Monthly Archives: December 2013

INSTRUCTIONS FOR FREEDOM

Cindy Lusk- Instructions for freedom

As part of my transition from 2013 to 2014, I participated in an on-line women’s retreat, in which I wrote to my future self with “Instructions For Freedom.” Here’s what emerged.

– Highest first.
This is a teaching I’ve heard from my teachers. For me it means to remember to check in with my highest self. It means to choose the option that corresponds to my loftiest goals. It means to put my practices high on my everyday “to do” list.

– Love is all there is. Remember this.
I know this, but I forget. I get caught up in the day-to-day challenges, stress, hormonal fluctuations, weather, what have you. Then I might do something I regret, and when once more I get connected to my heart, I am so sad for words or actions that came from anger or frustration, rather than a place of love.

– Practice.
This pertains primarily to my twice a day meditation practice: just do it. I never regret having done it, but I do regret skipping it.

– Receive grace, in whatever form it comes.
By this I mean both positive or negative. Each presents its challenges, and I want to meet each with equanimity. I feel that sometimes I keep myself closed to receiving what the divine is offering by thinking it should take a particular form.

– Worrying is a waste of time. Stop it.
Sometimes I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the future. It robs me from being in the present moment. I lose sleep. I make bad decisions when I am in this place. I suspect that if I am able to do the instructions above, this one will happen automatically.

– Get out of the way and allow the divine to flow through you in all you do.
I’ve gotten a taste of this as I’ve moved closer to my heart with my practices. The more I can allow myself to be a conduit for the divine, rather than trying to do it with my individual self, the better the outcome.

– Serve.
I truly want my work to be of service to others. I continue to struggle to manifest this. So I put this out there as a sort of a prayer and reminder.

– Stop comparing.
Akin to worrying, I find constantly comparing myself to others to be a waste of time.

– Others can be a reflection for you, but ultimately you must let go of what other people think.
I acknowledge that it is important for us to give and receive feedback to/from our family, friends, and colleagues. Yet I must receive feedback about my actions from others in a discerning way, ultimately referencing back to many of the above points: Did my action come from the highest? Is it reflective of love and service?

– Believe in yourself.
A bit of a double entendre here. Many of the above instructions will lead to a greater connection to the essential Self. Believe in yourself when you move from that place.

I invite you to consider what instructions for freedom you would write to your future self. Please feel free to share them here.

How Much Is Enough?

Aparigraha is the last of the yamas (moral edicts) put forth by Patanjali.  It comes from the Sanskrit verbal root, graha, which means to grasp, so it literally means “non-grasping,” non-covetousness, or greedlessness. As the last listed, it could be thought of as least important, and as a subset of asteya, not stealing. But as with the previous four yamas, the subtle aspects of this quality are manifold, and in some ways aparigraha encapsulates the path of householder yogis.

One of my teachers tells the following story:  Once upon a time, there was a monk who lived a simple life in a cave, carrying out his practices.  Nearby villagers brought him food, and they noticed he had only one dhoti (a traditional men’s garment worn around the waist) so they decided to gift him with a second.  So then he had one dhoti to wear, and the other was stored.  He discovered that mice started nibbling on the stored dhoti, so he acquired a cat to deal with the mice.  The cat had to be fed, so he got a cow to provide milk for the cat.  Then he needed a field for the cow to graze in, to provide milk for the cat, that dealt with the mice and kept the dhoti from being eaten.  You can see where this story goes: eventually the man ended up with a house, wife and kids, no longer a monk able to do his practice.

Of course we as householders are not monks, so we require possessions to conduct our lives, and we may also enjoy creating and having beautiful belongings. For us the point of the story is not that we should have NO things, but instead: how much is enough? This story also reminds us that as we keep acquiring things, at some point in our lives we may stop and survey it all and inquire: at what price? How much time and money have I spent acquiring these things? Is it worth it?

This fall’s flooding in Boulder forced me to look at a whole lot of stuff, both literally and figuratively.  My crawlspace flooded, and I excavated boxes and boxes of stuff, which had been hidden in my dark basement and now sat exposed. A lot of it was stuff I brought home after my mom’s death, which I hadn’t had the heart to deal with.  I am still sorting through this mess now, and my reluctance to let go of these things points to something deeper inside myself that is grasping to hold on to old memories, times, and places, people, relationships long gone. Allowing the memories to reside in my heart, and letting go of my attachment to the stuff, is part of the practice of aparigraha for me. Yes, I will keep some of these mementos, but the question is, still: how much is enough?

