Pinocchio. George Washington and the cherry tree. The boy who cried wolf. Many stories exist to tell of the perils of lying and the beautiful purity of truth. These tales tend to present Truth as a fairly simple duality—right over wrong, good conquering evil—but as we age, the complexities and conditional aspects of this realm make themselves...Read More
One of the first aspects of meditation I was introduced to is that it can be taken anywhere and practiced at any moment. But over my first few months of consistent practice, I developed an increasing aversion to finding new spaces in which to meditate. I had my ideal space at home dedicated to my practice, which felt like enough when I considered...Read More
The following post was written by Katherine Moore. Katherine has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.
These are the lazy, hazy days of summer. The days are long and hot, many people are on vacation, and projects are put on hold until after Labor Day. There's a sense of relaxation in the air, the urge to rest and recline takes over even the busiest brains. And yet, especially for the future-minded schedulers extraordinaire out there, the sense of anticipation for fall planning and activities begins to rear its head even though the true beginning of autumn is over 6 weeks away.
This summer I've been taking a step back from some of my usual commitments, freeing up some time to figure out what really belongs in my day-to-day life and what doesn't. While I prepare for a new season in NYC this fall, I long to leave space in my schedule that will allow me to carry a sense of summer along the way. In particular, I want to take that stretched out sense of time that comes from a summer day. A summer solstice baby, I was born on the longest day of the year. Summer feels like my time. This year over my birthday I was able to take a lengthy vacation, spending time with family both in the Midwest and California. In both places, the idea of time kept cropping up across my path.
I spent a day wandering through the old redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument in California. Nothing beats the sense of quiet and age that you feel amongst those trees. To be surrounded by living organisms that existed long before I was even thought of has a certain way of putting things in perspective. What are my worries against the long path of nature?
I also spent some time in Kentucky, surrounded by misty, forested hills and lakes that practically ooze history. At the prow of a boat, surrounded by a landscape rich with American history from the civil war to the Bourbon Trail, I was reminded that world is indeed, old.
Even my vacation entertainment suggested something about the age of the Earth. While Jurassic World was perhaps not the most important film in cinematic history, there's something about contemplating the existence and demise of dinosaurs that puts one in her place. I also re-watched Lord of the Rings, encountering fantastical, ancient tree-like creatures called Ents that speak slowly, walk slowly, and...think......slooooowly. So perhaps I spent my vacation as a true nerd, but this concept of time that I encountered has continued to follow me back in real life in NYC.
When dealing with troubling emotions, particularly anxiety and frustration, I find it helpful to think about time. I actually quite literally think about the dinosaurs, and then the age of the whole planet, and then the very, very, very small slice of time that humans have existed. Geological time is often best demonstrated with a clock; if the history of the Earth could be condensed into one hour, human life doesn't even come into the picture until the minute hand is at 59min. What?!!
This broad perspective of time really puts me in my place. I feel like I can relax against the whole huge history of the world and let my worries lessen. It's not that my life suddenly becomes insignificant, quite the contrary. Something about this long view of time, especially in relation to nature, actually makes me feel much more connected to the world. There is safety in knowing that the universe has existed long before my troubles and will continue to exist long after my worries have gone, but that me, and my worries, and my joys, are all part of this continuum of time and space.
During my break I also had the privilege of reading Ethan Nichtern's new book The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path. I know many of us in the Perri Institute community have added it to our summer reading list, and I think any contemporary, literate person would find this book to be both inspiring and immediately useful to his or her own life. The subject I found truly interesting, and most applicable to this post's discussion on time, is karma.
Karma, while a term that is pervasively used in popular culture, is also often misunderstood. I'll let Ethan explain in his own words:
We often view karma as some indictment for all the awful things that have happened to us, and all the awful things that have happened in this world. For example, after hearing a bit about karma as a child I remember thinking that, as someone with asthma, I must have done something terrible in a past life to not be able to breathe very well sometimes. That kind of “blame the victim” approach offers us a convenient new narrative for the recurring story of our self-aggression, as well as a reason to continue to isolate ourselves from the plight of others…This kind of isolated worldview cannot hold up when we look at the larger interdependent forces that shape our world and when we recognize that everything and everyone’s actions are affecting each other all the time, that nobody lives in a vacuum of their own making.
