November 2012

Surya Namaskara

Just been going through my papers and found this chart. Surya Namaskar is a basic dynamic yoga exercise.

The Invitation

The Invitation by Oriah
It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming,
from the book The Invitation
published by HarperONE, San Francisco,
1999 All rights reserved

The Invitation by Oriah reminds me of Kipling’s ‘If’:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Excercise, Meditation and Health

This article sparked some thoughts about meditation, both my own meditation and meditation in general.

A new study from the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that adults who practiced mindful meditation or moderately intense exercise for eight weeks suffered less from seasonal ailments during the following winter than those who did not exercise or meditate.
The study appeared in the July issue of Annals of Family Medicine. Researchers recruited about 150 participants, 80 percent of them women and all older than 50, and randomly assigned them to three groups. One group was trained for eight weeks in mindful meditation; another did eight weeks of brisk walking or jogging under the supervision of trainers. The control group did neither. The researchers then monitored the respiratory health of the volunteers with biweekly telephone calls and laboratory visits from September through May—but they did not attempt to find out whether the subjects continued meditating or exercising after the initial eight-week training period.
Participants who had meditated missed 76 percent fewer days of work from September through May than did the control subjects. Those who had exercised missed 48 percent fewer days during this period. The severity of the colds and flus also differed between the two groups. Those who had exercised or meditated suffered for an average of five days; colds of participants in the control group lasted eight. Lab tests confirmed that the self-reported length of colds correlated with the level of antibodies in the body, which is a biomarker for the presence of a virus.
“I think the big news is that mindfulness meditation training appears to have worked” in preventing or reducing the length of colds, says Bruce Barrett of the department of family medicine. He cautions, however, that the findings are preliminary.
Scientific American

What’s interesting in this article is not just the conclusion that meditation has verifiable health benefits but that it is apparently more effective that exercise. However this is hardly the ‘big news’ that the article claims; the benefits of meditation have been known many years. The proponents of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in particular have pointed to research detailing the effectiveness of their particular technique:

I was introduced to TM many years ago when I was in my twenties. I continued to use it occasionally but was never a persistent or consistent practitioner. I have tried other forms of meditation also but again without consistency. Dr Hageiln’s exposition on TM appears quite partisan in extolling the virtues of TM above that of other meditation techniques but from what I’ve read TM is the most researched meditation technique.

There is a comparison of meditation techniques on the Institute for Applied Meditation website. This article promotes ‘Heart Rhythm Meditation’, which I had not heard about previously, but nevertheless provides thumbnail outlines of the other meditation forms. These are of course quite incomplete but the notes are a useful starting point. The Secrets of Yoga website offers a comparison between meditation styles that is a bit more detailed somewhat less partisan.

Follow-up Reading: A Glimpse into the Meditating Brain.

Reflections on Conflict

Conflict, whether intrapersonal, interpersonal, intrasocietal or international keeps us stuck in the past and in a state of continuous tension and agitation that mitigates against creativity and our expressing the best that is in us.

Being against the emotional and physical destructiveness of conflict does not mean ignoring the wrongness within ourselves or others or within certain situations it means being oriented to fixing the problem rather than the blame.

In the Bhagavad-gītā we find an excellent description of the mental agitation that we feel when we are in conflict or preparing for conflict. Here the warrior Arjuna is arguing against ‘fratricidal war’ and talks about the evils attendant upon that, about the consequences of conflict:

