Chanting For Peace
Shanti means peace, rest, calmness, tranquility, or bliss.
In the Buddhist philosophy, shanti refers primarily to inner peace for how can we extend peace to others if we do not have it within ourselves?
T. S. Eliot, in his poem The Waste Land translated it as "The Peace which passeth understanding".
It is an all encompassing concept that requires we stay peaceful in the midst of stress and chaos. It is a concept that requires action; merely knowing that the sanskrit word shanti means nothing if we do not act on it.
“Peace is not something you wish for; It's something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And something you give away.” Robert Fulghum
The meaning of the Shanti Paath I chanted in class is:
"May peace radiate in the whole sky as well as in the vast ethereal space everywhere.
May peace reign all over this earth, in water and in all herbs, trees and creepers.
May peace flow over the whole universe.
May peace be in the Supreme Being Brahman.
And may we realize that peace.
Aum peace, peace, peace.
Poem from class:
Today I Come to the Mat- Temple Symonds
Today I come to the mat
Seeking answers from my spirit
My breath is present
I rest upon ujjayi
Feeling the inhalation fill my body
Listening to the exhalation
As my hips settle in surrender and
My heart opens
Bruised and broken
The scars that I have tried to hide from view
Are now fully visible
Gratitude fills me
As I prepare to accept all outcomes
Today I come to the mat
Seeking freedom from suffering
With compassion for my wounded heart
And in honor of my divine spark.
Stop light of Life
Imagine you are sitting in your car before a stop light. Your light is red and you nonchalantly watch the cars crossing back and forth in front of you for, of course, their light is green. You settle the back of your head against your headrest and embrace the quiet sound of tires on the pavement. One quiet whoosh, another quiet whoosh. The sound is very meditational. You realize that you have been sitting there an awfully long time. You peer closer at the cars going by and wonder why you hadn't seen it before. Why you hadn't been present, more aware of your surroundings. Everything you have been need to release, to get rid of, has been driving by right before your eyes. Now that you have opened your awareness, acknowledge each weight you have been lugging around and let it go on its way. Part of you feels calm and part of you feels excited. You are no longer anxious for the light to turn green. You embrace this opportunity to clear your own slate. You sit more deeply into your seat and take the time it takes to let everything go by on its own. You stay until the intersection clears and is quiet. You know when the light does turn green, it will be because you are ready to peacefully move forward.
How many of life's intersections have we been at without recognizing the lesson or opportunity before us? Is there a map that shows us where to stop?
"Sometimes she wondered if everyone had a map but her. Did they all actually know where they were going? Did they have the directions to this happily ever after? And if they did know, why did they never stop? So what if she didn't have a map. She had good strong legs, strong enough to chase the happily ever after… And a strong enough heart to know that sometimes stopping to enjoy the happily right now was pretty good, too." Jodi Hills
“In thy face I see the map of honor, truth, and loyalty” William Shakespeare
Do we wear the map of our soul on our face?
And, if someone were to hand you a life-map, would you take it? Or would you rather be surprised at every turn? Would you rather overcome the dead ends on your own or have the key to never being in one?
You are back in front of that very same red stoplight you were at earlier. I want you to notice how, this time, there are barely any cars, if even any. You set your head back and feel your body melting into the seat that supports you. You breathe in. Life is good. You are content with not having a map; the GPS you hear is the sound of your inner voice.
Picture a roller coaster. Then picture yourself in one of the cars waiting for the ride to start. It's usually a slow foreboding crawl up to the coaster's highest point and then a malicious pause. It is only seconds, maybe, that you pause there though it seems like plenty of time to have a lengthy discussion in your head as to why you got on this ride in the first place. You know what is coming; it is inevitable. No one can relieve the fright or suspense for you...you are all alone. The coaster begins to move and ,suddenly, you drop. Everyone is screaming together and that aloneness is replaced with a community of yells and cheers.
Our life path has ups and downs, too. Many merge like roller coaster tracks overlapping each other creating odd patterns. Sometimes we feel surrounded by friends, family and community. Other times, we feel very dramatically alone. But, are we really?
In the book, Anam Cara (Soul Friend), John Donahue writes about the Irish ruins. He states, "Ireland is a land of many ruins. Ruins are not empty. They are sacred places full of presence."
