NOTE: Here are three artifacts from a talk given on Friday, 1/31/14 - my thirty slide presentation, the audio tape of the live talk, in which I skipped some content because of time constraints (it's a two hour talk condensed into a one hour format), and a full text version of my notes, with all the content addressed, and each section keyed to the corresponding slides.
500 Hours: A Journey Into Yoga Teacher Training (Slides 1-5)
Welcome to the Theosophical Society of San Francisco. Welcome to the Year of the Yang Wood Horse. A powerful, dangerous energy is loosed, the galloping of hooves.
This weekend, we also celebrate Imbolc, one of the great cross-quarter festivals of the ancient Celts. It's the time when the sheep begin to lactate.
So it is an auspicious time to deliver the first in this series of four quarterly talks. The full series is entitled, "Planetary Emergency, Personal Emergence: Path of An Evolutionary.”
Each of the four talks will explore some powerful agent of change, some powerful modality for radical transformation, some powerful contributing factor in the lead up to that evolutionary leap we so desperately require in order to rescue our planet and ourselves:
- 500 Hours - A Journey into Yoga Teacher Training (1/14)
- Ascendancy of the Feminine in Psyche - Inspiration from Histories of Art and Mysticism (4/14)
- Unto the Seventh Generation - Altruism and Sustainability as Spiritual Imperatives (7/14)
- Emergency and Emergence - Checklist for 21st Century Evolutionaries (10/14)
My assumption is that this third series will lead to the next book.
Planetary Emergency (Slide 6)
What do I mean by "Planetary Emergency"?
Consider these five numbers.
- Staggering rate of heat build up from human-caused global warming — 250 trillion Watts (Joules per sec)? Equivalent to exploding 400K Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year -- Climate Progress, 12/22/14
- Humans are currently using the equivalent of one and a half Earths to support our activities WWF, 2020 Living Planet Report
- 6th mass extinction in planetary history, w/ between 150 and 200 species going extinct daily, a pace 1,000 times greater than the “natural” or “background” extinction rate Dahr Jamal, Coming Instant Planetary Emergency, The Nation, 12/17/13
- Global population on pace to reach 11 billion people by the end of the century … Live Science, 11/19/12
- Richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world's population. Guardian, 1/20/14
Personal Emergence (Slide 6)
What do I mean by “Personal Emergence”?
- To fall awake
- To be fully embodied
- To optimize this incarnation
- To participate in the mitigation of suffering
Whether You Come to It Looking for Healing or Not (Slide 9)
I came to yoga for healing. That’s where I feel compelled to start this first talk.
I came to yoga for healing, and I found it, yes, physical and psychological healing.
As I have mentioned before, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, seeking to overcome the ravages of profound trauma and child abuse, I had embarked on a journey into the realm of somatic psychotherapy. My weekly sessions with a brilliant psychotherapist named Staci Haines were yielding extraordinary breakthroughs and powerful albeit painful insights. But I felt I needed more intimate time with my bodies (all five of them).
It occurred to me that yoga could fulfill this need. And it did. In the very first yoga class I took, in my very first Baddha Konasana, information rose up from my groin, information that had been hidden for a lifetime. And the healing just took off from there. A long process, an arduous process, a painful process, yes. But a healing process nonetheless. Yoga sustained and nurtured me throughout the process, and still does. It is, after all, in one sense, an unending process.
Yoga brought me healing, and it will bring you healing, if you embrace it and open yourself to it.
Yoga will bring you healing whether you come to it looking for healing or not. You might come to yoga for some other reason, maybe a vain reason, maybe a hedonistic reason (nothing wrong with either), but along the way, yoga will show you some wound that you hadn’t seen or felt before (or hadn’t wanted to see or allow yourself to see before) and yoga will offer you a way to heal it.
Yes, yoga, Hatha Yoga, the physical culture of yoga, offers you healing, strength and joy --
- For your physical body, i.e., limbs, spine, vital organs, blood, muscle, connective tissue, etc.
- For your psyche, cultivating powerful attitudes and releasing trauma
- For all those within your sphere of influence, touching all your relations and all life
- For your spiritual journey, as an ongoing, open-ended process, giving limbs, backbone and breath to meditation, by immersing you in the mountain river of clear light awareness and the pure power found in conscious physical movement
“How Long Have You Been Teaching Yoga” (Slide 10)
A young friend asked me, “How long have you been teaching yoga?”
I started to answer earnestly, dutifully, “Well, I got my 200 Hour certification in July 2012 …”
But I stopped myself, realizing that although earnest and dutiful, this answer was inaccurate and misleading. In the Bhagavad Gita, three great paths of yoga are articulated: Jnani, Bhakti and Karma, the path of Wisdom, the Path of Love, and the Path of Service.
