Grateful for Pillars and Lanterns

“Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”  Sri Bramananda Saraswati’s translation for Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

From “Uji” by Dogen

An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on top of the highest peak.
For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.
For the time being three heads and eight arms.
For the time being an eight- or sixteen-foot body.
For the time being a staff or whisk.
For the time being a pillar or lantern.
For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.
For the time being the earth and sky.

For the time being a pillar or lantern.

camping-lanterns-main_feI was driving through one of the snow storms that blazed through New York last winter.  After just having been in a minor snow swerve accident, I then had to drive a further 8 hours (normally 4 hours) home because conditions were so intense. Many insights and lessons came out of that experience.  One was to realize just how important it is to have someone in your life who is a pillar and lantern. Both to lean on, be supported by, and gather strength from. As well as someone who brightens, cheers, and gently guides you forward.  This person was my eyes when I needed, last minute route change navigator, nerve soother, and perhaps most importantly – was willing to “shake it off” in the middle of a rest stop food court so that I could release enough stress to keep going.  There were a few stares.

“Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone’s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.”

The importance of friendship – the pillar and lantern kind – is rooted in the dharma practice:

Ananda said to the Blessed One, “This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie.”

“Don’t say that, Ananda. Don’t say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path.

“And how does a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, develop & pursue the noble eightfold path?

Upaddha Sutta

group talkBuddha goes on to give reasons why this is so. One of the first reasons is the quality of conversation you will hear. Obviously not every one of your conversations will be about the path, we all need to debrief on the Walking Dead.  Yet conversation between friends is one of Buddha’s main recommendations for practice. In a small satsang that meets monthly, after we chant, and before we eat, the host introduces a question that everyone will answer. Sometimes it’s spurred by a poem, sometimes by an important dharma point someone is struggling with, sometimes it’s one of those questions that you contemplate but don’t often find a place for it to land in regular conversation.  Having someone (or a community of comrades) to dig in on those topics with is important to the path.

If you don’t have a community in place – look around, start one. It only takes one other person. Food is a great addition. Maybe start with meditating together.

full-heartThe next time you’re on the mat – think of someone who is a pillar and lantern for you, think of a specific person and examples of them being this in your life. Then let your intention for practice to be really grateful that day. Not dedicating the practice to them, or sending them energy, just being really really grateful for a friend. Let them sit right in your heart as you practice. And well up with him or her, without needing to do anything with it, but be filled, supported, brightened.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African Proverb

Cross Pollination


David Montgomery, a geomorphologist (a geologist that specializes in the study of changing topography over time), was recently in conversation with Krista Tippett for her radio show, On Being. Among many insightful thoughts, David shared his interest in promoting cross pollination between science and religion.  His recent book specifically works towards bridging what he has often experienced as a rather contentious relationship between the two.

My teacher, Michael Stone, recently co-led a retreat working on bringing together Judaism and Buddhism study and practices. Not in an attempt to Frankenstein the practices together, but to engage in dialogue.

“Religion is a long conversation going on for thousands of year about what’s important, by people struggling with figuring out what’s important, and how to open up to what’s important with each other.”

The ability to open up that conversation between religions allows us to see our particular perspective’s blind spots. I believe that if we’re very honest we would agree, without loss of faith or love, our own particular religion is not perfect.

We would similarly, without loss of faith or love, duly agree we are not perfect. This idea of cross-pollination is just what we need more of in our practice.  Reading yoga books alone only gets us so far. Meditation and introspection alone only get us so far.  Practicing asana without feedback or guidance only gets us so far.

When I engage in conversation with my fellow explorers, their conversations come back to me over the weeks to come – snippets and threads that inspire me, move me pass blocks, or just point out blind spots I had no inkling to even look for.

1) Thank you to my fellow explorers – you have impacted who I am more than you know.  Be grateful to your own – let them know.Yarn and knitting needles_1

2) Be willing to cross-pollinate.  Engage in conversation with other yogis – but also with Buddhist, Christians, Atheists, Scientists, Artists, Lovers, Poets, Athletes – anyone who has a passion and exploratory spirit is ready with insights to share, even if they don’t know it.  Ram Dass was giving a lecture and noticed an old lady in the front row. He knew there was no way she way there to hear about all the drugs and alternate realities and yoga practices and gurus and such. And yet everytime he went a step deeper, he looked over to see the lady nodding – totally on board and getting it. At the end they spoke, and she said how he was so right on. He asked what her practice was. She told him it was knitting.

3) Join us for Yoga Between the Lines and Satsang: Meditation & Dharma Discussion for some cross pollinating in Brooklyn!

Yoga Between the Lines starts a new book: The Only Dance There Is by Ram Dass in May

Satsang meets this Thursday: 7:30pm at Mala Yoga – $15



Imagination & Belief – Why Practice in Community? ~ 5

Deep in practice with a group of amazing friends, my own reasons for starting community practice with Satsangs came up.  There are many. One is a podcast of Michael Stone’s (no surprises there).  Before he begins the talk, he says that part of their community is experiencing a difficult time at the hospital, and that there is a card being passed around for people to write in and sign.  The card will later be brought to the hospital on behalf of the community. Then he began his talk.

But I wasn’t paying attention. I was imagining the couple at the hospital and the deep turmoil and pain they must be in.  I imagined the moment when they receive this gift, read the words of a group of people they have intimately connected with on a weekly basis in a completely unique way – not coworkers, not family, not friends per-se, or even really fellow hobbyists.  A group of people who work together in compassion, support each other’s efforts, call each other out on their stuff, share a passion for being as whole-heartedly present and real as possible.  I imagined how uplifted, if even for a moment, they would be.

Then I imagined how that would transpire at any of the yoga studios I taught at. I imagined how I would even know that something like that was going on with one of the students. I imagined how many times this very opportunity has been lost – for our yoga community to be there in a real way for each other’s lives.

Yoga-community1And I imagined what we could do differently. Monthly Satsangs at Mala yoga are a part of that.  There is still more. I believe it is possible for our yoga communities – all over the world – to step into deeper connection and relationship . I believe we all – not just teachers, although I believe teachers need to lead the charge – can evolve our yoga studios into yoga communities where we know much more than each other’s last names, number of children, and current events. Where we meet at more than partner exercises, workshops, yearly parties, and putting our shoes on. I believe in the nourishing, challenging, and uplifting effects of community – and our ability to make it happen.

“If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt