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Keeping Good Company

Gurumayi says, Another way to be disciplined in listening is not to keep bad company.

She quotes Mirabai:
  Give up bad company
  and keep the company
     of those who love God, instead.
  Listen to their conversations
     and discussions about God.
- "The Yoga of Discipline," page 92.

I've been keeping a lot of good company lately.  In fact, I suppose the sadhana is to keep good company all the time.  Whether it's actually going to yoga, or hanging out with my yoga-homies after class, or hanging out with my friends live or on-line via FB and email, or reading other people's blogs, or reading Gurumayi, or waking up in the morning and giving the murti a look-see first thing, or even the words on the YogiTea teabag as above, ALL of that is keeping good company.  For those hung up on the God word above (and you're not alone since clearly I'm still thinking about it), for me it's all just about truth, about ananda, about happiness.   Keeping company with seekers of happiness and purpose, that's what this is about for me.

And the good company is so helpful when the challenging situation comes. And boy, it always does, so why not have a well-developed system of good company to get us through that, to keep our eye on the auspicious ball?  When I am faced with some ridiculous situation at work, so nice to fall back into that comfortable net of good company and feel just fine, thank you, just fine.

Good company appears to make for more good company.  The more I practice, the more practiced I am.  It's not an accident that more good things happen, more good people appear; it's a function of the very real discipline -- there is, of course, effort involved -- of seeking the good, seeing the good.

Right now it's making me smile to think that this is a post about yoga, really, and yet not one word about physical asana.  Hah, yoga is wonderful. So many gifts beyond the physical practice!

Keep good company.  Be good company.


Use the Five to come back to The One

Last week Laura's theme, throughout our classes all week, was the 5 principles and the 5 mahābhūtas, the 5 elements. [Confession: because inside I am still a 12-year-old sitting on the stoop with my junior high friends, I hear mahābhūtas and turn it into "maha booties," and giggle a little inside...]

With the usual elegance of Anusara yoga, each of the 5 principles has a direct relationship to each of the mahābhūtas, as follows:

1. Open to Grace --> Space
2. Muscular Energy --> Earth
3. Expanding Spiral --> Water
4. Contracting Spiral --> Fire
5. Organic Energy --> Air

It was so helpful to think of the qualities of water, for example, when working inner spiral, to think of the openness and freedom of movement that water has, as we set about opening our hips. And to visualize the qualities of fire when activating outer spiral and the tailbone, firing up the belly. So elegant!

Whichever five you choose to focus on -- principles or Mahābhūtas -- Laura's real point was that we use The Five to come back to The One.

In Anusara, we go through these principles (open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy), and always end up back where we started, Open to Grace. We expand, then contract, but ultimately always expand again. And though I've heard this probably thousands of times already, last week this hit me with a new power.

Use the Five to come back to The One.

That's it, in a nutshell, really, whether we're talking about our 5 senses or the 5 elements or any other 5s or 3s or 2s under the sun. The real purpose is always opening, expanding, recognizing what is already there, using every tool at our disposal to come back home into our own bodies, into what a delight it is to be here in this form right now. Elegant and so awesome!

Deep love and gratitude to my teacher and to my teacher's teachers! XX


The Austerities and Iron Man 2

I’ve been integrating a new practice of reading some Gurumayi (Swami Chidvilasanda) every day. Her writing is really delightful, and so accessible. “The Yoga of Discipline” is such a great extension of what we’re practicing in class, so helpful as I work to integrate yoga throughout my life, even at my job (challenge of all challenges). I’ve almost finished the book, and am engaged in my super-dweeby habit now of copying favorite passages into my notebook. There’s something about that particular practicing of physically making the letters that burns the words into my memory, carried by the visual of my handwriting on the page.

So it seemed really funny to me to be sitting in a gigantic theater with a really loud sound system on Saturday night, watching Iron Man 2 on opening weekend with Joe and two of my darling yoga buddies. I spent most of probably the whole second half of the movie with my right ear pressed against Joe's left shoulder, my left hand covering my left ear, eyes closed. That movie was just so freaking loud, so many guns firing, and explosions, and yelling. And with my ears blocked and my eyes covered, all I could think about was Gurumayi's words on the importance of discipline in seeing, on considering what we let in through the eyes, what we express back out.

When you have discipline in seeing, you see everyone, and you act like a proper human being in whom God dwells. You wait, you pause, you act with awareness. Discipline in seeing becomes part of everything you do.

What else can be done? Choosing what you read. You don't have to read every novel that comes along. You can choose what you're going to read. And what about movies and television? The senses are attracted to those things. You may say, 'Well, why should I limit my God-given freedom? My senses want to watch violent movies; my senses want to watch somebody being killed -- just in a movie, of course, not in real life.' This is where you need discipline. You need to be careful about what you take in because toxins and impurities accumulate in your body. Then even digesting your food becomes very difficult because so many harmful energies have been allowed inside your system.

OK, so Iron Man 2, in that context? Let's be honest: Robert Downey, Jr. can do no wrong in my book. I'll watch pretty much anything he's in, just for the pleasure of watching him say words. There's something about that guy that I really, really like - it could be (it most likely is) just a projection on my part, but it's enjoyable. I liked the first movie -- I generally like cartoon-y movies, it surprised me, and again, Robert Downey, Jr. -- so there doesn't have to be a whole lot of logic involved. Oh, and hang on: let's not forget that Mickey Rourke is in it, and he fascinates my eye. Plus, they did a great job on the Russian prison tattoos on him, and he didn't too badly butcher the accent. In a different way, something so intriguing about Rourke -- both actors have such an interesting life story, so much of which is written all over their faces.

