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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Me, Steal? (Part Two)

“Water sustains all life. Her songs begin in the tiniest of raindrops, transform to flowing rivers, travel to majestic oceans and thundering clouds and back to earth again. When water is threatened, all living things are threatened.” Indigenous Declaration on Water 2001

All life is dependent on water, yet we, who, at the mere turn of a faucet have constant access to clean water, tend to take it for granted. The careless habits of big business and complacent individuals are creating worldwide consequences. United Nations statistics are daunting: “Some 663 million people are currently living without a safe supply of water close to their homes; … over 1.8 million people frequent a water source contaminated with human waste; … 80 percent of the Earth’s wastewater returns to the ecosystem without being treated or recycled.”

Week Three: Get into the shoes of a woman from a country where there is no easy access to water. Describe her day. How far does she walk to get water for the day’s needs? How long does it take her? What is the terrain like? The weather? How many children does she bring with her on this daily journey? How heavy are the jugs she carries after she fills them? What does her body feel like when she finally lies down to sleep for the night? If the water is putrid or polluted, what is it like for her to wash and feed her children with contaminated water?

Week Four. Greed: an intense, excessive, rapacious, insatiable desire to acquire more than one needs or deserves –[sourced from dictionary]

Biblical commentator John Ritenbaugh describes greed as a “ruthless self-seeking, and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one’s own benefit.” Psychologist Erich Fromm describes greed as “a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street, proclaims, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies and cuts through to the essence of the evolutionary spirit”.

Reflect on the above statements. What is your definition of greed? Have you experienced moments when greed seemed to take over your life (and maybe your sanity)? Have you felt the sense of exhaustion without satisfaction that Erich Fromm describes? Describe a personal experience you had with greed. What did it feel like? Where did you feel it? What did it lead you to do? What were the results? Trace this experience from beginning to end.

For further reflection watch the following documentaries:

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Me, Steal? (Part One)

“The yogi cannot allow himself to take anything which does not properly belong to him, not only in the way of money or goods but even such intangible and yet highly prized things as credit for things he has not done or privileges which do not properly belong to him.”             -I.K. Taimni

In an interesting turn of events, a court in Italy recently ruled on behalf of a homeless man who stole some cheese and sausage. The court, stating that the man was acting “in a state of need” ruled that “if you’re hungry, stealing food is not a crime”. Makes me wonder if that same court might accuse those of us who carelessly let food rot in our refrigerator or mindlessly discard excess in garbage cans might be held in contempt as the real culprits of stealing.

Week One: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can leave alone.” -Henry David Thoreau

Notice what you can’t leave alone. (clothes, praise, credit for something, fancy coffee drinks, privileges, workshops, social media, books…) In what way does your inability to “leave these things alone” relate to stealing? In what way does your inability to “leave these things alone” create disturbance in your mind and in the world? Notice why you can’t leave this thing alone – can you identify an ego weakness involved? Explore this weakness. What does it feel like in your body? Where do you feel it? What story does your mind make up about this inability?

Week Two. Waste: to squander, to fail or neglect to use, to employ uselessly -Webster

I am reminded of a trip I took several years ago to a small village in Tanzania where I lived for a week. One of the things I remember most about the experience was the total lack of waste and nonexistence of trashcans. Everything was precious. Everything was re-used or re-purposed. My return to the states was startling as I realized the amount of waste that I so carelessly generate through squander and neglect of use.

Statistics show that the United States alone throws away $35 million tons (70 billion pounds) of food annually and more than 11 million tons of textile waste, while much of the world, including much of the United States, lives in hunger and squalor.

This week focus your attention on your habits around waste. What does your trashcan, refrigerator, book shelf, clothes closet, computer storage, and daily use of time say about your waste habits? Notice especially how “normal” having and throwing away trash seems to you. How do your waste habits relate to stealing? How do they relate to disturbance in your mind and in the world?

