Tuesday, December 20, 2011

L My Name is Lara

An open letter to the world,

It has taken me 41 years to work up the courage to say this to you.  I didn't want to have to.  I hoped you would figure it out for yourself.  And sometimes you did.  But then you forgot.  And it made me feel bad every time.  Here goes—My name is Lara.  It's not Laura.  It really isn't.  I'm sorry.  I know it's inconvenient for you to remember that I'm not Laura.  I understand your frustration.  I know you're "bad at names." 

My parents liked the name Lara (yes, from Dr. Zhivago).  They didn't like Laura.  Or Lauren. Or Clara.  Or my personal favorite (and this is a phonetic spelling) Lahhra.  Is that even a name?

My entire life, people have been screwing up my 4 letter name.  People in passing and also people I respect.  And I let it pass, because I'm inherently shy (seriously) and I don't like to make people feel uncomfortable.  I figure that eventually, someone will correct you, or you will hear it pronounced correctly and you'll adjust your speech.  No problem.  Except that uncountable amount of times, you straighten it out, and then call me Laura or Lahhra the next time we meet.  As a grown woman, I can now say this to you—Every time you forget my name, I assume you've forgotten me.  Or don't value me as a person.  I'm a big girl and get past it almost immediately, but each time, it connects to my heart in a kinda yucky way and it makes the distance between you and me farther.

I have to thank a certain 15 year old I know for giving me the strength to tell you this.  I can't stand this kid.  He's really awful and grates on my nerves even more than you could imagine.  For over 2 years, he's called me Lahhra.  I let it go for about a year and a half.  And finally, I couldn't take it anymore.  I began correcting him.  For over 6 months, I correct him every time he says it.  And he forgets every time. So I'll keep correcting him.  As a person with an unusual name, it becomes my responsibility to be sure I am considered correctly in the relationships I have. It's part of growing up. I guess I'm growing up.  I ask for the respect of naming me properly.  You're all on notice.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remember, Accept, Reveal—A Super-Hero Story

I've been thinking about the arc of the super-hero storyline and come to realize a few things.  What kind of super-heroes you ask? All kinds.  The more, the better.  So many of them follow the same arc.  From Hanuman in the Ramayana, to Superman, to the Green Lantern, to Harry Potter.  Now, I love a good super-hero story, and most of us do.  They appeal to us because most of the time, good wins out over bad.  They show us that there is magic and power in the world and we wish we could have a little of that.  Wouldn't it be great if we were powerful beyond measure?

Guess what?  You are.

I'm not kidding.  You really are.  Let's set the way back machine to, well, way back.  Back when the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was being written.  In addition to it being a fun title to say, it's got lots to offer.  Look into it when you've got an extra month with nothing to do.  In it, the secrets are revealed.  Within its 600 pages, the book lays out something called "focal points." They are described like this, "When the opposite forces of shakti unite in mooladhara or manipura chakra, then the explosion which occurs releases the potential energy from that centre."  (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swami Muktibodhananda, p125) Releasing potential energy.  Sounds almost magic to me.  Anusara recognizes three focal points within the body, as orbs of pulsing shakti, the source of creative power within.  One in the core of the pelvis, one at the base of the heart and one at the palate of the mouth.

Ok, so what does that have to do with a super-hero storyline?  I"m getting there.  In most hero myths, the super-hero has a period of forgetting, or unknowing.  They start off average. Like you and me.  Harry Potter lived under the stairs, for goodness sake, not exactly a lustrous start.  Superman began as a midwestern kid who grew up to be a reporter.  The Green Lantern began as a normal guy who was chosen to defend the universe.  Even the great Hanuman sometimes forgot he was great. And life was hard for them.  They would try to do the right thing and end up getting their butts kicked all over the place.

And then—they have a moment where they remember/reveal/first experience their own greatness.  This is always the crux of the story where it all starts to turn around.  Just as evil is about to win, they reveal their powers and good conquers all.  That power takes different forms according to each myth.  For Harry, it was love.  For Superman, his crystal palace.  For Hanuman, it was remembrance.  At that moment, their potential power is revealed, they accept their greatness and save the day.  It's the same arc, repeated time and again. 

What if we had super human powers within?  What if the entire potential power of the universe lie within you, just waiting to be revealed?  Let's go back to those focal points.  If we practice with remembrance and trust in their power, then we can "plug in" to them, like the Green Lantern plugging into his light to recharge his powers.  And we can express ourselves with greater power.  Maybe we can't fly, but maybe we can improve on our lives and those around us. 

This goes to the two main reasons we practice yoga. We practice to connect to the constant light and power within, and also to express it out joyfully.  We have to be super-heroes to do that.  Remember that within lies the power of the universe, accept your greatness, reveal your heart, go out and do good. And if you have a cape, even better.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Compassion in Action

For someone who moves very quickly through things, the effect and lessons of the Anusara Grand Circle have been sticking around like dandelions in the yard of my head. (Don't tell anyone, but I love dandelions.)  Someone gave me a description of ahimsa as an unwillingness to do harm to yourself or others.  Ooh, I've been thinking about this non-stop.  Unwillingness to do harm to myself.  This ties in to the idea of the spiritual circle (read a few blogs back for that thought) and what you will allow in to the spaces closest to your heart.  I recently drew a "goals" circle on paper.  Guess what?  More suffering was not in the circle.  I am unwilling to allow things that harm me into my circle.  

Taking that a step further has brought me to thinking of compassion with the same intent.  If compassion is the act of relieving suffering, then to practice on myself, I must refuse to allow suffering within my self.  Just as I won't let harmful things into my circle, I am unwilling to allow suffering in.  John Friend has often said to us that pain is a fact, but suffering is optional.  Read it again. Pain is a fact, but suffering is optional.  You know?  I didn't know that.  I thought they were the same thing.  and they're not.  If something's optional, I have a choice.  I can practice my new favorite virtue:  taking responsibility.  Here's where the theory gets powerful in practice.  If there is suffering in the inner sanctum of my heart, then I have allowed it to be there.  Me.  No one else.  Uh-oh.  What have I done?  Yet, I can do something about it.

On a daily basis, we forget that our hearts are not suffering.  Our hearts are free and joyful.  Un-suffering. I have recently committed to living in service.  Mostly, I practice that by serving my family and community.  Recently, Scott Marmorstein  (incredibly gifted energy worker and author) said "Set your self straight first, and watch whatever happens to the world with love and compassion." I choose to set myself straight with compassion.

If there's one thing I've learned from helping others, is that you have to be strong to relieve pain.  To be strong enough to hold a space of healing and growth.  This is not for the feint of heart.  If, as Scott recommends, you start with yourself, then getting stronger my starting point. Gurumayi once said that it takes great strength to have a soft heart.  If I'm uncommitted or forgetful of my un-suffering heart, then I encircle that light in darkness.  I can't allow that.  If I live in compassionate remembrance of the light of love within, then I must also commit to revealing that light through my choices and actions. that takes diligent commitment that I must uphold.

I invite you to make a compassionate commitment to your un-suffering heart.  Build strength.  Stay in remembrance, and be unwavering in your commitment to compassion in action.  Live in service of your own heart.  Start with you and then watch what happens to the world around you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hanuman? Really?

It's not that I don't like Hanuman.  I do.  Really.  I mean, who doesn't like monkeys?  It's just that I've always been a Kali/Durga kind of girl.  With a little Ganesha sprinkled in (I mean, who doesn't like elephants?).  So, when I was at the Anusara Grand Circle at Wanderlust, I took Kenny Graham's Hanuman class because I really wanted to play with hamstrings and hanumanasana.  I wasn't looking for a change of heart (if you'll pardon the pun.)  But, as they say, "Life is like a ...." Well, you get the picture.  

As the class began, Kenny talked about the Hanuman story, which I knew, and we got moving.  My heart had already been blown wide open over the previous three days by John, Hareesh, Elena, and the powerful Solstice.  I was ripe for the picking, apparently.  At the end of the class, we had kirtan, chanted for Hanuman and that was the end of me.  My  heart ripped open, and I saw the entire universe within.  Ok, well, not literally, but it was that big of an opening.  You get the picture.  Tears. Smiles. Embarrassment.  When the entire room broke out into dervish riot, I hopped up, and joined in, laughing at myself for feeling self conscious, and dancing away anyway.  How could I possibly feel so much joy?  How could my heart feel so open?  The kirtan got completely out of control, and the sweetest moment came when Kenny simply looked at us and said, "Oops, sorry about your savasana," which was nowhere to be seen. It was perfect.

All the next week, I felt blown open and full of joy.  So I tested this hold Hanuman had on me.  I chanted on my own.  Tears. Joy. Busted open heart.  Hmmm.  Let's try it while driving.  Tears.  Joy. Again, you get the picture.

Ok, maybe you don't pick your ishta-devata.  Maybe it picks you. Clearly, I've got to look into this relationship.

In the Ramayana, to demonstrate his devotion, Hanuman rips his heart open to show that indeed, Sita and Rama are within.  If Sita and Rama are fabled embodiments of Shiva and Shakti, then the entire universe is within his heart. 

So simple.  By serving Rama, Hanuman serves the world and all its potential.  Likewise, if we serve our hearts with the qualities of constant remembrance, fierce devotion and steadfastness, then we too serve the world.  When my heart expands, the universe expands.  When I remain loyal and dedicated to deepest self, my heart opens up. 

What I love about the Hanuman stories are that no matter the task, his intention is simple.  Serve Rama.  So much of life really is simple if we remember what's important to us.  It's just not always easy.  But it's really worth doing. 

