Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Supporting Right Livelihood with Right Diligence: An Invitation to 40 days of practice

Today we spent our last day focusing on Right Livelihood, noticing how our practice of it and the other steps on the Noble Eightfold Path have contained Right Diligence or Right Effort.  I shared an article I found back in 2008 by Tama J. Kieves on The Yoga of Right Livelihood.  Her words were so inspiring, you can find them by clicking the above link which takes you to her full but brief article on Kripalu's site.  I highly recommend taking the time to read it.  Here's a taste:

"Child’s Pose In yoga, I’ve learned that when I exert myself too much, I can always return to Child’s Pose, a resting posture. For me, it feels like the physical act of surrender, a letting go of trying so hard and a remembering to reclaim my guaranteed invincibility as a child of a loving universe. It is not up to me to make something happen. It’s up to me to be honest, earnest, and daring. Resting is the stance that nurtures my genius. Paradoxically, Child’s Pose helps me to remember that as I relax, I summon more strength, conviction, and inspiration to move forward."

"... I’m still discovering the depths of my own talents and expanding my own dreams. Some days, I’m still nervous about the unknown territory before me. Sometimes, I’m tired and about as passionate as mud. But I’m devoted. I will never abandon my inner voice again. I will honor my creativity and my contribution all the days of my life. I’ll reach the edge of my discomfort, and I’ll back off and comfort myself. But I’ll dare it again the next day and the next. I’ll breathe deep and let go as I push forward into extraordinary new possibilities. I’ll keep practicing right livelihood. I hope you will, too."

Being on the precipice of a new year and the beginning of our new focus, Right Diligence, it seems like the perfect time to practice Right Diligence by embarking on a 40 day practice.  Let's support each other in our commitment to start each day with a practice that could include pranayama, meditation, chanting mantra, or asana.  Even if it is just for 5 minutes.  Let's taste the fruit of Right Diligence in giving this gift to ourselves and to each other.

Here is a sample practice, what we did today in class, that you might like to use as your daily practice if you aren't sure what to do.  However, feel free to create your own practice with whatever components would serve you.  I just invite you to try to settle on a consistent routine that you repeat for 40 days to go deep into the practice and notice the effects of your chosen practice.

First, I set up a playlist of songs so that I can use the songs to tell me when to change from one part of the practice to the next.  Each song is just over 3 minutes long.  The heart of this practice is pranayama that we completed in 3 songs - about 10 minutes.  The links take you to the song that you can then link to iTunes to purchase if you like.  I will include some other song selections from a longer practice playlist at the end of this post.

The Wishing Well, Connie Dover, Celtic Voices: Women of Song
Goodbye Montana - Part 2, George Winston, Summer
Storms in Africa - Part 2, Enya, Watermark

The first song we did a four part breath, pranayama practice.  I find this pranayama helps to deepen my breath and it feels cleansing or detoxing to me.  

1) breath in through nose, 
2) breath out through O shaped mouth (I find this brings a bit of an ujjayi (ocean) sound when I do it), 
3) breath in through O shaped mouth (same ocean sound seems to happen), 
4) breath out through nose. 

Repeat for the entire length of the first song.  End with an exhale through the nose.  Then just take a few breaths before the next pranayama practice.

The second song we did alternate nostril breathing (Nadhi Shodhana).  This breath is balancing to your energy body and helps keep your nostrils clear and breath flowing easily.  Even if one of your nostrils is slightly closed, try to stay with this breath to help open the nostrils more.  

1) Bring your left hand into jnana mudra - thumb and index finger touch - and rest left hand (palm up) on your left knee.  
2) Bring your right hand into vishnu mudra - index and middle finger rest on pad of thumb - and bring hand toward your nose. 
3) Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril.
4) Close the left nostril with your ring and pinky fingers while opening your right and exhale through your right nostril. 
5) Inhale through the open (right) nostril.  
6) Close and exhale through the other (left) nostril.  
7) Inhale through the open (left) nostril.  
8) Close and exhale through the other (right) nostril.
9)  Repeat steps 5, 6, 7 and 8 until the song ends and finish with an exhale through your left nostril.

The third song we did Kapalabhati breathing by drawing navel in and up to pump the breath out of the nose.  The inhalation is passive. Try to start with a slower pace to feel the control of the belly muscles to invite the pumping of the breath.  As you proceed you may find your pace wants to go a bit quicker.  See if you want to go along with the music.  At the end of the song, exhale the breath completely to empty the body.  Keep the breath out and engage the bandhas.  I find the jalandhara and uddiyana bandha engage once I empty of all breath and then with my mouth closed make the action with my diaphragm and throat of taking an in breath but taking in no breath, the belly and throat draw in like a vacuum.  Then I just invite the same vacuum feeling at the pelvic floor to engage the mula bandha.  Keep the breath out and stay empty for as long as you comfortably can.  When you need to, draw in your breath gently and continue to enjoy your breath for a few rounds, noticing the effects of the pranayama practice.  (You might like to just sit in quiet meditation for another 3 minute song here before moving on to the next part.)

Then we put our hands over our hearts and read the Love Meditation for ourselves.  Feeling it for ourselves.  When finished, absorb that for a few breaths.  Then perhaps recite the love mediation for someone else - either someone you love, or someone you know who is struggling, or someone who is causing you to suffer.  Remember, only hurt people hurt people.  When we are liberated from our suffering, we stop contributing to others suffering.

