A spirit that lives in this world
and does not wear the shirt of love,
such an existence is a deep disgrace.
Be foolishly in love,
because love is all there is.
There is no way into presence
except through a love exchange.
If someone asks, But what is love?
answer, Dissolving the will.
True freedom comes to those
who have escaped the questions
of freewill and fate.
Love is an emperor.
The two worlds play across him.
He barely notices their tumbling game.
Love and lover live in eternity.
Other desires are substitutes
for that way of being.
How long do you lay embracing a corpse?
Love rather the soul, which cannot be held.
Anything born in spring dies in the fall,
but love is not seasonal.
With wine pressed from grapes,
expect a hangover.
But this love path has no expectations.
You are uneasy riding the body?
Dismount. Travel lighter.
Wings will be given.
Be clear like a mirror
Be clean of pictures and the worry
that comes with images.
Gaze into what is not ashamed
or afraid of any truth.
Contain all human faces in your own
without any judgement of them.
Be pure emptiness.
What is inside that? you ask.
Silence is all I can say.
Lovers have some secrets
that they keep.
“Isn’t it time
to turn your heart
into a temple of fire?”
There is an aloneness that is not loneliness, and not despair, and western medicine hasn’t got a clue. It is something like a profound closeness with your own being, an intimacy with the quiet passing of things, friendship with the broken and the transient within and without. While you quietly grieve over yesterday’s dreams of tomorrows that never came, you hold today so close in your arms. You are the mother of today.
There is a fragility that is not weakness. An exquisite sensitivity to the sad majesty of this ordinary world, a vulnerable openness that has nothing to do with how much money you have made, how you have succeeded or failed in your quest for perfection, or how beautiful or immune to infection your body is, but something to do with the tenderness with which you are willing to touch the broken parts of the world, the depths of aloneness to which you are willing to plunge.
There is an exquisite melancholy that is not depression, contains no pathology, for it contains no self at all. It is as if the heart is broken open and cannot be closed again, ever. Like everything is made of the finest crystal and could shatter at any moment. The sun could burn up without warning, the breath could seize up, a loved one could pass away quietly in your arms. That tiny bird on the tree over there is made of finely woven thread. The neglected pool of water by the supermarket door has infinite depths but no surface, no surface. The moon takes on the quality of a reflection of a reflection in a dream, and everything is so close. You can touch the horizon, whisper to galaxies.
This melancholy, sometimes it arrives unexpectedly in the middle of the night, when you cannot sleep and the moonlight is casting tender shadows on your forearm, or it comes sometimes as you walk through the forest with your dog (you love how he waddles now that he’s getting old, your little companion) and you remember what it is like to be free, or at least alive; or it comes unexpectedly at the dinner table with friends, with delight at … the salt, yes, delight that the salt could exist at all, that there is a world with salt and food and friends, and the possibility of meeting.
Do not medicate away this melancholy. Go deeper into it. It contains information, important information, and longs to release its healing energies. No, they won’t understand you, they will call you depressed, self-indulgent, mad, but you will smile, for you are like the daffodil, and you never wanted to be understood. Your being is too vast to be understood. You will take this imperfect life over no life at all, you will take this broken world blasted through with gratitude over a perfect world half-touched or half-remembered, and the judgements of others will be a small price to pay for never being able to turn away.
Running naked through the streets, throwing off the last of your clothes, you will laugh as they come to lock you up. You are free! You are free! And this beautiful melancholy will keep you from ever closing your heart!
- Jeff Foster
“All things are in process, rising and returning. Plants come to blossom, but only to return to the root. Returning to the root is like seeking tranquility. Seeking tranquility is like moving toward destiny. To move toward destiny is like eternity. To know eternity is enlightenment, and not to recognize eternity brings disorder and evil. Knowing eternity makes one comprehensive; comprehension makes one broadminded; breadth of vision brings nobility; nobility is like heaven.” ~ Lao-tse
I had a cat named Oscar that recently died (named after one of my most favorite authors and poets, Mr. Oscar Wilde.) He was my first cat and I loved him. I arrived in Peru a week ago with the intention of returning to the states soon to see my pets and family. It had been so long since I had been home, so the idea of holding my super soft cat had often brought a smile to my face. However, my step-father contacted me a few days ago and informed me gently that Oscar had died in his sleep. Oscar was six years old. Maine Coon cats are ‘supposed’ to live to 20, so this was a shock to me. And so I cried. I spent a whole evening crying and looking through pictures and videos of him. I felt sadness that I would never hold him like a baby in my arms again or pet him in the morning as he woke me up with kisses.
