on the wings of angels

“In every community there is work to be done.  In every nation there are wounds to heal.  In every heart there is the power to do it.” — Marianne Williamson

Three women from the domestic violence shelter came to my home shala this week.  They’ve known me from the shelter since 2004.  But I am only there once a month.  They want more, and since the shelter can’t give them more yoga, they came to see me.  I’ve opened my home to them.  I won’t charge them what I usually charge for private yoga, so I tell them to pay me what they can afford.  I don’t care.

They know what real yoga does, what it’s used for.

Healing.

Transformation.

That’s what they were seeking.

She called me because she wanted relief from her anxiety attacks.  She wants to be able to sleep.  She had been doing well but took a few steps back.  She went to the doctor because she thought she was having a heart attack.  The doctor ran tests and told her she was fine.   She gave her pills and told her to see a psychiatrist.   But she did not want pills or the psychiatrist, she wanted yoga, so she called me.

We talked a long time, she told me her stories, what she has been dealing with.  I understood completely.  Two steps forward, a few steps back.

I told her how so many people live their lives in fear or anger, sometimes both.  We’re mad at the past, afraid of the future, never right here, right now, just this.  Only this.  She understood, she’s heard me before, she just needed to be reminded of Buddha’s teachings on the two arrows of suffering.  I told her to drop the hot coal.

I give what is needed to heal.  I dose intuitively as any good medicine woman does.  I flow as I am directed.  No asana needed right now, only a heart opening.  I placed a bolster under her to expand the chest, some blankets under the arms and head and asked her only to breath, to make the exhales longer than the inhales.  When you teach someone a healing pranayama, miracles can happen.  I gave her a visualization.

And then they came.

I am also an energy worker, a clairaudient, very sensitive to energy changes.  My yoga room has an ananda vibe, everyone says so.  She said that sometimes new places make her anxious but she felt safe here.  It’s good to feel safe with someone you know but don’t know.

The windows were open and I heard the wind rise, the wind chimes started to ring furiously.  I felt the change, I heard the swoop, and knew we were surrounded.  She was surrounded.  My voice sounded disembodied and I felt pressure on my arms as if someone was touching me.  When I am do energy work my hands heat up and vibrate, but I wasn’t touching her.

I don’t know how long she was on the bolster, I don’t know how long I spoke about healing the heart.

All I knew was that it was just the two of us again.

After she sat up I asked how she felt and before she said anything I told her, “you were surrounded by angels.”   I surprised myself when I said that, but I knew it as strongly as I know my own name.  I said that the concept of angel guides had never resonated with me until I had some powerful energy work myself and then I believed.  I told her to call them what she wanted…angels, light workers, spirit guides,  it doesn’t matter because those are only labels.

She looked changed, lighter, brighter.  Happy.  She said at one point that even though her eyes were closed she saw a ball of white light surrounding her and the peace she felt was extraordinary.  She said she knew now how to reach that place again.

And then she started to cry.

“Healing is not, after all, the same as curing. Healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather of allowing what is now to move us closer to God.” — Ram Dass

dharma teaching from my cat on Buddha’s birthday

Life and Death are but an illusion.
Happy and Sad are just a state of mind.
Love and Compassion alleviates the suffering
Of All sentient Beings – those who have been
our Mothers and our Fathers.
To recognize the interconnectedness of all beings

Is to know peace! ~ a Buddhist Homage.

One of the most significant celebrations in the Buddhist tradition happens every May on the night of the first full moon in May when people celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. It is known as Buddha Day or Buddha’s Birthday and this year it is May 27th.

Buddha Day celebrates the days that Siddhartha Gautama sat under the bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India over 2500 years ago and attained enlightenment, when he became The Awakened One. On the third day of sitting, Gautama awoke and saw the world for what it was, realized the process to end our suffering (which is so simple but not easy), and began sharing it with others. Well, not immediately because he believed that what he realized was so simple no one would believe him. But he eventually started turning the Wheel of Dharma to teach us how to free ourselves and awaken just like he did.

My cat is dying. He was diagnosed with lymphoma, intestinal cancer, and he is 18 years old. A cat who decided to adopt us when he followed my husband and Sam Dog (who also passed over the Rainbow Bridge) home on a bright Texas morning. A compassionate woman socialized him when he was a kitten living in a pile of bricks with his mother and siblings. We saw her feeding them and petting them the first 6 months of his life. On that sunny Texas morning he followed Sam Dog into the house and never looked back.

But now he is dying. Buddha said there is no escaping old age, sickness, and death…death is certain, the time of it is not.

