love is

erich be love

“LOVE IS THE WILLINGNESS TO RECOGNIZE WHAT IS REAL”

I had the good fortune last week to attend Erich Schiffmann’s training, “Going Deeper” at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center.  It just so happened that two workshops I was scheduled to teach at a new studio in my town were canceled.  So being able to fly for free to Los Angeles, getting a rental car on credit card points, and using a $150 gift card toward a hotel stay, I said “I’m outta here” for some Erichji Yoga.

“Going Deeper” was described as….

Freedom Style Yoga as taught by Erich Schiffmann is about growing into your own personal, authentic expression of yoga. It is an intuitive approach to LIFE with three strands: 1) Meditation, 2) Asana Practice, and 3) the rest of the time.

It’s about learning to be “Online” all the time. The teachings and practices culminate in the ability to channel Online Knowing. This looks like you and me living our lives with creativity and wisdom. The idea is to listen inwardly to your heart and conscience, so that the intelligence of the Universe becomes your common sense. This can be summarized as, “Do not decide in advance about what to do or not do. Instead, listen inwardly for Guidance and trust into what you find yourself Knowing.”

This is not an inherently strenuous practice, but it is advanced. It requires that you be brave enough to follow YOUR deepest impulses about what feels right and what doesn’t. This is not always easy. It involves the development of self-trust based on the growing conviction that YOU are the specific and unique self-expression of that which is ultimately trustworthy: Life, Love, Truth, Presence, GOD.

Of course I loved it.  Erich’s teaching speaks to my heart.  I realized last year when I attended his weekend in Yellow Springs, Ohio for the first time that I’ve been teaching “freedom style” for years.  Because like Erich, my yoga ain’t all about the asana, it’s about going deeper.  “Advanced” yoga isn’t about putting your leg behind your neck.  It’s not even about doing a headstand in the middle of the room.  Or doing a headstand at all.   The biggest learning from yoga is that it’s a lifestyle.  The more “advanced” you are, the more it should come back to the simplicity of things.  Mentally being “online” all the time and according to Erich, the way to do that is what he calls “silent mind it.”  Or as I have written here numerous times, “shut up and do your practice.”  Just.  shut.  up.  Be mentally online from wherever you find yourself being.  “Think less, feel more”, Erich said.  “Silent mind it” does not mean you become unconscious — you become super-conscious and then the wisdom of the Universe can flow in and become your common sense.  Isn’t that what the root word of yoga — yuj — is all about?  Yoking?  Yoking with the Infinite?

When you silent mind it and stop the mind chatter, clear seeing occurs.  When Erich mentioned that I thought about how often during the day I notice my own empty mind.  Not dull mind, not spaced out mind, but just…clear.   Clear is an excellent word.  Clear like a glass of water with the dirt settled at the bottom.  When I notice the clarity my mind immediately says “wow.  no thoughts.”  Then I usually start thinking about something but eventually empty mind returns.  It’s nice.  It’s liberation.

As Erich says I don’t feel unconscious but it’s a heightened awareness that allows me to notice things in a different way, to see things differently, clearer.  Indeed, Erich says we should practice saying “I see you” whenever we see anything.  Not just see but really see.  Think about that.  Saying this again and again interrupts the habitual mental commentary.  Look at a rock: “I see you.”  Look at your cat: “I see you.”  Look at a homeless person: “I see you.”  You can go around all day saying “I see you” to everyone and every thing.  We always look but do we really see?  Then it becomes not just “I see you” but “Ah….I SEE you….”  A WOW moment.

I can tell you from my own experience that silent minding it has led to more than a few WOW moments of the realization of interbeing. Not merely paying lip service to the concept, but in my bones KNOWING that I know this to be true.

Then take it up a notch.  After practicing saying “I see you”, then say “I love you.”  Ouch.  Wince.  Loving your boss?  Loving someone who abused you?  Loving your partner who cheated?  Really?

What’s your definition of love?  Erich said his working definition is the quote at the beginning of this post.  What is real and true?  It’s about seeing reality as it is.

Erich speaks a lot about relaxing, not clenching, because when we clench physically, mentally, we are always bound up.  If we’re bound up, tense, how can the download of Infinite Wisdom occur?  It’s like trying to put something into a plugged up bottle, you can’t do it because there is no room.

When he talked about love being the willingness to recognize what is real, I thought about what the Buddha had to say about it:  our suffering is caused by our wish for reality to be different from what it is.  Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering” but my Buddhist teacher (a Theravaden monk) said that the truer meaning is “discomfort” or “dissatisfaction” about the way things really are.  In that regard, think about how many times during the day we are dissatisfied or discomforted.  Our inability to see what is real IS the clenching that creates our dukkha.  More clenching, more dukkha, more dukkha, more clenching.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Endless cycles, more samskaras.   Now think about Erich’s definition of love:  being willing to recognize what is real in ourselves and others.

It feels good when someone sees us and loves us for our own reality.  Erich’s advice is to say “I see you and I love you” to break the habit of not seeing and not loving.

Practice the yoga lifestyle:

1.  Silent mind it.  Be aware of what you’re doing in each new now.  Every moment.

2.  Relax.  Unclench.  Mentally and physically.

3.  Practice love, i.e., seeing things as they are with a clear mind.

A friend told me today about someone she knew who returned from a group tour of India.  She said she hated India because it is so filthy.  Yes, that’s certainly true — India is filthy in many places.  It is also beautiful and these qualities exist side by side at the same time.  That’s the reality of India:  the Taj Mahal and legless beggars, side by side.  But the woman only saw filth.  I thought, how would that woman’s experience be different if she followed Erich’s advice, “I see you and I love you”?

Be love.  Be real.  Because there is no other way to be.

“Ultimately you must choose between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.” — Mingyur Rinpoche

moving into joy

soakin' in the shakti

JOY: ETYMOLOGY:
Middle English joie, from Old French, from Latin gaudia, pl. of gaudium, joy, from gaudre, to rejoice

Erich Schiffmann told us that it took him 12 years to write his book, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness.  It took us only 10 hours to move into joy in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Erich’s book was one of the first yoga books I bought when I started my yoga journey and I had not looked at it for quite some time.  His Moving Into Stillness workshop was this past weekend (his11th in Yellow Springs), so I pulled it off the closet shelf to remember to take it with me for his autograph.  I wasn’t looking forward to a 6 hour ride to Ohio by myself so I thought reading some of it again would re-energize me for the trip — I ended up reading some excerpts to my class last week and I was right…I was rarin’ to go to Ohio and finally practice with Erich.

I must say that after all these years of yoga-ing, I have never attended such a joy-filled yoga weekend, and that’s saying a lot.  My long time readers know with whom and where I study yoga but this weekend was very different.  I’ve been to many trainings that are heavy on technique and philosophy but there hasn’t been a lot of pure unadulterated joy.

I recalled the trainings and sits I’ve done with Buddhist teachers and I can’t say there has been very much joy involved in those teachings either.  While I am grateful for the buddhadharma in my life and it has liberated me more than I can explain, there is so much emphasis on suffering.  Yes, I get it: life is suffering, pain is optional.  In Buddhist meditation retreats, there is usually a lot of crying in the small discussion groups that one is always a part of — those tears are those of fear and grief and pain.  I’ve never heard the word “joy” uttered in those situations and I almost feel guilty for embodying joy.  But as for this weekend, it has been a very long time since I cried soul tears of joy in a yoga class — unless it’s my own solo practice at home.

Erich’s Freedom Style Yoga is described as “an intuitive approach to life and yoga that can be summarized as, ‘Do not decide in advance about what to do or not do.  Instead, listen inwardly for guidance and trust into what you find yourself Knowing.’  This is not an inherently strenuous practice, but it is advanced. It requires that you be brave enough to follow your deepest impulses about what feels right and what doesn’t.”

Erich’s classes consisted of: him talking, meditation, a guided asana practice, a free form (“freedom style”) asana practice set to cool music (everyone from Alicia Keys to Pattabhi Jois chanting OM SHANTI), then savasana or more meditation, your choice.  Choice!…instead of rules and “shoulds” and enough technicalities to choke a sacred cow.

Erich studied with both Iyengar and Desikachar and said that over time he morphed into his “freedom style” yoga.  I loved that because the same has happened with me over the years for my own personal practice.  I told Erich that I think I channeled him without ever having practiced with him or watching a video.  Erich said that at first  he did not know how to teach Freedom Style in classes, that when he asked people to do their own thing they were stuck and didn’t know how to do something that felt so natural to him.  That was my first blown away moment during the weekend because as I later told Erich, the same thing happened to me.  Once in a workshop I invited people (who were not beginners) to do their own yoga and everyone stood there and stared at me.

