Friday, February 20, 2015

Wahe! Amritsar, India- Feb 20, 2015

वही  Wahe!!  Wahe is a Sikh word that means something like “Wow!”  It refers to wonder, awe, excitement, and/or ecstasy.  It is a word frequently uttered in Amritsar, and I can see why.
We have been here 3 days, and tomorrow we will depart for Kathmandu.  I wish we had another couple of days here, in order to really take everything in.  Unfortunately, we had a lot of rain (and even some hail!) these past 2 days, so some of the time we could have spent at the Golden Temple was spent resting in our hotel room- although that rest was much needed.

The Golden Temple, or Harmandir Sahib, is indeed an amazing place.  It is the “Mecca,” if you will, of the Sikh religion.

Today, I did seva (community service) in the Guru Ka Langer, the Community Kitchen.  This kitchen feeds an average of 75,000 meals PER DAY to anyone who wishes to come, for FREE.  Anyone is also welcome to come and do seva- you could peel and chop onions, cut potatoes, wash dishes, etc.  My appointed job was to hand out bowls to people coming in to eat.  The kitchen is open 24 hours a day, so there is always a need for help. 
In our yoga class this morning, we talked about appreciation and gratitude for the people in our lives and the things that we have and sometimes take for granted.  We bowed humbly in “humble warrior pose,” but what could be more reverent than handing someone a bowl from which they could eat?  A bowl which was lovingly washed by someone just moments before?  (Tim chose to wash dishes today for his seva.) 

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to tour the kitchen and see the vats where they cook the dal.  They are giant enormous vats, set into a second story floor, over large wood fires.  People would carry huge buckets of carrots and onions (it took 2 men to carry each bucket) and transfer them into the cooking vats.  (There were some men cleaning one of the vats- it was so big that one man was standing inside of the vat to scoop the water out of it, and you could hardly see his head poking out the top.)  We each got the opportunity to stir the dal as it was cooking.  Ever stir soup with something the size of a garden shovel?  Seriously, the handle was probably 5 feet long.  Wahe!

Earlier this morning, we went inside the Golden Temple to sit for meditation, along with lots and lots of other people.  It was definitely awe inspiring just to be there.  In the midst of all the noise, the movement, the color, the sparkle, and so forth, it was remarkably easy to just slip into stillness.  To just sit and be.  I was trying to use a meditation technique of listing the things and people I am grateful for, but that was actually hard!  This distraction for the mind was actually taking me out of my meditation.  So, I just sat in the midst of the flow, and found a sense of belonging, (even in a place where I look different from everyone else,) happiness, and inner peace.  It was amazing.  Wahe!

The people here in Amritsar (and especially within the temple walls) are super-friendly, welcoming, trusting, and forgiving if you mess up their customs.  Everyone is welcome, everyone is equal.  (This is a quality of the Sikhs- equality for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, socio-economic status.  Yeah!)  Many of the local people wanted us to have our pictures taken with them, since they had possibly never been in contact with Westerners before.  It was fun, and really an honor just to be there.  During our yoga class today, we paused and took a moment to appreciate everything it had taken for us to be right where we were in that moment- the support of our family members, the natural resources used for our flights, the hours of work we did to make enough money to pay for our trips, the people who served us breakfast this morning, the farmers who grew our food, and so forth.  To me, this is always where the Wahe comes.  Realizing how we are all connected.  How none of us is really ever separate.  How we support each other.  And even now as I type this, from half-way around the world, I marvel at the technology that allows me to share these words and pictures with you.  May we always have that sense of wonder, of appreciation, and of gratitude.  Wahe!!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day

New Delhi, Old Delhi, I don't know if I can tell the difference between the two.  Yesterday we ventured into Old Delhi (via car and then rickshaw!) to visit the Bina factory.  This is where some of the world's finest harmoniums and other Indian instruments are made.

So, how does one get into the Bina factory?  Well, apparently first you have to know where to look.
 A narrow stairway on a busy city street leads you up to the showroom.  We didn't have an appointment, but we got lucky and arrived when no other customers were in the store.  I had the opportunity to try several different harmoniums, "noodling" around with my Western musical ear.  The salesmen were obviously better skilled at playing than I, but they politely let me go at it.  I seriously felt like a kid in a candy store- what better way to spend Valentine's Day?

