodical worship: hymns, prayers, the repetition of God’s name and the chanting of His glories. This lower bhakti in course of time matures into para-bhakti, or supreme devotion, known also as prema, the most intense form of divine love. Divine love is an end in itself. It exists potentially in all human hearts, but in the case of bound creatures it is misdirected to earthly objects.”
CREATING YOUR HOME ALTAR
When you decide to install an altar in your home it means that you have listened to an inner calling to literally “elevate” spiritual ideals—making them the priority in your life and the focal point of your home.
A home altar serves many purposes. It is:
- The focal point for your devotional practices
- The spiritual center of your house
- A reminder of spiritual principles
- A spot where the mind is dragged into the Heart
- A place of spiritual power and support
- A sacred space where your spiritual aspiration is nurtured and reinforced
- A hub for your spiritual practice.
Therefore, it is very important to create your altar consciously and to charge it again and again through your practice and devotion. In this way, it becomes a portal to elevated states of consciousness, to Divine Love and Grace.
PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF SETTING UP A HOME ALTAR
With a sincere wish in my heart that you will not forget the true meaning of altars and worship rituals, I’ll share some practical suggestions for setting up an altar. Note that although specific yogic lineages and religious branches may have very detailed instructions regarding the creation of altars, for the mystic or bhakta (“devotee”) there are no hard-and-fast rules. Therefore, below I present some overall principles to consider.
Where should my home altar be located?
Your altar should be placed in the room where you engage in spiritual practice. It should be oriented so you are facing east when you look at it, as this direction is associated with the rising Sun (the symbol of illumination). If you don’t have enough space to place it to the east, you may place it facing a different direction.
Before creating the altar, prepare your room to be a consecrated space—clean and tidy it thoroughly and purify it with sacred fragrances and sounds (smudging and mantras).
How do I purify the space?
Use one or more of the following to smudge your room: sage, frankincense, palo santo, or copal. To smudge, keep the burning aromatic in one hand and encircle the room at least seven times while chanting a mantra to purify the space. I recommend using either AUM or Ganesha’s mantra, OM GAN GANAPATAYE NAMAHA. While chanting this mantra, with devotion invoke the presence of Ganesha in your own heart and let it manifest at the physical level.
On what should I place my altar?
You can place your altar on existing furniture, mount it on a wall, or build a stand from natural materials like wood or stone. The most important aspect to be taken into consideration is its height. As a general recommendation, the altar should be above your heart chakra in the position that you usually practice. What does that mean? It means that if you usually sit on the floor to practice (as is often the case for yogis and meditators), then the platform you use should be higher than the level your anahata chakra while in this position. This placement is symbolic of your aspiration to universality, as represented by the higher chakras.
It is quite common to place the altar behind a curtain or in an “altar house” with doors that can be closed when it is not in use. This protects the altar from curious hands, pets, and accidents, and creates a sense of a sacred, secret place where the intimate relationship between your soul and the Divine is deepened.
What should I put on my altar?
“The formless God is my Father and God with form is my Mother.” –Kabir
Your altar represents the physical expression of your spiritual ideal, the embodiment of your highest spiritual aspiration, and the Divine. Divinity can be represented by your ishta devata, the deity which represents the particular aspect of the Divine that you resonate most with or find most appealing, such as Kali (the Goddess of Time and Transformation), Tara (the Goddess of Compassion), Tripura Sundari (the Goddess of Beauty and Bliss), Ganesha, Shiva, etc. In this way, God with form leads you to discover God without form.
What you place on your altar is what you become.
How should my home altar be structured?
It’s a good idea to create an altar with three vertical tiers. This represents the hierarchy of your aspirations or your template for enlightenment. You can, for example, place an image of an angel on the first level, an image of a saint or inspiring teacher on the second level, and a symbol of the Absolute (such as a Shiva lingam) or a pointer to the Absolute (such as an image/statue of an enlightened master) on the highest level.
I’m creating a wall altar, are there any special considerations?
If the Divine aspect is to be installed on a wall altar or if it is in the form of an image to be hung (such as a yantra), the wall you choose should be in an auspicious, dignified place where you are likely to see it frequently. It should not face a trashcan or bathroom. If it is a yantra, then you should place it on the wall so that the center (generally represented by a bindu, a dot) is at the level of your ajna chakra when in the practice position.
Can I just use a stone, crystal, or feather as an altar?
I am frequently asked if it is alright to simply use a stone, crystal, feather, or other items as an altar. Well, without the intention of hurting anyone’s feelings, I must state that the answer is a firm “no.” An altar represents the embodiment of the aspiration to higher levels of consciousness. On the scale of evolution, minerals, plants, and animals are lower than humans, even though they have a lot to teach us and often humble us. Therefore, their level of consciousness is below ours.
If you are a genuine spiritual seeker, your altar should represent your longing for Truth, the Absolute, either through a symbol of enlightenment or a universal aspect of the Divine. An altar elevates a specific icon of spiritual virtues as a model for you to emulate, so what you place on the altar is what you become.
Do I need to use a cloth on my home altar?
Just as a red carpet unrolled before a monarch’s steps, an altar cloth is used to honor the aspect of the Divine that is worshipped on your altar. It is an invitation for the Divine to settle in your space and ultimately awaken in your being. In the Hindu tradition, an altar cloth is a very important aspect of the altar, as it represents the most basic adornment, a “shorthand” symbol of the deity and their power.
Which color and material should I use for my altar cloth?
Natural fabrics are preferable for use as altar cloths: cotton, silk, wool, or linen. Usually, the color traditionally associated with the form of the main deity resting on the altar is used. For example, Saraswati (the Goddess of Arts and Knowledge) is particularly associated with the color white, so a white altar cloth is indicated for Her worship.
Generally, the color red (ruby red, scarlet, or blood red) is typical for goddesses because it is the color of feminine, dynamic Shakti. It is also the color associated with agni (the Fire element), a symbol of the transformation and purification of karma. Thus, this color is found on yogic altars for both goddesses and gods. White, yellow, red, gold, cobalt blue, or combinations thereof are also common colors for altar cloths. Generally speaking, bright colors are recommended as they represent the power of life, enlivening the altar and invigorating your aspirations. Dull colors like grey, brown, and black are definitely not recommended.
What should I offer on my home altar?
Offerings made on your altar are expressions of love, devotion, and gratitude to the aspect of the Divine you are worshipping. When you fall in love with someone, you are inspired to give gifts and plan surprises for your lover. These are the offerings of love. In the same way, offerings made on your altar are an expression of the love you feel for your Eternal Lover, the Divine.
Basic devotional offerings usually comprise goods associated with the five elements.
Foods such as fresh fruit, nuts, and rice, or scented items like sandalwood paste
Water (placing containers of fresh or spring water on the altar or sprinkling it with water from the Ganges or another sacred source)
Burning incense or frankincense
Ether (space) element:
Flowers, ringing bells
Important note: Never place rotten food or faded flowers on your altar!
Food that is placed on your altar becomes blessed through its offering (prasad) and you should eat it that day or the next when you make another offering. Do not throw any remains (peels, seeds, etc.) in the trash. They should go back to Shakti (nature), so bury, burn, or throw them in a river or the ocean.
The most important offering is a heartfelt prayer. In other words, your devotional offerings, expressed either as prayer, the chanting of mantras, the singing of devotional hymns or songs, sacred dance, yogic practices, or meditation, are all gifts left at the feet of the Divine, on the altar that becomes your ladder to elevated states of consciousness.
GIVING LIFE TO YOUR HOME ALTAR
The most important part of creating an altar is giving it life. This might also be the most difficult aspect, as it requires your devotion, presence, longing for the Divine, and aspiration. It is the loving breath of your own heart that brings life to the altar.
You can enter a medieval church or Shiva temple with your hands already on your camera or phone, eager to take photos for social media, or you can enter with a deep longing for God, with a sense of sacredness, being open to the Divine presence residing in that place. This makes the difference between a profane approach and a mystical one
Be inspired by Ramakrishna’s words:
“Can you weep for Him with intense longing of heart? Men shed a jugful of tears for the sake of their children, for their wives, or for money. But who weeps for God? So long as the child remains engrossed with its toys, the mother looks after her cooking and other household duties. But when the child no longer relishes the toys, it throws them aside and yells for its mother. Then the mother takes the rice-pot down from the hearth, runs in haste, and takes the child in her arms.”
You have created your home altar, placed all your sacred objects and images on it, and your offerings are ready. Now comes the time to give it life.
- Bring your attention into your own heart and ignite your love, longing, and devotion to the aspect of the Divine you have chosen to worship. To spark that love, you can use a hymn dedicated to your ishta devata, a poem, or simply offer them a prayer with a yearning heart. Let your heart be flooded by love.
- Keep your attention within and use your inner sight to see the image of your ishta devata immersed in your heart’s love.
- After a while, open your eyes and send this deep love to the physical statue/image of your ishta devata. Your devotion serves as an invitation for that Divine aspect to dwell in and animate the statue/image and the entire altar. It is very important to understand that the Divine permeates every single atom of the Universe and all the divine attributes and aspects are present everywhere. It is just that it is not always easy to perceive this. An altar is a focal point of the Divine, serving to remind you to of this vision and inspiring you to apply it everywhere and always. Altars are tantric tools train yourself to see the Divine in everything.
- Make offerings to your ishta devata by placing fruit, flowers, and a jar of water on the altar, lighting the candles, and burning the incense.
- Offer a mantra. If you know the mantra associated with your ishta devata, then it is highly recommended to chant or repeat it mentally 108 times. In the tantric tradition, a mantra is considered the soul of that divine aspect. Therefore, by repeating the mantra associated with a particular divine aspect, you are invoking that aspect in yourself and in your home. A mantra is a very powerful tool.
The practice described above is a very simple but efficient way to bring an altar to life. From this moment onwards, the altar is consecrated as a living focal space of that divine aspect. But, to keep it alive you need to keep offering your devotional practice.
HOW TO KEEP A HOME ALTAR ALIVE
To keep a home altar alive it is important to, first of all, remember to keep it clean, to dust it, and to change the altar cloth regularly. Perishable offerings and flowers should not be left to rot or wilt. Above all, you need to recall that divine aspect that you aspire to every day. Remember, bhakti means mutual love. As a response to your devotion, the Divine will animate your altar, opening and leading you to higher states of consciousness.
Formally, you can do a simple daily puja (ritual), consisting of:
- Offering a flower, a piece of fruit, or a few grains of rice
- Sprinkling water over the altar
- Lighting a candle
- Burning incense
- Chanting the mantra associated with your ishta devata
In this post, I have tried to explain some aspects related to bhakti marga (the path of devotion), but it is truly the practice in itself that will reveal the beauty and the mystical aspects of bhakti—the mystery of your own heart, which is capable of invoking any divine aspect in an inanimate object. You know that kirtan, a Bhakti Yoga practice, is call-and-response chanting. Indeed, it defines bhakti very well—a call-and-response love between the bhakta (devotee) and the Divine.
May these teachings become alive in your heart and your life! May all beings benefit!
“None can say with finality that He is ‘this’ and ‘nothing else.’ […] Compare Brahman to an ocean that is shoreless. Through the cooling influence, as it were, of the devotee’s intense love, the formless water has frozen, at places, into ice blocks. That is to say, God sometimes reveals himself as a Person and with forms to his devotees. Again, with the rising of the sun of knowledge, the ice blocks melt away; then one does not see him as a Person, nor does one see his forms. Who is there then to describe whom? The ego then has completely disappeared.” –Ramakrishna
The Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes used to carry a lantern in broad daylight, looking for an honest man. He did this not because he was weird or an odd character, but, essentially, because he was lonely. It was a subtle invitation to see in a different way–in the light of awareness, of beauty…
Perhaps you, like many people, consider this season the most beautiful time of the year, a moment for celebration, gifts, and joy.
But, look carefully. Nature has always had a secret language of celebration: the language of Beauty. Beauty exists at all times and everywhere. Through its lens, the world is revealed to be not an external, separate reality but a most precious gift. Each moment of beauty is a glimpse of awareness that represents a sacred invitation to recognition and celebration.
See That Which Is in the Eye and Heart of the Beholder
The sense of beauty is in itself a Self-reflection. The refrain “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” doesn’t just refer to the subjectivity of perceptions. It means that the perception of beauty is a fully conscious act, which requires a proper organ of perception. This organ is an Open Heart.
With this understanding, you no longer remain merely a passive observer of what you consider “beautiful,” but you start recreating the world, discovering its nirvanic nature. From the Heart, you project your inherent sense of beauty upon the world. In this way, you recognize the immanent Beauty of your being, a beauty that ultimately expresses itself through all of your actions.
The Perfect Anonymous Creator
The perfect artistic creation should be so archetypal, so transparent and transpersonal, that it feels like an anonymous work of art, with the artist having become one with their creation. In the same way, the Creator of all these worlds seems anonymous and majestic. But, just because the Creator is anonymous doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist…
In the mystery of Beauty, the sacredness of matter (which seems to be an external condition) and the perfection of the soul (the inner condition) are revealed. It is both a primordial sensation and an inspiration freed from the rational mind.
“When you and the object have become one, when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden light glimmering there, your poetry arises by itself,” said the great Zen master and artist Matsuo Basho.
Eternity Gazing at Itself–You
Beauty is simultaneously the cause and the consequence of your reconnection with the Heart. When you overcome the veils of fear and distorting ego projections, the inner light illuminates your soul as Beauty. In wonderment, your breath is taken away. You stop the rhythms of temporality when the aura of Beauty radiates eternity. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.”
Transfiguration is not an imaginary projection upon others, but the real way of seeing…
Beauty puts you in touch with something more than yourself–the transcendent. “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.” (Psalm 22:14)
The body and forms ascend to a higher condition and become involved in a noble act. This process is complemented by the descent of the light of the spirit through the veins in order to show you how organically you belong to Beauty. The yogis called this sama rasa, “even essence,” or “one taste.”
The Universe is not bound to be beautiful, yet it is beautiful, and this is a mystery in itself. Essential Beauty is beyond words; the only reason to speak about beauty would be to point to that wonderment inside, a transfigurative condition that transforms you. “Beauty can save the world,” Dostoevsky said. Let’s aspire to share the credo of this artist: “Mankind can live without science, without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there will be nothing more to do in the world! The whole mystery is here, the whole of history is here!”
How can you honor the beauty that Nature reveals? Rumi offers a clue: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
It is in learning to see beauty, to look at beauty, that makes you fully human, fully alive, fully what you are meant to be…
The Eye and Vision of God
By contemplating beauty, you learn how to see in and from God’s Eye, the Eye of the Heart.
Why look for beauty? Because in looking for beauty you look for yourself. Whatever you do, want, live, or think through beauty, you ultimately turn to yourself. It can happen with the ecstatic force of a storm, with great confidence or equivocation, with simplicity or sophistication, with grace or despair, with delight or hesitation… But, finally, it arrives, and nothing will stop you. Beauty is God’s gaze on His creation. This simply means that Beauty is a fully conscious embrace of Life. As Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”
The soul couldn’t see the beauty without itself becoming beautiful. The original and transcendental Beauty is the inexhaustible source of the partial beauty of the seen, formal world. Aspiration to the Divine is expressed in many forms, one of which is Eros (Love).
The Shift from Forms to Being
Confucius said, “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” At first glance, the Universe seems to be inhabited only by a multitude of forms. But, in reality, it is not just forms that give meaning to life. Everyone is beautiful when present. If presence is not just reduced to a form, or to an “other,” it reveals the beauty of uniqueness and transcendence.
Splendor as Supreme Power
St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Beauty is the splendor of Truth” (veritatis splendor). The sense of sacredness comes not only from finding the truth (seen as a moral value), but also from finding its beauty, the beauty of existence–that is, something whose enigmatic splendor amazes, marvels, and overwhelms.
Beauty is the fascinating power that brings Perfection. In the Hindu tantric tradition, it is celebrated as the Maha Vidya (Great Wisdom) Tripura Sundari.
Sat Chit Ananda
Beauty is Life, it is sat (Existence) in its purest expression. Because it transcends the mind and the world of dualities, it is both impetus and silence, tremor and rest, search and retrieval, the soft breeze and the ferocious storm. In its essence, Beauty is boundless, since it radiates from chit, the pure consciousness of the Heart. It is bliss-inducing because ananda (Supreme Bliss) is its secret nature.
Beauty as form conceals the ineffable, but Beauty as essence reveals it. What is its veil? A continuous fascination and awe in front of Absolute Perfection.
In the Hindu tradition, the Ultimate was often seen as a mystical trinity: Satyam (Truth), Shivam, (the Good, the Divine), and Sundaram (Beauty).
Beauty is an Eternal Calling
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” –St. Augustine of Hippo
Sahajananda is an experienced meditation and yoga teacher and the founder of Hridaya Yoga.
By Beata Kucienska
There is a moment in life when you see the futility of all your efforts, ambitions, goals… a moment of crisis that is the beginning of a deep journey inside.
In such a moment, you might find a spiritual school, like Hridaya Yoga, and realize that life itself is a journey into the Heart and everything you have done is part of the search for this essence of life. Your ambitions, dreams, projects, goals, efforts, relationships… all of them have been elements of this subconscious search.
Now, your search becomes more conscious, less random… you may fall in love with yoga, meditation, silent retreats… start a life of spiritual practice and touch the levels of reality that words cannot express.
A process of deep transformation is taking place in your soul. It is beautiful, painful, and, sometimes, confusing.
The Heart reveals its deeper and deeper layers. You touch its mystery and tremble, feeling like this Holy Grail is beyond understanding… that the object of your search and your longing transcends life.
You ask the question “Who am I?,” and the “I” becomes infinite… it contains all the love and pain of human existence.
And, in the middle of this existence, there is you… with your life, family, friends, limited time on Earth, and tasks to fulfill. You are moving inside of infinity.
How do you live this life with a heart that has lost its ambition? With the understanding that there is nothing outside that can bring fulfillment?
Right now, I am carrying this question inside. I spent nine months in silence in different retreats and it is a time of return to “normal life.” I observe the dance of samsara and nirvana… I feel impermanence and void… the union of life and death… the pain of dying, of being so small and transitory.
I am not self-realized, and the intuition of the infinite Heart feels scary. And, right here is this little human who touched infinity and has to live with this experience.
Every moment feels like a step into the void… the delight of the birds, trees, and cherries, and the fear of death in the middle of beauty…
So much joy in life… and sadness of passing away with every moment…
Death penetrates all the cells of my being and brings sacredness to life…
I feel the void inside of light and matter… a dream that breaks my heart…
What is left? My humanity! In the middle of my Heart, there is this confused, tiny human with her body, mind, and emotions… with her pain, vulnerability, and beauty… with her wonderment at children, cats, and the laws of physics. The divine, infinitesimal element of the Universe… nothing and everything…
Today, I am bowing to my humanity. I am bowing to this divine dream. I am bowing to this body and mind and to these emotions. I am bowing to the nature around me and to my wonderment at it. Today, I am sending a silent prayer: God, please, let me see You in every moment, in every beat of my heart, every breath, every touch, every joy and pain. Let me be aware that there is nothing but You…
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.
By Natasha Friedman
What is beauty? What makes something beautiful? Is it nice colors, elegant shapes or symmetry? Or is there something more? What does it mean when you look up at a night sky full of stars and something twists inside your chest, like a memory of something so important but you can’t put your finger on it? The experience of beauty for many is a spiritual experience in the deepest sense of the word: an opening to the mysterious reality beyond the limitations of our normal patterns.
Beauty as a spiritual path
Many religions and spiritual traditions throughout history, especially those of the more austere, ascetic and transcendentalist flavor, have rejected beauty as a distraction and a trap. Other traditions, however, have noticed that there is a deep mystery and spirituality in the experience of beauty. In Hindu tantra (and, to a lesser degree, tantric Buddhism), beauty and aesthetics have an important role. Along this path, beauty is both a means to awaken the soul to its own nature and an attribute of that Absolute Reality itself.
Abhinavagupta, the great master who united the schools of Kashmir Shaivism, was also an accomplished poet, musician and philosopher of aesthetics. In fact, his aesthetic theory is a cornerstone of classical Indian philosophy, widely appreciated by many scholars who have no interest whatsoever in spirituality. He teaches that aesthetic appreciation, the experience of being left speechless by a work of art or a beautiful sight, is one of the closest things in normal life to a mystical experience. It is a touch of the Divine that every human is familiar with, even if they haven’t meditated a day in their life.
The Vijñāna-bhairava-tantra, one of the earliest and most celebrated texts of Kashmir Shaivism, lists not one but three yuktis (techniques) to use everyday perceptions of beauty or pleasure as a gateway to profound mystical opening. (I’ll list these at the end of this post, if you want to try them.) These practices are based on the Kashmir Shaivist concept of camatkāra. It’s a delicious word, isn’t it? Camatkāra. Just say it out loud and get a taste of its meaning. It refers to that flash of spontaneous delight, of awe and wonderment that arises when we encounter something beautiful. The moment when you are caught off guard by an enchanting melody, or when you look up just in time to see a bright rainbow glittering across the sky. Time stops and just for that moment, you dissolve into wonder. Usually it only lasts for the blink of an eye. Then the gears of the mind start turning again. From pure experience, your mind says, “rainbow,” then “I am seeing a rainbow,” then “this rainbow is nice but I saw a better one last week.”
The trick, according to the Shaivists, is to learn to rest in that first moment of unconditioned delight. It is actually a moment of recognition, pratyabhijna, in which awareness catches a glimpse of itself. Abhinavagupta’s texts drip with wonder at the beauty of Reality, both as pure Awareness and in its expansion into infinite forms. Mystics from many other backgrounds have experienced the Absolute as beauty, as in St. Augustine’s famous cry: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.” Or the words of Rumi: “O God, you are the graceful and the beautiful. You are the highest love, the giver of life.”
Is it beautiful or just pretty?
When talking about beauty in this way, it should be clear that we are talking about something more than just what is pretty or conventionally beautiful. Beauty and prettiness are not the same. Actually, in the spiritual sense they are opposites. Prettiness is something that only conforms to conventional aesthetics and usually takes the viewer deeper into samsara (or the limited reality we tend to identify with on a daily basis). It generates more attachment to the senses, more grasping after sensory fulfillment, more identification with limited form and conventions, and reinforces the ingrained belief that beauty comes from form. This is assuming, of course, that you view it in a normal way. Any object, no matter how pretty or ugly, can reveal deep, transformative beauty when seen with the right eyes. With awareness, you can find beauty in any sense perception. And without awareness, there is no beauty. Just compare two experiences.
In the first, imagine you are looking out on a beautiful landscape at sunset, but you are distracted, worried about how you will pay your credit card bill this month or a difficult conversation you will have to have later. How much of a sense of beauty is there?
For the second, pick up a random object that you have near you right now. A pen, a shoe, an old hat. Hold it close to your eyes and look at it, really look at it, turning off your thoughts for a minute. Forget what the thing is and look at it like a piece of art. See the colors, the shapes, the subtle shadings and how it catches the light.
How much beauty is there? Beauty is universal. Wherever you put enough awareness, you will find it. This is a clue to the deeper significance of aesthetic experience: the transcendent is beautiful and the nature of beauty is transcendence. True beauty takes the viewer beyond form. It isn’t created or confined by appearance. For example, think of an artist who can make amazing art out of junk or create something ugly that still causes a tremor of aesthetic wonder. Just listen to Stravinsky’s dissonant chords or take a look at the frantic scribbles of Cy Twombly.
Seeing the beauty in what is normally considered ugly or just unremarkable is, I believe, a marker of spiritual maturity. The more you can approach every moment with wonder and awe, the more you can appreciate how uniquely beautiful and unspeakably precious is every aspect of this existence, the more you are open to the universe of the Heart. Essentially, what we perceive as beautiful is anything that calls us back to our true nature, that triggers that moment of pratyabhijna. At its core, beauty, is a mystery. If you try to grasp what makes something beautiful, you will always come up empty.
A note on the beauty of painful experiences
I spoke earlier about the joy and spiritual value in discovering beauty in the ugly or mundane. Does this mean then that to progress spiritually, we have to “look on the bright side” of every painful experience? Is it a spiritual failure to feel hurt, sad, disappointed, disgusted or angry? Absolutely not. This is classic spiritual bypassing, a dead-end at best and dangerous at worst. “Negative” emotions have a purpose and a valuable role in our evolution. And you can find beauty in them also, as soon as you let go of the impulse to avoid them or fix them. The next time you feel sad, angry or reactive, try to take a closer look at this emotional energy. With neutrality and curiosity, you might find a special beauty in the intensity of fear, the clarity of anger or the poignancy of sadness. Maybe you have an intuition of this already, a memory of an intense moment of grief, fear or anger where you felt an inexplicable thrill of bliss. It’s a living proof of how – as much we try to put everything in life into boxes of pleasure or pain, good or bad – beauty transcends all limitations.
So where to from here?
Opening to beauty can be one of the most joyful and transformative dimensions of the spiritual journey. It is one of the simplest and most direct ways to catch a glimpse of the ineffable within the space of everyday life, a reminder that something mysterious and transcendent is alive within the ordinary. To connect with it, I recommend spending some quality time with art or music, looking or listening with a quiet mind and open attention to go fully into your own experience.
The time right after meditation is a perfect opportunity to discover beauty. When you open your eyes, try to see the whole scene before you as a work of art, a unique expression of Consciousness.
You can also explore these three yuktis* from the Vijñāna-bhairava-tantra (sl. 72-4) as translated by Christopher Wallis:
“One should meditate on the state of fullness that expands due to the delight of savoring good food and drink, and that joy will become sublime.
The yogin who relishes music and song to the extent that he merges with it becomes filled with unparalleled happiness, attains heightened awareness and experiences oneness with the Divine.
Wherever the mind delights, let your attention linger there. In any such experience, the true nature of supreme bliss may shine forth.”
* The original text expects the practitioner to have mastered the yogic practices that come before the sensual practices or else the sensual practices will not work as part of a liberation sādhanā.
A note to our readers: We want to hear from you! What does beauty mean to you? How do you discover beauty or cultivate a sense of beauty along the spiritual path? Share in the comments below.
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.
By Natasha Friedman
It’s the most simple asana in yoga. It doesn’t look like much, you don’t have to do much to get into it, but it does a lot.
I’m talking about shavasana, the “corpse pose,” the position for deep relaxation.
It’s easy to perform. Lie down on your back, palms facing up and feet apart. But is that all there is to it?
The apparent simplicity of shavasana hides the immense benefits and subtleties of the pose. It has powerful effects on every level, from physical health to spiritual understanding.
In this article, let’s explore these benefits and the deeper meaning evoked by shavasana. I hope it will inspire you to give more attention to this pose and feel for yourself all it has to offer.
Physical benefits of shavasana
When I was a teenager, my singing teacher once told me that dogs are smarter than humans. Why? Because when dogs have nothing to do, they lie down. When humans have nothing to do, they run around looking for something to do.
There’s some truth in this. Our modern, Western societies are built on a “get stuff done” mentality. It’s a deep implicit belief that if you’re not doing something at every moment, you’re wasting your time.
Stress is the single biggest disease factor in the modern developed world.
The list of stress-related ailments could go on a long time: heart disease, diabetes, asthma, obesity, cancer, not to mention uniquely 21st-century diseases like adrenal fatigue syndrome.
Constant activity unbalances the nervous system, affecting everything else in the body. The human nervous system actually has two complementary “settings:” the sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The sympathetic nervous system puts us in “fight or flight” mode. We’re in high alert, ready to move, react and make changes.
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, we’re ready to run away from a saber-tooth tiger. Breath and heart rate accelerates, blood pressure increases and the digestive system shuts down.
The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is “rest and digest.” It’s a relaxed mode in which vital signs slow down and digestion powers up. The body collects its energy and focuses on healing, cleaning itself and making itself stronger.
The body has an incredible ability to heal itself, but if it’s out of balance, if we never give it the chance to go into its healing mode, it can only put Band-Aid’s on the problem.
Over time, the results of stress will accumulate until the body will have to show a big problem – a major disease or healing crisis – just to get the attention it needs.
The practice of yoga in general is intended to balance the body’s energetic polarity. However, if I am a driven, goal-oriented, achievement-obsessed Western person, of course I will bring this same attitude in yoga. I’ll always be pushing my limits, trying to do better in the asanas and get better at yoga.
Not only is this missing the deeper purpose of yoga, it’s just reinforcing the same stress mentality, still overloading the sympathetic nervous system.
Shavasana is the best antidote. It’s impossible to “win” at shavasana. There’s no effort to be made, no progress to be achieved.
It brings a full dive into the parasympathetic nervous system. It allows us to experience, maybe for the first time in our adult lives, what it feels like to really relax. Just by dipping into this mode, the body can start to reset and remember how to heal itself.
Because it is a systematic, conscious relaxation, it is much more effective than just lying on the couch and spacing out.
Just 15 minutes of shavasana every day can do wonders for many physical problems. Especially those that relate directly to stress, like high blood pressure or insomnia, but allowing the body to go into healing mode will help with any disease.
Prana flows freely when there is relaxation. This is part of why we try to relax as much as possible in every asana and release any muscles that aren’t needed to hold the pose.
In shavasana, where no muscles are needed to hold the pose, energy can move and expand throughout the entire body. All the energies that we were actively working with through the asana practice can deepen and harmonize into a unified field. The effects of the practice become imprinted into the subtle body.
This free flowing of prana, combined with relaxation and a holistic awareness of the entire body, creates a unique opportunity to go beyond the physical body. We can feel the limits of the body dissolving into a field of awareness.
In this expansion, shavasana also offers a precious chance to feel Spanda, the Sacred Tremor of the Heart.
Mental and emotional benefits
As I mentioned earlier, shavasana is a time to integrate the results of the yoga practice, the time for any insights and changes to sink into the subconscious.
This process is necessary if we want lasting transformation. No matter how much we understand intellectually, no matter how much we try to fix things at the conscious level, the only way to change our reality is by changing our mind at a much deeper level.
Besides this, all the benefits for the physical body also carry over to the mental and emotional levels. A few minutes of total relaxation every day can help relieve anxiety and depression, and create breathing space in a busy life.
Remember that the body stores memories and emotions in its physical structure, especially the fascia system. When we practice asanas, many tensions and locked energies are shaken loose. Shavasana allows them to be released completely. Just witness them and let them go!
Shavasana can also improve your meditation, especially if you tend towards drowsiness. Usually we associate relaxation with sleeping. Then we try to relax in meditation, and of course, the habit kicks in and we start snoring on the cushion.
In shavasana, we learn to relax while staying fully alert, even while lying down. This helps go into deeper states while maintaining high clarity.
Shavasana has several profound meanings and associations within the yogic tradition.
- Shiva and Shakti
There is a Sanskrit saying that Shiva without Shakti is shava (a corpse).
In Hindu iconography, it’s common to see forms of the Goddess standing or dancing on the prone body of Shiva.
Shiva, the masculine principle, represents pure consciousness. It is the Void that, paradoxically, is the basis for all reality. The space in which the dance of life takes place.
Shakti, the feminine principle, is universal energy, the sacred energy that points back to its source (Shiva).
Many spiritual traditions throughout history have only been interested in the transcendent, not the immanent aspect of divinity. The world of manifestation is dismissed as maya, illusion, impure, sinful or irredeemably broken.
It’s a view that certainly encourages hardcore spiritual practice, but it’s inherently dualistic. There can only be non-duality when we recognize all of manifestation – even the ugly parts – as an expression of the Divine Consciousness.
In Kashmir Shaivism, an uncompromisingly non-dualistic tantric tradition, the Ultimate is often referred to as Spanda (dynamic stillness, the primordial vibration of Consciousness), Paramashiva or Para Devi, the Supreme that is immanent and transcendent simultaneously.
Pure consciousness – without the principle of energy – is beyond any action or conditioning from the world of forms.
This long tangent brings us to the point that shavasana is meant to put the practitioner in touch with that transcendent principle.
It is an asana that encourages us to go beyond everything changing and relative. It reveals the most profound stillness, the dissolution of all forms into the Void.
As the “corpse pose,” shavasana naturally brings the practitioner to a contemplation of death.
Although it might seem grim at first, meditating on death is actually one of the most uplifting and motivating spiritual practices, because it reminds us of what’s important in life – and of just how precious this human life is.
In a way, the whole spiritual practice can also be seen as a process of dying: the death of the ego.
Ironically, it’s only once this has “died” that we can awaken to life as it really is. Beyond the parts of us that can change and die, what we really are is always alive and is the source of all life.
The process can feel like dying because it demands that we let go of everything that we are identified with, everything that we considered to be ourselves.
This feeling doesn’t come only before some grand realization. It can happen in a small way in any meditation, during a retreat or at any point when we’re about to move on to a new stage of our spiritual growth.
If you look closely enough, death is actually an aspect of every moment of experience. Nothing lasts forever, but actually, nothing lasts more than a moment. Everything is in constant flux. The cells in your body are decaying and reforming, particles are moving, time is passing.
The universe is constantly in a state of dissolving and reforming. The old forms are gone as soon as they appear.
This fact of subtle impermanence, as it’s known in Buddhism, shows that death is simply a part of life. It is a blessing. It allows for change, for evolution, and for all of life to take place.
Finally, shavasana is an invitation to experience one of the most important elements of spiritual practice, if not the most important: surrender.
In shavasana, there’s nothing more to do. No effort can or should be made. (Besides the effort to stay awake!) There’s no way we can push to do it any better.
We can only be still and open to receive grace.
However, it’s significant that this asana comes only at the end of a yoga practice, after we have made a lot of effort!
It’s like shooting an arrow from a bow. You draw back the arrow, concentrate on the target, build up powerful tension in the string, and then release. The arrow flies.
If you don’t build up the tension, or if you don’t let go at the end, the arrow will never make it to the target.
Surrender doesn’t mean not doing anything. It means doing as much as you can, as if your life depended on it, but while realizing that ultimately, you can’t do anything. Your efforts are just taking you to the point where you can see that you – the “you” that you think you are – is not the one calling the shots.
You can’t make water any wetter than it is. You can just build a better cup to hold it.
Shavasana is all too easily overlooked. I know many yogis – and I’ve definitely been guilty of this – skip it in their own practice. When you’re short on time, it can seem like a waste of precious minutes. It’s much more fun and flashy to go straight to meditation or pranayama.
However, I think that’s a mistake in the long run. Shavasana brings amazing benefits on all levels, and it’s the perfect way to tie together a yoga practice.
Of course, to really go deep into shavasana, it’s important to do it with awareness. Try to stay alert and awake the whole time, just as in a sitting meditation. Perform a systematic relaxation, moving your awareness gradually through your entire body.
Not convinced yet? Make a commitment to do a 10-minute shavasana with conscious relaxation (15 minutes is better, if you can) as part of your daily practice for a week. Just see for yourself what this simple but powerful practice can do.
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.
By Sunny Rucker
Hridaya Yoga has been based in Mazunte, Mexico since 2012. It’s so beautiful here—the stunning land, the breathtaking sea, and the warm people. As we have gone deeper in the Heart, we have felt the longing for a more profound connection to everything around us. This yearning has led us to become more transparent, available, and active in the local community. These efforts began a little over a year ago, when Alba started teaching yoga to local children. Beata continued this service, and now there is a department of the school devoted to community outreach. I serve as the Community Bridge, guiding this work, and I’m joined by Hannah, our first Karma Yogi (whose position will be up for grabs in April). Connecting in this way has been very beautiful and we are excited to share what’s been going on!
We currently work in three local schools. At the Mazunte Kindergarten, we present meditation and yoga in a very dynamic way. We teach children aged 3-5 to recognize the Heart and encourage their bodies and minds to become more transparent instruments. We’ve been sharing with the children here for over a year and are now offering yoga classes to a very happy group of mothers and teachers.
At the San Agustinillo Primary School, we do values workshops with kids aged 6-10. Through activities and discussions, we feel into goodness, gratitude, aspiration, compassion, empathy, perseverance, humility, etc. When we begin to experience these qualities personally, it naturally follows that we want them to be more prevalent in our lives. Therefore, it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do these explorations with children, who are intuitively connected to the essence of these values. Parents have not only been pleased with the effects the workshops have had on their children, but are curious to experience their power themselves. So, they have decided to begin their own values discussion groups after Semana Santa.
Our work at the primary school level has been so transformative that we will soon offer values workshops at Mazunte Primary as well.
At the local secondary school, we’ve started a language/culture exchange program with students ages 11-16. Three times per week, members of the Hridaya Community visit English classes and work with small groups of students. The number of volunteers means that each group has only 2-5 students, which creates an intimate space for sharing, learning, and confidence building. We share English, they share Spanish, and we all laugh a lot. This has proven to be a very positive way for people of different cultures to interact. And, since these students are likely to be the next generation of local leaders, it’s great that they can experience foreign visitors as kind and eager to share with them. We love learning from them and their sweet ways as well! As our relationship with the school deepens, an afterschool yoga course or activities with parents and teachers may be organized.
Other Community Projects
In addition to our school-based outreach, we do many other things in the community:
- Every Seva Day we collaborate with the health clinic to provide whatever support they need.
- We keep our list of local accommodations up-to-date in order to advertise those that don’t have a web presence.
- We are getting to know the elders—recording their stories for an oral history book.
- We have put on several workshops at the library, with topics ranging from caring for the environment to movement and music.
- We are learning from and collaborating with Piña Palmera, a local non-profit working with the disabled population.
