Posts filed under ‘Spiritual Almanack’

A Spiritual Almanack- July – Dispersion (Brexit)

Hexagram 59 – Huan

hex 59

Wind

over

Water

We live in interesting times. But to some people all times are interesting. As the Zen Monk said, Every day is a good day. Therefore every day is also an interesting day, but this week we have been consumed by an avalanche of serious dislocations – changes of far reaching political significance.

There is a potential revolution in the air, and it seems incredible that it has been put in motion by three Old Etonians, two of them members of the Bullingdon Club. How has this happened?. Clearly it’s not deliberate – a thought out policy or a strategy. It’s more likely a failure of strategy, in fact a colossal blunder, leading to an escalating series of blunders.

Lu Tung-Pin writing in the 9th century, put it like this:

Some people appear on the scene when they should disappear, coming forward when they should withdraw; not knowing how to maintain tranquil silence, not knowing how to watch that fullness does not reach overflowing, they sometimes go awry by impetuosity, sometimes go awry by conceit. Heedless of subtle indications appearing, failing to carefully examine changes when they occur, day by day they proceed along the path to misfortune, regret and humiliation, so that the path of humanity is lost.

Who went awry by impetuosity? David Cameron, when he promised his rebels a referendum. Who went awry from conceit? Boris Johnson, whose ambition knows no bounds. These two ‘leaders’ have now put the UK in danger of a recession and the breakup of the kingdom. It would be a farce if it wasn’t a tragedy for everyone who is not rich – ie 99% of the people who will pay in one way or another for the failure of leadership shown by these tin pot politicians.

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese classic that deals with changes. It’s title translates as The Classic of Changes, and it is a tool that assists in the observation and understanding of the anatomy of events. Hexagram 59- Dispersion– deals with a situation like the one we are living through, when things are falling apart. It’s about a time of disorganisation and disorder, when things separate or scatter. What does it tell us to do so that we can survive through the forthcoming chaos?

The hexagram itself represents the elements wind over water. Water represents the deepest part of our body and therefore of our selves, but water also represents danger, as anyone who has lived through a flood or tsunami knows. The wind is something that penetrates into all places and also disperses things to all points of the compass. The strong and deep emotions and thoughts that have been unleashed by the Referendum are all now dispersing widely, reaching more and more people. These emotions are both positive and negative – anger, resentment and selfishness are there, but so is compassion, openness and affection. Which set of emotions will be given power to thrive? In Nazi Germany it was anger and resentment that were encouraged, and look at the disaster that led to. In our day it must be positive emotions of love and companionship, otherwise we are all lost.

We need a leader with wisdom and foresight to help us get out of this chaos and find a stable footing. In a time of revolution, anything becomes possible. New thoughts can be taken up, new ideas tried. We all must know by now that something is wrong with our society and it needs to be fixed. Surely the Leave vote was in part a protest by millions of people against austerity, against a lack of good jobs, against overpriced housing, insufficient school places and fears for the future of the NHS. At heart this is a protest against a ruling elite that is completely indifferent to their lives, that literally couldn’t care less. If we want peace, if we want good lives, and if we want some happiness then it should be clear what is needed. If it’s broken, we’d better fix it or it’s going to get worse. We have to do what is needed, and that means reversing the gross inequality in our society. It is not difficult to do, it just takes political will, but it will be difficult to get everyone on board the project. People will have to be persuaded that this is the only thing that can really save us. And that is why we need a leader who can make that case.

My late teacher Liu Ming wrote this about Hexagram 59:

You are caught in a very vigorous tide of events, but there is no misfortune. Big changes bring no trouble, because the flow of change is a natural (group) event and not the result of personal (selfish) effort.

A miscalculation provides a chance to go forward. In misunderstanding a situation you experience a small loss. This loss creates an opportunity to recalculate and ultimately succeed.

You are rescued from a dangerous situation. A setback becomes an opportunity to establish security and success.

The changes that the I Ching talks about in Hex 59 are not ones we personally make, but huge changes that come at us swiftly and surprisingly and with overwhelming shape and scale – just like a flood. We know that in a flood many of our possessions will be either swept away or rendered unsalvageable. We know there is no option but to go out and get new ones. But first we have to clean up the mess that the flood has left behind. Well, our flood has passed and if we open our eyes we can see the devastation it has left behind. It is now our task to mend things.

