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~ Unspoken Prayer ~ by GettysGirl.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” Douglas Adams, writer


One week.  Two rituals.  Two spiritual practices.  But somehow familiarity in each and universality in the intention.  The more I become invested in a spiritual path that includes meditation, meditative prayer, and cultivating inner peace and connection to something divine the more threads of wonderful connectedness I find between myself and every other person, my path and every other spiritual path around me.  The greatest element of synchronicity I have been lavishing in has been in my Christian Contemplative and Mystic journey and my spiritually enlivened yogic Sivananda route.

I have made an effort to not be overtly “religious” on this blog but definitely openly spiritual.  In this instance, and for the sake of the beauty in this element of my life path (as I have found it) I want to go a little into my own personal faith space–as it were.  I was raised a Catholic, my husband a Protestant and we have been searching for a space, place, and practice where the twain should meet.  The Episcopalian tradition of faith is infused with lovely ritual and ceremony that I always found “homey” elements of Catholicism while also being richly community, mission, and textually oriented in ways that my husband has always loved.  Best of all that beyond both of our traditions of origin, the particular community of Episcopals we stumbled upon seem to embody the foundations of faith we both love–inclusion, compassion, universal love, open intrigue into the unknown, and an ability to interweave and converse with every other spiritual path there is to “God” or a cosmically larger entity than self–however one defines it.  That was abundantly clear when I discovered their series on Eastern Religions.

RITUAL 1:

Anyway, we both sort of fell in love with this beautiful evolution of our histories of faith with a core much more akin to where both our hearts are–in exploring the world and faith with open mind, open heart (as one of my favorite contemplatives Thomas Keating wrote of in his book with the same name).  And so last Sunday, on Valentines Day we became confirmed into this body of faith that we felt we could grow in and love together.  It was a far more intimate experience than I imagined it could be and intimate at every level.

I stood in the back of the church waiting for the ceremony to begin and recalled back a moment similar to that–my Catholic Confirmation–from over a decade earlier.  I remember standing in the back of that church in that “official” moment of adulthood and having nothing but questions and skepticism and some resentments.  I remember not wanting to be where I was and not sure where I wanted to be.  I was conflicted at every level of my “self” and I think I spent many of my years following in a multitude of crisis.  I wanted to believe what I believed in –everyone was equal, we all had intrinsically good souls, and there was a space in internal silence where a voice could be heard that was not mine but came from inside me at the deepest level…from the root of the root and the bud of the bud.

Last Sunday was the opposite of my initial confirmation experience I felt, instead of solidifying a membership into a religion and sect I wasn’t sure about I finally understood more clearly the heritage I came from and the progression of my spiritual journey that led me to the place where I found myself.  Where I could enjoy one path of faith and still be committed to learning, understanding, and finding likeness and beauty in all other paths to same source.  And without feeling I needed some sort of solitary allegiance to one place, space, and role to be a participant in my own faith; being able to explore all the others with a sense of the communal and eternal in all faiths.

I have read much and thought much about the young, childlike faith we all begin our lives inside of–one with strict rules, this not that, good not bad, right not wrong–a very black and white religion.  That kind of faith helps us formulate what we believe in at a beginner level and gets us, hopefully, to  a space where we are comfortable knowing our own “box” but not needing to live in it.  A space where we can live outside of our comfort zone, our known norms, and into the rich and wonderful rewarding place of exploration, questioning, and yearning to know the world at a more multidimensional level.  I think I had to get to that space in my own faith before I could enter back into a community of faith without feeling I was placing myself back into a restrictive box.  I feel a new sense of adventure about this journey of self, experience, and community.

