Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maya: The Potential Mascot for the Spritual Journey

Last night I found a full-length mirror leaned up against the free-shelf in my apartment building! It has been a long time since I've been able to assess the appearance of my entire body at once, so this was cause for celebration: crushed Farmer's Market strawberry, vodka, and seltzer cocktails for everybody!

Somewhere around muddling the strawberries, our cat found the new mirror leaned up against the wall next to our door. She did the classic, adorable cat thing of looking at herself in the mirror, smelling herself in the mirror, meowing at herself in the mirror, and then attempting to get behind the mirror because clearly the cat-that-looks-smells-and-sounds-mysteriously-just-like-me is on the other side of this solid structure. Watching her wander in circles around the mirror brought us such joy that we started following her around the apartment with it, inciting greater excitement and confusion. This wasn't really fair. Our cat is simple the way that the dog in Hyperbole and a Half is simple.

Fortunately we failed to force a psychotic break, and today the kitty is sleeping leaned up against her new kitty-in-the-mirror-friend...so I take that back: we did force a psychotic break. Now she's like that fish in Finding Nemo instead of the dog in Hyperbole and a Half.

I promise I'm getting to the point: Maya. No, that's not what we named the kitty-in-the-mirror, although...

Maya means, roughly, illusion, and it's the word used in Hinduism to describe the idea that what we perceive as the world around us, solid, factually proven, dependable reality, is a big, fat lie created and fed by our egos. The idea that I'm me, you're you, Lady Gaga is Lady Gaga, and God(dess) is either non-existent or so far away (S)HE might as well be is in fact, utter bullshit.

Practicing meditation and/or yoga allows one, theoretically, perhaps after many lifetimes, to perceive reality through this illusion. Life, death, space, time finally disappear and it's just God(dess) because, actually, that's all there is and we're just little parts of it with obnoxious egos telling us something different.

Now, I don't actually believe that per se. I believe in a distinction between Creator and Created. Without God(dess) we wouldn't exist and as far as that goes I see that we are all one interdependent entity, but I don't hold that ideally I'll cease having a separate identity and have my consciousness absorbed into the great Over-Soul and yes, Hindus, I know: that's my ego talking. But God(dess) created my ego to, so it must serve some purpose!

I'm both over-simplifying and digressing, but my point is, my cat is under the impression that Maya (hehe...) is real. From my perspective it's pretty obvious she's living under a false understanding of her world at the moment, but I can't make her understand that. Good luck, and God speed, cat!

I think maybe it's sort of like that for us: the concept of Maya still applies in my book-my understanding of reality: what matters, what I need to spend my time on, is, I know, heavily flawed. God(dess) can see that, and can see how far or how close I am to breaking through to what really is, but (S)HE can't do it for me. I'm on my own. Good luck and God speed, cat! But I'm not on my own, because in the midst of crazy, beautiful complex creation, there are sign posts, tools, hints, encouragement, helping me to maybe, eventually, and hopefully soon because I don't know that I hold with reincarnation either, get it right.

Mirrors, and the way cats react to them, and the way we react to cats reacting to them, acted as a signpost for me. Of course, just like wandering around Venice, a sign-post will only help you for about thirty seconds and then you're lost again.

Ah well...good luck, and God(dess) speed! Watch out for Maya =^..^= (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Live Omily,

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Thing with Feathers

The most exciting thing that happened this week is that I tasted a strawberry at the Union Square Market. If you think that makes me an overly obsessive foodie, you must not be aware that my fresh fruit supply has been storage apples for the past several months. There by the sorrel and the pea shoots...angels descended from Heaven to sing praises to God[dess] for the joy of the flavour of that ripe, soft, red fruit.

It was a bright spot even brighter in comparison to the continued cloudy, foggy, drizzly rain that has continued unabated since we last spoke. Just when we think we can't keep our spirits up another second, something comes along to remind us what hope tastes like: The first strawberry of Spring.

