Moving to the Monastery

Its early October, yet summer lingers here in Boulder. Fall is sneaking in slowly with its changing leaves and cool nights. Snow is in the forecast soon. I find myself in transition along with the seasons. After a whirlwind of travel from Thailand, Holland, Crestone and Seattle, I finally settled in Boulder in mid-September.

I traveled to Thailand with the pure intention to deepen my spiritual practice, to explore different paths and simply to get away for a while. My experiences this summer were incredible. I traveled differently than I ever had in the past. I simply went to one location and stayed put. I rented a house and integrated myself into the local community. I became active in the Agama Yoga school, taking several workshops, two months of intensive Yoga study and practice as well as two 10-day silent meditation retreats. I experimented with fasting and cleansing. I lived simply and slowly.

I set a clear intention that this would be a summer of inner work, that I would not seek social gratifications or female companionship.  Yet one cannot deny the human existence and the powers at play between certain individuals. The most extraordinary element of my summer, and possibly my life to this point was meeting Ingrid at the conclusion of a ten-day meditation retreat together. I could fill this page with all that we’ve experienced and explored together, but as a general rule, I try to keep relationships out of my writing. I must however say that our meeting has coincided with an opening of my heart, with a deep yearning to to be united with someone as inspiring, beautiful and amazing as she is. A wild set of circumstances have collided that have allowed an American man and a Dutch woman to dance on loves stage together.

I find it difficult to articulate my experience this summer, as much of what occurred for me was very subtle – shifts in my world views, my relationship to myself, others and the world. Aspects of my personal experience I once had taken for granted or simply dismissed are now accessible to me. There is a sense of surrender to the unknown ahead, a diminishing need to control the uncontrollable future. I consider much more often what is nourishing me in this very moment rather than in some projection of the future. In a practical sense I have no idea where my life is headed, yet the clarity of simply trusting my heart and intuition is very powerful.

Throughout the summer I weighed a large decision for early 2012 – would I participate in a 90-day Practice Period at my Zen Monastery in Crestone, or would I travel to Mexico to participate in a 90-day teacher training program in Yoga and Meditation? Over time the decision became very clear for me – I found myself longing for time in Crestone, to be immersed in the stream of ancient teaching passed down over the past 2600 years. A teacher’s training program might very well be in my future, but right now my path is asking me to spend more time practicing, deepening my meditation practice more so than gaining an intellectual understanding of what meditation is. Helping others bring meditation into their lives and bring their lives to meditation would bring me tremendous of joy, yet right now I feel the most nourishing way for me to move towards such a vision is to live and practice in a monastic setting.

imageIngrid will be joining me for the move to Crestone in a couple of weeks, where we will practice together at the monastery this fall.  In January, I will begin Practice Period and she will travel to Mexico to help organize and teach the Teacher’s Training I nearly decided to attend. You can see this was no easy decision for me! In all I will be at the monastery for at least 6 months, finishing the practice period in mid-April. Other then the desire to reunite with Ingrid at that time, the world is a blank slate, full of possibility.

Cleansing, Fasting, Purifying, Oh My!

I’m at it again. Today is the third day of a new 10-day brown rice only fast, otherwise known as the Ohsawa Diet # 7. This is the extreme form of the Macrobiotic Movement, a diet based in the principles of balancing our Yin (receptive/lunar/feminine) and Yang(emissive/solar/masculine) energies, aligning what we eat more closely with what our body actually needs. I talked more specifically about Oshawa and Macrobiotics in my Austerity Measures post.

The morning of Day 1, I performed a Shanka Prakshalana:

In Sanskrit shanka means ‘conch’, and refers here to the intestines, which are as tortuous as a conch. Prakshalana means ‘cleansing’ or ‘purification’; therefore this technique could be called ‘the purification of the conch’. In other Yogic treatises it is also called värisära dhauté (‘the purification through the essence of Water’).

