“Working Out My Karma: Struggling to Find My Dharma On and Off the Yoga Mat”

Here is another guest post by writer, friend, and yoga student Sarah Militz-Frielink.  You can read the first post she wrote for LYJ entitled The Illusion of When.

Sarah was inspired to write this post after becoming disillusioned with the corporatized yoga that is currently playing in the modern American yoga scene.

If you like Sarah’s style, contact her at sarah (at) leavingdark (dot) com if you need a writer.  Sarah said that she is finally getting back into spiritual writing and is thinking of starting her own online non-profit magazine.

Enjoy, and comments welcome!

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It seems like just yesterday, I signed up for my first yoga class at the local park district down the street from my house.  That was eight years ago, and I have been practicing pretty much regularly to this day.  At the time, I had no idea what I signed up for or what a genuine yoga practice should look like.  I never anticipated all the challenges I would encounter along the way.  Probably motivated by the wrong reasons to try yoga, my underlying goal was to shed 30 pounds of baby weight that still clung to my body.  I had just given birth to my third child.  I was definitely lacking the spiritual discipline a true practice actually involved.  I just wanted results.  I did not know that a beautiful path lie before me where I would have to confront my own karma and struggle to find my dharma.

I guess I bought into the corporatized version of yoga: hot, sweaty, skinny, bodies on a mat glowing with a renewed sense of beauty, a calmer demeanor, and a compulsion to eat vegan.  When I use the term “corporatized yoga”, I am referencing the images that dominate all things yoga in magazines, commercials, DVDs, props, mats, and books.  Media and pop culture bombards us with a plethora of images—pictures of hot, upper-middle class blond females, doing handstands with ease.  And then there are the magazine photos boasting post-practice smiles plastered on flawless porcelain faces as the “model” promotes a new sport drink or yoga pants line. These images do not reflect a genuine yoga practice, one that seeks to unite the “human with the divine—all within the self” as the ancient yogis instruct us to do.

During my journey, I realized that these images conveyed a false sense of hope, one based in consumerism, vanity, and prejudice.  As if all bodies on yoga mats should look the same, as if all people who do yoga are skinny, blond, vegan, and Zen-like.  What’s worse is that these images brainwash Americans into thinking what yogis should look like or act like. If someone does not fit the norm, they are questioned along the way.  This is what I call a “yogaism” a belief that those who practice yoga should conform to the norms of the corporatized yogi image and a discrimination against those who do not.

For example, I was once asked why I didn’t act enlightened all the time.  My coworker thought people who do yoga and meditate were like Buddha every second of the day.  “How come you aren’t calm all the time? I don’t get why you do yoga and are not in a continuous state of serenity.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I do yoga now,” I told him. “Because I have recognized over the years how much anxiety I had that I wasn’t even aware of; I know I’m not calm all the time.  Enlightenment is a process; it ebbs and flows.”

My coworker then responded that he disagreed with my statement about enlightenment. The people he knew who had a true yoga practice were always that way.  They were never anxious and always enlightened.  My practice then must be a sham.

I laugh now looking back on this. Who were these yogis he knew who were in a constant state of enlightenment?  Maybe he confused the ones in yoga magazine for real people in the flesh.  Maybe he knew yoga masters who practice in a monastery on a mountaintop because last time I checked we were all human and subject to moments of fallibility.

Yet on and off the mat, I am still working out my karma, struggling to find my dharma as I continue to question what a genuine practice should look like.  I now know a bit about what a genuine practice does not look like.   A genuine practice is not limited to hot, skinny, blond females, who are in a semi-drugged state of yoga bliss.   A genuine practice does not come easily.  It isn’t about increased flexibility or weight-loss.  There are times when you confront your own demons on the mat.  You realize that you have unforgiveness stored in your heart chakra.  You learn to love yourself and in the process love others as you slowly release pain from this life and (at times) the pain from previous lives.

