A Spot of Sunshine

I was driving up McCormick Blvd yesterday afternoon and like so many other days in Chicago it was overcast for the 2nd or 3rd day in a row.  Suddenly there appeared a spot of sunlight over the street, which stayed long enough for us to drive through it.  It felt like such a treat – a spot of sunlight on a cloudy day – and if I hadn’t been paying attention, we would have missed it altogether.   How often is life like that?  When things seem bleak, can we pay attention and take pleasure in those little spots of sunshine?  I like to call those little miracles – like not being able to find my keys and then having a sudden intuition or looking in just the right direction to see them in an otherwise hidden spot, or coming to an intersection to make a turn and having someone stop right away to let me in.  I try to notice and give thanks for these little blessings and then they begin to add up, giving the impression that my life is full of blessings – and it is – except if I wasn’t paying attention to these “little” things, I probably wouldn’t notice how many there are! I’m convinced that the more you notice the more there are – kindof like positive reinforcement to the Universe :-).

Eventually the sun broke through the clouds and today is a gorgeously sunny day here in Chi.  As we celebrate the sun I also send out prayers for those in Japan that their recovery from the devastation will be swift and certain. My heart aches in compassion for their suffering and at the same time I am grateful to be safe, and dry and warm.


What do you want?

This year has been the year of fabulous yoga training for me.  In January I went to Tucson for the Level I training in Amy Weintraub’s LifeForce Yoga which specializes in yoga for managing anxiety and depression.  The workshop was held at a Catholic retreat center high up on a mountain with a fabulous view of Tucson.  We saw the sun rise every morning as we chanted the Gayatri mantra and on the last night were blessed with the rising of the full moon in all her luminous glory. 
Even though I’m an island girl, the deserts of the Southwest are magical to me, and in Tucson the desert is dotted with majestic Saguaro cactuses, which at 6ft tall are over 100 years old!  Suffice it to say the whole experience was transformative.  It was a great opportunity to “get away” and be somewhere else – to slow the pace of life and have an opportunity to be in silence with myself when I wanted, but also to be in joyful communion with others.

One of the things that Amy taught at the workshop was sankalpa.  A sankalpa is an intention.  You can create an intention for your class, for your day, for your stage of life.  You come into this life with a sankalpa – your life purpose.  Your sankalpa is essentially what you want to manifest.  But most often, when we are asked what we want, we respond by highlighting we don’t want!  For example:  “I want to not be so stressed,” or “I want to stop being so disorganized.”  We tend to focus on what we don’t want, rather than clarifying what it is we want to manifest.  In a way, it can be scary to imagine what you do want – what if you don’t believe you deserve it?  Or what if the current circumstances of your life don’t seem conducive to your dream manifesting itself?  Some of us were taught not to hope for too much, so we don’t end up disappointed.  Kriyanandaji, the head of the Temple of Kriya Yoga, often repeats the phrase:  Aham Brahmasmi.  He translates this to mean:  “I am the creative principle.” In other words, I have the power to create my life.  If you have the power to create your life, then why not direct your energies toward what you want, rather than what you don’t want?

So, what do you want?  Amy recommends that you bring your sankalpa into the present:  “Peace flows through me now.”  I’ve spent a lot of my life being tired and focusing on how I don’t want to be tired anymore.  So instead I created the sankalpa:  “Good health and vitality flow through me now.”  Guess what?  When I say it I feel better, clearer, more energized, and a smile comes to my face!  Of course just stating an intention starts the energy flowing, but you must follow intention with action to manifest your heart’s desire.  It is also beneficial to courageously, mindfully and gently excavate the underlying subconscious beliefs that might be sabotaging your best efforts.

The second fabulous teaching was last weekend right here in Downer’s Grove.  Rod Stryker also taught about sankalpa and he mentioned another term that I wasn’t familiar with until recently: vikapla.  Rod described sankalpa as the intention linked to your heart – that which you want, your reason for being – and vikalpa as that belief or desire which separates you from your purpose.  Whichever one of these is strongest determines your destiny.  A lack of fulfillment in life, Rod taught, is based on not living your purpose.  And if you’re not living your purpose, it might mean that your vikalpa is stronger than your sankalpa in terms of your desire for it to manifest.

