Category: Personal Updates

cropped_meadow_skyYears ago, I had a website with a page I called the Yoga Weather Report. The idea came from experiences I had with my teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda Yogiraj. He would return to Santa Barbara from various national and international destinations and talk about the condition of our prevailing psychological climate. He would say things like, “the weather is stormy” at a time when our local California weather was quite sunny and warm. His students learned to look deeper into what was going on.

Some nights ago, I had difficulty sleeping. This was quite unusual. I woke up a number of times; then, I had a hard time going back to sleep. For several days, I had been watching news about the presidential debate. I had also seen replays and commentary on the Internet where someone posted that there could be a new “medical” condition called, “Election Anxiety Syndrome.”

Initially, I did not put my experience in this category; however, after talking to friends and family members, I came to think there may well be a pervading sense that “the weather is unsettling.” We’d also been having intense wind conditions, which didn’t help. Palm fronds fell all over our courtyard. A sharp acorn, during yoga class, hit my car and cracked the window. There’d also been international reports from other countries anxious about the possibility that we might elect someone who is temperamental and psychologically unstable.

Yes, perhaps, there has been a good reason to feel uneasy. As a result, I am using the practice of conscious breathing and other yogic principles to calm the mind. I slept well last night, and I feel a renewed confidence in the intelligence of our electorate.
October, 2016
(C) Gudrun Mouw

Personal Updates

This week as I prepare for going back to teaching yoga after a summer break, I am posting a review I wrote of Sharon Salzberg’s book on lovingkindness. I am having fun posting my reading list and reviews (about two a month) on Goodreads. You can friend me on Goodreads, or check out my other reviews on my Goodreads Facebook page. And I will be posting less often while I’m teaching, probably twice a month.

 

Loving-Kindness is a treasure I first read a while ago. It is one of those modern classics that invites more than one reading. Metta Practice, or Loving-Kindness Practice was a favorite during my years immersed in the Vipassana Buddhist tradition.

My current favorite section of the book is ‘Developing the Compassionate Heart.’ It took me a while on the spiritual path to get that I no longer wish to endure suffering in the name of compassion. This understanding has changed everything; for that I am grateful.

This book can be life altering. I highly recommend an open-hearted and sincere reading.

-Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg and Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

Gudrun

Personal Updates

After an early morning and before an active afternoon, which is scheduled to go into the evening, I seek rejuvenation and decide to go for a forest walk. On the uphill side, I am tired; on the downhill side, I pass by the hammock. Often, I have seen T.J. there, feet over the side and thought, what’s keeping me away?

hammockYesterday, I was on a mission of transporting water to potted and other vulnerable plants. I walked all around the hammock but did not stop. Today, I finished carrying water early and decided on a walk-about before it got too hot. During my wandering, I found plenty of freshly fallen deadwood to haul out from under the forest. I may not chop wood but do my part in the process, keeping my eye on the hammock in my comings and goings.

Later, the thermometer tells me it is 90 degrees outside. I venture forth under the consuming sun, past the driveway and arrive under a cooling canopy over the hammock with my water bottle and a recently finished book I said I would review.

I look up to various nests high up in the trees from inside the hammock. Owls? Other birds? A couple of nests are very large. I tug the pull rope and settle into a gentle swaying motion. Air flows all around my body. A soft wind between oak limbs shivers the leaves and brings further relief from the cumulative effects of recent oppressive temperatures. One of three woodpeckers currently active does several tap, taps; birds call, and butterflies head towards the shade as I praise the old growth under which I am privileged to recline.
(c) Gudrun Mouw
August 15, 2015

Personal Updates

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I wake up with several concerns regarding family, friends and a Raja Yoga/Meditation Workshop I have committed to teach in the city one hour south of my home. After trying several going-back-to-sleep strategies which do not work, I decide it must be time to meditate. Meditation, the 7th of eight limbs in the raja yoga tradition, in Sanskrit, is called, “dhyana.”

At my corner, I open cabinet doors, pull out the shelf with a marble slab and burn the candle on top of it inside its cut glass container, which spreads a soft, amber glow. The Krishna statue’s hands, holding his flute, gleam. Various crystals reflect bright points that penetrate even as I close my eyes. Inside, I see what looks like a shining display of northern lights.

After the usual invocations, I feel inspired to practice metta (a loving kindness meditation), during which the first of two tears slides, slowly, over my left cheek and gradually dissolves somewhere under my chin. The second tear seems to stand still for the longest time just below my lower eyelid.

Eventually, my right knee hurts, which tells me more than an hour has passed. It is time to practice yoga stretches/positions, “asanas,” the 5th limb raja yoga. I unfold my mat.

On my knees, I dip back until buttocks touch heels, bring elbows forward, arms up, palms to the sides of my head. I had recently recommended this pose for someone experiencing grief. I gently stretch my neck forward, soften shoulders, open knees, and allow myself to release and relax. Inexplicably, I feel happy and have a sharp, clear insight. After more than 40 years of study and practice, the subject of raja yoga for me is how I relate to whatever I am doing.

As absorption into the present moment encapsulates the goal of yoga, my body knows which other postures it needs to further release physical, mental and emotional contractions. Dawn begins and further brightens the dark.

It’s time to start a kettle for tea, and I trust my hands to find what I need inside a drawer’s shade, not yet wishing to disturb that natural and subtle shift from darkness to light by switching on electricity. As I sit with my warm cup, I turn on a favorite music channel which randomly plays Anugama, “Tantric Day” from The Best of Anugama: Just Being Here, 1993.

