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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Goddess Envy

Once upon a time... a young woman wandered through a forest and came upon a house in a clearing.  Inside that house lived a great teacher.  Students traveled great distances from far off places to learn from him.  The young woman left her shoes on the porch and went inside.  She had read Hansel and Gretel and knew all about cottages in the woods but she took a chance.  Inside, sat about twenty or so students with open notebooks. The young woman sat down with them and listened.  She listened and listened.  She made the friends she would keep for a lifetime.  Every year, year after year, she returned, with the others, to the little house in the clearing to study.  Life was good.


The End.  

That's sort of how it really was.  I remember looking at the website, after my first year of weekend lectures with Douglas, and deciding that I was going to do one of those five day sessions of summer camp study with him.  I was a little nervous.  Everyone else seemed to have been through Teacher Training together.  Everyone know everyone.  Except for me.  It was like grade school all over again.  What if nobody sat with me at lunch?  Also, how would I make up my mind whether to sign up for Hanuman or Kundalini? (Seriously, how does one make a choice like that?)

I signed up for both and didn't have to sit alone at lunch.

At some point that summer I had the realization that this was the real deal.  It actually took me that long.  For over twenty years I'd been searching for...I wasn't even sure what but for something and this was that something.  I hadn't even known for certain that it existed.  In fact, I'd actively doubted it and, yet, somehow I had been fortunate enough to find my way to the woods of Bristol. 

I've never looked back.  

First, we filled notebooks.  Then came the era of the i-pod.  We all bought microphones and began recording lectures.  The sound quality of those early recordings was awful.  Each recording preserved three or four hours of lecture as one long track, so if you lost your place as you were listening you'd have to start over.

It wasn't a super efficient system but that didn't stop us from eagerly collecting lectures as though they were bootleg live recordings of Grateful Dead shows.  "I'll trade you Ganapati for Hanuman...," went the private joke. 

I began to understand, to really understand, that in many ways, Douglas is the last in a line.  He had lived in his teacher's home, and had made a life's study of original Sanskrit texts.  There are notebooks upon notebooks filled with notes to himself in a combination of Sanskrit, Tamil and English.  Without his help, not one among us would be able to make sense of even one of those notebooks.  No matter how generously he teaches us, and the man is generous, we shall not learn everything he knows in this lifetime.

He is the last.

Then there's, well, us.  The tradition will live on through those who love it and through those who pass it down.  We are the hope of this tradition.  It will morph but live on.

Douglas insisted, and I dutifully repeated it to myself, that in a tradition that honors the creativity, efficiency, efficacy and resourcefulness of a consciousness that evolves itself, change is inevitable and not a problem.

And yet...

I developed an unquenchable thirst to preserve what I could, as much as I could.  In the jungle of Costa Rica, I carefully salvaged scraps of paper upon which he'd written down dharanas, or practices, for us.  I persistently held out microphones to record Appa stories told after dinner on curry night.  In ten years, I have never once deleted any email the man has ever written me.  I did, once, delete an email I sent to him on a subject about which I was not proud.  Just the one.

Friends began calling me the archivist.  They were poking fun, a little, but it was loving and true.  With Douglas traveling to teach almost every weekend, it gnawed at me that there wasn't a central archive that preserved the great body of teachings.  It, like, really gnawed at me.

I hatched all kinds of schemes to send recording equipment with Douglas in his travels but they've not panned out.

When longtime friend, Amy Ippoliti posted on Facebook earlier this week that Douglas would be in Colorado, speaking about The Ten Great Wisdom Goddesses, I felt a small pang.  "Oh, The Dashamahavidyas...," I thought.  "I love those teachings."

Douglas had given them exactly once before, in 2004.  I learned these goddesses sitting on the floor of the original Virayoga.  This particular teaching was evocative, and foundational for me, and I often reference it still, six years later, in my teaching. 

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to a wistful moment or two. 

I really wanted to be there.

Then, instead of crying over missed lectures, I remembered that, come February, we'll have Srividyalaya as a central sort of library.  Here, these profound, powerful and exquisite teachings shall be both given and archived.  Here, we will preserve the teachings and the tradition and carry them forward.

It is here, right here, through us, that the current of a lineage pools, turns and begins to flow in a new direction. 

Also, you better believe we are getting those goddesses on the official syllabus.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Little Navaratri Musing

It's kind of silly when Westerners try to be Easterners.  I mean, I'm a white chick from Connecticut.  I get that.  It doesn't for one minute prevent me from being entranced by Navaratri, though, which is an Indian festival that celebrates nine (nava) nights (ratri) of the goddess.  It didn't prevent me from getting fully decked out in a sari while I was in India, either.


It be a little silly but I'm not hurting anyone and I like goddesses and saris.

