Ayurveda food

Onions, Garlic, and Ayurveda

What Restricted Vegetables Can Show Us about the Yogic Lifestyle

By Natasha Friedman

There’s nothing as mouth-watering as the smell of garlic and onions simmering in a pan full of spices.

Which makes it a bit disappointing (for me, at least) when you start practicing yoga and hear that you’re not supposed to eat them. Or, even worse, when you come to live at a yoga center and find that your favorite allium vegetables are strictly off the menu.

I spent three months this year serving in the kitchen at the Hridaya Yoga Center, and by far the most common question I heard from new students was “Why don’t you use onions and garlic?”
It’s a simple question, but the answer is a little complicated. To explain it fully, we’ll have to go on a brief journey through the basics of Ayurveda, the yogic diet, and tantric theory.

Divine Medicine or Demonic Potion?

There is an interesting Hindu legend about the origins of onions and garlic. According to several sacred texts, when Vishnu was serving the nectar of immortality to the demigods, two demons named Rahu and Ketu snuck into the line. Right as Vishnu put the nectar into their mouths, the Sun and the Moon told him that they were demons. Vishnu immediately beheaded them.

A mixture of demon’s blood and divine ambrosia spilled on the ground, and from this odd combination, onions and garlic emerged.

These vegetables also offer an odd combination of almost divine medicinal properties and potentially destabilizing mental effects.
Garlic, especially, is an incredible natural healer. It’s known for:

  • Boosting the immune system
  • Treating colds and flu
  • Purifying the blood
  • Treating infections, including skin fungus, toothaches, and ear infections
  • Preventing heart disease
  • Improving digestion

In Ayurvedic medicine, garlic-based treatments are used for everything from fixing digestive disorders to relieving asthma—even reversing hair loss!

So, if onions and garlic are so great for the body, why are yogis not supposed to eat them?

Ayurveda in a Nutshell

To understand the story with garlic, onions, and yoga, you’ll need the basics of Ayurvedic dietary principles.

In Ayurveda, all foods can be classified according to two main metrics.

Ayurveda DoshaFirst, there is which dosha they work on. Dosha means constitution, or basic body type and energetic or mental tendencies. Every person falls into some combination of the three doshas: kapha (earth/water), pitta (fire/water), and vata (air/ether).

Depending on which is predominant, you will need to eat, sleep, and exercise in a certain way to maintain a healthy balance.

In general, like attracts like and, if left unchecked, imbalances cause greater imbalances. If you are a kapha person, for example, you might naturally prefer to eat sweet, heavy foods— things that increase kapha. You are actually recommended to avoid these foods and, instead, choose pitta foods to boost the inner fire or vata foods to lighten and reduce kapha.

  • Foods that increase kapha: Bread, pasta, oats, most nuts and dairy, avocado, bananas, coconut, papaya, squash, olives, tahini, and sugar. In general, foods that are sweet, moist, heavy, and have a cooling effect on the body.
  • Foods that increase pitta: Brown rice, corn, millet, tomatoes, carrots, sour fruits, green chilies, onions, garlic, and hot spices. In general, foods that are spicy, sour, increase digestion, and have a heating effect.
  • Foods that increase vata: Wheat, cereals, crackers, apples, dried fruit, lettuce and raw greens, broccoli, popcorn, and coffee. In general, foods that are light, dry, and have a cooling effect.

You can see that our friends onions and garlic fall firmly into the pitta category. That is why they’re so amazing when you get a cold and want to dial up your immune system. (The digestive fire is a purifying force responsible for burning out infections.) However, if you are already pitta-dominant or just don’t want more fiery energy in your life, eat them with caution.

The other Ayurvedic metric is the three gunas. According to the yogic tradition (dating back as far as the Bhagavad Gita), the gunas are fundamental qualities or principles that underlie all of manifestation. They are at work in all matter, including human bodies and minds.

  • Tamas: The principle of inertia, heaviness, and downward motion. A tamasic person will be dull, lazy, insensitive, and dominated by lower impulses.
  • Rajas: The principle of outward motion, activity, and acceleration. Ambition, greed, agitation, competitiveness, and desire are all rajasic characteristics.
  • Sattva: The principle of balance, purity, and stillness. Sattva is the neutral point between all extremes that allows for transcendence. A sattvic person is peaceful and harmonious, which greatly supports the spiritual practice.

Everything you eat influences the balance of the gunas within your being. The more sensitive you are, the more you will become aware of the effects that diet has on your physical and mental state.

  • Sattvic foods: Light, easily digestible foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, plant-based oils, mild spices (turmeric, basil, ginger, cinnamon, etc.), unrefined natural sweeteners (honey, molasses), organic dairy products from well-treated animals.
  • Rajasic foods: Hot foods and strong spices, onions, garlic, eggs, coffee, and chocolate.
  • Tamasic foods: Meat, fish, poultry, alcohol, fermented foods, food that is stale, over-processed, no longer fresh, or difficult to digest.

For obvious reasons, a yogic diet aims to be as sattvic as possible.

Tamasic foods are best avoided. Eating them will make you neither more spiritual nor more effective in other pursuits, but definitely less healthy.

Rajasic foods are a more complicated story.

In general, it’s not advised to eat a rajas-dominant diet: it will make you too hot and agitated, and these foods are hard on your digestive system.

 

Ayurveda-hridaya-yoga meditationIf your spiritual path is more on the ascetic, Vedantic side of the spectrum—all about transcendence, not making use of the energies of the world—you are recommended to avoid them completely. They will stimulate desire and generate too much energy, which will disturb your practice.

However, there are some situations in which you may want to bring some rajas into your diet.

 

For example, if you are living in the normal world (not an ashram or spiritual community) and you have to maintain a career, family, or whatever else alongside your spiritual practice, you might want some extra fire under your bum to stay active and get things done.

Some rajasic foods are actually very healthy in small doses, like strong spices that boost a weak inner fire and kill intestinal parasites. You’ll also notice onions and garlic, with all their medicinal value, solidly on the rajasic list. They speed up your whole system and act as potent aphrodisiacs to boot.

Rajas and Tamas: Should You Deny These Energies or Can You Use Them?

By now, I hope it’s clear why there are no onions and garlic in the Hridaya Dining Room. Although their boost to the immune system (and flavor) is very appreciated, the mental agitation they induce is not so helpful—especially during retreats!

That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with them, or inherently wrong with anything. Any energy ultimately can be transformed and sublimated. This fundamental mutability is the basis of Tantra.

In fact, the tantric traditions, in general, make strong use of rajasic and, even, tamasic energies.

For example, the Panchamakara, or “Five M’s,” is a tantric ritual centered around five substances that are forbidden in conventional Hinduism: madya (wine), mamsa (meat), matsya (fish), mudra (parched grain), and maithuna (sexual intercourse). All of these are elements of rajas or tamas.

Tantrikas would use the meat of an uncastrated male animal, since it is considered the most rajasic.

The fundamental belief is that all energies come from the Self and lead back to the Self. What takes you down can bring you up.

By increasing these frequencies within a controlled setting, they can catapult trained practitioners into a higher state of consciousness.

That said, when it comes to energies that can easily lead you astray, it is good to always reflect and decide whether they’re aligned with your current practice, whether you have the tools to deal with them beneficially, and if your intention is pure.

Conclusion: A Personal Note

Full disclosure: I used to eat tons of onions and garlic (and Sriracha, and hot chilies, and cayenne pepper…) before coming to live at Hridaya. I didn’t really feel that they affected me so much.

While in retreats and serving as a Karma Yogi, I didn’t eat onions or garlic for several months. But, at some point, when I ate a garlicky sauce in a restaurant, I noticed a surprising difference in myself the next day: agitation and restlessness like I hadn’t felt in almost my whole time at the school.

I had been so acclimated to this energy that I wasn’t aware of it, and I had to get it out of my system entirely just to perceive what used to be normal.

In general, the more sensitive you become, the more care you might have to take with your diet. With a strong yogic practice, you might find foods you used to eat a lot now make you feel sick, heavy, or just not in the right state. It doesn’t mean your body has become more fragile but that it’s becoming more finely calibrated, attuned to more refined frequencies.

 

Ayurveda food

 

It might also change with your practice. If you are a kapha-type person, you might be fine eating a lot of spicy pitta foods, but if you work a lot on manipura and grow a huge inner fire, that same old hot sauce might give you a rash.

That’s why there are very few hard and fast rules for a yogic diet. There are plenty of recommendations: the doshas and gunas from Ayurveda, yin and yang polarity from macrobiotics, insights from physical health sciences, and moral considerations that lead many yogis to vegetarianism.

The most important guideline is simply to listen to your body. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and when you want to put anything into your system, it is best if it provides an energy that you want to give back to the world.

 

Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

laughter hridaya yoga

The Divinity of Laughter: The Natural State Is a Playful State

By Sean O’Donnell
“To me, there is nothing more sacred than love and laughter, and there is nothing more prayerful than playfulness.” –Osho

The Vibration of Laughter

In Ramana Maharshi’s Self-Enquiry method, we learn to continually ask the “Who am I?” question. In Ramana’s words, “The question (…) is not really meant to get an answer, the question (…) is meant to dissolve the questioner.”

In my experiences in 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats, as well as through other deeply spiritual events in my life, I have often found that asking myself this question under the right conditions shifts my perception. It brings me to a place where everything around me vibrates, and all the levels of my being are also vibrating. Everything interacts with everything else—the smallest particles of my physical body, emotions, thoughts, and intentions dance with one another and dip their toes into the sea of vibrations around me, rippling out and affecting everything infinitely. At the same time, the ground, the wind, the trees, the birds, and the bees are also vibrating. Those ripples are being received and having an effect on every layer of my being. In this state, it is very easy to comprehend the idea that our perceived separateness is an illusion.

hridaya yoga meditation classIn a meditation retreat, we remain silent order to allow ourselves to more easily perceive these other vibrations. In a Dark Room Retreat, we take away external sound and light to reveal even deeper levels of perception. However, these deeper levels of perception are always present—most of us just need reminders and practices to cultivate our continued awareness of them.

My takeaway from these experiences is a confirmation that we are all, always, in constant communication. How easy is it to tell that someone is in a bad mood before you’ve even asked them how they are doing? How many times have you met somebody who was radiating love as you passed them on the street, and you knew this without ever exchanging a word?

When we start to incorporate vibrational communications into our tool box, it is easy to see how much they influence our surroundings. They are powerful! And one of the most powerful incarnations of these vibrations comes in the form of laughter. Whether it’s an uncontrollable giggle or a belly-laugh so strong that it hurts, laughter can jump around a room and build to a crescendo after starting with just a single seed.

Laughter is contagious, and in a state of freedom, I’ve yet to meet anyone who is immune to it!

Laughter as Medicine

Something I notice is that when I’m upset, or lost, or in a heavy place, or worn down―whatever the case may be―it becomes really hard to laugh. Even when something is objectively funny and clever, I can acknowledge it, but the laughter just doesn’t come very easily, or I block it out. On some level, I believe that the ego just doesn’t want healing to be that easy (but, that is a topic for another time…).

By the same measure, when life is great, we’re in love, everything seems to be going our way, and we’re walking on the clouds, it seems so easy for the littlest blessings to bring a chuckle to our day.

Laughter and the Spiritual HeartOne of the things I find fascinating about laughter is that we laugh the same in every language. It is something that transcends any learned behavior or culture. It is a universal expression. It is a root human experience that we all share.

 

When something happens that is funny, or somebody tells a good joke, a huge amount is communicated. Laughing with someone is a bonding experience. Ah, yes! Somebody else is experiencing the same feeling in the same way as me, at the same time as me, based on the same sensory inputs! Connection! Unity! Love!

Unconsciously, I believe these experiences are what make laughter such powerful medicine. It is a reminder, universally understood and beloved, that we are not separate.

Laughter and the Spiritual Heart

When I first came to the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, my trip was preceded by a year of self-work. I started really holding myself accountable for what I put in my body. I started really tasking myself with controlling my reactions to situations. I started to really budget and criticize how I was using my time every day. All of this self-work became just that: work! Serious business! And all for a reason. But, I always wondered if this seriousness was sustainable. It was certainly necessary in order to get closer to an effortless balance point, and I was doing it all in the name of healing, but I had shut something out that had always been a very important marker of my personal health: levity.

This realization had poked me a couple of times in the year but didn’t really break through until a month after I arrived in Mazunte, near the end of my first 10-day retreat. Sahajananda spoke about returning to and living from a natural state. The part that was music to my ears was his proclamation that “the natural state is a playful state.” It was that simple! Why didn’t somebody tell me this when I first got here? That revelation, perfectly timed, opened up the floodgates for me. I had taken this state of determination, devotion, and stoicism into my retreat. I went through a lot in the meantime, but when I came out, the personal message I chose to receive was that if I wanted to go deeper with this practice, I needed to stop letting my power be consumed by the seriousness that brought me to this place.

The first place I started was with myself. It really helped to start making fun of myself again. In many respects, if you can’t make fun of yourself for something, the ego is probably highly involved in the matter. It really helped to acknowledge the seeming absurdity of many of the decisions that led me to this point in my life, and to laugh at them!

Trusting Life laughterWhich led to being in awe of them. Which led to being in love with them. Which made it easier to laugh at them all over again! And a much healthier, more sustainable, and more playful samskara was created. 

Suddenly, I found myself able to enjoy the sacredness in sitting around a table with people from all over the world, taking turns pronouncing the word “banana” in dramatically different English dialects, but laughing all the same, together.

I’ve always known that I’ve loved to laugh, and I’ve always known the beauty of making others laugh and of laughing together, but I may have taken it for granted at times. Through my experiences at Hridaya, it has become clear to me that laughter is yet another pointer, and our openness to it is yet another marker. A marker and a pointer towards our True Nature, towards the Divine, and one of the most powerful manifestations of spanda that we can access at any given time.

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read his post about Yoni Puja here.

who am I

Who Am I… Playing With?

By Karin Nyberg

“Nothing kills the ego like playfulness, like laughter. When you start taking life as fun the ego has to die, it cannot exist anymore.” –Osho

Right now, reading these words, are you playing? If you were to become playful, how would you notice? Take a leap into the way of play and see what happens! Look at your body, the way you move, your emotions, your thoughts. Then, look at the one who is looking. Who is that? Who am I… playing with?

Once upon a time, one month or one hundred years ago, walking on the beach with troubling thoughts, it hit me again: Hey, I can just play right now! Instantly, a changed perspective—from tunnel vision to a panoramic view. The sand under my feet and the ocean want to play, too, and join the game with cheeky pokes and flirts. Sense, Touch, and Smell jump in and expand the playing field. And from that moment, someone inside has curiously started to observe, finding the stillness within bubbly enthusiasm. Like a child playing hide- and-seek, not being able to contain her excitement. Letting the body and life move in its own flow, she curiously looks out from my eyes. I wonder where I am going. Aha! I’m going to swim. Oh, what a funny shell! Now, my right arm is a slide and the shell takes a ride! And now, a totally new Now! Wow!

who am I playing with

Once upon another now, I am babysitting a Spanish-speaking boy without fully knowing the language. So we speak play-language. He finds a board, puts some stone passengers on it, and we have a bus going to an unknown destination. Look, my legs have become a tunnel and my arm is a gate. “Say the magic word,” I say in play-speech. A word jumps out from his mouth and the gate opens! Following our impulses, we create the game together. By saying YES to whatever the other one comes up with, we end up somewhere we never could have expected.

Are games only happy? No. When kids play, they play it all and want it all. Scared, sad, happy, excited, angry, wild. My friends’ child is just as thrilled when she lays statue-still with closed eyes waiting for me to kiss her forehead as when she waits for me to add some more salt and pepper to her back before I’m a wolf that eats her! So, what if we realize that our whole life is just a game we can play, in Now after Now, with whatever we meet?

“But if we play we won’t get anything done!” says that annoying stalker that keeps on coming back. “Life is serious and adults shouldn’t play!”

So, Oscar Wilde decides to jump in from beyond the grave and help, “Life is too important to take seriously!”

And, George Bernard Shaw joins, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”
“Okay. Whatever. I don’t care, I have important things to do,” the stalker mutters grumpily.
Well, what about this one? Yogi Rajneesh shouts with enthusiasm, “The moment you start seeing life as non-serious, a playfulness, all the burden of your heart disappears. All the fear of death, of life, of love—everything disappears.”

The dead players go back to their afterlives. We go back to our minds. Game over.

Or—can I play with this?

 

Karin is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. This weekend, she will lead a 3-day workshop called The Way of Play. You can find more information and register here.

awareness meditation

Finding Nirvana in Samsara

5 Unexpected Moments in Daily Life That Can Bring You Into Awareness

 

By Natasha Friedman

Are you aware right now?

Who is reading these words?

Who is looking at this screen?

If you are striving for real transformation, your meditation practice has to extend off the cushion. It has to permeate every minute of your life.

You don’t want to be peaceful and present only while meditating: you want it all the time. If you go deep in meditation but run on autopilot the rest of the day you have missed half the point of the practice. You may even create a schism in your personality.

On the flip side, the more you maintain awareness in daily life, the easier it will be to reach higher states of consciousness in meditation. This is your foundation, your springboard from which to fly.

5 Times to Come Back to the Heart

The ideas below are suggestions to experience more awareness during your normal activities.

You will see that even mundane moments can provide a window to the Self. Although I’ve only put my top five here, these opportunities are infinite.

The only limit is your imagination.

 

1. Eating

I put this one first because it merits its own sloka in the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, one of the most important texts of Kashmir Shaivism. This unique book, framed as a dialogue between Shiva and Shakti, presents 112 techniques for recognizing Reality, mostly from within the realm of the senses and daily life.

The techniques range from fairly esoteric meditations to the surprisingly down-to-earth: staring at the sky, relaxing on a swing, and thinking about your lover are mentioned.

Food meditation is sloka 31:

“If one concentrates on eating and drinking and the happiness obtained by that joy of taste, from such contemplation of enjoyment arises the state of fullness, which then becomes supreme joy or bliss.”

You might often spend hours thinking what you will have for lunch, but when it comes time to eat, you’re so distracted by thoughts, conversations, checking your phone, or planning dinner, that you barely notice what goes into your mouth.

Ramana Maharshi once explained external happiness in this way:

“Bliss is only one. That happiness or bliss [ananda] is itself God. Our natural state is bliss. Because this is experienced externally, through various sensual enjoyments, various names are given to it. […] [The jnani] enjoys all the happiness enjoyed by everyone in the world as his own bliss of Brahman [Brahmananda]. Brahmananda is like an ocean. The external types of happiness are like the waves, foam, bubbles, and ripples.”

Eating is one of the most basic external sources of happiness in human existence. Since any mundane pleasure is just a partial reflection of divine bliss, paying attention to it can remind you of what’s casting the reflection.

 

food-meditation

 

So once in a while, take yourself on a lunch date and practice mindful eating. Sit alone without reading or doing anything but enjoying the food. Allow yourself to experience every flavor and sensation. They will take you naturally into meditation.

2. Walking through a door

A classic way to train yourself for more continuity of awareness is to anchor it in triggers that you encounter regularly throughout the day.

First, find the best way for you to come immediately back to yourself. This might be asking yourself “Who am I?” It might be feeling the life in your chest, or tuning into your breath. It may be simply closing your eyes and evoking the sense of pure being.

Whenever you walk through a door, use it as a reminder. It’s similar to reality checks that you can do to encourage lucid dreaming.

Gradually, as you come back again and again to Self-awareness, this state will become your normal way of being.

3. Brushing your teeth

Brushing teeth is such an automatic action you might not even remember doing it. Maybe I’m just spacey, but many times I’ve walked out of the door and locked it behind me only to have this horrible moment of, “Oh no, did I forget to brush my teeth?”

This makes it all the more interesting to bring awareness to it.

There are so many sensations in this simple, forgettable act. Tuning into them is like opening to the infinity within daily life. That’s the beauty of this divine manifestation: no matter how deep you go, there is no end to the details and permutations, always changing and blossoming within the space of the witness.

Twice a day, this can be a two-minute meditation. Try to focus only on what you’re doing with the toothbrush, treating the action with as much care as you would give a yoga asana, and ask, “Who am I? Who is feeling this?”

What do these feelings in your mouth become when you take away the story about them?

4. Taking your first barefoot steps in the morning

morning-awarenessYour feet are so sensitive. They might be calloused, but when they touch the ground first thing in the morning they are like the feet of a butterfly tasting a flower.

They receive every detail of the ground below and of your body above them. How much can you feel when your mind is open?

You can practice so this becomes a reminder to start the day off on, well, the right foot. As soon as your toes hit the ground, come into the present.
Come into the Heart.

5. Doing something you mildly dislike doing

Daily chores can also be opportunities for developing awareness. They don’t have to be something you hate necessarily, just boring tasks that you frequently have to do and never enjoy. Washing dishes, for example.

A funny thing happened when I started paying attention to how I washed the dishes. I don’t really like doing it; in fact, I usually feel annoyed when I get stuck washing them yet again. But one time, I started watching what actually happened during the chore.
There are physical sensations, dishes in my hand, and the sound of water. There’s the smell of soap.

There’s water running over my hands.

There are also stories playing in my mind about how frustrating it is, how much I hate washing dishes, how unfair it is that I’m always the one doing it.

And yet, in this openness to the present moment, I can’t find what I hate so much about washing dishes. Instead, it’s just an experience of being, like any other. Just being, exactly there, in that moment, with those dishes. The annoyance disappears into simple joy.
It’s interesting to see how when you feel boredom, frustration, or distaste for what you’re doing, it’s really just a lack of presence. Being fully aware in any moment, tapping into the flow of life unfolding through that particular activity, can actually reveal the Stillness behind it.

Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

A First Experience with Yoni Puja

By Sean O’Donnell



There are many tantric rituals that are practiced with the intention of deepening devotion and raising awareness of higher states of consciousness. Yoni puja is a ceremony designed to cultivate a reverence for Shakti and all other manifestations of the Divine Feminine. More information on the specific steps included in a traditional yoni puja can be found here and here.

A Beginner’s Yoni Puja

This past February, while visiting the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, I had the chance to participate in a large group celebration of Maha Shivaratri  or “The Great Night of Shiva.” It was my first encounter with structured worship in a group setting and was orchestrated by many senior Hridaya teachers. I had no expectations going in other than to spend time singing and meditating with good friends, but the experience ended up having a profound effect on me.
Despite the deep sense of devotion that arose from that celebration, like many other things that have undeniably been breakthroughs in my spiritual practice, my ego has done a good job of keeping repeat experiences at arm’s length. Having left Mazunte for the summer, there is every excuse in the world to continue to put off these experiences―no group support, nobody to guide me through something new, and plenty of distractions and patterns that want to compete for my attention. However, I recently heard about yoni puja. Upon reading the details, I decided that I would put my reservations about whether I was doing it “right” or not to the side, clear some sacred space, and give it a try! I didn’t know whether I was “qualified” to organize such a ceremony or whether or not it would “work.” But, I convinced myself that those were relative concepts. So, despite it being my first time arranging the specifics, I knew if my intentions were pure and my mind focused, I would be sure to perform the most important aspects—inner devotion and appreciation.



Clearing a Space

Without any guidance in preparing for this ceremony, I had to surrender to the idea that I was going to have to make it my own. Being in a setting that wasn’t very reminiscent of the practice halls at the Hridaya Center, I needed to be resourceful to find objects that would help me direct my reverence and to realize that my offerings, even if they didn’t seem special, could be made special for the occasion.

 

yoni-puni-ceremony

 

I ended up covering a workout bench with a shawl from Oaxaca that is very significant to me. I adorned it with a couple of crystals, some fresh-picked wildflowers, and a few meaningful pendants and tokens that I had as keepsakes from my time in Mexico. As far as offerings, I took some care in selecting items that were fresh and of high quality, but I also knew that the intention behind the offerings was more important than their perceived material value. Incense, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and an egg all seemed fitting and were readily available. For the final, key component, I selected a seashell set inside a triangular piece of china— a representation of the womb, of creation, of the Divine Feminine—to use as a vessel for the puja. I’m not sure anyone’s ceremony has ever quite looked like this, but it was mine, of my creation, unique, and special to me. In hindsight, I think this had the effect of making the entire experience more meaningful and personal. Even if I had had expensive statues or objects blessed by a guru at my disposal, I don’t think the significance of the ritual would have been amplified one bit.

Receiving the Power of the Divine

With everything in place, the process of settling down to begin the ceremony already commanded my full attention. It was a very welcome feeling, one that I had not connected with so easily since leaving Mazunte. I was confident that a set of conditions had been created to properly and respectfully show devotion to the motherly essence of creation. With this, a calm came over me, and the practical steps of the ceremony began to move through my body very naturally, all the while reinforcing a reverence for the energy that illuminates our existence.
While I consider myself familiar with the meditation techniques taught at Hridaya―focusing on the Spiritual Heart and letting myself return to that space from a background of Stillness―this ceremony called for a slightly different approach. I found myself spending time being still, but with open eyes―gazing at the representation of our divine source set before me. I found that the more I attempted to project my rigid, focused, steadfast gaze on the centerpiece of the altar, the more that energy was reflected back to me, asking me to become more receptive―to letting things be as they are, to the beauty of creation that is always inside of us and around us, and to the ridiculous power of life that is encapsulated in the ever-present feminine energy of change itself.

 

rituals yoni puni

Feeling the Echoes

As the ceremony wound to a close, I definitely felt connected to a state of being that I hadn’t accessed in a while. Living in the Hridaya Community, it was easy to take such profound experiences into the day with me. But, now, it crossed my mind that practicing this ceremony may only be a momentary boost to my awareness. I wondered about my ability to integrate this awe and reverence after closing the ceremony.
after-yoni-puniMuch to my delight, there were some lasting effects after the ceremony! All of a sudden, the peach sitting in front of me was not only a reminder that I was hungry and craved sustenance, but that it, too, was a pointer to something being born into this world, that was to be held sacred, and that had the energy of all creation wrapped up inside it. The milk beside me wasn’t just something useful for washing down dessert, but a convenient representation of maternal nourishment. The jar of honey was no mere replacement sweetener, but a precious nectar―fit for a queen! I walked outside as the full moon was rising, and it graciously illuminated the patch of wildflowers I had visited earlier.

The scene had dramatically changed since I sat down for the ceremony, with all of my surroundings now colored by this soft, lunar essence. It was a very fitting setting for me to realize that I had reconnected with an appreciation for that same essence―not just around me, but inside me, as well.

 

 

Sean is a Hridaya Yoga student.

kaleidoscope 49 day retreat

Coming Home to the Spiritual Heart

How to Come Out of Retreat

By Natasha Friedman

Everything is a kaleidoscope of color and sound as we drive down the highway to Mazunte. I am squished into the front seat of a taxi with a girl I have lived in the same building with for the past six weeks but have not yet spoken to. Two more retreaters and most of our material possessions are in the back seat.

No one says anything for most of the 45-minute trip. I remember all the shapes and sounds appearing in my awareness in hallucinatory brightness. I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and strangely calm.

We pull up in front of the Hridaya Yoga Center, unload our bags, and then that’s it, we’re there, it’s over. I greet a few people, feeling like I just saw them yesterday. It’s only their surprised reactions that remind me I haven’t spoken to them—or to anyone—for 49 days.

After so much time in solitude, basic human actions somehow become almost impossible. Talking makes me weak and dizzy. Looking at a computer screen makes me nauseous. When I call my parents, it is like talking to them for the first time. And, when I start to lose the intensity of presence that had become my normal state, I feel like my heart is breaking.

Questions wouldn’t stop throughout the first sleepless night after the retreat: Who am I? What is this personality? How do I pick up my life after all this? Where am I supposed to go and what am I supposed to do now?

The retreat is over, but the work is just beginning.

For some of us, going into retreat is a challenge. The silence, long hours of meditation, and lack of external stimuli can be a sharp break from our normal experience. Detaching from daily patterns can leave us feeling anxious or lost in space.

For other people—or just at other times—the hard part is actually coming out of retreat.

We spend ten days (or however long) going into high concentration and expansion. We become sensitive to subtle realities, feeling energies and sensations too refined for our normal perception. We come into contact with the deepest dimension of our being.

Even if it’s a difficult retreat, with a lot of struggle and purifications, these challenges come because the retreat gives us the space to contain them. We might not realize how far we’ve come until the final bell rings and everyone gathers for the sharing.

I always feel like a spell is breaking as soon as people start talking again. The world of silence is so intense, so profound, so full of magic and mysteries. There is such clarity and brightness. When the mind is deep in silence, every detail of the world around has a ring of truth.

Then, words come again, and with them stories, divisions, projections, patterns, limitations… All the conditions we are usually enslaved by. The Garden of Eden starts to fade away.

Of course, the ultimate goal is not to be a hermit in perpetual mauna. (It’s not my goal, at least.) But, so long as we’re not stabilized enough in the Self to maintain the stillness of retreat while engaged with the world, it can be a harsh transition back to everyday reality.

 

silence meditation

Go Slowly and Accept Whatever Comes

How long does it take to integrate after a retreat?

There’s no right answer. Even after a short retreat, we might feel echoes for weeks or months. Speaking generally, the deeper the experience, the longer it will take to harmonize it with everyday life.

And in the meantime, be prepared for anything.

After a retreat, we might feel totally blissed out. We might feel calm, relaxed, or refreshed. We might feel inspired and burning to share what we’ve learned with everyone we know. We might feel depressed. We might feel confused, like nothing makes sense, like our entire lives are being lived in someone else’s shoes and don’t fit right anymore.

I want to emphasize: all of these feelings are okay.

What’s important is to honor the process and give space to whatever arises.

When I came out of the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat earlier this year, I felt extremely lost. I didn’t know who I was within this manifestation. I had gone through a major transformation that hadn’t yet stabilized, to the point where I didn’t want any contact with my life from before the retreat.

I asked Sahajananda what to do, and whether this was normal. His first response: “What is normal after an experience like this?”

Which brings me to my second point: integration might look very different from what we think.
I think a lot of us go into retreats or spiritual practices with the idea that we will get something out of it—knowledge or healing or whatever—and then when we go back to normal life, this will just be added onto what we already have.

In reality, we are putting our whole being into a blender. What comes out will be something entirely new. That’s the real meaning of transformation, and it’s what we’re all looking for, even if we don’t realize it or if the idea scares us.

So, again, my best advice is to give space to these changes. It is better not to be afraid to let go of our notions of what we are and what our place in the world is. We can allow ourselves to explore new possibilities. Maybe it is scary, but this uncertainty is actually a form of openness, a sign that we’ve made real progress and are at a point of great opportunity.

It’s like when we get hit by a wave at the beach. For a few seconds, we’re spinning in every direction at once and can’t tell up from down. If we simply hold our breath, stay calm, and relax, soon enough the water will settle and we’ll find our feet on dry land. We can take our time going through this. There’s no rush to dive back into our responsibilities or busy social lives. We can benefit from staying close to the retreat center, where support and inspiration from other practitioners is available.

Share with Others, but Keep Your Sacred Space

It’s very beautiful to stay in touch with other retreat participants.

Often, when going back into the world it can be hard to find people to open up to about deep spiritual experiences. Our friends and family might want to support us, but unless they are on a spiritual path themselves, they probably won’t be able to understand what we’re going through. Sharing our innermost feelings with them might just create more confusion and feelings of disconnectedness.

People going through the same process, however, are an invaluable support network. They can help us put our transformation in perspective and make sense of whatever is arising. If others are on the same wavelength and receptive, just talking can be an integration process, bringing deeper realizations up to the level of the conscious mind.

That said, there is no pressure to share everything. A retreat is a step into the realm of the sacred, into the ineffable. There may be experiences that are best kept in intimacy with the Spiritual Heart.

So, we can give ourselves as much space as we need.

Following a retreat, art is a useful means of expression. It’s a great time for journaling, painting, writing poetry, playing devotional music, or following whatever creative path calls. I’ve often found that the days after a retreat are a time of peak creativity. New songs and poems come naturally, flowing from Stillness.

These songs are like the flowering of seeds that germinated in my heart during the retreat. Later on, they become a precious window into the world of the retreat, and they can bring others to the same depth of experience.

Keep up the Practice

This is probably the most important thing we can do!

Sahajananda recommends meditating for at least one hour every day to maintain a high level of consciousness after a retreat. We need to touch that depth again and again, especially if we’re living somewhere surrounded by mainstream Western values that run contrary to the spiritual attitudes we try to cultivate.

In the days following a retreat, I find it helpful to stay in “half retreat,” practicing for four or five hours a day and keeping mauna until noon. After a period of such intensive focus, sitting down to meditate might be the last thing you want to do, but it’s essential for stabilizing the experience.

Sahaja always emphasizes continuity. It’s not enough just to have peak experiences, we have to raise our base level of awareness.

During a retreat, this continuity means trying to keep a meditative state even outside of formal practice. We walk with awareness, eat with awareness, contemplate nature, and stay in the Heart, no matter where we are.

In daily life, it’s about living the teachings. It’s what Padmasambhava, the master who brought Buddhism to Tibet, meant when he said, “Descend with the view while ascending with the conduct.”

We bring our insights, the wisdom that comes from contact with reality, back into our daily lives. And in our daily lives, through constant remembrance of the Heart and our efforts to live in integrity with this vision, we rise to the level of our highest practice.

Which is more “real,” daily life or time in retreat? Do we come home when we close our eyes in meditation or when we go back to our personalities?

I could say both or neither. Our true home is the Spiritual Heart. When we live from there, we are at home no matter what happens outside.

Spiritual Heart

Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. You can read her post about maintaining your spiritual practice while traveling here and her post about signs that you are going deeper in meditation here.

4 Signs Your Spiritual Practice Is Going Deep Even When You Feel Stuck

By Natasha Friedman
Are you and your spiritual practice going through a rough time? Do you feel like you’ve stopped progressing, or you’re even backsliding? The goal seems impossibly far away and your current reality is too messed up to live with?
It happens to every practitioner sooner or later. The bad news is that there’s really no way to shake yourself out of it.
The good news: it’s not such a bad thing.
Although you might feel like your meditation practice has crashed and burned, facing a lot of inner obstacles can actually be a sign of deep transformation. If you’re encountering any of these four challenges, it just might mean you’re making real progress.

1. You feel frustrated

Sahajananda once said that what appears to the ego-bound person as frustration is longing to the mystic.

Often, we take frustration as a sign of failure. We decide that we’re bad at meditation, we’re not cut out for spiritual practice, something’s gone wrong, or we’ve hit a wall that we can’t go past.

The next time you feel frustrated with your meditation, go deeper into this feeling and see what it’s actually pointing towards.

A sense of helplessness, incompleteness. A burning desire for something just beyond your reach. A conviction that none of your personal efforts are adequate.

This is nothing other than a longing for the Divine.

Sooner or later, the spiritual path will take you beyond where “you” can go by your own effort, past what an individual can accomplish within the domain of relativity. This is the point of real surrender.

As Sahaja went on to say, on this path there’s no wall that doesn’t have a door.

So when you’re frustrated, stay with it! Drop the stories about what you can and can’t do, and let the intensity of emotion open into desire for union with the Beloved.

2. You notice everything, especially what isn’t so flattering

After a recent retreat, I suddenly noticed I had a lot of negativities.

I was snappy and impatient. I was resentful, jealous of others, and convinced of my own inadequacy. I got angry at my partner over trivial things, and easily fell into depression when something didn’t go right.

I felt like a total fraud. What was I doing, living at a spiritual center and practicing so intensely, and yet acting like a selfish idiot most of the time? Where did all my progress go?

What I actually was (and am) is human.

None of these flaws are anything new. When I look closer, all these behaviors are all too familiar. I just didn’t have the awareness to perceive them, or the maturity to work with them.

Eventually, nothing can be swept under the rug. At certain times, when you don’t have enough perspective to work with them, difficult emotions and negativities might be suppressed. You can make progress upwards—developing your best qualities and reaching higher states of consciousness—without really confronting the lower levels of the personality.

Once you’ve expanded to a certain level, you have enough awareness to give space to your negative tendencies, to witness them without following or identifying with them. It’s at this point that you can look at yourself with radical honesty and say, “Wow, there’s a lot of anger here.”

This is a huge step up from either flying into a rage or thinking, “Oh no, I’m an angry person and I shouldn’t feel like this.”

Now, you can really start working with the parts of yourself you aren’t comfortable with. The fact that you can see them more clearly is a sign that you’re ready.

3. Nothing makes sense

Do you feel the same but everything else in the world is just a bit off?
Or like it’s all completely wrong?

Don’t worry, it’s a good sign.

The world most of us live in is wrong. It’s a world of duality, separation, and concealment, where we are out of touch with the true nature of our existence. To put it less gently, it’s a world of suffering.

The first Noble Truth of Buddhism, the foundation of Buddhist practice, is simply dukkha, the truth of suffering.

The difference between a spiritual aspirant and an “ordinary” person is realizing this truth, seeing samsara for what it is. With this vision comes the impulse to escape from the cycle of suffering and connect with Reality.

Before we realize it, we look for satisfaction within the illusion, not understanding that the only lasting happiness comes from going beyond it. We can call this liberation, Self-realization, realizing the Spiritual Heart, enlightenment, salvation, or any number of other terms.

But, going back to why you feel weird after practicing yoga for a while.
Until your spiritual practice reaches a certain depth, you are still basically synchronized with the material world. You want more or less what the people around you want, and the structures of  daily life seem more or less normal.

Once you start approaching Truth, you might notice that most of these structures are built on illusion. Whether in a subtle or obvious way, they maintain the paradigms of struggle, separation, and individuality.

So, don’t be surprised or worried if you find yourself questioning what you always believed in.

At this point, it’s also important to remember that everyone is at a different place in their spiritual evolution. What seems obvious to you now is simply not visible to people who aren’t at the same stage. And that’s okay: whatever they’re doing is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing right now.

Maybe you want to grab your friends and coworkers, shake them, and shout in their faces, “Don’t you realize our essential nature is Love?” It’s very tempting, but it’s unlikely to do much good.

Instead, just be compassionate to them as they are. Love them without expecting them to change. Love the whole world and work to make it better without expecting anything from it. (Easier said than done, I know.)

And be compassionate to yourself, to the seed of wisdom that is cracking open inside your heart. Don’t try to force yourself back into a life that no longer fits. Keep asking questions, and whenever you feel like you just don’t understand anything, look within. There is a quiet place inside you where all the answers are waiting.

4. Your practice is “just not like it used to be”

A meditation practice is always changing and evolving. Sometimes it’s easy to slip effortlessly into a deep state. It’s all bliss, and you can’t imagine it will ever be any other way.

Sometimes, it’s not like that at all. There is struggle and frustration, the mind goes crazy, thoughts come too fast and loud. Or, your motivation is gone—there’s no inspiration, no energy, no spanda.

A result-oriented mind, caught in a sense of doership, naturally thinks that a “good” meditation is a success and a “bad” meditation is a failure.

The trick is to move above this attachment to success. Part of spiritual maturity is detaching from the fruits of your own practice. It means both accepting that, ultimately, you are not responsible for your experience in meditation—you simply create the best possible conditions for the Truth to reveal itself—and letting go of the need to feel good during your practice.

Without this maturity, meditation becomes just a way to “get high.”

There’s a psalm in the Jewish tradition that includes the line: “To declare Thy loving-kindness (chasdecha) in the morning and Thy faithfulness (emuna) in the evening.”
You can interpret this as referring  to these two poles of spiritual practice. In the “morning,” when you are open and everything comes easily, your work is to open to this Grace, to rejoice and be grateful for what you are receiving. In the “evening,” when the light has disappeared and you can’t even feel what you’re moving towards, it’s the time for faith.

This is the real test of your spiritual practice: not how high you can get when everything is easy, but how much your realizations can sustain you even when you’re cut off from the direct experience. Your simple persistence shows your authenticity, and how deep your practice has gone.

So just keep going. Consecrate your meditations, do your best effort to create the right conditions, and then let go. When your meditation is over, give thanks for your practice and dedicate it to the benefit of all beings—no matter how you felt during it.

Finally, remember that the night is darkest right before dawn. If you feel stalled out, confused, or like everything is falling apart, remember it won’t be like this forever. A new level of realization might be just around the corner.
 
 
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. You can read her post about maintaining your spiritual practice while traveling here.

Unending Pilgrimage

The Unending Pilgrimage

How to Maintain Your Spiritual Practice While Traveling, and Turn Traveling into a Spiritual Practice

By Natasha Friedman

Travel and spirituality have long gone hand in hand. Pilgrimage is a part of almost every tradition, from medieval Europeans walking to Jerusalem to millions of Hindus gathering at the Ganges for the Kumbh Mela.

Often, spirituality is spoken about in the language of travel: your “spiritual journey” or “path.” The Sanskrit word samsara, meaning cyclic existence within an illusory world of duality, can be literally translated as “wandering.”

For many people in my generation, this wandering is very literal. We’re backpackers, nomads, global citizens. Sometimes this life can feel like an unending pilgrimage to an unknown destination.

But constant motion doesn’t have to be a detour from the spiritual path. On the contrary, the outer journey can be an amazing support for the inner voyage, if you can maintain your practice and awareness throughout.

Developing a Spiritual Practice That You Can Take Anywhere

Consistency is essential for any spiritual practice. Though it might be much harder while traveling, in periods of instability it’s especially important to maintain a regular practice. Best of all is to choose something to do every day, a practice you can commit to no matter what.

When I am traveling, this practice becomes my home base. It might be my only point of stability and familiarity.

yoga-travel

So how do you pick a practice to take on the road with you?

First, you will want something you can do anywhere, in case you get stuck at an airport or on a 12-hour bus ride. This rules out most Hatha Yoga practices, for obvious reasons (though you can probably get away with uddiyana bandha, nauli kriya, or pranayama).

That said, long hours of travel take their toll on the body. For this reason alone, I try to squeeze in as much asana practice as I can while on the road.

Meditation, on the other hand, can happen anywhere and at any time.

If you’re used to meditating in a quiet, peaceful corner of your bedroom, it can be a challenge to go into high concentration and relaxation while bumping around on a bus or squeezed into an airplane seat with crying babies on both sides. I’m not going to tell you that these are optimum
conditions for reaching deep states, but I do have a few pointers for making the most out of it.

  1. Use earplugs.
  2. Let go of your expectations. Maybe you won’t feel like you go as deep as in a “normal” meditation, but it’s a different type of work: learning to surrender and be present under any conditions. Learning to let noise and sensations, frustration and chaos, pass through your awareness without reacting.When you can remain calm and witness intense external stimuli, it’s much easier to deal with the turbulence of your own mind.Anyway, if you think about it, how often do you really have “perfect” conditions for meditation? Even if everything is supportive externally, your mind can still go wild. It’s not about having the perfect setting, but what you do with it.
  3. Allow sounds and feelings to arise without resistance. In a more peaceful setting, you might be able to go into laser focus and completely zone out any distractions. But, when meditating somewhere loud and chaotic, that forceful attitude is likely to result in frustration.Instead, simply stay neutral. Draw all these perceptions into the Heart and remain a witness to all of them.
  4. Make use of any opportunity to practice. If you’re waiting for a train, do some walking meditation to make up for long hours of sitting. If you’re stuck in a passport line with a hundred other tired, frustrated people, do tonglen and absorb all their suffering.

Making Travel Itself a Spiritual Practice

By now, maybe you’ve guessed where I’m going with this.

Taking your on-the-road spiritual practice to the next level means that beyond trying to squeeze your practice into your traveling, traveling itself becomes a practice.

Travel can teach you so much about yourself. Taking you outside of your normal patterns of behavior, away from so many of the external factors that you usually use to define yourself, it’s an opening for something new to blossom. Exploring the world outside of your normal conditions allows you a glimpse beyond the level of conditions.

It teaches humbleness. Maybe at home you’re smart and successful, but here you are struggling to order in a restaurant, getting ripped off by taxi drivers, and washing your underwear in hostel sinks for weeks on end. At a certain point, the default is just to smile and move on.

Travel is often a crash course in non-attachment. First, non-attachment to belongings, as stuff inevitably gets lost, stolen, or simply left behind to make room in a loaded backpack. No matter how much you think you can’t live without something, it usually turns out that you do just fine without it.

You also develop non-attachment to plans, either when things go wrong or very right, like when you make some great new friends the night before leaving for Mexico City and decide to go with them to Guatemala instead.

There’s nothing like getting hopelessly lost in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language to teach you how to stay calm and positive in a difficult situation. Facing challenges like this brings a special kind of trust, a surrender to whatever comes, and the courage to step into the unknown.

Odd as it sounds, I learned how to come home by being homeless.

I love traveling. It’s been several years since I’ve had a good answer when people ask me “Where do you live?,” and I like it that way.

Yet sometimes, especially during silent retreats or towards the end of a long journey—like when I see the sun rising through the windows of an overnight bus—I am hit in the gut with an intense homesickness. Sometimes it’s nostalgia for my childhood home or places I used to know in Brooklyn, my last permanent address. Sometimes I don’t even know what the longing is for.

It was only in my last Hridaya Retreat that I began to understand what these waves of homesickness were about.

One of the strongest attachments human beings have is to “home.” “I’m American.” “I’m from So-and-so.” “I live here, it’s where I belong.”

From the perspective of Advaita, none of these identifications with places is real. On the ultimate level, I am not American. I was not born anywhere and I don’t come from anywhere. Wherever I think that I live is simply the form that is arising in my awareness at that moment.

Where is home, when you are pure Consciousness on a voyage through this world of appearances? Where is home, when your soul is yearning to break free of all attachments and fly into the source? Why do you feel such a need to have a place to call your own, when your nature is freedom beyond time and space?

A Sufi mystic once said that every desire is a restless movement in search of God. When you go deep enough into any desire, you find a longing for union with the Ultimate, a calling to dissolve into the essence of Life.

To illustrate, Sigmund Freud claimed that all human behavior was rooted in two desires: the sex drive and the death drive. However, with an understanding of the spiritual dimension, both of these impulses are clearly filters for the fundamental longing that all sentient beings have to return to our True Nature.

Sex is union, the illusion of separateness disappearing, which is the ultimate bliss. According to Abhinavagupta, the great master of non-dual Kashmir Shaivism, it is one of two experiences in life that is most similar to the mystical experience. The desire for sex is so intense because it gives a taste of Reality.

The death wish is actually a desire for the death of the ego. This limited form really is self-destructive in the sense that its final goal is to merge into limitlessness.

This bittersweet homesickness I feel—and that I suspect most nomads run into—is also a hidden longing for the Divine.

When I feel this strange nostalgia on the road, this ache for something I don’t really miss or can’t even put my finger on, it’s really a longing to be settled in the Heart. It’s a longing for the magic and beauty of a world without filters, stories, and illusions, for the infinity that my limited consciousness emerged from. It’s an intuition of Truth.

In Conclusion…

Long-term travel is not always easy. It challenges you on every level of your being, pushing you to go beyond your limits and always open more to the beauty and wildness of the vast world you live in.

Sometimes I wonder if my wanderlust is just a distraction. There’s a part of me that says if I were really serious about my spiritual aspiration, I would settle down in one place and just meditate as much as I can, without all the trouble of constantly moving. After all, what is there to see in the world that can’t be found inside? What’s the point of more sightseeing in samsara?

I don’t believe so much in this voice—at least not now. There is, of course, a risk in following the urge to wander. It’s easy to get lost in the adventure, thinking that happiness lies in the next stop on the itinerary.
open-road-travel
However, the calling is there, and I believe it’s there for a reason. The open road has lessons for you. There is something the soul needs to experience in each place you visit, karmic connections that draw you to a place or a person you need to meet, for whatever purpose above your limited human capacity to understand.

The more you wander with awareness, the more you bring practice along on your travels and turn your traveling into a practice, one thing becomes more clear. Wherever you go, you are there. The Self is there. Consciousness is there, it is everywhere, and you can never go outside of it.
   
Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. You can read her post about following your spiritual aspiration here.

love yoga

You are …

By Chris van der Weide

The screaming of a mother
Who lost her newborn cub,
The passion of a lover
Who craves life’s every drop,
The last words of a dying man
Who clung with all his might,
The songs of blinding white birds
That rain during their flight

The raging anger of a lawyer
Fighting, red-faced, for his case,
The bubbling laughter of a toddler
Unaware of his own grace,
The innocence of snowbell flowers
When they first appear
In the early light of February
Whispering gently, “spring is near…”

My arms stretch up, higher, taller,
Reaching out for Truth
They tremble in their loneliness,
Longing to be rescued
To be held, to be cradled,
To be kissed with moist, warm lips
To be worshiped and to worship
To catch the rain that gently drips

And to drink this life-brewed liquor
As it falls from heaven’s tree
In which every form dissolves
In sweet union with Thee
With Thy wisdom, with Thy breath,
With Thy overwhelming touch
This heart burns, this soul yearns
This skin cracks, it hurts so much

I know you’re hidden in the dungeon
Of excruciating pain,
I know so, for you came and promised
It in every drop of rain,
Thus, rip me open, tear this skin loose
When I run from Truth in fright,
So surely upon arrival
There won’t be anywhere to hide

Deprive me of my worn-out wardrobe,
Of my words, my ears, my sight,
I am yours Love, come and get me
Come and wed me as Your bride

Chris is a Hridaya teacher and movement and dance facilitator.

Seven Weeks in a Silent Meditation Retreat: A Song of the Heart

A Reflection on the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat

By Beata Kucienska
 
The trees are wavering between life and death. They are touching the ineffable. They grow somewhere between time and the timeless. They guide me beyond myself. In this house made of hard matter, windows to wonderland appear. Silence is a broom that sweeps away the illusions created by the mind. Beauty is revealing itself.

Seven weeks in silence… The mind interferes constantly and I feel compassion for it. I know it is scared and I allow it to feel this fear. Pain in a dream is real, even if the one who feels it is made of void. The void hurts the void, and the void perceives the void as suffering.

Yes, my little one, you have all the right to be afraid. But who are you, really? Who is the one that is watching?

The birds sing inside me. The day starts with the gentle song of the first bird that awakens. The others slowly join the choir. The whole day I hear nothing but surrender. At sunset, they gather on a huge tree and sing a crazy concert together—as if they had to express all their inner music before falling asleep.

49 day silent meditation retreatThe Heart says: “learn from the birds,” and I listen. I receive the message beyond words. I swim in the infinite softness of being. I taste innocence being offered unconditionally to the one who reaches an arm to the sky and puts God in a cage.

I am the one who is singing and I am the one who is killing Beauty. I am the one who is longing for freedom and I am the guardian of my prison.

Oh Beloved, liberate my soul. Take me beyond myself. Guide to me to the sacred space of the Heart. Open the gate to the Kingdom of Stillness. Carry me there… In Your tender arms, I become a song. I cannot die.

How could I be so blind? How could I not see that the birds are Love turned into music? How could I not see that the entire Earth is the vibration of Your Heart? Of my Heart…

Beyond pain, beyond fear, beyond death, is this Song that never stops. Above the clouds of the mind, there is an immense clarity—so delicate and vibrating with Life. In the depths of the human heart, there is an opening to the space of infinite compassion. The forgotten Garden of Eden. Our origin.

Silence is growing in me
like an immense tree
with roots in the Heart
It grows into my bones, muscles, and skin
It is in me
and it is me

Silence is flowing in me
It flows in my blood, tears, and breath
It embraces me from inside
It enters my thoughts
It penetrates my pain
with deep mystery

Infinity
is growing
in me

 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher who has participated in two 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreats. She is also a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

self healing

A Journey of Self-Healing: Releasing an Ovarian Cyst

By Niamh Kavanagh

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” –Rumi

Listening to the Body

When I sensed I had an ovarian cyst, my first step was to validate my self-diagnosis with a medical one. Once confirmed through ultrasound, my next step was to explore all available treatments, both conventional and alternative. Only then was I confident in deciding my healing plan.

I found that the most extreme treatment option was surgery. After tuning into the listening body, such incisions felt harsh and intrusive to the energetic structure. This prompted a further inquiry into self-healing within the broad spectrum of tools yoga offers.

Self-Healing in Yoga

By the way, healing in yoga is accidental. Healing comes through energetic manifestation during the seeking of the Self. Its findings are vast. You must be a bit of a free thinker to wish to experience the true Self, to even believe such a thing is possible. It is similar to how the coast is met by a wall of fog that clouds the view beyond—the great, dynamic expanse of the ocean exists but remains out of sight. Only the sound of the ocean’s movement tells of a greater mystery. In the same way, you can listen to the voice of the soul via sensory awareness. Moving beyond the boundaries of conventional thought and belief, you can meet in a space beyond the mind where the true healer resides. Connectedness and wisdom emerge from in between the physical outline that seemingly separates you from me. There is knowingness, an understanding that healing and growth require moving beyond separation.

The Power of Women

Power of Women
Consider the collective consciousness of women, all that has been witnessed and endured since the dawn of time. Contemplate how this influences the psyche of the womb—her nature and nurture, memories and pain, distortions and violations; what she holds, possesses, and thinks she’s lost. By identifying with these ideas of right and wrong, blockages and doubts (both known and unknown) arise. This can bring confusion and contraction, which impede creativity and spontaneity—the very expression of Shakti, the energy or power of consciousness. When women come together to share in sacred sisterhood these contractions dissolve and healing energy amplifies.

Disease as Information

When disease manifests on the physical level, the body is communicating that there is an energetic imbalance. During the process of awakening the Divine Feminine, healing starts with the acknowledgment of any imbalances. For example, intuiting that ovarian cysts come from clinging to old energy, I asked both my feminine and masculine aspects: “What am I holding onto in my life and relationships?,” “Does the feminine and masculine relationship harmonize with my outer world, (friends, family, and work)?,” and “What’s is in the way of or holding back my creativity?”

While contemplating these questions, I continued to feel into what was out of balance by listening to my sensory responses. Then, moving beyond the personal, I acknowledged the womb of the world, which carries the ancestral psychic archive. Expanding my awareness in this way helped me understand and release the emotions I was holding onto. In the end, such analysis is not important. What matters is bringing light to what is hidden—only then does transformation start to occur. I listened to my body through sensory awareness, where I found every molecule of my being thirsting for “yang” (masculine) energy.

Embodying the Divine Feminine

It was a beautiful coincidence that as I was going through this process I was also preparing to host an Embody Your Divine Feminine workshop led by Antoaneta Gotea. In this workshop, Antoaneta shares her vast experience working with women. She explores the wisdom of the womb through dance, meditation, and breathing exercises. The workshop provides an opportunity to dive deep into vulnerability and share with other women in a beautifully held, non-judgmental environment.

Diet Number 7

One of my discoveries in our Divine Feminine gathering was George Ohsawa’s “Diet Number 7.” This macrobiotic diet (also shared in the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive) is often primarily associated with healthy eating, weight loss, and detoxification. Consequently, its subtle, more powerful healing advantages are not so widely appreciated. This strict 10-day fast is performed to re-balance yin and yang (feminine and masculine) energies. It strengthens a weakened feminine by charging the body with yang energy.

macrobiotic diet

The idea of doing this diet resonated deeply within and seemed the most natural way to deal with my health issue, as my symptoms expressed a feminine depletion. My mind didn’t want to do it. But, I didn’t listen to the mind. Instead, I listened to my body, and I knew it was longing for an infusion of yang energy.

During the Oshawa cleanse, blood cells are renewed only after at least seven days. Therefore, it is imperative to perform the full ten days. This allows the completion of the process of regeneration. The physical is but a reflection of the emotions and the mind. Diet Number 7 gives a tremendous power of the mind, bringing a deep appreciation of life and a quiet confidence.

Self-Healing Is Just the Beginning

Three weeks after I completed the Ohsawa diet, I had another ultrasound. This test showed no sign that an ovarian cyst ever existed. It had simply gone. While this was exciting news, I know that physical healing is just the surface of this work. The real essence of awakening the Divine Feminine is unveiling the treasures of womanhood—revealing all of Shakti’s quirks and imperfections and living in full-hearted awareness.

The Listening Body

You may ask, “What is a listening body and how do I know and trust decisions I make are the right ones?” Understanding and recognizing your bodily responses is essential for self-healing. The polarity that exists between the inner and outer worlds of sensations is expressed through the feminine and masculine aspects of your being. Your body temperature, emotions, and mood, as well as how you think, see, and feel are all uniquely reflected.

Shifting Attention

The secret to energetic work is to shift attention from the mind into the body. Through sensory awareness, you learn to recognize symptoms, expressions, and echoes of the subtle body and how they manifest in your life. Once the truth of what you feel starts to crystallize, you can move away from what your mind is telling you to do. During gatherings like the Embody Your Divine Feminine workshop, the wisdom of self-healing inherently speaks to every individual as One. You can learn to let go of the need to find an answer and allow Grace to work her magic.

The Depth of Womanhood

There is something sensually penetrative about a woman who truly knows her depth. I urge you to deepen and honor your connection to the very creation of life—your womb. To remain free in a loving, playful dance, surrendered to the unknown. When you allow your Divine Essence to shine through, healing and supportive experiences abound.

The wisdom, trust, friendships, love, and continuous gifts of this work never cease to satisfy. It’s as if I see my very own eyes smile through the mirror of my imagination.

Niamh is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the founder of Hridaya Yoga UK. She will host another Embody Your Divine Feminine workshop July 1-2, 2017.

men's circels

Men’s Circles: A Gathering of Men

By Craig White

A Short Poetic Journey through Men’s Circles

The circle is prepared
A sense of sacredness prevails
Stillness, silence, potential, wisdom
A space fit for kings

The men start to arrive
One by one they sit in silence
Like jewels covered in dust
Light shining through darkness

The last man arrives
A jigsaw of immense wisdom is formed
A gaze between brothers occurs
The sealer is contained safely

The circle symbolizes wholeness and unity
A symbol of oneness, original perfection
Together we are stronger, wiser
As one, we can finally conquer demons

men's circles

We acknowledge our forefathers
The ones who went before us
For they carry our lineage as men
And we carry their souls

The circle is opened, the sharing begins
Men drop down from head to heart
Compassion dripping from each man
A doorway to a deep yearning

A circle of mirrors appears for each man
There is nowhere to hide
Each mirror a reflection back to the inside
Each mirror a gift from the Divine

An uncomfortable charge appears in my gut
What is this man reflecting back to me
Is it my dark side I don’t want others to see?
Is it my greatness I’ve been told to suppress?

My shadow is exposed and brought to the light
I can close, contract, run away, hide
But I decide to open, smile, acknowledge the gift
Immediately I am free, I can breathe, stillness returns

men's circles

We talk about the light, we talk about the dark
We talk about the past, we talk about our fears
We pour our hearts into the circle, into the magic
We free our souls for the benefit of others

We laugh, we cry, we sing, we are silent
Men cultivating authentic love for other men
What a wonderful sight, a wonderful blessing
A great event in a world of darkness

The circle naturally comes to an end
All men are complete
Each man leaves with a greater sense of wisdom
A greater sense of life

He turns away and leaves for his home
Each person he passes feels his compassion
A man full of love, a man full of light
A man who makes a difference
 
 
Craig is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and high-performance men’s coach. You can read more about him on his website. Check out another post on men’s circles here.

Tantric Rituals: Yoni Puja

By Antoaneta Gotea

 

According to Tantra, all of creation is a play between Shiva (consciousness) and Shakti (the energy or power of consciousness). Of course, consciousness and its energy are inseparable. This distinction is merely a convenient way to comprehend the incomprehensible.

In Shaktism, the ultimate Truth (the Absolute) is seen as the Supreme Mother—the unified background of all existence. This Supreme Deity is equivalent to Brahman in the Upanishads. She is transcendent, ineffable, and immutable. She is the Divine Mother and is venerated in all Her manifested aspects.

Tantra is highly ritualistic and implies a reverent lifestyle. However, it is important to understand that the purpose of Tantra’s numerous rules and formalities is to focus the mind, strengthen the will, and deepen the devotion of the practitioner. Rituals in themselves are not the final goal. They are better seen as tools used to reach higher states of consciousness.

Yoni Puja

“Hari, Hara, and Brahma—the gods of creation, maintenance, and destruction—all originate in the yoni.” –Yoni Tantra

One of the most beautiful and profound tantric rituals is yoni puja. In Sanskrit, yoni means “source,” “origin,” or “birthplace.” Puja means “worship.” In Tantra, the yoni is an abstract representation of Shakti or the Supreme Devi. It is the creative force that gives birth to and moves through the entire Universe. Therefore, yoni puja is a ritual to honor and worship Shakti, the Cosmic Mother.

Without a doubt, the most well-known text on worshipping the yoni is Yoni Tantra. As is the case in many other tantric texts, Yoni Tantra is a dialog between Shiva and Parvati. It reveals yoni puja as a highly revered sadhana (spiritual practice) practiced by kaulas (tantrics).

In Yoni Tantra (4) we find:

“Worshipping this causes Shivoham. Listen, Parvati! Krishna, after worshipping Rada’s yoni, became God Krishna. Sri Rama Janaki Nath worshipped Sita’s yoni. Vishnu, Brahma, the saints, and I myself all were born from a yoni. What knowledge in the three worlds can match the magnificence of the yoni?”

yoni puja tantric rituals

What Does Yoni Puja Entail?

Yoni Puja is a sacred ritual whose origins go far back in time. It most probably developed in the Dravidian period of India, when the cult of Shakti was a major aspect of sadhana. It entails the worship of Shakti by performing certain symbolic gestures using an abstract form of Shakti, the yoni—which is represented by a gateway, an oval, or a portal. The word yoni is commonly associated with the female genitalia. However, this can be understood as just a particular manifestation of the creative power of Shakti.

Yoni puja can be performed by using a sculpture, painting, or sanctified natural object to represent the yoni and serve as the focus of veneration. Or, the yoni can be worshipped in her living form (the female genitalia).

As may be imagined, a form of worship that goes back thousands of years and is still being practiced in India today embraces many forms. Despite any differences, there are several ritual elements with very clear symbolism that constitute the core of a yoni puja.

The ritual starts with reverence and salutations in front of the yoni. Those attending a yoni puja will usually offer five different fruits or other items to Shakti—flower petals, rice, ghee, etc. Then, mantras, hymns, and prayers will be uttered for the glory of the Divine Mother.

yoni puja ritualsAfter these forms of adoration comes the consecration of the five elements. In this step, five liquids are poured over the yoni (yogurt, honey, milk, water, and edible oil), representing the five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether). This offering symbolizes the sanctifying of the five elements. The five liquids are collected in a vessel below the symbolic yoni. The final mixture is empowered by the direct and intimate contact with Shakti. Afterwards, every participant to the puja takes a sip of this sacred libation.

After the sanctifying of the elements usually comes the “magic stage.” This is a time that worshippers kneel before the symbolic yoni and ask the Cosmic Mother to grant wishes. Wishes may be of any kind—“please cure my mother,” “please give me a child,” “let me have success in business and increase my earnings,” etc. For the genuine spiritual seeker, of course, the “wish” that naturally springs forth from the Heart is to realize the Truth, to go back to the Source, and find the Essence of creation. Thus, by the synergy of devotion and grace, the true practitioner is absorbed in the “womb” of the Mother—contemplating the mystery of Shakti, going back to the Source.

What is most important in a yoni puja is the single-minded attention of the practitioners and their devotion to Shakti. It is this combination of awareness and love that enables the consciousness to rise during rituals. I emphasize the crucial aspect of being deeply in love with and reverential to the Mother in all Her forms. Women are multiple facets of the Supreme Shakti.

“Women are divinity, women are life, women are truly jewels.” –Yoni Tantra, Patala 7

“Women are heaven; women are dharma; and women are the highest penance. Women are Buddha; women are the Sangha; and women are the perfection of Wisdom.” –Yoni Tantra

“The divine yoni is as brilliant as tens of millions of suns and as cool as tens of millions of moons.” –Shiva Samhita

Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma!
 
 
Antoaneta is a senior Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her post about Tantra here.

Karma Yoga-What Else

Karma Yoga, What Else?

By Uma Esmeralda Ritstier

Loving for the Sake of Love

“You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” –Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (IV:4:5)

Tiptoeing into an environment that offers the invitation to live with an Open Heart, I start my first “official” days as the Karma Yoga /HR Manager at the Hridaya Yoga Center. Here, you don’t “work.” Here, you serve! It is Karma Yoga—the genuine practice of selfless service (seva) in which you offer the fruits of your actions (as well as your entire being) to the Spiritual Heart, which is experienced as Pure Existence-Pure Awareness-Pure Bliss. You surrender the personality and it’s limitations for the benefit of all beings.

The Yoga of Action

“Instead of asking: what do I want from life? A more powerful question to ask is: what would life want from me?” –Eckhart Tolle
Karma Yoga is a path in itself. It is a journey that is an expression of Love. It’s the aspiration to make the world a better place by enriching the lives of all beings with whom you come in contact. Karma Yoga is yoga in action and offers the opportunity to integrate the expansive and heart-opening experiences of the yoga mat and meditation cushion into daily life. Sharing the gift of being present in all you do is a profound path to the revelation of the Spiritual Heart—you lose your limitations and reveal your True Self through selfless service.

Integrating Meditation in Daily Life

“The world can only be saved now by everyone trying as hard as possible to love all beings.”
–His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Karma Yoga is an excellent way to integrate meditation into daily life via the practice of love awareness. In every moment, you build momentum to awaken to the truth of who you really are, to awaken to Love.

For example, you may continuously ask yourself:

Integrating Meditation in Life

  • “How can I give the best of myself in any moment and be of service in making the world a better place?”
  • “Who is acting in this moment?”
  • “Who am I?”
  • “How much am I willing to face myself?”
  • “Where am I hiding?”
  • “When do I contract?”
  • “Am I able to be open again and again, no matter what?”
  • “How can I love more?”
  • “What is it like to support everyone’s awakening by being an instrument in God’s hand?”

Contemplating these questions while actively participating in life—against the background of openness and love that is always present in every experience—is how the integration of meditation into daily life happens and becomes utterly alive.

Losing Yourself in Service

“Karma Yoga cannot exist without the intense desire to abandon selfishness, the rajas guna dominance, the desire for the fruits of action—which are all true seals of ignorance… Action performed in the spirit of Karma Yoga is just as efficient as the highest realization in Bhakti Yoga and it is similar to the attainment of success in contemplation.” –Sri Aurobindo

Karma Yoga is an act of selflessness. It is showing up for life, standing with your heart in your hands, and compassionately reaching out to others.

It’s about being available to life as it presents itself to you—without any resistance or need to control. It is a constant practice of learning when you act from desire or for personal gain and holding those motivations in an open space of compassion so they no longer drive you. Selfless service actually becomes freedom of choice. In the complete openness of being human—with all your needs, desires, and pure intentions—you learn to transcend limitations and offer genuine, loving care for not only yourself, but for all of humanity, all of life.

Holding Space in Love

“In the morning when I began to wake,
It happened again—
That feeling, that You, Beloved, had stood over me all night
Keeping watch.
That feeling that as soon as I began to stir
You put Your lips on my forehead
And lit a Holy Lamp inside my heart.”
–Hafiz

Karma Yoga is about being present and holding space for what is alive without any expectations about outcomes or attachments to an action’s fruits.
It is “acting without acting,” as the Taoists say —“Wei wu wei.”

True selfless service is completely falling in love with everyone and everything. You are willing to give your very best so that everyone opens their hearts and awakens to the Truth of existence.

It is naturalness, effortlessness. It’s a genuine act of availability, of being in the flow and surrendered to the inspiration that expresses itself through you.

This is the true spirit of Karma Yoga!

pure intention

Karma Yoga Is Not a Sacrifice

“The Beloved has no body now on Earth but mine.
The Beloved has no hands on Earth but mine,
The Beloved has no feet on Earth but mine.
Mine are the eyes through which the
Beloved streams compassion to the world.
Mine are the feet with which the Beloved is to go about healing, loving, and serving all beings now.”
–St. Teresa of Ávila

Karma Yoga is not a sacrifice, as some people sometimes feel. There is only sacrifice when a personal drive or intention is involved.

For example, you might think: “I am always available for everyone. What I need doesn’t matter. Whether I am exhausted, lacking vitality, or even physically sick, you can count on me.” This might sound noble. But, is not the true spirit of Karma Yoga. Ignoring your basic human needs is, in the long-term, a prescription for burnout and chronic sickness.

That’s why Karma Yoga is also an act of self-love. Only by embodying love in every cell of your being are you able to unconditionally be in Love with others. Self-care is essential and may be the first step towards selfless service in the world today.

Pure Intention

“May all beings be safe from inner and outer Harm,
May all beings be peaceful and happy,
May all beings be healthy and strong,
May all beings care for themselves joyfully,
May all beings love themselves completely.”
–Metta Prayer of Loving-Kindness

What really drives you in service? Honestly. Are you aware of the intention that lies behind your spirit of service?

Does the desire to serve come from the need to be there for others so it makes you feel like a better person? Or, does it spring from the idea that volunteering is good because society values it? Or, do you compare yourself to how other people are serving in your community— feeling like you are not good enough or that you need to give more so that you can be as humble as others? Or, do you feel the need to measure up to your teacher’s example?

This is not what Karma Yoga is about.

The practice of Karma Yoga helps reflect the selfish tendencies that become apparent through your actions. This should not cause worry, as almost every human being has them. “Almost,” as there are a few special people who truly embody Karma Yoga, humility, selflessness, compassion, and unconditional love. People like M.K. Gandhi, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and Nelson Mandela. Spiritual teachers like Ramana Maharshi, Gautama Buddha, Anandamayi Ma, and other sages who kindle this openness of the Heart in you. We even find genuine expressions of selflessness in our friends, partners, family members, and colleagues. Our interactions with such people are deeply inspiring and transformative.

So, rather than punishing or judging yourself, just embrace these tendencies. Let this show you the conditioning that you have been carrying inside for lifetimes. By becoming aware of them you start to no longer believe them or reactivate them. In this way, they release themselves.

Look at others as an inspiration and a doorway into this Love, which is a reflection of the Love that calls you from inside. Give up comparing yourself to others.

A Conscious Choice to Love and Be Loved

“Just sit here right now,
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From Love,
Is the hardest work
In This
World.

Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.

You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.”
–Hafiz

Being a karma yogi is a conscious choice. It is the choice to unconditionally love life, yourself, and others. To no longer hide away from life, but to face it and give the best of yourself in every moment.

Conscious Choice to Love

It is a constant practice of love awareness, goodness, kindness, compassion, courage, and forgiveness. It means being honest and authentic about your human limitations. Through becoming aware of what you think, say, and do, every moment brings you another step closer to truly living with an Open Heart. Selfless service is allowing humility in pure connection with life, from human to human, heart to heart. It is a generosity in which you are naturally nourished by life. You come into a fullness of being, which overflows from your heart. In this way, it is shared with all.

Karma Yoga is a life path. Every moment that is consciously experienced is an offering to Truth, an invitation to open your heart more and more in order to reveal your True Nature. Which is Love…

“The experience of Self is only love, which is seeing only love, hearing only love, feeling only love, tasting only love, and smelling only love, which is bliss.” –Ramana Maharshi
  
Uma Esmeralda is a Hridaya teacher and the Karma Yoga/HR Manager at the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, Mexico. You can read her post on integrating daily life into spirituality here.  

Experience the Bliss of Karma Yoga

Did this article pull on your heartstrings? Are you feeling the call to serve? Then, we invite you to apply for Hridaya Yoga’s 3-month Karma Yoga Immersion, which begins June 21st. It is an opportunity to go deep in Self-Enquiry through the practice of Karma Yoga. Read more here.

Motherhood and Self-Enquiry

Motherhood and Self-Enquiry

By Emma Carruthers

As I run a meditation center and mostly encounter spiritual practitioners in my daily life, I am often asked: “how is your practice now that you have a baby?” The answer to this question has become clearer to me through its frequent repetition… “That depends on what practice means to you,” I often respond.

The Path of Informal Practice

After the birth of my son Benzra one year ago, it became obvious to me (as it is perhaps obvious to everyone who has taken the journey into parenthood) that a new mother no longer has much time to herself. Sitting down to meditate for a couple of hours a day was no longer an option. I began to explore the path of “informal practice,” through which my thirst for Truth could be quenched.

What Is a Mother

What Is a Mother?

Coming from an Advaita background, I found myself naturally asking the question “Who am I?”—especially as I observed myself (my “self,” who I knew so well…) suddenly holding a newborn baby all day and night. In the first few months, this introspection was so easy to ride, as all that I had previously identified with was brought into a different light and new labels such as “mother” arose and were witnessed without attachment. “Who am I?” “Am I a mother?” “What is a mother?”

Contemplating Death

As the months went on with Benzra, something that surprised me was a deep awareness of and contemplation on death. I realized that for the first time in my life someone really needed me—if I were to die, this little baby’s life would be hugely affected. And, if he were to die… That thought was terrible, but haunted me at various moments throughout the day and in many dreams. I could feel his fragility, his dependence on me for life, his connection to the source beyond birth and death from which he came into human form.

Psychologically, it was a difficult process for me to face the questions and emotions that arose with the awareness of death. Spiritually, it brought up many attachments and identifications that needed to be seen and dropped against the background of Self-Enquiry. I became ever more grateful for the powerful spiritual catalyst that death is and provides, and also grateful to my son for helping me finally see these things in a clear light.

Deepening in Surrender

One of the luxuries of living in an isolated place like Lake Atitlán, Guatemala is that I don’t have a car, a daily schedule, a job to run to (I live at our retreat center), or a lot of time pressure to accomplish certain things. Many of my friends living in Western countries who had children at the same time as I did shared that life became very stressful and tiring once their babies arrived. This was not my experience.

I have used this time of new motherhood to open again and again to the practice of surrender (particularly at the mental level) and to drop any concepts I have about how the day should look or when certain things should be done. In Benzra’s first three months I would spontaneously be called to practice walking meditation in the garden five or six times a day to get him to sleep! I could be eating lunch, having tea with a friend, or writing emails and Benzra would gently let me know that he was ready for another nap. So, I would drop everything and head outdoors with him for half an hour or so until he settled.

Embracing the Present Moment

Present MomentThis was a great practice in letting go of what “I” wanted, thought was best, or needed, and brought a profound flexibility into my life. I never tried to force Benzra into my schedule, so we began to flow together through each day and night. I never found myself wishing for something other than what was there for me in each moment. Don’t get me wrong—there have been some hard times when this “I” was definitely calling out for attention! But, such challenging moments provide a great opportunity for me to witness and to further develop discrimination and self-acceptance.

Resting in Awareness

What I have been most grateful for in this journey of motherhood has been the constant opportunity to practice Self-awareness and Self-Enquiry. Whereas in my previous “formal practice” there was a tendency to apply myself fervently during my “official meditation hours” and then afterward go about my day, Benzra has asked me to step into this awareness at many moments throughout the day. What else is there to do while breastfeeding for multiple hours? Why not rest in Self-awareness and the question “Who am I?”

The Wonder of Existence

Now that Benzra is one year old and is very much on the move, I deeply cherish playing with him in the garden—quietly watching bugs on leaves, running our fingers through the grass, licking a raindrop off a flower before a storm begins. I am constantly reminded of the wonder of this existence and the joy of simple being-ness beyond the conceptual mind, which Benzra has yet to develop.

Trusting Life

The dawning of motherhood certainly does not mean the sunset of spiritual practice. In my experience, it has been the contrary. I have experienced a richness of inquiry and a deepening of awareness from the many moments in which having a baby in my arms has called me into Presence. Even though I had to stop to breastfeed Benzra twice while writing this post, it has somehow been written. I trust that all that must be written by life will continue to be. My only task is to surrender to it and watch on…

Trusting Life

 

Emma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the co-founder of The Hermitage Silent Retreat Center, an idyllic spot on the spectacular shore of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. You can read her blog on the beauty of having a spiritual community here.

The Howl of Presence

The Howl of Presence

By Uma Esmeralda Ritstier

Fully trusting the wave that is flowing through me and the ever-present mood it stirs up,
Completely trusting the natural rhythm of my Being,
Trusting the Heart of who I am and what it expresses in this moment,
Being, without doing,
It’s okay to rest in ease,
To see the mind calm like the waves it looks at,
Being moved by the wind
And touched by the stars.
Seeing the light surging through every particle of the Universe.
Where was I going?
Before and after.
Why is the soul so enchanted by losing itself in the external?
Turn around, sweet One.
Turn and twist.
Be taken by the howl of the wolves at night
And reminded by the full moon on its return,
Receiving the blessings of its beingness.
Through brightness I arrived,
Through brightness I remember
And return inward.
Held in the moment
Of just Presence.
 
 
Uma Esmeralda is a Hridaya Yoga teacher currently serving as our Karma Yoga Manager. You can read her post on integrating daily life into spirituality here.

The Value of Patience in Understanding People

The Value of Patience in Understanding People and Developing Spiritual Relationships

By Adina Riposan-Taylor (Saraswati Devi)

In view of living with Pure Intention and an Open Heart, it is useful to learn to cultivate patience in learning how to perceive and relate to people in a way that is free from stereotypes, samskaras (unconscious impressions), and projections. We live in a world that is driven by assumptions, and assumptions are the direct manifestation of impatience in understanding and assessing people around us. Impatience and assumptions act as hindrances to experiencing quality human interactions. They impede our own spiritual transformation and the overall evolution of humanity.

We know —an agitated mind, a hyperactive mind, a life lived in the mind. Therefore, impatience in understanding those around us and grasping who they are at the level of the personality—their values, life patterns, and goals—practically manifests as “re-creating” them in our minds. In essence, the agitated mind decides how it wants to perceive that person. Not having the patience to observe, get to know, and really understand someone, the mind projects its own distorted perceptions, samskaras, and current or past life dissatisfactions into a fake, distorted image of the person. They become a figure of our imagination, and the image we create becomes the driving force in any further interactions we have with them.

impatience is a state of mind

Rushing into defining someone, jumping into judgment, and putting labels on a person will only lead to developing that “image of the other” in our impatient and agitated mind. This will further create a vasana (in this case, a negative pattern of enforcing our own “image of the other” onto the “real one”), trying to “re-create” the person and, thus, creating conflict between the “image” and “reality” of that person. This dissonance results in drama, permanent suffering, unreasonable expectations that are never met, and a permanent source of dissatisfaction with the present moment.

A common example of such a conflict is that we feel we really “love” someone when what we actually love is the distorted image of the person that we have created in our own mind—the imaginary person, the projection. Often, we might eventually “hate” the person we “love,” as their manifestation never lives up to the expectations we have related to their “image.” Conflict and drama will soon be there, and we will resent not being able to turn the person into the image we created.

Developing Spiritual RelationshipsPatience keeps us in the present moment and in resonance with Absolute Truth. Impatience comes from the mind, patience comes from the Heart! When trying to understand someone, by allowing the response to arise from the Heart rather than coming from the mind and our mental reactions we learn to break our stimulus-response patterns (the rushing patterns) and stop reacting like unconscious “Pavlov’s dogs.” Cultivating non-reactivity helps in this process tremendously. Patience is “giving time for your heart to act”—the basis for real spiritual progress and for developing pure spiritual relationships. Rushing and impatience in judgment and labeling make us slaves of our own negative emotions (anger, envy, jealousy, insecurity, pride, or frustration), which we ultimately project outwards. Meanwhile, patience quiets the mind and helps us cultivate the positive emotions and qualities of love, compassion, and empathy—which allow us to welcome everyone and perceive all beings with insights coming from the Heart.

As patience is a quality that is the basis for all spiritual realization, it moves us from the realm of the ego to the realm of surrender and trust in the Divine Consciousness. It is useful to apply this in our relationships with people, too. This may mean taking “baby steps” in cultivating patience and perseverance in the way we perceive, know, and understand everyone. With practice, we can learn to drop our own projections and escape our pre-determined stereotypes and perceptions about people and the world.

Then, we will be able to really live with a clear mind and engage in actions that lead to positive outcomes, bring happiness in our relationships, and eliminate conflict. The willingness to cultivate such patience in relating to all beings is a way to live with Pure Intention and an Open Heart.

With Love,
Adina
Adina is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the founder of the Satya Sattva Studio in Fernandina Beach, Florida.

tantric rituals

Tantric Rituals

By Prem Nirav

Tantra is often understood as the web of life in which the Divine connects all beings and things—in this world and in all galaxies and universes, in manifestation and beyond. Tantra can allow us to integrate life into spirituality so that we live in peace and harmony with ourselves and those around us. In essence, Tantric rituals came about because certain teachers or gurus of vision found coincidences and correspondences between nature and themselves. Tantric rituals harness the elements of the Universe through the process of action.

All is Divine

Just as a scientist mixes ingredients to generate chemical reactions during an experiment, so too does a Tantric utilize different elements when performing a ritual.

tantric ritual flowers

For example, earth, herbs, ashes, fire, and water are common ingredients in Tantric rituals. In fact, a Tantric sees the entire Universe as a unified field of energy and recognizes that everything in it—living or not—has a field of energy around it and through it which we can tap into and harness. This understanding comes from the knowledge that the essence of everything is universal Divine Consciousness. From the stones on the ground to the trees in the forest, from insects to humans, everything has the spark of the Divine. So, Tantra and its rituals become a vast playground for the curious to discover all the divine qualities in the Universe and tap into these energies. Moreover, when we open this vision to devotion and the inter/transpersonal qualities of these energies, we find that these elements are those of divine entities that we can directly access.

Clearing Obstructions

Thus, much of what Tantric rituals have for us is in the worship of deities. Connecting with such universal beings helps bring about change and harmony in our lives. It helps clear the way so we can move forward on our spiritual path without facing seemingly endless distractions and obstructions. Tantra teaches us that we are already divine—as is everything in the Universe. It is only that our diamond has mud on it. So, we have to clean it to allow it to shine in its full splendor.

The Outward Reflects the Inner

The last element in Tantric ritual worth mentioning here is that the outward reflects the inward.

The Outward Reflects the InnerThis means that when we perform a puja (act of worship) on a deity, this outward act is done for an inner purpose. A ritual performed in adoration of a deity (of a specific aspect or quality of nature) is actually directed towards that aspect of our inner selves. This is true for all Tantric rituals and helps us resonate with virtuous qualities such as vitality, healing, love, and harmony. It also helps us steer clear of difficult human qualities such as jealousy, envy, greed, and pride. In this way, ritual helps us resonate with positive qualities, as we have these energies “on our side,” and divine entities support us in keeping away the negative. Therefore, while we still need to walk the path towards enlightenment, we can do so unfettered by the difficulties of life.

Thus, our spiritual path can be harmoniously integrated into love and humility by linking the manifested with the non-manifested. For some people (perhaps many), it is a necessary modality towards their process of awakening. Perhaps the most important point is that as we become clearer vessels for love it is outwardly expressed as compassion. In becoming truly altruistic towards everyone and everything, there is a genuine, heartfelt understanding: the Divine in me recognizes the divine in you. Namaste.

 
 
Prem Nirav is a long-term Hridaya student and the founder of Anuttara Ashram.

The Spine of the Night

The Spine of the Night

By Chris van der Weide

We walk without sight
On the spine of the night
Despite the fright that every
ever-so-slight misstep might slide
Might slip, flip, whip, and dip
Our hearts in the vast unknown
In the never before shown
Infinite space, in which no trace
Of past exists
No maps, no routes, no lies, no lists
And nothing to hold tight
Other than the All-Bright, the Unified

And so we fall into the non-, the never ever done
The not existing timeless Whole
Through the cracks of your bedroom wall
Through the holes of my old jeans
Through each touch and all our dreams
Through a hairy dancing spider
Through our pupils growing wider
Through the sun growing brighter
In your chest
On which I lay my ear
To rest
And hear
The beating of the Drum
So near
So dear
We’re falling upwards
Without fear
We tumble through the open air
The “anyone there?”
And Nowhere where
You and I collide, take flight
In Chinese White expanding light

You’ve planted a seed in me
I’ll raise it to be a tree
On whose branches we can sway
Like children we play and lay
Our cards
Of open hearts
Of humble care
Of truth and dare
Of real and fair
Of nude and bare
Of light and praise
Of beauty and grace
We slow our pace
And choose to face

The obstacles along the road
The stormy waves rocking our boat
The secrets hiding up our sleeves
The falling of the autumn leaves
The leaving of whatever was
The morning after’s empty glass
Of wine: bright and scarlet red
Of desires not being met
Of the earthly stings and pains
The false controlling need for reigns

I am this You and You this me
We wake up with soft eyes and see
It is this setting this free
There is thus no where to flee
We will infinitely be
He who paints his strokes refined
She who dances wild and blind
Here they balance
Hear them sing
And laugh
In awe
Of everything

We learned to love it is to give
And to laugh it is to live
And to give it is to free
And to live it is to be
And to free is to let go
And to be is to let flow
And to let go is to grow
And to flow is not to know
And to grow it is to learn
And not to know it is to burn
All you ever thought you were,
All the frames that might occur
All images that blur
This blue lagoon, revealing clear:
All is perfection, now and here
Love, there is no beast to tame
You and me, we are the same
Open doors, let’s give it all
And so we fall
So we fall

Chris Van Der Weide

 

 

Chris is a poet, Hridaya Yoga teacher, and a movement and dance facilitator.

 

meditation benefits

Benefits of Meditation Practice

By Dominique Didinal

 

“OH, MY GOODNESS—How are you staying so calm??!?!! I would be so panicked if I were you!” Says one of my friends, not overly reassuringly…

I’m on a tropical island paradise approximately 6000 miles from home and unable to walk properly because of a severe sea urchin sting on the sole of my left foot. Somehow, I’ve managed (due to a lapse in …umm… presence and awareness) to leave my only remaining bank card in a cash machine, which has swallowed it whole.

Although this scenario might be every new traveler’s worst nightmare, five years of full-time traveling have prepared me for potential pitfalls. But, still…

Despite the situation, I am feeling nothing but calm, relaxed, and optimistic.

And, all I can think is “Wow, thank goodness for my meditation practice. I’ve come a long way!”

The Benefits of Meditation

There are hundreds of articles on the internet that talk about the benefits of meditation. These include scientific studies that have found that it reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, and can improve the immune system.

The mental benefits are also fairly well known. A regular practice can help reduce anxiety, lower stress, and create greater calm and clarity in our lives. There is, of course, a spiritual component as well. Over time, we learn to reconnect to ourselves and to a deeper, wider, all-encompassing presence.

But, how does someone who’s been practicing for a while notice the benefits of meditation in their everyday world?

Contemplating the recent meeting between the little black spiky creature from the sea and the sole of my foot made me aware of just how differently I show up to events in my own life these days.

Don’t Dramatize! Letting Go of The “What Ifs…”

The back of a favorite Hridaya Yoga t-shirts says “Don’t Dramatize.” It’s a reminder—should we need it—of the stories the minds loves to make up. It asks us to be aware of how we give meaning to the events in our lives.

Dominique Didinal-Benefits of Meditation Practice

After my run-in with the urchin, I saw my mind wanting to rush in and concoct the most terrifying scenarios imaginable.

“What if they don’t get the needles out? Or, it gets infected?” quickly became “What if I never walk again? Maybe it will have to be amputated! Waaaaaaaah!”

Pointless future thought projections as Sahajananda, the founder of Hridaya, would say.

(Heads up, as a former actress I have a great tendency toward drama. It’s true!)

I’m doubly grateful that my meditation practice has enabled me to simply witness the ridiculous acrobatic leaps my mind makes and move on without allowing myself to get dragged onto the roller coaster of emotion.

Likewise, when I’m nursing the sting of an emotional wound—for example, a lover who didn’t call or a falling out with a family member—I can launch straight into a story. Often, that story is trying to point to how something is wrong with me.

But, after being stung by the sea urchin my mind stayed relatively drama- and victimization-free. I chose not to interpret events as meaning either “the Universe is teaching me a lesson” or that I am stupid, unlucky, undeserving, or just not good enough.

I also didn’t use it as an excuse to diminish how I decided to show up in the present. I continued to teach Hridaya Yoga three times a week (albeit mat-based and seated for most of the time), with a rallying cry of “the sting affected my foot—not my Spiritual Heart!”

Accepting What Is —Saying Goodbye to The “If Onlys…”

I can’t begin to count the number of times my mind has uselessly reared the ugly faces of ghosts past to try and somehow retroactively fix the present. “If only I hadn’t done that, then maybe the present would be better.” We spend our lives trying to avoid pain and move towards pleasure. That, as the Buddha rightly pointed out, is the cause of our suffering.

So much of our mental activity can be a resistance to what is.

But, as Sahaja says, above all else meditation is a commitment to Reality.

Yes, sometimes my practice leads to greater feelings of peace and bliss. But, in this respect, a meditation practice can also be misused and abused, allowing us to check out and avoid pain—the same way we might seek refuge in an extra helping of cheesecake or a bout of retail therapy.

When practiced correctly, one of the benefits of meditation is the invitation and space it provides for us to sit with uncertainty, discomfort, and pain.

I notice how I’ve developed the emotional resilience to simply sit with what is. The more I can do that, the less I feel the need to stuff down or hold onto pain. I can simply (but not always easily) feel what is alive for me, witness it, and allow it to pass through me. Over time, this powerful practice has led me to feeling lighter, brighter, and more self-accepting.

Compassionate Kindness

A sting that had me bandaged up and unable to put weight on my foot two weeks before the end of a high-investment six-week teacher training course in dance wasn’t exactly ideal. And, neither was leaving my only bank card in a cash machine. Once upon a time, I would have mercilessly beaten myself up for such actions and thrown in a hefty side dollop of guilt for good measure.

“Talk about presence and awareness! You call yourself a meditation teacher?”

Compassionate KindnessBut, if there’s something else my practice has given me, it’s the ability to witness that unkind voice and choose a different response.

Instead, this time, I did what we all need to do. All of the time.

I forgave myself for being human.

I learn that the more compassionate and less judgmental I can be with myself, the less judgmental and more compassionate I can be towards others.

 

As Matt Kahn, a modern teacher of non-duality, says, “If everything that happened was always going to happen to you regardless of what you did, how would you act differently? How would you show up differently? How would you love yourself differently?”

Freedom Is Mine

In the great Sanskrit teachings, moksha (freedom) is the ultimate liberation from suffering. For us humans muddling through life, perhaps the greatest freedom we can give ourselves is to truly acknowledge what we can control and what we cannot. The media, weather, events, people, Donald Trump’s next tweet—anything outside of us is pretty much outside of our remit. Regardless of whether we believe that we have the freedom to consciously shape the course of our lives or that our lives have been predestined by the great hand of fate, there is one thing we always have the power to do, and that is to choose our response. With this comes a great freedom and the reclamation of our own energy and power.

Thanks, My Spiky Little Friend!

Once upon a time, the lens through which I looked at the world would have been darkly different. Getting stung and losing my bank cards would have sent me spiraling into worry, anxiety, fear, panic, and “poor me” mode! I probably would have upped my isolation and certainly not known how to reach out for support.

This time, I witnessed events (my new card winging it’s way to me via the UK, Australia, and Bali over the month and my foot finally healing after 3 weeks of jabs, medicine, and a minor operation—ouch!) with nothing more than a slightly detached sense of amusement. I got to choose a very different response and practice—relying on new friends, asking for support, and receiving help (all skills in the school of life that haven’t always come easily to me). I was blown away with gratitude and appreciation for the beauty, community, and connection that was created as a result. I was almost grateful to the sea urchin for stinging me in the first place!

And, that is perhaps the greatest benefit a regular meditation practice can offer.

Eventually, as that lens we view the world with gets cleared of all the dust, grime, and soot of old ways of behaving, emotional suffering, and triggers, we get to show up in the present moment and interact with more trust, compassion, love, clarity, and calm. As we change, we see how the world changes with us.

I wish you nothing but love, luck, and the same miraculous unfolding in your own lives.

Dominique is a Hridaya Yoga teacher (and now, a Mystical Dance Teacher—she completed the course!). She runs www.wanderwomen.club, an online sangha (spiritual tribe) for women that offers a free 7-day heart connection meditation course. Dominique also has a podcast featuring inspirational women and teaches Dance of the Divine Feminine and Goddess workshops and retreats around the world.

Psychology and Spirituality

Psychology and Spirituality: Mutually Exclusive or Two Sides of the Same Coin?

By Naomi White

Blending Psychology and Spirituality

I’ve been met with both gratitude and curiosity as the Hridaya Yoga School Psychologist: gratitude that I’m here doing this work and curiosity about why. How can we come from a non-dual perspective, knowing that all is one and life is but a dream, while also endorsing detailed exploration and healing at the level of the personality?

As Buddhist meditation master Chögyum Trungpa put it, “Many people try to find a spiritual path where they do not have to face themselves but where they can still liberate themselves—liberate themselves from themselves, in fact. In truth, this is impossible. We cannot do that. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut, our real shit, our most undesirable parts. We have to see that. That is the foundation of warriorship and the basis of conquering fear. We have to face our fear; we have to look at it, study it, work with it, and practice meditation with it.”

Knowing that spiritual practice can become a way “to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs” (i.e., spiritual bypassing) can ignite a sense of unease about our own practice.

Welcoming the Shadows

Yoga and Meditation in Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico

Many of us know that true practice necessitates exploring the personality, the shadow, the unconscious. But we don’t know how to do that, let alone in a spiritual context. Indeed, as author and Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield wrote, “we fear the personal and its sorrow because we have not learned how it can serve as our practice and open our hearts.”

That’s exactly where I come in. I offer a way of doing what Trungpa talked about: studying and working with our most undesirable parts. Jack Kornfield recommends psychological therapy for spiritual seekers and attests that “this doesn’t mean getting caught in our personal histories, as many people fear, but learning how to address them so that we can actually free ourselves from the big and painful ‘blocks’ of our past. Such healing work is often best done in a therapeutic relationship with another person.”

Letting the Light Enter

Spiritual seekers seek psychological therapy when we understand the truth in Rumi’s observation that “the wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Maybe our intrusive, traumatic, or obsessive thoughts are getting in the way of our sitting practice. They may even be conditioning our meditation to be linked to this very blockage. Maybe, despite years and years of watching ourselves with hawk-like awareness doing something destructive (like lying, binge-eating and purging, or doing drugs), we just can’t stop doing it or simply don’t know what to do instead. Maybe we’re maintaining an image of being all-loving and compassionate but secretly judging ourselves and others. Maybe we just can’t help believing the mind when it starts criticizing us or telling us how we’re the next messiah or Saint Teresa of Calcutta (aka, Spiritual Ego). Maybe we struggle with believing we “should” be less imperfect if we are to be truly “spiritual.” That somehow we need to get rid of something within ourselves to become liberated. Or, we’re too scared to (or just can’t) let go. Maybe we want to address the gnawing feeling that there is something we’re using our spiritual practice to run away from. Maybe we can’t sleep. Maybe we’re depressed. Maybe we’re anxious. Or, maybe we just want to talk about where we are on the spiritual journey and see what comes up.

Naomi white

Our Essence Is Love

Psychological therapy addresses aspects of our egos that, due to the very fact that they are not being dealt with and integrated, mean that they are running the show one way or another. Our essence is Love. Our ego separates us from this truth by creating ways of thinking, believing, and acting as if this weren’t true. Essentially, pushing Love away. That, in turns, creates pain and suffering. It makes sense, then, that going into our core pain and suffering would offer a path to the Truth of our innermost being. It can illuminate and, to paraphrase Rumi, remove the barriers we have built against Love. Then, witnessing is not somewhere “out there,” above and to the back of the head. Instead, we feel it intimately at the very core of our experience. This knowledge alone can provide inspiration to befriend and embrace the ego as our biggest teacher. It points to the areas where both the deepest wounds and the deepest connection to our core reside.

