Quite often, product takes precedence over process; ultimate achievements reign over necessarily laid groundwork and considerable effort. While the majority of our time and energy is spent in the climb up the hill, much of our judgment and pride resides in...Read More
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu— May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.Read More
I don’t remember why I first went in—it’s not like I have a thing for bagels. But I entered the shop into a long line and began the difficult process of not being a “bagel regular” and having no idea how I wanted to eat these plump round rolls with a belly button. (NYC bagel etiquette #1: Never call a bagel a roll.)
“Next!...Next!” The whole shop was a wave constantly shifting forward as customers shouted their orders à la carte to the men behind the counter. Dishes of flavored spreads are in tinted pastels. Would I like it toasted? …um, yeah? Three sets of arms fly through spatulas, grills, and toasters true to the noise and speed of a New York minute. I hear someone behind me request a plain. You have a plethora of options and you order a plain??…with regular cream cheese…?! Siddhartha Gautama grew up as a prince with wealth and plenty.
When I make it to the register, there it is, miraculously waiting for me, gift-wrapped and slid into a paper bag with shoved-in napkins. I’m spit out the door in under five minutes and five dollars. Made-on-site, I’m eating a morsel of NYC tradition and history. I’m gonna let you make my day dear bagel. At an outdoor table nearby I relished this brilliant orchestration of breakfast. The sun was shining and the event kept coming back to me.
On my next trip, I’m ordering for two and need to make a close train. My blood sugar is low and blood pressure high. My bag is extra heavy and forehead dewy. I can’t make a decision. I hate making decisions. Nothing sounds appealing. What a chore! It’s so clamorously LOUD in here. “NEXT!!” Oh! I spill out an unconfident order and anxiously twiddle my thumbs—at whatever pace the line is moving, it’s not moving fast enough. The cash register dings and I realize nothing aboutthe bagel shop has changed, but the experience I was hoping to repeat had vanished.
The third time, it’s the quietest I’ve seen the shop and there’s no line. A woman in white polka dots orders a large coffee with skim. Her pleasant expression is framed in air-drying ringlets. She’s bent over the counter while the cashier explains that she’s handing her one single, and then one five. She’s blind. I watch her leave with her hunched back reaching down to the harness her dog wears because it’s one that sees the streets.
Just outside, a woman with a healthy set of white hairs poking from her chin is clothed in an oversized tee that reaches her knees. A caretaker is nearby and her eyes don’t look like they’re registering anything. Does she ever get outdoors? Siddhartha steps out of the palace and sees illness and age for the first time. Or maybe he stubs his toe on the daily newspaper. Difficult realities can be a necessary attitude check. I sit underneath a park umbrella thinking.
So I had a mystical and humbling set of experiences sponsored by a bagel shop: a high, a low, and a dose of hardship. I learned a few lessons from my three sandwiches, but what happens the hundredth time I go? (Whoa—I don’t want to think about eating that many bagels!) But how do I sit for the thousandth time on a meditation cushion? Or always walk the same path to work or pick up a fork to yet another meal? We endlessly rise to another twenty-four hours of day separated by the concepts of months and years.
Yoga to me is more about the relationship and routine than about what’s being practiced. The material doesn’t change, yet we approach it in different ways and with different levels of education. I’ve heard Marianne Williamson describe a miracle as “a shift in perception.” We all have our own bagel shops, mats, and routines where we can compare our perspectives. Our practice is in understanding how we perceive and in coming back to the awareness of that fluctuation. What is the constant underneath? This can be pulling teeth or randomly easy.
I can have a euphoric sense of oneness and think that I’ve got “it,” but I know how often the cash register DINGS! me back awake, and I feel shameful about how I project my negative moods upon those close to me. The classic Buddha story covers ignorance and avoiding, or overly seeking, until there’s acceptance. I repeat this pathway on an hourly, if not moment-by-moment basis. If you really pay attention and are curious and observant in your routines, I think you’ll find the same lost and found repetitions. Life is all of these.
I don’t know the ultimate key. I don’t think there is one. All I can tell you are the times that I’ve been humbled and how many times I’m willing to try again. I can tell you that I prefer a bagel with the right “pull” and inner consistency, but how it tastes will depend on my perspective. And it won’t always be the latter half of bittersweet. Can I have two eyes, a slice of reality, and a spread of gratefulness on a WHOLE wheat EVERYTHING.
Photo by Callie Ritter
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Foundation and Yoga Pedagogy students, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current students, Holly Ledbetter, about one of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
Sutra 2.5 states, “Ignorance is the belief that the transient is the permanent, that the impure is the pure, that suffering is happiness, and that the non-self is the self.” Avidya, or ignorance, is one of the afflictions that we aim to reduce through the study and practice of yoga, and is also described by the sutras as the “origin of the other afflictions”: egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to existence. It is a state of misunderstanding, taking the untrue as truth.