Ethan goes on to explain karma in more detail, eventually moving into a discussion on past and present, and the Buddhist approach to working with both:
…if we reflect on the past with the clear intention to illuminate our experience in the present, and we learn, through both our own meditation practice and guidance from others, how to let go of our tight grip on the past narrative at the exact point the mind begins to fixate on it, then our understanding of the relationship between past and present can come into balance and harmony.
The teachings on karma demonstrate a very important point about the past: the fundamental force behind our conditioning isn’t stupidity or evil, nor is it a flaw in our genetic design. We adopt habitual patterns to begin with as the result of misperception, or lack of awareness.
If we view the root of the problem as a misperception about the nature of experience, then forgiveness is always possible. We can rise out of feeling ashamed at our habitual confusion…We have to forgive ourselves for being stuck in habits and addictions, for being caught up in the commute. Working with karma is something that everyone has to go through; none of us are free of conditioning.
I could go on and on, but I’ll just let you read the book yourself.
What I found most interesting in this explanation of karma was the idea that I could be living a life where my past and my present were not in balance and harmony. Upon reading Ethan’s text I was struck by the idea that perhaps my attempts to live a more mindful life in the present moment, in the here and now, were not actually helping me slow time, but really making it go faster because of a lack of scope about time, and my life in time. Perhaps a broader view of my life, or maybe even past lives, would increase my sense of awareness about the interdependence of my world and all the people, ideas, and redwood trees inside of it. Without reconciling my past habitual patterns with my experience of the present moment, my perception of the here and now will always be a little lacking.
I know I’m barely scratching the surface here, and my philosophical understanding of karma is basic at best, but I think my point in all this talk on dinosaurs and summer and cycles of time is that from my experience, just saying “Slow. Down” as an antidote to the crazy fast pace of life isn’t quite enough. Sure, taking some time off and lessening my workload and sleeping more will make me a happier, healthier, more relaxed person. This is true of most people. But I am beginning to think that without an actual change in perception, without a shift in perspective about how my mind works with the present moment AND the past, I will continue to be unsatisfied by the ever quickening pace of life, no matter how much I pledge to “unplug.” I will continue to long for the stretched out days of childhood summers.
Being in nature most certainly helps nurture this relationship between past and present. As a young woman of 28, I can stand next to a 130-year-old tree and feel young, but I can also look into the nest of hatching birds on that tree’s branches and feel quite old. Can we work with our mind in the same way? How can we experience this full range of our life in the present moment? Can we actually shift our perception of time?
I don’t presume to know the answer, but as we enjoy sun-filled days on the beach and make plans for fall, I might suggest that we remain curious about what it really means to slow down. Does is it mean take a day off to sleep and order takeout and watch a movie? Maybe. Or maybe it’s something else a little less concrete, a little more subtle, and a bit more interesting.
I recommend thinking about the dinosaurs quite often. It really does help.
IMAGINE mountains of volcanic ash. Emerald thermal pools, so pure that their vivid greens and blues reflect the towering mountains above. Spider webs straddling neighboring bushes, their translucent threads so fine yet so magnificently intricate in their weavings. Mud pools bubbling, popping, and plopping, fuming beside bursting geysers. Caves so cavernous your floating tube of a seat in the cold water seems to morph into a pew beneath a cathedral’s towering heights.
All of this I was lucky to witness on my visit to New Zealand a few weeks back. Your traveling bucket list may already include this wondrous country. If not, I suggest you add it. Now.
When I travel, I tend to fill with this overwhelming awe at all that surrounds me. This intense desire to absorb every little bit overcomes me; as I scan as many details of my new environment as possible, I fervently hope that I can tuck those very images and their accompanying sensations into the deepest folds of my core, so as to be able to access their light and smell and temperature whenever I wish. I realize, even at this young age, that memories can lose their vividness as time passes—and yet I attempt again and again to receive and deposit all that I can when I travel, not only because of the marvelous nature of the sights, but also because of the inner experiences that have been birthed out of such travels. My experience in New Zealand was no different. In truth, my craving to soak everything up was probably at its strongest, since I knew that I was halfway around the world.
Upon my return to US soil, I felt as if I’d arrived home from two parallel journeys—a beautifully scenic trip on the one hand, and a vast period of inner growth, abbreviated only by the axis of time, on the other. Something about New Zealand’s terrain and people amplified this secondary journey for me. Perhaps, too, it was the large span of the trip (two weeks), or its timing (its intersection with the New Year), or the act of spending the majority of my waking hours with my family, who reminds me both of where I’ve been and where I am, and then inevitably nudges me towards considering how I’d like to continue to grow. But even in acknowledging all of this, I cannot deny the power that a trip’s sights and sounds and colors have over one’s self-reflective capacity.
