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Previous Comments By 'ripa.ajmera'

The One Goal of All Nature, by Swami Vivekananda

FaceBook  On Jul 19, 2010 Ripa wrote:

I loved discussing freedom this past Wednesday. I thought the idea that the sinner and the saint both ultimately seek freedom, though of differing natures, was quite interesting. I believe it's important to note, however, that the lines between good and bad, victim and perpetrator, sinner and saint are not as disparate as they may seem in our dualistic world. That we are the living composite of the universe: part flower, part lion, monkey, tree, rain, mouse, rabbit, part bird. Any characteristic we see in nature, we can also find within ourselves. True wisdom arises when we can come to know ourselves as both sinner and saint - one and the same eternally. The blurred boundaries between victim and perpetrator are, in fact, what led me to wish to serve juvenile hall inmates. It's been so interesting to observe just how much victimization lies within perpetrators of societal violence, crime and destruction. Just this past Thursday evening, one young inmate confided in me how scared he is to get out of prison due to having been violently stabbed by another young man. He and the other youth often share with me how they don't feel safe anywhere. I shared with them why, then, meditation is a good practice, for developing heightened awareness of one's surroundings and sharper survival instincts. There is also a great deal of perpetration that, likewise, takes place within victims. Severe guilt. Self doubt. Self-critical thinking and self-punishment. Addictions of all kinds. These are some of the many ways that victims perpetuate even more violence and suffering upon and within themselves. A good friend who serves as a counselor for at-risk youth in the violent neighborhoods of Richmond, CA recently wrote how "compassion is a gift that is inter-personally transmitted." Mitch also shares how a victim of any kind needs at least one truly compassionate person in his or her life to help overcome victimization. It is also interesting and very sad to note how in the cas  See full.

I loved discussing freedom this past Wednesday. I thought the idea that the sinner and the saint both ultimately seek freedom, though of differing natures, was quite interesting. I believe it's important to note, however, that the lines between good and bad, victim and perpetrator, sinner and saint are not as disparate as they may seem in our dualistic world. That we are the living composite of the universe: part flower, part lion, monkey, tree, rain, mouse, rabbit, part bird. Any characteristic we see in nature, we can also find within ourselves. True wisdom arises when we can come to know ourselves as both sinner and saint - one and the same eternally.

The blurred boundaries between victim and perpetrator are, in fact, what led me to wish to serve juvenile hall inmates. It's been so interesting to observe just how much victimization lies within perpetrators of societal violence, crime and destruction. Just this past Thursday evening, one young inmate confided in me how scared he is to get out of prison due to having been violently stabbed by another young man. He and the other youth often share with me how they don't feel safe anywhere. I shared with them why, then, meditation is a good practice, for developing heightened awareness of one's surroundings and sharper survival instincts.

There is also a great deal of perpetration that, likewise, takes place within victims. Severe guilt. Self doubt. Self-critical thinking and self-punishment. Addictions of all kinds. These are some of the many ways that victims perpetuate even more violence and suffering upon and within themselves. A good friend who serves as a counselor for at-risk youth in the violent neighborhoods of Richmond, CA recently wrote how "compassion is a gift that is inter-personally transmitted." Mitch also shares how a victim of any kind needs at least one truly compassionate person in his or her life to help overcome victimization. It is also interesting and very sad to note how in the case of so called 'honor crimes' against women, it is almost always women themselves who carry out and further perpetuate violence against themselves.

I am reminded in this of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" about how "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." I think of these words as they apply particularly to children who grow up witnessing violence in their homes, and how much spousal abuse affects their ability to grow up feeling loved and create healthy relationships throughout their lives.

In examining any kind of problem, where societal or individual (often societal problems are, in fact, gross manifestations of masses of individual problems), it is crucial to go into the root causes of the problems. It is not enough to simply judge and thereby cast off an action as being wrong or bad. I often hear from juvenile hall youth, for example, that the reason they resort to stealing in the first place is to actually serve and provide for their family members, friends and community members in need. Robin Hood is a great example of a thief, but one who stole from the rich to give to the poor. The real question at stake in examining robbery, then, often becomes whether a person's so-called 'need(s)' is a legitimate survival requirement (adequate, healthy food, clean clothing and safe shelter) or whether the 'need' actually arises out of greed. As Gandhiji once said, "there is enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."

In my own life, I have always had a strong yearning for the kind of inner freedom Swami Vivekananda eloquently describes here. When I was younger, though, I was unable to define this freedom as being internal and instead viewed freedom as being quite external. For this reason, I absolutely hated going to India. It was very apparent to me just how few (external) freedoms Indian women and girls possessed, in the strongly patriarchal society of modern-day India. In Gujarat, the word for 'girl' is pronounced "baby." One day, as I was observing life on the streets from atop our family apartment balcony, I remember some teenage boys yelling at me, screaming "Hey baby, baby!" At 9 years old, I was certainly no 'baby' in my eyes and replied "who are you calling baby? I am not a baby!"

My mother always wished that I would take training in classical Indian dance when I was growing up. I, however, refused to subject myself to this, ignorantly believing such dances were weird and definitely Not for Me. Why do these dancers make such scary faces? I particularly did not understand the necessity for sticking their tongues out when dancing. So much of the deeply spiritual Indian culture made so little sense to me. I remember having prayed intensely before one of the many deities (probably, come to think of it, Kali herself, outstretched tongue and all!), wishing that I would one day be able to understand Her deeper essence. I always intuitively sensed that there was, indeed, something very sacred and profound to all things Indian, but that I would be wise to find a talented translator down the road.

My high school speech and drama teacher Mrs. Sanders encouraged me, instead, to become that translator when she gave me a high school graduation card with a Marcel Proust quote on it:

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."

Six years later, these words continue to ring so true for me, as I find myself completely voluntarily training in classical Indian dance, having just completed a weekend workshop where learned a dance drama that involves a fight sequence against 'Kaliya.' I had to make the very scary faces I had always feared! But, finally, with an understanding of its significance and relevance to life. 'Kaliya' is a serpent who Krishna fights. Kaliya represents the inner demons we all possess within ourselves: anger, hatred, fear, jealousy, ignorance, doubt and despair. Odissi dance, for me, has become an exciting way of bringing the ancient yogic spirituality of India to life and serving as a bridge between two seemingly very different cultures. The order of learning for the dances starts with "Mangalacharan" (meaning auspicious beginning) and gets increasingly more complex until a student can learn a "Moksha" piece. "Moksha" is a Sanskrit word that means complete freedom from all forms of suffering. Moksha is, in fact, the ultimate goal of all my present passions, for Yoga, meditation, Ayurveda and dance. In delving deeper into my own culture, which I once viewed as restricting me from the freedom I have always sought, I have found that it is this very freedom that lays at the heart of all things (ancient) Indian. My journey has come full circle in wonderful ways, teaching me many important lessons along the road. Mostly, that freedom is a state of mind -  a subtle, but powerful shift in consciousness one often only comes to through a crisis of some sort. On this subject, I have written three poems which I will close with.

Prisoner of My Mind

Help me! Please!

I am trapped.

Imprisoned.

Enslaved.

Inside the iron walls

of hatred

anger

fear

jealousy 

and ignorance.

For ignore I have

the goodness that 

is there,

seeking to free me.

Freedom is the 

gentle fierceness

of a fearless 

state of mind.

When the ego dies,

the soul awakens.

In silence and stillness,

the serenity of the soul

survives - and thrives.

Freedom is...

Freedom is:

the sweet song of a mockingbird

speaking truth to power

with the lightness and grace of a flower

flowing with love, hour after hour

Freedom is:

a state of mind

that is kind 

and one in which I find

no room or reason for a bind

Freedom is:

the dawn of each new day

waking up with a spirit of play

as if to say

Hey!

Life is what you make of it.

The Lotus Blooms

The lotus flower

blooms in adversity

atrocity

animosity

For there is no greater power

than that which comes from a shower

of struggle

strife

and sorrow

The lotus never forgets

the possibility of tomorrow

Rather than mope,

the lotus is the essence

of Hope.

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Equanimity: the Radical Permission to Feel, by Shinzen Young

FaceBook  On Jul 9, 2010 Ripa wrote:

There is a real art to living, one that could be described through many words. If I had to choose just one, however, it would be equanimity. While equanimity has often in my mind resembled a modest, slender, bespectacled older man with suspenders and an unexpressive face, it is actually much deeper than that. Equanimity, to me, is about consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude and compassion toward the unique set of circumstances that comprise the unfolding of one's life. Being able to find the gift in whatever kind of present is given, moment by moment, each and every day. To be able to approach every person, moment and experience as a teacher, whether this teacher may come in the form of a political enemy, a serious illness or simply someone cutting you off in traffic. We don't get to decide everything that happens to us. But we do have full control and authorship over how we react, or perhaps better yet, respond, to the unfolding of our lives. It has been said that one man's garbage is another man's treasure. I could not agree more. Going on a 10-day Vipassana meditation course almost 2 years ago taught me a great deal about the power of attitude through my own personal experience. Sitting silently for 10+ hours each day enables a lot of often previously unexamined aches and pains to arise in the body. During Vipassana, I not only became more aware of all the places in my body that I hold on to tightness in, however. I saw firsthand how my negative emotions: frustration, fear, desire, sadness and more were linked to the physical sensations that arose on my body. And then there were the incessant reactions: "My God, when is this going to be over?!" "Why did I sign up for this torture?!" Sometimes my reactions weren't even actual words, but sounds. Loud screaming inside my mind. Sobbing. I could easily see a small child inside, kicking and screaming in a tantrum, belly face down on the ground, wailing as though there were no tomorrow.  See full.

There is a real art to living, one that could be described through many words. If I had to choose just one, however, it would be equanimity. While equanimity has often in my mind resembled a modest, slender, bespectacled older man with suspenders and an unexpressive face, it is actually much deeper than that.

Equanimity, to me, is about consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude and compassion toward the unique set of circumstances that comprise the unfolding of one's life. Being able to find the gift in whatever kind of present is given, moment by moment, each and every day. To be able to approach every person, moment and experience as a teacher, whether this teacher may come in the form of a political enemy, a serious illness or simply someone cutting you off in traffic. We don't get to decide everything that happens to us. But we do have full control and authorship over how we react, or perhaps better yet, respond, to the unfolding of our lives.

It has been said that one man's garbage is another man's treasure. I could not agree more. Going on a 10-day Vipassana meditation course almost 2 years ago taught me a great deal about the power of attitude through my own personal experience. Sitting silently for 10+ hours each day enables a lot of often previously unexamined aches and pains to arise in the body. During Vipassana, I not only became more aware of all the places in my body that I hold on to tightness in, however. I saw firsthand how my negative emotions: frustration, fear, desire, sadness and more were linked to the physical sensations that arose on my body.

And then there were the incessant reactions: "My God, when is this going to be over?!" "Why did I sign up for this torture?!" Sometimes my reactions weren't even actual words, but sounds. Loud screaming inside my mind. Sobbing. I could easily see a small child inside, kicking and screaming in a tantrum, belly face down on the ground, wailing as though there were no tomorrow. A tremendous amount of effort went into these inner uprisings.