What is the best way to resolve dispersal? We find ourselves at a crossroads. To go along the way we have been going- economically and politically – will continue to create inequality and foster anger, resentment and hatred. In this way we will make society worse and encourage all the negative emotions that have been stirred up. The other way is to change how we order our society, to encourage greater equality and to lose the selfishness that has driven our economy and politics. If we do this then the positive emotions that we want to encourage – the fostering of community and solidarity – can lead us to a better society.

It is a matter of acknowledging the truth of the situation, that austerity and capitalism have created an alienated, unhappy and unhealthy population, and the only answer has to be to stop creating more inequality.

Auden in his poem September 1, 1939 said this,

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die. 

Later in life Auden rejected this poem as being untruthful. But 
reading it now, we can see that he was not only prophetic about 
the devastating horror of the 2nd World War (which started on 
September 1, 1939) but also of the environmental 
crisis that will soon engulf us. 

Remember that Quantum theory says the universe starts 
anew in every instant; another world is possible. 
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July 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack – June: Radiance

Hexagram 30: Brightness

Fire

over

Fire

The sun illuminates the sky while our inner illumination is the radiance of self-awareness, spreading thoughts and feelings from our deep heart’s core to the endless expanse of the universe.

The projects we start in spring begin to develop and blossom in summer. How can we nurture them so that they continue growing and do not fail prematurely? What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow. What we mustn’t do is to give way to doubts and anxiety and try too hard to help things grow, like the story of the famous Chinese farmer,

When the family sat down to dinner, the grandfather was missing, and his grandson reported that he was in the fields ‘helping the rice to grow’.

When the family rushed out to the paddies they saw how the old man was helping the rice to grow: by pulling on the rice stalks, tearing out their roots.

The Taoist way of acting is to act without acting, and this is called wu-wei. It means not interfering, and has been translated as non-striving, not trying, or doing nothing. It is a principle of the Tao, as the Tao Te Ching says,

The Tao does nothing

And yet nothing is left undone.

How can things get done when there is no doing? Wu wei does not mean literally doing nothing, but it implies not forcing things, being willing to sit back and watch as things develop naturally by themselves before making a move, rather than jumping in nervously and disturbing them. We must give up the sense that we can control things; all we can do is what needs to be done, and to let go at that point, trusting in the power of nature and the universe.

Vanda Scaravelli teaches that we can practise yoga with action in non-action, doing the asanas without the slightest effort.

Movement is the song of the body. Yes, the body has its own song from which the movement of dancing arises spontaneously.. In other words the liberation of the upper part of the body produced by the acceptance of gravity in the lower part of the body is the origin of lightness and dancing is its expression. This song, if you care to listen to it, is beauty. We could say that it is part of nature. We sing when we are happy and the body goes with it like waves in the sea.

We often believe that someone must be sitting in silence in the middle of a mountain retreat before we can say he or she is practising non-action. But taking no action does not mean folding one’s arms and closing one’s mouth. If we are simply content to let everything act by itself, then all things will be contented with their own nature and develop on their own. If we only embrace Tao and cherish simplicity, and allow everything to run its maximum course, then the world will naturally be contented with itself.

The idea that all things are accomplished without our control is described in the Bhagavad Gita when Krishna tells of the three gunas, or forces of nature,

The forces of nature are three: sattva, the light, clear, and serene harmony of pure intelligence and goodness; rajas, the fiery restless energy of anger, hatred, greed and lust; and tamas, the darkness of dullness and inertia.

Although the harmonious force of sattva is pure, giving light and health without obstructions, it still binds your mind through an attachment to happiness and knowledge. The restless active force of rajas is of the nature of passion, creating a thirst for acquiring worldly things and thus leading to the bondage of selfish attachment and compulsive behaviour. The dark lethargic force of tamas arises out of ignorance and deludes all creatures, binding them to sleepy dullness, carelessness and laziness.