A genuine practice does not boost your self-esteem.  You are humbled at the limitations of the human condition as you practice your poses.  You become aware of how you sell yourself out every day as a consumer in cultural capitalism.  How small acts of kindness (i.e. donating a pair of shoes to an impoverished child in Guatemala) do not change the system (i.e. the child still lives in hideous poverty).

You develop an increased sense of social responsibility as you come to grips with the excesses of the American lifestyle. The eco-friendly mat and water bottle no longer seems to compensate for the size your carbon footprint.

This is what I have learned about a genuine yoga practice.  It should not be based in a “yogaism”—one that excludes overweight individuals, persons of color, or working class individuals. Yoga should embrace all kinds of people who are different shapes, sizes, and colors.  Yoga is about making peace with self and others and embracing who we are—both on and off the mat.

energy and totems and mantises, oh my…

may she have a fortunate rebirth

Before any of you start reading, check in and decide whether you believe in energy work, past lives, totem animals, or anything else that is considered new agey woo-woo stuff.  If you don’t, stop reading now because you will hate this post.  If you’re not bothered by what I am about to say, keep reading.

It is rare that I write about my energy work.  I’ve been told I have a gift, but for the most part people just think it weird or don’t believe me or want a definition of it that I don’t have.  Some people think I am a healer, but I never call myself that.  For one thing, I am clairaudient and clairsentient, always have been.  I am a reiki master, but I don’t like to call myself that either because #1, reiki is too puny of a word for what I do, and #2, I am not a master anything because it’s not about that.  Some have called me a “yoga master” but the word “master” embarasses me.  I have been told, however, that when I am ready to fully embrace my power, only then will I come into my own.

Just like in the yoga biz in the energy worker biz people in the West are impressed by pieces of paper and titles and with whom one studies and who talks the loudest about what they do.  Just like in the yoga biz the people with the most letters behind their names are the most successful, “successful” being a relative term.  I don’t advertise, never have, and I usually do energy work for free. I do my work mostly in the domestic violence shelter where I teach.  The women believe I am a curandera.  They don’t need to be convinced by any certificates.

People in India “get” what I do much more than anyone here.  Indians have a way of accepting siddhis as a natural aspect of the person while Westerners have that uberduality of mind that needs to over-analyze and separate and intellectualize everything.  Yes, I said siddhis because it has been written about for centuries in Yoga and Buddhist texts that siddhis naturally arise or are enhanced by yoga and meditation practice.  Western uberduality doesn’t track well with Eastern spirituality.  Western minds can not accept that sometimes there are no explanations for things.

Even energy workers need to visit other energy workers, so I go a woman who is above my level, so to speak.  I can’t explain what she does or how she does what she does, I just accept it, but the best way I can describe it is that she gets the mojo down to the cellular level and works on your DNA.

For a few months now I’ve been feeling depressed and stuck with my yoga teaching, so much so I have felt like quitting teaching.  During my visit with her she used the words “hopelessness” and “despair” to describe my feelings and she felt a deep sadness in me.  She asked how I would feel if I quit teaching and the first word that came to my mind was FREE.  I told her that I felt my upcoming trip to India was going to be some type of culmination, that I will be finishing a cycle.  She agreed.  I feel this in my bones just as I had felt for two years that I had to be at the Kumbh Mela in Haridwar in 2010.  Nothing was going to keep me from it.  According to my natal chart, I will see some big shifts during 2012-2013 — what my astrologer has read in my chart for the last 7 years or so has always been right on.  My journey thus far has been a long marinating of the yoga meat and as my astrologer tells me from my chart, I’ve been pregnant for a long time and the shifts will be a birthing of something new and different.  We shall see.