All these years his karma was never to be sick, unlike Jack the Yogi Cat. His illness came on suddenly, within the last month, teaching me once again that life can change in an instant. Our lives can change for better or worse in the next moment. How can we sit with the suffering of others if we do not know how to sit with our own?

He had his first chemo treatment last week. Some of you might wonder why I would put an 18 year old cat through chemo but I have an excellent vet and discussed all the options with her. Sox is a fighter, he is still strong, and I will not put an animal down merely because their treatment is an inconvenience. Last year my Jack the Yogi Cat died from complications of diabetes at the age of 17 and I gave him insulin shots every day for 10 years; towards the end it was twice a day. Sox is not very active now and his life is spent in the kitchen on a bath mat and towels as Jack did at his end.

His reaction to the first chemo treatment was not good, but he is better now and I will make him as comfortable as I can. I give him prednisone every day and that is how I know he is having a good day, if he fights me. Just like any other cancer patient he will have good days and bad days. If he begins to suffer or no longer has quality of life, then we will make our decision. But for now, he is comfortable and eating.

I shed many tears last week and also examined my own spirituality. I read an elephant journal post on how a Buddhist deals with the death of a animal companion. I am “officially” Buddhist because I took the Five Precepts, one of them being “no killing.” I read about a rimpoche who fed his cat by hand (which I have done) and took his cat to the litter box (which I have done), but I will not allow an animal to suffer. Everything is about intention. My karma is my karma.

There are no absolutes even though religions try to make us believe there are. Buddha told us to question everything including his teachings. Every situation is different. I asked myself about Sox’s euthanasia…do I want to end his suffering or mine? My suffering is watching him deteriorate as I watched my Jackie. My suffering is my attachment to wanting his life not to change even though I know it must. I will always do what I think is best for my animal companions.

Sox is once again teaching me about impermanence and of course, compassion every day. But also about joy. I am grateful for the joy and laughter he brought to our lives. I am grateful that we are in position to afford chemo therapy for a cat. These remembrances of joy and gratitude have eased my suffering about my dying animal friend. If I should be in the situation that my cat is in now, depending on the circumstances, I would probably forego chemo for myself. I want to end my days in India, just burn my body on Ma Ganga, light the candles for me and send me on my way. Hari Om, Jai Ma.

I will know when it is time. And when that time comes I will take his ashes along with those of Sam Dog and Jack the Yogi Cat and bury them together under our statue of St. Francis of Assisi (or St. Frankie as we like to call him, the patron saint of animals) who wears a Hindu mala around his neck. They will be in view of a large Buddha head that the eastern sun shines on and also near a verdigris sculpture representing Native American spirituality. Many roads lead to the top of the mountain.

There is still that 1% Lutheran in me who believes that Sam Dog and Jack the Yogi Cat will run to greet Sox when he crosses the Rainbow Bridge. It is a beautiful picture in my mind anyway, and it is a reincarnation story.

A cat in this life, a buddha in the next.

“Do no harm.
Work toward the benefit of all.
Maintain a pure outlook on all things.

All beings are potential Buddhas, all sounds are sacred as Mantra, all thoughts as clear as wisdom, and all phenomena as whole and full as the Buddha field…

OM MANI PADME HUM

All of the Buddha’s teachings are contained within this mantra.”


(Jack the Yogi Cat, left; Sox, right)

handbook for life, 2010

Lots of good advice here, but my three favorites are nos. 21, 33, and 37.

HEALTH:
1. Drink plenty of water.

2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like beggar.

3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is
manufactured in plants.

4. Live with the 3 E’s — Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy.

5. Make time to meditate.

7. Read more books than you did in 2009.

8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.

9. Sleep for 7 hours.

10. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily. And while you walk, smile.

PERSONALITY:
11. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is about.

12. Don’t have negative thoughts or things you cannot control.
Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.

13. Don’t over do. Keep your limits.

14. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

15. Don’t waste your precious energy on gossip.

16. Dream more while you are awake.

17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

18. Forget issues of the past. Don’t remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.

19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don’t hate others.

20. Make peace with your past so it won’t spoil the present.

21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.

23. Smile and laugh more.

24. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

SOCIETY:
25. Call your family often.

26. Each day give something good to others.

27. Forgive everyone for everything.

28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6.

29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.

30. What other people think of you is none of your business.

31. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will.
Stay in touch.

LIFE:
32. Do the right thing!

33. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

34. God heals everything.

35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.

37. The best is yet to come.

38. When you awake alive in the morning, be thankful for it.

39. Your Inner most is always happy. So, be happy.

Many thanks and much metta to my teacher, Bhante Sujatha.

“In the traditional greeting of yoga, ‘With great respect and love we honor your heart as your Inner Teacher. May the harmony of yoga manifest within and without'”.
– Mukunda Stiles


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Happy Saga Dawa!

