Saturday, December 31, 2011

Foundation Stones, a poem by Danna Faulds

Perhaps we would like to take some time to look back on the year 2011 to notice our challenges, our joys, and how we have grown as a person in our bodies, in our work, in our relationships, in our contributions to the greater good of this world.  This poem revealed itself in a timely fashion to be shared in this morning's yoga class:

Foundations Stones

Here is my past--
what I've been proud of,
and what I've pushed away.
Today I see how each piece
was needed, not a single
step wasted on the way.

Like a stone wall,
every rock resting
on what came before-
no stone can be
suspended in mid-air.

Foundation laid by every
act and omission,
each decision, even
those the mind would
label "big mistake".

These things I thought
were sins, these are as
necessary as successes,
each one resting on the
surface of the last, stone
upon stone, the fit
particular, complete,
the rough, uneven
face of these rocks
makes surprising,
satisfying patterns
in the sunlight.

 pg. 26, Go In and In:  Poems from the Heart of Yoga

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The First Niyama - Saucha (Purity)

For the month of December, we have been contemplating the first niyama - Saucha which can be translated as purity, simplicity, refinement.  We can begin our practice of Saucha in the body, looking at what we consume and how we take care of our body - aiming towards more often choosing purity of food and drink and maintaining practices that help us detoxify our body.  We can examine our thoughts and notice how the quality of our thoughts effect us.  Do we tend to go to negative thoughts?  Do we consume tv shows, magazines, websites, etc. that water our negative seeds, like anger, fear, worry, guilt, shame? or can we choose to take in things that inspire us and make us feel the deep joy and love that is our true nature?  Thich Nhat Hanh's translation of the fifth precept as the Fifth Mindfulness Training in the Plum Village tradition brings us back to these deep practices of Saucha - Purity, Refinement, Simplicity.  We can use this training as a north star to guide us on the path.  We know we are not perfect and we don't need to practice with guilt or shame.  We do the best we can and try to learn along the way.

Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

In the season of Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanzaa, we see the element of light in each tradition reminding us of our purity, of the divine spirit in each one of us.  We can use these reminders of the candles, the holiday lights, the prayers, to go deep inside to the witness consciousness, the wisdom, the sense of expansiveness and interbeing that brings us great peace.  Taking the time for contemplation and rest to go into our bodies, breath, and mind, to find the light within, to see first what obscures that light and open to find a path, ask for a path to clarity.  Then bask in that light, however small.  Breathe into it.  Fan the flames.  Let it grow.  And, let it shine.  Be the light, the love, the spirit you want to see in the world.  And, make it a practice to see the light in the other before you speak, before you act, before you make assumptions about them.  The more often we come back to our center, to our light, to what is pure in us, the stronger that energy or groove becomes and the easier it will be to witness our life from that place, to navigate our life from that place.  May we remember this, may we steadfastly do our practices to strengthen this, may we support each other with loving kindness on this journey.

Asatoma Sat Gamaya
Lead me from untruth to truth
Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya
Lead me from darkness to the light
Mrityorma Amritam Gamaya
Lead me from the fear of death to the wisdom of immortality,
from attachment to what is temporary to the wisdom of what is eternal

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu

Blessings of Peace, Love, and Ease of Living to you and your beloveds and to all beings!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You are invited to this Concert, Kirtan, Sound Meditation and Winter Solstice Celebration

"Hello Highland Yoga family...

Coming back Saturday, Dec 17th 2011
hope you can swing by for this
Bru-ha-ha....and recharge your batteries for the upcoming
Holiday season....and celebrating the Winter Solstice and
Highland Yoga community....."
SATURDAY,  12/17/11
Concert, Kirtan, Sound Meditation and Winter Solstice Celebration
4- 7 pm


For those of you who enjoy chanting mantra and experiencing the vibration of sound and community, and for those who have never chanted mantra before, come have fun and go deep at the same time with this wonderful musician and yoga teacher who shares the teachings of the practice, mantra, and his own music in such a fun, profound, and beautiful way.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

No coming, No going

Here is a video of the song we sang for the month of November to help us look more deeply into the practice of Aparigraha (non-greed, non-possessiveness, non-attachment).  Read the blog two posts below this one for commentary on Aparigraha.

