You Are the Light That Is Returning

Today is the occasion of the Winter Solstice. On this day,  I usually reflect on the meaning of the season – this period of stillness when the sun stops before it once again begins its ascent.  The origin of the word solstice comes from the Latin word for sun, “sol” and the Latin word “sistere” which means stopped or stationary.  Over the years,  translations of the Latin derivations were converted into old French and then middle English to create the one word “solstice”.

I became most connected with the meaning of the solstice with the help of one of my teachers. David Lipschutz or Swami Enoch Dasa Giri gave a wonderful dissertation on the Winter Solstice back in 2001.  I try to listen to the recording each year to remember the significance of this phase in our cycle.  This year, I transcribed it so that I could read it again and again (also, I don’t know how long my old cassette player will continue to run). Copying down the words summoned a new intensity and brilliance for the piece.  The wonder of its simplicity was fresh and motivating.  I would like to share some of my teacher’s words with you.

“You are the light that is returning. You are the sun that has returned. You are the light that grows every day; you are the gift that is to be given. Dedicate yourself afresh to finding that light with delight and being a source from which that light emanates. For there are others near you who are hungry. They have forgotten what is it that they seek. If you wish to be peaceful, give that peacefulness to others. If you want to be loved, give that love. If you want to be taught, teach.

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Love, appreciate and accept those around you – especially the ones that annoy you. They are the ones that are waiting for someone or something to reveal their beauty to them because they have forgotten the snows of yesteryear.”  –Swami Enoch Dasa Giri

Go in peace, be at peace and share that peace with those around you.

The Story of My Enlightenment

It took me quite unawares.  I was nearly finished with my yoga teacher training and had three intensive workshops under my belt.  Looking back, that particular weekend was unique. It was when I came into contact with Goswami Kriyananda – the bright eyed guru who exuded compassion and emanated wisdom. He gave a wonderful discourse on karma and his gentle spirit was contagious. All in all, it was an inspiring time and I was open to soaking up the comprehensive training with my mind, body and soul.

The workshop started on Thursday evening and concluded on Sunday afternoon when our shuttle took us back to the Chicago airport.  That is when it hit me.  I remember looking out of the large motor coach window and feeling as though I was in another world.  I am a near-sighted person for whom distant details are not always the clearest.  Yet, I was seeing the landscape in HD.  The colors were rich and it was as though the vistas were alive – pulsing with energy.  I don’t recall interacting with the other students on the drive.  This initial phase had me feeling as if I were in a bubble.

After about an hour, we arrived at the O’Hare Airport in Chicago.  Now let me set this up for you.  It was November 2001, just two months after 9-11 (in fact it was November 11, exactly two months after the tragedy). So, as you can imagine, the lines were long – I mean long.  And the people were impatient and hostile. The sympathy and the camaraderie connected with our nation’s trauma had definitely dissipated.

For me it was another story.  The admiration that I had for the rural landscape had somehow transferred to the environment inside the airport.  I felt connected, dedicated and full of love for everyone I encountered. The thing that I most remember was the eye contact I sought. I was not intimidated by anyone. For my effort, I was usually rewarded with a small smile or a surprised glance as I intertwined with the lines and lines of people walking in an endless queue.

Finally on the plane, there was a collective sigh. Yet, the waiting was not finished as the captain began to issue reports that we were 30th in line, 20th in line…this continued until we were detained on the runway for an hour or more.  When the reality hit that connections would be missed, people starting getting nervous and tensions grew. Many wanted to reach out to their families but due to dead or non-existent cell phones (this was 15 years ago), they were unable to communicate. My phone was fully charged and I felt compelled to pass it around to everyone who needed it. It was my pleasure.  I never experienced one iota of selfishness or worry.  What was mine was theirs. This giving spirit tranquilized some of the inflamed passengers and a new more uplifting vibe began to circulate.

I was returning back to Texas to see my two young daughters and husband. I was excited to reunite.  But I never expected what I encountered.  As I came out of security, a bit tired but still floating on my cloud of illumination, I saw my family.  Now remember, all throughout that 8-10 hour day, I had experienced an unusual tenderness for complete strangers.  So, it is tough to describe how I felt seeing the faces of my loved ones.  But one word still comes to mind as I reflect on that event.  Beauty. I saw genuine beauty. And love.  A profound love that filled me with extreme happiness.  I wasn’t just glad to see them again, it was as though I was perceiving them for the first time and they were resplendent.

Of course, this feeling of elation and bliss eventually receded.  The joys of parenting took over and my enlightenment or period of samadhi dissolved to pave the way for a householder’s reality.  I tried to get it back.  But I guess the conditions were perfect for that one true experience.

During that time, and for a significant period, my crown was open and I was truly a part of the whole.  I was acting in pure compassion and encountering the authentic nature of things – the way we were meant to see.

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I’d like to share this mantra that harkens back to that amazing experience.

Lokah  Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, works and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

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YOLY Challenge #20: Self-Reflection: How Happy Are You?

smiley-1041796__180We have to dig deep for this week’s challenge.  Although happiness is not a simple process, it is ours to generate. Yes, we can allow other people and things to affect us. But, we need to realize that it is our reaction and what we do in response to others and the situations that we are presented with that ultimately determines our happiness.

There is a saying in Sanskrit, “Aham Brahmasmi” which, through my yoga teachings, I was taught meant “I am the creative principle.” Without denying a higher existence, this phrase is intended for us to see ourselves as creators of our own destinies. Through my own attitudes and actions,  I believe that I am the one who develops my personality, healthiness, career, social life – all aspects of my self.  No one else can determine these characteristics. In the end, all of my karmas (deeds) are going to reflect upon me.