So there.

There are probably as many Navaratri traditions in India as there are deities (three hundred and thirty-three million at a minimum) so bear with me, okay?  These are my own brief musings and certainly not definitive.  Everything I know about these goddesses I've learned from Douglas, and he is the authority, but I've grouped them slightly differently than he normally does so be sure you catch one of his lectures on the subject. 

Navaratri began in the darkness of Friday's new moon. Those first three nights are dedicated to Kali (or Durga but for our purposes let's say Kali), who is always the darkness of potency and all that is possible.  Just as the dark night sky allows us to see by starlight, it is the darkness behind closed eyelids that empowers the yogin to discern a light that shines from within.

As yogins might liken Kali to an opening energy, for it is from within her infinite potency that the universe expands into every form that is possible.  I've already written about Kali here and here, so I'm not going to say more than that today.  
The middle three nights of Navaratri are devoted to Lakshmi, goddess of abundance.  Lakshmi is the the goddess who rises from a lotus flower in a red sari, and who spills from her palms an endless, flowing river of gold coins.  She signifies abundance, value and beneficence.

Although the festival lasts only nine days and doesn't actually fall over the full moon, I would liken Lakshmi to the full moon anyway.  Bear with me.  Lakshmi shines generously; it's what she does.  She doesn't keep a tally.  She's simply generous.  Without fail, she gives the best of herself.  She gives and gives and gives without ever being diminished.  It's her nature.

These final three nights are devoted to Sarasvati.  Saras means essence, or flow.  Sarasvati is the goddess who is the essence or flow.   It's no surprise, then, that she is a river goddess.

She is the one who sips from the inexhaustible resource of her own eternally flowing wellspring.  She is the one whose stream of consciousness bubbles up spontaneously from within.

Sarasvati is a goddess of refinement, of literature and poetry, and of mantra and japa (the repetition of mantra.)  In one hand she holds a mala of prayer beads which is none other than the very garland of letters of the sanskrit alphabet.  One who holds the alphabet in the palm her hand is the mistress of language.  She may wield the words of her own choosing.

She is a keeper of wisdom.  In her left hand she holds the book of sacred teachings known as The Veda.   Sometimes, at this time of year, books are placed upon the altar to be worshipped.

(Seriously, how can I not adore a culture that knows how to properly worship books?)

Artistic by nature, Sarasvati is also a muscian and holds a vina, which is a stinged instrument sort of like a lute.

(I have often mused that it's people who love music, and words, and the musicality of words, who are drawn to love this particular yoga of ours.  I mean, I haven't conducted an actual formal study, or anything, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.)

She is garbed in white and keeps a swan for a companion.  (The swan is significant.  Note to self:  write a post about that sometime soon.)

Clad in white, she shimmers like moonlight upon the surface of night water.  As such, she is the goddess who reflects upon her own deep waters, and recognizes herself as a revelation, and thus she is the patron of the arts.  What is art but an offering of inspiration and deep recognition that arises from self-reflection?

As the goddess of artistic refinement, I'm going to liken her to the waning moon, which pares and whittles itself away during the second half of the month.  The artistic editorial process belongs to her.  She prunes back everything that's unnecessary, leaving only what is essential.

She is the essential self that seeks infinite expression but has cultivated technique and skill enough to know that great art doesn't happen any old way but must happen in a certain way. She contracts to create something that is ultimately more because it is less.

The point is not to be rigid, though.  These goddesses mean to give us glimpses of insight into ourselves and so, when we know how to do it skillfully, we may move them around the board to suit ourselves.  Dogma is anethma.

So, Happy Navaratri.  Celebrate however you like.  If you want to wrap yourself in a sari, stack gold bangles up your arms and light lamps in the dark then your secret is safe with me, even if you live in Connecticut.

I'm certainly not going to tell.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Lunch Upon A Time...

I've always been a sucker for a good story.

More than anything, it was the legends and lore of yoga that originally lured me in.  I wanted to know everything about the unfamiliar, multiple-armed gods and goddesses who lived on mountain peaks or in forests.  That feels like a long time ago.

Somewhere along the way I became a teller of these stories.  It's possible that teaching is actually an excuse to tell stories.  I love that moment where there's a natural pause, and a hushed anticipation, when I look around the room and smile, and everyone leans a bit forward, eager to know happens and what it means. 

I can't tell you how many times I've been pulled aside after class , and asked to recommend a good book.  I always say, sadly, "well, you can find most of these stories online just by googling but the thing I think you're really asking for is the book that offers the tantric interpretations and that doesn't exist.  It hasn't been written yet." 

Now, I'm no Douglas (that would be like comparing a 40 watt bulb to, like, um, the sun) but I'm going to take a crack at this Ganesha story anyway. With Ganesha on the upcoming SV course catalogue I must have him on the brain, or something.