Well, for eighteen years, I led a weekly meditation and study circle here at the Lodge. We shared many of the deepest teachings and most powerful practices of Vajrayana, Adwaita Vedanta, medieval Christian mysticism, Taoism, Sufism and other great traditions.
And in the decade or so since I ended that concentration, I have gone on to write extensively and speak at length on these subjects. So yes, I sought certification for teaching Hatha Yoga in 2012, but I have been sharing and teaching yoga in its greater context for over almost three decades.
Words Approximating Wordlessness (Slide 11)
I am going to use three words a lot in this talk, and I am NOT going to reference any textbook definitions of their meaning: “Yoga,” “Hatha” and “Tantra.” These three terms are used in many different ways, and there are multiple versions of what they mean in their essence. Some are inspiring, some are silly, some are complicated, and some are simple.
You have probably heard some of these definitions and related etymologies repeated over and over by rote. You can decide for yourselves which of these versions to make your own. I am just going to tell you what I mean when I use them.
For me, “Yoga,” is a path of awakening and embodiment, which offers some technology or another with which to journey into a deeper, fuller experience of life.
For me, “Hatha” is a yogic modality for working with and through polarity, particularly in your physical and energetic bodies. “Hatha” = Sun and Moon, Yin and Yang, Ida and Pingala, the Six Actions, etc.
For me, “Tantra” is both an attitude of radical embrace (i.e., an embrace of ALL of life, beautiful, ugly, bitter, sweet, dark, light, all of it), and it is also a path of radical transformation, it offers a technology that leads you into the transformative fire, and shows you how to stoke that fire from within.
“Bad Man of Ashtanga” (Slide 12)
|Larry Schultz with Pattabhi Jois (Source: Jtbobwaysf/Wikipedia)|
I feel it is important for me to have his energy in this presentation, so I am sharing this image of the young Larry in the presence of his teacher, the great Pattabhi Joi, who brought Ashtanga Yoga forward to our time. Pattabhi Joi dubbed Larry "the bad man of Ashtanga," And Larry was indeed a rogue, a magnificent rogue. In both his personality and his teaching.
His "Rocket Series" was a bold (some would say "heretical") adaptation of Ashtanga for the West and the 21st Century. In developing flows for his classes, Larry would draw on poses from the Primary Series, the Intermediate Series and the Advanced Series in the same sequence. This is something that is simply NOT done in traditional Ashtanga.
Larry was an evolutionary.
Here is a remarkable 7 minute YouTube video excerpted from an interview toward the end of his life.
In loving memory of Larry Schultz - Rocket Man (YouTube)
Breakdown of My 500 Hours (Slide 14)
This is the breakdown of my 500 Hours.
I did my YTT with Yoga Tree in San Francisco. The strengths of Yoga Tree's program are a diverse roster of teachers and the infrastructure of several beautiful studios.
At Yoga Tree, I was fortunate to study with some excellent teachers, including Darren Main, author of Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic and numerous other books. Darren leads Labyrinth Yoga, a profoundly beautiful practice, held Tuesday evenings inside Grace Cathedral. On Nob Hill. This extraordinary weekly event features live music and draws throngs of participants.
Another excellent teacher I got to study with in the course of my Yoga Tree YTT was Jill Jataki Abelson. Jill has authored two exceptional books, Extra Love: The Art of Hands-On Assists - Volume 1 (Hips, Twists & Forward Bends) and Extra Love: The Art of Hands-On Assists - Volume 2 (Standing Poses, Back Bends & Sun Salutations). In the course of a YTT, you end up buying a lot of books, some required, some recommended, a few just grabbed in desperation. And although I accumulated two shelves of books over the year and a half of my journey, I only reference four on a routine basis, and Jill's two make up half of that short list.
Challenges and Opportunities (Slide 15)
When you are talking about yoga, it should be very personal. It should be intimate. It has to relate to your own experience, to your own life, both the good and bad of it. So this is a list of challenges and opportunities I encountered along the way.
Severe Childhood Trauma
I eluded earlier to childhood trauma, so yes I came to yoga to help me in my healing journey, and it did, but entering into teacher training takes it to another level. Because in teacher training, you have to learn with your bodies, of course, and you also have to teach with your bodies, from your bodies. It is very different. I have spoken to large auditoriums, in front of thousands of people, and I have spoken in some spooky places, with people in expensive suits and military uniforms. And I have spoken in dangerous places, and live on national TV. No problem. But to teach yoga in an embodied way, in a real way, is a profoundly intimate experience. And it changes you. It demands that you change from inside – if you are going to do it with authenticity. This is true for anyone going into teacher training. But as a survivor of severe trauma, there is all kind of wiring that has been trashed inside of you, and you have re-wired some of it with extension cords, using duct tape. There are big patches that don’t connect. And you have to reconnect them, and find out where the shorts are. You have to work around some things that are just never going to work right. It’s a trip. And all of that was challenged, really challenged as I entered into this process of learning with the physical body, and learning how to teach from the physical body.
