Category Archives: Raja yoga

The 52: Lesson Forty Three — Tapas: The Flame of Change

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butterflyblueskyTapas.  Ah!  Spanish food!  But no, this is not the kind you eat at a Spanish restaurant — all those delicious “small” plates of food. But, in another way,  this kind of tapas is food too.  It is food for your soul and your eternal being.  In tapas, one might say we are “cooked” into something new.  We are “cracked open” so a greater understanding can emerge.

Tapas is a Sanskrit word that describes yet another of the niyamas, the ethical practices as set out in classic yoga philosophy.  It is a guideline to help us live in the world while still embracing the spiritual essence of our own being.  Most of us are not monks or hermits, living apart from everyday life.  We need systems of support along the way.  Thus, we have the eight limbs of yoga.  And, thus, we have tapas.

LESSON FORTY THREE

TAPAS —  THE FLAME OF CHANGE AND ENTHUSIASM

The word, tapas, has been described in a variety of ways.  Some say it is a fire that burns within and fosters wisdom, integrity, simplicity, and focus. Others laud its ability to trigger enthusiasm and excitement pushing us ever more to release all distractions and bring us through the flames to a place of deep balance and tranquility.  Others explain tapas as that which kindles the flame of the divine within us and burns away all impurities.  All of these describe the richness that is tapas.  

It is useful to think of the practice of tapas when we are in the midst of crisis, change, and pain.  When it seems that some sort of catharsis is occurring and pressing us into a sometimes dramatic change.  When something within us is being burned away so that a new version of ourselves may appear. For myself personally, a few years ago my path took me into a place of deep loss and fear, It was a falling away from what I thought I had been.  Something new was struggling to make itself known — a new “me” in effect.  It felt like being burned up until I could see the debris was melted away, and I was glad to see it go.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Khalil Gibran

Pain and loss are not uncommon in the physical world and while we are residing there, even in it as a dream, our feathers get ruffled.  Staying steadfast in our beliefs is a powerful means of unearthing the “pearl” within the shell.  Sometimes we become so immersed in this play of grief, self-pity, anger, and other emotions, that it is hard to catch the spiritual drift.  Swami Muktananda wrote:

The secret to success in sadhana (spiritual practices) is to use everything to our advantage.

There are legions of stories about those who have turned tragedy into enlightened experiences.  Take, for example St. John of the Cross in his writings in The Dark Night of the Soul. His suffering carried him into the arms of the Divine.  Or consider the response of Ram Dass, a contemporary teacher on the spiritual path who, much to his surprise, “suffered” a stroke some years ago, leaving him quite debilitated physically.  Yet this experience of “fierce grace,” as he called it, resulted in his naming his experience as “being stroked” by God.

Don’t be mistaken, it is my wish that none of us are so “blessed” as to reach deep levels of pain, but perhaps we can begin to see that the fire that consumes the forest makes way for new shoots to spring from the soil.  It is a form of re-birth that allows the Divine within each of us to shine in the light of day.

These ideas may help you better understand tapas:

  • When you are confronted with levels of fear, pain, or loss, what might you do to “ground” yourself?  Would it help for you to take a walk, listen to some music, do yoga poses, watch your breath, meditate, read a book that makes you laugh?  What about praying, asking for guidance and strength?  Or reading some passages that help you remember who you are?
  • Using affirmations can bring a lift.  Saying “I love myself completely NOW,” can be helpful in giving something positive for the mind to give focus, and breaking a pattern of negative thinking.
  • Can you remember times when you felt lost and afraid?  Do you remember how long this lasted?  Did something else arise to replace that experience?  Can you recall in any way that those feelings and emotions were constantly changing, yet you, the real you, was still there, unchanging.  Are you able to see that you made it through and came out stronger?
  • Try thinking of ways that sustain you and keep you steady, when you are not in the eye of the storm.  If you devote more to those habits, like eating good, healthy food, caring for your body, finding coping mechanisms for stress, taking time to go inward, laughing, giving love and forgiveness to yourself and others, they will be “set” in your everyday life.  All of these build up strength for times of duress and flame the fires of joy and happiness within us.

Remember that tapas builds enthusiasm, and “fires us up” for confronting whatever may arrive in our lives.  So let the multiple meanings of tapas enrich your life in new and surprising ways.  We are all in this together, walking hand in hand, on the path that guides us to Eternal Love.

