learning stillness

Practicing every day


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Loving Kindness – Keep Practicing

It’s been months since I’ve written anything here. Which is fine, because I don’t really do much with my blog in the way of advertising or getting people to follow it. I write when I feel like I have something to say and I’m usually pretty surprised that anyone cares enough to read my ramblings, so thank you if you are still reading along. The past few months I’ve been sort of allowing things to marinate within me. New perspectives and new levels of understanding have been revealing themselves and I have been sitting with them. Trying to be as accepting and as non-reactive as possible. Action through inaction, in a way.

It seems like there has been an awful lot of pain in the air recently. People I care about have been struggling. Not so much on the physical front, although our bodies do have a curious way of telling on us, showing off our inability to soften, our exhaustion and our outright tenderness even as we try to soldier past these emotions; even as we tie on a mask of indifference. I hope relief is coming soon for everyone.

This winter has been exceedingly long and hard in terms of weather here in Philadelphia. The cold, the ice and the snow have made the city weary. People seem to feel trapped. Alone. Anxious and depressed. Stuck. It seems like this dreadfully long season is going to be unending, even today as the first day of spring arrives. My husband keeps repeating that line from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, “Always winter, never Christmas.” I keep thinking we might be trapped in the same season forever, like some seasonal version of “Groundhog Day.”

Still, this winter has brought me some new perspectives, in addition to an improved ability to drive in snow and ice. I have been thinking a lot about Pratayahra. I read somewhere that BKS Iyengar said the translation of Pratayahara was roughly “To draw toward the opposite.” I like that definition. Another one I recently heard was “To withdraw from the ordinary.” I like these both so much more than the translation I’ve been familiar with, which is simply “sensory withdraw.” These expanded translations remind me that the real work is always being done on the inside, and that tapas is not measured by how difficult the level of asana performed seems to be to the outside observer.

To go inside is a scary thing. It’s ironic because it took me a few years of practice to even get to a place where I could go inside. I was forever being drawn out during practice. A friend recently described me (rather accurately) as having once been “a stress case.”  Often feeling like I was practicing for the approval of others, all too aware of things going on around me. Finally, I found a way in. I was able to tap into the Tristhana method (asana, breath and drishti) and withdraw. Of course, once I got inside I found out just how noisy it is in there; how few and far between moments without vrittis (fluctuations of the mind – AKA thoughts) actually are. No wonder I was so resistant to going inside. It’s can be pretty damn painful in there. It can feel like I am trapped having endless conversations with myself. There are memories of experiences that have not loosened their grip over time and have unconsciously morphed into conditioned responses. There is a powerful sense of attraction and aversion constantly at play. Worse still, there is an intellect that is frantically trying to think its way out of “this mess.”

I had a string of really “bad” practices the past two weeks. I have been busier than usual working on a fundraiser for Odanadi, working at my jobs a lot, teaching, and just feeling run down in general. My body responded in kind and practice at 4 AM in the cold and dark of this protracted winter elicited some of my most deeply programmed, unconscious responses. There were many days when my body simply was not responding as it has in the recent past to the postures. So I fought. I dragged myself to my heels and I struggled to pull my legs further down my back. I did 5, 6, 7 repetitions of the same arm balance watching as numbers 3 through 7 got progressively further from the mark. I muscled through when I heard the old, ugly voice in my head: “Your practice is going to fall apart” and “You are a fraud,”  followed by “You aren’t worth loving.” I was reacting. Unconsciously. I fell into the grooves of my deepest samskara as I tried to use my body to prove my value.

It wasn’t until I sat down yesterday to do The Loving Kindness Meditation I’ve been working with for the past year that these two weeks of practice really came into focus. I have been doing unnecessary battle with myself again.

I am grateful for the discernment that practice continues to give me. It has allowed me to be grateful for the hardest practices  On the days where I fall into the flow of the practice and my mind ceases to interfere for small but precious pockets of time I see the possibilities in this practice. I get to taste the sweetness that is inside. These glimpses of the God within sustain me and allow me to continue on in my practice. Yet, it is the hard days that this recently cultivated discernment has allowed me to appreciate and value. The challenging days provide me with an opportunity to see my patterns, to watch how my thoughts turn to actions. On these days I am brought face to face with the ways in which the Kleshas (obstacles) manifest in me and blind me to the true happiness inside. Practice, for me, has very much been a journey of gathering information. Learning about who I am and who I think I am. Figuring out how to keep working, keep believing and keep going in the winter, and how to enjoy the warmth of the spring without attaching to it or identifying with it. There is still so much more practice ahead of me, asana and non-asana related. I am thankful for that as well. I am thankful to have a system in which to work and enough discernment cultivated to understand that I am worth the effort.

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(Morning view. Not a bad practice buddy…)