In the Tibetan tradition, June 7 was Saga Dawa, a remembrance of the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. Saga Dawa is the entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar which this year began on May 25 and ends on June 22. The seventh day of Saga Dawa, May 30, is the day of the historical Buddha’s birth for Tibetans. However, the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa which was June 7.

A faithful reader sent me this link to a series of gorgeous photos and pithy dharma quotes in the blog of a very talented photographer: Gritz Photo Blog. One bit of wisdom from the blog:

“Conflicting emotions come from within this mind, this inner security we have set up for ourselves, where we think of our emotions as legitimate. For the world to function it is not necessary to have a belief that it is real or permanent. If I am convinced that all phenomena are impermanent I am convinced that my distractions will be reduced. We have to give up wrong views, an improper attitude towards others, that everyone is ever lasting …There is a discrepancy between how things are and how we see them.

We know everything is impermanent but we would rather see it as permanent.”
–Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche

Tomorrow I am off to Vermont for seven days to attend Level 2 training of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. I’m excited about seeing Vermont as the only place I’ve been out east is Washington, DC. Funny how I’ve been to India three times and never to New England. Here is what I wrote about how I resonated with the Level 1 training. We shall see what Level 2 brings.

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


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books for your Buddhist path

In a comment to this post Kristen asked for book suggestions to start exploring a Buddhist path.

I first read books on Buddhism and the other Eastern wisdom traditions when I was in high school and college over 30 years ago. I put them down and picked them up again when I started back on the yoga path. I was in a different place so they resonated with me in a different way. I can not separate my spirituality from yoga although the yoga teacher trainings that I know of rarely mention Buddhism. I think that’s unfortunate, but that’s me. Here are my suggestions:

Of course, a good translation of The Dhammapada. I recommend Eknath Easwaran.

Whenever a beginner asks me what book they should start with I always recommend Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. Clear, concise, simple but not simplistic. I’ve read the book about five times.

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula. A great book for the traditional teachings.

Buddhism, Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen. Classic.

Any book by Jack Kornfield, especially Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation and A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (my favorite.)

I’ve studied both Theravadan and Tibetan Buddhism, so in the Shambhala tradition, books by Chogyam Trungpa: Journey Without a Goal: The Tantric Wisdom of the Buddha and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. My two favorite phrases that Trungpa uses are “spiritual materialism” and “idiot compassion.” You can google those.

Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings by Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield’s teacher.

Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

Buddha Takes No Prisoners: A Meditator’s Survival Guide by Patrick Ophuls. One of my favorites.

Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering by Phillip Moffitt (which I have to finish before returning to Spirit Rock at the end of April!)

Good Life, Good Death by my teacher, Gelek Rimpoche. Contemplating my own death made me feel so much more alive and in a way liberated me because I know that what is never born can never die. That realization is freedom.

This a very short list but I believe these books contain the essence, at least for me. Some of these books will not resonate with you because we are all different. Search amazon.com or any book store and you will find hundreds more books and a hundred more authors. Just as there are different styles of Christianity, there are different styles of Buddhism: Zen, Theravadan, Mahayana, Vajrayana, Pure Land, etc. Walking my own path I’ve found that it all boils down to the same thing, the essence of Buddha’s teachings: The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, nothing more, nothing less.

The picture above is Prajna Paramita, the Mother of All Buddhas. Here is the most well-known quote from the Heart Sutra, an essential discourse on Prajna Paramita:

“Form is emptiness,
Emptiness is form,
Form is not other than emptiness,
Emptiness is not other than form.”

Simple.

OM MANI PADME HUM

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where the rubber hits the road

“Buddhism is a practice,” says Levine. “It’s not a bumper sticker. It’s not about attending the Dalai Lama’s teachings with 10,000 other people. It’s about practicing generosity in your daily life. It’s getting on your ass and training your own mind on your meditation cushion.”

from Dive-bar Dharma

Considering that I just spent two days in the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the last paragraph from this salon.com article was pretty potent.

I love that quote — get off your ass to get your ass on the cushion or on your yoga mat.

I am certainly guilty of laziness just like the next person, but when I feel the need to get my yoga butt on the cushion or the mat, I do it. it may not be daily, but I stopped beating myself up about that a long time ago. it is a tangible feeling I get in my body that says “get thee to your yoga room” or to someone’s class.

I teach seven classes a week so I need to feel another’s yoga. I did my first teacher training in 2002 and I still go to my trainer’s studio in Chicago every other week, besides doing my own personal yoga therapy practice. frankly, I don’t understand how any yoga teacher can NOT do their own practice or take someone else’s yoga class because you always have to feed and nourish your own practice or else you become stale, at least in my opinion.

