Learning to Love Purity (Part 2)

I am writing at a time when in my country Charlottesville has just happened and the rare eclipse of the sun is about to happen. We are asking ourselves deep questions about the hatred and “isms” that seem so prevalent. At the same time we are being swept into one of the mysteries of the universe. It is a reflective time for most of us.

I remember several years ago when my heart felt heavy like it often does when I hear the news. I was suffering what for me had been an experience of betrayal that left a bitter taste in my heart. Try as I did, the taste didn’t go away; the heaviness of my heart continued to burden me.

Then I found myself in the presence of a wise, holy teacher. When I embarrassingly asked him how to get rid of the bitterness in my heart, he replied with gentle eyes and compassionate voice, “Give it all to the Divine, just keep giving it to the Divine.” What followed for me was a purification process that left my heart light and free. In these times, I find myself returning vigorously to this practice.

Week One. This week, every time your heart feels heavy with fear, unrest, judgment, or resentment, give it to the Divine mystery. Let the Divine slowly purify your heart until all that is left is compassion and joy.

Week Two. This week spend time with the Beloved, as the mystics call this force. Live in constant awareness of the compassionate, loving presence that moves the world and everything in it. Let this awareness be what fills your heart.

Ultimately purity is not about us, it is about the creator and mover of each of us. We acquire a taste for purity as we spend more time with this presence and we find that holding on to anything else begins to pale in comparison. And, from this place, we learn to trust what we do not understand, and to see clearly the courageous actions being asked of us in these troubling times.

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Nourishing Internal Purity [Part 1]

David Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, makes a distinction between what he calls “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues”. Brooks defines resume virtues as the accomplishments that contribute to external success, while eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned at a funeral, the ones that sit at the core of ones being. [paraphrased from page xi)

Like virtue, purity has an external and internal process. Personally I find it easy to fall into the trap of external purity as an end in itself. I am programmed to equate purity with cleanliness and to focus the crux of my efforts towards outer appearance. I can forget to reflect on the condition of my heart and mind, which is where the real conversation about purity resides.

This is not to say cleanliness is unimportant, but is it in service to the way we want others to see us, or is it in service to creating an environment where a pure heart and mind can flourish. Perhaps Patanjali, with this niyama, is inviting us to acquire more of a taste for internal purity and the actions that cultivate it.

Week One. This week discern your intentions when you perform acts of external purification. Every time you take a shower, clean up your surroundings, do something for someone else, or engage in your spiritual practice, ask yourself if you are doing these acts in order to “look good” or in order to create a container where your heart and mind can be purified.

Week Two. This week reflect on the qualities of a pure heart and a pure mind. What needs to happen externally for these qualities to flourish internally in your own life?

12th in a series of reflections on the yamas & niyamas

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Between the Yamas & Niyamas: Learning to Love Broccoli

Have you ever taken the plunge to commit to eating better? Somewhere along the line, you decided that fast food and candy bars were not giving you the kind of vitality and wellbeing you wanted from your body? Maybe you read some healthy eating books or enlisted a food coach or took the plunge with a friend for mutual support. However it may have happened, you were determined to leave the world you knew and walk into the unfamiliar territory of broccoli and other vegetables you had never even heard of.

For me, the practice of the yamas and niyamas has become a similar journey, a way of looking at just what it is we are feeding our minds. In giving us these 10 ethical principles, Patanjali has for all practical purposes given us a healthy diet book for the mind. The first step, he says, is to understand that violence, non-truthfulness, stealing, excess, and possessiveness are junk food. They not only cause harm for others, but they cause harm to our minds by making them chaotic, disturbed, dis-eased and out of harmony. A steady, focused mind cannot be sustained by these harmful actions any more than a vital body can be sustained by processed food.

Patanjali is clear: stop doing these things. Wean yourselves off this unhealthy diet. Just as your body is too beautiful a temple to trash, so is your mind. And so in the yamas, we notice the truth of Patanjali’s words and we begin to wean ourselves off our addiction to disturbance much as we learn to wean our taste buds off our addiction to sugar.

Those of us who have begun this process know just how boring vegetables can seem at first; they are certainly an acquired taste that gradually grows on us. So it is with the niyamas, the mind is at first bored. It doesn’t know what to do with purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender. “You’ve got to be kidding,” the mind complains, “what’s so great about these?” And so the process begins of training the mind to prefer these sustaining places of harmony.

In the upcoming months we will explore these 5 niyamas and how we might acquire a taste for this fine dining. For in truth, how can the world find sustaining places of harmony if we can’t find them in ourselves?

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Me, Possessive? (Part 2)

“Possessiveness is nourishment for the ego.” -Rajneesh

Imagine that you were a person of great influence and power. Imagine that you had so much power that you could fire people, start wars, negotiate shady deals, and make others dance to your tune. Now imagine that you had a certain idea of just how your life should be, just how the world should be, and just what you expected of others around you. You would never have to be challenged; you could enforce your will on others as you pleased. And you could destroy what is not pleasing you.

We all know of people with this kind of power. Some of them inspire us with their continued humility and generosity. Others make us shudder at the suffering their possessiveness inflicts on the world. Yet whatever degree of influence we have, the question remains, what is our possessiveness doing to others?

Week Three: If you had the power to make the world the way you want it to be, what kind of a world would it be? How much of your vision for the world is in service to your own ego’s comfort? And maybe more importantly, what would you do about people who disagreed with you or got in your way?

