I absolutely adore major transition times in life.
Times of transition are very special times. They are filled with both potential power and promise for new beginnings.
Yoga, in many ways, is about developing awareness and sensitivity to all the spaces in between. It is in our practice that we begin to notice and to dwell in the spaces in between our breaths. As our senses and our minds become more pure and sensitive, we begin to notice and dwell in the silence in between our words, in between moments in time.
Yoga is about becoming aware of the distinction between the material and the non-material or spiritual aspects of existence. It is during moments of transition, the "in between" moments that we become aware of the distinction between the material and the spiritual aspects of reality.
As we become more and more aware of these "in between" moments, we can learn to utilize them more powerfully. These transition times can become times of healing and empowerment.
The source of all true power comes from the spiritual realms. Our access to these spiritual realms is always greatest during times of transition, the time when one moment ends and another moment begins.
Everyone is intuitively aware of this fact. This is the reason why birthdays and anniversaries are always celebrated with such adoration and passion. This is why the time during sunrise and sunset are held in such special regard. Not only are those times of day incredibly beautiful, but they are charged with an incredible amount of spiritual power.
Now, how can we use these very special times to our maximum benefit?
The best uses for these times are always in the context of spiritual practice. They are times to deepen our practice in a multitude of ways.
It is a time to heal old persistent wounds and hurts. It is a time to remove obstacles that have been blocking our progress. It is a time to plant new seeds and new habits to enhance our lives, both spiritually and materially.
The transition from one year to the next is a particularly special time for me. I have found that they are especially powerful transition times. They are times when I have been able to make the greatest and the most profound changes in my personal and spiritual life.
The very first thing that I do at the end of the year is to take time to reflect as deeply as possible on the previous year.
Here are some of the questions that I like to ask myself.
1. What do I have to be grateful for this past year?
2. Who were the most significant people in my life this past year and how did their presence in my life enhance my life?
3. Whose lives did I enhance most significantly?
4. What were the most memorable events of this past year?
5. What did I learn about myself in this past year?
6. What were the most significant books in my life this past year and why?
7. What happened this past year that I totally did not expect?
It is important that you write the answers to these questions down on paper. There is something remarkable when words are committed to being written down. Not only do you see them differently, but you also have a written record with which to reflect on in future times. Aside from putting these reflections down on paper, I also like to make some kind of audio and/or video recording of these kinds of thoughts.
Additionally, the following questions are reflections to be directed towards the year to come.
1. What are my highest hopes and dreams for the coming year?
2. What are the biggest obstacles to the achievement of these dreams and what habits will I put in place to overcome these obstacles?
3. As part of question 2, actually pull out a calendar and detail your weekly and monthly habits for the coming year.
4. What specific people and communities am I going to invest my time and energy into this year? Be as specific as possible with this answer.
Doing this particular exercise in self-reflection is more powerful than you realize. Reflecting on yourself in these ways and then writing your reflections down significantly influences not only what actually happens in your life, but also changes the way that you see yourself.
Most people do not realize this, but the way that you perceive yourself has tremendous power. Most people never really grow or change simply because the way that they perceive themselves never really changes for their entire life. Those people who actively work to change their own perceptions of themselves inevitably are always changing and growing in deep and dramatic ways.
The scriptures teach us that reality, in its highest sense, is truly unlimited. The only limits that exist are the ones that we hold in our own minds. That means that we are the only ones who are stopping us from achieving our highest dreams, from becoming the best that we can become.
Times of transition are the absolute best times to transcend, to go beyond our preconceived limits. Spiritual life is about liberation from these limits and the experience of radiant joy.
Let us utilize this transition between the passing year and the New Year and claim our birthright to this new and joy filled horizon.
One of the most overlooked and least understood aspects of yoga practice and a deep spiritual life is the area of diet and nutrition.
What we eat and how we eat it has a significant impact on the quality and depth of our practice.
Yoga is a practice of the cultivation of self-awareness and understanding. The methods and practices that we undertake each day are ways to help us to become more sensitive to our own selves, physically, mentally, emotionally and psychically.
The power and depth of our practice and our spiritual life is determined by the way in which each and every aspect of our lives either supports or obstructs our capacity to become more and more sensitive in every aspect of our being.
What you eat and how you eat it is an area of life that has significantly more impact than most other areas of life on your own capacity to be sensitive to your own self.
Unfortunately, most of the foods that are available to us today are foods that do not lend themselves to the cultivation of a body and mind of greater sensitivity. Most of the foodstuffs that are consumed today in our modern urban culture are foods that are highly stimulating and obstructing.
Eating a diet that is composed of seasoned and cooked meats and highly processed snack foods is so intensely stimulating to the body and the nervous system that the overall effect is to desensitize us.
