Waves of Language and Silence

Over the last week I have felt what it is to be swept along by my own words and by the awareness that I have readers out there who have been reading through all of this woven language. Last weekend, I pointed to the obvious paradox of forming human thought and pouring out sentences and paragraphs to describe that which cannot be described. Again, I feel overcome by the inadequacy of writing. Somehow it is because I love words so much that I must flow with their waves, and I must accept my need to recede from communication from time to time.  It is in recognizing when language risks losing its power that I cultivate a truer respect for what it may be I am trying to say.  I must stop trying to pound every experience into measured meaning and let myself float in a sense of unstructured being.

Thanks to all who have commented on my blog over the past week – I value all that you have shared with me and know myself blessed to have others out there who will dare me to think in new ways all the time.  On Saturday, I could not bear to get back to the keyboard, but I found comfort beyond measure in a room lit by one candle, simply allowing myself to receive.  Only at that moment could I integrate my own rhetoric into a version of truth.  It makes me realize that those masters we have grown to love on the pages of books were not trying to churn out a daily blog post about every step along the path.  They were permitted secret, unpunctuated silence.

I’ll be be back when the wave seems ready to crest again.

Up Dog. Down Dog. Bad Dog?

Saoirse on the matLife took something of a turn in the days since I walked my parents’ dog Saoirse under that Epiphany sky on Sunday. The most notable causes of difficulty this week were the left ankle I sprained later that very night while on one last stroll with the the beloved hound as well as the fact that said canine was such a nervous wreck in the face of two territorial cats that she has alternately panted or whined through the night since she has arrived. Any semblance of routine my husband and I might be trying to establish in this new year was dashed as I hobbled around with this old injury I thought I had left behind me and we learned what it is like to add a loving omega puppy to the pack.

Tonight I was going to accomplish everything on my list including an ankle-safe walk, whipping up dinner, and finally doing some yoga to unkink these confused muscles and sinews that were shocked by the indignity of lurching around on crutches over the last few days. When I finally had a chance to get to my mat, Banshee, the savasana kitty who loves Saoirse UP CLOSEto curl up on my belly the moment I lie down, started her bid for affection. Saoirse was not about to let that sort of love pass her by, so she quickly took her spot in my lap – all 100 pounds of her. I pushed, I yelled, I growled, I pleaded, I tried to extricate myself but she just kept twisting us both in knots of limbs and tail and seeking doggy tongue.

I have just started reading Eknath Easwaran‘s translation and interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. I am sure I will be writing a great deal about it, but my first impression was just how true and practical and applicable it all can be, especially through this wonderful teacher’s perspective. He talks about an Eightfold Path that lead to Self-realization, and ultimately to the realization of the Divine. In one of those rare moment when I actually have the ability to practice what I read, I recalled two elements of his Path: slowing down and putting others first. Though I was seeing a sweet, disobedient dog as a distraction to what I was meant to be doing – practicing what yoga I could on one foot – what if I stopped for a moment and looked at what she might need? What if I recognized this situation not as a lack of training but as the Universe suggesting I try something else? Here is a six-year-old only “child” who had been stolen from her life that features daily walks on the beach who is now being left alone all day with strange little creatures who look like little dogs, but most assuredly are a very foreign other. She has had to walk thought mountain slush and ice in woods full of deer and coyotes and other creatures that are so foreign to the sand dunes she is accustomed to roaming. The person sitting on the floor in the middle of prime puppy play space is her only link to that regular life she knows and loves, and now this person is rejecting her.

Surely Easwaran’s wisdom can be lavished on much more complex and serious issues than the classic struggle of yogini versus black lab, but this is a decent place to start, I should think. How is it that we think we can fill our house with adorable, furry fonts of unconditional love without occasionally stopping to realize what their experience of life must be like? The moments I spent holding on to her were the closest to meditation I had experienced in days, but I had fought them as ferociously as she fought for my attention. For once I feel a little closer to understanding what it means to listen to nature and silence that demanding ego-driven self who needs to believe she is in control.Angelic Saoirse

Savasana, With Feline

Seamus in reposeSavasana, also known as corpse pose, is a pose of deep relaxation most often practiced at the conclusion of a yoga session. It is about letting go completely both bodily preoccupation and racing mind and simply observing and integrating experience into the being. Often savasana is called the most difficult yoga posture to master because we are so programmed to run from thoughts that disturb us and plunge back into the constant “loops of distraction“; witnessing the process that is our own being can be a scary thing.

