DANA

Buddhists believe that giving without seeking anything in return leads to greater spiritual wealth. Dana is a concept in Buddhism that means generosity or giving. It is also the practice of cultivating generosity. Ultimately, the practice culminates in one of the perfections (pāramitā): the perfection of giving. It is characterized by unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.

Many Buddhist retreats operate on the concept of dana. My yoga and meditation training at Spirit Rock operated on a sliding scale fee basis and on the last day you also gave what you could afford to pay to all the teachers and staff.

I was inspired to write after reading Blisschick’s post on her installation of a donation button on her blog. Like Blisschick, I don’t have ads on this blog and also like her, I have written many words over five years — this is my 400th post! — and very much appreciate the relationships I have developed because of this blog.

More than a few people have written to me over the years about how inspired they were by my words (“I thought I was the only one to feel this way!”) or how I have helped their yoga practice in some way (for example, my many posts on yin yoga.) This blog is a global teaching tool just as much as my yoga classes are locally.

An old friend told me just the other day that my knowledge is valuable and she suggested that I write a book. She thought it would be shame if I did not put my unique yoga philosophy, my teachings, down in a book because, she said, “You are special, what you have done is special, and once you are gone, who will carry on your teachings? They will be lost.”

My friend wrote a book containing her family recipes because she wanted to share her knowledge, she thought it valuable enough. More importantly, she valued herself enough to do that.

Her words reminded me of what the teachers told us at KYM: that we should spread our knowledge, because if we did not, we would be nothing more than thieves, taking but not giving.

So, like Blisschick, my time and energy and words and experiences are worth something, and I have had a Paypal donation button on the right side for some some time now. If some bloggers can ask their readers to help pay for their yoga teacher training, then I will also graciously accept and appreciate your dana, gratitude, and love offerings. A heartfelt “thank you” goes out to the readers who have donated a few rupees over the years! Of course, readers are free to ignore the donation button, it’s your choice.

But if you have benefited in some way or learned anything from this blog in five years, then consider what that knowledge — indeed, the wisdom of an ageless hippie chick Buddhist yogini — has been worth to you.

Metta to all my readers!

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I am blessed….

….to have such readers.

Kevin is a long-time reader and has always been very supportive of my cathartic rants and musings about yoga. As what sometimes happens in the online world, we struck up an email correspondence about all things yoga. In fact, Kevin and his wife Erin had also planned to visit the ashram in South India where I was originally scheduled to spend two months but life gets in the way and they had to change their plans — so Kevin generously donated their deposit for my stay. I was overwhelmed by his gesture considering that we have never met. I will say again that I am always amazed at the support I’ve received in the global yoga community through this blog compared to my local “yoga community.” And those of you who have read about my misadventures with local studio owners know what I’m talking about.

Kevin and Erin have relocated to Mexico and have started blogging — Kevin and Erin in Mexico. So I was again overwhelmed to read Kevin’s latest post:

“How could I mention India without mentioning…..?

That “yoga and meditation” (if one has the hard-to-come-by understanding of what yoga actually is, pre-spandex and pre-group class zombie world) is a redundant phrase – and that if you want to learn why that is so, and so much else about yoga, meditation, life, music, great writing, wicked humor and what it means to really love India you must check out this blog:

Linda’s Yoga Journey

I find Linda’s depth and breadth of experience, writing chops and fearlessness very inspiring, and have learned (and continue to learn) so much about all of the above topics from her. Her blog is beautiful in so many ways, and a portal to a vast array of positive things going on in the world. Check it out.”

Wow, wow, wow. I am not only blessed but also humbled. Out of everything that he said, I am most touched that Kevin thinks I’m fearless, more so than being considered a good writer.

I want to take this time to thank Kevin and Erin and ALL my long-time readers — and I know who my regular readers are even if you never comment — for putting up with these “cathartic musings and occasional rants about my trips to India to study my heart’s passion, and my sweet adventures along the yoga path.”