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more information, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

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The 52: Lesson Thirty Five — Simplify Your Life with Non-Possessiveness

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butterflyblueskyAPARIGRAHA

Never heard of this word?  Unless you are a student of yoga, that is likely so. Yet, as one of the many layers or limbs we study  to bring our life into a place of peace — something classic yoga does very well — it is an extraordinary practice to know.

Aparigraha is a Sanskrit word that is defined as non-possessiveness.  Grouped with the many other yamas which we have thus far explored, it is meant to guide us as we live in the world, in our bodies, surrounded by so much that we might desire.  If you look back at the previous posts on the yamas, you will see that there is a symmetry with them.  They work hand in hand to offer points of wisdom.  With all the many objects and experiences that seem to reach out to us, from all directions, it is a relief to know how to let go of them.

Bear in mind that this does not mean that the goal is to live in a cave, without possessions, engulfed in full-time meditation (which some, in fact, do choose).  It means to live in a non-grasping, greedless, non attached state.  We can certainly enjoy all the benefits that the world offers yet remain apart from them and not needing them to define us.

LESSON THIRTY FIVE

NON-POSSESSIVENESS

The renowned yoga master and teacher, B.K.S Iyengar, wrote this:

By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible

and trains his mind not to feel the loss or lack of anything.

Then everything he needs is welcome to him by itself at the proper time.

I admit that this is a practice that has posed great challenges for me.  While it is easy for me to be mostly detached from items of luxury and status, I have in many times of my life been attached to experiences like traveling all around the world, sampling the foods from the most new and trendy restaurants, developing a familiarity with the arts on many levels — going to museums and symphonies and films.  It took a long time for me to recognize that I was chasing my tail.  There would always be another exotic location to see, another restaurant to try, another movie to view.  I slowly began to recognize how futile it was to keep trying to be “in the know.”  I began to that it was the game of the ego.

But that is not all!  I do not part with memorabilia easily.  I have yet to clean out all those boxes in my attic, even though I have not looked in many of them for years.  I am a perfect candidate for taking a course in simplicity of possessions.  And books are my greatest attachment!  I need to wear blinders when I walk into a bookstore.  At least I can see some humor in these traits and do not ever use this as a means for self-criticism.  All that “stuff” is there, and I tell myself, I live in simple ways on other levels.

As I believe that everything is part of Divine Consciousness, even those musty boxes, and that everything unfolds with purpose and at just the right time, I take it easy on myself.  Enjoying my life without attachment, I say.

So I write these words for myself:

  • What are you capable of releasing and letting go?  What would happen if you did not own this or did not do that?
  • Can you fully appreciate and care deeply for what you have in your life, while “packing”  lightly?
  • Is it possible to imagine how much freedom you have when you are not in the throws of desires and perceived needs?
  • Try this:  When you are on the verge of something to purchase, take a few breaths and see if the desire (which may be emanating from the ego) will begin to detach.
  • Do you know when you are clinging to something?
  • Finally, whatever your answers on all of this, it matters that you still experience kindness and unconditional love for yourself. Always!

This is really all about letting our lives become more simple and peaceful and learning how to truly enjoy what we have in a way that shines with the Light of Truth.

Now, I think I better start unpacking those boxes in the attic today.  Oh, there is time tomorrow… (That’s just a little bit of a joke.)

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more writings, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Thirty One – Are You YOU, Wherever You Go?

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butterflyblueskyOkay.  I know I am paraphrasing Jon Kabat-Zinn, who famously said “Wherever you go, there you are.”  In fact he wrote an important book with this same title.  His words are wise.

Don’t we often think that WE would be different if something around us would be different? Oh, if only I lived in Paris (or New York or India or Montana — fill in the blank).  Or, if only I had a more understanding spouse, partner, mother, child (fill in again).  Or, if only I had the time to study meditation or get my M.B.A. or take a vacation.  You get the picture!  If only . . . The grass is always greener, isn’t it?

Or what about this?  I am my most authentic, honest self only under certain circumstances.  It emerges when I am with  like-minded people.  But are you the same one with your co-workers, your “superiors,”  your in-laws, your children, your parents, with all your friends?

LESSON THIRTY ONE

ARE YOU YOU, WHEREVER YOU GO ?

