Tag Archives: Gurudhan

It’s All About Switching Gears

My Project
I just finished the main portion of an advanced supplement to my training as a Kundalini Yoga teacher. This module focused on Vitality and Stress and is one of five voluntary courses we can take at the level two classification. What I call the main portion was the time spent in the company of our Sat Sanghat (community) and teachers: three weekends during the last month, which began at 7AM on Saturday and ended at 5PM on Sunday. We basically just went home to sleep on Saturday night. In that way, they were like meditation retreats. But also because, although there was a copious amount of information exchanged, the emphasis was on our experience. So, the days were transformative and intense, with our teachers taking us through the numerous Kriyas and meditations related to the topic of the course. Our continued work is to be done on our own, and consists of reading, journaling, follow-up meetings, an exam, and a 90 day sadhana (personal meditation) to be done every day for 31 minutes.

I have decided to make two of the journal entries public, by way of this blog. The first of these follows, below. It has to be done in a very specific way—we explore any situation from the perspective of what we call, in Kundalini Yoga, the negative mind, the positive mind and the neutral mind, followed by a short commentary arrived at from the state of shuniya—non-attachment. Because this module focused on Vitality and Stress, the situation should be one which was potentially stress-provoking. And it is supposed to be done in an unedited, free-flowing manner.

The perspectives I will present may or not be mine. They may be fabricated, or derivative of those reactions I have witnessed in others around me. Because this is public, I’ll preface the actual journal with an introduction, focusing on the role of the three minds.

Introduction: On The Three Minds
Life without conflict exists in a coffin. ~Yogi Bhajan

So, how do we get through our conflicts with grace? How do we come out clean? The problem comes into focus when you consider that for the majority of the population, the negative mind—which serves the legitimate purpose of alerting us to possible danger—serves as the go-to mode. They get paralyzed by an incessant flow of self-doubt, suspicion, anger, fear and hatred. And they live there. The worst is that in order to feel better, they drink, smoke, party, shop, gamble and take drugs. All of it is for the purpose of silencing the negative mind, of escaping. Our power lies in our ability to switch gears: to go from the negative mind to the positive mind, and finally to the ideal vantage point of the neutral mind, which, like a mirror, reflects reality as it is, without bias or preference.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a Sikh or a Moslem, or a Hindu or a rabbi or a Christian or Jew…if you are a millionaire or a pauper, or if you are beautiful or ugly.” None of it matters if you don’t know how to switch those three gears, says our teacher, Yogi Bhajan.

He says it would be like driving a car and getting stuck in fourth gear. An accident waiting to happen. But all the everyday meltdowns are due to exactly this—getting stuck, like that car. Getting stuck in the negative mind. Although the negative mind is of utmost importance, we don’t want to live there. But we do.

The Situation
My son tells me his ex-girlfriend is pregnant. He tells me she is set on having the baby. They do not intend to get married. He acknowledges it is his. Now his comments as of late make sense: “I think it would be cool to be a young Dad…I’d teach him/her how to play guitar and surf.” I ask all the usual questions, the whole routine that parents do, about what his responsibilities will entail and the changes that may arise in his relationship with his ex. But I am calm.

The Negative Mind
The poor child—growing up in the midst of likely turmoil and perpetual disagreement and disharmony. And this will derail my son from his goals. How will he afford child support at his age? I wouldn’t be able to take on full-time infant care at this point in my life! The disputes between them will inevitably cause her stress, which will create a toxic environment for the developing baby. They’re too young to hold it together for the sake of the child. They’re going to fall apart. How will they ever iron out a mutually satisfactory arrangement when they do? And how will they maintain a peaceful correspondence? 

The Positive Mind
The only thing that makes anything difficult is lack of motivation, and nothing motivates like becoming a parent! Nothing makes a man out of you faster than becoming a father. And I already see positive changes in him—he’s glad he didn’t buy a motorcycle. Hallelujah to that. And he’s talking again about finishing his tests in aviation. This was a timely kick-in-the-pants. Funny how the universe works! No body’s asking you to take on full-time infant care! I’m actually looking forward to holding a little child-spirit in my arms. A little mini-my-son! I’d love to take it around and teach him or her all I can. We’re going to completely spoil it. And I can water-paint while it sleeps. And push the stroller while I walk Marcel at the same time. I’ll be one enthusiastic, young-ish Grandma!

