July 31, 2020 5 Comments
In keeping with last week, I thought I would begin this Heart Thought with a chuckle!
Disciple: Oh wise and all-knowing one, take me to the realm of perfect peace.
Master: If I take you to that realm, it will no longer be peaceful.
I recently listened to a talk from an American spiritual teacher from New York named Swami Rudrananda, affectionately known by his followers as “Rudi.” He used to say that the whole of spiritual practice was in drawing our energy back into ourselves. In his thick Brooklyn accent he’d say, “Fighting is rejection. Tension is rejection. Sit and open and get above the situation.” How often do we take the path of least resistance (which is actually the path of MOST resistance to life!) and accept our first reaction to an unwelcome experience: To tense, to reject… to block the energy.
And honestly, how can we blame ourselves? Tension and rejection make complete sense as a response to physical dangers. Don’t we cringe and recoil when we get burned by a stove top? Do we not take a defensive posture when scared or startled? These are certainly sensible reactions to danger—all life forms are hardwired this way. Perhaps unique to human beings, however, is the tendency to cringe and recoil to mental and emotional stresses. Sarah Klein from the Huffington Post writes in her article on stress hormones, “Thanks to the work of our sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” system that takes over when we’re stressed, when you see your boss’s name in your inbox late at night, your body reacts like there’s a lion on the loose.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/adrenaline-cortisol-stress-hormones_n_3112800.html)
The question is: How do we expose these lions on the loose for what they are: paper tigers?
Enter: Pema Chodron, American Buddhist nun and one of our favorite authors here at East West. Her book, The Places That Scare You, provides an excellent handbook for meeting challenges in life with courage and calmness. Pema writes,
"When emotional stress arises uninvited... let the story line go and abide with the energy.... If we can stay with it, neither acting it out nor repressing it, it wakes us up."
She mentions that the energy behind both negative and positive emotions/thoughts is simply just energy. When we can focus and experience that energy deeply it can root us in the present moment and strengthen us. This is a practice of surrendering. It's not passive repression; it's dynamically letting go!
Similarly, in another of my personal favorites, The Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche, one of the practices offered named “Brahman” instructs:
“While you are meditating, images and sensations of what you like and dislike will arise, calling your attention, inviting you to mix it up somehow. Instead of taking sides, explore the texture of the middle spaces, all the nuances of energy and emotion. Brahma, the one self-existing spirit, witnesses all qualities and is not bound by them.”
I was inspired to witness what I felt were these teachings put into practice during one of our events. We had the enormous pleasure of hosting Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and his wife Jill Purce at the Fremont Abbey in 2017, a charming, hundred year old church-turned-arts-venue in north Fremont. The one drawback of its antiquity was the absence of air conditioning. With close to 250 bodies in the great hall, even I had to admit it was pretty stuffy.
Despite the sauna-like conditions, I marveled to see most of the attendees un-phased by the temperature and closeness of the air. As I exited and entered the room several times that night an interesting thought came to me. To what degree do our expectations of life color our experience of it? When we step into an actual sauna, we can enjoy the heat and revel in the experience, relaxing deeply. What if I stepped back into the hot room again, but this time, endeavoring consciously to feel the heat as merely a warm embrace, like a pleasant and calming blanket? The effect was drastically different. Irritation and discomfort gave way to an inner coolness and acceptance. I am convinced that if we can augment our opinions and “story lines” as Pema called them and see them in a different light, we can actually turn any “negative” experience around.
A great saint from our own spiritual heritage at East West, Paramhansa Yogananda’s foremost woman disciple, Sister Gyanamata would often pray, “Change no circumstance in my life, Change me.”
May we all have the courage to accept life as it comes to us and to find peace hidden in every challenge. If you feel to, practice this affirmation from Swami Kriyananda’s interpretation of the energy behind the yoga posture known as Paschimottanasana, or seated forward bend.
“I am safe, I am sound. All good things come to me. They bring me Peace.”
May All Good Things Come To You,
Bhima from East West
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December 29, 2023