Sunday, September 30, 2018

Enlighten Me

There’s something wrong with the tube light.
It’s flickering on and off, on and off.

You might say that’s better than when it was off all the time
and I was crashing about in the dark and banging into things.
So much suffering.

Then it came on and everything was so obvious …
for some timeless moments …
before it went off again.

But there was a faint halo left
so I couldn’t forget its brilliance,
and I yearn for that light.
Other timeless moments have happened along the way.
Suddenly being in the light
and then the darkness closing round,
forgetting, almost.

Then it started this flickering business.
This strobing effect is really quite distracting.
It’s driving me mad.
Sometimes I feel drunk,
sometimes nauseous,
sometimes dizzy
with all this on again, off again
state of affairs.

But now I see there’s nothing wrong with the light.
It’s on all the time, but I can’t keep my eyes open.

Time to wake up darling. You’re dreaming.

© Tina Shettigara September 2018

Note: I am not a fan of the term enlightenment. Awakening is more appropriate. However the metaphor of a flickering light describes so well this phase of unstable Awareness that is also coming and going, that I couldn't resist using the term in the title.

Dan Flavin "monument to V. Tatlin" National Gallery of Australia
Sculpture of fluorescent tubes
Photo credit: https://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=111377


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Welcoming

Have you ever wondered why you keep reacting to similar situations in the same unhelpful way? Or why you feel deeply offended by something when others seem unruffled (or the other way around)? The thing is that everything that ever happens in our life, leaves a residue or imprint behind. This is a deep conditioning, not just in our mind but deep in the body.

In this post I take a look at these imprints, how the practice of Welcoming helps to resolve them, and then I give you a simple series of steps to practice Welcoming.

The body/mind carries imprints of our experiences

These body imprints have been well explored in the context of trauma by authors such as Bessel van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score), and Peter Levine (Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma). The imprints of trauma can be extremely debilitating because of their strength, but imprints are laid down from much more minor events of life as well.

These deep impressions may be quite hidden, and their sources forgotten. Indeed systems that believe in the transmigration of the personal soul to a new body (reincarnation) believe that they can be carried from one life to the next. No matter that we may not know what they are or where they began, they influence everything we think and do. In the understanding of yoga and other Indian philosophies, they are called samskaras, literally meaning imprint or impression.

Have you ever noticed that the same circumstance, inflicted on different people, has a different affect on each of them, each reacting in different ways.  These days you often hear this discussed in terms of resilience: some people are more resilient than others.  It is discussed in terms of finding ways to build resilience. However the cause is that we each have different imprints from our past which are influencing how we receive the circumstances and therefore react. And in each fresh experience and reaction we are laying down more impressions, often reinforcing the ones that are already there.

Welcoming builds resilience

Without a way to address and resolve these deep impressions, sadly we will keep on reacting based on existing imprints, and we will keep on laying down new ones. Resilience will be elusive.

The good news is that we are not condemned to repeat this as an endless cycle. Freedom begins with the mindful practice of welcoming whatever arrives. It is simple and achievable by all of us.

How it works

At any given moment various events, sensations, emotions, thoughts, are arriving and leaving. Some are comfortable, and we might be inclined to want them to stay. Some are uncomfortable and we might be inclined to push it away, to try to close it out. If an arrival or a departure is resisted, it tattoos itself on your psyche, on your heart. It sticks in your body like a burr on your sock.

The initial work of the journey to experience psychological and spiritual wholeness is to gradually unpick the samskaras like unpicking those burrs from your socks, to invite them to fully unfold so they can at last dissolve. This is Welcoming: To invite whatever is arriving to unfold fully and dissolve away when it does, to neither resist its arrival nor its departure.

Welcoming is where you start. Learning the art of welcoming not only prevents the laying down of new samskaras, but it allows the old to revel themselves in whatever sensory/emotive way they present themselves. Whatever is arising, in any given moment, welcome it with no refusing, allowing whatever is here to be fully experienced. Welcome whatever comes, fully so it has its opportunity to be seen, to blossom, and to fully dissolve again.

When the socks are free of burrs, that is, when the samskaras have been lovingly met and fully welcomed, we will awaken to who we truly are, whole and perfectly glorious.

Purifying

There are older meanings of samskara which are about purification and purification rites. As we welcome and resolve these hitherto unresolved issues in our body/mind we are indeed purifying ourselves to be who we truly are without blemish and to know ourselves as that without barrier.