Eventually, they brought out what they called the "Mercedes" of Binas.  Even the case on this thing is absolutely gorgeous.  The keys are light and springy, the stops pull out with the greatest of ease, and the air pumps through for what seems like forever.  And yes, I even cranked out a few verses of the Hanuman Chalisa right there in the showroom.

Once we decided on which one to purchase (you guessed it, the Mercedes!) we went upstairs for a tour of the factory.  It's not what I expected!!  Little rooms, all open to an outdoor corridor.  In each little room, one or two men were working, either assembling the cases, applying varnish, etc... we were able to watch one man gluing the keys onto the keyboard.  After the tour, we went back downstairs to complete our purchase- and got to sit in the factory owner's office drinking chai while he wrote up the sale.  We don't think his name is really Mr. Bina, but that's how we'd like to think of him!  It was pretty surreal, actually.

After that, we visited the Swaminarayan Akshardham, which is the location of the Akshardham Mandir, which is one of the largest Hindu temples in the world. It's also one of the newest- having only opened in 2005.  Picture taking is prohibited, but I found a few on the interwebs.  The carvings on and in the building and surrounding gates were most impressive, especially the 140 pink sandstone elephants that surround the base of the mandir.

After that....we finished up the day at a Sufi mosque and heard some kawali kirtan, and then met friends for dinner at the posh Oberoi hotel.  Overall, I'd have to say it was a most exotic Valentine's Day!!  Not your typical flowers and chocolates.  I hope your Valentine's Day was full of love- love for life!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Let the adventure begin!
I am leaving today for my first trip to India.  I'm super excited.  Subscribe to this blog to get all the updates, pictures, musings, etc.

People keep telling me that India will change you.  That it will overwhelm you.  That it is a huge sensory playground full of sights, sounds, smells, and sensations.  I say, "bring it on!"  I don't know that I am going to India looking to be changed- I think many people go there for exactly that purpose, but that isn't my intent, not on this trip, anyway.  I am going as an explorer, as a seeker, with a sense of playful curiosity.  While I am leading a yoga tour/retreat, I see myself as a tourist.  We will be traveling to 5 different cities, New Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Varanasi, and Kathmandu (Nepal.)  I hope to sample a flavor of each of these areas, and I do expect I will take a little bit of India back home with me!

I invite you to join me on this journey.  Follow along.  I'm not sure how good our internet connection will be, but I will try to post at least once in/about each city- hopefully more.

The spirit in me honors the spirit in you.

Love, Cheryl

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Body, Mind, Spirit, Yes!

I was at a kirtan the other night, and someone led a Kundalini chant, from the words of Yogi Bhajan, "I have no body, I have no mind, I have no spirit, I'm just the breath of God, breath of life, breath of life, the breath of God."

While the tune was gorgeous, and I enjoyed singing along to the melody and creating harmony with the kirtan leader, I was thinking the whole time.... "but I do have a body, and I do have a mind, and of course I have a Spirit.....AND, I am the breath of God!"

As a student of Tantra, we learn a philosophical approach to yoga that the body and the mind are not problems to be avoided or transcended.  They are the way that Spirit (the One, Universal Consciousness, God or Goddess- whatever name works for you-) has chosen to manifest itself and experience all that life has to offer.  So God is choosing to BE you- to infuse itself into your body and mind.  It's a way for the Supreme Everything to experience anything at all.  Think about it, if you were everywhere and everything all at the same time, it would be hard to understand or enjoy any one small aspect of that vastness.  My teacher Jaye Martin describes it as if you took thousands of colors of paint and put them together in a bucket, it would turn almost black, and you wouldn't be able to see or enjoy any one particular color.

So, now I'm thinking about my body, and my mind.  And if they really are manifestations of God, if I am really here to be embodied Spirit, I really better get up and get out there into the world experiencing it.  I want to USE this body and mind to do good in the world.  To love people, and to encourage them to experience as much as they can in this lifetime, since who really knows if we'll ever have another experience like this again?  Each day is completely new- a new opportunity to sample what life has to offer.  Isn't that what this body is for?  For moving around through the world?  For seeing and hearing and tasting and hugging and helping?

And isn't that why I do
yoga in the first place?  To keep my body in tip top shape, so that I feel comfortable moving and reaching and climbing and working and playing?  So that I can cultivate my mind away from the chatter and into the moment?