He is referring to the imprint and energy previous souls have left attached to these areas. Could you consider, when you are feeling alone, that all of the previous souls you have known are also with you in the form of energy? Spirit guides, deceased loved ones, angels, energies from previous lives...all with you, loving you, supporting you, acknowledging your presence as much as you acknowledge theirs.
Donahue continues, "Love does not remain within the heart; it flows out to build secret tabernacles in a landscape."
This theme was never really intended to be about being alone. It is more of a reminder to open your heart and mind to all of the amazing support that you have around and within you. Using your yoga to stay present will help better identify, or notice, the signs we receive back.
How do we remember all these spirit energies are around waiting for us to accept their help? Angel whisperer Kyle Gray says, "In order for you to experience your angels and welcome their help – it’s important to shift your vibration first. The easiest way to do this is to think about something you are grateful for. As you focus on your gratitude; feel your heart expand with love and know you are not in this on your own."
Stairway To Self-Awareness
A student asked me if I could present a theme on self-awareness so allow me to first offer up a working definition. Merriam-Webster defines self-awareness as "knowledge and awareness of your own personality or character". This definition seems so limiting so here's mine; self-awareness is being conscious of who we are and the space we are in. Yoga offers tools in self-awareness by teaching us to be present. Some examples are how to be a non-attached witness to what our bodies feel, how to be present in watching our breath and how to focus the mind in meditation. Some of us may feel we do all those things pretty well. Others might admittedly struggle. But, the question is how often are we in "that place" of conscious awareness? For example, I might feel I have conquered those three yoga tools, but if I do not put them into practice off the mat, how can self-awareness exist without the quality of being present? In sanskrit, there is the word "swadhyaya" (swah-dee-eye-yah). "Swa" means self and adhyaya means study. So, perhaps our theme is really about swadhyaya, the study of the Self.
I started writing this by titling this theme "Stairway to Self Awareness" and left that at the top of my document page to come back to. When I returned, my daughter had filled in the rest of the page with the words to "Stairway to Heaven"; she said the title sounded too much like the famous song. I laughed and then took a moment to really read the words. Here is what stood out:
"there are two paths you can go by but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on"
You have the power to make whatever changes you want to in your life. BUT, how can you make changes in your life if you aren't aware of who you presently are??
Abraham Maslow wrote, "What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself."
So, here we go!
Swadhaya translated literally means self-study. It is an active study that cannot be attained through books. You can read them to start you off and give you guidance, but, ultimately, you have to practice this, well, practice!
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the eight branches of yoga. The second branch are the "niyamas" [nee-yah-mah], which offer clear direction in personal discipline. Let's look at the five niyamas and their own lessons in being present just in the studio [it would take many themes to delve into their full meanings].
The first is saucha (cleanliness). In the studio, think about how after class you tidy up your space. Use saucha as a lesson in awareness by thoughtfully wiping down your mat, rather than doing so in auto-pilot. Walking steadily to put away your blocks away. Or a really good example is in taking care to refold your yoga blanket and putting it away neatly for the next class.
The second niyama is santosha (contentment). Can you be aware of your body's abilities on the mat and be content with what the body can do today?
The third is tapas (heat). When you become worked up and overwhelmed on the mat with a pose, self-awareness should lead you into ways to scale back the pose; break it down into smaller more manageable pieces.
Ishvar pranidhana [eesh-varapran-ee-dah-na] (surrender to god) is the fourth niyama. It is a reminder to not force yourself through your practice or compete with others... to learn the idea of surrendering.
And then you have swadhyana. Next time you are in your yoga class, look around at all of the other amazing people who are practicing beside you. And then...realize you are alone on your mat; that yoga is an internal practice of awareness and that lesson is completely up to you.
"'Man, know thyself!' is an ancient dictum often forgotten by even the sincerest aspirant. True unity of spirit cannot come to one bereft of self-knowledge. Introspect, rather than introvert; look within; seek within... Seek knowledge of the self which can set you free from illusions and delusions of the ego, the 'non-self'... To know oneself will require patience..." ~Swami Gitananda Giri
I stumbled across this comment on the internet somewhere: "without swadhyaya there can be no yoga". If I am following the instruction of the class but simply going through the motions while my mind starts preparing a menu for dinner, I am not really practicing all aspects of yoga, am I? Remember, the actual poses are only mentioned a couple of times in the entire Yoga Sutras.