I also want to thank all of the yoga bloggers who have put this blog on your blogrolls. I can tell from my site meter how people find me and I am amazed at how many blogs I’m linked to so mucho thanks for the link love!

May you all know happiness and the causes of happiness.
May you all be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May you all never be parted from freedom’s true joy.
May you all dwell in equanimity, free from attachment and aversion.

peace
shanti
a-salaam aleikum
so shall it be.

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talking the talk AND walking the walk

This is yoga.

“Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Hope flickers on
Siteki, Swaziland
4:30 pm 7/04/09

The world is full of tears.

Tears that would overflow the banks of any sea.

And yet I still believe in us. In humanity. In the power of love.

It has only been two days since I’ve been back on Swazi soil… The red dust is burning my eyes as I write these words at the ‘veterinary clinic’ which doubles as an internet cafe.

Each morning i spend an hour in clinic, before heading out into the communities to meet the people….

In every hut there is a story of sorrow.

Yesterday we drove up the most inhospitable hill…. Where there was a single hut perched upon rock after jagged rock.

In the hut we found a man with end stage HIV. He was lying naked in his bed, next to a pool of his own wastes.

Every bone in his body, literally every bone was palpable, visible. He had suffered a stroke secondary to complications of HIV/Toxoplasmosis and was unable to move his left side.

One of the wonderful Swazi nurses in the team explained that he had a caring daughter who washed him and fed him each day, but was only able to visit him once a day.

I cant remember a time ive seen someone so hungry.

We gave him an orange. He took it in his skeletal hands and devoured it.

We took out a bag of corn meal and the nurses mixed it with some milk into a paste.

He ate it faster than anything i’ve ever seen.

He held his hands in prayer and through wide brown eyes filled with tears said “Siyabonga” – Thank you.

There is a story of a sparrow, which my Dad told me once.

He was lying on a gravel road, with his little scrawny legs facing the open sky.

A horseman was walking past and seeing the sparrow, alighted from his horse.

He said “Little Sparrow, are you hurt? Why are lying there so awkwardly? Face up to the sky?”

The sparrow said “I have heard, that sometime today the sky will fall.”

The horseman laughed and said “And you think you can keep it from falling with those little legs?”

The sparrow shrugged his shoulders and said “My friend, I will do what I can.”

And that is all I am doing. What we are all doing here in this beautiful, little hamlet so filled with pain.

What we can.

From Siteki with love,

Maithri”

And this is Maithri.

My name is Maithri (pronounced MY3), and I’m a medical doctor living in Melbourne Australia.

I return to Swaziland for several months in April of 2009.

Swaziland is a country with the highest prevalence of HIV in the world (42%). 10% of its population are orphaned children.

It serves as a vivid microcosm of the most emergent and under-recognised humanitarian crisis of our generation: the cycle of poverty and HIV infection.

I have never seen grace, power, and hope so eloquently displayed as I have seen it in the lives of these beautiful people.

I want to share their stories with you.

Walk with me.

Together we will find ways of making a change.

My love to you, Maithri

____________________________________________________

I do not get to Maithri’s blog, The Soaring Impulse, as often as I should, but every time I do I am overwhelmed. I don’t know if Maithri has ever done an asana in his life, but he is a true yogi in my book. He is a buddha, an awakened one. Each and every one of us could take lessons from this man. He is the epitome of what Krishna speaks of in the Bhagavad Gita, about releasing from the fruits of our actions. If someone told me that I could only teach one class, I can honestly say that the only one I would continue teaching is the one where I am paid nothing — teaching to women in a domestic violence shelter. Karma yoga.

I am certainly not a holier than thou yogini — I still get angry and judgmental and I can still swear like a Marine on occasion (albeit all this is much less now) because I am only human. But when I got back home from my first trip to India and re-entered white bread suburban life, my reverse culture shock was severe. It took me about 6 months to get over it. I was not shocked at the poverty in India or being with slum children, far from it. I handled it very well when beggars with half their faces gone from leprosy would grab my arm for a rupee. But what I did not handle very well was the complacency, indeed the ignorance, of my fellow suburbanites.