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The Nullification of Truth (Part 2)

Truth is like a vast tree, which yields more and more fruit the more you nurture it. The deeper the search in the mine of truth the richer the discovery of the gems buried there, in the shape of openings for an even greater variety of service.” -Gandhi

Week Three. Contemplate what the impact of post-truth, alternative facts, fake news, and truthiness is on yourself and the world at large. Note that it has become “normal” for emotions, gut feelings, personal beliefs and personal convenience to take precedence over observable facts and data.

Glenn Fairman wrote, Truth is a lot like virtue — in that most everyone claims to desire it, but the general consensus deep down is that they would rather have pie.”  This week notice in what ways your desire for ease, convenience, and personal preference determine your willingness to settle for “pie” rather than to seek Truth.

Week Four. The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

How might you guard against “critical thinking fatigue”? In what ways can you nourish, sharpen, protect, and guard this faculty of critical thinking for the long haul? Gandhi found strength and fortitude by tapping into Satyagraha, “the force which is born of truth.” Have you ever felt connected to this “force which is born of truth”? How might you root yourself in the power and resources of this force to sustain your potency and integrity in these times?

For further study and reflection:

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The Nullification of Truth (Part 1)

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

Truth has often been a long time sufferer. Under dictatorships the comedians, journalists, artists, and educators, who are often some of the most poignant truth tellers, are first to disappear from the scene (along with whatever group of people is being scapegoated). We know that truth is often at stake in our personal lives as we do mental gymnastics to avoid or enhance certain details about ourselves. Partial truths are often advantageous.

Yet, when Patanjali reveals the 2nd restraint, he is clear. He does not say “non-lying”, he says “truthfulness”, a direct mandate to stop at nothing short of the full truth. I call this a “go all the way” yama. What is the difference between non-lying and truthfulness? This is an interesting question among many in a world where truth has become dangerously irrelevant.

Week One. I’m reminded of a cartoon where a little boy is in dialogue with his mother. The caption catches the little boy saying, “Suppose honesty isn’t going to work in this situation, what’s my next best option?”

Do you remember the first time you lied as a child? What were the repercussions, if any? What did you gain by lying, if anything? Who taught you to distinguish between truth and a lie? What is your current criteria for knowing “truth” in your personal life? In the world at large?

Week Two. Consider these words of Gandhi, “The seeker after Truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after Truth should be so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of Truth.”

This week watch your level of humility as you find your judgment, criticism, self-righteousness, animosity, and disgust rising in response to current events. What would it be like to be humble? What does your attempt at humility change?   Can you be both strong in speaking truth to power and humble in your recognition that truth is bigger than you know?

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Conversation with Nonviolence; What We Can Learn

“The ultimate question for a responsible man [sic] to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Germany. He possessed a great intellectual capacity and faced a promising academic career as a Lutheran theologian that was abruptly altered when Hitler ascended to power on January 30, 1933. From the start, Bonhoeffer was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, yet he stood firm in his pacifist views.

All of this began to change as Bonhoeffer learned the full scale of atrocities being committed in his homeland. In what must have been an agonizing conversation with morality and ethical choices, this pacifist began to turn his attention toward stopping Hitler and eventually joined in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He was imprisoned and ultimately hanged for this failed attempt.

Bonhoeffer began with an ideological conception of nonviolence; for him that meant pacifism. Yet, as events unfolded in the horrors of the time he was living, as he began to see the murderous acts and injustices being routinely executed, he began to struggle with what it meant to be ethical in that moment in time.

Bonhoeffer was courageous enough to re-open his conversation with nonviolence. He was willing to reflect and soul-search and agonize with current events. He concluded that that “the ultimate question for a responsible man [sic] to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” These are words we too might ask ourselves as we watch the events of our times unfold.

This is not a post inviting us to become would-be assassins. Nor is it a post holding up Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the poster child for non-violence. I have trouble believing that Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr would have made the same choice. I doubt that Bonhoeffer himself felt morally justified by his action.

The key point for all of us I think, is that ethical principles are not so much rules to be followed, but a way of being in the context of our times. They are not nouns; they are verbs. They are not stand-alone concepts; they are a living breathing experience of living in relationship. They are an ongoing conversation with our lives in relation to all life, living and yet to come.

These times are inviting us all to have this conversation.

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