Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The First Movement is Up

IX.27 Yatkaroshi yadashnaasi yajjuhoshi dadaasi yat;
Yattapasyasi kaunteya tatkurushva madarpanam.
Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou offerest in sacrifice, whatever
thou givest, whatever thou practiseth as austerity, O Arjuna, do it as an offering unto Me!
(tr. Swami Sivananda)
"tatkurushva madarpanam" replaces "Lookout Below" in the banner
 My favorite quote from the Bhagavad Gita.  Let's not get caught up in the "unto Me" part, rather let's focus on "as an offering." Krishna instructs that all actions, both common (eating) and sacred (performance of austerity) are to be done as an offering, without expectation of reward.  If we can first dedicate our actions to something larger than ourselves, we are acting correctly.  This has to be done at the beginning.  This is the reason why texts and practice sessions commence with an invocation: we are recognizing that our efforts are a part of something larger, and we are focusing our coming actions outward instead of keeping the results to ourselves.

This is difficult.  

I have seen students who think that "going deeper" in their practice involves advanced contortions and feats of strength.  I have seen over zealous students push to the point of injury because their ego is driving them to compete with other students.  I have seen students cut off from the practice because they feel that they cannot progress physically to where other students are practicing.

Advancing in your practice truly means learning to perform all actions as an offering.  

This is difficult.

It will not happen all at once.  Or even in a straight line progression.  I often describe this practice as a Mobius strip wrapped in a double helix--inverting and twisting, both close and far at the same time.  Can't figure it out, just have to buy the ticket and take the ride.

Many students begin to see some change in their practice when they begin to change their thinking.  Take the transition from Downward Facing Dog to Dandasana.  On first view, it is a forward movement.  But if you try to take it as a forward movement, gravity rapidly takes over, and you land earlier that you wanted to.  You can be po'ed at gravity, your "inability," etc, etc.  But, if you begin to see this transition as primarily an upward motion followed by a forward motion, the movements make a bit more sense.  Same applies to jumping back.  And bending forward, backwards, or to the side.  Lift up first, then you are free to move in any direction.

Didn't I just say it wasn't about the physical?  How do you lift up to go deeper in other ways?  Start with Om.  Hold Om.  My practice changed immensely when I began to apply mantra with each breath.  Letting the mantra and breath initiate the movement, rather than letting the physical movement lead. Doesn't mean I can bend further forward or backwards.  That is not the point of the practice.  It does not matter where the body goes, it matters that remembering wherever the body goes that is your offering.

This is difficult.

I have not succeeded in doing this with every breath during every practice.  I have not succeeded in bringing this to every breath outside of practice.  In this way, my practice is as Zen Master Dogan described his practice: "One continuous mistake."  But I keep practicing.  Lifting little by little.  With faith.  And mula bandha.

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