Monday, November 28, 2016

Experiencing the Fruit of the Practice, Here and Now

            In this first post, I would like to invite you to experience the full fruit of Yoga practice, here and now. All too often in our culture, we experience life as a series of hurdles and goals we must tackle in order to feel any sense of value. This is all too true in Yoga culture as well. This isn’t merely a western phenomena, though in the west it has taken on new dimensions as the practice has been dissected and commodified within the marketplace. We find ourselves experiencing a world of Yoga as achievement-oriented sport, or as a heroic spiritual path, wherein the practitioner is ever seeking “higher states”, ever deemed inadequate in ones own skin, with no value toward the embodied life existing right now. We are to often encouraged to ever looking outward, or turn inward into a space that still can seem so out of reach, couched in beautiful but sometimes overwrought and unattainable cultural imagery, and all of this can turn into a truly torturous process. There is certainly some joy and thrill in peak experiences, and imagery and ritual can be a truly lovely experience, but all too often the stories and contortions of the practice contain hidden pitfalls that leave us ever hungering for more knowledge, flexibility, strength, insight, clairvoyance, or a different body, such as a “Yoga butt”, whatever that is.
The real shame here, but also the beautiful gift, is that all this seeking truly isn’t necessary. The real experience of yoga, deep connection to oneself and the universe, is always available, here and now. Further, it doesn’t have to be some big deal. Just because a dramatic peak experience isn’t happening, this doesn’t devalue your experience right now. If you connect to your life, through a simple and clear practice, through your interactions with family and friends, and are present for it, then you are experiencing yoga; you are experiencing the fullness of the path.
The really really good news is that you can’t avoid the here and now, no matter what you do. You don’t have to make yourself be present. You always are. Your feet are always on the ground, even if you aren’t currently attentive to the fact. Giving up the quest for more, better, and elsewhere can be a huge gift to yourself, because you have the opportunity to relax and enjoy where you are, whether it be doing yoga, driving in rush hour traffic, playing video games, making love, or creating a work of art. So, please lay off yourself a little bit. Enjoy where you are, or at least allow where you are to exist with less manipulation. Even if you are sad, that’s okay. There is no requirement to be happy all the time. No need to beat up on yourself for being sad. If you are able to give the sadness space, it may change, but it doesn’t need to in order for you to be a divine and valuable human being. It’s our human condition, it’s the experience of being alive, and, just like all the spectrum of human experience, can be truly rich.
In this vein, I would love to offer a small practice, as a laboratory for honoring your present experience. Lie on the floor, couch, or bed, or sit comfortably, or stand if you prefer. Put one hand on your heart, and one on your belly, and bow your head slightly. Gently pay attention to your natural breathing. Feel the breath moving in, and feel it going out. Make no changes to your breathing; simply listen to it happening, though some changes may occur due to your focused attention. After a minute or so, expand the breath, a little bit per breath cycle, until it is comfortably expanded, a bigger breath than normal, but not strained, not at your edge. Feel the chest expand first on inhale, then the belly. When the inhale transforms to exhale, slightly draw the belly toward the spine. Keep doing this as long as you are interested, with no force, and no goal. Simply be in relationship with your breath, following its natural course, albeit somewhat expanded. When you do this practice, you are taking part in a conversation with your own natural intelligence, expanding upon the natural, wave like nature of your breath. You are experiencing the true wonder of what you are. You are an innately intelligent and powerful being. With each inhale, you accept into you the power and strength of your environment, and with each exhale, you offer your strength, and in a very factual way, you offer absolutely essential elements to this planet’s survival, offering CO2 for the plant kingdom, which in turn offers you back pure sustenance in each inhale. In every moment, you are in relationship to the universe, and it is simultaneously a connection to the bigger picture, while totally including you as the big picture. You are not less than the power of the earth. You are its power, as is everyone you encounter. And, in my opinion, this is an expression of intrinsic love, with no agenda attached to it, and you can’t avoid doing it. You are built to give nourishment to your environment. You evolved in order to express and experience love. In each moment, you will experience other beings who are doing the same thing. And I don’t mean special, evolved beings. Rather, all beings are doing this, all beings are taking part in this relationship, by the very nature of how the universe works. We are breathing all the time, and we are all offering each other nourishment. Even the most distorted among us are absolutely essential to our survival. We are all contributing good, even if much of our outward behavior is destructive. In this, we may be able to release some of our own guilt, our own hunger for being better. Sure, we can improve, but that doesn’t make us a piece of garbage as we are right now. That is never true. Also, we might use this awareness as a way to meet our perceived enemies with just a little more love and compassion. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Please don’t be contrived and fake nice with this way of seeing, but perhaps just allow for it as a potential, that underneath all of veils that are put on by some in order to excite our disgust and hatred, there is a breathing human being. May they have the opportunity to experience their own worth, and never have to run away to a better place than right now, and that they may be able to experience their own intrinsic loving, and that of all beings surrounding them.
None of this has to be overdone or dramatic. You may feel no great surge of ecstasy or emotion. That is fine, as neither one is the point. Life isn’t about fireworks. The fruit of the practice is to simply be in your own innate goodness, to be in your experience, whatever it may be. You are everything you need to be, right here and now, and your every moment of living is a gift to all who you encounter. May you be filled with love, may you be at peace, may you know that you are everything you need to be.