Spiritual life is based on principles that are in direct opposition to all modalities that lead to greater desensitization.
The primary focus of one's spiritual life should always be to increase the degree of awareness, understanding and care in all areas of life.
Because one's diet is so central to most of our activities, it follows naturally that we should begin to increase the amount of general care in this area as much as we can.
The first step is to simply begin to educate your self. Begin to seek out educational materials with regard to diet and nutrition. Find out as much as you can about your own body and the way that it actually works. Because of the Internet, there is an incredible wealth of information out there regarding health and diet.
The key to any significant change is always understanding and awareness. Action taken without understanding or awareness has very little real power. Simply changing what you are eating without really understanding why will likely not be something you can sustain over a long period of time.
It is important that you interact intelligently with the information that you begin to apply to your own life. Each person has a different history and a different constitution. What works for one person may or may not work for another person. Do not blindly copy another person's habits or behaviors. Pay very close attention to how certain foods affect you personally. Be willing to experiment on yourself. Try not to assume anything.
What is most important is that you create a diet and a lifestyle that truly works for you. The goal is to create an overall lifestyle that supports your movement towards a state of being that is more sensitive both externally and internally.
Observing what you eat, how you eat it and how that particular food makes you feel can reflect a lot back to you about who you are. Food is obviously not just a physical phenomenon. We eat not just to support our bodies, but also as a way to feel good emotionally and mentally.
Most people in the world today eat to forget themselves. When you eat heavy or unhealthy foods, the result is much like that of a drug. Your own capacity to feel your own self is inhibited relative to what you eat and how you eat it.
Begin to observe your own habits. How often do you eat to desensitize yourself? How can you begin to eat to create more sensitivity in yourself?
Then, slowly over time, begin to create small and workable daily habits that support your capacity to feel and be sensitive to your own self.
Do not try to accomplish too much too quickly. The most powerful and lasting kind of change happens gradually and intelligently with care and compassion.
Here are some general guidelines that are simple and easy to begin with.
1. Whenever possible, increase the quality of the food that you are eating.
This means that you should always try to take in foods that are produced and prepared with the greatest amount of care and love.
For example, organic fruits and vegetable, in general, are grown on a smaller scale and with greater care than conventionally grown produce.
Try to eat foods that are processed as little as possible.
Foods that are as close to their most natural state are usually easier to digest and are lighter in nature than those that have been processed in any way (that includes most cooked foods, although some light steaming and fermenting is sometimes very healthy).
Try to eat foods that are prepared either by yourself or by someone that you know personally.
Foods that are prepared by yourself are much more likely to be treated with the greatest amount of care than are those dishes that are prepared by those that you are not familiar with.
Try to eat with an attitude of reverence and gratitude.
The quality of your mind and heart while you are eating can actually change the quality of the food that you are eating. Oftentimes, this factor is overlooked.
2. Always drink the best quality of water available.
The largest single component both in our bodies and in the earth itself is water. The amount and quality of water in us determines the quality of functioning in both our body and mind.
Most people in the world today are in relative states of dehydration. Either they are not getting the proper amount of water or the water they are drinking is of very poor quality.
Make sure you are not drinking water that has been chemically treated and is as close to its source as possible. The best water comes directly from ground or mountain fed springs. If at all possible, try to obtain your water directly from these sources.
One of the reasons why it is important to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables is that they contain within their tissues a very high quality of water. Again, try to eat organic produce, as they generally contain less chemicals and impurities.
3. Eat as many green foods as possible.
Green foods are the lifeblood of the earth. They purify and fortify our bodies and minds unlike any other food. Ill health is often directly related to the fact that most people simply are not eating enough green foods.
One very simple and powerful habit that you can begin today is to eat at least one large organic green salad everyday. No matter what else you are eating during the rest of the day, if you eat one large organic green salad, you will see a noticeable change in the quality of your body and mind over time. Very easily and very naturally, you will begin to eat healthier over time. From this very simple habit, you will see very strong changes in your body and mind. This is the power of green.
4. Make sure that joy and fun are a big part of this process.
It is important to realize that this is not a short-term process. To change one's diet is not simply to change the food that one eats. It is a process that affects you deeply on almost every single level. The functioning of your mental and emotional self is connected to what you eat on a day-to-day basis. Most people do not realize just how much inherent power there is in this kind of change. How could they? Most people never ever make significant changes to what they eat in general and how they eat it.
It is important to remember that you are not just giving up certain foods or habits, but that you are gaining significantly superior functioning of almost every part of yourself. Your body will be lighter and stronger. Your mind will be more clear and sharp. Your heart will naturally be lighter and more joyful. Your very practice will be more deep and profound. Do not underestimate just what kinds of changes you can affect simply by being more conscious of what you eat and how you eat it.