- We play our part in local festivals, helping to set up, cleaning up afterward, and/or offering yogic teachings.
Offerings at the Hridaya Center
At the Hridaya Yoga Center, we are also trying to become more aware of where we are and to offer more to the local community. During every Hridaya Module course cycle, we present a brief but power-packed talk about the current and past realities of the local area, the state of Oaxaca, and Mexico in general. Local Nawat experts are also sharing with us, and we are trying to learn the wisdom of this land and incorporate it into our teachings.
We have expanded our course offerings, with meditations and Hatha Yoga drop-ins now regularly presented in Spanish. Our 3-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats in Spanish are increasingly popular and Valentina will offer our first 10-day retreat in Spanish from April 27-May 6, 2018. As we are aware that members of the local community may not have the resources to pay our regular prices, all Spanish-language offerings are donation-based. To support our foreign students’ integration in the community, we also host weekly Spanish Circles for both beginners and intermediate speakers.
We continue to expand our list of Seva Day tasks so we can be more active in the community. Participants in the Karma Yoga Immersion Course are doing 12 hours of direct service towards this goal as well. Additionally, we sell locally-produced items in our new store at El Corazón and are creating biographies of each artisan to accompany their products. We are also planning a Mothers’ Day brunch for local women as well as more open-house type activities. Finally, we are working on developing a “Hridaya Kids” curriculum so that these teachings can be shared with children everywhere.
So much awesomeness! We are enjoying following the Heart and experiencing its light in all, co-creating opportunities for sharing and blossoming. Stay tuned, as this department keeps evolving, offering more ways to get involved…
Sunny is a Hridaya Yoga teacher serving as our Community Bridge.
By Natasha Friedman
No two people are the same. So, no two yoga practices should be the same either!
There are a thousand and one factors that influence what your yoga practice might look like. Your experience, aspiration, amount of time and energy, specific interests and preferences, physical strengths and limitations, on and on…
As a yogi, it is important to consider your natural constitution. In Ayurveda, this is known as prakruti and is based on the predominant dosha, or body type. Your constitution affects many aspects of your life—from what you look like to how you deal with challenges, and everything in between.
As your constitution is such a major influence, understanding it is a powerful way to develop an effective practice. In this article, we’ll take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each dosha, and how you can use these to reach your highest potential through yoga and meditation.
Kapha, Pitta, Vata… What Are These?
In a nutshell, traditional Indian medicine identifies the three types that define every individual’s physical characteristics and mental tendencies:
- Kapha: Governed by the Earth and Water elements, the main words to describe a kapha-dominant person are solidity and stability. The body type is large and heavy, with a tendency to gain weight easily. The hair is shiny and abundant, nails are thick, eyes are large and lustrous, and the skin is smooth and moist.Kapha people have relaxed personalities. They are calm, loving, and enjoy stable relationships. They like sleeping and eating. They are creatures of habit and are prone to attachment.
- Pitta: Pitta, a combination of Water and Fire, creates a body that is balanced, athletic, and well-defined. Naturally athletic, pitta people are active and energetic. They have an average build and fine hair. Skin is prone to freckles and acne.Pitta people are highly competitive and ambitious. They can be perfectionists and critical of others. They are generally very good speakers and enjoy a good argument.
- Vata: Vata people, governed by Air and Ether, are light and mobile, both physically and mentally. Sometimes very tall, they have slender builds with prominent joints and are prone to be underweight. The hair is thin, skin tends to be dry, and their features generally are very refined. Vata-dominant people are usually the most flexible, even hypermobile.The vata personality is characterized by creativity and a love of new things. They are very fast thinkers and full of exciting ideas, but sometimes can get lost in a whirlwind of mental activity.
Everyone has some features from all three, but most people express two primary doshas, with the third less prominent. This means that there are actually ten basic types:
- Kapha-Pitta (both kapha and pitta, but kapha is stronger)
- Pitta-Kapha (both kapha and pitta, but pitta is stronger)
- Kapha-Pitta-Vata (an equal balance of all three; quite rare)
If you’re not sure which you are, you can go to an Ayurvedic doctor and get a full consultation. An experienced practitioner can pinpoint your exact constitution based on your pulse, tongue, eyes, fingernails, and other details.
Otherwise, you can take an online quiz to get a basic idea of what you’re dealing with.
According to Ayurveda, your dosha must be considered when you decide what you should eat, when and how much you should sleep, what exercise you should do, and what your yoga practice should be like.
In a previous article, I wrote about the principles of an Ayurvedic diet, so you can look there for more details.
The point of being aware of your constitution is not to try to create an equal balance of all three doshas in your being, since this is not natural for most people. Instead, you want to restore the balance of doshas according to your prakruti, the natural proportion you were born with.
The same is true for spiritual practice more generally. There’s no one right cookie cutter program for everyone, but different paths and practices are more harmonious for different individuals.
Now that you understand your constitution and tendencies, let’s take a look at how to develop a yoga practice suited to your dosha in order to counteract your imbalances and make the most out of your natural strengths.
Recommendations for Kapha-Dominant People
In kapha-dominant people, the inner fire (agni) tends to run low. This can result in sluggishness, drowsiness, poor digestion, low energy, and excess body weight. To counter this, choose a practice that is active and dynamic.
The good news for kapha people is that you probably have a lot of vitality—much more than people for whom pitta or vata is dominant. This means that although your energy might be heavy and more difficult to get moving, once it starts moving you’ll have a lot of power.
- Surya namaskara: Sun salutations are dynamic and increase heat in the body, making them very effective for kapha people. By cultivating resonance with the Sun, considered the source of all activity on Earth, sun salutations balance out the cold, inert nature of kapha.
- Manipura asanas: Any asana that activates manipura chakra will help burn off excess kapha. Many manipura asanas are also very physically demanding, which is healthy for stimulating a slow metabolism and doesn’t allow for over-relaxation in the practice.
Kapha people are generally calm and steady, which carries over into meditation.
However, they tend towards dullness and sleepiness, and they are more likely to get stuck in patterns. There’s a danger of the practice becoming just another habit.
Keep yourself fresh and alert in meditation by doing some yoga or exercise beforehand. It helps to meditate in a place with a lot of light.
Be very vigilant about dullness. Maintain a firm, upright posture, with a commitment to staying clear. If you get drowsy, focus on your inhalation for a few breaths, visualize a bright light, or even open your eyes for a minute.
Experimenting with new techniques and constantly reminding yourself of your motivation can help keep the spark in your practice. Devotional practices like prayer, Blowing on the Embers of the Heart, or singing bhajans are also very good.
Recommendations for Pitta-Dominant People
For pitta people, the main challenge in yoga is the restlessness of the body. These types will often love a more dynamic practice, with lots of sun salutations and moving quickly from pose to pose, but this is exactly what they don’t need!
Since it can be difficult for fiery people to go directly into stillness, they can start their practice by channeling their intense energy.
Go through a few rounds of surya namaskara, but with the emphasis on awareness, observing the inner stillness even while the body is in motion. Gradually decrease the speed of the performance and take longer pauses between rounds to center in the Heart. As the breathing pattern slows, this almost guarantees that the mind will also settle down.
Once some of the physical restlessness has been burned off, you can go into a practice that emphasizes grounding and stability.
Include a lot of forward bends and poses that don’t require much effort. These engage the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” aspect of the nervous system (as opposed to “fight or flight”).
Try to deeply relax in every asana. Hold them for a long time and feel Stillness in every cell of your body. Even if you feel the urge to move, witness this impulse and absorb the energy without reacting.
Pitta people have a fire inside. They can be very intense and focused, and dullness is usually not a problem.
There are two main challenges that pitta-dominant people might run into in meditation.
First, trouble relaxing. As I mentioned earlier, unharnessed fire energy brings a lot of physical restlessness. Until the body is settled, it will be difficult for the mind to become calm. That’s why it’s good to start with a more dynamic practice before settling into meditation.
Second, the pitta personality is competitive, perfectionist, driven, and highly active. This is a double-edged sword in spiritual practice.
It’s great to have a lot of passion and intensity. They say in Jewish Kabbalah that the Shekhinah (the feminine presence of God) gets bored with those who worship Her just correctly and within the rules: She wants people to be on fire with Divine Love!
Pitta people aren’t ones to slack off in their practice or let it turn into a routine.
However, when this drive comes from the ego, from a need to be the best or to make something happen, it becomes yet another barrier to realization. It can get you stuck more firmly in the idea of being the doer, developing an inflated spiritual ego, and make you prone to burn out.
So, become friends with the idea that letting go doesn’t mean giving up. Cultivate surrender, a deeper octave of relaxation where activity is maintained while the sense of acting is dissolved.
Consecrate before every practice and, afterwards, dedicate its fruits to the benefit of the entire Universe, as a reminder that your practice isn’t for yourself.
Practice blindfolded or alone if you’re always comparing yourself to others.
Finally, be compassionate towards yourself and humble in acknowledging your limits. Rest when you need to.
Recommendations for Vata-Dominant People
Vata people are extremely active thinkers. The mind is always moving, and moving fast. This can make it hard to stay focused and relaxed during yoga.
To settle down into the practice, it helps to work with the breath. Stay constantly aware of the breath, especially how it moves in your abdomen, and feel how it slows as you relax into each asana.
Give plenty of time for the kaya sthairyam (the immobility of the body) phase of the asana, connecting deeply to your body and feeling the stillness in every cell.
If you’re stuck in the mind, going into the body will pull you out of mental loops and into the present moment, since the body is only ever in the present.
Predominance of the Air and Ether elements mean that vata people often lack vitality. This manifests as physical weakness and low energy. Vata people also often feel ungrounded, like they are lost in a colorful swirl of thoughts and plans and ideas, but somehow the connection to the concrete reality they inhabit is lost.
Practicing a lot of grounding asanas helps with both of these problems. Asanas for muladhara chakra will both increase physical energy and bring mental peace, stability, and security.
Best of all is to meditate and practice muladhara asanas while on the bare ground, to directly absorb Earth energy.
Mental agitation is the main vata challenge in meditation.
If you spend most of your meditation time chasing around your thoughts, try starting your practice with Capturing the Uncaught Mind, trataka, walking meditation, or any other technique to calm the mind.
Come back as much as you can to a sense of stillness and relaxation in the body.
The awareness of the pauses in the breathing cycle is a potent tool for calming the mind throughout the practice of meditation (and yoga). Sink fully into every pause, enjoying the feeling of timelessness.
Vata loves change, excitement, and new things. Vata people, therefore, are always eager to try new techniques and explore other practices.
This is great for getting a wider perspective and keeping high energy in the practice. However, it makes it hard to go deep into anything.
It is said that if you want water, don’t dig fifty shallow wells. Dig one deep well.
It’s good to keep learning, living with a sense of curiosity and wonderment. But you should have a solid foundation.
I recommend choosing a practice or technique that resonates with you and sticking with it every day, at least for six months or so until you can really see where it’s taking you. Along with that, you can feel free to experiment and try new things, but your practice will have a backbone to hold it up.
I hope this article gives you some new directions to try out in your practice! Remember that these are just guidelines based on general principles. What resonates with you, keep and enjoy. What doesn’t, just let go.
A basic knowledge of Ayurveda is extremely helpful for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting the most out of your yoga practice. I highly recommend studying it as much as you can.
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.
“Life is a gift granted to us and we deserve it when we share ourselves.” –Rabindranath Tagore
Karma Yoga is the yoga of action done with awareness, detachment, and Love.
Karma means “action,” which we all perform, consciously or unconsciously. When we add Yoga to the word, it means an action performed with meditative awareness. So Karma Yoga is actually the yoga of dynamic meditation.
The Special Position of Karma Yoga
Karma Yoga has a special position and significance among all fundamental kinds of yoga. The Yoga of Action is a path that somehow links all the other forms of yoga. It creates an essential connection between formal practice and daily life. It is a way of bringing awareness, sacredness, and spiritual significance into any moment of our life. All other kinds of yoga rely on Karma Yoga, because action is not something that can be avoided in the material world.
Of course, when we meditate, we can be in a state of peace, of equanimity. But, what is a spiritual attitude when we eat? Or when we walk? Or work? As spiritual practitioners, “right action” is an action that is not only morally correct, but also conducive to spiritual transformation. Otherwise, action is karmically binding—that is, it reinforces spiritual blindness (avidya, ignorance) and, thus, leads to suffering.
Therefore, Karma Yoga is, at least from this perspective, the most complete of all branches of yoga. It incorporates the mindful attentiveness of Raja Yoga, the discriminative capacity of Jnana Yoga, and the heartfelt devotion of Bhakti Yoga. Our entire being, with all its levels and structures, is engaged in this practice in all circumstances of life. Another virtue of Karma Yoga is that it serves to refine and validate our progress in all the other branches of Yoga. Thus, life itself becomes Karma Yoga.
Karma Yoga—Selfless Action in Awareness and Love
We can look at Karma Yoga from two perspectives:
- As a formal practice in which we selflessly act for the benefit of others (for example, in a community). Sometimes this form of service is called seva.
- As an attitude which spontaneously brings awareness, detachment, and sacredness in all the moments of our life.
1. Social Duty—Seva
According to the Bhagavad Gita, the first step is to approach Karma Yoga as the yoga of social duty. In this way, Karma Yoga is a practice that gradually brings maturity in understanding surrender, detachment, and awareness.
Formal Karma Yoga practice (seva) is the first step on this path. It is done when we decide, for example, to help and serve others without the idea of getting something in return. Thus, we may start to practice Karma Yoga for a few hours, or for a longer period of our time, in a hospital or a community, etc.
2. Acting with Awareness, Detachment, and Love
The second aspect reveals even more profound dimensions to Karma Yoga.
- First, it helps us understand that if we are practicing any kind of yoga, our daily life should be also in tune with it.
- Further, Karma Yoga provides wisdom and the inspiration on how to act from this new spiritual perspective. Therefore, Karma Yoga simply means acting with awareness, detachment, and love.
Detachment from the Doer and the “Fruits” of Action
All actions, whether physical, oral, or mental, have far-reaching consequences, and we should assume full responsibility for them. Acting with this awareness, we become Karma Yoga practitioners.
If an action cannot be avoided at the physical level, at the psychic level, it can be done with a kind of neutrality, detachment, and dis-identification from:
- The doer (the limited individual consciousness, the ego), and
- The fruits of the action.
In this way, the action itself starts having different dimensions. The act in itself becomes a modality to remember what we are. Therefore, it is a ritualization of the activity in which every gesture is charged by sense, significance.
Karma Yoga’s most important principle is to act unselfishly, without attachment, and with integrity, awareness and love. Karma Yoga combines the qualities of efficiency, renunciation, equanimity, egolessness, and duty in one action.
The aim of Karma Yoga is to harmonize the actions (seen as expressions of Prakriti, Shakti) with the pure radiance and light of the Supreme Self.
Attachment and Non-Attachment
When we are successful in attaining whatever it is we want, we usually experience a rush of satisfaction and happiness. The problem is that it doesn’t last very long. Things change, situations change, we change.
Karma Yoga is the science of learning non-attachment through practice. It is learning to perform all acts without selfish motives or expectations. In its highest form, non-attachment is the same as unconditional Love, Stillness, and Pure Joy.
The Doer—The Biggest Obstacle
The doer is that part of the ego that takes credit for accomplishments and blames others for (or laments) failures. The doer brings the feeling that we are the agent of action. It is the sense that we are in total control, that we are making it all happen—envisioning, planning, and executing the different aspects of our lives.
The feeling of doership is based on the misperception that we are the body and mind. When, in fact, we are not the body and mind, but the owner of both. That part of us that never changes but is constantly aware of all changes, that Awareness itself is who we are.
Karma Yoga teaches us that the sense that “I act” is a sort of illusion, and so are the consequences of “my” actions. But, as long as this illusion persists we are bound by karma. Upon enlightenment, actions are experienced as simply arising spontaneously, without an ego identity.
The Joy of Offering
Karma Yoga means performing an action with meditative awareness, from moment to moment. Not only is an action performed consciously, but our attitude toward an action is also transformed. Usually, acts are motivated by a desire for self-satisfaction or gain. Thus, the ego is reinforced. While in “normal” life the motivation is “take, take advantage, profit,” the motto of Karma Yoga is “give, offer, surrender.”
Therefore, to put awareness into a task is to put our mind and soul into the work, our being into the work, without selfish involvement—to find ourselves free in the work.
Ordinarily, what happens is that although we put our attention into a work or an action, we are not fully interested in that action. Typically, there are very few actions, if any, in which we are wholly present. We have only a small percentage of awareness because our attention is conditioned by many other factors and the mind is agitated.
We don’t typically have unconditioned awareness while acting. When we have an unconditioned awareness of something, our whole mind and psyche are present. This is the meaning of Karma Yoga. This is ultimately the secret of any spiritual practice—it is the essence of yoga and the meaning of meditation.
In ordinary undertakings, our complete attention, mind, and soul are not present, for different reasons. The extent to which unconditional Pure Awareness—the Heart—is present in an action is the extent to which that action becomes Karma Yoga and does not bind us or create other samsaric limitations.
Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga Support Each Other
In this way, we realize how Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga (the yoga of direct knowledge) support each other. Without Self-Enquiry meditation, there cannot be any real success in any field of life. Real success in an action ultimately means performing it harmoniously and efficiently without being bound by it. Therefore, we put our mind and soul into a task or action because where they are, consciousness is. And, it is only when there is no personal interest to interfere that we can be fully present.
In the Zen tradition of archery, the limited egotistical condition is expressed in a very suggestive way: When there is no award expected, the archer acts with calmness and lucidity; when the award is gold, the archer’s mind and body shake.
The Sacredness of Action
The spontaneous inner understanding that “I am not the doer” arises when we are free of egoic expectations. What comes is a kind of intuition, a mystery, in which the sacredness of our being is affirmed. It is an intuition of Stillness—that Stillness which is not touched by our willingness to be good, competitive, afraid of outcomes, etc.
This understanding of the sacredness of our being also means that the responsibility for our actions and their consequences is increased. In the awareness-intuition of who we really are, the world and our actions are not denied or rejected as “illusory.” On the contrary, there is a higher sense of response-ability, a more harmonious way of dealing with the circumstances of life, being fully present.
For example, if we are responsible for keeping the yoga hall clean and one hour after we clean it it becomes messy again, we simply begin anew. At the same time, we are not just lost in our activity—we see it from a higher perspective, finding creative ways to inspire people not to make the hall dirty so quickly. We are not just caught blindly in a job.
Karma Yoga—An Act of Jnana
In performing any action, we externalize our inner being. Therefore, our actions are a reflection of ourselves. At the same time, there is a “feedback loop” between our actions and our being. Every action acts upon ourselves and molds the entire structure of the person we tend to be.
In order to generate a profound inner transformation, we can practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, and working meditation as well. Our entire life can become a meditation… A very important factor is the awareness of where our mind is, and then maintaining the awareness of Awareness itself.
Naturalness and Flow
But “being in the flow” doesn’t mean laziness or not keeping our inner and outer commitments.
From an external perspective, real Karma Yoga might be seen as acting continuously with great exertion. In reality, because we become more and more open to the Spiritual Heart, to what we are, we can work for many hours without feeling tired or exhausted or psychically depleted. There is a constant feeling of joy, enthusiasm, and passion in our heart and mind. What seems exhausting or impossible for others becomes easy for us. In this way, Karma Yoga teaches us a new attitude to work and life in general, and we become convinced that nothing is impossible for us. Additionally, our sense of ourselves becomes less selfish, more open.
If we are in tune with the Heart, we are in tune with the universal energy that is passing through our structures and energetically, psychically, and mentally sustaining the action that we are engaged in.
Joy in Acting
Thus, we will discover something astounding: there is a joy in acting (serving). Not just from acting (serving), but in it. When we are able to let go of the anxieties, fears, expectations, and cravings that attend most acts, our minds are free and our heart is open. We discover a way of acting naturally out of enthusiasm and generosity.
We Cannot Be Tired of What We Really Are
When we are totally present in what we do, it is not that we become the work, but the work becomes us. It is not the same as when we are absorbed completely in an action and forget about ourselves—as happens, for example, when someone is passionately involved in a computer game. Instead, the work becomes one with us, it is not separate from the Awareness that we are. This is the essence of Karma Yoga.
As a consequence of this, we will not be tired of the work, because we cannot be tired of what we really are, the Heart.
Any action, task, or function that is bereft of the soul-element easily becomes tiring and annoying because we act using our personal energetic resources. On the other hand, any action or function in which the Heart is present cannot be tiring, because it is connected to the universal source of power, Shakti. Any natural thing is not tiring. For example, we are not tired of or annoyed by breathing.
In Karma Yoga, actions themselves are not considered the most important aspect. Rather, the focus in on the inner attitude, the harmony of mind with which the act is performed. The awareness of the action is what is emphasized. The quality of the work itself is simply the consequence of this inner attitude. It is this change of attitude that eventually creates change within ourselves and in the world.
The Story of the Three Brick Masons
It is not just what we do that matters, but how we do it. There is a story about three brick masons. When the first man was asked what he was doing, he answered, “I’m building a wall.” The second man replied, “I work in order to earn money for my family.” But, the third man enthusiastically said, “I’m building a cathedral!”
Purity of intention
Karma Yoga is a way of acting and thinking based on pure intentions. We orient ourselves towards realization by first acting in accordance with our sense of harmony and duty (dharma).
Karma Yoga is not just an offering of the fruits of any action, but a self-offering, or the surrender of the ego. Thus, Karma Yoga involves considerably more than just doing our duty. It goes beyond conventional morality and animates a profound spiritual attitude.
Meister Eckhart said, “It is not by your actions that you will be saved, but by your being. It is not by what you do, but by what you are that you will be judged.”
We should meditate deeply on this wise comment by Saint Paul (Corinthians 13:3): “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it brings me nothing.”
Actions done with a lack of awareness and love do not count; it is our awareness, our being that counts.
Devotion in Karma Yoga
Practicing Karma Yoga with a devotional attitude turns our whole life into one unending ritual. It is indeed a ritual, since every action is performed as an offering of devotion to the Divine, not in the hope of personal gain or advantage.
Love for, and devotion to, God sheds another light on this approach. Acts are performed selflessly for the benefit of all human beings or in the name of God. Also, the fruits of the actions are consecrated to God. This perspective is also emphasized by Krishna (the Divine) in the Bhagavad Gita:
“The devotees nearest to Me are those who renounce attachment to the fruits of their actions and instead offer them all to me; who desire Me above everything else; and who, through yogic practices, meditate on Me with a one-pointed mind.” (12:6)
If we start acting in the world with this radiating enthusiasm, out of love, without the need for compensation and recognition, that Stillness is honored. Ultimately, we are not referring to Krishna, the Christian God, Shiva, or Allah. We are offering the act to that Pure Consciousness that we are. We recognize the same beauty and light in the poor and in animals. Thus, the act becomes the joy of helping, supporting, offering.
Action Based on Love
Such offering is not done in a calculating way—to accumulate good karma or to compensate for negative karma. The real spirit of Karma Yoga is when an action is full of love.
When an action is based on love, love naturally fosters joy and selflessness. We lose ourselves in loving service. And, in losing ourselves (the little self), we reveal the Supreme Self.
Effort and Love
Karma Yoga involves effort and love. Acting involves effort. But, when it is merely a personal action coming from the ego, it can become a struggle. Effort without love is just dry asceticism.
There are two kinds of effort:
- Effort that brings contraction and is ego-affirming.
- Effort done in surrender, with acceptance and love.
Together, effort and love bring the flow and naturalness of being.
Unfortunately, activism, even when motivated by good intentions, is usually focused on changing the world and puts very little emphasis on waking up from ignorance or infusing actions with awareness. Thus, because the ego is still involved, sooner or later saturation, exhaustion, or the need for a break will arise. When we are aware, we simply know what to do or what not to do.
When speaking about Karma Yoga, we don’t speak about the actions we should do, but the proper attitude—the attitude of surrender. Transparency is the very spirit of Karma Yoga.
There is a kind of elegance in the attitude of a realized being—free from self-expectations, self-image. This is the real attitude of Karma Yoga, being free from self-image. We bring intuition and surrender to every action, every gesture. Surrender doesn’t mean passivity; it means letting consciousness manifest freely. Karma Yoga always involves awareness, consciousness.
Karma Yoga is the art of acting while remaining in the pure “I am.” We don’t get involved in the action itself, detaching from ideas like “I am sad” or “I am happy.”
Na Ham Karta—“I Am Not the Doer”
In Sanskrit, the affirmation na ham karta means “I am not the doer.” Hari karta means “the Supreme Consciousness is the performer.” I, as an individual, do not exist; I have merged myself into the Divine Consciousness.
Wei Wu Wei—Acting without Acting
“Act without doing; work without effort.” –Lao Tzu
In Taoism, the spirit of Karma Yoga is called wei wu wei, “acting without acting” (literally, “action that is non-action”). Wei wu wei is also translated, in a seemingly oxymoronic way, as “effortless doing,” and corresponds with sahaja, “naturalness,” from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. It expresses the state of perfect union with the Supreme Reality.
Natural action is impersonal—as trees grow, they “do,” but without “doing.” When we are acting in the spirit of wei wu wei, we are not really involved in the action because the ego is not present. Even though we physically perform the action, somehow we are just a witness to it because we are not psychically involved in it. There is no personal intention there.
As in the Taoist tradition, we can say: the flower spreads its scent without saying “I am doing this”; the sun radiates light without saying “I am doing this.” In fact, the sun is the perfect example of the Karma Yoga attitude. It never says, “Venerate me because only then I’ll give you light.”
“The Sun never says to the Earth, ‘you owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights up the whole sky.”
Perfection in Action
“The one who has trained the mind to stay centered in equanimity in life has cast aside both good and evil karma. Therefore, by all means, practice Yoga; [Karma] Yoga is perfection in action.” –Bhagavad Gita (2:50)
The Attributes of a Karma Yogi
- Absence of expectations: renouncing the results of action
- Naturalness: expressing simplicity in actions and thought, sincerity in our commitment, goals, and direction
- Non-attachment; Egolessness
- Equanimity: maintaining balance of mind and openness of the heart in success and failure
- Response-ability: the non-reactive way of acting
- Efficiency: being completely present, having a lucid and focused mind, not distracted (based mostly on naturalness, awareness, and love)
- It is not enough to just do something to promote our health and peace every day, because this can still reinforce the ego and the identification with the body and mind.
- We should do something for the welfare of others every day. Never let a day go by without serving others. It could be a humble act: donating to charity, calling on a sick friend, or praying for the welfare of those who are suffering. Dramatic actions, or quiet, hidden ones—it doesn’t matter, as long as it is done mindfully and without any personal expectations attached.
- We should never miss an opportunity to serve. We should meditate on the ways we can serve other people and the environment.
- Practiced in the correct way, Karma Yoga is sufficient to create the proper conditions for the Supreme Self-revelation.
For More Inspiration, Read:
By Sean O’Donnell
Last week, we looked at how energy is perceived in both science and spirituality.
This week, we continue the discussion by touching a broad array of topics.
Science and spirituality are both ultimately born of the same impulse: questioning. A search for knowledge. A search for truth. At times, a large disconnect has been portrayed between these two disciplines. Given that what we know as science has its roots in the past several hundred years, at best, while what we call spirituality has its roots going back thousands and thousands of years, there are bound to be some differences. However, we can see a lot of overlap and convergence in the study of physics and consciousness, as well as how some of the greatest seekers made waves in both fields.
East Meets West in Advanced Physics
As the study of physics has progressed, it has expanded into a new field called string theory. String theory is about as esoteric as its spiritual counterparts, and there are infinitely complicated interpretations and depths left to be explored. In some very simple ways, though, these achievements in physics are aligning with some things that Eastern religions and mystics have been saying for quite some time.
String theory revolves around the concept that the entire physical world is made up of vibrating strings as the very smallest component. All matter and all energy would be made up of these vibrating strings. What is even more fascinating about this proposition is that according to modern physics, in order for this to be true, several more dimensions must exist.
It is impossible for the mind to comprehend these dimensions or for us to discern how tiny these vibrating strings are believed to be under normal conditions. Likewise, our deepest, most comprehensive understanding of the spiritual world cannot be reached with the mind. It is nice to notice though that intense seeking, regardless of the lens used, can result in cohesive revelations, such as the concept that the entire universe is made up of vibrations, that there are threads that connect us all, and that there is more to our reality than what we can measure in the three dimensions of space and the dimension of time.
Science and Spirituality on Consciousness
The nature of consciousness is something that philosophers and neuroscientists have contemplated for ages. Recently, a lot of money has been put forth trying to study the nature of consciousness with advanced computer models. One project attempted to recreate a roundworm by reproducing all 302 neurons exactly in a simulation. In attempting to model this brain like a computer, the results produced fall far short of the behavior of a living roundworm.
A living roundworm can find food, find a mate, avoid predators, and learn things. The simulated bunch of neurons did not replicate this. It was lacking anything resembling consciousness. There is something more. Something else that is essential to life. Something beyond a complex pile of neurons that produce consciousness, and this supports what we have been told by countless ancient traditions of knowledge.
Great Minds Think Alike
Throughout history, some of the greatest scientists are known to have also put a tremendous amount of research into spiritual topics as well. Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, and René Descartes―to name a few―all made contributions or espoused theories in both seemingly contradictory areas of study. Albert Einstein may have said it best:
“Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. … Science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion … I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.
By Sean O’Donnell
Something that people have consistently asked me since I changed careers (more accurately, dropped my traditional concept of a career) and started frequenting permaculture gardens, farmers’ markets, and yoga communities is “Do you ever plan to use your degree again?” Now, that is a loaded question. Every time, without hesitation, my answer has been the same: “I use my degree every day.”
See, at some hopeful point in my life, I managed to earn a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. A lot of people that I meet see my course in life as having gone in an opposite direction from where it was. They seem to think that I put a lot of energy into one path and have chosen to throw it all away and start again down a different one. Since at the university level the rational mind is so strongly cultivated, many people who have a similar professional background are so married to understanding and describing the physical world that they are skeptical of anything beyond that which can be seen, touched, and measured with ordinary methods.
I usually feel compelled to explain to these colleagues that I didn’t go to school to become an electrical engineer, but to learn how to learn. That is my real passion, my real calling, and my real work. In that context, I use my degree every day. Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” So, maybe it would be more accurate to say I went to school in order to learn how to live. Understanding the most basic tenets of electronics has given me a sense of awe and wonderment at how much is constantly going on that cannot, under normal conditions, be perceived with the naked eye or felt with the body.
Science and Spirituality in the Physical World
One human produces, on average, approximately one hundred watts of energy while at rest and, by weight, the brain is responsible for generating ten times more of this energy than average tissues. One hundred watts is equivalent to a strong “old-school” incandescent light bulb. This may not seem like a lot, or it might seem shocking if you have ever burned your fingers on a light bulb that has been on for some time. Just like a light bulb, the human body emanates this energy, in the physical world, in the form of electromagnetic radiation that can be felt as heat or warmth.
Also like the light bulb, a much smaller portion of this energy is emitted in the form of visible light. Human beings actually emit light. Our eyes would need to be about 10,000 times more sensitive in order to perceive it, but it is there, at all times, radiating in all directions.
What does this have to do with spiritual practice? Well, many yoga and meditation techniques start to cleanse the sense organs, and a significant increase in sensitivity can accompany this purification. Becoming more aware of the love (warmth) and light being radiated by others is a profound result that is featured in many traditions. In my spiritual understanding, these are all just manifestations of spanda—the scientific world is just describing them in different terms. Spanda is much more comprehensive than heat or light, but these radiating fields stem from the same essential vibration.
Stretching the Limits of Perception
As practitioners begin to open up to Truth, it becomes easier to perceive it in others. After the conclusion of many retreats at Hridaya, there is a noticeable heightening of awareness by participants. In many ways, this is an opening to Love or an opening to perceive spanda, but it completely coincides with a sensitivity that can be perceived by the five senses as well.
In a 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, it is possible to redirect the energy normally used for neurotic thought and small-talk and open up a more intense level of perception. In many retreats, I have often found myself listening less to the English words that are being shared in the lecture, and just hearing, in my heart, the underlying Love that is riding on the waves of the teacher’s voice.
After fasting or completing an Ohsawa #7 diet, the sense of taste can be completely rejuvenated. I have had experiences where I can bite into a cookie and not just taste the cookie but taste the butter, the sugar, and the chocolate distinctly. It is also possible to begin to taste the Love that was put into your food throughout its life cycle, by the rain, the Earth, and the people that cared for it before it got to your dinner fork.
After a solo retreat, such as the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat, the sacred tremor of Spanda can become all-encompassing. Even after completing shorter solitary retreats, I have been able to perceive hugs not just as ordinary physical touch but as shimmering energetic vibrations that unite and synchronize two people.
A dark room retreat can bring about an even more profound sensitivity. The vibrations exuded by all beings can be felt from a distance, without any physical interaction. In my experience, the amount of light in the eyes of others can be extraordinary, and the knowledge that it is simply a reflection of my openness to being able to see the essence of Love is quite comforting.
Many people feel that science and these seemingly extraordinary sensory experiences are not totally congruent. Since Love cannot be conveniently placed somewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum, it is perceived as being at odds with scientific reasoning. I believe that as science progresses and continues to refine its definition of how things exist and interact, it will converge more and more with the understanding of spanda.
Spiritual teachings tell us that the physical world is only a tiny part of the action. The electromagnetic spectrum presents an extremely wide range of “measurable” energy in terms of wavelengths and high- and low-frequency vibrations―but what exists outside of these definitions? As modern physics progresses, almost all currently accepted theories involve concepts that spiritual traditions have proffered for quite some time.
Next week, let’s explore some of these ideas and how they overlap in a VERY basic way!
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.
By Sean O’Donnell
You meet many people along the spiritual path. Often, you cycle through looking up to different figures for inspiration and knowledge as you develop a deeper understanding of the world. In Sanskrit, a guru is a “teacher, guide, expert, or master” of a certain discipline or area of knowledge. You may look to another person as the representation of the guru and, eventually, may learn to follow your own inner guru. But, a guru doesn’t have to teach in a traditional way and can come in non-human form.
The word guru can also be interpreted as “one who dispels darkness and takes toward the light” and “an inspirational source who helps in the spiritual evolution of the student.” Clearly, other people can play this role, but much knowledge, peace, and understanding may also be gained by using nature as a guru—connecting with a sunset, a river, a forest, or even a kitten.
Seeing Nature as a Guru
In reality, everything in your field of awareness is divine, even if you cannot always see it clearly as such. Sometimes, it is very simple to experience this divinity—you see very intricate and beautiful manifestations of grace. At times, it is easy to share these experiences with others. But often, they go far beyond words. In a peak experience, you can draw inspiration from and be pointed to your True Nature by just about anything.
There are endless examples to ponder, but consider the following non-human gurus as you start thinking about nature as a guru:
The blue whale is the largest animal ever known to inhabit the Earth. Reaching over 30 meters (about 100 feet) in length, they have hearts the size of cars and their heartbeats can be heard over two miles away. Their vocalizations resonate at very deep frequencies that go below what humans can normally hear. This, combined with the strength of their voices, allows their calls to travel hundreds, and possibly thousands, of miles.
Blue whales have such immense power that they could use sound waves to obliterate the bodies of human research divers or other animals. Happily, they have the restraint, good judgment, and, perhaps, compassion not to do so. Blue whales were long thought to be solitary, but given that they can communicate over such long distances, it is likely that while humans may perceive them as being alone, they are actually in constant communication with a large network of comrades.
The behavior of blue whales can remind you that even if you are physically distant, you can develop the capacity to feel connected to your loved ones. Even though you may appear to be alone, the sea of vibrations keeps you connected to everything else in the Universe. As advaita vedanta teaches, there is nothing other than this One.
Honey bees have one of the most dynamic and powerful community structures in all of the animal kingdom. They all have varied, hierarchical roles, but each supports the greater good. Their labors underlie a web of existence that extends to thousands of species beyond themselves.
Bees represent the nature of sacrifice—toiling away in order to serve their queen, and surrendering their own personal goals for the good of the hive. They also move and communicate as a whole. The individual bee doesn’t go through life in the separateness of “I am a worker bee and I have personal desires and thoughts and dreams.” Instead, the bee hive lives, breathes, and operates as a single, more complex organism. Its health is measured as a unit rather than individually.
Let the nature of the honey bee remind you of how sweet the rewards are when you forego your personal aims in order to serve something larger, releasing any qualms about the role you’re playing and whether it’s important enough. These actions can lead to sustainable abundance for yourself, your community, and countless others who are positively affected by the ripples of your diligent service.
One of nature’s most incredible inspirations for spiritual seekers is the redwood tree. Redwood trees can live for hundreds or, even, thousands of years. They grow in groves and are a communal organism. Like many tree species, they can communicate with each other through underground fungal networks, transferring nutrients and sending distress signals and other scents and vibrations to relay information about their health and environment.
Redwoods are silent gurus―growing diligently, in stillness, and always reaching towards the light. They perform the ultimate symbiotic selfless service of cleaning the air needed for all of creation to flourish.
John Steinbeck said it best in his book Travels with Charley, “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”
So, remember, whenever you’re feeling devoid of inspiration, you are usually never more than a glance out the window away from some form of life that can teach you about where you want to go.
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.