The energy worker told me that before a jump up the consciousness ladder, the person usually feels they are in their darkest hour and that there is no way out of the black hole of despair.  I have been feeling so stuck for months that I felt there was no way out.  She did her spiritual counseling and I got on the table for her mojo.  Every time she does her work I experience visions and this time was no different, however, I saw something that I have not seen in a long time, something I used to regularly see years ago in meditation:  me in orange robes on a ghat on the Ganges but all I saw were my hands and feet.  Now I know why the first time I saw a photo of a sadhu on a ghat on the Ganges in Varanasi made me weep uncontrollably — because it looked so damn familiar and filled me with such a sense of loneliness, it was like a longing of wanting to go home.  In my mind’s eye I also saw water, as if I was being washed over, like I was being dunked under water like in a Pentecostal baptism.  I was underwater on my back and could see blue sky through the surface of the water.  I was underwater but it wasn’t scary.  It was peaceful and I didn’t struggle and a thought flashed through my mind, “this must be what it’s like to die.”  After five trips to India I am finally going to Varanasi, ending my trip there.

Then I saw what looked like a segmented egg case or a cocoon, something symbolizing birth.  The end of it opened up and in my mind’s eye I watched but nothing came out…then the session ended.  I told her what I saw but I knew what I described wasn’t exactly right.  On my way home I visualized drawing that segmented thing on a piece of paper and it came to me — it was the segmented abdomen of a female praying mantis, ready to lay her egg case.

My vision suddenly became crystal clear because a praying mantis made her home on my veranda all summer.  Never left.  I saw her every day and I watched her slowly die there when it became cold.  Of course one can say that she never left because she had plenty to eat — my gardens go up the veranda so she had her pick of juicy insects to devour.  But she was always on my door or siding or in the chairs or on the table.  I was so tuned into her that I knew when she was dying and I would pick her up and stroke her head and body.  I would try to put her in a comfortable spot every day but she always found her way back to my chair.  Then one day she no longer moved.

People who have strong connections to the Earth know that animal totems pick us, we don’t pick them, so I researched the symbology of the praying mantis.  It is a powerful totem animal for healers and they represent stillness and going within.  I read that mantis medicine is about the creative process of becoming:  “if praying mantis is your totem or has crossed your path, you may be a hunter of hearts in a world that has closed theirs.  You may do this … as one who meticulously pursues his or her dream.”

In Native American spirituality there are those who can read “signs.”  Interestingly enough, for a long time I also had a bumblebee nest inside my veranda and bees, especially bumblebees, are also totems of spirituality.  For a few years a hawk would land in my backyard every New Years Day and stay in a tree all day, never moving.  Hawks are also powerful totems and are seen as visionaries and messengers in Native American spirituality, the first spirituality I ever studied:

“Often they feel misunderstood in that when they attempt to deliver an important message others may shy away from it….

Hawk medicine people like many who carry strong predator totems may be shunned by others who sense and fear their inner power. Others may sense that this is a person who can see straight through them and as many folks think in terms of judging things as being good or bad, they are afraid that the Hawk person will see who they “really” are…

Red Tailed Hawk – An intensified Life force, often those who carry this Hawk medicine have Pluto and Mars strong in the horoscope. These folks are able to achieve great things through persistence and sheer strength of will.”

A Native American friend named me Loba because he said wild women and wolves are always misunderstood and feared.  The hawk in my yard was always a Red Tailed Hawk and both Pluto and Mars are heavy in my natal chart.  My Mars is in Capricorn which relates to my Life Lesson:  Responsibility for Self Only.  The energy worker told me that my authentic path is ultimately walked alone:  it has to be that way because there are very few people who will understand it.  Pluto, besides being the planet of Death, is also the planet of Spirituality.

My bones tell me why I have been drawn to Varanasi on my next trip, just as sure as I knew why I had to be at the Mela at that particular time in my life.

One must die in order to be reborn.

f*@k YOGA

“It is about being here, present, being the real you, and choosing to offer up that soft vulnerable you instead of some fake mock-up to the world with every breath and every movement. It’s about taking the harder path through troubled country that leads to honesty and true connection between souls on a basis of honesty and integrity that comes from the kernel of your being and not some idea of what Patanjali wants you to do or your guru wants you to do or what the crowd wants you to do, or even worse what you think they want you to do. It’s about questioning every concept in your mind and even when you use such limited restricted tools as concepts doing so with awareness that they present a map and not the territory.”