No Coming, No Going

No coming, no going
No after, no before
I hold you close to me
I release you to be so free
Because I am in you and you are in me
Because I am in you and you are in me

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Five Contemplations, for your Thanksgiving meal

The following verses are written by Thich Nhat Hanh, based on traditional Buddhist teachings. Reading them aloud is a beautiful way to begin a meal.

The Five Contemplations

· This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky and much hard work.
· May we live and eat in mindfulness to be worthy to receive it.
· May we transform our unskillful states of mind including our greed and learn to eat with moderation.
· May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.
· We accept this food so that we may realize the path of understanding and love.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Aparigraha - The Fifth Yama

For the month of November, we have been contemplating Aparigraha which can be translated as non-greed, non-possessiveness, or non-attachment.  It is the fifth and final Yama in Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga from the Yoga Sutras and perhaps the most challenging.  Greed, possessiveness, and attachment stem from fear.  The fear of not having enough, not being enough, not recognizing the abundance in our lives, not recognizing our part and place in the flow of life.  In Buddhism, we learn about impermanence.  Things change, that is guaranteed.  The better we get at recognizing impermanence, the less we suffer.  Can we celebrate the people, possessions, and stations in our lives while they are there and recognize the growth that comes in us from dealing with transition, loss, change?  The autumn leaves are a poignant example of this concept as each year they show their utmost beauty just before they fall to the ground.  And, what happens next?  They compost to help fertilize the ground for the coming year's rebirth in spring.  Rumi reminds us in his poem, The Guest House, that loss makes room for some new delight. 

When we consider the Buddhist concept of interbeing, we can work more easily on non-possessiveness.  Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us in his book Peace Is Every Step that without the sun and cloud and rain there would be no trees, without trees and loggers there would be no paper, without food and water to nourish the logger, no logger, etc.  We inter-are with all people and all elements of nature.  When we realize that truth, we can see how when we lose someone, that person will always be a part of us.  We connected to each other in some way, learned something from them, taught something to them, were changed in our lives because of their presence.  This is true whether we consider a pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral person.  When we lose a possession, we can recognize the delight we enjoyed while we had it and realize it may bring the next person joy or some necessary comfort or growth.  Perhaps its loss allows us to grow in some way.  Remember Rumi?  The growth we realize from difficulty in our lives can be as painful and as amazing as the breaking free from the chrysalis to become the butterfly, our next iteration of self getting us closer to our true Self.  Also, when we remember out interbeing with all beings, we can feel compassion or joy for the person who may be blessed by something that has moved on from our lives.

Consider donating some unused items, making space in your home and in your mind from all the burdens of possessions.  Monks and nuns traditionally lived with one bowl and three robes counting on the kindness of the community to provide for their material needs and in return serving them with their spiritual practice.  How liberating would it be to only keep track of one bowl and three robes? 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
    translation by Coleman Barks

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Complementary Holistic Health Expo

Saturday, October 29 · 8:30am - 1:00pm

West Side Presbyterian Church
Varian Fry Way 6 South Monroe Street
Ridgewood, NJ

Created By

We know what you're thinking? What is a Complementary Holistic Health Expo? Well, we can tell you what it isn't. It isn't an event that you attend where people tell you how nice you're outfit looks on you or how nice your new haircut is. Rather, it's an event where you can be given information from professionals on how to make you're body, mind and spirit tell you "Thank You." What could be better than that?

The West Side Church's Complementary Holistic Health Expo features:
-Yoga classes for adults and children 
(Note from Angela:  I will be teaching sessions at 9:15am and 10:15am.)
-Energy medicine
-Therapeutic Touch message therapy

-I Pad posture screening
-Zen Meditation
-IGM therapeutic acupressure
-The Healing Harp
-Spiritual Direction
-T'ai Chi Chih
-sound therapy
and more!!

We will provide three 45 minute sessions for you to experience and learn. This is a great way to ask, see, and feel what complementary health is all about!

*Some classes are limited by size, so a reservation for your time and spot is recommended. You are welcome to come even if you do not RSVP .

To see the flyer:

See a full listing of events here:

Register for classes here:

or email 201 652-1966 ext. 35 to leave a message.