You are already perfect and whole. But as the ore clings to the gold and needs to be refined away to release the precious metal, this purification reveals yourself to yourself as you already and truly are.

Meditation is the practice ground

Learning to welcome everything is said more easily than done, especially as those old imprints themselves will be coming up reactively to keep you in old grooves. Meditation can be the practice ground where you rehearse Welcoming in the safe container of the meditation. It builds skills that then get transferred into daily life.

3 Steps to welcoming everything

So here we are. Simple steps to begin to welcome everything, to unpack the old imprints and not to create new ones.

1. Practise somatically awareness - that is attune to sensations in the body.

They are stored in the body and that is where they will first present themselves. What is arising is arising in the body. Welcoming is assisted by acute somatic awareness. Everything will present as a feeling in the body, and Welcoming is easier when you can meet whatever it is at the gate rather than when it is pounding on the door of the inner sanctum.

Develop somatic awareness by:
  • Practising a mindful form of Hatha Yoga
  • Learning Somatic movement practices
  • Body-sensing in iRest® and Body-scanning in Mindfulness

2. Develop a regular practice of a meditation that keeps you attuned to the somatic experience. 

iRest® Yoga Nidra meditation is perfect for this. In this meditation you will:

  • Establish a safe haven of wellbeing that you can return to whenever you need 
  • Begin the practice of Welcoming by opening the senses
  • Notice the subtle feelings that herald emotions and cognitions
  • Notice the memories, beliefs and emotions that co-arise
  • Welcome everything as it is, and inquire into its need, its message, its source
  • Notice how you are aware of what is arising and how welcoming is a quality of Awareness

3. After practicing in a formal meditation practice, bring the same practice to everyday life.

See how you are able to welcome whatever is arising in the process of your daily life. You might take small mindful moments to welcome what is present, just noticing and welcoming.  And then at times you will notice the practice happening at more difficult times.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Tripping over my stories

Lately I have been noticing how I keep tripping over my stories. Sometimes I have checked in with a friend, to say, "Am I reading too much into this?" I am truly thrilled that I am noticing this.  Otherwise I would just be reacting, believing my stories to be true.  That I am suspecting that my own, essentially fabricated, story is involved is a step in the right direction. 

Let me explain what I mean. I will then examine the implications and the alternative, and give you a five step path to freedom from your stories.

The mind is hard-wired to make up stories

The shocking thing to our sense of self is that the mind is hard-wired to make up stories. It has been known by the yogis for centuries, they called these stories vikalpa but it  also has been shown scientifically. Experiments with folk who have had the left and right brain hemisphere's disconnected to treat severe epilepsy have shown that one side is constantly making up stories that may have no connection to reality in order to rationalise perceptions. We are literally hard-wired to lie to ourselves! I know, it is shattering. (Could this be true? Want to know more?) Believing those stories can be a source of great suffering.

Shocking ... and liberating

This can be a shocking thing to realise; but when we do it is so liberating. No longer do we need to believe those stories ... like the one that is saying "I am just not good enough",  which can take a few different guises, like these:
  • I am not good-looking enough, my body is imperfect.
  • I am not intelligent enough.
  • I am not sophisticated enough (for this job, this event, these people)
  • I am a failure at everything
  • I am out of my league.
Sometimes the stories come in the guise of blaming. Someone else is to blame for all my suffering.

Then there are the stories about obligations - you should or should not behave in a certain way, like you should (or should not) wear brand name yoga clothes in your yoga class, or you should (or should not) wear your hair in a certain way, get tattoos, body piercings or have cosmetic surgery.

Let me be clear, I am not saying here that we should or shouldn't do any of these things, but what I am saying is that we should be sorting out whether we are behaving in a certain way because of the stories that are not true, or not. After all, a story my brain has made up could well be saying to me not to do something and a story your brain has made up might be telling you to do exactly the same thing.

When my stories intersect with yours

Now we really are in a tricky pickle! When any of us meet from the point of view of believing our own stories, we can either reinforce our delusion, or come into conflict over our delusions. We are all doing the best we can, but when that best is blindfolded by myth, the outcome may appear less than skillful.

Even our love for each other is not enough to lift the veil. How often do we interpret the actions of  a loved one as a slight on ourselves, when in reality they are acting on the basis of their story, and we are reacting on the basis of our own?