By Sean O’Donnell
The Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte is set in a really beautiful environment, where tranquility and intensity are seemingly engaged in a neverending dance. While you can enjoy witnessing the rise and fall of these energies, you may also savor interacting with and connecting to the sea of samsara by answering the call to go play at one of the many beaches located just steps away from our oceanfront home.
Like many of the most powerful things in life, playing in the water near Mazunte is not without risks. The dance of tranquility and intensity is often reflected in the behavior of the waves and riptides on this part of the Oaxacan coast. Even experienced swimmers and surfers know that they have to be fully aware of their surroundings and the changing currents in order to be safe in the exceedingly powerful Pacific Ocean.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses the five kleshas, or obstacles to liberation. The fifth klesha, known as abhinivesha in Sanskrit, deals with the fear of death. Surely, overcoming this subconscious obstacle is a fascinating contemplation for any practitioner, but not one to test while in the Pacific—always try to make loving, respectful choices about when, where, and how to play with Nature. The beaches surrounding Mazunte, including Zipolite (“Beach of the Dead” in the Nahuatl language) and Mermejita, are well-known for extremely powerful riptides that have caused many fatalities over the years. Other beaches in San Agustinillo and Mazunte, while slightly less notorious, but are also subject to similarly life-threatening currents. Although you want to be free from fear and able to enjoy the invigoration and purification that comes from submersion in the Water element, it is best to do so with the understanding that an individual is no match for Mother Nature.
How Can You Be Safe at the Beach?
Please keep in mind the following safety tips whenever visiting the beach:
- Always go to the beach with a friend and keep an eye on each other.
- Observe the currents and waves for at least 5 minutes before entering the water, and only enter when you see that there are no big waves or strong currents.
- When entering the water, be aware of rocks and be careful not to step on manta ray’s tails.
- Always be aware of the waves. Watch other swimmers and how they react to large waves. Learn to dive under the waves. Leave the water when it is too dangerous!
- If you get caught in a strong current, swim with it instead of fighting against it. Try to edge towards the shore and exit the current when you get the opportunity.
Volunteer Lifeguards: Supporting Beach Safety
Ultimately, though, no matter how much respect you give the sea, accidents can still happen and conditions can change very quickly. Of course, you don’t want perceived dangers to cause you to avoid going in the water. So, luckily, our neighbors in Mazunte have formed a volunteer lifeguard crew. Crews like these have significantly reduced the number of ocean-related fatalities over the past few decades, though beach safety is still a very real concern. This essential task is left up to a handful of very well-trained and skilled lifeguards. With the main tourist season approaching and the number of visitors dramatically increasing, there is only so much ground the volunteer lifeguards can cover. Only four positions are paid by the government, and there are very limited resources to train new volunteers and provide essential equipment that will directly contribute to Mazunte safety and provide a sense of freedom for everyone who wants to enjoy these wonderful public beaches.
What Can We Do to Improve Mazunte Safety?
As the Hridaya Yoga Center continues to evolve and expand, we are more connected to and have a bigger impact on the town of Mazunte. At the last public assembly meeting, there was a direct plea for resources for lifeguards. In addition to more trained help, they require funding for basic needs―uniforms, stretchers, radios, cold drinking water, and wages, to name a few. In addition, having a vehicle capable of patrolling the beach would greatly enhance the ability of a limited crew to provide life-saving support in time to make a difference. In many other parts of the world, these services are taken for granted. In Mazunte, help is needed. There is a willingness in the local community to do this selfless service with pride and expertise. But, most of the visitors are transient and there is little awareness of the lack of support that the volunteer lifeguards receive. As permanent neighbors in Mazunte, Hridaya students, teachers, and staff benefit tremendously from these services, and are in a unique place to pool resources and energy to make a big difference―likely saving lives and providing a safe, natural space for everyone’s benefit.
This holiday season, please consider making a donation in support of Mazunte beach safety. Funds can be put into action right away, as the town and beaches become saturated with eager vacationers. Please donate via this link. All money received will be used to buy items that support the selfless crews that help save lives in every day in Mazunte.
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog.
You can read all of his blog posts here.
By Sean O’Donnell
I’ll admit that when I first heard of Ohsawa diets, I thought that “Ohsawa” was a Sanskrit word or referred to an ancient, revered yogi. It took me a while to acquaint myself with its real namesake―George Ohsawa, the founder of macrobiotics.
George Ohsawa was a Japanese man who spent most of his life in France. He mission was to bring Eastern principles of health to Western society. In his life, he authored over 300 articles, papers, and books describing general systems of well-being. Ohsawa achieved some fame in the 1950s and 1960s, perhaps peaking with his 1961 publication of Zen Macrobiotics, which was specifically intended to introduce these principles to the United States. Some credit Zen Macrobiotics with sparking the local food and organics movements that were popular in America in the 1960s.
Ohsawa presented ten dietary regimens, beginning with a mix of meat, fruit, and vegetables and becoming progressively more restricted. However, in contemporary yoga communities, the buzz seems to be centered around the most restrictive, “Diet #7.”
Ohsawa Diet #7
In its simplest form, Ohsawa Diet #7 consists of only brown rice. Like all of Ohsawa’s principles, this was not a “new” concept in the 1960s—it had been practiced in many cultures going back at least 5,000 years. Its general intention is to give the mind a break from stimulation and the digestive system a dose of simplicity in order to balance the being. Ohsawa described this balancing in terms of yin and yang, but whatever terms may be used by others—from ancient Hindus to modern dieticians—the underlying principles remain the same.
However, calling this diet a “brown rice only” diet perpetuates a few myths. The basis of all of Ohsawa’s recommendations is having whole grains as the primary dietary component and supplementing them with small amounts of other natural, local, in-season foods. This fully includes the options of whole wheat, millet, buckwheat, whole oats, and barley. Exciting, I know! Granted, the easiest of these to find and prepare for most people is brown rice, but any of these cereals can be the basis for a balanced and healthy diet according to Ohsawa.
Ohsawa Diet #7 is his most extreme regimen. But, there are still some allowances. The use of well-sourced natural sea salt is, in fact, instructed. Natural, traditional soy sauce is also permitted in all Ohsawa diets. But, the vast majority of commercial soy sauces available today are not “natural.” Any that contain corn syrup, caramel color, or sodium benzoate should be avoided. Additionally, gomashio―a mixture of ground sesame seeds and sea salt―is heavily encouraged throughout Ohsawa’s writings. While not technically suggested for a strict Diet #7 in Zen Macrobiotics, the use of gomashio has been allowed by some of his students in their current practices.
Some practitioners have also come to include certain teas―such as basil or cinnamon―in Diet #7. While these are yang teas, there is no mention of their use in Zen Macrobiotics’ explanation of the diet. In fact, cinnamon is a severe yang product, and, generally, Ohsawa diets are meant to balance yin and yang. Whole grains are very moderate yang foods, and the balancing they induce provides a defense against the natural bombardment of pollutants, chemicals, toxins, and electromagnetic fields that are almost inescapable in modern life. Drinking copious amounts of cinnamon water would not seem to be in line with any kind of balancing, and also defeats the purpose of giving the senses a chance to rest and balance during the diet.
Focusing on restrictions, however, belies the greater wisdom that George Ohsawa was trying to communicate. Diet #7 is but a tiny slice of his teachings, though it has gotten more than it’s share of attention. The fact that the diet is “#7” indicates that there is a much wider range of healthy eating options taught by Ohsawa. The cereals-only version is recommended because of its simplicity. It is, in fact, the easiest diet to follow, as Ohsawa noticed that people had a greater tendency to stray when given a wider range of options and more complicated “rules” to adopt. It is recommended to follow this diet for a maximum of 10 days, and in the preface to modern versions of Zen Macrobiotics, there is a quite ironic and insightful passage relaying a conversation between George Ohsawa and one of his students, Herman Aihara: “Ohsawa told Herman that the French always cheated on their diets and that is why he recommended a number seven diet as the best. In this way, he overstated the case so that they (the French) would eat more natural foods. Again, according to Herman, Ohsawa had no idea that Americans had the willpower to eat only grains for unusually long periods of time.”
If you go deeper into Ohsawa’s teachings, there is, in fact, nothing inherently restrictive about his principles for happy living.
The Broader Experience of Doing an Ohsawa Diet
The core of Ohsawa’s teachings is that macrobiotic principles are a means to achieve happiness through health and nutrition. This is a very deep shift in perception and holistic living, and it encompasses everything from how you cook to the freshness and purity of the foods you consume to the attitude with which you eat them. Happiness experienced through balance at the physical level can help lead to the experience of true happiness, that of the Self.
Ohsawa was a big proponent of another ancient tradition that also shows up in yogic texts―chewing foods thoroughly. In fact, if you aren’t chewing your brown rice thoroughly, you are not following an Ohsawa diet. If you think about it, this practice implies so many other beneficial “side effects.” It’s a matter of slowing down. It’s about appreciating your food. In the West, there is a tendency to be in a hurry so much of the time. It is deeply conditioned, and even if you aren’t frenzied, the world around you seems to be. In the Eastern tradition, mealtimes are not the place for this. The discipline of slowing down and chewing thoroughly also dictates, in time, that you start to appreciate mealtimes more. You have to make time for them and treat them as something special. You are taking a break and nourishing yourself, and this is a very high form of connecting with the world around you. Furthermore, physiologically, digestion takes place in the mouth, and properly chewing your food and letting saliva do its prescribed work takes an unnecessary burden off the rest of the bodily systems. This also gives your body time to respond to what is being ingested, allowing you to feel full and stop eating when you are naturally inclined to do so. As M.K. Gandhi said, “You must chew your drink and drink your foods.”
On that note, one of the major principles of Ohsawa’s diets that has nothing to do with eating grains is based on liquid intake. Ohsawa’s advice has varied, again touching on some very austere recommendations that may have been overcompensations. Adaptations by his students generally follow the guideline of drinking when you’re thirsty and avoiding excess water. Some modern health proponents espouse the idea of “flushing” the body with lots of water, but Ohsawa’s teachings rightfully view the kidneys as a much more complicated organ than, say, a steel pipe that needs flushing. Excess water can overwork the kidneys, engorge them, and dilute toxins to where they cannot be properly filtered. This advice should also be flexible based on the climate you are living in and your activity level, but keep in mind that more water is not always better. Remembering that almost all foods contain water is something that can point you in a balanced direction.
Going beyond Rules
Ultimately, in the full realization of the macrobiotic principles, there are zero restrictions. If you can look past the simplicity of a “brown rice only” diet and realize that it is just a tool, a pointer, meant to decondition and provide a new system of health in people’s lives, you can see the deeper truths Ohsawa conveys. If you can learn to treat cooking as an art form, if you can pick ingredients that aren’t shipped long distances or forced to grow with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, if you can treat food as a sacrament and mealtimes as communion, then you are free to eat anything you want, in any quantity you want, at any time you want.
As Ohsawa said, “For those who have lived from their youth through middle age and into their late years in accord with the order of the Universe, there is no special diet; they are allowed to eat anything. Anything is used in the macrobiotic sense of the word: he who has lived in dynamic yin-yang balance for many years is so well-adjusted that he can control himself. His high level of judgment governs his choice of things to eat and drink so that he is able, figuratively, to eat anything that he desires.”
This is reminiscent of the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, another great figure whose goal was to bring Eastern wisdom to the West. Yogananda recounted a conversation he had with a potential devotee that touches on a similar concept. The devotee asked, “You mean to tell me, if I come to study with you, I can drink alcohol?” Yogananda replied, “Yes.” The devotee asked again, “You mean to tell me, if I come to study with you, I can smoke cigarettes?” To which Yogananda again replied, “Yes.” Astounded, the devotee finally asked, “And if I come to study with you, I can have promiscuous sex?” To which Yogananda again replied “Yes. But what I cannot guarantee you, is that if you come to study with me, that you will continue to desire to do any of these things.”
Have a happy and healthy holiday season, everyone, and please feel free to leave a comment about your own personal experiences with diet and nutrition.
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.
An elderly man came to the library; he seemed to be bothered by something. I stopped my work and gave him my total attention. His discontentment was justified, and I couldn’t do much to help him. I simply listened to him. Somehow, the conversation evolved from personal to universal topics. Together, we slowly dove into the soft and vulnerable waters of the Heart. With our words, we touched the pain of the human soul, the longing to find the deepest meaning in daily life, the need to offer whatever our hearts can give.
I wanted to share a verse from the Bhagavad Gita with him, but I wasn’t sure if I could find it. When I opened the book to a random page, the first verse I saw was the one I wanted to share: “It is better to fulfill your own duty, no matter how humble and insignificant it seems, than to get involved in the duty of another, even if it seems very noble.”
The face of the man changed from one minute to the next—softness and vulnerability emerged in his eyes. I tasted the rare treasure of a conversation with someone who knew the art of listening and self-expression. There were no empty or useless words, and the delicious moments of silence guided us deeper into the music we were creating together. We found ourselves traveling into the depths of our humanity, sharing the journey of discovery of that which is beyond words.
The words led us to sacred silence, and at a certain moment, there was such a depth of connection that I felt tears welling in my eyes. But, I couldn’t allow myself to cry in front of a man whom I had met only minutes before.
I was there… in the space of compassion, love, connection… stepping out of my “little I” into something mysterious, the deep longing of the Heart. A conversation with a stranger became meditation.
Deep Listening Opens the Door to the Heart
During the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat, I experienced that true listening is a direct door to the Heart: our deepest “I.” The act of listening is entering the space where love is ever-present. If we really listen, everything becomes our teacher, everything reveals the Truth.
When I look inside myself, I see clouds of worries, tendencies, fears, plans, strategies… All these aspects of my humanity want to express themselves and call for attention. My intention is to accept them. They are an expression of the need to love myself and live a fulfilled life.
Yet, the act of deep listening is diving beyond these turbulent waters of the mind. They can still dance in the background, but the heart wants to go deeper, with its own longing as a guide. It wants to look into the eyes of another human and whisper: “I know you my brother, my sister. I feel you in the depth of my soul. Your joy is my joy; your pain is my pain; your fear is my fear. And this is love.”
We wander through the deserts of our loneliness while our souls search for these sacred encounters that fill us with awe. We long for heart meetings with humans, animals, nature. Our deserts are simultaneously fields of love, and we walk through them without being able to experience this love. This is our human conditioning.
Discovering the Beauty of Sensitivity
Deep listening is a way to break through this conditioning. During the seven weeks of retreat, I listened to the birds from morning until night and discovered an amazing universe inside their songs. Even when we walk through a dark valley, the birds are always singing. Their expression of joy, sweetness, and freedom vibrates in our ears and enters the castle of our bodies. There is no way we can stop their music. They sing inside us. We are constantly penetrated by their innocence, by Nature’s offering to our senses. And, the act of deep listening is the act of awakening our sensitivity.
Listening to the birds became my meditation. Hearing their music was a way to connect to my soul, to turn into a bird and fly inside myself—enjoying my inner landscape, discovering my beauty. Every vibration of my soul was pointing to the Source. I was getting drunk on God.
When I came out of retreat, it felt like living without skin. My sensitivity was extreme. I knew I had found a treasure, and I didn’t want to lose it. The busy-ness of the people around me was a very weird phenomenon. I didn’t understand why they were moving so much and doing so many things. I just wanted to dive into beauty.
Living in Wonderland
However, life guided me to action and I started to lose the capacity for deep listening. The ego returned, with its painful fears and worries. And I could feel pain as deeply as beauty. Six months have passed, and I am still in the process of integrating my retreat experience. My thoughts are clearer, but I still have a tendency to get lost in them. When the mind is busy, I forget about beauty. And yet, I know that it is always there.
Wonderland is waiting for us. It is only about listening with our whole being. If we bring this listening ability to life, everything can become meditation. We can fill every moment with presence; we can make every encounter a source of living water. The Universe is constantly singing a Sacred Song. All we need is to tune our hearts to hear it.
By Sean O’Donnell
“Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.” –Nisargadatta Maharaj
Negative theology is a type of religious and philosophical practice with roots that can be traced through several prominent lineages―including Ancient Greece, early Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
This practice shows up in the Hindu tradition as a technique described in the Upanishads as neti neti—meaning “neither this nor that.” This approach is featured in Jnana Yoga―the yoga of direct knowledge―as a path to Self-realization. It is a way of using the mind to negate and disidentify with all names and forms in order to distinguish between the limited and relative world and the eternal, unchanging perfection that is the Absolute Reality. Ultimately, whatever can be conceived by the mind is not Brahman, and the practice of neti neti will eventually point to this.
How to Practice Neti Neti
The actual practice of neti neti is based on the quite broad premise of simply taking any thought or object that the mind can conceive and telling yourself neti neti―that that object is not the Supreme Reality. The object could be anything: a new car, your job title, or your cat. Another way to practice this approach is to think of statements like “I am my name,” “I am my body,” or “I am my personality,” and then disidentify from them, negating them with neti neti.
When I do this, I find that the mind eventually tires of putting on labels, and I start to slide into modes of seeking that originate from somewhere deeper.
When I first learned of this practice, it seemed quite esoteric. It surely resonates more with some people than others, but it can be useful for both beginners and advanced practitioners. As a beginner, I find it useful to contemplate how this concept of negation is paralleled in other, more superficial aspects of life. It is a natural way of seeking truth. You may have applied this method in an attempt to find romantic partnerships—going through the process of figuring out what doesn’t work for you in order to eventually arrive at what does facilitate your contentment. The same could be said if you are engaging in a conscious relationship with your food. Personally, I came to conscious eating at a time when my diet included an extremely broad spectrum of foods. As I started to consider my choices more thoughtfully, I slowly started eliminating specific items and, even, whole food categories. I continue to refine my ability to discern what works well for my body and what doesn’t.
Ultimately, these are very mundane comparisons to the process of trying to reveal your True Nature, but it helps me to see some parallels in how I’ve used similar processes for much more earthly endeavors.
Is Neti Neti a Bottomless Pit? Yes and No
There are times when I’ve practiced neti neti and felt like it was futile. It can feel that way, and it is, in fact, if you only approach the process with the mind. Going beyond this level is one of the goals of the technique.
Ultimately, neti neti can only get you so far, and can and should be complemented by other Jnana Yoga practices. The true sense of the Divine Reality is, in fact, ineffable. When trying to pin this down with the mind, it feels like a really difficult mystery that cannot be “solved.” But, by accessing deeper layers of the being, the difficult mystery becomes a beautiful mystery, and some sense of understanding can be gained.
To quote Adyashanti, “If this understanding is held only in your head, you can know it but you are not being it. The head is saying, ‘Oh, I know, I’m the mystery,’ and yet your body is acting like it didn’t get the message. It’s saying, ‘I’m still somebody, and I’ve got all these anxious thoughts and wants and desires.’ When we are being it knowingly, the whole being receives the message. And when the whole body receives the message, it’s like air going out of a balloon. When all the contradiction, turmoil, and searching for this and that deflates, there is the experience that the body is an extension of the mystery. Then the body can easily be moved by the mystery, by pure spirit.”
Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of his blog posts here.
“Where is the door to sacredness?,” I asked the Heart.
The answer came when I was watching some birds during a sunset walk: “Sacredness is the simplicity of life.”
During the 49-Day Silent Meditation Retreat, I often had the feeling that sacredness was just a breath away… waiting for me with infinite patience. Every moment was a bottomless well… and it was up to me how deep I would dive. I was not in a hurry. I had all the time in the world to listen to the Heart. I knew that the magic would happen. And it did. One night, the waves of mystery touched my toes and sang:
Let go your burdens
Let go your worries
And follow me
I will guide you there
Suddenly, the Earth embraced my feet and the birds became love turned into music. And I felt that I was in the most beautiful place in the world.
Every day the mind brought its usual stories. Every day the Heart called me to surrender. I knew that Beauty was waiting for me.
I listened deeply. I asked for guidance. I was longing for sacredness so much. In moments of grace, I tasted it… and then, I longed again…
My conception of meditation changed. It was no longer sitting with the back straight and the eyes closed. Life became meditation. Nature became my teacher.
Back in Samsara
But it was easier to fly slicing
Now, having returned to “normal life,” I often get lost in thoughts and activities. Then, the pain comes. I know that beauty is ever-present, but clouds cover my eyes and I cannot see it. And, it feels as if I were wasting these precious moments, these unique jewels of life. It hurts, but even this pain is made of grace.
Once you experience the depth of life, you can’t forget it. Swimming in shallow water is not enough anymore. It breaks your heart not to feel the sacredness of every moment. And, you allow your heart to be broken. You learn to be grateful for this pain and longing. You want to feel this wound even deeper, as it guides you along the golden thread into the Kingdom of the Heart.
You realize that everything you do in life is driven by the longing to feel sacredness again—because it is the only thing that matters. When the hour of death comes, you will clearly see that all the sacred moments of depth and connection make life worth living. Deep inside, you already know it, since tasting sacredness is facing death. And, facing death is diving into the fullness of life.
It is there… in the touch of a lover, the song of a bird, the smile of a child, the trembling of a leaf, the purring of a cat. Omnipresent in the simplicity of life, patiently waiting for you, sending you secret messages in every little moment. Your destiny is to experience it constantly. Your life is meant to be sacred.
It is so delicate
Behind the clouds of the mind
there is an immense clarity
a wonderland vibrating with Life
People are looking for life
in gatherings, multiplication, and noise
in “more and more,”
But the Heart of Life
is in deep silence
in “less and less”
Where thoughts end
unspoken beauty begins
When I was twenty-one, I spent four months hitchhiking across South America. Amazingly, I never spent a penny on travel costs or accommodation, preferring to sleep in my tent in football fields or on hillsides than to pay for a hostel. The mission? Live for free and experience wonderful things as cheaply as possible. I succeeded, returning to New Zealand four months later a lot thinner, possibly malnourished, but having spent only $750 in four months across several countries. Well done.
Jump forward eight years, and I am living on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. It’s the end of the year and the annual Rainbow Gathering in Central America has just finished, leaving thralls of young, dreadlocked, possibly malnourished hippies lining the streets of San Marcos. They sell macramé in the alleys and dance with sticks and try to bargain food off the locals who are living on less than $2 a day. They put up their tents in the gardens and front lawns of the properties along the lake, arguing with landowners who ask them to leave that “we are all one. No one owns the land.”
Money and Spirituality: Are they Mutually Exclusive?
I’m now a landowner with a big garden on the lake, and yet I used to be one of them. I find that I’m asking myself, “Are financial success and deep spiritual convictions mutually exclusive?”
What a dream to live for free—but at what cost to others? I realized that while I had paraded around South America with my free love/free-living principles, I had not been living without money. Rather, I had been living off the money of others. The people who offered me rides had to pay for their gas, the people who cooked for me had to pay for that food, and in my naïve fundamentalism, I never offered them anything in return. I preferred to force the world to fit into my belief that the world doesn’t need money, while others worked hard for theirs and I profited.
Another field where this belief shows up is in the spiritual marketplace. We are more than happy to pay the price of topping up our phone or buying our coffee from big corporations, yet we somehow feel it fair to bargain with a fabulous spiritual teacher to get a cheaper yoga class, a cheaper retreat, a cheaper workshop. It can be difficult to put a value on our personal and spiritual growth, but there must be some price arrived at that can sustain the teacher who makes a living solely off offering his or her often life-changing spiritual knowledge.
We often speak of money as if it were at odds with spirituality. But how much would you pay for the best meditation of your life? How much is your liberation worth? We find ourselves saying that we are willing to give everything—our passions, our limitations, our lives—for the Truth with a capital T, but our money? No. We’d better hold onto that because we’ll have to fly home for Christmas if we don’t get enlightened by November.
Coherence of Practice
As the owner of a meditation retreat center, I have heard the line “I want to do a retreat but I don’t have enough money” many a time. And, I believe that in many cases it may be true. I have also used that line when I was genuinely short on cash. However, I have also watched someone who asked for a retreat for half-price, then leave the retreat and spend five times as much as the retreat on a beautiful Airbnb as a “treat” for their last week at the lake. What is being called into question here is values. What do we value and how much do we value our own personal growth?
If we continue to operate in the world at this level of excuses for our skinny bank accounts, and constantly barter with spiritual teachers and establishments who could help us most, then we will find ourselves caught in a never-ending cycle of fear-caused resistance. The journey of aligning our daily lives into our spiritual beliefs can be challenging. But, through practice, we begin to see that everything moves spontaneously and perfectly in this constant flow of life. To truly surrender and open means to let go into this flow.
Overcoming Fear and Staying in the Flow
Holding onto our money out of fear is not staying in this flow. What are we afraid of in giving it forth? When we begin to value the work of others, and what a class or retreat or teacher might offer us that will inspire us until the day we die, we actually begin to value ourselves. We begin to step into the flow, not only through giving but through receiving as well. We begin to empower ourselves and ask for our own hard work to be honored and are able to put a value on the things we have to offer that can inspire others and change lives.
One beautiful spiritual ideal that we are often ruled by, especially in a spiritual community, is that we must always give to others without thinking of ourselves. What I have seen from trying to live this ideal, both in my experience and the experience of others, is that if we don’t value our own needs as equally as we value others, we are simply running ourselves into the ground, and eventually breaking down from exhaustion, lack of personal space, and emotional overloading. Caring for ourselves is caring for others. We can only give everything we have when we are completely replenished—otherwise the beautiful ideal of “Karma Yoga” is not sustainable long-term.
It’s funny to me that in advertising for spiritual events I have often seen the word “price” replaced by “energy exchange” or “contribution” or “suggested donation.” There is fear to use the simple words “cost” or “price”—as if these words might denote that money is connected to that evil world of capitalism which spirituality is trying to escape. As if there ought to be no association between spiritual work and the “real world.”
Money Is Not the Enemy
Money is not evil. Some of the ways that it is used or divided in the world may be unfair, but in itself, money as a form of currency and exchange has no evil intentions of its own. It is a simple fact that if we are to live in this world, money must pass through our hands. Rather than trying to resist being a part of this world in an attempt to escape into nirvana, we can use the endless dance of money in our lives to remind us of the dance of the Ultimate moving within us.
Ancient communities may have once lived through the exchange of goods and services, and maybe one day we will live in that reality again. But, so long as we hold onto the idea of money being “dirty” or “evil” we will never truly accept reality. In spiritual practice, acceptance is key. To meditate effectively we must not to fight with our thoughts or emotions, but freely allow them until they dissolve into deep stillness and peace. If we demonize the thoughts or emotions as “evil,” we are constantly creating a separation between self and thoughts, when, really, self and thoughts, money and love, are all one and the same.
Through acceptance that we are material beings living in a material world our fears and ideas of separation can dissolve, and the deeper reality of Oneness can be revealed. And, once it has been revealed, once we feel that perfect unity we have longed for, we are still living in a material world in which money is the universal language that we speak.
The goal of all spiritual practice is to dissolve the limiting beliefs of oneself as an isolated individual separate from the whole, and experience that self and the whole are in fact one reality. This understanding brings incredible peace and openness to all expressions of life. When this understanding flowers within us, we become aware that all people, all nations, all of the money in the world, are incredible parts of ourselves. This freeing of limiting beliefs around money actualizes freedom itself.
I have been walking on this path for a number of years now, working on myself, and on opening in complete fullness to this understanding of Oneness. I value the spiritual work of others and the work that I have done and can now share with those around me. Money is just another fabulous expression of the same divine reality, and I am open to giving and receiving it equally. I’ve come a long way from the hitchhiking kid living the dream of “free living”—my only wish now is to live free.
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.
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.
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 here. 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.
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.
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.
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
Selflessness 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.
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.
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.
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.
What Restricted Vegetables Can Show Us about the Yogic Lifestyle
By Natasha Friedman
There’s nothing as mouth-watering as the smell of garlic and onions simmering in a pan full of spices.
Which makes it a bit disappointing (for me, at least) when you start practicing yoga and hear that you’re not supposed to eat them. Or, even worse, when you come to live at a yoga center and find that your favorite allium vegetables are strictly off the menu.
I spent three months this year serving in the kitchen at the Hridaya Yoga Center, and by far the most common question I heard from new students was “Why don’t you use onions and garlic?”
It’s a simple question, but the answer is a little complicated. To explain it fully, we’ll have to go on a brief journey through the basics of Ayurveda, the yogic diet, and tantric theory.
Divine Medicine or Demonic Potion?
There is an interesting Hindu legend about the origins of onions and garlic. According to several sacred texts, when Vishnu was serving the nectar of immortality to the demigods, two demons named Rahu and Ketu snuck into the line. Right as Vishnu put the nectar into their mouths, the Sun and the Moon told him that they were demons. Vishnu immediately beheaded them.
A mixture of demon’s blood and divine ambrosia spilled on the ground, and from this odd combination, onions and garlic emerged.
These vegetables also offer an odd combination of almost divine medicinal properties and potentially destabilizing mental effects.
Garlic, especially, is an incredible natural healer. It’s known for:
- Boosting the immune system
- Treating colds and flu
- Purifying the blood
- Treating infections, including skin fungus, toothaches, and ear infections
- Preventing heart disease
- Improving digestion
In Ayurvedic medicine, garlic-based treatments are used for everything from fixing digestive disorders to relieving asthma—even reversing hair loss!
So, if onions and garlic are so great for the body, why are yogis not supposed to eat them?
Ayurveda in a Nutshell
To understand the story with garlic, onions, and yoga, you’ll need the basics of Ayurvedic dietary principles.
In Ayurveda, all foods can be classified according to two main metrics.
First, there is which dosha they work on. Dosha means constitution, or basic body type and energetic or mental tendencies. Every person falls into some combination of the three doshas: kapha (earth/water), pitta (fire/water), and vata (air/ether).
Depending on which is predominant, you will need to eat, sleep, and exercise in a certain way to maintain a healthy balance.
In general, like attracts like and, if left unchecked, imbalances cause greater imbalances. If you are a kapha person, for example, you might naturally prefer to eat sweet, heavy foods— things that increase kapha. You are actually recommended to avoid these foods and, instead, choose pitta foods to boost the inner fire or vata foods to lighten and reduce kapha.
- Foods that increase kapha: Bread, pasta, oats, most nuts and dairy, avocado, bananas, coconut, papaya, squash, olives, tahini, and sugar. In general, foods that are sweet, moist, heavy, and have a cooling effect on the body.
- Foods that increase pitta: Brown rice, corn, millet, tomatoes, carrots, sour fruits, green chilies, onions, garlic, and hot spices. In general, foods that are spicy, sour, increase digestion, and have a heating effect.
- Foods that increase vata: Wheat, cereals, crackers, apples, dried fruit, lettuce and raw greens, broccoli, popcorn, and coffee. In general, foods that are light, dry, and have a cooling effect.
You can see that our friends onions and garlic fall firmly into the pitta category. That is why they’re so amazing when you get a cold and want to dial up your immune system. (The digestive fire is a purifying force responsible for burning out infections.) However, if you are already pitta-dominant or just don’t want more fiery energy in your life, eat them with caution.
The other Ayurvedic metric is the three gunas. According to the yogic tradition (dating back as far as the Bhagavad Gita), the gunas are fundamental qualities or principles that underlie all of manifestation. They are at work in all matter, including human bodies and minds.
- Tamas: The principle of inertia, heaviness, and downward motion. A tamasic person will be dull, lazy, insensitive, and dominated by lower impulses.
- Rajas: The principle of outward motion, activity, and acceleration. Ambition, greed, agitation, competitiveness, and desire are all rajasic characteristics.
- Sattva: The principle of balance, purity, and stillness. Sattva is the neutral point between all extremes that allows for transcendence. A sattvic person is peaceful and harmonious, which greatly supports the spiritual practice.
Everything you eat influences the balance of the gunas within your being. The more sensitive you are, the more you will become aware of the effects that diet has on your physical and mental state.
- Sattvic foods: Light, easily digestible foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, plant-based oils, mild spices (turmeric, basil, ginger, cinnamon, etc.), unrefined natural sweeteners (honey, molasses), organic dairy products from well-treated animals.
- Rajasic foods: Hot foods and strong spices, onions, garlic, eggs, coffee, and chocolate.
- Tamasic foods: Meat, fish, poultry, alcohol, fermented foods, food that is stale, over-processed, no longer fresh, or difficult to digest.
For obvious reasons, a yogic diet aims to be as sattvic as possible.
Tamasic foods are best avoided. Eating them will make you neither more spiritual nor more effective in other pursuits, but definitely less healthy.
Rajasic foods are a more complicated story.
In general, it’s not advised to eat a rajas-dominant diet: it will make you too hot and agitated, and these foods are hard on your digestive system.
If your spiritual path is more on the ascetic, Vedantic side of the spectrum—all about transcendence, not making use of the energies of the world—you are recommended to avoid them completely. They will stimulate desire and generate too much energy, which will disturb your practice.
However, there are some situations in which you may want to bring some rajas into your diet.
For example, if you are living in the normal world (not an ashram or spiritual community) and you have to maintain a career, family, or whatever else alongside your spiritual practice, you might want some extra fire under your bum to stay active and get things done.
Some rajasic foods are actually very healthy in small doses, like strong spices that boost a weak inner fire and kill intestinal parasites. You’ll also notice onions and garlic, with all their medicinal value, solidly on the rajasic list. They speed up your whole system and act as potent aphrodisiacs to boot.
Rajas and Tamas: Should You Deny These Energies or Can You Use Them?
By now, I hope it’s clear why there are no onions and garlic in the Hridaya Dining Room. Although their boost to the immune system (and flavor) is very appreciated, the mental agitation they induce is not so helpful—especially during retreats!
That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with them, or inherently wrong with anything. Any energy ultimately can be transformed and sublimated. This fundamental mutability is the basis of Tantra.
In fact, the tantric traditions, in general, make strong use of rajasic and, even, tamasic energies.
For example, the Panchamakara, or “Five M’s,” is a tantric ritual centered around five substances that are forbidden in conventional Hinduism: madya (wine), mamsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudra (parched grain), and maithuna (sexual intercourse). All of these are elements of rajas or tamas.
Tantrikas would use the meat of an uncastrated male animal, since it is considered the most rajasic.
The fundamental belief is that all energies come from the Self and lead back to the Self. What takes you down can bring you up.
By increasing these frequencies within a controlled setting, they can catapult trained practitioners into a higher state of consciousness.
That said, when it comes to energies that can easily lead you astray, it is good to always reflect and decide whether they’re aligned with your current practice, whether you have the tools to deal with them beneficially, and if your intention is pure.
Conclusion: A Personal Note
Full disclosure: I used to eat tons of onions and garlic (and Sriracha, and hot chilies, and cayenne pepper…) before coming to live at Hridaya. I didn’t really feel that they affected me so much.
While in retreats and serving as a Karma Yogi, I didn’t eat onions or garlic for several months. But, at some point, when I ate a garlicky sauce in a restaurant, I noticed a surprising difference in myself the next day: agitation and restlessness like I hadn’t felt in almost my whole time at the school.
I had been so acclimated to this energy that I wasn’t aware of it, and I had to get it out of my system entirely just to perceive what used to be normal.
In general, the more sensitive you become, the more care you might have to take with your diet. With a strong yogic practice, you might find foods you used to eat a lot now make you feel sick, heavy, or just not in the right state. It doesn’t mean your body has become more fragile but that it’s becoming more finely calibrated, attuned to more refined frequencies.
It might also change with your practice. If you are a kapha-type person, you might be fine eating a lot of spicy pitta foods, but if you work a lot on manipura and grow a huge inner fire, that same old hot sauce might give you a rash.
That’s why there are very few hard and fast rules for a yogic diet. There are plenty of recommendations: the doshas and gunas from Ayurveda, yin and yang polarity from macrobiotics, insights from physical health sciences, and moral considerations that lead many yogis to vegetarianism.
The most important guideline is simply to listen to your body. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and when you want to put anything into your system, it is best if it provides an energy that you want to give back to the world.
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.
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.
In 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.
One 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!
Which 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.
By Karin Nyberg
“Nothing kills the ego like playfulness, like laughter. When you start taking life as fun the ego has to die, it cannot exist anymore.” –Osho
Right now, reading these words, are you playing? If you were to become playful, how would you notice? Take a leap into the way of play and see what happens! Look at your body, the way you move, your emotions, your thoughts. Then, look at the one who is looking. Who is that? Who am I … playing with?
Once upon a time, one month or one hundred years ago, walking on the beach with troubling thoughts, it hit me again: Hey, I can just play right now! Instantly, a changed perspective—from tunnel vision to a panoramic view. The sand under my feet and the ocean want to play, too, and join the game with cheeky pokes and flirts. Sense, Touch, and Smell jump in and expand the playing field. And from that moment, someone inside has curiously started to observe, finding the stillness within bubbly enthusiasm. Like a child playing hide- and-seek, not being able to contain her excitement. Letting the body and life move in its own flow, she curiously looks out from my eyes. I wonder where I am going. Aha! I’m going to swim. Oh, what a funny shell! Now, my right arm is a slide and the shell takes a ride! And now, a totally new Now! Wow!
Once upon another now, I am babysitting a Spanish-speaking boy without fully knowing the language. So we speak play-language. He finds a board, puts some stone passengers on it, and we have a bus going to an unknown destination. Look, my legs have become a tunnel and my arm is a gate. “Say the magic word,” I say in play-speech. A word jumps out from his mouth and the gate opens! Following our impulses, we create the game together. By saying YES to whatever the other one comes up with, we end up somewhere we never could have expected.