Many years ago, I was teaching a yoga class at a health club.  This how it was when yoga was not on every corner.  There were step classes next door and people gazing through the glass to see what this weird thing, yoga, was.  One of my students, who I now realize was actually, (how can I put it?) really realized, as in enlightened, arrived at class early.  I casually said to her, knowing that she had spent a lot of time in an ashram in India with a very famous guru, “Oh, it must have been so much easier to have peace and quiet and practice yoga in such a place.”  I remember that she laughed a kind but hearty (filled with heart) laugh and told me that it is the same everywhere.  I did not have a clue what she was talking about. How could that be? How could it be the same, in an ashram filled with silence, incense, meditating people as in a noisy, sweaty, muscle flexing health club?

But now I know it is true!

Some time ago, I returned from a weekend program at The Omega Institute in the rolling hills of Rhinebeck, New York.  In the United States, it is considered a venerable place for learning, a kind of spiritual summer camp.  The place overflows with synchronicity, with energies of past and present teachers of Divine Love, with cross-overs on all spiritual paths.  Hundreds of us were there to bask in the place and learn something new.

It was intriguing to hear one person after another say how happy they were to be with others who were open to whatever they were seeking.  Over and over I heard the comment: “When I am at home, I almost never talk to others about this” — or that (whatever their focus on the path of growing)  “They just wouldn’t understand.”  Such is the pity.  So they were different at home.  But at Omega, it was a safe environment.  They could simply BE.

Yet even there, just like the most sacred locations in any part of the world, emerged  the ego identities we hoped had we left behind.  There were those who complained, who brought their “baggage” with them, who found fault — they struggled to BE something new or different, but it was not so easy.  I don’t say this in judgement but as a witness.  I know to the depth of my being, that EVERYONE is the Divine Light of Truth and Love, steeped in compassion, gratitude,  and forgiveness.  That is the core that we can rely on, no matter where we are.

I don’t pretend that remembering this all the time is easy.  It takes a measure of trust and courage to be congruent at all times.  I try my best but do not always succeed.  I do see improvement however…

This helps me. I hope it will help you:

  • Is it possible for you to witness yourself, as if you could stand aside and watch your own behavior in an impartial yet kind and loving way? This can lead to a better awareness of who you are being at different times.
  • When you know in advance that you may be in situations that will challenge your sense of Self, can you take a few moments to settle into your core — taking a few breaths or meditating for a while or saying an affirmation like I love myself completely NOW?
  • Do you sometimes hear yourself say or do something that you know for sure is inauthentic?  Can you simply mentally put a check next to it to revisit the moment later, to see how and why you took that action?
  • Are you able to stay “light” regarding your behavior?  In other words, not replaying over and over again those times when you felt out of sync.
  • Finally, and only if this is not too astonishing to consider, can you believe that all unfolds with Divine Consciousness and that you are not the “doer?”  Is it possible for you to venture the thought that the world is actually a “play” or maya?

These lessons are meant to help us find ways to feel lighter and happier in the world.  When you operate from your own truth, you will feel better.  Your life will be more smooth and easy.

Imagine being able to say and be who you are wherever you go!  It may take a little time to get there, but it is worth it!

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson Twenty Eight — What Do Your Senses Tell You?

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Have you any idea how profound the sense of smell and taste can bebutterflybluesky?  Consider this:  When there are bad odors in the air, people drive very aggressively and car accidents increase in number.   Did you realize that, for most of us, when we are exposed to the scent of lavender, we experience a feeling of peace and calm.  Examples are numerous!

Did you know that the sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any of the other senses and that the response is immediate.  It goes straight to the place where emotion and memory is held.

So watch what you are breathing — and tasting…

In yoga, we learn to examine the world around us so that we better understand how we are internally influenced.  This is done in many ways, but, ultimately, we come to recognize that the “play” of the world does not define us.  We come to know who we are as beings of Light and Love,  but this is usually a process and does not happen overnight, even if we have recognized glimpses of Truth in an instantaneous fashion. Most of us need some help along the way, often in the form of lessons and steps.

The Eight Fold Path of Yoga is a complete system to bring us to awareness.  In this lesson, today, we complete one part of it.  It is called pratyahara. It is about learning to control the senses so that we can better focus on our True Self.  We need to first understand the subtle influence the senses have on us, how to work with them, and use them to enhance our lightness, happiness, and joy in living. We have already spent some time with the senses of sight, sound, and touch (in Lessons 7, 14, and 21, if you care to review).   Now we give attention to the remaining and more subtle two senses — smell and taste.  They are surprisingly powerful and may influence you much more than you might expect.