After a period of time I took a deep breath, put the pictures aside, laid out my yoga mat and forced myself to practice surya namaskara. I was in downward dog, taking deep breaths, when my heart opened and a smile came to my face. I smiled because I had loved. I smiled because he had existed. I let go of the sadness and I embraced the love. I felt blessed… blessed that he had been in my life and that I had all those moments with him… and blessed that I experienced such sadness over the loss of him. I experienced true loving feelings. It’s amazing how yoga opens the energy channels of our body. How it can guide you to the answers to that you have long pondered. How it can bring you peace when you need it the most.
I have had the blessed experience of losing family/animals/jobs/friends/lovers in my life. I say ‘blessed’ because without these experiences I believe I would still be asleep. I would continue to take advantage of the time I have with people that I love, but instead I now feel more aware, awake and appreciative of the people and moments in my life. I have developed a living understanding of the temporariness of everything and everyone in my life. I have come to learn that every second is precious. Every moment is a treasure to be loved and cherished… and let go of. I’ve learned that when the person, animal, lover, thing departs (as all things will inevitably do), that it’s okay… that the love will live on.
“For that which is born, death is certain, and for that which is dead, birth is certain. You should not grieve over the unavoidable… The Supreme Self which dwells in all bodies can never be slain… Weapons cut it not; fire burns it not; water wets it not; the wind does not wither it. Eternal, universal, unchanging, immovable, the Self is the same forever… Dwelling in all bodies, the Self can never be slain. Therefore you should not grieve for any creature.” ~ Bhagavad Gita
We will all inevitably experience loss in our life. Pain. Misery. Sadness. Heartache. It’s these feelings and experiences that make us human. We have hearts and we tend to love so much! And we all struggle some. When I held my grandmother's hand as she left this world I felt like a part of me had died. I didn’t quite grasp the concept of the temporariness of everything though. So, when I lost my mom I struggled! I thought I had more time! I did! I floundered and felt so much loss. Overwhelming sadness. And it took me a long time and many yoga poses and moments of solitude and mistakes made and countries seen, to cope with the loss of them both… But now, looking back on it all, I would not change a thing. I am more alive because of these losses. I am more open-hearted. I love and I love hard. And now that Oscar is no longer here, I am still okay because I loved him fully. I loved him truly. And I have no regrets.
A long while ago, during the loss of my mother, I began reading Nietzsche… and it was Nietzsche that sort of did it for me. At a certain moment in Nietzsche’s life, the idea came to him of what he called “the love of your fate.” He teaches that whatever your fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, “This is what I need.” It may look like a wreck, but you should go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment – not discouragement – you will find the strength is there. Any disaster you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life.
Nietzsche also says that then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.
Recently I’ve been speaking with a very dear friend of mine about a friend of hers that is experiencing the inevitable death of her beloved father. To this friend and anyone else experiencing loss, I want you to know that it’s going to be okay. You will recover and the strength that you need will be there for you. Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” Keep loving! Keep smiling! Embrace the moments you have left with the ones you love… and let them go… because they are not really gone… they will live on in your heart and memories and smiles and tears. And when he/she finally does pass… It will at first feel so new and all you’ll see is the empty space, but that is not how it is in the landscape of the heart. There, there is no empty space and he still laughs and grapples with ideas and plans and nods wisely with each of us in turn. And you can continue to live proud that you knew him, loved him and cherished him until the very end.
I just want to say to her and anyone else experiencing loss or the feeling of overwhelming sadness that I hope that my experiences and studies help you to handle loss in your life a little better and to please know that you are not alone. In short, love the moment, the experience, the happiness and sadness… you will come out of this stronger than you ever thought possible.
In order to take flight, first develop the root.
Lightness is cultivated from grounding. Start here. With a number of opportunities to establish roots in the practice, when learning to ground, move the energy downward through the limbs. The rebounding energy, in turn, surges upward, allowing the subtle channels of the body to flow and energize, arising first from a place of stability.
Look in nature. The tallest trees in the world, the redwoods, have a vast intricate network of roots supporting their skyward stretch. I like to think of it the same way in practice. Whenever my hands or feet are touching the floor I consciously ground my awareness and energy down toward the earth. This is where I gather my strength. It’s an offering.
If you've taken my class before I often say while your hands or feet are pressing into the mat, "Stop... look at your hands... look at your feet. These are your roots. Spread your fingers wide. Ground down into the earth at all four points... these are your roots and you are a strong, yet flexible tree." Do you remember me saying this?
I've been studying Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois's books and Youtube videos about Ashtanga Yoga over the past two weeks... preparing for my course next week. Currently I am reading, "Yoga Mala". Quite possibly, one of my favorite yoga books thus far.
