Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yoga-nomics: Shallow Bowl Solutions

So, once upon a time, in a far off galaxy, I was studying for my MBA degree in Rochester, NY. Most of the study was interesting and I was absorbed in the world of finance, accounting and economics in order to bring more humanity to health care. Unfortunately, the world took a right turn just as I earned my degree, and hasn't come back.

One of the more interesting people there was a Professor William Gavett. In one lecture he put the drawings on the board (it was a long time ago) and pointed to the image on the left saying this is how most of us view most decisions. That is, there are a lot of wrong solutions to a problem, indicated by the rapid drop off to the left and right, but only one discrete point of the correct decision. The implications are astounding for most situations; whether at work or at home, we wrangle and debate to reach this one ultimate decision point, burning untold brain cells and creating all sorts of dysfunctional relationships!

However, consider the image on the right, he baited us. What if the decision space was more like a shallow bowl where there are many correct decisions within close proximity and with very little variance? Well, after considering this, my perspective was changed quite a bit. What would it mean if most situations had a whole raft of possible outcomes that were in fact fairly similar...

Now if we are talking about a solution that requires pinpoint accuracy, say making an incision on me to remove something that shouldn't be in me, then I want the decision to be precise. But aren't most decisions we are involved in more like selecting a meal? All are nutritious and satisfying, but decisions are more about personal preferences and style than substance.

The implication for me has been to be more tolerant of other points of view when making decisions and keep the shallow bowl in mind. After all, how badly can we mess up if so many solutions are so close to being right on...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Circle Around the Zero

I was invited to lunch yesterday at a local meditation center to talk about the recent 10 day silent retreat two of my regular yoga students had. What a delight! The food is always great there and the setting is one of the most conducive to inward looking in the Berkshires.

Of course, there is always the problem of talking about silence, but soon we were immersed in exploring together various aspects of the retreat. One person referred to "coming to zero" as a way of indicating a different way of being she experienced. I mentioned the following poem and sent it off to her when I returned home.

The Circle Around the Zero

A lover doesn't figure the odds.

He figures he came clean from God

as a gift without a reason,

so he gives without cause

or calculation or limit.

A conventionally religious person

behaves a certain way

to achieve salvation.

A lover gambles everything, the self,

the circle around the zero! He or she

cuts and throws it all away.

This is beyond

any religion.

Lovers do not require from God any proof,

or any text, nor do they knock on a door

to make sure this is the right street.

They run,

and they run.

~ Rumi

For me it captures the unrestrained quality of being that draws me back over and over. Also, it has a 'gonzo' all or nothing texture that I find necessary to see clearly. When we hold onto our set ideas, no matter how noble or valid or venerable, the timelessness of Truth is obscured.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Random Thoughts

Not the most focused day of my life. Lots of new elements forming up to change my daily routine have created a wider lens for me. Can't be sure how long it will last but it is a refreshing change.

Getting ready for Winter by installing replacement windows. This is so satisfying on many levels; savings on energy, feeling warmer in the rooms and just the sheer sense of accomplishment in working with tools and wood and getting something done. There is much to be said for simple jobs where you can see, feel and appreciate the change quickly.

Yoga classes are going well and I've been holding more now that my Mother is doing better. She is up and doing exercises most days and I just signed her up for a comprehensive program that will keep her in the home longer. There will be a team of health care providers reviewing everything and coming to the house several times a day to make sure she is doing well. A big relief for me.

There are lots of requests for me to bring up a regular schedule of classes, and I can tell from this weekend that people are anxious to re-connect. Probably will set a new schedule for November.

The grapes at my house in Schenectady, NY, are fantastic. They always are juicy and sweeter after the first frost. Right now they are the best although I've been eating them for about a month. Mostly concord grapes with seeds, unlike the watery seedless varieties sold in stores. The taste is absorbing when you bite into them - hard to ignore that grape flavor! The quantity of grapes has risen over the last few years once I learned the art of pruning. Now, every spring before the sap runs I cut off vines and shape the growth. It has paid off well with lots of healthy bunches of tasty grapes in the Fall.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chanting Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

You may have done some chanting in a yoga class, or at a Kirtan, which is a concert where lots of chants are sung. Quite a rush isn't it? Really gets the prana moving...

Well, it's meant to do that. Chanting is a whole body, spirit, mind work that fits really well into Bhakti Yoga.

Everything we are, everything that is, is vibration. The entire cosmos is a vibrational continuum, and embodied life is the material expression of vibrational flow. When this vibrational flow is disrupted, imbalances result creating disharmony in the environment or dis-ease in the physiology.

Vibration through speech is a big deal in this tradition. Chanting helps to put us back into balance.

Mantra is a Sanskrit word with many shades of meaning: "tool of the mind," "divine speech." Another, more poetic way of looking at chanting mantra is:

The practice of mantra actually kneads the flesh of the body with sound. The delicate cells of the elaborate bundles of nerves are subjected to a constant hammering, a seizure of the flesh by the vibrations of divine sound.

Om namo bhagavate vasudevaya is known as a Mukti, or liberation, Mantra. It is a potent spiritual formula for attaining freedom. Consistent use of this mantra will eventually, even if over many incarnations, free us from the cycles of rebirth. In this way it mitigates Karma so we are free to make true choices in our lives. True choices, not simply reacting to desire and aversion.

Om is a seed sound for the sixth, or brow, chakra and is the name of the state of existence in which the Indweller (jiva, atman, or soul) has united with the spirit of the all-pervading consciousness.

Namo here means name.

Bhagavate is one who is becoming divine.

Vasudevaya is "the Indweller".

A 'fairly' literal translation would be: "Om and salutations to the Indwelling One, substance of the Divine."

Check out the link to Krishna Das and listen to him bring the full vibrational aspect of this practice to life.


P.S. For literalists, I include the following:

om--O my Lord; namah--my respectful obeisances unto You; bhagavate--unto the Personality of Godhead; vasudevaya--unto Lord Krsna, the son of Vasudeva.


O my Lord, the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Taking Time Out

"...we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when 
instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual
techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as
spiritual materialism."
Chogyam Trungpa

Last week I was answering questions after a meditation class and it became clear that several people came to learn new techniques. I led an open meditation that evening where I brought up the question "Is what I'm doing meditation." In the conversation that followed the half hour meditation, one woman admitted that she was expecting guidance and had a difficult time when we were silent.

Isn't this a basic problem when we begin our meditation? Are we moving into memory to recreate the past or moving forward into planning to build a better present. How difficult it is to be present in this fast paced, results oriented, nano second controlled culture.

I have recently taken a major Time Out in my life to take care of my Mother who had a sudden and sharp downturn in her health. One of the first obstacles to confront me was my sense that I would loose momentum in my job, teaching and relationships. Many of the constructs that define me were called into question immediately by simply stopping my routine and taking care of what was in front of me. Of course, this translated into a whole set of logical, practical and well intentioned rationalizations.

In fact, a sense of spaciousness and ease flooded me in the weeks that followed as I immersed myself in the moment to moment work of taking care of 'activities of daily living.' The freedom of doing the next right thing took hold. What evolved was less focus on 'me' and a growing absorption in the reality of not being separate from this person.

But my spiritual practices fell off at first. That is, the routines I had come to label as spiritual, when the real spiritual work of service to others was filling my life. It's so easy to be diverted into high profile service when the real meaning of life is usually looking at us with a familiar face.