Thursday, May 28, 2009

What the World Needs Right Now

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of seeing the poet Mary Oliver speak at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. After delighting the crowd with a few poems, Mary amused us by responding to inquiries from the audience. When posed the hard-hitting question, "What does our world need right now?", she let out a heavy "Whoa," then paused, swallowed, sighed then answered.

"Community is what our world needs right now."

I couldn't agree more, Mary. Community, unity, harmony, compassion, global vision, integral values, what the world needs is to be included in the mind, the heart and soul of humans. Mary Oliver went on to explain that she believed that only through creating tolerant, kind, supportive local, national, and global communities will we as a species be able to begin to heal ourselves and our planet. We can no longer afford to look upon each other as enemies to be dominated. Now is the time to mature into secure, aware, integrated beings. I hope we can do it. I think many of us are.

I also recently heard author and philanthropist David Eggers say during his TED speech that the goal of his work at the non-profit 826 National is to create happy communities and thus a happy world. Through the 826 writing and tutoring centers, where kids receive free one-on-one homework assistance, they can then go home and enjoy themselves and "that makes a happy family, a bunch of happy families in a neighborhood is a happy community, a bunch of happy communities tied together is happy city, and a happy world, right?'


It relieves me to think we can start at home. Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking on the huge, worldwide scale. Thinking I need to be fighting the big fight makes me feels like I'll never be doing enough to help create the change that is needed to redirect our collision course with ourselves. Acting here, where I am, feels good, feels possible. And the small things do matter: biking to work, buying local, eating local, growing a garden, volunteering at a local school or non profit, giving a smile when one wasn't needed or expected, generosity of words, thought and action all make a positive difference. That in turn ripples across our planet.

We are here for each other. United we evolve.

Snow Geese ~ by Mary Oliver

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won't.
It doesn't matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Householders Unite!

My new article as featured in Yoga Living Magazine

Yoga teachers hear it all the time, as if the student needs them to bear witness to their sin. “It’s been two weeks since my last class.” “I haven’t been able to make it to yoga in over a month.” “I’ve been so busy, it’s been waaaaaay too long.” When students apologize for not attending class it reveals layers of self-doubt and criticism. But are you really a slacker? Or are you simply doing the best you can to balance the life of a Householder with your interest in the discipline of yoga?

It is helpful to step back and remember that you are not the only one struggling to shoulder a full outer life with a calling inward. Often, though we go to bed with the best intention to wake early to spend time on the mat or cushion, or we vow to find time after work or before the kids get home to head to the studio, we don’t do it. Days, weeks, months go by and as each pass our inner critic becomes louder. We tell ourselves, “I’ll never be good at yoga. Everyone else is a dedicated student but me,” or the ultimate blow, “I’ll never be enlightened!” We begin to believe that there is something wrong with us at our core, that we are flawed for not being able to make the time to practice.

Indeed, Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras that laziness, carelessness, and fatigue are among the obstacles along the path of yoga. But are we truly lazy when we are managing children, a home, family, a career, hobbies, and a path of practice? For most of us, our lives are far from those of the renunciates who have given up worldly engagement for spiritual devotion; nor are we those with privileged amounts of time and resources to spend our mornings in meditation, our afternoons on the mat and our weekends on retreat. We are those who are simply striving to understand the Self while having both feet firmly planted in day-to-day demands. We are Householders.

In Hinduism, the culture from which yoga emerged, there are four distinct stages of human growth and development. These stages govern the flow of the maturing being and provide a guideline for advancing through the inner and outer worlds.

These Stages, or Ashramas, are:

1. The Student Stage - Brahmacharya
2. The Householder Stage - Grihastha
3. The Hermit Stage - Vanaprastha
4. The Wandering Ascetic Stage - Sannyasa

The Student Stage lasts until roughly the age of 25. It is a time of learning and study during which you prepared for a future profession and begin to understand the social and spiritual beliefs of your culture.

The Stage of the Householder, which lasts from approximately 25 – 50 years of age, is a period of being an active member of the community. You may be a partner, raise a family, support important causes, and pursue a career, all the while continuing to foster your relationship to spirit. Except for those who embark upon the life of a monk, nun, saint or saddhu, spiritual pursuits are not expected to be the central focus. All societies need productive, active Householders. You are laying the groundwork for the culture that will support your needs as you age, as well shape the world your children will inherit.

In the Hermit Stage you withdrawal from the material world into retirement. Here you are a grandparent and mentor, and are free to further deepen your bond with God or the Absolute. It is a time when a person is in this world but not of it. Today, this may not happen until the age of 60 or later.

The Fourth Stage is one of complete renunciation. Here, all efforts are turned towards uniting the individual soul, jivatma, with the universal Godhead, the paramatam. Only once a full life has been led do you concentrate solely on your spiritual path.

Though your soul longs to merge back into the spiritual ocean from which it came, it doesn’t all have to happen now. What you can do and control is how you feel about where you are. The next time you begin to beat yourself up over not having enough time on the mat, rest assured that all is coming. You are exactly where you need to be, doing exactly what you need to do.

Remember to be compassionate with yourself and have patience with your process. Your true Self is eternal, and you are destined to return there. Instead of wishing away the demands of everyday life, feel gratitude for the enlivening variety of experiences they offer. Each moment we have a choice to see the beauty before it passes, and when we do, we are truly living the path of yoga.