Cats are masters of savasana. Though known for napping, I have witnessed our own felines spend hours with lids half open, never moving but somehow conscious of the world around them. Despite the strong winter sun streaming through the windows, or perhaps because of it, Seamus and Banshee spent a remarkable amount of the day curled up or sprawled out in complete peace (why they cannot seem to strike such poses while I am cooking dinner and constantly shooing them from the countertops is another matter…). Unlike other days when they do excellent impressions of downward dog right there with me (and leave lovely little punctures in my mat), both were motionless for my entire practice (thanks to another great podcast by Elsie Escobar) . Somehow Banshee seems to have radar that wakes her from deepest slumber as soon as I lie down on the floor; she found true bliss purring on my belly right before I started my final bridge poses. I decided to take this as a sign from the universe to embrace savasana a few minutes early – who can deny an ecstatic black kitty who has persevered in her loveliness (most the of the time) despite the addition of a twerpy little brother last month?

Rather than surrendering to the earth and allowing my practice to settle into my bones and my spirit, my mind continued to spiral. I considered how the beauty of this moment in which I enjoyed complete simpatico with another species was a blessing beyond measure; I wondered how long she might want to stay like this before I got cold or bored; I tried to use this time to meditate and enter my Interior Castle. Generally I pondered how this might be good blog fodder and enjoyed the warmth that was a perfectly contented cat.

Because I guard these solitary Saturdays with a calculating ferocity, I plotted how to maximize this enforced period of relaxation while I was beyond the reach of my computer or a book. It was becoming painfully clear that I was not embracing the spirit of corpse pose, though I am guessing if the dead do any thinking my brain will be more active than most. Instead, it seemed a good time to do some really deep thinking – about God, the nature of my existence, and whether my husband would mind vacuuming on his day off (I did it last week).

My mind drifted to more of the James Finley lecture on Meister Eckart I had been listening to that morning and I began to realize the impossibility and the absurdity of my task. Luckily there is a transcript of his talk: “Every idea of God is God, no idea of God is God, every idea of God is infinitely less than God even a true idea, even a revealed idea is infinitely less than God, and therefore to the extent we cling to any idea of God – clinging to that ideal thought is the obstacle to God.” Even if simply existing in the present moment in savasana is difficult, apparently it is easier that conceptualizing the divine!

In jest Finley also said,”We are not created by God to think about God, that’s why Jesuits were created.” That seemed to prove why I was drawn to Boston College despite my disinterest in the Church at the time – unknowingly I had surrounded myself with people like me who long to ponder the unponderable!

Just Three Breaths – My Practice

“Like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre… [the] Divine Mother and Brahman are one.” (full passage)

When Andrew Harvey first quoted this bit of wisdom from the nineteenth century Indian saint Ramakrishna I had my first introduction to the intertwined nature of transcendence and immanence. I began to realize that the adoration of the Goddess did not preclude God and that, in fact, the two faces of the divine are inextricably bound to one another.

For whatever reason, these metaphors made sense to me almost immediately, as if they were elucidating something I had always known but never understood. Brahman is the supreme spirit in Hinduism, the unchanging heavenly power associated with the transcendent Father God. The Mother is the energy that dances through us and all of creation, the universal love of the heavens in action upon the earth. All that we know is the union of these two aspects of God.

At the conference at which I first heard these ideas everyone was high on potential spiritual power (both real and imagined), yet there was a palpable sense of worry because people did not know how these feelings would translate back at home in reality. I think this little practice that I cobbled together from the ideas I gathered that weekend is my response to the concern that I would forget the resonance of such words. It is informed both by Harvey’s description of the divine and Caroline Myss’s journey into the soul, Saint Teresa of Avila’s interior castle.

