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
The following post was written by Ana Romero, graduate of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Ana is a yoga teacher, dancer and graphic designer who continually seeks for different adventures traveling and living abroad.
After a ten hour flight from Mexico, I arrived in Paris. I felt excited and scared. I was on my way to Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, a village in the countryside of southwest France. I was picked up at the train station in a big white van to go to Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery that was founded by Thich Nhat Hanh. This Vietnamese monk and peace activist has shared his teachings through more than one hundred books and dharma talks to a wide array of professionals including U.S. police officers and congress men and women. The scenery from the train station to the monastery was beautiful with all the cute hills, the vineyards, the sunflower fields, and other crops, and I really wanted to enjoy my experience of the view--but the truth is that I was terrified. I was more than 5,700 miles from home, with a severe inflammation all across my lower back that wouldn't even let me pull my carry-on luggage. After half an hour in the white van, I arrived at the Lower Hamlet, where some of the Buddhist nuns and laypeople practice the art of mindful living. As soon as I arrived, I felt the peace I could potentially reconnect with. It was an austere set of cabins surrounded by plum trees with a beautiful bell tower and a big lotus pond where every morning, one could hear the frogs croaking and the birds singing. Did I mention that there wasn't any internet or phone service?
At Plum Village, the wake up call is at
with the sound of a bell. After rolling a little in bed and splashing some water on my face, I started walking towards the meditation hall. Right away, I felt the calmness of the subtle footsteps of the nuns dressed in long, brown robes, some of them wearing a kneaded hat to cover their shaved heads. The first day we experienced a guided meditation which called many aspects of nature related to the human being. Some of the days we would also practice a slow walking meditation in the hall. After that, we had some time to stretch our bodies, practice yoga, or run. At
it was time for breakfast; the meals were silent most of the time in order to really savor and concentrate on the gift of the delicious vegan foods, and the efforts around them. After breakfast it was time for working meditation, but before we began we would gather in a circle for announcements and for chanting pure and beautiful songs. Off we would go to start different chores like cleaning, gardening, painting, preparing food, etc. Each day we would also practice walking meditation amongst the trees or by a creek, connecting with nature, contemplating, but most importantly focusing on the breath, focusing on each step, focusing on the present moment. Another of my favorite moments of the day was arriving at the time of Noble Silence, which would usually start when the sun started its final descent. During that time, a nun would chant and ring a beautiful low-pitched bell to celebrate our big star. It was a time to reflect, a time to write or read, a time to just be.
I'm somewhat of a shy person, so I arrived to the monastery with the idea of really focusing on myself. And I did--but I also found that it was very easy to establish a connection with the other laywomen. There were moments of very loving and deep conversations, and there were other moments of so much laughter that I would have to find a tissue to dry my tears. As a laywoman, it was amazing to observe this community of monastics and experience their lifestyle in a less committed way. Their facial expressions are very pure and genuine, and there was room for hard work and seriousness--but there was also room for joy, for giggles, and for fun. It was really wonderful to feel their joy and their commitment. There were some days that all the monastics and the lay friends, men and women, would gather in one of the hamlets to celebrate the day of mindfulness. During that day, there was usually a Dharma talk, a sharing of a learning experience from one of the monastics. In one of the talks, a U.S. monastic was sharing his experience about living in a community, and how it isn't easy. Their talks were so simple, so honest, and even daring at times. This American monk shared with us about finding a little piece of soap that hardly lasted for his shower, and how those kind of things, on different levels, could be tricky when living with somebody else, and especially when living within a bigger community. But that simple talk was fun and spontaneous, because he suddenly made us aware that he was giving us images of him naked and showering. He made us laugh!