Sattva binds you to happiness, rajas binds you to incessant activity, while tamas leads to confused thinking and bad judgement. The light harmonious Sattva is dominant when the light of wisdom shines from all the gates of the body. When the fiery Rajas is dominant, we see greedy behaviour, busy activity, restlessness, discontentment and desire. When the dark Tamas is dominant, there is a disinclination to act, ignorance, laziness, delusion and confusion.

The yogis who understand that the forces of nature are only the actors in the drama of life and can transcend Nature, attain the Supreme. When a yogi goes beyond the three forces of nature which constitute her mortal body, she enters into immortality, free from the cycles of birth and death. She is aware that the forces of Nature are merely playing their part, so she is able to be unperturbed by changing conditions, remaining steady and unmoved. She dwells in her inner Self, viewing pain and pleasure alike, seeing stones or gold or earth as one and the same, maintaining equanimity in the midst of pleasure and pain. She is beyond praise and blame and keeps a steady and quiet mind. For her honour or disgrace is the same; and she has the same love for her enemies as for her friends. Surrendering all selfish actions, she has gone beyond the three forces of Nature.

We need to find a way of inner silence and peace that will allow us to trust the universe enough to let it dictate what happens, and not to force the world to fulfil our demands. This is what the Tao Te Ching means when it says,

Attaining utter emptiness,

maintaining single-minded stillness,

as things act together,

I thereby watch their return.

By maintaining stillness and emptiness, we trust that the world will support and sustain us. This kind of stillness transforms our striving mind into a perfect mirror, which reflects life perfectly, but doesn’t attempt to grasp anything. It becomes like a still lake high up in the mountains on a clear day, its surface unruffled by wind or rain.

Chuang Tzu explains:

Heaven does nothing, and so maintains its serenity.

Earth does nothing, and so it has its peace.

By the union of these two non-ac­tive forces, everything is produced.

How vast and imperceptible is this process!

Things seem to come from nowhere!

How imperceptible and vast!

We can’t begin to see it!

All things in all their variety grow from this inaction.

Hence the saying, “Heaven and Earth do nothing, and yet there is nothing that remains undone.”

But can we find anyone who trusts the universe enough to live according to “doing nothing”?

June 1, 2016 at 10:38 am Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack- May: Flourishing

Hexagram 46: Growing Upward

 

Earth over Wood.

Wood grows up from the earth,

An image of flourishing.

In correspondence with this,

The superior person cultivates his virtue,

Accomplishes small things

And evolves to a higher level.

 

Karma is a mysterious path.

May 1st – Mayday- used to be the day created by the workers to celebrate their unity and solidarity. But now that almost all of us are workers (or self employed), we no longer feel there is anything to celebrate. For many of us work has become a drudgery, a form of indentured slavery that we must perform to make money to pay for our daily needs; a kind of curse, without joy, without pleasure, without satisfaction, without meaning. It is rarely performed as an end in itself, but as a means to an end.

The Bhagavad Gita presents a yogic view of work that is radically different than our contemporary view. The yogic view of work is called karma yoga, and is a transforming vision of how to live. If we could follow its teachings we would create a revolution in the way we think of ourselves, our actions, our relationship to others, and to the world, and this would reinvest our lives with deep meaning and purpose. The Gita shows us how to transform work from a mundane and deadening activity to a form of spiritual teaching and inner evolution.

In the Gita Krishna, a God who is the incarnation of the Hindu Trinity – the gods Brahma the creator, Siva the destroyer and Vishnu the preserver – teaches the warrior Arjuna about spiritual duty and the search for spiritual freedom. In this dialogue Krishna makes the clearest statement about karma yoga, the yoga of selfless action,

Do your work, but don’t go looking for any benefits from the results. Don’t be motivated by the fruits of your actions, but you must never become inactive either. Do your work in the peace of Yoga, free from selfish desires, not moved by success or failure. Yoga is evenness of the mind, a peace that is always steady.

Work done for reward is much lower than work done through the Yoga of wisdom. Take refuge in wisdom, because those who are motivated by the rewards of their work are to be pitied. With this wisdom and stillness of mind, we can go beyond good and evil. So practise yoga, for yoga is perfection in action.