Until, finally, the dawn of grace through wisdom. Yes, there is pain. The presence of suffering is, in fact, the first of the four noble truths in Buddhism. Suffering is there. It is a reality - but not a prison, as I had previously thought and felt. My reactions were what really held me captive, as a prisoner of my own mind. No one told me to scream and cry inside - I decided to do that. The realization that I had the power to change the way I reacted to the physical pain I experienced while sitting was a revelation that I carried off the meditation cushion and into my life. Having the awareness of my subconscious reactions to the sensations on my body has led to a sublime sense of inner power and the ability to choose my response to whatever situation arises within and outside of myself. The amount of pain we experience is directly dependent upon the degree to which we react to the suffering that life naturally presents.

I completely agree with Shinzen Young in these sentiments regarding the application of equanimity: 

"When you apply equanimity to unpleasant sensations, they flow more readily and as a result cause less suffering. When you apply equanimity to pleasant sensations, they also flow more readily and as a result deliver deeper fulfillment."

I think the word "flow" in these sentences is so key. Equanimity comes from the Latin word "aequus," meaning balanced. "Aequus," however, sounds very similar to "aqua" to me, meaning water. Being balanced, then, to me implies a kind of willingness to follow the flow of life down whatever stream it may go. Being equanimous is like becoming similar to water: able to adapt, adjust and accommodate wherever and whenever needed, to whatever circumstances arise.

Equanimity is a shift in mindset that enables us to perceive how joy and sorrow are but flip sides of the same coin. In Vipassana, Goenkaji shared how, "It is easy enough to remain equanimous when life flows along like a sweet song, but the one who's worthwhile, is the one with a smile, when everything goes dead wrong." Like that, I believe, have seen and experienced for myself how the greatest obstacles in life can really be the greatest opportunities in disguise.

The presence of disease, for example, teaches us that something in our body is out of balance. This realization can spark great changes in one's overall diet and lifestyle. The oily, spicy, heavy food I ate in India often left me with severe stomachaches and once with food poisoning so intense that I could not walk or even sit up straight for days. This experience, however, served as an amazing catalyst for my interest in cooking and being able to create healthier diet options for myself and those in my life. 

Experiences of insult and injury have taught me about the tremendous violence that exists so deeply in so many around the world. How those who hurt others hurt themselves the most. Suffering from the hatred and anger of others at times has taught me how to go deeper and deeper within myself to cultivate true compassion, for myself and for others. These experiences have further taught me that there are no "others," which puts me in touch with my Self - in the capital "S" sense, which encompasses all.

To be truly equanimous, I believe, requires tremendous courage, practice, discipline and willpower, as it involves taking everything that comes your way with an open heart. People often think of people who "wear their heart on their sleeve" as being weak-willed and "too soft," or as having "bleeding hearts." I think truly living with an open heart is the ultimate badge of bravery. That it takes a lot of strength to make yourself vulnerable, to be open to being moved by the joys and sorrows of another as if they were your own. There is a beautiful Yoga sutra, number 23 of book 3 of Master Patanjali's, which nicely elucidates this sentiment:

"maitriyadisu balani"

Which means:

"Strength arises out of compassion."

When compassion is true and deeply felt, I believe there is no greater force in this world.

Along with being a way of seeing, an attitude of gratitude and a heart filled with compassion and strength, equanimity to me is also the essence of wisdom. Being able to recognize the cyclical nature of all life: that what goes up, comes also back down, only to go back up again. We are born, live and then die, only to be born again anew. This cycle of birth, death and rebirth is not simply limited to our life spans, but to the process of change and transformation itself. Growth is rarely linear, but rather takes a spiral shape. All the very cells of the body are constantly dying only to be born again, just as do the stars, insects and even trees. 

Equanimity, then, implies an acceptance of change as the only constant, providing us the opportunity and invitation to be stoic toward the negative experiences of life and to make the most of what is positive. The essence of remaining equanimous, however, is not merely to seek or crave after positive experiences, but rather to transcend the duality of positive and negative altogether. To go from untruth to truth. From darkness to light. Mortality to immortality. In this transcendental state of Yoga, we can more clearly see the unity in diversity, the all contained in the One, the One contained within all. It is in this space that we can come to know our true Self, as Satchidananda. Truth (sat). Knowledge (chid). And bliss (ananda). This unlimited Self goes beyond our small sense of I, me and mine to embrace the totality of existence. And it is this Self that contains everything we truly seek: it's all there, deep inside the essence of Equanimity. 

I'll close by sharing a couple poems inspired by this passage and its reflections:

Prisoner of My Mind

Help me! Please

I am trapped.

Imprisoned.

Enslaved.

Inside the iron walls 

of hatred

anger

fear

jealousy 

and ignorance.

For ignore I have

the goodness that 

is there, 

seeking to free me.

Once I was lost

and now I have found

that peace prevails

where inner enemies cease.

Freedom is the 

gentle fierceness

of a fearless 

state of mind.

When the ego dies, 

the soul awakens.

In silence and stillness,

the serenity of the soul

survives - and thrives.

Freedom Is...

Freedom is:

the sweet song of a mockingbird

speaking truth to power

with the lightness and grace of a flower

flowing with love, hour after hour

Freedom is: 

a state of mind

that is kind

and one in which I find

no room or reason for a bind.

Freedom is: 

the dawn of each new day

waking up with a spirit of play

as if to say

Hey!

Life is what you make of it.

The Lotus Blooms

The lotus flower

blooms in adversity

atrocity

animosity

For there is no greater power

than that which comes from a shower

of struggle

strife

and sorrow

The lotus never forgets

the possibility of tomorrow

Rather than mope,

the lotus is the essence

of Hope.

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Our Teachers in Nature, by Elisabet Sahtouris

FaceBook  On Jun 27, 2010 Ripa wrote:

This passage was very beautiful - really nicely articulated the interconnectedness of life. How important it is to live in harmony with nature, knowing, as Ganobaji wisely pointed out, how nature is not something separate from us as individuals - we all, after all, have our own 'natures.'  On how I was reminded of karma through this passage, I have written a poem:

What Goes Around

What goes around,

Comes around

and around

and a round.

Life moves thus

in circle motion.

Time flows,

sways,

twirls,

leaps

and turns.

Time is Shiva: the cosmic dancer.

Time waits for no one.

As Shiva dances on.

And on. 

And on.

What appears at once 

as a beginning

become soon

an End.

And begins again.

And again.

And again.

Around.

And around.

And a

Round.

 

A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted, by John O'Donohue

FaceBook  On Jun 20, 2010 Ripa Ajmera wrote:

"The joy that dwells far within slow time" was my favorite line from this poem. Slowing down. Quiet. Calm. Patience. Ease, Peace and harmony. These, to me, are the blessings of slow time. I loved how Chris opened by connecting this poem to the breath. Without breathing, we would all immediately die - and yet we somehow so often take this basic biological function completely for granted while living. The way we breathe is intricately connected with the way we think. Rapid breathing is usually accompanied by quick, unfocused and often angry or fearful thoughts. Slow, deep breathing is associated with serenity of thought. Fortunately, simply learning to breathe deeply, through the nose, can do wonders for one's overall mental and physical well-being in any given moment. I remember learning in my yoga teacher training how the emotions are not stored in the mind, as we often think, but rather in the stomach. I notice how people hold in their stomachs when inhaling, and just in general in our culture, though the proper way of breathing is to expand the stomach when inhaling and let it naturally fall when exhaling. This is similar to how so many in the western world in particular hold in and repress so many emotions, whether they be negative or positive. In my mindfulness/meditation class in juvenile hall, we have an activity that explores this. It's called "Dropping the Water Line" and uses the metaphor of an iceberg for its expression and execution. Like in the case of Titanic, only 10% of an iceberg is visible on the surface of an ocean. 90% lurks below the surface. Like the iceberg, so much of our emotional states tend to be hidden from the outside world. For inmates, they say that it often feels like the only acceptable emotion they can express is anger. Imagine what it is like to project anger all the time! Fear, vulnerability, confusion, frustration, sadness, despair and even love and happiness are all the emotions my students identify as  See full.

"The joy that dwells far within slow time" was my favorite line from this poem. Slowing down. Quiet. Calm. Patience. Ease, Peace and harmony. These, to me, are the blessings of slow time.

I loved how Chris opened by connecting this poem to the breath. Without breathing, we would all immediately die - and yet we somehow so often take this basic biological function completely for granted while living. The way we breathe is intricately connected with the way we think. Rapid breathing is usually accompanied by quick, unfocused and often angry or fearful thoughts. Slow, deep breathing is associated with serenity of thought.

Fortunately, simply learning to breathe deeply, through the nose, can do wonders for one's overall mental and physical well-being in any given moment. I remember learning in my yoga teacher training how the emotions are not stored in the mind, as we often think, but rather in the stomach. I notice how people hold in their stomachs when inhaling, and just in general in our culture, though the proper way of breathing is to expand the stomach when inhaling and let it naturally fall when exhaling. This is similar to how so many in the western world in particular hold in and repress so many emotions, whether they be negative or positive.

In my mindfulness/meditation class in juvenile hall, we have an activity that explores this. It's called "Dropping the Water Line" and uses the metaphor of an iceberg for its expression and execution. Like in the case of Titanic, only 10% of an iceberg is visible on the surface of an ocean. 90% lurks below the surface. Like the iceberg, so much of our emotional states tend to be hidden from the outside world. For inmates, they say that it often feels like the only acceptable emotion they can express is anger. Imagine what it is like to project anger all the time! Fear, vulnerability, confusion, frustration, sadness, despair and even love and happiness are all the emotions my students identify as being hidden in the base of the iceberg. 

After facilitating this iceberg exercise this week, I invited my young male students to 'drop the water line,' so to speak, and to feel free to express what they were going through on a deeper level. They accepted, and the stories and experiences they shared were truly touching.

One boy talked about the experience of losing his uncle to gang conflict and how sad and angry he felt that he never had a chance to say good-bye or attend his uncle's funeral. 

Another shared about the pressure and responsibility he had to shoulder in looking after his younger siblings when his mother walked out on his alcoholic father. About the pain he feels in not being in contact with them. The fear that they could follow in his footsteps and end up incarcerated as well.

Yet another boy opened up about recently discovering that one of his good friends had been shot in a gang shoot-out. How he wished he could cry about it, but, as the others attested to, the dangers of letting down one's guard in such a place.

All these young men are in San Mateo Juvenile Hall's long-term unit, with quite a bit of uncertainty surrounding their futures. They are all sentenced, but could, at any time, be transferred to a group home, jail-like camp or even, in the worst cases, to the horrors of adult prison.

I have, up to this point, been co-facilitating these classes with my co-teacher Sam, an amazing person who has himself been incarcerated seven times as a youth! Sam is working on his Ph.D. in psychology and now transitioning into program management for MBA Project, the organization we both teach through. He is thus training me now to become the lead instructor at San Mateo hall.

One obstacle I have occasionally faced in teaching thus far has been talking too much and too fast, in an attempt to keep the youths' attention (and due to some performance anxiety). In leading this session and last, however, I have found that placing myself, through mindfulness and meditation practice, in 'slow time,' has made a world of a difference. I have, as the poem suggests doing, drawn alongside the 'silence of stone' and let its calmness completely claim me. I think it is this calmness that enables the youth to open up and trust me with some of their deepest, darkest experiences.