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Moreover—and this is where it gets very juicy—psychological therapy can shed light on the areas we don’t know that we don’t know. Take a moment to digest that. What we don’t even know that we don’t know. This is something that happens at an automatic, unconscious level where information that is too painful to process gets blocked from perception. It’s like when we plug in a USB stick and our computer doesn’t even register its presence. This is a survival technique that protects us from being overwhelmed and unable to function. And, it can be a real obstacle to complete open awareness. Psychological therapy can help bring awareness to these areas in a manner that doesn’t overwhelm and completely shut down the system. In this way, it unlocks access to hitherto unknown levels of conscious awareness.

This is how a trained ear acting as a reflective surface can show us in just a few sessions what could take years, or even lifetimes, to see on our own. This is especially true for those of us who, despite doing many retreats and attaining advanced states of spiritual ecstasy and understanding, have persistent relationship issues. Relationships access parts of ourselves that are beyond thoughts since they were formed before we knew how to talk and are only activated interpersonally.

The Power of the Therapeutic Relationship

This brings me to a crucial and exclusive aspect of psychological intervention that sets it apart from other avenues for growth and transcendence: the therapeutic relationship. That is, the relationship between the therapist and the client. The quality of this relationship is the number one predictor of the outcome of therapy, regardless of what kind of therapy we engage in. It has the potential to provide healing in a way that we simply can’t reach sitting alone with our eyes closed. It is a kind of intimacy that may not be available in day-to-day relationships, either because the very nature of these is destructive or simply due to the fact that they work both ways—which can make it difficult or even impossible to work through issues rooted in the very attachment that forms these bonds.

Fuel for Fire of Transcendence

Thus, Western psychological therapy provides the tools, techniques, and relationship through which we can delve into the parts of ourselves we would rather not look at (i.e., “bypass”) or can’t even get at. Blending psychology and spirituality lets us use these parts as fire to take us deeper in our practice, opening our hearts more and more. In this way, our pain and suffering become the very substance of our journey, bringing concepts like “living with an Open Heart” to life and making them truly accessible. Our blockages, stuck-places, and unconscious tendencies are fuel to burn in the fire of transcendence. As Zen monk and teacher Suzuki Roshi said, “when you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” Psychological therapy in the context of Hridaya Yoga helps us do exactly that, ultimately supporting the revelation of our True Nature, the Spiritual Heart.

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen.
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the
Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.”
-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

 
 
Naomi is a Hridaya teacher and clinical psychologist currently supporting students at our center in Mazunte. You can read more about her one-on-one sessions here.

Surrender to Grace: Learning to Trust

By Dee Lee

I was trying to nap in the back seat when the car hit the barrier and started to skid. Instead of the predictable survival response of fight-or-flight, a much deeper impulse arose. The mind went blank and, with eyes still closed, I heard myself calmly utter: “Your will, not mine.”

A simple, exquisite prayer of surrender that to this day echoes through the depths of my Being.

Learning to Trust

Nowadays, I find myself silently repeating these words more frequently in everyday situations. I am learning to trust more. To listen more closely. To heed only that inner voice. To act on it with courage. To gradually let go of the illusion of control. Slowly, I’m finding the delicate balance between personal effort and surrender. It’s a dance that brings such freedom and relaxation.

When I’m able to maintain enough awareness in the moment, I remember a quote attributed (though sometimes disputed) to St. Germain: “All is well in all of creation always.” The Heart knows this to be true even when the mind, with its filtered perceptions, believes otherwise. Its ideas of how things “should be” and what success looks like are so limited and so limiting. Over and over again, the outcomes of situations are far more awesome than what the conditioned mind could have anticipated. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”

So much wisdom and inspiration can be drawn from her on the topic of surrender. She also said, “I don’t claim anything of the work. It’s His work. I’m like a little pencil in His hand. That’s all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do it.” How beautiful is that? This idea resonates so deeply for me that it somehow finds its way into a hatha yoga class that I teach.

Grace Is Love

being sensitive, HSP

For years, the word “God” had such a strong negative association for me. This was largely a result of disillusionment with organized religion, the control and claims of dogma, and the perceived hypocrisy of the church. Through Grace, I have been able to transcend this barrier and perceive the Absolute directly, beyond form and concept. Looking at how mystics across all religions and philosophies describe their direct experience of the Divine, it is blatantly clear that they are talking about the same thing. It’s just the story around it that’s different—yet, that’s what we tend to focus on! This causes the separation, judgment, and conflict that are so painfully prevalent in the world today.

These days, my preferred name for this Infinite Love is Grace. She has a feminine presence at the moment, to help me through my current set of lessons. She has so many names. So many forms. So many faces.

The Power of Gratitude

Recently, I was reflecting upon the ever-growing list of people, experiences, lessons, and stuff that I have been blessed with in this Life. So much to be grateful for. As Meister Eckhart so eloquently stated: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

It dawned upon me that the Spanish word for “thank you” can be translated as “graces.” Coincidence? There’s no such thing in this Sublime Symphony of Life. So, it stands to reason that my only intention going forward is to more closely align myself with the Divine Will in each moment. To offer every thought, feeling, word, and action that comes through the personal self back to the Source of All. Doing this for the benefit of All.

 

Dee is a Hridaya teacher currently serving as our General Manager.

Integrating Daily Life into Spirituality

Integrating Daily Life into Spirituality

By Uma Esmeralda Ritstier
 
You just had a life-altering experience that turned your world upside down. It made you look at life from a whole new perspective. Suddenly, you experience things differently. You start living life inside out, instead of the other way around.

Maybe you just entered your first (second, third, or more) retreat. You learned about the ancient philosophy of yoga. You started meditating, and for the first time in your life you experience the deep meaning of Silence. You feel the aspiration to continue to live your life this way—the path of opening, expanding, of living with a wide-open Heart. You want to learn about integrating daily life into spirituality.

But how?

Going Back Home

You are probably just about to go back. Or you already returned to the place that you call home.

And you find yourself in a place that suddenly makes you feel like you’re all alone. Lacking (spiritual) support, and without inspiration.

Fears arise: “What if I lose it all?”

The alarm bells ring loudly: “SOS! Please bring me back!

Don’t You Worry, Don’t You Worry Child

When you feel the SOS call rising in you, breathe into the moment. Feel your breath. Notice how it flows in and out of your body naturally. Feel what is really alive for you now. Maybe there’s anxiety or a deep sense of nostalgia when you recall that moment of true heart-opening love.

Acknowledge whatever is present for you now. Don’t worry. Really, there’s no need to be afraid. There is only this moment. And, this moment is all you have. Feel it. Feel it deeply in every cell of your body, mind, and heart.

What you experienced “back there” is still inside of you now. The preciousness of life’s presence will never disappear. Just as it never came to you, either. In the spontaneous opening of the Heart it has revealed itself to you. And, it will never be forgotten.

“Don’t you worry, don’t you worry child. See, heaven has got a plan for you…”

Don’t You Worry Child, Swedish House Mafia, sung by Madilyn Bailey

Therefore, don’t worry dear one, as this song and my great inspiration and teacher Sahajananda suggest over and over again.

It is here, in you, in me, right as we speak. It can never be gone. As it never really came.
It is here, in the midst of it all.

And it is up to you.
You can choose to allow it to guide you or to ignore its existence.
But, you have tasted the freedom of openheartedness. You have received an invitation to be who you truly are. So, why would you ever go back?

What Am I Supposed to Be Doing?

Rumi

“All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.”

Rumi

This short passage from Rumi’s poem clearly describes the questioning that comes up for almost everyone who steps foot on the spiritual path. In these moments of wondering “what,” “how,” and “why,” start with “who.” Who is questioning this? Allow the answers to unfold from there. Just continue to question deeply from your Heart:

Who am I?
Why am I here?
And, what am I suppose to be doing?

Trust

Spiritual teachings call this way of questioning, Self-Enquiry. It comes with a deep trust—like dear Rumi had years before us—that what brought us here will also take us Home.

Trust that all is exactly the way it is suppose to be, right here and now. Follow that innermost silence, that deepest longing of the Heart. It will never lie…

5 Tips for Integrating Daily Life into Spirituality Wherever You Are

When you find yourself in an “SOS-state of Mind,” these five tips might bring you back to trust and help you create supportive conditions for your transformation.

1. Maintain a daily spiritual practice.

Practicing meditation and yoga on a daily basis will give you the opportunity to tap into the collective field that we all create by practicing. It will keep your mind and body clear and connect you to the Heart. Practice is a great way to start and end every day.

2. Stay connected with sangha (spiritual community).

Stay in touch with your new friends from your retreat. You can create a special group via email, WhatsApp, or Facebook to continue to inspire each other and do group practices.

3. Share what inspires you with those around you.

Don’t hesitate to share your experiences with others. However, avoid preaching—some people might not feel ready for your new way of looking at things. Don’t be afraid of external resistance. Staying true to yourself might be the biggest challenge and, simultaneously, the most precious invitation to live life in openness, truth, and authenticity.

4. Investigate spiritual gatherings where you live.

Perhaps before your retreat you weren’t aware of it, but there are people gathering in the least expected places to share their spiritual aspiration. On Facebook you’ll find communities that post events and give space to share experiences. Or, you could go to an open day at a local school that offers yoga, meditation, satsangs, etc.—exploring classes and experiencing what they offer. You can start to find a spiritual community close to home.

5. Practice Self-study.

A way to stay connected and deepen awareness is Self-study. In addition to the practice of Self-Enquiry (“Who am I?”), this means reading spiritual texts. Libraries and the Internet offer a wide range of possibilities to continue reading about your favorite mystics, poets, and spiritual teachers. Sahajananda’s Suggested Reading list is a very good place to start. YouTube offers lectures and ideas to contemplate, and modern masters often film live teachings.
Self-study is a very intimate way to inquire about yourself and the deeper meaning of the non-dual teachings.
 
 
Uma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. This spring, she will join the administrative team at the Hridaya Yoga Center, serving as our Karma Yoga Manager. You can read her post on being a Highly Sensitive Person here.

The Framework for Living an Intentional Life

By Keith McGuinnes

I’d like to dive into the idea of living an intentional life. First, what exactly is the difference between an intentional life and an unintentional one? In Buddhist lingo, an unintentional existence can be considered living karmically. This means that we are subject to our habits, our past conditioning, and the circumstances in which we exist. There may be a vague sense of seeking happiness or pleasure, but we have not deeply examined this “sense.”

Intentional living can take on various meanings, too. There can be an intention to become as rich and powerful as possible, or there can be an intention to free all beings from suffering. Each direction can add clarity to our lives, yet I’ll argue that deeply questioning or witnessing our experience in this world makes it very difficult to pursue the former.

The Framework for Living an Intentional Life

Buddhism has taken many forms throughout history—today it is often considered a philosophy, a religion, a soteriological method, or even a trendy fashion. Some consider it all or none of these. The Bodhisattva Precepts, a set of moral codes used in Mahayana Buddhism to advance a practitioner along the path to attaining Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings, stem from a long tradition of providing a framework of living intentionally.

They are:The Framework for Living an Intentional Life
The Path of the Precepts of the Three Treasures

  • I take refuge in the Buddha
  • I take refuge in the Dharma
  • I take refuge in the Sangha

The Three Purifying Precepts

  • I vow to avoid all harmful actions
  • I vow to act beneficially in all things
  • I vow to live for the benefit of all sentient beings

The Ten Prohibitory Precepts

  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not kill: I am aware of the preciousness of each existence
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not take what is not given: I am aware of the independence of each thing
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha is not involved in sexual misconduct: I am aware of my actions
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not lie: I am aware of the effect of my speech
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not delude others: I am aware of the effect of my conduct
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not slander others: I am aware that each person is seed of Buddhahood
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not praise self: I am aware of the interdependence of all things
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha is not possessive of others, of wealth, or of the Teaching: I am aware of the truth of the Dharma
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not harbor ill-will: I am aware of the consequences of anger and hatred
  1. A Disciple of the Buddha does not abuse the Three Treasures: I am aware that Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha include all things

living an intentional life

 

Shedding Light on Our Actions

For those of us brought up with the Ten Commandments, the Buddhist precepts can feel like a list of do’s and don’ts. However, that is not really their intention. Instead, they are supposed to shed light on our actions. What is the state of mind that exists when a precept is broken?

According to my teacher, the precepts are about our relationship with ourselves and the world:

“When we maintain the precepts and the spirit of the precepts in how we walk, how we sit, how we eat, how we talk, and how we relate to one another and to our environment, their constant presence brings light to our lives. The precepts transform us and bring us real freedom. Therefore, far from being a list of rules that restrict or deaden our lives, the true precepts are life-giving, each one expressing our true nature—and that’s their real meaning.”

Living an Intentional Life Means Living in the Present Moment

A Buddhist does not ask what is right or wrong, but “What am I to do in this moment?” Therefore, even killing cannot be considered right or wrong—it must be seen in the context of what is asked for in a given moment. There is a legend that says in a previous lifetime Buddha killed someone who was about to commit a mass murder. If he had been stuck in the idea of “Thou shalt not kill,” or any other limiting belief, he would not have been free to act appropriately in the situation. The precepts, therefore, are more a guideline for figuring out how to live than a set of rules that tell us exactly how to live.

The Dynamic Process of Living Intentionally

living an intentional lifeI decided that before I would ask to formally receive the precepts from my teacher—which formally marks an entrance into the Buddhist community—I would hold them in my daily life to see how they resonated with and for me. Over time, while I found the vows and framework helpful, I found that they felt rather removed from me and seemed abstract. After several conversations with my teachers, and continued examination of my own practice, what I found most effective in living an intentional life was developing my own vows in the context of the greater Bodhisattva vows. These vows, which I recite daily, are constantly evolving. Sometimes, I add one or remove one. Sometimes, I change the wording to evoke a stronger resonance within my day. While I was living in a Buddhist monastery, I would silently recite these vows during our morning prostrations. This seemed to have the effect of shifting the vows from abstract ideas to an embodiment that I could carry with me throughout the day. This will continue to be a dynamic process as my life evolves and my practice deepens.

Intentional Living versus Controlled Living

I’d like to take a step back. I went down the Buddhist path, yet I really want to focus more generally on intentional living, regardless of faith or background. There is a thin line between intentional living and controlled living. I feel that a controlled life falls more in line with the example I previously gave, that of seeking power and money. Any idea of control is always perceived control, because the world is wholly unpredictable and constantly changing. We know this, yet we continue to seek control—over our emotions, our bodies, our relationships, our financial situation, etc. Yet, this is also one of our greatest sources of misery. We suffer when our perfectly laid plans don’t work out, when we are surprised by our partner leaving us, when we lose our job, etc.

An intentional life doesn’t hold onto ideas like “I need to be a millionaire,” “I need to look a certain way,” or “I will own a big house and have three kids with my beautiful partner.” It is much more fundamental: vowing to live compassionately, to live connected to all other beings, to keep the awareness on the breath, the body, and other phenomena. Intentionality can infuse all of our actions, it can allow us to remain centered and directed despite ever-changing circumstances. Or, more elegantly stated: The light of intention always shines through the weeds of karma.

Questions to Contemplate

Do you live an intentional life? What are your intentions? Can you articulate them and share them with others? Do you have hidden intentions that may not actually benefit you or others? Ask yourself these things.
 
 
Keith is a Hridaya Yoga teacher currently teaching at Agama Yoga in Thailand. You can read more from him on his blog.

How to Move from Fright to Freedom: Growing into Love Awareness

By Chris van der Weide
 

Fear

“Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi

It is still dark outside. Disoriented, I wake up from the sound of my partner slamming the bathroom door. Immediately and with delicate precision, all my internal judges pull out their pens and paper and start writing their convictions with utmost certainty. They don’t need to wake up to do their work. Physically, I observe how the awakening body contracts around the stomach and narrows in the chest area. “Who in his right mind would slam the door at the break of dawn?” The fridge opens and closes, the gas is turned on, some plates and cutlery make short, sharp noises. In the distance, I hear a couple of barking dogs and now a nearby rooster begins to chant his sunrise hymn. The judges chatter along, affirming, “If he didn’t slam the door, I would still be sleeping. Then, I wouldn’t be hearing any of this. But now, every detail keeps me awake. I’ll bet I can’t get back to sleep again.” I start to twist and turn, in search of a comfortable position. But, it is nowhere to be found. “You see, that’s why you should live alone. You know you need your space and you know how sensitive you are to sounds, not to mention energies.” Sleep seems as far from me as planet Jupiter, and a mosquito bite begins to itch. “Don’t scratch that bite, you’ll only make it worse. You knew you were bound to get bitten when you sat out on the terrace yesterday. And, since you are awake anyway, you might as well make use of your time instead of lazing around in bed, don’t you think?”

All of this happens in a matter of seconds, and I slowly become aware of the barking voice inside my head. I stop and remember some words from Eckhart Tolle. Didn’t he say something about becoming hyper aware of the physical body and taking three conscious breaths? I take three slow, conscious breaths and feel how the contraction in my stomach softens. Suddenly, I become aware of the early morning sunlight caressing my right cheek and a gentle melody being sung by a little green bird on a nearby branch.

The voice of the inner critic is not a stranger to anyone. It comes as an uninvited guest—without a warning, without knocking on the door, freely feeding on all the sweets and savories we neatly stocked up for our dinner party.

The fact that this inner voice exists is not the problem. The fact that you mistake it for yourself is. Have you ever taken the time to really look at the many words and images generated by this inner critic? If you had, you’d see that it has a strong tendency to create a sense of separation between itself and its surroundings. It does this to support the (conditioned) belief systems, which are based on a separate sense of self. Therefore, it likes to out-wrong the other in order to affirm the “self.”

The voice prefers to direct (i.e., project) its attention outside itself. In that way, any discomfort or dissatisfaction can be attributed to the “other” (whatever feels wrong inside should be fixed outside). Yet, the critique towards any external source is bound to be rooted in an internal fear, a fear of not being good enough, a fear of not being “worthy.” According to a variety of spiritual teachers (Tolle, Almaas, Osho, etc.), it is this fear—the root emotion of the ego—that keeps the illusion of division alive and, ultimately, keeps you from freedom.

So, how to tackle this fear?

Faith

“You have to keep on breaking your heart until it opens.” -Rumi

Where does this continuous judging and sense of separateness followed by fears and insecurities come from? And why do you listen to it? Maybe you remember being told by your parents that you were not good enough? Or, how you derived your sense of self by comparison to your friends? Or, all the little white lies you used to tell your partner and yourself to prevent any sort of (inner) judgment or disappointment? Or, the facade you might still put on to please your parents, your partner, your boss, or your friends in order not to feel rejected? Do you remember the contractions, the hidden fears, the tiptoeing, and the energy-drain that preceded and followed that behavior?

The sheer phrasing of how to “tackle” this obstacle implies that you’d rather get rid of it today than tomorrow. There is a tendency towards avoidance and suppression, the so-called “shortcuts” to (momentary) satisfaction. Thus, you live in compensation. For me personally, this is surely still the case. How often do I find myself trying to fill the void with a bar of chocolate? How often do I smile and say that everything is fine when inside it feels as if a brick is rubbing my intestines? How often do I tell myself that I should feel grateful instead of envious or lonely? How often do I tell myself that everything will be alright if only… Suppression, suppression, suppression.

As long as you keep on pushing obstacles under the surface, they are bound to bubble up as floating wounds again sooner or later. Or, alternatively, your scar tissue will become so thick and sturdy that nothing can touch you anymore and you simply live in a state of numbness.

The tricky thing here is that it is usually fear itself that frightens you the most. That’s why you became so expert in avoiding and projecting it. And, since you fool yourself into thinking that everything is alright with you, yet you face discontentment daily, you attribute the source of both discontentment and contentment to a person or situation outside of yourself. You may believe that the true source of love and happiness lies in finding an ideal partner. But, that is not love. It is neediness. Only if someone depends on you for their sense of completion do you feel secure that they won’t leave. And, vice versa. “But wait! You’ll see! If only I find my twin flame then I’ll be complete!”

But truly, if you can’t find freedom within yourself, how can you expect to find freedom within your relationships? If you are not radically honest and transparent with yourself, how can you expect your loved ones to give you the unconditional love and truthfulness you crave but are unable to give?

If you seek to live with an open heart and want to cultivate conscious relationships, (especially intimate relationships), you have to actively raise your level of awareness through truthfulness with yourself and your surroundings. Even though a great stepping-stone on this path is moving from self-criticism to self-love, you can undertake the journey with someone else from the get-go. Intimate relationships can be your greatest source of pain and your greatest source of joy. It is through both pain and joy that you arrive at Truth.

Freedom

“Dancing is not rising to your feet painlessly like a whirl of dust blown about by the wind. Dancing is when you rise above both worlds, tearing your heart to pieces and giving up your soul.” -Rumi

“Alright,” says the voice with a slight sigh of suspicion, “so tell me, what do I do?” As t
he poet Robert Frost once very wisely mentioned, “the best way out is always through.” The Sufi master Muhamm
ad Attar affirms, “the one who understands this journey should have one thousand hearts so that he can sacrifice one every moment.”
So, there you have it.

They are not saying “there is nothing to be done.” They are not saying it is easy. No—they say that you have to move through the pain and sacrifice your heart (i.e., give yourself “over,” surrender to the unknown—ouch!—and make everything sacred). Every. Single. Moment. But, they are also saying that there is a way out of suffering. And, though the path might be bumpy, the thrilling and mesmerizing visions presented through a myriad of experiences will—in the light of awareness— inevitably force you to face your fears and break your heart open, again and again. Sooner or later, cracks will appear and break down the structure, but—as is a custom in repairing pottery in Japan—those cracks might fill up with gold.

Now, I’d like to do a little experiment together. Take a moment to close your eyes and evoke the sensation of three memories where you felt utterly unbound, complete, and free. Just give it a try. Yes, right now. Did you do it? Now, take a moment to contemplate or write down the characteristics of those moments—what did they have in common?

I dare say that some possibly overlooked commonalities would be the absence of past and future, the absence of thought, the absence of judgment or labeling, and the presence of presence, the acceptance of what is. When I do this experiment, I feel myself dancing in ecstasy and singing in devotion. I disappear while meditating in stillness. I relax when encountering my partner or an intimate friend with radical honesty without labeling or judging. I surrender while making love. I am free when I see the sun rise and set. When I hear the loud laughter of my twelve-year-old sister. When I cry my heart out under a starry night sky. While I listen to the sound of crickets at dusk. When I am enthralled by the grace of a hummingbird.

Tips for Growing into Love Awareness

So, how do you cultivate this state of presence? How do you move from fear to freedom? How do you bring consciousness into your relationships?

  • Listen to the voice in your head as if to a stranger you just met
    Free of expectations, with detached awareness.
  • Do not run from the present moment
    Stay there, no matter the pain. Bring awareness to your physical experience and take a couple of deep breaths while allowing the aliveness of whatever is to be. (Of course, sometimes you need to leave the situation, but do not leave the inner experience.)
  • Cultivate practices of contemplation
    Meditate, do yoga, be still with yourself.
  • Cultivate ways of expression
    Dare to dance, to sing, to write poetry, to paint, to allow stagnant energy to flow.
  • Step out of your comfort zone daily
    Do little things you fear to do. Talk to a stranger on the bus, tell your slightly intimidating friend she has beautiful eyes, surrender to the unknown, break your patterns. (You don’t have to bungee jump from Kilimanjaro straight away if a second floor balcony makes your stomach shrink to the size of a walnut. But, you might take the elevator up one floor a week.)
  • Cultivate a code of radical honesty
    Sit with yourself and your dear ones in silence, sharing truths, and creating a space free from prejudice or judgment. Dare to express your fears and fantasies. (On the same note—explore sensuality. Discover your favorite flavors of life and use them for transcendence. Read more in this article I wrote on Sacred Sexuality.)
  • Continue
    Fear of failure? Tendency to procrastinate? To hide away? I know. We all do.
    Just continue. Come again and again. Trust and learn to love. The moment you stop judging yourself and others you’ll suddenly find your surroundings stop judging you, too. There is a beautiful little yogic story that goes like this:
    As a man crosses the border of a country where he has never been before, he goes through customs and asks an officer, “What are the people like in this country?” In return, the officer asks, “What are the people like in your country?” “They are just so rude,” the man replies, “they only think of themselves and never have a kind word to say.” The officer looks at the man and says, “I’m sorry to tell you, the people in this country are just like that.” Ten minutes later, another traveller asks the officer the same question, and the officer again asks, “What are the people like in your country?” “Beautiful!” the man replies, “Joyful, open-hearted, and generous to the very bones.” The officer looks at the man and smiles “You’ll be happy to hear that the people here are just like that.”

“Come, come whoever you are
Wonderer worshipper,
Lover of leaving
Come, come whoever you are,
This isn’t a caravan of despair
And it doesn’t matter
If you’ve broken your vows
A thousand times before,
And yet again
Come again, come
Come again,
Come”
-Rumi
 
 
Chris is a Hridaya teacher and movement and dance facilitator. She will lead the Moving From Within workshop March 3-5, 2017. Visit this page for more information or to register.

highly sensitive person, hsp

I Am Highly Sensitive: 5 Tips for Being Sensitive in a World That Isn’t

By Uma Esmeralda Ritstier
 

I Am Highly Sensitive

Are you?
Please just stop for a moment.
Breathe.
And promise you’ll never ever say that again.

Saying “I am highly sensitive” is exactly how the struggle continues. By affirming this, you just put another label on yourself (one of the many you have already collected over your lifetime). Until recently, that’s what I did, too.

The Highly Sensitive Person: An Aha Moment

I came across Dr. Elaine Aron’s work on the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and I was totally absorbed. I felt like my horizons suddenly expanded in recognition—“Aha! I am not the only one.” In fact, what I was experiencing had a name—HSP. This “type of person” is more sensitive than others, among other definitions. Most of which end up causing “them” struggle in modern life.

The Real Struggle with Being Sensitive

I realized that I was one of “them.” But, that understanding didn’t diminish my struggles—actually, it was just the opposite. After a while, I had to admit I started using this label as a way to hide from life. At least now I had a “valid” reason why I felt overwhelmed so easily and didn’t like to be around large groups of people. “I am HSP,” so I couldn’t help being tired of everything or being a “party pooper,” always fleeing social engagements. It became like a mantra for me, so I wouldn’t have to face life and could hide from people.

Because “going to a party really wouldn’t be good for an HSP,” I thought, blaming the big bad world for my struggles.

HSP, being sensitive, highly sensitive person

Another Way to Look at Being Sensitive

Now, five or six years later, when I look back on that—let’s say—“phase” of my life, I see that it was a first step towards realizing that “there’s more beyond the length of my nose” (a Dutch expression that means that there is more than we sometimes want to see, or more than what we are aware of in a specific moment).

I have been exploring this realm of highly sensitivity in depth. I read many books on the topic, had an HSP coach, and attended a variety of workshops before finally ending up discovering yoga and its philosophy. Which explained it all for me.

More and more, I have learned to let go of preconceived ideas and started seeing how easy it is to identify with different resonant ideas, saying “Ah yes! I am like that, too.” And before you know it, you are a whole lot of things. Just think about it for a moment… How many labels have you put on your forehead today?

In reality, by releasing all the labels and layers that weigh on you, you simply become aware. Your forehead is blank and the light of awareness shines through. This brings true sensitivity and the intuition of Who You Really Are, without the attachment to being “this” or “that.”

Opening the Door to the Heart

For centuries, ancient mystical traditions have shared inspiration for remembering who you are—naturally. Inviting you to feel it intimately in your heart. To trust your gut feelings and be sensitive to life. That’s all!

Everyone is born sensitive. You might have just closed off because of the way life around us you, and you were not aware that by closing off from your sensitivity, you were closing your heart to the full experience of life. So, instead of just labeling yourself with another beautiful label, focus more on what it truly means. Go deeper in this sensitivity. Allow yourself to be who you are. And, open the door of your heart again to let life be lived intensely!

HSP, highly sensitive, being sensitive

Isn’t that what you are longing for? Don’t you want to live and enjoy life, not hide away from it, closing, contracting, or resisting? Try the other way, open more… and more… and more. Personally, I’m longing to finally meet everyone in this space—between the birds, and the bees, and the flowers, and the trees…

I’m sure it will be astonishing!

The Real Work for HSP’s

For me, being sensitive now means that I am in tune with life, with the present moment.

Showing up again and again where life invites me. And I know what that is, because I feel it deeply!

The feeling of being overwhelmed (which triggers a tendency to contract and withdraw from life) just shows me that some protection mechanisms and tendencies are still active, after being developed throughout the years.

And, that’s the real work. To become aware of all these contractions and, without judgment or fear, bring them to the Heart, where they can be released. They are no longer needed.

5 Tips for Being Sensitive in a World that Isn’t

It may feel super challenging to live with a wide-open heart only to encounter a world that seems to be the complete opposite.

I’ve been there, and I am still here with you. That’s why I’d like to share some of the most precious tips I have learned along the way. They are based on direct experience gained through an intense Heart-based practice mostly coming from the non-dual teachings, Self-Enquiry, spiritual healing, and Hridaya Yoga and Meditation.

1. Live with an Open Heart
being sensitive, HSPThis is definitely the most precious invitation I’ve ever received in my life. This message was transmitted in silence by my teacher and biggest inspiration, Sahajananda, the founder of Hridaya Yoga.

How this relates to being sensitive is that it is so easy to point the finger outside yourself. But from today, always remember this: you were born sensitive and open. And you still are. The conditions in which you grew up were unique—everyone has their own journey. Seeing every situation and every person from this perspective, you shift from looking at the world with the mind to looking through the eye of the Heart. This gives you the opportunity to stay open and see every situation and encounter as an opportunity for deeper Self-Enquiry and love awareness.

2. Check-in
When you find yourself in a situation in which you feel contracted or overwhelmed check-in with yourself for a moment: Are you looking through the eye of the mind or from the Heart? You might ask: “How would I know?” Just remember that the Heart never judges, contracts, or resists. If you do, then that means you’re in the mind. By allowing the moment to be as it is, you immediately feel a shift and relax. The ability to do this comes from the Heart.

3. Practice Self-Awareness 
Become aware of what is truly alive for you in each moment. Ask “Who am I?”—and be honest. Is it a tendency or habit that is acting, or is it truly you?

If you recognize you are taken by a habit or tendency, acknowledge it with love and kindness. Maybe it will not mean a change right there and then. But, you just made a first step towards becoming aware of it. Now, it’s just a matter of taking the time to train yourself to shift your awareness away from the habit and transform it into a practice of awareness. Who is doing this? Who am I? With this, you create an open space from which at a certain moment there’s a choice: Is this how I want this moment to be, or would I like to act another way? Or, maybe not act at all?

4. Train the Heart
Centering yourself in the Heart throughout the day, again and again, is a way of keeping your attention on your Self. And, it prevents you from being all over the place. This brings an inner foundation to depart from and come home to.

5. Avoid Self-Pity
When things become difficult and uncomfortable, they can easily be blown out of proportion because there is a tendency to go into self-pity. But, self-pity doesn’t really help. It just further dramatizes the situation. Of course, things don’t always feel good. But that’s not a big deal. It’s okay not to feel good. Allow yourself to not feel good all the time and release all plans and expectations even more. This last tip is an invitation to relax into the moment and make space for whatever arises. Making space for yourself to just be. Without changing anything. Just resting in the now. As the Sufi poets said, “This too shall pass.”

It’s true! Trust and you’ll see.
 
 
Uma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. This spring, she will join the administrative team at the Hridaya Yoga Center, serving as our Karma Yoga Manager.

true man; intimacy; real man

True Man: A Journey into Wholeness

By Sol Lys
 
Last week, I was invited into a men’s group on Facebook. The group is a space for sharing with other men. In the group, one of the members asked other men to share their perspectives on manhood and what it means to be a “real man.”

Lately, I have been reflecting a great deal on this, and I feel inspired to share my journey over the last two years.

Looking in the Mirror

Two years ago I found myself leaving a long-term, loving relationship. I was blessed to share time with an amazing woman for almost eight years. We had grown apart, and I wasn’t able to stay with her because I felt we no longer shared the same interests and cared about the same things. I felt we could not meet in what had become more and more important in my life, which was the search for Spirit and Void.

true man; intimacy

At least that was the reason I told myself. Today, when I look back, I can see that that was not the only reason. In reality, I was struggling to meet the aspects of myself that she was reflecting back to me. I was struggling to meet, and did not have the full capacity to hold, the Divine Feminine in love.

We broke up, and I definitely feel it was the right choice for me, because that decision led to a much deeper dive into my essence. Profound experiences and a much deeper seeing into Non-Existence and Void led me to realize that I had to meet aspects of myself that I had shut off for most of my life.

Because of inherited wiring from both of my parents, because of deep wounds and traumas, I had been reaching for the light to such an extent that it had cut me off from deep feeling. Thus, I wasn’t aware of a whole dimension of my own being. It was not that I didn’t experience any feelings—far from it. I have always been very sensitive. But, I discovered that I carried a lot of judgment around for certain feelings. I could not meet and hold these aspects of myself.

The Inner Man Meets the Divine Feminine

true man; intimacy; vulnerabilityAfter a longer solitary retreat with silence, yoga, meditation, and a deep call for God, I felt empowered in such a profound way that I initiated a journey into the darkness. I felt called to explore my shadow side, my fears, wounds, and traumas. On an intuitive level, my being knew that this work needed to happen in order for me to go deeper in love. From then on, things seemed to move very fast—as if something had just been waiting to be discovered. I was invited to feel my inner man. This inner man is directly connected to the flesh, as in the body, as in the Earth itself. When we are born into matter we are also invited to feel and love Her, the Divine Feminine. She is God in form. Only through feeling everything with no preference between pain, pleasure, brokenness, and non-brokenness will She open up to us. She will reveal all her darkness; all our darkness. When there is no preference, there is love for Her. If there is a preference, it is the same as rejecting Her, and thus saying no to loving Her. She will then close Herself. This is something I am indeed still learning.

Shortly after the initiation into Her, the universe guided me to work with a woman, to work with Naseem, who is now my beloved partner. We made vows to put truth first and to commit to each other as long as it serves the purpose of truth and our own evolution. The power of pure intention, truth, and Man/Woman soon became obvious to us. This work is very beautiful, challenging, and extremely transformative.

We both felt a deep pull towards each other and towards truth. We asked for truth no matter the cost. She made it possible for me to become aware of deeper and deeper wounds. Like layers of an onion, everything that previously could only exist around that wound peeled off. It has been an extremely painful, challenging, and heart-breaking journey for both of us. Death has been met again and again. But, each time we die, we dive deeper together. We have to let go, we have to allow the fire to burn what is not true and dare to be naked and vulnerable.

Becoming a True Man Means Being Vulnerable

When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open up to love, we let the light shine upon parts of us that have been in darkness for as long as we can remember. It is painful but necessary in order to become whole as Humans, as Man and as Woman. Vulnerability is absolutely key for opening more.

As a man (identifying with the masculine), I have to meet and bow to the Divine Feminine again and again. I have felt so much hatred for her and so much fear of her. Fear of losing control. This is deeply ingrained in the masculine. The feminine works in a completely non-linear way. She works from a logic that is hidden from me and has really pissed me off, challenged me, and made me furious. It’s been a real struggle. I have had to face the arrogance of the masculine many times, which is only possible in humbleness. In my partner, I see and experience a direct manifestation of Her. Thus, I have struggled and hated her. I have closed down again and again, as I could not surrender to Her in my own being. I have also opened again and again and closed again and again. In the dance of attraction and retraction, opening and closing, we dive deeper together. We make love and disappear into each other’s vastness. We meet fullness and we meet emptiness. I die, I become Shiva.

true man; intimacy; vulnerability

What Defines a True Man?

For me, it has become obvious that a True Man is a man who has met the Divine Feminine, Shakti, in himself. A Man that can hold all his pain and deep wounds with love. This Man will be able to fully embrace Shakti. He rests in himself and is not afraid of the constant dance and movement that is life itself. He knows and feels he is that, too. He knows there is no separation, even though he rests in his masculine essence—Death, Stillness, and Non-Existence. Only when Man and Woman both rest as whole human beings can they truly meet in the Heart. There will be no more projections, no ideas or romantic dreams. They carry themselves in a container of Truth. They understand the wounding that plays out between people. They have grown to embody compassion, as they no longer judge themselves or others, but care deeply.

This work takes time and there is no grand final ceremony that concludes the process. It is an ongoing and deepening journey of compassion and love.

This article is dedicated to my mother Mari-Anne, my beloved partner Naseem, my janitor Aisha, and Mother Earth, to whom I am eternally grateful.

In humbleness and service, Sol
 
 
Sol and his partner Naseem are Hridaya Yoga teachers. You can find more about them on their website.

The Spine of the Night

The Dark Night of the Soul: When Fear Becomes a Blessing

By Beata Kucienska
 
“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!”
–St. John of the Cross
 
Before the first taste of awakening, human life is driven by constant, underground fear. Most of our actions are aimed at goals that would lighten the burden of that fear. Ambitions, career, relationships, and property give us the feeling of control and create an illusion of security. This illusion persists until the moment we experience a painful loss, when our life falls apart and we are confronted with the terrible loneliness of human existence. With shaky fingers, we try to collect the broken pieces of our reality and start the hard work of reconstructing our identity. Until the next loss…

The Dance between Fear and Grace

When we enter the spiritual path, we become more aware that nothing external can give us true security. We start to feel the Reality beyond the body, mind, and emotions. We receive gifts of love, beauty, and gratitude. Grace flows, showing us the reflections of Eternity. Compassion cuddles us in its most delicate arms. We realize that the mysterious Treasure we have always been seeking really exists.

But, the ego is underneath, waiting to emerge. What is the ego? A wounded child hidden in the closet. For a moment, it saw a fairyland, opened its eyes with wonderment, and forgot itself. Until the next collision with the matrix. Until somebody touches its deepest wound.

So the fear is there. Again. Rigid reality comes back… stony faces… painful voices. Muddy masks grow around the lotus flower. We play our old game… as old as the world itself.

But, the memory of the Treasure is not lost. We know it is there, and we know it is real. We practice yoga, we meditate, we blow upon the embers of the heart, we ask the question “Who am I?”… And we connect with the Heart again… or not.

Entering the Dark Night of the Soul

A time might come when our meditation becomes dry. The mind, desperate to recover its power, comes back, armed with new resources. No matter how much we try, we can’t get through the darkness. And there is fear… so much fear… more than we have ever felt.

Christian mystics, like St. John of the Cross and Thomas Merton, describe this time as the “dark night of the soul.”

It is the stage when the ego deeply realizes that all its struggles to build identity, meaning, and self-worth are useless. And, we understand that the elements of reality that bring us value and comfort are impermanent. We know that all the structures that serve as our inner foundation are an illusion. We realize that we are living inside of the matrix… and this realization is terrifying.

We perceive the scent of the Unknown, but this New Reality is formless, it doesn’t provide a support for our feet. It feels like falling into an endless night.

Dark Night of the Soul

The New Meaning of Love and Faith

“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” –Rumi

During the dark night, the soul doesn’t experience love as sweet and tender emotion. Love is a response to an inner calling to step into the darkness. It is a courageous decision to witness fear, loneliness, and anxiety emerging from our subconscious mind.

According to Thomas Merton, “If we set out into this darkness, we have to meet these inexorable forces. We will have to face fears and doubts. We will have to call into question the whole structure of our spiritual life. We will have to make a new evaluation of our motives for belief, for love, for self-commitment to the invisible God. And at this moment, precisely, all spiritual light is darkened, all values lose their shape and reality, and we remain, so to speak, suspended in the void.”

We move in this void by faith alone. But, there comes a moment when we feel like losing everything—including faith.

Merton says, “The most crucial aspect of this experience is precisely the temptation to doubt God himself. We must not minimize the fact that this is a genuine risk. For here we are advancing beyond the stage where God made himself accessible to our mind in simple and primitive images. We are entering the night in which he is present without any image, invisible, inscrutable, and beyond any satisfactory mental representation.”

Merton believes that the terrifying experience of losing faith guides us toward the discovery of true faith, born in the depths of our being, “For it is this testing, this fire of purgation, that burns out the human and accidental elements of faith in order to liberate the deep spiritual power in the center of our being. This gift of God is, of itself, unattainable, but is given to us moment by moment, beyond our comprehension, by his inscrutable mercy.”

Dark Night of the Soul

A Call to Surrender

The dark night of the soul is a period of transition between the ego and the Heart. It is a time of losing control, seeing without eyes, hearing without ears, and walking without feet. The question “Who am I?” opens the Reality that scares our little human soul. The individual being may perceive the Unknown as a terrifying vastness.

During this difficult time, it is helpful to remember that the essence of the spiritual path is surrender to the Heart. And, the dark night of the soul is a call to this surrender. We let go of our life and offer ourselves to God within—the eternal “I Am”—beyond any image, any concept, any thought, or any religion.

This process of transition is a call to accept everything that appears in the soul: fear, doubts, loneliness, anxiety, and all of our struggles—falling down and rising again. When our humanity responds to the silent call of the Heart, our hidden subconscious world comes up, and witnessing it can be scary. The ego, that little child afraid of the dark, wants to hide under a blanket. It is trying to take its first steps into the Unknown and its fear is totally justified. Having compassion means to comfort this child, to love them and embrace them, and to accept the timely nature of this timeless call. Human life unfolds in space and time, as does spiritual adventure. Surrender cannot be forced or accelerated. It will arise from the depths of our being when the right time comes. All we can do is live this process with compassion: to hold our ego in a loving embrace while witnessing its struggles.

The Blessing of Fear

Fear is probably the greatest challenge during the dark night of the soul. It can be overwhelming, paralyzing, and extremely difficult to witness. It brings comfort to remember that we are not alone; so many beautiful teachers walked this path before us and experienced what we now do. I was surprised to discover that Thomas Merton perceived fear not as a curse, but a blessing. He believed that it is impossible to reach spiritual maturity without the experience of fear, torment, and anxiety accompanying the inner crisis of “spiritual death” in which we surrender our ego to God. Fear, when unwitnessed and blindly followed, guides us to separation and violence. But, when it is observed from the Heart as a struggle of a lonely soul that feels unworthy of love, it can become a force that liberates us from a false self-image, breaking through the prison of self-protection and awakening true courage in the depths of our being. It gives us the courage to let go of life and take our first step without feet… the step toward the infinite sky of the Heart.

Dark Night of the Soul

The Inner Guide Home

The first glimpses of this secret sky—vastness, nothingness, void—might seem so scary. And yet, it is the Source of everything we have ever considered worthy in life… everything that has ever given meaning to human existence… every true value… every perception of authenticity, love, and beauty. During Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreats, Sahajananda speaks about spanda, the Sacred Tremor of the Heart—the bridge between Infinity and our humanity. In deep meditation we can feel this tremor in the middle of the chest, and sometimes in our whole body. It is a tangible expression of the Source in the human body… Eternity shining through time, space, and matter. The mysterious Unknown is so close to us, vibrating inside of us, dancing in the core of our Being. So scary and so seducing… so strange and so intimate… so terrifying and so beautiful!

And here we are, scared of what we are. Somehow we forgot our True Nature, but deep inside, we feel that our task is to find the way back Home. For many of us, this path goes through the valley of darkness, and we walk there with no other light than the invisible one burning within, in silence. No matter how weak, frightened, and lonely we feel, this sacred light is there. When the time comes, it will give us the courage to fly without wings, completely naked, into Union with our Beloved in the innermost space of the Heart.

Reference

Thomas Merton, “Contemplative Prayer”
 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga Teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

yogis guide to trump; non-reactivity

A Yogi’s Guide to Trump: Examining Your Reactions

By Keralee Froebel

“How can you win if you ain’t right within?”
–Lauryn Hill

“This is just a part of my nature and everyone’s nature, to offer oneself to serve at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate.” –Leonard Cohen
 
In homeopathy, there is a concept of “proving,” or determining whether or not a remedy is effective. When you are being honest and mindful, you can use anything—including your reactions to external events—as a way to “prove” the remedy. You can investigate your mind and your egoic constructs to see if you are being effective in the external world.

A clarification: the ego is not bad. It is like a car used for transportation. You use the ego to navigate the external world. But if left unchecked, very often the ego ends up “using” you by reactively driving your interactions, decisions, and life plans.

yogi's guide to trump; non-reactivity

A Yogi’s Guide to Trump: Examining Your Reactions

Using the current change in leadership in the United States as a theme, I invite you to be ruthless and impeccable as you examine your own conceptual and emotional reactions.

Questions to contemplate:

How do you feel about the Trump presidency and how are you reacting?

  • Is your reaction allowing you to connect with your fellow human beings?
  • Is your reaction enabling you to feel negativity towards anyone?

How is your reaction motivating you?

  • Is it allowing you to clarify your political stance?
  • Is it inviting you to discuss with and open to your fellow human beings?
  • Is it provoking you to engage with the world in a more intentional manner?
  • Is it fueling or encouraging hopelessness and despair?
  • Is it driving you deeper into your spiritual practice as refuge?
  • Is it driving you deeper into your spiritual practice as remedy?
  • Is it driving you to other forms of escape?
  • Is it motivating you to express your creativity in any form—visual, verbal, written, interpretive dance, etc.?
  • Is it motivating you to connect with your community?
  • Is it motivating you to reject your community?

What are you getting out of your reaction?

  • Are you using your reaction to elevate your ego?
  • Are you using your reaction to vent your anger, joy, sadness, etc.?
  • Are you allowing your reaction to contribute to a previous emotional imbalance?
  • Is the reaction creating division in any area of your life?
  • Is the reaction creating unity in any area of your life?
  • Is your reaction allowing you in any way to feel superior to anyone else (including Trump)?
  • Is this situation creating fear in you? Do you find yourself spinning stories into the future based on hysteria?

yogi's guide to trump; non-reactivity

Watching the Story

There are many possible ways to react to this change: some more useful than others. All emotions are legitimate, but try watching the stories you tell yourself and other people. Of course, act when called to and when appropriate. Because if the “stuff” really does hit the fan, you’ll want to be prepared. But, do watch for any unwarranted drama or hysteria on your own part. As a new leader takes office we are all given to extreme reactions—both negative and positive. Remember that the governmental process has intrinsic checks and balances and that the story can may drastically change as the often slow governmental process proceeds.

In the United States, and perhaps around the world, the election of Trump has caused some people to give in to despair, fear, anger, and horror. Innumerable people have told me they have cried over it. But over time, perhaps the workings of a stable democracy will check his trajectory as well. (Even if it now seems that his dramatic cabinet appointments tell a different story.)

Witness, too, your engagement with the mainstream media. And consider: have they ever been wholly right about anything? In fact, the Trump upset should only reinforce a cautionary approach to media. Observe your interaction with all forms of news and correspondence—including Facebook and Reddit—and ask yourself if it is becoming addictive or counterproductive.

In addition, examine yourself for any manifestation of personal drama or hysteria. Experience it if necessary, and then let it go. In Buddhism, the middle way is always the better way.

I invite you, yes, to take to the streets—but not necessarily to demonstrate (although that’s fine too, if it’s your true calling). Instead, go out to listen, connect, and discuss things with your neighbors and your community. As a result, you just might find yourself newly connected to your society in previously unimagined ways.

There Is No “Other”

Even more radically, I suggest you use this election as an opportunity to learn to appreciate the apparent “other.” Put yourself in your opposite’s shoes and seek to respond with understanding and compassion for their concerns. Seek greater unity and, as my friend says, “offer love.”

Surprisingly, these wild and unprecedented times might have many gifts to offer. But, if activism is required, remember to conduct yourself with impeccability. Never demean yourself or anyone else by getting violent, hysterical, or personal with your actions or opinions.