High Blood Pressure
I suffer from high blood pressure. And high blood pressure is something to take seriously. And it is something to take seriously if you are going to do yoga. BUT it is not a reason NOT TO DO yoga; it is a reason TO DO yoga. If you approach it in a conscious way, and get the correct information, yoga can help you with cope with your high blood pressure. It has helped me tremendously in terms of rolling back my high blood pressure, and I am certain that in a year or two I will be able to tell you that it has functionally cured me of my high blood pressure. Some doctors will say that can never happen. But there is “cured” and then there is “cured” and I am telling you that if understand what you are doing and get the right information, yoga can help you reverse that condition, or neutralize it.
I have no arches in my feet. Instead of having the arches that most people have, my feet cave in. I have strong legs, and good balance, but standing balance poses, and even lunges, are very challenging for me because there are no arches to work with. A podiatrist or a chiropractor will suggest you get something to put in your shoes, but that’s just substituting an artificial arch. I want to do yoga barefoot. So I realized I had to create my own invisible, energetic arches. And I have to sustain them consciously, and energetically. And when I made this breakthrough, it changed my practice in unexpected ways, some aspects of it all, in regard to alignment, and the Bandhas, it all clicked in, because everything in the physical body, and everything in all of the five bodies, is interconnected. I still struggle in standing balance poses, I probably always will to some degree. But the whole of my practice has benefitted in startling ways ever since I begin to fire up my invisible, energetic arches.
Nature of Work
The nature of my work challenged me. I am a writer and an editor. I am an intelligence analyst. So I sit in front of computers for many hours a day. Typing. Scrolling. Scanning news streams from all over the world. And then there is the driving and the air travel. I was once in thirty countries in three years. It is not a healthy life for anybody. Even when you become informed, through yoga, about how not to sit, and how to compensate for ways in which you are forced to sit, and how long to sit, and all of this, even once you know, it almost seems harder to have this as your work.
And yes, my age itself presented a challenge. After all, when I came to Ashtanga, a very strenuous style of yoga, I was already in my forties. That was crazy enough I suppose. And now I have completed my 500 Hour YTT program as a sixtieth birthday gift for myself. So yes, age is a challenge.
|Yoga Tree (Shotwell), October 2014|
This photo of me is a very important artifact in my life. The doorway I am standing next to is the doorway to the back terrace of the Yoga Tree studio on Shotwell in the Mission. And that’s the studio in which I logged almost all of my YTT hours, over the course of a year and a half. The photo was taken in the last hour of the last day of my training. I asked a friend to take it for me, at that moment, because it was in the exact spot, at some point in the first two hundred hours or so of my training that I collapsed. Yes, I blacked out, and fell to the gravel surface and apparently shook for a few moments.
And then I came out of it. My friend Rhani was right there. She ran out to get me a glass of water. And then she helped me up, and we talked as I sipped my water. My first words were, “Now I understand what Dostoeveski meant, what he was trying to describe …” Rhani said, “What are you talking about?” “Oh,” I answered, “Dostoevski’s novel, The Idiot. It’s about Prince Myshkin. He was an epileptic and going in and out of seizures, he had experiences in higher consciousness.”
Yes, I had come out of the blackout talking about Dostoevski.
Whatever happened to me that day was not an epileptic seizure. But it was something very important in my life. When I climbed back up from the gravel surface, my consciousness had shifted significantly. And it has never gone back to the way it was before. It is tempting to say “I can’t describe the difference,” but actually I can. I am not going to, though, at least not here, and not now.
All I will say right now is that my consciousness expanded suddenly, remarkably and irrevocably, it expanded and it extended, and that expansion and extension has gone on and on since that day, and I have no doubt that it will continue for the rest of my life, however long that is.
I call that moment “the Reboot.”
In his Writer’s Diary, Dostoevski shared some insights on the work that went into The Idiot and the character Myshkin: “The main idea of [The Idiot] is the presentation of a sublime in all respects man. There is nothing more difficult than this, in this … the closest man to the perfection is Don Quijote. But this man is sublime only because, at the same time, he is also ridiculous.”
|Dina Amsterdam, InnerYoga Part II, September 2014|
I chose well for the elective hours of my YTT, because I chose to take Dina Amsterdam’s InnerYoga, Part I and Part II. What Dina is doing is breakthrough yoga. It is important work.
InnerYoga is an approach, not a style or a system.
InnerYoga is applicable to both passive and active styles of yoga, i.e., for both Yin and Yang.
InnerYoga has four foundations:
In the course of our InnerYoga training, we drew on numerous technologies, including:
- Breath techniques, e.g., “Taoist Breath,” “Three Part Yogic Breath,” “Ancestral River Breath,” etc., all with a particular emphasis on the “After Exhale.”
- Meditation techniques, e.g., Shamata and Vipassana.