This process need not be painful or difficult. Because of the central role that diet plays in our lives, make changes with great compassion and care. Make them as slowly as you feel you need to and give yourself a lot of space to make many mistakes. This is a very personal journey. It is one that requires a lot of experimentation and a lot of trial and error. It is a journey of experience, which means that you must try things out in your own experience. Nobody can tell you what you should and should not do. You must learn on your own.
If you find that you are struggling too much physically, mentally or emotionally, it usually means that you are trying to go too fast. In this situation, simply allow yourself more time and space. Back off a little. Have fun. Better to dance through the process than it is to march too grimly. Joy must always be a part of this great process. If it is not, you will almost certainly fail.
The power and beauty of our relationship to the food that we eat is incredible. It has been a major part of the joy of my life and practice. Through this process, I have found immeasurable joy and power. I know you will too.
December 2, 2008
The days are getting shorter and the weather is growing increasingly colder.
Now, while this weather requires more clothing, the air is also much cleaner and has a higher level of energy or "shakti" to it. I love this time of year. I find that the colder, cleaner air helps my mind to become more focused and sharp.
This is the time of year to increase the time and energy spent on study of sacred yoga books.
I cannot stress enough just how important it is to commit one's time and energy to this kind of study and activity.
Yoga philosophy is not just about memorizing some difficult concepts. It is about making a commitment to understand one's own self and nature.
Yoga, more than anything, is about self-discovery and self-knowledge. It is only through self-discovery and self-knowledge that we can gain the necessary power to have dominion over ourselves, the way that we live our lives. It is only through directly experiencing the true nature of our own selves that we can create real happiness and peace in our lives.
Because there is such confusion in our own minds and the world around us, it is important to seek the necessary guidance and help from those who are truly qualified to guide us. Usually, that help comes only from qualified teachers and/or from universally recognized sacred texts.
Sacred texts and books are valuable because they present us with a kind of road map to our bodies, hearts and minds. And, while a good teacher is often hard to find, sacred books and texts are all around us. They are so ubiquitous, that we often take them for granted and do not appreciate just what they can offer to us.
In my own experience, I cannot imagine what my life or my practice would be right now had I not taken ample advantage of these great books. They have unlocked hidden doors within myself that have given me access to incredible wisdom and personal power. I simply would not be the same person today without the time that I dedicated to the study and understanding of the great texts.
My three favorite books include the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita and the Viveka Chudamani by Sankaracharya.
These three books, each in its own way, describes in great detail the dynamics of the mind and of the nature of consciousness.
All beings are creatures of habit. Normally, most our behavior is ruled by habitual patterns of thought, emotion and behavior. The only way to alter these patterns is to understand how they work and then to bring the light of awareness onto them.
Otherwise, we are trapped in these particular patterns by our own ignorance and unawareness of them. If we are trapped in these kinds of habitual patterns, we are bound to suffer as a result of them.
Thus, the first and foremost step to any kind of relief or freedom is to begin to understand how the mechanism of these patterns of suffering works. That is why the use of these particular kinds of books is so important to this process.
You must begin to see once and for all that understanding and awareness are the only true keys to freedom. No amount of force or will can ever break you free from the chains of your own habits unless you truly begin to understand their underlying nature. You must begin to observe and to know yourself with the utmost level of care and devotion.
I usually go about this process in a relatively intuitive manner. That means that let my intuition guide me as to what book to read, what part of that book to read and when to read it. Try going to a bookstore and choose a book based on what your feelings and instincts are telling you. I like reading different parts of the book in the bookstore before I purchase the book. If the book "speaks" to me strongly in any way, I will usually end of purchasing the book and putting it in my library. Sometimes, I may not pick up the book again for months at a time, but I still like to have it at my disposal anyway.
Then, pick the book, or the parts of any one book, which resonates with you personally most strongly and read that book or parts of the book at least 3-4 times or more. Let the information sink as deeply into your mind and heart as much as possible. Reflect on how the information in the book relates to your personal life directly. Remember, you are not just reading the information simply to memorize it, but you are reading it in order to practically apply it to yourself and your life.
Sometimes, if the information in one book really rings true for me, I will read and re-read that book 10 times or more. That way, the information in the book literally becomes part of me. That is the most powerful way to interact with these kinds of texts. Truly, you want the information, the knowledge and the wisdom in the book to become "alive" in you. That means that you have an active and ongoing interrelationship with the contents of the book.
Go out and try what I have been talking about in this entry. You will be pleasantly surprised on just how powerful an affect these books can have on your life and your practice.
Life is Truly Great...OM!