In other words, I drank 6 liters of salt water, then alternated between doing Yoga exercises and going to the toilet. A slightly different version is described here. I performed a Shanka about a year and half ago in Rishikesh with a couple of friends who were taking the Agama First Month Intensive with me. My memory was that it was a lot more difficult the first time! All together I think it took me about 2.5 hours to complete the process, and I wasn’t as affected by the horrible taste of the salt water this time. I added a couple ounces of lemon juice to each liter to make the water taste better, but the reality is you cannot do much to improve the flavor of salt water…

More background on the shanka prakshalana:

According to the Yogic outlook, one of the keys to health lies in the intestines. The physical body becomes ceaselessly and systematically intoxicated throughout the entire duration of life. One of the main causes for premature ageing and senility is the accumulation of poisons in the body through self-poisoning. Every living cell produces toxins. However there is an even more dangerous source of self-pollution, consisting of the poisons which filter through the intestinal walls and which intoxicate the entire body. Even those who believe they are not constipated still have a permanent source of self-pollution in the large intestine. Daily evacuation of the intestine does not exclude the possibility that the mucous membrane of the intestine may gradually be covered by a shell of sediments (generally known as “mucoid plaque”) which become encrusted there and are never removed. There they ferment and rot, and these toxins spread into the entire body. The origin of several forms of cancer is due to the permanent irritation of this intestinal mucous membrane. Cancer of the intestine is one of the most common cancer. However this illness is not the only evil to be fearful if the large intestine is covered with a crust of un-expelled feces. The illnesses which may be directly due to self-pollution are cirrhosis, rheumatism,dysentery, rhinitis, arthritis, neuroses, psychoses, heart disease, skin disease and rashes, foul breath, insomnia, sciatica, anemia, genital infections, piles, gall stones, hysteria, depression, enlargements of liver and spleen, etc. The sedentary life also promotes this self-pollution.

Therefore, the ideal method is shanka prakshalana. Water is simply absorbed through the mouth and reaches the stomach. Aided by certain movements it then travels through the entire length of intestine until exiting from the anus. This procedure is continued until the water expelled is as clean and limpid as when it first entered the body. Depending on various personal factors, it involves an amount of 3 to 5 liters of water.

After completing the shanka, I began my brown rice regiment in the evening. This time around I’m adding a little variety to my 10-day Oshawa. Fortunately in Boulder its very easy to find organic whole grains, so I’m including Quinoa, Buckwheat and a few different types of brown rice. The purists wouldn’t approve, but I think I’ll need the variety in order to get through this on my own.

Like last time, I’m focusing on chewing my food as much as possible, to aid the digestion and retrain my eating habits. I’m meditating and doing yoga daily, going for walks, absorbing sunshine whenever possible. I feel pretty crappy today (headache, bloodshot eyes), but I think this is what happened to me last time. My body is detoxifying and getting used to the smaller quantities. Wish me luck for the remainder of it!

I also wanted to take this opportunity to update you on several fasts I attempted over the past months. I described my initial experience back in June. In late July I participated in a second 10-day Hridaya Meditation retreat. The retreat runs from a Friday to the following Sunday so I decided to attempt two 36-hour fasts from Thursday evening until Saturday morning focusing my fast on Friday when universal love energy is most resonate. I drank only water, spending most of the day in meditation, using my lunch breaks for long walks rather than food preparation. I found both days to be relatively easy – the daytime heat of Thailand helps as you don’t really feel like eating when its so warm. The hardest aspect was late morning, when my body was accustomed to getting its first meal, although this was primarily psychological suffering and once passed I was able to get through the rest of the day without issue. Fasting during retreat was a fantastic experience and I will likely do it again in the future- my body was more settled in meditation, not distracted with digestion or wondering what I was going to make for lunch. I felt a soft clarity that inspired me even past the initial fasting day into the remainder of the retreat.

Now after these two fasts you can imagine I got a little confident and I attempted a third one in late August while I was doing work exchange at the Crestone Mountain Zen Center. Work Exchange consists of hosting large groups, cooking, cleaning, doing millions of dishes and generally being on your feet all day long. Oh and you do still sit 3 or 4 periods of meditation in the morning and evening. Needless to say the time there is quite demanding and after about 24 hours ( I was hoping to get to 36) I felt very dizzy and light-headed. I still had the dinner shift ahead of me and decided to call it quits on on the fast, eating a light meal. While I do think you can do the majority of your daily activities when fasting, keep in mind it may be difficult if you are doing a lot of physical work.