Looked at in this way, work can be an evolutionary process by which a human being progresses towards a state of being which is at one with a greater purpose, which we call the divine, or God, or Tao, or the Spirit. This aspect of the divine is not a stranger to us, as it lives within our inmost core as our deepest self, and the aim of yoga is to allow it to emerge and flourish so that it can inform our very consciousness. Karma yoga is a process of spiritual evolution.

Karma yoga calls on us to perform the ordinary activities of life, but to remain detached from their fruits or results. It asks us to concentrate only on the act itself, operating solely in the moment, considering each act as an end in itself, and not motivated by future results.

If a person’s reason is unwavering, and she is free from the desire for the results of action, she is liberated from the limiting aspects of actions performed while being attached to the objects of sense.

The unenlightened do things with attachment to results. The enlightened, however, do things with the same energy but without attachment, and so guide others on the path of selfless action.

The modern view of karma yoga is of selfless action undertaken for the good of others. But this is not the way the ancient Gita sees it. To be truly selfless does not mean to be altruistic, since actions undertaken for ends, even good ends, are still attachments and are less perfect than acts undertaken exclusively for themselves.

Krishna says that the wise, aware that there is no escape from the duties of life, fulfil their duties and submit to their work in a spirit of joy. However mean the work, they do it well, but without attachment or selfish desire. Work undertaken like this can perfect the soul, so the type of work does not really matter. As Swami Satchidananda says,

Once you are free of selfish desire

You work for the joy of it

And all your actions are as play

People worry that if they give up their ego-driven focus of work, nothing will get done. Without desire won’t we just vegetate and stagnate? Krishna explains,

The forces of nature accomplish everything. But when our minds are clouded with ego, we think that we have made things happen. Arjuna, the person who understands the relationship between the forces of Nature and actions, and sees how the forces of Nature work together with other forces of Nature to make things happen, does not become their slave. If we are deluded about these forces of Nature then we become attached to nature’s functions.

It is the forces of Nature (The Three Gunas) that really make things happen, but we delude ourselves into thinking that it is our will that has actually accomplished something, and so our ego and pride inflate, taking us further away from reality.

Once we understand that it is the potent energy of the universe that makes things happen we can stand back and let go, and this letting go allows us to function freely and easily in the world, and through this playful freedom we are able to effect the healthy flourishing of body, mind and spirit.

May 2, 2016 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack- April: Blossom

Hexagram 1: Heaven (The Creative Principle)

A flower opens to the sun; our hearts open to the universe.

The rising sun radiates energy throughout the sky, filling the space below the heavens and covering the earth, its heat penetrating all things, quickening them into life and nourishing their development. Whatever the light touches it illuminates and clarifies, exposing hidden shadows, just as the energy of our consciousness – our awareness, thoughts and feelings – illuminate and clarify everything within and without.

Commentary On The Symbol:

The creative principle acts with vitality and persistence.

In correspondence with this

The cultivated person stays vital without ceasing.

Heaven covers everything on earth, and originates all creatures. It is a single flow of energy, continuously circulating, never ceasing, moving forward endlessly and inexhaustibly. The way of the creative is constant change and transformation, allowing each being to evolve into its own nature and opening a path to its true destiny.

The creative, Heaven, is the ultimate of health, vitality and strength, and is the source of our own health and soundness. If we follow the Way of Heaven, we are in harmony with nature, and can adapt to the changes we face, knowing when to move forward and when to stop, when to seize the moment and when to let the moment pass by. Adapting correctly to all change, we find a way that is prosperous and smooth, the obstacles we encounter do not block us, and our path reveals itself in time, each footstep and each decision opening new vistas, new possibilities.

A lily produced in spring is a marvel of creativity. It embodies the ultimate unfolding of yang, the true positive energy of creation. When positive energy is born, all things cannot help but blossom. They are all in process, are transforming and happening, are flowing events rather than fixed and solid objects.

Someone asked Chan Master Wen-Yen,

What is the fundamental idea of Buddhism?”

The Master answered,

When Spring comes, the grass turns green of itself.”

