Monthly Archives: September 2011

What is Spiritual Surrender?

One of my Kundalini Yoga teachers, Gurudhan, often plays a song during our deep relaxation, called “Never Surrender.” Some of the main lyrics resound in my mind:

Don’t lose faith and don’t lose heart.
Don’t lose faith and never surrender. 
Don’t lose faith and don’t lose heart.
Don’t lose faith and never surrender. 

Never surrender to your tears,
though you’ve been crying them for years.
You know the pain is just a part
of what is opening your heart.

The message is to never surrender. Yet, ironically, the importance of being able to surrender is at the heart of all the great spiritual teachings. In Taoism, it is taught that you will live with greater ease through the art of surrendering to the rhythms and natural cycles of the universe—The Tao. In Buddhism, you lessen the suffering of yourself and everyone around you by applying the wisdom to accept life’s inevitable changes, regardless of whether or not they correspond to your preferences.

And in Kundalini Yoga, surrender has its place, as well. It is the way to personal evolution and ultimately, joy. It means, surrendering to the lessons presented to us, in order to benefit from the perspective they permit and thus, to grow from them. It is the courage to use those stumbling blocks as springboards to our own higher consciousness.

To add a few layers on, surrendering, in this case, is to let go of the stories we tell ourselves—the stories we use as defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms keep us stuck. And so, to get unstuck and to live in grace, means accepting, with all our heart, our own purpose in this life, while rising above that we think will consume us. And that is both empowering and fulfilling. But more, it is knowing that we have the capacity for this fulfillment and that state of knowing leaves no room for despair.

We only need courage and commitment. And so, “to surrender” is, in this context, to fully accept that commitment to live in grace. But, as the song reminds us, and as Buddha’s example of resisting the temptations of Mara, reminds us, we must not give in to the demons and destructive patterns that only hold us back.

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Sensitivity; The Good Kind and the Bad Kind.

We all know someone who’s too easily hurt. It’s the kind of person who’s oversensitive and easily offended. Paramahansa Yogananda described this kind of person as “touchy.” When feeling offended, he or she tends to either bite back or sulk. Although the tendency stems from an inferiority complex, it ultimately lay rooted in an uncontrolled ego. Oversensitive people make themselves and everyone around them suffer needlessly.

So, then, why do Yogis constantly tell us we need to become “more sensitive?”

Because, you might say, there’s the good kind and the bad kind.

The bad kind, as found in the problem of touchiness, comes in the cargo bag of an untamed ego. Anything untamed is naturally lacking many refinements. In this case, sensitivity presents itself as an egoic perception. And perception is just that: perception. In this case, it is perception that is entirely lacking in the wisdom to see other people’s pain, as well as the many possible reasons behind their seemingly offensive behavior or words.

The good kind has to do with with what we refer to in Yoga as intuition. It is associated with the sixth energy center, appropriately called “the third eye,” since when open, it engenders a more pervasive view into the subtler aspects of existence. Downgraded in the Age of Enlightenment, through its dualistic opposition with reason—that most prized of human attributes—it was relegated to the sidelines and has been little understood in the west.

But, symbolized by the tilak markings and the bindi dots on the foreheads of the wandering holy seekers in India, it is looked upon there, as the seat of heightened awareness. Associated with the pituitary gland, it is the master control tower of the brain itself.  Rather than sitting in dualistic opposition to left-brained, rational function, it supersedes duality altogether. In its containment of all, it is the awakening of this eye that awakens the ability to see the unseen. It is what all the spiritual teachers mean when they assure you that you’ll know what to do. You can call it intuition, but you can also call it the “good kind of sensitive.”

Death; An Eastern Perspective

I recently wrote an article for the well-known Buddhist magazine, Shambhala Sun. It currently appears on their blogspot: Sunpace. When the editors commented that it choked them up, it felt humbly gratifying, in that I knew the article was going to serve its purpose. It is a heartfelt and honest article about life and death. In it, I share my own recent experiences, along with Buddhist wisdom on the nature of life itself, rendering death as a part of its continuum.

Here it is, in part:

Gone, but here

After our 13 year-old poodle passed away last year, we couldn’t yet bring ourselves to give away his toys. After losing a loved one—whether human or pet—there’s a part of the mind that tricks itself into believing that the deceased one still cares about the material items left behind. Rather than do anything at the time, my husband tucked them away in a plastic storage bin.

The other day when I was putting sheets away, a hedgehog with a gnawed nose caught my eye. Soon I was finding all sorts of treasures—like the old tractor my son used to play with as a child and the tattered old baby blanket he dragged around until he started kindergarten.

There is a tendency to confer a different significance to these two different kinds of discoveries. The first event recalls a beloved pet that has passed away, and in its sense of finality, tends to evoke sadness. The second involves the belongings of a boy who has simply become a man and, as it isn’t shrouded with that same quality of finality, stirs up an agreeable sort of nostalgia.

While each of us will respond in our own personal ways to the challenging events of our lives, much has to do with our interpretations of them. My point is merely to suggest that with greater contemplation, the difference between events, such as the ones I’ve shared, is less distinct than imagined.

When I said goodbye to Simba on that day last year, it was not the same little doggy that once chewed those stuffed animals. And the man that came up to visit last weekend is not the same person that dragged that old blanket around until we’d hid it, 15 years ago. Neither are here, yet, in uncountable ways, both are infinitely here.

