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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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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