Sunday, November 29, 2009

giving thanks

It's occurred to me the past couple days (even though Thanksgiving was three days ago) that I've got a lot to feel grateful for.

Physical health is not something to take for granted, as I did for 50 years. But aren't the body's powers of recovery something to behold? "I'm grateful" is an understatement.

I've learned that if we're to have a future in this insane environment we find ourselves in, it's a do-it-yourself inside job, and I'm thankful to know that.

Mostly, I think about how I looked in the mirror slightly over two years ago and saw dying man, or maybe even one who was dead already. And I felt dead, inside and out.

How could I have gotten from there to here so quickly?

Finally, I'm glad I get to move to Seattle, because along with Portland it's the most happening city in the country.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

graduation's here

After nearly 10 months, about five inches of paperwork (vertical stack), and who knows how many hours of practice routines, I'll graduate tonight from my 200-hour yoga teacher training program in what promises to be a fairly gala ceremony, hosted by our teacher, Tracy W., at her studio.

I'm experiencing the feeling of accomplishment you'd expect to feel on such an occasion, especially considering that I'm a 65-year-old guy with a couple of chronic health conditions who toughed it out through this training alongside a bunch of healthy 30- and 40-somethings. But at the same time, there's a certain amount of sadness that accompanies the end of a five-times-monthly process that's been mostly enjoyable and has provided nearly my only social life during this past year, during which I've been living in isolation at my late mother's condo, far away from the city and separated from Seattle's bright lights by water and a boat ride.

That will all change soon enough. I hope to be living in the city within the next couple of weeks, and to begin looking for work right after the new year. Change -- change, what would life be without it?


Monday, November 09, 2009

Unforgiving Practice

This practice of meditation is causing dramatic and unanticipated disruptions in my mind and life, but I guess I mean that in a good way.

It's got to be the meditation doing this. I haven't made any other significant changes in my mental routine lately.

The most recent upheaval came a couple of days ago. I got my new copy of the New Yorker (Nov. 9) from the mailbox, went back inside, and sat down and turned first to the book reviews as I always do. My eye fell on a review of Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals."

Halfway through this article the realization came to me -- actually more like struck me between the eyes like a bullet -- that I have to become a vegan. No buts, no compromises, no vacillation, no ambiguity, no choice. I have to do it, and that's the end of it.

So of course, that's what I'll do.

This creates enormous problems. At 120 pounds I'm already seriously underweight. I now have to give up the eggs, cheese, butter, chicken meat -- all the stuff that's keeping any weight on me at all. So I'll have to get some books, including a cook book, and eat more, and learn how to do this.

The thing is, I've been aware for years of the savage cruelty dealt out to animals on factory farms and feedlots, but somehow I was able to pretend I wasn't. At the same time I went around in a state of political outrage at this country's endless wars, and over the millions now out of work because of the criminals who ran the great real-estate Ponzi scheme of the earlier part of this decade.

I had fallen into the familiar moral trap of condemning the misbehavior of others, and ignoring the evil business in which I played my willing part as an accomplice. "Why," Jesus asked, "do you see the splinter in your neighbor's eye and ignore the plank in your own?"

I wouldn't want to say that this and other recent, major shifts in my thinking are the result of words coming from God's mouth to my ear, but sometimes that's how it feels. I've never heard that booming voice coming from heaven, but at critical moments simply become aware that a sort of tectonic shift has occurred in my mind, seemingly by way of an agency not my own.

It wasn't me who decided I have to now be a vegan, but I'm the one stuck with having to live under changed conditions. Ain't life hard? And then we die.

But I guess I wouldn't have it any other way. I got up this morning, looking forward to doing my daily practice, pranayama, and meditation.

I've got about 10 eggs, a little block of cheese, and half a tub of light butter left. I'll finish those and then it's a New World. This is kind of like quitting smoking, but easier I hope.


Monday, November 02, 2009

the blue sutras

Answering the question of how balanced the three aspects of kriya yoga are in my life -- the three Patanjali specifies in aphorism 2.1 (tapas, svadhyaya, and isvara pranidhana) -- I find it more useful to think of these three things as aspects of the practice which are intertwined in the manner of the three elements at the center of the Buddhist dharmachakra (pictured) rather than three separate legs holding up a stool.

The evolution of Dave B the Yogi began with tapas -- with asana a couple times a week in a class setting at first, and with gradual dietary changes, and then ditching the smoking habit. Pranayama came about a year later, and taken altogether these things by degrees led to svadhyaya -- self-reflection and meditation, and also to the frequent reading of spiritual texts, if the definition of spiritual texts is broadened to include the Christian/Jewish Bible as well as Hindu/Buddhist works alongside that bedrock of yoga scripture, Patanjali's Sutras. And in time these things led me to the work in progress -- discovering who I am, compared with that other guy I used to be.

This has been a blue experience -- calm, quiet, gradual, and gentle, as opposed to the red experience of overheated, traumatic, and hysterical religious conversion in the way we ordinarily think of it.

I meditate on the nature of the higher power sometimes, but still can't get my human mind around it. The ultimate God would have to be infinite and eternal -- two things my mind as yet cannot conceive of, for my experience here on earth has only encompassed people, places, and things that are finite and temporal. So at this point I would have to say I'm moving toward isvara pranidhana. The Taittiriya Upanishad tells me that the mind inside my head is the universe -- not like the universe, but is the universe, and thus infinite and eternal. Patanjali tells me that with the attainment of a focused mind, the inner being will establish itself in all its reality (YS 1.3), which would open the door to the realization the Upanishad promises. These are not things I'll accept on faith, however, but will have to experience them to fully understand them, and as I said before, that's a work in progress.

There's no doubt that this has been and continues to be a religious experience, but not of a sort I ever expected. We westerners with our nearly exclusive identification of religion with Christianity tend to view religion as a highly emotional and somewhat traumatic experience. How strange it is, then, to find texts like the Yoga Sutras, with their quiet, unhurried, rational tone, or the Upanishads, which are obviously formulations of lists and set pieces intended for memorization and recitation. How different these things are from the scary imagery of the first chapter of Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation, or the emotional trauma of Job, or the psychologically wrenching symbolism of the blood sacrifice of the crucifixion. Not for the yogi is the high drama of the conversion experience of a St. Paul, thrown off his donkey and knocked unconscious by the power of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

Instead, Patanjali only urges us, gently and in a quiet tone, to practice what he prescribes respectfully, seriously, diligently, frequently, and with devotion over a long period of time (YS 1:14). By this means, through gentle penetration, gradually, quietly, and without any crisis or panic attacks, the light of religion, like mild sunshine which tenderly warms all it falls upon, will gradually infuse itself throughout all aspects of one's life. And I believe it, because that's been my experience.