Category: 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.

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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

Seeing the Advance Review hardbound copy of From Ashes into Light, which I received right around my birthday (a lovely gift indeed), I was impressed with the new cover. It gave me hope that anticipation fears around the release of this novel could yet be overcome. There have been some challenges around the book’s birth, a process that began in the 1990’s.

This morning, I resolved to sit in a supported version of the yoga asana, Badrasana, or the Gentle Pose, for as long as I could. It was dark when I began and light when I finished. Two hours passed, but there was no clear sense of resolution, because I had not known I had a question. A couple of things, however, did make a strong impression.

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With my eyes closed, I saw the image of a tree whose leaves quivered with energy and sparkled as though they they were green jewels reflecting light from within. I delighted in this vision until it faded. Shortly afterwards, a bird hit the sliding glass door. I opened my eyes and saw the bird falling to the ground. Quickly, it shook itself and glanced with a surprised look in my direction. The bird walked around a little as if to get its bearings and then flew off. I closed my eyes again, but it was time to get on with my day.

Things don’t always go according to plan. I had not been feeling well for two days. The wind has been overbearing for weeks. My body struggled with sneezes until I found the right combination of herbal remedies. I don’t see a better path forward than to accept that all the things I would like to accomplish today, tomorrow, or the next day; it may not happen exactly how I might wish. I look for small achievements.

I send a thank you to the friend who shared her Thought for the Day: “If you don’t know fear, you cannot be fearless,” a quote by Pema Chödrön. I answer the phone in the middle of writing a sentence. I get clothes out of the dryer and fold them. I wait for that deer I saw yesterday in the backyard to return. There was something about her that seemed hauntingly reflective and regal. I am grateful for the gift of healing tears, and I am very happy the bird survived.

 

Personal Updates

Journal: March 31, 2015

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Coming home after traveling is an interesting experience for me these days. In the past, as a displaced person, the idea of home often seemed nebulous.

It wasn’t until my first yoga retreat in 1972 that I realized a “coming home” feeling didn’t just have to do with a specific place; for me, it was also about a sense of heart expansion, acceptance and kindness. During my recent time away, I experienced numerous incidents of loving kindness.

Since returning, my sense of appreciation for positive human connection continues. The concept of home broadens; and, as a result, there have been tears of recognition that cleanse, refresh and renew. I am grateful and eager to continue to grow and learn.

Personal Updates

1-MARCH –Awakening

I wrote a blog in the last days of February, which I did not post because I was concerned it was too personal. As I take another look at “Valley Canyon Selfie,” I realize this piece is one example of a long-time interest I have had in describing the journey towards happiness.

Remembering the year 1970, I was 26 years old, single and working at the Stanford University Graduate Library having recently completed my M.A. in English Literature. It was lunchtime. I sat on a bench near the library, but I do not remember eating. I remember feeling completely miserable.

Within 3 years, I was married, had a child, met my spiritual teacher and was on the way to learning about the art of happiness. To begin with, I had the insight that happiness was my birthright, which was news to me. The birth of my daughter touched a joy I hadn’t known existed. Still, it has not been an easy, straightforward, upward climb.

In the past, I have often been disappointed by external circumstances or people; that is when happiness has been elusive. It’s taken a long time for me to take responsibility for my internal landscape. It took even longer to recognize that a difficult childhood, for example, were not enough reasons for me to be unhappy. I didn’t always get how joy is its own reward and doesn’t require a narrow groundwork of perfection to bring about happiness.

For me, formal sitting, meditation, has been a primary practice to help clear the mind of unhelpful baggage. In recent years I have noticed that what some meditation teachers call “ordinary dharma” has come into my life quite naturally and without fanfare. By “ordinary dharma,” I mean ongoing mindfulness, or what I like to think of as conscious living. A commitment to what my teacher often called “constant vigilance” leads to greater peace, gratitude, happiness and insight through everyday awareness of each moment. “Valley Canyon Selfie” is one of my attempts to describe how such a process can work.

 

2-FEBRUARY—Valley Canyon Selfie

February close to completion, the first of the long-stemmed Valentine roses fades. Outside, the meadow is mowed, paths cleared and walkways weeded, somewhat. I do what I can, aware of the need to prepare for another drought season ahead, knowing there is always much more to be done.

After yesterday’s walk with a friend who likes to move fast, I woke up this morning not wanting to sit, or even do yoga. The body ached. I pushed through a threatening cloud of negativity, gently searching for and, gradually, finding a way to do my morning practice until it released a threatening reactivity like a dissolving fog. I became grateful. I answered emails, washed dishes, walked, put off some paper work.

I am satisfied, now, without much justification, it seems, since there is still that mental to-do list. I’ve checked off several things, except, of course, the one I am putting off. Perhaps, I will put it off a little longer. Rest. Do nothing. Examine, once again, the card that arrived in the mail yesterday. On the front of the card is the photograph of a pig-tailed little girl with her outstretched arm on a pooch sitting next to her; both look straight ahead at a large body of water; both wear a swim ring.

I receive a request for Face Time from my daughter. Seeing the youngest one in her lap, it is as if the sweetness of the photo I had just been looking at has, suddenly, come to life. I display the 3 year old’s drawing I had received from him in January. “I did that,” he cries out. He shows me his new toy. My daughter and I walk our iPads outdoors into what had been, for me, a cloudy morning, but as we share each other’s environments, the sun comes out overhead by our meadow where I am standing and shines across my screen.

It is time for lunch. We say goodbye. Soon after, I smile with the realization that one of my early morning activities, which I had not planned but had enjoyed spontaneously, was also the perfect preparation for that which I thought I was putting off. I could not easily do the latter without the former. And so I continue to be uplifted by an awareness of the natural connection and flow of life when I allow that to happen and don’t get in the way with hasty judgments or self-criticisms.

Personal Updates The Spiritual Journey