Please send this on to your friends if you think they might benefit from this day! Thanks, and I hope to see you there!

**There will also be a blood drive for our area in the parking lot from 9:30 to 1PM. call 201-251-3703 for an appointment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How do you manage your energy? (Brahmacharya)

This month we are contemplating Brahmacharya, energy management or moderation, the fourth Yama in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.  In our culture, we can use this yama to pause and consider what gives us energy and what depletes our energy.  So far in yoga class this month we've had some nice insights about this.  Noting how food, sleep, movement, breath, people, and mindset, are some elements that help support our energy.  We also noted how these same elements can be depleting to our energy.  So let us consider:
  • What kinds of food do we eat?  Are we using food as fuel or as entertainment, distraction, comfort? 
  • Are we getting enough sleep?  good quality sleep?  in a comfortable place and position that our body can truly rest and restore itself?
  • Do we take the time to move our bodies?  Even when we are tired and don't feel like moving it may benefit us to "get the juices flowing" by going for a walk in nature or doing some simple yoga stretches.  If we start out slow, follow the messages from our body, and gently invite it to "wake up" we may find we have the energy for some sun salutations and warrior poses.  Remember the flow of a yoga class: warm up gently (use the six directions of the spine - cat and cow, side stretches and twisting), heat up to ignite your prana (life force energy), enjoy the vibration and glow of your true nature, and cool down to a relaxation pose to let the subtle vibrations bring you the peace and healing you need.
  • How often do we bring our attention to our breath?  Simple breath awareness can help balance our energy by calming the mind and delving more deeply into the signals of the body.  Movement and breath help each other.  The more breath we invite into the body, the more energy we may have for movement.  The more we move and energize our body, the deeper our breath goes to respond to the movement.  In yoga class, we practice pranayama, the expansion of our life force energy, with special breathing practices:  sitali breath, alternate nostril breathing, kapalabhati, etc.  Each breathing practice has its own sutble effects on our energy body (pranamaya kosha).
  • Who are the people in our lives who contribute to our feeling good, feeling love, feeling peace, and feeling joy?  Do we make time to spend with those in our lives who raise our vibration to a higher level?  Can we set better boundaries (physical, mental, or emotional) around those people who contribute to depleting our energy?  Are we making good choices in our daily activities to arrive in places where we meet people who inspire us?
  • What frame of mind do we filter our lives through most of the time?  If we have reinforced a negative mindset over the years, it can take time to slowly change it.  We do have the choice and the ability to do this.  At the brain level, we create new neural pathways that are more positive and ignite more compassion, love, and joy.  We form the connection in our brain over time that helps us to see the struggles we have in this life as our work to grow and learn - not as a punishment or a signal that the world is a bad place.  In yoga, we talk about this as a samskara or a groove.  These samskaras are created and we get stuck falling back into them until we create new ones.  So with all our habits of body, breath, and mind, we can make choices to create new samskaras that we fall into more positive grooves.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How do you practice non-stealing (asteya)?

We have been chanting OM HRIM SHRI LAKSHMI BHYO NAMAHA this month.  This video from you tube is a beautiful recording of it and inpsired me to use this chant.  I was looking for a chant with Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance since we are contemplating asteya this month.  Asteya is the third yama from Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga from the Yoga Sutras.  It is translated to mean non-stealing or generosity.  We invoke the energy of Lakshmi to recognize the abundance we have in our life that we may transform our habits of stealing our own happiness with our negative self-talk, stealing others peace with our unskillful reactions to our own anger, frustration, and irritability, and lessening our impact on the earth / living more in harmony with the earth by increasing our mindful consumption.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

When we create new habits of recognizing our talents and how amazing we are, we stop second guessing ourselves and criticizing others.  We stop internalizing other people's negativity as though it means something about us.  We give others the space to be themselves and deal with their own "stuff" while honoring our own boundaries.  We try to notice the blessings of each person we encounter, especially those with whom we have difficulties.  This can potentially lessen our suffering.

The more we get in touch with our truth (satya) through the lense of compassion (ahimsa) the more we are able to skillfully communicate our difficulties with others or decide it doesn't serve either party well to confront the matter.  This is not to say we will never communicate displeasure or confront someone.  (See previous post for excerpt on satya-truth)  Perhaps there are some occasions where not speaking up for oneself is in fact stealing our sense of our right to be here.  As in any endeavor we seek the middle path.