If, instead of looking at the five-day forecast again, or counting on my fingers the number of days since my skin has felt the sun, I can stay with the one breath happening right now, a whole blooming orb of hope will open up right under my feet. No matter what your fight, there are reasons to believe you will win.

I am so proud to say that my Catholic Church will be present at the Prospect Park Gay Pride events, and not to hand out fire and brimstone hate-pamphlets, but to let it be known that we are a welcoming community. In the face of so much fear, resistance, and judgement, that is hope brighter than the juiciest strawberry.

In our ocean of unsustainability and willful blindness to what our everyday habits are costing the animals we share this planet with, people are asking the Girl Scouts to stop using palm oil in their cookies. Cage-free eggs are capturing 6% of the market share. Wal-mart is no longer selling dairy products from cows that were treated with growth hormone.

Small, small things: single green shoots rising out of acres of ash. And maybe this rain is what we need to water them.

Live Omily,

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Cherry blossoms, Asparagus, Yoga in the Park" or, "Things to Appreciate While You Can"

Last week I practiced outside in the park two (or three..?) times. It was so lovely! Circumstances have always dictated that I be a strictly indoor yogini, so it was it felt like such a novel idea when the weather warmed up and I realized I was only a six-block walk with my yoga mat away from communing with nature via asana!

And as I said to a few people after that first practice, there's just something about doing Vrksasana (That's Tree pose, and if you feel bad for not knowing, I had to confirm the spelling at yogajournal.com) surrounded by trees!

But aside from the obvious, the sun warming my back in Down Dog (nope, don't even know where to begin with the Sanskrit for that one...it's got Muka in it!), the freedom to do crazy things like transition to head stand from pigeon pose, a self-guided practice out in nature is full of unexpected joys.

Since I didn't have blocks with me, I attempted to transition to Warrior III staright into Half Moon with my hands at heart center. A dandelion three inches in front of my mat reminded me to activate my manipura chakra, pulling my tummy up and in, providing the strength and stability to stay stable (and use a lot of s's!) as I made my precarious journey from heart and hips gazing at the earth, to gazing at the Ginkgo Biloba tree and bridle path nearby.

A sparrow hopping by (what do you mean? American or English sparrow??) reminded me to not be in such a hurry to transition to tripod headstand, but keep my heart and gaze lifted and soaring in Crow pose.

I was out there every time I had a free forty-five minutes! (And I only made it two, possible three times?? Yes, my schedule is a bit bananas...) I had a nice weekend, spent time with friends, knew I wouldn't make it to the park today, since I had a dentist appt. at noon, followed by a 2:00 and a 4:15 to teach (mentioned something worth noting about that appt. here. However, Tuesdays are a great day to get out to the park and yoga, and I was already looking forward to it...right up until I checked the forecast this morning. Talk about raining on my parade! Rain every single day up until Saturday, and the receptionist at the dentist's office says, until next Wednesday! How dismaying!

So there are a few take-aways here: non-attachement - It's raining this week. And in January it will be snowing. I have to enjoy my park practice when I can get it, and let it go when I can't. Weather Predictibility - It's nowhere near as precise as you think. In fact, any forecast over 48 hours is basically an educated guess. This makes it even less useful to get attached to being bummed over my practice getting rained out. Weather Changeability - If you don't believe me, this is your chance to amaze yourself. Start telling yourself that this rain is going to clear right up in no time. It's helpful if you can affirm this to another person who will agree with you, but not necessary. Do let me know how that goes.

What will be revealed in my indoor practice this week? I trust a great deal, but you'll just have to come back to find out!

Live Omily, and if you can't yoga in the rain, you can always dance in it!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Yama View from Headstand

In January, I made a handful of New Year's Resolutions: Meditate daily, start praying the Rosary, center-floor headstand, sort life out (bonus points to whoever gets the reference)...

By April I had the center-floor headstand, I was pretty good about the Rosary for the duration of Lent, and I'm still being very coy with meditation i.e. telling it I want it around, but running away at the slightest possibility of spending time with it. We're not half-way through the year yet, and who knows what the next seven months will bring. I'm playing with hand stand now; building up strength in my wheel pose, and using my couch in place of the wall to avoid the possibility of its becoming a crutch as much as possible.