I’m always so fascinated by the ways our external environments can shape our internal worlds. Just the other day, actually, I felt this wave of calm wash over me when I was several blocks away from Central Park; despite being surrounded by apartment buildings and shops and New Yorkers bustling to and from the train, the sheer proximity of trees and rocks and grass buoyed my drained spirits. If even the knowledge of a nearby park could bring comfort to a nature lover like me in that moment, how much greater of an effect can a mountain staring you in the face, or a shimmering emerald lake, or a volcano with steam rising from its slopes, have? As I ask this question, I must also present this query: how often do you and a glimmer of your environment take a good look at each other? How active are your eyes? How open is your vision?
In New Zealand, I recognized how constricted my vision has become. Of course I look around at the seas of people who fill the streets and subway platforms; I notice, too, how much further I must walk to reach my door when the bitter cold strikes. But how much more time do I spend with my eyes glued to my phone’s screen and with my eyes not entirely open, as if curtains have been drawn, containing me in a room where I rehash schedules and choices and opportunities and superfluous matters again and again?
Knowing that I may never make it back to New Zealand (though I sincerely hope against that, now that I’ve been), my interactions with the people and land there became intimate, purposeful, and full of presence; this distinctly altered way with the world broke open my senses, particularly my vision. It was as if I could consume the mysterious yet potent energy of the mountains and the wistful character of the trees lining the roads we cruised along. All of this absorbed energy—most especially by way of my eyes—triggered a churning within my mind and heart. Countless questions seeking answers arose and tumbled over each other inside of me. Contradictions between ideas clashed, and confusion struck as I lost track of what was antiquated—having risen out of past experiences and necessitated release—and what was truthfully of me, not composed from some judgment or projection of what ought to be.
My drishti, my gaze in New Zealand seemed purified by the beauty of the country’s natural surroundings and its people’s seemingly simple, grounded, joy-filled way of life. As my eyes drew in such unspoiled sights, my core self began to crave similar clarity and simplicity. This reflective mode, spawned by my adventures abroad and its resulting cravings, has followed me back to my city life; yet with a smattering of goals and fewer answers than I’d hoped, I’ve found myself tossed back into the stream, trying not to be entirely overcome by the current. In spite of the grand propositions I returned with, I’ve fallen largely—but not entirely—back to where I began, because I’ve realized that in trying to find answers, I’ve been seeking a perfect balance, which, rooted in the unreachable notion of perfection, cannot be. Even the way I attempted to soak up all of my trip’s moments seems based in this desire to have it all, in one perfectly wrapped box.
And so, as I sit here, still with missing pieces to answers and with even more questions than when I began, I wonder about our relationship with our vision. In a beautiful restorative yoga class I took this last week, we were encouraged to cover our eyes with eye pillows in Savasana, in an effort to close out all light, all hints that could lead to outward vision and stimulation. There was such power in that, especially in the midst of the quiet of winter. So I wonder, then, if just a simple (but really not so simple) awareness of our eyes’ activity could secure vibrancy in our everyday lives, enhancing our present moments just as much as those mountains and lakes and caves that stole my attention and imagination miles away from where I sit now. Just as our eyes continually launch from one journey to the next, so too does that information from all that we see enter us, churn within us, and propel us forward—forward being a relative term of course. Forward as onwards, past where we are, to the next moment in which we’ll hopefully be present, with open eyes and ears and hearts and minds, where we’ll be ready to be carried to the next moment and the next, probably without answers but with even more questions that can incite curiosity and excitement within us for all that is to come.
- Liz Beres
P.S. A little anecdote that I wanted to share, just because of the sheer serendipity of it all: I sometimes brainstorm for my posts and write pieces of them while in transit. Parts of this post came to be underground, and in one particular moment, in setting aside my notebook to transfer from one train to another, I walked up the steps at Herald Square to hear a Beatles classic, “In My Life”, being played and sung. I couldn’t help but stop and smile, knowing that that very song connected perfectly to what I was learning and hoping to share in my post. So here are the lyrics I walked straight into. More food for thought thanks to John and Paul and George and Ringo!
There are places I remember All my life, though some have changed Some forever not for better Some have gone and some remain All these places had their moments With lovers and friends I still can recall Some are dead and some are living In my life I've loved them all
Photography by Liz Beres.
