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"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." -Antoine de Saint-Exupery · · · Photo: @jamilynneb 🙏♥️ · #quotes #quotestoliveby #quotesaboutlife #Saturday #mindfulheart #mindfulschmidt #listenwithyourheart #listentoyourheart #openyourheart #honey #lookbeyond #secret #lifeteachings #brookwoodcommunityfarm
There’s been construction ongoing next to my house for the last few months and they’ve recently finished the foundation. Today have begun their work erecting massive I-beams for the main frame. The building is set to be quite large with retail space on the ground and a few floors of apartments above that. With the help of anm enormous crane, the workers carefully set each beam into place and bolt it into the supporting structure then scoot or walk across the beam to the next standing support structures. It’s breathtaking work and though some find the raw grinding and growling sounds of a construction zone annoying, I can’t help but watch out the window.
I’ve always been fascinated by construction. As a boy, I was spellbound by the large machines lifting and moving incredible mounds of dirt and rocks to make way for some new creation. These seemingly mythical machines transported me into the my own imagination where dreams become reality. After working a couple of summers in construction during college, I became much more appreciative of what actually was going on in those construction sites. The tireless planning, specificity to detail and manual labor that goes into building something that’s intended to last a lifetime. I found the repetition of the work meditative in moments and complete frustrating at other times depending on the collective energy and cooperative efforts of the people in that group. For, the group becomes an organism that operates collectively just as the organs of the body work separately and harmonically to maintain the body’s health.
Whether or not you share this enjoyment of construction with me, I think most of us appreciate the idea of creating something. Is this not what drives so many of us in our life? Whether the structure we’re building is of monetary value, social economy, creative or spirit expression, or something else entirely, we are constantly building things that we feel are valuable. We build up our ideas, beliefs, and general outlook on the world and once we’ve created the thing, the job’s done and there’s nothing more to do with it. It remains in our mind as the truth. The more structures we create, the less space we have to adapt and change them. I’m not making a case against construction because it’s all construction (of sorts). I am asking that we look at what type of production we choose to invest our time and who or what is the thing serving.
When contemplating these questions, I can’t help but look to the master creator, Mother Nature. All around us the Earth constructs and decomposes without any encouragement from us. She is the most efficient and adaptive organism that we can look to for gaining a deeper understanding into our own nature of construction. We are taught that nature is a wild beast, that only the fittest & strongest survive, and that each species is fighting tooth and claw to reach ‘the top’ (whatever that means). But upon closer examination into this organism we call earth, we find quite the opposite. That nature is constantly communicating, reacting, and evolving at all times and it expresses itself in fluid waves and gentle fluctuations. Nature does not discriminate, label, and compartmentalize. Nature listens and responds in order to serve the whole, always. Species of animals and plants grow and wane as a result of this communication and nothing is overlooked or taken for granted. Each piece serves a purpose and death and decomposition do not denote an end but just another point on the circle.
On the other hand, humans construct with rigid lines and as close to permanent material as we can find or create! We may think that we’re building to last, but our short-sightedness has obscured our connection to the reality of the way things work. And I’m not just talking about the construction of buildings and physical structures, I’m talking about our mentality, beliefs, ego, and disposition. How we approach the world. The stronger our beliefs about something, the more narrow our overall perception and understanding becomes. For instance, if I believe the world is a tough place, that it’s dangerous and scary then when I encounter the world through this lens, I will feel and see all of those things that I fear. This reinforces my reality that the world is frightening, and so the cycle continues. If, however, I see a world of possibilities, of care and comfort then I will go out into the streets and see opportunity, community, and love. Both are valid and understandable perspectives, because they are real...to us. But just because they are real to us, doesn’t mean that this is their true nature. In order to see things as they are, we practice letting go of our own preconceptions and to listen with an open heart and mind to what’s around us and how it makes us feel, instead of how our beliefs make us feel.
Our experience is always changing and in order to flow with all of the fluctuations that life brings, it’s better to build with legos than bricks. Something that we can easily reexamine, reshape, and respond to the world around us. I find it’s better to be curious than smart. For someone who thinks they know the way things work is often limiting the depth of their own experience and misses out on much of the everyday beauty that surrounds us. If we approach the world with curiosity, then we are listening carefully, with compassion and excitement for what will be revealed to us. In so doing, we can channel our inner child and take a look through that child’s eyes to see a world that’s completely new and uncharted. A world of wonder that’s waiting to be explored and where anything might happen. And who knows...anything just might!