- Jin Shin Jytsu
- Yin Yoga, i.e., working w/ Ch’i and the meridians.
- Hatha Flow
- Buddhist philosophy and psychology, e.g., Pema Chodren’s When Things Fall Apart
- Latest scientific research, e.g., Buddha’s Brain (Rick Hanson)
I commend it to you. It could change your practice and your life. And it will be a contributing factor in the next evolutionary leap for 21st Century Yoga.
|K.K. Ledford, Kapalika Tantra Workshop., Yoga Tree, October 2014|
In October 2013, I took K.K. Ledford’s Kapalika Tantra Workshop.
I call K.K. the “fierce fairy.” She is a great astrologer, a great yoga teacher and a great tantrika. I had taken Yoga Tree classes with her before she moved back to Texas.
I wanted her DNA in the mix of my 500 Hours.
Here are some of her remarks from that weekend training:
"We cherish the fire. We worship the nectar. The only difference between Heaven and Hell on Earth is our consciousness.”
“Yoga isn’t a feel good practice. That’s an infantile assessment of what it is … Yoga isn’t comfortable. Yoga pushes you to your edges. It’s like a relationship ... The invitation is for you to be aware, to shine the light where you are asleep.“
“We experience yoga as transformational, and as a practice that is radical ecstatic celebration. “
“This isn’t dressing up and thinking, ‘Aren’t we all so blissful.’ No, life‘s shitty, and we are not all blissful … It is a pulsation of agony and ecstasy, back and forth, sometimes in the same day, sometimes in the same moment. That’s just how life is. Or how life is for the householder with a tantric sadhana. In tantra, the tongue tastes everything.”
#YogaIsDead (Slide 20)
It was K.K., I think, who coined the “#YogaIsDead” hashtag. But if she didn’t, she certainly popularized it, at least in my experience. And it is, indeed, a compelling declaration. Just as the great Dadaists might have declared #ArtisDead or #DadaisDead and then proceeded to create sublime art and supreme Dada within the context of that confrontational slogan, K.K. is declaring #YogaIsDead to draw attention to certain essence-killing by-products of its commercial success in the West.
These seven recent news stories provide some vital context:
- How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry -- And Reinvented American Spirituality, Huffington Post, 12-16-13
- How The Yoga Alliance Is Ruining Yoga, American Yoga School, 1/7/14
- – “… Yoga Alliance currently has about 40,000 yoga teachers and 3,000 yoga schools registered as being in compliance with their standards … But, the standard that they set for yoga teacher training is nowhere near adequate.”
- How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, New York Times, 1/5/12
- – “ … there is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury …”
- ELLE Report (5/15/13): Why Do Sex Scandals Keep Rocking Yoga World?
- “ … a history of leaders who exploit and violate their followers …”
- Lululemon names new CEO; founder Chip Wilson resigns as chairman, L.A. Times, 12-10-13
- Latest in Multibillion Dollar Yoga Wars: Patenting Online Yoga Videos, Counterpunch, 2/7/14
- Smithsonian Opens The First Art Exhibit On Yoga, Associated Press, 10/23/1
Serious concerns have been raised. Very serious concerns. (Many programs are, as I once heard K.K, say, no more than "puppy mills.") What will come of this controversy?
All I can say is "Be careful."
The devil you know is often easier to handle than the devil you don’t know.
Do you really want to tear down the Yoga Alliance and replace it with some stricter regime? In what ways would this new regime be better, and by whose standards? What if it turns out you have replaced your weak certifying authority, incapable of properly auditing registered schools, with some new certifying authority, which is too heavily weighted to some narrow doctrinaire idea of yoga?
It’s a risky gambit. In your sincere attempt to thwart the certification of unqualified teachers, you could end up denying certification to many worthy teachers because some narrow set of biases gets institutionalized in the process.
If you run a teacher training program, and are genuinely concerned with what is happening in this field, your best course of action is focus on your own product and offer a training that is both technically insightful and mystically authentic.
And if you are someone who aspires to get into a yoga teacher training, but you despair when you read about such controversy, know that there are indeed worthy programs that will both change your life and give you the experience you need to share yoga with others (e.g., Sri Yoga offered by my friend Brenna Geehan and her teaching partner Jean Mazzei).
Like Rivers into the Sea … (Slide 21)
On the West’s timeline, this century, the 21st Century, is the beginning of a new millennia. And in mystical terms, this century is the cauldron of the great triune goddess.
She is brewing an all-powerful, OMNI-potent medicine in the cauldron of our time.
Air travel, the rise of the Internet (Pope Francis is spot-on, it is a “Gift from God”), and the availability of so many sacred texts in globally used languages all stoke this cauldron.
All that was and could have been is being broken down, and stirred into the bittersweet brew.
This is both a wonderful and terrible time to be alive.
And it will challenge us all in many ways, some of them unspeakable.