I was really honored last week when the head of the hall joined the class I led. Prior to the session, he had warned me that I couldn't teach an old dog new tricks. By its conclusion, he was ready to come back again, start meditating and offered to support us fully and unconditionally, particularly in dealing with unsupportive staff. He commented on how just closing his eyes to experience the sensation of his breath at the tip of his nostrils enabled him to enter a space of the deepest tranquility he had felt in a long time. 

After last week's class, the youth all shared how they felt much closer to each other, having listened deeply to and holding space for moments of true sharing and vulnerability. We feel closer to one another to the extent that we are willing to put down our masks, it seems. I could relate to much of the sorrow the youth shared, in terms of shouldering adult-like responsibilities as a child and having lost close relatives who I never had a chance to say good-bye to or attend the funerals of. There was equally, however, a feeling of immense joy in being able to connect with each other on a deeper level, much as we feel in coming together at the Wednesday evening meditation sessions. The illusion of isolation and aloneness dissolves and we all indeed, feel and become as one. 

This pervasive joy was particularly present after we closed the session by meditating on our breath, feeling our connectedness to ourselves and one another. One boy, who has struggled with a smoking addiction, excitedly likened the experience to that of a 'natural high!' I couldn't agree more.

In Yoga, there is a Sanskrit word, amrita, which translates to the sweetness of the fruits, or nectar, of sadhana (spiritual practice), which my student experienced during this class. It can be very tempting to desire this sweet side effect of yoga or meditation practice. In yoga asana classes, the desire for 'that good feeling' yoga gives you often causes beginner and advanced students alike to rush through poses and become impatient with being able to perform difficult asanas (yoga postures).

I remember how badly I wanted to learn how to do the scorpion pose last year, and how hard it was for me. How much I used to struggle with it. How many times I fell down from this inverted position! I sensed that there was a great benefit to performing this particular pose, to be able to physically embody the fearlessness and self-mastery this complicated posture demands. I used to try to do the pose very quickly, which I finally realized was responsible for making me fall (along with my fear of falling). I found that by slowing down and really taking the time to savor each step of the pose made such a big difference. Being completely present for each moment. Breathing into the point of fear I acutely felt in my back and at the pit of my stomach. Keeping my focus steady and strong. Trusting my forearms to support me completely, my desire to 'achieve' the pose began to vanish as I held it. For a couple seconds. Then 30. Now for a full minute of total freedom, I suspend my body, inverted and liberated, not only physically, but from the grip of my own negative emotions: mostly, my own deepest fears. I feel my heart expanding, with equal parts compassion and courage: it takes courage, after all, to be truly compassionate, with oneself and others alike. To let go, and taste the sweet nectar of amrita.

I find that this asana, in many ways, returns me to myself. It teaches me a new respect for my heart, and helps me experience and embody...the joy that dwells far within slow time.

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The Fallacy of Togetherness, by Osho

FaceBook  On Jun 14, 2010 Ripa Ajmera wrote:

I think this passage really required some deeper reflection on the meaning of solitude and renunciation and its role in spirituality to have true value. There is, on the one hand, something so beautiful the Swamiji, for example, from the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, South India, who renounced his wife and career to move to India to pursue a path of deep solitude and spiritual growth. He couldn't speak a single word of the local dialect in India. At that time, nothing was written in English the way the language has become widespread these days. So this Swamiji befriended the birds, the monkeys and the trees of the jungle in Kerala. I think it is wonderful to have that opportunity to be that close and connected to Mother Nature. In our culture, both the western and Indian ones, as well as the European, and, I imagine, Middle Eastern and Latin American ones, we are inclined to feel great regard for those who walk a path of renunciation, by becoming Swamis or monks, priests or imams. Because we imagine that we could never live without the things these people have given up, it is natural to feel a lot of respect for renunciates. There, is however, at the same time, a darker side to renunciation of the traditional sense (as there is for all things in the dualistic world we inhabit).  A recent cover of Time magazine is titled "Why Being Pope Means Never having To Say You’re Sorry." The article covers the many scandals committed by religious leaders, many of whom are renunciates. In yoga, there exist siddhis, or special spiritual powers, that practitioners develop after years of committed sadhana (spiritual practice). While people in the material realm find these siddhis to be an attractive reason to practice yoga, meditation and renunciation, true spiritual seekers actually abhor siddhis, as they are but mere distraction to the fulfillment of the goal of kaivalya (or absolute freedom or liberation from bondage). Power, after all, easily corrupts onese  See full.

I think this passage really required some deeper reflection on the meaning of solitude and renunciation and its role in spirituality to have true value. There is, on the one hand, something so beautiful the Swamiji, for example, from the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, South India, who renounced his wife and career to move to India to pursue a path of deep solitude and spiritual growth. He couldn't speak a single word of the local dialect in India. At that time, nothing was written in English the way the language has become widespread these days. So this Swamiji befriended the birds, the monkeys and the trees of the jungle in Kerala. I think it is wonderful to have that opportunity to be that close and connected to Mother Nature.

In our culture, both the western and Indian ones, as well as the European, and, I imagine, Middle Eastern and Latin American ones, we are inclined to feel great regard for those who walk a path of renunciation, by becoming Swamis or monks, priests or imams. Because we imagine that we could never live without the things these people have given up, it is natural to feel a lot of respect for renunciates. There, is however, at the same time, a darker side to renunciation of the traditional sense (as there is for all things in the dualistic world we inhabit). 

A recent cover of Time magazine is titled "Why Being Pope Means Never having To Say You’re Sorry." The article covers the many scandals committed by religious leaders, many of whom are renunciates. In yoga, there exist siddhis, or special spiritual powers, that practitioners develop after years of committed sadhana (spiritual practice). While people in the material realm find these siddhis to be an attractive reason to practice yoga, meditation and renunciation, true spiritual seekers actually abhor siddhis, as they are but mere distraction to the fulfillment of the goal of kaivalya (or absolute freedom or liberation from bondage). Power, after all, easily corrupts oneself and others. 

It takes quite a bit of humility to really offer up praise to the divine, as our ego often wants nothing more than to be admired for its greatness. In reality, though, any good qualities we may possess, or actions we perform, come through us from a higher power - and it is to this higher power that we must offer any praise that comes out way. The same goes for insults - those, too, must be offered up to a divine force. In Gandhiji's "Service Before Self," he says, 

"He who feels neither happiness nor misery, he who rises above both happiness and misery has achieved Yoga. Yoga means absence of suffering, never feeling miserable. If anyone abuses us, we should lay the abuse at God's feet. Likewise, if anyone praises us, the praise too, we should lay at His feet. He is a yogi who cultivates such a state of mind and feels himself as light as a flower.

Only that person who has reduced himself to a cipher, has completely shed his egoism, can claim to be a yogi. He alone may be said to be such a person who has dedicated his all to God."

I heard a story this weekend about such a person, named Ammachi (meaning 'darling mother'). Ammachi is a hugging saint from Kerala who has embraced over 26 million people around the world. She is a spiritual teacher to many, including one young male disciple who has traveled with her for the past few years of his life. He was so attached to Ammachi that he could never leave her side and to the extent that he was actually approaching a mental breakdown. Instead of desiring his unquestioning devotion (as many spiritual masters do from their disciples), she commanded him to go away from her, to lessen the grip of his attachment. 

Devotion to a guru is a common aspect of the spiritual journey, as the guidance of a realized master is so invaluable for those starting out. While attachment is, in a subtle way, quite different from true love (mostly in its intention of looking out for own's own desires), devotion to a master like Ammachi is of great benefit to the devotee. I heard another amazing story about the power of devotion from Somikbhai's father after his Stanford graduation yesterday afternoon:

One guru had committed every sin known to man. One of his devotees, however, continued to worship him as God despite the clear shortcomings of the teacher. The devotee did not engage in the same kinds of activities as his guru, but his deep devotion to this teacher caused him to enter heaven. The guru, on the other hand, went to hell. The disciple was so upset that his teacher could not be found in heaven that he actually asked to go to hell to be with him! In the Mahabharata, Lord Vishnu had a conference with some other deity, who helped him decide that the most appropriate course of action would be to send the guru to heaven, by the merits of his disciple. Devotion, ultimately, then, is for the salvation of the student, not the teacher. The teacher went to heaven on the basis of the hard work of his devotee. Solitude, in this sense, then means that we are each responsible for our own salvation - no teacher can do the work for us, though they can guide us along a good path.

In my own life, I had an amazing experience of solitude this weekend when I went with a dear friend of mine on an 8-mile hike to Ammachi's ashram here in the hills of Castro Valley, California. Though we walked there together, we were in many ways, very much alone. We spoke very little on the journey. Many of the pathways did not allow for more than one person to walk and I had very heavy bags to carry with me, which caused me to move more slowly than my friend. I purposely tried to walk slowly, knowing that the speed at which I went would enable me to endure the long journey in the rising sun. My friend moved very fast and later shared how he had actually wanted to turn around halfway through! I would have never known this, as on the outside, it appeared that he was motivated enough for the both of us to walk! Had we spoken with one another, it would have been very easy to voice the complaints and discomforts we felt along the path. The challenges of the journey, particularly the intensity of the wind as we moved up the hill in the increasingly hot sun, allowed us a great opportunity instead for inner growth and transformation. It was a real purification of sorts, guided by silence and stillness in motion.

We went without any expectation that we would even get to see Ammachi, but when we arrived and shared with one lady that we had walked there, she decided to, instead of turning us away (due to a retreat that was going on), actually allow us to receive Ammachi as she entered the ashram! It was a beautiful experience. She distinctly made eye contact with both of us, as if she had known we had come a long way to catch this brief but meaningful glimpse of her. 

This experience reminded me of how even the word "alone" contains the words "all" and "one" - the real opportunity that solitude provided was the chance to perceive and experience our oneness and connectedness with ourselves, with the trees, one another, the birds and animals and really all beings and things. There is a universe outside of us, as well as one within - it is only through understanding the microcosm inside us that we can come to know the wide, vast world without. We are the living composite of the universe. We are part flower, part shark and tiger, ape, tree, cloud, dog, part bird. We have it all within. Any characteristic that we see in nature, we can also find within ourselves. 

There is really an irony in contemplating solitude - as it is through being alone that we can come to feel and know our true, eternal togetherness. To me, the real fallacy, then, is to believe that solitude equals separation. The basis of all the world's religious and spiritual traditions, after all, is the fundamental unity and interconnectedness we share with all. The very essence of a religious or spiritual master is the great love and compassion they embody (as Ammachi does) - this essence is predicated on knowing another's joys and sorrows as one's own, dissolving the lives of separation that create so much violence and discord in our world.

I really enjoyed Somikbhai's father's reflection on Wednesday about renunciation. He was chairperson of the annual Devi (goddess) Puja (worship/celebration) and decided that instead of the usual merrymaking that goes on during this holiday, to put people in his community into roles that required them to go out into the community, to connect with the joys and sorrows of someone in the slums. Everyone was really against it at first, but then ended up enjoying spending time amongst the underprivileged even more than the usual merrymaking of this time of year. 