How do you approach your practice of yoga and/or meditation? What am I doing, why am I doing it, and how is it working out? These questions have been surfacing for me in the last few weeks. Both yoga and meditation are a way for us to attune our attention to the felt sensations of the body and the nature of our mind. And there are plenty of different approaches that one can take with their formal practices.
I used to approach these practices with the idea that there’s a goal or at the very least, something to work toward. Since asana postures have different ranges of mobility experienced and in meditation, there are subtler states of mind, we may begin to feel as if those deeper places are somehow more valuable than where we are currently. That if we continue to practice diligently we’ll break through and experience greater bliss. But in taking this approach, I’ve noticed some trouble spots. For instance, in asana, if we have a mental idea of what a posture should look like physically then we create a mental environment that’s craving something other than our present experience. We may want to be more flexible, to balance better, to be stronger or more peaceful. If we approach the practice with the sense that there’s a goal to be reached, we will often be disappointed or at the very least distracted by the fact that we have somewhere else to go. But where are we trying to go?
This mindset encourages us to label our experience, from day to day and moment to moment, as good, bad, or pitiful. When we have this perspective we are creating confusion for ourselves because life is not a point to point race. If we approach our practice with the idea that there is an endgame then what happens if we don’t get there...or even worse...what happens if we do? It would be similar to a sailor seeing the horizon and mistaking it for the end of the ocean. Won’t he be surprised, once he gets to that ‘endpoint’ and sees another horizon in the distance? This is the same as our experience - it’s a circle, not a line. There is no horizon and there are no labels, it simply is our experience and we have the opportunity to pay attention to or become lost in our thoughts about it.
I’d like to pose a different approach and that is to think of the practice as a conversation with the body. By doing this we train ourselves to listen deeply to our body’s intuition and to have a greater understanding of its language; sensation, feeling, even emotion. The look of the posture becomes irrelevant as we allow the body to speak to us and once we familiarize ourselves with how the body’s communicating, we can experience the depth of the pose through our body’s unique way of expression. Right and wrong, good and bad, become trivial since there’s nowhere to go. We simply attend to the sensations and let those sensations guide us in our practice.
Easier said than done! Trusting our body isn’t what we’re taught to do. In the west, we value reason, logic, and education. If we gain enough knowledge, we can overcome any obstacle. Though the mind is of assistance in doing algebra, regurgitating historic facts, and constructing arguments, it’s not adept at allowing us to connect with the body. As soon as the mind starts thinking, we are taken out of our direct experience and into the imaginal realm of thought. When we are resting in the sensations, however, we are truly in connection with the universe. We are residing in our body and just as nature does and we become a part of the whole. The communication becomes stronger when we practice in this way and it becomes easier to notice when we are in thought. To listen to the body in this way requires us to leave behind our personal expectations and let go of the values that we’re so eager to ascribe. When we listen, we have the potential to learn and support with compassion. As we become increasingly open to our own experience we find threads that connect us to deeper aspects of ourselves, others, and the universe and we are reminded just why we practice.
My teacher has been emphasizing curiosity within meditation practice and at first I had difficulty understanding what he meant. I had grown accustomed to playing with the idea of acceptance (or release), letting go of how I think things should be and to simply be with what I was experiencing. This type of exercise I’d use both in and outside of formal practice. So…when thinking about these two ideas in tandem, curiosity and acceptance, I felt that they were on opposite ends of the seesaw. Curiosity, to me, was a character trait attributed to explorers and scientists who set out to discover uncharted realms and on the opposite end sat acceptance—satisfied with things as they are, no need to go anywhere or do anything. But as I marinated on the feelings behind curiosity, I began see how these two seemingly separate ideas are deeply connected and can guide us into our natural flow.
At its core, curiosity is to approach things with a completely open mind to listen deeply to what actually is—not to the little voice in our head, but to the feelings of our heart and the hearts of others. When we become truly curious about something our analytical mind can rest and our creative mind opens. It allows for the possibility of discovering something that once was known to us to be new again—as if we were seeing the world through the eyes we had as children. Can you remember back to this time of your life? When your attitudes and perceptions of the world weren’t already rigid from years of being told what’s important and what’s to be ignored. This type of education, being taught what’s important and what’s not, closes our doors of perception and inhibits us from questioning and investigating what’s around us, what we’re experiencing, and how that makes us feel. But it wasn’t always like this. When we were young children (and even babies) we experienced things very differently because everything was new to us, anything was possible, and it was easier for us to listen to what was in front of us instead of already ‘knowing’ it.