The patriarchy is getting chopped up and used as soup bones. Yes!
But the world that is coming is not a return to what was before the patriarchy. (Remember, time travel is possible, but NOT to the past, according to Stephen Hawkins.)
What is being birthed is a new world, a post-patriarchal world, in which both genders and all they imply will be alive and turned on in all beings. There will be a transition period, though. This new world will come through the womb of the great triune goddess; yes, birthed by her.
And so, women must and will ascend to dominance in the world.
This is one of the paramount struggles of our time, one of the vital imperatives.
I have a prediction for you; in the 21st Century, women, brilliant, powerful women will radically transform yoga. It's not a prediction really, but more of a statement of fact, because this radical transformation is already underway. You can see it everywhere you look. And in the chaos to come (social, economic, political, psychological), this radical transformation of yoga, (a process driven by women and already well under way) will be a blazing beacon, fierce and unquenchable.
One life, one love, one planet, one great global wisdom tradition into which all wisdom traditions flow, like rivers into the sea …
|Chrisandra Fox Walker, whose mentoring contributed to the deepening of my personal practice in several vital ways, during the YTT, including cluing me into the power of Dinacharya. Thank you, momma! Yoga Tree, July 2012.|
Divine Paradox (Slide 22)
A young friend recently asked me about the seemingly contradictory notions of oneness and evolution, i.e., “Are we progressing or it is all already perfect?” Well, it’s one of those profound questions. Like, “Is it free will or determinism? And, of course, “If it is all void what is it that reincarnates?” These questions are all traps. They fall into a formulation that demands an either/or answer. But the universe is not that simple.
When I was a child, I read an anthology called “The Spiritual Heritage of India,” it contained sections on all the great traditions, and sub-sections on many of the sects and systems within those traditions. And I read it from cover to cover. But I was convinced there was something wrong inside me, something broken in my mind. Literally. As the authors (a learned swami and a distinguished western academic) moved from one system to the next, they would painstakingly delineate the doctrinal differences between them. But as I was reading along, in my mind, each doctrinal difference was resolved in some mystical way, and I could see or perhaps more precisely I could feel how all of these systems, however seemingly contradictory, fit into each other and into some greater scheme.
It was distressing. The learned swami and the distinguished professor were showing me these sharp distinctions, but I experienced them all as if from inside, simple different facets of a single magnificent jewel. I really thought my mind was hopelessly broken.
But that was a long time ago. The deeper I go, the farther I travel, the longer I live, the all pervading power and revelatory truth of the Divine Paradox become more and more clear to me.
So, back to my young friend who asked, “Well, what about oneness and evolution, which is it?”
Someone might say that it’s one or the other, and offer some convincing proof, but it would be both a limited and limiting answer. It would also be a false answer, really. Now someone else might say, well, there’s a oneness and there is evolution, but the evolution is somehow already part of the oneness, or something like that; so what they are really saying is that “evolution” only seems to be what it is, but that is actually sort of goes away inside this greater notion of the oneness. So, in the end, this really saying there is only the oneness. It is just a sneakier way to say it.
But the Divine Paradox lays it all out differently, and leads us to a much more intense experience, a much more dynamic and open-ended experience. And in that dialogue with my young friend, I was able to offer an answer that drew on one of the foundational elements of our teacher training.
Consider the “Six Actions,” I suggested. There’s rooting and rising, there’s internally rotating and externally rotating, there’s harnessing and expanding. These are so much more than just pairs of opposites. And in each instance of their application, there is both either/or AND opposites engaged.
For example, in Downward Dog, we are rooted through our spread fingers and palms pressing into the mat, but we are also rising upward with our pelvis; but there’s even more, because within our outstretched arms, we are internally rotating the forearm while externally rotating the upper arm. And it is this dynamic engagement of opposites that creates the energetic reality of downward dog, revealing its truth and unlocking its power. So, now, which is it, evolution or oneness? Well, what if it is both? That is where your power comes from, that is where your truth comes from.
Once you are willing to embrace and engage with the Divine Paradox, once you are OK with it, once you are satisfied that the inherent contradictions are not an intellectual problem to be resolved, but an energetic paradigm to plug into, then you are going to really surprise yourself on this path.
I saw it as I journeyed deep into Jnani Yoga, I saw it as I journeyed deep into Bhakti Yoga, I saw it as I journeyed deep into Karma Yoga. So I supposed I was not really all that surprised when I came upon it in Hatha and Tantra Yoga. No, I was not surprised. But I was delighted.
|With Joe Miller, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, circa 1980s|
Joe Miller, my Yoda, said he wasn’t a “teacher.”
Nevertheless, over the decades, powerful Rinpoches came from Tibet to meet him, and called him a “Lama” and a “Tulku,” powerful Sufi leaders came from the East to meet him, and called him a “Murshid” (“master”) and a “Madzoub” (“madman of God”), great Zen teachers came from Japan and elsewhere to meet him, and called him a “Roshi,” important “Hindu” leaders came from India to meet him and called him a “Swami.” Although he had never sought titles, many of them had been bestowed on him. Still, he refused to use any of them in his mission.