I am intimate with two worlds. One is in the countryside, wearing worn denims and boots in the high-desert climate of Southeast Idaho, on a working cattle ranch. The other is in the concrete of New York City, sweating in a dance or yoga studio. In New York, people think I’m crazy for looking them in the eye and saying “hi." Conversely, people in Idaho think I’m crazy if I don’t! I come to Idaho for respite, to be around animals and mountains, to take time for study, and to practice teaching yoga in the neighboring city of Idaho Falls. The contrast between my two homes is as wide as a gorge.
In places like my hometown, (high school graduating class of sixty-six students!), community is a necessity. People rely on ongoing relationships for goods and supplies, or already-established friendships with those individuals who provide the services. You must play fair. When dealing with people you don’t recognize, you know that you at least have mutual friends---it’s expected that you acknowledge each other.
My other world…the five boroughs, is a city of strangers. My thoughts are stuck on myself and where I need to go, and what I have to get done. Most likely, New Yorkers have learned from experience to withdraw and keep to one’s self, out of safety, out of fear, out of too much to do--or maybe because that’s just what everyone else does. It is unrealistic to think that we can connect with everyone we pass by. However, if I have the courage to extend myself, there is something special that happens: a feeling of presence.
What vulnerability! What little spark of energy in these moments of knowing youseethe other, and theyseeyou, both coming to the instantaneous understanding that each is the protagonist of his or her own universe, and yet can meet in the middle, here in the window to the grand scheme. These occurrences always warrant a smile in me. We remember that we share the same world, and that we influence that world with our many daily decisions.
Since my family raises beef cattle for their livelihood, they ask, what do cows need in order to be healthy? Grass. Then what does grass need in order to be thick and plentiful? How does the land need to be managed? The water? How is it that to keep my own self fulfilled, I must ask how to keep you fulfilled? The answers that surface are ideologies akin to those of native cultures: everything balances the other; relies on the other; and you must replenish what you take or else arrive at an unsustainable situation. This relationship applies to the Earth Community as well as the Human Community. Extending ourselves and asking what the other is seeking helps us to remember that every single thing is connected to the other’s wellbeing.
ONE WORLD IN PRACTICE:
My yoga practice is an ongoing relationship that helps me gauge my reality. Any chronic and intimate association will do this, but especially one like yoga that is dedicated to cultivating awareness. The closer the relationship, the more quickly your actions will be reflected back. Yoga urges me to ask myself, what am I seeking? What do I need in order to feel fulfilled?
I laughed at myself when I took off my ‘teaching hat’ and grabbed the cowboy hat that I had stashed in a cubby at the yoga co-op where I teach. I was about to drive an hour on a gravel road, into the mountains where the cow herd was for the summer. I shook my head at my strange reality… I whispered a ‘namaste’ to myself: thank goodness I have people to teach. Thank goodness they come and that they require me to extend myself, to learn their names, and to stop thinking about myself.
Relationships are unavoidable. They are constant lessons that force us to reckon with our own self-focus, and discover if that is truly a fulfilling place to be. Eleanor Roosevelt doesn’t sugar coat it when she states in her book, You Learn by Living:
It is easy to slip into self-absorption and it is equally fatal. When one becomes absorbed in himself, in his health, in his personal problems, or in the small details of daily living, he is, at the same time, losing interest in other people; worse, he is losing his ties to life. From that it is an easy step to losing interest in the world and life itself. That is the beginning of death.
The decision to reach out accumulates in myself a feeling of connectedness, of being alive. I am lucky to make partnerships with duties, students, and nature. Regardless if the gesture is returned, the everlasting gift is in the giving, not the receiving.
You know this, but do you act on it? Do you notice the cashier’s name-tag? Do you give a nod to a fellow student you see in class each week, or let someone else go first through the subway doors? Where is your attention? Learn that with meditation. Experiment with looking at something square in the eye, whether it is human, animal, task or organization, and notice how that creates compassion. Note how that small extension makes you feel. These moments are love--of course they take bravery.
Individuals are what make up the Human Community. Names. Faces. Stories. New York City runs on an unnoticed collective of service people, who handle maintenance, trash, and all the food that is shuffled daily into the city’s borders so that millions of people can eat lunch! Everyone plays a part, everyone desires to be seen, and also, to see.
As beings who can use inner will to direct and change our brains, we are giventheresponsibility to create a world that is fulfilling to us: and that world typically demands bliss-producing sacrifices.
Cassie, the Border Collie dog, says “hi” from Idaho. (She helps herd the cows.)