Plum Village is a beautiful place full of nature. It is a great place to practice being with yourself and with a community. The talks were simple and sincere, but at the same time, they left a huge learning experience. It was the ideal place to focus on my breath and just be. As a yoga teacher, I wanted to deepen my meditation practice to then share it with my students, and to incorporate it more into my classes. After all, yoga is a meditation itself, as well as preparing the body to have a meditation practice. Being at Plum Village not only planted the seed to deepen the meditation practice for my classes, but it transformed the way I feel when something is going wrong or difficult in my life. I learned from one of the sisters that instead of denying or pushing away that suffering, it was more effective to acknowledge it and give it love in order for it to heal. In a video talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, he said, "Take your suffering as if it would be a crying baby, you don't know what the newborn needs yet but at least you are holding and giving him/her love." My stay at Plum Village was a huge experience because I was really hurt physically, and yet, I was fine. Slowly, I started to feel that transformation of joy and laughter, and therefore, I started to heal.
Photography by Ana Romero
The following piece was written by Traci Klein, Assistant Professor of Dance at Texas A&M International University. Traci is a certified yoga instructor with The Perri Institute for Mind and Body, and will begin teaching adult community yoga classes later this month in Laredo, Texas.
When I was growing up, I was always very good at sports--physical activity came very easily to me. It irked my friends when we would go and try something new, because I would get it right on the first try. I never boasted about it; I just put my mind to whatever the task was, and I tried my darndest to do it correctly. It just so happens that I succeeded every time I tried! With that being said, I am writing this bit because it actually gives me great pleasure to say that in my adult life, I have finally found something that I am no good at no matter how hard I try…the wondrous game of golf!
Now, I say golf, but what I really mean is hitting balls at the driving range. I wouldn’t dare step onto an actual course unless I had taken some lessons and really understood the game. I actually really like to golf, even though more times than not my swings either miss the ball, or completely tear up the green. Still, I genuinely like it! I like it so much that when I find other people who do it regularly, I ask them to take me with them the next time they go. I have tried golfing in four different states now--New York, Florida, Texas, Arizona--and I am still not very good at it. But I don’t care! Do I like it because of the challenge? Maybe.
I think what I really like about golf, though, is the ability to integrate elements of my yoga practice into my practice at the range. At the driving range, every player has their own little slot where they stand and practice. Everyone is silent. Even if you go with your buddies, you don’t talk to each other unless you absolutely have to--and even then it is a whisper. You just zone in on the ball. One thing that I like to do is visualize the form of my swing before I do it--just like an Olympian diver who is trained to see the dive before they even step onto the board. I have also trained myself to use my breath: inhale on the upswing, exhale on the down. On the occasion that the ball actually goes somewhere, I like to think that it was the deep exhale that got it there--just like in Paschimottanasana (aka seated forward bend), when you breathe deeper into the posture and suddenly find your forehead resting on your legs. Just like in yoga, alignment in golf is extremely important. With one type of club you have to line your foot up with the ball, and with another type of club you have the ball right in between your feet. Left arm is straight, right arm is bent, knees are soft and pointing right over your big toes. Line up all of the different elements and you just might hit the darn thing!
I think it’s important to note that I haven’t accepted that I am not good at golf. Instead, I believe that I am just not good at golf right now. If every time I had swung and missed the ball I had felt defeated, or if I had allowed that internal voice to tell me, “you are no good at this…give it up…you are never going to get it,” then I would have stopped going to the driving range a long time ago. One thing that yoga has taught me, though, is to overcome internal obstacles--those devilish voices in our heads that hold us back from physically doing our best. I see it in my students all of the time, and for some of them it freezes them up completely. Their bodies get rigid and they can’t even speak. I want to believe that we can get past these obstacles if we stop apologizing when we make mistakes, and instead just continue to push forward. By doing so, we may find more pleasure in the things that present us with the biggest challenges.
Note: When sending this piece to the blog editor, I was in the process of attaching a letter explaining how I am no good at writing, and how I'd like guidance on how to make it better…and then I stopped when I realized how ironic that was given the concept I had just written about. Stop the silly voices in your head and just do it already!!
Photography by Traci Klein
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, Marissa Wiley, in which she ties the Yamas, a limb of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga, to her practice, on and off the mat.