Are games only happy? No. When kids play, they play it all and want it all. Scared, sad, happy, excited, angry, wild. My friends’ child is just as thrilled when she lays statue-still with closed eyes waiting for me to kiss her forehead as when she waits for me to add some more salt and pepper to her back before I’m a wolf that eats her! So, what if we realize that our whole life is just a game we can play, in Now after Now, with whatever we meet?
“But if we play we won’t get anything done!” says that annoying stalker that keeps on coming back. “Life is serious and adults shouldn’t play!”
So, Oscar Wilde decides to jump in from beyond the grave and help, “Life is too important to take seriously!”
And, George Bernard Shaw joins, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
“Okay. Whatever. I don’t care, I have important things to do,” the stalker mutters grumpily.
Well, what about this one? Yogi Rajneesh shouts with enthusiasm, “The moment you start seeing life as non-serious, a playfulness, all the burden of your heart disappears. All the fear of death, of life, of love—everything disappears.”
The dead players go back to their afterlives. We go back to our minds. Game over.
Or—can I play with this?
Karin is a Hridaya Yoga teacher.
5 Unexpected Moments in Daily Life That Can Bring You Into Awareness
By Natasha Friedman
Are you aware right now?
Who is reading these words?
Who is looking at this screen?
If you are striving for real transformation, your meditation practice has to extend off the cushion. It has to permeate every minute of your life.
You don’t want to be peaceful and present only while meditating: you want it all the time. If you go deep in meditation but run on autopilot the rest of the day you have missed half the point of the practice. You may even create a schism in your personality.
On the flip side, the more you maintain awareness in daily life, the easier it will be to reach higher states of consciousness in meditation. This is your foundation, your springboard from which to fly.
5 Times to Come Back to the Heart
The ideas below are suggestions to experience more awareness during your normal activities.
You will see that even mundane moments can provide a window to the Self. Although I’ve only put my top five here, these opportunities are infinite.
The only limit is your imagination.
I put this one first because it merits its own sloka in the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, one of the most important texts of Kashmir Shaivism. This unique book, framed as a dialogue between Shiva and Shakti, presents 112 techniques for recognizing Reality, mostly from within the realm of the senses and daily life.
The techniques range from fairly esoteric meditations to the surprisingly down-to-earth: staring at the sky, relaxing on a swing, and thinking about your lover are mentioned.
Food meditation is sloka 31:
“If one concentrates on eating and drinking and the happiness obtained by that joy of taste, from such contemplation of enjoyment arises the state of fullness, which then becomes supreme joy or bliss.”
You might often spend hours thinking what you will have for lunch, but when it comes time to eat, you’re so distracted by thoughts, conversations, checking your phone, or planning dinner, that you barely notice what goes into your mouth.
“Bliss is only one. That happiness or bliss [ananda] is itself God. Our natural state is bliss. Because this is experienced externally, through various sensual enjoyments, various names are given to it. […] [The jnani] enjoys all the happiness enjoyed by everyone in the world as his own bliss of Brahman [Brahmananda]. Brahmananda is like an ocean. The external types of happiness are like the waves, foam, bubbles, and ripples.”
Eating is one of the most basic external sources of happiness in human existence. Since any mundane pleasure is just a partial reflection of divine bliss, paying attention to it can remind you of what’s casting the reflection.
So once in a while, take yourself on a lunch date and practice mindful eating. Sit alone without reading or doing anything but enjoying the food. Allow yourself to experience every flavor and sensation. They will take you naturally into meditation.
2. Walking through a door
A classic way to train yourself for more continuity of awareness is to anchor it in triggers that you encounter regularly throughout the day.
First, find the best way for you to come immediately back to yourself. This might be asking yourself “Who am I?” It might be feeling the life in your chest, or tuning into your breath. It may be simply closing your eyes and evoking the sense of pure being.
Whenever you walk through a door, use it as a reminder. It’s similar to reality checks that you can do to encourage lucid dreaming.
Gradually, as you come back again and again to Self-awareness, this state will become your normal way of being.
3. Brushing your teeth
Brushing teeth is such an automatic action you might not even remember doing it. Maybe I’m just spacey, but many times I’ve walked out of the door and locked it behind me only to have this horrible moment of, “Oh no, did I forget to brush my teeth?”
This makes it all the more interesting to bring awareness to it.
There are so many sensations in this simple, forgettable act. Tuning into them is like opening to the infinity within daily life. That’s the beauty of this divine manifestation: no matter how deep you go, there is no end to the details and permutations, always changing and blossoming within the space of the witness.
Twice a day, this can be a two-minute meditation. Try to focus only on what you’re doing with the toothbrush, treating the action with as much care as you would give a yoga asana, and ask, “Who am I? Who is feeling this?”
What do these feelings in your mouth become when you take away the story about them?
4. Taking your first barefoot steps in the morning
Your feet are so sensitive. They might be calloused, but when they touch the ground first thing in the morning they are like the feet of a butterfly tasting a flower.
They receive every detail of the ground below and of your body above them. How much can you feel when your mind is open?
You can practice so this becomes a reminder to start the day off on, well, the right foot. As soon as your toes hit the ground, come into the present.
Come into the Heart.
5. Doing something you mildly dislike doing
Daily chores can also be opportunities for developing awareness. They don’t have to be something you hate necessarily, just boring tasks that you frequently have to do and never enjoy. Washing dishes, for example.
A funny thing happened when I started paying attention to how I washed the dishes. I don’t really like doing it; in fact, I usually feel annoyed when I get stuck washing them yet again. But one time, I started watching what actually happened during the chore.
There are physical sensations, dishes in my hand, and the sound of water. There’s the smell of soap.
There’s water running over my hands.
There are also stories playing in my mind about how frustrating it is, how much I hate washing dishes, how unfair it is that I’m always the one doing it.
And yet, in this openness to the present moment, I can’t find what I hate so much about washing dishes. Instead, it’s just an experience of being, like any other. Just being, exactly there, in that moment, with those dishes. The annoyance disappears into simple joy.
It’s interesting to see how when you feel boredom, frustration, or distaste for what you’re doing, it’s really just a lack of presence. Being fully aware in any moment, tapping into the flow of life unfolding through that particular activity, can actually reveal the Stillness behind it.
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.
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.
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.
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.
Much 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.
How to Come Out of Retreat
By Natasha Friedman
Everything is a kaleidoscope of color and sound as we drive down the highway to Mazunte. I am squished into the front seat of a taxi with a girl I have lived in the same building with for the past six weeks but have not yet spoken to. Two more retreaters and most of our material possessions are in the back seat.
No one says anything for most of the 45-minute trip. I remember all the shapes and sounds appearing in my awareness in hallucinatory brightness. I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and strangely calm.
We pull up in front of the Hridaya Yoga Center, unload our bags, and then that’s it, we’re there, it’s over. I greet a few people, feeling like I just saw them yesterday. It’s only their surprised reactions that remind me I haven’t spoken to them—or to anyone—for 49 days.
After so much time in solitude, basic human actions somehow become almost impossible. Talking makes me weak and dizzy. Looking at a computer screen makes me nauseous. When I call my parents, it is like talking to them for the first time. And, when I start to lose the intensity of presence that had become my normal state, I feel like my heart is breaking.
Questions wouldn’t stop throughout the first sleepless night after the retreat: Who am I? What is this personality? How do I pick up my life after all this? Where am I supposed to go and what am I supposed to do now?
The retreat is over, but the work is just beginning.
For some of us, going into retreat is a challenge. The silence, long hours of meditation, and lack of external stimuli can be a sharp break from our normal experience. Detaching from daily patterns can leave us feeling anxious or lost in space.
For other people—or just at other times—the hard part is actually coming out of retreat.
We spend ten days (or however long) going into high concentration and expansion. We become sensitive to subtle realities, feeling energies and sensations too refined for our normal perception. We come into contact with the deepest dimension of our being.
Even if it’s a difficult retreat, with a lot of struggle and purifications, these challenges come because the retreat gives us the space to contain them. We might not realize how far we’ve come until the final bell rings and everyone gathers for the sharing.
I always feel like a spell is breaking as soon as people start talking again. The world of silence is so intense, so profound, so full of magic and mysteries. There is such clarity and brightness. When the mind is deep in silence, every detail of the world around has a ring of truth.
Then, words come again, and with them stories, divisions, projections, patterns, limitations… All the conditions we are usually enslaved by. The Garden of Eden starts to fade away.
Of course, the ultimate goal is not to be a hermit in perpetual mauna. (It’s not my goal, at least.) But, so long as we’re not stabilized enough in the Self to maintain the stillness of retreat while engaged with the world, it can be a harsh transition back to everyday reality.
Go Slowly and Accept Whatever Comes
How long does it take to integrate after a retreat?
There’s no right answer. Even after a short retreat, we might feel echoes for weeks or months. Speaking generally, the deeper the experience, the longer it will take to harmonize it with everyday life.
And in the meantime, be prepared for anything.
After a retreat, we might feel totally blissed out. We might feel calm, relaxed, or refreshed. We might feel inspired and burning to share what we’ve learned with everyone we know. We might feel depressed. We might feel confused, like nothing makes sense, like our entire lives are being lived in someone else’s shoes and don’t fit right anymore.
I want to emphasize: all of these feelings are okay.
What’s important is to honor the process and give space to whatever arises.
When I came out of the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat earlier this year, I felt extremely lost. I didn’t know who I was within this manifestation. I had gone through a major transformation that hadn’t yet stabilized, to the point where I didn’t want any contact with my life from before the retreat.
I asked Sahajananda what to do, and whether this was normal. His first response: “What is normal after an experience like this?”
Which brings me to my second point: integration might look very different from what we think.
I think a lot of us go into retreats or spiritual practices with the idea that we will get something out of it—knowledge or healing or whatever—and then when we go back to normal life, this will just be added onto what we already have.
In reality, we are putting our whole being into a blender. What comes out will be something entirely new. That’s the real meaning of transformation, and it’s what we’re all looking for, even if we don’t realize it or if the idea scares us.
So, again, my best advice is to give space to these changes. It is better not to be afraid to let go of our notions of what we are and what our place in the world is. We can allow ourselves to explore new possibilities. Maybe it is scary, but this uncertainty is actually a form of openness, a sign that we’ve made real progress and are at a point of great opportunity.
It’s like when we get hit by a wave at the beach. For a few seconds, we’re spinning in every direction at once and can’t tell up from down. If we simply hold our breath, stay calm, and relax, soon enough the water will settle and we’ll find our feet on dry land. We can take our time going through this. There’s no rush to dive back into our responsibilities or busy social lives. We can benefit from staying close to the retreat center, where support and inspiration from other practitioners is available.
Share with Others, but Keep Your Sacred Space
It’s very beautiful to stay in touch with other retreat participants.
Often, when going back into the world it can be hard to find people to open up to about deep spiritual experiences. Our friends and family might want to support us, but unless they are on a spiritual path themselves, they probably won’t be able to understand what we’re going through. Sharing our innermost feelings with them might just create more confusion and feelings of disconnectedness.
People going through the same process, however, are an invaluable support network. They can help us put our transformation in perspective and make sense of whatever is arising. If others are on the same wavelength and receptive, just talking can be an integration process, bringing deeper realizations up to the level of the conscious mind.
That said, there is no pressure to share everything. A retreat is a step into the realm of the sacred, into the ineffable. There may be experiences that are best kept in intimacy with the Spiritual Heart.
So, we can give ourselves as much space as we need.
Following a retreat, art is a useful means of expression. It’s a great time for journaling, painting, writing poetry, playing devotional music, or following whatever creative path calls. I’ve often found that the days after a retreat are a time of peak creativity. New songs and poems come naturally, flowing from Stillness.
These songs are like the flowering of seeds that germinated in my heart during the retreat. Later on, they become a precious window into the world of the retreat, and they can bring others to the same depth of experience.
Keep up the Practice
This is probably the most important thing we can do!
Sahajananda recommends meditating for at least one hour every day to maintain a high level of consciousness after a retreat. We need to touch that depth again and again, especially if we’re living somewhere surrounded by mainstream Western values that run contrary to the spiritual attitudes we try to cultivate.
In the days following a retreat, I find it helpful to stay in “half retreat,” practicing for four or five hours a day and keeping mauna until noon. After a period of such intensive focus, sitting down to meditate might be the last thing you want to do, but it’s essential for stabilizing the experience.
Sahaja always emphasizes continuity. It’s not enough just to have peak experiences, we have to raise our base level of awareness.
During a retreat, this continuity means trying to keep a meditative state even outside of formal practice. We walk with awareness, eat with awareness, contemplate nature, and stay in the Heart, no matter where we are.
In daily life, it’s about living the teachings. It’s what Padmasambhava, the master who brought Buddhism to Tibet, meant when he said, “Descend with the view while ascending with the conduct.”
We bring our insights, the wisdom that comes from contact with reality, back into our daily lives. And in our daily lives, through constant remembrance of the Heart and our efforts to live in integrity with this vision, we rise to the level of our highest practice.
Which is more “real,” daily life or time in retreat? Do we come home when we close our eyes in meditation or when we go back to our personalities?
I could say both or neither. Our true home is the Spiritual Heart. When we live from there, we are at home no matter what happens outside.
By Natasha Friedman
Are you and your spiritual practice going through a rough time? Do you feel like you’ve stopped progressing, or you’re even backsliding? The goal seems impossibly far away and your current reality is too messed up to live with?
It happens to every practitioner sooner or later. The bad news is that there’s really no way to shake yourself out of it.
The good news: it’s not such a bad thing.
Although you might feel like your meditation practice has crashed and burned, facing a lot of inner obstacles can actually be a sign of deep transformation. If you’re encountering any of these four challenges, it just might mean you’re making real progress.
1. You feel frustrated
Sahajananda once said that what appears to the ego-bound person as frustration is longing to the mystic.
Often, we take frustration as a sign of failure. We decide that we’re bad at meditation, we’re not cut out for spiritual practice, something’s gone wrong, or we’ve hit a wall that we can’t go past.
The next time you feel frustrated with your meditation, go deeper into this feeling and see what it’s actually pointing towards.
A sense of helplessness, incompleteness. A burning desire for something just beyond your reach. A conviction that none of your personal efforts are adequate.
This is nothing other than a longing for the Divine.
Sooner or later, the spiritual path will take you beyond where “you” can go by your own effort, past what an individual can accomplish within the domain of relativity. This is the point of real surrender.
As Sahaja went on to say, on this path there’s no wall that doesn’t have a door.
So when you’re frustrated, stay with it! Drop the stories about what you can and can’t do, and let the intensity of emotion open into desire for union with the Beloved.
2. You notice everything, especially what isn’t so flattering
After a recent retreat, I suddenly noticed I had a lot of negativities.
I was snappy and impatient. I was resentful, jealous of others, and convinced of my own inadequacy. I got angry at my partner over trivial things, and easily fell into depression when something didn’t go right.
I felt like a total fraud. What was I doing, living at a spiritual center and practicing so intensely, and yet acting like a selfish idiot most of the time? Where did all my progress go?
What I actually was (and am) is human.
None of these flaws are anything new. When I look closer, all these behaviors are all too familiar. I just didn’t have the awareness to perceive them, or the maturity to work with them.
Eventually, nothing can be swept under the rug. At certain times, when you don’t have enough perspective to work with them, difficult emotions and negativities might be suppressed. You can make progress upwards—developing your best qualities and reaching higher states of consciousness—without really confronting the lower levels of the personality.
Once you’ve expanded to a certain level, you have enough awareness to give space to your negative tendencies, to witness them without following or identifying with them. It’s at this point that you can look at yourself with radical honesty and say, “Wow, there’s a lot of anger here.”
This is a huge step up from either flying into a rage or thinking, “Oh no, I’m an angry person and I shouldn’t feel like this.”
Now, you can really start working with the parts of yourself you aren’t comfortable with. The fact that you can see them more clearly is a sign that you’re ready.
3. Nothing makes sense
Do you feel the same but everything else in the world is just a bit off?
Or like it’s all completely wrong?
Don’t worry, it’s a good sign.
The world most of us live in is wrong. It’s a world of duality, separation, and concealment, where we are out of touch with the true nature of our existence. To put it less gently, it’s a world of suffering.
The first Noble Truth of Buddhism, the foundation of Buddhist practice, is simply dukkha, the truth of suffering.
The difference between a spiritual aspirant and an “ordinary” person is realizing this truth, seeing samsara for what it is. With this vision comes the impulse to escape from the cycle of suffering and connect with Reality.
Before we realize it, we look for satisfaction within the illusion, not understanding that the only lasting happiness comes from going beyond it. We can call this liberation, Self-realization, realizing the Spiritual Heart, enlightenment, salvation, or any number of other terms.
But, going back to why you feel weird after practicing yoga for a while.
Until your spiritual practice reaches a certain depth, you are still basically synchronized with the material world. You want more or less what the people around you want, and the structures of daily life seem more or less normal.
Once you start approaching Truth, you might notice that most of these structures are built on illusion. Whether in a subtle or obvious way, they maintain the paradigms of struggle, separation, and individuality.
So, don’t be surprised or worried if you find yourself questioning what you always believed in.
At this point, it’s also important to remember that everyone is at a different place in their spiritual evolution. What seems obvious to you now is simply not visible to people who aren’t at the same stage. And that’s okay: whatever they’re doing is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing right now.
Maybe you want to grab your friends and coworkers, shake them, and shout in their faces, “Don’t you realize our essential nature is Love?” It’s very tempting, but it’s unlikely to do much good.
Instead, just be compassionate to them as they are. Love them without expecting them to change. Love the whole world and work to make it better without expecting anything from it. (Easier said than done, I know.)
And be compassionate to yourself, to the seed of wisdom that is cracking open inside your heart. Don’t try to force yourself back into a life that no longer fits. Keep asking questions, and whenever you feel like you just don’t understand anything, look within. There is a quiet place inside you where all the answers are waiting.
4. Your practice is “just not like it used to be”
A meditation practice is always changing and evolving. Sometimes it’s easy to slip effortlessly into a deep state. It’s all bliss, and you can’t imagine it will ever be any other way.
Sometimes, it’s not like that at all. There is struggle and frustration, the mind goes crazy, thoughts come too fast and loud. Or, your motivation is gone—there’s no inspiration, no energy, no spanda.
A result-oriented mind, caught in a sense of doership, naturally thinks that a “good” meditation is a success and a “bad” meditation is a failure.
The trick is to move above this attachment to success. Part of spiritual maturity is detaching from the fruits of your own practice. It means both accepting that, ultimately, you are not responsible for your experience in meditation—you simply create the best possible conditions for the Truth to reveal itself—and letting go of the need to feel good during your practice.
Without this maturity, meditation becomes just a way to “get high.”
There’s a psalm in the Jewish tradition that includes the line: “To declare Thy loving-kindness (chasdecha) in the morning and Thy faithfulness (emuna) in the evening.”
You can interpret this as referring to these two poles of spiritual practice. In the “morning,” when you are open and everything comes easily, your work is to open to this Grace, to rejoice and be grateful for what you are receiving. In the “evening,” when the light has disappeared and you can’t even feel what you’re moving towards, it’s the time for faith.
This is the real test of your spiritual practice: not how high you can get when everything is easy, but how much your realizations can sustain you even when you’re cut off from the direct experience. Your simple persistence shows your authenticity, and how deep your practice has gone.
So just keep going. Consecrate your meditations, do your best effort to create the right conditions, and then let go. When your meditation is over, give thanks for your practice and dedicate it to the benefit of all beings—no matter how you felt during it.
Finally, remember that the night is darkest right before dawn. If you feel stalled out, confused, or like everything is falling apart, remember it won’t be like this forever. A new level of realization might be just around the corner.
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. You can read her post about maintaining your spiritual practice while traveling here.
How to Maintain Your Spiritual Practice While Traveling, and Turn Traveling into a Spiritual Practice
By Natasha Friedman
Travel and spirituality have long gone hand in hand. Pilgrimage is a part of almost every tradition, from medieval Europeans walking to Jerusalem to millions of Hindus gathering at the Ganges for the Kumbh Mela.
Often, spirituality is spoken about in the language of travel: your “spiritual journey” or “path.” The Sanskrit word samsara, meaning cyclic existence within an illusory world of duality, can be literally translated as “wandering.”
For many people in my generation, this wandering is very literal. We’re backpackers, nomads, global citizens. Sometimes this life can feel like an unending pilgrimage to an unknown destination.
But constant motion doesn’t have to be a detour from the spiritual path. On the contrary, the outer journey can be an amazing support for the inner voyage, if you can maintain your practice and awareness throughout.
Developing a Spiritual Practice That You Can Take Anywhere
Consistency is essential for any spiritual practice. Though it might be much harder while traveling, in periods of instability it’s especially important to maintain a regular practice. Best of all is to choose something to do every day, a practice you can commit to no matter what.
When I am traveling, this practice becomes my home base. It might be my only point of stability and familiarity.
So how do you pick a practice to take on the road with you?
First, you will want something you can do anywhere, in case you get stuck at an airport or on a 12-hour bus ride. This rules out most Hatha Yoga practices, for obvious reasons (though you can probably get away with uddiyana bandha, nauli kriya, or pranayama).
That said, long hours of travel take their toll on the body. For this reason alone, I try to squeeze in as much asana practice as I can while on the road.
Meditation, on the other hand, can happen anywhere and at any time.
If you’re used to meditating in a quiet, peaceful corner of your bedroom, it can be a challenge to go into high concentration and relaxation while bumping around on a bus or squeezed into an airplane seat with crying babies on both sides. I’m not going to tell you that these are optimum
conditions for reaching deep states, but I do have a few pointers for making the most out of it.
- Use earplugs.
- Let go of your expectations. Maybe you won’t feel like you go as deep as in a “normal” meditation, but it’s a different type of work: learning to surrender and be present under any conditions. Learning to let noise and sensations, frustration and chaos, pass through your awareness without reacting.When you can remain calm and witness intense external stimuli, it’s much easier to deal with the turbulence of your own mind.Anyway, if you think about it, how often do you really have “perfect” conditions for meditation? Even if everything is supportive externally, your mind can still go wild. It’s not about having the perfect setting, but what you do with it.
- Allow sounds and feelings to arise without resistance. In a more peaceful setting, you might be able to go into laser focus and completely zone out any distractions. But, when meditating somewhere loud and chaotic, that forceful attitude is likely to result in frustration.Instead, simply stay neutral. Draw all these perceptions into the Heart and remain a witness to all of them.
- Make use of any opportunity to practice. If you’re waiting for a train, do some walking meditation to make up for long hours of sitting. If you’re stuck in a passport line with a hundred other tired, frustrated people, do tonglen and absorb all their suffering.
Making Travel Itself a Spiritual Practice
By now, maybe you’ve guessed where I’m going with this.
Taking your on-the-road spiritual practice to the next level means that beyond trying to squeeze your practice into your traveling, traveling itself becomes a practice.
Travel can teach you so much about yourself. Taking you outside of your normal patterns of behavior, away from so many of the external factors that you usually use to define yourself, it’s an opening for something new to blossom. Exploring the world outside of your normal conditions allows you a glimpse beyond the level of conditions.
It teaches humbleness. Maybe at home you’re smart and successful, but here you are struggling to order in a restaurant, getting ripped off by taxi drivers, and washing your underwear in hostel sinks for weeks on end. At a certain point, the default is just to smile and move on.
Travel is often a crash course in non-attachment. First, non-attachment to belongings, as stuff inevitably gets lost, stolen, or simply left behind to make room in a loaded backpack. No matter how much you think you can’t live without something, it usually turns out that you do just fine without it.
You also develop non-attachment to plans, either when things go wrong or very right, like when you make some great new friends the night before leaving for Mexico City and decide to go with them to Guatemala instead.
There’s nothing like getting hopelessly lost in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language to teach you how to stay calm and positive in a difficult situation. Facing challenges like this brings a special kind of trust, a surrender to whatever comes, and the courage to step into the unknown.
Odd as it sounds, I learned how to come home by being homeless.
I love traveling. It’s been several years since I’ve had a good answer when people ask me “Where do you live?,” and I like it that way.
Yet sometimes, especially during silent retreats or towards the end of a long journey—like when I see the sun rising through the windows of an overnight bus—I am hit in the gut with an intense homesickness. Sometimes it’s nostalgia for my childhood home or places I used to know in Brooklyn, my last permanent address. Sometimes I don’t even know what the longing is for.
It was only in my last Hridaya Retreat that I began to understand what these waves of homesickness were about.
One of the strongest attachments human beings have is to “home.” “I’m American.” “I’m from So-and-so.” “I live here, it’s where I belong.”
From the perspective of Advaita, none of these identifications with places is real. On the ultimate level, I am not American. I was not born anywhere and I don’t come from anywhere. Wherever I think that I live is simply the form that is arising in my awareness at that moment.
Where is home, when you are pure Consciousness on a voyage through this world of appearances? Where is home, when your soul is yearning to break free of all attachments and fly into the source? Why do you feel such a need to have a place to call your own, when your nature is freedom beyond time and space?
A Sufi mystic once said that every desire is a restless movement in search of God. When you go deep enough into any desire, you find a longing for union with the Ultimate, a calling to dissolve into the essence of Life.
To illustrate, Sigmund Freud claimed that all human behavior was rooted in two desires: the sex drive and the death drive. However, with an understanding of the spiritual dimension, both of these impulses are clearly filters for the fundamental longing that all sentient beings have to return to our True Nature.
Sex is union, the illusion of separateness disappearing, which is the ultimate bliss. According to Abhinavagupta, the great master of non-dual Kashmir Shaivism, it is one of two experiences in life that is most similar to the mystical experience. The desire for sex is so intense because it gives a taste of Reality.
The death wish is actually a desire for the death of the ego. This limited form really is self-destructive in the sense that its final goal is to merge into limitlessness.
This bittersweet homesickness I feel—and that I suspect most nomads run into—is also a hidden longing for the Divine.
When I feel this strange nostalgia on the road, this ache for something I don’t really miss or can’t even put my finger on, it’s really a longing to be settled in the Heart. It’s a longing for the magic and beauty of a world without filters, stories, and illusions, for the infinity that my limited consciousness emerged from. It’s an intuition of Truth.
Long-term travel is not always easy. It challenges you on every level of your being, pushing you to go beyond your limits and always open more to the beauty and wildness of the vast world you live in.
Sometimes I wonder if my wanderlust is just a distraction. There’s a part of me that says if I were really serious about my spiritual aspiration, I would settle down in one place and just meditate as much as I can, without all the trouble of constantly moving. After all, what is there to see in the world that can’t be found inside? What’s the point of more sightseeing in samsara?
I don’t believe so much in this voice—at least not now. There is, of course, a risk in following the urge to wander. It’s easy to get lost in the adventure, thinking that happiness lies in the next stop on the itinerary.
However, the calling is there, and I believe it’s there for a reason. The open road has lessons for you. There is something the soul needs to experience in each place you visit, karmic connections that draw you to a place or a person you need to meet, for whatever purpose above your limited human capacity to understand.
The more you wander with awareness, the more you bring practice along on your travels and turn your traveling into a practice, one thing becomes more clear. Wherever you go, you are there. The Self is there. Consciousness is there, it is everywhere, and you can never go outside of it.
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.
A poem by Chris van der Weide
The screaming of a mother
Who lost her newborn cub,
The passion of a lover
Who craves life’s every drop,
The last words of a dying man
Who clung with all his might,
The songs of blinding white birds
That rain during their flight
The raging anger of a lawyer
Fighting, red-faced, for his case,
The bubbling laughter of a toddler
Unaware of his own grace,
The innocence of snowbell flowers
When they first appear
In the early light of February
Whispering gently, “spring is near…”
My arms stretch up, higher, taller,
Reaching out for Truth
They tremble in their loneliness,
Longing to be rescued
To be held, to be cradled,
To be kissed with moist, warm lips
To be worshiped and to worship
To catch the rain that gently drips
And to drink this life-brewed liquor
As it falls from heaven’s tree
In which every form dissolves
In sweet union with Thee
With Thy wisdom, with Thy breath,
With Thy overwhelming touch
This heart burns, this soul yearns
This skin cracks, it hurts so much
I know you’re hidden in the dungeon
Of excruciating pain,
I know so, for you came and promised
It in every drop of rain,
Thus, rip me open, tear this skin loose
When I run from Truth in fright,
So surely upon arrival
There won’t be anywhere to hide
Deprive me of my worn-out wardrobe,
Of my words, my ears, my sight,
I am yours Love, come and get me
Come and wed me as Your bride
Chris is a Hridaya teacher and movement and dance facilitator.
A Reflection on the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat
The trees are wavering between life and death. They are touching the ineffable. They grow somewhere between time and the timeless. They guide me beyond myself. In this house made of hard matter, windows to wonderland appear. Silence is a broom that sweeps away the illusions created by the mind. Beauty is revealing itself.
Seven weeks in silence… The mind interferes constantly and I feel compassion for it. I know it is scared and I allow it to feel this fear. Pain in a dream is real, even if the one who feels it is made of void. The void hurts the void, and the void perceives the void as suffering.
Yes, my little one, you have all the right to be afraid. But who are you, really? Who is the one that is watching?
The birds sing inside me. The day starts with the gentle song of the first bird that awakens. The others slowly join the choir. The whole day I hear nothing but surrender. At sunset, they gather on a huge tree and sing a crazy concert together—as if they had to express all their inner music before falling asleep.
The Heart says: “learn from the birds,” and I listen. I receive the message beyond words. I swim in the infinite softness of being. I taste innocence being offered unconditionally to the one who reaches an arm to the sky and puts God in a cage.
I am the one who is singing and I am the one who is killing Beauty. I am the one who is longing for freedom and I am the guardian of my prison.
Oh Beloved, liberate my soul. Take me beyond myself. Guide to me to the sacred space of the Heart. Open the gate to the Kingdom of Stillness. Carry me there… In Your tender arms, I become a song. I cannot die.
How could I be so blind? How could I not see that the birds are Love turned into music? How could I not see that the entire Earth is the vibration of Your Heart? Of my Heart…
Beyond pain, beyond fear, beyond death, is this Song that never stops. Above the clouds of the mind, there is an immense clarity—so delicate and vibrating with Life. In the depths of the human heart, there is an opening to the space of infinite compassion. The forgotten Garden of Eden. Our origin.
Silence is growing in me
like an immense tree
with roots in the Heart
It grows into my bones, muscles, and skin
It is in me
and it is me
Silence is flowing in me
It flows in my blood, tears, and breath
It embraces me from inside
It enters my thoughts
It penetrates my pain
with deep mystery
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” –Rumi
Listening to the Body
When I sensed I had an ovarian cyst, my first step was to validate my self-diagnosis with a medical one. Once confirmed through ultrasound, my next step was to explore all available treatments, both conventional and alternative. Only then was I confident in deciding my healing plan.
I found that the most extreme treatment option was surgery. After tuning into the listening body, such incisions felt harsh and intrusive to the energetic structure. This prompted a further inquiry into self-healing within the broad spectrum of tools yoga offers.
Self-Healing in Yoga
By the way, healing in yoga is accidental. Healing comes through energetic manifestation during the seeking of the Self. Its findings are vast. You must be a bit of a free thinker to wish to experience the true Self, to even believe such a thing is possible. It is similar to how the coast is met by a wall of fog that clouds the view beyond—the great, dynamic expanse of the ocean exists but remains out of sight. Only the sound of the ocean’s movement tells of a greater mystery. In the same way, you can listen to the voice of the soul via sensory awareness. Moving beyond the boundaries of conventional thought and belief, you can meet in a space beyond the mind where the true healer resides. Connectedness and wisdom emerge from in between the physical outline that seemingly separates you from me. There is knowingness, an understanding that healing and growth require moving beyond separation.
The Power of Women
Consider the collective consciousness of women, all that has been witnessed and endured since the dawn of time. Contemplate how this influences the psyche of the womb—her nature and nurture, memories and pain, distortions and violations; what she holds, possesses, and thinks she’s lost. By identifying with these ideas of right and wrong, blockages and doubts (both known and unknown) arise. This can bring confusion and contraction, which impede creativity and spontaneity—the very expression of Shakti, the energy or power of consciousness. When women come together to share in sacred sisterhood these contractions dissolve and healing energy amplifies.
Disease as Information
When disease manifests on the physical level, the body is communicating that there is an energetic imbalance. During the process of awakening the Divine Feminine, healing starts with the acknowledgment of any imbalances. For example, intuiting that ovarian cysts come from clinging to old energy, I asked both my feminine and masculine aspects: “What am I holding onto in my life and relationships?,” “Does the feminine and masculine relationship harmonize with my outer world, (friends, family, and work)?,” and “What’s is in the way of or holding back my creativity?”
While contemplating these questions, I continued to feel into what was out of balance by listening to my sensory responses. Then, moving beyond the personal, I acknowledged the womb of the world, which carries the ancestral psychic archive. Expanding my awareness in this way helped me understand and release the emotions I was holding onto. In the end, such analysis is not important. What matters is bringing light to what is hidden—only then does transformation start to occur. I listened to my body through sensory awareness, where I found every molecule of my being thirsting for “yang” (masculine) energy.
Embodying the Divine Feminine
It was a beautiful coincidence that as I was going through this process I was also preparing to host an Embody Your Divine Feminine workshop led by Antoaneta Gotea. In this workshop, Antoaneta shares her vast experience working with women. She explores the wisdom of the womb through dance, meditation, and breathing exercises. The workshop provides an opportunity to dive deep into vulnerability and share with other women in a beautifully held, non-judgmental environment.
Diet Number 7
One of my discoveries in our Divine Feminine gathering was George Ohsawa’s “Diet Number 7.” This macrobiotic diet (also shared in the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive) is often primarily associated with healthy eating, weight loss, and detoxification. Consequently, its subtle, more powerful healing advantages are not so widely appreciated. This strict 10-day fast is performed to re-balance yin and yang (feminine and masculine) energies. It strengthens a weakened feminine by charging the body with yang energy.
The idea of doing this diet resonated deeply within and seemed the most natural way to deal with my health issue, as my symptoms expressed a feminine depletion. My mind didn’t want to do it. But, I didn’t listen to the mind. Instead, I listened to my body, and I knew it was longing for an infusion of yang energy.
During the Oshawa cleanse, blood cells are renewed only after at least seven days. Therefore, it is imperative to perform the full ten days. This allows the completion of the process of regeneration. The physical is but a reflection of the emotions and the mind. Diet Number 7 gives a tremendous power of the mind, bringing a deep appreciation of life and a quiet confidence.
Self-Healing Is Just the Beginning
Three weeks after I completed the Ohsawa diet, I had another ultrasound. This test showed no sign that an ovarian cyst ever existed. It had simply gone. While this was exciting news, I know that physical healing is just the surface of this work. The real essence of awakening the Divine Feminine is unveiling the treasures of womanhood—revealing all of Shakti’s quirks and imperfections and living in full-hearted awareness.
The Listening Body
You may ask, “What is a listening body and how do I know and trust decisions I make are the right ones?” Understanding and recognizing your bodily responses is essential for self-healing. The polarity that exists between the inner and outer worlds of sensations is expressed through the feminine and masculine aspects of your being. Your body temperature, emotions, and mood, as well as how you think, see, and feel are all uniquely reflected.
The secret to energetic work is to shift attention from the mind into the body. Through sensory awareness, you learn to recognize symptoms, expressions, and echoes of the subtle body and how they manifest in your life. Once the truth of what you feel starts to crystallize, you can move away from what your mind is telling you to do. During gatherings like the Embody Your Divine Feminine workshop, the wisdom of self-healing inherently speaks to every individual as One. You can learn to let go of the need to find an answer and allow Grace to work her magic.
The Depth of Womanhood
There is something sensually penetrative about a woman who truly knows her depth. I urge you to deepen and honor your connection to the very creation of life—your womb. To remain free in a loving, playful dance, surrendered to the unknown. When you allow your Divine Essence to shine through, healing and supportive experiences abound.
The wisdom, trust, friendships, love, and continuous gifts of this work never cease to satisfy. It’s as if I see my very own eyes smile through the mirror of my imagination.
Niamh is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the founder of Hridaya Yoga UK. She will host another Embody Your Divine Feminine workshop July 1-2, 2017.
By Craig White
A Short Poetic Journey through Men’s Circles
The circle is prepared
A sense of sacredness prevails
Stillness, silence, potential, wisdom
A space fit for kings
The men start to arrive
One by one they sit in silence
Like jewels covered in dust
Light shining through darkness
The last man arrives
A jigsaw of immense wisdom is formed
A gaze between brothers occurs
The sealer is contained safely
The circle symbolizes wholeness and unity
A symbol of oneness, original perfection
Together we are stronger, wiser
As one, we can finally conquer demons
We acknowledge our forefathers
The ones who went before us
For they carry our lineage as men
And we carry their souls
The circle is opened, the sharing begins
Men drop down from head to heart
Compassion dripping from each man
A doorway to a deep yearning
A circle of mirrors appears for each man
There is nowhere to hide
Each mirror a reflection back to the inside
Each mirror a gift from the Divine
An uncomfortable charge appears in my gut
What is this man reflecting back to me
Is it my dark side I don’t want others to see?
Is it my greatness I’ve been told to suppress?