I remember standing behind a woman and her daughter in a long line and listening to them whining and complaining about everything they were experiencing in the moment. I imagined twitching my nose like Samantha in Bewitched and dropping them in the middle of Chennai without their cell phones, surrounded by starving street dogs and beggars with no legs grabbing at their designer jeans. I wondered how long mother and daughter would survive without their Vuitton purses and Blackberries. I wanted to scream at them, “WAKE UP!”

And I wonder sometimes at how content and grateful yogis (or people who call themselves yoga practitioners) really are. After all, yoga teachers are supposed to be firmly grounded in the yamas and the niyamas and help their students know the concepts….like santosha, contentment. But it’s been my observation over the years that “yogis” are sometimes not very content at all. Especially on retreats. Especially when taken out of their usual environment.

I’ve been on more than a few retreats with lots of needy yogis. I won’t go into specific details but as a kitchen worker doing my seva, if it was up to me there would be a lot less choices for condiments. You’d be happy with ketchup and mustard and salt and pepper. And no white sugar for you. It’s bad for you anyway so stop sucking it down like there’s no tomorrow. Stop hoarding your food because the cooks really DO make enough for everyone AND YOU ARE NOT STARVING. Has yoga taught you nothing about aparigraha? And you would drink milk one day past its expiration date instead of complaining about it and throwing it out. I am sure the starving man in Maithri’s post would love to have that milk.

Two weeks ago I did a weekend training with one of my regular teachers and she told a story about the difference between Buddhist retreatants and yogis (we were talking about accepting things as they are.) She said she had just led a Buddhist retreat at a well-known yoga center with some well-known western Buddhist teachers and a yoga retreat was starting immediately afterward. They were sitting together in the dining hall after their retreat as the students for the yoga retreat were coming in. One of the Buddhist teachers said, “Ah…here come the yogis. With all their special dietary needs….”

Wheat grass indeed. Yeah, you know who you are. Sometimes it’s hard to look into that mirror that’s held up to your face.

So this is a long-winded way of saying that next time you can’t get your Starbucks mocha frappahooey done just right (OH MY GOD! I SAID TWO SHOTS!!) or you start salivating over the latest Lululemon pants that you have to take out a second mortgage to buy….

think about the dying African who is happy with an orange.

Cut out your Starbucks for a month and make a donation to Maithri’s Swaziland Appeal. I did…because I believe in sparrows holding up the sky.


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dana, gratitude, and love offerings accepted


As a practicing Buddhist, I’m all about dana (pronounced “donna”) — “unattached and unconditional generosity, giving and letting go.” that is how I make payment at Spirit Rock Meditation Center for my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training.

in my last post, bindifry made some very pithy comments about students showing gratitude to their teachers, and I agree 150% with her:

“part of the yoga path is gratitude. it is very important to express that to your teacher.

something most yoga students do not understand. often we are left quite empty. many students never even say “thank you” after a class. it’s sad, really.

I study with an amazing Aussie teacher. part of her teaching is a gratitude circle at the end of the cycle. everyone sits in a circle and must show gratitude to the teacher.

and when you receive shakti from your guru, the respectable thing to do is kneel before him and touch his feet. it’s dharma.”

“I just find it quite alarming how many students, rather than saying “thank you” instead say things like “why didn’t i get more adjustments? i paid my money just like everyone else”

sorry, but yoga teachers are also human beings…people need to be educated about etiquette. other cultures do not have this issue at all, as teachers are considered the highest form of professions.”

“yoga teachers are people like the students and that for students to say “thanks” goes a long way, even though i have learned to live without the gratitude. students don’t tell their teachers thanks or even acknowledge them as their teachers far too often. they do not know that gratitude, like santosha, is part of yoga.