Primary Series, among other things, is designed in a manner to ground and center, attaining an intimate relationship with our bodies. Starting from the gross level of awareness, then through time and practice, slowly, moving upward into the subtle reaches. It’s intelligently designed. Often I feel gathering strength originates from focus and awareness. Even if it hasn’t physically manifested yet, it doesn’t matter. We are working the most challenging muscle of all in between the ears. If we work with internal guidance the outward manifestation will start to form. It really isn’t the goal, think of it more as the byproduct of consistent, devotional practice. Practice is the goal. Then we taste the true experience.
Grounding doesn’t always correlate into working with the downward flow of the body, even though this is an important step. It is also about fully inhabiting the body from root to tip. Every inch, every layer, ALIVE. Every part of our bodies integrated with the greater whole. This doesn’t mean tensing, grasping or holding. This simply means awakening every cell of the body through the breath. If we can’t feel it, we can’t transform it. Equally stated, we can’t let it go either. Truly, what we are aligning to is the conscious awakening of the parts of ourselves that lie dormant or inert. We already encompass everything. Think of it as an excavation. Some may have to dig deeper than others, however in the larger of scope of things it doesn’t matter. Our body, our lesson.
There’s a pulsation. Feel it. Through the breath our sensitivity toward this pulsation arises as we channel the energy. Grace begins to take form. Join with it. It onsets by inherently listening, feeling the natural flow of the body emanating from the center, radiating outward. This too is grounding. The center is the area of Mula bandha up toward Uddhiya bandha. The entire area. Encompass this area. Even if it feels dead, it doesn’t matter, send your awareness there. Like I said, before it initiates in the mind, then in time, the body follows. We are creators, it takes consistent effort and patience. The refinement of the bandhas happen over a duration of continual practice. Don’t get too wrapped up into it if it doesn’t make sense, because it’s still a mystery, even to me. All I know is connecting toward center brings the energy down into the body where the intelligence resides. Ever had a gut feeling? It never lies. Does it?
“Start by doing what is necessary;
then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi
As cliché as it sounds, the power is within. I like to say, in an Ashtanga yoga practice, it’s about having an in-body experience. We begin with what is tangible, and accessible, our bodies, and often before we have considered entering into daily practice we haven’t become intimately connected with what houses our souls. I remember when I first began my yoga practice at Devi Yoga in Sedona, AZ... a primarily Ashtanga yoga studio; I was amazed at what took place as I settled into the body. Through the power of the breath and the conscious connection centered on each movement the synergy created was a revelation. Ah-ha. The gateway to greater liberation is through the body revitalized by conscious breath. Of course there isn’t only one way to freedom. However, from this realization the power of practice started to unfold. Layer upon layer we lighten up, whether it manifests in our body, or better yet, in our hearts and minds, never forgetting the added element bringing in a sense of discovery and curiosity in the process.
Lightening up isn’t only about fancy entries and exists out of postures. It entails bringing a sense of devotional wonder into our hearts through the experience of yoga. Each conscious step we take to dive inside through this physically demanding practice will begin to shed the unnecessary. What holds us down, what blocks our light, through observation comes clarity. “Mind medicine,” as Guruji would say.
“We don’t use the body to get into the posture we use the posture to get into the body.”
– Bernie Clark
Your reason for wanting to practice yoga or your reason for currently practicing yoga is not important. The important thing is that you have overcome previous prejudices and postponements to try yoga for yourself. You have overcome the biggest obstacle.
Perhaps you are doing yoga to develop a healthy body or a beautiful body. There is nothing wrong with this motive and the practices of yoga will help you attain this. All I say to you is: “Be aware of your mind. Do you feel more peaceful? Have you developed greater concentration?” If so, then through personal experience you will know that yoga practices have a beneficial influence on the mind as well as the body.
Perhaps you have some illness or body ailment, which you want to eliminate and have come to yoga as a last resort. Whether it is physical or mental, it does not matter, for yoga can help, as the very essence of yoga is tied up with these faculties.
Many people have unsatisfactory relations with wife or husband, friends or colleagues. The practice of yoga will help to put your relationship on a sure, positive basis. Remember, a relationship improves in depth of understanding according to the level of self-awareness. Yoga aims at enabling you to know yourself and to see your foibles and nature in others. In this way, understanding arises and through this your personal relationships will improve.
Perhaps you have heard that yoga can improve or rectify sexual relationships. Yes, this is true and is a perfectly good reason for starting yoga, especially since inadequate sexual relations are often the cause of much unhappiness and frustration. A body that is perfectly healthy and efficient and a mind that is tuned to a high point of sensitivity and calmness, as they are through yoga practices, increase one’s ability to enjoy sexual union or remove the obstacles that at present make it impossible.