The rain falls, clouds disperse, the sun emerges, and all forms develop of themselves. To follow the way of Heaven is to actualise Tao in your daily life, to interfuse the sacred and mundane in your own body, mind and spirit. This opens the doors of perception, as it did for William Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower

 

The energy that opens the flower wakes you in the morning. The quality of strength in people is this same primal creative energy of heaven. This energy comes spontaneously to everything from nature, is strong but has no need of force. It is bright and lucid, illuminating everything like the sun at midday. When it appears the earth is covered with growth, the world is filled with golden flowers.

Her name was Shidie Lin, she was seventeen months old and at one month her mother had abandoned her at the steps of an orphanage. The passport picture they sent us showed a sad, perplexed little girl. Did we want to adopt her? Having waited for six frustrating years, there was no hesitation, no matter how deep her sadness. She was healthy and needed a home, no more to be said. They delivered her to our hotel room, a scrawny, tight-jawed, bowl-legged tyke with dozens of ugly mosquito bites on her legs, and a strangely-shaped head. What had we taken on? Six months later, she has blossomed into a smiling, bonny, round-faced, straight-legged toddler who loves life. Love, human warmth, food and security have made her bloom. We call her Lily.

Yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli writes,

As the sun opens the flowers delicately, unfolding them little by little, so the yoga exercises and breathing open the body during a slow and careful training. When the body is open, the heart is open.

Yoga gives us openness and flexibility of mind and body, and opens our spirit, so that we feel the relationship between heaven, earth and all sentient beings. This feeling of oneness and unity gives us a sense of connectedness to all creation, so that we never feel alone. The asanas help develop a core strength that gives us an inner confidence and centeredness that allows us to blossom into our true self without fear and doubt.

The Brihad Devata says: ‘All that exists is born from the sun’. The ancient yoga exercise, Salute To The Sun (surya namaskar) puts us in touch with the universal energy of the cosmos. The harmonious pattern of postures united in circular movements flowing into each other are part of a whole, just as a petal is part of a flower. Traditionally the sequence is performed at dawn facing east towards the rising sun so that in raising our hands upwards we offer the sun and the universe a respectful salute. The golden warmth of the sun is received by our hearts and welcomed with great love and thanks.

We need to open ourselves to the light so that we can learn to trust ourselves and the universe. As the Mundaka Upanishad says:

The Lord of Love shines in everyone’s heart. When we are wise and see the Lord of Love in all living things, we lose ourselves in the service of all and find ultimate peace and joy. With truth, meditation, self-control and discipline, we can find ourselves in this state of joy and see the inner spirit, our real essence, shining in our hearts.

Every day the sun rises to say “You are alive – enjoy it!” and every night when you go to bed, reflect on how wonderful it is just to be alive, to breathe and feel the joy of existence itself.

April 1, 2016 at 11:11 am Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack- March: Early Growth

Hexagram 4: MENG (Childhood)

Mountain

Over

Water (stream)

I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

H.D. Thoreau

All beginnings hide their magnificence. Life is unfolding, but it is not yet fully manifest: in the beginning of things, in early growth, we see only the tips, the first growths that hide enormous potential.

The image: A spring flows out of a mountain.

Water emerging from a deep source under the dark cover of the mountain collects naturally into a spring, pure and transparent, like the clarity of a child’s innocent mind. As it travels down the mountain and enters the valley the murmuring streams converge into a great river, grow broader and deeper and eventually merge into the sea. When the spring gushes forth, it doesn’t know where it will end, it just flows on and on, trusting its own nature. Everything begins in this small way and has the potential to become naturally great.

But at the foot of the mountain lies difficulty. After the spring emerges, sediment builds up and the initial pure clarity of the fresh spring is obscured and lost. Our own minds also start out pure and clear, showing the mind of Tao, but as we grow up we acquire conditioning – kleshas, ignorance, attachments, false illusions – which obscure our inner clarity, and we are left with the conditioned human mind, losing the real and gaining the false. We fail to see the world clearly, and our ego gets in the way.

The way to combat ignorance, to reverse the human mind back to the mind of Tao is through self-cultivation, through nourishing our correct nature, but it is difficult to do this without losing childlike innocence.