* * *

After closing my eyes I search around to find my center for a little while until I remember yet again that only in stillness can one find that peaceful place of silence within. When I have stopped struggling with my own mind, I can just experience what it is to be for a few moments until a breath that seems to come from the earth itself begins to fill me. It is the power of the Mother, the earthy glory of the Goddess that I have identified with for so long, but here there are no rules or separations, just the wash of creation and growth itself. It is green, it is gold, it is the rich black of fertile soil. I pull this breath up and all the way through my body, filling with the Mother’s love and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

The second breath comes from above, the transcendent essence that arches over us all. It is the peace that lifts me out of my body to a place of complete freedom. There all human definitions of God might fade away so that the power that is the Absolute can wash the ego away. It is white and silver, it is cool and warm all at once. I pull this breath down through mind and heart, down and down to root the heavenly in my feet, and then release it, letting this energy flow back into the universe.

Finally there is the breath of synthesis that pulls every facet of creation into my own soul. It comes from every side, it is the very air around me. It is every color, texture, scent, taste. The beautiful mixes even with the horrible because to be truly present is to recognize all threads in the tapestry of this life. With this inhalation I realize my place in this incredible universe, this constant interplay of the divine with itself, of the sacred with the material. Rather than retreating from the world because I find solace in the spirit, I am driven to delight in all that is so that I can see the spiritual in everything.

Om Tat Sat

Honoring the Teachers

A japa mala is a string of prayer beads used in meditation that help count the number of times one has chanted her mantra. I was first introduced to this Hindu practice by my yoga teacher and I use it on occasion when my mind is too buzzy to find stillness on its own. There are 108 small beads and one larger one that I was told was not used for the mantra but to thank your teachers.mala

I never was initiated into a mantra by going to the local ashram as I intended initially; life got in the way and then it became less of a good idea to align myself with one tradition in such a manner. It seemed rather suspect that I could stop at the Tibetan store in town and essentially buy what looked like a necklace and then step fully into a new spiritual practice because I though Saraswati was neat. At this point my mantra is not even in Sanskrit and it has its own sort of ritual beginnings.

When I first learned about offering thanks to my teachers, I hesitated. Thanks to the guy on the cover of a book whose only chapter I had read was specifically on the mala? Thanks to Mrs. Clark from first grade? Thanks to my yoga teacher who was a friend of mine, a real world person? I knew just enough about the guru system to know that I had never encountered a teacher to whom I wished to offer that kind of fealty (though the professor who taught us that “Yeats was a genius” came close).

Beyond being concerned that the lack of alignment with any specific tradition separated me from a significant teacher/student relationship, I was deathly afraid of becoming an adherent, a groupie, a fan, someone who abdicated her own individuality in the face of another’s wisdom. Perhaps this was born of the fact that I had never found something I could embrace unquestioningly or that I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment. Maybe it was because I was afraid of endorsing another’s beliefs by becoming her student and then later finding out she was in fact human and flawed and just in it to make a buck or to revel in the power of it all.

I am coming to understand that a healthy resistance to placing my fate in another’s hands does not necessarily exclude me from acknowledging my teachers and offering them my gratitude. Certainly the authors that I have read over the past few months have shaped me in profound ways. The works of Andrew Harvey, Caroline Myss, Stephen Cope, and James Martin S.J. are incredible, and I can state that freely even if I have my reservations about aspects of their philosophies or business models. Naming those whose works have been filtered through publishers and editors is to recognize only the most obvious form of knowledge, of course.

The only answer to all of this worry about “who will guide me?” is to realize that I am guided by every experience in this life, both positive and less so. The luxurious stretch of a cat. The friendliness of the mailman. The closed bud of a rhododendron in the cold. The love of my family. My curiosity to understand it all. I can only hope that I can come to realize that my meditative state is not so fragile as to have to exclude all of these little daily examples, because what is meditation if it is not rooted completely in the pedestrian beauty of life?