In ancient cultures, warriors had a specific code of honor and they bore the utmost respect for the heart and the skill of their opponents. Battles were not pissing contests or grudge matches and were not based on condescension or reactivity. They were based on courage, virtue, heroism, faith, and, quite often, mercy. You are now called to be a warrior: cultivating respect for others and conducting yourself with honor as you interact in the present to create the collective future.

yogi's guide to trump; non-reactivity

A Detour, Not a Disaster

Yes, the election of Trump was upsetting to many. But things are not always what they seem. Perhaps there is a trend here—even it feels like a detour—that is ultimately bringing the world to a higher level of awareness.

From the yogic perspective, it could be said that “Shiva has spoken.” As the god of creation, protection, and transformation, Shiva is often responsible for what looks like devastation but ends up clearing the way for new beginnings. The current phenomenon can be considered a purification of sorts: clearing out the old establishment to bring in something entirely unprecedented—though not necessarily during Trump’s tenure.

An Invitation to Introspection

The political situation might not look like you want, and there are sure to be occasional switchbacks that can feel like setbacks. But, you can choose to engage with the present circumstances from a space of integrity and power.

Use these changing times to bear witness to the events at hand—as well as to your own thought processes. Because whatever happens, it’s certain to be dramatic, interesting, and wholly uncharted. And if the United States government does go rogue (Shiva forbid!), its citizens and other concerned citizens of the world can choose to be heroic warriors working together from the heart—the coeur—to act with true courage! As such, being non-reactive, integrated, and aware in the present we can enable our collective future to unfold in a coherent and harmonious way. And as heart-centered yogi warriors, we can create a phenomenally powerful, astonishingly integrated, and surprising new reality together.

So take heart, watch your mind, and buckle your seat belts… it’s going to be a bumpy ride…
 
 
Keralee is an artist, musician, and Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read more from her on her blog.

cultivating compassion

I Compassion, You Compassion, We Compassion: Cultivating Compassion in Daily Life

By Nicholas Currie
 

Cultivating Compassion: What Is Compassion? Can It Be Cultivated? If So, How?

Compassion can sometimes be viewed as a challenging value to truly cultivate. It can seem to be a virtue relegated to the lives of saints and mystics. But, what if we discovered and approached compassion as already innate within us, intrinsically linked to love and emanating from our Essential Nature?

In the past decade, I’ve often reflected on these questions and contemplated what compassion means to me. And, I’ve noticed that my understanding of compassion has shifted. Discovering the non-dual Hridaya teachings and the many traditions embracing this truth brought a whole new perspective and understanding.

Compassion Is a Verb

To begin with, I really love what Thich Nhat Han expresses about compassion. Quite simply, he says: “Compassion is a verb.” In other words, we move away from any idea of compassion as being a feeling like pity—which narrowly defines this profound expression of the Heart. To have compassion means to act. But, more than just a specific action or response to a situation, compassion means to be present, to fully embrace whomever is before us in the deepest possible way.

What this means is that, unlike pity, compassion is not about superiority. We don’t look down on someone’s plight and feel sad or bad for them and then decide to help or not. Instead, cultivating compassion is about “feeling with” the person.

There Are No Others

Compassion is an act of empathy, of deeply feeling and being present with others. As its Latin root beautifully reminds us, “compassion” literally means “to suffer with.” Here, “to suffer with” doesn’t mean to become totally lost in another’s plight and story and be overrun by whatever is being experienced. Rather, it means to be fully present to their suffering. By “presence” I mean to embrace them and their suffering in a space of acceptance, awareness, and recognition. We accept and embrace whatever is. We are present and available to others in the deeper recognition of who we really are. Ultimately, those standing before us are not separate from us, in the most fundamental way and at the deepest level of being—when asked how we should treat others, the great sage Ramana Maharshi answered, “There are no others.” Indeed, compassion is being and loving the other through this one reality of Pure Being.

cultivating compassion

In a response to a questioner, Nisargadatta Maharaj, the great Advaita Vedanta master, also beautifully expressed this truth: “Know thyself and then you will naturally love others, recognizing them as one with your true nature.” In this way, he expressed so clearly that pure love arises unconditionally as a result of jnana (direct knowledge), the discovery of our essential nature. I’ve found that jnana and love have sprouted mysteriously out of simple meditation and opening to Stillness, especially during longer silent retreats. And, I would say the same for compassion. Indeed, in traditions such as Buddhism, love and compassion are intrinsically linked and inseparable.

How Do We Open to Real Compassion?

Perhaps the question still remains, how do I open to this truth? How can I love and be compassionate when I’m lost in my own identifications, stories, and suffering?

These questions are addressed in many great spiritual traditions, where many practices have been created as a means to arrive at this One Truth. In Tibetan Buddhism, Tonglen (exchanging self for others) is one such practice. This powerful method moves us to embrace the suffering of others and, in exchange, offer love and peace. It becomes a profound practice of letting go of self-cherishing and opening to deeper selflessness. Indeed, this practice invites us to drop our single-minded tendency to be enmeshed in our own little stories and dramas. It opens us to the greater reality of embracing others and, in so doing, recognizing the link that unites us. It is a constant coming back to who we really are and seeing that by embracing another in their suffering, we are ultimately embracing our Self. Thus, even the mere intuition of who we really are becomes the impetus, the driving force, of compassion—for ourselves and for others.

Cultivating Compassion Workshop

Of course, there is much more that can be explored about this topic. Which is one of the reasons why I decided to facilitate Cultivating Compassion. In this workshop, we will use meditation to learn to go beyond the mind and bring it down into the Heart, the seat of compassion. We will also explore the practice of exchanging self for others and a variety of methods to generate and open to the ever-present reality of love and compassion. In this way, our life’s journey will become a deeper and deeper evocation of who we really are.
 
 
Nicholas is a senior Hridaya Yoga teacher. He will be leading the Cultivating Compassion workshop February 7-9, 2017. Find out more and book your place here.

3 Questions to Ask before Doing a Meditation Retreat

ready for a meditation retreat

By Ian Marshall

 

How Do You Know You’re Ready for a Meditation Retreat?

Despite the name of this article, the three questions to ask yourself before doing a meditation retreat might boil down to just one—Are you living a human existence?

A meditation retreat isn’t just about calming the mind, relaxing, and becoming peaceful. Over the course of ten days, you may find yourself challenged and on edge. This is part of a process that should not be shied away from—it’s by seeing these corners of the mind and allowing their significance to drop away that you can grow and reach the place of stillness you are looking for.

Are You Ready to Face Yourself?

In my first Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, on the paradise island of Koh Phangan, Thailand, I was coming from a messy personal situation. For the first four or five days, all that ran through my head was the machinations of the previous week in Chiang Mai: “I can’t believe she said that.” “I should have done that differently.” “Why did she get involved?” “I’m such a bad person.” Story lines and alternate outcomes played out as I tried to watch the breath and focus on the Heart. I wrote letters in my mind as I sat through three-hour meditations, expressing all of the feelings and thoughts that I wasn’t otherwise able to share.

ready for a meditation retreat

Eventually, all this chatter stopped. One morning, I sat and felt chills along my spine as I dissolved into stillness and light, experiencing feelings of bliss and peace as all of my concerns disappeared. Thoughts of Chiang Mai came up a few times after that, but there was no attachment to them. There was nothing to hold on to and nothing to worry about.

Connecting with Your Real Self

If you are going through a period of change or facing the aftermath of some sort of traumatic experience, a meditation retreat can help by making you look at things directly and work through them. This is obviously a challenging approach and it can be hard, but the outcome is definitely worth it.

Using a meditation retreat as a therapeutic tool, however, is only part of the picture. The pure intention behind doing a retreat is to come into real connection with the universe and your true self—which is the same thing. The sense of being fully aligned with this energy is the ultimate end point, and you should remember this as you work through any issues that arise. Indeed, in the light of this deeper understanding and insight, your worldly concerns tend to dissolve into insignificance anyway. When you sense that you have all the love you need inside you and the stillness of the meditative state is enough to keep you content, then what could possibly disturb you?

ready for a meditation retreat

3 Questions to Ask Yourself

You don’t need to have a deep understanding of advaita philosophy, know a load of mantras, burn incense, or dress in fishermen’s pants to be ready for a meditation retreat. All you really need is the openness to resolve any sense of loss or lack in your life.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I feel like there is something missing?
  2. Do I recognize that external stimulus is not going to lead me to the ultimate answer?
  3. Am I ready to look inside and take responsibility for my life?

If these questions spark something that inspires you or piques your curiosity, then you are certainly ready to embark on what could be the start of a beautiful, life-changing inner journey.
 
 
Ian is a Hridaya teacher offering classes in London, UK. You can read about his experience in the Hridaya Teacher Training Course here.

The Dance Between Global Awareness and Inner Peace

inner peace mexico

By Molly Hock
 
Bombings in Iraq. Racism and police violence in America. Attack after attack in Istanbul. Violence and killings leading to genocide in Burma. Thousands stranded in Greece. Bombings in Cairo. Hate crimes in England.

My heart cries for the lives lost and the lives touched by the recent violence in Germany. My soul aches for all those affected by child slavery, sex trafficking, and prostitution. My entire being feels the pain of the Yazidi people, of the young girls captured and held by ISIS.

The Fog of Suffering

Waking up to news of one act of violence after another has recently put me into a head fog. I have been at a loss for words, which is when I know I’m struggling. It is easy to get lost in suffering when our daily conversations, our media headlines, and our Facebook newsfeeds revolve around the pain and injustices of our world. It is easy to lose focus, to give up hope. But how does this serve our global community?

I have spent the past few days reflecting on the importance and connection of both global awareness and inner peace. As a spiritual humanitarian, I find both of these elements to be vital in today’s society. Can we really have inner peace without being aware of what is happening to our brothers and sisters around the world? Is it effective to be immersed in global injustices without inner peace?

Inner Peace and Global Awareness Go Hand in Hand

Through my personal experience of retreating in the Hridaya Community for months at a time, having the violence of ISIS land on my doorstep, and being immersed in the suffering of refugees in Greece and Turkey, I can tell you that I cannot have one without the other. I cannot serve our global community while being lost in suffering, but I also cannot have inner peace without serving those around me.

So how do we find a balance between the two when it is so very easy to slip into one realm or the other? How can we channel the suffering, the hatred, and the pain through us while remaining centered and hopeful? I feel it is my life’s journey to play with the dance between the two, finding a place of healthy synchronicity.

I watched two short video clips when I arrived home the other day after visiting refugee friends celebrating a religious holiday in the parks of Thessaloniki. The first video was of a 15-year-old boy sobbing after his father was shot and killed by two policemen in America. I was in tears… Tears for this young child, for all black people enduring injustices, and for the lack of humanity from our media outlets. WHY, CNN? WHY!? When a child is losing control of his emotions, respect him, turn off the camera. Let this young boy heal in privacy, comfort, and dignity.

The second clip was of Shiite and Sunni Muslims joining together in Iraq to pray at the site of a recent car bombing, which took the lives of 250 innocent people. This is when I felt the gentle reminder to see the light in the darkness, to acknowledge the beauty that stems from hardship. The serenity I experienced while watching this short clip was a reminder to feel deeply, to welcome all that arises within, to be gentle with myself and with the world around me, to remain grateful for all that is, to give myself fully for the benefit of all beings, and to embody the importance of self-care.

Absorbing All That Is

So, tonight I choose to see the beauty in our world. I chose to retain hope, to share my light with all those around me, to honor myself for where I am in this moment. I take tonight as an opportunity to breathe in the air around me, to be grateful for the present moment, and to soak up all of the love and beauty in my life. Tonight, I simply absorb all that is. I accept both the darkness and the light.
 
 
 
Molly is a Hridaya Yoga teacher who is currently volunteering with refugees in Jordan. To support her work, make a donation here.

Inner Transformation: Where Are You in the Journey?


By Beata Kucienska

The Story of Inner Transformation

The great stories cherished by humanity contain the essence of life. The most unforgettable stories are those that express the deepest pains and longings of the human heart. We read and watch these stories to connect to ourselves, to feel what is hiding behind the masks of everyday life. We long for this kind of stories because they take us back to the Heart

Literary scholars have recognized that most classical stories have a certain sequence of events. Joseph Campbell called it the “Hero’s Journey.” This sequence expresses the journey and the transformation of the human soul, which is made visible in the reality of space and time throughout the story.

hridaya yoga advaita self-inquiry hero

The Stages of the Journey

It is worth taking a look at the “Hero’s Journey,” since it is the journey of every human being. Below, I describe the stages of this journey, inspired by the Joseph Campbell archetype:

  1. THE ORDINARY WORLD: We are born human. It is beautiful and it hurts. We are involved in a constant search for happiness. There is a deep fear and longing inside of us. We try to figure out what we really want from life.
  2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE: The pain and the longing in our hearts become more intense. We hear the inner call. We have an intuition that there is another kind of life: fuller and truer. But we don’t know how to get there.
  3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL: We are afraid. We oscillate between the longing for a new life and the fear of the unknown.
  4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR: We find a teacher. It can be an external teacher or our own intuition. We see the direction to go.
  5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: We make the decision. We leave the ordinary world and take a step into the unknown.
  6. TESTS, ALLIES, AND ENEMIES: We taste the beauty of the new world. We meet other people with the same calling. Trials come and we learn how to face them.
  7. APPROACH: The calling grows in us. We have a feeling of a mission, a task. We go through a process of purification. We prepare ourselves to accomplish this task.
  8. THE ORDEAL: We face our biggest fears, our deepest wounds. We die inside and a new life is born from this death.
  9. THE REWARD: Now our whole lives have a different taste. We have found an inner treasure. We see the world with new eyes.
  10. THE ROAD BACK: We want to share this treasure with our loved ones, to bring it home. We undertake this journey.
  11. THE RESURRECTION: This is the highest purification. The deepest transformation. The final death and rebirth.
  12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR: We are in possession of a treasure that has the power to transform the world and our lives become a mission to share it with others.

hridaya advaita ramana meditation hero

Spiritual Adventure

This “Hero’s Journey” pattern, found through research on the structure of classical stories, is also a beautiful description of the spiritual adventure. It is encouraging to know that we all go through the same process, even if our individual paths are different. It can also be helpful to figure out which stage of the journey we are in right now. Is it the right time for retreat, withdrawal, and healing our wounds? Or, maybe there is a calling to dive into samsara and share our treasure with our family and friends.

Life cannot be reduced to any strict pattern; some stages can appear in a different order or can be repeated several times. However, the observation of human lives shows that the process of inner transformation contains all the steps mentioned in the “Hero’s Journey.” The calling to enter a specific phase in our spiritual evolution appears in the heart when the right time comes. We can follow it or we can resist it. Whatever we choose, the pain will be part of our path. We cannot really avoid it until the final liberation. If we resist the calling, we can stay blocked on one stage for years. If we follow it and embrace the experience with all its pain and beauty, we become heroes undertaking the journey into the Kingdom of the Heart: the most surprising and fulfilling adventure of our lives.
 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all her posts here.

The Prayer of the Heart and Christ Consciousness

 
By Claudiu Vaduva
 
 
On Christmas Day, I would love to inspire you with a beautiful talk about Christ Consciousness. An even deeper longing is to show you, to invite you, near your own heart so that you may directly feel the radiance of this anointed one. I invite you to experience this intuition, which is immediately available within, at any moment. During this direct, intimate connection, it is very difficult to make a separation between the self and this divine emanation, because the common self you call “yourself” slowly disappears as you practice the Prayer of the Heart. I invite you to pray this way today.

The Prayer of the Heart

This prayer is very simple. It uses the breath, naturally, just as the waves move in the ocean. However, it must really be expressed with your entire being, only then does it truly work. A common form of the Prayer of The Heart is: “O Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.”

But, I would like to share with you how I pray: “My Lord, Jesus Christ, please have mercy upon me.”

I find that adding the words “my” and “please” causes a deeper intimacy and vulnerability to arise within me. You can try to utter these two different versions a few times and feel the quality of your own inner landscape.

Before delving deeper into these details, I would like to portray the simplicity of this practice. This prayer is like a tiny seed whose humbleness holds the potential to be an entire tree—though simple in its practice, is like a sieve that gradually refines your heart so that it may recognize and merge with Awareness in the Spiritual Heart, your Real Essence.

The Practice of the Prayer of the Heart

To practice the Prayer of the Heart, make yourself comfortable in a prayer or meditation posture and use the breath to enliven the prayer until your entire being partakes in its utterance.

You breathe in the heart:

  1. On inhalation, mentally utter the first part of the prayer (“My Lord, Jesus Christ”)
  2. Pause and hold the breath (full lungs)
  3. Exhale and mentally utter the second part (“Please have mercy upon me”)
  4. Finally, pause for a moment, holding the breath (after exhalation)

That’s it. It’s very simple. Try it—start by focusing in the chest area and calming the breath, becoming quieter and more interiorized. Then, begin to utter the prayer with Open Attention.

Going Deeper in the Practice

Your inner attitude and openness when performing the Prayer of the Heart are essential in going deeper. When inhaling, you open to Christ Consciousness. You perceive every quality you can attribute to this consciousness—first conceptually, then emotionally. The more you pray, the more refined and intimate this connection becomes. Inhalation becomes a fullness, a filling of your available empty vessel with Christ Consciousness (as best as you can feel it and understand it at this time). To match this subtle recognition, it is important to be very quiet in your body and mind. In time, all attributes will fall away and radiant, luminous Pure Presence will be intimately experienced.

When holding the air in your lungs, rest in your heart, in stillness, in the fullness of the radiance of this light. It is the awareness of the dissolving of the personality. In time, this dissolution becomes complete as you learn to open and surrender more and more. You experience a fusion with the gentle light of the grace and love that you recognize as constantly being available to you. It is a moment of deep intimacy and immediate intuition of Christ Consciousness.

On exhalation, love. Simply love. Allow yourself to be loved and, simultaneously, love yourself. As the personality, you ask, you pray, for mercy—you express an act of openness. From the fullness of light and grace, you bestow this love unconditionally. Asking to be loved means allowing yourself to be loved, which is an act of unconditional love and compassion towards yourself. You love your ego, your emotions, your thoughts, your body, your strengths, and your weaknesses. The gates of heaven in your heart open and the light pours into every corner of your being. Is an act of love-forgiveness-embracing. It is praying and gratitude simultaneously, both asking for help and receiving love. Your personal self surrenders in openness while Christ Consciousness bestows its grace.

When holding the breath after exhalation, rest in the peace of non-being. It is an emptying—you ready yourself to receive the grace of Christ’s presence. It is a pure recognition of peace and stillness. It is a moment of transcendence and a serene embracing of the entire existence.

Opening to Christ Consciousness

When I started using this prayer, I noticed that there was a subtle resistance to the idea of Christ Consciousness. That’s why I persevered and added the word “my” when I utter it. I say it as a way to remember that there is a full embracing of this consciousness, a readiness for intimacy, while I pray.

Perhaps you may feel (as I felt) that it is a bit more comfortable to invoke Jesus Christ in a dryer, more detached way—“that” Lord Jesus Christ. If so, you may want to try saying “My Lord Jesus Christ” to express your immediate availability. The formula does not matter. It is just a subtle purification the ego’s tendency to maintain the status of being separate.

When I use the word “please” in “Please have mercy upon me,” I again address the ego’s resistance to asking for help. It is an indication to the personality that I really want to open and deepen this receptivity. It is the genuine crying of a baby that seeks a mother’s immediate attention.

What Is Christ Consciousness?

Christ is the one who already pervades you and calls you gently, beyond judgments and expectations, into the divine presence already existing in your heart. You can see Christ as that knowingness in a moment of action when you are making a wholesome choice, as that secret knowingness that Consciousness is more than just a human physical body. It is the realization that when you ask for external help, it is your inner responsibility to embody the received answer through your attitudes, actions, and, ultimately, your surrender. Jesus proclaims the “Kingdom of Heaven is in your Heart.” He indicates that spiritual endeavor has an inner direction towards that essence which is already with you, and within each of us.
 

Christ is the direction,
the step out of the everyday,
outside of yourself.
It is this immediate experience of love,
gratitude, forgiveness, and aspiration.
It is the enthusiasm, exultation, ecstasy,
understanding, light, and bliss.
It is the palpable emanation of the unmanifested,
the pure radiance of the Divine Presence.
It is your heart’s gateway to the ineffable.
It is the intuition that you are born to love—
to love everything so profoundly
that every expression of this manifestation
is celebrated and adored in ecstasy.
This love is the recognition that remains
as a constant, continuous exultation of the Heart.

 
 
Claudiu is a senior Hridaya Yoga teacher

Meditation Tips: Freedom and Relaxation

By Ava Irani
 

The Gifts of a Meditation Retreat

In a meditation retreat, we come to enjoy meditation and to explore a meditation practice. But why would we want to enjoy meditation and have a chance to explore a meditation practice?

Because we need support. We need help.

In a meditation retreat, there is healthy food and a lot of free time and space. There is time to rest, time to be still, time to balance, time to breathe fresh air, and time to harmonize sleep cycles.

But what happens when we leave the retreat? What happens when we leave the yoga class, healing session, or wellness workshop?

After we leave, we probably won’t continue to have healthy food prepared for us, at optimal times, with mindfulness and love. Gone is the space to balance, sleep, be still, or breathe fresh air.

We can’t depend on outer conditions to keep us healthy, happy, and in harmony.

More severely, we cannot depend on outer conditions for mental clarity and inner peace.

How do we get unwavering peace of mind regardless of the circumstances?

Meditation.

We can take meditation home from the retreat. We can take meditation anywhere, and it doesn’t need to be in a classical or rigid format. In the end, meditation is unwavering peace of mind, regardless of the circumstances.

What is Meditation?

Meditation has such a broad understanding, we could almost liken it to the term “exercise.” Exercise can be used keep the body healthy, the systems harmonious, the blood circulating, the lungs expelling. Maybe we want to be beautiful, healthy, or fit. Exercise could be used for competitive reasons or to accumulate self-worth. Or, perhaps it could be used to cure an illness or give relief from a disease. Exercise can be used to support pain management. Usually, exercise refers to making the physical body healthy.

Similarly, meditation serves many agendas. And, it can be defined by what its intended out outcome is. Why we are doing meditation defines what meditation is, more or less.

There are too many effects to list here. They range from gross to subtle, from releasing toxins and stress in the nervous system and disease in the physical body, to relieving stress and disease in the mind. Meditation makes the mind sharp, clear, and creative. Meditation refines our consciousness to be non-reactive and non-judgmental (accepting and in flow). Researchers speak of “flow states,” in which human beings can enter a superior way of cognitive and physical functioning by submitting themselves to a high state of consciousness where they are no longer the “doers.” This is closer to the ancient use of meditation—a way of revealing the truth of our being, what we really are. Because, beyond a fluctuating set of thoughts and beliefs, or body, what are we? Realizing the truth beyond an abstract philosophy has been the ultimate goal of meditation across the ages.

Generally, meditation refers to making the mind, emotions, and consciousness healthy.

Exercise, while its more profound use is to keep the human being healthy, happy, energized, and balanced, it could be used for more superficial reasons like competition, image, or ego-power. Although meditation could similarly be used for more mundane reasons like clearing the busy mind or calming agitated systems, its more profound use is to enable us to recognize the absolute freedom that is ever-present within. This freedom and peace of what we really are is somehow deeply obscured by conditioning, personal desires, and limiting beliefs.

How to Meditate: Meditation Tips

In the end, meditation is about an expansion and about letting go.

There are two main obstacles to meditation (according to me).

The first is discomfort in the physical body, the second is discomfort in the mind.

Discomfort in the body: There is a long story here. But in short, we can ask ourselves why the body is uncomfortable, what it would take to sit comfortably, and then do it. There are short- and long-term approaches here. We should do both. We can ask our yoga and meditation teacher and our friends for advice. We can take the responsibility for our own comfort and develop the capacity to sit for longer periods of time.

Meditation Tips: USE A CHAIR. Props, cushions, and blankets help us slowly become more adept at sitting. We can also do warm-up exercises for the troublesome places before we sit. 

Discomfort in the mind: I believe the discomfort in the mind comes from one main misunderstanding—that there are two OPPOSITE practices that are confused for meditation. And merely our ignorance about what we are meant to be doing makes the meditation session difficult.

Concentration Versus Meditation

Concentration is a contraction of our energies, focusing on one thing. Clenching the reigns of our mind power and bringing it back, again, and again, and again, and again whenever the thoughts wander. Thoughts of lunch, and we bring it back. Thoughts of a conversation, of the future, of anything other than this very moment—we calmly and lovingly bring the mind back.

Concentration takes effort, and we only have a finite amount of energy to concentrate with before we need a break. It is good to spend as much time concentrating as we possibly can, but we can’t expect our efforts to exceed our abilities and our energy. Eventually, we’ll have to let go of the concentration practice. It is hard while we are doing it, and a relief when we stop. Like weight lifting! It’s a skill that needs to be built up.

Meditation, however, is the opposite of concentration. Meditation is a relaxation and a release of all effort. While concentrating is a concerted effort towards one thing, meditation is a letting go of all things. Softening, opening. When the contraction of the mind returns moment after moment, we let go—most of the time into an “object of meditation,” something that expands and softens us. Like the Heart!

There is only one thing that’s difficult—resisting what is. The only way to resist what is is to think about what is. Meditation is about letting go.

Meditation is two things: relaxation and freedom.

This is our mantra: relaxation and freedom.

When tension or thoughts or problems arise, we simply recall: relaxation and freedom.

Here’s how to do each one.

Relaxation as a Technique for Meditation

Relaxation is breathing, which softens the body. We scan the body parts and let them go. We scan the emotions, breathing into them and letting them go. We step into being the witness of the thoughts… breathing, relaxing, and letting them go.

I can share one thing that makes it a lot easier to let go of thoughts, but it works a lot better when we realize it for ourselves: None of our thoughts are true. Truth, by definition, is something that does change. Our thoughts are not true. Our thoughts are subjective, personal, likely to change, and, often, psychotic or otherwise not beneficial. I promise with all my heart, we can let them go. When we do, we deeply relax.

Freedom as a Technique for Meditation

What about freedom? How to we “do” freedom as a technique for meditation?

Freedom, here, is the freedom from the need to think about anything, to hold on to stress, or to feel past experiences or traumas in the body. The quickest, best, and most transformative way to practice freedom? Coming back to the Heart.

We simply drop our entire consciousness into the space of the Heart. In Hridaya Yoga, we speak about the heart not only as a physiological organ, but also as the very source of love, connection, truth, bliss, and freedom. The more we open to the truth of the Heart, the more the mind is purified and the more easily we can let go of thoughts and relax into who we really are.

We can all try it. If we have 5 seconds, 5 minutes, or 5 years, we can watch our lives drastically transform from coming back to the Heart.
 
 
Ava is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the founder of Spanda School in Perth, Australia

The Wound of Love: Our Guide Home

By Beata Kucienska
 
During the 49-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, the penetrating question “What does it mean to be human?” was ever present in my heart. Ironically, a deep answer to this question came through the story of my cat Lilus.

Antoaneta, my teacher and neighbor, found Lilus on a Mazunte street. When she went to Europe, she left me this most charming kitty with huge eyes that seemed to contain the mysteries of the universe.

When Lilus came into my life I was going through a deep pain of separation. I spent whole days in a hammock watching the ocean. I stayed in a cabaña on a small hill and I often felt so weak that the only motivation to go down to the village was to get food for Lilus. He didn’t really need it. He was an excellent hunter, but he liked to be served. At the beginning, he was so impatient that he used to bite my feet when I put tuna fish, yogurt, and cat biscuits on his plates. But after a few months of meditation, he became the most loving cat in San Agustinillo.

We used to meditate together in the morning. He would lie down by my side and was so incredibly beautiful that I couldn’t close my eyes. Touching him felt like submerging my fingers in an ocean of softness, and his purring was the voice of God: the most tender medicine for my broken heart.

advaita, rumi, hridaya, spiritual heartI invented a game for us that I called “a slave of love.” I took Lilus to the hammock and there he tried to escape from my hug. I surrounded him with my arms and legs and he sought his way out, purring with delight. When he wanted to end the game, he communicated it with his voice. He never lost his temper, he never used his claws, he was always extremely careful with me.

Lilus was the happiest and freest creature I had ever met. He didn’t know what fear was. He lived in the Garden of Eden and he took me there with him. By his side, I could feel the taste of a world untouched by suffering.

When the Hridaya Teacher Training Course started, Lilus would wait for me at the bottom of our hill and then we would go up to the cabaña together. Sometimes I saw him from a distance running towards me. He knew my steps, he knew my voice, and he knew that I always came back.

He didn’t know that the time of our separation was coming. I was going to do the 49-Day Retreat and then return to Europe. My future was unknown, and I didn’t have a home to share with him. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine putting him in a cage and taking him away from his paradise. He was never limited by anything.

Antoaneta was back, she was my neighbor again, and I left Lilus with her when the high season started. I visited him almost every day. But he changed. He would run towards me, but at the last moment he would stop and turn to the side. He sat down with his back turned. When I walked away he followed me, but when I tried to take him into my arms he escaped. Love and pain were doing their work in his heart. He was confused… trapped between the longing for my presence and the wound of abandonment.

Some nights I sat down on the stairs of our hill for a long time, waiting for Lilus. Sometimes I could see him observing me from a distance. My heart was aching because I knew that I broke his. And I knew that there was no way I could save him from this suffering. He fell in love with a human and he lost his innocence. He ate from a tree forbidden for cats. He tasted the pain of love. His wounded heart couldn’t find the way back to the Garden of Eden.

wound of love, hridaya yoga, rumi, advaita

Lilus experienced the pain of every human being. His story revealed the answer to my question. I understood that to be a human means to be born with a broken heart.

We come into this world with the wound of love and there is nothing we can do to avoid it. This is our human condition. We can fight with this pain, rage, or cry, but we cannot save ourselves from it. Most of us will feel this pain all our lives. What can we do about it? Accept it. There is no other way. No matter how much we want to escape from it, there is no exit. The human realm contains light and darkness.

Is it a tragic destiny? It depends how we perceive this wound. Meditation shows us that both light and darkness can be full of Beauty. Pain can expand our hearts and take us beyond the ego. Vulnerability guides us towards the mystery of existence. Sadness can open us to compassion. Weakness brings us closer to others. The wound of love can become the path of love. While walking deeper into the Self we can discover “joy in the heart when sorrow appears.” By embracing the wound of love, we surrender. We lose control. By accepting the pain we accept life itself.

Sahajananda says that the finite human drama appears as an injury of life, a wound of eternity. In meditation we can feel this wound directly. There comes a moment when the pain deep within does not seem to be related to any specific event. It is formless, raw ache. There is something that hurts deep inside our hearts, something that makes us so soft and vulnerable. It is mysterious, melancholic, and beautiful… like the trembling of the leaves on a stormy day. When we get in touch with this pain, we feel so delicate… we become the sirens pulled out of the ocean. The longing for home breaks us into little pieces, and then a moment comes when we don’t know who we are anymore. There is only this overwhelming longing, like a little baby is crying inside. The most transparent tears give birth to pure innocence and compassion, taking us beyond our limits and carrying us toward Infinity.

*

During the first ten days of the 49-Day Retreat, I stayed in a small cabaña across the street from the Hridaya Center. One night I woke up with the feeling that someone was in my house. I reached my arm out and he was there! Lilus was sleeping on my bed, next to my chest! He had crossed the street, come up the hill, and somehow opened the balcony door—a door that no other cat could open. I submerged my fingers in his fur and divine music came out of his throat. We were in the Garden of Eden again!
 
P.S. Lilus fell in love with Beauty and is now the father of 3 beautiful kittens.
 
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. She is a frequent contributor to the Hridaya Yoga blog. You can read all her posts here.

Who am I?

The Ups and Downs of Following Your Spiritual Aspiration

By Natasha Friedman

The Yearning of Spiritual Aspiration

A student goes to his teacher in ancient India. He asks, “When will I reach enlightenment?”
The teacher leads him to a river, takes him out in a rowboat, and asks him to jump overboard. When he does, the teacher thrusts the student’s head under the water and holds him down. When he is choking, about to pass out, the teacher lets him up.
The teacher asks, “What did you feel when you were underwater?”
“Desperation. An agonizing desire for air. Every particle of my being crying out to breathe.”
The teacher says, “When you want the truth as much as you wanted to breathe, that’s when you will get it.”

Do We Really Want to Know the Truth?

For many of us with spiritual aspiration, we actually don’t want the “truth”—at least, not yet. We want to want it. Maybe we want to want it so badly we feel like we could die from wanting. But we don’t die, we can’t die into it… yet. There is still a part of us that thinks happiness lies just around the next turn of the wheel. Maybe it will come from the next retreat, from finding the right guru, living in just the right ashram, from this or that meditation technique, from learning all the secret mantras and mudras.

And so the wheel turns.

I don’t know why I’m on the spiritual path. If you ask me directly, I would probably give you a superficial answer. But, when I look a little deeper into myself I find only bewilderment, a million ideas and impulses and in the center, this not-knowing. Void. Awe.

Beginning the Journey


It started out simple enough. I was 24, lost and alone in my “starving artist” identity bubble, digging myself into a hole searching for something. Finally, that hole went so deep that I popped out the other side. I found myself at a Buddhist center and suddenly I was there every day, meditating.

The thing is, the more answers you look for, the more questions you get. This rabbit hole goes all the way down. Following one clue after another into this ever-expanding labyrinth of chakras and nadis, hidden worlds, laws of karma, and flavors of emptiness, bodhicitta, Shiva and Shakti and Christ-consciousness, and experiences further and further from what your rational mind can understand. Then, at a certain point, you look at all the pieces in your hand and start to wonder what puzzle this is exactly. You realize this turn your life took is part of something so much more vast and unfathomable than you could have imagined.

And then you realize others feel the same. You’re looking for the same thing that people have been looking for since early human existence. It’s the same thing that deep down, everyone, every being on this planet, is seeking. The only difference is you have this itch of aspiration, this crazy drive to know. You won’t be content with anything less than the direct experience, nothing less than union with this something that is beyond everything.

The Courage to Seek

Many people think that spiritual life is some sort of escape, like you can’t deal with the “real world.” I feel that couldn’t be farther from reality. It takes courage to let go of everything you trusted in the world you came from, to stop believing what you’ve always been told and what your mind tries to tell you.

It takes courage to go head-on with your demons. It takes courage to see how high you can fly. It takes courage to come face to face with yourself.

It takes courage to offer it all into the divine fire.

I’ve been on the road for almost a year now. California, Hawaii, Mexico, Israel… The scenery changes but that something in the corner of my eye is always there. I don’t miss having a home or “normal life” or anything, but I feel a fire in my heart, stronger every day. A longing that is so painful and so blissful at the same time.

Waking Up

Finally, I arrive at Hridaya. Again, something cracks open and the light comes in. I do one 10-day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat and go back the next month for the 17-day. It is so sweet, all those mornings when I wake up in the dark and sit alone until the sun peeks over the horizon. Eagles floating up from the beach in the afternoon. Staring at patterns in the bark of a neem tree. Catching my breath at the beauty of every moment, too precious even to hold onto.

In the meditations, I feel myself falling asleep to the outside world. Inside, something is waking up. I am curled up in the womb of the universe and I know nothing, I am nothing, there is nothing to know.

Sahajananda reads poems by Rumi and Hafiz before meditation sessions. There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don’t you? Every night he answers questions that students leave on slips of paper in a glass cup by the altar. One night, someone writes that she is depressed and suicidal. She is alienated from her family and all her friends are drifting away. She says she has lost all her reference points.

“This is a powerful time for you,” he answers. “You can learn from it. If a reference point can be lost, that means it isn’t the ultimate reference point.”

A Magnet in the Heart

There are times when it all snaps into focus, like for the blink of an eye I can almost see the whole picture but it’s just out of reach. I want to cry and I can’t tell if it’s from joy or heartbreak. Where are my reference points? Who put this magnet in my heart that draws me deeper and deeper into the unknown? What set my life to curve around the divine, like the spirals of a plant or a galaxy reaching for the Beloved?

I pray to God to take everything from me so I can be naked and alone with the truth. Take my mind, take my life. Make me a leaf in Your wind. Make me a finger in Your hand to spread Your blessings. Oh Beloved, take away what I want, take away what I do, take away what I need, take away everything that takes me from you…

At the same time my deep, self-preserving ego prays for the opposite. Lord, keep me safe. Lord, give me long life in this body. Lord, give me someone who loves me. Give me money and sex. Make things how I like them.

And the wheel turns.

Maybe it’s all very simple. Whatever you want, God wants to give you. If you only want God, if that’s really all you want with every last drop of your being, that’s what you will get.

I keep praying. I keep meditating, practicing yoga and doing retreats. I study. I do tapas. And I listen for that tiny, precious voice that says, “Listen, child, come closer, let me tell you a secret…”

Natasha is a Hridaya Yoga student. Her spiritual aspiration is guiding her to participate in the 2017 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat.

lester levenson an insight on love

Guardians of the Heart: My Experience in the Yazidi Refugee Camp

By Beata Kucienska

My Experience in the Yazidi Refugee Camp in Greece

People in the Yazidi refugee camp look straight into your eyes. They can do it for minutes. As if they weren’t ashamed of anything. As if they had nothing to hide. Their eyes are like big, quiet mirrors… sheets of mild water… windows to an unknown land. For a month, I was trying to touch their world. Every day was a step into a mystery.

Banished from Home

“All the books of those who are without are altered by them; and they have declined from them, although they were written by the prophets and the apostles. That there are interpolations is seen in the fact that each sect endeavors to prove that the others are wrong and to destroy their books. To me truth and falsehood are known.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

My first day in the refugee camp in Serres. I sit with the children under a tree and read a picture book that I found in the donation box. Suddenly, all the children get up and run to the gate.

“What happened?” I ask them.
“Nadia Murad came! Sister Yazidi!”

I follow the children. A beautiful and very sad girl, dressed in black, stands in the main square and talks to the people. She escaped from the hands of the ISIS soldiers who raped her for several months. Now she lives in Germany and tries to help the refugees. She gives interviews, talks to politicians, and asks the world for mercy, for help in liberating the more than 3,000 women and children who are still in the hands of ISIS and experience unimaginable horrors every day.

I cannot sleep at night. Something trembles in me. At the beginning, it is difficult to find my place. The Yazidis have just moved to Serres from another camp and there is no structure yet. My friend Molly, a Hridaya teacher who inspired me to come here, runs the team of volunteers and tries to respond to the most urgent needs. I help her count clothes, soap, and shampoo, and to distribute things. We go to the warehouse and choose clothes for the refugees, we build furniture to store things, we attend to mothers who constantly ask for diapers, milk, bottles, and shoes.

After some time, I try to organize an advanced level English lesson for teenage girls. We gather in a tent and they share their dreams:
“I want to go to Barcelona and meet Lionel Messi.”
“My dream is to join my family in Germany.”
“I would like to visit India and learn to dance.”
“I want to go to Canada and play with snow.”

A young woman gives me a note. There is only one sentence: “My dream is to go back to Iraq and see my mom.” I swallow my tears. She reads it aloud. Suddenly all the girls start talking. They want to return to Iraq, to go to school, they miss their friends, their families, holidays spent together, excursions to nature. They are yearning for home. And their eyes, their lips overflow with emotions. Raised in the desert, attacked by ISIS, the Yazidis are an exiled nation. The city of Sinjar, emptied through hate and violence, is their lost paradise.

Sinjar, Shingal, I hear this word every day. The girls share:
“My favorite job is a policewoman. I want to help the Sinjar people.”
“I would like to be a doctor, to heal the people in Sinjar.”
“I want to be a teacher and share everything I learned with others.”
On the tent’s floor, I see a note: “Sinjar in my blood.”

“And, now,” I say, “Choose your most important dream, and write it down.”

A beautiful girl with deer eyes gives me a note: “My dream and the dream of all Yazidis is freedom for the women and children abducted by ISIS. Because they are raped and tortured every day.” I read it and stay silent. I have no words. A 13-year-old girl takes the card from my hand and reads it aloud. Nobody is surprised. Everyone in the camp, including the children, feels the horror of the ISIS sexual slaves. These women are their sisters. It is their collective pain. One big wound poured into hundreds of thousands of hearts.

 

My Friend, Give Me the Heart!

“I was, am now, and shall have no end. I exercise dominion over all creatures and over the affairs of all who are under the protection of my image. I am ever present to help all who trust in me and call upon me in time of need. There is no place in the universe that knows not my presence.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

There is so much joy in the camp! Four hundred refugees live here and more than half are children who play all day. The mornings begin with singing and dancing. The volunteers organize sports activities, games, and English and Greek classes. The children learn two new alphabets: Latin and Greek, they learn to read and write from left to right, to turn the pages of books in the opposite direction. They assimilate new rules on a new planet.

The first words that you hear in the camp are: “Hello, my friend.” The children come to you and shout: “Hello, my friend!” Some of them run into your arms. After a few days in the camp, the sentence “Hello, my friend” enters your blood. You use it to greet both the refugees and the volunteers. After a while, you start your emails and posts on Facebook with these words. They acquire a peculiar sweetness. When you return home, you miss them. Your ears instinctively seek them, but nobody in your country greets you this way.

Another English sentence that every child in the camp knows is: “My friend, give me one!” The “one” can be a card, a pen, a pencil, a balloon, a hair elastic, or a paper heart. Molly asked me to decorate a hall in the abandoned school with hundreds of colored hearts. For over an hour, we hung them high on the wall, out of the reach of the children—they were watching with hungry eyes. “My friend, give me one!” they screamed. I left the hall for several minutes. When I returned, there were no hearts on the walls. The kids had climbed on the tables and taken them all.

The children serve as interpreters in the camp. They learn English very fast. Some of them studied it in Iraq, and in the camp they absorb everything. I like to read with them. I choose a donated book and when the children notice me, they gather around. We sit down together under a tree. The older kids read aloud, the younger ones describe the illustrations: “This is a dinosaur, this is an island, and this is a volcano. The boy is flying in a balloon over the ocean. He rescues the girl and the dinosaurs. After a long journey, he returns to his grandfather and together they drink hot chocolate.”

I find a book with pictures of animals. I notice a group of boys under a tree, they are calling me. Together we look at monsters from the depths of the ocean. “This octopus is bigger than a human, as tall as the distance between this and that tree.” I explain. Shouts of astonishment. Fascination. Suddenly, the kids raise their heads.
“Beata, look there, on the tree!”
“What is it? A bird?”
“Yes. Listen. It is singing…”

Come with Me… Beyond Words… To Wonderland

“I give and take away; I enrich and impoverish; I cause both happiness and misery. I do all this in keeping with the characteristics of each epoch. And none has a right to interfere with my management of affairs.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

The women don’t speak English. When they need diapers, milk for their babies, a pacifier, a bottle, they bring children as interpreters. I visit them in their tents. They ask me to teach them English, too, so I do. Every day, I repeat “head, hair, eyes, nose, mouth, neck…” dozens of times. The women do laundry in their basins, and repeat after me, “head, hair, eyes, nose…” With time, the lessons become more formal. I prepare teaching aids, I write, I draw, I gather people to the school. The women stay for hours after class. They copy strange signs in a foreign alphabet from the board. They want to learn so much! They want to grow so much! “I would like to work, to do anything, not just sit in a tent all day,” one of them told me.

I like to spend time among the tents. I made friends with a 13-year-old girl who always dresses in white. I ask her parents about the meaning of her clothes. “Gardinia, no husband, no children. Mother of all,” they answer. Gardinia doesn’t participate in the games organized by the volunteers. She stands aside and observes everything. She accepts her destiny with serenity, but I feel the loneliness behind her smile, the burden of being different. She brushes my hair, and paints birds and flowers on my arms. We sing together, we exchange bracelets. Gardinia spends two days making a bracelet, using beads that have the first letter of my name. I read books with her, draw animals and write their English names. Twice, she makes the same drawing: a blue eye crying red hearts, which fall into a vessel and give birth to colorful stars and flowers. She gives me more presents: juice, a croissant, an apple.

Each family receives a daily ration of food from the Greek army. It is not much, but they share it with the volunteers. They care about us; they ask if we are hungry. At the beginning of my stay, a woman tells me (through her English-speaking son): “When you are hungry, come to me and I will give you food. When you are tired, you can rest in my tent.” I am speechless. Where did I arrive? At a wonderland? These people have been deprived of everything, but ISIS didn’t manage to take away their hearts.

Jokes, smiles, games: waves on the lake’s surface… and underneath, such deep pain and longing. How does it feel to lose everything? To be banished from your own home? To wander through different countries? Not be able to cook dinner for your children, to make tea? To ask strangers for soap, shampoo, underwear, bras, milk for your babies? How does it feel to miss the place where your ancestors lived for 6,700 years? And to suddenly be spread around the world? To have a mother in Iraq, a sister in Turkey, a brother in Germany, while previously your family lived together for generations? Where is your home now?

A Silent Embrace

“I lead to the straight path without a revealed book; I direct aright my beloved and my chosen ones by unseen means. All my teachings are easily applicable to all times and all conditions.” –Yazidi Book of Revelation

Hello, my friend. You have such serene eyes. And you look at me with such calmness … as if you have nothing to fear. Where do your courage, dignity, and hope come from? You were stripped of everything that smelled like home, banished into the unknown, and you don’t know how it will all end. I don’t understand you. I don’t understand your language, tradition, or faith. Your world seems a strange planet to me, the same as mine to you. The only thing I can do is teach you a few words, so you can ask for a shirt, shoes, and trousers. And, I will also teach you ‘love,’ ‘hug,’ and ‘heart.’ And, I will look into your eyes. You know, in my country, people live in such a hurry. So few can look into each other’s eyes and remain silent. Just like you. So simple.

It is not easy for me to look at you this way. There are things that I want to hide. There are things that I’m ashamed of. There are things that I’m afraid of. Because looking into the eyes of another human can be the hardest thing in the world. But not for you…

I know you so little and, yet, something shivers in me. I understand so little of you and I cannot sleep at night. And this homesickness, is it my longing or yours? And this sadness? And this hope? And this stinging in the heart… Is it pain? Or love?

“In love, nothing exists between heart and heart
Speech is born out of longing.” –Rabia al-Basri

Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her contemplation on transforming suffering here. To support the work of Molly Hock, a Hridaya Teacher who continues to work with refugees in Greece, check out her CrowdRise page.

do you fully feel?

What Is Tantra?

By Antoaneta Gotea

I have been a practitioner and teacher of Tantra for about twenty years, and I have been asked the question many times, What is Tantra? It is interesting to notice that while writing this sentence I feel a slight contraction, as I know the common connotations given to the word. You might think I teach how to have more orgasms, how to have superlative sex, how to let the sexual instincts flow, how to get naked in a minute, how to be polyamorous, how to couple up spontaneously to “overcome” inhibitions, or how to have orgies. Well, I am afraid I am going to disappoint you… Instead, I want to reveal the truth and depth behind these controversial teachings.

Tantra Is Love

Tantra has captured the fascination of the Western world, but few Westerners actually know what it means. The origins of Tantra go far back in time, in the beautiful land of India. Some Eastern scholars believe that it originated around the sixth or seventh century A.D. Others affirm that Tantra is an ancient tradition, having its origins in the pre-Aryan period. Even if we cannot assign a definite date to the beginning of Tantra, what is worth mentioning is the great influence of Tantrism on all the great spiritual traditions of India, including Shaivism, Buddhism, Vaishnavism, and Jainism. All these traditions developed a Tantric dimension. According to religious historian Mircea Eliade, there are two main branches of Tantrism: Hindu Tantrism and Tibetan Tantrism.

What Is Tantra?

The word Tantra comes from the Sanskrit root tan, which means “to expand,” “to spread,” or “to stretch,” and tra, which means “instrument.” Therefore, Tantra literally means the “instrument to expand” the level of consciousness from ordinary to extraordinary, with Self-realization as its ultimate goal. Tantra also means a “loom” or “weaving,” which is related to the fact that Tantra teaches that the universe is a web in which everything is interrelated and interconnected. Although the word Tantra has many meanings, each with its own particular nuance depending on the context, its most significant definition remains: it is an instrument to expand the level of consciousness.