When pressed, he would simply, e.g., “I am just your friend. If you feel anything it’s your own damn fault. You have to do it for you. Nobody else can do it for you.” Of course, there is precedent for this down through the ages. But, as with the true impact of the great female saints and mystics, the impact of great beings that did not take on the formal role of “teacher” is not easy to gauge. Evidence of both of important strains has been largely obscured, and for the same reason, male monks in hierarchical orders have written most of the sacred histories.
What Hari Das Baba Told Me
Hari Das Baba, the great Ashtanga teacher who founded Mount Madonna, was one of those great teachers who had met Joe, and recognized him as someone who had unlocked life’s secrets.
He was a dear friend of Joe and his wife Guin. He visited them, and they visited him.
On a couple of occasions, over the years Joe dispatched me down to Mount Madonna to carry some message to Hari Das. On one of such occasions, toward the end of Joe’s life, I asked Hari Das why Joe always insisted he wasn’t a teacher. Now, as you may know, Hari Das had taken a vow of silence many years earlier. And so he communicated via a small handheld blackboard and a piece of chalk.
He took in my question for a moment, and then responded: “In life, we have many teachers. [Then he wiped it clean, and wrote again.] Our parents are teachers. In school, we have teachers. [Then he wiped it clean, and wrote again.] Life itself is a teacher. [Then he wiped it clean, and wrote again.] From time to time, there are record-breakers, Joe was a record-breaker.”
What Irina Tweedie’s Teacher Told Her …
Irina Tweedie, the author and Sufi teacher, was also a friend of Joe and Guin.
She went on the Millers’ weekly walk in Golden Gate Park. She spoke at the Theosophical Society Lodge. She visited the Millers in their flat. She corresponded with them.
Joe was very fond of Tweedie’s first book, Chasm of Fire: A Woman’s Experience of Liberation Through the Teachings of A Sufi Master. On page 78, Tweedie’s teacher tells her, “the possible relationships between guru and disciple are: firstly, lover and Beloved – lovers in fact, this is mostly practiced in tantra yoga; secondly, [parent] and child; thirdly, master and obedient disciple; fourthly, friends.”
So you don’t have to play at the guru-based yoga model. You could simply establish yourself as a teacher of yoga technology (i.e., someone who has gone through the requisite training and has a technical understanding) on the mat, and a spiritual friend off the mat.
Try it, and you just might find that you like it. Furthermore, I am confident you will find that many from the generation coming of age at this time, and from those generations that will be coming in over this next seventy years or so, will resonate with this bold, and liberating stance.
Sam Harris Minds and Marianne Williamson Minds (Slide 24)
I resonate with the elephant god Ganesh, and with Krishna “the cowboy (Gopala) whose mother is bliss (Devaki Nandana),” and with Shiva the mountain who lays down so that Sakti can walk all over him, and yes, I have a direct personal relationship with Great Triune Goddess, in several of her aspects, including Durga, the Green Tara, Our Lady of Gaudalupe, and particularly with her dark side, Pele, the Morrigan, Kali Ma and the Blue Tara.
But I also understand that the gods and goddesses are metaphors for various energies, and that the myths surrounding them are stories we tell ourselves.
Yes, these metaphors and stories carry vital technical information. But still, stripped of religiosity, yoga can deliver. Atheists can “fall awake,” indeed, it might even be easier … I don’t mean yoga stripped of its mystical engine, I just mean yoga stripped of the trappings of religiosity. That’s one of the reasons I am always sounding out new language and fresh metaphors fresh language.
This will be increasingly important in the era that is dawning. The established social religions, those carried over from the patriarchal age, will either undergo a radical reformation (keying in on their essential, original truths) or they will be marginalized (yes, even Buddha Dharma). It is a generational challenge. If you want to reach the creators of our future you are going to have to step beyond much of the language of the previous two millennia.
Science is a natural ally to this endeavor, so is Shamanism, in very different although related ways, because both draw on nature, both reaffirm our place in the natural world, and both tune into the mystical dimensions of the natural world. (Yes, I mean to say that science taps into the mystical. Physics, biology, etc. all arrive at awe and wonder soon enough.)
Yoga is a technology, it speaks for itself; it does not require the trappings of particular theology. Why not offer a yogic technology that is as accessible to a Sam Harris mind as it is to a Marianne Williamson mind.
|Richard Power - "Human Incarnation - Flame of Divine Being,"|
User's Guide to Human Incarnation: Yoga of Primal Reality, p. 95
There is a generic explanation of what the yogic path is and how meditation works. This explanation has been repeated by rote so often that is has taken on a life of its own. In many classes, workshops and trainings, it is all you will ever hear about the philosophy of yoga. (This is not true in the best of classes, workshops or trainings, of course, but it is true even in some of the better if not best.)