Although we have control over many of our choices, there are some things that we are obligated to and some situations which we face as a society that cannot be detached from or eliminated. Family, jobs, some health issues, even options for food, water and shelter may not be ours to regulate. But our attitude towards these seemingly unfortunate conditions is ours to control. We can cultivate contentment or santosha within despite any unpleasant situations that face us.

I would like to share a story that my teacher, Goswami Kriyananda, told his students over the years.  Kriyananda was drafted in the Vietnam War and chose to become a medic rather than fight in the field.  As a medic he experienced horrific events – as you can imagine.  One such occurrence involved a young soldier that he had to assist after an explosion.  As he approached the man, he saw that there was a gaping hole where once the man had a right arm.  As he ministered to the soldier, Kriyananda wept and told him how sorry he was that he had lost his limb.  The soldier, smiling, replied “That’s not a problem, I’m left handed!”

Our state of health is a large slice of the happiness pie.  As we strive to stay healthy, circumstances occur that are beyond our control.  This is most difficult as pain and impairment can be devastating. But there are other segments within our lives: mental abilities, friendships, belief systems, dreams, environments and work or career goals that can influence our quality and pleasure levels in life.

Your challenge is to reflect on all the aspects of yourself.  Determine which area(s) are lacking in contentment for you and strive to make those areas more fulfilling.

Each day choose one category to examine and write down a number between 1 and 10 to label your level of contentment.  Then think about how you can cultivate happiness through change – including your attitude.

Happiness Categories

  1. Physical/Mental
  2. Values/Possessions
  3. Environment
  4. Work/Career
  5. Relationships/Partnerships
  6. Spirit/Religion
  7. Dreams/Goals

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To Invert or Not To Invert: That is the Question!

drama-312318__180The recasting of this famous Shakespeare quote immediately came to mind while I was planning this week’s YOLY Challenge.  Some yogis will admit that performing headstand and shoulderstand can be debatable. Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself before you begin these lofty postures.

1.) What Is There To Consider?

“To be, or not to be” is about choosing life or death.  Yes, this is fairly extreme but it was Hamlet’s dilemma within the play. Considering all of the consequences was imperative for him.

As you consider full inversions, please keep in mind that a deep understanding of the components of these postures is required. Headstand and shoulderstand should be approached step-by-step with guidance.

There is also an aspect of duality involved with inversions. Without the dual actions of lifting and grounding, maintaining the poses would not be possible.  These two principles are essential to finding a comfortable and safe inverted posture.

2.) What is the Point?

I learned that a literary inversion is when you switch the position of words for a specific purpose; for instance, placing an adjective after the noun it qualifies e.g. the soldier strong. In this case, the inversion in prose is to help the writer change the reader’s focus on a particular point. Shakespeare does this – a lot.

And, yoga inversions certainly change your focus. Being upside down, even for a relatively short period, clears your perspective and creates a sense of calmness.

Another point to note is that re-positioning yourself through inversions improves the flow of blood, lymph and oxygen throughout the body. This has a tremendous effect on the body as a whole.

3.) Can You Wear the Crown?

Hamlet’s soliloquy is all about deciding to do one thing over another. So, what is the right choice, do we invert? Headstand and shoulderstand are known as the kings and queens of yoga. And for good reason, they are truly remarkable poses. That being the case, why shouldn’t we all be doing them?

Because royalty sets high standards.  A heavy crown requires the appropriate strength, correct alignment and lots of guidance and preparation. Performing these pinnacle postures may not be accessible for all – at least not right away.

Do the right thing, prepare for the crown. In the end, abiding in wisdom is the most noble path.

4.) Want To Go Deeper?

Just for fun, I go51yjWiLM31L._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_ogled Shakespeare & Yoga.

Amazingly enough, I found this book!

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A Modicum of Moderation

On this our sharing day, I would like to address the idea of moderation.  I believe that it is the key to balance and the answer to many of the everyday choices we have in life.  How much do you eat? How often do you practice yoga and for how long? What is the correct amount of sleep? sun? or even sex?

If you can, be moderate.  Choose the middle.  A little of this and a little of that.                                                                                         telephone-1822040__340

Certainly a life lived in moderation should be a consideration as you develop your practice of ahimsa or non-violence.  And, like ahimsa, moderation is one of the yamas (restraints) within the 8 limb-fold of yoga. Its sanskrit name is brahmacharya.

If you seek to balance your tendencies, you will definitely honor your limitations.  Excess is almost always harmful.  Ever hear of too much of a good thing?

Lately, I am working on establishing reasonable limits for time spent on my computer and phone. It certainly has been a challenge. At the very least, I am becoming more mindful of some of the nonsensical ways that I use these devices.

What do you find most difficult to moderate?

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Ahimsa

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A key term for yogis.  Ahimsa is the sanskrit word for non-violence. The obvious definition for non-violence is to do no physical harm onto others. However, ahimsa goes way beyond the obvious.

Ahimsa is the first yama listed in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. The yamas (along with the niyamas) are important codes of morality found within yoga’s primary branch of its eight-limb system.

It’s important to recognize that when you practice ahimsa, you are pledging to do no harm in deed, word or thought.

And, another crucial point is that you apply this principle to yourself as well as to others. When practicing self non-harming, you should not only take care when crossing the street, but strive to live as healthy as possible.

In general, you should refrain from actions, words and thoughts that are destructive to your well-being and to the well-being of those around you.