And people thought I was snarky when I wrote about Tara Stiles.  Not quite.

You can read Scott’s entire catharsis here.

I “met” Scott via the India travel website Indiamike when I was planning my first trip in 2005.  The Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram used to do their month long intensives twice a year back then, calling it “Universal Yet Personal.”  Scott attended the one before mine and he gave me the telephone number of the rickshaw driver he used, Suresh, whom I still use to this day.

Namaste and love and lite, y’all.

"Houston, We Have a Problem"

(thanks to the genius of Diane Arbus)

Why doesn’t awakening happen just like that? [visualize a finger snap.]

Because then you would never know the pain and the joy of it.

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“Houston, we have a problem. What’s that? you say. I listen to these advaita newbies who have suddenly awakened and think, “What part am I missing here?” I know my teacher would fall down laughing if it weren’t so serious. Just because these people are personable doesn’t mean jack. Just because they are telegenic and well-spoken, we fall right into the trap of duality. “They say they woke up, who am I to doubt them. I don’t even know them. And I seem to still suffer the slings and arrows of my errant karma.”


You’re not alone. Awakening cannot be judged that easily. As Vernon Howard said, “Only an enlightened being recognizes another enlightened being.” He would have put the blame squarely on us for believing that awakening happens that often or that easily.


Good teachers make people squirm. They do not sit with a mic in someone’s living room decanting statements from their mouth into your consciousness. Satsang is a silly excuse to get out of doing your laundry if you ask me.


A lifetime commitment to truth is required and you will be broken before you awaken. Sleep tight if you don’t want to know the truth. Pull a Rip Van Winkle and put up a Do Not Disturb sign. The Work requires one to remember the Self that you are while witnessing the self that you are not. It isn’t easy nor is it without arduous engagement of body, mind and spirit.


Do yourself a favor and sit alone. You don’t have to fly around attending satsang with the best and the brightest, the ones with the most YouTube videos and the most influential friends. Get some books and dig in. Pray, purify yourself. Wait and wait and wait. Watch yourself become hysterical and useless. See the demons marching around your mind and try to stop them.


It may all be a play but it’s an hypnotic one. We were never promised a rose garden. Don’t believe it when you see it. Only believe what your inner guide tells you. And if you don’t know who your inner guide is, wait until that is revealed. It’s about revelation, repentance and all of the old biblical truths. We must approach them psychologically instead of literally.


Nothing is what it appears to be, including the truth of who you are. Lotsa luck in those satsangs.”

Vicki Woodyard, Author, LIFE WITH A HOLE IN IT

inner wisdom


I’ve written previously about MysticSaint’s blog, a blog where you can spend hours reading about spirituality. I thought his post today, The Work of Becoming Human, was not only excellent but timely.

What is this work of becoming “human”? I know that the longer I walk this path the more I “change.” well, maybe not “change” in the usual definition as a transitive verb (yes, I was an English major!):

“To cause to be different; to give a completely different form or appearance to; to give and receive reciprocally; to exchange for or replace with another, usually of the same kind or category; to lay aside, abandon, or leave for another.”

But maybe more so as an intransitive verb:

“To become different or undergo alteration; to undergo transformation or transition; To go from one phase to another, as the moon or the seasons.”

I especially like the last line: “to go from one phase to another, as the moon or the seasons.”

When I began my teacher training about 7 years ago and especially when I wanted to go to India for the first time three years ago, the man in my life was not supportive of me whatsoever. In fact, he was negative about my plans to become a teacher and then especially later about my plans to study in India. Finally one day after years of negativity I calmly asked him, “what is it about my spirituality that scares you so much?” He said, “you’ve changed.” I told him that no, I had not changed, I’ve always been like this, only now I am deeper, and it’s just that he had never noticed it in all these years of being together. He had stopped growing and I had not. Or put another way, maybe his growth was at a snail’s pace and mine was exponential.