Naturopathic and Yogic Healing

Last week I participated in a workshop focused on the principles of holistic healing applied in Yoga, Ayurveda, and homeopathy. It was a very informative week, led by Dr. Mihaiela Pentiuc, a doctor Western-educated in medical rehabilitation, physical medicine and physiotherapy and now specializing in homeopathy and natural healing methodologies. She is also a nearly 20-year Yoga practitioner and longtime Agama teacher.

My main impetus for taking the course is that as I move into my 30s, I’m beginning to realize my health is not something I can take for granted and is something that needs regular awareness applied to.  There is also the practical matter of being a vagabond with poor health insurance coverage and needing to avoid expensive treatments and hospital stays however possible!

After completing the workshop, my view on what it means to be healthy has shifted significantly. Like many people, I viewed health as simply the state of the physical body- if there are no symptoms or issues, one can be deemed healthy. From a yogic standpoint, physical health is just one small piece of a much larger pie. Homeopathy, and more specifically yoga, looks at a much wider view of the body: including our energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects. Someone very healthy physically may be dealing with large emotional trauma or have a serious mental condition. Such traumas and conditions often do manifest in the physical body, but not always. Another shift is the understanding that I completely own my own health. Poor health manifests from blocked emotions, negative thinking, poor diet, etc., NOT just from the environment and outside.  Why does the same cold virus make some of sick and not others?

There were also simple shifts around approaching suppressive therapies. For example, what do many of us do when we have a fever? We try to suppress it with various chemicals. When we do this, we are actually preventing our body from its natural means of healing itself. Of course, in serious conditions of very high fever or the young or old, suppression can save lives. But for most of us such suppression is not necessary.  As a Western-educated doctor, Mihaiela is not opposed to conventional treatments and would often suggest cases where going to the hospital or seeing a doctor is the best option. What she passionately suggests is that there is a balance to be struck between natural and conventional methods that can provide the best outcome.  The World Health Organization’s definition of health is:

Health is a complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity

They’ve gone on to show that under this definition, a very small percentage of the world population is actually healthy. Are you healthy?

Throughout the week we explored a wide-range of topics including lifestyle, diet, spiritual practices, fasting, therapies and purifications. We experimented with yoga asanas for healing, Qi Gong, basic homeopathic remedies, hypnosis, emotional and sexual healing and held a very constructive conversation on diagnosis, treatment and healing of various kinds. I’m by no means a healer now, but think this subtle shift in perception of health and application of alternative therapies can help both myself and those I love remain healthier in the future!

Going Deeper

I find myself in a lovely rhythm this week on Koh Phangan. Two weeks ago I moved to a new place, high in the jungle and extremely private. I have a lovely sea view from my bed and French doors that open to a large seating and practice space. The beach was nice place to start, but its energy can be distracting and I’m pleased to have made the move towards a more secluded abode.

I wake early, meditate, do my tapas (spiritual commitments), read, and enjoy a nice breakfast of fruit and tea. I am practicing Hatha Yoga and Pranayama with a teacher and class each day from 12-4. I’ve progressed to level 3 at Agama and am very fortunate to have the wonderful and talented Kirsten as my teacher. She is a true Yogini, very inspiring and dedicated to her students. Her emphasis is on meditation, stillness, and deepening. I feel an affinity with her aspirations and style and am extremely grateful for her teaching.

As you progress in the levels here, the emphasis shifts from knowledge to practice, and I’m loving it. We’ve had several classes of nearly three and a half hours in length, holding asanas for as long as 10 minutes, practicing sublimation techniques, breathing exercises and meditation. I often feel like I might float away when I walk out of the hall. Agama Yoga is an incredibly transformational practice and it’s so beautiful to watch both myself and others open and explore their true nature, remove blockages and fears and journey down the road of realization together.