RITUAL 2:

In the circular and cyclical nature of the world and spirituality I participated in a second ritual of sorts this past Sunday.  A Swami from San Francisco, a clever wisp of a man, cloaked in saffron with a softness and kindness in his every gesture, came to my yoga school this weekend and I participated in a Mantra Initiation and Naming Ritual.  Having missed out on Ash Wednesday, I was again blown away by the ever-increasing similarities of nuances and symbolism I find abounding the more I study faiths, philosophies, and spiritualities in various contexts.  Part of the Mantra Initiation includes the initiant having ashes placed on their forehead–to remind us all that ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as we came from the earth to the earth we return.  This is also the same reason Ashes on Ash Wednesday are used–the identical reason.  I was given the sacred mantra of my choosing–“So Ham”.

I chose “So Ham” because it means that we are not our bodies or our minds, we are connected to something larger and more divine.  Interestingly the root of the meaning in this Mantra is the same at the root of Christian Contemplative Prayer practice (as well as many other contemplative prayer practices)–we connect to the divine in self through clearing our mind of mental “garbage” and filling it only with sacred words and corollary thoughts and intentions of divinity.  Mindfulness is the beginnings of this kind of clarity–something that I have not come close to mastering in any sustainable way…yet.  I also chose it because this meditation mimics breath–in, so, out, ham.  It reminded me of the story I had heard Richard Rohr tell at his talk a few weeks ago.  He spoke about a rabbi he heard lecture who spoke about the origin of the word Yahweh in Judaism as mimicking breath.  It is interesting to me how the pace and origin of breath seems inextricably linked, in human consciousness and maybe beyond, with something larger than self, something divine in nature.

There I sat, on blond wooden floor and meditation pillow, clothed in the traditional white garb of Mantra Initiation made of gauzy linens and cottons, meditating on my sacred words, seated cross-legged and reveling in the lovely versatility of spiritual paths and experiences I had imbibed in over the last two weeks–of course in contemplating that fact I was leaving my mantra behind and becoming distracted from the very thing I had been working towards–inner silence, contemplative prayer, and peaceful mind.

As I smirked to myself at my own irony–I often do that–I found gratitude in being able to explore a world so rich with faith traditions that, while divergent in language, garb, and texts also so similar in nuance, ritual, and intention.  What an exciting exploration.  What a world of faith we can breathe in.  What wonderful new levels and pages of world knowledge I feel privileged to imbibe in as I explore yoga further, expound on christian contemplation further, and find the mystical beauty in every pocket and nook of the world.

I remember reading the prologue of Thich Naht Hanh‘s book Living Buddha, Living Christ written by the Dalai Lama where he said (I am paraphrasing) “There are places in the world where rice grows better and so people eat rice.  There are places where wheat grows better and so people eat bread.  There is nothing wrong with eating what is appropriate for where you live, what grows there, and what you were raised knowing.”  We find our faith comforts and that is often where we stay, in what we know, but in that there is no harm in learning and understanding and growing in our own faith by understanding better all those that surround it–because at the root of the root, and the bud of the bud, we all come from ashes and return to the same.

Om and blessings on all of your personal paths and journeys of faith and belief and finding what fits for you in a world rich with ideas and spiritual passions.

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Winston Churchill

Well said Mr. Churchill, although my feminist self would add, “…or the inside of a female.”  Either way it speaks to the profound experience found alongside a horse–stroking their mane, rubbing their flank, staring them in the eyes as you nuzzle their cheek.  There is indeed some silent profundity in a moment like that and something that is intrinsically good for the soul. 

Alongside a horse and face-to-face I have found some of the most challenging moments in creating an authentic self, finding my present-centered mindset, and really being in the now with myself and with the horse.  This is the thing, much as a wise meditative sage, a horse knows when you are lying even about being present in the moment.  People seek far and wide for a yogic guru to guide them to better them, a higher level of conciousness, a more aware state of existence but I would venture to say that I have met no greater teacher than the horses I have encountered.  Nor have I met a stricter teacher than the most wise yogic equus. 