"So the first step is to think of the purpose behind all the things we do. Watch yourself, look within, analyze yourself. We have to form a habit of looking within ourselves again and again as opposed to looking at others or outside us. Thinking is needed, but not about others – Why did he do this or say that? It should be about ourselves. .. Build a relationship with yourself. We don’t know ourselves. We react to others, we don’t even live to the fullest. So think about it. Just listening to a lecture or reading a book is not Swadhyaya. We have to work. Too much reading or television is a waste of our valuable life. Sit quietly and spend time with your Self.“ – Smt. Hansaji J. Yogendra
"That I Could Do"
I had not read this poem, I thought, as I stumbled across a Mary Oliver poem last night. I would have remembered reading it before by the title. Mary Oliver has penned two of my favorite quotes...
"Are you living just a little and calling it a life?" and "Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
No, I hadn't seen this piece of writing before titled "First Yoga Lesson". It is a funny, but accurate, description of a first (or second or 200th) yoga class and a great reminder that what you do on the mat is perfect and all about what your body can do in that moment.
First Yoga Lesson by Mary Oliver
“Be a lotus in the pond,” she said, “opening
slowly, no single energy tugging
against another but peacefully,
I couldn’t even touch my toes.
“Feel your quadriceps stretching?” she asked.
Well, something was certainly stretching.
Standing impressively upright, she
raised one leg and placed it against
the other, then lifted her arms and
shook her hands like leaves. “Be a tree,” she said.
I lay on the floor, exhausted.
But to be a lotus in the pond
opening slowly, and very slowly rising--
that I could do.
How many times have u heard someone- or yourself- say I tried my best but my best wasn't good enough? Isn't it a relief to know your best is always the best on your yoga mat?
"Do not go to the garden of flowers!
O friend! go not there;
In your body is the garden of flowers.
Take your seat on the thousand petals of the
lotus, and there gaze on the infinite beauty.”
Kabir quotes (Indian Philosopher, 1398-1519)
The "garden of flowers" is not your repertoire of poses; the "garden of flowers" is the feeling you get in your heart when you are honoring yourself, your body and your spirit, on the mat.
Remember, as you bring your awareness back to your breath from svasana, "be a lotus in the pond opening slowly, and very slowly rising" because that you can do.
The Yoga-Take on Dread
I really like Halloween. I like decorating for it and I like dressing up. I do not like being scared so I avoid haunted houses and such, but I have been laughing out loud at the Haunted houses Ellen DeGeneres has been sending her staff into- hilarious!
Halloween could be looked at as a good time to address fears, because the scary Halloween aspects are all in jest. Better to deal with a fear of ghosts if they are little kids dressed up rather than real ones, right? Last year, my Halloween theme centered on picking up a witch's broom and sweeping away fear. Today, we are focusing on dread.
Naturally, we tend to move away from the things that we dread. They could be simple things like 'I dread doing the laundry so I will put it off- I'll walk right past the dryer and pretend I don't see it and also pretend I don't know clothes inside are waiting to be folded.' What about bigger "dreads"? Changing a job? Releasing a relationship? Often times, we stay where we are unhappy because the fear of what might be seems scarier. Notice I did not write is scarier; it seems scarier.
Where does dread strike you on the yoga mat? Is it a certain pose? Certain moment? I enjoy svasana so much I dread hearing the words "roll into a fetal position".
Some poses are tricky; some transitions are tricky. But the challenge makes them intriguing. Can you relate your yoga poses to the following quote?
"He was like her favorite type of candy, she realized, a bit sour at first but all sweetness in the long run. Admittedly . . . that tartness was part of the allure all along.” ― Victoria Kahler, Their Friend Scarlet
Are fear and dread the same thing? Fear refers more to an instinct about a specific thing...one can fear spiders, heights, strangers. Dread seems to be a gut feeling about the future. 'I am dreading the moment we have to move from corpse pose into a fetal position.' Or 'I am dreading the test tomorrow.' Both fear and dread are like vampires; rather than draining your blood, they drain your energy leaving you feeling powerless.
“I have always felt that fear possesses such great power, enough to paralyze and quake an individual. Pondering this, I realized that the source of fear's power comes from within me. So, I ask myself, does that not make me the powerful one?”
― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway: Quotes, Verse, & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year