The true course is felt not thought

None of us are immune. Only if we can recognise when our view, our course of action, is being guided by story, will we be free.

The only true course is one that is free from story, and that course is felt, not thought. To tune into that we need to become still, to listen beyond the stories.

The inner quiet place of Truth

The good news is that we do not need to relegate ourselves to suffering by forever believing our stories. The meditative paths of yoga offer us techniques for accessing the inner quiet place of Truth. It is simple, however simple does not mean instant nor easy, but if you think it is worth being free of your stories, the path is there to follow.

The alternative to action based on stories is not anarchy

What is the alternative to thinking through a course of action, to basing decision making or action upon anything other than the stories the mind presents us with?

Naturally, if you see through the stories, you will no longer be compelled to act upon them.  they may still arise but will have no power.  So how on earth do we find the right course of action. This is a radical shift.

When we let go of, or see right through the story-telling of the mind, and are free of them at last, does this mean that we are governed by nothing, that all is anarchic?  Not at all. Being free of the stories is a stilling of the mind, and this is the object of meditation. When the mind becomes quiet we can "hear"a different voice. I place that in quotes because you don't really hear it, you feel it. Free of the compulsion of stories, we come into an intuitive power that shows us the way through feeling, and the feeling is one of harmony.

Choose the path that feels most harmonious. Which path feels most right?

The five step path to freeing yourself of the tyranny of your stories

  1. Intellectual knowing that your mind is always creating stories is a start. Having read this blog, you have taken this step.
  2. Practice meditations daily that encourage a connection to the deep Inner presence that you are. This is beyond thoughts and stories. (iRest® meditation does this.)
  3. Watch how your stories arise, unfold and dissolve within this Awaring Presence.
  4. Keep practising until you can bring this into daily life, find yourself as Awaring Presence, and see the stories arising.
  5. Keep coming back to Awaring Presence and feel into the action that will feel harmonious. Follow that.
This path works

I am recommending this path from personal experience. It works.  That is why lately I have noticed myself noticing my stories. I am looking forward to continuing to refine the process until I can feel truly free of the stories and be guided solely by that inner quiet voice of harmony.

There is nothing new about this path though. If you care to look you will find exactly this path set out in the writings of the ancient sages.

It's a bit scary ... but then that fear is just another story I am telling myself. It feels harmonious, so I am going there.



Thursday, July 5, 2018

There is no such thing as a negative thought or emotion

Does your mind rebel at this statement?

There is no such thing as a negative thought or emotion.

I will stand by it.

It is not to say that I find every thought or emotion comfortable. Far from it. I just think that we should not regard them as "negative".

Every teaching you receive should be put through the filter of your own experience. Thus far I have found that the teachings that stand up in my experience are simple, which is not necessarily the same as easy. So it is with this statement. There is no such thing as a negative thought or emotion.

Reinforcing the belief that they are negative makes things worse

When I see the self help writings offering ways to "rid yourself of negative thoughts and emotions" I experience sadness. The expectation that you can rid yourself of uncomfortable emotions is so unrealistic. The teachers of these ideas are sincere enough, and they seek to help.  Their methods might work for awhile, but in the end those uncomfortable sensations will return.

In fact the perpetration of the idea that they are something you want to be rid of, the idea that they are negative and therefore undesirable, can actually create conditions for them to increase. Any strategy to push them away is bound to be unproductive and even increase the experience of those same emotions and thoughts over time. If they are undesirable, it is logical to push them away.

A radical shift in perspective is called for

As I said before, every teaching you receive should be put through the filter of your experience. To do that you must, of course, first give the teaching a preliminary assessment. If it asks you to do harm, to yourself or others, it is as well to reject it as being false. True teachings are benevolent, not malevolent. Beyond that you can only assess the effectiveness of a teaching by trying it out. I am sharing this teaching with you because I tried it out and found it to be effective, and so I take it to be true.

The radical shift in perspective is to regard everything that arises, including uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, as messengers whose message is a pointer to our essential wholeness. As messengers with such important and useful messages, the only thing to do is to welcome them and to enquire of them what it is they have to reveal.

The moment you turn towards, instead of away, from whatever is here, it ceases to have so much power over you. All the while you are turning away, pushing it away, you are in fact becoming more fused with it.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but in the act of turning towards it you are in fact de-fusing with it. You are immediately allowing it to be a movement in awareness, along with all other movements in awareness. Doing so frees up its passage to move on through, and its movement through opens the space for something else to move through and that something else might just be a more comfortable emotion or thought.