Love Meditation

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.

You might choose to close your practice by chanting a mantra.  In class, we chant Om and then Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu.  You could chant that or any other chant to calls to you.  I am happy to help you find one that may serve you.  Depending on how much time you would like to dedicate to your practice, you could also include some asana such as warming up the 6 directions of the spine or maybe some sun salutations or some supine poses like twists and hip openers.  Feel free to add on to your practice if some days you have more time.  Just be sure to stick to your basic (minimum) practice each day - whatever you determine that to be.

I look forward to hearing how it goes.  Post here in comments or on Facebook or let me know when I see you in class.

Wishing you all the best for the new year!  May we all live our Right View, Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood supported by our Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

A deep bow of gratitude for our sangha, for the dharma, and for the many buddhas who inspire.


More songs for practice:

From George Winston's Summer:
Early Morning Range, The Garden, Living Without You.

From Enya's Watermark:
River, Miss Clare Remembers

From Enya's And Winter Came:
And Winter Came... , Stars and Midnight Blue

From Krishna Das' Pilgrim Heart:
Yah Devi

From Ty Burhoe's Chill Invocation:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Right Action and The Five Mindfulness Trainings

We continued our exploration of Right Action for the month of November.  As a reminder of where we came from, our Right Action is fed by our Right Speech which is supported by our Right Thinking which is founded by our Right View.  So even though we are focusing on Right Action, we continue to be mindful of the other aspects of the practice because they are all interdependent. Scroll down to see prior posts to get more information on these foundational steps.

In our yoga classes, we began our exploration of Right Action by simply acknowledging how we are already practicing by coming to class, breathing deeply, and caring for our body with our pranayama, asana, and meditation practices.  How we pay attention to our breathing and alignment during the class, how we carefully align our bodies to safely strengthen and stretch our muscles, lubricate joints, and awaken our prana, life force energy, for our ultimate health and peace.  We know we are practicing Right Action when we feel good - body, mind, and spirit.  For example, the sweet vibration that comes from doing the practice, the open feeling in your hips, the suppleness of the spine, the comfort in the shoulders, the open heart and clear mind that are all fruits of our practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his book, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching:  "Right Action means Right Action of the body.  It is the practice of touching love and preventing harm, the practice of nonviolence towards ourselves and others.  The basis of Right Action is to do everything in mindfulness."  He invites us to utilize the five mindfulness trainings as inspiration toward Right Action in practicing Reverence for Life, Generosity, Sexual Responsibility, Loving Kind Speech and Deep Listening, and Mindful Consumption.  We spent one week each on the first, second, third, and fifth trainings this month.  We covered the fourth training last month with Right Speech.  I have copied all five mindfulness trainings below.  You might like to work with one a week or one a month or one a day as a light to keep you on the path.

We talked about each of the areas of the mindfulness trainings first in terms of how we apply them more subtly and deeply to ourselves and then carry that out into the world.  Regarding reverence for life, how do we ignite and take care of our own life force (prana) to be inspired to practice?  Regarding generosity, are we generous enough to ourselves to take the time to do the practice?  to take a deep breath?  to name our suffering and find places of refuge to transform it?  Considering sexual responsibility, how do we utilize our body, strength and energies when we do the practice?  For example, how to we manage our energies of craving, desire, anger, irritation when they come on strong?  Do you remember how we can meet this energy with a stronger asana or pranayama practice and calm it down slowly?  Regarding mindful consumption, we can look at the subtler forms of consumption like sleep, water - are we getting enough?  conversations, music - are these choices setting the vibration we want for ourselves?

When you read the mindfulness trainings, keep in mind the previous post about how the trainings are meant to provide a direction, a north star, to guide us.  Notice if you resonate with them or feel resistance to them.  Honor all of it - the work you are already doing on the path and the growth edge that is being shown to you on how you can deepen your practice.  Remember we just take small bites to digest and integrate a little at a time.  These teachings are deep and wide.  Acknowledge where you are already working and perhaps choose one area in which you want to grow.  Start small.  And remember, it is called a practice, not a perfect.  Neither guilt, shame, inadequacy, nor anxiety are meant to be driving forces when engaging with these practices.  If these feelings come up, hold them gently and look deeply into their root causes.  Keep coming back to a place of freedom, liberation, and inspiration to lead you down the path.  And, remember how you can use your breath and pranayama, asana (yoga postures), meditation, mantra, music, and the beauty in nature to take you there.

The First Mindfulness Training:  Reverence for Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

The Second Mindfulness Training:  Generosity

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.  I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.  I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.

The Third Mindfulness Training:  Sexual Responsibility

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society.  I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment.  To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

The Fourth Mindfulness Training: Deep Listening and Loving Kind Speech

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of the their suffering.  Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.  I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure  I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord or that can cause the family or the community to break.  I am determined to make all efforts to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.

The Fifth Mindfulness Training:  Mindful Consumption

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 ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society.  I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations.  I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is tho betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations.  I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society.  I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.

(pg. 66,  Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book, c2000, compiled by Thich Nhat Hanh and the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village)