And, finally, how can we practice non-stealing with the earth?  Nothing will be a perfect practice in this human form.  Even if we are vegetarian to lessen the killing in the world, we still inadvertently harm insects when walking on the ground.  So we do the best we can with what we can in our lives to make an impact.  Perhaps we drive our cars less, eat less meat, recycle more, start composting, buy local produce, eat what is in season, etc.  

There are many things we can do and likely already do.  Let us acknowledge our efforts and continue to practice for the good of all beings.  Keeping in mind, we need to "put on our own oxygen mask first."  And, finally, I need to share again this wonderful sentiment of interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh:

We are not better than the other.
We are not less than the other.
We are not even the same as the other.
We are the other.

PS  Please feel free to share your insights on non-stealing, abundance, generosity.  We learn and benefit so much from each others practice.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Finding inspiration and perspective when we need it

I have been wanting to share this excerpt from Reverend Jaganath Carerra's Inside the Yoga Sutras.  I read it in class a couple weeks ago and find it so helpful in doing the work of practicing Ahimsa (non-violence/compassion) and Satya (truth).  It is during these times of difficulty following a trauma like Tropical Storm Irene that we can find support in our inspirational readings whether they be the Yoga Sutras, the Dharma of the Buddha as written by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Bible, or others including secular authors.  Whatever speaks to you and helps give you perspective and comfort. 

"Truthfulness measured against nonviolence.  Ahimsa is the first yama Sri Patanjali lists and so is the touchstone for determining behavior.  Even truthful words, if they cause harm to another, should not be spoken.  However, before giving up our course of action, we could consider if there is a more auspicious moment for doing what is needed, or a more appropriate approach.  In any case, it is always advisable to do some soul-searching to determine if the desire to act is motivated by an interest in the welfare of others or by a need to vent our frustrations or punish someone with whom we have problems.  Motives that are tainted by selfishness obstruct the experience of the Self by maintaining or strengthening the influence of ignorance over the mind.
 How can we tell if we are doing harm or just causing temporary discomfort?  First, we need to discriminate between the two.  Discomfort indicates the struggle of the individual to adapt and adjust.  To do harm is to destroy or inhibit proper functioning.
We know that there are times (such as when teachers discipline misbehaving students) when words can cause pain but the intent ultimately brings benefit.  The opposite is also true.  There are times when people use sweet words (as in con games) in order to deceive others.  Their behavior may feel good at first but will cause harm later.
We may not experience the consequences of our actions until much later.  If we do not know the nature of the tree, we need to wait until it bears fruit.  In order to perfect truthfulness, yogis need patience to observe the ultimate outcome of acts, clarity to make the proper assessment of their outcome, and accurate recall not to forget the lessons of experience.  Fortunately, patience, clarity, and good memory are also products of the Yoga practices."  --page 132
Our practice of Ahimsa and Satya is so important as we repair any damage and do whatever clean up is needed from the recent storm.  We are faced with discerning whether discomfort, maybe extreme, or harm has been done to us and notice if we can find our resources to adapt, adjust, and grow given this opportunity.  All along honoring our truth to take care and pace ourselves as we need to, remembering compassion for self and others in our daily interactions since stress is high and we may struggle to remain skillful with our speech and actions. 

Connecting with our sangha (our supportive community) is so important in these times.  It has been an honor to share the practice in class both before the storm as we tried to settle our minds and prepare for what was to come as well as after the storm, coming together as a community for support and to check in with one another.  I felt blessed to have the opportunity to join my sangha for meditation tea ceremony on Monday evening and left with this wonderful quote of Thich Nhat Hanh shared by my dharma sister, Jan:  "We are not better than the the other, we are not less than the other, we are not even equal to the other.  We are the other."  We can gain perspective from such a sentiment and be inspired to send our thoughts and prayers to others in this time.  We may like to chant Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung, a powerful healing mantra, to send those wishes to all beings and the earth and atmostphere that we may live in harmony with each other.