Of course, if a comfortable thought or emotion is present, it must be greeted in exactly the same way. It is pointless to try to fuse with it and hang onto it. It has come, as a messenger, allow it to deliver its message and move on through.

The dance of manifestation

This shift of perspective brings us into the position of witnessing what is going on instead of being caught up in it. From this perspective we witness the dance of manifestation. That part of manifestation that is this body is full of sensation, energy, emotion, and thought. These movements are coming and going  as a microcosm of the larger manifestation which is the entire universe.

Everything that manifests arises (is born), grows, stabilises and abides awhile, declines, erodes and decays and is reabsorbed. Everything. Can you think of anything that doesn't? Even a mountain. Even a planet. Even a star. Even the whole universe itself. Some things have a short period for this cycle, and some longer. Time itself is a part of the dance.

Compared to the cycle of manifestation of this body, the cycle of manifestation of any emotion or thought is short, sometimes fleeting, sometimes a little lingering, but short nevertheless, especially when it is being welcomed with curiosity.

And this is the message, or at least part of it.  It is simple. Everything comes and goes and nothing is permanent. This too shall pass! And in its time bound manifestation there is beauty. There is beauty in the grief, in the shame, in the sadness, in the nervousness, as much as there is in the joy, the friendliness, the compassion, the delight.

Who is doing the witnessing?

The rest of the message is in the answer to this question. Who is doing the witnessing? The emotion or thought, comfortable or uncomfortable, is a messenger. When we welcome it we open to the shift of perspective that reveals that witnessing aspect. This points us back to that which is witnessing.

Different sages, different traditions, have different words for this, but we might call it capital C Consciousness or capital A Awareness. Notice that this is not the thinking mind because it can be aware of thoughts. This is that part of us, the Consciousness in which those thoughts, or emotions, or sensations arise, grow, abide awhile, decay and are reabsorbed.

I encourage you to read some previous posts which may help your explorations.

Dealing with negative thoughts and emotions

Reset your defaults

Follow the senses

Carl Sagan

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Being kind


Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always."Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always."

Versions of this saying abound and attributions are many. It is a worthy axiom to live by.

I am amazed by the troubles that people are managing in their lives all the time.  They may be presenting to us as if nothing at all is unsettling them, but in fact their life may be full of turmoil.

How often does our own turmoil take us away from kindness? I know it does with me, and it is highly likely that my own problems are miniscule compared to others'.

To a great degree our ability to be kind to others, no matter what we ourselves are dealing with, hinges on our ability to be kind to ourselves.  How do we do that when faced with a crowd of sorrows?

Meditation and meeting ourselves as unchanging awareness helps. When we access that part of ourselves which is untouched by the anxiety, the grief, the guilt, the worry, and know ourselves to be that, no matter what else is arising, and meet the same in everyone else, that is the truest kindness we can offer ourselves and all others.

Visitations that come in the night

I was lying in bed awake in the middle of the night last Friday night.  As I have to leave the house at 7am in the morning on Saturdays, being awake in the middle of the night on Friday nights is a trifle problematic, but nevertheless, I welcomed it as an opportunity for practice. So I was practising welcoming awakeness and also welcoming the dull ache in my right sacroiliac joint that I felt sure had something to do with my awakeness. There was much to be grateful for here as a real episode of my SIJ instability would have my entire hip and right pelvis, inside and outside, in spasms of pain.  That really can wake you up at night! No, not that, just a dull ache, welcome that.

Showing adjustments I don't think are a great idea
I must have drifted off for awhile as I found myself in a dream. I was teaching. It was as if I just walked into the room, and my students were already doing their practice. I saw that they were straining and efforting to do their postures. They were "helping" each other. In seated wide legged forward folds (uppavistakonasana), the legs were being pushed wider. In seated bound angle pose (baddhakonasana) a friend was sitting on each knee. Students were working hard to bring a leg behind their head. A student doing forward splits (hanumanasana) had friends pressing down on each thigh with a foot.
Bikram Choudhury dancing on student's back
It didn't seem like Yoga Spirit Studios at all and I seemed not to have a voice to call the class to order. Then I realised that I was not the teacher but it was as if I was observing memory. As happens in dreams it was a mash up, and I was aware that I was in the dreaming state, curiously aware of my dream.