My shadow is exposed and brought to the light
I can close, contract, run away, hide
But I decide to open, smile, acknowledge the gift
Immediately I am free, I can breathe, stillness returns
We talk about the light, we talk about the dark
We talk about the past, we talk about our fears
We pour our hearts into the circle, into the magic
We free our souls for the benefit of others
We laugh, we cry, we sing, we are silent
Men cultivating authentic love for other men
What a wonderful sight, a wonderful blessing
A great event in a world of darkness
The circle naturally comes to an end
All men are complete
Each man leaves with a greater sense of wisdom
A greater sense of life
He turns away and leaves for his home
Each person he passes feels his compassion
A man full of love, a man full of light
A man who makes a difference
Craig is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and high-performance men’s coach. You can read more about him on his website. Check out another post on men’s circles here.
According to Tantra, all of creation is a play between Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (the energy or power of consciousness). Of course, consciousness and its energy are inseparable. This distinction is merely a convenient way to comprehend the incomprehensible.
In Shaktism, the ultimate Truth (the Absolute) is seen as the Supreme Mother—the unified background of all existence. This Supreme Deity is equivalent to Brahman in the Upanishads. She is transcendent, ineffable, and immutable. She is the Divine Mother and is venerated in all Her manifested aspects.
Tantra is highly ritualistic and implies a reverent lifestyle. However, it is important to understand that the purpose of Tantra’s numerous rules and formalities is to focus the mind, strengthen the will, and deepen the devotion of the practitioner. Rituals in themselves are not the final goal. They are better seen as tools used to reach higher states of consciousness.
“Hari, Hara, and Brahma—the gods of creation, maintenance, and destruction—all originate in the yoni.” –Yoni Tantra
One of the most beautiful and profound tantric rituals is yoni puja. In Sanskrit, yoni means “source,” “origin,” or “birthplace.” Puja means “worship.” In Tantra, the yoni is an abstract representation of Shakti or the Supreme Devi. It is the creative force that gives birth to and moves through the entire Universe. Therefore, yoni puja is a ritual to honor and worship Shakti, the Cosmic Mother.
Without a doubt, the most well-known text on worshipping the yoni is Yoni Tantra. As is the case in many other tantric texts, Yoni Tantra is a dialog between Shiva and Parvati. It reveals yoni puja as a highly revered sadhana (spiritual practice) practiced by kaulas (tantrics).
In Yoni Tantra (4) we find:
“Worshipping this causes Shivoham. Listen, Parvati! Krishna, after worshipping Rada’s yoni, became God Krishna. Sri Rama Janaki Nath worshipped Sita’s yoni. Vishnu, Brahma, the saints, and I myself all were born from a yoni. What knowledge in the three worlds can match the magnificence of the yoni?”
What Does Yoni Puja Entail?
Yoni Puja is a sacred ritual whose origins go far back in time. It most probably developed in the Dravidian period of India, when the cult of Shakti was a major aspect of sadhana. It entails the worship of Shakti by performing certain symbolic gestures using an abstract form of Shakti, the yoni—which is represented by a gateway, an oval, or a portal. The word yoni is commonly associated with the female genitalia. However, this can be understood as just a particular manifestation of the creative power of Shakti.
Yoni puja can be performed by using a sculpture, painting, or sanctified natural object to represent the yoni and serve as the focus of veneration. Or, the yoni can be worshipped in her living form (the female genitalia).
As may be imagined, a form of worship that goes back thousands of years and is still being practiced in India today embraces many forms. Despite any differences, there are several ritual elements with very clear symbolism that constitute the core of a yoni puja.
The ritual starts with reverence and salutations in front of the yoni. Those attending a yoni puja will usually offer five different fruits or other items to Shakti—flower petals, rice, ghee, etc. Then, mantras, hymns, and prayers will be uttered for the glory of the Divine Mother.
After these forms of adoration comes the consecration of the five elements. In this step, five liquids are poured over the yoni (yogurt, honey, milk, water, and edible oil), representing the five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether). This offering symbolizes the sanctifying of the five elements. The five liquids are collected in a vessel below the symbolic yoni. The final mixture is empowered by the direct and intimate contact with Shakti. Afterwards, every participant to the puja takes a sip of this sacred libation.
After the sanctifying of the elements usually comes the “magic stage.” This is a time that worshippers kneel before the symbolic yoni and ask the Cosmic Mother to grant wishes. Wishes may be of any kind—“please cure my mother,” “please give me a child,” “let me have success in business and increase my earnings,” etc. For the genuine spiritual seeker, of course, the “wish” that naturally springs forth from the Heart is to realize the Truth, to go back to the Source, and find the Essence of creation. Thus, by the synergy of devotion and grace, the true practitioner is absorbed in the “womb” of the Mother—contemplating the mystery of Shakti, going back to the Source.
What is most important in a yoni puja is the single-minded attention of the practitioners and their devotion to Shakti. It is this combination of awareness and love that enables the consciousness to rise during rituals. I emphasize the crucial aspect of being deeply in love with and reverential to the Mother in all Her forms. Women are multiple facets of the Supreme Shakti.
“Women are divinity, women are life, women are truly jewels.” –Yoni Tantra, Patala 7
“Women are heaven; women are dharma; and women are the highest penance. Women are Buddha; women are the Sangha; and women are the perfection of Wisdom.” –Yoni Tantra
“The divine yoni is as brilliant as tens of millions of suns and as cool as tens of millions of moons.” –Shiva Samhita
Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma!
As I run a meditation center and mostly encounter spiritual practitioners in my daily life, I am often asked: “how is your practice now that you have a baby?” The answer to this question has become clearer to me through its frequent repetition… “That depends on what practice means to you,” I often respond.
The Path of Informal Practice
After the birth of my son Benzra one year ago, it became obvious to me (as it is perhaps obvious to everyone who has taken the journey into parenthood) that a new mother no longer has much time to herself. Sitting down to meditate for a couple of hours a day was no longer an option. I began to explore the path of “informal practice,” through which my thirst for Truth could be quenched.
What Is a Mother?
Coming from an Advaita background, I found myself naturally asking the question “Who am I?”—especially as I observed myself (my “self,” who I knew so well…) suddenly holding a newborn baby all day and night. In the first few months, this introspection was so easy to ride, as all that I had previously identified with was brought into a different light and new labels such as “mother” arose and were witnessed without attachment. “Who am I?” “Am I a mother?” “What is a mother?”
As the months went on with Benzra, something that surprised me was a deep awareness of and contemplation on death. I realized that for the first time in my life someone really needed me—if I were to die, this little baby’s life would be hugely affected. And, if he were to die… That thought was terrible, but haunted me at various moments throughout the day and in many dreams. I could feel his fragility, his dependence on me for life, his connection to the source beyond birth and death from which he came into human form.
Psychologically, it was a difficult process for me to face the questions and emotions that arose with the awareness of death. Spiritually, it brought up many attachments and identifications that needed to be seen and dropped against the background of Self-Enquiry. I became ever more grateful for the powerful spiritual catalyst that death is and provides, and also grateful to my son for helping me finally see these things in a clear light.
Deepening in Surrender
One of the luxuries of living in an isolated place like Lake Atitlán, Guatemala is that I don’t have a car, a daily schedule, a job to run to (I live at our retreat center), or a lot of time pressure to accomplish certain things. Many of my friends living in Western countries who had children at the same time as I did shared that life became very stressful and tiring once their babies arrived. This was not my experience.
I have used this time of new motherhood to open again and again to the practice of surrender (particularly at the mental level) and to drop any concepts I have about how the day should look or when certain things should be done. In Benzra’s first three months I would spontaneously be called to practice walking meditation in the garden five or six times a day to get him to sleep! I could be eating lunch, having tea with a friend, or writing emails and Benzra would gently let me know that he was ready for another nap. So, I would drop everything and head outdoors with him for half an hour or so until he settled.
Embracing the Present Moment
This was a great practice in letting go of what “I” wanted, thought was best, or needed, and brought a profound flexibility into my life. I never tried to force Benzra into my schedule, so we began to flow together through each day and night. I never found myself wishing for something other than what was there for me in each moment. Don’t get me wrong—there have been some hard times when this “I” was definitely calling out for attention! But, such challenging moments provide a great opportunity for me to witness and to further develop discrimination and self-acceptance.
Resting in Awareness
What I have been most grateful for in this journey of motherhood has been the constant opportunity to practice Self-awareness and Self-Enquiry. Whereas in my previous “formal practice” there was a tendency to apply myself fervently during my “official meditation hours” and then afterward go about my day, Benzra has asked me to step into this awareness at many moments throughout the day. What else is there to do while breastfeeding for multiple hours? Why not rest in Self-awareness and the question “Who am I?”
The Wonder of Existence
Now that Benzra is one year old and is very much on the move, I deeply cherish playing with him in the garden—quietly watching bugs on leaves, running our fingers through the grass, licking a raindrop off a flower before a storm begins. I am constantly reminded of the wonder of this existence and the joy of simple being-ness beyond the conceptual mind, which Benzra has yet to develop.
The dawning of motherhood certainly does not mean the sunset of spiritual practice. In my experience, it has been the contrary. I have experienced a richness of inquiry and a deepening of awareness from the many moments in which having a baby in my arms has called me into Presence. Even though I had to stop to breastfeed Benzra twice while writing this post, it has somehow been written. I trust that all that must be written by life will continue to be. My only task is to surrender to it and watch on…
Emma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the co-founder of The Hermitage Silent Retreat Center, an idyllic spot on the spectacular shore of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. You can read her blog on the beauty of having a spiritual community here.
The Howl of Presence by Uma Esmeralda Ritstier
Fully trusting the wave that is flowing through me and the ever-present mood it stirs up,
Completely trusting the natural rhythm of my Being,
Trusting the Heart of who I am and what it expresses in this moment,
Being, without doing,
It’s okay to rest in ease,
To see the mind calm like the waves it looks at,
Being moved by the wind
And touched by the stars.
Seeing the light surging through every particle of the Universe.
Where was I going?
Before and after.
Why is the soul so enchanted by losing itself in the external?
Turn around, sweet One.
Turn and twist.
Be taken by the howl of the wolves at night
And reminded by the full moon on its return,
Receiving the blessings of its beingness.
Through brightness I arrived,
Through brightness I remember
And return inward.
Held in the moment
Of just Presence.
In view of living with Pure Intention and an Open Heart, it is useful to learn to cultivate patience in learning how to perceive and relate to people in a way that is free from stereotypes, samskaras (unconscious impressions), and projections. We live in a world that is driven by assumptions, and assumptions are the direct manifestation of impatience in understanding and assessing people around us. Impatience and assumptions act as hindrances to experiencing quality human interactions. They impede our own spiritual transformation and the overall evolution of humanity.
We know —an agitated mind, a hyperactive mind, a life lived in the mind. Therefore, impatience in understanding those around us and grasping who they are at the level of the personality—their values, life patterns, and goals—practically manifests as “re-creating” them in our minds. In essence, the agitated mind decides how it wants to perceive that person. Not having the patience to observe, get to know, and really understand someone, the mind projects its own distorted perceptions, samskaras, and current or past life dissatisfactions into a fake, distorted image of the person. They become a figure of our imagination, and the image we create becomes the driving force in any further interactions we have with them.
Rushing into defining someone, jumping into judgment, and putting labels on a person will only lead to developing that “image of the other” in our impatient and agitated mind. This will further create a vasana (in this case, a negative pattern of enforcing our own “image of the other” onto the “real one”), trying to “re-create” the person and, thus, creating conflict between the “image” and “reality” of that person. This dissonance results in drama, permanent suffering, unreasonable expectations that are never met, and a permanent source of dissatisfaction with the present moment.
A common example of such a conflict is that we feel we really “love” someone when what we actually love is the distorted image of the person that we have created in our own mind—the imaginary person, the projection. Often, we might eventually “hate” the person we “love,” as their manifestation never lives up to the expectations we have related to their “image.” Conflict and drama will soon be there, and we will resent not being able to turn the person into the image we created.
Patience keeps us in the present moment and in resonance with Absolute Truth. Impatience comes from the mind, patience comes from the Heart! When trying to understand someone, by allowing the response to arise from the Heart rather than coming from the mind and our mental reactions we learn to break our stimulus-response patterns (the rushing patterns) and stop reacting like unconscious “Pavlov’s dogs.” Cultivating non-reactivity helps in this process tremendously. Patience is “giving time for your heart to act”—the basis for real spiritual progress and for developing pure spiritual relationships. Rushing and impatience in judgment and labeling make us slaves of our own negative emotions (anger, envy, jealousy, insecurity, pride, or frustration), which we ultimately project outwards. Meanwhile, patience quiets the mind and helps us cultivate the positive emotions and qualities of love, compassion, and empathy—which allow us to welcome everyone and perceive all beings with insights coming from the Heart.
As patience is a quality that is the basis for all spiritual realization, it moves us from the realm of the ego to the realm of surrender and trust in the Divine Consciousness. It is useful to apply this in our relationships with people, too. This may mean taking “baby steps” in cultivating patience and perseverance in the way we perceive, know, and understand everyone. With practice, we can learn to drop our own projections and escape our pre-determined stereotypes and perceptions about people and the world.
Then, we will be able to really live with a clear mind and engage in actions that lead to positive outcomes, bring happiness in our relationships, and eliminate conflict. The willingness to cultivate such patience in relating to all beings is a way to live with Pure Intention and an Open Heart.
By Prem Nirav
Tantra is often understood as the web of life in which the Divine connects all beings and things—in this world and in all galaxies and universes, in manifestation and beyond. Tantra can allow us to integrate life into spirituality so that we live in peace and harmony with ourselves and those around us. In essence, Tantric rituals came about because certain teachers or gurus of vision found coincidences and correspondences between nature and themselves. Tantric rituals harness the elements of the Universe through the process of action.
All is Divine
Just as a scientist mixes ingredients to generate chemical reactions during an experiment, so too does a Tantric utilize different elements when performing a ritual.
For example, earth, herbs, ashes, fire, and water are common ingredients in Tantric rituals. In fact, a Tantric sees the entire Universe as a unified field of energy and recognizes that everything in it—living or not—has a field of energy around it and through it which we can tap into and harness. This understanding comes from the knowledge that the essence of everything is universal Divine Consciousness. From the stones on the ground to the trees in the forest, from insects to humans, everything has the spark of the Divine. So, Tantra and its rituals become a vast playground for the curious to discover all the divine qualities in the Universe and tap into these energies. Moreover, when we open this vision to devotion and the inter/transpersonal qualities of these energies, we find that these elements are those of divine entities that we can directly access.
Thus, much of what Tantric rituals have for us is in the worship of deities. Connecting with such universal beings helps bring about change and harmony in our lives. It helps clear the way so we can move forward on our spiritual path without facing seemingly endless distractions and obstructions. Tantra teaches us that we are already divine—as is everything in the Universe. It is only that our diamond has mud on it. So, we have to clean it to allow it to shine in its full splendor.
The Outward Reflects the Inner
The last element in Tantric ritual worth mentioning here is that the outward reflects the inward.
This means that when we perform a puja (act of worship) on a deity, this outward act is done for an inner purpose. A ritual performed in adoration of a deity (of a specific aspect or quality of nature) is actually directed towards that aspect of our inner selves. This is true for all Tantric rituals and helps us resonate with virtuous qualities such as vitality, healing, love, and harmony. It also helps us steer clear of difficult human qualities such as jealousy, envy, greed, and pride. In this way, ritual helps us resonate with positive qualities, as we have these energies “on our side,” and divine entities support us in keeping away the negative. Therefore, while we still need to walk the path towards enlightenment, we can do so unfettered by the difficulties of life.
Thus, our spiritual path can be harmoniously integrated into love and humility by linking the manifested with the non-manifested. For some people (perhaps many), it is a necessary modality towards their process of awakening. Perhaps the most important point is that as we become clearer vessels for love it is outwardly expressed as compassion. In becoming truly altruistic towards everyone and everything, there is a genuine, heartfelt understanding: the Divine in me recognizes the divine in you. Namaste.
We walk without sight
On the spine of the night
Despite the fright that every
ever-so-slight misstep might slide
Might slip, flip, whip, and dip
Our hearts in the vast unknown
In the never before shown
Infinite space, in which no trace
Of past exists
No maps, no routes, no lies, no lists
And nothing to hold tight
Other than the All-Bright, the Unified
And so we fall into the non-, the never ever done
The not existing timeless Whole
Through the cracks of your bedroom wall
Through the holes of my old jeans
Through each touch and all our dreams
Through a hairy dancing spider
Through our pupils growing wider
Through the sun growing brighter
In your chest
On which I lay my ear
The beating of the Drum
We’re falling upwards
We tumble through the open air
The “anyone there?”
And Nowhere where
You and I collide, take flight
In Chinese White expanding light
You’ve planted a seed in me
I’ll raise it to be a tree
On whose branches we can sway
Like children we play and lay
Of open hearts
Of humble care
Of truth and dare
Of real and fair
Of nude and bare
Of light and praise
Of beauty and grace
We slow our pace
And choose to face
The obstacles along the road
The stormy waves rocking our boat
The secrets hiding up our sleeves
The falling of the autumn leaves
The leaving of whatever was
The morning after’s empty glass
Of wine: bright and scarlet red
Of desires not being met
Of the earthly stings and pains
The false controlling need for reigns
I am this You and You this me
We wake up with soft eyes and see
It is this setting this free
There is thus no where to flee
We will infinitely be
He who paints his strokes refined
She who dances wild and blind
Here they balance
Hear them sing
We learned to love it is to give
And to laugh it is to live
And to give it is to free
And to live it is to be
And to free is to let go
And to be is to let flow
And to let go is to grow
And to flow is not to know
And to grow it is to learn
And not to know it is to burn
All you ever thought you were,
All the frames that might occur
All images that blur
This blue lagoon, revealing clear:
All is perfection, now and here
Love, there is no beast to tame
You and me, we are the same
Open doors, let’s give it all
And so we fall
So we fall
Chris is a poet, Hridaya Yoga teacher, and a movement and dance facilitator.
“OH, MY GOODNESS—How are you staying so calm??!?!! I would be so panicked if I were you!” Says one of my friends, not overly reassuringly…
I’m on a tropical island paradise approximately 6000 miles from home and unable to walk properly because of a severe sea urchin sting on the sole of my left foot. Somehow, I’ve managed (due to a lapse in …umm… presence and awareness) to leave my only remaining bank card in a cash machine, which has swallowed it whole.
Although this scenario might be every new traveler’s worst nightmare, five years of full-time traveling have prepared me for potential pitfalls. But, still…
Despite the situation, I am feeling nothing but calm, relaxed, and optimistic.
And, all I can think is “Wow, thank goodness for my meditation practice. I’ve come a long way!”
The Benefits of Meditation
There are hundreds of articles on the internet that talk about the benefits of meditation. These include scientific studies that have found that it reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, and can improve the immune system.
The mental benefits are also fairly well known. A regular practice can help reduce anxiety, lower stress, and create greater calm and clarity in our lives. There is, of course, a spiritual component as well. Over time, we learn to reconnect to ourselves and to a deeper, wider, all-encompassing presence.
But, how does someone who’s been practicing for a while notice the benefits of meditation in their everyday world?
Contemplating the recent meeting between the little black spiky creature from the sea and the sole of my foot made me aware of just how differently I show up to events in my own life these days.
Don’t Dramatize! Letting Go of The “What Ifs…”
The back of a favorite Hridaya Yoga t-shirts says “Don’t Dramatize.” It’s a reminder—should we need it—of the stories the minds loves to make up. It asks us to be aware of how we give meaning to the events in our lives.
After my run-in with the urchin, I saw my mind wanting to rush in and concoct the most terrifying scenarios imaginable.
“What if they don’t get the needles out? Or, it gets infected?” quickly became “What if I never walk again? Maybe it will have to be amputated! Waaaaaaaah!”
Pointless future thought projections as Sahajananda, the founder of Hridaya, would say.
(Heads up, as a former actress I have a great tendency toward drama. It’s true!)
I’m doubly grateful that my meditation practice has enabled me to simply witness the ridiculous acrobatic leaps my mind makes and move on without allowing myself to get dragged onto the roller coaster of emotion.
Likewise, when I’m nursing the sting of an emotional wound—for example, a lover who didn’t call or a falling out with a family member—I can launch straight into a story. Often, that story is trying to point to how something is wrong with me.
But, after being stung by the sea urchin my mind stayed relatively drama- and victimization-free. I chose not to interpret events as meaning either “the Universe is teaching me a lesson” or that I am stupid, unlucky, undeserving, or just not good enough.
I also didn’t use it as an excuse to diminish how I decided to show up in the present. I continued to teach Hridaya Yoga three times a week (albeit mat-based and seated for most of the time), with a rallying cry of “the sting affected my foot—not my Spiritual Heart!”
Accepting What Is —Saying Goodbye to The “If Onlys…”
I can’t begin to count the number of times my mind has uselessly reared the ugly faces of ghosts past to try and somehow retroactively fix the present. “If only I hadn’t done that, then maybe the present would be better.” We spend our lives trying to avoid pain and move towards pleasure. That, as the Buddha rightly pointed out, is the cause of our suffering.
So much of our mental activity can be a resistance to what is.
But, as Sahaja says, above all else meditation is a commitment to Reality.
Yes, sometimes my practice leads to greater feelings of peace and bliss. But, in this respect, a meditation practice can also be misused and abused, allowing us to check out and avoid pain—the same way we might seek refuge in an extra helping of cheesecake or a bout of retail therapy.
When practiced correctly, one of the benefits of meditation is the invitation and space it provides for us to sit with uncertainty, discomfort, and pain.
I notice how I’ve developed the emotional resilience to simply sit with what is. The more I can do that, the less I feel the need to stuff down or hold onto pain. I can simply (but not always easily) feel what is alive for me, witness it, and allow it to pass through me. Over time, this powerful practice has led me to feeling lighter, brighter, and more self-accepting.
A sting that had me bandaged up and unable to put weight on my foot two weeks before the end of a high-investment six-week teacher training course in dance wasn’t exactly ideal. And, neither was leaving my only bank card in a cash machine. Once upon a time, I would have mercilessly beaten myself up for such actions and thrown in a hefty side dollop of guilt for good measure.
“Talk about presence and awareness! You call yourself a meditation teacher?”
But, if there’s something else my practice has given me, it’s the ability to witness that unkind voice and choose a different response.
Instead, this time, I did what we all need to do. All of the time.
I forgave myself for being human.
I learn that the more compassionate and less judgmental I can be with myself, the less judgmental and more compassionate I can be towards others.
As Matt Kahn, a modern teacher of non-duality, says, “If everything that happened was always going to happen to you regardless of what you did, how would you act differently? How would you show up differently? How would you love yourself differently?”
Freedom Is Mine
In the great Sanskrit teachings, moksha (freedom) is the ultimate liberation from suffering. For us humans muddling through life, perhaps the greatest freedom we can give ourselves is to truly acknowledge what we can control and what we cannot. The media, weather, events, people, Donald Trump’s next tweet—anything outside of us is pretty much outside of our remit. Regardless of whether we believe that we have the freedom to consciously shape the course of our lives or that our lives have been predestined by the great hand of fate, there is one thing we always have the power to do, and that is to choose our response. With this comes a great freedom and the reclamation of our own energy and power.
Thanks, My Spiky Little Friend!
Once upon a time, the lens through which I looked at the world would have been darkly different. Getting stung and losing my bank cards would have sent me spiraling into worry, anxiety, fear, panic, and “poor me” mode! I probably would have upped my isolation and certainly not known how to reach out for support.
This time, I witnessed events (my new card winging it’s way to me via the UK, Australia, and Bali over the month and my foot finally healing after 3 weeks of jabs, medicine, and a minor operation—ouch!) with nothing more than a slightly detached sense of amusement. I got to choose a very different response and practice—relying on new friends, asking for support, and receiving help (all skills in the school of life that haven’t always come easily to me). I was blown away with gratitude and appreciation for the beauty, community, and connection that was created as a result. I was almost grateful to the sea urchin for stinging me in the first place!
And, that is perhaps the greatest benefit a regular meditation practice can offer.
Eventually, as that lens we view the world with gets cleared of all the dust, grime, and soot of old ways of behaving, emotional suffering, and triggers, we get to show up in the present moment and interact with more trust, compassion, love, clarity, and calm. As we change, we see how the world changes with us.
I wish you nothing but love, luck, and the same miraculous unfolding in your own lives.
Dominique is a Hridaya Yoga teacher (and now, a Mystical Dance Teacher—she completed the course!). She runs www.wanderwomen.club, an online sangha (spiritual tribe) for women that offers a free 7-day heart connection meditation course. Dominique also has a podcast featuring inspirational women and teaches Dance of the Divine Feminine and Goddess workshops and retreats around the world.
By Dee Lee
I was trying to nap in the back seat when the car hit the barrier and started to skid. Instead of the predictable survival response of fight-or-flight, a much deeper impulse arose. The mind went blank and, with eyes still closed, I heard myself calmly utter: “Your will, not mine.”
A simple, exquisite prayer of surrender that to this day echoes through the depths of my Being.
Learning to Trust
Nowadays, I find myself silently repeating these words more frequently in everyday situations. I am learning to trust more. To listen more closely. To heed only that inner voice. To act on it with courage. To gradually let go of the illusion of control. Slowly, I’m finding the delicate balance between personal effort and surrender. It’s a dance that brings such freedom and relaxation.
When I’m able to maintain enough awareness in the moment, I remember a quote attributed (though sometimes disputed) to St. Germain: “All is well in all of creation always.” The Heart knows this to be true even when the mind, with its filtered perceptions, believes otherwise. Its ideas of how things “should be” and what success looks like are so limited and so limiting. Over and over again, the outcomes of situations are far more awesome than what the conditioned mind could have anticipated. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”
So much wisdom and inspiration can be drawn from her on the topic of surrender. She also said, “I don’t claim anything of the work. It’s His work. I’m like a little pencil in His hand. That’s all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do it.” How beautiful is that? This idea resonates so deeply for me that it somehow finds its way into a hatha yoga class that I teach.
Grace Is Love
For years, the word “God” had such a strong negative association for me. This was largely a result of disillusionment with organized religion, the control and claims of dogma, and the perceived hypocrisy of the church. Through Grace, I have been able to transcend this barrier and perceive the Absolute directly, beyond form and concept. Looking at how mystics across all religions and philosophies describe their direct experience of the Divine, it is blatantly clear that they are talking about the same thing. It’s just the story around it that’s different—yet, that’s what we tend to focus on! This causes the separation, judgment, and conflict that are so painfully prevalent in the world today.
These days, my preferred name for this Infinite Love is Grace. She has a feminine presence at the moment, to help me through my current set of lessons. She has so many names. So many forms. So many faces.
The Power of Gratitude
Recently, I was reflecting upon the ever-growing list of people, experiences, lessons, and stuff that I have been blessed with in this Life. So much to be grateful for. As Meister Eckhart so eloquently stated: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
It dawned upon me that the Spanish word for “thank you” can be translated as “graces.” Coincidence? There’s no such thing in this Sublime Symphony of Life. So, it stands to reason that my only intention going forward is to more closely align myself with the Divine Will in each moment. To offer every thought, feeling, word, and action that comes through the personal self back to the Source of All. Doing this for the benefit of All.
Dee is a Hridaya teacher currently serving as our General Manager.
By Uma Esmeralda Ritstier
You just had a life-altering experience that turned your world upside down. It made you look at life from a whole new perspective. Suddenly, you experience things differently. You start living life inside out, instead of the other way around.
Maybe you just entered your first (second, third, or more) retreat. You learned about the ancient philosophy of yoga. You started meditating, and for the first time in your life you experience the deep meaning of Silence. You feel the aspiration to continue to live your life this way—the path of opening, expanding, of living with a wide-open Heart. You want to learn about integrating daily life into spirituality.
Going Back Home
You are probably just about to go back. Or you already returned to the place that you call home.
And you find yourself in a place that suddenly makes you feel like you’re all alone. Lacking (spiritual) support, and without inspiration.
Fears arise: “What if I lose it all?”
The alarm bells ring loudly: “SOS! Please bring me back!”
Don’t You Worry, Don’t You Worry Child
When you feel the SOS call rising in you, breathe into the moment. Feel your breath. Notice how it flows in and out of your body naturally. Feel what is really alive for you now. Maybe there’s anxiety or a deep sense of nostalgia when you recall that moment of true heart-opening love.
Acknowledge whatever is present for you now. Don’t worry. Really, there’s no need to be afraid. There is only this moment. And, this moment is all you have. Feel it. Feel it deeply in every cell of your body, mind, and heart.
What you experienced “back there” is still inside of you now. The preciousness of life’s presence will never disappear. Just as it never came to you, either. In the spontaneous opening of the Heart it has revealed itself to you. And, it will never be forgotten.
“Don’t you worry, don’t you worry child. See, heaven has got a plan for you…”
Don’t You Worry Child, Swedish House Mafia, sung by Madilyn Bailey
Therefore, don’t worry dear one, as this song and my great inspiration and teacher Sahajananda suggest over and over again.
It is here, in you, in me, right as we speak. It can never be gone. As it never really came.
It is here, in the midst of it all.
And it is up to you.
You can choose to allow it to guide you or to ignore its existence.
But, you have tasted the freedom of openheartedness. You have received an invitation to be who you truly are. So, why would you ever go back?
What Am I Supposed to Be Doing?
“All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.”
This short passage from Rumi’s poem clearly describes the questioning that comes up for almost everyone who steps foot on the spiritual path. In these moments of wondering “what,” “how,” and “why,” start with “who.” Who is questioning this? Allow the answers to unfold from there. Just continue to question deeply from your Heart:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
And, what am I suppose to be doing?
Spiritual teachings call this way of questioning, Self-Enquiry. It comes with a deep trust—like dear Rumi had years before us—that what brought us here will also take us Home.
Trust that all is exactly the way it is suppose to be, right here and now. Follow that innermost silence, that deepest longing of the Heart. It will never lie…
5 Tips for Integrating Daily Life into Spirituality Wherever You Are
When you find yourself in an “SOS-state of Mind,” these five tips might bring you back to trust and help you create supportive conditions for your transformation.
1. Maintain a daily spiritual practice.
Practicing meditation and yoga on a daily basis will give you the opportunity to tap into the collective field that we all create by practicing. It will keep your mind and body clear and connect you to the Heart. Practice is a great way to start and end every day.
2. Stay connected with sangha (spiritual community).
Stay in touch with your new friends from your retreat. You can create a special group via email, WhatsApp, or Facebook to continue to inspire each other and do group practices.
3. Share what inspires you with those around you.
Don’t hesitate to share your experiences with others. However, avoid preaching—some people might not feel ready for your new way of looking at things. Don’t be afraid of external resistance. Staying true to yourself might be the biggest challenge and, simultaneously, the most precious invitation to live life in openness, truth, and authenticity.
4. Investigate spiritual gatherings where you live.
Perhaps before your retreat you weren’t aware of it, but there are people gathering in the least expected places to share their spiritual aspiration. On Facebook you’ll find communities that post events and give space to share experiences. Or, you could go to an open day at a local school that offers yoga, meditation, satsangs, etc.—exploring classes and experiencing what they offer. You can start to find a spiritual community close to home.
5. Practice Self-study.
A way to stay connected and deepen awareness is Self-study. In addition to the practice of Self-Enquiry (“Who am I?”), this means reading spiritual texts. Libraries and the Internet offer a wide range of possibilities to continue reading about your favorite mystics, poets, and spiritual teachers. Sahajananda’s Suggested Reading list is a very good place to start. YouTube offers lectures and ideas to contemplate, and modern masters often film live teachings.
Self-study is a very intimate way to inquire about yourself and the deeper meaning of the non-dual teachings.
Uma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. This spring, she will join the administrative team at the Hridaya Yoga Center, serving as our Karma Yoga Manager. You can read her post on being a Highly Sensitive Person here.
“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi
It is still dark outside. Disoriented, I wake up from the sound of my partner slamming the bathroom door. Immediately and with delicate precision, all my internal judges pull out their pens and paper and start writing their convictions with utmost certainty. They don’t need to wake up to do their work. Physically, I observe how the awakening body contracts around the stomach and narrows in the chest area. “Who in his right mind would slam the door at the break of dawn?” The fridge opens and closes, the gas is turned on, some plates and cutlery make short, sharp noises. In the distance, I hear a couple of barking dogs and now a nearby rooster begins to chant his sunrise hymn. The judges chatter along, affirming, “If he didn’t slam the door, I would still be sleeping. Then, I wouldn’t be hearing any of this. But now, every detail keeps me awake. I’ll bet I can’t get back to sleep again.” I start to twist and turn, in search of a comfortable position. But, it is nowhere to be found. “You see, that’s why you should live alone. You know you need your space and you know how sensitive you are to sounds, not to mention energies.” Sleep seems as far from me as planet Jupiter, and a mosquito bite begins to itch. “Don’t scratch that bite, you’ll only make it worse. You knew you were bound to get bitten when you sat out on the terrace yesterday. And, since you are awake anyway, you might as well make use of your time instead of lazing around in bed, don’t you think?”
All of this happens in a matter of seconds, and I slowly become aware of the barking voice inside my head. I stop and remember some words from Eckhart Tolle. Didn’t he say something about becoming hyper aware of the physical body and taking three conscious breaths? I take three slow, conscious breaths and feel how the contraction in my stomach softens. Suddenly, I become aware of the early morning sunlight caressing my right cheek and a gentle melody being sung by a little green bird on a nearby branch.
The voice of the inner critic is not a stranger to anyone. It comes as an uninvited guest—without a warning, without knocking on the door, freely feeding on all the sweets and savories we neatly stocked up for our dinner party.
The fact that this inner voice exists is not the problem. The fact that you mistake it for yourself is. Have you ever taken the time to really look at the many words and images generated by this inner critic? If you had, you’d see that it has a strong tendency to create a sense of separation between itself and its surroundings. It does this to support the (conditioned) belief systems, which are based on a separate sense of self. Therefore, it likes to out-wrong the other in order to affirm the “self.”
The voice prefers to direct (i.e., project) its attention outside itself. In that way, any discomfort or dissatisfaction can be attributed to the “other” (whatever feels wrong inside should be fixed outside). Yet, the critique towards any external source is bound to be rooted in an internal fear, a fear of not being good enough, a fear of not being “worthy.” According to a variety of spiritual teachers (Tolle, Almaas, Osho, etc.), it is this fear—the root emotion of the ego—that keeps the illusion of division alive and, ultimately, keeps you from freedom.
So, how to tackle this fear?
“You have to keep on breaking your heart until it opens.” -Rumi
Where does this continuous judging and sense of separateness followed by fears and insecurities come from? And why do you listen to it? Maybe you remember being told by your parents that you were not good enough? Or, how you derived your sense of self by comparison to your friends? Or, all the little white lies you used to tell your partner and yourself to prevent any sort of (inner) judgment or disappointment? Or, the facade you might still put on to please your parents, your partner, your boss, or your friends in order not to feel rejected? Do you remember the contractions, the hidden fears, the tiptoeing, and the energy-drain that preceded and followed that behavior?
The sheer phrasing of how to “tackle” this obstacle implies that you’d rather get rid of it today than tomorrow. There is a tendency towards avoidance and suppression, the so-called “shortcuts” to (momentary) satisfaction. Thus, you live in compensation. For me personally, this is surely still the case. How often do I find myself trying to fill the void with a bar of chocolate? How often do I smile and say that everything is fine when inside it feels as if a brick is rubbing my intestines? How often do I tell myself that I should feel grateful instead of envious or lonely? How often do I tell myself that everything will be alright if only… Suppression, suppression, suppression.
As long as you keep on pushing obstacles under the surface, they are bound to bubble up as floating wounds again sooner or later. Or, alternatively, your scar tissue will become so thick and sturdy that nothing can touch you anymore and you simply live in a state of numbness.
The tricky thing here is that it is usually fear itself that frightens you the most. That’s why you became so expert in avoiding and projecting it. And, since you fool yourself into thinking that everything is alright with you, yet you face discontentment daily, you attribute the source of both discontentment and contentment to a person or situation outside of yourself. You may believe that the true source of love and happiness lies in finding an ideal partner. But, that is not love. It is neediness. Only if someone depends on you for their sense of completion do you feel secure that they won’t leave. And, vice versa. “But wait! You’ll see! If only I find my twin flame then I’ll be complete!”
But truly, if you can’t find freedom within yourself, how can you expect to find freedom within your relationships? If you are not radically honest and transparent with yourself, how can you expect your loved ones to give you the unconditional love and truthfulness you crave but are unable to give?
If you seek to live with an open heart and want to cultivate conscious relationships, (especially intimate relationships), you have to actively raise your level of awareness through truthfulness with yourself and your surroundings. Even though a great stepping-stone on this path is moving from self-criticism to self-love, you can undertake the journey with someone else from the get-go. Intimate relationships can be your greatest source of pain and your greatest source of joy. It is through both pain and joy that you arrive at Truth.
“Dancing is not rising to your feet painlessly like a whirl of dust blown about by the wind. Dancing is when you rise above both worlds, tearing your heart to pieces and giving up your soul.” -Rumi
“Alright,” says the voice with a slight sigh of suspicion, “so tell me, what do I do?” As t
he poet Robert Frost once very wisely mentioned, “the best way out is always through.” The Sufi master Muhamm
ad Attar affirms, “the one who understands this journey should have one thousand hearts so that he can sacrifice one every moment.”
So, there you have it.