In this time of Kali Yug (known as the period of darkness in many spiritual traditions, including that of Yoga), I believe that there is a real need for this kind of spirituality and compassion in action. That the real meaning of renunciation in these days is not to isolate oneself in a cave as much as it is to use the opportunity of solitude to reconnect with oneself to be of deeper and more pure service to others. To render acts of service as offerings of devotion to any form of a higher power one feels most comfortable acknowledging. Renunciation then is not so much about giving up one's home or family as it is about renouncing the attitude of greed, fear, hatred and jealousy. Reading the texts of spiritual and religious books (as is often done during religious and other holidays) is good, but as Swami Sivananda once said, "An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory." 

We live in an interconnected world and I really believe that the challenging nature of these times call upon us all to extend our concept of family to include the whole world as our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. To dispel, through solitude, the false notion of separation and feel the joys and sorrows of others as our own is, to me, the highest form of renunciation.

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Understanding and Cultivating Silence, by Ajahn Sumedho

FaceBook  On Jun 8, 2010 Ripa Ajmera wrote:

Another incredible Wednesday, full of deep sharing on the power and need for silence in life. I liked Neil's reflection on the sound of silence, from a recent DailyGood article called "In Pursuit of Silence: How Noise is Really Killing Us." In this article, the writer explores how noise wreaks havoc throughout the body and how, as a culture, we tend to view noise as being linked with the pursuit of fun and happiness. He discovered how marketers actually play loud music in stores to attract customers and how noise is also connected with the pursuit of individuality. It is true that in cultures like the Indian one I come from, quietness is looked upon very highly, whereas it's misunderstood to be something dull and boring in places like America, where people often compete to be the loudest. Examples of this include dressing a certain way to 'make a statement' or express oneself, noisy rock and punk bands that blast their music and the "boom car" competitions to see whose stereo can make the most noise. Noise, however, is not just something external. There is much noise to be found inside the mind when one turns inward for the practice of meditation and contemplation. Often, in life, however, we cannot even hear ourselves, much less be receptive and available to listen deeply to the unspoken needs of others around us. I love this idea that the soul speaks in a whisper, which often gets tuned out by the noise of the senses. To me, silence is an invitation to listen deeply to oneself, as a necessary prerequisite for being able to listen deeply to others. To be able to know the deeper aspects of ourselves and others. I liked how Viralbhai shared how people ask him what he has gotten out of his many experiments in silence (he has meditated continuously for up to 30 days at a time and has been practicing the past 13 years!). He said that there is now noticeably less 'nattering' in his mind than there was when he began meditating at age 18. Listening,  See full.

Another incredible Wednesday, full of deep sharing on the power and need for silence in life. I liked Neil's reflection on the sound of silence, from a recent DailyGood article called "In Pursuit of Silence: How Noise is Really Killing Us." In this article, the writer explores how noise wreaks havoc throughout the body and how, as a culture, we tend to view noise as being linked with the pursuit of fun and happiness.

He discovered how marketers actually play loud music in stores to attract customers and how noise is also connected with the pursuit of individuality. It is true that in cultures like the Indian one I come from, quietness is looked upon very highly, whereas it's misunderstood to be something dull and boring in places like America, where people often compete to be the loudest. Examples of this include dressing a certain way to 'make a statement' or express oneself, noisy rock and punk bands that blast their music and the "boom car" competitions to see whose stereo can make the most noise.

Noise, however, is not just something external. There is much noise to be found inside the mind when one turns inward for the practice of meditation and contemplation. Often, in life, however, we cannot even hear ourselves, much less be receptive and available to listen deeply to the unspoken needs of others around us. I love this idea that the soul speaks in a whisper, which often gets tuned out by the noise of the senses.

To me, silence is an invitation to listen deeply to oneself, as a necessary prerequisite for being able to listen deeply to others. To be able to know the deeper aspects of ourselves and others. I liked how Viralbhai shared how people ask him what he has gotten out of his many experiments in silence (he has meditated continuously for up to 30 days at a time and has been practicing the past 13 years!). He said that there is now noticeably less 'nattering' in his mind than there was when he began meditating at age 18.

Listening, whether inwardly to oneself, or being receptive to what's between the lines of what others share, is such a wonderful, subtle art and powerful tool. It is a rare and auspicious quality that is hard for most to master, one that invites insight and intuition, bringing us into a sort of active consciousness.

When I listen, I notice I become immediately calmer and can let go of self-consciousness. I become free. I always think of deep listening as being an act of love and compassion, one that invites growth and transformation. When I truly listen, I am able to step away from my own thoughts and feelings (particularly the negative ones) and embrace new perspectives. My mind becomes free and open to change and the space of infinite possibilities.

In deepening my ability to listen, I've found how much not listening is connected with the ego. How interrupting is generally an act we engage in when we do not feel safe. It's been interesting and important to observe when people interrupt a lot, as I can now see how this stems from insecurity. I try to honor others by interrupting as seldom as possible when someone else is speaking and have found that I have the chance and the honor, really, to bare witness to the candid, personal testimonials of others who I may or may not even know very well to begin with. I know i have personally benefitted so much from the many mentors who have listened deeply to me and try to pass that on to others, to pay it forward.

It has been interesting to observe which groups of people are most receptive to the journey of going inward, of accessing the inner self and the inner knowing that is always available for guidance. People who have not gone through as traumatic of experiences have tended to like to talk a lot and to really check me out before I can ever start teaching yoga or meditation. My young female Indian students in particular used to ask me so many questions about myself. They always wanted to know how old I was, what I did for a living, where and what I studied, what my goals were for the future. One girl even asked me if my life goal was to become Miss India! 

The Salaam Balaak boys, on the other hand, who had run away from home, those in NYC who had been through some prolonged experience of homelessness, as well as the incarcerated teenage boys in California are often the most receptive to the invitation of silence. That has been a fascinating and very inspiring observation, to see how willing the most outwardly 'hardened' young boys and men have been to go inside themselves. They don't seem to possess the same fear that others do toward entering the void of silence, the empty palate of possibility. To pause to enter the unknown.

As Master Patanjali has shared, however, in the very first yoga sutra, "Atha yoga nushasanam" (meaning "Now this is yoga"), yoga is not something one simply comes to. The word "now" is very important, as it indicates that something significant had to have happened for one to come to the path of Yoga. It can be really scary to go inside oneself, as we don't know what we will find there. Most people who come to Yoga have faced some kind of crisis, where the outer world has failed to provide them something essential, whether that be the security of a safe and loving home, caring parents or a stable job.

I remember helping clean out the main center at Manav Sadhna (the organization I volunteered for in Ahmedbad, Gujarat, India) the day before I left for Vipassana (a silent 10-day meditation course) a year and a half ago. While the space wasn't noticeably dirty before we began cleaning, it became quickly apparent just how filthy it was once we started sweeping, scrubbing and polishing. Sometimes while cleaning, we uncovered brand new, deeply rooted layers of dust and dirt in the windowsills, cabinets and cubby holes. We all had to wear handkerchiefs over our mouths and noses to protect ourselves as we cleaned.

I found the Vipassana course to be very similar to this experience of cleaning, in the sense that it was really an opportunity to go beyond cleaning up the surface layers of dirt, to dig out and clean up the dust that had been previously swept under the rugs. To really pull the weeds out from the roots and plant the seeds of beautiful flowers in their place. As Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Chapter 2, Verse 33 states, "Vitarka-badhane-pratipaksha-bhavanam." "When disturbed by disturbing thoughts, think of the opposite." A yogi must be ever alert, observing his or her mind. When seeing useless thought waves arising, we replace them with positive ones to create new mental habits that are more conducive to spiritual evolution.

So much of yoga is about this process of replacing what is negative within us with something pure and positive. Transforming out weaknesses into strengths. Fear into faith. Confusion to clarity. As in Vipassana, it is important to have the protection of the (at least) 10 days in silence, to allow the space and time necessary to delve deeply within without having the dangers of distraction (from the phone, friends, Facebook and mostly, our own deepest fears). The support of the satsangha (like-minded/hearted community) in this process of personal transformation is crucial, as the people we choose to associate with comprise our environment. As a flower needs fertile soil to grow, so, too, do we need fearless and faith-filled friends to evolve spiritually, to unfold our own consciousness. Sunlight and water are necessary for the development of beautiful flowers, as are practice and a proper lifestyle for the development of beautiful people, on the inside as well as the outside. 

My relationship with food has been huge in my spiritual evolution. I've gone to both extremes of severe under-eating and overeating and felt horrible in both cases. I've loved following the Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle guidelines, including eating my biggest meal at lunch, not eating too much late in the day and including plenty of fresh, farmers market fruits and vegetables in my meals. It has made it so much easier to wake up to meditate and practice yoga early in the morning. It's also given me the energy I need to do my marketing work, to teach yoga and meditation in a variety of places (including juvenile halls), take a distance learning course in Ayurveda, learn and practice Odissi dance, plan for India and do whatever else is needed.

I remember another key insight I gained from Vipassana (my first experience of prolonged silence) was how much we seek validation from the outside, to the extent that the greed for approval can really motivate a lot of our actions. I saw this in myself when I meditated and in going deeper into the root causes of this, found it to be so deeply connected with the desire for love. Practicing yoga and meditation, living by Ayurvedic principles and devoting myself to serving others, however, has really helped me to connect with the deep love that resides in my self, as my true Self (capital-S for that aspect of divinity that exists within me - and within us all).

It has been such a blessing to be able to judge my actions and behavior from the basis of whether what I am doing could serve the poorest person. Whether my thoughts, words and actions bring me, and those around me, greater peace and harmony. When I realize they don't, I find myself much more able to let them go, thanks to the practice of connecting with silence.

Having found the strength to provide myself such internal validation has been a big source of growth for me. It is what allows me to be able to extend the peace I generate within myself to others around me, connecting always with the knowledge that healing does not come from me, anyways, but through me as a channel of a higher divine power and energy. As spiritual healers and teachers, I think it's really important to keep in mind that others one serves can never be more peaceful than we ourselves are, which is why it's so important to continue to, as Gandhiji has been quoted to say, "be the change we wish to see in the world."

I love the reflections that Parahmansa Yogananda shares in his "Autobiography of a Yogi," about replacing negativity with positivity in the chapter about Luther Burbank, which is entitled "A Saint Amid the Roses:"

"I see humanity now as one vast plant, needing for its highest fulfillments only love, the natural blessings of the great outdoors, and intelligent crossing and selection. In the span of my own lifetime I have observed such wondrous progress in plant evolution that I look forward optimistically to a healthy, happy world as soon as its children are taught the principles of simple and rational living. We must return to nature and nature's God."

 

"Luther, you would delight in my Ranchi school, with its outdoor classes, and atmosphere of joy and simplicity."

 

My words touched the chord closest to Burbank's heart—child education. He plied me with questions, interest gleaming from his deep, serene eyes.

 

"Swamiji," he said finally, "schools like yours are the only hope of a future millennium. I am in revolt against the educational systems of our time, severed from nature and stifling of all individuality. I am with you heart and soul in your practical ideals of education."

 

As I was taking leave of the gentle sage, he autographed a small volume and presented it to me.

 

"Here is my book on The Training of the Human Plant," he said. "New types of training are needed—fearless experiments. At times the most daring trials have succeeded in bringing out the best in fruits and flowers. Educational innovations for children should likewise become more numerous, more courageous."