On December 7, Liz [Montgomery] taught a beautiful class, the first of two in the candlelight celebration series. Liz focused on the imagery of a flame in different parts of the body, guiding us to imagine the flame travelling to different areas that would enliven each asana. At the end of practice, we envisioned the flame enveloping the whole body. The passage that she read at the end of class reflected upon candlelight compared to other modern forms of light. The passage described how candlelight allows darkness to exist, casting changing shadows while it flickers. A flame is constantly consumed by movement, illuminating different parts of a room, of a book, of a face, as it wavers. Even when it is wavering it remains lit. Even when it appears steady, it is still moving.
It was around the time of this class that I had begun to use more candlelight in my home practice. While meditating on the flame and playing with the candlelight imagery inspired by Liz, I began to consider how eliminating avidya, as it pertains to ignorance of the self, is like illuminating different parts of ourselves that have been darkened. These illuminating moments are often only glimpses of truth, flickers of a genuine self, a momentary unwavering flame over a part of yourself that had been left in the shadows.
Furthermore, I noticed that these glimpses of true self occurred most readily when I was engaged in genuine connection with others. Over the holiday season, it was whilst catching up with an old friend, volunteering at a Christmas lunch at a women’s shelter, or sitting around the living room with my grandparents, that I felt most connected to my true self. I have since been considering avidya as it is related to its ability to stand in the way of genuine connections along the path of yoga and the path of life. I could not yet, however, figure out how the idea of inward, self-ignorance was contributing to a feeling of distance or lack of connection to others. In other words, why was I feeling the most inner truth and self-understanding when I was focused on others, engaged with their love and honesty?
My answer would come from Pema Chödrön (who else?). In The Places That Scare You, Chödrön writes about compassion as one of the keys to finding bodhichitta (awake or Buddha mind) energy. She writes, “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” I would argue that the same could be true for positive things in life, if written, “Only when we know our own lightness well can we be present with the lightness of others.” Fear, Chödrön writes, is what keeps us from knowing our own darkness, or our lightness.
In softening into our fears and illuminating our dark parts, we can see more of ourselves. When we see our true selves we eliminate avidya, and unlock the potential to be compassionate. We take one step toward our bodhichitta energy. In my mind, bodhichitta energy now looks like, as Liz had prompted us to imagine, someone sitting in virasana enveloped in a candle’s flame.
Photo by Flickr user
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Nicholas Jon, about recent yoga classes with TaraMarie Perri and Maggie Gavin.
In classes with both TaraMarie and Maggie over the past couple of weeks, there has been a heavy emphasis on concepts related to the transition from summer to fall, and how this impacts the body, the mind, and the spirit. These ideas really resonated with me, as my life over the past couple of months has felt like one long transition: not only in terms of seasons, but also from college to the “real world,” from a set schedule to an open-ended one, and from being a practicing yogi to being a yoga teacher-in-training. It has taken me a few years to finally feel adjusted to living in New York City, but finishing school has forced me to reexamine and shift my mindset in order to adapt to new ways of experiencing the city.
The class theme of leaning into transition periods has supported me through this time and informed my daily life. A specific example that I really connected to was a class structure in which TaraMarie had us practice savasana multiple times throughout class. I have always understood savasana as having one specific purpose: allowing the work of class to set in, and relaxing the body while keeping the mind alert enough to process the physical and mental changes that have occurred. But allowing this experience to occur four or five times during one practice enlightened me to some of its other benefits. Every time I entered savasana, I had a more intense experience. The work in between was challenging, so physical exhaustion caused my body to feel more relaxed every time it was still. But at the same time, my mind became more invigorated and alert each time, with a sharper focus and a clearer ability to scan my body and notice any shifts that had taken place.
This dichotomy was a beautiful reminder of a way to cope with tricky transition periods. Though everyone has different reactions to transitions, I know they tend to overwhelm me. It’s not often that I allow myself ample time to relax and process what I’m going through, let the work I’ve been doing settle in, and get a firm grasp on my state of mind and body before allowing myself to move forward. Rather than forcing myself through transition periods, it’s better to let them happen at their natural pace without focusing on what just happened or what’s about to happen. The transition itself is just as important of an experience, and an inability to exist within it can hinder one’s ability to progress through it.
In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron provides brilliant perspective on this subject. Her discussion of impermanence sparks the idea that our lives may actually be just one long transition from birth to death--“once you are born, you immediately start dying”--or maybe a series of extremely short transitions from our in-breath to our out-breath. In this way, the transitions that we often feel overcome by are just part of life’s natural cycle, and should be taken in stride. If we get caught up in overanalyzing these transitions or trying to escape from them, we may never feel like we've gotten to the other side of them. Even when things seem tumultuous and you might not know how to proceed, what’s important is that “you’re able to recognize [when you have met your edge] because you are open enough to see what’s happening.” If you can identify this and be okay with it, it becomes easier to embrace the fleeting nature of life, and see transitions as what they inherently are: temporary.