Today I was privileged enough to teach Standing and Seated Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to the most attuned and earnest of students–trauma survivors.  It was a very simple lesson in being present in the moment, being both “calm” and “assertive” at the same time and they were excellent pupils–both in a psychotherapeutic and a yogic context.  They learned how standing could be powerful, strong, and energized.  They saw how being this way would make them more healthfully alert in life and more present both alongside and on the back of their horses. 

Experiencing this moment with them was enriching for me beyond imagination.  My dream of blending these two complementary therapies together was coming to fruition and blossoming fruit and metaphor that I could not have imagined.  My clients are constantly astounding me with their investment in their own healing, their insight into their own souls and the pain therein, and their ability to soak up the tools that can help them.  This is why every session I can I end groups and individual treatment with relaxation and breath (prana). 

I softly whisper to the seated and closed-eyed participants, “Breathe in through your nose all the cool air, breathe out through your nose all the hot air and tension.”  My first meditation teacher, a trained circus clown (no, seriously) turned Buddhist nun taught me this phrase and I found it so beautiful and visual I love to use it.  Please feel free to do this for yourself any time you get a chance, it is a lovely practice to come back to our breath, finding our center–this translates on and off the saddle, on the mat and into the world. 

TO BE CONTINUED IN YOGIC EQUUS PART 2:  Finding the Metaphors

 
Operating Table by MikeIsNeat on flickr

“The body never lies.”

Martha Graham (famous dancer/choreographer)

  

 

Practice what you preach…it is essential, no?  It is a bit of a duh, if I do say so myself.  Well I just had a moment of sorts over the last 72 hours—a long harsh moment of reality thrust upon me, necessarily and with excellent timing (in the script of my life this is just where I would put such a revelation).  It was a moment—call it a “duh” or an “aha” or an “epiphany” if you will—that reminded me of the importance, non-optional and crucial nature, of holistic living in my own life. 

 

I talk about it with passion until I’m breathless and I vocalize it to anyone who will listen—a complimentary medicine and holistic approach to life is vital for full mind, body, and soul healing.  And although I work towards my own holistic health in baby steps I am not quite the vibrant enactor as I am the vocalize—I am a bit sluggish, sometimes even a bit resistant for all of the reasons I know that people are. 

 

I am stagnant in my old ways of thinking and living.  I am full of negative learned behaviors cultivated with great art over the years.  I am sluggishly lazy about making the alterations in full that would be necessary for living a truly clean, green , and healthfully mean life.  It is a scary prospect—to so drastically change our life patterns.  Yet at the same time to do so is so logical and such a small concession in the grander scheme of things—taking into account a longer, healthier, and less painful existence on all levels.

 

This week has shown me, that like the diabetic person that has not option of whether to take care of their body and their diet as they must do what is necessary or suffer serious, even life threatening consequences, I too must look at my holistic health from a more serious perspective.  Every move I make, or don’t, every substance, hormone, and edible thing I put in my body affects the state of it. 

 

I have (as much as I have been trying to ignore the severity of it for some time) a very serious and chronic illness which only becomes more pervasive and debilitating with time.  I am in a crucial stage of “change” or “be changed for the worse”.  I am on the precipice of a life and a body that could go either way and I have to treat the care of this bodily casing as if it were a life or death situation—it is at least the life or death of my womb that is at stake (not to mention the surrounding organs that are often ravaged by endometriosis like the bladder, bowel, appendix, among others–two out of the three I already have scar tissue on from fusing of organ to organ , by endometriosis growth, prior to my first surgery). 

 

I can no longer say, “Tomorrow I will live better,” or, “Just one more bagel can’t hurt,” or, “I’m just too tired for yoga today.”  I have to effect a lifestyle commiserate with the seriousness of my health, the necessity for self-care as a priority, and an active holistic approach to healing that I know to be so vital.  I can no longer sit on the sidelines of my body and wait to see what happens.  Proactive is the only way. 