 

I read his little book that night with intense interest. His eye envisioning a glorious future for the race, he wrote: "The most stubborn living thing in this world, the most difficult to swerve, is a plant once fixed in certain habits. . . . Remember that this plant has preserved its individuality all through the ages; perhaps it is one which can be traced backward through eons of time in the very rocks themselves, never having varied to any great extent in all these vast periods.

 

Do you suppose, after all these ages of repetition, the plant does not become possessed of a will, if you so choose to call it, of unparalleled tenacity? Indeed, there are plants, like certain of the palms, so persistent that no human power has yet been able to change them. The human will is a weak thing beside the will of a plant.

 

But see how this whole plant's lifelong stubbornness is broken simply by blending a new life with it, making, by crossing, a complete and powerful change in its life. Then when the break comes, fix it by these generations of patient supervision and selection, and the new plant sets out upon its new way never again to return to the old, its tenacious will broken and changed at last.

 

"When it comes to so sensitive and pliable a thing as the nature of a child, the problem becomes vastly easier."

 

I receive so much inspiration from this entire chapter for working with children and families in a residential model, to really provide them the opportunity and support to transform themselves in a sustainable way, particularly the children. It is so true that it is much easier to assist children in changing newly formed habits than it is plants, or adults for that matter.

 

However, I really believe that the seed of new beginnings, the invitation to go into the deep silence that sparks transformation, is available to all who are given adequate opportunities, patience and support for the hard work of changing deeply-rooted habits - from the inside out.   

 

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We Start Where We Are, by Marianna Cacciatore

FaceBook  On May 31, 2010 Ripa Ajmera wrote:

This Wednesday was absolutely magical. I was so happy I could not stop smiling. Even as I was trying to fall asleep, I had to try to signal my cheeks to relax, but they wouldn't! The atmosphere of the Mehta (metta) family room was truly emanating with tremendous joy, vitality and love. Everyone could feel and connect with it. Quite a few people even commented on it. Somikbhai set the tone of the evening beautifully by remembering a research advisor of his who had said he needed to do his 'angel duty' of the day. The idea of 'angel duty' or service rendered at just the right time, in just the right way, really resonated throughout the circle of sharing. Angel duty, as its definition naturally infers, is different for each person. For Somikbhai, his professor did angel duty for him by telling someone else that consulting was not in alignment with Somikbhai's deepest values (even though Somikbhai had actually been looking for post-doctorate consulting opportunities).  It was a real treat to have Somikbhai's parents join the circle from India. I really liked how his father shared my favorite passage from the Bhagavad Gita, about how feeling the joys and sorrows of another person as one's own is to have attained the highest state of Yoga and spiritual union.  That Gita passage also reminds me of Niroga Yoga founder and master teacher BK Bose's description of a yogi's life goals as being the twin pursuits of Self-realization and selfless service, and how he himself is a great model of that by teaching yoga in underprivileged schools, hospitals, juvenile halls and rehabilitation centers throughout the Bay Area.  I was really touched when Somikbhai's father shared with me after the circle how Swami Vivekananda asked his teacher to guide him in attaining asamprajnata samadhi (the highest state of Yoga, in which one leaves beyond all concerns for the material world). His teacher said he would not teach him this. He told Swami Vivekananda that being in that  See full.

This Wednesday was absolutely magical. I was so happy I could not stop smiling. Even as I was trying to fall asleep, I had to try to signal my cheeks to relax, but they wouldn't! The atmosphere of the Mehta (metta) family room was truly emanating with tremendous joy, vitality and love. Everyone could feel and connect with it. Quite a few people even commented on it.

Somikbhai set the tone of the evening beautifully by remembering a research advisor of his who had said he needed to do his 'angel duty' of the day. The idea of 'angel duty' or service rendered at just the right time, in just the right way, really resonated throughout the circle of sharing. Angel duty, as its definition naturally infers, is different for each person. For Somikbhai, his professor did angel duty for him by telling someone else that consulting was not in alignment with Somikbhai's deepest values (even though Somikbhai had actually been looking for post-doctorate consulting opportunities). 

It was a real treat to have Somikbhai's parents join the circle from India. I really liked how his father shared my favorite passage from the Bhagavad Gita, about how feeling the joys and sorrows of another person as one's own is to have attained the highest state of Yoga and spiritual union. 

That Gita passage also reminds me of Niroga Yoga founder and master teacher BK Bose's description of a yogi's life goals as being the twin pursuits of Self-realization and selfless service, and how he himself is a great model of that by teaching yoga in underprivileged schools, hospitals, juvenile halls and rehabilitation centers throughout the Bay Area. 

I was really touched when Somikbhai's father shared with me after the circle how Swami Vivekananda asked his teacher to guide him in attaining asamprajnata samadhi (the highest state of Yoga, in which one leaves beyond all concerns for the material world). His teacher said he would not teach him this. He told Swami Vivekananda that being in that state of samadhi (and thereby being, in a real sense, removed from the world) was not for him. Instead, he told Swami that his real purpose was to liberate others through his very presence. 

Somikbhai's father then went on to share with me how one hour of meditation was enough for me and to not ever wish to go meditate in a Himalayan cave, but to continue to serve people by my presence. "You see, you are always smiling, which shows that you are a very happy person. Someone can be in the depths of despair, but just by being around you, they will feel uplifted. You have that strength to share your happiness and peace with others through your presence."

Though I am certainly no saint and not sure if I even deserved such high compliments, these very kind sentiments reminded me of what I have heard about St. Francis of Assisi, and how his mere presence used to serve people. Just him being there, even silently, had brought great peace and joy to those blessed to be around him. I loved singing St. Francis' song "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace" during my Catholic high school days at Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, Ohio:

"Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
And where there is doubt true faith in You


Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness only light
And where there's sadness ever joy


Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul


Make me a channel of your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we are born to eternal life"

May we all seek to become channels of peace. I always resonated a lot with this notion of how it is in giving to all men that we receive. On the topic of giving and receiving, I am reminded of how Kiran Bedi's (first woman police officer and warden of Tihar Jail) compassion (the source of her strength and power) was able to transform the formidable hell of Tihar into an ashram (a secluded place for spiritual development). She was determined to provide a healthier environment for her prisoners and to actually treat them as human beings. Even when a severe rainstorm threatened to dismantle the groundbreaking 10-day Vipassana meditation course she conducted for 1,000 prisoners (the documentary "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana" tells this story wonderfully), her compassion enabled all the tents to get re-sown and the course to resume as before.

The stories of the transformations of the prisoners are so remarkable and inspiring. They could go inside themselves (for many, for the very first time) and access self-love as a direct result of their having experienced her great love for them. Many prisoners referred to her as their mother and were devastated when she changed posts as they felt they were losing the only person who ever truly cared about them.

One prisoner in particular, who had shot and murdered three of his enemies in five minutes during a gang shootout in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, actually decided during his first 10-day meditation course to seek forgiveness from the family of one of the men he had killed. This, to me, is so amazing, as it takes so much strength and compassion to forgive someone else, to let go of the pain and suffering they have caused, but I think it requires tremendous humility to be able to ask for forgiveness, as well as the ability to forgive yourself first: another formidable task for most. The documentary shows how the relatives of this man's enemy came to tie a rakhee (symbol of familial bonding) around his wrist and how the man accordingly looks after these women as though they really are members of his own family.

The power of circles and positive acknowledgment in healing and transformation was another theme throughout the evening. I really enjoyed how Pavidid shared about her experience guiding her younger family members at a retreat given through an amazing organization her family runs (called Aravind Eye Hospitals). She shared how, as one of the oldest members of the younger generation, she felt a responsibility to give advice to help transform the younger people's weaknesses into strengths. This time, however, she and her husband Viralbhai decided to form circles as part of the retreat, like how we do every Wednesday.

They started the retreat by acknowledging and appreciating each person's strengths instead of giving advice regarding their weaknesses. After doing this, everyone naturally opened up and shared about their own weaknesses. Pavididi said they knew exactly what their own weaknesses were without needing anyone to point them out and how she could see herself in each one of them and the weaknesses they shared. She reflected on how acknowledgement instead of advice was able to create a powerful and transformational experience for all the participants involved.

I really appreciated how Renudidi shared about how her and her husband did not get along well after entering into their arranged marriage. They went to live in a room owned by an older woman in Berkeley, who was able to show them both what was good in each of them, which thereby helped them see the goodness in one another, which transformed their marriage into a much more loving and harmonious union.

Arati talked about her experience starting a Wednesday-style meditation circle on Sundays at Harvard and how it was so difficult for her to get people to open up and share their reflections. She reached out to Viralbhai for advice and he replied by saying that silence is very powerful. So the next Sunday she decided to leave the circle in silence to warm up the food she had prepared for the meditators and found that they naturally opened up that way.

My co-facilitator and I have a similar experience with our long-term unit in juvenile hall, who can be reluctant to share due to the trauma they are going through of being incarcerated for long periods of time. We hold our circle in silence and often find that this creates space for some of the most profound stories and insights.

I loved how Dinesh Uncle shared about the power of circles and the inherent trust they provide to share and be whoever we really are. He also talked about how we must be at peace and whole within ourselves (which meditation returns us to), but that to experience joy, we need others. He shared about how Wednesday circles in particular are all about sharing our joy with others and how the joy of service in particular is the greatest we can know while alive. The joy of service is the meaning of life.

I had lunch with a couple amazing counselors for underprivileged, at-risk youth in Richmond, California yesterday. One of them, named Mitch, put it really nicely when he shared how often in life, our greatest pains stem from our relationships, but so, too, do our greatest joys. He reflected on how just one person who loves and accepts someone unconditionally, is attuned to their emotional state and is a stable presence in another's life can make a world of a difference in the life of another person. 

That reminded me of my experience taking a replication training with the world-renowned Delancey Street Foundation, and how a little woman named Mimi's great compassion for 'the bottom 1% of society' (criminals, homeless people, prostitutes and addicts) has transformed and continues to change the lives of so many. I remember meeting a couple of large, well-built African-American men who had previously been on death row and how they shared what an amazing second chance they had been given at life. 

"We like to have fun and be crazy here, but when Mimi walks into the room, you won't even hear a pin drop. We all regard and love her as our mother," one of them shared.

All this and more makes me so grateful and excited to be able to serve others and hold space for them and their healing, in juvenile halls, schools, hospitals and one day, through an organization I am planning to create in India called Purnam Bhavan. I am especially looking forward to teaching children methods of peaceful conflict resolution through the practice and application of the teachings of Yoga in their lives.

I think Gandhiji put it best when he shared:

"If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to cary on a real 'war against war,' we shall have to begin with children. If they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have to struggle; we don't have to pass fruitless, idle resolutions; but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering." 