Kṛṣṇa drove the horses forward and the fine chariot moved into the center of the field. Kṛṣṇa smiled. “Just behold, O Arjuna, all the Kurus assembled here.” Arjuna looked across the field. Kṛṣṇa could understand Arjuna’s mind. The long-awaited time for war had arrived–a terrible fratricidal war. There was now no turning back. Suddenly seeing the horror of it before him, Arjuna gazed at his relatives and friends arrayed across from him–men who were like fathers, brothers, sons and grandsons, as well as teachers, uncles, friends, in-laws and well-wishers.
Arjuna was overwhelmed with compassion. How could he possibly have looked forward to killing his own kinsmen and friends? He felt weak, and addressed Kṛṣṇa in a trembling voice. “My dear Lord, seeing my friends and relatives before me in a fighting spirit, I feel my limbs quivering and my mouth drying up.”
Arjuna’s bow slipped from his hand and his body shook. His skin was burning and he felt his hair standing on end. “O Keśava, I do not think I can carry on in this fight. I am forgetting myself and my mind is reeling. It seems to me that only evil and misfortune will result from this battle. How can any good come from killing one’s own relatives? What value is victory if all our friends and loved ones are killed?”
Arjuna dropped to his knees. There was no question of fighting. It had been different when he faced the Kauravas on Virata’s field. At that time, he had no intention of killing them. He had only wanted to teach them a lesson. This time, however, either the Pāṇḍavas or the Kauravas would not be returning home. Tears streamed from his eyes as he revealed his mind to Kṛṣṇa. “O Govinda, I have no desire for a kingdom bereft of my kinsfolk. When I see my teachers, fathers, sons, and so many other near and dear ones standing before me, my thirst for the fight completely deserts me. Even though they may be desiring my death, I cannot possibly think of killing them. O Janārdana, I would not slay them even in exchange for the three worlds, let alone this earth. I can see no happiness arising from this battle.”
Sweat covered Arjuna’s brow. His breath came in heavy sighs. The sight of old and respected personalities such as Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Śalya and Bāhlika, all of whom he loved dearly, filled him with grief. The many young princes, sons of the Kauravas and their allies, were all like his own sons, and he felt compassion for them too. Even Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons were pitiable because they were so foolish. How could there be any virtue in killing them?
Arjuna implored Kṛṣṇa. “In my opinion we will be overcome by sin if we slay such aggressors. Our proper duty is surely to forgive them. Even if they have lost sight of virtue due to greed, we ourselves should not forget religious principles in the same way. If we kill the learned family elders, the traditional rituals will be forgotten, and they are essential for religious life. Without tradition, the whole of society will gradually become godless. By slaying the men, we will leave the women unprotected. They will then be prey to sinful men and unwanted children will be born. Who will train these children? O Kṛṣṇa, I will be responsible for all these social anomalies and will be worthy of a permanent residence in hell.”
Remembering his moral training, Arjuna based his arguments on Vedic statements. It seemed to him that killing his relatives was clearly immoral, particularly killing his elders, who were responsible for maintaining the religious traditions in his dynasty. Surely they should never be killed, especially for the dubious cause of winning wealth and kingdoms.
Arjuna wept. “I would rather the Kauravas killed me, unarmed and unresisting, than raise my weapons against them for the sake of my own happiness.” He threw down his weapons and slumped in his chariot.
Source: The Bhagavad-gītā

Krishna chastises Arjuna for his weakness saying that, given the inevitability of this conflict, Arjuna duty is to fight and that it is a misunderstanding to suppose that by killing his opponents he is actually harming them. Krishna argues that Arjuna should not be concerned about the consequences of his actions only about the principles that he maintains by doing his duty in fighting for a right cause.

Kṛṣṇa … was pleased that Arjuna, His dear friend, was ready to accept Him as teacher and guide. Holding up His hand in blessing, He said, “Although you are speaking learned words from the scriptures, you are still mourning for something unworthy of grief. A wise man laments neither for the living nor the dead. Both you, I, and all these assembled kṣatriyas have always existed and will always exist. We are eternal souls, passing from body to body. Even in this life we see how the body changes, even though we remain the same person. In the same way, when death comes, we are given a new body. A self-controlled person is not bewildered by such a change.”
Kneeling at Kṛṣṇa’s feet, Arjuna felt immediate relief. As usual, Kṛṣṇa had gone straight to the heart of the matter. Arjuna listened attentively as Kṛṣṇa continued. “O son of Kuntī, happiness and distress come and go constantly like winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception alone, O Bharata, and one should tolerate them without being disturbed. A person capable of such tolerance is eligible for liberation from all misery. The great seers who know the truth have concluded from a careful analysis that the soul and spiritual reality are unchanging, and that the temporary material body is ultimately without any basis in truth. The soul pervades the body and is indestructible. No one can destroy the immeasurable and eternal soul, but the body is sure to come to an end. Therefore, fight without any compunction for your relatives’ bodies, O Arjuna.”

Krishna is saying that the consequences of conflict that he fears are part of the illusion of the external world of perception. The cycle of happiness and distress is constant and inevitable; the wise know this and do not seek to avoid external conflict but seek inner harmony by doing their dharmic duty. By ‘dharmic duty’ I mean knowing and following the truth of one’s own being. For Arjuna his dharmic duty is related to his nature, caste and path as a warrior; our inner truth may be different and but outer conflict is still inevitable even if our purpose is to diffuse conflict. How we deal with the inner conflict engendered by external conflict is a matter that concerns each of us as much as the warrior Arjuna:

“O son of Kuntī, happiness and distress come and go constantly like winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception alone, O Bharata, and one should tolerate them without being disturbed.”

Krishna describes a spiritual maturity that leads to happiness that persists regardless of circumstance. His prescription is essentially the same as Buddha’s, mastery of emotional reactions through awareness and a chosen dedication to dharmic duty.

Arjuna’s duty is embedded in his caste status and yet Krishna has to explain its inner meaning, for most of us, however, there is no caste prescription; we have to find or define our own dharmic path and dedicate ourselves to it. It is in that discovery and dedication that we transcend inner conflict. Transcending conflict is more than following a path it is becoming the Path.

The transcending of inner conflict is a true renunciation because it pulls us out of the game of responding to the dramas implicit in interpersonal and societal transactions and into the reality behind the game.