There is a growing awareness of my subtle body (prana-maya-kosha). This is the one you can’t read about in any school book and science will deny its existence because they cannot measure it. Yet we all know it’s there, and countless sages have spoken and taught about it. You first have to work on modifying blockages at a gross level in your physical body, removing toxins like alcohol, marijuana, caffeine, and focusing on diet, sleep and general lifestyle improvements. Then you have a platform for exploring the intricate energetic phenomena that is our subtle body, a body so much wider and expansive than our physical one. In many ways its like being an infant and learning to use one’s body for the first time – often stumbling and running into things, having difficulty navigating in the world. Yet as I practice more and more with this, there are new pathways opening to me, new ways of knowing myself and being in this world. There is a feeling of coming back home to a true self, not the one we have been taught or believe that we are, but the one that we actually feel and know that we are. This is the body connected with prana (the subtle life force that pervades everything) and begins connecting us with everything else.

Agama is a tantric yoga school – and there is incredible insight into the sexual energies, raising and subliming them towards the ultimate desire of the union of consciousness with its own luminosity, wherein all appearance is recognized as your deep, blissful nature, or true Self. Tantra focuses on the polarities of Shiva and Shakti, their interplay and communion. Last week I participated in an event known as a tantric transfiguration. I first got together with the men to learn how the event worked – after some time we entered a dimly lit hall where 40 women were sitting in a large circle. The men all took their seats and we began. The women were wearing a dress based on their element (earth=yellow, water=blue, fire=red, air=white). All of them looked incredible. The men remained in their seats, the women traveled around the circle. Every three minutes a new woman would appear before me, present her mudra (often a very provocative gesture indicating where her energies were), then I would take her hands, seat her very close to me. We would sit facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes without blinking or looking away for several minutes. I’m not sure exactly how to describe what was happening – but it was powerful. In those few minutes you could see and feel so much: openness, love, rigidity, pain, longing, hurt, passion, confusion, questioning, seeking, wanting, denying, on and on and on. When is the last time you stared into your lover’s eyes for three minutes without moving? Imagine doing this with 40 (mostly strangers) people without stopping. Something happens. From what I understand, transfiguration means to see another as a sublime manifestation of the Divine, to go beyond the limitations set by human personality, to embrace in the consciousness sphere all the perfect aspects manifested or yet unmanifested which lead love spontaneously to elevated, superior levels.

I spend a lot of time alone- focusing on what’s right in front of me. Cooking my own meals, reading and watching spiritual movies. I’ve been careful about my social life here – one can easily lose focus on practice, engaging in the almost nightly events or constant distractions of being on an island in paradise. I’m no hermit either, I enjoy company and have found a small group of people whom I really enjoy spending time with, discussing the simultaneous beauty and suffering of this spiritual journey together, our aspirations and fears. One relationship in particular has actually changed the course of my life and has been a deeply moving, opening and incredible experience. One bestowed with grace, wonder and love. I could fill pages with more about this and the discoveries occurring within me but these words are more appropriate for a private conversation.

Time to go.

Hridaya Retreat: Revelation of the Spiritual Heart

Tomorrow I begin a 10-day silent retreat called Hridaya, or Revelation of the Spiritual Heart. This retreat is the primary reason I came to Thailand; to practice in this yogic mediation tradition and to spend time with its primary teacher, Sahajananada (Claudiu Trandafir). I had hoped to leave you with some first impressions of Agama and Koh Phangan before retiring this evening, but the hour is late and I must get some sleep. If you’re interested in what I’ll be doing the next week and a half, you can check out the brochure or read a small excerpt I’ve included below. Goodnight All.

 

What is Hridaya, the Spiritual Heart?

The only beauty that lasts is the beauty of the Heart.

– Rumi

Hridaya, the Spiritual Heart, is our essential and ultimate nature, the ineffable dimension of our being. It is another name for the Supreme Self, atman, as it is named in the Yogic tradition. The Spiritual Heart is the Supreme Consciousness, the ultimate Subject of Knowledge, the pure I. It is the witness consciousness, that intimate observer of all of our thoughts, emotions, sensations, the mind, of the whole Universe in both its inner and outer dimensions.