They are not saying “there is nothing to be done.” They are not saying it is easy. No—they say that you have to move through the pain and sacrifice your heart (i.e., give yourself “over,” surrender to the unknown—ouch!—and make everything sacred). Every. Single. Moment. But, they are also saying that there is a way out of suffering. And, though the path might be bumpy, the thrilling and mesmerizing visions presented through a myriad of experiences will—in the light of awareness— inevitably force you to face your fears and break your heart open, again and again. Sooner or later, cracks will appear and break down the structure, but—as is a custom in repairing pottery in Japan—those cracks might fill up with gold.
Now, I’d like to do a little experiment together. Take a moment to close your eyes and evoke the sensation of three memories where you felt utterly unbound, complete, and free. Just give it a try. Yes, right now. Did you do it? Now, take a moment to contemplate or write down the characteristics of those moments—what did they have in common?
I dare say that some possibly overlooked commonalities would be the absence of past and future, the absence of thought, the absence of judgment or labeling, and the presence of presence, the acceptance of what is. When I do this experiment, I feel myself dancing in ecstasy and singing in devotion. I disappear while meditating in stillness. I relax when encountering my partner or an intimate friend with radical honesty without labeling or judging. I surrender while making love. I am free when I see the sun rise and set. When I hear the loud laughter of my twelve-year-old sister. When I cry my heart out under a starry night sky. While I listen to the sound of crickets at dusk. When I am enthralled by the grace of a hummingbird.
Tips for Growing into Love Awareness
So, how do you cultivate this state of presence? How do you move from fear to freedom? How do you bring consciousness into your relationships?
- Listen to the voice in your head as if to a stranger you just met
Free of expectations, with detached awareness.
- Do not run from the present moment
Stay there, no matter the pain. Bring awareness to your physical experience and take a couple of deep breaths while allowing the aliveness of whatever is to be. (Of course, sometimes you need to leave the situation, but do not leave the inner experience.)
- Cultivate practices of contemplation
Meditate, do yoga, be still with yourself.
- Cultivate ways of expression
Dare to dance, to sing, to write poetry, to paint, to allow stagnant energy to flow.
- Step out of your comfort zone daily
Do little things you fear to do. Talk to a stranger on the bus, tell your slightly intimidating friend she has beautiful eyes, surrender to the unknown, break your patterns. (You don’t have to bungee jump from Kilimanjaro straight away if a second floor balcony makes your stomach shrink to the size of a walnut. But, you might take the elevator up one floor a week.)
- Cultivate a code of radical honesty
Sit with yourself and your dear ones in silence, sharing truths, and creating a space free from prejudice or judgment. Dare to express your fears and fantasies. (On the same note—explore sensuality. Discover your favorite flavors of life and use them for transcendence. Read more in this article I wrote on Sacred Sexuality.)
Fear of failure? Tendency to procrastinate? To hide away? I know. We all do.
Just continue. Come again and again. Trust and learn to love. The moment you stop judging yourself and others you’ll suddenly find your surroundings stop judging you, too. There is a beautiful little yogic story that goes like this:
As a man crosses the border of a country where he has never been before, he goes through customs and asks an officer, “What are the people like in this country?” In return, the officer asks, “What are the people like in your country?” “They are just so rude,” the man replies, “they only think of themselves and never have a kind word to say.” The officer looks at the man and says, “I’m sorry to tell you, the people in this country are just like that.” Ten minutes later, another traveller asks the officer the same question, and the officer again asks, “What are the people like in your country?” “Beautiful!” the man replies, “Joyful, open-hearted, and generous to the very bones.” The officer looks at the man and smiles “You’ll be happy to hear that the people here are just like that.”
“Come, come whoever you are
Lover of leaving
Come, come whoever you are,
This isn’t a caravan of despair
And it doesn’t matter
If you’ve broken your vows
A thousand times before,
And yet again
Come again, come
Chris is a Hridaya teacher and movement and dance facilitator. She will lead the Moving From Within workshop March 3-5, 2017. Visit this page for more information or to register.
I Am Highly Sensitive
Please just stop for a moment.
And promise you’ll never ever say that again.
Saying “I am highly sensitive” is exactly how the struggle continues. By affirming this, you just put another label on yourself (one of the many you have already collected over your lifetime). Until recently, that’s what I did, too.
The Highly Sensitive Person: An Aha Moment
I came across Dr. Elaine Aron’s work on the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and I was totally absorbed. I felt like my horizons suddenly expanded in recognition—“Aha! I am not the only one.” In fact, what I was experiencing had a name—HSP. This “type of person” is more sensitive than others, among other definitions. Most of which end up causing “them” struggle in modern life.
The Real Struggle with Being Sensitive
I realized that I was one of “them.” But, that understanding didn’t diminish my struggles—actually, it was just the opposite. After a while, I had to admit I started using this label as a way to hide from life. At least now I had a “valid” reason why I felt overwhelmed so easily and didn’t like to be around large groups of people. “I am HSP,” so I couldn’t help being tired of everything or being a “party pooper,” always fleeing social engagements. It became like a mantra for me, so I wouldn’t have to face life and could hide from people.
Because “going to a party really wouldn’t be good for an HSP,” I thought, blaming the big bad world for my struggles.
Another Way to Look at Being Sensitive
Now, five or six years later, when I look back on that—let’s say—“phase” of my life, I see that it was a first step towards realizing that “there’s more beyond the length of my nose” (a Dutch expression that means that there is more than we sometimes want to see, or more than what we are aware of in a specific moment).
I have been exploring this realm of highly sensitivity in depth. I read many books on the topic, had an HSP coach, and attended a variety of workshops before finally ending up discovering yoga and its philosophy. Which explained it all for me.
More and more, I have learned to let go of preconceived ideas and started seeing how easy it is to identify with different resonant ideas, saying “Ah yes! I am like that, too.” And before you know it, you are a whole lot of things. Just think about it for a moment… How many labels have you put on your forehead today?
In reality, by releasing all the labels and layers that weigh on you, you simply become aware. Your forehead is blank and the light of awareness shines through. This brings true sensitivity and the intuition of Who You Really Are, without the attachment to being “this” or “that.”
Opening the Door to the Heart
For centuries, ancient mystical traditions have shared inspiration for remembering who you are—naturally. Inviting you to feel it intimately in your heart. To trust your gut feelings and be sensitive to life. That’s all!
Everyone is born sensitive. You might have just closed off because of the way life around us you, and you were not aware that by closing off from your sensitivity, you were closing your heart to the full experience of life. So, instead of just labeling yourself with another beautiful label, focus more on what it truly means. Go deeper in this sensitivity. Allow yourself to be who you are. And, open the door of your heart again to let life be lived intensely!
Isn’t that what you are longing for? Don’t you want to live and enjoy life, not hide away from it, closing, contracting, or resisting? Try the other way, open more… and more… and more. Personally, I’m longing to finally meet everyone in this space—between the birds, and the bees, and the flowers, and the trees…
I’m sure it will be astonishing!
The Real Work for HSP’s
For me, being sensitive now means that I am in tune with life, with the present moment.
Showing up again and again where life invites me. And I know what that is, because I feel it deeply!
The feeling of being overwhelmed (which triggers a tendency to contract and withdraw from life) just shows me that some protection mechanisms and tendencies are still active, after being developed throughout the years.
And, that’s the real work. To become aware of all these contractions and, without judgment or fear, bring them to the Heart, where they can be released. They are no longer needed.
5 Tips for Being Sensitive in a World that Isn’t
It may feel super challenging to live with a wide-open heart only to encounter a world that seems to be the complete opposite.
I’ve been there, and I am still here with you. That’s why I’d like to share some of the most precious tips I have learned along the way. They are based on direct experience gained through an intense Heart-based practice mostly coming from the non-dual teachings, Self-Enquiry, spiritual healing, and Hridaya Yoga and Meditation.
1. Live with an Open Heart
This is definitely the most precious invitation I’ve ever received in my life. This message was transmitted in silence by my teacher and biggest inspiration, Sahajananda, the founder of Hridaya Yoga.
How this relates to being sensitive is that it is so easy to point the finger outside yourself. But from today, always remember this: you were born sensitive and open. And you still are. The conditions in which you grew up were unique—everyone has their own journey. Seeing every situation and every person from this perspective, you shift from looking at the world with the mind to looking through the eye of the Heart. This gives you the opportunity to stay open and see every situation and encounter as an opportunity for deeper Self-Enquiry and love awareness.
When you find yourself in a situation in which you feel contracted or overwhelmed check-in with yourself for a moment: Are you looking through the eye of the mind or from the Heart? You might ask: “How would I know?” Just remember that the Heart never judges, contracts, or resists. If you do, then that means you’re in the mind. By allowing the moment to be as it is, you immediately feel a shift and relax. The ability to do this comes from the Heart.
3. Practice Self-Awareness
Become aware of what is truly alive for you in each moment. Ask “Who am I?”—and be honest. Is it a tendency or habit that is acting, or is it truly you?
If you recognize you are taken by a habit or tendency, acknowledge it with love and kindness. Maybe it will not mean a change right there and then. But, you just made a first step towards becoming aware of it. Now, it’s just a matter of taking the time to train yourself to shift your awareness away from the habit and transform it into a practice of awareness. Who is doing this? Who am I? With this, you create an open space from which at a certain moment there’s a choice: Is this how I want this moment to be, or would I like to act another way? Or, maybe not act at all?
4. Train the Heart
Centering yourself in the Heart throughout the day, again and again, is a way of keeping your attention on your Self. And, it prevents you from being all over the place. This brings an inner foundation to depart from and come home to.
5. Avoid Self-Pity
When things become difficult and uncomfortable, they can easily be blown out of proportion because there is a tendency to go into self-pity. But, self-pity doesn’t really help. It just further dramatizes the situation. Of course, things don’t always feel good. But that’s not a big deal. It’s okay not to feel good. Allow yourself to not feel good all the time and release all plans and expectations even more. This last tip is an invitation to relax into the moment and make space for whatever arises. Making space for yourself to just be. Without changing anything. Just resting in the now. As the Sufi poets said, “This too shall pass.”
It’s true! Trust and you’ll see.
Uma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. This spring, she will join the administrative team at the Hridaya Yoga Center, serving as our Karma Yoga Manager.
By Sol Lys
Last week, I was invited into a men’s group on Facebook. The group is a space for sharing with other men. In the group, one of the members asked other men to share their perspectives on manhood and what it means to be a “real man.”
Lately, I have been reflecting a great deal on this, and I feel inspired to share my journey over the last two years.
Looking in the Mirror
Two years ago I found myself leaving a long-term, loving relationship. I was blessed to share time with an amazing woman for almost eight years. We had grown apart, and I wasn’t able to stay with her because I felt we no longer shared the same interests and cared about the same things. I felt we could not meet in what had become more and more important in my life, which was the search for Spirit and Void.
At least that was the reason I told myself. Today, when I look back, I can see that that was not the only reason. In reality, I was struggling to meet the aspects of myself that she was reflecting back to me. I was struggling to meet, and did not have the full capacity to hold, the Divine Feminine in love.
We broke up, and I definitely feel it was the right choice for me, because that decision led to a much deeper dive into my essence. Profound experiences and a much deeper seeing into Non-Existence and Void led me to realize that I had to meet aspects of myself that I had shut off for most of my life.
Because of inherited wiring from both of my parents, because of deep wounds and traumas, I had been reaching for the light to such an extent that it had cut me off from deep feeling. Thus, I wasn’t aware of a whole dimension of my own being. It was not that I didn’t experience any feelings—far from it. I have always been very sensitive. But, I discovered that I carried a lot of judgment around for certain feelings. I could not meet and hold these aspects of myself.
The Inner Man Meets the Divine Feminine
After a longer solitary retreat with silence, yoga, meditation, and a deep call for God, I felt empowered in such a profound way that I initiated a journey into the darkness. I felt called to explore my shadow side, my fears, wounds, and traumas. On an intuitive level, my being knew that this work needed to happen in order for me to go deeper in love. From then on, things seemed to move very fast—as if something had just been waiting to be discovered. I was invited to feel my inner man. This inner man is directly connected to the flesh, as in the body, as in the Earth itself. When we are born into matter we are also invited to feel and love Her, the Divine Feminine. She is God in form. Only through feeling everything with no preference between pain, pleasure, brokenness, and non-brokenness will She open up to us. She will reveal all her darkness; all our darkness. When there is no preference, there is love for Her. If there is a preference, it is the same as rejecting Her, and thus saying no to loving Her. She will then close Herself. This is something I am indeed still learning.
Shortly after the initiation into Her, the universe guided me to work with a woman, to work with Naseem, who is now my beloved partner. We made vows to put truth first and to commit to each other as long as it serves the purpose of truth and our own evolution. The power of pure intention, truth, and Man/Woman soon became obvious to us. This work is very beautiful, challenging, and extremely transformative.
We both felt a deep pull towards each other and towards truth. We asked for truth no matter the cost. She made it possible for me to become aware of deeper and deeper wounds. Like layers of an onion, everything that previously could only exist around that wound peeled off. It has been an extremely painful, challenging, and heart-breaking journey for both of us. Death has been met again and again. But, each time we die, we dive deeper together. We have to let go, we have to allow the fire to burn what is not true and dare to be naked and vulnerable.
Becoming a True Man Means Being Vulnerable
When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open up to love, we let the light shine upon parts of us that have been in darkness for as long as we can remember. It is painful but necessary in order to become whole as Humans, as Man and as Woman. Vulnerability is absolutely key for opening more.
As a man (identifying with the masculine), I have to meet and bow to the Divine Feminine again and again. I have felt so much hatred for her and so much fear of her. Fear of losing control. This is deeply ingrained in the masculine. The feminine works in a completely non-linear way. She works from a logic that is hidden from me and has really pissed me off, challenged me, and made me furious. It’s been a real struggle. I have had to face the arrogance of the masculine many times, which is only possible in humbleness. In my partner, I see and experience a direct manifestation of Her. Thus, I have struggled and hated her. I have closed down again and again, as I could not surrender to Her in my own being. I have also opened again and again and closed again and again. In the dance of attraction and retraction, opening and closing, we dive deeper together. We make love and disappear into each other’s vastness. We meet fullness and we meet emptiness. I die, I become Shiva.
What Defines a True Man?
For me, it has become obvious that a True Man is a man who has met the Divine Feminine, Shakti, in himself. A Man that can hold all his pain and deep wounds with love. This Man will be able to fully embrace Shakti. He rests in himself and is not afraid of the constant dance and movement that is life itself. He knows and feels he is that, too. He knows there is no separation, even though he rests in his masculine essence—Death, Stillness, and Non-Existence. Only when Man and Woman both rest as whole human beings can they truly meet in the Heart. There will be no more projections, no ideas or romantic dreams. They carry themselves in a container of Truth. They understand the wounding that plays out between people. They have grown to embody compassion, as they no longer judge themselves or others, but care deeply.
This work takes time and there is no grand final ceremony that concludes the process. It is an ongoing and deepening journey of compassion and love.
This article is dedicated to my mother Mari-Anne, my beloved partner Naseem, my janitor Aisha, and Mother Earth, to whom I am eternally grateful.
In humbleness and service, Sol
Sol and his partner Naseem are Hridaya Yoga teachers. You can find more about them on their website.
By Beata Kucienska
“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!”
–St. John of the Cross
Before the first taste of awakening, human life is driven by constant, underground fear. Most of our actions are aimed at goals that would lighten the burden of that fear. Ambitions, career, relationships, and property give us the feeling of control and create an illusion of security. This illusion persists until the moment we experience a painful loss, when our life falls apart and we are confronted with the terrible loneliness of human existence. With shaky fingers, we try to collect the broken pieces of our reality and start the hard work of reconstructing our identity. Until the next loss…
The Dance between Fear and Grace
When we enter the spiritual path, we become more aware that nothing external can give us true security. We start to feel the Reality beyond the body, mind, and emotions. We receive gifts of love, beauty, and gratitude. Grace flows, showing us the reflections of Eternity. Compassion cuddles us in its most delicate arms. We realize that the mysterious Treasure we have always been seeking really exists.
But, the ego is underneath, waiting to emerge. What is the ego? A wounded child hidden in the closet. For a moment, it saw a fairyland, opened its eyes with wonderment, and forgot itself. Until the next collision with the matrix. Until somebody touches its deepest wound.
So the fear is there. Again. Rigid reality comes back… stony faces… painful voices. Muddy masks grow around the lotus flower. We play our old game… as old as the world itself.
But, the memory of the Treasure is not lost. We know it is there, and we know it is real. We practice yoga, we meditate, we blow upon the embers of the heart, we ask the question “Who am I?”… And we connect with the Heart again… or not.
Entering the Dark Night of the Soul
A time might come when our meditation becomes dry. The mind, desperate to recover its power, comes back, armed with new resources. No matter how much we try, we can’t get through the darkness. And there is fear… so much fear… more than we have ever felt.
Christian mystics, like St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton, describe this time as the “dark night of the soul.”
It is the stage when the ego deeply realizes that all its struggles to build identity, meaning, and self-worth are useless. And, we understand that the elements of reality that bring us value and comfort are impermanent. We know that all the structures that serve as our inner foundation are an illusion. We realize that we are living inside of the matrix… and this realization is terrifying.
We perceive the scent of the Unknown, but this New Reality is formless, it doesn’t provide a support for our feet. It feels like falling into an endless night.
The New Meaning of Love and Faith
“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” –Rumi
During the dark night, the soul doesn’t experience love as sweet and tender emotion. Love is a response to an inner calling to step into the darkness. It is a courageous decision to witness fear, loneliness, and anxiety emerging from our subconscious mind.
According to Thomas Merton, “If we set out into this darkness, we have to meet these inexorable forces. We will have to face fears and doubts. We will have to call into question the whole structure of our spiritual life. We will have to make a new evaluation of our motives for belief, for love, for self-commitment to the invisible God. And at this moment, precisely, all spiritual light is darkened, all values lose their shape and reality, and we remain, so to speak, suspended in the void.”
We move in this void by faith alone. But, there comes a moment when we feel like losing everything—including faith.
Merton says, “The most crucial aspect of this experience is precisely the temptation to doubt God himself. We must not minimize the fact that this is a genuine risk. For here we are advancing beyond the stage where God made himself accessible to our mind in simple and primitive images. We are entering the night in which he is present without any image, invisible, inscrutable, and beyond any satisfactory mental representation.”
Merton believes that the terrifying experience of losing faith guides us toward the discovery of true faith, born in the depths of our being, “For it is this testing, this fire of purgation, that burns out the human and accidental elements of faith in order to liberate the deep spiritual power in the center of our being. This gift of God is, of itself, unattainable, but is given to us moment by moment, beyond our comprehension, by his inscrutable mercy.”
A Call to Surrender
The dark night of the soul is a period of transition between the ego and the Heart. It is a time of losing control, seeing without eyes, hearing without ears, and walking without feet. The question “Who am I?” opens the Reality that scares our little human soul. The individual being may perceive the Unknown as a terrifying vastness.
During this difficult time, it is helpful to remember that the essence of the spiritual path is surrender to the Heart. And, the dark night of the soul is a call to this surrender. We let go of our life and offer ourselves to God within—the eternal “I Am”—beyond any image, any concept, any thought, or any religion.
This process of transition is a call to accept everything that appears in the soul: fear, doubts, loneliness, anxiety, and all of our struggles—falling down and rising again. When our humanity responds to the silent call of the Heart, our hidden subconscious world comes up, and witnessing it can be scary. The ego, that little child afraid of the dark, wants to hide under a blanket. It is trying to take its first steps into the Unknown and its fear is totally justified. Having compassion means to comfort this child, to love them and embrace them, and to accept the timely nature of this timeless call. Human life unfolds in space and time, as does spiritual adventure. Surrender cannot be forced or accelerated. It will arise from the depths of our being when the right time comes. All we can do is live this process with compassion: to hold our ego in a loving embrace while witnessing its struggles.
The Blessing of Fear
Fear is probably the greatest challenge during the dark night of the soul. It can be overwhelming, paralyzing, and extremely difficult to witness. It brings comfort to remember that we are not alone; so many beautiful teachers walked this path before us and experienced what we now do. I was surprised to discover that Thomas Merton perceived fear not as a curse, but a blessing. He believed that it is impossible to reach spiritual maturity without the experience of fear, torment, and anxiety accompanying the inner crisis of “spiritual death” in which we surrender our ego to God. Fear, when unwitnessed and blindly followed, guides us to separation and violence. But, when it is observed from the Heart as a struggle of a lonely soul that feels unworthy of love, it can become a force that liberates us from a false self-image, breaking through the prison of self-protection and awakening true courage in the depths of our being. It gives us the courage to let go of life and take our first step without feet… the step toward the infinite sky of the Heart.
The Inner Guide Home
The first glimpses of this secret sky—vastness, nothingness, void—might seem so scary. And yet, it is the Source of everything we have ever considered worthy in life… everything that has ever given meaning to human existence… every true value… every perception of authenticity, love, and beauty. During Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats, Sahajananda speaks about spanda, the Sacred Tremor of the Heart—the bridge between Infinity and our humanity. In deep meditation we can feel this tremor in the middle of the chest, and sometimes in our whole body. It is a tangible expression of the Source in the human body… Eternity shining through time, space, and matter. The mysterious Unknown is so close to us, vibrating inside of us, dancing in the core of our Being. So scary and so seducing… so strange and so intimate… so terrifying and so beautiful!
And here we are, scared of what we are. Somehow we forgot our True Nature, but deep inside, we feel that our task is to find the way back Home. For many of us, this path goes through the valley of darkness, and we walk there with no other light than the invisible one burning within, in silence. No matter how weak, frightened, and lonely we feel, this sacred light is there. When the time comes, it will give us the courage to fly without wings, completely naked, into Union with our Beloved in the innermost space of the Heart.
By Keralee Froebel
“How can you win if you ain’t right within?”
“This is just a part of my nature and everyone’s nature, to offer oneself to serve at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate.” –Leonard Cohen
In homeopathy, there is a concept of “proving,” or determining whether or not a remedy is effective. When you are being honest and mindful, you can use anything—including your reactions to external events—as a way to “prove” the remedy. You can investigate your mind and your egoic constructs to see if you are being effective in the external world.
A clarification: the ego is not bad. It is like a car used for transportation. You use the ego to navigate the external world. But if left unchecked, very often the ego ends up “using” you by reactively driving your interactions, decisions, and life plans.
A Yogi’s Guide to Trump: Examining Your Reactions
Using the current change in leadership in the United States as a theme, I invite you to be ruthless and impeccable as you examine your own conceptual and emotional reactions.
Questions to contemplate:
How do you feel about the Trump presidency and how are you reacting?
- Is your reaction allowing you to connect with your fellow human beings?
- Is your reaction enabling you to feel negativity towards anyone?
How is your reaction motivating you?
- Is it allowing you to clarify your political stance?
- Is it inviting you to discuss with and open to your fellow human beings?
- Is it provoking you to engage with the world in a more intentional manner?
- Is it fueling or encouraging hopelessness and despair?
- Is it driving you deeper into your spiritual practice as refuge?
- Is it driving you deeper into your spiritual practice as remedy?
- Is it driving you to other forms of escape?
- Is it motivating you to express your creativity in any form—visual, verbal, written, interpretive dance, etc.?
- Is it motivating you to connect with your community?
- Is it motivating you to reject your community?
What are you getting out of your reaction?
- Are you using your reaction to elevate your ego?
- Are you using your reaction to vent your anger, joy, sadness, etc.?
- Are you allowing your reaction to contribute to a previous emotional imbalance?
- Is the reaction creating division in any area of your life?
- Is the reaction creating unity in any area of your life?
- Is your reaction allowing you in any way to feel superior to anyone else (including Trump)?
- Is this situation creating fear in you? Do you find yourself spinning stories into the future based on hysteria?
Watching the Story
There are many possible ways to react to this change: some more useful than others. All emotions are legitimate, but try watching the stories you tell yourself and other people. Of course, act when called to and when appropriate. Because if the “stuff” really does hit the fan, you’ll want to be prepared. But, do watch for any unwarranted drama or hysteria on your own part. As a new leader takes office we are all given to extreme reactions—both negative and positive. Remember that the governmental process has intrinsic checks and balances and that the story can may drastically change as the often slow governmental process proceeds.
In the United States, and perhaps around the world, the election of Trump has caused some people to give in to despair, fear, anger, and horror. Innumerable people have told me they have cried over it. But over time, perhaps the workings of a stable democracy will check his trajectory as well. (Even if it now seems that his dramatic cabinet appointments tell a different story.)
Witness, too, your engagement with the mainstream media. And consider: have they ever been wholly right about anything? In fact, the Trump upset should only reinforce a cautionary approach to media. Observe your interaction with all forms of news and correspondence—including Facebook and Reddit—and ask yourself if it is becoming addictive or counterproductive.
In addition, examine yourself for any manifestation of personal drama or hysteria. Experience it if necessary, and then let it go. In Buddhism, the middle way is always the better way.
I invite you, yes, to take to the streets—but not necessarily to demonstrate (although that’s fine too, if it’s your true calling). Instead, go out to listen, connect, and discuss things with your neighbors and your community. As a result, you just might find yourself newly connected to your society in previously unimagined ways.
There Is No “Other”
Even more radically, I suggest you use this election as an opportunity to learn to appreciate the apparent “other.” Put yourself in your opposite’s shoes and seek to respond with understanding and compassion for their concerns. Seek greater unity and, as my friend says, “offer love.”
Surprisingly, these wild and unprecedented times might have many gifts to offer. But, if activism is required, remember to conduct yourself with impeccability. Never demean yourself or anyone else by getting violent, hysterical, or personal with your actions or opinions.
In ancient cultures, warriors had a specific code of honor and they bore the utmost respect for the heart and the skill of their opponents. Battles were not pissing contests or grudge matches and were not based on condescension or reactivity. They were based on courage, virtue, heroism, faith, and, quite often, mercy. You are now called to be a warrior: cultivating respect for others and conducting yourself with honor as you interact in the present to create the collective future.
A Detour, Not a Disaster
Yes, the election of Trump was upsetting to many. But things are not always what they seem. Perhaps there is a trend here—even it feels like a detour—that is ultimately bringing the world to a higher level of awareness.
From the yogic perspective, it could be said that “Shiva has spoken.” As the god of creation, protection, and transformation, Shiva is often responsible for what looks like devastation but ends up clearing the way for new beginnings. The current phenomenon can be considered a purification of sorts: clearing out the old establishment to bring in something entirely unprecedented—though not necessarily during Trump’s tenure.
An Invitation to Introspection
The political situation might not look like you want, and there are sure to be occasional switchbacks that can feel like setbacks. But, you can choose to engage with the present circumstances from a space of integrity and power.
Use these changing times to bear witness to the events at hand—as well as to your own thought processes. Because whatever happens, it’s certain to be dramatic, interesting, and wholly uncharted. And if the United States government does go rogue (Shiva forbid!), its citizens and other concerned citizens of the world can choose to be heroic warriors working together from the heart—the coeur—to act with true courage! As such, being non-reactive, integrated, and aware in the present we can enable our collective future to unfold in a coherent and harmonious way. And as heart-centered yogi warriors, we can create a phenomenally powerful, astonishingly integrated, and surprising new reality together.
So take heart, watch your mind, and buckle your seat belts… it’s going to be a bumpy ride…
Keralee is an artist, musician, and Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read more from her on her blog.
By Molly Hock
Bombings in Iraq. Racism and police violence in America. Attack after attack in Istanbul. Violence and killings leading to genocide in Burma. Thousands stranded in Greece. Bombings in Cairo. Hate crimes in England.
My heart cries for the lives lost and the lives touched by the recent violence in Germany. My soul aches for all those affected by child slavery, sex trafficking, and prostitution. My entire being feels the pain of the Yazidi people, of the young girls captured and held by ISIS.
The Fog of Suffering
Waking up to news of one act of violence after another has recently put me into a head fog. I have been at a loss for words, which is when I know I’m struggling. It is easy to get lost in suffering when our daily conversations, our media headlines, and our Facebook newsfeeds revolve around the pain and injustices of our world. It is easy to lose focus, to give up hope. But how does this serve our global community?
I have spent the past few days reflecting on the importance and connection of both global awareness and inner peace. As a spiritual humanitarian, I find both of these elements to be vital in today’s society. Can we really have inner peace without being aware of what is happening to our brothers and sisters around the world? Is it effective to be immersed in global injustices without inner peace?
Inner Peace and Global Awareness Go Hand in Hand
Through my personal experience of retreating in the Hridaya Community for months at a time, having the violence of ISIS land on my doorstep, and being immersed in the suffering of refugees in Greece and Turkey, I can tell you that I cannot have one without the other. I cannot serve our global community while being lost in suffering, but I also cannot have inner peace without serving those around me.
So how do we find a balance between the two when it is so very easy to slip into one realm or the other? How can we channel the suffering, the hatred, and the pain through us while remaining centered and hopeful? I feel it is my life’s journey to play with the dance between the two, finding a place of healthy synchronicity.
I watched two short video clips when I arrived home the other day after visiting refugee friends celebrating a religious holiday in the parks of Thessaloniki. The first video was of a 15-year-old boy sobbing after his father was shot and killed by two policemen in America. I was in tears… Tears for this young child, for all black people enduring injustices, and for the lack of humanity from our media outlets. WHY, CNN? WHY!? When a child is losing control of his emotions, respect him, turn off the camera. Let this young boy heal in privacy, comfort, and dignity.
The second clip was of Shiite and Sunni Muslims joining together in Iraq to pray at the site of a recent car bombing, which took the lives of 250 innocent people. This is when I felt the gentle reminder to see the light in the darkness, to acknowledge the beauty that stems from hardship. The serenity I experienced while watching this short clip was a reminder to feel deeply, to welcome all that arises within, to be gentle with myself and with the world around me, to remain grateful for all that is, to give myself fully for the benefit of all beings, and to embody the importance of self-care.
Absorbing All That Is
So, tonight I choose to see the beauty in our world. I chose to retain hope, to share my light with all those around me, to honor myself for where I am in this moment. I take tonight as an opportunity to breathe in the air around me, to be grateful for the present moment, and to soak up all of the love and beauty in my life. Tonight, I simply absorb all that is. I accept both the darkness and the light.
Molly is a Hridaya Yoga teacher who is currently volunteering with refugees in Jordan. To support her work, make a donation here.
The Story of Inner Transformation
The great stories cherished by humanity contain the essence of life. The most unforgettable stories are those that express the deepest pains and longings of the human heart. We read and watch these stories to connect to ourselves, to feel what is hiding behind the masks of everyday life. We long for this kind of stories because they take us back to the Heart
Literary scholars have recognized that most classical stories have a certain sequence of events. Joseph Campbell called it the “Hero’s Journey.” This sequence expresses the journey and the transformation of the human soul, which is made visible in the reality of space and time throughout the story.
The Stages of the Journey
It is worth taking a look at the “Hero’s Journey,” since it is the journey of every human being. Below, I describe the stages of this journey, inspired by the Joseph Campbell archetype:
- THE ORDINARY WORLD: We are born human. It is beautiful and it hurts. We are involved in a constant search for happiness. There is a deep fear and longing inside of us. We try to figure out what we really want from life.
- THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: The pain and the longing in our hearts become more intense. We hear the inner call. We have an intuition that there is another kind of life: fuller and truer. But we don’t know how to get there.
- REFUSAL OF THE CALL: We are afraid. We oscillate between the longing for a new life and the fear of the unknown.
- MEETING WITH THE MENTOR: We find a teacher. It can be an external teacher or our own intuition. We see the direction to go.
- CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: We make the decision. We leave the ordinary world and take a step into the unknown.
- TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES: We taste the beauty of the new world. We meet other people with the same calling. Trials come and we learn how to face them.
- APPROACH: The calling grows in us. We have a feeling of a mission, a task. We go through a process of purification. We prepare ourselves to accomplish this task.
- THE ORDEAL: We face our biggest fears, our deepest wounds. We die inside and a new life is born from this death.
- THE REWARD: Now our whole lives have a different taste. We have found an inner treasure. We see the world with new eyes.
- THE ROAD BACK: We want to share this treasure with our loved ones, to bring it home. We undertake this journey.
- THE RESURRECTION: This is the highest purification. The deepest transformation. The final death and rebirth.
- RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR: We are in possession of a treasure that has the power to transform the world and our lives become a mission to share it with others.
This “Hero’s Journey” pattern, found through research on the structure of classical stories, is also a beautiful description of the spiritual adventure. It is encouraging to know that we all go through the same process, even if our individual paths are different. It can also be helpful to figure out which stage of the journey we are in right now. Is it the right time for retreat, withdrawal, and healing our wounds? Or, maybe there is a calling to dive into samsara and share our treasure with our family and friends.
Life cannot be reduced to any strict pattern; some stages can appear in a different order or can be repeated several times. However, the observation of human lives shows that the process of inner transformation contains all the steps mentioned in the “Hero’s Journey.” The calling to enter a specific phase in our spiritual evolution appears in the heart when the right time comes. We can follow it or we can resist it. Whatever we choose, the pain will be part of our path. We cannot really avoid it until the final liberation. If we resist the calling, we can stay blocked on one stage for years. If we follow it and embrace the experience with all its pain and beauty, we become heroes undertaking the journey into the Kingdom of the Heart: the most surprising and fulfilling adventure of our lives.
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.
On Christmas Day, I would love to inspire you with a beautiful talk about Christ Consciousness. An even deeper longing is to show you, to invite you, near your own heart so that you may directly feel the radiance of this anointed one. I invite you to experience this intuition, which is immediately available within, at any moment. During this direct, intimate connection, it is very difficult to make a separation between the self and this divine emanation, because the common self you call “yourself” slowly disappears as you practice the Prayer of the Heart. I invite you to pray this way today.
The Prayer of the Heart
This prayer is very simple. It uses the breath, naturally, just as the waves move in the ocean. However, it must really be expressed with your entire being, only then does it truly work. A common form of the Prayer of The Heart is: “O Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.”
But, I would like to share with you how I pray: “My Lord, Jesus Christ, please have mercy upon me.”
I find that adding the words “my” and “please” causes a deeper intimacy and vulnerability to arise within me. You can try to utter these two different versions a few times and feel the quality of your own inner landscape.
Before delving deeper into these details, I would like to portray the simplicity of this practice. This prayer is like a tiny seed whose humbleness holds the potential to be an entire tree—though simple in its practice, is like a sieve that gradually refines your heart so that it may recognize and merge with Awareness in the Spiritual Heart, your Real Essence.
The Practice of the Prayer of the Heart
To practice the Prayer of the Heart, make yourself comfortable in a prayer or meditation posture and use the breath to enliven the prayer until your entire being partakes in its utterance.
You breathe in the heart:
- On inhalation, mentally utter the first part of the prayer (“My Lord, Jesus Christ”)
- Pause and hold the breath (full lungs)
- Exhale and mentally utter the second part (“Please have mercy upon me”)
- Finally, pause for a moment, holding the breath (after exhalation)
That’s it. It’s very simple. Try it—start by focusing in the chest area and calming the breath, becoming quieter and more interiorized. Then, begin to utter the prayer with Open Attention.
Going Deeper in the Practice
Your inner attitude and openness when performing the Prayer of the Heart are essential in going deeper. When inhaling, you open to Christ Consciousness. You perceive every quality you can attribute to this consciousness—first conceptually, then emotionally. The more you pray, the more refined and intimate this connection becomes. Inhalation becomes a fullness, a filling of your available empty vessel with Christ Consciousness (as best as you can feel it and understand it at this time). To match this subtle recognition, it is important to be very quiet in your body and mind. In time, all attributes will fall away and radiant, luminous Pure Presence will be intimately experienced.
When holding the air in your lungs, rest in your heart, in stillness, in the fullness of the radiance of this light. It is the awareness of the dissolving of the personality. In time, this dissolution becomes complete as you learn to open and surrender more and more. You experience a fusion with the gentle light of the grace and love that you recognize as constantly being available to you. It is a moment of deep intimacy and immediate intuition of Christ Consciousness.
On exhalation, love. Simply love. Allow yourself to be loved and, simultaneously, love yourself. As the personality, you ask, you pray, for mercy—you express an act of openness. From the fullness of light and grace, you bestow this love unconditionally. Asking to be loved means allowing yourself to be loved, which is an act of unconditional love and compassion towards yourself. You love your ego, your emotions, your thoughts, your body, your strengths, and your weaknesses. The gates of heaven in your heart open and the light pours into every corner of your being. Is an act of love-forgiveness-embracing. It is praying and gratitude simultaneously, both asking for help and receiving love. Your personal self surrenders in openness while Christ Consciousness bestows its grace.
When holding the breath after exhalation, rest in the peace of non-being. It is an emptying—you ready yourself to receive the grace of Christ’s presence. It is a pure recognition of peace and stillness. It is a moment of transcendence and a serene embracing of the entire existence.
Opening to Christ Consciousness
When I started using this prayer, I noticed that there was a subtle resistance to the idea of Christ Consciousness. That’s why I persevered and added the word “my” when I utter it. I say it as a way to remember that there is a full embracing of this consciousness, a readiness for intimacy, while I pray.
Perhaps you may feel (as I felt) that it is a bit more comfortable to invoke Jesus Christ in a dryer, more detached way—“that” Lord Jesus Christ. If so, you may want to try saying “My Lord Jesus Christ” to express your immediate availability. The formula does not matter. It is just a subtle purification the ego’s tendency to maintain the status of being separate.
When I use the word “please” in “Please have mercy upon me,” I again address the ego’s resistance to asking for help. It is an indication to the personality that I really want to open and deepen this receptivity. It is the genuine crying of a baby that seeks a mother’s immediate attention.