Once upon a time...

(as I heard it)

...lived a Yakshasa king named Kubera.  Yakshasas are semi-divine types who are sometimes associated with nature but who may also have a demonic side.  This particular one, Kubera, was a particularly nasty, greedy specimen.  He had an insatiable lust for avarice and acquisition.

It's no stretch that Kubera became the wealthiest of the Yakshasas.  He enjoyed the finest things.  He lived in a palace with seemingly endless treasure houses brimming with gold and with jewels.  He was the proud owner of the pushpaka, which was a flying machine that was sort of like an airplane.  Consider it a prototype, if you like.  This particular airplane required the ashes of three burned forests in order to fly for even a second.  Cavalier and destructive, it suited Kubera just fine; he wasn't particularly concerned about being green.

In his obsessive quest to possess things he was even rumored to have devoured people.   I can neither confirm not deny this as I wasn't there.  The thing was, and there's always a thing, no amount of acquisition ever really satisfied Kubera.  No sooner did he obtain one thing for his collection than he wanted something else.  Sound like anyone you know?


The only thing he had failed to acquire, and so the one thing he desired above all others, was Parvati, the mountain goddess and wife of Siva.

He cluttered up Parvati's inbox with email after email inviting her to his palace for "lunch."  If he could only get her to accept his invitation, she would certainly be seduced by his great wealth and leave Siva, who didn't keep her in nearly the fashion that a princess such as Parvati would enjoy, right?  What could an unconventional, edgy, dreadlocked mendicant like Siva provide?  Surely, she would have only to see Kubera's palace to come to her senses.

Like, duh, right?

The problem with his plan was that Siva and Parvati were always making love.  Seriously, they'd be at it for eons at a time.  At this rate, Parvati would never check her email!  Kubera would have to deliver his invitation in person.  When he arrived at Mt. Kailash, Parvati and Siva were tangled in each other's arms and instructed their son, Ganesha, to answer the knock at the door.

(Where else would we find Ganesha but in the doorway, standing on the threshold of experience, right?)

"Your invitation to lunch has been accepted..." Ganesha announced.

Kubera could hardly believe his good luck.

"...by me", concluded the immortal with the head of an elephant, the body of a boy and a very, very big belly. 

This was not at all what Kubera had in mind but what can you do except politely smile when an elephant-headed deity decides to accompany you home for lunch?

Fast forward to the lunch table, which was as long as a barn and piled high with every kind of delicacy you can dream of, sort of like in the first Harry Potter movie.  (Kubera, naturally, had the entire box set of Harry Potter DVDs in his palace movie theater.)

The meal began.  Ganesha swallowed down everything on his plate and asked for seconds and then thirds.  He was insatiable.  With his trunk, he tipped down his gullet every serving bowl that was brought.  He devoured the contents of the palace kitchen, everything in the larder, in the cabinets and in the Sub-Zero.  Then, in a frenzy, the golden goblets and plates and the pots and the pans and the table and still he demanded more.   He could not be sated.

In a dismayed attempt to signal that the meal was over, Kubera offered a tour of his treasure chambers.  Bad move; you see where this is going, right?  In the blink of an eye, Ganesha swallowed down every chest in the treasury, all the gold and all the jewels.  He even ate Kubera's new MacBook Pro, which Kubera thought was really going too far.  With nothing left to eat, Ganesha cagily and hungrily began to eye Kubera.

He licked his chops.

Kubera turned on his heel and ran for his life.

He jumped aboard his fancy, forest-guzzling flying machine and set the navigation for Mt. Kailash (to do this he had only to think it,) in hopes that Siva and Parvati would call down Ganesha, soothe him, and convince him to stop eating everything in sight.  Just as he was making his escape, though, Ganesha in 007 fashion pursuit, reached up with his trunk, grabbed hold, and went along for the ride.

Kubera appealed to Parvati, who disappeared into the kitchen and returned carrying a bowl of simple rice pudding that she'd made with her own hands.

"Feed it to him lovingly," she instructed. 

He did exactly that and, finally, Ganesha was satiated. 

Remember, now, that your job as listener is to be every character in the story--not simply Ganesha, but Siva, Parvati, and, yes, even Kubera, too.

I don't see this story as a warning against the evils of a material world.  I'm a tantrika so I don't think the material world is evil or problematic.  I would far rather enjoy it than repudiate it.

I think this story wants us to endeavor to know the true value of things.  I feel sorry for Kubera.  I know he's a greedy, rapacious, irresponsible, Hummer-driving schmuck but that's what happens when we get so disconnected from what genuinely nurtures our soul that we wouldn't recognize it if it knocked on our door and invited us to lunch.

