“Don Juan had always said to me that our great enemy is the fact that we never believe what is happening to us… when we finally realize what is going on it is usually too late to turn back. He contended that it is always the intellect that fools us, because it receives the message first, but rather than giving it credence and acting on it immediately, it dallies with it instead.”
Carlos Castaneda

The Second Ring of Power

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 4 Sutra 34

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A couple of days ago I had a conversation with a caring relative who was worried about me / for me. She was referring to an unpleasant period I had gone through recently. She asked if I considered seeking professional/medical help and suggested that medication may be helpful. I replied that I did not consider that an option. I believe that the widely available medical view subscribes to a value system that is different then mine – it seeks and sees illness, it applies analytical understanding, it isolates and then it fixes. I suppose that these values may be useful in extreme life-threatening situations. But these values are blind and useless (at best) when it comes to well being. At any rate – these are qualities that I do not want in my life.

Today I came across this wonderful quote posted by Shulamit which expressed my feelings about what professional care could be (and usually isn’t):

“The only thing I think we have to offer someone else is our own centredness, our own being all right, and knowing beyond a doubt that they’re all right. If I know that about myself in a way that lets me know that about everyone, I speak with true authority, in the sense of knowing what is so. But if I don’t have that experience of being all right, if I am afraid for you because I am afraid for me, all I have to offer you is my fear. “Maybe if you quit drinking…” or “Why don’t you try such-and-such?” That all comes from my own fear.

I think it’s disrespectful of someone else’s life process to assume that they are inadequate to their experience. It would be good to follow that back and see how I am simply projecting my own fear of inadequacy onto them. I simply cannot know about someone else’s life… The contribution I can make is to clean up what’s mine… I can’t remove the obstacles to your path, but I can avoid putting things in your way… I this way to do I most deeply vow to train myself.”

Cheri Huber, Good Life: A Zen precepts retreat

The quote is so complete I do not care to make any commentary on it. I do wish to suggest that it applies inside (self-help) as well as it does outside (for lack of a better term – “helping” others).

One of the early teachings I was given and carry with me is of the relationship between Cit and Citta – the idea that there is something (Cit) that comes before mind (Citta), something that is eternal, something that can “see” mind – a “see-er”. I looked this up in the Yoga Sutra – and I found many references to Citta (mind) – but I was surprised that I could not find a clear instance of Cit (that which is eternal and “knows” mind). There are however numerous instances of the word “Purusa” which Desikachar translates as the “Perceiver”.

Of all the instances I would like to relate to one – the last sutra in the Yoga Sutra – chapter  4 sutra 34:

“When the highest purpose of life is achieved the three basic qualities do not excite responses in the mind. That is freedom. In other words, the Perceiver is no longer colored by the mind.”

(Translation by TKV Desikachar from “Heart of Yoga”)

The three basic qualities refers to the three Gunas (Tamas, Rajas & Sattva). They are like waves which we ride-out in life. Our senses tell mind that we are “happy” or “depressed”. When our perception is bound to mind we take what the senses report as real and true.

But inside us there is a “Perceiver” that is seeing a bigger picture. It is sitting high up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean – looking down at mind as it tossed around by the waves of life.

  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are riding high on a powerful wave and that mind calls it “happiness”.
  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are under stormy water struggling for breath and that mind calls it “depression”.
  • This Perceiver can see that sometimes we are floating peacefully in a tranquil ocean without any distraction and that sometimes the mind looks up and even sees the Perceiver seeing it.

The “Perceiver” is “centeredness”  – is it that which is always all-right and always knows it. It is the “Perceiver” in me that said to me “everything is all-right, this wave will also pass, hang in there” when I was literally struggling to breath. It is the “Perceiver” in me that corrects misperceptions that assail mind from internal (self) and external (others) criticisms. It is the “Perceiver” that guides me to right action and keeps me from wrong action (making things worse).

Just as it is “disrespectful of someone else’s life process to assume that they are inadequate to their experience” – it it also disrespectful that “I” assume that “I” am inadeqaute to my own experience. That assumption is rooted in ignorace and a limited perspective. There is nothing in me that needs fixing except for that ignorant and limited perception – and that cannot “be fixed” – it can only mend itself (given supportive settings). This is the “end-game” of Yoga.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-04

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Subtly Not Present

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I felt that my obvious lack of presence in making coffee yesterday morning was a great preparation fot this post. On-the-mat, wondering presence can be more subtle and bringing attention to it a rewarding practice. I recently “caught” myself being not present in a very subtle way during a sequence of back-bends – and I thought to share it as a real-life example instead of writing some theoretical post about the subject.

Though it’s not my practice sequence – this is what a typical back-bending sequence may look like. It is a vinyasa (gradual progression) of back-bend variations (note to myself: do a post on the subtle aspects of back-bends!).

I teach and practice such sequences with a rest between each variation. A resting position would be legs and arms in a relaxed position and the head resting on the floor, turned sideways to one side (alternating the position of the head in each rest – to keep an overall centered exprience).

When I am present in the practice, I complete a variation and simply lay my head to one side. When I am not totally present in the practice I start thinking about the resting position before I finish the last round of movement. As I a moving back down towards the floor I am thinking about what the position of my head should be. If it’s the first asana in the sequence I may find myself debating on which side I should place my head in the first rest (keeping in my obsessive mind that this first choice affects the entire sequence) . My mind has left the posture while my body is still in it.

It’s relatively easier to catch mind wondering off when it makes larger fumbles like losing count, forgetting where you are in a sequence, losing balance or just plain shopping around worries and preoccupations of life. Smaller excursions are more subtle and deviant. Catching them is a more subtle practice.

Have you noticed what your mind likes to do when you practice?

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Passion Fruit

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Shortly after we moved into this house (~18 months ago) we planted two passion-fruit plants to cover two cement columns that stood on our porch. One of them didn’t take hold – the other has grown quite … passionately. We helped it work it’s way up the column and now it has finally reached the wire that will lead it across to the other column.

Disclosure: I helped it to grab hold of the wire – but it’s been holding on … passionately … ever since 🙂

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Obviously Not Present

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For a few days now I’ve been carrying around an unwritten post about a subtle aspect of being present in Yoga asana practices. A few minutes ago I was gifted with an amusing incident which gave the post the context I was looking for.

This morning has been peaceful. I have not yet engaged “work” on the computer. It began with a cup of tea and quiet reading, then an asana practice followed by tortilla breakfast with Andreea. I then sat down to review a series of images I took a few days ago. I was happy to find some images I really like.

Excited and content with the images on my screen I left the computer to make a cup of coffee. I prepared the coffe-pot and put a cup with milk to heat in the microwave. 93 seconds later the microwave beeped – I took the cup out and found it’s empty! I laughed outloud and went to show Andreea my “warm cup of milk”. My mind was obviously not present in making coffee – I was with the images and with some thoughts that were moving inside me.

I went back to the kitchen and took out another cup (the first one was hot and I set it aside to cool)… AND AGAIN … I placed it in the microwave without any milk. This time I caught myself before pressing the activate button on the microwave – I guess you can say I was improving 🙂

This is the nature of mind. It’s not something that needs “fixing”, but it does need to be recognized and appreciated.

Stay tuned for a subtle aspect of not being present 🙂

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