What Is Christ Consciousness?
Christ is the one who already pervades you and calls you gently, beyond judgments and expectations, into the divine presence already existing in your heart. You can see Christ as that knowingness in a moment of action when you are making a wholesome choice, as that secret knowingness that Consciousness is more than just a human physical body. It is the realization that when you ask for external help, it is your inner responsibility to embody the received answer through your attitudes, actions, and, ultimately, your surrender. Jesus proclaims the “Kingdom of Heaven is in your Heart.” He indicates that spiritual endeavor has an inner direction towards that essence which is already with you, and within each of us.
Christ is the direction,
the step out of the everyday,
outside of yourself.
It is this immediate experience of love,
gratitude, forgiveness, and aspiration.
It is the enthusiasm, exultation, ecstasy,
understanding, light, and bliss.
It is the palpable emanation of the unmanifested,
the pure radiance of the Divine Presence.
It is your heart’s gateway to the ineffable.
It is the intuition that you are born to love—
to love everything so profoundly
that every expression of this manifestation
is celebrated and adored in ecstasy.
This love is the recognition that remains
as a constant, continuous exultation of the Heart.
Claudiu is a senior Hridaya Yoga teacher
By Natasha Friedman
The Yearning of Spiritual Aspiration
A student goes to his teacher in ancient India. He asks, “When will I reach enlightenment?”
The teacher leads him to a river, takes him out in a rowboat, and asks him to jump overboard. When he does, the teacher thrusts the student’s head under the water and holds him down. When he is choking, about to pass out, the teacher lets him up.
The teacher asks, “What did you feel when you were underwater?”
“Desperation. An agonizing desire for air. Every particle of my being crying out to breathe.”
The teacher says, “When you want the truth as much as you wanted to breathe, that’s when you will get it.”
Do We Really Want to Know the Truth?
For many of us with spiritual aspiration, we actually don’t want the “truth”—at least, not yet. We want to want it. Maybe we want to want it so badly we feel like we could die from wanting. But we don’t die, we can’t die into it… yet. There is still a part of us that thinks happiness lies just around the next turn of the wheel. Maybe it will come from the next retreat, from finding the right guru, living in just the right ashram, from this or that meditation technique, from learning all the secret mantras and mudras.
And so the wheel turns.
I don’t know why I’m on the spiritual path. If you ask me directly, I would probably give you a superficial answer. But, when I look a little deeper into myself I find only bewilderment, a million ideas and impulses and in the center, this not-knowing. Void. Awe.
Beginning the Journey
It started out simple enough. I was 24, lost and alone in my “starving artist” identity bubble, digging myself into a hole searching for something. Finally, that hole went so deep that I popped out the other side. I found myself at a Buddhist center and suddenly I was there every day, meditating.
The thing is, the more answers you look for, the more questions you get. This rabbit hole goes all the way down. Following one clue after another into this ever-expanding labyrinth of chakras and nadis, hidden worlds, laws of karma, and flavors of emptiness, bodhicitta, Shiva and Shakti and Christ-consciousness, and experiences further and further from what your rational mind can understand. Then, at a certain point, you look at all the pieces in your hand and start to wonder what puzzle this is exactly. You realize this turn your life took is part of something so much more vast and unfathomable than you could have imagined.
And then you realize others feel the same. You’re looking for the same thing that people have been looking for since early human existence. It’s the same thing that deep down, everyone, every being on this planet, is seeking. The only difference is you have this itch of aspiration, this crazy drive to know. You won’t be content with anything less than the direct experience, nothing less than union with this something that is beyond everything.
The Courage to Seek
Many people think that spiritual life is some sort of escape, like you can’t deal with the “real world.” I feel that couldn’t be farther from reality. It takes courage to let go of everything you trusted in the world you came from, to stop believing what you’ve always been told and what your mind tries to tell you.
It takes courage to go head-on with your demons. It takes courage to see how high you can fly. It takes courage to come face to face with yourself.
It takes courage to offer it all into the divine fire.
I’ve been on the road for almost a year now. California, Hawaii, Mexico, Israel… The scenery changes but that something in the corner of my eye is always there. I don’t miss having a home or “normal life” or anything, but I feel a fire in my heart, stronger every day. A longing that is so painful and so blissful at the same time.
Finally, I arrive at Hridaya. Again, something cracks open and the light comes in. I do one 10-day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat and go back the next month for the 17-day. It is so sweet, all those mornings when I wake up in the dark and sit alone until the sun peeks over the horizon. Eagles floating up from the beach in the afternoon. Staring at patterns in the bark of a neem tree. Catching my breath at the beauty of every moment, too precious even to hold onto.
In the meditations, I feel myself falling asleep to the outside world. Inside, something is waking up. I am curled up in the womb of the universe and I know nothing, I am nothing, there is nothing to know.
Sahajananda reads poems by Rumi and Hafiz before meditation sessions. There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you? Every night he answers questions that students leave on slips of paper in a glass cup by the altar. One night, someone writes that she is depressed and suicidal. She is alienated from her family and all her friends are drifting away. She says she has lost all her reference points.
“This is a powerful time for you,” he answers. “You can learn from it. If a reference point can be lost, that means it isn’t the ultimate reference point.”
A Magnet in the Heart
There are times when it all snaps into focus, like for the blink of an eye I can almost see the whole picture but it’s just out of reach. I want to cry and I can’t tell if it’s from joy or heartbreak. Where are my reference points? Who put this magnet in my heart that draws me deeper and deeper into the unknown? What set my life to curve around the divine, like the spirals of a plant or a galaxy reaching for the Beloved?
I pray to God to take everything from me so I can be naked and alone with the truth. Take my mind, take my life. Make me a leaf in Your wind. Make me a finger in Your hand to spread Your blessings. Oh Beloved, take away what I want, take away what I do, take away what I need, take away everything that takes me from you…
At the same time my deep, self-preserving ego prays for the opposite. Lord, keep me safe. Lord, give me long life in this body. Lord, give me someone who loves me. Give me money and sex. Make things how I like them.
And the wheel turns.
Maybe it’s all very simple. Whatever you want, God wants to give you. If you only want God, if that’s really all you want with every last drop of your being, that’s what you will get.
I keep praying. I keep meditating, practicing yoga and doing retreats. I study. I do tapas. And I listen for that tiny, precious voice that says, “Listen, child, come closer, let me tell you a secret…”
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. Her spiritual aspiration is guiding her to participate in the 2017 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat.
My Experience in the Yazidi Refugee Camp in Greece
People in the Yazidi refugee camp look straight into your eyes. They can do it for minutes. As if they weren’t ashamed of anything. As if they had nothing to hide. Their eyes are like big, quiet mirrors… sheets of mild water… windows to an unknown land. For a month, I was trying to touch their world. Every day was a step into a mystery.
Banished from Home
“All the books of those who are without are altered by them; and they have declined from them, although they were written by the prophets and the apostles. That there are interpolations is seen in the fact that each sect endeavors to prove that the others are wrong and to destroy their books. To me truth and falsehood are known.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation
My first day in the refugee camp in Serres. I sit with the children under a tree and read a picture book that I found in the donation box. Suddenly, all the children get up and run to the gate.
“What happened?” I ask them.
“Nadia Murad came! Sister Yazidi!”
I follow the children. A beautiful and very sad girl, dressed in black, stands in the main square and talks to the people. She escaped from the hands of the ISIS soldiers who raped her for several months. Now she lives in Germany and tries to help the refugees. She gives interviews, talks to politicians, and asks the world for mercy, for help in liberating the more than 3,000 women and children who are still in the hands of ISIS and experience unimaginable horrors every day.
I cannot sleep at night. Something trembles in me. At the beginning, it is difficult to find my place. The Yazidis have just moved to Serres from another camp and there is no structure yet. My friend Molly, a Hridaya teacher who inspired me to come here, runs the team of volunteers and tries to respond to the most urgent needs. I help her count clothes, soap, and shampoo, and to distribute things. We go to the warehouse and choose clothes for the refugees, we build furniture to store things, we attend to mothers who constantly ask for diapers, milk, bottles, and shoes.
After some time, I try to organize an advanced level English lesson for teenage girls. We gather in a tent and they share their dreams:
“I want to go to Barcelona and meet Lionel Messi.”
“My dream is to join my family in Germany.”
“I would like to visit India and learn to dance.”
“I want to go to Canada and play with snow.”
A young woman gives me a note. There is only one sentence: “My dream is to go back to Iraq and see my mom.” I swallow my tears. She reads it aloud. Suddenly all the girls start talking. They want to return to Iraq, to go to school, they miss their friends, their families, holidays spent together, excursions to nature. They are yearning for home. And their eyes, their lips overflow with emotions. Raised in the desert, attacked by ISIS, the Yazidis are an exiled nation. The city of Sinjar, emptied through hate and violence, is their lost paradise.
Sinjar, Shingal, I hear this word every day. The girls share:
“My favorite job is a policewoman. I want to help the Sinjar people.”
“I would like to be a doctor, to heal the people in Sinjar.”
“I want to be a teacher and share everything I learned with others.”
On the tent’s floor, I see a note: “Sinjar in my blood.”
“And, now,” I say, “Choose your most important dream, and write it down.”
A beautiful girl with deer eyes gives me a note: “My dream and the dream of all Yazidis is freedom for the women and children abducted by ISIS. Because they are raped and tortured every day.” I read it and stay silent. I have no words. A 13-year-old girl takes the card from my hand and reads it aloud. Nobody is surprised. Everyone in the camp, including the children, feels the horror of the ISIS sexual slaves. These women are their sisters. It is their collective pain. One big wound poured into hundreds of thousands of hearts.
My Friend, Give Me the Heart!
“I was, am now, and shall have no end. I exercise dominion over all creatures and over the affairs of all who are under the protection of my image. I am ever present to help all who trust in me and call upon me in time of need. There is no place in the universe that knows not my presence.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation
There is so much joy in the camp! Four hundred refugees live here and more than half are children who play all day. The mornings begin with singing and dancing. The volunteers organize sports activities, games, and English and Greek classes. The children learn two new alphabets: Latin and Greek, they learn to read and write from left to right, to turn the pages of books in the opposite direction. They assimilate new rules on a new planet.
The first words that you hear in the camp are: “Hello, my friend.” The children come to you and shout: “Hello, my friend!” Some of them run into your arms. After a few days in the camp, the sentence “Hello, my friend” enters your blood. You use it to greet both the refugees and the volunteers. After a while, you start your emails and posts on Facebook with these words. They acquire a peculiar sweetness. When you return home, you miss them. Your ears instinctively seek them, but nobody in your country greets you this way.
Another English sentence that every child in the camp knows is: “My friend, give me one!” The “one” can be a card, a pen, a pencil, a balloon, a hair elastic, or a paper heart. Molly asked me to decorate a hall in the abandoned school with hundreds of colored hearts. For over an hour, we hung them high on the wall, out of the reach of the children—they were watching with hungry eyes. “My friend, give me one!” they screamed. I left the hall for several minutes. When I returned, there were no hearts on the walls. The kids had climbed on the tables and taken them all.
The children serve as interpreters in the camp. They learn English very fast. Some of them studied it in Iraq, and in the camp they absorb everything. I like to read with them. I choose a donated book and when the children notice me, they gather around. We sit down together under a tree. The older kids read aloud, the younger ones describe the illustrations: “This is a dinosaur, this is an island, and this is a volcano. The boy is flying in a balloon over the ocean. He rescues the girl and the dinosaurs. After a long journey, he returns to his grandfather and together they drink hot chocolate.”
I find a book with pictures of animals. I notice a group of boys under a tree, they are calling me. Together we look at monsters from the depths of the ocean. “This octopus is bigger than a human, as tall as the distance between this and that tree.” I explain. Shouts of astonishment. Fascination. Suddenly, the kids raise their heads.
“Beata, look there, on the tree!”
“What is it? A bird?”
“Yes. Listen. It is singing…”
Come with Me… Beyond Words… To Wonderland
“I give and take away; I enrich and impoverish; I cause both happiness and misery. I do all this in keeping with the characteristics of each epoch. And none has a right to interfere with my management of affairs.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation
The women don’t speak English. When they need diapers, milk for their babies, a pacifier, a bottle, they bring children as interpreters. I visit them in their tents. They ask me to teach them English, too, so I do. Every day, I repeat “head, hair, eyes, nose, mouth, neck…” dozens of times. The women do laundry in their basins, and repeat after me, “head, hair, eyes, nose…” With time, the lessons become more formal. I prepare teaching aids, I write, I draw, I gather people to the school. The women stay for hours after class. They copy strange signs in a foreign alphabet from the board. They want to learn so much! They want to grow so much! “I would like to work, to do anything, not just sit in a tent all day,” one of them told me.
I like to spend time among the tents. I made friends with a 13-year-old girl who always dresses in white. I ask her parents about the meaning of her clothes. “Gardinia, no husband, no children. Mother of all,” they answer. Gardinia doesn’t participate in the games organized by the volunteers. She stands aside and observes everything. She accepts her destiny with serenity, but I feel the loneliness behind her smile, the burden of being different. She brushes my hair, and paints birds and flowers on my arms. We sing together, we exchange bracelets. Gardinia spends two days making a bracelet, using beads that have the first letter of my name. I read books with her, draw animals and write their English names. Twice, she makes the same drawing: a blue eye crying red hearts, which fall into a vessel and give birth to colorful stars and flowers. She gives me more presents: juice, a croissant, an apple.
Each family receives a daily ration of food from the Greek army. It is not much, but they share it with the volunteers. They care about us; they ask if we are hungry. At the beginning of my stay, a woman tells me (through her English-speaking son): “When you are hungry, come to me and I will give you food. When you are tired, you can rest in my tent.” I am speechless. Where did I arrive? At a wonderland? These people have been deprived of everything, but ISIS didn’t manage to take away their hearts.
Jokes, smiles, games: waves on the lake’s surface… and underneath, such deep pain and longing. How does it feel to lose everything? To be banished from your own home? To wander through different countries? Not be able to cook dinner for your children, to make tea? To ask strangers for soap, shampoo, underwear, bras, milk for your babies? How does it feel to miss the place where your ancestors lived for 6,700 years? And to suddenly be spread around the world? To have a mother in Iraq, a sister in Turkey, a brother in Germany, while previously your family lived together for generations? Where is your home now?
A Silent Embrace
“I lead to the straight path without a revealed book; I direct aright my beloved and my chosen ones by unseen means. All my teachings are easily applicable to all times and all conditions.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation
Hello, my friend. You have such serene eyes. And you look at me with such calmness … as if you have nothing to fear. Where do your courage, dignity, and hope come from? You were stripped of everything that smelled like home, banished into the unknown, and you don’t know how it will all end. I don’t understand you. I don’t understand your language, tradition, or faith. Your world seems a strange planet to me, the same as mine to you. The only thing I can do is teach you a few words, so you can ask for a shirt, shoes, and trousers. And, I will also teach you ‘love,’ ‘hug,’ and ‘heart.’ And, I will look into your eyes. You know, in my country, people live in such a hurry. So few can look into each other’s eyes and remain silent. Just like you. So simple.
It is not easy for me to look at you this way. There are things that I want to hide. There are things that I’m ashamed of. There are things that I’m afraid of. Because looking into the eyes of another human can be the hardest thing in the world. But not for you…
I know you so little and, yet, something shivers in me. I understand so little of you and I cannot sleep at night. And this homesickness, is it my longing or yours? And this sadness? And this hope? And this stinging in the heart… Is it pain? Or love?
“In love, nothing exists between heart and heart
Speech is born out of longing.” –Rabia al-Basri
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her contemplation on transforming suffering here. To support the work of Molly Hock, a Hridaya Teacher who continues to work with refugees in Greece, check out her CrowdRise page.
I have been a practitioner and teacher of Tantra for about twenty years, and I have been asked the question many times, What is Tantra? It is interesting to notice that while writing this sentence I feel a slight contraction, as I know the common connotations given to the word. You might think I teach how to have more orgasms, how to have superlative sex, how to let the sexual instincts flow, how to get naked in a minute, how to be polyamorous, how to couple up spontaneously to “overcome” inhibitions, or how to have orgies. Well, I am afraid I am going to disappoint you… Instead, I want to reveal the truth and depth behind these controversial teachings.
Tantra Is Love
Tantra has captured the fascination of the Western world, but few Westerners actually know what it means. The origins of Tantra go far back in time, in the beautiful land of India. Some Eastern scholars believe that it originated around the sixth or seventh century A.D. Others affirm that Tantra is an ancient tradition, having its origins in the pre-Aryan period. Even if we cannot assign a definite date to the beginning of Tantra, what is worth mentioning is the great influence of Tantrism on all the great spiritual traditions of India, including Shaivism, Buddhism, Vaishnavism, and Jainism. All these traditions developed a Tantric dimension. According to religious historian Mircea Eliade, there are two main branches of Tantrism: Hindu Tantrism and Tibetan Tantrism.
What Is Tantra?
The word Tantra comes from the Sanskrit root tan, which means “to expand,” “to spread,” or “to stretch,” and tra, which means “instrument.” Therefore, Tantra literally means the “instrument to expand” the level of consciousness from ordinary to extraordinary, with Self-realization as its ultimate goal. Tantra also means a “loom” or “weaving,” which is related to the fact that it teaches that the Universe is a web in which everything is interrelated and interconnected. Although the word Tantra has many meanings, each with its own particular nuance depending on the context, its most significant definition remains: it is an instrument to expand the level of consciousness.
In one sentence, the philosophical and practical system of Tantra can be summed up as: “Nothing exists that isn’t divine.” This is the quintessence of Tantric philosophy. All the features of Tantra have their roots in this vision.
The Divinization of Life
In Tantra, the universe is alive, not illusory. It represents the manifestation of the joyous, free Divine Consciousness in a variety of forms. All manifestation is simply the interplay of Shiva and Shakti, the masculine and feminine. Thus, we can say that Tantra is a world-affirming and body-affirming spiritual tradition. A practical consequence of this view was that householders could aspire to spiritual liberation (moksha), which was not the case in Classical Yoga, where renunciation of worldly life was considered absolutely necessary for moksha.
Tantra dissolves the division of spiritual versus mundane. Every aspect of life is integrated as a tool for spiritual growth. Its practitioners aspire to transcendence in immanence (material existence). But pay attention! This does not mean ordinary indulgence in life. It implies a continuous focus on the divine vision so that life, with all its activities, becomes a launching pad to eternity.
In Tantra, the body is seen as a living temple and sexual energy is seen as divine energy. The body, with all its energies, is considered a divine instrument for spiritual transformation. We can say that the broad approach of Tantra consists of making all ordinary activities sacred.
Tantra is a practical system. That’s why it’s called a sadhana shastra, which means it is a practice-oriented scripture. It is not an instant philosophical system. It is based on the direct experiences and realizations of Tantric sages and it consists of numerous methods to suit different types of followers.
Thus, it is a non-dogmatic system that adapts to the needs of the time. It is a dynamic system that has changed and developed for the benefit of its adepts.
Joy, Love, Happiness, Bliss, and Ecstasy
Tantra has developed as a joyful tradition that embraces all the activities of life as expressions of the Divine. It is not rooted in dogma or the denial of life, even though it promotes a highly ritualistic lifestyle that implies following certain rules and practices. Therefore, Tantra leads to happiness, love, and ecstasy when it is deeply understood and correctly applied.
What Tantra Is Not
Tantra is not sorcery, black magic, or weird practices. Most Tantric texts are filled with cryptic expressions, metaphors, and allegories that present obstacles for the uninitiated and may lead to misunderstandings and misuse. The texts were written in highly symbolic language in order to protect those who are not initiated from misapplying them or using them in a selfish manner. Unfortunately, this has lead to many misinterpretations.
Even reputable scholars have made mistakes in the interpretation of Tantric texts. The most frequent error arises when metaphorical language is taken literally. Often, this results in inappropriate meanings being assigned to the texts. Consequently, Tantra has become associated with “abominable practices” such as sacrificial rituals, incest, manipulation, etc. Genuine Tantric spirituality has nothing in common with witchcraft, black magic, or the weird practices of certain sects (which may be deviant or shocking but are often mistaken for deeply spiritual Tantric doctrine).
As an example of the symbolic language employed in the Tantric texts, ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis (the three most important subtle energy channels) are referred to as the Ganges, Yamuna, and Sarasvati rivers.
Tantra Is Not Sex
In the Western world, Tantra generally means sex. The term Tantra is strongly linked to superlative, ecstatic sex, even though the vast majority of Tantric teachings do not refer to sexuality. Indeed, in left-hand Tantra (the path that uses sexual energy), lovemaking rituals are used to go beyond the mind and enter higher states of consciousness. But, this does not define Tantra. Tantra is not concerned with sexuality or its suppression. Sexuality and lovemaking are seen as a divine means for spiritual growth. Tantra does not promote them for ordinary gratification.
So why, in the West, is Tantra commonly understood to mean great sex? The answer is simple: so-called Western Tantra was not introduced by Tantric sages, but by Western travelers who encountered Tantric practices on trips to India. Of course, after centuries of Christian domination and suppression of sexuality, encountering a system that perceives sexual energy to be as normal as any other energy and offers practices that enhance and harness this energy was something very precious and willingly grasped. Unfortunately, the sexual practices were removed from the devotional and ritualistic context of the Tantric tradition and they received the materialistic touch of the Western mind. However, Tantra has maintained the dignity that it deserves.
Tantra Is Not Primitive Polytheism
Tantra has been judged to be primitive polytheism because of the numerous feminine and masculine deities that are worshipped in the tradition. But, it is necessary to take a closer look to see that Tantra is not an idol-worshipping tradition. In Tantra, the goddesses and gods are just personifications of universal subtle energies. Tantric practitioners understand that all the deities are pointers to the ultimate Truth, called Brahman (the Absolute) in the Hindu tradition.
Tantra and the Dawning of Oneness
Tantra is a practical system, deeply devotional and highly ritualistic. It was designed to help us reach the goal of moksha. Tantric rituals are the means to train in the Tantric vision—to see and experience all of life and its energies as divine manifestations. To embody the quintessence of Tantra, “Nothing exists that isn’t divine,” doesn’t mean to intellectually understand it, but to live it. This equates to Self-realization.
In light of the above, my approach regarding left-hand Tantra is a devotional and ritualistic one. I am dedicated to teaching men and women how to see themselves, their sexual energy, and the practice of lovemaking with Tantric eyes—through which everything is sacred. I teach how to use our magnetic, powerful sexual energy for Union. We explore how deep, intense love blurs the boundaries of individuality and allows the dawning of Oneness.
Let’s delight in the words of the great Tantric master Abhinavagupta:
“In the divine abode of the body, I adore you, O God together with the Goddess, day and night. I adore you continuously washing with the sprinklings of the essence of my astonishment the support of all that has been made. I adore you with the spiritual flowers of the innate being; I adore you with the priceless goblet of the Heart, which is full of the ambrosia of bliss. The triple world, full of various tastes and flavors, is cast into the apparatus of the nexus of the Heart. I squeeze it, casting it down from on high with the great weight of the spiritual discrimination. The supreme nectar of consciousness, which removes births, old age, and death, flows gushing from Thy. Opening the mouth wide I devour it, the supreme oblation, like clarified butter, and in this way, O Supreme Goddess, I gladden and satisfy you day and night.”
Antoaneta is a senior Hridaya teacher serving at our center in France.
“I said: ‘What about my heart?’
God said: ‘Tell me what you hold inside it.’
I said: ‘Pain and sorrow.’
God said: ‘Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.’”
Once, I read a story about a little horse that was staying in a warm and cozy place. He was safe there and didn’t want to leave. Suddenly, he saw a tunnel of light and felt a force pulling him out of his shelter. He was so scared; he thought he was going to die. And then he found out that he was just being born.
The moment of birth is the first moment of separation. It must be horrifying for a baby to come out of its mother’s belly into such a strange place: to breathe air and to hear, smell, see, and touch the craziness of a new world.
Our birth, which is the most natural thing in life, is also a scary and painful experience. With the first breath, the human heart is broken. And then, duality spreads its wings. The story of love and pain, connection and separation, light and darkness, unfolds in time.
Yet, it is not easy to see pain as natural. Why? Because it hurts! And our deepest desire is to be happy. A paradox of human life is that avoiding pain is as natural as its existence. In the animal world, the escape from suffering is the immediate reaction to it.
Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian poet, said: “Stay with the pain. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” This statement may not seem logical. Why should we stay with the pain? Why should we suffer?
The wound is present in every human heart… it is growing and aching from the moment of our birth. We can try to escape it by using anything the world offers us: food, drugs, work, sleep, alcohol, a hyperactive lifestyle, and other strategies. But finally, it leads to even more suffering, loneliness, and separation. By avoiding pain, we multiply it.
Facing Our Suffering
When pain comes, we have a choice: to face it or to escape it. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a prisoner in a World War II concentration camp, wrote: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
Viktor’s mother, father, brother, and wife all died in concentration camps. He was left alone in a place that was an expression of the deepest darkness of the human soul. He could have committed suicide, as many prisoners did, but he chose to embrace pain: “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”
When pain comes, the question “why?” arises in us. This question is a trap since it doesn’t have an answer. To be human means to be born with a broken heart… and to have it broken again and again and again. Pain is there to be felt, to be experienced, and, often, to reveal a deeper reality of human existence. Viktor Frankl and the other prisoners could see it: “For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying. Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the camp’s tortures by ignoring them or harboring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism. Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. […] But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
It is not necessary to be in a concentration camp to experience the ultimate depth of human pain. Every day people commit suicide because of unrequited love, health issues, financial crisis, loss, rejection, and loneliness. There are moments in life when suffering seems unbearable.
From Pain to Peace
My friend Susy from Mexico City lost two children to incurable diseases. She didn’t have any other children. Her pain was unimaginable. She told me that in her darkest moments, she still had a choice. She could choose between hate and love. She could reject life, people, mothers, and children or embrace everything. She decided to love and the magic happened. She radiated so much light that her son’s friends sought out her presence, friendship, and advice. Her house was full of young people. She posted a picture of her daughter’s wheelchair on Facebook, offering it to anyone who needed it. The picture was shared over one million times and many parents of sick children wrote to Susy asking for the wheelchair. With the help of her friends, Susy collected money to buy more wheelchairs and ended up creating a foundation that helps poor and sick people in Mexico. In honor of her children Diana and Daniel, she named the foundation Dianel. Every conversation with Susy is magical; it feels like crossing the boundaries of the ordinary world and diving into a planet with different rules: a kingdom of giving. Her boundless heart has become the source of miracles. Her Facebook messages inspired a mother who hadn’t seen her daughter for over twenty years to visit her, make peace with her, and meet her grandchildren for the first time. The Dianel Foundation is constantly growing, bringing help and relief to the lives of hundreds of people in unexpected ways. Susy has become a rain of light, but the pain and the longing for her children hasn’t disappeared. The wound is constantly present, even when she laughs, sings, and dances.
Transforming Suffering: Staying with the Wound
At times, life hurts so much that even the act of breathing is painful. We seem to be inside a dense cloud that absorbs every ray of light. There is only pain, spreading through every cell of our being. The only thing we want is relief from our suffering. At any cost, even the cost of our life itself.
Outside everything might seem fine. We might not be able to explain to others why we are suffering. They wouldn’t understand. But, we feel it with every breath. Void, fear, loneliness stir inside us. The dark space in our souls wants to be acknowledged, accepted, and honored. Yes, the pain is there. Yes, it hurts. Our bodies express it. Tears fall. And this time, we stay with the wound. Without anesthesia, we enter our broken hearts. It is just us, being human. It is us, facing our humanity, experiencing its very core. It is us, exercising our highest freedom: the freedom to choose our attitude. It is us, expressing our greatest courage: the courage to feel the depth of our hearts.
Suffering doesn’t have value in itself, but our attitude toward it does. Facing the pain is an inner journey each of us must make alone. It is an intuitive task, difficult to express with words. Great poets, like Hafiz, have tried:
“Don’t surrender your loneliness
Let it cut more deep
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can…
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so softy
My need of God
Seven centuries ago, Hafiz and Rumi understood that facing and accepting pain opens the human heart. It is the path of the transformation of our deepest wound into a channel of light. And then, the magic happens…
In the middle of suffering and humiliation, Viktor Frankl contemplated the memory of his beloved wife. This moment revealed the essence of life to him: “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. […] For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words: ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’ […] My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”
Surrendering to life, with both its light and darkness, is a path to the secret mountain that changes our vision of the human drama. It is a door to the deep understanding that love goes beyond life and death. It is stepping into a reality that cannot end.
The nineteenth-century Polish poet Adam Asnyk wrote:
“And the heart, the human heart
runs away to infinity
through tears, longings and torments
It wants to absorb in its womb
space and eternity
and to embrace all heaven.”
The Longing of the Heart
Poets and mystics perceive human suffering as the echo of the pain of separation from God, the Heart, our deepest Essence and most intimate Truth. They see it as an expression of the desperate longing of the human heart for the Infinite.
We cannot avoid or escape pain. But, we can witness it in meditation, listen to it, and discover God’s voice in it, yearning for us and calling us to Him. In the depths of our soul, we can hear the torment of a lover who is desperate for union with the beloved. If we surrender, this longing will become our guide to a Reality in which life and death disappear in an eternal embrace.
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her reflections on the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat here.
Beata shares: “The From Pain to Peace workshop is a loving embrace that will allow you to face your pain. The heart opens in the atmosphere of trust, and the light of awareness reaches the soul’s dark places. Every courageous step into your soul will be a step toward deep connection with others, love and forgiveness. It is a journey into the mysterious reality described by Rumi: ‘Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of their heart.’”
Circles of Men: Unveiling the Power of Shiva
By Laura Samper G.
Going in Circles
In today’s society, roles are mainly divided by gender: men are supposed to behave in a way that is called “masculine” and women are expected to do their part by supporting this model.
When put in perspective, both seem to be going in circles, perpetuating old traditions and subconscious patterns. What are the chances that someone might break free and experience something entirely new? There are definitely more options for women, while for men the dichotomy of toughness and weakness continues.
The word sisterhood is easily translated into images. Women have created it in order to support each other in a world that in many ways feels dangerous and at the same time, exciting and new. Just take a look around and see how your sisters, mothers, girlfriends, spouses, friends, and co-workers usually behave.
They have created a network of female companions in order to celebrate the good times and be there for each other in the hard times. In spiritual communities this is even more evident, and these connections are explored in women’s circles.
Today, women gathering together to share is seen as a significant tool to elevate female consciousness. Thanks to a new way of approaching digital tools to create bonds rather than just for distraction, women have found a community to rely on no matter where they live.
If we lived in Ancient Greece, these women would be the glorious muses of Delos, with Wi-Fi, laptops, and a great power of communication.
And what about men? What would they be doing? Hunting? Drinking beer while watching the Olympics?
Listen to the Heart’s Roar!
Surprisingly, this scene is still being played out (particularly while you are reading this). In a manly world, bonding and self-expression occur through many channels, always mediated by something external: sports and work, which are great triggers for competition. Men were taught to compete to be the best, and in this way they ultimately end up fearing each other.
If you see it with your heart, you’ll find that men actually have feelings that need to be acknowledged. It seems absurd to even mention this, but it’s necessary. Men are sensitive creatures. Why is it that in our society there is no place for expressive men? Although it seems like that on the outside, inwardly there’s another story.
Men who are on a spiritual path, conscious Shivas that look inside, are also on the hunt for a space to share with other men (and only men). And even for them, a place of true expression is hard to find.
While doing some research into circles of men, I found some touching comments made by men that are worth sharing. Their vulnerability, honesty, and heart can be felt in each of their words:
-I am stuck in a job I feel no passion for. When someone asks me what is my passion, I have no idea. I don’t want to stay in this job but I have no idea what I should be doing.
-I often regret my past and this stops me from moving confidently into the future. I don’t know how to let go of my past.
-I don’t feel like the others anymore in my environment. I feel like I don’t want to be in this body anymore… I feel totally alone.
Circles of Men: The Path to Brotherhood
Craig White, a Hridaya Yoga Teacher who dedicates his life to building a space for men to bond as brothers, explains what he felt during his first time in a men’s circle:
After a period of deep stillness and deadly silence, the sharing begins with each man individually expressing different aspects of his life. Some of them discuss problems or past traumas, some men celebrate victories, some men choose just to listen, some men offer words of general support, and others simply check in with their feelings in the moment. Each man speaks in such a way as not to put any blame on anyone or anything for his life’s journey.
Pure gold! Here is the greatest insight: listening. More than anything in the world, men want to be heard. Yes, they want to provide for the family, be good at their jobs, maybe quit everything and travel or just be disciplined meditators, but they want to express their inner truth, without being attacked or judged.
The Power of Vulnerability
Moreover, men want to heal. There are many factors that have caused them pain. Their suffering has its roots in the misunderstanding of their role in society. From difficult experiences with their peers back in high school and college, where competition was fierce and intense, to unresolved issues with their mother or their father/brothers, most men have created a feel-nothing world, in which total self-expression has not been possible.
In the book The Way of The Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work, and Sexual Desire by David Deida, vulnerability and surrender are two of the most important characteristics of what he calls a “superior man,” particularly because both are the attitudes that will lead men to honest communication with themselves and others:
Closing down in the midst of pain is a denial of a man’s true nature. A superior man is free in feeling and action, even amidst great pain and hurt. If necessary, a man should live with a hurting heart rather than a closed one. He should learn to stay in the wound of pain and act with spontaneous skill and love even from that place.
The Warrior Within
Male bonding goes beyond the fulfillment of their own needs, although this is the key to starting a collective change towards true understanding. The benefits of circles of men reach new heights.
Not only do men have the chance to share in a safe place, but they also have the opportunity to recognize themselves in others. Breaking down the walls between men is really significant because this increases their trust in themselves and others.
Circles of men are a necessity in a society that is centered on silencing the voice within. When the true roar of a man’s heart is awakening, he is able to cultivate awareness, understand his life path, and come to terms with both his past and his limiting beliefs.
He will be set free to authentically live in his own skin, through his True Self. He will be the leader he always wanted to be, not to rule others but to inspire them.
If you are a man who feels open to this approach and wants to explore your True Essence, or if you are a woman who sees these attributes in the men around you, check out Wild at Heart, a retreat for like-minded men to come together as brothers to reflect on their journeys into manhood, to listen to other men, to share their own stories, and to be heard in a safe and non-judgmental space.
By Laura Samper G.
Questioning the Masculine
Does new masculinity mean being authentic? It is a hot topic of conversation but, most importantly, it is a spiritual matter:
What does it mean to be a man today?
What is a man’s role in today’s society? What should his life’s purpose be? Does the macho stereotype correspond to every single man on earth? Is the man of steel a “manly” role model? Is the Mr. Nice Guy image helpful or just an attempt to please women and a reflection of a man raised predominantly by his mother, which is so common today?
More men are starting to ask these questions. I am also inspired to consider them. Living in a spiritual community has shown me a very different side of men… One that is counter to the dominant patriarchal approach.
I feel it is only fair to add to the discussion.
Riding the Waves with Conscious Men
I have found that an incomplete perception of masculinity has been sabotaging my intimate relationships with men. I wanted to attempt to better understand the masculine essence and put an end to this confusion. So, I decided to immerse myself in an experience that could show me both sides of the “male” world: the macho type and the conscious* one.
I was in the right place for this experiment—the Hridaya Yoga Center on the breathtaking Oaxacan Coast. One of my male friends here happens to be a professional surfer, so I asked him to give me my first surfing lesson.
I figured that if I practiced a “manly” activity with a conscious man then I would have a complete view of both approaches. I would deal with the conditioning of the impact of this masculine activity (in the sense that it gives you significant amounts of adrenaline) and at the same time, I would interact with his mesmerizing energy.
I Am You
After an hour learning how to jump on the board, deal with currents, keep my balance, and ride in the powerful ocean, I went into the water and dealt with the first two waves. Both times, I only could reach mid-height before inevitably falling.
I was feeling nervous, excited, rushed.
I kept wrestling with the waves and the ocean’s passion without being able to actually stand on the board for more than one microsecond. After an epic wipeout (known in surfing slang as “the washing machine”), I remembered my friend’s words during the lesson. What he said resonated in my heart so deeply that it actually inspired me to write this piece:
The board will tell you everything you need to know about your character and emotional state. It is the perfect mirror.
Surfing is a form of meditation, I thought, but of a different kind. It is meditation in motion.
In Tantra, Shakti is the mirror in which Shiva realizes his own grandeur. They represent the feminine and masculine principles of creation and life.
The New Masculinity: What We Are Made Of
In Indian philosophy, Shiva Nataraja is a visual representation of both the universe and its source. It symbolizes that underneath all movement absolute stillness abides, bearing witness to innumerable changes but remaining forever changeless.
Shiva Nataraja’s “dance of bliss” symbolizes the cycle of creation and destruction. It also embodies the daily rhythm of birth and death.
Modern quantum physics has shown that this rhythm is also the very essence of inorganic matter. According to this theory, all interactions between the constituents of matter take place through the emission and absorption of virtual particles. This is what Shiva dancing looks like at a subatomic level.
A Newness of Perspective
In the end, there is nothing new about masculinity. The patriarchal paradigm is what feels old. Although framing masculinity in a new way may seem revolutionary, it is actually nothing more than coming back to its essence.