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To Know Without Needing To Understand, by Gangaji

FaceBook  On May 24, 2010 Ripa wrote:

This Wednesday evening was particularly deep and moving, as it went right to the heart of the exploration of Truth. Neil began the discussion by pointing to the fact that many things in life transcend mere intellectual understanding and demand the kind of contemplation that can only be discovered through the transcendental practice of meditation. I liked how Peggy shared the quote from the Bible about the purpose of meditation and spiritual growth being about accessing the "peace that passeth understanding." There was a lot of discussion around how the mind can be a very problematic instrument, guiding us to do things that go against our deepest values due to the intensity of the conditioning from the world around us. That reminded me of the wonderful wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita (the Bible of Yoga) and how it is really a guidebook for those seeking the ability to master their own minds. In Chapter Six, "The Practice of Meditation," the Gita provides some particularly sage advice: "Reshape yourself through the power of your will; never let yourself be degraded by self-will. The will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self. To those who have conquered themselves, the will is a friend. But it is the enemy of those who have not found the Self within them. The supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. They live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame. They are completely fulfilled by spiritual wisdom and Self-realization. Having conquered their senses, they have climbed to the summit of human consciousness. To such people a clod of dirt, a stone and gold are the same. They are equally disposed to family, enemies and friends, to those who support them and those who are hostile, to the good and the evil alike. Because they are impartial, they rise to great heights. Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in  See full.

This Wednesday evening was particularly deep and moving, as it went right to the heart of the exploration of Truth. Neil began the discussion by pointing to the fact that many things in life transcend mere intellectual understanding and demand the kind of contemplation that can only be discovered through the transcendental practice of meditation.

I liked how Peggy shared the quote from the Bible about the purpose of meditation and spiritual growth being about accessing the "peace that passeth understanding."

There was a lot of discussion around how the mind can be a very problematic instrument, guiding us to do things that go against our deepest values due to the intensity of the conditioning from the world around us.

That reminded me of the wonderful wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita (the Bible of Yoga) and how it is really a guidebook for those seeking the ability to master their own minds. In Chapter Six, "The Practice of Meditation," the Gita provides some particularly sage advice:

"Reshape yourself through the power of your will; never let yourself be degraded by self-will. The will is the only friend of the Self, and the will is the only enemy of the Self.

To those who have conquered themselves, the will is a friend. But it is the enemy of those who have not found the Self within them.

The supreme Reality stands revealed in the consciousness of those who have conquered themselves. They live in peace, alike in cold and heat, pleasure and pain, praise and blame.

They are completely fulfilled by spiritual wisdom and Self-realization. Having conquered their senses, they have climbed to the summit of human consciousness. To such people a clod of dirt, a stone and gold are the same. They are equally disposed to family, enemies and friends, to those who support them and those who are hostile, to the good and the evil alike. Because they are impartial, they rise to great heights.

Those who aspire to the state of yoga should seek the Self in inner solitude through meditation. With body and mind controlled they should constantly practice one-pointedness, free from expectations and attachment to material possessions."

When one has mastered the mind, then, he or she can view the whole world with an equal eye. The distinction between good and bad, positive and negative, sinner and saint begin to vanish as one becomes fixated on a higher reality that transends the limitations of the duality of our mundane existence. To 'rise above,' then, one actually need only change the way he or she views the world as it is. Developing perfect equanimity of mind toward joy and sorrow.

This kind of detachment demanded by the path of yoga can feel very cold and disheartening, but true yogis are actually some of the most sensitive people in the world. As yoga embraces the totality of existence: peaks and valleys alike. We can only know true joy when we experience the depth of sorrow. I love how this same chapter of the Gita describes what it really means to be established in Yoga:

"The infinite joy of touching Brahman is easily attained by those who are free from the burden of evil and established within themselves. They see the Self in every creature and all creation in the Self. With consciousness unified through meditation, they see everything with an equal eye.

I am ever present to those who have realized me in every creature. Seeing all life as my manifestation, they are never separated from me. They worship me in the hearts of all, and all their actions proceed from me. Wherever they may live, they abide in me.

When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union."

The capital-S self referred to here is the divine essence and potential contained within each person. "I" is Krishna, who is known as one of many forms of "Ishwara" in Sanskrit. Ishwara is essentially a personal form of divinity, personified as a means to enable us to understand and connect with a higher power that ultimately transcends understanding and description. In Christianity, Ishwara is Christ, in Buddhism, it is characterized by the Buddha. Muslims refer to Ishwara as Muhammed. The names are many, but the Truth is ultimately one; one that goes beyond the constraints of name and form.

Religion has become a scary territory for the pursuit of this capital-T Truth these days, due to the corruption and manipulation of many in power. The true essence of all the world religions, however, advocates the development of equanimity of mind, peace and compassion toward all beings. I love how the Buddha in particular always emphasized spiritual and religious seekers to "go and see for yourself." It seems to me like He has much more faith in the Truth than many of the missionaries of other religions who demand that others see Truth through their particular doctines and creeds.

I have personally found yoga and meditation to be the most profound means of discovering Truth. I loved how Pancho reminded us of the way one can cultivate wisdom through this direct experience: how information can be translated into knowledge with the help of the mind, but how experience is necessary for knowledge to morph into true wisdom.

An inspiring example of meditation at work to heal the most profound collective suffering is that described in an article called "One Percent for Peace: The Real War on Terror." The article tells the story of how 1% of the population in war-torn Lebanon gathered together to meditate. Researchers were able to measure the results of the gathering and determined that it actually had a significant impact on reducing war violence! The author describes how this was possible through the relationship between physics and meditation, how "There’s literally a coherence not only in consciousness, but also that coherence is reflected in brain wave patterns, for example. With a large group you can have a constructive interference. It’s a common phenomenon in physics with waves of any type. A laser is a good example. If you have light wave emitting diodes emitting the same frequency then they’ll all fall into synchrony with each other so you get a much more powerful wave."

The writer goes on to further describe how "The results showed a broad societal impact that only has one reference point that makes sense--the meditation intervention. The implication is that when you have coherence in collective consciousness, it creates an environment that allows people to approach the issues differently. It provides an enabling environment. People are able to come together to perceive the possibilities for cooperative work and partnership with their enemies. In terms of quantitative measures the increase in the cooperation parameter across the seven assemblies was 66%. But that hides the richness of what was actually happening on the ground. War deaths are war deaths but cooperation is a little bit more qualitative. Nevertheless, translating the effect into a quantitative number of 66% increase in cooperation, indicates a huge change, resulting in real breakthroughs for peace. During one of the assemblies of meditators, the Lebanese government finally agreed on a security plan for all of Lebanon and was able to obtain the support of Syria and Israel. During another assembly, Syria agreed to a gradual withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon. During another, substantial progress was made in finally implementing a security plan for Beirut."

Meditation, along with yoga are also important aspects of healing suffering at the individual level of addictions. I have been doing research about the healing of addiction recently for the program I am developing in India. In the West, the 12-step programs have been a popular way to deal with addictions, with Alcoholics Anonymous being the most famous of the many, many 'anonymous' groups. The Chopra Center has released a very interesting book called "Freedom from Addiction," which outlines many natural methods of healing addictions of all kinds: to food, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, computers, work, you name it. One section of the book actually analyzes each of the 12 steps and rewrites them with a spiritual framework. Instead of having people self-identify as "Hello, I am so and so and I'm an alcoholic," the language of this program puts people in touch with themselves through connecting us with our deeper essence - with the higher Self. The holistic view of addiction is that it is just a mere forgetting of our true nature as the very bliss and feeling of euphoria sought through one's drug of choice. Everything we are looking for outside ourselves, the approval we seek from others, the desire for connection is actually only to be accessed from within.

I find this view to be very freeing. As the Bible wisely states, we must know the truth and "the truth will set us free." In yoga, as Prakashbhai nicely elaborated on, there are five sheaths, or koshas, that prevent us from what is called the anandamaya kosha (or 'bliss body'). First, there is the annamaya kosha (food body - physical realm). Then there is the pranamaya kosha (energetic body), followed by the manamaya (mental) kosha, the vijnanamaya (discrimating) kosha, which lead to the bliss body accessed through Samadhi: the highest state of Yoga. Discrimination is an important step in the process. In Yoga, discrimination is called viveka in Sanskrit, meaning to discern between the real and unreal. What is real is that which does not change. The only unchanging thing we can find is not a thing at all - it is the soul. To find the soul, however, we have to push beyond even discrimination, beyond sorrow and beyond even joy, to access something more. To realize our deepest essence. 

Master yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar talks about the five kleshas (or afflictions) in his book "Light on Yoga." These afflictions that prevent us from accessing Samadhi include avidya (ignorance), asmita (pride), raga (desires/cravings), dvesha (aversions) and abhinivesha (fear of death). Iyengar states that the primary obstacle in the quest for Samadhi (which is the state sought by addictions of all kinds) is known in Sanskrit as avidya (or ignorance). We get lost in life because we lose our connection to our source, to this greater power we can access within that is also known as Truth.

I love the way the "One Percent for Peace" author puts it at the end of the article when he gives us a call to arms in this quest for Truth, in the struggle for self-mastery:

"The real jihad is not fought with weapons. The real jihad is to create inner peace, to create the inner unity, and slay the inner demons that hold us in separation. That’s the war on terror. Then we really slay terror literally instead of getting caught in this trap of going after terrorists, and thinking, it’s these bad people that are the problem. It’s a complete fantasy and a tragic waste of resources to get caught in that way of thinking. We need to be able to speak plainly about it and not to blame anyone because people at every level of responsibility are using the best techniques that they understand. It's our responsibility to share what we know. It’s a big jump. You’re not going to suddenly change United States policy on the basis of this study until there's a broad enough understanding in the collective consciousness of the country. Politicians are rational people. They’re not going to do something which immediately gets them voted out of office because people don’t understand what they’re doing and they feel frightened. So there’s no blame here. But nevertheless there’s a massive waste of resources compared to what could be done to this real war on terror."

Smita commented on how she liked that the passage is from a book called "A Diamond in the Pocket," as this 'real war on terror' can be fought at any time within oneself. It is truly an inner battle - and one worth fighting, for the treasures that can be discovered from it. After completing my first Vipassana meditation course in India, I really felt as though I had dug and dug and dug through my subconscious mind and could finally gain a glimpse of my soul. It appeared as this beautiful, precious jewel that I was overwhelmingly grateful to have discovered within my own self. Far richer than any treasure found on earth, it was truly an extraordinary experience.

Book five of Savitri by Sri Aurobindo contains a wonderful quotation about Truth as a hidden power, there with us at all times. I will leave it to him to conclude: "There is a power within that knows beyond our knowings. We are greater than our thoughts. And, sometimes, Earth unveils that vision here. To live, to love are signs of infinite things."  

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Three Great Forces, by Brother David Steindl-Rast

FaceBook  On May 17, 2010 Ripa wrote:

Thanks, Chris, for sharing your insightful comments! I agreed with Neil that there were other 'great forces' left out of this passage - particularly fear. Swami Sivananda has said that fear is the root cause of all the negative emotions. And at the root of all fear lies a fundamental fear, which is that of death. Fear causes people to do many things that they later regret. So many people, for example, stay in abusive relationships due to the fear of being alone. Fears around financial sustainability abound, and yet so many of the poorest people I have met have television sets and expensive clothing to address the fear of not fitting in without accounting for basic necessities like healthy food. This pattern also has to do with another great force: greed. It takes a degree of fearlessness to truly live simply and yet, when we live simply, all our needs stand a higher chance of being fulfilled. As Gandhiji once said, "There is enough for human need, but not enough for human greed." Fear causes us to remain small and limited by the constraints of what we already know. Many people even associate being 'adult' with a point at which growth stops. Collectively, fear tends to be conditioned deeply into the western psyche in particular, with the government choosing to respond to the fear of being attacked by terrorists by fighting a war against terror that only serves to attract more of the same treatment. Thus, fear becomes cylical, tending to accelerate deeper and deeper, only becoming increasingly more difficult to root out as fear follows this natural process of intensification. As Theodore Vail once said, "Real difficulties can be overcome, It is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable." So much of fear, particularly in the West, is just a quality of an unfocused mind. Many of the people I have met who live in the most dangerous circumstances are also the most fearless - because they are more acutely aware of the brevity of life, it seems, a  See full.