Lao Tzu was asked,

“Can you explain the Tao of keeping good health?”

He replied,

Can you embrace the One?

Can you keep from losing it?

Can you know good and bad fortune without consulting the oracle?

Can you rest where you ought to rest?

Can you stop when you have enough?

Can you leave others alone and seek it in yourself alone?

Can you flee from desire?

Can you be sincere?

Can you become like a little child? A child can cry all day without becoming hoarse — so perfect is its harmony. It can clench its fists all day without relaxing its grip – such is the concentration of its power. It can stare all day without moving its eyes — so unconcerned is it by the outside world. It walks but doesn’t know where. It rests where it’s placed, but it doesn’t know why. It unconsciously mingles with things, and just follows their flow. This is how to guard life.

Rabbi Jesus said,

Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

All beginnings, whenever we start something new, whether it is a yoga teacher training course, a business, a relationship, a creative work, a new political or social movement or the birth of a child, all follow this pattern. We start everything with the expectation that it will grow, develop and prosper, and it can if we have the flexibility of yin to act in accordance with the time and follow the right principles.

The danger at the beginning of things can only be overcome by cultivating our virtues, our highest human values. These are the principles that can sustain our growth, help us to fulfill our potential, and avoid and correct any obstacles that arise. What are these virtues? Swami Satchidananda said that his teacher Swami Sivananda used to say that yoga was so simple. It was “just being good, doing good.” All new beginnings need to be sustained by the most positive values that we can bring to bear: love, compassion and honesty. The ethical teachings of the yamas and niyamas in Patanjali’s yoga sutras say the same thing – by living correctly, ethically, we can live well.

At our beginning we are innocence itself, pure love, and for most of us we are as close to our essence as we will ever be in this body and in this life. As we grow and develop we cross a bridge from love to fear and our task is to return to that beginning and go back over the bridge from fear to love.

When you watch a baby, she is completely at one with her body; her body moves where it needs to go, and her beauty is in her perfection. She is totally present; there is no future, there is no past.

The goal of yoga is to find our true essence, to be totally connected to the spirit or soul within, our inner God, and to be present in each and every moment, just as a baby is.

As we practise our yoga asanas, we are looking to release the habitual patterns of deep tension and bad posture that many of us have developed so that we can allow our bodies to move freely and without tension. It is our attention on the body as we practise and the conscious use of the breath that will help us to get in touch with the body’s inherent wisdom to keep us healthy and happy. As we allow the gravity and our breath to work for us and touch the ground with trust and love, we can learn to trust and love ourselves and the universe around us. This is how we can make the return journey to that bridge so that we can cross back from fear to love.

Pranayama practise and kriyas will help us to clear the impurities from the body, clear our energetic pathways and give us a deep inner strength. The purpose of meditation is to still the mind, learn to understand its wily ways and gain some control over it so that we can go beyond the conscious mind to something much deeper that puts us in touch with the God within us and the immense universal power within us and outside of us. This is true love and with this love we have nothing to fear.

March 1, 2016 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack – February: SEEDS

Hexagram 3: Beginning

i_ching_03_chun[1]

Cloud (water)

Over

Thunder

After stillness, action; after rest, movement; after completion: beginning. One yin and one yang make up the entire universe.

In February seeds lie in the ground, but they are not dormant. Within they are beginning to stir, slowly uncurling, starting the long journey to fulfil their mysterious inner potential. But we cannot see their progress; the ground hides them, just as our deepest motives and impulses, the mysterious unseen movers that cause us to move, lie hidden in our psyche.

The Decision of the I Ching Hexagram 3, Beginning says,

The beginning of a tiny sprout.

Sublimely prosperous and smooth.

Favourable to be steadfast and upright.

Do not act lightly.

From the slowly rousing seed, there emerges first a root, which buries itself deep into the soil, and then a tiny seedling appears, a tender shoot which rises up. This first tendril represents new life, and life grows out of two movements – the rise of yang and the descent of yin. The seed surrenders itself to the earth and in turn receives nourishment from it.