This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cruise Control Meditation

I was driving home from Boston to Cold Spring early Sunday morning and decided that rather than speed (which maybe, just maybe I have a tendency to do.  I'm a vata.  I can't help it.) I would use the oft neglected cruise control.  So I set it for 55 (which really means 75) and cruised from the Mass Pike to  Rte 84 as the sun rose.  I very quickly realized that cruise control was a complete meditation on staying centered.  Immediately, I could feel the need for speed as people rushed by me.  And a bit of anxiety if I was moving faster than the group of cars I approached.  How exactly do we stay solid on our own path when everything else is moving by at different speeds? how hard is it to be constant on an ever changing highway?  It's really hard.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Circles...

At the Anusara Grand Circle at Wanderlust, John talked about how simple the sacred circle can be in terms of what you invite into your sacred space and what you leave outside, with loving spaciousness.  And it truly was that simple for me.  (read my last blog?  See? Simple.)  These initial teachings from John have impacted me with their grace and simplicity.  And as all things of Grace do, this has been  unfolding into a grand contemplation of how the idea of the sacred circle fits into my life.  When I looked back on my notes, I realized that he also talked about the bindu, the most minute, focused center point deep within the heart.  So I guess if the center of my world, the center of the circle, is in my heart, is must be a point of love.  Stands to reason then that anything within my circle is within the realm of love. 

So how can I overlay the Universal Principles of  Alignment onto that?  How can I take a simple but powerful concept and make it real in my life and meditations?  The way I took it in, Open to Grace, is my system of remembrance of the bindu.  It's a fierce, embracing remembrance of love.  Then, I use muscular energy as a technology to strengthen the heart and its circle. I have to get strong so that I can hold more love, and also be strong enough to hold that which is outside my circle on the other side.  Organic energy is the she-who-will-not-be-denied will of the heart to grow and expand.  When I grow, my boundaries grow, and as they reach, in love, so far from me, I realize that everything is encompassed in love.  And eventually, the boundaries themselves dissolve and I see and feel only love.

I'm not strong enough to hold it all the time, but I've gotten beautiful glimpses of the hrdyam, the truest of hearts, and it hasn't failed yet to rip my heart open like Hanuman and bring me to tears of joy.  I can use the practice in meditation and asana to stay fully commited to the path of love.  Now that's some serious magic.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What's in your circle?

I hardly know where to begin.  I'm just back from the Anusara Grand Circle in Vermont. And as promised, my batteries are recharged for the next cycle.  I feel replenished and invigorated.  Not only by the masterful teachings of John Friend, Hareesh Wallis, Bill Mahoney, Elena Brower and the many talented teachers at the gathering, but also by the friends I reunited with, the beautiful mountains, and not least, the incredible Solstice.  Over the upcoming weeks and months, my little black book of insights will make the rounds as the basis of all that I offer in my teaching.  The beauty of taking such deeply insightful classes, for me, is that I get to offer them back out, and in turn, absorb them once again and more deeply.

If I were to try to fully unfold all that I was offered, it would be a complete mess, much like the dumping out of my suitcase all over my bed.  So it will have to eke it's way out over the next few months.  Don't miss class; there are some incredible gems in there.  Yet,  I can tell you're already itching for a little something—

The biggest gift I walked away from this week with, was an image of a circle.  One that surrounds, enlivens and protects you.  This is truly a sacred circle.  Traditions for eons have been using the circle as a sacred delineation of what is inside and closest to our hearts.  And also, by definition of the circle as a boundary, a delineation of things we choose to keep farther away. 

Through the ever refining practice of yoga (in all it's forms) we skillfully choose what we wish to put in our circles.  This is a very powerful image and unbelievably tactile and useful to me.  If I envision every choice, every interaction, every internal conversation as something that's either in or out, then I can be clear about my actions and the energies I surround myself with. Do I really want thoughts of being "less" in my circle?  Do I want to clutter up my space with negativity and pessimism?  Is that what I want to be supported by?  John was very clear with his wishes for us.  He told us that when we see our own "cloakings", we should just drop it.  Just like that.  If it's not in my circle by my own choice, I'm dropping it.  Sounds deceptively simple.  And that might just be the beauty of it.  Why do our life choices have to be so complicated? The situations themselves might be complex, but within the sacred circle of our hearts, it's quite simple.  Does this choice, decision, cigarette, person, serve my growth and expansion?  That's not often a hard choice. 

I have so much more for you all, and in time, it will be revealed (to me as much as to you!) but for now, I invited you to draw your own heart's circle and under the bright light of this week's full sun, figure out exactly what you want in there, and with gratitude, treasure the circle you've built in the form of your own life. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Rising Of The Light

One of the loveliest sanskrit words I know (and there are not many) is Purnatva.  It means fullness.  But not just fullness in terms that the glass is full of water. It's a fullness of the heart.  One that allows us to feel contented, blissful and operating at our highest.  Doesn't that sound like a place you'd like to live?  