I will close with one of my favorite poems by Danna Faulds from her book Go In and In:

Let It Go

Let go of the ways you thought life
would unfold; the holding of plans
or dreams or expectations - Let it
all go.  Save your strength to swim 
with the tide.  The choice to fight
what is here before you now will
only result in struggle, fear, and
desperate attempts to flee from the
very energy you long for.  Let go.
Let it all go and flow with the grace 
that washes through your days whether
you receive it gently or with all your
quills raised to defend against invaders.
Take this on faith: the mind may never
find the explanations that it seeks, but
you will move forward nonetheless.
Let go, and the wave's crest will carry
you to unknown shores, beyond your 
wildest dreams or destinations.  Let it
all go and find the place of rest and
peace, and certain transformation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The second Yama: Satya (Truth)

Here is an affirmation to focus on Patanjali's second yama from the eight limbs of yoga: 

"I live in truth.  I speak the truth to myself and to others (when appropriate).  When offering my truth in the form of feedback I am sensitive to the feelings of others; I speak in the spirit of love.  I also take responsibility for my actions.  I do not blame anyone for my experience; I honestly see my own part in every situation."

When practicing the second Yama, we need to remember the first:  Ahimsa (non-violence/compassion).  If we speak our truth in a way that is mean, we are not making our best efforts on the path.  So we need to find a way for Satya and Ahimsa to coexist.  Let us be reminded of the affirmation for Ahimsa:

"My thoughts and actions are focused on loving awareness.  I nurture and cherish myself and others.  I am aware that the mind sometimes entertains thoughts of fear, anger, or selfishness but I do not get caught in these thoughts or act upon them.  I accept without judgement any uncomfortable mental states.  I release them and return to gently, non-violent expression of my energy."

When we want to speak, we can consider the following sentiments before we do:

"Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary?"   -- Sufi saying

"Most people will not remember what you said or what you did.  But they will remember how you made them feel."   -- Maya Angelou

"If in doubt whether to observe Ahimsa or Satya, always go with Ahimsa."   --Swami Vivekananda

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Powerful Healing Mantra

Ra  Ma  Da  Sa  Sa  Say  So  Hung

"The sun, the moon, the earth, infinity.  Totality of experience, I am Thou."

Our chant for this month reminds us of the buddhist concept of interbeing.  Thich Nhat Hanh writes beautifully about this in his book, Peace is Every Step.  Could you exist without the sun, the moon, the earth?  What do you feel inside when you contemplate the awesomeness of the sun? the light of the moon? the support of the earth?  Do you know that you contain those qualities of the elements in nature?  Within us, we have the power and self-effulgence of the sun; we have the light and cooling quality of the moon, we have the regenerative power of the earth and the ability to transform difficulty (garbage) into wisdom and beauty (flowers).

As we contemplate the second yama, Satya - truth, we remember these universal truths to help us navigate our difficulties and to enjoy moments of delight.  We take the time to notice what is true for us in the body, with the breath, and in the mind.  We take care of our body with yoga, healthy food, water, and rest.  We take time to breathe fully, deeply, slowly, to help care for the body by oxygenating the blood and regularly releasing all the carbon dioxide in our lungs.  As we care for our body and breath, we are preparing the way for our mind to become calm and clear.  In those moments when the mind is clear and calm, we can see what is true in our "wisdom body" - our intuition - vijnamaya kosha.  This is where we tune in to find our truths, get clarity about our path in this life, and open up to the possibility for them to manifest.  When we align these layers of body, breath, mind, and wisdom, we easily feel the quality of interbeing, the sense of expansiveness and connection to all that is, the bliss body - anandamaya kosha.

Remember we are not alone.  Our sangha is all around us:  our yoga class, our family, our pets; the sun, the moon, the earth; the trees, the flowers, the birds; the rain, the snow, the wind; the streams, the lakes, the oceans.  Wow!  There is so much awesomeness around and within you!  Let us remember and take it all in.

Ra  Ma  Da  Sa  Sa  Say  So  Hung

"The sun, the moon, the earth, infinity.  Totality of experience, I am Thou."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Love Meditation*

The following is from Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book.