I am in heaven. When the sound of Enya’s “China Roses” from The Memory of Trees, 1995 begins, I’m not noticing time, space, or anything else. And when the next random song,Tom Colletti’s “Dhyana” from Yoga is Union, 2011, fills the room, nearly 4 hours have passed since I first woke to what now seems to be ancient history. It has been time well spent. Hills hide behind the welcome fog in a dry season. Cool air refreshes. I thank the universe for its blessings.

The raja yoga work continues in days that follow. Without knowing exactly why, I feel compelled to create a memorial on a wrought iron and glass table just outside the sliding glass door on which I arrange a container with one flower, a candle and the stone I have, apparently, been saving just for this occasion.

This stone was found by my parents, reminiscent of a heart shape, and my father etched my mother’s and his initials on it. The following morning, as part of my meditation practice, I light that candle. When I am finished with formal practice, I gaze at the outside table; my eyes moisten as I remember it has been 15 1/2 years and over 14 1/2 years since, first my father, then my mother died. Slowly, still in a state of contemplation, I realize there is no residue of bitterness, anger, or resentment and am reminded of one of my favorite raja yoga sutras:

By cultivating…friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

 

 

 

(c) Gudrun Mouw

July 23, 2015

Personal Updates The Spiritual Journey

At the front of the pie slice of our property is an open, uphill section of land wedged between a driveway and oak forest which grows an abundance of wild grasses. In the past, we’ve always chosen to weed-whack this space as part of our yearly fire clearance work. This year, I decide to hand weed. Perhaps, this will help to stimulate the drought tolerant ground cover already growing to the left of the unruly patch.

I begin at the back, where old and new fences meet. The weeds, consisting of native plants, green in winter and dangerously dry in summer, pull out easily. The grasses are long and scraggly, the color of straw. The change of color happens sooner than it used to before California’s record six-year water shortage. I work quickly, wondering why I hadn’t thought of doing this before.

I realize I had been intimidated by the size of the space. Somehow, it had always seemed to be an impossible task to hand weed this area. What’s different now? Am I being overly optimistic?

Even separating the straw-like weeds and roots from a thick layer of oak leaves and mulch isn’t as hard as I had feared with the help of a broad-toothed metal rake. I work down the hill. I create terraces and gather up hidden garbage that raking unearths. Crumbling plastic, remnants of bottles, miscellaneous glass, rusted pieces of pipe, sections of rug and yarn become an unmanageable pile of clutter. At one point, I think, I wish I had a container in which to put all this stuff but am not inclined to climb back down to the driveway in search for a solution to my dilemma.

Kicking dirt, I hit something hard; digging I discover a large turquoise plastic pot. Though cracked and damaged, it is serviceable enough to contain all the bits and pieces of debris I have collected. I smile, and though my body has begun to ache, my enthusiasm to continue the finishing touches is revived. When the final weed filled wheelbarrow is ready, I push it down the driveway.

Later, I prepare lunch, then, receive a phone call from a former student who now lives in another state and whose call I had been anticipating. We make arrangements for an upcoming visit. I finish my meal, feeling content and reflective.

JasperA request for Face Time with my daughter and youngest grandson comes in. The three-year-old has been playing with dirt; his face is smudged and happy. We discuss his concern how he didn’t think it was fair that his Mommy got to be a grownup, while he himself is still a child. After the inevitable explanation and expression of gratitude for his birth and having adults in his life to care for him, he snuggles and nudges his mother with renewed appreciation.

I show him the new shiny silver and red pen I have in my hand, write a message in red ink on the notepad I have been working on and read to him additional words of love. Gleefully, he points to his name; my daughter and I praise his accomplishment.

What is today’s insight, I wonder, after my daughter and grandson say goodbye? The happiness of each moment greeted with keen interest? The joy of being present? The synchronicity that an inspired and uplifted state of mind encourages? It’s ok, I decide, if I don’t have a ready answer, take a deep breath instead, my work accomplished for the day, and now rest tastes especially sweet.

 

 

(c) Gudrun Mouw
July 15, 2015

Personal Updates

A student called me today and expressed the feeling of having lost herself. What could I say? I remember menopause. I remember my father-in-law with Alzheimers¬†questioning over and over, “Where am I?”

My answer was always, “You are right here.”

On occasion he would respond by saying, “Good sermon.” He had been a preacher who started 30 churches in Indonesia. He did not approve of me being a yogini; but, in the end, he didn’t argue with the truth.

My student and I agreed, at the end of our conversation, we would both go for a walk. We live in different towns. She would seek out her walking area, and I would enter the nearby park to find that trail which has not been maintained for years.

monkeyscrub

Each time I choose this trail it seems easier to lose the path. Over time, I have found this particular challenge to be a good way to practice dealing with my initial and instinctive panic reaction. When I find myself disoriented, I stop, take several yogic breaths and tell myself, I am here, nowhere else. I am exactly where I need to be. How can I be lost?

I manage to avoid poison oak. It is very prevalent here, and I remember how there were times when I thought I might never be able to enjoy a free-wheeling California nature walk. Now I have mugwort growing around our property as my perpetually available medicine against the itchy nuisance.

I give myself permission to turn around whenever I wish, and I do. After all, I have found what I am looking for–gratitude. Resolving to check in with my student to see what gifts her walk brought about, I return. The circle feels whole. The afternoon deepens, and a breeze refreshes. Birds chirp, cheep and hoot, and the earth continues its healing mission.

Personal Updates