This year, I will be using my body and mind to bring yoga to more and more people.  I'm working to establish a Yoga for Vets class at the Sarasota Vet Center.  I'm working with the Seva Yoga Program to bring yoga to other special populations, such as special needs children, abused women, and troubled teens.  By using our body and mind to do whatever it is that brings US joy in this life, we are uplifting everyone, and making the world a happier, more positive place.  How will you be using your body and mind in 2014?  Please leave a comment below.....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Raudra Rasa: the taste of anger

Indian philosophy has lots of numbered lists.  For example, there are 8 limbs of yoga, 5 koshas, 36 tattvas, 3 malas, 10 yamas and niyamas, so on and so forth.  I think this is because if something can be named and listed, it can begin to be understood.  One such example of a numbered list is the list of 9 rasas.  These are the 9 basic emotions that can be felt.  The word Rasa can also be translated to mean "flavor" or "taste," which suggests that all of these emotions should be tasted in order to enjoy the fullness of life.

One of the 9 rasas is called Raudra Rasa, and it is the emotion of anger.  Having 2 adolescent boys still living at home, you can imagine that I get my share of this particular rasa around the house!  The other day, one of the kids came home, frustrated about something that had happened during the day, and he was fully embracing the flavor of anger!

My husband and I were trying to console him, to get him to look on the bright side, to try to see what was good about the situation in an attempt to help him feel better.  But it wasn't working, our attempts were actually making him more frustrated.  Finally, he shouted out that he didn't want to feel better, he wanted to rant and complain, and just have us agree with him that sometimes life sucks.  He wanted to explore the Raudra Rasa.

So, why do I think this is cool?  In my experience, many people (including myself) spend a lot of energy trying to avoid negative emotions.  We shy away from the Raudra Rasa, the Karuna (sadness) Rasa, the Bhavanaka (fear) Rasa, and the Vibhatsa (disgust) Rasa, in favor of some of the more enjoyable tastes, like the Shringhara (love), Hasya (joy), Adbhuta (wonder), Shanta (peace), and Veera (courage) Rasas.  In cuisine, we sometimes avoid the sour and bitter tastes in favor of something sweet or salty!  But, just like those sour and bitter foods are good for us, it is also healthy to explore the more negative emotions or tastes.  That we can experience them at all indicates that they are a normal part of life.

We live in a world of opposites.  We have to experience pain to fully appreciate pleasure.  We have to know sadness to appreciate joy.  If we never knew anger, how would we understand contentment?

But I also think the key to living a pleasurable life is not to get stuck in any of the flavors.  Don't you know someone who is always angry, sad, and disgusted?  They're not much fun to be around, and they're probably not experiencing much wonder, joy, or peace.  On the flipside, a person who is nothing but love and unicorns and rainbows may not have a firm grip on reality, and also might not be all that interesting to be around.

I was impressed that my son was able to see that he was angry, see that he was choosing to remain angry, and he even said that expressing his frustration was the best way for him to get through it.  He said that without the opportunity to experience his anger, he would just repress it and ultimately feel even worse.  As a mom it's hard to not just want to make everything better, but I'm learning that when he's upset about something, one of the best things I can do for him is to empathize and let him express his feelings.  That's yogic!

How do you experience the rasas?  Feel free to comment below.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Breaking the Surface

I was having a conversation with a friend last week, and we were talking about how so many people just live life up on the surface, just going with the flow, dabbling in a little of this, a little of that, tasting from the flavors of life's smorgasbord.  It reminded me of a recent visit I made to a tapas restaurant- we got tiny little plates of food, just a sampling really, a bunch of tasty appetizers. And the thing about appetizers (even apparent in the name, really,) is that they are meant to be tantalizing, to stimulate your digestion, to prepare you for the meal to come.  So, after sitting at the table at the tapas restaurant, even after eating plate after tiny plate, we didn't feel satisfied, it felt like the meal never quite arrived.

Similarly, when we live a life of dabbling, of trying a little bit of this, exploring that, it's like we never get that feeling of satiation- the meal hasn't arrived.  We haven't gone below the surface to experience the wonders of the depths, whether that's the depth of learning about a subject extensively, the depth of emotion, or the depth of a relationship.  And why not?  What's so scary about going deep, that we are happier to stay up on the surface, just treading water, just marking time?