Thanks, Chris, for sharing your insightful comments! I agreed with Neil that there were other 'great forces' left out of this passage - particularly fear. Swami Sivananda has said that fear is the root cause of all the negative emotions. And at the root of all fear lies a fundamental fear, which is that of death. Fear causes people to do many things that they later regret. So many people, for example, stay in abusive relationships due to the fear of being alone. Fears around financial sustainability abound, and yet so many of the poorest people I have met have television sets and expensive clothing to address the fear of not fitting in without accounting for basic necessities like healthy food. This pattern also has to do with another great force: greed. It takes a degree of fearlessness to truly live simply and yet, when we live simply, all our needs stand a higher chance of being fulfilled. As Gandhiji once said, "There is enough for human need, but not enough for human greed."

Fear causes us to remain small and limited by the constraints of what we already know. Many people even associate being 'adult' with a point at which growth stops. Collectively, fear tends to be conditioned deeply into the western psyche in particular, with the government choosing to respond to the fear of being attacked by terrorists by fighting a war against terror that only serves to attract more of the same treatment. Thus, fear becomes cylical, tending to accelerate deeper and deeper, only becoming increasingly more difficult to root out as fear follows this natural process of intensification.

As Theodore Vail once said, "Real difficulties can be overcome, It is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable." So much of fear, particularly in the West, is just a quality of an unfocused mind. Many of the people I have met who live in the most dangerous circumstances are also the most fearless - because they are more acutely aware of the brevity of life, it seems, and thus tend to make the most out of every moment. This of course doesn't mean more work needs to be done to make the world a safer place, but at the same time, it is important to recognize that, beyond proper law enforcement, one of the most sustainable ways of creating a safer world is to reach out to those who cause danger, violence and crime. To teach them how to handle their anger, in particular...

That's why I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to teach yoga and meditation in juvenile halls (prisons). It's so amazing to see the transformation that comes about when young people learn how to recognize and thereby control their own anger (instead of letting their anger control them, leading to crime and self-destruction). The gift of awareness, as Chris described, is so important in the process of transforming negative emotions. That's why we always have our youth really identify what anger feels like in their bodies, to notice their heart pounding faster when they get mad. How fast their breathing becomes. The heat on the body. Tension in the forehead. Blood rushing to the head.

It's important, as Aumi wisely shared, to accept anger as an indicator, particularly when healing victims of abuse. "In between the poles of expression and suppression lies a third option, of mere observation." Being able to observe anger is important, because it also enables one to transmute the strong energy of anger (connected to pitta, or the element of fire in Ayurveda) into a powerful force for creating change in the world. Fire can burn and harm the body, but it is also what fuels transformation, whether personal or collective. And ahimsa takes a lot of strength and power. As Gandhiji once said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong." In order to fully forgive, to fully embody the powerful 'soul force' Gandhiji did, one needs to fully accept and feel the emotion of anger pass through the body and mind.

Yoga practices provide an amazing opportunity to work with the sensations in the body and to transform negative emotions like anger, lust and laziness. Backbending poses, for example, are powerful ways to overcome anger, through opening the heart. Inversions help one manage feelings of lust. Many bramacharis, or celibate men with monk-like vows, were able to transmute sexual desire through practicing headstands, shoulderstands and handstands on a regular basis in the times of the ancient Indian rishis, or seers, from whom modern yoga practices stem. For laziness, surya namaskar (sun salutation) sequences help the body get moving. Asanas like halasana (plough pose) and salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand) are specifically designed to help one overcome feelings of laziness.

I first learned about Ayurveda during my yoga teacher training days last year. It was very interesting, and a bit scary, to learn about how intimately connected food is with the emotions. In the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 17, verse 9, it says "Foods that are bitter, sour, saline, excessively hot, pungent, dry and burning are liked by the rajasic and are productive of pain, grief and disease." Rajasic foods and substances include onions, garlic, radishes, coffee, tea, tobacco and any other kind of stimulant. Refined (white) sugar, soft drinks, pungent spices, highly seasoned foods and anything that is excessively hot, bitter, sour or saline is thought to be rajasic. Rajasic foods are believed to increase feelings of anger, lust, greed, violence and selfishness. On a larger scale, these kinds of foods actually lead directly to violence and wars.

The next verse of the Gita says "That food which is stale, tasteless, putrid, rotten and impure refuse, is the food liked by the tamasic." Tamasic foods and substances include meat, fish, all intoxicants (drugs and alcohol), canned, processed and frozen foods, as well as those that are deep-fried. Tamasic foods also include stale, decomposed, unclean, over and unripe fruits. Food that is reheated too many times becomes tamasic. Tamasic foods make people heavy, dull, inert and lazy. They fill the mind with depression, darkness, anger and other 'great enemies.' 

In the fifth verse of this Gita chapter, sattvic foods are described as "The foods which increase life, purity, strength, health, joy and cheerfulness, which are savory and oleaginous, substantial and agreeable." Sattvic foods are fresh and natural, without preservatives and consumed either raw, steamed or lightly cooked. Grains, proteins like nuts, pulses and seeds, dried and fresh fruits and seeded vegetables, as well as natural sweeteners (including honey, molasses, maple syrup and raw cane sugar) are all examples of sattvic foods. Sattvic foods help conquer the great forces while increasing the vitality, energy, health and joy one feels. These foods also keep the mind pure and calm and generate equanimity, inner peace and poise. Sattvic foods are most conducive to the practice of meditation and provide the maximum energy to increase the strength and endurance of those who do even the most strenuous work.

The presence of the great forces, though destructive, must never be written off, as it is only through knowing one's weaknesses that an individual can transform them into his or her greatest strengths - which, as Harshida Auntie beautifully shared, is possible to do through simply sitting still in silence. In the writings of the Mother, it has been said that, "You carry in yourself all the obstacles necessary to make your realization perfect. Always you will see that within you the shadow and the light are equal; you have an ability, you have also the negation of this ability. But if you discover a very black hole, a thick shadow, be sure there is somewhere in you a great light. It is up to you to know how to use the one to realize the other."

 

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Learning to 'Presence', by Peter Senge

FaceBook  On May 10, 2010 Ripa wrote:

Thanks, Somikbhai, for the inspiration and encouragement to write! Habitual patterns of the mind were a strong theme of the evening. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Sow a thought and reap an action, Sow an act and reap a habit, Sow a habit and reap a character, Sow a character and reap a destiny." The core of the yoga and meditation practices is arguably the work we do to purify and thereby transform what are called samskaras in Sanskrit, or sankaras in Pali (the ancient language of Gautama the Buddha). These samskaras are like habits, in that they constitute the accumulated impressions - scientifically speaking, the neuron patterns - that determine our character, ways of thinking and behaving and overall outlook on and approach to life. I like Yoga Journal writer and meditation teacher Sally Kempton's interpretation of samskaras as "some scars." Kempton describes samskaras as energy patterns in the consciousness, mental grooves that are like rivulets in sand that allow water to run in specific patterns. She often talks about how samskaras create our 'default' mental, physical and emotional settings. The thought "I can't do this" when faced with a new challenge is a negative samskara that can be replaced by the confidence you feel when you finally master something that was initially challenging. Neurophysiologists who map neural pathways in the brain reveal how every time we react a specfic way, such as by becoming angry, or overeating, we strengthen the power of that behavior pattern. The yogic texts describe the same phenomenon; Master Patanjali (author of the treatise "Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) is often referred to as a master psychologist. The way we think, feel, react and behave at any time are due to samskaras, or neural connections that function in our subconscious minds.Once our samskaric pathways are molded in place, most of us run around in them, like mice spinning around endlessly in a wheel, going absolutely nowhere  See full.

Thanks, Somikbhai, for the inspiration and encouragement to write!

Habitual patterns of the mind were a strong theme of the evening. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Sow a thought and reap an action, Sow an act and reap a habit, Sow a habit and reap a character, Sow a character and reap a destiny."

The core of the yoga and meditation practices is arguably the work we do to purify and thereby transform what are called samskaras in Sanskrit, or sankaras in Pali (the ancient language of Gautama the Buddha). These samskaras are like habits, in that they constitute the accumulated impressions - scientifically speaking, the neuron patterns - that determine our character, ways of thinking and behaving and overall outlook on and approach to life.

I like Yoga Journal writer and meditation teacher Sally Kempton's interpretation of samskaras as "some scars." Kempton describes samskaras as energy patterns in the consciousness, mental grooves that are like rivulets in sand that allow water to run in specific patterns. She often talks about how samskaras create our 'default' mental, physical and emotional settings.

The thought "I can't do this" when faced with a new challenge is a negative samskara that can be replaced by the confidence you feel when you finally master something that was initially challenging.

Neurophysiologists who map neural pathways in the brain reveal how every time we react a specfic way, such as by becoming angry, or overeating, we strengthen the power of that behavior pattern. The yogic texts describe the same phenomenon; Master Patanjali (author of the treatise "Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) is often referred to as a master psychologist. The way we think, feel, react and behave at any time are due to samskaras, or neural connections that function in our subconscious minds.Once our samskaric pathways are molded in place, most of us run around in them, like mice spinning around endlessly in a wheel, going absolutely nowhere with great fury.

The real work of yoga and meditation, then, is to learn to develop equanimity toward negative samskaras, developing awareness to be able to observe as countless impurities arise in the mind and in the body as physical sensations that will all ultimately pass away. Patience is key in this purification process, as is persistence.

A wakeup call is necessary to ignite this process of transformation. Often, we are not aware of the negative patterns, or wheels we spin around in until a moment of crisis occurs. We have a car accident. A severe health problem. A significant life relationship breaks up. It is difficult to be grateful for life's challenges, but crisis situations truly provide the opportunity for the deepest healing to take place.

Many people wonder how they can change the qualities in themselves that create suffering - anger, hatred, fear, jealousy and all sorts of addictive behaviors. Master Patanjali answers this question in the 21st verse of the first chapter of his Yoga Sutras: Teevra-Samvegaanam Asana, which literally translates to: "Liberation comes quickly when the desire for it is intense."

The great early 20th century Indian spiritual teacher Sri Aurobindo said that human aspiration beckons the force of divine grace, which fuels spiritual breakthrough. Grace often either comes within as inspiration, and from without as the help and support we receive from others.

So the essence of yoga and meditation is really the effort to accumulate as many new positive samskaras as possible to overwhelm and eventually get rid of the old ones. Developing a daily practice of yoga and/or meditation is a great way to build positive samskaras. One of the main benefits of these practices is the heightened level of awareness they develop, which enable us to consciously change our negative ways of thinking and behaving to more positive ones. Every thought and physical sensation on the body (which are both usually linked, at the deepest level) become opportunities for transformation.