How can a teacher feed his or her students unless they are feeding themselves? in my mind, it’s impossible. when I returned from India this third time I really felt like I needed to stop teaching for a while and totally immerse myself in being a student again. I just might do that — I’m feeling in my bones that I need to spend 6 months in India but that involves giving up my classes, a scary thought giving up my yoga security — you know, all that attachment and clinging.

My siddha yoga sista in California told me that it’s her experience to see people return from long India retreats to find their “material world” suddenly do a change up for the better. she asked me, “what would happen if you went, like you’d come back and nobody would sign up for classes? I don’t think so…because when you’re off on your retreat, you’ll be posting on your blog and otherwise stay connected to your past students and other interested types, even once a month, just to keep it fresh and alive. …I tell ya, sista, when you’re plugged into the divine Ma Shakti of India, good stuff happens…”

In her book Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi writes:

“…determine whether this teacher has his or her own strongly developed personal practice. Such a teacher will naturally stress the importance of self-practice. Teachers who believe that teaching class is their personal practice are likely using the students as their motivation for practice and have probably yet to develop a strong allegiance with their own inner atman. …Any teacher who claims that personal practice is no longer necessary has probably stopped learning and is ill prepared to foster an appetite for fresh inquiry in students.”

I am always a student first, and a teacher second.


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how easy to forget


“Happiness is what greases the wheels of life. It’s also what opens the floodgates, marshals the forces, commands the elements, raises the sun, aligns the stars, beats your heart, heals what hurts, turns the page, makes new friends, finds true love, calls the shots, waves the wand, connects the dots, feeds your mind, frees your soul, rocks the world, and pays compound interest.

Yeah, so easy to forget.

Wild on,
The Universe”

This was my email from The Universe this morning. happiness: something that is easy to forget, yet easy to choose.

We’ve been having a typical Chicagoland spring with days of brilliant sun mixed with freezing days of snow and sleet. as I drove to the yoga studio yesterday morning the sun was shining gloriously after a Saturday of gloomy clouds and rain, cold enough for me to start my fireplace. as I drove I thought that even though the day before was exactly the type of weather I hate, how wonderful it was to experience everything that this life has to offer. I was grateful, I had an attitude of gratitude by the time I reached the studio.

Sometimes unpleasant things can teach us greater lessons more so than the pleasant. I am still dealing with an eye problem, still dealing with (sometimes) excrutiating lower back pain, still dealing with the remnants of rage left over from the actions of an alcoholic yoga studio owner.

yet, I am grateful. despite the eye problem, I am not blind in one eye. despite the back pain, it is not constant and I can still do a strong yoga practice and still teach. I know in my bones that my back pain is a manifestation of the rage I felt over the betrayal I experienced at the yoga studio where I used to teach. after deep examination I’ve come to know that the rage is actually against myself for allowing myself to be affected so deeply by the actions of others. I’ve beat myself up for not “letting go and letting be.” but that realization is a way through it and out of it. it’s all good, every day is a gift.

The Buddha believed that our natural state is happiness. As Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche writes:

“We need to seriously investigate whether people who have fame, power, and wealth are happy and whether those who have nothing are always unhappy. When we look into this, we see that happiness is not based on objects but on one’s mental state. For that reason, those who are truly happy are the ones who appreciate what they have. Whenever we are content, in that moment, we are fulfilled. The teachings of the Buddha are common sense.

On one hand, it’s very simple: we are all searching for happiness. How do we become happy without a big effort? Whenever we appreciate what we have, we are happy. That effort is an intelligent technique. We might have a very simple life, but still we can think, This flower is lovely or This water is good. If we are too picky, thinking this is wrong and that’s wrong, then nothing is ever perfect. We need to learn how to be content so that whatever we have is precious, real, and beautiful. Otherwise, we might be chasing one mirage after another.”

In Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield wrote:

“When the mind ceases to want and judge and identify with whatever arises, we see the empty flow of experience as it is. We come to a ground of silence and inherent completeness. When we stop struggling and let be, the natural wisdom, joy, and freedom of our being emerges and expresses itself effortlessly….

To come to this we must accept paradox. As T.S. Eliot beseeches, ‘teach us to care and not care.’ In meditation we learn to care with full-hearted attention, a true caring for each moment. Yet we also learn to let go. We do not separate out only those experiences we enjoy, but cultivate a sense of harmony, opening constantly to the truth within us and connecting with all life.”

Atma hrdaye
Hrdayam mayi
Aham amrti
Anrtam anandam

“Let my life force be linked to my heart
and my heart be linked to the truth that lies deep within me.
Let that truth be linked to the eternal
which is unending joy.”

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