Tuesday, March 22, 2016

To find your Dharma - Learning how to Thrive

Dharma has many meanings, among them: to see things just as they are; duty; reality; our essential nature; the law or destiny; and it is also simply referred to as “the way.” Dharma means we finally understand, through direct experience, the nature of life, consciousness, and love.

All of the paths of yoga are concerned with dharma. As the Bhagavad Gita mentions in 3:33, “It is better to live our own life, even if poorly, than to imitate someone else’s path.” Human beings, through the gift (and sometimes burden) of choice, are the only species confused about who we are and what our purpose is. Even the tiniest of flowers will bloom in the spring without apology and say, “here I am, I am yellow, and I smell lovely, and this is who I am and all this is my gift to you.”

Dharma is an expression of both our deepest longings as well as what we receive from our circumstances. It is our duty to find our dharma, our path with heart. The practices are meant to help us find it. It is said that there is no amount of money, fame, or success that can make us happy. The only path to happiness is to live our life with authenticity and to give our gifts to the world without sabotaging ourselves constantly.

What comes to mind is the idea of “living out loud.”

Many students experience confusion with regard to finding one’s purpose, or dharma. Somehow, finding one’s purpose has become mixed up with the New Age philosophy of “following your bliss and all else will follow.” Unfortunately, this approach does not work. Even when you are deeply ensconced in your dharma, your work will sometimes be hard, tedious, boring, and filled with obstacles of all kind. It is not always bliss. But underneath all of it is a faith, a commitment, and a dedication that will guide you through all of the obstacles. At the end of the day, we know it is all worth it.

There was a time when doing my yoga practice really hurt my body. People suggested that I stop practicing. But I knew that I could not quit! I knew that there was more to it, and that I had chosen the right path for me but not yet the skillful approach. This deep faith eventually led me to the right teachers, who could really help me.

Two clues to finding dharma

There are two important clues that can help you to find your dharma.

The first clue is to pay attention to your natural talents and all the things that are easy and effortless for you to do. You are naturally drawn to those things and when you are engaged with them, time passes fast. Initially, you may not value this trait. If you are not sure about your natural talents, you can ask your friends about them, as they may be aware of the gifts you have. For example, if you are a good listener you may not think that this is special, but there are plenty of jobs where being a good listener serves as the foundation of doing a good job, such as being a therapist.

The second clue is the exact opposite of what is easy for you. To identify this, you must look deeply into your core wounds.

I was sick as a child and struggled for survival for many years. Being incarnated in a body and being healthy is obviously a theme of struggle for me. Working through this challenge led me to yoga and to my dharma.

Another example of how your core wound can help you find your dharma is illustrated by this story from a fellow yoga teacher:

Many years ago this teacher had the desire to give back to society and began to teach at a local women’s shelter. She was excited about offering her service to girls and women who had been abused and she expected her weekly class to be fun and easy. What she did not expect was how difficult this task turned out to be; the young women would challenge her on every level and resist her in every way; but she did not give up. Eventually, this work forced her to face the abuse she suffered earlier in her life.

Eventually her teachings began to help the women and girls and in doing so, she also helped herself. Today, she is one of the most prominent and outspoken yogi/activists of our time.

We could call this evolved state of being “the wounded healer.”

(Excerpt from Yoga & Dharma Manual, soon to be released)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Insight Meditation

Training the mind is a necessity because, as I have mentioned before, the mind makes a poor master but a great servant. We are training the mind so it doesn’t wander all over the place, and so we can focus on what really matters.

Everything thrives on attention. With attention we can uncover deep, habitual patterns in the mind and body, and by bringing everything into the light of consciousness, we can examine and understand them. Without this training we get caught in our fears, delusion, and greed, an endless, repetitive loop, which is also called the wheel of suffering, or samsara.

By training the mind, we not only discover much about ourselves, but also find that we can make conscious what usually is on automatic pilot.

It is said that every human being will be given 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows during their lifetime. No amount of practice or magic pill will alter that amount. We all experience some joy and some suffering. The problem is when we create more suffering than is necessary.

Over time, our mindfulness practice creates that pause, the moment where we get to examine our reaction and choose how to proceed.

This is the promise and power of the practice.