As we approach solstice here in the awe inspiring Hudson Valley, a truly magical place to live, the rising of the sun is met by the rising of the mountains.  This Tuesday will be the brightest, longest, fullest day of the year and there is magic in that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfs4WzFwb-4 The veils between you and the Divine are thinned, and you can place your "bets" for the upcoming season.  Ooh, I got me some big plans.  As we approach the day of purnatva, this is a magic auspicious time to reach for our own highest, fullest potentials.  It's time to ask for the very sun and then devote our hearts to it.  So, I ask you: What are you capable of?  What is your highest aspiration and potential?  Now is not the time to hide in the shadows, because come Tuesday, there won't be any shadows in the corridors of your heart.  Solstice is a sacred, turn your whole being to the sun, wish for the entire world kind of day.  What are you willing to reach for? How much do you want it?  What are you willing to do about it?  Think about it.  Get back to me.

@anusara @grandcircle

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bring it.

The process of teaching, for me, aside from being lots of fun, is always an opportunity to receive as much as I give.

Years ago, I observed Ross Rayburn training teachers on what to do when you don't feel like teaching.  Maybe you're sad or distracted.  I remember that lesson because today, as I walked in to teach my first class, I was in a fun, a nasty little viper pit or depression, worry and negativity.  I'm not prone to these moods, so I can get pretty far into them before I can recognize them.  So as I grumpily drove to teach, I just wanted to go home and go to bed.  I also knew that the best thing I could do was to teach.  I remembered Ross' clear advice to the trainees.  Buck up and bring it.  Leave your stuff at the door and serve your students.  Right.  And away we go.

Fast forward an house and a half later, and 8 people are on the floor, absorbing their practices and my teachings.  So was I.  I had taught on the power of our core.  That we should seek to know what is true for us when everything else is stripped away, like trees in winter.  What is it that holds up, like tree trunks, when everything moves around us?  With the students in savasana, and nothing more to say, I had time to contemplate just that. And then, by the process of my own contemplation, I opened the floodgates and in rushed powerful remembrance of the truths of my heart.  I am held up, as as we all are, by Shiva  and Shakti, by the creative power of the universe and the very power of existence.  Oh, right.  Isn't that what I wanted my students to get?  To know intimately the power of their own existence?  I needed that lesson, too, I guess.  I'm so glad I followed Ross' advice, brought my best, and left all the other stuff at the door.  I feel better and am endlessly grateful for the teachings of Tantra that remind me that I am never without.  That I am never alone.  And that showing up for life is always the right choice.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What's so Painful about Sparkles?

I have a student that I will call "Sparkles." Anyone who practices at my studio immediately knows who this student is. There's no missing her. She's tall, blond, has two giant full moon blue eyes, and is about the sweetest person you'd ever want to meet. It's almost hard to believe she's for real, under all that generosity, concern and fierce loyalty. But she is. And the best part is that she really does sparkle. Everything she wears has a touch of bedazzle on it. People have, on occasion, applauded when she walks into the studio. Resistance is futile. She's about the brightest spot in my field of vision whenever I'm lucky enough to have her around.

A few weeks ago, Sparkles told me a story about a colleague who intentionally pissed her off and behaved aggressively to her. When Sparkles confronted this woman (I was so proud of her for standing up for herself), said colleague explained that she was glad that she was the one to make her mad because she was too cheery all the time. She didn't believe Sparkles could be that happy and be for real. Now maybe we all live in a sheltered yogic paradise where we find this motive unfathomable, but really—WTF? Someone went out of her way to dampen the light of a sparkle-y star and was pleased with herself about it. Proud even.

So here's my question. Why would a person want to dampen something that illuminates their surroundings? Why are there people like that? What's the deal with that? So I've been thinking about it.

What I've come up with is that for residents of twilights, greys, shadows and darks, the light is actually painful for them. It's like turning on the overhead light when you're dead asleep and being momentarily blinded. To feel compassion for these folks is the yogic way, of course, but for me, it doesn't stop there. That's the easy answer (although not necessarily easy to execute.) What I find most interesting was the response of Sparkles. She refused to be diminished by that woman's efforts and stood tall in her own light.

Because it's her truest nature to shine brightly, she can only do that. When we reside in our own personal truths and light, even darkness cannot dampen us. There will always be people who find the light of truth and beauty to be painful. It crops up as anger, pettiness, jealousy and avarice. Through world history and through our own personal histories, I'm sure you can find no shortage of examples. But I take Sparkles as my own example. Shine with authenticity, no matter what, like a lighthouse reaching out into the darkness. That kind of light is so bright that not even the darkest intentions can dampen it. I might even have to bedazzle something as a reminder.