Week Four: Tolkein’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series is a gripping portrayal of the effects of all-consuming possessiveness. From the time the merry, fun-loving Smeagol strangles his friend in order to gain possession of a ring he calls “my precious”, through his transformation into a twisted, lonely, conflicted creature called Gollum, we see how possession can possess its owner.  George MacDonald said, “a man[sic]is enslaved to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself [sic].”  This week, take a look at what you cannot part with that is less than yourself, and notice if this inability to let go has altered or is altering your character in any way.

For further reflection:

Read or watch the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series.

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Me, Possessive? (Part 1)

“…when possessiveness is not there, relationship has a beauty of its own. When possessiveness is there, everything becomes dirty, ugly, inhuman.” –Rajneesh

We come into this world with the need to survive and the need to be loved, and yet we are completely helpless to make either of these things happen for ourselves. We learn early on that some outside source has to fulfill these needs for us. And we learn to shape ourselves into beings that please that outside source. It is this learned behavior that becomes the source of possessiveness.

With the fifth yama, non-possessiveness, Patanjali is speaking to the demands we place on those we love. Whenever we need someone to satisfy our needs, we create suffering for that person as well as for ourselves. We are misplacing the responsibility for our wellbeing onto someone else. We spend our time clinging instead of living.

Week One. This week notice when you are attempting to possess someone. What does the attempt to possess feel like? What is the process? Do you notice any sense of dependency, ownership, demand, greed, expectation, neediness, or clinging on your end? What compels you to believe that the other person’s job is to make you happy?

Week Two.  For this entire week, move through the relationships of each day without the need for anything to be different than it is. It might be helpful to repeat the thought, “Today, I don’t need anything or anyone to be a certain way.” What do you notice from this experiment?

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Yama 4: Walking with the Sacred (Part 2)

“We redeem ourselves and help redeem the world a little through a conscious and continuous effort to find and live the inner dream and unique story of our lives.” –Michael Meade

I wonder if the biggest casualty in these challenging times is our inability to stay grounded in a sense of lightness, joy, and sacredness.  Certainly where fear, anxiousness, suffering, and insanity prevail, our spirits get heavily weighted. I continue to ponder Hildegard of Bingen’s definition of sin, which is to dry up. Perhaps, in light of her words, one of our biggest acts of protest is to stay wet and juicy and bursting with the life force.

Week Three. There is a passion, a life force that runs through us. How did this life force express in you as a child? A young adult? Middle age and beyond? What has “dried up” this passion in you? What has nourished and fed this life force within you? What wants to express itself through you now?

Week Four.  In The Microbiome Diet, Raphael Kellman, MD, writes, “In my experience, we can find profound meaning in our food, which connects us to the plants and animals of this planet; the soil, air, and water needed to nourish that food; and the human community whose labor was needed to grow our food and transport it to us…And, of course, we can find profound meaning in our microbiome [which] always places the whole above the individual.” 

Not long ago, I found myself in conversation with a distant cousin. Although my cousin and her husband were retired and longing to travel, they had small grandchildren living nearby. As a result, this woman chose to stay home in the summers and garden as a way to teach her grandchildren about seeds, and soil, and growing food. One of her grandchildren asked if she could bring a friend to garden with them. When the 5-yr-old friend arrived and saw food growing from the ground, she in great surprise exclaimed, “But I thought food only came from stores!”  This little 5-year old had not been taught the simple connection between food and soil.

This week every time you take a bite of food, acknowledge the connection of this bite to the sun, the rain, the soil, the labor of farmers and workers, and  the labor of your own body as it chews, swallows, and digests.

For continued reflection:  Watch Planet Earth; Planet Earth 2 ….then watch again…

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Yama 4: Walking with the Sacred (Part 1) 

We have become a junk culture with a voracious appetite for embracing things of poor quality and little value: junk food, junk toys, junk clothes, junk mail, junk tweets…

The 4th yama, Brahmacharya literally means “walking with the sacred”, yet we live in a culture that invites us to “walk with junk”.  What would happen if the 5000 advertisements we are exposed to daily turned our attention to what is holy? To what nourishes our entire being? Instead, our attention is directed to that which disappoints and so quickly finds its way to a landfill.

Week One. What would it be like to live in a “sacred” culture? What things would be valued? Describe your average day from morning to evening in this sacred culture. How would your day begin? End? How would your time be spent? Where would your attention go?

“You see that sun rising? Sing songs to it, make your prayers, be present and give thanks. If you do that every day you will be alive, you will have lived life and it won’t matter if the world ends tomorrow or what the prophecies have said because you will have lived today.” -Morgan Saufkie, Hopi Elder

Week 2. I have experienced many days filled with the wonder and connection that Morgan Saufkie speaks of. I have also experienced many days of mild anxiousness bordering on franticness as I attempt to keep up with email correspondence, books wanting to be read, relationships seeking more intimate connection, vegetables waiting to be sautéed…

Wonder and franticness are such different ways to spend a day. And what makes something either holy or burdensome? Is it attitude or perspective? The pace we keep? The quality of our hearts and seeing? And how in a world of such extreme beauty is franticness even able to take root?

Pause and remember yourself as a child when almost everything seemed magical. Get in touch with that spellbinding wonder that filled your days. Now track yourself today. Do you spend more time in something resembling franticness or dwelling in amazement? For this week, refuse to settle for anything less than wonder and awe.

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Journey into Courage

How to be in these times? What is the relevance of practice? Jane Freedman interviewed 26 influential practitioners and scholars in the fields of meditation, yoga, writing, nutrition, emotional intelligence, coaching, and more to ask them these important questions.

“Practice is the place where we activate the inner yes and live an empowered life!” states Jane. Sign up now to access these free interviews by clicking this link: Journey into Courage.

Summit begins May 3rd.

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