The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

This Too Shall Pass April 9, 2010

I just floated home after Ximena Gutierrez’s Jivamukti class at Past Tense Studio (one of the places where I teach yoga).  Today’s theme was “This Too Shall Pass” – a phrase with which I am very familiar from a variety of spiritual paths and programs.  The premise is to remain detached from and have faith through all experiences – positive/negative, good/bad, easy/difficult.  Because eventually, all will change.

Over and over and over.

Complementing the normally uplifting effect of Ximena’s classes (and today’s perfectly crisp and sunny weather), I am feeling quite light-spirited from fasting.  I have not had a “solid” meal since Wednesday evening.  For this liquid fast, throughout yesterday I drank: many glasses of water with fresh organic lemon, cayenne and honey; one cup of fresh-made carrot/celery juice; two cups of Yogi Detox tea; and two bowls of miso soup with lemon juice and seaweed flecks to balance my blood sugar with proteins and aminos.

As you know from last night’s post, I attended a Kirtan yesterday.  Combined with my daily Sadhana, the fast removed many physical distractions and heightened my focus on the task at hand – chanting my devotion to a Higher Power.  Again citing Native American ritual, I remember that many people fasted for 24 hours prior to our sweat lodges, to intensify their presence within the ceremony.  Last night, I definitely felt more connected and aware during the event.

I have tried fasting a number of times throughout my decades of exploring spiritual paths and natural health.  Being prone to hypoglycemia, straight water fasts and the legendary “Master Cleanse” (water, lemon, cayenne, honey) do not work well for me.  At Yoga Teacher Training, we were invited to fast every Thursday with the cleanse formula – and for one day at a time, I did fine.  Overall, longer fasts that combine cleansing and nutritious liquids, juices and broths leave me the most energized and strong.

For example: in class this morning, lifting myself into wheel was like flying into the sky heart-first, with limbs dangling lightly below.

For me, fasting is easier if I remember that “This Too Shall Pass.”  The first day can be very challenging.  Every smell or reminder of food brings a hunger pang.  But I simply remind myself, “That food will be there when I finish my fast.  No need to dwell on it now.”  (Just like all those times I thought that depression or bliss would last forever – “Balance will return when this condition dissolves.  Be present with the emotion for these moments.”)

Today, after morning Sadhana and this journal entry, I will break my fast with a simple bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, cinnamon and fresh organic ginger.  I’ll ease back to a clean diet throughout the day, probably munching on dried goji berries and perhaps a bowl of miso with collards and onion.  All good tonic foods.

For dinner tonight, I’ve been invited for salmon at my friends’ house (yes, I eat fish – maybe I’ll journal about my choice to eat fish sometime) and am to bring a chocolate dessert!  Most likely, my fish portion will be small; and I might take a moment of conscientious indulgence for a small bite of dessert.  But maybe not.

More will be revealed.

The point is that I am willing to grow along this path of yogic life.  This fast did not take a bunch of planning.  I decided on Wednesday evening to stop eating for a day, and was going to break the fast without going to yoga class this morning.  But I went anyway, because I was feeling so great after last night’s Kirtan and yesterday’s liquid diet.  And if I didn’t have dinner plans this evening, I might have kept going through this day and beyond.  This clarity, lightness and serenity that comes from cleansing is a beautiful gift.

And of course, This Too Shall Pass.  And that’s A-OK with me.  OM Shanti.

“Be good, do good, feel good.”  – Swami Satchidananda

 

A Jewish Yogini at Midnight Mass December 29, 2009

24 December, 2009, 1pm

I have Christmas fever!  The spiritual kind, not the shopping kind.  I mean, this is big.  What a beautiful ritual to acknowledge the birth of Jesus – or as Isaiah says, “the wonderful, the counselor, the prince of peace.”  An all around GOOD guy.

To me, Jesus represents the ultimate human – flawed, open-minded, willing, seeking, serving and striving for goodness.

I just listened to classical WETA’s (public classical radio in DC) live broadcast of the King’s College Chapel Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols for Christmas Eve 2009.  Here is the program (http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/files/services/nine-lessons-2009.pdf).  The music was very traditional this year.  I was checking out the 2008 program, which included songs by Bertolt Brecht and William Blake.  Pretty modern.  Maybe someone complained, so they went old school this year.

Here is a little background on the tradition (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_Lessons_and_Carols).  “The format was based on an Order drawn up by Edward White Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury but at that time Bishop of Truro, in Cornwall, for use on Christmas Eve, 1880.  Tradition says that he organized a 10pm service on Christmas Eve in a temporary wooden shed serving as his cathedral and that a key purpose of the service was to keep men out of pubs on Christmas Eve.”

Clever guy, that Benson.  Way to keep those drunks off the streets!

So the King’s College Festival was very moving.  Listening to it live, I couldn’t help imagining the English audience in their Christmas Eve spirit, observing the twilight service in a beautiful chapel with loved ones.  Mmmmmmm.