The practice of aparigraha has come to the forefront for me lately as it intersects with my yoga asana (posture) practice.  As I age, I find it more challenging to perform asana at the level I once did.  I could do it, but it would require a lot of time and energy to maintain.  So I find the question arising:  how much is enough?  I have let go of doing many of the advanced poses and along with it, the self-perception of myself as an advanced practitioner. It has been both challenging and rewarding to discover how much is enough in this domain.
Ultimately, a lot of our acquisitiveness is a reflection of a deeper lack, an emptiness that needs filled up-with stuff, experiences, sex, alcohol, drugs, and the other myriad ways we attempt to fill that void.  We keep seeking fulfillment outside ourselves, when ultimately fulfillment is deep within ourselves.  Aparigraha may be best practiced through carefully considering how much we really need and connecting to the source of our greatest fulfillment.

CONTEMPLATE and PRACTICE and JOURNAL

For at least one week, keep track of how much time you spend acquiring and maintaining your possessions.

What material goods are essential for you?

What makes you hold on to stuff that has no function? Is it necessary?

What non-material stuff do you grasp on to?

What are any emotional states or ideas about yourself that you continue to hold on to that need to be released?

Should we accept gifts we don’t need?

How might the concept of aparigraha impact your notion of holiday gift-giving?

If you practice yoga asana or do some other exercise or sport, notice whether you find yourself grasping to go harder or further.  How much is enough?

What is most genuinely fulfilling to you?

If you would like to learn more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, check out my self-paced course here

Brahmacarya

In the renunciate path outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga sutra, the fourth yama, brahamacarya, is chastity. There is no way around it: this is clearly what Patanjali meant.

So how do we apply this to those of us that are householder practitioners?  By householder I mean we participate in society.  We have jobs, homes, families, etc.  We don’t view sex as bad in and of itself, in fact may see it as one of the inherent joys of being human. So in our case a good definition of brahmacarya is: right sexual conduct.

Then, of course, the question becomes: what is right sexual conduct?  There is no black and white answer to this.  What is right is defined by the parties involved (assuming both are healthy functional adults). And it harkens back to the other yamas particularly ahimsa  (non-harming) and satya (truthfulness). Any sexual conduct that is harmful or untruthful is not right, and therefore violates brahamacarya.

THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE IF YOU ARE IN A POSITION OF POWER, e.g., teacher, boss, therapist, etc.

The issue for ascetic yogis is that of conserving sexual energy that is then transformed into life force energy.  This can also be applied to householders who should consider the difference between healthy sexual activity, and the obsessive need to for pleasure,  which can lead to a depletion of energy or even sexual addiction. Thinking  more broadly, we should explore whether all of our relationships improve our vitality, or deplete us.

Interestingly, the word brahamacarya is composed of two Sanskrit words.  The first is Brahman, which a word for Absolute.  And the second is the verbal root “car,” which means “to move.”  So literally brahamacarya means “moving with the absolute.”  This definition goes straight to the heart of  yoga. Ultimately, yoga is intended to help us connect with Source. That connection, that Awareness, can then guide us in our practice as we move into the world.  This is an alternative and additional interpretation of brahmacarya.

Contemplate and Practice and Journal
Consider the two different meanings: sexual restraint and moving with Brahman/the absolute.
What do they each mean to you, practically speaking?
Where/how do they intersect?
Which of your relationships increase your vitality and which deplete you?

If you would like to learn more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, check out my self-paced course here

Are you a thief?

“Thou shalt not steal:” we all know we should not take that which belongs to another.  So as I approached the week of teaching this third of the yamas, asteya or non-stealing, I felt a bit of a yawn inside myself. I knew I was going to have to dig deep to bring it alive, and what helped was considering not only the ways I have participated in or avoided stealing myself, but ways I have felt stolen from.

Below I raise many questions. The answers are not always obvious, and what came up for me is a bit of a rant, so bear with me as I explain how I came to realize that in some ways we are all thieves.

There is the obvious, of course: blatantly stealing someone’s physical possession, be it from an individual, company, store, etc. I was once held up at knife point. This is a clear violation of this not stealing, and also of non-harming.