In one sentence, the philosophical and practical system of Tantra can be summed up as: “Nothing exists that isn’t divine.” This is the quintessence of Tantric philosophy. All the features of Tantra have their roots in this vision.

The Divinization of Life

In Tantra, the universe is alive, not illusory. It represents the manifestation of the joyous, free Divine Consciousness in a variety of forms. All manifestation is simply the interplay of Shiva and Shakti, the masculine and feminine. Thus, we can say that Tantra is a world-affirming and body-affirming spiritual tradition. A practical consequence of this view was that householders could aspire to spiritual liberation (moksha), which was not the case in Classical Yoga, where renunciation of worldly life was considered absolutely necessary for moksha.

Tantra dissolves the division of spiritual versus mundane. Every aspect of life is integrated as a tool for spiritual growth. Its practitioners aspire to transcendence in immanence (material existence). But pay attention! This does not mean ordinary indulgence in life. It implies a continuous focus on the divine vision so that life, with all its activities, becomes a launching pad to eternity.

In Tantra, the body is seen as a living temple and sexual energy is seen as divine energy. The body, with all its energies, is considered a divine instrument for spiritual transformation. We can say that the broad approach of Tantra consists in making all ordinary activities sacred.

Practical Tantra

Tantra is a practical system. That’s why it’s called a sadhana shastra, which means it is a practice-oriented scripture. It is not an instant philosophical system. It is based on the direct experiences and realizations of Tantric sages and it consists in numerous methods to suit different types of followers.

Thus, it is a non-dogmatic system that adapts to the needs of the time. It is a dynamic system that has changed and developed for the benefit of its adepts.

Joy, Love, Happiness, Bliss, and Ecstasy

Tantra has developed as a joyful tradition that embraces all the activities of life as expressions of the Divine. It is not rooted in dogma or the denial of life, even though it promotes a highly ritualistic lifestyle that implies following certain rules and practices. Therefore, Tantra leads to happiness, love, and ecstasy when it is deeply understood and correctly applied.

What Tantra Is Not

Tantra is not sorcery, black magic, or weird practices. Most Tantric texts are filled with cryptic expressions, metaphors, and allegories that present obstacles for the uninitiated and may lead to misunderstandings and misuse. The texts were written in highly symbolic language in order to protect those who are not initiated from misapplying them or using them in a selfish manner. Unfortunately, this has lead to many misinterpretations.

Even reputable scholars have made mistakes in the interpretation of Tantric texts. The most frequent error arises when metaphorical language is taken literally. Often, this results in inappropriate meanings being assigned to the texts. Consequently, Tantra has become associated with “abominable practices” such as sacrificial rituals, incest, manipulation, etc. Genuine Tantric spirituality has nothing in common with witchcraft, black magic, or the weird practices of certain sects (which may be deviant or shocking but are often mistaken for deeply spiritual Tantric doctrine).

As an example of the symbolic language employed in the Tantric texts, ida, pingala, and sushumna nadis (the three most important subtle energy channels) are referred to as the Ganges, Yamuna, and Sarasvati rivers.

Tantra Is Not Sex

In the Western world, Tantra generally means sex. The term Tantra is strongly linked to superlative, ecstatic sex, even though the vast majority of Tantric teachings do not refer to sexuality. Indeed, in left-hand Tantra (the path that uses sexual energy), lovemaking rituals are used to go beyond the mind and enter higher states of consciousness. But, this does not define Tantra. Tantra is not concerned with sexuality or its suppression. Sexuality and lovemaking are seen as a divine means for spiritual growth. Tantra does not promote them for ordinary gratification.

So why, in the West, is Tantra commonly understood to mean great sex? The answer is simple: so-called Western Tantra was not introduced by Tantric sages, but by Western travellers who encountered Tantric practices on trips to India. Of course, after centuries of Christian domination and suppression of sexuality, encountering a system that perceives sexual energy to be as normal as any other energy and offers practices that enhance and harness this energy was something very precious and willingly grasped. Unfortunately, the sexual practices were removed from the devotional and ritualistic context of the Tantric tradition and they received the materialistic touch of the Western mind. However, Tantra has maintained the dignity that it deserves.

Tantra Is Not Primitive Polytheism

Tantra has been judged to be primitive polytheism because of the numerous feminine and masculine deities that are worshipped in the tradition. But, it is necessary to take a closer look to see that Tantra is not an idol-worshipping tradition. In Tantra, the goddesses and gods are just personifications of universal subtle energies. Tantric practitioners understand that all the deities are pointers to the ultimate Truth, called Brahman (the Absolute) in the Hindu tradition.

Tantra Is Love

Tantra is a practical system, deeply devotional and highly ritualistic. It was designed to help us reach the goal of moksha. Tantric rituals are the means to train in the Tantric vision—to see and experience all of life and its energies as divine manifestations. To embody the quintessence of Tantra, “Nothing exists that isn’t divine,” doesn’t mean to intellectually understand it, but to live it. This equates to Self-realization.

In light of the above, my approach regarding left-hand Tantra is a devotional and ritualistic one. I am dedicated to teaching men and women how to see themselves, their sexual energy, and the practice of lovemaking with Tantric eyes—through which everything is sacred. I teach how to use our magnetic, powerful sexual energy for Union. We explore how deep, intense love blurs the boundaries of individuality and allows the dawning of Oneness.

Let’s delight in the words of the great Tantric master Abhinavagupta:

“In the divine abode of the body, I adore you, O God together with the Goddess, day and night. I adore you continuously washing with the sprinklings of the essence of my astonishment the support of all that has been made. I adore you with the spiritual flowers of the innate being; I adore you with the priceless goblet of the Heart, which is full of the ambrosia of bliss. The triple world, full of various tastes and flavors, is cast into the apparatus of the nexus of the Heart. I squeeze it, casting it down from on high with the great weight of the spiritual discrimination. The supreme nectar of consciousness, which removes births, old age, and death, flows gushing from Thy. Opening the mouth wide I devour it, the supreme oblation, like clarified butter, and in this way, O Supreme Goddess, I gladden and satisfy you day and night.”
 
Antoaneta will be offering a 3-day Tantra is Love workshop December 16-18, 2016. You can find more information and book your place here.

hridaya advaita ramana meditation hero

A Walk Beyond Darkness: Transforming Suffering by Opening to Light

By Beata Kucienska

“I said: ‘What about my heart?’
God said: ‘Tell me what you hold inside it.’
I said: ‘Pain and sorrow.’
God said: ‘Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.’”
-Rumi

Once, I read a story about a little horse that was staying in a warm and cozy place. He was safe there and didn’t want to leave. Suddenly, he saw a tunnel of light and felt a force pulling him out of his shelter. He was so scared; he thought he was going to die. And then he found out that he was just being born.

The moment of birth is the first moment of separation. It must be horrifying for a baby to come out of its mother’s belly into such a strange place: to breathe air and to hear, smell, see, and touch the craziness of a new world.

Our birth, which is the most natural thing in life, is also a scary and painful experience. With the first breath, the human heart is broken. And then, duality spreads its wings. The story of love and pain, connection and separation, light and darkness, unfolds in time.

Yet, it is not easy to see pain as natural. Why? Because it hurts! And our deepest desire is to be happy. A paradox of human life is that avoiding pain is as natural as its existence. In the animal world, the escape from suffering is the immediate reaction to it.

Rumi, a thirteenth-century Persian poet, said: “Stay with the pain. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” This statement may not seem logical. Why should we stay with the pain? Why should we suffer?

The wound is present in every human heart… it is growing and aching from the moment of our birth. We can try to escape it by using anything the world offers us: food, drugs, work, sleep, alcohol, a hyperactive lifestyle, and other strategies. But finally, it leads to even more suffering, loneliness, and separation. By avoiding pain, we multiply it.

Facing Our Suffering

When pain comes, we have a choice: to face it or to escape it. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a prisoner in a World War II concentration camp, wrote: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

Viktor’s mother, father, brother, and wife all died in concentration camps. He was left alone in a place that was an expression of the deepest darkness of the human soul. He could have committed suicide, as many prisoners did, but he chose to embrace pain: “When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.”

When pain comes, the question “why?” arises in us. This question is a trap since it doesn’t have an answer. To be human means to be born with a broken heart… and to have it broken again and again and again. Pain is there to be felt, to be experienced, and, often, to reveal a deeper reality of human existence. Viktor Frankl and the other prisoners could see it: “For us, the meaning of life embraced the wider cycles of life and death, of suffering and of dying. Once the meaning of suffering had been revealed to us, we refused to minimize or alleviate the camp’s tortures by ignoring them or harboring false illusions and entertaining artificial optimism. Suffering had become a task on which we did not want to turn our backs. […] But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

It is not necessary to be in a concentration camp to experience the ultimate depth of human pain. Every day people commit suicide because of unrequited love, health issues, financial crisis, loss, rejection, and loneliness. There are moments in life when suffering seems unbearable.

From Pain to Peace

My friend Susy from Mexico City lost two children to incurable diseases. She didn’t have any other children. Her pain was unimaginable. She told me that in her darkest moments, she still had a choice. She could choose between hate and love. She could reject life, people, mothers, and children or embrace everything. She decided to love and the magic happened. She radiated so much light that her son’s friends sought out her presence, friendship, and advice. Her house was full of young people. She posted a picture of her daughter’s wheelchair on Facebook, offering it to anyone who needed it. The picture was shared over one million times and many parents of sick children wrote to Susy asking for the wheelchair. With the help of her friends, Susy collected money to buy more wheelchairs and ended up creating a foundation that helps poor and sick people in Mexico. In honor of her children Diana and Daniel, she named the foundation Dianel. Every conversation with Susy is magical; it feels like crossing the boundaries of the ordinary world and diving into a planet with different rules: a kingdom of giving. Her boundless heart has become the source of miracles. Her Facebook messages inspired a mother who hadn’t seen her daughter for over twenty years to visit her, make peace with her, and meet her grandchildren for the first time. The Dianel Foundation is constantly growing, bringing help and relief to the lives of hundreds of people in unexpected ways. Susy has become a rain of light, but the pain and the longing for her children hasn’t disappeared. The wound is constantly present, even when she laughs, sings, and dances.

Transforming Suffering: Staying with the Wound

At times, life hurts so much that even the act of breathing is painful. We seem to be inside a dense cloud that absorbs every ray of light. There is only pain, spreading through every cell of our being. The only thing we want is relief from our suffering. At any cost, even the cost of our life itself.

Outside everything might seem fine. We might not be able to explain to others why we are suffering. They wouldn’t understand. But, we feel it with every breath. Void, fear, loneliness stir inside us. The dark space in our souls wants to be acknowledged, accepted, and honored. Yes, the pain is there. Yes, it hurts. Our bodies express it. Tears fall. And this time, we stay with the wound. Without anesthesia, we enter our broken hearts. It is just us, being human. It is us, facing our humanity, experiencing its very core. It is us, exercising our highest freedom: the freedom to choose our attitude. It is us, expressing our greatest courage: the courage to feel the depth of our hearts.

Suffering doesn’t have value in itself, but our attitude toward it does. Facing the pain is an inner journey each of us must make alone. It is an intuitive task, difficult to express with words. Great poets, like Hafiz, have tried:

“Don’t surrender your loneliness
so quickly
Let it cut more deep
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can…
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so softy
My voice
so tender
My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.”

Seven centuries ago, Hafiz and Rumi understood that facing and accepting pain opens the human heart. It is the path of the transformation of our deepest wound into a channel of light. And then, the magic happens…

Love’s Embrace

In the middle of suffering and humiliation, Viktor Frankl contemplated the memory of his beloved wife. This moment revealed the essence of life to him: “For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. […] For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words: ‘The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.’ […] My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn’t even know if she were still alive. I knew only one thing—which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether or not he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance.”

Surrendering to life, with both its light and darkness, is a path to the secret mountain that changes our vision of the human drama. It is a door to the deep understanding that love goes beyond life and death. It is stepping into a reality that cannot end.

The nineteenth-century Polish poet Adam Asnyk wrote:

“And the heart, the human heart
runs away to infinity
through tears, longings and torments
It wants to absorb in its womb
space and eternity
and to embrace all heaven.”

The Longing of the Heart

Poets and mystics perceive human suffering as the echo of the pain of separation from God, the Heart, our deepest Essence and most intimate Truth. They see it as an expression of the desperate longing of the human heart for the Infinite.

We cannot avoid or escape pain. But, we can witness it in meditation, listen to it, and discover God’s voice in it, yearning for us and calling us to Him. In the depths of our soul, we can hear the torment of a lover who is desperate for union with the beloved. If we surrender, this longing will become our guide to a Reality in which life and death disappear in an eternal embrace.
 
Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher. You can read her reflections on the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat here.

Hridaya Yoga will offer “From Pain to Peace,” a 3-day practical workshop on the art of transforming suffering into awareness, October 21-23, 2016. You can book your place here.

Beata shares: “The From Pain to Peace workshop is a loving embrace that will allow you to face your pain. The heart opens in the atmosphere of trust, and the light of awareness reaches the soul’s dark places. Every courageous step into your soul will be a step toward deep connection with others, love and forgiveness. It is a journey into the mysterious reality described by Rumi: ‘Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of their heart.’”

Silent Meditation Retreat in Spanish: Found in Translation

Silent Meditation Retreat in Spanish: Found in Translation

By Laura Samper G.

I am a native Spanish speaker, but I can’t find the right word to express contentment in Spanish. It resembles contento, which means happy but not overexcited. Like Mona Lisa’s smile, contentment is a subtle and deep expression of inner joy.

I heard the word for the first time during a lecture in the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 1 Intensive. It is the meaning of the Sanskrit word santosha, which is the second of the niyamas (recommended habits). More than anything I could say in theoretical terms, this quote by Swami Rama eloquently expresses its meaning: Contentment is falling in love with your life.

Real Life

Contentment_fbWhen you are walking on a spiritual path—and especially if you are living in a spiritual community—you live by the teachings. There is a great difference in saying you are spiritual and actually practicing spirituality.

Does practicing spirituality have to do with the way you dress, the mantras you know by heart, the words you claim are the revelation of truth, the malas you own, or the candles and incense sticks you’ve lit?
Or, is it more an attitude, a constant question in your heart that pushes you to go deeper? Is it the kind of inquiry that makes you face your own fears, your not-so-pretty masks, your patterns, and all the things that you need to heal?

Aren’t both incomplete without a pure intention behind them, and without a tangible manifestation in daily life?

Love Beyond Words

The second time I heard of santosha was during Module 2. This time, however, I would live by it for a whole month as a part of my practice. The word just found me, I like to say.

I’ve felt it with my entire heart. I still had an intuition of its meaning, but I preferred leaving all books, quotes, and ideas behind. I just gave it a chance without expectations, and began to live by the vibrations of each one of its letters, as if they were the beats of a cosmic drum.

Enjoyment contentmentI started to smile more, as the Buddha recommends in one of his meditations. Just smiling because I was able to. In Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of The Rose, the “devil” is faith without smile.

While I consciously practiced contentment, I started to feel more peaceful and grateful. The days began to pass more easily. Each morning I waited a little longer in bed just to enjoying the way my body slowly uncurled.

I started to feel incredibly comfortable in my own skin. I made up new jokes, and even celebrated when a little something did not go as I expected. I took any obstacle as a chance to improvise and try something new.

Fear felt so unfamiliar and distant that I could only surrender to what was ahead. I did not care if something that I’d been afraid of suddenly came true. So be it, I said to myself. And then, the smile just came on its own.

A Little Kindness Can Go a Long Way

During the 30 days that I practiced contentment, I also found the power of manifestation related to having an open disposition to life. Being an open channel set me free, somehow.

And it began to become a reality. I would not call it magic, but I realized that the energies in my body have some very special qualities. Everything just flowed better, more easily. During those days, I met a special person who later became a great teacher. And, one of my friends offered to give me an airplane ticket to the destination of my choice (anywhere in the world!).

Fulfillment seemed to be around the corner, so I just kept walking in the city of my own presence.

It all happened in the relaxation that came from being content. This tantric communion with the physical world ended up in the discovery of the great potential of living with an Open Heart.

Is a Silent Meditation Retreat in Spanish Necessary?

It is not, but it is a beautiful chance to share the teachings, which go beyond any language. Today, there are 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide, a number that includes 470 million native speakers and those with some command of the language. In fact, the United States has the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world.
8-day-hridaya-silent-meditation-retreat

More than being necessary, it is a great opportunity for those who are seeking to reveal their True Nature. Words are potent tools for sharing the teachings, but only practice can bring them to life.

I did not need the exact translation for contentment, but I found the space to actually experience it.

More and more Spanish speakers who do not know other languages are looking for a way to learn about spirituality. This is really exciting! This is the first time in humanity’s history that information can travel as fast as in real time.

It is an innovative way to strengthen the practice as a collective. As a native Spanish speaker, I am really happy to share that the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte is offering Silent Meditation Retreats in Spanish October 10th-12th and December 23rd-25th.

And, although contentment lacks a direct translation in Spanish, those who want to practice loving life will have the chance to keep learning, this time en español.

 

Brotherhood: Powerful Circles of Men

Circles of Men: Unveiling the Power of Shiva

By Laura Samper G.

Going in Circles

In today’s society, roles are mainly divided by gender: men are supposed to behave in a way that is called “masculine” and women are expected to do their part by supporting this model.

When put in perspective, both seem to be going in circles, perpetuating old traditions and subconscious patterns. What are the chances that someone might break free and experience something entirely new? There are definitely more options for women, while for men the dichotomy of toughness and weakness continues.

Wander Women

The word sisterhood is easily translated into images. Women have created it in order to support each other in a world that in many ways feels dangerous and at the same time, exciting and new. Just take a look around and see how your sisters, mothers, girlfriends, spouses, friends, and co-workers usually behave.

They have created a network of female companions in order to celebrate the good times and be there for each other in the hard times. In spiritual communities this is even more evident, and these connections are explored in women’s circles.

Today, women gathering together to share is seen as a significant tool to elevate female consciousness. Thanks to a new way of approaching digital tools to create bonds rather than just for distraction, women have found a community to rely on no matter where they live.

If we lived in Ancient Greece, these women would be the glorious muses of Delos, with Wi-Fi, laptops, and a great power of communication.

And what about men? What would they be doing? Hunting? Drinking beer while watching the Olympics?

Listen to the Heart’s Roar!

Surprisingly, this scene is still being played out (particularly while you are reading this). In a manly world, bonding and self-expression occur through many channels, always mediated by something external: sports and work, which are great triggers for competition. Men were taught to compete to be the best, and in this way they ultimately end up fearing each other.

If you see it with your heart, you’ll find that men actually have feelings that need to be acknowledged. It seems absurd to even mention this, but it’s necessary. Men are sensitive creatures. Why is it that in our society there is no place for expressive men? Although it seems like that on the outside, inwardly there’s another story.

Men who are on a spiritual path, conscious Shivas that look inside, are also on the hunt for a space to share with other men (and only men). And even for them, a place of true expression is hard to find.

While doing some research into circles of men, I found some touching comments made by men that are worth sharing. Their vulnerability, honesty, and heart can be felt in each of their words:

-I am stuck in a job I feel no passion for. When someone asks me what is my passion, I have no idea. I don’t want to stay in this job but I have no idea what I should be doing.

-I often regret my past and this stops me from moving confidently into the future. I don’t know how to let go of my past. 

-I don’t feel like the others anymore in my environment. I feel like I don’t want to be in this body anymore… I feel totally alone.

MENSCIRCLES1

Circles of Men: The Path to Brotherhood

Craig White, a Hridaya Yoga Teacher who dedicates his life to building a space for men to bond as brothers, explains what he felt during his first time in a men’s circle:

After a period of deep stillness and deadly silence, the sharing begins with each man individually expressing different aspects of his life. Some of them discuss problems or past traumas, some men celebrate victories, some men choose just to listen, some men offer words of general support, and others simply check in with their feelings in the moment. Each man speaks in such a way as not to put any blame on anyone or anything for his life’s journey.

Pure gold! Here is the greatest insight: listening. More than anything in the world, men want to be heard. Yes, they want to provide for the family, be good at their jobs, maybe quit everything and travel or just be disciplined meditators, but they want to express their inner truth, without being attacked or judged.

The Power of Vulnerability

Moreover, men want to heal. There are many factors that have caused them pain. Their suffering has its roots in the misunderstanding of their role in society. From difficult experiences with their peers back in high school and college, where competition was fierce and intense, to unresolved issues with their mother or their father/brothers, most men have created a feel-nothing world, in which total self-expression has not been possible.

In the book The Way of The Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work, and Sexual Desire by David Deida, vulnerability and surrender are two of the most important characteristics of what he calls a “superior man,” particularly because both are the attitudes that will lead men to honest communication with themselves and others:

Closing down in the midst of pain is a denial of a man’s true nature. A superior man is free in feeling and action, even amidst great pain and hurt. If necessary, a man should live with a hurting heart rather than a closed one. He should learn to stay in the wound of pain and act with spontaneous skill and love even from that place.

The Warrior Within

Male bonding goes beyond the fulfillment of their own needs, although this is the key to starting a collective change towards true understanding. The benefits of circles of men reach new heights.

Not only do men have the chance to share in a safe place, but they also have the opportunity to recognize themselves in others. Breaking down the walls between men is really significant because this increases their trust in themselves and others.

Circles of men are a necessity in a society that is centered on silencing the voice within. When the true roar of a man’s heart is awakening, he is able to cultivate awareness, understand his life path, and come to terms with both his past and his limiting beliefs.

He will be set free to authentically live in his own skin, through his True Self. He will be the leader he always wanted to be, not to rule others but to inspire them.

If you are a man who feels open to this approach and wants to explore your True Essence, or if you are a woman who sees these attributes in the men around you, check out Wild at Heart, a retreat for like-minded men to come together as brothers to reflect on their journeys into manhood, to listen to other men, to share their own stories, and to be heard in a safe and non-judgmental space.

New Masculinity: Beyond the Patriarchal

By Laura Samper G.

Questioning the Masculine

Does new masculinity mean being authentic? It is a hot topic of conversation but, most importantly, it is a spiritual matter:

What does it mean to be a man today?

What is a man’s role in today’s society? What should his life’s purpose be? Does the macho stereotype correspond to every single man on earth? Is the man of steel a “manly” role model? Is the Mr. Nice Guy image helpful or just an attempt to please women and a reflection of a man raised predominantly by his mother, which is so common today?

More men are starting to ask these questions. I am also inspired to consider them. Living in a spiritual community has shown me a very different side of men… One that is counter to the dominant patriarchal approach.

I feel it is only fair to add to the discussion.

Riding the Waves with Conscious Men

I have found that an incomplete perception of masculinity has been sabotaging my intimate relationships with men. I wanted to attempt to better understand the masculine essence and put an end to this confusion. So, I decided to immerse myself in an experience that could show me both sides of the “male” world: the macho type and the conscious* one.

I was in the right place for this experiment—the Hridaya Yoga Center on the breathtaking Oaxacan Coast. One of my male friends here happens to be a professional surfer, so I asked him to give me my first surfing lesson.

I figured that if I practiced a “manly” activity with a conscious man then I would have a complete view of both approaches. I would deal with the conditioning of the impact of this masculine activity (in the sense that it gives you significant amounts of adrenaline) and at the same time, I would interact with his mesmerizing energy.

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I Am You

After an hour learning how to jump on the board, deal with currents, keep my balance, and ride in the powerful ocean, I went into the water and dealt with the first two waves. Both times, I only could reach mid-height before inevitably falling.

I was feeling nervous, excited, rushed.

I kept wrestling with the waves and the ocean’s passion without being able to actually stand on the board for more than one microsecond. After an epic wipeout (known in surfing slang as “the washing machine”), I remembered my friend’s words during the lesson. What he said resonated in my heart so deeply that it actually inspired me to write this piece:

The board will tell you everything you need to know about your character and emotional state. It is the perfect mirror.

Surfing is a form of meditation, I thought, but of a different kind. It is meditation in motion.

In Tantra, Shakti is the mirror in which Shiva realizes his own grandeur. They represent the feminine and masculine principles of creation and life.

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Since 2004, a two-meter high statue of Shiva Nataraja has stood outside the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. CERN operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world and received the statue as a gift from the Indian government.

The New Masculinity: What We Are Made Of

In Indian philosophy, Shiva Nataraja is a visual representation of both the universe and its source. It symbolizes that underneath all movement absolute stillness abides, bearing witness to innumerable changes but remaining forever changeless.

Shiva Nataraja’s “dance of bliss” symbolizes the cycle of creation and destruction. It also embodies the daily rhythm of birth and death.

Modern quantum physics has shown that this rhythm is also the very essence of inorganic matter. According to this theory, all interactions between the constituents of matter take place through the emission and absorption of virtual particles. This is what Shiva dancing looks like at a subatomic level.

A Newness of Perspective

In the end, there is nothing new about masculinity. The patriarchal paradigm is what feels old. Although framing masculinity in a new way may seem revolutionary, it is actually nothing more than coming back to its essence.

newmasculinity3I realized this deeply when I met the most amazing man a couple of months ago. I opened up in such a way that I could see my true colors, without shame or guilt. He started to become a reflection of my True Nature.

My dedication to the practice of the Spiritual Heart is very much inspired by the energy of conscious men. It is so welcoming and open that it creates the perfect alchemic environment in which actual transformation is possible. Without their presence I would not have being able to realize that I also needed to come to terms to my masculine side in order to heal past patterns.

They showed me that a couple is a union so strong that it illuminates those in its presence. They taught me that being in love means being vulnerable. Also, that uncertainty is part of who I am and patience is more than just waiting around.

Their beautiful energy inspired the arousal of my raw and courageous self. I feel safe, not because I am secure from harm but because I know what trust is. When they are around, I experience a feeling of warmth, tenderness, wisdom, empathy, support, and love.

New masculinity is an attitude to be cultivated in both men and women. As in the dance of Shiva and Shakti, it is a fun, intimate, and divine mirroring game for Self-revelation.

*Conscious men/women: Those who inquire about their True Nature and bring the acquired knowledge into practice. They are also people who respond solely to their heart’s call.

I would like to dedicate this post to all men in my life and all my brothers at the Hridaya Yoga Center. I would like to especially mention Craig White, a Hridaya Yoga teacher who wrote this beautiful poem about the warrior archetype. He is inspiring other men to reveal their True Essence by giving lectures, talks, and retreats around the world. If you feel the inner calling to be part of this movement, he will be leading a retreat during the first three days of September at the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte, Mexico.

This is also dedicated to all the conscious men and women out there who are participating in the rebuilding of a new way of relating to the world and to each other.

Headstand for Beginners

By Laura Samper G.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

-Rumi

The Barriers Within

Headstand for beginners – a scary proposition. I had never tried the headstand before, but I imagined doing it like a true Olympic gymnast… My mind would play a detailed movie of me when I was seven years old and could do everything: splits, handstands, triple front and back handsprings, and many other moves. My mind would say—it will be so easy, I did all this when I was a kid, and I can do it again.

The mind is a great storyteller…

Have you ever stopped to listen to its marvelous and intricate plots? Oh my God! Hannah didn’t call me back, she must be really upset. Yes, I shouldn’t have told her I was not going with her to that awful party. I can’t believe she isn’t talking to me…

Sometimes the mind has the capacity to build many barriers and stories to create a false sense of security. Like when you start to fall in love and all of a sudden you are frozen, completely stuck in fear. Oh no! I’m so nervous. Hmmm, he just touched my hand, and his eyes, so beautiful… no, no! Wait! Don’t fall, stay here safe with me. Don’t fall…

Mind Plots

Headstand for Beginners class during Module 1. Ali and David, both Hridaya Yoga teachers led this beautiful lesson on trust and love. In this pic, David was saying: “I’m here. You won’t fall.” Thank you for holding the space.

I would have never imagined that yoga would help me in the process of stripping off so many layers. Practicing shirshasana, the headstand, was especially powerful during the Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module I Intensive a few weeks ago.

I mean, what could go wrong? So what if I fall? I’m right beside the sea, where mysticism elevates a prayer with each wave crashing on the shore… This is truly a remarkable place. So, I felt ready. I was thrilled when I began to feel an intense fire coming up from the center of my hips right into my chest. A storm of thoughts was about to take over. The power of its voice may burn inside you if you don’t know how to recognize it:

(Gasping sounds). So, are you planning on ACTUALLY performing this nonsense, yogi-style technique? I really don’t recommend it. The other day I was reading, or well, you were reading about it and… Well, probably you should do it, but first, be sure you won’t fall. Don’t fall! Our back will break in half! Are you insane? Ok, do it if you want to, but for God’s sake, don’t fall!

Learning How to Fall

You have probably felt this way, too. You’re on the verge of overcoming a great limitation, or you’re in the middle of a beautiful realization of your True Nature, and the mind, scared of being silenced, comes in like a desperate puppy calling for attention. It blocks you from whatever it is you are feeling, doing, or observing.

This was even more evident to me during my first headstand. I don’t blame the mind, though—I was only seconds away from turning it upside down, and it was about to experience how it feels to lose all control.

This asana comes at the end of the practice session for a reason. According to my teachers, this pose requires a special preparation of the body and the mind. Traditionally, this asana was taught directly from teacher to disciple. Instructions on how to perform the pose are not found in any classical hatha yoga text, including Swami Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Being upside down brings energy and blood to the crown. It is alien to be in this position, so you get a few seconds before your mind begins to talk again. You can feel sensations waking up in your body. Then, you hear the sweetness of silence and the music of complete surrender. The intensity of the fear of falling becomes the energy that keeps you straight. You’re dancing in the sky!

The lesson on how to fall is actually just realizing that you can train your mind (or better said: learn how to listen to it) and that continuing this practice helps you detach from it, time after time. Fear can take many forms, but the more I observe it, the more it speaks to me with love, and it manifests as a green light, a flag that points to the direction I should follow. Fear is a good friend when you get to know it. Once you are in communion with it, what do you think is on the other side? It may be a feeling of intimacy, of coming back to your lover after a long separation.

I’ve come to realize that fear is a beautiful gift for learning how to be humble and patient with myself.

Would You Fall With Me?

I could stay up for 30 seconds, which was more than I could expect as a headstand beginner.

During that short moment up in the air, the fire was replaced by a warm wave of electricity coming from the middle of my chest. A cooler breeze embraced me as I was breathing softer. The mat didn’t felt like a stiff piece of wood underneath my hands anymore. I started to feel the lightness of my body against the ground. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore remained as the only background. My mind kindly whispered:

 I’m falling in love. I’m falling in this immense universe within. I feel I’m actually landing in the beauty of a new world. If I tell you there would be no ground underneath, would you fall with me?

*For more mind tales, fantastic inner dialogues, and unbelievable mental plots, please check out The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, which inspired this post.

The Art of Karma Yoga

Mud Building and Meditation—The Art of Karma Yoga

By Louise Southwell

I love mud. I realized it three years ago when I started building homes with it. It is my “Dharma work.” However, at the end of last year, I embarked on a profound period of spiritual upheaval that tore me away from my previous preferences and personality. Happily, I have just spent the last three months as a karma yogi at Hridaya, and now I feel ready to go home and remember the joy in what I do…

Leaving the Mainstream Behind

In June 2013, I almost had a breakdown. I was 27, an architect, and had achieved everything my culture had taught me to strive for—but I still felt miserable. I quit my job, sold everything, lost my boyfriend, and set out with a simple question: “What makes me happy?” I was blessed to find meditation at the first stop along my path. I participated in a 10-day Vipassana course in Burma and it changed something deep within me. I felt refreshed again, cleansed and open, ready to see the world and myself with new eyes. From there, I traveled to Thailand and found permaculture thanks to a TED Talk that inspired me.

The community I visited happened to be building homes with earth. At that point, I was convinced it had nothing to do with architecture, so I was instantly hooked. It just made so much sense! You borrow earth from beneath you, mix it with a little sand and straw, stomp in some love and energy, and then pile it up into a house…

Permaculture and natural building were like a clear light shining through the cultural haze. They showed me that we don’t need to work in an office doing a job we don’t believe in to buy stuff to make us happy. It’s a choice we make. With tireless energy and determination, I followed this bliss to homesteads, intentional communities, off-grid schools, and permaculture centers in Ireland, Canada, Argentina, and the United States. It felt so liberating to volunteer… Giving myself to help others create their dream lifestyle. In return, I received food, homes, learning, experience, and an invaluable glimpse into possible life choices and what makes others happy.

Returning Home

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I’ll skip forward to last summer when I had achieved two of my newly envisioned goals. I had built a whole house and was teaching cob building courses in Oregon. Looking back now, I can see how old habits had started to creep back. When was it that I stopped focusing on joy and began thinking of ambition, pressure, and achievements? Where was the balance between aspiration and ego? I was confused.

So, I went back to England to reflect. I spent the first couple of months this year in a very different state of consciousness, though. My mind struggled to let go and, at the same time, to comprehend the intense energy, awareness, presence, and new perspectives that I had been gifted. It was very disconcerting for those around me. The limited spiritual teachings I had been exposed to had not prepared me for this and I slipped into a crushing state of suffering and self-doubt.

Selfless Service

Luckily, at this point I arrived at Hridaya! I can’t express my gratitude enough for the community of accepting, supportive, authentic human beings who inhabit this place. On top of this, Hridaya Hatha Yoga gradually helped to rebalance my energy levels and allow me to gently reconnect to my body.

And the teachings… Oh, how I needed them! The void is terrifying when you peer in from over its sharp edge. The love, beauty, and joy spoken of at the Hridaya Yoga Center can really smooth it over. I felt that I had no purpose, but I was starting to realize that our only purpose is love. The deep lessons of selfless service helped me let go of attachment to the outcomes of my actions and apply the values of presence, compassion, and patience in real life.

With this beautiful lesson in my heart, I conclude my three-month experience serving as a karma yogi. I again felt nourished and accepted, capable of loving others and myself. I still don’t know what happened at the start of the year, but I have much more acceptance of “not knowing.” I can trust the universe again, knowing that it will guide me to the lessons I need to experience. I am regaining the confidence to teach from the heart, sharing my experiences of mindfulness and the Earth. But mostly, I’m thankful because I have the chance to listen to her, the one who has always been my most trusted teacher. Thank you Hridaya, you have helped me find my way back home.

Louise is an architect, artist, and builder who teaches natural building and mindfulness. If you would like more information or inspiration about building with earth, visit her website. She welcomes inquiries about your dream earth project and/or helping to teach courses worldwide.

If you feel inspired by Louise’s account, consider joining the Hridaya Karma Yoga Program.

walking into the unknown

Walking into the Unknown

A Taste of the Void

By Beata Kucienska

At first, walking into the unknown was about letting go the external branches: the love relationship, the job, and the project of buying my own apartment. Then, it felt like walking on water… or floating in the clouds. Who am I without all this? A dance between an intoxicating freedom and a freezing fear… the newly discovered beauty leaving my eyes wide open and the loneliness of a tiny planet lost in the infinite sky.

Who am I when there is so little left of my life? Am I still alive? Am I real or am I dreaming?

I served myself a meal made of the void. It had a bittersweet taste. It hurt… sometimes softly and tenderly; at other times, the pain entered my bones and shook my whole being.

Meditation opened my eyes. I could see the clouds, the plants, the animals in a way I had never seen them before. I watched the same tree for hours, for days, for months… and it was always new.

But the pain was there. And the question “How to live in this void?” hurt me from inside. How to live without plans, ambitions… without the future?

The only answer I received was: trust. Trust in the Heart. This path is about walking into the Unknown. Taking steps in the air. Surrendering to not knowing…

Oh, how difficult it was for my scientific mind! There were moments when the need to have something solid for my shaky feet was a drug addict’s craving. I complained:

 Too much void, dear Heart. Do you know the word “moderation”? What is it all about? Where are you guiding me? Do you want me to lose my mind?

The Heart didn’t discuss. It opened a magical window to the Unknown. And I couldn’t even see clearly what was on the other side. I fell in Love with the Mystery. I felt so much and understood so little.

This love story goes on. A lover without a face seduces me in a wordless language. When it hurts, he embraces me with invisible arms. Sometimes he sings inside me. And this song feels as if he were trying to tell me something:

-I will be with you… always, always. I will guide you through life. I will guide you through death. Take my hand. Trust me. There is nothing to fear.
-How can I trust you? I can’t see you. I don’t know you. You are so irrational!
-You know my taste, you know my smell, you know my voice. I have always been with you.
-I am so scared and I feel so lonely.
-I am here. IN YOU. Listen…

I breathe and I listen. He takes my heart and guides me beyond matter, beyond the senses, beyond daily emotions. I am so light. I fly to the other side of the sky. I perceive the taste of my Beloved… freedom.

-Where are you taking me?
-Into the Unknown. Are you ready?
-I don’t know… I am afraid. How is it there? In the Unknown?

He laughs inside me. I breathe and my wings grow stronger. I keep flying… following the fragrance of my Beloved. Sometimes the never-ending sky feels so lonely. Where am I going? I don’t know. I dive into the void. I follow the echo of the silent note of his voice… the deepest vibration of my heart. It is all I have… and it is enough. He knows it. He knows that I would exchange the world for the slightest touch… the most silent whisper… a bite of the shadow of his Beauty.

Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher who recently completed the 49-Day Prathyabhijna Retreat. You can read her reflections on that experience here.

Tantra and Mandalas

By Laura Samper

Tantra and Mandalas

When I look at the stars, I wonder how all this is possible. What is this incredible and mysterious force that propels Earth through the dark cosmos? What is this bright light sparkling in the middle of the deep black sea? I use to go to the beach and sit in silence to watch the sky during the hottest nights.

I would choose a quarter of the sky and stare at it, hoping to catch a glimpse of a shooting star, like everyone else. I was told that if I saw one I could actually wish for something special and, magically, this thing would come to me without effort.

Is this how the Universe works?

*

Planets, stars, eclipses, and other celestial phenomena have always triggered me. Full moons are especially intense. Sometimes I feel like I’m on an emotional roller coaster and other times I feel fully energized. It also gives me the sense of Oneness and connectedness. The circular and elliptical movements of the Cosmos really amaze me.

Like Sufi dancers… They spin in an attempt to imitate the Earth’s rotation so they can connect with God. For them, the first dancer is the Sun and they act as if they were the planets in the Solar System moving around it. This is an ancient, beautiful, and devotional meditation called Sema, practiced since the thirteenth century and created by the beloved poet Rumi.

Sufis have the intuition that the movement of the Earth is no different that the movement of the body.

*

One night, I was at the beach for almost 40 minutes trying to catch a shooting star. I couldn’t see anything else but what was already there. I felt upset. I really wanted to see something special.

My mind was in control.

I was its momentary prisoner and I couldn’t seem to do anything about it.

-So, what were all the meditations and yoga practices for, huh?

(Yes, making peace with your mind is a moment-to-moment job, and yes, I sometimes fail at it).

I tried to close my eyes but I felt this was useless, so I started walking away. I looked up again in another attempt to catch a shooting star. Instead, I saw Venus right in front of me. I walked a few steps to the east without noticing that she was there, brighter than ever.

I felt calmer, somehow.

She suddenly became my meditation. I got lost in her beauty. I was drowning in her sparkling colors. I forgot about the shooting star for a moment.

Her intense light mesmerized me. My breath started to slow down as I began to realize that I didn’t need to wish for anything else but my own tranquility.

*

Venus is indeed a magical goddess. On June 6th, she finished creating a beautiful mandala in the sky. Her movement forms a mysterious shape in the sky in alignment with the Earth. It takes 8 years for her to complete a cycle. And last Monday, she began a new one. What a magical time to be alive!

In Tantra, the Universe is a manifestation of the Divine. As with Sufis, this spiritual path is accompanied by great symbolism, which is known as sacred geometry. It’s not a dance but it’s a visual and drastically reduced image of the Cosmos. In Tantric terms, these shapes are called yantras (which means instrument) or mandalas, the most pictorial versions—just like Venus’s dance.

During Tantric rituals, yantras are used as a means for connecting with the sacred and as an instrument of concentration and visualization.

*

This month, Hridaya Yoga Retreat: Module 2 classes are given in Nitya Hall, where there is a beautiful painting of the Shri-Yantra+.  Since I usually arrive late—okay, not late but just in time—the hall is already organized and I have to place my mat right in front of it. It’s a lovely coincidence, though.

At first, I didn’t know anything about this mysterious figure, but as with Venus in the night sky, it completely hypnotized me. There’s a point in the middle of the triangles that calls my attention no matter what I do. It goes something like this:

  • What are you looking at?
  • I’m just seeing your abstract beauty.
  • Don’t be such a smarty-pants. What do I make you feel?

I just can’t answer. I try to figure the shape out. I count the triangles, the circles and the petals. What for? If I discover that there are 7 or 9 triangles it doesn’t do anything for me, like the shooting star.

*

That point in the middle keeps calling me, though, as if I want to go inside the yantra and get lost in it. Venus made me feel the same way that night at the beach. Both reminded me of coming back to myself, somehow.

I realized, again, that anything I want or need is not outside myself. The human mind forgets this all the time, that’s why it is so important to feel with all our heart. Sufis don’t dance like this because they want to look a certain way, but because they want to feel God within themselves. It’s a beautiful performance, indeed, but it’s not meant as a show.

You don’t get to see the actual mandala that Venus forms in the sky, but you can feel her presence. It’s a particular view on things that gives them life or not. The yantra on its own is a lovely puzzle for the mind, but it doesn’t do much if you don’t try to interpret it beyond thoughts.

I’m learning how to touch the world with my heart. Sometimes I get lost and go after shooting stars when I have the entire galaxy right before my eyes.

+This is a note for all of you lovely spiritual geeks, in case you want to know the exact meaning of this beautiful yantra. This is a fragment taken from the book Tantra, The Path of Ecstasy by Georg Feuerstein, which you can borrow from the school’s library next time you come visit!

By far the best-known yantra is the shri-yantra or shri-cakra, which is a symbolic representation of Shri, one of the many female forms of the Divine. This is the most sacred symbol of the Shri-Vidya tradition, still flourishing in South India and other parts of the subcontinent. This yantra is composed of five equilateral triangles, of progressively larger size, representing the female power (Shakti) aspect of the Divine and four equilateral triangles, also of progressively larger size, representing the male consciousness aspect of Shiva. Most commonly, the Shakti triangles point downward and the shiva triangles point upward. (…)

The forty-three interlaced triangles form a fourteen-corner structure, and the fourteen corners also house one deity each. In fact, each of the triangles is the dwelling place of a deity. The central point (bindu), which is also called the “wheel entirely made of bliss,” represents the great goddess Tripura Sundari herself, to whom the yantra as a whole is dedicated.

The various parts of the shri-yantra are said to correspond to the various parts of the human body. (…) The shri-yantra, which has been found to have a fascinating mathematical structure, is a good indicator of the metaphysical sophistication of the Shri-Vidya tradition, which is the most influential Tantric branch still active today.

Trust is a Spiritual Attitude

By Ava Irani

 

As a woman, I find trust as a daily practice is the most powerful catalyst for transformation, insight, and purification of my limited ego structure. In general, I feel one of the strongest spiritual places a human can step into is the capacity to trust and find a space where we can meet vulnerability with joy.

Trust is deep. To truly trust is to be willingly susceptible. We are all, always, susceptible to what will happen next. In fact, the great human discontent is that we can’t personally control outcomes. Being willingly susceptible is an inner attitude and an approach in the present moment. It is a divine act that is more than a mere letting go, but a deliberate openness to potentiality. Pain, victory, abuse, and/or death are all indeed waiting on the other side of this moment.

Trust is a spiritual attitude. Here we don’t use the word “spiritual” to connote spirits or higher levels of vibrations. Spiritual refers here to the “Self” or the One Witness Consciousness behind all eyes and experiences. What we really are as our transcendent nature. So how does trust relate to spirituality? Trust is an act of affirming that I am not just this experience. I am not just this body that may get hurt. I am not the emotions, lifestyle, or carefully constructed relationships or careers. Trust implies I am in no danger because I am none of these. Trust is a doorway to the higher self—the background of Stillness.

trust-spanda-yoga-school

When we bring in an attitude of trust (which is similar to letting go) we allow ourselves to embrace the spontaneity of the moment. We open to Lakshmi, or the universal energy of abundance, we open to God and the background of love. When we bring trust into our relationships, we give others room to grow and meet us in this realm of spontaneity, openness, and abundance—the Spiritual Heart.

Trust can be hard. Trust is unlimited and challenges our individual limitations. However, it is the beautiful means and the end, so there is no harm done by inviting this energy into our meditation practice as well as our lives and our relationships. Remember, trust is not a means to guarantee results, it is an invitation to move beyond results. It wouldn’t be called trust if the results were guaranteed.

 

Ava is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the founder of Spanda School in Perth, Australia

For the Love of Sangha

sangha spiritual community

By Emma Carruthers

It was the first thing that I noticed when I arrived at the Hridaya Yoga Center in Mazunte five years ago. I have heard similar first impressions from others since then: “Where did all of these beautiful, healthy, shiny people come from?” It seemed that I had just arrived at some kind of sunny utopia from the depths of snowy France. As I settled into the school over the next few days, the community was so welcoming and warm, and I received so many hugs from strangers, that I felt like I had simply come home.

Coming home. We use this metaphor a lot in Hridaya Meditation. Coming Home in the Heart. “Coming Home” is a feeling of comfort, a feeling that you can take off your town clothes and be completely naked, that you can move about at ease with yourself. It is no surprise that all of these people who were cultivating this feeling within were creating this reality around them.

Sangha is a Sanskrit term that means association, assembly or company, but is usually used in reference to a “spiritual community.” It is one of the three jewels of Buddhism – Buddha (enlightenment), Dharma (the teachings) and Sangha (the community). Sangha is a brotherhood and sisterhood of walkers on the path to awakening who come together to support each other’s journey. Sangha becomes like a spiritual family of aunts and uncles, fathers, brothers, mothers and lovers who you can always rely on as you journey forth into the mystery and trials that all spiritual practitioners encounter.

This family provides stability and a framework in which to grow; sharing experiences, difficulties, revelations and joy as all study together and express the teachings beyond hierarchy or laws. The law of Love seems to govern Sangha, and no one is excluded from its embrace. Sangha is there for you when your meditations are going great and going badly; when you write your first non-dual poem and when you are tired from hours of service. Sangha is there for you when you need a warm hug and when you need to be left alone. Sangha understands.

However, this is no mere gathering of friends or buddies who share a common hobby. Sangha will reflect for you the most difficult parts of yourself, and occasionally tell you about them bluntly to your face. These family members are here for one purpose – to provide you a strong support and a mirror for the deconstruction of yourself. They are there to remind you to abandon your egoistic self-cherishing, and to stay on the path when you become distracted by external temptations.

It is said in Buddhism that the survival of the teachings depends on the survival of the Sangha, and Buddhist monasteries and nunneries were created for exactly this purpose. It is often necessary to shelter ourselves from the demands of our busy lives in order to establish ourselves truly in the teachings. When we go to a monastery or join a dedicated spiritual community, we step into a framework that provides the ideal conditions for realizing Reality, surrounding ourselves with others who are doing exactly the same thing.

Sangha has surrounded me with its loving arms so incredibly since my baby was born two months ago. Of course there were cards and presents and emails of love and congratulations from them, but even more, there were many who came to help me out in those crazy-amazing first months when you perform a parenting vigil every night and can’t manage to feed anyone in the house (especially yourself) but the baby during the day. When exhaustion set in, when the house needed to be cleaned, when the baby needed to be cuddled and put to sleep with lulling mantras, Sangha was there.