In response to an amazing birthday present from my best friend, I searched out a handful of very inspirational and intuition-based books on the Tarot, and am building up my innate gifts in that department so my readings become useful tools for another's personal growth, instead of a playful display of a startling sense of clairvoyance.

In its own small way, I think that last is the first step I've taken in the direction of that last resolution. In spite of supposedly altruistic leanings inherent in my Aquarian nature, my dark-side of the Leo Moon finds me constantly asking "What's in it for me??" Not a useful angle for a yogini, spiritual, Catholic, personal growth-oriented one-girl revolution. It's still not perfect: I hope to improve my skills to the point that I feel good about offering my readings as a service along side teaching yoga - something I can get paid to do, so ultimately, I do hope to financially gain from this research.

But frankly, if I just wanted to make a fast buck, I'm skilled enough to do that now. What makes me feel that I'm idling forward instead of stalling is that I don't want to get paid for this until I'm able to offer something worth paying for: until I can actually use this skill to benefit others.

Whenever anyone seriously considers self-improvement, motives become a huge part of the issue. Why do you want to improve in the first place? Gratifying your ego by being loose with your money so other people will say how generous you are is in its own way, violating 'Asteya' the yama that means not-stealing, and also refers to not-coveting, particularly if you needed that money for yourself. That might seem a little wonky and backwards: how is giving generously to others stealing or coveting? In this case, you're coveting this role or mask of the generous person instead of practicing 'Ahimse' (non-violence) by managing your resources in a way that allows you to take care of yourself. Your attachment to that perception of yourself by others would also violate 'Aparagraha' or non-attachement. Wow! That's a lot of negative stuff kicked up by the beautiful act of giving!

If I take the same action, giving money to someone else, even if the same issue of not leaving enough for my own needs remains, my motivation can completely change the situation. If a friend wants the money from me to buy something that I would rather have instead, but for whatever reason I know it won't do me any good to have it, denying this person the money that would bring them (temporary) happiness, from a motivation of 'if I can't have it, nobody can!' is definitely violating 'Asteya' and 'Aparagraha.'

But let me take a minute to clarify: there are no Yama Police. These guidelines are meant to help you live with more awareness, bringing joy into your own life and the lives of others. Ultimately you'll hurt yourself if you consistently fail to apply some version of these concepts to your life, but most of us do in some way, shape or form, perhaps just minus the Sanskrit. Making yourself feel guilty for giving money you couldn't afford to give, or tightening your fist out of a childish sense of petulance is only violating 'Ahimsa' all over again. This is exactly why giving money you need for yourself, or allowing someone to continue to hurt you over and over again is so problematic.

Martyrdom has been a road to enlightment for different religions throughout history, but not so in yoga. The first step in applying the yamas is to work at applying them to yourself. Non-violence toward yourself means taking good care of yourself, and not tolerating another mistreating you. Obviously, this doesn't mean you punch the other person in the face, or take ten minutes to ream her or him out telling him or her just how horrible she or he is. Practice your Warrior II: stand strong, and take up your allotted space on this planet, and when another person encroaches in that space, use the strength and the wisdom of the warrior. Be clear, be respectful, but be firm: I will not allow you to treat me this way. If you don't stop, or leave this space, I will.

Non-stealing or coveting means being happy with what you have; not needing more. It doesn't mean valuing another's financial well-being over your own.

Non-attachment means being able to let go. It doesn't mean handing out your favourite possessions just to watch yourself squirm.

The inevitable conclusion of any discussion on that long, crazy path toward enlightenment is that I have as long a way to go as anybody! The people you thought were so much better than you may be struggling with the exact same issues, just in a different way, and the people that petted your ego by seeming so far down the ladder may be much closer to catching up than you think. We're all much better off keeping our eyes on the path before us, only looking to the side when we can, truly, from the heart and not the ego, lend a hand up. Good luck, and Godspeed.

live Omily,