The Neutral Mind
In Indian spirituality, they didn’t choose to have this baby; the baby chose them. It is beautiful. Because it’s life. It’s natural. Everyday, babies are born in as many diverse situations as your imagination allows. No one is ever ready to have a baby. And when you scratch beneath the surface, even the ones who meet society’s expectations and appearances are a mess. Appearance is never a guarantee of anything. The most important thing is a mother’s loving arms and she has shown herself to be equal to the task. I was just like her when I had my son. I was her. And nearly the same age. And equally determined. Fiercely protective from the first moment. It grounded me and brought such joy into my life. The things I thought mattered didn’t matter at all. It was just the two of us for over two years and those years were so cozy and sweet. I would just stare at my baby’s beautiful face. I shall tell her this. Life will present us with one challenge and seeming crisis, one after another, for ever. That’s what we’re here for. The only question is, how will we present ourselves?. With love and acceptance? Or with fear and insecurity? From expansiveness? Or limitation? After all, we can either accept it now, or accept it later. My task is to show up as a source of upliftment, positive energy, love and support. I can do that. Their challenge is to rise to the occasion. I get to watch my son grow up now. I choose to reside in faith. We don’t really get to control much, anyway.

Final Comment
As my teacher Gurudhan said, “our task is to open ourselves up to what is in front of us.” God…the universe…infinity…life…will put situations in front of us. Are you receptive? It’s all about change, he explained. “And how we face that change is part of the adventure of going into different realms of consciousness.”

When you are not bound by the negative force or the positive force…Then YOU are the force. ~Yogi Bhajan

~

PS. Stay tuned for the second journal entry!

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Yes, Yoga Is Wise!

I recently had lunch with a few old friends. While sharing our current goings-on, the fact that I teach Yoga was met with general interest: I would love to take Yoga…It seems so wise, one woman said.

Well, that’s an understatement, I thought! It is wise—but how? What does it mean to be wise? Something that is described as wise, conveys the suggestion that by practicing it, you’ll become privy to a better way of living.

Yoga is defined as a technology and set of practices that are employed to enable human beings to achieve Self-Realization. Will this Self-Realization lead one to a better way of living?

Firstly, what is Self-Realization?

It is a state in which one is profoundly aware of his/her true nature. And if that is vague it is because it has to be, for it is a state that must be experienced. According to Yogic traditions, it is a process by which one ceases to identify with the ego-self, and the sense of separateness that characterizes this ego-based, state of illusion, known to Yogis as maya.

And so, as for the first question, how this awakening may improve the quality of life, we must remember that this condition of maya is plagued by a roster of negative emotions, like fear, suspicion, envy and anger. Accordingly, a practice meant to bring us back to a realization of wholeness, and away from this false sense of separateness, would restore a feeling of inner peace, while removing the adverse emotions. If we can speak in terms of goals, we might say the ultimate goal is increasing the joy in our lives.

Of course, like any noble and worthy goal, true practice takes work, but as my dear teacher Gurudhan is wont to say, life without Yoga takes even more work.

This worthy goal involves the pacification of our thoughts, emotions and habituated reactions—nothing short of the management of the mind—that unruly, rebellious thing, that does not want to be managed. Yoga offers us various tools to help us do that. And the many diverse Yogic traditions emphasize different tools. Like trails that lead to the summit, all will lead you there. In my own practice of Kundalini Yoga, we make copious use of kriya, mudra, eye-focus, powerful breath work and mantra meditation, all of which are often enhanced by sound modalities.

In the language of Yoga, the process of awakening is just that—a process, meaning that on a subtle level, you start to approach life in a different way, relate to people through new perspectives, see through open eyes, perceive with a clearer, less reactive mind. Problems may not be interpreted as problems any longer, and when they are, you have the clarity and presence with which to approach them more skillfully. All of this results in a higher quality of life.

Yes, Yoga is wise!

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.

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.