The feelings behind curiosity also include a great sense of wonder and awe. True curiosity is appreciative of whatever shows up which allows our curiosity to grow. It’s this cycle of amazement and appreciation. With each new discovery or insight comes wonder and gratitude. I’d imagine that if you have a hobby that you are curious about whatever it is that you’re doing. It’s often in these hobbies that we feel our creative minds opening and a sense of relaxation in the process. This is when we may feel as if we are ‘in the flow’—when ideas or realizations are presented to us without any mental effort on our end. In meditation and yoga this curiosity allows us to truly listen to our experience and to allow that experience to guide us. In our daily life, curiosity can allow us to connect with others in ways that might surprise us. With curiosity we become more empathetic to those around us instead of labeling them for who we think they are.
The unknown isn’t always a comfortable place to be which is another reason why we tend to ‘know’ things and disregard a whole bunch of sensory information presented to us. The unknown scares us because our analytical mind likes to prepare for the worst possible scenario. We choose to label things that we don’t know and construct an idea of what it is before we’ve even experienced it. For example, you’re on vacation in a new place and you go to a supermarket you’re unfamiliar with...but one that’s very much like the supermarket in your hometown. You know what a supermarket is, there are piles of bananas, boxes and cans neatly stacked on shelves, cashiers who never seem to pack the bag correctly, and so on. So when you go in to shop, we’ve already defined it. There is no longer any room for an experience to be had and when you’re asked, ‘how’d the shopping go?’ you probably wouldn’t have too much to say about it. But, if you were going into the store as a baby, the piles of bananas aren’t just arranged fruit, they’re pyramids and beautiful sculptures! Those cans and boxes become a museum of fine art and the cashier is creature of infinite wonder and beauty!
We get to choose how we experience and interact with our world. We can choose to be stuck in the ordinary and mundane or we can see the inherent beauty in things. We choose whether we live in a world of infinite possibilities or a strictly defined box. May you get in touch with your inner child and allow yourself to see the wonder in even the simplest things.
Posture is not simply what position your body is when you’re seated in meditation or placing your body into a shape in asana. It is the mental, emotional, and physical foundation that you practice and build upon. A formal meditation or asana practice gives us time to build a greater sense of ease and comfort through all three of these things. Often the body and mind are interconnected and communicating - if the body is holding tension, the mind is in thought and vice versa.
In meditation, it is best to take up a position that is sustainable in its sense of ease and comfort. If we can allow our body to relax, the mind has time to settle and have an authentic experience in the sense that it is not occupied by a sense of discomfort within the body. It is only once we have quieted the body that the mind can begin to settle and we can more clearly see the process and movements of the mind. This is how we create a sustainable practice that will progress, grow, and strengthen.
When starting a meditation practice, I recommend sitting in a chair or at least in a way that the back can be supported. There is this preconception in the West that when seated in meditation, we must be cross legged or kneeling but our Western physique is not always able to hold this position comfortably. Especially if we work at a desk, do a lot of physical activities, or don’t spend much time on the floor. For the first year I practiced seated in a cross-legged position and my knee ended up in pain during and outside of practice. My hips were not prepared for this type of sustained holding and repetitive practice, even when I was sitting for 5 or 10 minutes. During my meditation, my mind would constantly be absorbed in the uncomfortable sensations present in my hips, knees, back, and shoulders. This caused stagnation in my mental patterns during meditation and the practice became a battleground. I’d struggle to remain still and work to keep my focus on the breath, mantra, or other object of focus. My meditation became a place to make the most of or even ignore the discomfort. Like planting a flower in a pot too small for the roots; there was no room to grow because I was having the same experience every day. Of course, I didn’t see it this way. I had been practicing yoga for years at this point and my ego had convinced me that I should be able to sit comfortably on my cushion. It was only once I let go of this idea of what should be happening that my experiences began to shift.
The same principles apply in our yoga asana practice. We never want to force our way into a particular shape. When we do, the same thing happens. Our mind is completely occupied by the discomfort of our bodies and our minds are unable to release. Or, conversely, we ignore the sensations of our body which can lead us to going to far and injure ourselves. Of course we will work the muscles and this can be uncomfortable, but it should never so much that we cannot exist calmly within it. When in a posture, if we are trying to think of anything but the physical sensations or generally trying to distract ourselves with something else, then this is our body’s natural way of telling us we should re-examine what we’re doing. The goal of the practice should never be to go further or do ‘better’, but to experience the sensations within the body.
We listen to the body with patience and acceptance in order to make compassionate choices. Any time we drop our expectations and instead allow the body to guide us, we are being mindful and creating positive habits. This type of practice needs no mat or meditation cushion. We can carry this practice along with us wherever we go.