Spirituality, Yoga

Yoga and Christianity

For about twelve years, I’ve been enjoying the Daily Meditations offered by the Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, and the Center for Action and Contemplation. This week, the theme for the meditations is “The Way of Jesus.” As I read today’s message, I found myself reflecting on its similarity to the teachings of Yoga….

Here’s a quote:

I believe that we rather totally missed Jesus’ major point when we made a religion out of him instead of realizing he was giving us a message of simple humanity, vulnerability, and nonviolence that was necessary for the reform of all religions—and for the survival of humanity….

“Jesus is a person and, at the same time, a process. Jesus is the Son of God, but at the same time he is ‘the Way.’ Jesus is the goal, but he’s also the means, and the means is always the way of the cross.”

There’s so much here that meshes with the ancient teachings and practices of Yoga. For example, Yoga is built upon the foundation of simplicity, nonviolence, and compassion. We need these practices more than ever if humanity expects to survive – and if we hope to save this planet from exploitation and destruction.

And, as Jesus is described as both the goal and the means to the goal, Yoga (which ultimately means union with God), is both the goal and the means to that goal. The “way of the cross” refers to the ability to hold all the opposites of life in balance: The vertical and the horizontal aspects of life must be joined. For example, the ways of spirit and the ways of community/fellowship must be united.

I love how the deeper spiritual teachings from every religion always offer the same lessons for humanity. In this case, there’s agreement between Yoga and Christianity. These teachings have survived for thousands of years because they still offer useful information and practices. I pray that we learn the value of these teachings rather than always assuming that modern guidelines are somehow more relevant for our times. On the contrary, certain lessons are timeless and can be trusted.

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Spirituality, Yoga

A New Year – 2023

Today, as we prepare to usher in the new year 2023, I share inspiring excerpts from the New Year’s message of Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963):

By the command of the Indestructible Being, minutes, hours, days and nights stand apart. By the command of the Immortal Brahman, months, years, seasons and solstices stand apart. [The one] who knows this Indestructible Being is a liberated sage or Jivanmukta.

Time rolls on. New becomes old and old becomes new again. Today is the most auspicious New Year’s day. God has given you another chance this year to enable you to strive for your salvation. Today man is. Tomorrow he is not. Therefore avail yourself of this golden opportunity, struggle hard and reach the goal of life. Make the best use of every moment of this New Year. Unfold all latent faculties. Here is a chance to begin life anew, to grow and evolve and become a superhuman or a great dynamic Yogi….

Be thou a spiritual warrior of Truth. Put on the armor of [spiritual] discrimination. Wear the shield of dispassion. Hold the flag of Dharma. . . . Blow the conch of courage. Kill the enemies of doubt, ignorance, passion and egoism and enter the illimitable kingdom of blissful Brahman. Possess the imperishable wealth of Atma. Taste the divine immortal essence. Drink the nectar of Immortality.

May this bright New Year’s day and all the succeeding days of this year and all the future years also bring you all success, peace, prosperity and happiness. May you all tread the path of Truth and righteousness! May you enjoy the eternal bliss of the Absolute, leading a divine life, singing Lord’s name, sharing what you have with others, serving the poor and the sick . . . and melting the mind in silent meditation in the Supreme Self.

OM shanti, shanti, shanti…. Peace, peace, peace

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Practical Spirituality

Does spirituality often seem like something “otherworldly” that remains disconnected from daily life? For example, it’s common for people to go to church or temple once a week but then forget about God and devotional practices on the other days of the week. My husband, who attends a weekly meditation group, told me he’d been attending for some time when he suddenly had an insight about the “daily practice” that people mentioned as they checked in with one another at meetings. He realized, “Oh, I’m supposed to be doing this stuff at home on my own!” He then recognized he had a choice about how he spends his time each day. He could sit in front of the TV or the computer, for example, or he could make a point of engaging in spiritual practices. There are formal practices such as seated meditation and informal practices that can be used according to personal preferences.

Here are some ideas based on a talk entitled “Spirituality in Daily Life” by Swami Ramananda from the Integral Yoga Institute, San Francisco, CA:

— Be mindful and present throughout the day while going through activities. Train the mind to focus on what’s actually happening moment-to-moment. This is the practice of “mindfulness.”

— Design a personal mission/purpose statement to inform your daily choices. Why are you choosing to do what you do each day? Are these choices congruent with your mission in life?

— Notice inner conflicts and make a point to relieve them. For example, notice self-judgment and ask yourself where that voice originates. Journaling and/or psychotherapy can be helpful with this.

— Release the pressure of competitive striving. Recognize that other people have their own lives and make their own choices while you are free to do the same.

— Perform all actions as service to God, as devotion. View all of humanity, all of creation, as aspects of God to bring a sense of peace/joy to work no matter how mundane it may seem.

— Engage in creative endeavors such as drawing, painting, dancing, writing poetry – anything wholesome that brings spontaneity and freedom into daily life.

— Work with one spiritual teaching/practice, such as nonviolence or truthfulness, for an extended amount of time (perhaps a week or a month at a time) to begin noticing more subtle levels of the practice.

— Spend time in formal seated meditation, prayer, and/or chanting/singing in Spirit. Stay with the practice long enough in each session until you encounter some sense of inner light/peace to carry into the rest of daily life.

