Friday, October 30, 2009

Lesson #3: Same Time, Same Place

Same Time, Same Place
by Gary Gran, CYT, D.Ay.

“Practicing at the same time, same place is most important” the teacher was saying, but I don’t think I really heard it. It was in one ear and out the other. But then every time I listened to instructions on how to establish your practice, I heard “same time, same place”. To practice hatha yoga, “same time, same place”, to practice meditation, “same time, same place”, to practice ayurveda, “same time, same place”.
Finally it began to sink in. This is one of the “root instructions.” The Vedic sciences are an oral tradition, passed down from teacher to student. Being an oral tradition, the teachings are condensed into short phrases or sutras. These “root instructions” are like “seeds”. If properly nourished and attended they will sprout and grow.
Learning in the oral tradition is not like modern academic learning. In modern learning we strive to define each word and phrase precisely. The oral tradition is more like poetry. It uses a symbolic language. Each word or each phrase can have more than one meaning. The meanings can refer to all levels from gross to subtle to super-subtle. There can be personal meanings, cultural meanings, and universal meanings.
Often times in the oral tradition the teacher will give a commentary on one of the root instructions or sutras. Many of these are now written. But we must understand that these commentaries are not the beginning and the end. The sutras have a life of their own and it is the job of each student to contemplate their meaning. As we gain practice and experience the meanings will grow and change. As we move from one era to the next or one culture to the next the relative context and meaning will grow and change. The teachings are “organic”. They must be chewed, digested, and assimilated by each student and each generation of students. We must develop our own commentaries based on our own “time” and our own “place”.
So “same time, same place”. Where do we begin? I remember some early discussions among students. “This means you must pick out a time and a place by the clock.” “No,” someone else would say, “this means a relative time and place. It can shift relative to what else is going on in your life.” Someone else agreed, “yes, consider if you are travelling. How can you maintain the same place? Besides, you may change time zones or go onto daylight savings time or some such thing. It has to be relative time.” “How about organic time, or local mean time,” said another student. “No matter where you are, try to use the same local time.”
So you can begin to see we have two very big subjects here - no less than the nature of time and the nature of space! And we thought this was an easy instruction. Let’s consider what else yoga and ayurveda have to say on these two important subjects.

Perhaps you have heard some of the stories about yogis or vedic sages who made a determination to complete a certain ayurvedic healing practice or yogic spiritual practice. They would go on “retreat” to some suitable place and maintain their practice at the same time and same place until completed. If interrupted in their practice, the “fruit” of the practice would be lost, and they would have to begin again.
Perhaps we can emulate them. Set yourself a modest goal. First decide on your practice. Good choices are a hatha yoga practice, a meditation practice, cooking , getting to bed “on time”, or an aerobic exercise routine. Next “fix up a time” as one teacher used to say. You may need to make arrangements with your everyday duties and responsibilities involving others. Pick a frequency, once a day, twice a day, once a week, once a month. Then pick a duration. “I’ll practice once a day in the morning before breakfast for 30 minutes for one week.” Start small and slowly build your willpower and sense of accomplishment. Remember it doesn’t matter how many times we lose our concentration. No judgement. Simply try again.

Ayurveda gives us a related saying, “the greatest medicines are punctuality and regularity in good habits.” Ayurveda also gives us the advice, “no two people are alike.”
The so-called “air” types love variety and hate to miss anything new and exciting. It can be especially hard for them to maintain a practice or routine. “How boring!”. Yet for health reasons, slowing down and following healthy routines are highly recommended. What gives? The real danger for air types is to lose their center, to be so dispersed that they become ungrounded and lose their bearings. They become lost and can’t find their way home. It is important to have an idea of “this is when I go to bed, this is when I take my meals, this is when I relax, and this is when I exercise.” This becomes sort of an “ideal” and even if we don’t live up to our ideal, when we start to feel unbalanced at least we know how to get back “home.” Slow down, go to bed on time, take regular meals, etc, etc.
The so-called “water” and “earth” types, known as “kaphas”, know routine only too well! They love when things are homey and predictable. They enjoy the same foods, the same places, the same activities, over and over. Why try anything new? The real danger for kaphas is to “get stuck in a rut”. They are advised to break up their routines, to try something new, to practice variety, or to practice a little longer or more vigourously. Keep it fresh. No stagnation.
“Fire” types can be more than willing to take a risk or push themselves. They can be a little too driven or intense for their own good. They may enjoy setting themselves difficult goals, pushing aside any resistance, and moving forward. Their advice is to practice moderation. “Chill out a bit.” Try to lessen that intensity and pay attention to what you’ve been “pushing aside.” It could be your loved ones! Or your body! Fire types make good leaders only if they stop to consider the impact of their ideas on everyone. Of course this can be frustrating to them because they prefer driving “full speed ahead.”
We are beginning to see that “same time, same place” can have very different implications for different people. But what about the universal aspect of “same time, same place?”

Place indicates where we are. We can distinguish seven measures of space. First is our center. “Same place” could mean returning to our center.Second is the inner space of our body. The cliche says “wherever we go, there we are.” Third is the space around us, our field of action. This also travels with us as we expand the field of our actions. Fourth is the whole world. Same place is easy at this level unless you are an astronaut! Fifth is the solar system, sixth the galaxy, and seventh the universe. We are always home. We live in the lap of the divine.
Time can also be seen to have seven measures. The first measure is the pulse, the rhythm of the heart. The heart beat is primary. Perhaps practicing “same time, same place” could mean returning to your heart center. The second measure is the breath. “Same time, same place” could mean returning to the gentle rhythm of diapragmatic breathing. These first two are the inner keys to successful practice.
The third measure of time is the time of day which is the most obvious. Fourth is the time of month. Fifth is the time of year. Yoga and ayurveda distinguish between what are known as daily practices and occasional practices which are done only as needed, perhaps monthly or seasonally. For example it may be important for you to exercise every day (or every other day), but you may only need to fast once a year.
The sixth measure of time is the time of life. Our practices when we are young are different from middle age and from old age. Young people need more of a dynamic approach to support their growth, confidence and skill, middle age people need more moderation to help balance the stress and strain of multiple responsibilities, and older folks need a slower, more mindful pace with plenty of restful, nourishing routines.
And what is the seventh measure of time you ask? This is all lives. This is our place in history. What are the kinds of practices that are needed at this point of time? What are the kinds of practices that will help all beings, in all places? Perhaps “same time, same place” could mean “all times, all places.” You see, it is always time to wake up to the big picture and begin working to make the world a better place, to act more lovingly and skillfully, and to give up the fruits of our actions for the benefit of all.