Maybe you have religious beliefs, but without any spiritual experience. Or maybe you have no religious beliefs and you seek spiritual experience. Or perhaps you have no belief in the existence of spiritual experience, but have come to yoga merely to see what it is all about. It does not matter – you have come. That is the main thing.
What I am trying to say is that whatever your situation in life, whatever you believe or do not believe, whatever you want from life, yoga will help you because it changes your whole being and hence your relationship with and attitude to life itself.
The ultimate point of yoga and my yoga classes is to expand your consciousness, to open your eyes to the vast number of things around you, of which at present you are unaware. It was Shakespeare who said: “There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We must keep our minds open to new possibilities. It is yoga that shows us a way.
Practicing and teaching I’ve experienced resistance on various levels in myself and have observed it in the students I assist on a daily basis. Sometimes the resistance we face comes across quite clear as it screams at us for attention. Other times it sneaks up without a warning dressed in disguise. Resistance. It’s always around lurking. I’ve been fascinated with the topic particularly since I’ve felt it on a personal level over the past six months. It seems to run in cycles often making itself known more prominently at certain times than others. What I have found is acknowledging its presence no matter how much you wish it wasn’t there, even in the midst of feeling it... to simply show up takes every bit of energy you have, but there is an opportunity for growth in the struggle. Afterward, when the clouds have cleared a wellspring of growth and expansion usually awaits on the other side of it.
Allowing what is to be is one of the most arduous of internal practices we face on and off the mat. After we have experienced our honeymoon period from attaining the “goodies” of a constant yoga practice we notice that the feeling begins to wear off and then we become aware that some of the most extensive work is about to begin. This is the yoga. The goodies only give a small taste of the true experience. A fractional glimpse into the eye of the proverbial storm, but we have to go through the storm at some point and resistance is part of that storm.
Not all situations will be ideal. There will be days our bodies will feel stiff, and our minds will feel as if it sits within the depths of hell. In turn we may experience apathy and boredom as we are seduced by our expectations of how things should be. Of course, this is the play of the mind and the craving of the ego. There is really is no need to judge when resistance crops up because it is inevitable. However, what will we put in its place? A question worth contemplating.
I know for me the practice has evolved and changed over the years. In the beginning there was an abundance of excitement and enthusiasm. Everything felt new and every challenge was something that motivated me to tread forward. I still feel this to some extent but more and more the focus rests in the quiet unchanging part of myself, because after awhile I realize that the body is in a constant state of flux and then ultimately impermanence is experienced. Change is always happening and acknowledgement of that makes the ride all the more graceful. The important thing to remember is the effort and steadfastness we put forth to practice as we rest in this quiet space of awareness is more important than any of the postural goodies we can acquire. Even in the midst of injury, apathy, boredom, fatigue, and depression, all these struggles must be faced head on and there is really no need to wish it were different. Everything in time passes. Grace happens when we let go of the need for it to be any other way.
As a teacher it can be one of the most honest discussions I can have with a student. No, it won’t always be easy, and no it won’t always be fun, but I will tell you, it will be worth it.
“The practice of asanas and pranayama is learning to control the body and the senses so the Inner light may come forth. That light is the same for the whole world and it is possible for man to experience this light, his own Self through correct Yoga practice. This is the natural outcome of a good practice and one will gradually learn to control the mind because one eventually will come to experience the very support of it. But the mind is indeed very difficult to control, but everything is made possible with right practice. We must therefore first and foremost practice, practice, practice for any real understanding of Yoga to take place. Then eventually we will be able to break the fixed patterns of the mind and taste the greater underlying support of it all.” - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
While in Thailand I began my yoga practice again. Finding a studio here or there to lie my mat upon. Occasionally finding a new friend or even a stranger within a hostel that wanted to practice too, giving me another opportunity to lie my mat out on a hostel floor. To breathe deeply amongst other yogis.... With feelings of comfort and exhilaration, mixed in with the energy of everyone in the room, let’s just say, after a year of practicing alone, there is no other place I’d rather be than in a room with another yogi. And, let’s not forget the heat of tapas being burned. Settling into this breath paced practice, I hop onto the wave, and simply enjoy the ride. And now India... my second week of a serious practice, which I’m in the midst of now, reality sets in. The kinks in the body arise. When the high of the first week wears off, the real work begins. It will be a steady climb before I start to coast again. It always works out this way.
