Thursday, March 24, 2011

Aparigraha, non-accumulation and balance, in Miami, FL

The other weekend I had the opportunity to attend a couple of workshops with Greg Nardi, at the Miami Life Center, in Miami, FL -- a major hub for pop culture, media, and entertainment; a city notorious for finance, commerce, business, and shopping.

The surge of people pulsing through that city that March 11th weekend, I soon learned, could be attributed to: (1) South Beach's mass appeal for a spring break location, and (2) the Winter Music Conference, an annual event that is apparently enormously popular and successful.

As I wandered down Collins Ave. -- "shopping district" -- passed shops like Armani Exchange, Club Monaco, Sephora, Polo Sport Ralph Lauren, and so on, simultaneously absorbing the teeming masses seeming positively smitten by all of the stuff that this city had to offer, I began contemplating the irony of practicing yoga in a culture so heavily influenced by media, and incidentally by superficiality (the newest iPhone, uPhone, or whatever) and appearance (the tans, white teeth, bleach blonde hair, beach bodies, string bikinis). I could not help but wonder about the fifth of the five yamas (or personal codes of conduct), the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga: aparigraha, or non-accumulation, non-possessiveness, non-greed. Yes, in a city thriving off of materialism, how does one balance a life of yoga, a life of mindful living and mindful possession, a life of selflessness, a life of seeking out and acquiring only what one needs and nothing more, a life of moderation and control...?

This, I think, is the ultimate challenge. To practice a yoga within a world that advertises distractions on every billboard, on every homepage, on every front cover of every magazine on every street corner; a society that presents and produces the urge and the potential to indulge at every whim. This is the real yoga.

So as I took it one step, one Ujjayi breath, at a time, towards the Miami Life Center, I tell myself, that yes, while I can be indulgent and can really enjoy my Starbucks chai teas when I have them, that we must recognize the emptiness in addictions, in accumulation, in consumerism. As I arrive at this safe haven, this quiet, still, and peaceful place, of the Miami Life Center, I see that this is the work: To enjoy what you have when you have it, but to be okay without it as well; to abolish the idea that we need things that we simply do not (i.e. that other purse, when the one(s) we have is/are perfectly usable)...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Karma Yoga: Giving & Nonattachment

Karma Yoga is the yoga of action, the work of doing good for the sake of good, not doing good for the sake of receiving good. We give just to give, not to get in return. (If we have this mentality, we will, indeed, get everything that we need. We will be taken care of.) This is non-attachment. We must resist the natural inclination towards resentment when we feel we are giving more than we are getting in return. We perform the actions we do because it is what we can do, it is what we want to do, it is our very best work and we believe in what we are doing. We do not perform these actions merely for the end-product, for the results they yield.

It is simple. If we are in the position to, we take care of others. Many people are not in the position to, for a wide array of reasons: physical handicap to mental immaturity to socioeconomic situation to geographic location. If we have, we must share. This becomes our dharma, our duty. If we have been granted the gift or the fortune to live comfortably and have the resources to care for ourselves, we then care for others. And what I mean by "live comfortably" is very relative. There are those who live in comfort so lavish and so extreme, that it is borderline perverse to even consider not sharing this with others. Then there are those who live in a general kind of comfort. I would include myself in this category. To have a comfortable life does not mean you are never challenged nor periodically worry over where you will get the money to pay for something. To have a comfortable life may mean that your actual life, your health, your wellbeing, is not being threatened or jeopardized on a regular basis.

Even during an "economic meltdown," many of us, as Americans, are some of the wealthiest, luckiest, and most liberated individuals on the planet and we have a duty to serve others. It does not have to be someone on the other side of the world to count. There are plenty in this country who need. There are plenty of people in your own community who need. There are people in your own family who need--in different ways. Begin to consider these ways. It is not just financial, it is not just physical. It is mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Duality Thinking

The other week a friend sent me this wonderful quote from Breakpoint and Beyond by George Land and Beth Jarman...

"Every human being is both child and adult, both masculine and feminine, both sensible and crazy, both illogical and logical. The idea of both... and is critical to make the successful crossing to a new worldview. The fully evolved human being is both playful and serious, both poet and engineer. The notion of either... or, of dichotomies, of duality thinking cuts us off from our full wave of potential and ultimately from our full creativity."
I shared this quote with my yoga classes, because it happened to find me at a particularly trying and applicable time. One of those times in life you feel too much of something and not enough of something else. Too passive, not assertive enough. Too serious, not playful enough. Too sensitive, not sensible enough. Too judgmental. Too distracted. Too impatient. Too impassioned.

This quote reminded me of what we all too often forget. We are everything. Together, as a species, we are a perfect mix, the sweetest combination, of loud and quiet, of rational and irrational, of silly and pensive, of confident and curious, of joyful and sorrowful. There will, indeed, periodically be imbalances, fluctuations,  cycles, and changes (like everything in nature). Yes, some of these characteristics will be more dominant in some people than in others. This is what makes us unique. But no, this does not mean you are stuck that way, that you are powerless. What I've reminded myself and my students, is that if there is something that you feel is out of balance about yourself, something you don't quite like, you should feel really good and free knowing that you have the power to change that. Let that liberate you. Know that you have the capacity to adjust what needs to be adjusted, just as we adjust physically on the yoga mat, we adjust mentally or emotionally, our perspective, our attitude, our approach, our worldview. This is what leads us to our "full wave of potential." Allow yourself to indulge in what you love about yourself and what may be present in excess, and allow yourself to balance out or practice discipline in what may be lacking. Discipline is liberation as well, not limitation, like so many of us are taught to believe. Once you have a degree of control over your own being, your creativity and potential is limitless.