“everyone sits in a circle and must show gratitude to the teacher” — how many of you can honestly say you would feel comfortable doing that? I know that many Americans have a hard time wrapping their mind around the idea of their yoga teacher being their “guru”, but that’s Ego, pure and simple. and fear. “guru” is Sanskrit for teacher, someone who has “great knowledge, wisdom and authority in a certain area, and uses it to guide others.” nothing more, nothing less.

I believe that lack of gratitude or lack of acknowledgment is definitely an American/Western thing. it’s not that way in India. this American yoga teacher has no problem whatsoever touching the feet of my teacher, an Indian from Chennai who was an original trustee of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, when he comes to teach in Chicago. I wrote about my own feelings about being a good student here.

so it gets my thong in a knot when I write about pay for yoga teachers and I’m told to “be content” or have “santosha”, just accept what is given or not given to you. I DO have santosha, in fact, I feel I am blessed to be able to teach yoga. but like bindifry says, yoga teachers are also human. think about that.

I am blessed to be teaching now at a studio where if two students show up, they thank me for being there, for driving 45 minutes and spending my time with them. this is in stark contrast to the studio where I used to teach where the upper middle-class women had a huge sense of entitlement.

support your local yoga teacher and show her or him some love. that’s all I’m saying.

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thanks given

to….

Suddha Weixler. . .for showing me what it means to be a true yogi

Srivatsa Ramaswami. . .for showing me what pure yoga is and inspiring me to go to India

Paul Grilley. . .for showing me that yoga truly is “all in the bones”

Sarah Powers. . .for confirming for me what I have always intuited

My students. . .for their support along this Path

Buddha. . .for the Dharma and for showing me the way out of suffering

OM MANI PEDME HUM

gratitude

The attitude of gratitude has been resonating with me lately and not just because Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

In three weeks — exactly two weeks before I leave for India — I am scheduled for a medical procedure because of certain pains I’ve been having for the last few months. I am concerned but I’m also not worried about it. I believe that our mindset is a big determiner in the quality of our lives, indeed, in our physical health, so I am thinking positive. Besides…I already made the decision a long time ago that I will not die an unlived life.

I also received an email this morning from a friend that who told me that a woman she knows, a woman with children in college and a child in 8th grade, was killed, sitting in her car in front of her house. A teenager sideswiped her as she sat in front of her house. My friend said she was glad — grateful if you will — that the woman’s children were all home for the holiday, that they were all together when this happened.

Think about that. Think about how the Universe always drop kicks us into the present moment. It always serves us a big steaming pile of “HELLO! I’M HERE AND YOU’D BETTER PAY ATTENTION!”, i.e., pay attention to how we live our lives. But do we really pay attention? Do we really take the Universe’s lessons to heart? Or do we have the attention spans of flies?

Do we take time to consider whether we are truly living our lives with authentic presence? Not just being “in the present moment” — that has almost become a cliche nowadays — but living with bare, naked, authentic awareness of our reality. Not being ignorant of it, as Buddha taught. Not running from it, not wishing it was something that it is not, not holding on with dear life to things that are by their nature impermanent, but standing squarely and solidly and facing the good and the bad and the tragic with equanimity. And having gratitude for all of it.

I found this link about gratitude and I love what it has to say. There’s a little story about the violinist Itzhak Perlman…

“…”You know,” he said, “sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much beautiful music you can still make with what you have left.”

We have to wonder, was he speaking of his violin strings or his crippled body? And is it true only for artists? We are all lacking something, and so we are all challenged to answer the question: Do we have the attitude of making something of beauty out of what we do have, incomplete as it may be?

The Hebrew term for gratitude is hikarat hatov, which means, literally, “recognizing the good.” Practicing gratitude means recognizing the good that is already yours.

If you’ve lost your job, but you still have your family and health, you have something to be grateful for.