The demonic always stands for disconnection, whether deliberate or unintentional.  While we can never truly be disconnected from the universe, so long as we're living inside it (and where else could we go?) we can still act, and feel, as though we are.  We can, through this feeling of disconnection, treat the world, and even other people, as though it's all just fodder for consumption.

It's very unlikely, though, that living in this way can ever deeply satisfy.

Ganesha acts as a mirror for Kubera, and for each of us, to remind us to enjoy life's riches and not to be confused about what really feeds our soul. 

So, what is it that genuinely satisfies your soul?

If you are a yogin then you endeavor to know.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I Totally Get It

"Well I don't know how you on earth you're going to manage two blogs, the Srividyalaya one and the YOU one, but you of the huge passion for this tradition and yoga will, I know, find a way..."

That's the opening line of the charming email I woke up to this morning.  I'm such a sucker for a powerful leading sentence.  I always have been.

As I read, I had to ruefully admit that this perceptive person had asked the exact thing I've been wondering myself:  "how am I going to manage all of it?"

(Warning:  busyness complaint impending.  Skip the next paragraph if you couldn't care less how busy I am.  I wouldn't blame you one bit if you did.) 

I have a substantial role in community building in not one but two studios; we're in the homestretch of the teacher training that I'm responsible for and while my fledgling teachers are doing so, so well, we still have much to do; I write this blog and now this blog, too (which, in time will feature guest writers and is going to be frigging awesome.)  I've committed to writing a book, and to doing a retreat in Mexico; I'm on the Srividyalaya staff and I've got a couple of other irons in the proverbial old fire, too.

All of these things take time.  It's a lot of time.

All too often, it seems, I race past my neglected yoga mat, where it stands looking forlorn, rolled up in the corner.  "I'll make it up to you, baby," I silently promise as I head right on out the door.

At some point, too, there was a personal life but it seems I've recently misplaced it.   If you should happen upon my personal life in some smoky, dimly lit underground bar, please tell it I miss it and I'm sorry I've neglected it, and to come home, won't you?

I'm pretty sure there's a mantra for creating more time but Dumbledore Douglas hasn't taught it to me yet. 

May I be brutally honest?  Long descriptions of people's busyness are tedious, aren't they?  Sorry to have inflicted mine upon you up there.  The only reason I mentioned it is so that when you tell me how busy you are, you'll know that I actually really do understand.

I'm so busy these days that I barely have time to pithily post amusing updates on my Facebook page. Speaking of The-Social-Network-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, I've been Facebooked with all kinds of questions about Srividyalaya. Most of those questions fall into the "I really want to do it but I'm so busy, too, and worried about committing my time. What should I do?", category. 

I totally get it. 

Me too.

(Also popular is the, "I can only do one course; which one should I do?" to which I reply, "I strongly recommend CC 101, the Intro to Yoga History and Philosophy, but do whichever you most want to do.  You won't misstep if you begin with Ganapati, either.")

My response to my own concerns, as well as to yours, about finding the time, is to treat an SV course in the same way we would treat an Anusara Immersion:  it's not going to be a grueling time-suck; like everything in the Rajanaka tradition, SV is an invitation that's entirely without obligation but that's full of value and power and meaning.

Do it because you're interested.

(If you are indeed interested, I mean.  I have zero intention of convincing the uninterested.  I am not about the hard sell, or the soft sell or about any sell of any kind.  I take freedom far too seriously to want to sell anything to anyone.  If the study of tantra isn't for you then by all means exercise your freedom and go where your interest lies.  I applaud you. I mean simply to address the concerns of those who yearn to visit our Hogwarts but have apprehensions about time management.)

Do as much or as little as you want to do, or as fits into your schedule. There are no grades and no exams.  The lectures will be recorded and archived so we can listen when it works for us.

The reading is all optional.  The last thing I want to do is tarnish my self-bestowed Rajanaka Prom Queen tiara, but I may not have time to do all the reading.  I'll do what I can without making myself nuttier than I already am.  I'm pretty sure Dumbledore Douglas won't be disappointed in me.

You don't need to be a genius.  Lord knows I'm not.

I'm offering a paradoxical encouragement to both myself, and to you, see:  firstly, settle down.  This is nothing to get worked up about.  You love this stuff, remember?  Enjoy.  Go at your own pace.  Have fun.  That's the point.

Also, too, (and may I be blunt?  I feel comfortable with you):  Step Up.  Winning golden tickets of entry aren't handed out just every day.  Rise to the occasion; no one who rises to an occasion regrets it.  It's the occasions we don't rise to that we lament.

That's all I've got.  Forgive me for offering this assurance in the form of a blog post rather than a personal response to your email but it's a far more efficient way for a busy person to get things done, and I am nothing if not busy (;