Awake again, welcoming the dull ache and a sense of too warm, I tried to think where this idea had come from that bodies need to be forced to do things that they are structurally unsuited to. Writing perhaps around 200CE Patanjali had said that the posture should be steady and easy, or at ease, or spacious, or comfortable (sukha), but he was not referring to uppavistakonasana, baddhakonasana or hanumanasana, but any seated posture taken for pranayama and meditation.

Indeed, in the Yoga Sutras there are 2 sutras that refer to asana, and 89 on concentration, meditation and the states of samadhi.

By the time Hatha Yoga arises from Tantra and Svatmarama writes the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in the fifteenth century (yes folks, that recent) just 15 yogasanas are mentioned. They are described, and several are pointed to as excellent, but we have no idea how the yoga gurus taught them to their disciples.

Even in this text, the first chapter might be called Asana, and it does contain 63 verses, but only 15 postures are described and a lot is discussed that is not asana. There are 124 verses in chapter 4 on meditation and samadhi. Even back then the emphasis was not on doing fancy postures.

Tradition and the wisdom that we are given from a long time ago is a wonderful thing and should be respected. But everything needs to be freshly examined and tested with a curious mind asking "is this true to me, now?" It is a tricky thing, balancing respect of tradition and insights only available to us in modern times.

We can track the evolution of yoga, through different ideas and practices, yet we have no idea how the physical practices of asana were practised. Our knowledge is limited to a few descriptions in old texts and what we know from direct transmission only from the twentieth century on. Most of the postures we now practise in our western yoga classes were not described in those old texts. We really cannot rely upon tradition.

My dream was memory.  I have been in yoga classes where some of these things happen. They probably still do. And it is not confined to yoga. In all kinds of athletic and artistic physical disciplines, this kind of thing is still normal. Such practices are saying that the body should fit into an external concept of what perfect is. This body is not yet perfect. but if we do this perhaps we can make it so.

If that is the tradition, then it is a tradition that needs to be questioned. We now understand the uniqueness of each individual's anatomy. Frankly, not everyone will ever do Hanumanasana, or Padmasana, or Kurmasana  in that externally evaluated "perfect" way. Better by far to let the yoga help you discover and connect with your body and to discover what the pose can teach you, letting go of the thought that you are somehow imperfect for how your body responds.

Sleep came, and when I awoke I felt refreshed. The ache of the night had an excellent message for me. I had been neglecting my morning practices on the mat, cutting them short.  I headed for the studio, landed on the mat and luxuriated in the somatics practices that serve me well before my students arrived for the 8am class.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Listening to the Heart

When you feel compassion, where do you feel it in your body?

When you feel loving, where do you feel it in your body?

When you feel kindness, where do you feel it in the body?

When you feel joy, where do you feel it?

For me these are all right in the centre of my chest when I feel them, the energetic, spiritual heart.

Have you ever noticed the tussle between heart and head? Head might be presenting many logical arguments, but heart is calling somewhere else? It is my experience that the heart does not lead you astray, when truly listened to.

Now I love to explore the connections between languages and did you know that the word courage is a cognate with the Latin word for heart, cor, which pops up also in French as coeur. (English takes the word cordial from the same source. To be cordial is to be heart-felt.)

Where do you feel courage in your body?

How much courage does it take to truly listen to and to follow your heart?

Often the call of the heart goes unheeded as it seems crazy. In fact it is difficult to even uncover the heart's true calling as it is so suppressed beneath the weight of thought and logic. So the heart's calling may also be scary. It does take courage to follow it.

How will you know your heart's true calling?

It's call is sweet. It is harmonious. It may be a whisper. How to hear a whisper? Become quiet and listen. Listen with the heart.

In yoga the spiritual, energetic heart is sometimes called Anahata, sometimes Hridaya. Let me explain these terms.

Anahata means "unstruck". It refers to the sound that has no cause, the seed sound of the universe also known as Pra-nava which is the syllable Om. Pra means before, the antecedent and nava sound, shout, exalt, so Pranava means "the first exultant sound"at the creation of the universe, unstruck because there was nothing before it.

Hrdaya is from hrd which is cognate with English "heart", you can see the similarity, and "heart" is exactly what it means.

So listen. You might hear the unstruck.