I got back into yoga in the mid-1990s after dabbling in it over 30 years ago. Only this time, now, I was in the right phase of my life to be able to immerse myself in it. It is said that one discovers or re-discovers one’s essential Self on this path and I know that I re-discovered that which I had put on a shelf many years ago. So just as fine wine becomes more deeply embodied in richness or the sound of a violin becomes sweeter with age, so I have become more conscious through this practice. As I move into this final season of my life, I know that my phases will continue to change as do the faces of the moon, because if they did not, I will have learned nothing from yoga. If I did not transform, I will have stopped becoming more human.

Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology, wrote On Becoming a Person. Rogers emphasized the concept of “self-actualization” and he believed that self-actualization implies that there is an internal force that calls to develop one’s capacities and talents to the fullest, that it is the individual’s central motivation to learn and to grow. Growth occurs when the individual develops new aspects of their skills, capacities, and views about life. Life is an endless process of creatively moving forward even if only in small ways. Life, therefore, is a verb and not a noun.

What is your idea of becoming more human? I always ask my students to bring yoga off the mat and into their lives. As a yoga practitioner how do you incorporate into your consciousness all the levels of being on which a human can be called “conscious”? and if you are conscious, do you believe yourself to be truly awake?

Complete Human Being: Spiritual Qualities

Self-Knowledge – The degree to which we know ourselves – our weakness, limitations, characteristics, motivations.

Self-Control – The ability to guide and transcend the promptings of the self.

Objective Knowledge – A knowledge that is in accord both with the practical needs of life and an objective Reality that can be known through an awakened and purified heart.

Inner Wisdom – The ability to access guidance and meaning from within oneself.

Being – The capacity to remain in a state of presence, to consciously witness experience.

Selfless love – A love for God and His creations without selfish motives.

Sustaining the Divine Perspective – The ability to always see events and people from the highest perspective of Love and Unity and not to slip into egoistic judgment and opinion.

Divine Intimacy – Awareness of one’s connection of the Divine Source.

(thanks for the inspiration today, MysticSaint!)

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be here now


Mike always has the best posts in his blog Silent Musings — short, pithy, and exceedingly on point about spirituality. I found myself laughing in agreement at his description of riding the Los Angeles commuter train — in my previous life as a legal assistant I rode the train to downtown Chicago everyday and also learned to laugh at the floor. because there’s no where else to be but here.

just this, just here, just now.

every time I return from India people stare at me in disbelief at some of my stories about, shall we say, the less touristy aspects of India that I deal with on a daily basis when I’m there — the legless beggars, the starving dogs, begging children pulling on my clothes. “how can you stand it?,” they ask.

easy. I laugh at the floor. as Mike wrote, I find the profound beauty in the Indian floor beneath my feet and know how foolish I would be to think that it should be anything other than what it is.

I received an email today from a friend who is in Varanasi and she said that she watched a man standing in the Ganges, washing up for the day and brushing his teeth….about 5 feet away from him was a corpse and a dead cow.

just this, just here, just now.

Mike says:

“Surrender means giving up the pursuit and accepting, done to the bone, that you’ll never get anything from meditation or any other spiritual practice, other than being right here exactly where you already are. Mundane, of the world, form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. If you actually give up, and aren’t just fantasizing about surrender, you may find a profound beauty in the simplicity of the floor beneath your feet. And perhaps you will find yourself laughing/crying, as the floor laughs back at you for the foolishness of all those years of seeking.”

As yoga practitioners and meditators we run from one form or style to another, always seeking, never stopping. there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with searching and seeking, I’ve done plenty of it myself. but there comes a time when you need to know when to stop and to just be with what you already are. perfect. we are already in the place where we need to be and all our healing comes from within. if you don’t have your answers, maybe you’re not asking the right questions, because we already have all the answers we need. search deeper — we only need to listen to them when they arise within us but that’s the problem — we don’t listen to and believe our true voices and we continue our search for the next best thing until we fall down, exhausted, and surrender everything to the Universe.

only then do we realize we are perfect, just the way we are.