I took to vipassana like a fish takes to water. Up until then I had been trained to focus the mind by using a mantra. And while this is a beautiful practice and I still use it at times, it didn’t work for me as a basic training. I always felt like I was covering something up by putting a nice, exotic mantra on top. The whole exercise felt more like an escape from my reality, which didn’t feel right to me. With vipassana practice, any presentation of the body/mind becomes the sacred mantra. We patiently, and with great interest, look at whatever occupies our heart and mind. I loved giving myself this kind of careful attention and respect, because I have always believed that the answer lies within.

Mindfulness is a loving and non-judging awareness. We soon realize that most of the times we react to what is happening in three different ways:

  • When we like what is happening we instinctively try to get more. This is called grasping, or, in its basic form, greed.
  • When we don’t like what is happening, we push it away immediately. This is called aversion.
  • When our experience is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, we simply ignore it. This is called delusion.

These are the typical automatic responses of an untrained mind to experiences we have. If we look at the state of affairs in the world, we see that these three types of reactions are huge forces operating everywhere, among all peoples.

Not everything that seems unpleasant is bad for us, and not everything that is pleasant turns out to be good.

I like to use the example of ice cream. For most people eating ice cream is an intensely pleasurable experience. If we are on automatic pilot, we might eat the entire pint of ice cream. It tastes good, but later we will probably regret it. If we eat with awareness, not only do we actually enjoy each spoon, but we also get to stop before it’s too much.

Mindfulness is like a wrench thrown into the automatic response of grasping. And the benefit is that mindfulness actually turns greed and grasping into gratitude instead.

With unpleasant experiences we can use the example of "swallowing the bitter pill." We all know we have to take it sometimes in order to get well again. Even though we want to push away the bitter remedy, we take it, knowing it is for our own good.

Mindfulness is like a wrench thrown into the automatic response of aversion. The benefit is that mindfulness turns aversion into compassion.

When our experience is neither pleasant nor unpleasant, we tend to ignore it and so miss out on many beautiful moments. Many of us are addicted to drama, and if we don’t feel something intensely, we think it is not valid. When we learn to rest in the quiet moments without the intensity we can once again appreciate contentment. The benefit is that mindfulness turns delusion into contentment and spaciousness.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Welcome to Planet Earth

Dearest Sangha,

My friend Don Ricardo told me an old Native American story the other day. It tells of beings of immense beauty and power that lived on the earth a long time ago. Then, one day, when humans prepared to come live on Planet Earth too, the beings were worried that they would scare the fragile and impressionable humans with their beauty and power. So they cloaked themselves and became the shapes and forms of our natural world. Into trees they hid, and mountains, and all kinds of plants. They cloaked themselves in the shapes of animals so they could display their gifts without frightening the humans to death.

We get hints of that power when we look at an animal in its natural environment, or understand the healing power of a plant. Or, when we are outside and still, and feel the beauty and serenity present in nature. I love this story; it rings true to me on so many levels.

Lately, I have been pondering the statement that “man is the crown of creation.” I don’t really see much evidence of that, unfortunately. Nor do I agree with the idea that we have a divine-given right to treat animals and our world the way we have and do.

Over the years, I have heard theories that our planet is the “lowest” of all the planets or realms; or that those who come here are sentenced to some kind of prison camp.

But what if it is actually the other way around, and this planet is actually the “highest” planet there is?

It is the highest place because this is where you can learn about the true power of love.

Imagine that you have worked hard to deserve to come here. It is all the more challenging because you can so easily forget who you really are. The ante is high and you agreed to the challenge.

All the beings you encounter are there to remind you that you are really a Buddha in disguise. According to my teacher Jack Kornfield: All the beings are doing exactly what they are supposed to do in order to awaken us. Everything and everyone is already enlightened, except of course ourselves!

But because most of us have forgotten who we are, we have gone a bit crazy out of the pain of that forgetfulness.

To this I say: Congratulations! You have graduated and earned the opportunity to come to this planet and remember. This is your chance to pass the highest test on how to love.

And in passing the test, we can finally become the custodians of this beautiful world that we were meant to be. We are the Ones we have been waiting for.

I wish you a blessed and rich summer.

With love