While reading B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light On Yoga, I was extremely fascinated by the ethical disciplines of yoga. In the west especially, there seems to be a physical focus on yoga more than anything. However, there are eight different facets of the yoga practice in Light On Yoga and asanas, or the postures many of us associate yoga with, aren’t even the first or second facet. The first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga are the Yamas, the honorable and humane disciplines. These disciplines are also called the “great commandments”, for they are applicable at any time and in any community on the face of this earth. They are commandments for leading a humane and moral life.
One of the yamas described is ahimsa. Ahimsa guides us away from killing and instead, towards love. This commandment directs the yogi to love and embrace all forms of creation, for we are all children of that same creation. This commandment also specifies that killing or harming any piece or form of creation is an insult to the Creator himself. It’s described that this violence and desire to kill comes from a sense of needing to protect ourselves; this really could either relate to anger or fear. Iyengar writes, though, that men cannot protect themselves, and thus, the thought that they could is wrong. He encourages the yogi to rely on God, which in his eyes will bring about freedom from fear, or abhaya. Abhaya is described as the main way to curb violence, as it brings about an inner peace and love for creation.
This had me thinking about what I’m fearful of in my life and in my yoga practice and what brings me back to a calmer place. Many times I’ve attended yoga class exhausted and mentally drained. I don’t feel up for the challenge, and I certainly don’t want to take risks. There is no desire in me to play; instead, I want to continue with my habitual flow of my safe little bubble. In class this week, TaraMarie Perri shared a Kurt Vonnegut quote with us: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down”. This quote really struck a chord with me because of my tendencies to avoid risks. This opened up a door in my thought process that related not only to my yoga practice but to many facets of my life. I’ve always been the hesitant kid. I was afraid of fire, afraid of the dark, afraid of strangers, and very afraid to put myself out there. But why not jump off a cliff and figure it out on the free fall down? What’s the worst that could happen? Of course, this requires a lot of patience with oneself. I’ve been trying to work on this a lot in my daily life and in my dance practice recently, but it was extremely refreshing to hear it in my yoga practice as well. It has me thinking of what risks I could take and how I can bring that feeling of play into my practice.
I also can be pessimistic when tired. It can be hard to change my attitude once I get to a certain level of exhaustion, and it’s been something I’ve been working on in yoga. Once I start moving through flow, thoughts will start to bubble up. What always helps bring me back to my yoga practice is pranayama, the recognition and subsequent manipulation of the breath. Bringing my focus back to my breath always helps me dispute these negative thoughts and “what ifs” and brings about a feeling of starting fresh. It’s almost like a reset button for my thoughts and my energy. Now that I’m starting to deepen my yoga practice, I’ve been paying attention to my breath during daily activities. When I start to feel anxious or worried, I bring my attention to my breath and try to focus on it. I almost immediately feel more relaxed about the situation and am more patient with both the situation and myself.
When I have more patience for others, I become much less bitter and angry. Without this excess frustration, I am able to see more clearly. I move through the day with more ease and awareness. With this awareness, then, I am more appreciative of the things around me and the things I am particularly blessed with. This is why I feel that taking risks and pranayama are perfect examples of abhaya and ahimsa. If more people could be affected by yoga and pranayama, I feel like this world could be a better place. It would be a more patient, more playful, less violent, and more appreciative world. People would be open to new things and would be more aware as to how their actions affect others.
- Marissa Wiley
Preserving a daily meditation practice is tough. You would think that teaching yoga would instill a staying drive and discipline in you, but I have to say, while teaching has deepened my personal practice on the mat and sharpened my awareness off of it, I have not yet solidified a regular meditation practice for myself. But I do have a goal – to make my meditation practice a more consistent one by the time fall rolls around.