I think we all get glimpses of our vikalpa.  You might feel yourself recoil when presented with a fabulous opportunity and then notice yourself coming up with reasons why it’s not the right thing or why you can’t do it.  Or you might start to clarify your sankalpa and find that your mind comes up with all kinds of reasons why it can’t happen.  Mindfulness helps us to notice these moments and look at them clearly, examining our deeper motivations, rather than running away.  What is manifesting in your life right now?  What might be the underlying belief or desire that has brought these circumstances into being?  (Rod Stryker has a book about these teachings coming out in a few months.  If you read it before I do, let me know what you think…)

So in two separate trainings this year already, I’ve been presented with the teaching on sankalpa.  Maybe its time to really get clear.  What do I want and do I dare to dream that the desire of my heart could become the life of my dreams?  I’ve seen plenty of evidence so far that your entire life can shift based on the strength of your desire.  If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be a yoga instructor, energy worker and therapist I would have laughed.  I was a committed database manager with a love of logic, data and computers.  I promise you that life can change in a heartbeat. Aham brahmasmi – you are the creative principle.  The first step to putting that power to work is to get clear on what you want.

If you embark on this exploration, I’d love to hear about your sankalpa!

Loving Support

I just completed a wonderful 4-week meditation workshop, and in their feedback the participants mentioned how good it was to be able to share the journey into meditation with others who were understanding, kind and supportive.  Even in such a short time, (an hour and a half once per week for four weeks), there was a sense of community and shared intention that provided support for all those who were in it.  Meditation in many ways is a seeking into oneself, and yet this inner seeking is easier to do with the support of others.  

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about this sense of community and how we connect and separate ourselves from each other.  From a yogic point of view, the sense of an individual self is an illusion.  “No man is an island” was an old tune I used to hear my parents listen to as a child.  “No man is an island, no man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me, each man’s grief is my own.  We need one another, so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend.”  (Of course as a kid I wondered “what about the women?” but in the interest of the deeper meaning, we’ll let that pass for now!) 

All the world religions teach that we should care for our fellow human.  Yet watching the political news over the last few years, it has become so evident that we don’t, as a culture, live by that maxim.  In fact, our culture seems to be becoming more and more polarized into “us” and “them” and all based on ideas, thoughts and opinions, and the fear of these being somehow threatened and destroyed.  We identify with these opinions and beliefs and therefore when they are threatened, it is perceived as a threat to our very identity.

Even as yogis we are not immune from “separation-thinking.”  How often do yoga practitioners defend their chosen style of yoga as “better” or “more effective” than another?  Whenever we identify with a practice, an idea, or a way of being (what the yogis call ahamkara), we run the risk of thinking that we are that.  What follows is the assumption that “I am right” from which the logical premise that seems to follow is “they are wrong.”  Yet with billions of people on the planet, all with their own collection of interests, constitutional predispositions and life experiences, how is it possible that there could only be one way for us all to be, think or believe?  

 From a yogic perspective, we are not separate – we are manifestations of the same stuff – awareness, life force, whatever you choose to call it – we are manifestations of the substance of life which is One and yet each of us is a unique expression of that One.  Goswami Kriyandanda describes each person as a microcosm of the whole. Just imagine – you are a hologram of the whole Universe!

We are all the same stuff – just packaged in a different way, yet we spend so much time, energy and effort feeding the illusion of our separateness – this sense of “I, me and mine” that yogis call asmita.  The thing about feeding our sense of separation is that it also creates a sense of isolation and brings very little satisfaction.  When we build walls to keep ourselves, our opinions and our beliefs protected and safe, those walls also keep others out.  Those walls prevent us from hearing other people, from having sympathy and understanding, from recognizing in “others” not only our own brilliance, but also our own shadow.  And if we are too afraid or too ashamed to see ourselves clearly, we run the risk of projecting our own disfunction on to others and condemning them for it.   On the other hand, if we are able to really see ourselves with compassion, and even with humor, we can begin to free ourselves and to break down the walls that separate us from each other.
I remember the first time, as a teenager, that I realized that I wasn’t the only one with a particular trait of which I had been ashamed.  I had perceived this trait (can’t even remember what it was now) as a personal failing and when I found out someone else had it too, it was amazing!  I remember the sense of relief and freedom when I realized I was “only human.”  I could let go of that burden and stop blaming myself for not being perfect.  Being in a supportive community provides the opportunity to see yourself in others and be accepted as you are.  But you can do that for yourself and for others at any time if you think of all of humanity (and even all sentient beings) as your “community.”  Meditation is one way practice seeing yourself with gentleness and compassion, accepting yourself as you are – hang-ups, past life history, neurosis, judgments, opinions and all.  It all begins with the choice to accept ourselves as we are, with love & a healthy dose of light-heartedness.  Then we can create and/or find supportive communities where we can share this loving acceptance with others. 
What if we were to just expect loving support from our communities and especially from ourselves?  I wonder what would happen then?
In loving acceptance of you, just as you are…