it’s the words, not the asanas

This is a video of a Chicago yoga teacher I know, Jim Bennitt. I’ve taken his workshops and he’s an excellent teacher — pure yoga and from the heart. Although he can twist his body into a pretzel, he is also humble. I need to see that humbleness first from a teacher in workshops — the showbiz yogis that are on all the yoga conference tours don’t impress me. Jim studies with Rod Stryker but I’ve told him that the way he teaches and what he talks about is right from Krishnamacharya, the Teacher of Teachers.

He has a beautiful practice in this video, but what he says about yoga is even more pertinent given the shootings at Northern Illinois University on Valentine’s Day.

salaam aleikum
so shall it be

be here now

DeKalb Chronicle photo Eric Sumberg

Campus Horror

“What is known about the gunman late Thursday is that he was an NIU sociology graduate student in spring 2007, said Peters, who added that the gunman apparently has no police record and there was no known motive for the shootings as of Thursday evening.”

I was not at NIU but I had yoga students who were upset because they have friends at NIU. Even though I did not directly experience this tragedy it has still affected me. I keep thinking about the looks on the faces of the students who came in late to class and said, “there’s been a shooting at Northern. my friends….” I have never seen so much fear in someone’s eyes before.

DeKalb is down the road from the community college where I teach. the yoga studio where I teach is in a small town that is literally across the street from DeKalb.

The area is corn and soybean country, farm country, it’s about as Midwestern fresh-faced as you can find. many of these kids are still innocent about the world, they aren’t tough Chicago kids like I was growing up. many of them are farmers’ kids.

A friend in India told me that the story even made the International Herald Tribune, he had already read about it last night before I wrote about it here. I always laugh when people ask me, “aren’t you afraid to go to India by yourself?” Let me tell you: I feel safer being alone in an Indian village than I do in America. I feel safer being on the streets of Chennai at 2 AM than I would being in Chicago at 2 AM. Every time I go to India, when someone asks me what country I’m from and I tell them, more times than not I am asked whether I own a gun. This is the image that America has even in a remote Indian village.

The reality is that the same thing can very easily happen at the school where I teach. maybe somebody did not like the grade I gave them and they’ll walk into my class, look at me and say “I GOT YOUR YOGA RIGHT HERE, BITCH” and start blasting. Buddha taught that death is certain, the time of it is not. our lives can change in a split second as many people found out yesterday in DeKalb. yet we live our lives as if we will never die.

Tragedies like this always bring home to me how important it is to live in the present moment, to be mindful and to live mindfully. thinking back on yesterday I recall how before I taught my class I went to my department’s office to make copies of some handouts. two department secretaries were in the room complaining about one thing after another — how the hot water in the sink was not hot enough, how the faucet in the sink was loose, how someone on campus did not respond fast enough to a secretary’s email. it was a constant barrage of negativity and I could not wait to leave that room. I remember thinking, man, if they complain about that stuff, how do they handle the really big events in their lives? most of the stuff that we think is important really isn’t in the grand scheme of things.

The other night I read excerpts from this article by Phillip Moffitt to my private students. I loved what he said at the end of the article:

“Looking back over your life, how many weeks, months, even years have you wasted anguishing over something you didn’t get from a parent, a spouse, or in life? Did all that anguish serve you, or would it have been more skillful to have received fully the experience of the loss, accepted it as what is, and then allowed your emotions to go on to experience what is possible in the present moment? More importantly, are you still caught in an endless cycle of wanting mind, imagining that it is the next accomplishment, change in relationship, or piece of recognition that will make you happy? Pay the boatman at the river of loss and sorrow his three rupees and cross over to the other shore. Your life is here, now.”

Be present. Be here now. Be love. Be peace.

salaam aleikum
so shall it be

when loving-kindness is needed

(Photo for the Tribune by Patrick Yeagle)

About 5 hours ago I had to deal with students whose friends witnessed a massacre.

7 dead in NIU shooting; 4 identified; Ex-graduate student slays 6 before killing himself

I teach at a community college that is less than 40 minutes from Northern Illinois University. I was starting my 4:45 yoga class when students walked in late and told me there was a shooting at NIU, that they were waiting for news about their friends. Two girls were crying because they did not know if their friends were dead or alive.

I had to make some announcements before I started to teach, but I knew that metta — loving-kindness — meditation was in order. So I asked them to come to a comfortable seat and just breath, to watch the breath, and not to run from whatever physical or emotional sensations come up. and then I started to teach them about loving-kindness meditation.

I told them to step outside themselves and see themselves and repeat “may I be well, happy, peaceful, may I be safe.” I said that if they preferred they need only say “may I be safe.” after awhile I told them to visualize the NIU campus, to visualize anyone that they knew was in that killing hall, or to visualize the friends, parents, and loved ones of those who died, and to send them loving kindness and peace.

then I told them that what they are about to do will be the hardest of all: to send loving-kindness to the killer. I told them that when I was in the Dalai Lama’s teachings, His Holiness said that the highest compassion of all was to have compassion for your enemies, or someone like a terrorist or a murderer. I told them if they did not want to do that, that’s fine, but keep sending loving-kindness first to themselves, then out to others.

I told them that thoughts are energy, so they should send out love and peace, even to people who they think don’t deserve it, like the killer. I told them about my Buddhist prayer that I end all my classes with (however, not at the school — it’s a public school, tax-payer supported, you know how that goes), the prayer about the Four Immeasureables:

may all beings have happiness and 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

I told them that “all beings” meant just that: everyone, not just “good” people, but even killers.

Tomorrow will bring more news about what happened. next week I will deal with the aftermath of this on my students. I hope for the coming week they will remember what I taught them today, for themselves, to ease their suffering.

I thank all my teachers, and my teachers’ teachers, for all that I have learned about yoga, meditation, and Buddhism.

and I bow to Buddha, for the Dharma and for showing me the way out of suffering.

salaam aleikum
so shall it be