In this generic explanation, there is an overemphasis on the chakra system, the third eye and formal seated meditation. The explanation often includes a story about how “Kundalini” and its supposed “pathway” up the spine from Muladhara (i.e., root chakra) to Sahasrara (i.e., crown chakra).
Another component is frequent reference to the fact that Patanjali mentions “asana” in only three verses of the Yoga Sutras (Chap. II v. 29, v. 46-47). The conclusion drawn is that the role of “asana” is simply to prepare us for “meditation,’ which always formal and seated.
Context for the Chakras
The chakra system is real, and important, yes, but if it is taught in isolation, it gives a false impression that our spiritual infrastructure is no more than a vertically hung string of multi-colored Chinese lanterns, which can only be lit one by one, and from the lowest to the highest.
We have five bodies, five “sheaths” (“Koshas”). All five occupy the same space. They are not like those little Russian dolls, each one with a smaller one inside. If you want to envision them as one inside the other, it would be more insightful to view them with the bliss body (Anandamaya Kosha) as the periphery and the physical body (Annamaya Kosha) as the center rather than the other way around.
Inside the eco-system of each human incarnation, there is a great system of meridians (e.g., the “Kidney/Bladder” and “Spleen/Stomach” networks), numerous powerful rivers through which the Ch’i (a.k.a. Prana) flows throughout the bodies from head to toe and back again.
Also, within the eco-system of each human incarnation, there are five great storms of Prana (a.k.a., Ch’i) that are perpetually moving in five different directions, drenching every part of our bodies; these are the Vayus, (e.g., Apana Vayu, moving downward, as experienced in Uttanasana, or Samana Vayu, moving in a circular fashion in the middle of the body, as experienced in Malasana).
Third Eye Civilization
In regard to the Third Eye (a.k.a Ajna Chakra), well, we live in the Third Eye civilization really, a mind world, wherein most of the time our attention is fixated at that center, scanning, processing, taking it all in from all five senses, but in particular seeing, and conceptualization (i.e., mental seeing). It’s not an awakened Third Eye, but it certainly is an active one.
To touch on the Third Eye any more than lightly, in passing, is to reinforce the somnambulism in which we are all walking around. Much better, in my view, to move the attention down into the belly or the heart or up into the crown, vital powerful centers in which we do not spend nearly enough conscious time.
And in terms of the Third Eye itself, I suggest exploring it as part of a greater whole, along with the crown, rather than in isolation. This is a more expansive experience, one that cultivates vastness.
Not A Straight Line and A Goal
So much has been written about Kundalini and its supposed “pathway” up the spine from the Muladhara to the Sahasrara; ponderous tomes, Eastern and Western, centuries old, decades old, extolling powers real and imagined, warnings of dangers real and imagined.
I really don’t want to add to or subtract much from any of it. Except to say that the yogi isn’t an oil rigger drilling for a gusher or snake charmer coaxing a cobra out of basket and into a dance.
This so-called “Kundalini” seems like the Loch Ness Monster, if she wanted to be found she would be. And whatever this spiritual quest really is, one thing it is not is a straight line and a goal.
Why not just take a gentle-indrawn breath into the space BEHIND the heart chakra (i.e., Anahata), into the blazing white lotus hidden there (i.e., Hridaya), and as you breathe, feel this space expand beyond itself to envelope the whole of the universe, and then you are cradling it, rocking it back and forth between your inhales and your exhales. Infinite space = unconditional love = infinite space. If you commit to this experience, you will discover that she who some call “Kundalini” has her own natural way of announcing herself within you.
No, she doesn’t slither up your spine (although all slithering is lovely); instead, she spirals outward from the space of that blazing white lotus behind and to the right of the heart chakra, in ever widening gyres until she turns on and opens up ALL of you.
Patanjali is Not the Alpha and/or the Omega
In many yoga classes (although not all yoga classes), there is a brief segment set aside for a formal seated meditation of some kind, typically 3-5 minutes in length, usually toward the end of the class, after the active poses and much of the finishing sequence, but before Sravasana (i.e., corpse).
Much is made of the oft-cited fact that the term “asana” is only mentioned three times in all Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Chap. II v. 29, v. 46-47). In these three references, Patanjali makes it clear that asana is only a preparation for meditation.
By meditation, of course, he means formal seated meditation.
But the human experience of the 21st Century is radically different than that of Patanjali’s era, and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, yoga itself as evolved beyond the yoga of Patanjali’s era. Now by “beyond” I don’t mean superior to it, I just mean different from it, i.e., yoga has adapted, yes, it has evolved and adapted to meet us where we are in this time, and in these circumstances.