— Incorporate “sabbath time” into life in some way. This is dedicated time for inner spiritual work away from the responsibilities of family life and livelihood. This can be practiced in a variety of ways such as one day per week, or several days of retreat once every 3-4 months.

— Take time to breathe in the clean air of nature. Enjoy trees, flowers, rivers – all the beauty of the earth.

All of the above are suggestions. What others are calling to you at this point?

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Poetry, Spirituality

As Above, So Below

Mother Nature speaks in green
always, then more gold and red
in autumn. Weeping willows may
be her hair and rivers
her arteries. Her many children,
birds and fish and beasts,
frolic in woods, on beaches, even
in city cemeteries. They speak
and dance and nurture their young.
Do I notice, do I listen? Or, am I
too busy trying to earn money
to pay for my own survival?

Heaven says give up all worries,
listen to the heart more
than the head to find Truth
and Beauty and unending Love.
Prayer does not require words.
Prayer is presence to the Presence
that never vanishes, that lives above
and below, inside and outside. See?
Nature and the Divine are one, like
two sides of a coin, like the clam’s
bivalve shell resting at water’s edge:
as above, so below.

Approach the Divine through the objects
of Nature. And find deep connection
and love of Nature by listening
to Heaven. Pray with the breath,
the heartbeat. Pray with holy texts
or with crayons. Pray by dancing
or singing. Or. Sit. In silence. Listen:
“Be still and know that I am God.”*
Where are you, God?
“As above, so below. Be.” Amen. OM… OM… OM…

*Psalm 46:10

Jivani at the Pagoda in Norfolk, VA
Spirituality, Yoga

True Independence

By Swami Ramananda

Independence implies a freedom from being controlled or unduly influenced by an outside source. Spiritual independence suggests the freedom to live in harmony with the spiritual truth at the heart of our being. It implies freedom from depending on any outside source for our happiness, which becomes more and more possible as we begin to experience the profound and unchanging peace within.

Most of us experience daily ups and downs as the situations and events in our lives unfold. When things go our way, we feel pleased and cheerful; when they don’t, we may be disappointed and frustrated. This tells us that we have unintentionally tied—and thus bound—our happiness to the changing world of thoughts, feelings, relationships, external objects, name and fame, and so on.

It’s not surprising that the predominant beliefs of our culture have influenced the way we understand ourselves and our relationship to the world around us. All our lives, we’ve been fed the message that happiness lies in pursuing and holding onto, as well as avoiding, certain things. The teachings of Yoga help us understand that the more we depend on our reputation, bank account, achievements, or the admiration of others as the source of our peace of mind, the more elusive it becomes.

When we find ourselves feeling anxious or angry, it can be an eye-opening exercise to question ourselves, “What is it that I am wanting but not getting that is preventing me from being at peace with this moment?” Or we could ask, “Who is upset and who is aware of it?” If I am aware that I am upset, I can center myself in that awareness or Beingness that is the real “I”, and is always peaceful, balanced, and lacking nothing.

Working with the breath can assist us in this type of inquiry. Pause and ask: “Do I have to be upset or can I take some deep breaths and reconnect to the center of balance even as I pursue my efforts?” In such moments, it can be beneficial to challenge ourselves to find at least a foothold of contentment and remember that is our birthright.

If we are in touch with who we truly are, with a felt inner sense of contentment, our relationship to anything that we might acquire or achieve is dramatically different. We can still enjoy things that we accomplish or experience, but our happiness is not contingent on those things. We can still enjoy eating something, winning a game, and pursuing a career or a relationship, but we can also enjoy the process since we are not relying on the outcome.

Yoga teaches us that we all experience this spiritual independence when we are able to quiet our minds and its movements: all the worrying, obsessing, and mindlessness that often occupies them. Beneath the surface waves of the mind lies an ocean of peace, a deep sense of contentment and connection with all of life. Imagine going about your day with that feeling in the forefront of your mind. Over time, that sense of peace will permeate all your experiences.

Stilling the mind this way is no easy task, but even a little success through some form of regular meditative practice will give us a taste of that natural joy that is ever-present at the heart of our being. Better still, a whole lifestyle based on the teachings of Integral Yoga creates a comprehensive approach that addresses all the levels of our being, and provides fertile ground for growth.

This means adopting sacred standards, such as the Yama and Niyama of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as our guidelines for living. It means practicing asana, pranayama and meditation to calm and focus the mind. It means letting go of preferences that don’t really serve us and attuning to the inner wisdom that is always in service to the highest good of everyone, including ourselves. It includes an effort to disentangle our sense of self from the ways we have defined ourselves—witnessing the stories of the mind rather than being imprisoned by them. And, it embraces serving others with selfless love and care, without attachment to the result.

As our practice deepens, we experience moments free from past conditioning and begin to see ourselves and our relationship to the world in a fresh way. We begin to feel our connection to each other and all of nature. Over time, such a dedicated life will gradually restructure even the subconscious mind so that we are no longer compelled by old beliefs and fears, and are free to approach life with a sense of deep belonging, inner contentment, and wonder. This is true independence—the birthright that we are all meant to experience.