 

It is hard, we all know, to shift so drastically the things that inhabit our daily lives, routines, and ways of being.  I know mine is somewhat of an extreme example of how everything we do, consume, imbibe and how it affects our internal and external health, but in some ways this drastic perspective on living is something we should all work harder to enact—and no one knows better than I how much of a struggle it is to do that. 

 

But I know, too, that my every moment and lifestyle decision affects me holistically so I must live taking my whole self into account.  I know that when I have steak, dairy, soda, and white bread my cramps worsen.  I know that and I ignore it quite often. 

 

My body gives me all the signals I need of how to care for it and thus far I have been very capricious with this precious and delicate physicality that I have.  But I can’t be a sideline player in the game of me versus endometriosis.  I have been reminded and reinvigorated by the knowledge that this illness will get worse—how fast and how much is really up to me, every day, and in the choices I make. 

 

We have much of the control over our living, but so often we don’t enact proactive (w)holistic health because it seems too hard or too much.  Well, I can say from experience that the alternative, what can happen when we don’t care for this precious container for our mind and our soul, is much worse than working hard to live well.

 

I hope that this–my life, my body, my situation–can be a reminder to everyone of how precious this life is and how precious these bodies are we have been given.  We owe it to ourselves to take the best care possible of it before something (and something can happen to anyone) happens that makes us realize it is too late to effect changes and damage has been done.  I, myself, am at my own precipice, facing my own “duh” moment and I have big changes to make to create a life  not just of forethought and promises of change, but a life of making that change—I am the one who loses if I don’t.  Life is not a sidelines game and our bodies are vital in the holistic care of ourselves—body, mind, and soul.

 

Daily yoga, clean eating, and beginning active courses of acupuncture will be my first steps to getting my body to a better place to fight the internal enemy that waits, biding  it’s time to eat away at me, from the inside out.  I can create a defensive line that can really save or at least preserve my internals for a longer time, not to do that would be dangerously capricious.  I no longer want to be dangerously capricious. 

 

This blog, this move, this timing of beginning yoga school soon and actively working towards a more yogic, meditative, healthier lifestyle seems (as I said above) to be almost a scripted path I am on.  What a more perfect time for me to be forced to take seriously the severity and vital nature of this life path I am treading on and the life health I am preaching to others.  “Practice what you preach!” my life is yelling at me from every angle imaginable–or beware the consequences. 

 

I prefer to listen to what I have been given and make the necessary changes to myself and my lifestyle that have been a long time coming and necessary to have a long time yet to come.  Endometriosis may be the internal enemy but I would rather to be fighting against the enemy, not aiding its troops with my every action.  I know for everyone effecting changes of any kind is a huge undertaking and no easy task–change is hard.  But change will come whether you enact it or something else does.  Proactive living is much more empowering.  I hope to finally be able to say, with no wavering, or equivocating, that I truly, holistically, practice what I preach.  I must, my body tells me so.

 

 Acupuncture heart by Sharon Pazner on flickr

“The body is your temple.  Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”

B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga: The Path To Holistic Health

Firey Sunset

“Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it…We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.”

St. Teresa of Avila

 

 

One thing I am enjoying as I delve into reading Stephen Cope’s memoir is his reference to mystics of all religions and philosophies as there are so many corollaries between their practices–all meditative, contemplative, and instilled with devoted faithfulness to their chosen practice and spirituality. 

 

He has referenced, also, some of my favorite Christian mystics (although I have favorite mystics from every tradition and honor all of their intense dedication to their life paths)  including the anonymous monk author of  The Cloud of Unknowing and Teresa of Avila

 

Saint Teresa has always had a little place in my heart and soul–and a huge place in my name and naming.  I was named twice.  Once by nuns in the orphanage in Bogota and once by my parents in New Jersey, but both with the same name and for the same reason.  I was born on Teresa of Avila’s Saint’s Day, October 15th, and congrats to us both having celebrated our co-anniversary–mine of life and hers of recognition of great works as a contemplative and mystic within her faith tradition of Christianity. 