But I have to admit that it was a bit of a let-down, in two ways. One, I didn't think the movie was that great. I enjoyed scenes with people in them, but really didn't like all of the robot bullshit and the shooting, and the writing was weak and the female characters just so flat. [Scarlett Johansen: really? That fight scene was so lame!] But second, and most significant to me, it was a let-down that I spent two hours and $10.75 to let that unfold before my eyes, when I could have been doing something so much more beneficial. A let-down.

I hope this doesn't mean I'm becoming a total sour-puss stick-in-the-mud who can't go see a summer blockbuster and enjoy the ride. I'm telling myself it's just that this wasn't the right ride, not a good-enough ride to make the trade-off worthwhile, and hoping that this isn't an occupational hazard, the inevitable result of reading so many yogic texts and working so hard on integrating yoga into the rest of my life.

I'll be testing that theory soon. After all, the new Robin Hood comes out this weekend.


Things change

As gardeners, we love change.  We jump around and go and get each other and say, "Look at this!  Look at what happened in the past day, look how this grew!"  We are excited and delighted and constantly observing the changes, watching for the seed to germinate and unfurl leaves above the soil, for the flower to open and startle us with pollen, for the fruit of the plant to grow, for the cycle to end, for the spent to enter the compost and come out as delicious soil and start again.  We love it.  For me, it is fundamentally spiritual in nature, the deepest honoring of life there is, to have this intimate contact with the force that awakens the seed, animates the plant for a time, and then departs.

But even though outside we revel in change, we are struggling right now with the big change that entered our life last fall, with cancer and the changes it brought deep inside us both.  Everything we do now, we do in company with this shadow.   It changed Joe, and it changed me, and we will never be the same as we were before.  There's some deep sorrow about that, about never again being able to return to what we remember as the thoughtless unaware eden of Before, to who and what we were before we were changed by this experience.  Back then, we say now, we only thought we had problems, but we had it all, we were fine and we didn't even realize.  And we're sad.  We wait for the results of the PET scan, wonder what the hell we're doing with our lives, feel despair, fall down.

And yet, the gardener jumps around.  There was a blight, but we cut it out, and we're still here and what's unfolding now before our eyes?  What paradise can we dig into now and help to bloom?  What can we add, what can we do, to support this delicate life we see, to feed it, make it stronger, help it open up, drink deep, get strong, shine out?

Our actual garden, the one we make outside, is the biggest, fullest, most beautiful it's ever been this year.  Our devotion to it has expanded.  My own connection is so much stronger than it ever has been.  I have my own hands in our own dirt for hours every weekend, every moment a delight -- almost as if I'm creating the vision outside, in the yard, to which the inner will gravitate.  It has a pull all its own, a gravitational force. If we keep our eye on it, nurture the life around us, outside us, then our own inner landscape changes, matches it in beauty and variety and vibrancy.  At least I think that's what's happening.  I don't really know.

Cancer happened, and it's true that we'll never be the same.  But because I see the wonders we've made in our own little world outside, I know that yes, we'll be different, but we'll also be better than we were, sometimes terrified but always bigger.  If nothing else, in a few months, we will reap the bounty of what we've sown, we will eat beautiful food that we grew in soil that we made in a paradise of our own creation.  If there's more than that, it's icing on the cake.


CAOS Nudi lecture: BEST thing I've done for me in a long time!!

Cashing in some Personal hours this afternoon to attend a lecture about nudibranchs at the California Academy of Sciences was definitely the best thing I've done for me in a long time.  So great and refreshing to do something completely different with my brain!   So exhilarating to be immersed in marine biology!  Today's experience confirmed me as a HUGE fan of the Academy of Sciences.  Really, I'm a little starry-eyed in love.

The only goofy thing about the lecture was its title, ham-handed in its halliteration: "Sneaky Sea Slugs: Three Tales of Tidepool Thievery."  The presenter, Dr. Rebecca Johnson, a marine invertebrate zoologist who has studied nudibranchs extensively, was fantastic - the perfect combination of knowledgeable, passionate, approachable and funny.  If you don't know why someone would devote their career or 1 1/2 hours of Personal time to delight in sea slugs, check this out: David Doubilet's remarkable photographs from a recent National Geographic magazine.

Aaaah, the calm of taxonomy: understanding what makes a Mollusk a Mollusk, a Gastropod a Gastropod, an Opistobranch, a Nudibranch.  I love the classification, the definitions, the relationships.  I love knowing the four kinds of nudibranchs, and observing their peculiar and delightful little bodies and knowing now the names of their various parts: gills (really, that's what those are!), rhinophores, cerata.  And of course that they're simultaneously hermaphroditic, even more fun: each nudi is simultaneously male and female so any individual can mate with any other, like land snails and slugs to which they are very closely related.  

But the whole point of today's lecture: to revel in the remarkable tendency of nudibranchs to retain and use features of their prey -- nematocytes (stinging cells) from anemones or toxins from chemically-defended sponges -- for their very own defense. Or how about the kleptoplasts, sea slugs who actually harvest the chloroplasts (organelles that conduct photosynthesis) from the algae they eat and in whose bodies photosynthesis continues for months, making them solar-powered!  It's so crazy that if you made it up, people would scoff.  And it's real!  

I'm signing Joe and me up to go on a tidepool excursion to Bolinas at the end of May that was advertised at the lecture. For $10, we'll wander along with a naturalist or two and look for nudis and other delights. I can't imagine a better place to be at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, honestly, that ambling along with some fellow nature geeks on the look-out for treasure.

Today was so great.  I can't wait for more!