Through the practice of meditation, more and more subtle understandings about the real significance of the Spiritual Heart will be revealed. In the beginning the Heart is an object of meditation, then it becomes a means of knowledge, and finally it is revealed in its true nature, as what we really are.

In the spiritual traditions of India, as elsewhere, the ‘heart’ refers not so much to the physical organ as to a psychospiritual structure corresponding to the heart muscle on the material plane. This spiritual heart is celebrated by yogins and mystics as the seat of the transcendental Self. It is called hrid, hridaya, or hrit-padma (‘heart lotus’). It is often referred to as the secret ‘cave’ (guha) in which the yogin must restrain his mind. In some schools, notably Kashmiri Shaivism, the word hridaya applies also to the ultimate Reality.”– Georg Feurstein

Accordingly, the Spiritual Heart or the Heart (with a capital H) may vary in significance depending on the context of use or different correlations. However, even if this notion seems complex, we should not lose ourselves in the snare of concepts alone.

Absolute simplicity is the nature of the Heart. Simply direct your attention toward the chest area. That very fine and discreet vibration which is awakened there, in the absence of any thought, in the quietness of the mind, is the beginning of a sacred tremor, the most direct experience of the Spiritual Heart. Please relax yourself, take your time and close your eyes for a few seconds while you allow this vibration to arise…. Can you feel it?

This subtle calling of infinity, radiating from the chest area, is the most expressive and intimate representation of the Heart. Please open yourself to this sacred tremor of the Heart, because contained within it is the communicative warmth of the Truth. Without this, all that follows would only be more “food for the mind” or lifeless information, simply. The real essence of the Spiritual Heart lies exactly in this tremor, this very intimate vibration. Give yourself the time and peace to feel it profoundly.

In the simplicity of this vibration lies the freshness of revelation – a revelation which comes from “inside” even when the information seems to come from “outside.” The simplicity of this vibration, of this sacred tremor of the Heart, is the “spirit” of this kind of information.

The Spiritual Heart, on the other hand, can be seen through its multitude of symbolic traits and the substance of each. Each of them has its importance and, in actuality, the complete spiritual journey can be described through them.

1) Firstly, the main essence of the Spiritual Heart: It is our essential and ultimate nature, the ineffable dimension of our being. It is another name for the Supreme Self, atman, the witness consciousness, as mentioned above.

2) The Spiritual Heart is the ultimate Reality, which is transcendent and immanent in any aspect of the Macrocosm. It is the ultimate essence of all. It is a condition beyond duality: “The Heart of the man and the Heart of the Cosmos are one.” Through spiritual maturity, the Heart is revealed as something more than an individual dimension of our being, after which it ceases to be expressed in terms of duality. It represents the whole in which Subject and object, the witness and witnessed, are one. Seen as consciousness, the Heart is unlimited. It is the infinite Light. It is also the absolute freedom and spontaneity of this Light of consciousness, which appears to us in different forms in manifestation. The Heart as the Supreme Consciousness is like the ocean, which is reflected both as the vastness of sea and the different shapes of its waves. Similarly, the awareness of the Spiritual Heart is a complete path in itself. It can lead to a direct knowledge integrating all the energies, the whole of manifestation, but at the same time, it reveals the Ultimate Supreme Transcendence.

3) The Spiritual Heart is sui generis a spiritual organ of direct knowledge. Sometimes the Heart is understood as a means of revelation. It is also an organ of the purification, reintegration, and transfiguration of our being. For instance, for a Tantric everything that brings pleasure tunes the Heart, seen as the cosmic instrument of consciousness. Through detachment from any individual accent comes a spontaneous sublimation in the Heart. In this way, each sensation is brought to its purity and then offered to the infinite space of the Heart.