“It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means stepping out of ego’s constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort, or whatever it is that the particular ego is seeking. One must step out of spiritual materialism. If we do not step out of spiritual materialism, if we in fact practice it, then we may eventually find ourselves possessed of a huge collection of spiritual paths. We may feel these spiritual collections to be very precious. We have studied so much. We may have studied Western philosophy or Oriental philosophy, practiced yoga, or perhaps have studied under dozens of great masters. We have achieved and we have learned. We believe that we have accumulated a hoard of knowledge. And yet, having gone through all this, there is still something to give up. It is extremely mysterious! How could this happen? Impossible! But unfortunately it is so. Our vast collections of knowledge and experience are just part of ego’s display, part of the grandiose quality of ego. We display them to the world and, in doing so, reassure ourselves that we exist, safe and secure, as “spiritual” people.”
–Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

jai bhagwan

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reason, passion, and rasa

This excerpt from Gibran’s The Prophet was at the bottom of a friend’s email and the words resonated with me. I am sorry to say that for all my spiritual reading over the years, I’ve never read The Prophet. It was a very popular book back in the day when I was a young hippie chick in high school, but I’ve always walked to the beat of a different drummer and if someone turned right, I turned left (no pun intended.) There were books that I refused to read because everyone else was reading them, such as the Carlos Casteneda books about Don Juan and the Lord of the Ring books. I think you can guess that I don’t read the books Oprah tells me to read. This hippie girl was reading the Beat Poets, Alan Watts, and trying to decipher Zen koans.

So when I read this excerpt I had to dig deeper and read the entire passage. My life up to this point has been a mish-mash of reason and passion. Yes, life needs to be about balance and as yogis this is how we are “supposed” to live our lives. But the older I get, the more I lean toward passion. Not overwhelmingly so that it would make my life spin out of control, but as my teacher Gehlek Rimpoche says, there is nothing wrong with passion — it’s the clinging to it, the attachment to it, that causes our problems. And that’s where reason comes in. Knowing when to detach from the outcome, knowing when to let go, knowing how clinging creates our own suffering, and then in that knowledge finding liberation and transformation.

I watched a program the other day with Dr. Christiane Northrup who wrote The Wisdom of Menopause and I loved when she said that the peri- and postmenopausal years of a woman’s life can be a re-birth, that during these years a woman can give birth to herself. Unfortunately, many women do not choose to “re-birth” themselves. To me, it’s all about having passion in and for life and not being afraid of it. Not running from the sensations of your passions but embracing them and using them to enliven your entire being to keep your life juicy and sweet. Using your rasa to touch your inner soul and becoming a Rasa Devi.

The Sanskrit word rasa has two meanings. Literally it means sap, juice, or fluid. The secondary meaning is extract. In Ayurveda rasa means the vital juice that the digestive system extracts from food to be converted into blood, flesh, bones, marrow, fat, and sperm. In other words, the extract that gives birth to our vital energies. In spiritual terms rasa means Divine Nectar – the taste of enlightenment.

I choose to be a Rasa Devi, resting in reason, moving in passion.

shanti

REASON AND PASSION

And the priestess spoke again and said:
“Speak to us of Reason and Passion.”

And he answered, saying: Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite. Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody. But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing.

And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house. Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both. Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows-then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.” And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”

And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

an attitude of gratitude

Today is my birthday. And that scary picture of me (and my boyfriend Harry, or Hari as I used to call him) is circa 1971 when I was a young hippie chick in high school. I killed too many brain cells back then to remember who took that picture.

And how often do you get an email from The Universe on your birthday?….

Hey!! Sama, there’s not been a single day in your life when you’ve been anything but magnificent. Give this to yourself.

Every day you move mountains, touch lives, and perform miracles.

Every day you’re a success, a hero, an example.