I don’t expect to sit every day, at least at the beginning of this earnest venture; for me, starting with smaller steps will more likely build a stronger foundation that I can carry forward. I’ve undergone spurts of meditative zeal in the past, but the fire always died gradually or I would become so consumed by daily life that seated quiet time just didn’t seem like it could be fit in.
Participating in Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Experience, with its focus on discovering and empowering personal truths and uniting our flowing life force with that of the universe, prompted me to once more recognize meditation’s power. I’ve become addicted to the twenty minutes I’ve allotted to that series every day for the last three weeks. Maintaining a steady practice for 21 days sharpened my focus and enabled me to be present more often than not, clarified the emotions and thoughts coursing through my physical and mental bodies, and strengthened the personal choices I made in that time because I felt more in tune with myself, my surroundings, and my circumstances. I love the physical practices of asana and pranayama and find that such work on the mat can rid us of the gritty residue that settles as we pass through each day, so that we are left with a stronger sense of who and where we are. That being said, I deeply appreciate and seek the balance meditation presents between controlling what we can and letting go of the rest.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ve probably discovered my affinity for collecting all the pieces of inspiration that have popped into my realm of focus recently, in an effort to connect them and consequently see the myriad of ways they are guiding me and secretly – or not so secretly – interacting with each other to ground my way of being. So here are this passage’s motivating factors, pieces of my mind’s puzzle lately that have shed light on this balance that meditation puts forth:
- It’s wonderful to get up in the morning knowing you’re doing all that you can do (latest quote of the month from my bedroom’s wall calendar)
- My Lovin’ Me 365 app’s affirmation that read, ‘I focus on the essential’
- Oprah and Deepak’s suggestion (as a part of their 21-Day Meditation Experience) that we relax into existence so that grace can emerge and lead us (I just love this idea)
To focus on what is essential, what I can do, gives a certain weight, a special value to my daily decisions and actions. This notion encourages me to be present and gives credence to moving slowly, living with a diligence, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness that really could alter the fabric of a life. The idea of grace invites in a recognition of our personal lives’ relationships to the immeasurable universe; it spins an entirely different perspective on the way we arrive at choices and the ways the ripples of our actions and even our thoughts flow towards others. Growing up Catholic, I identify with the concept of grace in two distinct ways – sanctifying grace, which deals with the soul’s transformation, and actual grace, which signifies a supernatural push or encouragement. My life experience has led me to truly believe in the second of these two entities, and a sutra that was presented by Guta Hedewig in my chanting class this past week offered fresh insight into the idea:
Sutra I.20 speaks to the power of conviction in working towards a goal. I personally cannot deliberate intelligently on Samadhi and the deeper levels of wisdom the sutra names, but I have become curious and inspired by other pieces of the aphorism:
- sraddha references the development of faith that we are heading in the right direction in this experience of life; it is not a blind faith but rather, one arising from inner intuition and direct experience
- virya denotes the commitment of energy that bolsters the power behind that sense of knowing what to do
- smrti speaks to the mindfulness involved in treading this life path
I by no means am an expert on this sutra or its contents, but even in my limited research, I find much power, richness, and even comfort in this sutra’s message and the seemingly direct relationship between the stepping stones of individuals’ lives and the greater workings of the universe that it implies. Such a description of our tie to the world doesn’t seem articulate at all when you consider the ridiculous abundance of details that exist surrounding our physical bodies, mental and emotional streams, interactions with others, known and unknown aspects of our world’s arena…but what all this does relate to me is the fact that while we do have control over certain pieces of our human lives, much of what we will undergo will not be of our direct choosing. While letting go of what we can’t control can be incredibly challenging, I find a stark beauty in knowing that we can just never know why or how matters have come to be. And yet, it’s helpful to consider that our intuition, faith, and passion can carry us forward towards our goals, as big or small as they may be. I may not always be onboard for the often blind journey forward, but I do hold onto the hope that a steady meditation practice could carry me through the wild tour of life with mindfulness and awareness, so that I can continue to be as present and grateful for every moment I breathe as I can be.
- Liz Beres