I have never felt more grateful.

sangha spiritual community

While my eyes may be more tired than usual, and my shoulders are aching from breastfeeding and carrying this little Buddha, I have experienced a joyful peace in these last couple of months that has arisen from the feeling of deep, great support. I feel so lucky to have so many amazing aunts and uncles for little Benzra, so many happy silly faces entertaining him and so many hands to make my work and heart light.

For the love of Sangha, I am eternally grateful.

Emma is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and the co-founder of The Hermitage Practitioner’s Retreat Center at Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Stay in the Present Moment

livingpresentmoment

By Laura Samper G. 

Are you Living in the Present Moment?

These last weeks have been intense for many people. Deep emotions are coming to the surface as well as questions about self-realization, relationships, patterns and so on. I have felt this, and friends and family have expressed having the same experience. This is why I would like to share a lovely bit of wisdom that I randomly discovered at the Hridaya Yoga Center.

Since I’m starting Module 2 this week, I was reviewing the Module 1 books. In the book of evening lectures, I found an inspiring section that reminded me of the simplest fact: be present with yourself in such a way that it resembles the most harmonious dance. Be aware of your own rhythm.

This is one of the most nourishing benefits of living in a spiritual community: you are learning something all the time or, in other words, you are more aware of your learning process.

Library

Living in community, you get to know yourself more with the passing of time. This is relevant since in knowing who you are, you might even come to know the gods and the Universe—as was inscribed by the Delphic Oracle. But you’re also in contact with all kinds of teachings. I must say one of my favorite parts of the Center is the library. I adore books (that’s why I also like to take pictures and upload them, as I did above).

Because the school is a quiet, slow-paced environment, books are treasures here. In the library, you can easily find books about spiritual masters, Sufi poetry (my favorite), yoga, Tantra, meditation, Ayurveda, spirituality, science, and nutrition, as well as other materials like movies and even beautiful Japanese origami paper.

This is a great place to cultivate yourself, as you would do with the flowers of a beautiful garden. Here, I’ve been slowly acknowledging the fact that in living, we are also dancing to the rhythm of the present moment. This short fragment from the Module 1 book can help you find the kind of beat you need to dance to and can serve as a reminder when you miss your step.

The State of Flow

“Your unhappiness ultimately arises not from the circumstances of your life but from the conditioning of your mind.” –Eckhart Tolle

The greatest obstacle to being content and cultivating happiness is the agitation of the mind. When the mind is focused and centered in the present moment, a great energy and efficiency become available to its owner (for me, it’s pure creativity).

You are capable of focusing your total attention upon whatever work or creative endeavor you dedicate yourself to. This is the state of flow, and it is exactly the core of your being, the source of spiritual efficiency.

*

Wouldn’t it be nice to create your own culture (or spiritual habits) and see what happens? I like the fact that this fragment reminds you of the importance of being with yourself first. No matter the circumstances, you can keep your own flow.

And when you do it, you end up dancing to the rhythm that takes you exactly where you need to be: here and now.

Reminding Yourself to Be Here and Now

Some of you have visited our school and some have not. For both, I would like to share a fun trick that I learned during one of my classes. In his youth, French writer Oliver Clerc developed a method to remain conscious while studying the ways for lucid dreaming. He wrote: When I developed my first technique to induce lucid dreams, I wrote a “C” (for Consciousness) on my hand, and every time I would see it I would remind myself to be fully conscious. Why? Because I observed that very often we think we are conscious, during the day, but actually we’re not. We are so involved in what we do, think, or feel, our attention is so focused on one activity, that we forget all the rest: the room where we are, the building, the town, the other people, the time, and so on. So, every time I would look at my “C,” I would take a “breath of consciousness,” and remind myself of the whole context in which I happened to be. (From Lucid Dreaming and the Evolution of Human Consciousness, “Lucidity Letter”)

This trick is very useful way to remember to be present when the mind wanders:

  • Take a pen of whatever color you want—but please make sure it’s not a permanent marker (unless you want it there for at least a few days). 😉
  • On your non-dominant hand, draw a C (for Consciousness) in the area between your thumb and pointer finger.
  • Then, above or beside the C, draw two dots, a semicolon, or whatever your imagination comes up with to make it a bit more fun.

Each time you look at the symbol on your hand, remind yourself to come back to the present moment, regain the awareness of your own flow, breath deeply and start over. You don’t need to go too far to reinvent yourself, you just need to remember the newness available to you in each passing moment.

PresentMoment PresentMoment1 PresentMoment3

Have fun! PresentMoment2

How to Let Go: Discovering the Joy of Farewells

howtoletgo

By Laura Samper G.

Love After Farewell

I don’t have to close my eyes to see you.

When I do, I go back in time and touch your hands, remember the smell of your hair and feel how my little head fit perfectly in your chest when you hugged me.

Your embrace was the safest place on earth. No matter what I did, what I said or what I thought, your heart was my refuge. I was not right or wrong in your presence, I only existed and this was your joy. My heartbeat was your favorite music. I was your treasure.

I used to imagine how it felt living inside your tummy and the things you went through day after day to bring me with you wherever you went. Was I too heavy? I asked with humor. “I was so happy to have you that those were the most beautiful days of my life,” you answered with such grace. And of course, I was really heavy.

I still don’t know the joy of being a mother but I had the privilege to have you as mine.

***

They say you don’t get to choose your family but I think I chose you. I chose the happiness of seeing your smile. I chose your wise words when I was being completely irrational. I chose your sacred touch on my skin when I fell from the swing time after time. I chose your caress at night when I had bad dreams. I chose your delicious breakfasts and the excitement in your eyes when I asked for more. I chose your spontaneous laughter in the middle of a long day.

I chose your advice when my heart was broken. I chose your dedication for creating the most outstanding Halloween costumes: I was an ancient queen, a big strawberry, a beautiful flower and the quickest ninja. I chose you as my guardian when I didn’t want to cross that big bridge over the river. I chose your silence when I wronged you. I chose your strength when our family faced a crisis. I chose your elegance and your refined beauty. I chose you as my nurse, my best friend and my unconditional ally.

I chose the light of your heart, your openness and your innocence. I chose your loyalty and humility. I chose your bed at night when I wanted to hide from the world. I chose our trips to visit your family. I chose your clothes to feel like I was a grown-up. I chose to be part of your world, where God was always present. I chose your trust that whatever might come would be for the good. I chose your example for reflecting my true self. I chose your tears when I ran away once, twice and even three times.

I chose you knowing that you would leave me someday.

Yes, I did choose you as my mother.

***

Your birthday was three days ago. This is the first time I could not call you, send you flowers, squeeze you or take you on a nice trip to the beach. You left 11 months ago, after giving the most admirable fight against cancer I could ever witness. You were such a warrior. Yes. You were the most honorable fighter and I was your perfect companion. And since I can’t reach you, I write you this letter. The celebration of your life is my gift to you.

Now, you’re the one living inside me.

howtoletgoo

The Meaning of Resilience

I’ve never written about this until now, and I must say it’s not easy. Remembering my mom brings a deep sadness and I don’t think these feelings will go away any time soon. However, this has helped me discover a new depth in life.

I’ve known friends who have lost their lovers, their families and even their identities. All of them have something in common: the amazing power of their will. It’s like this great energy was there all along and then suddenly it reveals itself.

I don’t think that you need to go through a very hard time to realize this, though.

What I really found was an amazing strength and a great resilience. From somewhere deep within me, I discovered an intense light pulling me forward. I realized I could actually deal with her absence, and in the process share the experience with others.

Death is inevitable. It’s the only certainty, the only sure thing in life. But, it feels so unknown and is so misunderstood. It showed me a great potential for resilience, a great courage to move on with a new perspective on life.

And this is the best way I could find to pay tribute to my mother, by living the peaceful, fulfilling life she always wanted for me.

I like to think that this is the greatest and most challenging gift. Only through death may you know what life is. It’s a divine reminder to stay present and awake.

Death on the Spiritual Path

During my first Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, I attended the most beautiful lecture on death. It was like having a warm conversation with an old friend.
According to my teacher, the greatest gift when you face a loved one’s death is the fact that you also face your own death. However, especially in Western traditions, death is taboo, a distant subject that is usually avoided.

“Accept what seems unacceptable, because this expresses total surrender,” my teacher continued. “In that intimate feeling, you’re completely present.”

I also remember that when I was younger my father used to tell me, “You should know that death is the only certain thing in our lives.” Live life to the fullest without being scared or fearful, but live in such a way that you experience detachment in all your endeavors.

I’ve realized that in feeling the pain, I let go of suffering. The more I allow myself to feel her absence, the more I feel her love as well.

So, How Do We Let Go?

Just by feeling each emotion, each memory and actually enjoying your tears. Yes, I said enjoy. There’s no need to give room to attachment, especially if the person you love left his or her body. Every time I catch myself longing for my mom to be here with me I feel bad as If I was making her stay with me instead of rejoicing because she’s now at peace.

Letting go means to be thankful. It means to be intense, to allow your emotions take over and then,  just rest. I try to give myself space and time when I need to feel whatever pops up. Sometimes it is anger, other times it is grief and sometimes it is infinite gratitude. I allow myself the tears, the pain and the laughter, they are also part of this experience. And this is my advice to you: when you feel the discomfort coming welcome it with open arms. Receive it as you would when your best friends are coming to visit. If you need to get out of a taxi and walk, do it. If you need to stop working, leave it. If you need to go solo for the weekend, give yourself that gift.  You’ll see how all the negativity you thought you were experiencing was just a glimpse of the glorious light beyond the effort.

And next time, when you feel like you can’t let go of a silly fight, a breakup, a job, your anger or anything you feel you are holding on to, remember to do this:

Choose one hand, left, right, it doesn’t matter.  Pick a piece of paper, a stone, a pen, whatever you have around. Now, clench your fist as hard as you can. Ready?

Open your hand in one movement.

Just like that. You let go.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead says:

All things are impermanent, and all things die. You know this. It was only natural that your mother died when she did; the older generation is expected to die first. She was elderly and unwell, and will not resent having had to leave her body. And because you can help her now by sponsoring practices and doing good actions in her name, she will be happy and relieved. So please do not be sad.

***

I don’t have to close my eyes to see you.

I am present with your love.

I can feel you now in every wave of the ocean, in every movement of the wind. I see you in the shiny stare of strangers, I hear you in the music of crickets at night and I watch you in the dance of birds when sunrise comes. You are all the colors in every flower and every leaf. You are in the infinite sand on all coasts. You became part of the rain and the dark skies. You are also made of joy and sadness. You are the palm trees that surround my home. You are in my eyes when I see the beautiful stars at night. You are also one of the planets.

And when I close my eyes, I sense you in the fire of my heart and in the mysterious ways of my breath.

You are the stillness of this silence.

Our love is alive, stronger and more vivid than ever.

You live inside me.

The Music of the Heart

the music of the heart hridaya

Learn to Play the Music of the Heart by Learning to Meditate

By Will Allen

I meet many people who are interested in meditation but feel like they would not be good at it. They say things like “my mind is so crazy” or “my mind is way too active.” To me, this is like saying “I wouldn’t be good at playing the guitar because I don’t know how to play the guitar.” Yes, meditation is something that you learn; it can feel difficult at first.

During my teacher training course with Sahajananda, we were very lucky to have a violinist next door. We would hear him play beautiful music hour after hour, day after day. Sahaja once said something to the effect of learning to meditate is like learning to play a musical instrument. This has definitely been my experience.

When learning a musical instrument, we don’t start out playing beautiful music. It isn’t that we just sit and meditate and our mind becomes clear, we are at peace, and all of our problems are solved. Usually, we sit, and we find out that our mind is so much more active, chaotic, and out of control than we had ever realized. And, we begin to understand why we have felt so anxious or unsettled, why it is hard for us to be alone with ourselves, why we are always chasing happiness in some form or another. The mind, always moving, is always looking for something. This is how it starts for most of us.

Just like when we begin learning an instrument, we don’t start out playing beautiful music. We start with clumsy fingers, awkward sounds, and the understanding that it will take some time to learn to play well. I am writing this to say it is worth it to spend this time learning to play the instrument of the mind, learning to meditate. Learning to meditate transforms the mind and our entire experience of life.

And, to be honest and more exact, learning to meditate isn’t just about learning to work with the mind. Of course, we see that our mind is noisy, but it isn’t just about learning to quiet the mind. This is really just a side effect. Learning to meditate is not really about learning to do any internal activity. It is more about learning to listen, to listen to the music of the heart. And this is the beauty of meditation. This is when it stops being a chore, trying to achieve a quiet, peaceful mind. This is when we start to see the beauty of the heart, hear the beauty of the heart. This is when we begin to open to our own inner beauty, a beauty that isn’t about our personality, our strengths and weaknesses, our successes and failures, our virtuous traits and the traits we are ashamed of. All of this falls away when we begin to listen to this music of the heart.

We hear a silent longing in the heart, and go deeper and deeper. Thoughts or no thoughts, it isn’t so important anymore. Our pain and sorrow, our hopes and dreams, all begin to dissolve and become irrelevant. We are starting to smell the fragrance of eternity, to hear the echoes of infinity. And this is the place where deep transformation at the personal level takes place. As if each time we dip into infinity, into the eternity of our being, our personality feels it and becomes a little less scared.

We start with clumsy fingers making awkward sounds. But with patience and dedication, we learn, and it becomes effortless. It feels as though the beautiful music has always been there and we are not the ones making it. The beauty of the heart devours our entire world and all that is left is that beauty.

Will is a Hridaya Yoga teacher living in California.

Spiritual Healing Through Yoga

SPIRITUAL-HEALING post

By Laura Samper G.

Have You Ever Tried Spiritual Healing?

Many meditation practitioners and people looking for alternatives to modern medicine are interested in the ancient practice of shamanism.  The term shaman comes from Siberia and means “the one who knows” (from the verb sha, “to know”). Shamanism is found in Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador), among hunter-gatherer societies in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and in some prehistoric cultures in Europe.

A shaman is someone who sees beyond their limits and does not identify with the personal “I.” They direct their inner worlds and their freedom lies in their detachment from dogma. So, shamans are able to heal themselves and others by knowing their own depth and richness.

Are we capable of performing actual healing on ourselves? Are we healers and shamans without realizing it?

spiritualhealing

As Above, So Below. As Within, So Without

Usually, when tensions, worries and stresses become chronic, they manifest as illness in the physical body. We externalize countless emotional tensions, conflicts and mental doubts. So, it is a matter of a mental, not physical attitude.

Psychological pressures and constant worries have unfortunate consequences on our energetic structures. We may suffer from panic attacks, pain, and moments of depression as if we were mentally bungee jumping. Sometimes, these episodes can go on for weeks without us quite noticing.

Sometimes, we just feel tired when we shouldn’t.

We are on autopilot. Our activities, relationships and place in the world start to overwhelm us. So, we withdraw into the desire to get rid of this feeling and we start making the wrong decisions. This is why we get stuck in unhealthy interactions, in toxic routines, and other off behaviors.

I started to practice yoga on a daily basis for this very reason. I wanted to heal and go deeper into myself and discover the unknown abilities hidden beneath rusty beliefs.

The Case of Back Pain

Last March, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention informed doctors that they should stop prescribing opioids for chronic pain and, instead, evaluate other, less invasive alternatives—especially for chronic back pain. Moreover, a recent experiment reported that 43.6% of people who participated in a mindfulness training course that included meditation and yoga practices presented a meaningful reduction in back pain 26 weeks later.

Referring to back pain, author Daniel Cherking, a senior investigator at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington said that, “The biggest revolution has been the understanding that it’s not just a physical problem with physical solutions. It’s a bio-physiological problem.”

According to the New York Times, 6.5 million Americans currently suffer from chronic lower back pain. However, most of them don’t have access to alternative treatments such as therapeutic meditation because they are not included in most insurance plans. (Hint: it’s a good option just to try these techniques at home.)

spiritualhealing1

Depression

We don’t have many options to run away from pharmaceuticals, either. When talking about mental disorders, psychiatric treatments are recommended. But why do we need to take pills? I think this is extreme when we are facing the real issues of being human. But this is just my opinion. I think that the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry works in very few specific cases.

There are many studies about the effects of meditation on the body and the emotions. Transcendental Meditation (TM), for example, is one of the more researched meditation techniques. Over 200 published scientific studies show that this technique reduces stress, boosts learning ability and creativity, and improves brain function.

Herbert Benson, M.D. from Harvard Medical School conducted extensive studies on TM and observed that the electroencephalograph (EEG) showed increased alpha wave activity, indicating greater tranquility of mind. His team also observed a decrease in heartbeat and a 20% decrease in oxygen consumption. There was also a marked increase in skin resistance.

Vipassana meditation is a technique that emerged in India 2500 years ago and has been studied at Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These studies suggest that meditation can actually alter the structure of our brains (this is an expression in the physical body of what Patanjali called nirodha parinama).

The Tibetan, Buddhist and Zen traditions all teach mindfulness techniques. In a recent study on the benefits of meditation, researchers found meditation to be as effective a treatment for depression, pain and anxiety as medication. This study, in particular, is remarkable because it analyzed data from 18,000 earlier papers on the topic. The most interesting fact revealed by this study was that, in the United States, the average effect of antidepressants is the same as for meditation. Are we onto something here?

Emotional Healing on the Mat

There are many ways to support healing on both the mental and physical levels that don’t involve using pills. I think it’s good to keep unveiling other paths beside those we have been taught by tradition and education.

After most of my hatha yoga practices, I find myself trying to answer this question: How can I heal myself without an outside influence? How can I feel better without depending on others?

spanda

The Alchemy of the Body

In the practice of hatha yoga, ancient wisdom and asanas go hand in hand. Physical movement should be performed with the inner spiritual attitudes recommended in the traditional texts of Tantra and Shaivism such as Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Spanda Karika and Shiva Sutra.

According to these teachings, the practice of yoga is oriented towards gaining intimate inner knowledge of the physical body, of its nature. A single practice may help us create the conditions for relaxation and for opening up to realize the alchemy of the body itself.

During the practice, we should experience happiness rather than effort and strain. Every pose should be an inner massage, a nice place to rest, meditate and observe.

Tip: Yes, when we think we are making a funny face during class, we are. When we laugh at it, our entire face—in fact, our entire body—will just relax.

The point is that we have an awesome, smart and hyper-connected body that can actually be the channel for the most powerful energies of life. We are life itself, but we sometimes forget about our true nature. How can we blame ourselves? There are so many screens to look at!

In my learning process as a beginner in hatha yoga, I feel like I’m a channel through which energy flows. The point is to learn how to dance with this inner fire, which is always latent and silent in our hearts. This is known as sama rasa in the Siddha Yoga tradition, a concept that inspires the practice of Hridaya Yoga and means balancing or “even essence.” This is the condition in which the physical body expresses, at each level, our divine perfection—our true nature.

10 Proven Ways that Yoga is Medicine

How can we actually heal ourselves during our personal yoga practice? Here is a quick guide with 10 tips to try this different type of medicine and incorporate meditation in the asana practice:

  1. Openness is the keyword. To experience a state of the transfiguration of the body, which means transforming the mind (and body) as you become free of your attachments to it, it’s important to let go of the idea of a strictly material, solid, heavy body subject to inertia, and keep it profoundly relaxed. See yourself from above.
  2. Detach from the physical body. You are aware that you are more than this body so you don’t identify yourself with it, it doesn’t represent who you really are.
  3. Breathe deeply as if you were lighting a fire inside your chest. With each inhalation, become aware of the fire and with each exhalation ignite it more and more.
  4. You can begin to practice nirmana kaya (also called the “original body” or “natural body”), which is like the physical body when you wake up and open the eyes with freshness and novelty.
  5. Let your mind come down to the heart, feeling the intimacy of coming back home, the connection to a deeper dimension of your being.
  6. Start each asana with awareness, moving slowly, coming to a comfortable, steady position and finding the balance between effort and relaxation. Remember that there’s nothing to achieve, you are just witnessing.
  7. After gradually coming into the asana, you may start to practice kaya sthairyam, the immobility of the body, remembering that the stillness of the body induces the stillness of the mind.
  8. Acknowledge the universal essence of the energies running through your body. That tingling that starts at the tip of your fingers and toes is pure electricity! It is the dynamism of the life force or samsara.
  9. If the posture causes inherent tension, try to accept that tension with detachment. Relax even in the most challenging moments and become an instrument of all the divine qualities that manifest through you: love, compassion, creativity, courage and joy.
  10. For better results, whenever possible try to perform the asanas with your eyes closed.

Nothing in the practice should be rigidly planned. It is more of a heartfelt, creative act, a joyful endeavor, a true celebration of life. Whenever we feel tension, we can breathe in deeply and direct the oxygen to the specific area of contraction, releasing strain by watching—not imagining—and revealing an ever-deeper state of relaxation.

Asanas reflect our personality. Our transformation begins with the very attitude we have when we start a posture. If we infuse elegance, harmony, surrender and refinement into the practice, yoga becomes a way of generating such qualities in our whole life. This is the alchemy of the body: the more we inhabit it, the more we can allow the current of life to run through us, removing blockages. Gradually, a love affair starts to grow between who we really are (without any masks, traumas or fears) and the world around us. We are no longer in the prison of dogma.
 
Stop Being So Religious
What
Do sad people have in
Common?
It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past
And often go there
And do a strange wail and
Worship.
What is the beginning of
happiness?
It is to stop being
So religious
Like That.

-Hafiz

the truth behind the curtain

The Truth Behind the Curtain: A 49-Day Retreat Experience

the truth behind the curtain

By Beata Kucienska

 

Come. This is your journey into the Heart. The most important one you can ever make. You will travel behind the masks that you have built during your whole life. You will be walking deeper and deeper into yourself. You will cross the darkness; you will go through fear and pain. Little by little, the veils will fall from your eyes.

I will talk to you softly, whispering from beyond the border of words. I will be calling you and seducing you. You will be falling in Love and this longing will become stronger than your fear. You will face what has been terrifying you your whole life. You will look into the eyes of the monsters hiding in the dark. You will discover what courage is. I wilI break your chains.

Feel your fear. Feel how much you are scared of not being worthy of love. It is only this: the terrifying story that the voice has always been telling you. The ancient monster devouring the human heart. The source of every pain, every contraction. You were trained to believe in your own darkness. You are so scared to see something too ugly, too overwhelming. You have been convinced that there is something so dark hiding in you, so horrible that nobody can accept it.

You are scared of what you can find behind the curtain. Every rejection you experienced was a new brick in the castle of your fear. Just stop and look. It is there: a terrifying construction of your mind. Witness your pain. Love your sorrow. This is the adventure of being human. This fear is your path, it contains a hidden treasure. It will show you your courage. It will reveal your beauty.

One breath at a time. Feel your heart deeply, deeply. I am guiding you into the Wonderland. You start to see behind the skin of things. The masks are falling, revealing the essence. You perceive the heart of every flower, every tree, every wave. This is what you were afraid to see. This is what was waiting behind the curtain.

Every leaf contains an unspoken mystery; every bird carries you to Infinity. The sky is not the sky anymore, the ocean is not the ocean. The intuition of what you can be, of what you are… The intuition of what is there, waiting for humanity. The treasure hidden behind the curtain… The gratitude that breaks your heart. You are disappearing. A tiny bird with transparent wings is waking in your chest. Too fragile to be perceived by the senses… Never before have you felt anything so delicate. You cannot believe it… Can it be me?

Are you scared of the darkness? Are you scared of the pain? Are you scared of Beauty? Every mask that falls takes you behind the world of shadows. One more step into the Mystery. You are expanding into the darkness and the light at the same time. The border between life and death disappears. It is so wonderful that you don’t dare to breathe.

One more breath. One more memory. One more step inside. The ocean, covered with tiny diamonds, is hurting your eyes with its beauty. Your heart breaks… Your heart is expanding. The silent voice, more powerful than anything you have heard before, whispers: “Come, my Love. This is the way. I am waiting…”

Beata is a Hridaya Yoga teacher

Benefits of Meditation: A Change in Perspective

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By Laura Samper G.

Benefits of Meditation: A Change in Perspective

Many of us have been slowly acknowledging with much awe that relationships are actually not tricky, dramatic, or even predictable. Instead, they are spontaneous, free, and powerful. For some, this is an obvious fact. But, for most of us, this is still a question to answer with awareness: What is love? Just take a look around and you’ll see videos, movies, books, shows, ads, podcasts, webinars, articles (like this one, of course), and all kinds of materials regarding love and relationships.

We are obsessed with this type of information.

The fact is that this subject, as something apart from all these ideas (as well as others like sex and death), is actually not relevant to our education—at least it wasn’t in mine. We are accustomed to saying: if this is not X then it is Y, but it is something. We enjoy putting labels on things because it helps us to create security, the illusion that we have everything figured out.

But what are we actually looking for?

Benefits of meditation2

Meditation As a Mirror

During my first spiritual retreat, I had plenty of time to think (and think a bit more, just in case), although the actual purpose is to be watchful of your thoughts. Meditation is not about running away from your mind. It is about meeting yourself, as you never have before, and this includes inquiring about your definition of love.

As the meditations went on, I remembered exact details about my relationships with ex-partners, and even people from my teenage years pop up. At night, I also dreamed about this as if my mind were actually in a self-discovery process, just observing. I found out later that some of the other participants also had similar experiences.

It felt like I could see through a magnifying glass—the patterns and habits, the typical reactions, the current triggers, the beliefs, and the sabotage all became obvious. But at the same time, the willingness, openness, tenderness, and all that I felt was good and enhancing.

Being Tuned-In

Meditation gives you clarity and with it, a rejuvenated passion for your own life. It helps you regain the energy to explore your own being with as much enthusiasm as if you were with your lover for the first time.

Meditation guides you to fall back in love with who you are.

One of the benefits of participating in a silent retreat or practicing on a daily basis— which I will be discussing more in upcoming posts—is getting in touch with areas of your being that you didn’t know about.

By this, I mean a change of perspective, the discovery of a refreshed view of reality and yourself, a shift in how you approach emotions, a readjustment of your attention. It does not mean that during a retreat you are going to be brainwashed by someone in particular, but yes, you are going to be brainwashed by your own self. This is the first benefit.

You start to question everything, inwardly. If this is not already your favorite practice —ahem, for me it is, as you can see—then it might become one because this curiosity may lead you to the exact things you’ve been looking for, as was my experience.

I had to stop and meditate on my love life for three reasons: a recent breakup, a discomfort about past relationships, and the fact that I was about to begin a brand new chapter in my journey (I left the city life and exchanged it for the beautiful Pacific Coast).

My mind and my whole self were getting more and more in tune with what was coming after all the questioning and remembering. Was I going to be able to face all this or would I just run away?

benefitsofmeditation

Is This Love?

All my references—I must admit without shame—came from movies, telenovelas (very popular in Latin America), my parents’ marriage, from my education at the Franciscan Catholic School, and literature. By the time I was a 19-year-old college student, I had already read the complete works of Shakespeare—so you can imagine one or two things about my inclinations on this theme (indeed, all drama). I surely had some ideas about love, which were beautiful because they were somebody else’s experience but not because they were the actual truth.

Moreover, I thought I knew what love was because I possessed this unbelievable amount of information about it.

Expansion of the Heart

During my hatha yoga practice, things got physical. I could feel a strong vibration going straight to the chest area. I felt a sudden connection between these sensations and what I’ve been questioning in my meditations. I was on to something…

I found that it’s okay to recognize that sometimes we don’t know everything. It’s okay to allow ourselves to feel vulnerable and lost, and even acknowledge the presence of a broken heart (I did). This means that we are starting to take care of ourselves instead of our thoughts.

It says that we are beginning to open up our hearts, and only with an open heart can we understand what love is. Only through the dark we may know the light. So, having some contrast is always useful.

At least, I felt this way. I’m only a beginner and I could taste the bliss of what meditation teaches me every time I do it. I have glimpses of my true nature, of true love. But all I can tell you about this stillness is that it is ineffable.

I can let you know the ways and share my process with you so you see that actual practice can give you results in many aspects of your life. For example, after listening to how my chest physically cracks open each time that I do yoga, I decided to set the intention in every practice and every meditation to do exactly that, open up my heart a bit more. Slowly, slowly…

But, most important, because when we share our experience and we question our ways, our habits, and especially our beliefs, we are expanding our awareness and growing in perception, and in doing so, we are helping others to do the same. We inspire those around us by living our own truth.

In my case, I was faced with issues that I needed to start resolving (it requires time and dedication to go along with the process), but I took the first step. I’m not saying that I’ve got everything figured out, but I’m on my way. Life is all about learning.

Benefits of meditation 3

The Names of Love

During the retreat, as I was more and more aware of my emotions and thoughts, my mind followed like a nice pet. When feelings of anger or resentment came in, I could just recognize them and then let them go. My time alone was really paying off.

This new flow of things was taking me by surprise as everything around me started to become a giant net of connections and alignments.

On the eighth day of the retreat, we had a lecture on love given by Sahajananda, for which I was feeling pretty much ready. These are some things that I learned that night about relationships and love that I would like to share with you:

  • There are three dimensions of love: personal love or romantic love (as I explained in the first part of this post), universal love as the energy around us and love as what we are (Stillness).
  • Love is an intuition of the sense of Oneness, an intuition of the ultimate, of your true nature: to love yourself is to know yourself.
  • Even in personal love, which is limited, if it’s wisely directed it can lead us towards pure love. (Say what? Quick advice: don’t bring criticism to your relationships; instead bring warmth and the sense of companionship. When in trouble, speak from your heart and share through conscious communication).
  • Since we tend to objectify others and ourselves through labels and names, this prevents us from relating in complete freedom. (Drama alert! We love from who we are and not from who we want the other person to become).
  • These qualities create a need to grasp and attachment comes in. Be watchful of your motivations regarding your relationships. Meditate on what you are giving to yourself before thinking about giving that to others.
  • Honor and recreate the moments that bring you and your partner together. When there is no you or me, love blossoms.

There is so much to say about love that is better just to live it (or write about it, wink).

After the talk, I could acknowledge the fact that most of the disturbances that I was feeling about my love life were caused by a lack of observation. One of the benefits of meditation is that it gives you the calm you need to walk in other people’s shoes and not judge, to release feelings of guilt and shame and to see others as teachers instead of objects that satisfy your needs.

When you stop looking for what you want outside of yourself, you meet yourself in freshness and novelty. This feeling of newness can help you realize what love is.

And let me tell you something more. A change in perspective is only possible when you accept completely who you are, with mistakes and victories. Since I came to terms with my past, I’ve had the chance to let go of expectations and negativity. I set others and myself free. This freedom is one of the best gifts you can offer to the world. Everything else will just follow this rhythm.

The intellectual is always showing off;
the lover is always getting lost.
The intellectual runs away, afraid of drowning;
the whole business of love is to drown in the sea.
Intellectuals plan their repose;
lovers are ashamed to rest.
The lover is always alone, even surrounded with people;
like water and oil, he remains apart.
The man who goes to the trouble
of giving advice to a lover
gets nothing. He’s mocked by passion.
Love is like musk. It attracts attention.
Love is a tree, and lovers are its shade.

-Rumi, The Intellectual

Click Rumi for more information about the Sufi poet.

hridaya silent meditation retreat for beginners 6

10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat For Beginners

hridaya meditation retreat for beginners

by Laura Samper G.

Rumi

Listen, O drop, give yourself up without regret,
and in exchange gain the Ocean.
Listen, O drop, bestow upon yourself this honor,
and in the arms of the Sea be secure.
Who indeed should be so fortunate?
An ocean wooing a drop!
In God’s name, in God’s name, sell and buy at once!
Give a drop, and take this Sea full of pearls.

RumiO Drop

A Meditation Retreat for Beginners is a Roller Coaster…

Just be present. It seems like an obvious statement, where else can I be? You could be thinking about your past relationship and why he or she left, or why you sabotaged the whole thing. Maybe you are thinking about your next step in life, and what are you going to do when you quit your job and take that leap of faith that you fantasize about. Perhaps you wonder about the things you are missing and how you are not enough, or maybe how others are not good enough for you. Is it about who is posting what on Instagram? Maybe you just remembered you did not feed the cat this morning. So yes, you could be anywhere but here.

A week before I came to the 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat, I decided that going to an amusement park for some roller coaster action would be a good idea. However, vertigo comes quickly for me and things can go from fun to painful in just seconds. It’s not the height that I’m afraid of, but the free fall. I’m good at planes and actually enjoy every moment when taking off and landing. This time, I thought, why not? I’m about to be silent for ten days straight, so having a good screaming session could be as liberating. The coaster, named “Superman,” was my first and only one. It was a typical ride with long curves and deep falls. Even though I closed my eyes most of the time, I could feel everything inside my chest, especially when we were slowly going up for a sudden and unexpected 45-degree fall. The moments of being at the edge of falling felt like a deep void that invaded my entire core with absolute silence. I was terrified but also excited.

hridaya silent meditation retreat for beginners

I screamed when I could and felt relieved at the end. Sure, I was not going to put myself in that kind of situation again, but I realized that maybe it was not vertigo but my own thoughts that did not allow me to just go with it entirely. I mean, the line was full of kids from 8 to 15 years old telling me that this was easy and that I should just do it. Besides, my friends keep complaining about my overthinking skills. But I said no! I am about to turn 30 and there are more serious things that I need to do (or so I thought).

Morning Meditation (for Overthinkers)

I arrived the Sunday before the retreat began. I did not have any expectations and did not want to look the schedule so my mind would be a bit freer (Me 1 – Overthinking 0). I knew that I would be meditating a lot and doing some hatha yoga, plus I’d be just beside the sea on the Pacific Coast of Mexico giving myself some quality time, whatever that meant. But, with my first two-hour morning meditation on Monday, all my castles in the sky disappeared.

What am I doing here? Said overthinking voice. This is going to be terrible, I can barely sit up straight… I’ve been meditating when I allow myself to find the time but nothing very committed, I confess. All my spirituality swirled around reading Jiddu Krishnamurti (highly recommended tough love), attending a Sufi group in Mexico City (a story for another day), and trying to be present (when I remembered to). But all in all, this was purely intellectual material, even though I was sure I was being the most spiritual person that I knew. I would soon realize that actual seeking happens in the present tense.

hridaya silent meditation retreat for beginners 2

I was yearning for silence, for peace of mind, for solitude. But it was not going to happen unless I was fully there. During the retreat, I learned about Ramana Maharshi’s method of self-discovery through inquiry, which means asking yourself “Who am I?” in a conscious way. You think you know who you are or what you are supposed to do mostly in this way: get a college degree, get married, have kids and die. Or probably, just grow, work, and die. But this is just a tale. So, when you do Self-enquiry (asking “Who am I?”), the first answer is usually: man/woman, young/old, cool/lame, hot/ugly and so on. Yes, but what about the rest of you, the one behind all of this? I kept asking myself…

With Ramana’s method, I started to feel a bit more connected to something that resembled peace. But this was not because Ramana said it and then I was listening to it in my teachers’ words and then I just repeated. It was because I allowed myself to actually feel the question in my heart, letting the sensation of vertigo take over. I knew that the answer was not coming from a beautiful angel with a golden envelope. It was not either an answer coming from my head either since that “place” seemed like an ongoing party of loudness and unstoppable thoughts… Surrender slowly, I said to myself. Intuitively, I began to send all the energy from head to heart, and my breath fluidly followed the course of this electric feeling.

Hello, Ego!

When someone asks me about the retreat, I say: It was challenging but beautiful at the same time. You are surrounded by people, but you can’t talk to them or even look at them. You are completely on your own, going inside your cave. You are not supposed to read or listen to music (both tough ones since I enjoy being a loner), and of course, no smartphones or other technology allowed.

Days passed with this rhythm of not knowing what the meditation could bring. But, more and more, I was sensing how my own mind, my thoughts were in charge of everything and I got really surprised… I have a huuuge ego! I discovered with much humility and love, like a child finding a treasure in the backyard. Something shifted, I soon realized. A couple of days after the retreat was over I started to feel different. I spoke to my father on the phone about his health, my family and our current state when he suddenly interrupted me and said: I feel you’re serene, I can tell it in your voice and your energy. I feel you’re in a good place inside.

hridaya silent meditation retreat for beginners 6

He was right. I could have a taste of what it feels like to be free from my own mind. And what does that mean? For me, it’s about not reacting. I am used to making up stories about what’s going on and what will happen in the future. All drama. So, I usually react before giving myself some time to let go of the emotion or thought. Life keeps going and things happen at every moment, but I don’t feel the urge to react. Rather, my body is the one allowing me to respond by taking its time. And I’m grateful for that.

On the afternoon of day six, in a continuous three-hour meditation, I felt the same void as in my roller coaster experience. I thought my heart would stop, and suddenly tears started to flow in a blissful moment that could have lasted a minute or an entire hour. Like that day in the amusement park, I just couldn’t scream. My mind was tired of fighting the silence (finally!). I felt my heart moving in some way, as if it were opening up in the middle of that darkness, where no images or words were possible.

I know now that there is a long road still ahead and there is much to do (or not). I’ll keep reading Krishnamurti, now with a little bit more awareness. Mostly, though, I will keep going with my meditation practice. Below, I share a fragment of Krishnamurti’s teachings. I hope they inspire you enough to surrender to the sensation of vertigo with all your being.

J. Krishnamurti

When you turn your head from horizon to horizon your eyes see a vast space in which all the things of the earth and of the sky appear. But this space is always limited where the earth meets the sky. The space in the mind is so small. In this little space all our activities seem to take place: the daily living and the hidden struggles with contradictory desires and motives. In this little space the mind seeks freedom, and so it is always a prisoner of itself. Meditation is the ending of this little space. (…) The mind can never be silent within itself; it is silent only within the vast space which thought cannot touch. Out of this silence there is action which is not of thought. Meditation is this silence.*

J. KrishnamurtiMeditations

*From J. Krishnamurti, Meditations, 1969. You can read more here.

do you fully feel?

Do You Fully Feel?

do you fully feel?

by Ava Irani

To Fully Feel

There are many ways a woman fully feels.

During or after lovemaking, my partner always used to ask me: “What are you feeling? What does that feel like, when you are having such a huge release?” For every woman it must feel different, because for me, every occasion feels different. Here, with my words, let’s engage in a left-brained description of what a deep energetic release feels like. In turn, fertilizing the soil of our minds for a richer, right-brained, experiential understanding of this deeply feminine experience.

In lovemaking, if the energy peaks in a rattling kind of way, and something stirs deep in the fabric of the feminine subconscious, I will feel that stir. Like a stranger scratching on top of a bandage covering a wound. That wound could be a simple cut the body hasn’t quite healed yet, or it could be like a festering, hideous wound, bandage slapped over, in a disgusted attempt to hide it. Either way, the energy has moved towards this wound, starting to probe the bandage. To be clear, these are all stirrings in the subconscious (so that means no words, no labels, no understandings, no frameworks, just feelings and sensations) all emanating from the energy probing the bandage.

Surrender and Vulnerability

to fully feel hridayaNow something else happens, the bandage gets ripped off, Shwwwwit!!!! And fresh air, sunlight, and energy rush to the wound for the first time… AHHHH! If a kind reiki hand rushes to compassionately compress the wound, in the form of a tight hug from my lover, we can move even deeper. I’m safe. I’m totally embraced by the energy of presence and its safety. I’m totally shattered, passing through deeper levels of psychological threat, detaching and releasing identifications with old, incoherent parts of self. Pure vulnerability, and I’m shattered. However, this is not the effect of a release, this is the necessary condition required for release. Only when the feminine can drop into vulnerability and completely surrender to the hands of the present moment, for the depths of the subconscious to unravel, can she fully feel. To fully feel is a deep transformation and expansion of human consciousness.

It’s Not Personal

But how does it feel to fully feel? For me, in an agonizing release in lovemaking, pure suffering reveals itself as an energy. It starts to flow through and out of my physical, trembling body, and out of my physical, sobbing face. Pure suffering has no cause, no personality, no story or attributes. So it actually doesn’t feel “bad.” It feels like suffering, but it is not attached to me. It’s a feeling, not a thought. I have no external cause to blame, no ideas. The mind is not required or even relevant until much after, if at all. The energy of pure suffering, which is part of the collective subconscious mind, is witnessed and experienced. Perhaps we can say it has particular flavors of sadness, hate, frustration, despair, loneliness, anger, etc. But how beautiful that it is not related to me as a personality, just a part of me as the mother of all energy.

To me, to fully feel is an art form. To fully experience a universal energy* requires a proficiency in the art of surrender from the mind and ego in order to sink into the expanses of the feminine, which is pure energy Herself.

to fully feel presence

To Fully Feel Means Being Present

When we fully feel, we are full, real, present, universal, deeply connected. There is no room for good and bad, craving or aversion, desire or dissatisfaction. We are real. We taste existence without the filters of the mind. The Reality. And we do beautiful work to open up a portal to the resurgence of the yin, feminine principle on the planet. The missing piece to a blissful balanced life. This phenomenon is not limited to females. This is simply a right-brain experience. Check out the TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist that had a stroke, fully knocking out her left brain (the rational, language half of the brain) and leaving her with a purely right-brained experience of oneness.

As humans alive right now, I believe it is our birthright and absolute duty to balance our sensitivity and presence to the energy that is our entire manifested experience. Yoga, meditation, energy, and awareness practices and tools are imperative in this time. Don’t leave yourSelf behind.

 

* A universal energy is an undifferentiated energy that can be adopted by various points of consciousness and is common to all individual points of consciousness residing in the subconscious as potentiality.

 

Ava is a Hridaya teacher and the founder of Spanda School in Perth, Australia

Are You Depressed, Or Are You Walking The Spiritual Path (Without Even Knowing It)?


By Giulio Pietro Benati, translated from Italian

In your life, you have probably experienced a “bad day” in which you are sad, irritable, or lazy. Sometimes, this condition persists and before you realize it, one bad day becomes a week…then a month…until it somehow becomes your normal state. For no apparent reason, your mood gets worse by the day and at a certain point, you find yourself locked in your house, plagued by negative thoughts, and without any energy. Life has no meaning and you see it more as a burden than as a joy.

Real crisis is one of the worst experiences you can have: you feel hopeless, without resources, completely incapable to deal with life and people. You are too weak to engage any activity—physical or mental—everything has very little importance… In fact, the worst thing is that nothing seems interesting or pleasurable. You are depressed, and you feel like a failure. You are angry at the world and isolation seems the only possible solution for this condition. So, you hide yourself away in a state of complete apathy.

Western medicine considers depression a disease and it tries to heal it with psychotherapy and medications to balance the levels of serotonin in the blood.

Depression: An Ancient, Yet New, Perspective

There is another way of looking at depression: many spiritual masters consider this (admittedly very difficult) state an opportunity to look inside. When you are depressed, feeling isolated, and having difficulties dealing with yourself, you develop a natural impulse to bring your attention inward. According to this perspective, people who suffer from depression have a better chance to evolve spiritually than those who are happy with their lives. The state of melancholy can be a big push to ask yourself the fundamental questions which are the core of any genuine spiritual path: Where do I come from? What am I doing here? Who am I?

Mysticism And Depression

There are a large number of mystics, from a wide range of traditions, who considered depression a source of spiritual transformation. St. John of the Cross, a Christian ascetic who lived in the 16th century, argued that the person walking the spiritual path has to pass through a “Dark Night of the Soul” before reaching God. During this stage, in order to look for the Spirit, the seeker detaches from the world and loses interest in material things. Suddenly, everything that had previously provided pleasure and joy generates the exact opposite feelings (disgust, loathing, etc.). It feels like God and the world have abandoned the practitioner, and nothing in life seems to make sense anymore. Everything is so futile, shallow, purposeless…

St. John of the Cross

“And thus He leaves them so completely in the dark that they know not whither to go with their sensible imagination and meditation; for they cannot advance a step in meditation, as they were wont to do afore time, their inward senses being submerged in this night, and left with such dryness that not only do they experience no pleasure and consolation in the spiritual things and good exercises wherein they were wont to find their delights and pleasures, but instead, on the contrary, they find insipidity and bitterness in the said things.”

St. John of the CrossDark Night of the Soul

According to St. John of the Cross, this state is fundamental, and even beneficial, in the search for God. The “Dark Night” is an obligatory step—looking inside for answers, letting the fundamental questions arise, detaching completely from the superfluous, and caring only about the essential. When the seeker finally finds what is sought, the “Dark Night” of depression turns into a “peaceful night, abyssal and dark divine intelligence.”

Most of the great spiritual masters had to go through this path of suffering before reaching the apex of the spiritual path.

Contemporary mystic, Advaita Vedanta master, and bestselling author Eckhart Tolle had to pass through the “Dark Night” described by St. John of the Cross.

According to Tolle, it was exactly this constant state of depression that awakened in him the fundamental questions and brought a deeper understanding about himself, his life, and his mission on Earth.

Eckhart Tolle

“Until my thirtieth year of life, I lived in a state of almost continuous anxiety interspersed with periods of suicidal depression. It feels now as if I am talking about some past lifetime or somebody else’s life.”

Eckhart TolleThe Power of Now

I guarantee you that, at the end of this difficult phase, life will continue to go on as joyfully as before. The difference will be an increased awareness of yourself. The path along the winding road that you are walking will have taught you so much. You will have asked yourself questions and somehow, you will have found answers (or perhaps, you will have received them).

When you are without energy or enthusiasm, or in the middle of an acute crisis of sadness and melancholy, I suggest that you try to keep the attitude that Rumi (the 13th century philosopher, mystic, and important exponent of Sufism) suggested in this poem:

Rumi

“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

RumiThe Guest House

Why don’t you give it a try? Instead of considering depression a disease, try to consider it an honorable guest, as Rumi says. What if those negative emotions were really sent from beyond, from your innermost self? Wouldn’t it be worth listening to them?

The next time one of these “guests” knocks on your door, simply try to invite it in. Give it the most comfortable chair and listen to the stories that it has to tell you. You might be surprised by what it has to say! This may not be easy or pleasant, of course, but try to do it. If you can manage, it might be the beginning of a profound transformation for you, which could bring marvelous gifts.

spiritual path not depression hridaya yoga

Giulio is a Hridaya teacher and the founder of Il Giornale dello Yoga, an Italian-language online yoga magazine.

A message from Giulio:
If you benefited from this article, please share it. You never know…sometimes just a few words or a little post can make a huge difference in people’s lives!

I learned many of the insights in this article during a Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat. I highly recommend trying it—check out the calendar to see the upcoming schedule.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like my previous post: Are You Spiritual Or Just Full Of Yourself?

hridaya-blog-are-you-spiritual

Are You Spiritual or Just Full of Yourself?

By: Giulio Pietro Benati; translated from Italian

We hear it all the time: “I am spiritual, but not religious.” Recent human history has probably seen more conversions to spirituality than any other era. However, what does it mean, “being spiritual”?

I grew up an atheist, with the certainty that religion was the opiate of the masses. The Catholic Church, in particular, looked evil to me: opulent, false, opportunist. It burned witches, molested children, and fought holy wars against imaginary enemies.

However, I felt an inner calling to look for something more than sheer matter. That’s why I started to seek. I found a yoga school in Thailand that taught me several techniques meant for the attainment of the Infinite without the need for any divinity (or, at least, that’s what I thought). At that school, I observed that for many people spirituality means practicing yoga, reading books about self-development, and speaking about being spiritual. Even at that time, I felt that something was wrong with this idea of spirituality (which I considered really shallow) compared to the lives of the saints and mystics who followed many genuine ascetic traditions.

Today, when I take a look around, I can only confirm what I saw seven years ago.

“Being spiritual,” according to the latest New Age trends, often includes everything that I said above, plus some other ingredients like dressing up as a “spiritual person” and sharing a “spiritual look” on Facebook or becoming vegan/vegetarian and pointing the finger at anyone who is not.

Appearance overcomes essence, facade overcomes truth, and falsehood pervades everything.

I don’t want to say that doing yoga is something bad. It is totally appropriate to follow yogic principles if you follow them with honesty and compassion, just as you are perfectly entitled to have faith in Jesus Christ, Buddha, or Muhammad if you live with the open heart that a true seeker should have.

The bad thing is if, on the other hand, you hide behind yoga or religion in order to justify all the shit you spread around. I’m strongly convinced that an aggressive attitude against non-vegan people masks the same tendencies that brought about the Inquisition and the burning of witches in the name of Jesus!

Substituting One Dogma for Another

Many seekers leave their parents’ religions just to substitute one dogma for another. Instead of considering pre-marital sex a sin, they consider eating sugar, not recycling, or using a car instead of a bike sinful. As in the past, the fundamental tenets of a genuine spiritual path (truthfulness, freedom, and love) are lost along the way. In other words, the everlasting happiness independent of the external world is overlooked.

When you finally find something that actually works, that gives you answers, that lets you feel connected to the Absolute, you become vulnerable to “sect mentality” (alas, I’ve been affected by it for quite a while…): you don’t scrutinize your beliefs, you believe in them and that’s it. This leads you to act blindly, without considering if any of these convictions are at odds with your sensibilities and values. Moreover, that spark of the Infinite that you tasted makes you feel special, favored. Suddenly, you are right and the rest of the world is wrong. You are the special child of God, your path is the unique, authentic one and anyone who doesn’t follow it is making a mistake (and, even if they are following it, you are doing it better!).

Chanting Sanskrit mantras, not cursing, always being kind (even if it’s a false kindness), having symbolic tattoos, and becoming vegan are not true signs of spirituality. However, this is exactly what the vast majority of “spiritual people” do nowadays, thinking that this is enough to be elevated, special, and dear in God’s eyes. They think these actions make them better than the rest of the world.

Obviously, I don’t think that every single person who walks the spiritual path today is doing it so blindly. There are undoubtedly people who are sincerely seeking the Absolute in their lives. However, from what I have observed in my (short) experience, an overwhelming majority of those who define themselves as spiritual have a very distorted conception of themselves and of the path they are walking.

spiritual person

Yoga in 2016

What Does it Mean to Be Spiritual?

In order to explain my idea of being spiritual, I need to tell you a short story.

I had a small taste of the Infinite that I was looking for thanks to a concentration and meditation technique I learned at the yoga school in Thailand. After that experience, I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 800 km road through Spain that starts in the Pyrenees and ends at St. James’s tomb in Santiago de Compostela. I felt really special while I was walking, a step ahead of the motley crowd that was on the path but did not have the mystical knowledge I did. But one day, in a totally unexpected way, I received a lesson that I really needed (a lesson that I guess I’m still learning).

Along the route, pilgrims sleep all together in dormitories. If you wake up early in the morning, it is common custom to keep quiet and not disturb others. One morning, just 100 km away from the final destination, a small group of Spanish guys woke up early and made a racket. I woke up because of them and, in a not very kind way, told them to shut up. One of them came in front of me and, speaking in Spanish, told me that Spain was their country and I did not have the right to say anything. After a few minutes, they were out walking the Camino.

I got up after a while and spent the following two hours speaking badly about them, repeating to myself how far from the goal they were, how they did not know anything about spirituality, and how little they had traveled compared to me. As a matter of fact, all along the way I was repeatedly telling myself how much better I was than them.

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when the Spanish boor who had insulted me a few hours before came into the café where I was having breakfast. While approaching my table, he was crying.

“Forgive me, this morning I did things that St. James wouldn’t like me to do, please forgive me!”

Suddenly, I realized that Spanish guy, who didn’t know anything about mysticism and techniques to control the mind, was in that moment much closer to the Absolute than me, notwithstanding all my practice, my mantras, and the meat I didn’t eat!

The Spiritual Path Is the Path of the Common Man

If you are REALLY spiritual, allow yourself to simply be you. This “spiritual you” should be kind, compassionate, and gentle (although it is said that many mystical people have tremendous personalities!). Take care not to fall into the trap of dogma; you don’t have to fight to be like that. You don’t have to force yourself to be spiritual. Even more, you don’t have to strive to appear spiritual. You are already spiritual! These virtues are already in you!

What you have to do is simply decondition yourself and recognize the truth deeply embedded in yourself. This is what the spiritual path should be—simply the search for your true nature. Spirituality simply means to be authentic with yourself and others.

Pay attention, though. It is not easy to be authentic! In my whole life, I have met very few people who are truly authentic. Being authentic means being open, not being afraid of the judgment of others, trusting in the universe. It means to believe.

I am really far away from being perfect and, just like everyone else, I’m very deluded about myself. I still think that I am special (even if, intellectually, I know that I am not, or, better said, I know that we are all special).

In fact, in this article I don’t even speak about what I have realized by myself. I speak about what I have been taught and about what I have observed in others—in my life, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet a few authentic spiritual masters.

One of the things that I have observed in these masters is that they are always open to discussion and dialogue on any topic, rather than imposing a particular belief. Because of this, it has always been my own personal decision to accept or not accept a principle that they were presenting.

But, above all the metaphysical discussions about God and the fundamental principles of the Universe that we may have had, the thing that reverberates most vividly in my heart and is worth one thousand words and thoughts, is their living example.

Their true, authentic, living example—their experience of life that coherently and perseveringly testifies for the Truth.

These are the characteristics that I have observed in the two spiritual masters I have met along my path—true masters are not easy to find, they are a rare and precious gift. I believe these characteristics are common to every genuine seeker: they love unconditionally, they practice without showing off, they do not judge, they are great healers, they are detached from the fruits of their actions (they act without fear about what will happen next), they are consistent with what they say and what they preach.

They seek…they seek always…they seek everywhere.

And everyone knows: seek, and ye shall find.

Giulio is a Hridaya teacher and the founder of Il Giornale dello Yoga, an Italian-language online yoga magazine.

sayings-of-mystics-abhinavagupta-on-fullness

Why Hridaya Yoga Courses Are So Cheap

Why are your courses so cheap?

When comparing our prices to those of other retreat centers, people often ask us this question. The main reason we keep our prices low is because our teachings are rooted in traditional yogic philosophy, according to which we should lead a simple life, respecting aparigraha, non-greediness. Both as students and teachers we learn to live in the spirit of yoga, in a decent, unpretentious, and natural way.

While the material aspects are not ignored, they are not our main focus. When we free ourselves from the obsession with material gain, the love and freedom of our being will naturally be emphasized and will blossom.

Another reason we are able to offer such reasonable prices is that many students and teachers support the community with their inspiration and natural gifts by working in different karma yoga (selfless service) activities.

We also have trust that life in itself is a generous and abundant offering when we learn how to honor and receive the gifts of existence.

While we offer “cheap” courses, we consider that the spiritual perfection that we essentially are should also be reflected in a high standard of quality for our teachings and services—there is nothing “cheap” about our offerings.

Why not just offer the courses exclusively on a donation basis?

While this option is not excluded in principle, we want to ensure the smoothness of our administrative operations—guaranteeing a fixed salary for our employees and honoring our other financial responsibilities (rent, etc.). Sometimes, people present courses on donation because they are aware that their offerings are not up to a certain standard, assuming people will donate according to their degree of satisfaction. In this way, they avoid complaints—you get what you pay for. At Hridaya, we are fully aware of the quality of the teachings we offer and we are totally accountable for them.

On the other hand, we consider that any human being with an authentic spiritual aspiration should be able to learn meditation and yoga, no matter what his/her financial condition may be. Because of this, we offer scholarships and we are always willing to support students who really need help.

Keeping the pure intention of offering and receiving from the Heart,
The Hridaya Yoga Foundation

A Dubious Invitation

dubious invitation joseph braccio hridaya blogBy Hridaya teacher Joseph Braccio, as shared after the January 2016 10-Day Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat

 

Listen well traveler, as only a fool would believe this story to be only a story…

 

Wakefulness is having a party…And you’re invited. Not lightly should you accept this calling. Though Wakefulness is a kind and generous host; This invitation is most dubious…

With an invitation such as this, there are rules. Rules both unbendable and certainly unbreakable. And, as with all dubious invitations, there is of course a Price. In this case the cost of entry is Annihilation.

When you knock your gracious Host will open the door and ask, “What have you brought me?” The answer must be, “Everything.” Once answered, Wakefulness will bellow and then breathe an all-consuming Fire. Burned will be your Mother and your Father. Your brothers and sisters. Your grandfather’s laugh and your grandmother’s song. Your children, their children, and all their potential. Your friends and your enemies will burn and your favorite chair as well. The warm breath of your lover. Rage, despair, joy, climax, hopes, beliefs, salads, yoga, hot sauce and condescension. Holding hands. Burned will be offerings, prayers, stars, and pyramids. French bread, your smile, trees, waking up in a familiar place, lying to yourself, building a sand castle, rubbing your nose, slipping on ice, all burned as well. So will the sound a mountain makes. Laughing at an old memory. Weeping with the grief of loss. Accidentally hurting someone’s feelings and fumbling for words when you’re excited. Dreams and nightmares. Warm socks on a cold floor. Your cat. Charity, greed, and spiritual seeking. Smells, tastes, touch, and sounds. Everything that ever was or ever could be… Burned with the heat of a thousand suns.

As the ashes fall like a lazy winter’s snow, you will stand before Wakefulness utterly and hopelessly alone. Now, as always, your kind Host will hand you something: A small, old, and rusted blade. The word “TRUTH” faintly carved into the handle. A seemingly harmless thing that holds an air of misuse and disuse. Yet you will feel the sharpness of the blade. So sharp the thought of it alone can draw blood. You must place the point against your breast, aimed at the Heart (spiritual or otherwise) and wait. Then your loving Host will surely say, “Turn back now and your life of ashes will be restored. But remember… There is only room for One so please leave your friend at the door.”

 

So I say again dear traveler, Accept this invitation with care. Ask yourself with all Truth and with all Sincerity, ‘Is this the kind of party I’d like to attend?’

Healing and Evolving through Subtle Breathwork

By Hridaya teacher Niamh Kavanagh. Originally published on Elephant Journal.
  
”Be the breath that birthed you, the love that created you.”

Are you aware that your breath is the very thing that can bring about a carefree, higher sense of pleasure?

Your own breath can free up past traumas, shock and stuck emotions.

Subtle breath is a work of intimacy. Journeying inward takes courage, but by breathing subtly into past stories we release them, fast forward our evolution and free ourselves. The person is able to shift through a process of release by cultivating and infusing the energy of love.

This transformative, heartfelt healing does not begin and end with the individual but goes beyond personality, reconnecting with Self. It is an ongoing process of moving through entire fields of humanity—evolving through boundless space time—as souls on a path of evolution in one life.

Your breath—a process of detoxification and purification—influences the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level. Since the play of the breath gives great balance and strength to the nervous system, consequently, this interrelation co-ordinates our actions, reactions, and responses to stress—internally and externally.

Subtle breath work helps our relationships too—we can resolve and change as a result, often erasing the need to talk over what was previously an issue. As the breath unfolds, the heart opens, fears and traumas are released and total clarity arises.

By greatly influencing relationship between body and mind, we improve functionality and creativity. The psyche simply chooses to no longer hang on to negativity but see beyond limitations for soul to emanate its shiny self.

At the very survival level the breath distributes oxygen and keeps us alive. Becoming conscious of breath at first may seem like a lot of effort, but during this time one merges with the finer qualities of subtle breath or prana—the very sustenance of aliveness.

Prana, life force or vital energy breathed in, absorbed, seems abstract since it has no physical form. Breath is not the only way of ingesting prana—it can be done through nature, sun, food, water and so on. What is alive has prana. One of the easier ways to absorb prana is through the breath and the awareness of it.

Subtle breathwork aims for the individual to break free from functioning on the level of fear-based decisions and actions. For instance by holding onto our breath unconsciously during, and as a reaction to, trauma and shock (past, present or future projection) we hold onto the experience itself.

The energy of fear gets stuck and ingrains itself deep in the psyche, reinforcing the survival instinct (fight of flight). Fear that gets hold of us becomes a reoccurring, reactive pattern than can’t help its insidious self. Fear also affects stress, pressures and emotional triggers which can deplete the optimum levels of absorption of prana. Over time this can create illness and disease. Unless released this push and pull expressed in the body, mind, and emotions continues to circle, forming habitual behavioural patterns—affecting how we move, things we do and say, ultimately how we live our lives. We see its formation in psychosomatics. For example, fear written on a person’s face with worry drawn around the eyes and so on. Nonetheless, fear is a powerful and useful tool once we know how to transcend it positively, becoming fuel for freedom.

As we pass through life collecting surplus emotions that make-up our identities, we continue to build layer upon layer, preventing us from experiencing our true self. These layers of identity and personality not only constitute from memories, past influences, our parent’s psychodramas, and other lifetime experiences held within—information held on a soul level—it is what we know as karma.

Starting with the individual enhances inner for outer peace.

Pranayama is the expansion of life force and so breathwork becomes the bridge of transcending matter to spirit, where personal domains of so-called bad emotions, thoughts and feelings transfer into higher, more refined ones. Increased awareness of breath itself or “conscious breathing” amplifies absorption of prana. Once a large amount is absorbed one becomes saturated in prana. This presents an abundance of healing qualities, charged with vitality and the realisation of different levels of consciousness for evolving. All the person has to do is to lay down, rest with the eyes closed and breathe softly until the body completely relaxes. Awareness of circular breathing is gently introduced by the breathwork facilitator.

As subtle breathwork dissolves behavioural patterns and addictions, it increases our potential to love and enjoy the life we have. Once physiological and psychological issues clear, then we can re-condition and re-program—training to live intentionally by making conscious choices and decisions. Live being free-to-act instead of reacting to events and people. Once cleared, this authentic breathwork draws understanding and awareness of how ego is presented, creating space for awakening to arise. Soul becomes addicted to the luminous self (because it is the luminous self) and as a consequence longs to be with spirit, the pathway of love.

To realise the self and your truth is all your soul wants to experience.

It is only the body and personality that projects out into the world that seemingly appears to separate us from the self. We simply return back “home” finding deep contentment where we recognise the omnipresent self within the linear matrix born out of conditioning, into an all-expanding encompassing Oneness. Here, we journey to the path of consciousness. Experiencing sensations are eventually something not to become identified with as reality, but rather to help realise we can go beyond any limits of existence as we know it.

spanda hridaya

Reflections on a 40-Day Dark Retreat

I’m just out of 40 days of meditation retreat in solitude and in complete darkness. I’m usually not a big fan of sharing spiritual experiences online but the fact that so many people have been asking me how it was, and that I struggled to find information online about long dark retreats before mine, decided me to write what is shareable about it.

Who am I?

Poetry from the Heart: Who Am I?

Who am I?
Dominique Didinal, a recent graduate of the Hridaya Teacher Training Course, shares the following poem:

Who Am I?

I am the heat that cracks stone and the ice that splits the river’s mouth.

I am the earth that curves under the embrace of sunlight and
the shimmer of moon on a silent night.

I am the soft dollop of snow falling from branches deep in the woods and the shadows of
light that sift through the leaves.

I am an empty house when the owner has died and the furniture gone and
the invisible bonds that still trace their shape, and his, in the air.

I am the force that whispers “grow” into each ear of corn and
the scythe that cuts them down again.

I am the soapy swirl of stars in the milky way and
I am the pockets of darkness between,

I’m both the pinpricks of light and the spaces
unlooked for, unseen.

I am the words on the page and
the whiteness between.

I am your thoughts, every single one, and
I am none of them.

I am wild horses. The glitter of their eyes, the wet shine of their flanks
and the spray from the sea as their hooves thunder the beach.

I am the sweet burst of juice in the bite of the peach, the almond at its heart
and the worm in its skin.

I am in this heart and yours and the old man on the street that polishes shoes by the roadside
and the widow alone, that weeps herself to sleep.

I am the echo in the air after your name has been called, the footprints on the path
after the long walk home.

I am the wet, longing ache between your legs as your lover awaits and
the soft dent in the bed left from his back once he leaves

I am all of this and I am none of this.

I am the sweetness in the sky on an early morning walk and
the space in your heart before your mind starts to talk.

I am the mighty genie contained in the tiny lamp of your body and
the glitter of Dorothy’s red shoes that whisper “you had the power all along my dear.”

I’m a soft scoop of ice-cream on a hot sunny day and a blue note in a happy song.

I am “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and
“A Hard Day’s Night” when you’ve been “working like a dog.”

I’m the whirl in the air after a ballerina’s pirouette and
the final chord of a Tchaikovsky minuet.

I am the whole of the blue green globe turning under the sun, burning under the sun.

I am your sex and your sorrow,
Your pain and your glory
Your daring your delight
Your death and your decay.

I am the “sound and the fury that signify nothing” and
I am stillness
I am the siren call of your heart beckoning your home and
I am silence.

I am you and you and you
and you and you and you and
I am me.
I am We.
And
We are God.

Hridaya-Yoga-Newsletter-April-2017

The Elixir of Life: Across History and World Cultures

Exploring Philosophy and Alchemy, Mythology, Theology and Spirituality, Mysticism and Esoteric Sciences, Ancient Medicine, Nutrition and Herbology

 

Below, we present the introduction to a longer article on this subject. You can read the complete text here.

 

“If you want to know your true nature,
follow the manifestation back to the source,
the mother,
and when you find the mother,
you will be free from suffering and sorrow.”

-Lao Tze

Concept and Evolution

Generically, the Elixir of Life, or the Elixir of Immortality, was a term used to represent a mythical alchemic potion which would presumably confer immortality, rejuvenation and ageless life to the person consuming it – possibly if ingesting it at a certain time or from a certain cup. The promise of the elixir was “eternal life” and/or “eternal youth”. In some traditions, the elixir was also believed to have the power to create life. The purpose of the Alchemists over the centuries and across cultures was to seek for the ways and methods of formulating the elixir. Sometimes, in alchemic traditions and literature, the elixir was equated with the “philosopher’s stone”. In other cultures, a fruit or other type of food or a drink would have the same purpose and would be granted the same powers.

However, as we seek for the deeper meanings and analyze the more profound uses of the concept, we discover different dimensions of the term and different levels of interpretation. This paper will bring a gradual approach to the study, integrating all the dimensions of the concept, and progressing by exploring and understanding all the sides and angles of the elixir “story”.

As an ingestible drink or food, we find variations of the concept of the elixir of eternal life – ranging from the mythical alchemic potion to a large variety of herbs, natural medicines and remedies, fruits, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and other foods and drinks that were generically called “the food and the drink of the Gods”. They were used with the promise of health and longevity, immortality, and creating or recovering life.

Some of them were also used as entheogenic agents. An entheogen was a psychoactive chemical substance used in a spiritual context for “generating the divine within” (in religious, shamanic, spiritual rituals). Entheogens have been used for thousands of years and there are strongly established evidences (modern and anthropological) of their religious significance in a ritualized context. The entheogen could be synthesized from natural sources and may have induced psychological or physiological altered states of consciousness, transcendence and revelation. Entheogens were used to supplement a wide range of practices, such as meditation, yoga, prayer, psychedelic and visionary art, chanting and music, traditional medicine and psychedelic therapy, witchcraft, magic, and psychonautics.

The elixir of immortality is often seen as a metaphor for the spirit of God. In that sense, it is the expression of the elevation of the spirit, a superior state of consciousness, and perfect body-mind-spirit integration. The elixir is thus seen as the finest form of perfection, the culmination of enlightenment, and heavenly bliss. At this stage in the study, we explore the dimension of spiritual knowledge, “religion of knowledge”, mystical enlightenment, or “insight”.

We largely speak about the broader philosophy and archetypal human mythology related to the life and the transformation of an ascending person, centered around the concept of the “elixir of immortality”, the “golden elixir” that was thought to confer “immortality” to the seekers of spiritual realms and self-realisation. The “elixir” is depicted as the goal, the target, and the prize, pursued through persistent practice and cultivation of the right attitudes, the expression of the highest form of “cultivation”. The “golden elixir of immortality” is both the intent and the gift. But one cannot purchase it, one has to earn it. One has to deserve it, and acquire it, and the process requires undergoing the steps and stages of proving the appropriate qualities, attitudes, persistence, determination, endurance, and the patience of the one who is ready for it; overall, those qualities of the initiate who has attained the level of transformation that grants one the privilege and the grace of receiving the elixir.

The Gods – often appearing in these legends of the elixir across cultures – are seen, in this view, as archetypal representations of exceptional historical figures, “deified” evolved beings that have been – upon the success of their quests – wed as gods or demi-gods. “Ambrosia”, for example, was sometimes defined as a reward for the ones that had succeeded to complete the Gods’ quests and were thereby wed as Gods themselves and accepted on Olympus.

Sometimes the Gods are regarded as the embodiment of particular qualities and wisdoms of ascending beings, or even as forces of nature and specific energies of the Earth and the Cosmos that could be developed or assimilated by the seekers of spirituality and enlightened beings, through persistent work, mind-body energy cultivation, spiritual practice and commitment to righteous attitudes in life. In Daoist and Buddhist stories we find the ascending beings undergoing the quests in order to be accepted at the Temple, where they would further prove readiness and being worthy to be initiated and to eventually receive the elixir of life”, the pill of immortality”.

I find it interesting and of crucial importance to explore with profound attention the range of mythological and spiritual archetypes and figures of divinity in order to understand their similar profiles and the common treats of the “divine” archetypes that could be linked to the self-realisation and/or the ingestion of the “Elixir of Life” – throughout world’s historical dramas, cultures, and philosophies.

In most traditions, and typically at later stages in history, we then discover the “pill of immortality” as being the symbolic representation of the “Inner Elixir” – the most highly refined essence of self, our “true nature”, expressing the profound truth of eternal being. We discover the “elixir of eternal life” as being directly related to the profound inner transformation of the initiate, gradually occurring as the ascending person undergoes the process and the quest for finding and acquiring the elixir of immortality. Eventually, one discovers one already has it; it is inner, it is subtle, it is the most resilient self, that which is the most real, pure and perfect, the self infused with the aspects of one’s nature that are indestructible.

The concept of the “Golden Elixir” and the archetypal human mythology of the ascending person can be found in the Daoist, Buddhist, Vedic, Greek, Latin mythologies – to only mention a few – which all started with the “elixir” being seen as an ingestible potion thought to confer “immortality” and the access to “transcendence” and to the “higher soul”, but further it was “turned inside” toward the inner plane and linked to the process of inner evolution – e.g., the Waidan (Daoist External Alchemy) transitioned to Neidan (Daoist Internal Alchemy) and the “elixir” became the “inner elixir” sought to be created, or developed, or simply re-discovered (in the version of Liu Yiming, which stated that we already had it in ourselves).

The Elixir now becomes “the goal” inner essence to be generated through the inner alchemical practice. That’s where practice comes in place – combining the spiritual teachings with physiological practices, nutrition, healthy life-style and righteous life attitudes. It further addresses concepts that can be found with similar connotations across cultures – such as the Yin and Yang, the Elements (the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything can consist), and the “World’s Soul” in direct relation to the individual souls and the human body.

Last but not the least, we find pointers toward the alchemic tantric practices of sexual energy transmutation (e.g. in Vedic and Daoist traditions), put in the frame of “Reversing the Sense of Cosmogony”. Transmutation (and sublimation) are presented as a way of refining the raw vital life force (or essence) and transforming it into superior forms of spiritual energy – that would further develop the spirit and lead it into the Emptiness. The concept of the elixir of eternal life comes closely related with these practices of alchemic transmutation, revealing the ultimate essence of our being, the “true nature” and “eternal self”.

Names and Forms of the Term

The word “elixir” was not used until the 7th century A.D. and derives from the Arabic name for miracle substances, “al iksir”. There are hundreds of known names for the “elixir”, found in various cultures and at various times in history, in the extensive sense comprising: the Philosopher’s Stone (legendary alchemical symbol), Cintamani (the equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone in Buddhism and Hinduism), Amrit Ras (or Amrita, the Indian name for “immortality juice”), Maha Ras (“the great juice”), Soma Ras (“juice of Soma”), Haoma (the version of Soma in Zoroastrianism), Hum (the Middle Persian form of Soma and Haoma), Aab-i-Hayat (Persian name for “water of life”), Aab-Haiwan, Dancing Water, Chasma-i-Kausar (“Fountain of Bounty,” which Muslims believe to be located in Paradise), Mansarover (Pool of Nectar, or “mind lake” – the holy lake at the foot of Mt. Kailash in Tibet, close to the source of the Ganges), Ambrosia (the “favourite food or drink” of the gods or demigods in ancient Greek mythology, Nectar (similar to Ambrosia, the Latinized version of néktar, and etymologically meaning “overcoming death”), the Wine of Dionysus, etc. Other legends refer to the myths of Thoth and Hermes Trismegistus, both of whom in various tales are said to have drunk “the white drops” (liquid gold) and thus achieved immortality, as mentioned in one of the Nag Hammadi texts.

In Christianity, the term “Water of Life” is used in the context of living water, specific references appearing in the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of John. Jesus’s reference to the “Water of Life” or the “Fountain of Life”, refers to the Holy Spirit: “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14); the term is also used when water is poured during Baptismal prayers, praying for the Holy Spirit (“Give it the power to become water of life”).

Read the rest of this paper here.

By: Hridaya Yoga teacher Dr. Adina Riposan-Taylor, Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi

an interview with sahajananda

An Interview with Sahajananda

an interview with sahajananda

An Interview with Sahajananda for Retreat Guru, September 2015

 

What is your position and how long have you been doing this?

Essentially “my position” is where I am, in the Heart – this intimate, unchangeable essence of our being, pure awareness. I hope that this affirmation becomes clearer when the Hridaya Yoga vision is explained. In the Kashmir Shaivist tradition, the art of remaining in such a “position” was called “settling into your inner asana.” This, of course, is not a physical asana, but the centeredness in the pure “I am.”

From a relative point of view, I am a meditation and hatha yoga teacher, a founder of Hridaya Yoga, the Yoga of the Spiritual Heart. Its methods and philosophy aim to create the proper conditions for the revelation of atman, our infinite core of awareness, freedom, and love.

I started practicing yoga in 1982, the year when yoga became illegal in Romania. This meant that meditation and yoga practices were officially banned, books on yoga, oriental metaphysics, and spirituality were banished from libraries, etc. This dogmatic and hostile communist attitude was actually very helpful because it brought depth and dedication into my spiritual practice. Also, all of our group learned to tremendously value and honor any bit of authentic information we received regarding yoga.

I have been teaching hatha yoga since 1985. At that time I was still in university studying electronics engineering. At the beginning, I was teaching yoga illegally. It was only in 1989, after the fall of the Communist regime, that yoga was no longer prohibited in Romania. Then, a sort of counter-reaction happened — thousands of people, mostly university students, came to yoga classes, lectures, and workshops.

However, I did not start guiding silent meditation retreats (as a way of teaching and practicing Self-enquiry) until 2002. This happened after an insight regarding nonduality, advaita, which came during a solitary meditation retreat. From that time on, my passion and dedication has gone towards these teachings.

Do you have a spiritual path and how does that path intersect with your work?

Yes, I do have a spiritual path. It is mostly based on the Self-enquiry method of Ramana Maharshi. Before this, there were many years of practicing hatha yoga, different forms of meditation, exploring the astral worlds and paranormal phenomena, even teaching Parapsychology at the Ecological University of Bucharest. However, during one of the solitary retreats, done in a cave in the Carpathian Mountains, there was a direct understanding of the simplicity and beauty of this method of Self-enquiry. Many days and nights passed in bliss, in this pure, unlimited, Self-awareness. Ramana named this path “the most sacred of sacred.” Indeed, it can be considered a revolutionary perspective, since, as he said:

“What is essential in any sadhana [practice] is to try to bring back the running mind and fix it on one thing only. Why then should it not be brought back and fixed in Self-attention? That alone is Self-enquiry (atma-vichara). That is all that is to be done!” -Sri Sadhu Om, The Path of Sri Ramana, Vol. 1

Thus, after meditating on many external or internal objects (the breath, yantras, mantras, sensations, subtle sounds, chakras, images of angels and spiritual masters, doing meditation on music, etc.), I realized that I was ignoring exactly this reference point of all these experiences. So I started exploring, asking who is this “me,” that Witness Consciousness, in which all the meditation objects and experiences appear and disappear.

When my attention started being directed towards this knowing subject, to what I really am, any other object, sensation, thought, etc. was contemplated from this all-embracing love-awareness.

After that intimate understanding, it became almost a need, a very natural one, to make the Spiritual Heart (the pure “I” feeling) the only “object” of my meditations.

Self-enquiry is a method and also a spiritual path in itself. It is a vision, too, that inspires me in the work I do (teaching, writing, leading solitary retreats, learning, traveling, etc.). Because of its multiple valences and echoes, it becomes natural to look for coherence between this vision of oneness and the different aspects of one’s life. For example, in the Hridaya Hatha Yoga practice, (in asanas, pranayama, etc.) we emphasize both the importance of energies, chakras, and this Self-awareness. Because of this, even in a hatha yoga session the contemplative attitude is necessary and indispensable.

Therefore, the spiritual path I follow, my work and life in general, tend to converge naturally in this vision of Oneness, advaita. And I am very grateful for this coherence, in which Self-enquiry is, at the same time, the path and the destination. But it is a kind of unlimited destination. “Who am I?” is not a mystery to be solved, but a mystery to live with.

What are people seeking?

People are looking for love, freedom, harmony, happiness, mental peace — but essentially all such qualities blossom naturally when we reconnect with our real Essence, the Spiritual Heart. I feel that without completely knowing it, this reconnection is what people are actually seeking.

So, I believe that learning to come into intimacy with the ultimate truth of our being is the key to our freedom.

There is a feeling of reintegration that we have when, for example, we come back to Nature after a busy week in a crowded city. The reconnection with the Spiritual Heart brings the same joy, the same sense of flowing and intimacy with everything. When the Heart becomes the center of our existence and the governor of the essential rhythms of our life, there is a natural reorchestration of our energies, which brings peace, joy, and love. The mind is not denied — its functionality continues to be appreciated — but we realize that we don’t need to identify with our thoughts and mental activity. And the rhythm of thinking changes. It somehow tunes with the vibration of happiness and love radiating from the Heart. The mind becomes a kind of heart in which the awareness is “pulsing”, nurturing our being with the consciousness of eternity.

But, of course, this understanding cannot be stabilized in just one meditation or yoga session. That’s why meditation should not be seen just as a quick cure for stress and agitation, even though it can have such immediate and surprising effects. Meditation, and specifically Self-enquiry, is a lifelong journey that requires wholehearted commitment.

I am not encouraging people to just look for “amazing experiences” or “getting high.” This is because even though the insight may be instantaneous, deconditioning is a process. Even after a “life-changing experience,” most often people habitually return to their old mental patterns, subconscious tendencies, etc.

Hafiz has a beautiful poem that expresses this:

It is always a danger
To aspirants on the Path
When they begin
To believe and 

Act
As if the ten thousand idiots
Who so long ruled
And lived

Inside
Have all packed their bags
And skipped town
Or

Died.”

Ramana Maharshi offers a method for this profound subconscious purification: the method of bringing the “I am” feeling back to its source, the Heart.

In Nisargadatta Maharaj’s account of his journey, we find a very similar approach: “I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the ‘I am’ in my mind and soon peace and joy and a deep, all-embracing love became my normal state.

And we find the same attitude in Classical Yoga, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In Chapter 3, Sutras 8-9, Patanjali speaks of nirodha parinama, the transformation of dissolution (of subconscious tendencies), in which a constant tendency towards complete stillness gradually purifies all of the other subconscious tendencies.

What is needed in the world today?

First of all there is a need for Self-awareness. As a natural process of deconditioning, meditation brings the precious gift of intimacy with ourselves and with the world.

At the same time, along with the reconnection with our Essence, there is a need for a reconsideration and a shift of the paradigms we live with, most often unconsciously.

In Hridaya Yoga, we don’t speak about the integration of spirituality into our daily life. On the contrary — we seek the integration of daily life into spirituality. This means that spirituality should not just be seen as a nice adjuvant for a better life (less stress, etc.) while the same selfish strategies are maintained, or as a kind of plug-in meant to improve our old way of functioning in the world.

Integrating daily life into spirituality means that we should learn how to express the silent teachings of the Heart in our entire life.

Therefore, there is a need in the world today for coherence between the spiritual aspirations and intuitions (that many people already have) and their entire lives. Because only in this way can more people “be the change that they want to see in the world,” as Gandhi says.

A meditation retreat can definitely support this change of perspective. By stopping our ordinary activities for a while (while emphasizing Self-enquiry), objectification of the root causes of all our actions or habits becomes much easier and naturally occurs with detachment and clarity. When the mind starts being purified, we can see what is unnatural or alienating in our life more clearly. And the touch of the Heart brings us closer to the real meaning of existence.

So, looking for consistency means that even after a beautiful moment of pure, infinite Love or eternal freedom, we still need to contemplate how this sense of Oneness can be reflected in our job, in our relationships with our parents and children, in our romantic life, etc.

What is your offering to the world?

From the personal level, I might speak about an aspiration to offer this message of Self-Awareness, to point towards that unbounded freedom, towards the fire of Love, to inspire people to look for the marvelous intimacy with their Heart, or to help them see meditation as a commitment to Reality. But then, when Self-enquiry resonates in my being, the echo of the question “Who am I?” is just Stillness, an unconditional availability to Love…

You can read more about Sahajananda on his biography page.

why yoga? why now?

Why Yoga? Why Now?

why yoga? why now?

Yoga in India

Historically in India, yoga was practiced by men. In fact, yoga had such great appeal that the Indian culture codified the impulse to withdraw from society by creating distinct phases of practice so that Indian culture wouldn’t be wholly disrupted by “runaway yogis.”

A man was allowed to study scripture as a celibate youth during the “Brahmacharya” phase. The second phase was known as the “Ghrihastha” (householder period) where he would be expected to marry and have a family. After the man’s duties to the family had diminished, he was allowed to enter the “Vanaprastha” phase and become a hermit living in the forest, meditating on scripture and practicing yoga. During the final stages of a yogi’s life they became a full renunciate, or a “Sannyasin.” Renouncing the pleasures of the illusory world—Samsara—they possessed nothing but a begging bowl and spent their last years meditating and making pilgrimages to Hindu holy sites.

Since yoga has migrated to the West, we have a virtual reversal of the traditional stages of yogic study. People are often led to the more esoteric or spiritual components of yoga by way of the physical postures, the asanas. Or, they become interested in yoga after traveling to a foreign country. Many Western women make yoga part of their daily physical and spiritual practices, while men do not embrace it so readily. So the question is, how did this transformation happen and how we can understand this phenomenon?

Yoga in the West

First, let’s take a moment to define yoga, contextualizing it within Western culture. Yoga is translated as “union” or “to yoke.” This has been interpreted as the union of the physical with the spiritual. In truth, a full conception of yogic practices includes many elements: purifying the body through breathing techniques (pranayama), practicing concentration (dharana), meditation (dyhana), and physical postures (asanas), and engaging in scriptural and metaphysical study (svadhyaya). Although different traditions might have different emphases, the bedrock of yoga is philosophy and spirituality and not merely the physical postures that we in the West so often initially encounter.

Yoga philosophers and rishis (teachers) began migrating to the West in the late nineteenth century. At the Parliament of World Religions during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Swami Vivekenanda first introduced yoga and Hindu philosophy to the United States. After this initial contact, other teachers made the journey West, including Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920. Back in India, in 1924 T. Krishnamacharya opened the first hatha yoga school in Mysore and in 1936, Swami Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the Ganges River in Rishikesh. Three students of Krishnamacharya continued to popularize hatha yoga and contribute to its ongoing legacy: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. In the 1960s these teachers and others began making their way westward, making yoga more widely available.

This westward movement and the general cultural expansion of the 1960s produced more interest, exploration, and acceptance of Eastern religions in the West, through which Westerners were also introduced to the yoga asanas. As people began to question traditional Western mores, yoga gained more exposure and traction. Then, in the 1970s, Americans became obsessed with running, aerobics, and physical fitness, with Jim Fixx and Jane Fonda leading the relative charges. Additionally, Herbert Benson published “The Relaxation Response” about the positive effects of transcendental meditation and relaxation, and Dean Ornish pioneered the notion of a “heart healthy” lifestyle. Somewhere within this fitness renaissance, yoga was pegged as an effective way to manage stress. Since then, yoga has taken off as an integral and necessary part of the Western exercise model.

Currently, over twenty million people are said to be practicing yoga in the United States alone. So what is precisely the popular appeal? And what niche is yoga filling in our increasingly complicated world?

why yoga? why now?

“In Big City Small Things are Happening…”

Several years ago, I met Ramsen. He was in the center of Delhi, lurking (as so many young Indian men are wont to do) on the outskirts of Connaught Place, waiting to see if he could offer his services as a guide to all the overwhelmed international travelers.

Ramsen was dressed neatly in a button down shirt and a blue wool blazer, but my traveling companion still shook his head cynically at his bluff opportunism. I, on the other hand, was charmed.

I was looking for a video camera in the American format to record the overwhelming and beautiful sites of India. It was my first time visiting India and I was awed by the destruction and splendor I saw all around me. When I first opened my hotel shutters, I saw a gorgeous little girl, a true street urchin, defecating on a piece of cardboard just as an elephant, magnificently liveried in gold and red sequins, lumbered by. This was India! A foreign land caught somewhere between a medieval fairytale and the epic problems of modern globalization. I had to capture it on camera.

My companion, a third time traveler to India, was leery of the infamous Indian Touts, so he excused himself as I went off on a wild excursion through Delhi with Ramsen as my guide, in search of the golden goose of an NTSC video camera.

“Oh yes,” said Ramsen, as we trundled through the narrow streets in the back of a bicycle rickshaw, “Anything you want you are able to find in Delhi. You will see madam. You will see.” What I saw that day were the bustling remnants of a colonial city struggling to give birth to itself in what was then still the twentieth century. Ramsen brought me to many urban bazaars where among other things—oils, spices, silks, rugs—you also found electronics. But, alas, no NTSC video camera. So we kept moving.

Ramsen served as my translator and guide all day, and I wasn’t at all surprised when he corralled me for the inevitable Indian home visit. Halfway through the day, when it looked like our chances of finding a NTSC camera were slim, he convinced me to go home to meet his mother.

Indian hospitality is legendary. And Ramsen was no exception: he brought me home like a prize to the modest plaster compound where he lived. I don’t remember much except that his kindly mother, dressed in a pale, worn Sari reminiscent of thin cotton sheets, spoke no English but served us tea and sweets in a sun-drenched second story room. As the sun shone its last rays across the January sky, we sat on rugs and pillows and talked about Ramsen’s future.

Ramsen was Muslim and had been to college. I don’t know where his father was, but he had two brothers, assumedly out and about in the city like he was, trolling for tourism prospects. Ramsen was convinced that I should come with him to Kashmir to see the houseboats and the beautiful mountains. He laid it all out for me: the price, his uncle’s hotel, and the various levels of service. After I declined due to an already set itinerary he relaxed on the pillows in resignation. We were now free to chat.

“India” he said, “Is a place where you cannot have the same spiritual freedom as in America. I see that Americans have a hunger to know God, and also that they have an ability to choose. In India you are born into a religion and a culture. It is not easy to make the move to intellectual or spiritual independence. It is not easy to choose here. Things are decided for you. You will see this as you travel.”

I, of course, was quite cynical about America’s spiritual prospects. In America, Christian spirituality seemed codified into a righteous brew of political and spiritual ignorance. I was coming to India precisely because I wanted to investigate other options. Raised with a perfunctory introduction to Episcopalianism, I was on the search for some sort of spiritual roadmap with which I could identify. I was lured to India by the possibility of a more sophisticated and refined religious philosophy. But as Ramsen spoke, I began to see his point.

In India, more often than not you stayed within your inherited religious culture. Yet here I was, a foreigner intending to feast on the smorgasbord of Indian spirituality. The reverse sort of pilgrimage was unimaginable. Nowhere do you hear of Indians traveling to America in order to explore American religion or spirituality. People travel to America to go to school or to make money: whatever else happens to them during that time is purely incidental.

I could see how I was afforded the liberty of intellectual and spiritual freedom. In one sense this was disorienting, in another it was liberating. I could have what Ramsen called a “true spiritual awakening” because I was thirsty for and needed the ineffable fruits of spirituality. Yet Ramsen and his contemporaries were born into traditions that afforded little choice. You followed your heritage and that was that. Of course there were many opportunities for spiritual awakening within the respective traditions, but it would be very unusual to abandon your religion altogether.

Ramsen had been to college. He had an education. And yet he felt his options were somehow limited. It was hard to earn significant money in India as an independent tour operator, and yet, he seemed happily resigned. “Why should I travel the world, when the whole world comes to me?” he smiled. “People come from all over. I am traveling just living here… I am traveling with you right now!”

We left his house before the sun went down and took a taxi to an underground shopping market. It was here in a tiny electronics shop with heaps of exotic Indian rugs that I at last found some sort of suitable camera: an Hi-8 Pal camera that would have to be converted. Under the circumstances it was the best that we could do.

In a scene directly out of an American Express commercial, Ramsen translated my wishes to an elderly man in a peach-colored shalwar kameez while I sat on a sumptuous pile of rugs and waited. The man had to call an international number to get permission to run my credit card. This would take some time. I looked around me. Three stout, dark men perched like tree stumps between the mounds of rugs. They would not meet my eyes, but sat wordlessly witnessing the entire transaction with a keen yet respectfully distant focus. It was not unusual to see an Indian man translating for a western woman, and yet it still held a special sort of intrigue. They watched the man on the phone intently and I wondered how they perceived my connection to Ramsen, but they revealed nothing and hardly glanced at me at all.

At last I saw a flicker of smile on the older man’s face. He hung up the phone and nodded his head sideways in that delightful Indian manner, indicating that the transaction had been successful at last.

Ramsen was pleased. “Yes, yes,” he leaned down to me whispering, “In big city, small things are happening, and today we have found a curious American woman a beautiful camera. May she be blessed with beautiful images of Mother India for all time!”

We hustled up the cement stairs of the underground market and out into the twilight streets of Delhi. Ramsen dropped me off at my hotel where my friends were waiting and I tipped him and said my goodbyes. I had intended to meet with him after I returned from Rajasthan, but somehow it never came to pass.

I did capture many colorful and intriguing scenes of India with my Hi-8 camera, focusing my inquiry on issues of arranged marriages and Hindu spirituality—or love and divine love. This was back in 1999, before the global and cultural partition of 9-11. Ramsen was a Muslim. Since then, I have occasionally wondered what happened to him, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have met him…

Spiritual Hunger

According to Ramsen, because of the West’s relative freedoms and actual spiritual hunger, Westerners are more likely to have a true spiritual awakening. Perhaps yoga has captured the hearts of so many because it sneaks spirituality in through the back door, presenting helpful metaphysical concepts non-invasively, through its concrete physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.

The troubling consequences of the West’s rampant materialism (job dissatisfaction, workaholism, addiction, poverty, crime) have Westerners searching for a different way to conceptualize material reality. Ironically, one of the main tenants of both Hinduism and Buddhism is that reality as we perceive it is an illusion—samsara” or “a wandering through.” The true reality lies behind the illusion in the relative Hindu and Buddhist concepts of Brahma and Nirvana. In the material West, yoga is now a vehicle for exercise and relaxation that becomes a “gateway drug” for greater exposure to the beautiful, refined, and truly helpful tenants of Eastern spirituality.

This is not to deny the benefits and beauty of Christianity. This is just a theory that the body-centered philosophies of yoga are leading thirsty and exhausted Western householders to greater Self-awareness, self-mastery, and the possibility of centeredness within an unbalanced material culture. But the physical asanas are just the tip of the yoga iceberg. The possibilities of true liberation or “moksha” and “samadhi” via meditation and transcendence are hidden deep within the further study of Hindu and Buddhist spiritual philosophies.

As things heat up and become more complicated daily, many Westerners are more than ready to embrace these possibilities…

By Keralee Froebel, a Hridaya Yoga certified teacher teaching Hridaya and Vinyasa in Chicago, USA

The Namarupa

SatyaSattva.branch

The Namarupa – insights for the students

who Sincerely and Truthfully aim to Transcend it

Written by Adina Riposan-Taylor (Saraswati Devi)

Satya Sattva, Amelia Island, USA

Nāmarūpa means “name (nāma) and form (rūpa)”. Thus Nāmarūpa is sometimes defined as “individuality”, or “individual being”, since nāma and rūpa distinguish the individual by ‘name and body’ from other individuals. Transcending the Namarupa can therefore be interpreted as transcending the limitations that keep us in individuality.

While transcending the “name” seems to be easier to approach and less scary to all students, transcending the “form” is always less understood, mostly often ignored, and sometimes entirely left aside even by the most persevering students who otherwise have set themselves on a grounded and disciplined path of spiritual growth and aspiration. The Form seems to create the most severe and persistent attachments in an era of illusory societal value-systems, stereotype thinking and behavioural patterns based on subliminal inclinations and tendencies, superficial hierarchical conditioning and collective psychosis. To give a more Scholastic expression and a Spiritual dimension to the modern way of saying “size doesn’t matter” and “shape doesn’t matter”, I am providing bellow a brief synthesis of what Nāmarūpa and mainly Rūpa really mean, and the aspects and elements that a spiritual seeker and an aspirant to authentic spiritual evolution should address and be aware of – with open heartedness, mind clarity, discernment and Witness Consciousness.

This term and concept of the Nāmarūpa appears in both Hinduism and Buddhism.

In Hinduism, nāma describes the spiritual or essential properties of an object or being, and rūpa is the physical presence manifested by it.

In Buddhism, nāma refers to psychological elements of the human person, and rūpa refers to the physical elements, nāma and rūpa being mutually dependent and inseparable. Nāmarūpa thus designates an “individual being” and the constituent processes of the human being.

Namarupa is considered to comprise the five aggregates – the five skandhas (in Sanskrit) or khandhas (in Pāḷi) – which represent constituents of the sentient being, generating aspects of the way the individual manifests: matter (or form), sensation, perception, mental formations and consciousness (see Sutta Pitaka, reference bellow). However, the Buddhist teachings state that none of these is really “I”.

The Theravada tradition teaches that suffering arises from one’s identification with an aggregate, or clinging to an aggregate, and suffering is extinguished when one lets go of the attachments to the aggregates. The Mahayana tradition emphasises that ultimate freedom is realized when the nature of all aggregates is penetrated as being inherently empty of independent existence.

It means to distance ourselves from our personality, usually related to our name and form, to get access to the reality of our Divine being, an existence without attributes, which is beyond name and form.

The Rūpa

In both Hinduism and Buddhism, rūpa refers to material objects in regard to their appearance – “form” or “matter” – which includes external and internal matter, the external and internal manifestations of rūpa: externally, rūpa represents the physical world, while internally it comprises the material body and the physical sense organs of the being.

In Rigveda, rūpa is defined as “any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour, form, shape, figure”. In the Sanskrit Lexicon of the Monier-Williams Dictionary (reference bellow), the definition we find is “having the form or appearance or colour of”.

The Pali Canon (Tripitaka), which is the Pali collection of Buddhist writings (the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism), traditionally analyses the rūpa in two ways: as four primary elements (earth, water, fire and air), and as ten, twenty-three or twenty-four secondary or derived elements. Abhidhamma Pitaka (abhidhammapiṭaka), the last of the three divisions of Tripitaka, and Visuddhimagga (“The Path of Purification”), the ‘great treatise’ of Theravada Buddhism, identify the twenty-four secondary or derived elements (upādā) of the rūpa: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, form, sound, odour, taste, touch, femininity, masculinity or virility, life or vitality, heart or heart-basis, physical indications (movements that indicate intentions), vocal indications, space element, physical lightness or buoyancy, physical yieldingness or plasticity, physical handiness or wieldiness, physical grouping or integration, physical extension or maintenance, physical aging or decay, physical impermanence, food.

