Mind and Choice

I was practicing some asanas this morning. My days are being structured differently with my new ability to procure food at whatever hour I so please. After three years of a bell indicating meal-times this level of freedom is certainly a new sort of discovery. The follow-up of this is that I can sleep beyond 6:30 in order to experience some hatha yoga before breakfast. Of course I no longer have the luxury of wood-planked rooms with almost floor to ceiling windows, deluxe half moon mats and cozy wool blankets. These things came along with the spaciousness of a places dedicated solely to practice. I realize that a room without furniture is a very precious thing. Particularly a large room.

Nevertheless I sink, blissful, into my practice with the clear, pure sounds of Swami Radha chanting Hari Om playing off my computer speakers. Sometimes I get into this beginners mind sort of approach to listening to the mantra. When I can stop and really just listen to the vibrations emanating out of the speakers I feel a present sort of engagement. My sensory experience can sometimes quieten the rest of my mind as it is simply left to the complicated task of interpreting what’s happening. When absorbed thus it can’t try to shove in past associations or future projections. It can only be utterly and completely immersed in the exact present moment; identifying and enjoying the pitch and variances of Swami Radha’s sustained vocalizations. When listening I feel as though the purity of the chanting itself is what supports me in maintaining that level of directed concentration. I couldn’t simply do it on my own, having the mantra there to listen to something supports me. Having Swami Radha’s own single pointedness of mind as she chanted it certainly supports me as well.

Of course it’s not all bliss and concentration. It’s outside noises as cars drive by — something I’m still getting used to — it’s my monkey mind jumping all sorts of places other than deeply feeling into the sensations of my body. “mmm nice lunge, hey I remember that time I was going hatha with Sue and she’d never seen this lunge before. Oh, fish would be nice, yeah, I’ll do fish later. What is it that I’m doing now? Ok, sun salutation’s cobra – woah I had a crazy dream last night! Hm went to bed pretty late do I wanna get in that habit?” Continually I bring it back, like a helium balloon on a string. It has this force within it that wants to take it away yet, at the same time, contains this cord that I know I can exercise control over in order to pull myself back to where I want to be. It may take more pulls of that cord than I would like but the important thing isn’t how many times I keep coming back to breath and mantra, it’s that I do.

The helium balloon of my mind soars into the heights of the clear blue sky, particularly beautiful on this warm spring day. Up there in the atmosphere is all the ingredients I need to keep doing what it is that I’m doing. This cord that connects me to myself on my mat comes with an invitation. I have a choice to either let the wind sail it any direction it should so desire, or to connect to that steady tension the cord holds. That moment of decision became clear this morning. I entered a moment of obvious choice that I could either continue what it was I was doing: listening to my body and listening to mantra, or cut the cord and let my mind be flown in the breeze, oblivious to the sensory input of my ears and muscles.

As a Libra I’m an expert at weighing the pros and cons of making decisions. Let’s take an easy example: what to make for breakfast. Well, I could have fried eggs and toast. That would mean the potential for a messy cleanup yet a satisfying protein hit. What about the toast? Could have me feeling full and weighted down. Ok, what about a smoothie. Hm, what’s the day like today? Would eating a cold beverage for breakfast keep me chilled for the rest of the day? There are many factors involved, each with its own positive and negatives. So what about in an asana practice? I’ve already made the decision to unroll the mat, put on some comfy clothes and elongate up through my spine as I bend and breathe. In a sense, I’ve already agreed to the pros of hatha. Then I get to go deeper with it. I get to watch what my mind does. In order to get the full benefit I know I can also choose to bring my mind right into the very cells of my body. Achieving that kind of communication is what I’m actually looking for in an asana practice. Bending and breathing aside, it’s the full-on heart/mind/body connection that really fires me up for hatha.

In that moment of decision I can pull from my past experiences of what it’s like to open the receptive qualities of myself on each of my various levels. Opening my ears to mantra and my awareness to what my cells are saying means the decision of where to place my mind’s awareness is already made. Stepping onto the mat allows me to consciously take the time to explore the inner reaches of my being. When those moments come up within a practice of what thought-stream to follow, I can respond with gentle compassion and give the string a little tug as a reminder that I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. I can remind myself that following the mind’s whims isn’t what I told myself I would do for this next little bit, and that I’ll have plenty of time to pick up any forlorn thoughts after savanasa.


“Do It Now” is one of the common-sense-yet-profound teachings of the great sage Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh that I’ve been blessed to encounter. I’m thinking about this phrase while sitting in the midst of my new place I’ve moved into this past week. Strewn papers, un-hung clothes, music equipment mixing perilously with my meditation prayer shawl; it’s all waiting to have something done to it, done with it. Yet I’m simply sitting here, looking at it.