LESSON TWENTY EIGHT

THE SENSES OF SMELL AND TASTE

Whenever I smell cookies baking, I am back in my mother’s kitchen at Christmastime, seeing her open the oven, removing the cookies and placing them out to cool a little so that I can taste one while it is still warm.  Anytime I smell a fresh tomato, I remember picking them from my father’s large vegetable garden, of his explaining about ripe tomatoes, taking them into the house and eating them right away.  The scent of lavender reminds me to be calm and restful.  The smell of peppermint, even in the peppermint soap I sometimes use, energizes and lifts my spirit.  Whenever I have a taste of chili con carne, it is football season in my mind. The roses I just picked from my garden always brings a feeling of love, romance, and beauty. Some say that when you smell roses, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is near.

What about you?  What scents and tastes brings memories rushing into your awareness?

If the sense of smell were not so important, we would not have access to thousands of perfumes and colognes, to deodorant and breath mints and even Odor Eaters.  We are a smelling population.

I have grouped together the sense of smell and taste because they are closely aligned.    Have you ever noticed that your enjoyment of food may decline if you have a cold and stuffy nose.  Smell and taste work together.  Smell is known to be the most powerful and primitive of the senses.  It attaches to memory and emotion in a way that the others may not.  It bypasses thought process and brings memory alive. It is the only sense that moves directly into the brain (the hippocampus and amygdala) through the limbic system and bypasses routine thought evaluation.  Imagine the power!  If one loses the sense of smell, usually appetite declines and food “taste” is different.

Because these two senses are so tied to memory, emotion, and survival, here are a few ways to become more keenly aware of their influence:

  • Make a list (in your mind if you like) of those fragrances and foods you find pleasing.
  • When you respond in  negative manner to either sense or taste, take note.  Is a memory being tripped?  Can you find a way to avoid the experience?  Can your learn something of value from it?
  • If you know your mood and sense of enjoyment in life is enhanced by certain smells and tastes, consciously make them a habit .
  • If your routine requires that you be around smells and tastes that are unpleasant, how might you adjust your reaction to remain in a state of equilibrium and at ease.
  • Can you see that none of these senses actually alter who you are, at the core of your being? Yet they can enhance your life.

I remember hearing a story many years ago about a group of followers of a certain esteemed guru who took them on a “conscious” walk.  Their mission was to see everything as part of Divine Consciousness, of God.  As they strolled along the street, a bus passed them, emitting a black cloud of noxious exhaust.  Everyone reacted, finding it repulsive, harmful to the environment, irresponsible of the driver — except the guru.  She reminded them calmly that everything is part of the Divine  — even that.

So let all of your senses bask in Divine Light, even as you bring more knowledge of the senses into your everyday life.

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more, go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Bhakti = Love: Was This the Message of Shyamdas?

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butterflyblueskyI have been quite surprised and struck by the events of this week.

I had another blog written for this week.  It was all set to go. But I was driven to change it and instead wrote about Divine Love and Stephen/Shyamdas.    There seemed to be a dynamic energy pulsing at the Memorial/Celebration held for him last Saturday.  I felt compelled to share what I experienced as the bhakti lesson I wrote.

Anyway, I accept that I (me, Deanne) am not the “doer,” so if this is what unfolded, it was meant to be. And it came as a kind of gift.  It was not as if I knew Shyamdas very well.  Indeed, probably almost every one there knew him better than I, yet it felt like he spoke to me.  Call me goofy, if you like, but this is not an uncommon experience for me.  It has happened, always unexpectedly, on previous occasions, so I have come to recognize this sort of transmission/ mystical event when it happens.

Love is truly the message!  It is the reason we all gathered together, to share a love for Stephen/Shyamdas and/or for the family and friends who grieved for him.  Maybe that love was so great that the soul of Shyamdas could not contain himself.  After all, that is what bhaktis do, the love is so big it explodes in the heart.  Especially if you are a chanter, singer, musician, as Shyamdas was.  It becomes a living expression of that exuberant love.  I am familiar with this feeling — of tears of joy spontaneously falling, of feeling connected to everything and everyone with a purity of heart, and of feeling “home”  (as in hOMe) at last.

This then is a celebration of Love, of Divine Love.  Whatever brought that Love to a deeper and more vibrant level warrants my thankfulness and gratitude.  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

Now take a moment and look at the previous post. There are ideas you might try to enhance your own experience of Love  — for yourself and for all that it!