As a little girl, I remember learning to swim underwater.  It was scary to learn to hold my breath and submerge my head in the pool at the apartment complex where we lived.  But learning to swim below the surface opened up a whole world of fun for me, including "underwater tea parties" and breath-holding dare contests with my friends.  By learning to go deep, I learned a lot about myself, that I was capable of more than I thought, able to adapt and expand and grow.

In yoga, we sometimes talk about "going with the flow," or being in the "flow of life."  I picture myself floating above water, on my back, with the warm sunlight shining on my face, seeing the clear blue sky above, and not much else.  But, to roll onto my belly, and dive under the surface of the water, I can then swim in any direction, not just be carried by the current, and explore the underwater world.  There may be a myriad of plants, rocks, fish, and other unknown treasures to see and explore.  I can feel the water swishing through my hair, and see the bubbles of my escaping breath rising up toward the surface, even as I swim deeper to investigate.

I think that in order to live a "yogic" life, we have to be able to do both.  To sometimes surrender our will to the current of the Universe, and allow it to carry us along, but also to sometimes exert our free will to go deep- to direct our attention to the details, to question what and why and how, and to go as deep as we need to until our appetite is satiated.  We can choose what it is that we care to "yoke" or bind ourselves to, and then fully commit to this one thing, for a time, not to flit along from flower to flower like a bumblebee, but to make a deep commitment, and stick with it, no matter how scary or challenging it seems.  This is where I think real growth can occur, in the dark, scary places that we stay in through the discomfort, through the challenge, and then we emerge with a new understanding, a new skill, victorious and changed, becoming more of who we really, truly are.

So, come on in, the water's fine.  Let's have an underwater tea party, and learn about ourselves and each other.  I dare you!      

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ahimsa- non-violence

This week in my classes we've been talking about Ahimsa, one of the Yamas (restraints) from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.  Ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming,) is a restraint that is seemingly easy to comply with on a day-to-day basis.  We generally don't go around town hurting people, or doing random violent acts.  However, Ahimsa deserves a closer look.  We do things all the time that we know cause harm to ourselves, such as eating junk food, drinking alcohol, spending too much time at the computer, (I'm guilty!) or not exercising enough.  We subconsciously have negative thoughts running through our brains much of the time, directed toward other people, situations, or even toward ourselves, and these thoughts take their toll on us.  Repetitive thoughts create patterns in our brains, which, like a rut created in a dirt road by the repeated passage of vehicles, can be hard to get out of once we fall into them. How can we live a less violent, more yogic life?

I believe the first step is to become aware of these patterns, actions, and thoughts, and see what negative affects they have on us.  If I am constantly thinking that I am not a good person, that I'm unworthy of love or intimacy, or that I bring little value to the world, then my attention is focused in a negative place, and I am missing out on much of the joy of life.  I am creating a violent, unloving reality for myself, and for others around me.  When I notice that this is happening, that this is my current truth (Sat,) and I reconnect with Spirit, which is pure consciousness, (Cit) and choose to identify with my Ahimsic, non-violent nature, then I can change my thoughts to ones which are more harmonious and in alignment with Nature and Spirit.  That's when I'll get that "hit" of feeling that life is good, and feel the bliss and joy (Ananda) of living a yogic life.

Yoga is simply the invitation to align our thoughts and actions with the highest and best parts of ourselves in order to honor Spirit.  In order to take that action, we must first move out of a place of ignorance (Avidya) and identify those thoughts and actions that are not aligned with Ahimsa.

How can you practice Ahimsa on your yoga mat?  It's easy.  Notice what actions, positions, poses, etc. make you feel the best, and notice which ones cause discomfort or pain.  Make a point of doing poses that are nurturing to your body and spirit, in addition to the ones that challenge you and push you to your boundaries.  When practicing those challenging, difficult asanas, be sure to use good alignment principles to stay strong and integrated, so that you are not causing harm or injury to yourself.

Ahimsa off the mat is often more challenging.  Start by being the witness to your thoughts, words, and actions.  Look for the good in every person and situation, and consciously shift your thoughts toward ones that do not cause harm to yourself or others.  Do something nurturing for yourself (or for a loved one,) and see how great you feel.  You'll want to keep doing more!

Next week, Satya!  (Truthfulness.)
We are One,