I’m trying to give myself a break.  The word that I went into this transition with is gentleness.  How can I maintain that feeling of spacious freedom while also making sure I get things done? Sometimes it certainly feels like a battle of wills.  I have my old personality aspects that assure me wholeheartedly that it’ll be ok to do it later.  These are the same ones that sit around waiting for things to happen, content to follow the whims of others, not having much inclination for creativity.  And then the other louder and stronger parts of me that step forward to create the life that I want for myself. The ones that pull things out of me with magnetic force as if I am simply unable to remain stagnant to the urge of continued growth and evolution.

So how do I navigate this drive when it’s coupled with malaise? I keep bringing in gentleness.  Picking up the jacket on the floor beside the undone taxes spread behind the door isn’t the only way to do things. What else is it that I’m doing? Well, I’m focusing on my posture. The Kundalini system maps out the 7 energetic centres symbolically located along the spine from base to crown of head. Maintaining the alignment of the structure of the spine is pretty instrumental in understanding mind/body awareness – at least in my own experience. The more I can keep awareness of my spine – where I’m holding tension, where I’m feeling weighted down – the more I can be the person that I want to be in life.  She’s the person who is creative and gentle, full of aspirations and whimsical; the one who can be concise and directive as well as the one who can be flowy and spontaneous. 

The last week of my first stay at the ashram in 2010 I finished a cup of tea and tentatively set it down on my dresser.  I looked at it, thinking I’d clean it later. Then I got up, tugged it off the counter by its smooth ceramic handle, and walked down the hall and up two flights of stairs to wash it right then and there. ‘Cause why not? I’d just spent the previous four months working and doing more than I have at any job I’d ever had.  I learned just what it meant to create quality in my life. Yoga is a process of awareness.  When I can comprehend where I’m at and truly look at it, then I know I can make cohesive decisions for the way I want my life to unfold.  Do I want to sit in a room with a dirty tea cup, thinking I’ll eventually get up and wash it? Or do I want to go and wash the tea cup?  Do I want to “do it now”?

I’m grateful for this teaching. The way it links me into a more expanded vision in thinking about just when that elusive ‘later’ really is. In a few hours, days, years, lifetimes? I know that I want to learn how to be in this world.  I can so easily float off on philosophic internal or external rants about the meaning of life.  In fact, I can even act out some of these things in my real, waking life. I’m especially grateful for the support of discrimination in this process. It’s how I know that the voice in my head telling me to pick up my jacket isn’t really coming from me, it’s coming from this fear that I should be behaving in a way that attempts to satisfy what I think others want for me. Really what I want is to spend my energy in other ways in this moment. It’s not like my room is actually that untidy and eventually, when I am good and ready, I’ll stop doing the things that I’m doing now, and I’ll pick up my jacket off the floor.

Also, I’ll do my taxes.

Extrication and Discovery

The theme of losing things had followed me the last little while.  A fancy pen, my i-pod and charger, a cheque and gift certificate. All misplaced in languid moments of absentmindedness. Decidedly my attention has been other places.  I’ve been gathering gems of the last three years of my life, how have I learned and grown in my time at the Ashram. 

In January, 2011 the day I came back to take the YDC, I remember arriving in the bookstore, checking-in, and my bags being sledded to my room with the help of the Karma Yogi Sherpa’s.  After depositing them in my chosen corner I headed off the to Divine Mother prayer room to reacquaint myself with the place after my four-month absence.  Chanting Om the wooded enclosure held me in this vibrational embrace.  The mantra bounced against the walls and around the altars in the room, this space that Swami Radha had lived in when she first started the Ashram.  It lifted and faded, resonating away until only the overtones were still audible.  They seemed to go on and on, oblivious to the fact that I had stopped chanting, that the harmonium was no longer being sounded.  It’s like they existed on a different plane, seeming to be above my head yet not in a physical way.  More like this ethereal place that only the inner ear can access.

I sat in this room last Sunday, my last reflection day at the Ashram, chanting, this time, to the cosmic lovers Radhe and Krishna.  Instead of oscillating mantra filling the spaces, in the stillness after mantra a question arose.  I’d been outside a lot that day, really soaking up the sunshine and energy of the place, knowing I’d be leaving on Friday and spending a lot of time thinking about what I would take forward, what was different in me.  It was exactly that question that arose in the silence of my chanting: “How will I know that I’ve changed”. 

A few days later I was walking to the temple early in preparation for offering my last Satsang and the word “continuity” came to me.  It wasn’t just the change I wanted to capture; it’s the continuity of how my essential self comes forward. There’s less junk in the way after being cleaned off with all these practices over the years. The change has been discovering how to express who I really am.  The essential self I interact with inside of me remains the same.  The greater depth I’m able to engage with myself, the greater depth I can share with others. 

Extricating myself from the Ashram in the tangible, physical reality this week was a process.  It was a process of discovering what I’ve learned and gained, and a process of committing to continue the work in whatever new situation I create for myself.  In that extrication process I also discovered every last article I had been missing.  The fancy pen, the i-pod and charger (ironically each in different completely differnet illogical places), and the cheque and gift certificate.  Taking these items symbolically I feel a great sense of abundance and support, like I have all the tools needed in order to step forward joyfully and creatively.  Which I will do – one step at a time.