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free from injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

"We begin practicing this love meditation focusing on ourselves.  Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.  Next, we can practice towards others (substituting he/she or they), first with someone we love, next with someone we like, then with someone neutral to us, and finally toward someone who has made us suffer."

 * Adapted from the Visuddhi Magga.  For other practices to nourish love, see Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1997).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Metta Meditation

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live my live with ease.
May I be at peace.

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live your live with ease.
May you be at peace.

This was my offering of metta mediation for this week's classes.  Metta can be translated as loving kindness or compassion.  I share this Buddhist practice to deepen our study of Ahimsa (non-violence/compassion) from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. There are many versions of the metta meditation.  I consider our chant, Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu, to be one of them.  I have shared other versions in the past and will share them here eventually.  Perhaps you might feel inspired to create your own.

We learn, in the Buddhist tradition, to begin the metta meditation with ourselves so that we cultivate our own inner peace and freedom since only then can we be a light to others.  The next step is to offer the wishes to our beloveds, then to those who are neutral to us, and finally those who have caused us harm.  It may feel quite easy to send the wishes to your loved ones.  Your heart will sing and dance as you send them this love.  For those neutral to you, you might like to think of others in the world who are just like you, trying to find happiness in their daily lives.  You can send the wishes to the service people you come in contact with throughout your day:  the gas pump attendant, grocery store clerk, bank teller, person driving in the car ahead of you or sitting on the train next to you.

Sending the wishes to those who have caused us harm may be more difficult.  However, it can be a very helpful and liberating practice.  We can start with the mildest harm if we aren't ready to face the more difficult ones.  We approach this by understanding that people often cause harm to others when they are fearful or hurting as an unskillful way of expressing themselves (ourselves).  We do this practice knowing that we have also caused harm to others.  And, we hope they will forgive us for our shortcomings.  That we will forgive ourselves for our own shortcomings.  We send these wishes to those who cause harm and terror in the world in hopes that they will find freedom from their suffering and stop hurting others.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes a beautiful poem for us to see our interbeing with all, to soften our hearts with compassion for all.  We are reminded, "There, but for the grace of god, go I."  We can be thankful for our resources, our teachers, our life circumstances that provide us with the tools we need to transform our suffering, to make good choices, and live a good life.  We also become thankful for the difficult experiences we have lived through that teach us to appreciate how amazing all the wonders of life truly are since we have seen the other side.  May we keep reminding each other with loving kindness.

Please Call Me By My True Names  by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don't say that I will depart tomorrow--
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring  branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all this is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his "debt of blood" to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

(from the book Call Me By My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More on freedom

Estuary  by Danna Faulds

There is peace here, where the river
widens to meet the sea.  The rapids
are past; the boulders and the rocky
places at last give way to a broad
and sweeping current, flowing
slowly into vastness.  The river
moves silently, tastes the salty tide
that marks its demise, and slips
without a backward glance, into
the ocean's infinite embrace.

This Saturday, I asked the class, what freedom means to them and on what levels they ponder and work towards freedom.  We had a beautiful dharma talk highlighted by the wisdom of the sharing in class.  "Freedom from oppression, being lucky, having choices, and freedom from incarceration of emotions" were some of the replies.  We can consider our freedoms and the sources of our oppression on so many levels.  Ultimately, the broader layers including business, government, and international affairs, don't work unless we find inner freedom as individuals and the peace that comes from reconciling our own mistakes and finding a way to compassion for all beings -- including ourselves and the most hurtful people in our lives. 

Pantanjali gives us a prescription to this freedom in the Yoga Sutras with his eight limbs of yoga.  The first two limbs - the Yamas and Niyamas - are applicable in a practical way for our daily lives.  Recently, we have been focusing on the first limb, the Yamas, translated as restraints or masteries, of which there are five.  The first is Ahimsa, translated as non-violence or compassion.  In a very direct way, it is clear how to master non-violence.  Do not physically harm another being.  However, as we look more deeply, which beings do we include?  Do we include animals?  Do we go deeper to consider the harm caused not just by our physical actions but by our words and even deeper our unspoken thoughts?  Do we include non-harm and compassion to ourselves?  Do we even notice the ways in which we keep ourselves "incarcerated by our emotions" and by the stories we repeat in our minds about how life has treated us or how we have "performed" in this life? 