In our yoga practise as in life we need to follow both of these dimensions: using gravity to find our own root, and using our prana, our life energy, to rise up. We need to understand how we relate to the ground, how we use the ground. To find our own root is to learn to trust the earth, and to let it really support us, with no holding on to muscle tension. The ground represents elemental power and energy, the power that nurtures and grows. Can we trust it enough to just let go and rest into it?

The seed is the essence of the plant, just as our seeds – our cells and eggs – contain our essence, our inner self. So in this season our being starts to emerge from its hibernation, the life force unfolding towards the light. Seeds are powerhouses of energy, sharply concentrated and attentive foci of action. The smallest plant, soft and pliable, carries tremendous power in its root, the serenely unfolding yang power of the life force. We too have this power within us, but our fears, doubts and anxiety create obstacles that inhibit the release of the intense force of our life energy.

Hexagram 3 is an emblem of this situation: the crashing power of the thunder is damped down by the clouds above. Our tremendous latent power is covered over and inhibited. Before we are able to emerge into our own light we must make a journey back, a reversal into our root so that we can again emerge from it. Paradoxically, we make progress by moving backward, crablike, as the Tao Te Ching tells us,

The Tao moves the other way

The Tao works through weakness

To go back the other way means to return to the root, to the source and origin of our being, where our power lies hidden and sleeping, coiled like the serpent power – Kundalini. Yoga is a means of discovering and releasing this latent energy so that we can use it in daily life. Many of us live too much in our heads so we need to practice bringing our energy down to our base, our fundament. Vanda Scaravelli taught a yoga influenced strongly by using gravity, allowing the natural pull of weight to draw us down to earth, to ground ourself in ourself. When we work on the base – the essential, the fundamental – then we are working with the base chakra, the first power centre of the body. As we allow ourselves to be supported by life, solidly grounded on the earth, comfortable in our own skin, then we are balanced in the root chakra. And the root chakra is the support of all the other chakras.

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa says:

We connect to the planet through our first chakra, and it’s where we return ourselves back to the earth beneath us. It is at our first chakra that we accept we are even here on earth. It is where we first say ‘yes’ to life.

Once we can unconditionally say ‘yes’ to life we can discover our true self, our true nature, and in doing so we liberate our energy and become free of fear, as the Katha Upanishad tells us,

. When the wise understand that it is only through the Eternal Self that we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, and enjoy, they meditate on this Self and go beyond all suffering. When we are present with our Self, we are beyond fear. And this is our true nature. The Eternal Self lives not only in our hearts but also among the physical elements. It is a boundless power manifesting as life itself, entering every heart, living there among the elements – that is the Eternal Self.

When we lose fear we automatically gain courage, which is why courage is one of Socrates’ cardinal virtues. He did not mean only the bravery of a soldier, but our everyday courage when we strive to overcome our deepest fears. Yoga can be a powerful tool to help us gather our courage, and learn to live in greater freedom. When we are free, we begin to see reality clearly, without the delusion of the past. In such a state, we can see the obstacles that stop us, can grow past our old conditioning, can learn to grow ‘prosperous and smooth’, just like the tiny plants.

As the Zen monk Tiantong Hongshi says,

Everywhere life is sufficient, in its way.

In us life is also sufficient, and we have everything we need within to fulfil our enormous potential. All we have to do is wake up and realise it.

February 1, 2016 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

A SPIRITUAL ALMANAC – JANUARY: SILENCE

I am the secret of silence and the wisdom of the wise. Bhagavad Gita, Ch.10

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Hexagram 24: RETURN (FU)

i_ching_24_fu

Earth
over
Thunder

Short days; long nights;
The earth is silent;
Rest in the darkness.

At this time of year the yang energy is renewing itself; it is fragile and needs rest, nurturing and protection. This is a time to examine yourself, refine yourself, cultivate your virtue and master your mind, waiting for the right time to act in the days to come.

Lao Tzu said,

Attain utter emptiness;
Maintain the deepest stillness,
While all creatures rise and fall,
I silently watch their return.

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Silence is sacred; silence is our refuge; silence is our peace. Modern life is an assault of sound, a blast of brute noise designed to grab our attention and hold it entranced by sound so that we can be sold things we don’t need. TV commercials, muzak, the constant background hum of cars, trains and planes all distract us away from our inner peace.

