Thursday, April 16, 2009
This post may rub some people the wrong way. My intent is not to offend - but rather to tell it like I see it.
I have a problem with "systems" that profess to help you "GET WHAT YOU WANT." It really doesn't matter the brand of system - Tony Robbins, The Secret, The Laws of Attraction, Norman Vincent Peale, the Power of Positive Thinking. All these systems (in my opinion) are flawed.
The reason I believe these "Control your mind/power/intention to get what you want" programs are flawed is because the basic premise - that if you get what you want you will be happy - is erroneous. It's a lie!
Being "happy, joyous and free" has very little to do with what I want. All my problems - all of them - are a result of things I 've wanted. All of them!
It is my experience that getting what I want is the cause of my pain and suffering. Getting what I want never creates happiness - only temporary pleasure. Happiness is not about getting what I want.
The reason "Getting what I want" causes pain and suffering is because there can never be enough "stuff" - enough money, success, riches - to satisfy the ego's craving desire. Additionally, the things that I want - that my mind tends to "grasp" for - are all fleeting and impermanent.
A quick story. It was 1966 - I was 9 years old. It was just before Christmas, and I remember thinking to myself...
"...if I only had a remote control P-51 gas powered airplane I would be totally happy and satisifed."
I wanted that airplane. I saw it in the model airplane store. I showed it to my mom and dad (because I knew by this time there wasn't really a Santa Claus). I told my parents it was the ONLY thing I wanted and if I got it I would never ask for anything again. I obsessed on that airplane. I envisioned myself flying the airplane in the field near our house. I envisioned all my friends liking me because I had the airplane. I could think of nothing else.
I craved the airplane. Have you ever craved for something like that before? Be honest!
Christmas morning came and I got the airplane! I was so excited. I had made it! I had arrived! Life was good. I didn't even bother to wait for my sisters or parents to open their presents (selfish and self-centered as I was). I ran outside with the plane to fly it. My dad helped me start it. It didn't work as smoothly as I thought it would at first - but it did eventually start. We got the engine screaming at a high RPM. We let the plane go. Up it went - and down it came, crashing into the hard pavement of the cul-de-sac in front of the house. Broken wing, broken prop, broken dreams. Disappointment.
We tried to fix the plane but it was never the same. I got other planes after that. Then one Christmas several years later I remember craving for a bike - and I thought to myself - "...I remember this feeling - where did it lead before?"
That was then. The selfish dreams of a 9-year old boy. What's changed? Nothing much really. I still have rising cravings for cars, houses, jobs, titles, vacations, clothes, experiences, relationships, - you name it - I've craved it. And none of it has added one ounce of "happiness" to my life. At best, the things have added moments of pleasure - but fleeting at best.
There's a great quote in the book of Ecclesiasties about this..."Vanity of vanities - all is vanity." The story is about how King Solomon (the Bill Gates of his time - the richest guy in the world) can have anything in the world he desires - anything "under the sun" - yet nothing brings him satisfaction - nothing he can grasp - nothing his eye can see - nothing his mind can think of having - brings him peace.
So what does bring happiness if it's not getting what you want?
BEING WHO YOU ARE - and being of service to others. This is the definition of Karma Yoga - selfless service. Doing without concern for the results. Following spiritual principles of Ahimsa (non-violence/kindness), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (restraint) and Aparigraha (non-hoarding). This brings happiness (to me anyway) because it aligns me with a larger purpose.
It's not about getting what I want - it's about being who I am and thinking of others from a spiritual frame of reference. Seems like it wouldn't be very fun. In practice - it's wonderfully fulfilling.
Monday, April 13, 2009
We know for a fact that this practice of yoga is thousands of years old. The word YOGA is mentioned in early texts dating back thousands of years. Karma Yoga - the yoga of selfless-service, Bhakti Yoga - the yoga of devotion, Jnana Yoga - the yoga of self-inquiry, and Raja-Yoga - the Royal yoga as espoused in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
All four of these yoga practices are very different that what most westerners today would consider yoga. Very little - if any - of the focus was on the postures/poses (asanas). If fact, only the Raja Yoga as described by Patanaji even mentions asana or posture - and even then - he only mentions it three times (2:46, 2:47 & 2:48).
So if all this ancient talk about yoga had very little if anything to do with asana or posture, what was it about? And when they talked of PRACTICING yoga - what were they practicing if not postures?
Verse 1:12 of Patajali's Yoga Sutras gives us a hint -
Abhayasa Vairagyabhyam taniroddah - meaning: Constant Practice (Abhyasa) of Detachment (Vairagyabhyam) is the method to still the movements of the mind (tanirrodah).
The practice of yoga was to "redirect" the mind - to "still the movements" of the mind - to "focus" the mind. And, the practice was to do this through either detachment, service, devotion or Patanjali's eight-limbs or "ashtanga" yoga, which included deep meditation.
