Thursday
Apr302009

What Does it Mean to Stay on the Point?

The other day I had a phone conversation that I can only describe as disturbing. Without going into the details, it left me feeling unhappy, angry, and doubting myself for a few days (it was a terrible conversation!). I was completely pulled off-center, or off the point.

My teacher Manorama talks about staying on the point all the time: for yoga, it’s the whole point! (ha ha, I’ll be here all week, please tip your waitress). Staying on the point is a vast topic that we could discuss until the end of time, but in essence to me it means staying with the truth of our highest Self, staying connected to the pulsation that is Life, staying with the One that we all are, even as life bounces us around.

So here’s what I’ve been playing around with in my mind ever since the phone call: does staying on the point mean divorcing ourselves from our experiences? Are we supposed to be walking around bracing ourselves against any encounters that might interfere with our natural serenity (Remember that Seinfeld episode? – “SERENITY NOW!!”) and as a result end up disconnected from the world around us? Is the only place for a yogi to maintain that serenity a deep dark cave in the side of a mountain? Should we all stop what we’re doing and go there right now?

When we get disturbed, we are experiencing a kind of resistance to the reality of what is going on in a particular situation. We are disturbed by it, quite often, because it seems like something that is out of our control. Another person expressing anger at us, the passing of a loved one, our feelings or ego getting hurt, none of these things are included in our idea of how life should be. We resist them, and we suffer.

I took a class with a great teacher a few days ago, Eddie Marashian (look him up if you come to LA), and he told a story of a puppy he had as a child. When the puppy was taken to the vet to get its shots, it struggled so violently as it was being held down that it actually injured itself and died.  And truly, resistance builds up in the body as tension, as illness, as injury, as chronic pain. I don’t think the person I had the phone conversation with was in any way disturbed by it, and yet I walked around for a few days feeling terrible in body and mind.

So what do we do? We do our best to stay on the point, but here’s my point: staying on the point is not about being rigidly attached to an idea that the world is supposed to be flowers and rainbows and singing animals all the time. It’s not about becoming a hermit and avoiding any interactions with the world around us in an attempt to preserve some sort of serenity. That’s not real serenity anyway, if it’s so fragile that it cannot be challenged. The world challenges us every day, and it still would even if we were hiding in a cave.

Had I been able to stay on the point during this conversation, I would have found a way to create some kind of compassion for this fellow human being who was simply doing his best in the moment. When we practice living like this, we get to use the experiences of our lives as learning tools. We may find that compassion in the moment or upon later reflection (as I eventually did, with much help from the wise people around me), but either way we get to use our experiences to stay on the point.

 

YS  II.33 vitarka badhane pratipaksa bhavanam

When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite ones should be thought of.

(translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)

[Side note about the sutra: this doesn’t mean if something bothers you, pretend it’s not happening and think about flowers and rainbows and singing animals! It means find another way to see the situation and experience the moment. See if in that moment of anger/upset/frustration/whatever you can flip it around and find another perspective.]

 

Saturday
Apr252009

Missing Nothing

“The worst thing about being homesick,” my friend’s dad likes to say, “Is that eventually you aren’t homesick anymore.”

When I told my friend that I missed New York, he reminded me of his dad’s quote. It made me laugh, and it reminded me of a story that my guru Manorama told me about her guru, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. Once, when she was a teenager, she went to him and said, “Oh Guru-ji, I’m feeling so sad. I just feel terrible.” (Kind of standard for a teenager, right?) He looked her in the eye and replied, “Really? Hmm. Try feeling more sad. How sad can you make yourself?”

This was definitely not the answer she was looking for – she wanted an ordinary response of “there, there” and “it’ll be all right”. But Guru-ji was no ordinary human being, and rather than dismissing her, he chose to turn it into a lesson and make a few points.

The first is to always acknowledge where you are, whether it be pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad, happy or angry. Yes, you are sad, he was telling her.  Don’t concern yourself with trying to change that. Knowing where we are allows us to start from that place. If we don’t know where we are, how can we hope to go anywhere? So acknowledgment – which is different than wallowing, and it’s good to know the difference – is our first big step.

The second point that Guru-ji was making was that all feelings, in time, pass. We’ll be very sad, and then whatever made us sad might make us angry, and then we’ll find that thing funny after a while, or we won’t care about it any more, and so on. 

When we’re deep in the drama of our individual story, we’re reinforcing the idea that something’s off kilter in our life, that something’s out of whack, that our life is not unfolding as it’s supposed to. We reinforce the idea that something is missing (“If only I had a better job/boyfriend/wife/life…”).

But if we step back and look at the ups and downs of our lives, we get to see first-hand the transitory nature of all of our drama.  It’s like we get a ringside seat to the circus that is life, and we get to enjoy the show! It’s this practice of witnessing that teaches us to see our entire lives, all parts, good, bad, and mediocre, as a sweet gift.  And as Guru-ji famously describes yoga, it is the state in which we are missing nothing.

 

sarvabhutastham atmanam

sarvabhutani catmani

iksate yogayuktatma

sarvatra samadarsanah

 

He who is disciplined by yoga sees

The Self present in all beings,

And all beings present in the Self.

He sees the same Self at all times.

 

Bhagavad-Gita VI.29

(translation by Winthrop Sargeant)

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