Posted on November 28th, 2012
Tomorrow is November 29th. Just one month since October 29th.
Just one month since Almighty Sandy.
T.S. Eliot wrote “I do not know much about gods;but I think that the river is a strong brown god -sullen, untamed and intractable . . .”
So many lessons learned those blackest of nights in the ghost town of Soho. The truth difficult to swallow: my body did break against the force of Nature, my mind did falter in its ability to “look for the good first” going on night number 9 without heat and hot water, and… I did cry. I was embarrassed of myself. Embarrassed of the pity creeping in, knowing damn well that despite the challenge of my personal circumstances during the post-hurricane weeks, that I still had my home.
The New York Times published the following statistics in its Times Topics today:
“Hurricane Sandy was a disaster without modern precedent for New York City that, in one night, created a new homeless population of thousands. Longtime advocates for the homeless, and families repeatedly dislocated since the storm, say it exposed and worsened the city’s acute lack of affordable housing options. Even before the storm, New York was sheltering more homeless people than any city in the United States.”
So, to all of my colleagues, students, friends and family, I apologize for my lack of greater communication during this past month. The best I could do was to remain as silent as possible so that the reality of how truly fortunate I am could sink in. How fantastically fortunate I was to be able to stand in my kitchen, shivering in my designer winter coat as I boiled another pot of water to warm my face and hands, while drinking a cup of exotic tea by candle light.
May we not forget that is has only been one month.
So many without homes. It must feel like an eternity to them.
Respectfully: Do what you can if you can.
Posted on February 1st, 2012
…is the recurring theme in my contemplations.
Why are we so willing to call ourselves “yogis” just because we practice pranayama and asana, and then, when it comes to our lives “off the mat”, we are neglectful, forgetful and self-serving? (Please notice that I used lower case for “self”.)
After numerous certifications, focused study of the underlying ethics of yoga, I still find myself newly realizing how critical these ethics are in experiencing some degree of harmony in life.
Therefore, I am getting out the microscope to study again my own words and actions through the lens of the Yamas and Niyamas. The question will hang: “Do I really practice yoga?”
Below is the list. Over the course of February and March, I will be riffing on each to share my understanding as I, too, walk this balance beam of basking in the Mystery of it all while navigating the relativity of life on planet Earth.
Asteya: Not Stealing
Brahmacharya: Merging with the One
Aparigraha: Not Grasping
Tapas: Burning Enthusiasm
Ishvarapranidhana: Surrender to the Divine
Posted on January 1st, 2012
There is a saying which can be traced back to more than one spiritual tradition, and for some reason, my own mind seems to rest on it this first day of 2012.
“To be in the World, but not of it”
What does this mean?
I have used this phrase time and again thinking that I had grasped the meaning, and yet, here I am pondering it again as we begin one of the most anticipated years in recorded history.
My current inkling is that if one is to “be IN the world, but not of it” then one must choose to be accountable in all areas of one’s life. To approach everything and everyone with mindfulness. When I contemplate this kind of accountability, I immediately bow to my three most influential teachers who personify it in word and action.
To truly be the change you want to see in the World. (Mahatma Gandhi)
A tall order? Perhaps.
And, a great challenge to undertake for the New Year.
Posted on November 14th, 2011
There is much I could have and potentially “should have” written about since my last entry on September 11th, and yet somehow, I have a slight case of aversion to just blogging for the sake of blogging. And, then there is the ever-lingering fear of writing something that just reeks of bulls**t even if it is sincere.
I have readily admitted that I have a long history of being more interested in that which I can touch, taste, smell, hear and see than what I cannot. It is this tendency towards lacking faith in the unknowable during some of the most challenging times of my life that brought me to yoga, philosophical/spiritual studies and meditation in the first place.
So, last week when I was bombarded with all kinds of emails with messages of the promise of spiritual harmony on the much anticipated day of November 11, 2011…. and, it’s super potent, second long, moment of 11-11-11-11-11-11, I said to my skeptical self: “Why not?”
Why not believe in something that is predicting a potential opportunity to raise consciousness and jump a spiritual level as both an individual and as a unified collective?
And, honestly, who cares if it is fiction if it gets people to pause and consider their lives as something much greater than their “to do” lists.
Yes, there is mayhem everywhere: we can touch it every time we bring a plastic bottle of water to our lips, taste it in our genetically modified corn and inhumanely raised cattle, smell it in the sewers after Hurricane Irene, hear it in the chants of Occupy Wall Street and see it on the news with our persistent wars and financial crisis.
Supposedly, we are still in the midst of the afterglow of this period of illumination and insight. If this is true, then why not take the proverbial leap of faith and consider when you look into someone else’s eyes that maybe, just maybe, they are, who you are… looking back.
Thank you George Bernard Shaw (and all those, including Robert Kennedy, who have used his below quote in subsequent years) for asking us to ponder “Why not?”.
“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, “Why not?”
-George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), Back to Methuselah (1921), part 1, act 1
Posted on September 11th, 2011
This question was raised in some ABC News internet footage I watched today commemorating the attacks that took place on 9/11. The correspondent pointed out that the question most asked about that day has been “Where were you?”, and then, pausing, he probed “More importantly, Who were you?“…” and Who are you today?”
For these questions, I am glad that I broke my promise to myself that I would not watch any footage replaying the horror of what happened approximately 10 blocks down from where I am typing this blog entry right now. A mentor of mine gently warned me back in 2002 (around the time of the first anniversary) that my anxiety level was being exacerbated by re-watching the towers collapse over and over in multiple views. The terrifying footage was perpetuating an obsessive fear, and potentially slowing down the healing process for those of us living in nearby neighborhoods.
Again, I am glad that I allowed myself to watch just a little bit of footage today, even as I sit here provoked and crying, for the questions presented. The questions that leave me pondering…
Who was I on 911/01 and Who am I now on 9/11/11?
On the deepest of levels, I am. I am still that which is present, breathing and wondering what the meaning of it all is… and not knowing.
And, paradoxically, I am not anything of who I was on 9/11/01. All the years, months… minutes leading up to 9:03 that morning, I was driven, willful and striving to be seen and heard.
Then, watching the destruction unfold, I was literally blown out of my calendar and plans.
It became very clear that day that most of everything I was doing and pursuing seemed empty and meaningless except for… yoga. I somehow let go of the desire to be somebody… and the endless “to do” lists associated with that task. It was my first adult taste of simply being.
Shortly thereafter, I completed my first yoga teacher certification with Max Strom. I was in the training as a means to deepen my practice as I felt so lost and alienated in the life I was living. I also had no intention of becoming a yoga teacher, and Max was clear with my intention when accepting me. It was a surreal time, and at the end of the training, Max asked Cari Friedman, Jamie Elmer and myself to become his assistant teachers. I was stunned as I accepted this generous offer. Within months, I was on the schedule of various yoga studios teaching my own classes as I continued to learn hands on knowledge from Max, who is affectionately called “The Gentle Giant” for his tall and powerful stance, kind demeanor and ability to teach discipline.
Watching that archived footage today with the innocent 2001 version of the news anchors covering the horror, I realized that I, too, was more innocent back then, primarily because I was also more myopic. The lens opened, and I experienced a taste of “something bigger” than me.
Being a resident of Soho since the 90’s, I had grown accustomed (even attached) to the unobstructed, famous view of the trade towers which were a trademark of walking down Thompson Street to my apartment one block above Canal. It took years for “the scar” of their absence to fade away: The absence, a constant reminder of impermanence. One lesson I hope to never forget.
Posted on June 21st, 2011
I often contemplate what intelligence is… Coming from a family with a high concentration of doctors and lawyers, I always had equated intelligence with those particular fields. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be a doctor… and maybe even lawyer too like my doctor father who completed law school at night when I was in high school!
At some point, my childhood notions of going to medical school slipped away as Life offered me twists and turns. Twists and turns which tested (and continue to test) my hard-wired belief systems.
Eventually, I came to find that true intelligence resides in the heart.
The heart is already present. It is already awake, and it beckons to us ever so softly with a simple rhythm. This arrangement of heartbeats gives stability and form to our lives very much the same way rhythm is the arrangement of time in music.
In the words of Robert Valett, “The human heart feels things the eyes cannot see, and knows what the mind cannot understand.”
Posted on April 17th, 2011
Tonight, a group of friends and I attended a workshop with one of my favorite teachers, Adyashanti. A rare visit to NYC. Since 2007, I have had the good fortune to have participated in many of his silent retreats, which aided my personal process of “letting go” of “me” immeasurably.
He encourages those in his presence to call him “Adya”, remarking that he, too, feels that the grandeur of the name Adyashanti is a “bit much”. He tells us that his nieces and nephews call him “Uncle Ad” and I cannot help reflecting on how much that sounds like “Uncle Odd”. And, to the average person, he is “odd”, pausing often, “waiting” for his responses to arise and bridging us into the calm center of Now.
I wonder how often most of us just ramble on without so much as a breath between words, let alone sentences or paragraphs. We always seem to be going somewhere, forgetting that we have already arrived.
A flurry of thoughts at first.
(My mind is doing its job beautifully.)
I wait for the inner traffic to slow down.
I am waiting. Joyfully, curiously waiting.
Posted on February 22nd, 2011
It is a cold, dark January desert morning with the faint outline of Joshua trees illumined by a sliver of the moon. The crescent moon, Sally Kempton had explained the night before was the Shiva Moon: the moon of awareness, an auspicious moon of The One.