Erich does not throw out alignment rules but he believes that where your yoga training should culminate is where you flower into YOUR OWN YOGA.  All the techniques and rules of yoga should lead you to YOUR YOGA.  He compared learning yoga to learning music.  Just like a beginning musician learns the rules of music and the notes and then creates their own song, so should we learn the notes of yoga to create our own practice.  Make your yoga as simple as possible but that is easier said than done.

I laughed when Erich said that “advanced poses are overrated” and that we should be happy where we are in yoga, wherever we are at a certain point in time.  He believes that yoga is about “being in your own space” and that we “need to get as strong as we need to be to be able to SIT.”  Because yoga is not some type of “exotic P.E.” — yoga is and always was a spiritual discipline and some of the greatest yogis had little asana practice.  For Erich, Yoga is an “inquiry into truth and the nature of life.”

Don’t decide in advance what you THINK you’re supposed to do.  Listen inwardly for what to do and then dare to do what your most inner impulses tell you to do in yoga.  Your practice should open you up to a willingness to trust yourself and to the realization that the Totality — the “Big Mind” as opposed to our “Small Mind” — is us.  This is similar to what Mark Whitwell (another student of Desikachar — any wonder why I naturally connect with certain teachers?) speaks about, Yoga as the connection to the Nurturing Source, the Infinite.  In yoga we learn to settle into ourselves in order to let go of our conditioning and to become the REAL YOU.  We should dare to give expression to what is bubbling up inside us and again, this involves letting go of our biases and conditioning.

Erich emphasized again and again how we should think less and listen more.  I recalled how I was chastised here for telling people to “shut up and do your practice.”  That’s just another way of saying “Silent mind it”, as Erich calls it.  Pause, ask God, Jesus, Buddha, or whomever your favorite Awakened One is for guidance, and then listen.  Our deepest impulses, our intuition, our gut feelings…all of those are our connection with the Big Mind, the Totality, the Nurturing Source, the Infinite.  Meditating is like clearing the mist or cleaning a foggy mirror, but we need to be clear that we indeed want a clearer perspective.  Because if we have an unclear perspective it will be harder to interpret things as they come into our consciousness and we will respond to life inappropriately.

I loved it when Erich told us to just take moments each day to be still, to sit, to silent mind it.  You don’t have to sit in lotus to think less and listen more.  Stop the chatter, stop the analyzing.  Just stop and engage in the old-fashioned advice of taking a minute to smell the roses.  I thought about all the people I see who are walking in nature and playing with their smart phones.  STOP!  I was struck at the age range of the students — I would say most were 40+, even 50+, and I thought that the students who need to hear this yoga wisdom were the 20 and 30 somethings starting out in yoga.

Erich’s guided asana practice was not what some would call “advanced” with fancy pretzel poses.  The emphasis was on working the spine and hips and I think the only standing pose we did was triangle.  The difference was that the poses were repeated with various changes, going deeper each time.  Just the way I like it, wringing it out.

It was in the free style practice where I blossomed.  Erich played three or four songs and it was our own practice.  Some sat, some took savasana, and I have no idea what those closest to me were doing, my intuition guided my movements.  It was the perfect combination of movement and music that caused the soul tears of joy to flow.  It has been a very long time that someone else’s class affected me like that: I was free to be me.  When I sat after the practice my body literally vibrated from crown chakra to my feet, each day I felt like one huge glowing ball of prana.  Interestingly enough, I developed a bad headache and nausea the first day which I attributed to experiencing a tremendous detox.  I needed that practice.

Erich left us with the four sentences that he repeats daily.  He said that when we wake up, before we get out of bed we should say these to ourselves in order to facilitate the connection with Big Mind:

  • “Today I will make no decisions by myself” (this recognizes our limitations.)
  • “I will make no decisions today because it is no longer intelligent to do so.”
  • “I will make decisions in silent counsel with the Infinite.”
  • “I will do what You have me do.”  In other words: THY WILL BE DONE…because THY will is OUR will when we listen deeply.

Erich’s teaching resonated with me in a profoundly potent way because it was a validation of my own core yoga values.  I have to say that the only other teaching I have felt that way about is Mark Whitwell’s: “The ancient wisdom of yoga teaches that Life is already given to you, you are completely loved, you are here now. It teaches that we are not separate, cannot be separate from nature, which sustains us in a vast interdependence with everything. The universe comes perfectly, and is awesome in its integration and infinite existence. This union is our natural state, this union is Yoga.”

I have studied with excellent technical teachers and those who can recite yoga philosophy chapter and verse, but there are few who touch the heart and the core of your Consciousness, the precious few who leave you weeping those soul tears of joy.