In the 21st Century, asana is more than preparation for meditation; in the 21st Century, asasa is meditation, movement is meditation. Yes, whether you are in stillness or movement, you are in what should be acknowledged, cultivated and experienced as meditation.
Don’t just “meditate” for five minutes within an hour or hour and a half yoga class, meditate for duration, as you flow from one asana to another, and as you settle into one asana after another. Yes, as you breathe, as you free yourself of thought patterns and move across the slippery slopes of emotional release, all the way through your practice, you are in meditation.
This is a different perspective, but it certainly isn't mine alone.
Consider the views of great Judith Hanson Lasater:
“In our Western culture of the late twentieth century asana has taken on a different face from what Patanjali would probably recognize … Traditionally, many teachers have taught that the main value of asana is to prepare the body for meditation by creating a strong back and supple legs so that the disciple can sit still for long periods of time. From this teaching comes the belief that asanas are ‘lower’ or not as ‘spiritual’ as meditation. But I feel the practice of asana has an even greater potential in the West. We may be captured at first by the lure of flexibility and strength, but we stay for another reason. Scientists are continuing to ‘discover’ the pathways of connection between mind and body; in fact, some even say there is virtually no separation. Yogis were aware, I believe, of this connection thousands of years ago and the asanas honor this connection. When we practice asana we honor that connection as well. But in the end we stay with the practice of yoga asana because it is a powerful non-verbal expression of the sacred.”
Furthermore, although in the traditional yogic view, asana is just preparation for formal seated mediation, in truth, formal seated meditation itself is just a preparation for the most powerful, most efficacious, most desperately important practice of all, engaging the ordinary mind as you move about in the course of your daily life: in the midst of the marketplace, in the midst of your household, in the midst of your commute, in the midst of your own endlessly spinning projections and dreaming streaming out along the vectors of everyday experience, IMMERSED in Samsara, and seemingly at the whim of “monkey mind.” Do not misunderstand me. Formal seated meditation is a powerful and efficacious practice, yes, its an important practice, but it does not lead us to where we are going. Dancing with our own minds, as we move along those wild vectors of everyday experience - that is what leads us to where we are going. The goal of getting on the mat or the meditation pillow to practice is stepping off the mat or pillow with continuity of inner and outer alignment.
This brings us to Chapter 4 of the Yoga Sutras, the title of which is typically rendered as “Final Liberation” in English. In Chapter 4, Patanjali speaks of "Kaivalaya." It is a synonym for "Nirvana." And like "Nirvana" it is often "explained" in a limited and misleading way. (Not Patanjali's fault!) For example, much is made of the fact that the root for "Kaivalaya" is "kevala" (or "isolated"). Therefore, you will sometimes read that "Kailayva" refers to the withdrawal of Purusha (spirit) from Prakriti (matter), or some such nonsense. But "Kaivalaya" is not at all about separation. It is no more about "isolation" in that sense than "Nirvana" is about "extinction." "Isolation" and "extinction" are only half of the indescribable truth to which terms such as "Kaivalya"/"Nirvana" elude; the other half reveals the otherwise indescribable truth to be, YES, yet another aspect of the divine paradox. Although this truth is sublimely referenced in Chapter 4 of the Yoga Sutras (in all its divinely paradoxical nature), it is stated so subtly that only those with eyes to hear and ears to see can catch it.
The Yoga Sutras is not the Alpha and/or the Omega of practice. It is simply the last will and testament of a great yogi. But in it, he left you an inheritance. You, personally. Invest it wisely. In experiential knowledge. Travel the world within you. Follow the current upstream to the glacier lakes of Jnani Yoga. Descend into the molten depth of the Bhakti Yoga volcano. Slip away into the savagely beautiful jungle of Tantra. There is so much to live for ... so much to savor ...
And yet, as Patanjali remarks in 4:31 - TADAA SARVA AVARANAM-ALAAPETASYA GNAANASYA ANANTYA AJJNEYAM ALPA. Which says something like once all the veils are torn away, and the Infinite is experienced in its nakedness, there is almost nothing to be known.
(I am inclined to add, "But much to be celebrated.")
Yoga and Humanifest Destiny (Slide 28)
Yoga is a powerful range of technologies that has come to us from our ancient future.
Loosed from its moorings, Yoga is evolving in new ways.
And as a vital element of the emerging global wisdom tradition, it is making a significant contribution to the evolutionary leap that must be taken.
Yoga is a path of falling awake, a path of healing and a path of embodiment.
Yoga of Primal Reality (Slide 29)
I call the context within which I work the Yoga of Primal Reality
It incorporates the InnerYoga approach, and reflects the influence of several styles, including Ashtanga, Yin Yoga and Tantric Hatha Flow.
I teach a free weekly class in downtown San Francisco. Contact me for more details.
I also conduct privates and lead workshops.
-- Richard Power
My new (ninth) book User's Guide to Human Incarnation, The Yoga of Primal Reality is available now from Amazon.com.
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