And every day you change the world for the better…

The Universe

If any of you would like to get daily personalized messages from The Universe, you can sign up at The Adventurers Club – Thoughts Become Things. Yeah, yeah, I know…none of us need any more emails in our inbox, but it’s kind of neat to get a personalized message from the Universe!

I’ve been around the sun over 50 times now, and every year on my birthday I look back over my life. I can honestly say that I have no regrets, not even about the bad things I’ve experienced because I’ve learned lessons from it all. I don’t regret the drugs I took or hanging out with the people I hung out with, some good, some not so good, some wild and crazy, and others, just crazy. I moved out when I was 18 and never looked back, and for a while making it to age 21 was a little iffy.

Those of you who have read my very early postings know that I dabbled in yoga and meditation in my college days, when yoga was seen as the milieu of half-n@ked hippies sitting around chanting OM. My claim to fame is OMing with Buddhist and Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg at a hippie party, and no, none of us were half-n*ked, but I do remember some wacky tobacy and Ripple wine. On a quest for something more, I started reading the books of the Eastern wisdom traditions even earlier, when I was in high school.

Then my life detoured taking many twists and turns until I found the road sign again that pointed the way back to the Path. I believe there are no coincidences, and yoga brought me back home to myself, to the me that used to be, sans drugs and craziness this time. It is said that yoga connects or re-connects us to our True Self….I know it has in my case, and I’ve had a consistent practice for about 10 years now, and teaching for six. The rewards of yoga for me are so much more than physical — although the physical practice keeps me flexible and open and strong, the non-physical practice makes me whole. My meditation practice keeps me on an even keel, keeps me focused on the NOW, keeps me from becoming reactionary and held prisoner by my emotions or erratic thoughts. My spirituality feeds my soul.

A few years ago I had my birth chart done, and during our first meeting the astrologer told me that she has rarely seen a chart as powerful as mine because of the way certain planets line up. Pluto is very heavy in my chart, Pluto being the planet of death but also the planet of spirituality. She told me that according to my chart, the first months that I spend in India will be the most perfect times in my life to be there. She did my chart before I went on my first trip and she told me that “it will feel like you are going home.” She was right. Dead-on right. The waves of recognition that flooded over me the minute my foot hit Indian soil were too strong to be denied, and I had some deep emotional responses to certain areas in Tamil Nadu.

After my second trip to India I did my “astro travel” birthchart at Astro.com, and my Moon and Pluto (there’s that planet again!) lines intersect right through Tamil Nadu, in the exact spot where I travel. The crossing of Moon and Pluto means “there is a tremendous potential for transformation in this region…the path towards catharsis under Pluto’s guidance often leads through a valley of tears, but once you are through it, you will receive completely new insights. Mighty energies operate under this crossing. Repressed memories, past emotional hurts, and unprocessed fears come into consciousness to make you look at events of your past which you thought were long forgotten, as a result of which you experience cathartic releases…” Hmmmm….maybe that’s why I broke down in those Murugan temples…..

My astrologer has said that according to my chart I have not even begun to reach my potential, that my 50s will be a training ground for what will come after age 60, “taking it on the road”, as she calls it. All my yoga training and spiritual retreats are preparing me for what she calls an exponential explosion into the global realm, because the “Midwest is just too small for you. You came out of the womb looking to get out of the box…” A vedic astrologer told me, long before going to India was even a thought in my mind, that somewhere between 2008-2010 I would experience “divine grace.” I don’t know what that is exactly, but it sounds good.

I’ve always taken anything adepts have told me with a huge grain of salt, if things happen, they happen, I go with the flow. I traveled overseas — solo — for the first time in my life at the fabulous age of 51, and for whatever reason the planets lined up to take me to the heart of yoga. I returned six months later, once again a solo woman-of-a-certain-age traveler.