Therefore, for today's practitioners - in addition to practicing sirsasana (headstand), practice compassion. In addition to practicing sarvangasana (shoulderstand) practice detachment from the result of the pose. In addition to practicing uttanasana (standing forward fold) practice looking inward at your true self.
This is the practice - the practice of quieting, redirecting, focusing the mind to be a servant and not a master.
I heard a great phrase which captures this inward journey to the anandamaya kosha (the innermost sheath of our true nature). The statement was this:
"Now that I know who I am, I don't have to be who I was."
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I'm preparing to teach an 8-week Yoga History and Philosophy class I do every year for our Advanced Yoga Studies Program at Downtown Yoga in Pleasanton.
I tend to start the "history" part a little further back each year.
The last glacial epoch started about 110,000 years ago and ended about 15,000 years ago.
If you believe the fossil record, then during this time it appears there were three (3) different species of "Man." Neanderthal, Cro-magnon and what we now call "Modern Man" - or Homo sapien sapien all show fossil remains which overlap at concurrent periods (40,000-50,000 years BCE)
Yes, they all existed at the same time! I think if you were able to transport yourself back in time, then you'd place your money on Neanderthal to be the survivor of the three. He certainly seemed more "robust", bigger jaw to chew food, that sort of thing.
But alas, the "Ogre" of the lineage - Neanderthal - dies out in Gibraltar around 24,000 years ago and Cro-magnon doesn't seem to go much farther than the caves of France where he painted stories on the cave walls and ceilings of great hunts.
So around 12,000 years ago the ice starts melting and we come out of the Pleistocene epoch and into the Holocene period - the age of man. We are the survivors of the lineage. The theory goes that just prior to all the ice melting completely over the Bering Sea - an industrious bunch of hunters and gatherers march into the Western Hemisphere. It's hard to image today, but much of North America was under a sheet of ice 2-miles thick. There's still some controversy as a new find in Monte Verde, Chile show carbon-dated remains of a village that dates to 14,500 b.c. How did those people get there before the ice melted?
Regardless - back in the "Old World" three major river valleys are formed from the flow of glacial melt. They are - The Nile in Egypt. The confluence of the Tigris & Euphrates in present day Iraq, and the Indus & Saraswati rivers in present day Pakistan.
The river of life. These river valleys were lush, and everything living went there. Fertile soil as a result of the river sediments were perfect for growing and early farming starts.
Since people didn't have to "run after" food anymore, groups of people start forming early settlements, cities. One of the earliest neolithic sites in the Indus River valley is Mehrgarh - which conservatively dates to 9,000 BCE. This site was recently discovered (1973) and is located just a few miles from the Pakistan city of Quetta - near the Bolan Pass into Afghanistan. It appears that Mehrgarh may be as old a Jericho.
Mehrgarh is the first and earliest city of what would become a the great Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) - which spanned several thousand years. Harappa is a city further north - near present day Lahore, Pakistan - becomes one of the larger cities of the IVC in 3,000 BCE.
The IVC left a script of sorts and "seals" - yet there is no "Rosetta Stone" to decipher the language. The IVC are not the ancestors of the present day people in the region. There is still debate over how the "Aryan" peoples populated the Indian Subcontinent. Yet, the IVC civilization does die out after quite a long run. However, they leave us an interesting clue as to when this practice of "YOGA" actually begins. A seal in a rock - an image - is it a man? a god? a beast of sorts. The seal is known as the "Pashupati Seal" - a lord of the animals. The seal seems to depict a person sitting in a yogic position - there is still some debate over this. The image has three faces - some speculate a "pro-shiva" - the first Shiva lord.
Soon after the IVC disappears - we get some poems, songs, stories - they are what we now know as the Rig Veda (2,000 BCE?) - the first and earliest Sanskrit scripts of a spiritual, religious nature. They tell of the "gods" - Indra , Agni, Vayu - and of the "long-hair' ascetic (yogi) who"... holds fire, holds the sky and reveals everything so everyone can see the sun, long-hair declares the light." This "long-hair" (Kesin) is described in verse - 10.135 of the Rig. He seems to be the pre-curser to the Upanishadic Yogi's.
From here we get quite an abundance of literature which tell us of the practice of Yoga - the practice of inquiry, the practice of meditation, the practice of selfless-service. The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-Gita all begin to "clarify" the practice - and the practice is one of meditation.
563 BCE - the Buddha is born and at 35 years of age decides to sit under a tree until he "gets it" - that's determination. Luckily for him and us, he discovers the middle-path and becomes enlightened. He teaches the Four Noble truths and the Eightfold Path for 45 years. Yes, the Buddha was a yogi.
More to come....