Birth and death, birth and death! When my Zen teacher repeats these words, it is because they reveal a great truth about existence. Neither is what we believe it to be. And despite the concrete definitions we accept by convention, neither is definable and neither refers, objectively, to any specific event. Those two words reveal the reality of life’s continuum.

We celebrate the occasion of a baby’s birth as a singular event and we mourn the death of a loved one as a final farewell to life. But both birth and death are present, unceasingly, at every moment of every life. We might only notice when we look back and note all the change that has taken place over time, or when something shakes us to such a degree that we’re thrown into shock — when we’re sure nothing will ever be the same again. But it’s at any moment that nothing will ever be the same again.

I recently saw a documentary about the American spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. In one scene, a young woman shares a dream in which she asks her recently deceased fiancé if she will ever find someone else to love…

Please finish the article at Sunspace! (Will open in a new window)

One Year Ago: The First Teacher-Training Diary

It was this time last year that I made the decision to deepen my practice as a Yoga teacher. It was a long time coming–I heeded the calling of my heart to study directly under my beloved masters of Kundalini Yoga at Yogi Bhajan’s first and only studio, Yoga West.

It had taken six years, and at least two weeks of waffling, to finally commit. I remember the night I called to say Yes; I took my walk as usual, only the pink-stained evening sky was pinker than usual, the drooping golden sun was twice as gold as usual, and the crisp autumn breeze that chilled my just-washed face was the most delightful breeze there ever was.

I knew I would want to chronicle this life-changing journey, and I did. Here is the first of several teacher-training diaries I wrote, that were originally published on Spirit Voyage.

I walked briskly down the street in the rain, carrying an open plate of assorted curries and rice. Zigzagging around two Jewish families, out for Saturday services, I sought a moment of refuge in my car, to absorb the somewhat magical events that had transpired that day.

Still flush from the long group chant, I watched as the raindrops coalesced on my windshield. My voice had melted away into the warm sea of long “Ek Ong Kars.” I had lost the sense of where my own voice ended and the others began. The vibrational frequencies of 58 voices fused into a lush whole and time itself evaporated like dew. It was as if we all dissolved into some invisible swell that had gently washed over us. I took a bite of the creamy raita on the side of my plate and watched one single raindrop trickle down the window, leaving behind a long, clear squiggle for peeking through to the glassy, rain soaked street.

As all the genuine spiritual traditions remind us, it is through the dignity of letting go that wisdom is attained. In subtle paradox, it is by losing that we gain. In chanting, it was not merely our voices that we offered up to the infinite, but our very sense of self. In exalting the sacred mantra through chant, the tangible and the intangible disappeared into unison. At another moment, a white head wrap and an outstretched leg extended in front of my own, while mine lay, in turn, behind another. Together, we all carried on, and for the duration of the kriya, our bellies pumped air as one rhythmic body, like some multifaceted breathing apparatus. We were a woven cloth. For a time, personal space melted away, along with the intangible sense of separateness that keeps us from our own divinity.

In the shadowy world of separateness and duality, bad habits loom. Fear looms. The hum of adversity is often dispatched from the depths of the psyche, still on automatic, like a broken old alarm that sounds for no reason. There was a moment when mine hollered out – victim to the old triggers. But one of the Yogis inspirited my heart and knocked all sense out of me. I thanked him. And with a gentle word he sent me off to sharpen my tools. We are empowering ourselves to glide above those old patterns, to fly, wholly powered by spirit.

We have been gifted with invaluable tools of Kundalini Yoga, and we are learning how to use them. Through the timeless wisdom and functionality of these kriyas, we are learning how to scrap the unconscious negative reflexes and oust the heavy blocks that prevent the wholeness of mind and radiance we seek. Yogi Bhajan was forthright about the efficacy of what he called “the Yoga of awareness,” revealing that by practicing its techniques correctly, “we fry this subconscious mind; we make toast out of it and eat it.” Seeing us falter during a particularly intense kriya, Gurudhan reminded us to “become the nervous system.” “Keep going,” the yogi called out, as we disappeared into the kriya, as we became the kriya. We were mastering our energy rather than the other way around.

In some ways, this process reminds me a bit like getting thrown into the washing machine and then spat out again. And I’m hopeful it’ll be a cleaner, softer, more appealing me than what originally went in. I knew the intense, nine month period wasn’t an arbitrary figure. It’s as Guru Singh explained that first night: Like a birthing, after nine months, we’ll come out of the birth canal pure and new. “First you’re like eager babes,” he mused, as he surveyed the room full of the novice’s enthusiasm. “Then, as you begin to feel comfortable and more at home, you’ll start to relax and you’ll be draping your bodies all over, like you own the place.” But he continued on, explaining that by the end of the training period, we will have come full circle, only not exactly in the same starting place. When we get ready to emerge, as Aquarian teachers of 2011, we will be like eager young babes again. But in a different way.

I still have the teacher training pamphlet from 2005 in my Yoga files. Although it was because of Guru Singh, that I took that flyer five years ago, and because of him, that I finally committed this year, the boon is that through this intense training program, I will also have the benefit of learning from other masters, that I am quickly growing to love. Soon I will look upon them all as my teachers. And I will officially count myself among the third-generation disciples of Yogi Bhajan, himself.

It is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful, but also a tremendous responsibility, for these timeless teachings will be reflected in my own conduct and in the way I bring them forth to others as a teacher. But, it was a calling of the heart. And this is a brave heart that can only become more brave through practice.