I realized this deeply when I met the most amazing man a couple of months ago. I opened up in such a way that I could see my true colors, without shame or guilt. He started to become a reflection of my True Nature.
My dedication to the practice of the Spiritual Heart is very much inspired by the energy of conscious men. It is so welcoming and open that it creates the perfect alchemic environment in which actual transformation is possible. Without their presence I would not have being able to realize that I also needed to come to terms to my masculine side in order to heal past patterns.
They showed me that a couple is a union so strong that it illuminates those in its presence. They taught me that being in love means being vulnerable. Also, that uncertainty is part of who I am and patience is more than just waiting around.
Their beautiful energy inspired the arousal of my raw and courageous self. I feel safe, not because I am secure from harm but because I know what trust is. When they are around, I experience a feeling of warmth, tenderness, wisdom, empathy, support, and love.
New masculinity is an attitude to be cultivated in both men and women. As in the dance of Shiva and Shakti, it is a fun, intimate, and divine mirroring game for Self-revelation.
*Conscious men/women: Those who inquire about their True Nature and bring the acquired knowledge into practice. They are also people who respond solely to their heart’s call.
I would like to dedicate this post to all men in my life and all my brothers at the Hridaya Yoga Center. I would like to especially mention Craig White, a Hridaya Yoga teacher who wrote this beautiful poem about the warrior archetype. He is inspiring other men to reveal their True Essence by giving lectures, talks, and retreats around the world. If you feel the inner calling to be part of this movement, he will be leading a retreat during the first three days of September at the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, Mexico.
This is also dedicated to all the conscious men and women out there who are participating in the rebuilding of a new way of relating to the world and to each other.
By Laura Samper G.
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
The Barriers Within
Headstand for beginners – a scary proposition. I had never tried the headstand before, but I imagined doing it like a true Olympic gymnast… My mind would play a detailed movie of me when I was seven years old and could do everything: splits, handstands, triple front and back handsprings, and many other moves. My mind would say—it will be so easy, I did all this when I was a kid, and I can do it again.
The mind is a great storyteller…
Have you ever stopped to listen to its marvelous and intricate plots? Oh my God! Hannah didn’t call me back, she must be really upset. Yes, I shouldn’t have told her I was not going with her to that awful party. I can’t believe she isn’t talking to me…
Sometimes the mind has the capacity to build many barriers and stories to create a false sense of security. Like when you start to fall in love and all of a sudden you are frozen, completely stuck in fear. Oh no! I’m so nervous. Hmmm, he just touched my hand, and his eyes, so beautiful… no, no! Wait! Don’t fall, stay here safe with me. Don’t fall…
Headstand for Beginners class during Module 1. Ali and David, both Hridaya Yoga teachers led this beautiful lesson on trust and love. In this pic, David was saying: “I’m here. You won’t fall.” Thank you for holding the space.
I would have never imagined that yoga would help me in the process of stripping off so many layers. Practicing shirshasana, the headstand, was especially powerful during the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module I Intensive a few weeks ago.
I mean, what could go wrong? So what if I fall? I’m right beside the sea, where mysticism elevates a prayer with each wave crashing on the shore… This is truly a remarkable place. So, I felt ready. I was thrilled when I began to feel an intense fire coming up from the center of my hips right into my chest. A storm of thoughts was about to take over. The power of its voice may burn inside you if you don’t know how to recognize it:
(Gasping sounds). So, are you planning on ACTUALLY performing this nonsense, yogi-style technique? I really don’t recommend it. The other day I was reading, or well, you were reading about it and… Well, probably you should do it, but first, be sure you won’t fall. Don’t fall! Our back will break in half! Are you insane? Ok, do it if you want to, but for God’s sake, don’t fall!
Learning How to Fall
You have probably felt this way, too. You’re on the verge of overcoming a great limitation, or you’re in the middle of a beautiful realization of your True Nature, and the mind, scared of being silenced, comes in like a desperate puppy calling for attention. It blocks you from whatever it is you are feeling, doing, or observing.
This was even more evident to me during my first headstand. I don’t blame the mind, though—I was only seconds away from turning it upside down, and it was about to experience how it feels to lose all control.
This asana comes at the end of the practice session for a reason. According to my teachers, this pose requires a special preparation of the body and the mind. Traditionally, this asana was taught directly from teacher to disciple. Instructions on how to perform the pose are not found in any classical hatha yoga text, including Swami Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Being upside down brings energy and blood to the crown. It is alien to be in this position, so you get a few seconds before your mind begins to talk again. You can feel sensations waking up in your body. Then, you hear the sweetness of silence and the music of complete surrender. The intensity of the fear of falling becomes the energy that keeps you straight. You’re dancing in the sky!
The lesson on how to fall is actually just realizing that you can train your mind (or better said: learn how to listen to it) and that continuing this practice helps you detach from it, time after time. Fear can take many forms, but the more I observe it, the more it speaks to me with love, and it manifests as a green light, a flag that points to the direction I should follow. Fear is a good friend when you get to know it. Once you are in communion with it, what do you think is on the other side? It may be a feeling of intimacy, of coming back to your lover after a long separation.
I’ve come to realize that fear is a beautiful gift for learning how to be humble and patient with myself.
Would You Fall With Me?
I could stay up for 30 seconds, which was more than I could expect as a headstand beginner.
During that short moment up in the air, the fire was replaced by a warm wave of electricity coming from the middle of my chest. A cooler breeze embraced me as I was breathing softer. The mat didn’t felt like a stiff piece of wood underneath my hands anymore. I started to feel the lightness of my body against the ground. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore remained as the only background. My mind kindly whispered:
I’m falling in love. I’m falling in this immense universe within. I feel I’m actually landing in the beauty of a new world. If I tell you there would be no ground underneath, would you fall with me?
*For more mind tales, fantastic inner dialogues, and unbelievable mental plots, please check out The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, which inspired this post.
Mud Building and Meditation—The Art of Karma Yoga
By Louise Southwell
I love mud. I realized it three years ago when I started building homes with it. It is my “Dharma work.” However, at the end of last year, I embarked on a profound period of spiritual upheaval that tore me away from my previous preferences and personality. Happily, I have just spent the last three months as a karma yogi at Hridaya, and now I feel ready to go home and remember the joy in what I do…
Leaving the Mainstream Behind
In June 2013, I almost had a breakdown. I was 27, an architect, and had achieved everything my culture had taught me to strive for—but I still felt miserable. I quit my job, sold everything, lost my boyfriend, and set out with a simple question: “What makes me happy?” I was blessed to find meditation at the first stop along my path. I participated in a 10-day Vipassana course in Burma and it changed something deep within me. I felt refreshed again, cleansed and open, ready to see the world and myself with new eyes. From there, I traveled to Thailand and found permaculture thanks to a TED Talk that inspired me.
The community I visited happened to be building homes with earth. At that point, I was convinced it had nothing to do with architecture, so I was instantly hooked. It just made so much sense! You borrow earth from beneath you, mix it with a little sand and straw, stomp in some love and energy, and then pile it up into a house…
Permaculture and natural building were like a clear light shining through the cultural haze. They showed me that we don’t need to work in an office doing a job we don’t believe in to buy stuff to make us happy. It’s a choice we make. With tireless energy and determination, I followed this bliss to homesteads, intentional communities, off-grid schools, and permaculture centers in Ireland, Canada, Argentina, and the United States. It felt so liberating to volunteer… Giving myself to help others create their dream lifestyle. In return, I received food, homes, learning, experience, and an invaluable glimpse into possible life choices and what makes others happy.
I’ll skip forward to last summer when I had achieved two of my newly envisioned goals. I had built a whole house and was teaching cob building courses in Oregon. Looking back now, I can see how old habits had started to creep back. When was it that I stopped focusing on joy and began thinking of ambition, pressure, and achievements? Where was the balance between aspiration and ego? I was confused.
So, I went back to England to reflect. I spent the first couple of months this year in a very different state of consciousness, though. My mind struggled to let go and, at the same time, to comprehend the intense energy, awareness, presence, and new perspectives that I had been gifted. It was very disconcerting for those around me. The limited spiritual teachings I had been exposed to had not prepared me for this and I slipped into a crushing state of suffering and self-doubt.
Luckily, at this point I arrived at Hridaya! I can’t express my gratitude enough for the community of accepting, supportive, authentic human beings who inhabit this place. On top of this, Hridaya Hatha Yoga gradually helped to rebalance my energy levels and allow me to gently reconnect to my body.
And the teachings… Oh, how I needed them! The void is terrifying when you peer in from over its sharp edge. The love, beauty, and joy spoken of at the Hridaya Yoga Center can really smooth it over. I felt that I had no purpose, but I was starting to realize that our only purpose is love. The deep lessons of selfless service helped me let go of attachment to the outcomes of my actions and apply the values of presence, compassion, and patience in real life.
With this beautiful lesson in my heart, I conclude my three-month experience serving as a karma yogi. I again felt nourished and accepted, capable of loving others and myself. I still don’t know what happened at the start of the year, but I have much more acceptance of “not knowing.” I can trust the universe again, knowing that it will guide me to the lessons I need to experience. I am regaining the confidence to teach from the heart, sharing my experiences of mindfulness and the Earth. But mostly, I’m thankful because I have the chance to listen to her, the one who has always been my most trusted teacher. Thank you Hridaya, you have helped me find my way back home.
Louise is an architect, artist, and builder who teaches natural building and mindfulness. If you would like more information or inspiration about building with earth, visit her website. She welcomes inquiries about your dream earth project and/or helping to teach courses worldwide.
If you feel inspired by Louise’s account, consider joining the Hridaya Karma Yoga Program.
A Taste of the Void
At first, walking into the unknown was about letting go the external branches: the love relationship, the job, and the project of buying my own apartment. Then, it felt like walking on water… or floating in the clouds. Who am I without all this? A dance between an intoxicating freedom and a freezing fear… the newly discovered beauty leaving my eyes wide open and the loneliness of a tiny planet lost in the infinite sky.
Who am I when there is so little left of my life? Am I still alive? Am I real or am I dreaming?
I served myself a meal made of the void. It had a bittersweet taste. It hurt… sometimes softly and tenderly; at other times, the pain entered my bones and shook my whole being.
Meditation opened my eyes. I could see the clouds, the plants, the animals in a way I had never seen them before. I watched the same tree for hours, for days, for months… and it was always new.
But the pain was there. And the question “How to live in this void?” hurt me from inside. How to live without plans, ambitions… without the future?
The only answer I received was: trust. Trust in the Heart. This path is about walking into the Unknown. Taking steps in the air. Surrendering to not knowing…
Oh, how difficult it was for my scientific mind! There were moments when the need to have something solid for my shaky feet was a drug addict’s craving. I complained:
Too much void, dear Heart. Do you know the word “moderation”? What is it all about? Where are you guiding me? Do you want me to lose my mind?
The Heart didn’t discuss. It opened a magical window to the Unknown. And I couldn’t even see clearly what was on the other side. I fell in Love with the Mystery. I felt so much and understood so little.
This love story goes on. A lover without a face seduces me in a wordless language. When it hurts, he embraces me with invisible arms. Sometimes he sings inside me. And this song feels as if he were trying to tell me something:
-I will be with you… always, always. I will guide you through life. I will guide you through death. Take my hand. Trust me. There is nothing to fear.
-How can I trust you? I can’t see you. I don’t know you. You are so irrational!
-You know my taste, you know my smell, you know my voice. I have always been with you.
-I am so scared and I feel so lonely.
-I am here. IN YOU. Listen…
I breathe and I listen. He takes my heart and guides me beyond matter, beyond the senses, beyond daily emotions. I am so light. I fly to the other side of the sky. I perceive the taste of my Beloved… freedom.
-Where are you taking me?
-Into the Unknown. Are you ready?
-I don’t know… I am afraid. How is it there? In the Unknown?
He laughs inside me. I breathe and my wings grow stronger. I keep flying… following the fragrance of my Beloved. Sometimes the never-ending sky feels so lonely. Where am I going? I don’t know. I dive into the void. I follow the echo of the silent note of his voice… the deepest vibration of my heart. It is all I have… and it is enough. He knows it. He knows that I would exchange the world for the slightest touch… the most silent whisper… a bite of the shadow of his Beauty.
By Laura Samper
Tantra and Mandalas
When I look at the stars, I wonder how all this is possible. What is this incredible and mysterious force that propels Earth through the dark cosmos? What is this bright light sparkling in the middle of the deep black sea? I use to go to the beach and sit in silence to watch the sky during the hottest nights.
I would choose a quarter of the sky and stare at it, hoping to catch a glimpse of a shooting star, like everyone else. I was told that if I saw one I could actually wish for something special and, magically, this thing would come to me without effort.
Is this how the Universe works?
Planets, stars, eclipses, and other celestial phenomena have always triggered me. Full moons are especially intense. Sometimes I feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster and other times I feel fully energized. It also gives me the sense of Oneness and connectedness. The circular and elliptical movements of the Cosmos really amaze me.
Like Sufi dancers… They spin in an attempt to imitate the Earth’s rotation so they can connect with God. For them, the first dancer is the Sun and they act as if they were the planets in the Solar System moving around it. This is an ancient, beautiful, and devotional meditation called Sema, practiced since the thirteenth century and created by the beloved poet Rumi.
Sufis have the intuition that the movement of the Earth is no different that the movement of the body.
One night, I was at the beach for almost 40 minutes trying to catch a shooting star. I couldn’t see anything else but what was already there. I felt upset. I really wanted to see something special.
My mind was in control.
I was its momentary prisoner and I couldn’t seem to do anything about it.
-So, what were all the meditations and yoga practices for, huh?
(Yes, making peace with your mind is a moment-to-moment job, and yes, I sometimes fail at it).
I tried to close my eyes but I felt this was useless, so I started walking away. I looked up again in another attempt to catch a shooting star. Instead, I saw Venus right in front of me. I walked a few steps to the east without noticing that she was there, brighter than ever.
I felt calmer, somehow.
She suddenly became my meditation. I got lost in her beauty. I was drowning in her sparkling colors. I forgot about the shooting star for a moment.
Her intense light mesmerized me. My breath started to slow down as I began to realize that I didn’t need to wish for anything else but my own tranquility.
Venus is indeed a magical goddess. On June 6th, she finished creating a beautiful mandala in the sky. Her movement forms a mysterious shape in the sky in alignment with the Earth. It takes 8 years for her to complete a cycle. And last Monday, she began a new one. What a magical time to be alive!
In Tantra, the Universe is a manifestation of the Divine. As with Sufis, this spiritual path is accompanied by great symbolism, which is known as sacred geometry. It’s not a dance but it’s a visual and drastically reduced image of the Cosmos. In Tantric terms, these shapes are called yantras (which means instrument) or mandalas, the most pictorial versions—just like Venus’s dance.
During Tantric rituals, yantras are used as a means for connecting with the sacred and as an instrument of concentration and visualization.
This month, Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 2 classes are given in Nitya Hall, where there is a beautiful painting of the Shri-Yantra+. Since I usually arrive late—okay, not late but just in time—the hall is already organized and I have to place my mat right in front of it. It’s a lovely coincidence, though.
At first, I didn’t know anything about this mysterious figure, but as with Venus in the night sky, it completely hypnotized me. There’s a point in the middle of the triangles that calls my attention no matter what I do. It goes something like this:
- What are you looking at?
- I’m just seeing your abstract beauty.
- Don’t be such a smarty-pants. What do I make you feel?
I just can’t answer. I try to figure the shape out. I count the triangles, the circles and the petals. What for? If I discover that there are 7 or 9 triangles it doesn’t do anything for me, like the shooting star.
That point in the middle keeps calling me, though, as if I want to go inside the yantra and get lost in it. Venus made me feel the same way that night at the beach. Both reminded me of coming back to myself, somehow.
I realized, again, that anything I want or need is not outside myself. The human mind forgets this all the time, that’s why it is so important to feel with all our heart. Sufis don’t dance like this because they want to look a certain way, but because they want to feel God within themselves. It’s a beautiful performance, indeed, but it’s not meant as a show.
You don’t get to see the actual mandala that Venus forms in the sky, but you can feel her presence. It’s a particular view on things that gives them life or not. The yantra on its own is a lovely puzzle for the mind, but it doesn’t do much if you don’t try to interpret it beyond thoughts.
I’m learning how to touch the world with my heart. Sometimes I get lost and go after shooting stars when I have the entire galaxy right before my eyes.
+This is a note for all of you lovely spiritual geeks, in case you want to know the exact meaning of this beautiful yantra. This is a fragment taken from the book Tantra, The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein, which you can borrow from the school’s library next time you come visit!
By far the best-known yantra is the shri-yantra or shri-cakra, which is a symbolic representation of Shri, one of the many female forms of the Divine. This is the most sacred symbol of the Shri-Vidya tradition, still flourishing in South India and other parts of the subcontinent. This yantra is composed of five equilateral triangles, of progressively larger size, representing the female power (Shakti) aspect of the Divine and four equilateral triangles, also of progressively larger size, representing the male consciousness aspect of Shiva. Most commonly, the Shakti triangles point downward and the shiva triangles point upward. (…)
The forty-three interlaced triangles form a fourteen-corner structure, and the fourteen corners also house one deity each. In fact, each of the triangles is the dwelling place of a deity. The central point (bindu), which is also called the “wheel entirely made of bliss,” represents the great goddess Tripura Sundari herself, to whom the yantra as a whole is dedicated.
The various parts of the shri-yantra are said to correspond to the various parts of the human body. (…) The shri-yantra, which has been found to have a fascinating mathematical structure, is a good indicator of the metaphysical sophistication of the Shri-Vidya tradition, which is the most influential Tantric branch still active today.
By Emma Carruthers
It was the first thing that I noticed when I arrived at the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte five years ago. I have heard similar first impressions from others since then: “Where did all of these beautiful, healthy, shiny people come from?” It seemed that I had just arrived at some kind of sunny utopia from the depths of snowy France. As I settled into the school over the next few days, the community was so welcoming and warm, and I received so many hugs from strangers, that I felt like I had simply come home.
Coming home. We use this metaphor a lot in Hridaya Meditation. Coming Home in the Heart. “Coming Home” is a feeling of comfort, a feeling that you can take off your town clothes and be completely naked, that you can move about at ease with yourself. It is no surprise that all of these people who were cultivating this feeling within were creating this reality around them.
Sangha is a Sanskrit term that means association, assembly or company, but is usually used in reference to a “spiritual community.” It is one of the three jewels of Buddhism – Buddha (enlightenment), Dharma (the teachings) and Sangha (the community). Sangha is a brotherhood and sisterhood of walkers on the path to awakening who come together to support each other’s journey. Sangha becomes like a spiritual family of aunts and uncles, fathers, brothers, mothers and lovers who you can always rely on as you journey forth into the mystery and trials that all spiritual practitioners encounter.
This family provides stability and a framework in which to grow; sharing experiences, difficulties, revelations and joy as all study together and express the teachings beyond hierarchy or laws. The law of Love seems to govern Sangha, and no one is excluded from its embrace. Sangha is there for you when your meditations are going great and going badly; when you write your first non-dual poem and when you are tired from hours of service. Sangha is there for you when you need a warm hug and when you need to be left alone. Sangha understands.
However, this is no mere gathering of friends or buddies who share a common hobby. Sangha will reflect for you the most difficult parts of yourself, and occasionally tell you about them bluntly to your face. These family members are here for one purpose – to provide you a strong support and a mirror for the deconstruction of yourself. They are there to remind you to abandon your egoistic self-cherishing, and to stay on the path when you become distracted by external temptations.
It is said in Buddhism that the survival of the teachings depends on the survival of the Sangha, and Buddhist monasteries and nunneries were created for exactly this purpose. It is often necessary to shelter ourselves from the demands of our busy lives in order to establish ourselves truly in the teachings. When we go to a monastery or join a dedicated spiritual community, we step into a framework that provides the ideal conditions for realizing Reality, surrounding ourselves with others who are doing exactly the same thing.
Sangha has surrounded me with its loving arms so incredibly since my baby was born two months ago. Of course there were cards and presents and emails of love and congratulations from them, but even more, there were many who came to help me out in those crazy-amazing first months when you perform a parenting vigil every night and can’t manage to feed anyone in the house (especially yourself) but the baby during the day. When exhaustion set in, when the house needed to be cleaned, when the baby needed to be cuddled and put to sleep with lulling mantras, Sangha was there.
I have never felt more grateful.
While my eyes may be more tired than usual, and my shoulders are aching from breastfeeding and carrying this little Buddha, I have experienced a joyful peace in these last couple of months that has arisen from the feeling of deep, great support. I feel so lucky to have so many amazing aunts and uncles for little Benzra, so many happy silly faces entertaining him and so many hands to make my work and heart light.
For the love of Sangha, I am eternally grateful.
Emma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the co-founder of The Hermitage Practitioner’s Retreat Center at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
By Laura Samper G.
Are you Living in the Present Moment?
These last weeks have been intense for many people. Deep emotions are coming to the surface as well as questions about self-realization, relationships, patterns and so on. I have felt this, and friends and family have expressed having the same experience. This is why I would like to share a lovely bit of wisdom that I randomly discovered at the Hridaya Yoga Center.
Since I’m starting Module 2 this week, I was reviewing the Module 1 books. In the book of evening lectures, I found an inspiring section that reminded me of the simplest fact: be present with yourself in such a way that it resembles the most harmonious dance. Be aware of your own rhythm.
This is one of the most nourishing benefits of living in a spiritual community: you are learning something all the time or, in other words, you are more aware of your learning process.
Living in community, you get to know yourself more with the passing of time. This is relevant since in knowing who you are, you might even come to know the gods and the Universe—as was inscribed by the Delphic Oracle. But you’re also in contact with all kinds of teachings. I must say one of my favorite parts of the Center is the library. I adore books (that’s why I also like to take pictures and upload them, as I did above).
Because the school is a quiet, slow-paced environment, books are treasures here. In the library, you can easily find books about spiritual masters, Sufi poetry (my favorite), yoga, Tantra, meditation, Ayurveda, spirituality, science, and nutrition, as well as other materials like movies and even beautiful Japanese origami paper.
This is a great place to cultivate yourself, as you would do with the flowers of a beautiful garden. Here, I’ve been slowly acknowledging the fact that in living, we are also dancing to the rhythm of the present moment. This short fragment from the Module 1 book can help you find the kind of beat you need to dance to and can serve as a reminder when you miss your step.
The State of Flow
“Your unhappiness ultimately arises not from the circumstances of your life but from the conditioning of your mind.” –Eckhart Tolle
The greatest obstacle to being content and cultivating happiness is the agitation of the mind. When the mind is focused and centered in the present moment, a great energy and efficiency become available to its owner (for me, it’s pure creativity).
You are capable of focusing your total attention upon whatever work or creative endeavor you dedicate yourself to. This is the state of flow, and it is exactly the core of your being, the source of spiritual efficiency.
Wouldn’t it be nice to create your own culture (or spiritual habits) and see what happens? I like the fact that this fragment reminds you of the importance of being with yourself first. No matter the circumstances, you can keep your own flow.
And when you do it, you end up dancing to the rhythm that takes you exactly where you need to be: here and now.
Reminding Yourself to Be Here and Now
Some of you have visited our school and some have not. For both, I would like to share a fun trick that I learned during one of my classes. In his youth, French writer Oliver Clerc developed a method to remain conscious while studying the ways for lucid dreaming. He wrote: When I developed my first technique to induce lucid dreams, I wrote a “C” (for Consciousness) on my hand, and every time I would see it I would remind myself to be fully conscious. Why? Because I observed that very often we think we are conscious, during the day, but actually we’re not. We are so involved in what we do, think, or feel, our attention is so focused on one activity, that we forget all the rest: the room where we are, the building, the town, the other people, the time, and so on. So, every time I would look at my “C,” I would take a “breath of consciousness,” and remind myself of the whole context in which I happened to be. (From Lucid Dreaming and the Evolution of Human Consciousness, “Lucidity Letter”)
This trick is very useful way to remember to be present when the mind wanders:
- Take a pen of whatever color you want—but please make sure it’s not a permanent marker (unless you want it there for at least a few days). ;)
- On your non-dominant hand, draw a C (for Consciousness) in the area between your thumb and pointer finger.
- Then, above or beside the C, draw two dots, a semicolon, or whatever your imagination comes up with to make it a bit more fun.
Each time you look at the symbol on your hand, remind yourself to come back to the present moment, regain the awareness of your own flow, breath deeply and start over. You don’t need to go too far to reinvent yourself, you just need to remember the newness available to you in each passing moment.
By Laura Samper G.
Love After Farewell
I don’t have to close my eyes to see you.
When I do, I go back in time and touch your hands, remember the smell of your hair and feel how my little head fit perfectly in your chest when you hugged me.
Your embrace was the safest place on earth. No matter what I did, what I said or what I thought, your heart was my refuge. I was not right or wrong in your presence, I only existed and this was your joy. My heartbeat was your favorite music. I was your treasure.
I used to imagine how it felt living inside your tummy and the things you went through day after day to bring me with you wherever you went. Was I too heavy? I asked with humor. “I was so happy to have you that those were the most beautiful days of my life,” you answered with such grace. And of course, I was really heavy.
I still don’t know the joy of being a mother but I had the privilege to have you as mine.
They say you don’t get to choose your family but I think I chose you. I chose the happiness of seeing your smile. I chose your wise words when I was being completely irrational. I chose your sacred touch on my skin when I fell from the swing time after time. I chose your caress at night when I had bad dreams. I chose your delicious breakfasts and the excitement in your eyes when I asked for more. I chose your spontaneous laughter in the middle of a long day.
I chose your advice when my heart was broken. I chose your dedication for creating the most outstanding Halloween costumes: I was an ancient queen, a big strawberry, a beautiful flower and the quickest ninja. I chose you as my guardian when I didn’t want to cross that big bridge over the river. I chose your silence when I wronged you. I chose your strength when our family faced a crisis. I chose your elegance and your refined beauty. I chose you as my nurse, my best friend and my unconditional ally.
I chose the light of your heart, your openness and your innocence. I chose your loyalty and humility. I chose your bed at night when I wanted to hide from the world. I chose our trips to visit your family. I chose your clothes to feel like I was a grown-up. I chose to be part of your world, where God was always present. I chose your trust that whatever might come would be for the good. I chose your example for reflecting my true self. I chose your tears when I ran away once, twice and even three times.
I chose you knowing that you would leave me someday.
Yes, I did choose you as my mother.
Your birthday was three days ago. This is the first time I could not call you, send you flowers, squeeze you or take you on a nice trip to the beach. You left 11 months ago, after giving the most admirable fight against cancer I could ever witness. You were such a warrior. Yes. You were the most honorable fighter and I was your perfect companion. And since I can’t reach you, I write you this letter. The celebration of your life is my gift to you.
Now, you’re the one living inside me.
The Meaning of Resilience
I’ve never written about this until now, and I must say it’s not easy. Remembering my mom brings a deep sadness and I don’t think these feelings will go away any time soon. However, this has helped me discover a new depth in life.
I’ve known friends who have lost their lovers, their families and even their identities. All of them have something in common: the amazing power of their will. It’s like this great energy was there all along and then suddenly it reveals itself.
I don’t think that you need to go through a very hard time to realize this, though.
What I really found was an amazing strength and a great resilience. From somewhere deep within me, I discovered an intense light pulling me forward. I realized I could actually deal with her absence, and in the process share the experience with others.
Death is inevitable. It’s the only certainty, the only sure thing in life. But, it feels so unknown and is so misunderstood. It showed me a great potential for resilience, a great courage to move on with a new perspective on life.
And this is the best way I could find to pay tribute to my mother, by living the peaceful, fulfilling life she always wanted for me.
I like to think that this is the greatest and most challenging gift. Only through death may you know what life is. It’s a divine reminder to stay present and awake.
Death on the Spiritual Path
During my first Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, I attended the most beautiful lecture on death. It was like having a warm conversation with an old friend.
According to my teacher, the greatest gift when you face a loved one’s death is the fact that you also face your own death. However, especially in Western traditions, death is taboo, a distant subject that is usually avoided.
“Accept what seems unacceptable, because this expresses total surrender,” my teacher continued. “In that intimate feeling, you’re completely present.”
I also remember that when I was younger my father used to tell me, “You should know that death is the only certain thing in our lives.” Live life to the fullest without being scared or fearful, but live in such a way that you experience detachment in all your endeavors.
I’ve realized that in feeling the pain, I let go of suffering. The more I allow myself to feel her absence, the more I feel her love as well.
So, How Do We Let Go?
Just by feeling each emotion, each memory and actually enjoying your tears. Yes, I said enjoy. There’s no need to give room to attachment, especially if the person you love left his or her body. Every time I catch myself longing for my mom to be here with me I feel bad as If I was making her stay with me instead of rejoicing because she’s now at peace.
Letting go means to be thankful. It means to be intense, to allow your emotions take over and then, just rest. I try to give myself space and time when I need to feel whatever pops up. Sometimes it is anger, other times it is grief and sometimes it is infinite gratitude. I allow myself the tears, the pain and the laughter, they are also part of this experience. And this is my advice to you: when you feel the discomfort coming welcome it with open arms. Receive it as you would when your best friends are coming to visit. If you need to get out of a taxi and walk, do it. If you need to stop working, leave it. If you need to go solo for the weekend, give yourself that gift. You’ll see how all the negativity you thought you were experiencing was just a glimpse of the glorious light beyond the effort.
And next time, when you feel like you can’t let go of a silly fight, a breakup, a job, your anger or anything you feel you are holding on to, remember to do this:
Choose one hand, left, right, it doesn’t matter. Pick a piece of paper, a stone, a pen, whatever you have around. Now, clench your fist as hard as you can. Ready?
Open your hand in one movement.
Just like that. You let go.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead says:
All things are impermanent, and all things die. You know this. It was only natural that your mother died when she did; the older generation is expected to die first. She was elderly and unwell, and will not resent having had to leave her body. And because you can help her now by sponsoring practices and doing good actions in her name, she will be happy and relieved. So please do not be sad.
I don’t have to close my eyes to see you.
I am present with your love.
I can feel you now in every wave of the ocean, in every movement of the wind. I see you in the shiny stare of strangers, I hear you in the music of crickets at night and I watch you in the dance of birds when sunrise comes. You are all the colors in every flower and every leaf. You are in the infinite sand on all coasts. You became part of the rain and the dark skies. You are also made of joy and sadness. You are the palm trees that surround my home. You are in my eyes when I see the beautiful stars at night. You are also one of the planets.
And when I close my eyes, I sense you in the fire of my heart and in the mysterious ways of my breath.
You are the stillness of this silence.
Our love is alive, stronger and more vivid than ever.
You live inside me.
Learn to Play the Music of the Heart by Learning to Meditate
By Will Allen
I meet many people who are interested in meditation but feel like they would not be good at it. They say things like “my mind is so crazy” or “my mind is way too active.” To me, this is like saying “I wouldn’t be good at playing the guitar because I don’t know how to play the guitar.” Yes, meditation is something that you learn; it can feel difficult at first.
During my teacher training course with Sahajananda, we were very lucky to have a violinist next door. We would hear him play beautiful music hour after hour, day after day. Sahaja once said something to the effect of learning to meditate is like learning to play a musical instrument. This has definitely been my experience.
When learning a musical instrument, we don’t start out playing beautiful music. It isn’t that we just sit and meditate and our mind becomes clear, we are at peace, and all of our problems are solved. Usually, we sit, and we find out that our mind is so much more active, chaotic, and out of control than we had ever realized. And, we begin to understand why we have felt so anxious or unsettled, why it is hard for us to be alone with ourselves, why we are always chasing happiness in some form or another. The mind, always moving, is always looking for something. This is how it starts for most of us.
Just like when we begin learning an instrument, we don’t start out playing beautiful music. We start with clumsy fingers, awkward sounds, and the understanding that it will take some time to learn to play well. I am writing this to say it is worth it to spend this time learning to play the instrument of the mind, learning to meditate. Learning to meditate transforms the mind and our entire experience of life.
And, to be honest and more exact, learning to meditate isn’t just about learning to work with the mind. Of course, we see that our mind is noisy, but it isn’t just about learning to quiet the mind. This is really just a side effect. Learning to meditate is not really about learning to do any internal activity. It is more about learning to listen, to listen to the music of the heart. And this is the beauty of meditation. This is when it stops being a chore, trying to achieve a quiet, peaceful mind. This is when we start to see the beauty of the heart, hear the beauty of the heart. This is when we begin to open to our own inner beauty, a beauty that isn’t about our personality, our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, our virtuous traits and the traits we are ashamed of. All of this falls away when we begin to listen to this music of the heart.
We hear a silent longing in the heart, and go deeper and deeper. Thoughts or no thoughts, it isn’t so important anymore. Our pain and sorrow, our hopes and dreams, all begin to dissolve and become irrelevant. We are starting to smell the fragrance of eternity, to hear the echoes of infinity. And this is the place where deep transformation at the personal level takes place. As if each time we dip into infinity, into the eternity of our being, our personality feels it and becomes a little less scared.
We start with clumsy fingers making awkward sounds. But with patience and dedication, we learn, and it becomes effortless. It feels as though the beautiful music has always been there and we are not the ones making it. The beauty of the heart devours our entire world and all that is left is that beauty.
Will is a Hridaya Yoga teacher living in California.
By Laura Samper G.
Have You Ever Tried Spiritual Healing?
Many meditation practitioners and people looking for alternatives to modern medicine are interested in the ancient practice of shamanism. The term shaman comes from Siberia and means “the one who knows” (from the verb sha, “to know”). Shamanism is found in Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador), among hunter-gatherer societies in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and in some prehistoric cultures in Europe.
A shaman is someone who sees beyond their limits and does not identify with the personal “I.” They direct their inner worlds and their freedom lies in their detachment from dogma. So, shamans are able to heal themselves and others by knowing their own depth and richness.
Are we capable of performing actual healing on ourselves? Are we healers and shamans without realizing it?
As Above, So Below. As Within, So Without
Usually, when tensions, worries and stresses become chronic, they manifest as illness in the physical body. We externalize countless emotional tensions, conflicts and mental doubts. So, it is a matter of a mental, not physical attitude.
Psychological pressures and constant worries have unfortunate consequences on our energetic structures. We may suffer from panic attacks, pain, and moments of depression as if we were mentally bungee jumping. Sometimes, these episodes can go on for weeks without us quite noticing.
Sometimes, we just feel tired when we shouldn’t.
We are on autopilot. Our activities, relationships and place in the world start to overwhelm us. So, we withdraw into the desire to get rid of this feeling and we start making the wrong decisions. This is why we get stuck in unhealthy interactions, in toxic routines, and other off behaviors.
I started to practice yoga on a daily basis for this very reason. I wanted to heal and go deeper into myself and discover the unknown abilities hidden beneath rusty beliefs.
The Case of Back Pain
Last March, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention informed doctors that they should stop prescribing opioids for chronic pain and, instead, evaluate other, less invasive alternatives—especially for chronic back pain. Moreover, a recent experiment reported that 43.6% of people who participated in a mindfulness training course that included meditation and yoga practices presented a meaningful reduction in back pain 26 weeks later.
Referring to back pain, author Daniel Cherking, a senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington said that, “The biggest revolution has been the understanding that it’s not just a physical problem with physical solutions. It’s a bio-physiological problem.”
According to the New York Times, 6.5 million Americans currently suffer from chronic lower back pain. However, most of them don’t have access to alternative treatments such as therapeutic meditation because they are not included in most insurance plans. (Hint: it’s a good option just to try these techniques at home.)
We don’t have many options to run away from pharmaceuticals, either. When talking about mental disorders, psychiatric treatments are recommended. But why do we need to take pills? I think this is extreme when we are facing the real issues of being human. But this is just my opinion. I think that the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry works in very few specific cases.
There are many studies about the effects of meditation on the body and the emotions. Transcendental Meditation (TM), for example, is one of the more researched meditation techniques. Over 200 published scientific studies show that this technique reduces stress, boosts learning ability and creativity, and improves brain function.
Herbert Benson, M.D. from Harvard Medical School conducted extensive studies on TM and observed that the electroencephalograph (EEG) showed increased alpha wave activity, indicating greater tranquility of mind. His team also observed a decrease in heartbeat and a 20% decrease in oxygen consumption. There was also a marked increase in skin resistance.
Vipassana meditation is a technique that emerged in India 2500 years ago and has been studied at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These studies suggest that meditation can actually alter the structure of our brains (this is an expression in the physical body of what Patanjali called nirodha parinama).
The Tibetan, Buddhist and Zen traditions all teach mindfulness techniques. In a recent study on the benefits of meditation, researchers found meditation to be as effective a treatment for depression, pain and anxiety as medication. This study, in particular, is remarkable because it analyzed data from 18,000 earlier papers on the topic. The most interesting fact revealed by this study was that, in the United States, the average effect of antidepressants is the same as for meditation. Are we onto something here?
Emotional Healing on the Mat
There are many ways to support healing on both the mental and physical levels that don’t involve using pills. I think it’s good to keep unveiling other paths beside those we have been taught by tradition and education.
After most of my hatha yoga practices, I find myself trying to answer this question: How can I heal myself without an outside influence? How can I feel better without depending on others?
The Alchemy of the Body
In the practice of hatha yoga, ancient wisdom and asanas go hand in hand. Physical movement should be performed with the inner spiritual attitudes recommended in the traditional text