 

 Something about the fortuitous and coincidental nature of my naming–twice with the same name no less– has led me to believe that I was in some way meant to be a mystic heart.  That and the fact that I was always drawn to her writing both for its poetic force and for the meditative content found within.

 

Contemplatives and mystics the world round talk at some point (and through different linguistics) about the concept of “unknowing”.  The book The Cloud of Unknowing perhaps the greatest, at least one of the greatest, literary tomes to this concept was also one of the first, written by a monk in anonymity during the 14th century.  It’s focus and much of mystic exploration before and since is on the concept of getting beyond the known, the certainty, the ego, the pride– all of the inherent humanness we learn to cultivate through years of schooling and indoctrination of how we must be certain

 

Especially in the modern world we must, above all else, KNOW.  Not knowing is weak, not respected, and considered a sign of idiocy.  You will be trampled by the powerful and the charismatic if you don’t know.  But what if you intentional unknow?  What an unfathomable concept.  We must know who we are, put our stamp on the world, preach, and shout, and tout what we believe with irrevocable certainty otherwise who will want to listen?

 

Some of my favorite authors, teachers, philosophers, intellectuals, and spiritual persons in recent years are the ones who have the capacity to be passionate leaders, mentors, and advocates for a cause without touting certainty.  They, in fact, vocalize uncertainty–which often makes “the certains” of the world very nervous.  But what I have learned as I try (and I emphasize try) to cultivate a more contemplative and meditative mindset is that admitting to and embracing unknowing is one of the most spiritually mature and brave things a person can do. 

 

Unknowing is something we should all work to cultivate.  Sure, we have spent a lifetime cultivating knowing, but to be able to let that go, let our hold loosen on what must be certain and leave room for the uncertain would be a brave thing indeed.  It would also leave room for all sorts of mystical  and meditative surprises that we might have been closed to before. 

 

I know with myself, as well as my trauma clients as a whole, control is one of the hardest things to let go of in trauma healing.  After you have endured the worst life and the world has to offer all you have is your personal control–of yourself, of situations, of other people.  But, what is essential in learning in attempting to heal from trauma is that, that control is an illusion.  We have very little control over things in our lives, and with trauma often the things in ourselves are so out of control we can only maintain them to some small extent.  Control is an illusion as is, in many things, knowing.

 

I will admit it.  Giving into unknowing in life is one of the hardest tasks.  I study those that have a better grasp on it intently to try to master it piece by piece.  I know I have trouble–as I sit latching on, with whitened and braced knuckles, to the little control I like to believe I have over my life–letting that control illusion go. 

 

I know I have trouble, through pride, ego, and learning, to say it is ok not to know and to let go of that mental dynamic I have imprinted in my mind that we must know to be better or more wise.  I have a lot to unlearn to become one who can effectively “unknow”. 

 

Unknowing is, perhaps, the hardest part of cultivating a contemplative life and a more yogic sensibility. 

 

I find comfort in exploring other’s journeys on these paths–from the ancient mystics to a fellow psychotherapist and eloquent author like Cope who quotes the same mystics I have quoted, and whom I can watch, through his writing, take his own contemplative journey into self. 

 

Another contemplative for whom I have the greatest admiration is Thomas Keating (a modern Christian contemplative) is perhaps one of the most centered people I have ever encountered personally.  His presence is one which evokes calm.  Meditating in his presence somehow induces a feeling of being closer to something warm, radiating, and sublime.  My experience in meeting him was one of the most spiritually profound I have ever had.  He is someone from whom I constantly garner, through his writing and his speaking, more and more insight into myself. 

 

Father Keating once said, “Just by the very nature of our birth, we are on a spiritual journey.”  I would add to that, from my personal experience, saying that, “Just by the nature of my naming, I am on a mystic journey.”

 

 

“And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.”

From The Cloud of Unknowing

Vibrant Skies at Water's Edge

July 2020
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