At an age when many people start thinking about retirement, I know in my bones that the best is yet to come for me. Many my age have health concerns, but I don’t concern myself with that. My arthritis is worse than some — I developed it in my 30s, and had shoulder surgery in my 40s. I had an ovarian cancer scare that required another surgery, and that’s when I created my mantra “I AM NOT THIS BODY, I AM NOT THIS BODY, I AM NOT THIS BODY”. It works for peace of mind and perspective, believe me. If I develop an incapacitating condition, I already know where I want to spend my last days, and it won’t be in an American hospital, I can assure you.

I regret nothing, and look forward to everything that will come my way, even the unpleasant things. I decided a long time ago not to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Life is a delicious ebb and flow and I want the entire banquet, not just a few nibbles at the buffet. Yoga cultivates many things, and one thing it cultivates is an attitude of gratitude. Thank you, Life, for being an excellent teacher.

"my simple religion"

“A religious act is performed out of good motivation with sincere thought for the benefit of others. Religion is here and now in our daily lives. If we lead that life for the benefit of the world, this is the hallmark of a religious life.

This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple: your philosophy is simple kindness.” HH THE DALAI LAMA

Terror Group’s Threat Raises Dalai Lama Alert

“SECURITY surrounding the Dalai Lama has been tightened after reports of an attempt by the al-Qa’ida-linked terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Toiba to assassinate the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

A three-tier security ring has been thrown around the 72-year-old Buddhist head, who lives at Dharamsala, in the Himalayan foothills, Indian police spokesman Prem Lal said.

All those approaching the exiled Tibetan chief will be closely watched by highly trained Tibetan security guards as well as heavily armed deployments of Indian police.

Visitors are being body-searched before being allowed to approach him.

In a recent document, Osama bin Laden denounced “pagan Buddhism” as part of his general attack on anything not Islamic…

Pro-Tibet Activists Protest Against Assassination Threat to Dalai Lama

“Reports galore in the media about a possible assassination attempt on the Dalai Lama by Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

‘Mahatma Gandhi Tibet Freedom Movement’ activists accused China of being behind the threats. They shouted slogans against and burnt posters of Chinese President Hu Jintao…”

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Reading the articles about terrorist threats of assassinating the Dalai Lama sickened me. They scared me and made me very sad — I am less than one month away from spending three days listening to His Holiness’ teachings.

I’ve always believed that there is a huge difference between religion and spirituality. I was raised Lutheran — not exceedingly so since I was never confirmed and did not go to church every Sunday, but often enough — but even as a young child I never bought into the concept of “religion”, something that is man-made, a concept that is surrounded by the four walls of a building. Growing up I saw too much hypocrisy from too many so-called “religious” people, so I decided “religion” wasn’t for me.

But “spirituality” was. Nature was always my church and being outdoors gave me the feelings being in church never did (or was supposed to.) Connecting with the Earth, noticing a tiny hummingbird nest holding tinier eggs, watching a butterfly tentatively emerge from its cocoon, always filled me with a spirit that going to church never could…that there is something greater outside ourselves and it is useless to try to put a name to it and to try to mold it to our own images of ourselves. It just is.

Buddhism is a philosophy to me, much more so than a religion. The rituals and temples are what make Buddhism a religion; the Noble Eightfold Path is what makes it a philosophy, a simple way to live your life.

As one of my teachers said, “we are more attached to our ideas than to our own bodies” — meaning that we will destroy ourselves over an idea, whether it’s forcing our body to get into that “perfect” yoga pose but knowing full well that one more headstand is going to crunch our C7 vertebra…
or whether it’s flying a plane into a building, driving a car bomb into an embassy, or someone risking his life to kill the Dalai Lama. Go back and re-read bin Laden’s words, and then re-read the Dalai Lama’s words at the beginning of this post.

Please meditate on loving-kindness for yourself, for the people in your lives, and for the entire world, for all sentient beings. May you all be well and happy and peaceful.

I’ve included a new feature on the sidebar, “News from Tibet”, streaming headlines from Tibet that are updated daily. Click on the links to get the latest on conditions in Tibet and the Dalai Lama.

om mani pedme hum