4) The Heart is a point of inflection. The Heart is the bridge between finite and infinite, personal and transpersonal, the present and eternity. It is openness toward the Whole. In this aspect, the Heart represents our main opportunity to transcend the limitations of individuality. This function of the Heart makes it a borderline territory because it simultaneously bears the characteristics of the Ultimate Reality and of the finite realities. The inner Heart is a portal to direct experience of what is called "spirit," consciousness – concepts that easily elude all definition.

5) The Spiritual Heart is an inner guide revealing the Ultimate Truth. Following its impulses is a way of redemption.

6) The Heart is the source of the whole of Creation and the final point of all energies. It is thus often seen as a fountain of immortality. The overflowing of the Heart as pure Love and pure Existence is in itself the sign of realization:

In the middle of my Heart,
a star appeared,
and the seven heavens were lost
in its brilliance.
– Rumi

7) The Spiritual Heart is the abode of all deep mysteries. It keeps a secret of its mystical royalty. It is the source of a spontaneous wonderment that generates the intuition of God’s existence. In Yogic tradition, this attribute is named guha, the “cave of the Heart.”

Indeed, the Heart has some imperceptible subtle functions for those who do not intend to live their lives profoundly, spiritually. It remains an unknown domain for the one who ignores the inner kingdom in which the Heart is the core.

) The Heart is the Absolute Void:

Our behavior itself is the awakening:
There is no other Buddha than the Heart.
All phenomena are nothing but the Heart.

– Tao-Sin

René Guénon affirmed that “the Peace of the void,” the “Great Peace” (Es-Sakinah) of Islamic esotericism seen in the divine presence of the Center of being, is symbolically represented in all traditions by the Heart. In Yogic tradition, it is expressed by hrid akasha, the infinite space of the Heart.

9) The Heart is a sacred tremor, the expression of a pure, absolute aspiration. The Sufis, Shaivists, Vedantins, Isihasts etc. all answered to the same calling of the Heart and expressed the same pure impetus, urge, yearning, and aspiration toward God, beyond the specific forms of adoration, beyond the concepts and names of this Reality. All of them perceived it as a sacred tremor vibrating in them and everywhere. From the Heart emanates a sense of Truth, a sense of Pure Existence. By making the Heart the symbol of sacredness, religions have indeed expressed this very idea.

My Tattoo

Yes, I got a tattoo. Two actually.  I was warned repeatedly not to get one. Each time I would read anything about this island, it warned, don’t go home with a KPN tattoo  – be careful! (KPN=Koh Phangan) Yet, on my second day, I without warning ended up with two small ones – one on my back and one on my right thigh.

Now, the tattoo’s I’m talking about aren’t nice drawings of dragons or spiritually charged Japanese Kanji characters. The ones I have are described in guidebooks as the ones  that either result from your tender-skinned body image_thumb4sliding along a bitumen road at high speed with few clothes on, or from the inside of your leg touching too hot exhaust pipe of the moped. Or, as was my case, attempting to navigate a 30+ degree dirt road full of boulders and potholes… following a prospective landlord up the hill (who made it look easy), I decided I should try and before I knew it I was making a high-sided and jumping clear of my bike to save myself.  This meant landing square on my side, my phone jamming into my leg and a sharp rock meeting my back… It could have been much worse…My iPhone could have broken. Kidding, kind of.

That was the low point of the week. Its been all up hill from there (or downhill?). Deciding against renting the house up the dirt track of death, I eventually landed at a nice place called Bovy Beach Resort, a new place with a hippy vibe near my Yoga Halls and right on the beach (see the video below). There is a deserted island feel here, only with WiFi, warm water, fridge, AC and a nice women who is supposed to come clean for me once a week… so just a step up from a Robinson Caruso fantasy.

I’ve taken care of the essentials when arriving in a place like this for an extended stay:

1. Securing comfortable long-term accommodation

2. Moped Rental

3. Finding the vendors with cheap fruit and pad thai.

4. Finding the Expat who knows everything about everything and runs a nice café with her Thai husband with awesome fruit and vegetable shakes. 

And the one thing I haven’t found yet is a Thai masseuse (although I’m hot on the trail of one).