It also takes a while to decompress from the pace of living on the road compared to being still, whether at home or in a yoga training. In India, one quickly learns that everything works left of center. Never quite right. Never fully efficient, but somehow things come together anyway. A good lesson in giving up control or else live the alternative of beating your head up against a brick wall. It’s never fun and you’ll tire of it eventually.
Two trips, I feel blessed and thankful to have had the opportunity to come and as often as I have. I know it isn’t always easy for those out there who are balancing many things to put together the trip. I know this, and it reminds me to never take it for granted. I think for me my first trip to India really put what I deemed important into perspective. Growing up in the U.S.A., quite frankly, I was forced fed a bunch of bullshit. Force fed good stuff too, but when young it was confusing distinguishing between my own growing intuition and knowing, and the cultural mores that surrounded me. I know this might be controversial for some, and no matter, it has brought me to this point of discovery. Freedom isn’t always what we think it to be. Think on that. What does it really mean to be free?
In the same light, I honor the balance of deepening a yoga practice and creating a life out in the world of material. Some can use trips to Mysore (or Sedona) as an escape, and quite frankly, I find dipping my toes into both worlds deems useful in honoring what it means to bring yoga into life. How can we know that the practice has done it’s work?
Through the years, with more practice, something more wants to be born. I find this exciting. I feel through our yoga practice we uncover gifts, and it’s our responsibility to bring it forward or else grow stagnant. In many ways, it’s an offering. Our service to the world. Opening up to this there’s a sense of release, and at the same time, a comfort in not knowing it all. When I’m here I like to keep my eyes and ears open as I tune into my awareness. Can I learn something new through my encounters? Can I be open and release all notions of knowing something. Because yoga doesn’t work through association alone and idle gossip. It never has.
Practice, practice, practice...
“There are two things we should always be 1. Raw and 2. Ready. When you are raw, you are always ready and when you are ready you usually realize that you are raw. Waiting for perfection is not an answer, one cannot say “I will be ready when I am perfect” because then you will never be ready, rather one must say “I am raw and I am ready just like this right now, how and who I am.”
(C. Joy Bell)
I'm back in India and on my way to Mysore and although I feel so grateful to be here once again on my path I also feel a little nervous about the impending future and the choices that I've made to get here. It's been a year or so since I was a student once again and the perfectionist in me wants to shine, which I admit is creating a little anxiety, but I also feel sadness for leaving Thailand... I fell in love with that country at first sight. While I was leaving to board my plane to India from Bangkok yesterday I kept thinking, "This is a cross roads...." And I also reminded myself that both craving and aversion create suffering... just like the Buddha said. So I took a deep breath many steps along the way to Bangalore and now here I am... back in India and slowly refocusing on my yoga path. Sure, I miss Thailand. There are a lot of people and places that I miss in my life... but I feel grateful for every experience once again. The moments that got me here. The moments that still await me. So again, a deep breath, and a step forward.
Even with it being my 2nd trip to India I am still filled with enthusiasm to have the opportunity to practice with my teacher. So much appreciation and love arises within me to stand before my teacher and all that this practice and path represents. It's also inspiring to share it with others who understand and are inspired to live more deeply, more consciously, even in the midst of making our own mistakes and follies along the way. It's a part of living. What is important is that we try and put effort forth in the process.
The first week always feels a bit magical. So maybe I am beginning to ride high on that feeling. Every trip has it's own energetic makeup. Some trips have been harder than others and no matter what arises it is always worth it. Growth is always happening. Sometimes there are cycles within cycles. We come full circle to start over again from another vantage point. I always like to have a sense of curiosity even in the repetition in the Ashtanga practice. Bringing new eyes to what I have done before. Everyday is different and no matter how much we try to control it, life is in a constant flow of change.
This go around I traveled to Bangalore from Bangkok and then Mumbai so I didn't have that initial tiredness from travel when I landed. Coming from Mumbai was rather seamless. I already had my accommodations sorted and priority number one when I arrived to Bangalore was to visit my friend Meredith and then to prepare for my transportation to Mysore. Once there my priority is to register at KPJAYI. Still riding high on the incredible experience in Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Phangan) I'm entering a positive space and have the added gratification to have a month of simply being a student. In reality I am always a student no matter what role that I play but to have time set aside to only be a student and nothing else is rather priceless. Again, I feel grateful.
When I leave Mysore I definitely look forward to heading east once again, if not back home, but the funny thing is it doesn't take much time for the pull of India and this desire to practice at the source to take hold, so I foresee myself actually heading north towards Rishikesh first before I head back to Thailand. But who knows :)
"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with it's yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." ~ Louise Erdrich
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley
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