Master Patanjali offers another aphorism for transformation in sutra 33 of the second chapter of his Yoga Sutras: "Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam," which translates, “When negative or harmful thoughts disturb the mind, they can be overcome by constantly thinking of their opposites.'' After practicing thought replacement for a while, every time you experience fear, for example, you will have developed an alternate set of samskaric grooves that will come up with your fear to remind you of more positive ways to address the fear. Over time, this set of grooves will become as strong as your fear and provide more choices about how to respond instead of just blindly reacting. 

I recently attended a very interesting trauma training with the Mind Body Awareness (MBA) Project, an organization I teach meditation in juvenile hall through. The presenter illustrated the cycle of trauma with a downward-pointing curve. When a person is in homeostatis, the reaction to an external threat is automatic and intelligent. For example, if you see a lion on the horizon, you will turn and move away if you're far enough, or try to climb up a tree if not. 

As a traumatic experience escalates, one moves into the activation stage of trauma, in which makes he or she a 'flight' or 'fight' decision to react. In severe cases of trauma, at the height of the activation stage, one transitions into 'freeze' mode. One training participant pointed out how the word 'free' is contained within 'freeze' - and frozen people can indeed look as though they are enlightened and liberated!

One can never find freedom untl they go through the deactivation stage, however. The presenter shared how physically shaking is a potent way of resolving trauma: it exemplifies the willingness to be vulnerable to one's own experience and is a neurological way of completing the stress response to return to homeostatis. Not being 'shaken up,' then means one has not left freeze mode. Another participant pointed out how so many people remain perpetually in freeze mode. Corporate executives are often as physically stiff as the big prison inmates, as trauma is nothing but compounded stress: a sadly widespread phenomenon in modern times!

The three things that are required for deactivation to successfully occur are: 1. Safety, 2. Time without stress and 3. Giving one's body permission to react however it wishes, even if it is uncomfortable. The more trauma and stress that accumulate in the system, the harder and longer it is for deactivation to occur.

An interesting insight from the training was how the key to the success of yoga in healing trauma was that people counted the seconds they held the postures for. This enabled them to acknowledge the reality of change as the only constant in the practice - as in life. This is very aligned with the wisdom of aniccha, a Pali word that literally means 'not everlasting' and symbolizes the cycle of birth, growth, decay, and death through which every living being must pass.

People who become traumatized never escape moments of trauma and stress - that is what it means to be frozen. Yet, change is the very essence and nature of life on earth. Plants, insects, the moon, stars and galaxies are constantly dying and being reborn. Death and birth are an eternal dance - dissolution and creation are a constant reality of the material plane of existence. The more comfortable we can become with the cyclical nature of life, the more fully we are able to live, without holding back or holding onto cravings or aversions. In embracing all that comes our way in this detached manner, we can discover the complete and total freedom (moksha in Sanskrit) that the yogis and sages call Self-realization.

The key to discovering this inner freedom lies in, as Pancho astutely pointed out, the practice of cultivating ahimsa, or compassion. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, chapter two, verse 35: Ahimsa-Pratisthayam Tat-Sannidhau Vaira-Tyagah translates "When non-violence is firmly established, hostility vanishes in the yogi's presence." Gandhiji is a golden example of a person firmly rooted in nonviolence, who radiated this conviction to others, and continues to do so now after even death. He was so powerful that not even violent thoughts could exist in his presence, as is verified by the many people who report that their lives changed drastically upon catching just a glimpse of Gandhiji. I personally experienced a deep transformation of consciouness when I met a modern hugging saint from Kerala called Ammachi (who many call a Gandhi of modern times).

Dinesh Uncle wisely pointed out how crucial the constant cultivation of consciousness is, as meditation is really just a way of practicing and preparing for the moment of death. So that when it is our time to go, we can transition out of this life cycle with as much compassion and equanimity as possible, to gain upliftment and even liberation of the soul. This was Gandiji's greatest legacy in my eyes: how he was able to fold his hands in a prayer even as he was consious of the fact that he was about to be assassinated - and actually blessed his murderer. Provides incredible inspiration to keep practicing, indeed!

 

 

 

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What is Goodness?, by Rabindranath Tagore

FaceBook  On May 2, 2010 Ripa wrote:

I really liked how Somikbhai reminded us of the importance of allowing love to be the motivating force behind all of our actions. I believe there is a real polarity between fear and love. Swami Sivananda shared how the fear of death underlies all other fears. I have found that fear is always connected with negative emotions in some way. Anger often masks fear. Even the big tough guys in juvenile hall and prison who others get afraid of are themselves scared: of being judged, stolen from or discriminated against. Far from being passive, it takes tremendous courage to be truly non-violent. To face the threat of even being killed without reacting on the deepest cellular level is a feat that can be achieved only with years of meditation practice. Reactions of anger and violence are always based on the fear of what will happen to oneself if one does not respond to hatred with hatred. Fear begets more of the same. As Martin Luther King Jr. shared in his 1963 "Strength to Love" speech, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Just as the fear of death underlies all other fears, so too does Swami Sivananda share how the desire for love underlies all other desires. All the positive emotions (like gratitude, as Somikbhai shared through his dissertation experience) are really a manifestation of love in some form. I like how Ammachi (hugging saint from Kerala) shares that "True love is fearlessness." True love, or fearlessness, is also a choice we can make in any given moment. To lead us, as in the moksha (liberation) mantra, from the unreal to the real. From darkness to light. From mortality to immortality. In the quest for ultimate liberation of the soul (the real aim of the spiritual journey), I am reminded of how essential humility is. How a student once approached a spiritual guru (teacher) for knowledge, only to be dismissed by this great teacher. "How could y  See full.

I really liked how Somikbhai reminded us of the importance of allowing love to be the motivating force behind all of our actions.

I believe there is a real polarity between fear and love. Swami Sivananda shared how the fear of death underlies all other fears. I have found that fear is always connected with negative emotions in some way. Anger often masks fear. Even the big tough guys in juvenile hall and prison who others get afraid of are themselves scared: of being judged, stolen from or discriminated against.

Far from being passive, it takes tremendous courage to be truly non-violent. To face the threat of even being killed without reacting on the deepest cellular level is a feat that can be achieved only with years of meditation practice. Reactions of anger and violence are always based on the fear of what will happen to oneself if one does not respond to hatred with hatred. Fear begets more of the same.

As Martin Luther King Jr. shared in his 1963 "Strength to Love" speech, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Just as the fear of death underlies all other fears, so too does Swami Sivananda share how the desire for love underlies all other desires. All the positive emotions (like gratitude, as Somikbhai shared through his dissertation experience) are really a manifestation of love in some form.

I like how Ammachi (hugging saint from Kerala) shares that "True love is fearlessness." True love, or fearlessness, is also a choice we can make in any given moment. To lead us, as in the moksha (liberation) mantra, from the unreal to the real. From darkness to light. From mortality to immortality.

In the quest for ultimate liberation of the soul (the real aim of the spiritual journey), I am reminded of how essential humility is. How a student once approached a spiritual guru (teacher) for knowledge, only to be dismissed by this great teacher. "How could you refuse me knowledge? I am a learned scholar already - you need to lead me to full enlightenment!" the student exclaimed.

"How can I possibly teach you anything?" the great teacher calmly replied. "For your cup is already full."

Like that, we must empty ourselves of everything we think we have known in order to receive the ultimate knowledge or Truth. 

Manvi's sharing about the battle within between fear and love also reminded me of how the Bhagavad Gita seems to, on the surface, just be a dialogue between two mythical figures on the battlefield at the dawn of Indian history, as the warrior Arjuna freaks out to Krishna about whether to fight the battle ahead. The Gita's real subject is actually the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every person must wage to live a life that is fulfilling, a life that could meaningfully contribute to the lives of others. A life that can lead to the attainment of the lofty goal of full liberation from the sufferings of human life and thereby serve as an example for others.

I was reminded by a great teacher last weekend about how when reading texts like the Gita, there are often passages that on first glance seem confusing and that we thus often cast of, but how these passages often have real treasures underneath that we have to dig to discover. And, as Krishna wisely reminds Arjuna, "No effort on this path goes to waste."

In terms of goodness, I am also reminded of the Aesop quote that asserts how "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

I really liked how Meghna built upon and ultimately transcended the polarity between fear and love by sharing how Jayeshbhai told her when she was struggling to make a decision to "do whatever arises in you from love, whether or not this seems like the right or wrong thing to do in conventional terms."

I wholeheartedly agree with Jayeshbhai and with Martin Luther King Jr., who shared in his December 1968 Nobel Prize lecture how "The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued that self-defeating path of hate. Love is the key to the solution of the problems of the world."

 

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Neighbors Are Our Practice, by Tenzin Palmo

FaceBook  On May 2, 2010 Ripa wrote:

Just wanted to follow-up (albeit very late) on Somikbhai's comment with a link to the story on the 'highest yoga.'

 

Daily Life of Art, by Nina Wise

FaceBook  On Apr 27, 2010 Ripa wrote:

As per dear Somikbhai's comment, here is the link to a story I wrote on my blog about the beautiful boys in New Delhi. Thanks for a lovely evening! :-)

 

We Have Forgotten Sabbath, by Wayne Muller

FaceBook  On Apr 10, 2010 Ripa wrote:

Thanks to all who post on these iJourneys...really lovely to read and reflect on...as Somik eloquently spoke on Wednesday of the above experiences, the song "I Hope You Dance" started playing in my mind...this song was popular several years ago. It carries significance on my journey, as my 8th grade teacher had framed the lyrics for each of us in his language arts class: a potent reminder to make the most of every moment. Enjoy! :-) I hope you never lose your sense of wonder You get your fill to eat, but always keep that hunger May you never take one single breath for granted God forbid love ever leave you empty handed Chorus: I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance, I hope you dance I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance Never settle for the path of least resistance Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they're worth takin’ Lovin’ might be a mistake but it's worth makin’ Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter When you come close to selling out, reconsider Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance (time is a wheel in constant motion always) I hope you dance (rolling us along) I hope you dance (tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder) I hope you dance (where those years have gone) I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean, Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens, Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance, And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, dance, I hope you dance, I hope you dance (time is wheel in constant motion always) I hope you dance (rolling us along) I hope you dance (tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)  See full.

Thanks to all who post on these iJourneys...really lovely to read and reflect on...as Somik eloquently spoke on Wednesday of the above experiences, the song "I Hope You Dance" started playing in my mind...this song was popular several years ago. It carries significance on my journey, as my 8th grade teacher had framed the lyrics for each of us in his language arts class: a potent reminder to make the most of every moment. Enjoy! :-)

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat, but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

Chorus: I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance, I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they're worth takin’
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it's worth makin’
Don't let some hell bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance

And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance (time is a wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance (rolling us along)
I hope you dance (tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance (where those years have gone)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,

dance, I hope you dance,
I hope you dance (time is wheel in constant motion always)
I hope you dance (rolling us along)
I hope you dance (tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
I hope you dance (where those years have gone)
(tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder)
(where those years have gone)

 

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