Wait – I thought this was supposed to be a spiritual trip? Yoga and meditation and profound states of Samadhi occurring daily under coconut trees?  We’re getting there. Yesterday I began a Vira Workshop led by Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, the directory of the Agama Yoga school. Here I will continue the curriculum I began in Rishikesh last year and participate in several meditation  retreats. I’ll expound on these in great detail soon enough. 

Our Pilgrim is on the Move

Two years ago I built this website for the purpose of documenting my travels abroad and here I am again, on the cusp of leaving home and seeking something unknown abroad. In one week, I depart for Koh Phangan, Thailand, where Agama Yoga awaits.

My initial pilgrimage sought to explore the world, to uncover hidden corners of the planet, to create new experiences and memories.  My trip in 2009 allowed me to exhaust a long-held myth I had about discovering some form of realization through the accumulation of experience.

Today I have a much different aspiration: Unwinding all of this experience, the false identification of self and my delusion about the actual nature of reality. I realized over time that my journey was much more an inward one than anything external or material. My search has narrowed significantly from the entire world, to the spiritual practices of Zen Buddhism, Tantra and Vajrayana. I’ve discovered that this unwinding process is best accomplished through a life not filled with experience, activities and commitments, rather through self-enquiry and meditation. As Yuan Wu so eloquently stated in my last post:

Sit upright and investigate reality. Within an independent awareness, you must constantly step back from conventions and perceptions and worldly entanglements. Look to the void and trace its outline. Take your head out of a bowl of glue!

If all one needs to do is sit upright and investigate reality, why am I traveling half-way around the globe?  Fair question that I will attempt to answer. Let me back up a bit. 

Almost one year ago, on May 16th 2010, I returned home from India, completing a year (mostly) abroad. The journey brought me back to the same place I began, yet things had shifted significantly within me. I vigorously began practicing Zen, both at a monastery in Crestone and at the Boulder Zen Center, developing strong relationships with the Sangha (group of practitioners), and the teachers. After spending a month in a rigorous monastic setting in the fall, I considered a longer-term stay, considered joining the annual 90-day practice period in the winter. Yet, worldly entanglements and my own fear of such a practice prevented me from moving forward. I was involved in a romantic relationship that has since dissolved, a relationship that I believe represented many of the aspects of worldliness that I refused to let go of.  Once again ignoring intuition, I was drawn towards societal ideas of what it means to live in this world, to relate to another person and basically all of the shoulds that are based on nothing but one’s own projections of society and ego.

Part of me wants to say that I’ve been idling the past 3 or 4 months, drifting in this sort of purposeless manner. This is true when examined from the lens of normal that society and we produce for ourselves. I have to step back and remind myself that this is all part of a greater process of renunciation for me, detaching from ideas of self and the world that do not benefit anyone, that only seek to perpetuate a process and mode of existence that perpetuates a world of suffering and discontent.  I meditate a lot, I sit upright and examine my experience. I am constantly trying to step back from worldly entanglements and perceptions.  I examine all the presumptions and ideas of how the world works, what is reality and why I am here.  I attempt to infuse intentions of compassion and wisdom into my body, speech and mind.  Despite on paper being a 31 year old unemployed guy from Boulder with nothing going for him, I feel this tremendous sense of change within, of a new world unfolding before me, filled with Possibility, Beauty and Love.

This still has nothing to do with answering my initial question of why go anywhere? My teacher has told me that practicing in a single stream provides the best results- why swim in another? My answer to this is that my exploration of Agama is, while primarily spiritual in nature, also an opportunity for me to pursue a vocation in the world that has meaning for me. I am considering a meditation teachers training in 2012.  My idea involves bringing meditation and self-enquiry to more people, via any channel possible: Yoga, Corporate Training, workshops, seminars, private consulting, blogging, etc.  It is very loose and evolving at this point, but there is a sense of momentum and purpose for me right now. My intention this summer is to explore the school, evaluate the teachers and the programs, to ensure this is the type of commitment I want to make in early 2012.  This summer I plan to take a number of courses, including Vira Training, Hridaya Meditation Retreat, Kashmiri Shaivism and Naturopathic and Yogic Healing, in addition to continuing my second and third month of studies in the Agama curriculum.