Then there’s the blurry distinctions: taking office supplies from the office, not reporting items left in your cart at the grocery store or drinks left off a bar tab, not trying to return something  you found that clearly belongs to someone else.

As I dug deeper to contemplate the ways we steal from each other, several of my pet peeves surfaced, and identifying them as ways we steal made me understand why I found them so annoying. These are challenging as well, because often it is not clear or agreed what the “possession” is that is being stolen.

Ideas are commonly stolen property. I often witness others make statements verbally or written that have been directly taken from someone else’s work, without given the appropriate credit.  This, of course, is known as plagiarism.  When I was at university, on several occasions I had to educate tearful undergraduates about this thievery. It is an obvious theft when someone directly uses someone else’s words.  Most of the time, however, the boundaries are not as clear.  Sometimes someone takes an idea you’ve expressed, or copies something you’re doing.  Is this stealing?

For many years I spoke often about my teachers, because when I taught, I used language and ideas I learned from them.  I wanted to credit and honor them and make it clear I did not invent what I was teaching. Yet I wondered if students thought 1) I was trying to brag about my teachers or “sell” my teachers to them, or 2) I didn’t feel confident in my own grasp of the teachings. And, I came to understand that my teachers were using what they learned from their teachers, and so on.  So I stopped speaking about my own teachers as much.  Does this make me a thief?

One of my biggest pet peeves is stealing time, from ourselves and from others.  We waste so much time, I can feel it when I watch one more episode of Madmen when I had planned to clean off my desk, or when I cruise Facebook instead of working on this essay. I have some friends who are chronically late, and I feel they are stealing time from me.  I’ve also had friends who consider appointments we’ve made to be optional and when the day arrives, decide they don’t feel up to it, or have other more important things to do. I may have rearranged my schedule or turned down other opportunities in order to be with them, so I feel I’ve been robbed.

What about paying for and showing up to a class, workshop, retreat etc to find that the teacher and/or organizer has not bothered to prepare? Is this stealing your time and money? Or how about thoroughly preparing to teach something, or prepare for a meeting and have the attendees not show up or come unprepared? Have they stolen your time? Have they stolen their own time and money?

Have you ever had the experience of someone using you to access someone else?  Stealing a friend, contact, student, or lover? I include this here because I have been accused of doing this, and have felt others have done it to me. Are these “possessions”? Is this really stealing?

Many of these above instances come under the category of “broken promises.”  Someone has agreed to or promised something, but has not followed through. For me, in these situations, I feel my trust and faith have been stolen. When I was held up at knifepoint, there was money stolen, but worse was that my inherent trust in human nature was stolen from me. And when people repeatedly take their commitments to me lightly, or repeatedly show up late, I find I can’t trust their words, which is a great loss to me.

Last, but by no means least, what about natural resources?  I thought a lot about this during our Thanksgiving holiday.  How much do we take what is not ours for the taking, or take more than our share?  How do we share the earth’s resources such that all its creatures get their fair share?

Consideration of the more subtle levels and aspects of asteya made me consider more deeply how we all can be considered thieves to some degree. I’ve raised more questions than I’ve answered, as how and where we draw the line between taking what we need and stealing is not always clear, but hopefully we can be more conscious with how we prevent stealing from ourselves and others.

CONTEMPLATE and PRACTICE and JOURNAL

Give your definition of asteya, non-stealing.

Commit to practicing it for a week, or some other period of time, in light of the obvious meaning, but also the more subtle interpretations mentioned in this essay.

Consider the following questions raised in this essay. For each consider it not only intellectualy but how it feels in your heart and your body.  Contemplate how your feelings have changed as you’ve gone further down your spiritual path?

– Do you ever take things in the “blurry” situations: office supplies, items overlooked in a grocery cart of restaurant bill.?

– Do you credit others when you use their ideas? Why or why not?

– Have you experienced other using your ideas without crediting you?

– In what ways do you steal time from yourself?

– In what ways do you steal time from others?

– What are other ways you steal from yourself?

– What are other ways you feel you’ve been stolen from?

– Consider relationships. Have you stolen a relationship?  Has one been stolen from you? Does this question even make sense?

– In what ways has your trust or faith been stolen from you?  Did someone else steal it or did you steal it from yourself?

– In what ways do you contribute to stealing from the natural environment?  How can you change that?

If you would like to learn more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, check out my self-paced course here