Clinging causes future suffering

Going back to the five aggregates of the Namapupa (the skandhas), the Twelve Nidanas describe twelve phenomenal links that perpetuate suffering between and within lives: mental formations (saṃskāra) condition consciousness, which conditions name-and-form (nāma-rūpa), which conditions the precursors to sensations, which condition craving, and condition clinging (upādāna), which further causes “the entire mass of suffering”.    

The five aggregates are the determinants for clinging and therefore “contribute to the causal origination of future suffering”. The Upadaparitassana Sutta (reference bellow) – “Agitation through Clinging Discourse” – describes how non-clinging to form prevents agitation:

“…The instructed noble disciple … does not regard form as self, or self as possessing form, or form as in self, or self as in form. That form of his changes and alters.”

Buddha’s advice was that, through mindfulness contemplation, one should see an “aggregate as an aggregate”, arising and dissipating. Clear seeing should create a space between the aggregate and clinging, thus preventing the arising and propagation of clinging, which will further diminishing future suffering. When clinging disappears, the notion of a “separate self” disappears too.

These Buddhist models of causation and conditioning show that mental formations have a key compelling role in both the origination and cessation of suffering!

In the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, the Mahamudra teachings identify the form aggregate as the “solidification” of ignorance, leading to the creation of a dualistic relationship between “self” and “other”. According to Trungpa Rinpoche, “the whole development of the five skandhas is an attempt on our part to shield ourselves from the truth of our insubstantiality,” while “the practice of meditation is to see the transparency of this shield.”

In India, the Prajnaparamita teachings emphasise the “emptiness” of everything that exists, which means that there are no eternally existing “essences” and even the skandhas (aggregates) lack any substantial existence.

The classic “Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra” (“Heart Sutra”) states:

The noble Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,

while practicing the deep practice of Prajnaparamita

looked upon the Five Skandhas,

seeing they were empty of self-existence,

said, “Here Shariputra,

form is emptiness, emptiness is form,

emptiness is not separate from form,

form is not separate from emptiness;

whatever is form is emptiness,

whatever is emptiness is form.”

To give a brief conclusion to this article, and coming back to more life-oriented expressions like “size doesn’t matter,” or shape, or color, or race, or gender – we could consider the positive topical societal trends that progressively try to eliminating prejudice in cells of society where higher states of awareness have been reached and there is less need for separation and nurturing of individuality by illusory hierarchical conditioning and superficial value-systems, superiority/inferiority ranking scales, or psychotic competition for beauty or popularity.  With open heartedness and mind clarity we should observe and meditate on the values we follow, we respect and we cherish – in ourselves and the others, we should regard our own values with Witness Consciousness, freed from mind-conditioning and mental formations, then we should regard the values we seek in others with spiritual discernment and maturity, freed from subliminal inclinations, worldly ego-tendencies, judgemental vasanas and stereotype thinking.  True liberation and the cessation of suffering can only be attained when such attachments and clinging disappear, thus the feeling of separateness disappears, allowing us to perceive reality beyond the world of illusion, to become aware of the Oneness that we are, of the emptiness within all form;  and of the only beauty we can really ever find – the beauty of the Heart, the beauty of the Self beyond form, the beauty of Divinity in Naturalness, the beauty of Pure Love beyond conditioning.

“The only beauty that lasts is the beauty of the Heart.”

(Rumi)

Notes and References:

  • The Sutta Pitaka (suttapiṭaka) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (abhidhammapiṭaka) are the first and the last of the three divisions (pitakas) of the Tripitaka or Pali Canon, the Pali collection of Buddhist writings, the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism.
  • The Upadaparitassana Sutta (“Agitation through Clinging Discourse”), is part of the Sutta Pitaka that contains the Khandhavagga (“The Book of Aggregates”), a book compiling over a hundred suttas related to the five aggregates.
  • The Visuddhimagga (“The Path of Purification”), is the ‘great treatise’ on Theravada Buddhist doctrine.

For more References, see also:

  • Monier-Williams Dictionary, “Cologne University”, Sanskrit Lexicon (search for rūpa):
  • “Abhidhamma Pitaka,” Encyclopædia Britannica (2008)
  • Hamilton (2001)
  • Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-1925)
  • Trungpa (2001)
  • Thanissaro (1997)
  • Red Pine (2004)
TaiChi

Tai Chi, Qigong, and Daoist Alchemy

Tai Chi and Qigong are internal Chinese meditative practices for Mind-and-Body health which use slow graceful movements and controlled breathing techniques that strengthen your mind-body connection, reduce stress, promote serenity and improve circulation, thereby enhancing the practitioner’s overall health.

  • Qigong is a practice of cultivating the Qi (Chi) – or “intrinsic life energy” – through rhythmic breathing coordinated with slow repetition of fluid movement, a calm mindful state, and visualization of guiding Qi through the body.
  • Tai Chi – the “supreme ultimate” is the internal martial art of cultivating balance and harmony, and harmonizing Yin/Yang, practiced for its health and longevity benefits.

“Life Energy Cultivation” disciplines, Tai Chi and Qigong are practices of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, self-healing, and meditation – promoting peace and serenity, balance and harmony, rediscovering our connection with Nature, and undergoing a profound inner transformation. We access the universe’s vital energy – the Qi (Chi) that is within and around us, we cultivate the Qi and awaken “the healer within”. We finally learn to create (or re-discover) our “inner elixir” – the “Golden Elixir” – the most highly refined essence of self, the “elixir of eternal life” – expressing  the profound truth of eternal being.

“Golden Elixir is another name for one’s fundamental nature… There is no other Golden Elixir outside one’s fundamental nature. All human beings have this Golden Elixir complete in themselves: it is entirely realized in everybody. It is neither more in a sage, nor less in an ordinary person. It is the seed of the Immortals and the Buddhas, the root of the worthies and the sages.”  (Liu Yiming (1734-1821))

We ultimately aim to awaken our True Nature, Eternal Self, to find our way back to the Source, Emptiness Oneness, to return to the Dao.

“If you want to know your true nature, follow the manifestation back to the source, the mother, and when you find the mother, you will be free from suffering and sorrow.”  (Lao Tze)

“Martial Morality” – the Martial Arts and the Ethics

Traditional Chinese schools of martial arts, such as the Shaolin monks, often dealt with the study of martial arts not just as a means of self-defense or mental training, but as a system of Ethics.  Wude can be translated as “martial morality”.  Wude deals with two aspects:“morality of deed” and “morality of mind”. Morality of deed concerns social relations; morality of mind is meant to cultivate the inner harmony between the emotional mind (Xin) and the wisdom mind (Hui).  The ultimate goal is reaching “no extremity” (Wuji) – closely related to the Taoist concept of wu wei – where both wisdom and emotions are in harmony with each other.

Virtues:

  • Morality of Deed: Humility, Virtue, Respect, Morality, Trust.
  • Morality of Mind: Courage, Patience, Endurance, Perseverance, Will.

“The great man grows the many myriad things . . .

Breaking away from the military arts,

He promotes fully the cultural mandates.”

(Translation from: “Echoes of the Past” by Yan Yanzhi (384–456))

“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.”  (Lao Tze)

 Power, Peace and Compassion to all!

Compassion over Power!  

Qi Love!     

For information on our Introductory workshop in Qigong and Tai Chi November 1, 2015, please visit here. 

For information on our Wu Style Tai Chi workshop November 8, 2015, please visit here.

 

what is meditation

What Is Meditation?

Twenty Questions and Answers about Meditation Practice

  1. What is meditation?

Meditation is a practice that many people enjoy all over the world, in many different cultures and traditions. It is an ancient and simple practice that usually involves sitting down with the eyes closed, then finding a way to quiet the mind, in order to open to a deep sense of peace or to God. The mind is always talking to us, with ideas or worries about the future, comments about events in the past, judgements about ourselves and others (“I am not good enough,” “What does he think of me?,” etc), and many other thoughts about food, our partner, the objects we own, and our lives. By sitting down quietly and practicing meditation, we can first of all learn to watch these thoughts without getting caught up in them, and secondly begin to enjoy the silence between the thoughts, where there is great peace, even as our busy lives continue. People who practice meditation, even just for ten minutes each day, often find themselves becoming calmer, more relaxed, and less reactive to the stresses that daily life can bring. Eventually meditation brings people closer to God, or to a sense of a Higher Self within, a sense that we are more than just the body, the mind and the personality that we call “me.”

  1. Where does meditation come from?

Meditation is a practice that is found in many different traditions around the world. It is practiced in different ways in Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam, yet there need not be any particular religious connotation attached to simply sitting in silence on one’s own and finding inner peace. People from nearly every country practice meditation in one way or another, while the most common techniques for quieting the mind and settling into stillness come from Tibetan, Theravada and Zen Buddhism and also from the Hindu traditions of India.  

  1. Do I have to learn meditation from a teacher or a class?

There is no need to learn meditation from a teacher, or to attend a class, but it is highly recommended to do so in the beginning. A teacher or experienced meditator will be able to guide you through some of the issues or frustrations you may face when you begin to practice. Meditating in a group can be a great start if you are just learning to meditate, as sitting with other people who are determined also to keep their eyes closed and be quiet can be encouraging and supportive.

  1. What are the benefits of meditation?

Meditation has many benefits on different levels. On the physical level, it is found that people who practice meditation have a stronger immune system and a lower heart rate, an improved mental concentration and more awareness of their body. On an emotional level, with long-term meditation practice there is a greater sense of empathy, compassion and gratitude for others, a greater calmness and an enhanced openness to life. People who practice meditation find that they handle the many situations that life brings with a lot more calmness than before, as they have learnt not to listen constantly to their minds and the reactions of other people around them.  

  1. Is meditation a religious practice?

While meditation is not a specifically religious practice, it is something that is practiced as a part of many different religions. There is nothing necessarily religious about sitting in silence and calming the mind down to find peace.

PRACTICAL DETAILS ABOUT MEDITATION:  

  1. How should I sit?

There are many different postures to sit in while meditating. Most important is to find a posture that is comfortable for you, so that you don’t need to pay attention to the body. Sitting in a crossed legged position or on your knees on the floor is most common, but if that is not comfortable for you, try sitting on a chair or the edge of your bed. Using cushions to keep the pelvis tilted forward is helpful, and it is important to always sit in a position where the spine can be kept straight, the head looking forward.  

  1. Where should I put my hands?

Just like there are many positions for sitting, there are also many different positions for your hands. You may find it most comfortable to rest your hands on your knees, with the palms facing either up or down, or to try one of the many classical mudras (hand positions) that can be found in books. The hand position that the Buddha used is popular and relaxing – it is called dhyana mudra (the hand position for meditation). It is done by placing the right hand on top of the left hand with the palms facing upwards and the tips of the thumbs touching. Both hands then rest on your lap. Experiment to find the most comfortable hand position for you and try to stick to it whenever you meditate.  

  1. Why do I close my eyes?

Not all traditions require practitioners to have their eyes closed during meditation, but if you are just learning, it can help. By closing the eyes, we close our senses off to the distractions around us. We begin to internalise, to shift our awareness from the external world to the internal one – thoughts, emotions, sensations in the physical body, and sense of the present moment.  

  1. How long should I meditate?

How long you practice meditation depends on you and your willingness. To feel some of the more simple effects that meditation can bring, it is recommended to meditate at least twenty minutes per day, however for many people this is not enough! Once you begin to experience the real peace that meditation can bring, you may find yourself setting aside one or two hours each day for your meditation practice. Start small at the beginning and allow yourself to build up to longer and longer sessions over time, or take regular short breaks and come back again to the practice (for example, meditate for twenty minutes, take a three minutes break to open your eyes and perhaps change your body position, meditate again for twenty minutes and so on up to one hour).  

  1. If I have pain in my body during meditation, what can I do?

It is very normal to feel pain in your body when you first begin to meditate. We are not generally accustomed to sitting with a straight spine and staying still for any length of time. It is no problem to simply take a break and stretch your body if you need to, or try beginning with some warm up stretches to loosen the body before you sit down. You may find that your legs go numb, your back or chest aches, your shoulder or your hips are hurting – this is normal for every meditator at the beginning, and with time, and patience, this pain will gradually become less and less, and eventually disappear. Try not to focus all your attention on the painful points and try to sit through the discomfort a little longer each day before taking a break. Don’t be worried about this, with time your body will adjust to your new practice, just like learning any new skill with the physical body.    

  1. When is the best time to meditate?

Every person will have a different feeling about when is the best time to sit and meditate each day. For some, the freshness and clarity that the early morning brings is the best moment to sit and find peace. Others prefer to meditate in the evenings, just before making dinner, or before going to bed, when the house is quiet and they can slow down after a busy day. And of course, all of the times in between! Allow yourself to experiment a little until you find the time that feels right for you, and then try to stick to it. Having a regular routine can help you to keep your commitment to meditate every day.  

  1. Where should I meditate?

Find a place in your house or garden, or even in a quiet park or forest near to where you live, where you can sit alone and undisturbed for some time. Make sure that there is a good flow of fresh air and, if possible, avoid noisy distractions, such as traffic or people talking nearby. Make sure that you have everything you need – cushions, a blanket to sit on, things to keep warm – readily available in your selected place; although you can also meditate spontaneously of course whenever you feel inspired, without anything at all. If you have a space in your house that you can dedicate to be your meditation space permanently, you may even like to place a candle there, or a picture of something or someone that helps you to feel relaxed and peaceful, or something inspiring to take your meditation practice deeper.  

  1. What will it cost me to meditate?

It costs nothing to meditate! Of course you can pay to take a class or a course or a meditation retreat, but you don’t need to make any major investment to simply sit and find peace and stillness inside.  

Stillness Meditation

MEDITATION PRACTICE:

  1. What can I expect to feel when I sit to meditate?

The best thing you can do when beginning your meditation practice is to let go of all expectations. Once you are sitting with an open mind, you may find yourself feeling many different things – from joy and gratitude, to peacefulness and relaxation; from frustration and anxiety, to creativity and openness – depending on the day, on your state of mind, and on your willingness to really practice observing the body and the mind until a background of stillness is found, no matter what continues to happen externally or internally.  

  1. How can I make my mind quiet?

There are many techniques for quietening the mind and finding peace. Here are a few simple ones that you can use each day. Eventually you can let go of any techniques, as you start to touch a sense of inner peace almost immediately after closing your eyes.

  • Observe the breath. This is recommended by many traditions in which meditation is practiced – simply concentrate on the inhalations, the exhalations, the moments of pause between each breath, the rhythm of the breath. This technique is simple, very relaxing and brings an immediate sense of calmness and awareness.
  • Count the breath in cycles of seven. Count each inhalation and exhalation as one, then two, three and so on up to seven, and when you reach seven return to one and start counting now to fourteen, then to twenty one and so on. If you forget which number you are up to or you count too far, come back to counting from just one to seven again and start over. Learn to discipline your mind and keep it focused on one thing only – the number of breaths that arise and fall.
  • Try watching your thoughts like cars on the street. You don’t need to pay attention to every car that passes – it’s colour, make and model – rather you can just allow them to drive by while you are aware that they are there. Try to do the same with your thoughts, allow them to pass by, without paying any interest in their content or where they come from. Just allow them to come and go, come and go, and remain as the impartial observer of them all.
  • Choose an object of concentration. Try to focus the mind on one thing only – this could be the breath, the counting technique, an image of something or someone you find inspiring (Jesus or Buddha for example, or a waterfall), or a concept that brings you a sense of expansion, such as “compassion” or “infinity.” Bring the awareness back to your object of concentration again and again whenever you are distracted by thoughts.
  • Treat the mind like a small child. Once you have chosen your object of concentration, you may find yourself sticking to it well for several minutes, and then becoming distracted or lost in a mental story, memory or plan. Rather than punishing yourself or feeling terrible, have compassion for yourself and imagine that your mind is in fact just a small child. Children have difficulty concentrating on one thing for very long, so does your mind. Just give it love and guide it gently back to your object of concentration and ask it to try again. Children, like your mind, eventually mature and can soon concentrate for longer and longer times without distraction.
  • Ask yourself “Who Am I?” – beyond my body, my mind, my memories, my personality… who am I? Ask this question and then rest in the silence and mystery that follows.    
  1. What should I do when I close my eyes?

First make sure that your spine is straight, that your body is relaxed and that you are comfortable. Allow yourself to take a few deep breaths, trying to let go of anything you may be holding onto, allowing yourself to come fully into the present moment. Then try to stay in that present moment. Follow some of the simple techniques mentioned above for quietening the mind, although realise that it may not feel like much is “happening” in the beginning. Many people are genuinely frightened when they sit quietly and watch the mind, for they finally see how busy and active the mind really is – moving from one thought to the next, jumping quickly into judgements and doubts and memories and plans – this is in fact what the mind is always doing, we are just often so distracted by other things that we don’t notice it. Try to remain the observer of this wild mental activity, without judging it or getting involved in any stories the mind is telling you. Hold the meditation for as long as you told yourself you would, or until you naturally feel it is time for it to dissolve, and when you open your eyes, allow a short time of just sitting still before you get up, to feel the effects of the meditation, or to ground yourself in the peace that you have found so that you can carry it into all of the activities that are to come afterwards.  

  1. How can I tell if I am making progress?

Your progress in meditation will be measured by a shift in your attitudes in daily life. You can start to witness the effects of your practice by observing how peace and joy have suddenly become normal states, replacing fear, doubt and anxiety. In the meditation itself, you may begin to notice that you are able to observe your thoughts and sensations without getting involved, more and more each day. You may begin to feel more joy and passion for sitting down to practice, and you may enter into states of pure happiness and gratitude more quickly. There is no “ruler” for measuring progress in meditation, as each person’s path is completely their own, and the effects of meditation can only be felt subjectively. However, try to notice the integration of peaceful states into your life; this is a good sign that your practice is beginning to bear fruit.  

  1. How can I go deeper with my meditation?

After some time of short meditations and trying various techniques, you may have touched something inside that you cannot explain. A kind of deep peace, a kind of knowing, or a sense of a greater reality than the reality we call daily life. You may wish to take your practice deeper, or to seek advice from a teacher or a master of meditation about how you can go further into this sense of peace. It would be excellent at this point to find a teacher who you can trust (if you haven’t already) and to share some of your experiences and ask the questions that have by now no doubt arisen. Try attending a meditation retreat, where you will meditate for most or all of the day with a group. A retreat is also a great place to meet others who you can share with, and is a space that is created and held exactly for taking your practice to new levels. Most of all, cultivate determination and perseverance. Try to commit to a consistent practice every day for one month. Try to extend the time of your practice each day or each week. And most importantly, begin to integrate your understandings found through meditation into your daily life, remaining the observer of every thought and action, and allowing that deep peace to be the background of all activity in life.  

  1. Where will meditation take me?

Any consistent practice of meditation will bring significant changes to your life. How much change you are willing to allow depends on you. It will at the least bring a greater openness to life, more calmness and less reactivity to the unexpected ups and downs that life brings. It may also take you on a deep journey into yourself, as you discover a reality that is deeper than any you have known before. It may take you on a path of devotion to God, or to mankind. It can take you as far as enlightenment, in which you no longer identify yourself with being only a body and a personality, but with being the peaceful-loving source of all things. It is up to you how far you want meditation to take you, you create the path.

  1. What can I do to learn more about meditation?

To learn more about meditation in general, or different practices and techniques, there are many options available. There are many fantastic books written by and about masters of meditation from all across the world, and there are many current masters and teachers who offer regular retreats or lectures online or from their hometowns. Look for various courses and talks offered on meditation near to where you live, or try to connect with communities of other meditators, to share experiences and advice. So long as the passion is there, keep seeking, keep exploring, keep practicing and continue to integrate the gifts that arise from your meditation – gratitude, peace, calmness, love, joy, openness, and so much more – into every aspect of your life.

Written by Emma Carruthers, The Hermitage Retreat Centre, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, June 2015

Perseverance in the Practice

Perseverance

A Fundamental Attitude

Along with Patience, the quality of perseverance provides the grounding and support that the Hridaya Attitudes encourage us to cultivate. By developing this attribute, the practitioner creates a solid foundation on which to build all the other important factors.

Talking about perseverance in our spiritual life isn’t so complicated; we must look at it in the same way as in any aspect of our lives. If we want to succeed at something we really need to stick with it, having the diligence and discipline to continue even through difficult times.

 

The Challenges of Practice

Big life changes can lead us away from spiritual practice or make us lose our faith in the path we are on. Small factors can recur and lead us away from the true essence of the teachings by frustrating and upsetting us.

For me, I sometimes found that something as banal as not quite getting the right cushions in the yoga hall could leave me distracted during meditation and unable to reach deep states due to being uncomfortable. I would reach a point where I would decide this was never going to work and resign myself to an unproductive meditation. Then I read this story about Milarepa.

 

Milarepa’s Bottom

One day, Milarepa warned Gampopa that the time had come for him to depart.

He told Gampopa, “You have received the entire transmission. I have given you all the teachings, as if pouring water from one vase into another. Only 1 pith instruction remains that I haven’t taught you. It’s very secret.”

He then accompanied Gampopa to a river, where they were to part. Gampopa made prostrations to take his leave and started across. But Milarepa called him back: “You are a really good disciple. Anyway I will give you this last teaching.”

Overjoyed, Gampopa prostrated 9 times, then waited for the instructions. Milarepa proceeded to turn around, pull up his robe, showing Gampopa his bottom. “Do you see?”

And Gampopa said, “Uh…yes…”

“Do you really see?”

Gampopa was not sure what he was supposed to see. Milarepa had calluses on his buttocks; they looked as though they were half flesh and half stone.

“You see, this is how I reached enlightenment: sitting and meditating. If you want to reach it in this life, make the same effort. This is my final teaching. I have nothing more to add.” 

His buttocks have been an inspiration against my own self-cherishing ego ever since.

 

The Joy of Practice

There are as many things that knock us off our path as there are people. We all have our own little distractions that can take us out of the present moment and into a story of shoulds; of something more important than the practice at hand.

Perseverance implies regular practice, to try our best in spite of challenges that arise. If we can joyfully stay with our practice and not become distracted by outside factors, then being aware of our commitment to perseverance will lead to strengthening our aspiration.

I’d love to hear in the comments about what challenges yogis reading this blog and any remedies that you have been able to apply to increase the levels of perseverance!

 

Perseverance and Patience

 

“Never give up.

No matter what is going on, never give up.

Develop the heart.

Too much energy in your country
is spent developing the mind instead of the heart.

Be compassionate.

Not just to your friends, but to everyone.

Be compassionate.

Work for peace;
 in your heart and in the world.

Work for peace, and I say again, never give up.

No matter what is going on around you…

NEVER give up.”

-His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

 

Hridaya Yoga TTC

The Hridaya Teacher Training Course: What a Ride!

Hridaya Yoga TTC

By Ian Marshall

Weeeaaooohhhh… What a ride… The Hridaya Teacher Training Course was more than I ever dreamt. A three-month investigation into the witness consciousness, the question “Who am I?” and an invitation into love, community, introspection and learning.

The day before our graduation we had a sharing circle. Each one of the 30 TTCers brought something to the group as a way of expressing gratitude for the experience and became profoundly moving as each new person offered up a fresh perspective.

It lasted for 9 hours.

From songs and invitations to dance to individual stories of difficult times mixed in with deep stillness and tears, it was the culmination of a journey which we had all been undertaking in our own different ways.

I’ve thought about how to write about an experience which lives with me every day, which I still haven’t really been able to even begin to process and which is the culmination of a journey I’ve been on for a few years and a profound catalyst for change at the same time.

I discovered Agama first, in Thailand, and after studying tantra with them it wasn’t until Rishikesh that I took Level 1 and was introduced to the Hridaya style of meditation. It resonated with me immediately as the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and my time in Tiruvannamalai with Mooji had been an important part of my journey. So I went back to Thailand for my first Hridaya retreat with Sahajananda and was immediately hooked. I would have signed up for the TTC straight away if it had been possible but it was a year later that I finally made it out to Mazunte.

Each day on the TTC was an adventure with new stuff coming up and fresh challenges to be faced. We meditated a lot.

We listened to lectures about yoga philosophy, meditation practices and brain waves.

We learnt about Samadhi, the supreme state in meditation where subject and object merge into one, and how it has many forms. I attained none of them but at least one of our group did, the mystery remains.

We studied the body with a series of multi-media anatomy lectures that engaged and entertained.

We practised nauli kriya daily. For ages.

We suffered the anxiety of the first practicum. We enjoyed the elation of the second practicum. We learnt just to be during the third practicum.

We stared at the sun and allowed the blind spot in our vision to be a focus of meditation. Meditate on light, go into the light, become the light that you are, reflect on the many ways of accessing this, from staring at the horizon to looking from the corner of the eye.

We had a turn with the Brain Machine, a set of goggles and headphones that transmits a series of LED flashes and pulse sounds into your head. I felt like I’d been attacked the first time I tried it.

We practised voluntary hibernation, I liked that one a lot.

We had two ten day silent retreats and one 48 hour stretch in the dark room.

I was among the first in the dark and it came at a good time. I was feeling exhausted from everything but as soon as I turned off the light it felt like being enveloped in a blanket of darkness and I absolutely loved it. It lead me to deep states of meditation, a feeling of disconnection from the body and I emerged completely re-energised. I spent some time lying on my bed in a state of nearly sleeping and nearly waking feeling myself drift in and out of the dream state. When I was dreaming it was vivid and bright and lucid and on awaking the flower of life image lasered its way into the darkness.

The first 10 day retreat couldn’t come too soon. I was overwhelmed with material and looking for some time to cogitate on the content. It turned out frustrating, though, as deep moments for me were rare. There was no lack of drama as massive storms rolled in, tents washed away and the boom of thunder during a dark afternoon meditation coupled with an outburst and screaming as things got too much for one.

Before the second retreat I started the Ohsawa 10 day brown rice diet and up until the first day of silence things were improving. Focus, practice and meditation were all becoming more natural and although whole wheat chapatis meant I wasn’t solely eating rice, it felt like a good discipline.

The first day of retreat saw an attack of diarrhea and I struggled to eat even the small amount of rice I’d served myself. An attitude of disconnecting from food became the opposite as I spent my whole time thinking about how I could dam the flow and gain some strength. After barely eating for three days, and completely fasting for one, as soon as I started eating the “normal” food I got better. The amaranth and papaya breakfast was my favourite thing in the world that morning. The day I fasted was great, I practised asanas during the lecture and went full on into a strong practice but the day after left me even weaker than ever and I had to leave the hatha class to vomit. Powerful purifications there.

While my retreat experience might not have been what I had dreamt, each week we would have kirtan or devotional singing and it was during these beautiful events that I found myself going deeper inside, to a state of profound bliss and connection.

I love being in nature, although I realised I’m not as in touch with my hippie side as I thought after meeting some of the free spirits at the school.

We went to see the turtles hatching one evening and spent a couple of nights camping by some waterfalls in an amazing part of the Mexican countryside. After swimming in the falls, hugging giant trees and having an all night bhajan party a tired but happy group of yogis raided the Oxxo store on the way back into civilisation for ice cream and crisps, a far cry from the yogic diet but food for the soul, I like to think.

It wasn’t all fun and games though and when the serious business of exams came around there was a flurry of activity as people tried to study. Small revision groups in the kitchen definitely did me a world of good, as did some excellent work producing professional notes that some yogis found the time to manifest. At the end of the day, the exams weren’t really what the course was about. There is no marking system involved in attaining connection with the divine self and having a lot of book knowledge does not necessarily produce a teacher who can transmit. Still, I somehow found myself getting 100% in the last exam, which my little ego was kind of happy about!

During the course, as I tried to move away from the personal ego and worldly concerns, I found myself drawn into a confusing triangle of relationships which was distracting but ultimately rewarding. While we follow a path that leads directly inside to the highest truth of our being this is still a tantric school after all, and relationship remains of utmost importance. I’m still learning how best to share my love and knowledge with the world and allowing the stillness to blossom from deep within me but I know that I have all the skills at my disposal now.

Hridaya Yoga TTC

Our graduation was a beautiful and typically drawn out affair. All dressed in white we collected our certificates and received our prasad before it was time for our host to lead us through a group of performances ranging from the truly sublime to the truly ridiculous, touching on comedic genius and virtuoso performance as it progressed. The mystery of the English nanny was revealed, but alas not the mystery of the samadhi. We had powerful belly dancing, peaceful tai chi, fiery flamenco and interesting interpretative dance mixed in with the rapping, comedy skits, singer-songwriters and group performance of Tender. Our hearts were full of rainbows and we were all so busy sharing that things again went on late enough that the DJ went home and the after party ended up with table dancing in the kitchen.

It was blissful exuberance, a pure expression of spanda, released after an intense three months, a far cry from “Maple leaf, falling down, showing front, showing back” but no less centered in the Heart and representative of what this school is trying to achieve.

Follow Ian here.

 

Sun gazing

Sun Gazing Tapas Journal – Month 3 by Adina

New Dimensions of the Practice. Notes and Observations:

  1. Liking the practice:
  • This daily repeated exercise increased my “liking” of the practice to the point that I wish it could last longer.
  • I feel that the number of minutes I reached are not enough for me anymore. I “crave” the practice every morning and I look forward to see the sun rising the next day.

 

  1. Eyes activation in the daily life:
  • My Eyes activation lasts for a long time during the entire day following the practice.
  • Sometimes, during normal daily activities, I feel my eyes just suddenly becoming energised and vibrating, the energy field in the entire area around my eyes becomes expanded and my gaze becomes somehow shifted from the physical world.
  • It becomes temporary difficult to read anything in those moments, and the physical objects look blurred. I have to keep a de-focalised gaze and let my vision field expand.
  • Ajna Chakra is spontaneously activated and vibrating in the same time.

 

  1. Hrid Mudra:
  • I had a spontaneous urge to bring my hands in Hrid Mudra. It felt like inner guidance or some message from the divine consciousness about something I have “next to do”.
  • The practice in this new way felt very good and powerful.
  • The pranic circuit from my hands to the heart area becomes immediately obvious, perceivable and very comforting. I will continue this way for the next weeks.
  • It certainly helps releasing an affective trauma in emotional crisis. Generalised feeling of well-being. Strong activation of Anahata Chakra.
  • The feeling of well-being becomes so strong that it makes me wish to come back to the practice the next day. I long for it during the day.

 

  1. Anjali Mudra:
  • Moving on to Anjali Mudra makes a fine transition from the feeling of well-being and inner emotional comfort to a more meditative state.
  • Keeping centeredness is easy, I completely withdraw from the external world.
  • I find my way “inward” and I continue my gazing practice witnessing the perceptions, both visionary and emotional, from my heart center.
  • I continue the practice alternating Hrid Mudra and Anjali Mudra.

 

  1. Prarthanasana (Prayer Pose):
  • In the last few days of the 3rd month of my Tapas I experiment with the practice standing in Prarthanasana.
  • It is a familiar and confortable pose for me, so I can keep it for a long time while continuing my sun gazing practice with calmness and aspiration, without tension and in complete surrender.
  • I find profound relaxation in that pose, the breath pattern settles in naturally. I try to keep some rhythmic breathing flowing naturally.
  • I keep the awareness of the Heart Center and I continue blowing upon the amber of the heart during the practice.
  • I settle in the Natural State with reverence and devotion.
  • I have the feeling that I am seeking for something precious that is above and beyond ourselves as limited individuals and it will be revealed to me when I am mostly prepared to see.
  • I am certainly seeking for answers and guidance in my path to follow.

I am seeking for directions and a new way in my spiritual quest for bringing the Absolute Truth to the world and liberation to all beings.

  • I am open to welcome anything that may be revealed to me – any inspiration, insights, visions and revelations from the divine consciousness about the physical world and all subtle dimensions.
  • I am maintaining a state of fearlessness to anything I may perceive, non-judgement, non-discrimination, non-prejudice, while gazing and praying in open attention, humbleness and witness attitude.

I find the “gift of grace”.  State of amazing grace in stillness and naturalness.

 

  1. Post-practice:
  • I continue with Phosphene work and inner Trataka, followed by Ajna-focused meditation after the sun gazing practice.

Note: I aim to increase the length of the practice in both the Sun Gazing and Prarthanasana combined in the several months to follow.

 

Patience - Yoga

Patience by Ian

Patience - Trust

When I was growing up I was always told that “patience is a virtue” and that “good things come to those who wait”. This was a piece of advice from my parents that I found useful and I was able to practice it from an early age. I found waiting for things happily to be a somewhat natural state for me.

It wasn’t always easy though. Living in London for 10 years with the big city pace of life and the pressure of working in industries like finance and TV sometimes took me away from my awareness and centre into the culture of frustration.

One particular example of this I noted was using the London Underground, travelling to work or going home after a busy day. Entering the tube network involves going down escalators, along corridors and eventually arriving at a platform where there is an indicator which tells you when the next train is due to arrive.

Normally this displays 1 minute, 2 minutes or maybe 3 minutes. Sometimes though there can be delays and the sign can show 5 minutes, 7 minutes or even more. In these situations people get extremely upset and it is interesting to note the reaction. I have caught myself doing it as well, the stories that begin to run through our minds – how can this be happening to me, 7 whole minutes just waiting for the train! My day/evening/life is ruined!

Of course, from a distance, from the witness perspective, we can see that this is a nonsensical, psychological suffering that we are imposing on ourselves. It makes no real difference in the big scheme of things if I wait 3 minutes or 7 minutes, so why worry?

Allowing ourselves to react from the heart in times of irritation or distress in daily life mean that we are moving away from the patterns of conditioned response. By taking time and allowing ourselves to view negative emotions from the witness consciousness we can be more in the present moment and respond to life’s challenges with greater compassion and empathy. The first step in mastering patience is in awareness. We have to acknowledge when we are becoming impatient, when we are frustrated and when we begin to get irritated in situations. Then we can begin to act by focusing, breathing and not reacting in our usual way.

 

Patience - Yoga

As we move from a grasping approach towards self­realisation into surrender and trust in the best outcome of the universe we can try our best but without judgement over the results.

If we practice from the heart then transformation will occur; there is no guarantee when it will occur but being relaxed about the outcome both helps our practice and is also  enhanced by our practice.

This is something which is true of all of the Attitudes recommended in Hridaya yoga. By practising we naturally come into resonance with these characteristics but at the same time by observing them in our lives we become mentally purified and our practice is enhanced.

Patience is a theme which is prominent in all major religions. In Christianity it is considered one of the most important virtues.

In Judaism it is taught that we should wait for God and in Proverbs it is written ­ “The patient man shows much good sense, but the quick­tempered man displays folly at its height”

In Islam, sabr or patience with belief in Allah, is considered one of the greatest virtues;

Buddhism contains patience as one of the paramitas or perfections practiced by Bodhisattvas in order to attain enlightenment and in Hinduism patience and forbearance are considered essential attributes. The practitioner should be able to endure unwelcome conditions in a happy frame of mind with the understanding that it is karma playing out in the universal scheme of things.

So take the time to observe your frustration and anxiety and let go of any desire to change it. In daily life, begin to take these moments of impatience and observe them without judgement. Slowly allow yourself the time to observe these things arising and then go beyond the limitation that they are presenting.

Sun gazing

Sun Gazing Tapas Journal- Month 2 by Adina

New Dimensions of the Practice. Notes and Observations:

 

Note: While progressing with the tapas and deepening its effects, new dimensions for the practice are inspired to me by the practice itself.  I include the new methods along with the inspiration, and the daily exercise becomes richer, more profound, allowing the direct revelation of the deeper effects such complex tapas can bring.    I also become more aware of the inspiration and divine grace that guide my daily life.         

Sun gazing

 

  1. “Absorbing” the Light through the Eyes:
  • While keeping the state of relaxation, I mentalize that I “absorb” the Light through the Eyes —> I guide it downward towards the Heart —> I fill the Heart with the Light of the Sun;
  • I feel the warm sensation in the Heart, sometimes even hot and glowing.
  1. Combining Sun Gazing with Breathing practice:
  • I “Breath-in” the Light with every breath: I start breathing in and out with awareness, feeling how I “inhale” the Light into my Eyes with every breath, and I guide it toward the Heart;
  • I briefly practice the “Blowing Upon the Amber” technique to fully activate my Heart Center;
  • I then combine the 2 exercises, such way that the “Breathing-in of the Light into the Eyes” continues with “Blowing the Light into the Heart”, with every breath;
  • When the practice becomes comfortable, I establish the Rhythmic Breathing. Chosen Pattern:  4,2,4 à 8,4,8  à 8,8,8,2 à 8,8,4
  • I keep the Awareness on the Heart Center, and on “Breathing-in the Light into my Eyes, then flowing it into the Heart”, to fill the Heart;

Note: The Kati Channel becomes better defined, warmer, more perceivable, more and more active and energised. 

  1. Connection with the Inner Ear:
  • I gradually start feeling a connection with the Inner Ear on both sides;
  • My Inner Ears become highly activated;
  • Some energy channels related to the Inner Ears converge with the Eyes Channel in the throat area, and then go into the Heart Center.
  1. Throat area becomes dominant:
  • My entire throat area is now very activated, energised, dilated and vibrating; it becomes the dominant area of the practice-results;
  • It feels like it is a Gateway or a hub for all the energy channels;

 

Note: This strong sensation of energy, vibration and dilation in the throat area may be related to my natural dominant Vishudha Chakra activation, and the fact that my daily morning Yoga practice is highly focused on Vishudha Chakra; or, it may be just the effect of the convergence of the energy channels – simultaneously activated.

 

  1. Back of the head, Cerebellum activation:
  • The feeling of energizing and dilation extends toward the back of the head, bringing a new focus. I clearly feel my Cerebellum activation
  1. Whole head activation, energy field expansion
  1. The entire area of the head, neck, shoulders, chest and upper-back feel ethereal now – expanded, energised, and vibrating.

 

Hridaya Sungazing

Hridaya Sungazing

Looking forward for whatever comes next !

 

 

 

 

 

sun gazing

Sun Gazing Tapas Journal by Adina

9 Months Timeline

 Start Day: January 7th, 2015

Introduction:

The Sun Gazing Tapas consists of the committed daily practice of gazing at the Sun every morning during the first hour after Sunrise, starting with 10 seconds of practice and adding 10 seconds every day.

The Tapas is set for a timeframe of 9 months during which the practice will reach the maximum duration of a 45 minutes Sun Gazing session. The Tapas Journal will follow the 9 month timeline of the Tapas, presenting a review of the most relevant effects, practical observations, subtle impressions, and personal hypothesis, at the end of every month of the Tapas.

 

Personal Circumstances at the Beginning of the Tapas:

It is important to describe the mind and emotional frame at the start of the practice, as well as the most relevant aspects of the daily routine that may influence, or may be influenced by the tapas practice in an impactful way.

 

Daily routine:

Personal Yoga practice: 4:00 am – 7:00 am

Sun Gazing: during 7:00 am – 8:00 am interval (Florida time)

Phosphene work (closing the eyes at the end of gazing)

Short Ajna Meditation following the Sun Gazing practice (I wish I could keep this meditation for longer, but that is impossible becauseit is the time when I have to get my child ready for school)

Hridaya Meditation:

9:00 – 10:00 am Florida time (8:00 – 9:00 am Mazunte time)

Tai Chi and Qigong: at any available times during the day.

 

Mind and Emotional State: I started the tapas while undergoing a rather difficult recovery time from severe distress, suffering and emotional turbulence, that  had affected both my level of serenity and emotional balance. I kept the intention to live with an open–‐heart, therefore I was determined to not allow my heart to close. I started the tapas as part of a larger and more complex personal practice I had chosen for myself with the goal of regaining my tranquillity, peace and emotional balance, as well as for re-establishing the level of mind clarity that allows the revelation of truth, intuitive answers, deeper levels of understanding and awareness, and allowing inner guidance to replace fears and outer influences. Therefore, on one hand my state of mind was not optimal for the practice, but on the other hand it was an interesting goal to observe how such inner background of sadness could evolve during the entire timeline of the tapas. However, discerning mindfulness is necessary in assessing the influences of all aspects of my practice on this evolution.

Diet and Nutrition:

Fully vegetarian (almost vegan) nutrition, with many restrictions due to food sensitivities and allergies (e.g., gluten free, casein free, egg free diet, etc.).

Wishing to reach the point where physical food is not necessary any longer. No coffee consumption, no alcohol and no drugs.

 

sunset sungazing

Month 1

Notes and Observations:

  •  I practiced the Sun Gazing technique at different times during the 7:00– 8:00 am interval, Florida time, experimenting with different levels of intensity of sun luminosity and brightness. Florida sun can be very powerful in January even during the first hour after the sunrise. At the end of the 1h interval, in days with clear sky, it becomes impossible to look straight into the sun even for 10 seconds. I noticed that the Sun Gazing effects were more powerful when gazing at the brightest sun (towards the end of the interval), but my mind and body were less relaxed and therefore I could not keep the peaceful state till the end of the gazing practice; when I practiced the technique at the beginning of the interval, I could sit in complete relaxation and I could feel the prana and the energy resonance much better and with much, longer echoes. Also, when the sky was occasionally cloudy and the clouds completely covered the sun,I continued the practice and I could feel the prana anyway, although I could not visually see the sun.
  •  It was obviously a great Trataka and Taraka Yoga practice.

While progressing with the gazing and getting used to the luminosity and brightness of the sun, I could keep my eyes open and not blinking for longer; after the first 3 weeks, I had no more tears during the practice.

  •  After the first few days of the tapas, after getting used to the gazing routine, I started to integrate “Centering on the Spiritual Heart” during the gazing time. Later, this centering on the heart started to happen naturally. After one month of the tapas, my Heart Centre becomes warm and energized within the first couple of minutes of the combined “gazing and centering” practice, I feel the loving sensation and the vibration becoming stronger and stronger in a very natural way.
  • I feel the direct connection between my eyes (focusing on the Sun) and my Heart Centre, like a channel or a cord that links them together. It feels warm, energized and active. May it be the activation of Kati channel?
  •  Simultaneous activation of Ajna, Sahashrara, and Anahata Chakras, plus well centering in the Spiritual Heart during most of the tapas sessions, as long as I keep  the state of relaxation and surrendering.
  •  At the end of the first month, I felt I had recovered my state of clear mind and I progressed substantially toward balancing my emotions. I have  gained access to the understanding and truth I was looking for, and I received the answers to most of my questions. I am still pursuing the goal of regaining complete tranquility and peace, and to progress toward equanimity. I usually feel a direct connection and straightforward result:

 

Mind clarity – Emotional balance Note:

Considering that I practice the Sun Gazing daily morning tapas in combination with the Hridaya meditation routine, I could not tell for sure which of these practices helped my emotional balancing more. Also, Ajna Meditation following right after the gazing session made the state of clarity become deeper and more stable and last longer throughout the day.

  •  While these are personal observations and hypotheses, I will continue to note the effects and wait for more insights and inner guidance in the following months.

Ahimsa & Violence in Modern Society

Violence is a common trap in our modern society, where we are constantly exposed to violence as an acceptable mode of operating. Not only do we have to overcome our base animal tendencies, but we also have to purify from socially-acceptable manners of behavior.

 

For example, in our society it is accepted that from time to time our actions may hurt others. Moreover, it even becomes a method of getting what we desire. Soap operas, films, books, and the news love to capitalize on our fears and fear-induced emotions, as well as on our natural and powerful aversion (and attraction) to these conflicts. We have become a world that consumes drama on a daily basis and its power comes from disharmony, fear, and violence.

 

This is a distortion of the art of drama, as originally theatrical performances were intended to powerfully evoke emotions in order to inspire the introspection and contemplation of profound issues.

 

Violence is being used to hide our weak points from ourselves and others, to remain with our hearts closed, obscured by judgments, resentments, and actions which cannot be forgiven. Violence is separating and alienating. It would be naive to think that the nectar of harmony, love, and compassion can flow into our lives without making a commitment to investigate and outgrow the roots of violence. Such is the Eastern saying referring to karma: “One keeps wanting to eat mangoes, but all he keeps planting is neem seeds” (the neem plant being known for its bitterness).

As much love and compassion as we cultivate in our lives, is what we plant in the hearts of the ones we love. Perhaps one day we will be blessed to become lovers of all hearts.

 

“All men should be willing to engage in the risk and wager of ahimsa, because violent policies have not only proved bankrupt but threaten man with extinction.” -Thomas Merton

(quoted by Eknath Easwaran in Your Life is Your Message)

what is meditation

Yoga for Health and Healing

Many people begin practicing yoga because they want to improve their physical health or simply because it makes them feel good.

The practice of yoga has countless health benefits.

It revitalizes, stretches and tones the entire body and balances all of its major systems: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, respiratory, reproductive, skeletal and urinary.

There are many yogic hospitals in India with some amazing accounts of healing through yoga practices.

Western medical research has also verified that yoga assists our body in healing itself for a multitude of conditions, without the need for pharmaceutical drugs. The academic research literature contains over 1000 scientific articles covering yoga’s effects on a wide range of health conditions.

Some of these include:

Chronic pain, Asthma, Arthritis, Depression, Anxiety, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Premature ejaculation, Prenatal health, Menopause, Cardiovascular diseases, and Diabetes. Scientific studies are also confirming the healing benefits of yoga for many of the common psychological and psychiatric conditions that afflict hundreds of thousands of people every year, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), eating disorders, schizophrenia, and psychotic symptoms.

 

Beyond the Physical Body

It is not surprising that yoga has strong healing effects on psychological conditions. From a yogic perspective, the physical body is only one of five layers of our being (koshas, which we will discuss more fully in another post). It is the most familiar starting point in yoga for the majority of people, as our physical body is the most tangible and easily perceptible.

However, overall health is also greatly influenced by the subtle layers of the body. Just as yoga helps to purify and reestablish a balance between all parts of the physical body, it also purifies and balances the energetic or pranic body.

Gradually we start to notice changes within our other subtle layers: the emotional, mental and even the spiritual layers of our being.

Some examples of these changes are:

  • Improved mood
  • Stress reduction
  • Self acceptance
  • Self control
  • Positive mental outlook
  • Improved concentration
  • Improved memory
  • Calmness

 

“When we raise ourselves through meditation to what unites us with the spirit, we quicken something within us that is eternal and unlimited by birth and death. Once we have experienced this eternal part in us, we can no longer doubt its existence Meditation is thus the way to knowing and beholding the eternal, indestructible, essential center of our being.” Rudolf Steiner

Yoga Practice – The Bridge Between Doing and Being

Yoga - Awareness

While we want to maintain a committed practice, it is also very important not to lose sight of why we are doing the practice in the first place, what is our intention.

There is an old Zen saying about the “finger that points to the moon.” The practice is just a “finger” and we don’t ever want to mistake it for or lose sight of the moon.

Moon

On the one hand, yoga posits that at the core of our being, we are already perfect and whole – we don’t need to do anything except to recognize that and rest in that knowing. And at the absolute level this is very true.

However, at the same time, because of strong subconscious conditioning, most of us find it very difficult to surrender to our Real nature and just be. This is why the practice of hatha yoga and meditation are considered an essential element of the yogic path.

Yoga gives us tools and specific practices that help us to develop greater awareness of our body, breath and the universal energies, while meditation helps us to go further, beyond the mind.

As we purify our being through these practices and develop an ability to dis-identify with old patterns, we gradually begin to remove veils and have a fresh, more intimate sense of ourselves.

 

Seek the Self in the body.

This body is known as the abode of the Self.

Forsaking greed and attachment

will brighten the body.

The body will shine like the sun.

 

Slowly through practicing breath control,

the lamp shone

and I saw my true nature.

The inner light I realized –

caught it in darkness and seized it.

 

Deeds I performed became offerings.

Words I spoke became mantra.

Experiences my body had

were for self-knowledge.

This is the essence of siva’s way.

 

Some renounce their home,

and some their hermitage.

All is futile

if the mind is not under control.

Meditate on your breath

day and night,

and stay wherever you are.

 

-Lalla

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