Do we include compassion toward even the most hurtful people in our lives?  Do you think those who cause the greatest harm in the world or even to you personally know inner freedom from suffering?  If they did, do you think they would commit the horrible actions that bring so much suffering to others? (See Thich Nhat Hanh's poem: Please Call Me By My True Names).  Can we see the potential we have, and the actual times we have caused suffering to others or in ourselves, and work towards lessening the harm in the world? Can we find a way to forgive ourselves and the other, to flow beyond "the rocky places" to the "ocean's infinite embrace?"

There is peace here, where the river
widens to meet the sea.  The rapids
are past; the boulders and the rocky
places at last give way to a broad
and sweeping current, flowing
slowly into vastness.  The river
moves silently, tastes the salty tide
that marks its demise, and slips
without a backward glance, into
the ocean's infinite embrace.

Estuary  by Danna Faulds
from her book Go In and In

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An invitation to a morning of music, movement, and meditation

Join us at Highland Yoga Studio in Butler, NJ on Sunday, August 14th, at 9:30am to participate in Dances of Universal Peace, sanskrit chanting, singing songs of mindfulness in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, and periods of silent meditation to soak in all the goodness. We will bask in the light of our community, receive the vibrations of our voices and energy, and open to the potential for healing and transformation for ourselves and others by sending the wishes and good vibes out for all beings.

Use your class card or pay the drop in rate to attend. A portion of these proceeds will be donated to the Sufi Ruhaniat International, the organization which continues the work of Hazrat Inayat Kahn and Samuel Lewis to support the ongoing practice of the Dances of Universal Peace and other peace works.


Saturday, July 9, 2011


"Nirvana means pacifying, silencing, or extinguishing the fire of suffering.  Nirvana teaches that we already are what we want to become.  We don't have to run after anything anymore.  We only need to return to ourselves and touch our true nature.  When we do, we have real peace and joy." 

from Thich Nhat Hanh's book The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation 

Remember the five koshas?   When we sit comfortably in our body and we relax the body (anamaya kosha), we can more easily notice the breath.  When we notice our breath - long, deep, full, and slow; we see that it ignites our prana, our life force energy and we can enjoy the subtle vibrations in the body (pranamaya kosha).   With the body relaxed and with awareness on the breath and the vibrations in the body, the mind (manomaya kosha) has an inward focus and can begin to quiet from all the storytelling that causes us to suffer.  As the mind quiets from these obstacles, the gateway to the deeper koshas is open to reveal our wisdom (vijnamaya kosha) and our bliss (anandamaya kosha).

This yogic concept takes us into this definition of nirvana.  Our wisdom and bliss, our deep peace and feeling of connection to all beings and forms, is our true nature.  Realizing we contain the universe within us - the power and light of the sun, the cool and soothing nature of the moon, the beauty and openness of a flower, the solidity of the mountain - we know that we don't need to chase after anything.  We have the resources within -including the wisdom of when to ask for help - to enjoy all the wonders of this life and to navigate through the suffering. 

Remember your sangha (community).  You are not alone.  The community of your family, your yoga class and studio, your meditation group, the teachers and teachings you find in your inspirational reading, supports you on your way.  We walk together on this journey in the footsteps of those who came before and inspire us, and showing the way for those that follow, shining our own light of inspiration for others.  Yes, you are a light!  Let it shine.

"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine"

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Freedom from Suffering

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings be filled with peace and joy, love and light.

This month's chant, in honor of Independence Day, asks for peace and joy, love and light for all.  Just as our founding fathers and mothers worked diligently for the liberation of our country to form the United States of America, we come to our yoga mats to breathe and feel, move our bodies and ignite prana (life force energy) with our own diligent practice so that we can find freedom from suffering and the liberation that follows from our steadfast efforts.  Remember how it feels when you release from a long holding of Utkatasana (chair pose)? 

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
"May all beings be happy and free and may my life be a giving to this happiness and freedom for all"  Donna Delory sings this translation on her CD Sanctuary.  It is one of my favorites - lyrical and sweet.

Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
Ansar's recording of this chant is called Alone.  With a strong beat and a nice groove, it is another favorite found on the compilation CD Yoga Chill.