There you have it.  I have a one-way ticket to Thailand, a new Yoga mat and a big heart.

Yogi Certified

Its official. I’m a Yogi. I completed my 150 hour course in Rishikesh, culminating in a beautiful ceremony where the initiates were given a garland of flowers, a bindi and a blessed bracelet.  We held a miniature talent show, where I read a IMG_4534poem and other students played guitar, sang or acted. It was also in this final week that I felt an incredible bond with the small group of us that had  completed the program. It is very beautiful thing, growing close to a group people after a very short time when you share a deeply transformational experience together. I underwent a significant amount of emotional and spiritual growth and my friends here acted as mirrors to reflect on some of this change.

I’m now in Dharamsala and have been reflecting on how to describe the Yoga course, my experience and impressions about it. Sometimes when I find myself explaining it to friends in an e-mail or people I meet while traveling I get a little frustrated and feel like saying “You have to have been there”. Let me try again!

If I’ve learned anything as of late, its that we each have our personal Karma and path, mixed with our experiences and actions in this life. We are all on different trajectories, crossing various thresholds and situations at different times. Have you ever read a spiritual book and gotten nothing out of it, only to return to it years later to then appreciate the profound nature of it? Or sometimes a friend tells you that you HAVE to read a certain book or see a certain movie as it moved them incredibly, only to discover that nothing resonates for you?  I think I attended this Yoga course at just the right time in my life (aka the stars were aligned). Five years ago I would have laughed off much of the teaching, disregarding things that did not fit into my contextual framework or understanding of the world. My recent travels, self exploration and interest in various cultures and theologies has allowed my framework to shift. For one to experience growth and recognize value in the Agama program, or Yoga in general (referring here to the ancient Indian practices, not the gymnastics we practice in the West), one has to believe that there are human experiences that cannot be described or put into a box by modern science. For example, one of the primary threads of Yoga practice is working with prana (Japanese – Ki, Chinese – Qi), the vital, life-sustaining force of all living beings. There are many of these – clairvoyance, astral projection, levitation, rebirth, universal consciousness, telekinesis to name a few. Modern science simply rejects things that it cannot explain as unfounded, the primary examples being the existence of God, Divine Consciousness, soul or spirit.  Yet, millions of individuals throughout history, including the greatest philosophers, sages, and creative geniuses of Asia, have held such experiences and have shared them. Are they all deluded? Or does science simply not have all of the answers?

With that said, let me describe the course a bit for those who may be considering it or are simply curious. First of all, when they title it the “First Level Intensive”, they should really bold-face the word intensive. You will practice and study Yoga 6 days a week for 4 weeks, approximately 8-10 hours a day.  Each day a new asana (posture) is discussed, demonstrated and practiced, which allows for a slow ramping up of the physical practice. In the evenings a lecture is given, varying from topics on physical purification, explanations of the chakras and koshas, spiritual aspiration and music meditation. The full curriculum is below:

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The class was taught by a group of four teachers, all of whom I gained a lot of respect for as the month progressed. It was clear that these individuals were practicing what they were preaching, embodying an aspiration for union with the Divine (Yoga), and genuinely interested in our progress. Certain aspects of this month I can compare to the Zen meditation retreat last year. Giving myself over to the schedule, wavering between moments of bliss and moments of extreme suffering and having many powerful breakthroughs to name a few. Relying on the sangha (group) was also critical in order for me to discuss and dive into the parts of the program that were difficult to understand or to compare aspects of mind and body that were being challenged. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, the most powerful part of the course was the asana practice – the lecture curriculum was almost too much at times, and in order to maintain my sanity I was discriminating on which lectures I would focus on. Ultimately my practice is about moving more into my body and out of my mind! I would love to dive into many of the more specific details of the course, but feel they are a bit out of context here and due to their very personal nature and sacredness, best discussed one-one or privately. I must say that I am highly considering continuing my studies under this school in the future, potentially at the headquarters on Ko Pha Ngan island in Thailand.

That’s all for now.