If you can’t move around except in a wheelchair but your mind is as sharp as ever, you have something to be grateful for.

If you’ve broken a string on your violin, and you still have three more, you have something to be grateful for.

When you open up to the trait of gratitude, you see clearly and accurately how much good there is in your life. Gratitude affirms. Those things you are lacking are still there, and in reaching for gratitude no one is saying you ought to put on rose-colored glasses to obscure those shortcomings. But most of us tend to focus so heavily on the deficiencies in our lives that we barely perceive the good that counterbalances them….”

Why wait until tomorrow to give thanks? A simple way to practice gratitude is making giving thanks part of your everyday life. I got into that habit when I was at my retreat in California, taking a few minutes before each meal to give thanks and to dedicate the merits of the meal to all homeless and hungry people all over the world.

Drink a glass of gratitude with that turkey — or tofu turkey! — tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

peace
shanti
salaam aleikum
so shall it be

going with the flow

Do you ever have days where all your yoga and meditation training kicks in and you inhale peace and exhale gratitude? The last few days have been like that for me.

I have three cats and the two pictured are Jack and Sox. Sox is 16 and Jack is the grey tabby, 15 years old. They were both strays when they came into our lives. Jack has been diabetic for about nine years and I give him a shot of insulin every day.

Just like a human diabetic, he has his ups and downs. He has hypoglycemic crashes, which can very scary and heartrending. He goes through long periods where his diabetes is regulated and then his body goes wacky and I have to rush him to the vet…like last night.

When Jack begins to crash I try to help by giving him corn syrup to raise his glucose but last night it didn’t work. His head starts shaking, he starts staggering around, his back legs go out on him, and he literally becomes blind. He is helpless. When we got him to the vet, his blood sugar was so low it did not even register on the glucose meter and his temperature was 95 degrees (cats are usually around 102.) The emergency vet started a glucose IV and put him on a heating pad. He is still at the vet’s office as I type this. The bill for last night was $410.

On top of all this, starting today I am getting a hardwood floor refinished. After the carpet was pulled up the refinisher told me that some of the spots were so badly damaged by cat urine that the wood has to be replaced, adding $400-$600 to the original cost and an extra day. The reason there’s cat urine is that (1) Jack is diabetic, and (2) he’s an old cat, and old cats sometimes forget to use the cat box.

Yes, Jack is problematic and over the years he has cost us a lot of money in vet bills, but in good conscience I can not put him to sleep to make things easier for us. I know that many people would put a cat like Jack to sleep and have no second thoughts about it. I know that people put their pets to sleep when the cost of vet care becomes too much and they can no longer afford to care for them. I know that some people would take a cat like Jack and dump him on an expressway or out in the country. There are many throw-away animals in this world.

But I can not put Jack to sleep, he is not suffering on a daily basis. He still eats well, he still gets around, and sometimes he still runs around like a kitten. A friend once described him as a “lover.”

As for the floor, the refinisher was more upset than I was about the added cost and extra day. But I looked him in the eye and I said “I’m a yoga teacher, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, that’s to go with the flow.” I told him that things can always be worse and I am not going to get upset about things that I have no control over. I told him that I am not going to create my own suffering by becoming upset. He said that I was right and that maybe he should remember that for himself in the future.

Yeah, I wish I did not have a diabetic cat, I wish he did not cost beaucoup bucks to keep well, I wish the floor job wasn’t going to cost an extra $500 because of him. But wishing for reality to be something other than it is creates suffering. I am not going to dwell on those negatives because things can always be worse. I am just grateful that we are in a position to be able to afford these emergencies, many people can not. There was a time back in the day when I could not. There was a time back in the day when I could not afford medical care for myself.

I try to live my life from a state of abundance, and not with the attitude of lack. I know people who have much more than I have materially, yet they live their lives as if they are lacking something.

I am grateful for all that I have…even for an old sick cat.