Category: The Spiritual Journey

YogaTreePose.epsI noticed in the very first hatha yoga class that I took, I was able to focus more easily. I also noticed a remarkable release of energy. I was lucky that, at the time, yoga was not as popular as it is now. I didn’t know what to expect, so this created a more open-minded experience for me.

I struggled, at times, to make hatha yoga practice a regular part of my life. With continued practice over a long period of time, I eventually developed an easier relationship with the positions and how they help to create a healthier connection to my body.

As a yoga teacher, I learned that the new students who benefit most from their hatha yoga classes seem to have certain similar qualities: persistence, willingness to respond to suggestions, openness to the idea that the postures/asanas are explorations of the body/mind/breath systems, not rigid structures to be imposed. Such students also seem to get the importance of the relaxation aspect of the positions.

So I recommend these tips when a student first comes to a yoga class:

  • Do not try to “keep up”
  • Stay as relaxed as possible
  • Understand that the practice takes time to master
  • Do not impose rigid expectations on yourself
  • Notice the negative impact of frustration and impatience
  • Above all, do not overwork the body or be influenced by what other people are doing
  • Do not strive beyond capacity
  • Err on the side of caution, and you will make rapid progress

Then, yoga classes will become a lovely foundation for home practice that does not feel like a struggle or a burden. A sense of ambition and competition in yoga is more of an obstacle than an aid.

 

(By the way, I studied yoga with Sri Satchidananda who founded the Integral Yoga Institute. This is a gentle, breath-focused and meditative yoga. Not all hatha classes have this orientation.)

The Spiritual Journey

 

 

 

“Vigilant among the negligent,
Wide awake among the sleeping,
The wise one advances….”
–The Dhammapada

 

Om

 
Inside our courtyard, as I walked along the pavers I had previously arranged to follow the shape of an Om sign, I became aware that the usual pace I had been maintaining over the last couple of years was much faster than need be. The quicker pace had allowed me to slide over the surface of what my body was experiencing. This insight created a huge shift. The pressure to move more quickly, in order to release tension, dissolved.

I slowed down. The new pace became most interesting as I noticed how many curves and turns were involved in each cycle, and how these complex movements affected various parts of my body. I easily connected to a background sense of presence–the energetic essence of my manthra. Every nuance of the walking meditation, a process of lifting, placing, shifting, became profound and meaningful. As I slowed down, time passed quickly, and I was able to walk longer than I had planned.

The following morning, I continued to enjoy a more easeful walking meditation, feeling light and fluid as I followed the complex design beneath my feet. I remembered what my teacher had often recommended on the spiritual journey, “keep a constant vigilance,” or to say that in another way: be mindful.

 

Gudrun

The Spiritual Journey

The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations

by Gil Fronsdal

 

I am deeply appreciative of Gil Fronsdal’s translation of the Dhammapada, an anthology of verses on the teachings of the Buddha from the early period in India. There is a wonderful pragmatism, wisdom and simplicity in how the path of liberation is presented in the short space of 107 pages.

The power of the mind in shaping experience and the importance of skillful choices are concepts I find particularly confirming. Also, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the music of this ancient poetry, or short sayings. Rhythm and melody is created through artful repetition and the transposition of repeated words. Such poetic practices serve to effectively awaken one’s attention.

 

Gudrun

 

(See all of Gudrun’s reviews on Goodreads)

The Spiritual Journey

bloodmoon

The day of the Blood Super Moon, I listened to Oprah’s interview of former President Jimmy Carter. She asked him for tips on maintaining a positive long-term relationship.

 

One of the things he said, was that he and his wife still continued to make the effort to do something new together. I thought this to be very good advice. I’ve noticed, within myself as part of the aging process, that it often seems easier to fall back into comfortable patterns.

 

That evening, my partner said, “let’s go watch the blood moon.” I had never seen this phenomenon and agreed, even though the name triggered certain unpleasant connotations. Outside, I had brief thoughts about the local mountain lion and bear in our adjacent forest as we walked through darkness away from the house.

 

We sat on the love seat-sized swing by our cottage, opposite the oak forest, which glowed at the crown of its trees with a long line of white light. That auric light shifted as I looked higher into the sky. And there it was—the red moon. We were mesmerized and silent.

 

We waited until the moon’s unusual color faded before we headed, slowly, back to the house. We stopped several times to deeply breathe in air so fresh it seemed to stimulate every cell in the body. I know this night will be remembered by us both. How sad it would have been, if I had allowed old patterns to get in the way of a new experience.

 

 

Gudrun Mouw

Sept. 27, 2015

 

The Spiritual Journey

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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

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In the final issue of the Inquiring Mind, a journal that for 30 years has discussed topics serving the Western Theravadan Buddhist community, I was delighted to read Gil Fronsdal’s essay, “When Mindfulness Is Too Much.” I felt a tremendous sense of relief.

His comment that giving up mindfulness⎯though “temporary, proved to be a necessary step in my path toward liberation” ⎯resonated strongly with me. From my 44 year journey of meditation and yoga, both as a practitioner and a teacher, I have very much valued how mindfulness shows us how to be present in the moment with whatever we are experiencing. Yet, I have also seen, as with various other mind focusing activities such as the simple act of witnessing, for example, how mindfulness is still, as Gil Fronsdal aptly said in his essay, “an activity of the mind.” The way I have framed the dilemma of longing to go beyond mindfulness is to understand that there are times when mindfulness is not enough.

A different type of experience is that state of deep quiet when all mental activity has come to a stop. I have at times concluded this must be the emptiness I have read about. Other times, I have felt so altered I could find no words to adequately describe the truth of my experience, though I have hinted at it in various poems.

I very much appreciate Gil Fronsdal’s statement, “Now I have a connection to a dimension of mind or of awareness that is unconstructed.” It is helpful for me to have this confirmation of something I have long suspected. He continues on to say that the “unconstructed became very important because it highlighted how everything else is constructed.” I find this perspective of the “unconstructed” and “constructed” to be a skillful insight on the spiritual journey.

Only a few days before reading this article, I had observed a potential tension created by a part of the mind (which I have often called the left brain or the analytical brain) towards something quite the opposite⎯a rising, radical and expanding experience. My sense afterwards was to label that experience as rapture, but even that did not seem to be an adequate description. A startlingly clear delineation between the “constructed” and “unconstructed” was actually helpful because I recognized how both types of experiences are informative in their own way.

The Spiritual Journey