I love ritual.  In Judaism our High Holy Days happen in the fall – my favorite season due to its cycle of shedding and planting.  The combo of the HHDs, related atonement/reconciliation and autumn awakens me into spiritual action.  Sitting in synagogue with a crowd of repenting Jews is energetically intense!  Add to that, my anniversary of recovery from addiction falls in the Autumn; and my sobriety program includes periodic moral inventories and amends.

Beautiful that my birth religion and current spiritual practices overlap.

Aside from the HHDs, I think Winter Solstice is my 2nd favorite “holy-day.”  Marking winter’s shortest day and longest night – and launching the lengthening of days – Solstice feels like a sparkling promise in the midst of darkening weather.  A tonic for winter’s hibernation tendencies.  A natural yin-yang balance of darkness and light.

How amazing to have spent 2009’s glorious pre-Solstice day in our blizzard, sharing lively, bright energy with my friend Matt and bringing warmth to the cocoon of falling snow and intensity of grey skies.  Again, the balance.

My 3rd favorite holy-day is the festival of Diwali, which also occurs in late Autumn (see “Diwali Intentions” post from October).  Apparently, in India’s history, there were many historical accounts of the triumph of good over evil during this season.  Therefore, most Indian religions (Hindu, Sikh, etc) observe Diwali as a festival of lights.  In preparation, the house is cleaned, oil lamps are lit and sweets are eaten!  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diwali)

Anyway, back to Christmas.

In his 1944 Christmas “speech,” 12-step recovery program pioneer Bill Wilson said, “How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness; that humiliation goes before resurrection; that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”

This eve I’m heading to a 6:30 yoga class at Past Tense, where I teach.  My mom and I used to have a Christmas Eve tradition of driving around the neighborhoods to look at holiday decorations.  So after class, I’m going to wander Mt. Pleasant and see how the neighbors did this year.  We’ll see if Mom chimes in with her opinions from above.

After that, we’ll see.  I have an idea but I’m not certain…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 8:30pm

Mmmm, Chinese food.  I almost forgot about the Jewish tradition of eating Chinese food and watching a movie on Christmas eve.  After flow instructor Emma’s relaxing and Silent Night-esque yoga class (and a cruise through the ‘hood to look at twinkly lights with yoga pal Tippi, who generously donated her hot pink gloves to a hand-less snowman), I stopped by Mayflower Chinese Restaurant.  These noodles are yummy!

Instead of watching a movie, I’m listening to WAMU’s (NPR in DC) old-fashioned radio show, The Big Broadcast, which is airing a very odd story about Joe DiMaggio and a Christmas angel cruising around 1940s NYC saving people from doom and gloom.  Huh?

It’s 9:30.  I’m still trying to decide on something for later…

*  *  *

24 December, 2009, 10:30pm

Some of my friends are really suffering emotionally and psychologically these days.  I feel really, REALLY grateful to be willing to seek and use tools to address suffering.  I must.  They say, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”  (Just who are “they,” anyway?)  If I drop into suffering, there’s always the danger of sinking into that gripping darkness that I frequently battle on this life path.  But that’s just my path.  Whether or not my friends are willing to seek and use tools, I need to JUST PRAY for them.  They are in pain.  So I’m shifting my attitude from worry to compassion (Pratipaksha Bhavana, Jai!) immediately.

In fact, I think I’ll dedicate my entire Midnight Mass experience to all who suffer.

Yup, you heard right!  I’m going to Midnight Mass.  Alright, I have to get out the door and down to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  Merry Christmas, y’all.

*  *  *

25 December, 2009, 11am

Attending Midnight Mass reinforced my love for all fellowships where a group gathers in faith.  All of my life, I have been drawn to the collective conscience of people moving toward one heart-felt purpose.  I have experienced the similarities between separate rituals from different origins, proving our oneness.

Sure, at Midnight Mass, some people are not gathered to connect to a higher power.  Some are there for status, social life, obligation and so on.  (And some are around the corner at a nightclub, drinking their faces off – I know because I had to wade through them after floating blissfully out of the Cathedral at 1:40am.  We need to send the ghost of Archbishop Benson to gather up those drunks next year!)

At the same time, in Midnight Mass, regardless of motive, everyone’s humanness shines through, from the giddy Buddha-like smiles to the rebellious “I don’t want to be here” frowns.  Midnight Mass is the perfect blend of heaven and earth, body and soul, mind and spirit, self and ego.

To me, the differences between religions, faiths and practices is not important.  I embrace and celebrate the common threads among spiritual groups – whether Cuban and Native American ritual, African and Celtic rhythms, Jewish and Christian history, yogic and Buddhist ethics, and on and on and on.

But that’s a whole other conversation on interfaith connections.

Instead, suffice it to say that this Christmas, a Catholic Mass reminded me that we are one.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.