A group of dedicated students of meditation and contemplative studies have joined Sally for a week at The Joshua Tree Retreat Center/Institute of Mentalphysics, designed largely by Frank Lloyd Wright. The accommodations are austere, reflecting a landscape free of distractions other than the constellations above.
Sally is already seated near the puja where a tall, lean yogini finishes lighting incense and candles, transforming the communal hall into a sacred temple. A faint smell of recently burned sage clears the space in these pre-sunrise hours. It is a time revered by many wisdom traditions, when the veil between worlds is most transparent.
Identities concealed beneath layers of sweaters and scarves, everyone sits closely together on the floor near Sally. The only sound is breathing.
She begins to speak in hushed tones. Her voice is spectacular in its smooth honey tones. It is simultaneously husky and gentle. Immediately it is apparent that there really is nowhere but here.
She invokes the “Great Spirit of Love and Truth”, borrowing a Chinook Indian blessing, “who flows throughout the whole Universe, to be with us, to teach us and show us the way”. There is a collective pause in the room. The so-called “energy” is palpable: the frequency feels very much like being in the company of the most loving and supportive friends. Friends who are also fiercely loyal and protective. The idea of Shakti is not only understood, but “felt” in Sally’s presence.
The instruction this morning is deceptively challenging: to slip into the space in between the inhales and exhales and vice versa. The Sanskrit term for this midpoint, or gap, is the madhya. Sally reveals that it is the same instruction received from her teacher, Baba Muktananda, back in her days of wearing the orange robes of a swami.
The room dips into the gap as the roomful of minds empty out at the end of every exhale. Again, the gap, as these same minds are flooded with breath on the inhale.
This gap swallows both the reverie of the past and the worries of the future. Sally calls it “the space of the heart”.
Connected to the whole, we sit in silence, slipping into eternity together. There is nowhere to go but here.
Posted on February 18th, 2011
The “Inner Self”?
If you had asked me back in the late 90’s about the “Inner Self” I would most likely immediately jump to some description of my thoughts, perceptions and especially, feelings about whatever was going on in my life. Everything would be about “me”.
Me, me, me, me, meeeeee!!!
There was no perceptible awareness that there was something other than the thinking me. Even more baffling, there was no real acknowledgment of how narrow the bandwidth of my awareness was.
I remember vividly how my dear cousin, Meadow, would point out the beauty of flowers on our springtime morning hikes in Los Angeles, and how my gaze remain fixed on my climbing feet as I babbled on about whatever was ailing me, breaking my heart or hurting my feelings. All with extra emphasis on “me” and “my”.
(This moment is probably a good one to thank all the friends and family who patiently put up with “me” during this era.)
It is no surprise that the second chapter, “How Do We Experience the Inner Self?”, of Sally Kempton’s new book is especially poignant.
As I described in prior blog entries this year, my road to experiencing myself as the Self, was tumultuous. There was incredible doubt pushing and asserting that there was nothing but the thinking mind, and that the cultivation of this kind of thinking intelligence was the “way”.
I persisted with my goal to experience the Self, and began, as Sally says, “to look for, to identify, and to identify with [my] essence”.
And, then, one meditation practice in particular gave me the entry point to becoming aware of my own existence.
It is called the madhya. The midpoint. The fractional pause between breaths, words, everything… that offers passage to experiencing the Awareness, the Presence… the Self underlying it all.
(An account of the actual morning I learned the madhya meditation from Sally will be posted next week.)
Posted on January 11th, 2011
There has been no doubt in my mind for many years now that Sally Kempton is one of the greatest living meditation teachers. Added emphasis on the word “living” is critical to understanding that she and the teachings she shares are vibrantly alive with Kundalini Shakti.
For those of us who have had the opportunity to attend Sally’s courses since she began teaching independently in 2002, the transmission is palpable. There is a subtle, loving current of wisdom in every word and gesture. Now, the gift of her new book, Meditation For The Love Of It, has arrived just in time for 2011 with a potent dose of that wisdom.
As a dedicated, on-going student of Sally’s, I am simultaneously privileged and daunted by the prospect of blogging about my experience of her book. How can one truly explain the unexplainable: that Sally’s teachings and guidance literally altered the course of my life. It seems over the top, right? And, yet, when I opened my advance copy of the book to her Introduction, I was immediately catapulted into a meditative state by the end of the first sentence: “One summer afternoon during a meditation retreat, I discovered that I contain the entire universe.”
Even if I never had studied with Sally, to contemplate the ability to “contain the entire universe” is provocative enough for me to enter a place of deep stillness. The book immediately succeeded in guiding me to meditate. Now, I realize that one sentence may not be enough for someone else. In fact, it may not have been for me either at another time in my life. The wonderful news is that I am willing to wager that somewhere in the subsequent 13 chapters, and or in the final Troubleshooting Guide, a spark will be ignited to go on your own great adventure of the Self.
For more information on Sally, her teachings and to order her new groundbreaking book please go to: www.sallykempton.com