Remember that the core of yoga is silence. When you can find that silent space within and stay in it, then you are in tune with yourself and the world: safe, secure and at home within your own skin. In this state you have no need to worry about the quality of your asana positions, or to wonder how someone else is getting along, or to fret about your work or other activities. You merely are. Existence itself is knowledge and bliss wrapped up in one, and you are that – you are one with all.

The earth, too, is silent in January, the generative power sunk deep within the ground. No birds sing, no insects buzz, and life sleeps in hibernation.

In Taoist alchemy this dead of winter represents the utmost quiescence, when real knowledge can emerge from primal emptiness. The alchemists call this the Living Midnight or Lead meets Winter, since winter followed by spring is like midnight followed by dawn, when the culmination of the cold dark yin energy is followed by the rising of the hot light yang energy. Slowly the yang energy emerges from its long winter sleep resting in the ground, and the potential for new life begins again.

It is a turning point in the year’s cycle. When things proceed to the extreme of the deepest darkness, they naturally alternate to the opposite: the dimmest light returns. This is a law of Nature. The time of darkness passes. The winter solstice brings back the banished light. And just as light returns, so we too must also return to our inner light. In the depths of our being we must seek the self, the one, our essence or origin- that ascending force of life.

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Prime Minister Pei Hsiu brought his written interpretation of Chan Buddhism for his master Huang Po to read. Huang Po accepted the text but put it aside without opening it, and remained silent. Pei Hsiu waited patiently for the words of his master, but Huang Po stayed silent. His silence lasted for a very long time. It filled the space between the two men and began to fill the entire hall. When the silence seemed loud enough to burst, Huang Po leaned towards the Prime Minister and said sofly, “Understand?”

Consider the meaning of this silence against the words rumbling on this page.

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When practicing asanas, or doing Tai Chi Chuan, we enter this meditative state of silence and in that quietness we are able to find our true selves, the inner essence, the kernel of who we really are.

The Person who in movement finds rest, and who understands that movement grows from stillness and rest, sees the light, and finds peace in all his actions. Bhagavad Gita, Ch. 4.

In Chinese the word for mind is hsin, which means the mind/heart. It can literally mean kernel or essence. Mind in a state of quiescence is similar to Christian innocence, the primal mind of humanity before the fruit of knowledge was eaten. To find this mind is to see your original face before you were born.

One secret of a successful life is to find a way to extend this silence into the other parts of life, into the busyness of life away from the yoga mat , where the stresses and conflicts of mundane existence can easily drag us away from our inner peace. Finding inner peace and maintaining inner peace are two separate practices.

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Silence is a place of great power. When we find those fleeting moments of silence our meditation can then undo our bodies from the inside, in subtle ways that the asanas cannot reach. The silent state of meditation is a healing state, providing a balance and harmony to all of our existence.

Periods of silence within a relationship indicate trust, love and peace – those moments when we have no need to talk, and are just able to accept the other person as they are – without criticism, judgement or withdrawal.

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In silent meditation, we put to rest our worries and cares, but meditation is not the ultimate answer. It is only a raft to get us to the distant shore:

The Master Huai-Jang asked Ma-Tsu, “Why do you sit all day in meditation?” Ma-Tsu answered, “I want to become a Buddha.” Hearing this, the Master picked up a brick and started rubbing it on a stone. “What are you doing?” asked Ma-Tsu. “I am polishing this brick to make a mirror.” “How can you make a mirror by rubbing a brick?” Ma-Tsu asked. “How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?”

In the end we must return to the activity of life, to the crossroads and the marketplace, and share with others the insights and power we have discovered in meditation:

bull10

Barechested and barefooted he comes into the marketplace.
Muddy and covered in dust – how broadly he grins!
Without resorting to magical powers,
Withered trees begin to bloom.

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In the end silence brings us closer to our true nature and to God. It is in that silence that we can be present in the moment.

When we observe our breath we can find silence and stillness at that lovely pause at the end of the in-breath and before the breath turns at the end of the out-breath. These pauses, if we let them, can be our entry into the eternal.

December 31, 2015 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

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