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more on “The 52” and other writings, please go to http://www.deannemincer.com

The 52: Lesson 25 — Truthfulness Makes for a Lighter and Happier You

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butterflyblueskyShakespeare wrote these words:

To thine own self, be true, and it must follow, as the night the day,

thou canst not then be false to any man.

Satya, a Sanskrit word,means truthfulness. It follows ahimsa, which means nonviolence. We focused on it in Lesson Nineteen.  Satya is the second practice we learn in the Yamas,  restraints or ethical guidelines on the path of yoga.  So, if you thought yoga was merely a bunch of unusual poses with the body, with some ways of breathing thrown in, you have missed the essence of yoga.

Yoga is and has always been, a spiritual path teaching us to love ourselves, to release the illusion of duality and to reach a state of union with Divine Love and Consciousness. Yoga is rich in its age-old wisdom.  The classic text, codified by a writer named Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras, offers a clear and brilliant road map for learning to live in the world but transcend it at the same time.

In this course of 52 weeks, I promised to show how yoga and other spiritual paths lead us to the awareness of the True Self, the eternal core of our being that is ever blissful.  This week, we introduce the concept of Truthfulness (Satya) and how you will be lighter and happier as your authentic self emerges more fully.

LESSON TWENTY FIVE

THE YAMAS:  TRUTHFULNESS (SATYA)

Can we be consistently truthful in all activities of our lives?  Is it possible that we are congruent in these three aspects — thought, word, and deed? In other words, do we have the courage and fortitude to be honest under all circumstances?  This is, for most of us, a very tall order.  You see, it goes beyond avoiding little white lies, it means being ourselves on all occasions.

When I first began practicing this “limb” of yoga, I actually thought it was about not lying.  I did not recognize the depth of meaning.  Then I heard people talk about the notion that, as Shakespeare said of being true to oneself, it meant being consistent under all circumstances.  People spoke of the dilemma of acting in one way with certain people and in another with others.  Which one was going to show up, depending on the company?  And further, if one projected a certain persona, then switched to another, how was it possible to remember which character was being played and with whom?  Putting on an act can be quite exhausting and confusing.  Better to be authentic in all environments.

The same goes for telling lies. It seems that some people are very adept at fabricating stories, not just on occasion, but almost all the time.  How they can keep track of their many stories confounds me, yet some are very good at it.  The concept of Truthfulness for them is unfathomable; it seems they are addicted to lying and often actually believe their stories.

Let’s consider some ways to analyze where we fit on the truthfulness scale.  Caution!  I am asking you to avoid turning this into a way to experience guilt or self-criticism.  We are witnessing who we are in a non-judgmental way; this is merely a  beginning point for making your life easier and more fulfilling.  A way to feel comfortable in your own skin.

  • When you are alone, are you a different person than the one who engages with others?  Can you accept and love yourself in every setting?
  • Do you find it necessary to play one role in certain company and another when with other people? If you do this, how does it feel when you are different from the one you are when you are alone?
  • Do you feel the need to stretch or alter the truth in your conversation?  If so, why?  How do you feel?
  • Do you think about who you should be, playing a role to be nice, but not necessarily real.  Do you make a habit of distorting or silencing yourself to please others? (This was one of my challenges.  Many women, myself included, are people pleasers.  I learned this early in my life.)
  • Are you able to speak truth in uncomfortable situations while still remembering to engage non-violence and compassion? Do you think before you speak so that what you say does no harm to another?  (Pausing, taking a breath, and witnessing yourself are all helpful.)
  • On the subject of lying — do you find that you have difficulty being truthful about who you are and how you behave?  Can you honestly evaluate yourself without placing harsh judgments at the same time?

Give yourself time to ponder these thoughts.  It may not be easy, but I promise you that it is worthwhile.

When I began writing this blog and sharing my beliefs and my personal life as a yogi, I knew that I was making a break through into Truthfulness. Still, I sometimes felt vulnerable and worried about the response to so clearly stating these ideas.  I knew that some of my friends had little awareness of what I really believe.  So this has been an adventure into exposing my authentic self, and it has been liberating.

I hope that you too will feel this liberation.  It is, I think, a courageous act and very worthwhile. And, best of all, you will learn to love yourself even more in the process.

If you have comments or questions or have insights during this process, I am here to help!

With love and namaste, Deanne

For more writings, go to http://www.deannemincer.com