Friday, October 30, 2009

Lesson #4: Speaking of Time

Speaking of Time
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy.

“You there, wake up!” the teacher exclaimed. “It’s about time!”
I suppose I had been daydreaming. My mind had drifted away from the present moment to other times, other places. Now I was fully awake. Or was I?
What does it mean to “wake up?”
How much time do we spend “dreaming?”
How often do we “lose” ourselves?
We tend to go about our daily activities in a dull mechanical way, perhaps never fully aware of the incredible mystery and majesty of life all around.
Now it is true that some of us are “thrill-seekers”. In ayurveda, the ancient science of life, this quality falls into the fire or “pitta” group. There is a marked tendency to push to the edge, to explore new territory, to feel the intensity of life, even to the point of being reckless.
In yoga practice, for example, this attitude can at times feel liberating, but can also lead to injury. One injury should be enough to help us listen to the advice “cool down, moderate your actions, look before you leap...” You see, fire can burn out of control. Many fire types blow right past their internal cues, push way too hard, and risk injury, all for the sake of that intensity, that feeling of being alive.
But most of us go with the crowd. We get lulled to sleep by the monotony of our everyday routines. We are creatures of habit. We don’t examine our attitudes until we are out of balance (if then!). In fact, sometimes it takes an illness, or a crisis, or a teacher saying “you there, wake up!” to break us from our slumber.
But there is a paradox here! Perhaps you’ve read about the importance of cultivating good daily habits. Brush your teeth, maintain cleanliness, eat regular meals, exercise regularly, and don’t burn the candle at both ends, etc, etc.
Ayurveda tells us that most illnesses are caused by a disturbance of the life-force, our prana. A disturbed life-force throws all the elements of the body/mind out of balance, that is, out of rhythm, or out of harmony. A disturbed life force disturbs the mind, the senses, the breathing patterns, and the nerves. Our digestion and assimilation are disrupted, and we feel ill-at-ease, “off”, disturbed, sick.
The key advice for correcting disturbances in our life-force is to practice routine, to create regular activites. Set times especially for sleeping, eating, exercising, and relaxing. How boring! Isn’t this the type of thing which lulls us to sleep! How dull! Maybe I’d rather be a dare-devil fire type living on the edge.
So what is the way out of this mess?
The word for “routine” in Sanskrit, the language of the Vedas, is “ritam”. Another translation of “ritam” is “rhythm”. Most people think of “routine” as dull and boring. But “rhythm”! Rhythm means music. Rhythm has a tempo, a beat, a pulse. Rhythm is alive.
When our life has no rhythm it becomes noisy, chaotic, discordant, out of step. But when our life has rhythm we are making music. Add some harmony and a melody and we have beautiful music.
So how do we make music out of our everyday routines? First we must wake ourselves up a little. Pay attention. Practice listening. Be mindful of even the most mundane tasks. Try to make little variations in your habits to avoid falling asleep. Watch your breath. Sing! Try to see through the ordinary and reflect on the extraordinary.
This is called spiritual practice. It requires constant effort. It never becomes habitual, for anything that becomes automatic lacks awareness. In yoga, this constant effort is known as “abhyanga”, or “practice.” Thus we are encouraged to “practice, practice, practice”.
At the same time we must remain impartial, non-judgemental. We try to be fully present to each moment however mundane, painful or pleasurable it may be. In yoga this impartiality is known as “vairagya”, meaning “uncolored”. When we are uncolored or non-biased in our actions we are seeing clearly, we are awake to the situation at hand, and we are acting lovingly and skillfully. There is no sense of “good” or “bad”, or of “likes” or “dislikes”. It is when we love our duties unconditionally and infuse all our actions with mindfulness and spirit that our routines become “ritam”.
The practice of awakening then is to lift our consciousness just a little, to rouse ourselves awake, to unite (yoga) our bodily presence, our breath, and our mental awareness with the world around us. Instead of simply seeing the surface of the world in a dull, “routine”, manner, we begin to see, feel and hear the amazing “rhythm” of life which pulses deep behind the surface.
Of course, we get tired, we fall asleep, we fall into our old routine habits, the old grooves of the mind known as “samskaras”, and we feel absent, dull, empty. This too is only natural. Remember it requires constant effort (practice, practice, practice) to remain alert and loving. There are bound to be gaps in our awareness. Sometimes we must sleep.
So the practice is to meditate on our daily activities. In meditation practice we try to maintain a one-pointed mind, knowing that the mind will jump or fall from the chosen object of meditation. When we notice that our awareness has jumped or that we have fallen asleep the instruction is “no judgement, no big deal, simply go back to the chosen object of meditation and continue.” When we apply these instructions to our daily routines we call it meditation in action or mindfulness practice.
Practice mindfulness while eating, doing the dishes, walking and talking. “When you walk, dance. When you talk, sing...” Maybe life becomes like an MGM musical!
So we can regulate our daily habits, set up some healthy routines, and practice mindfulness. We can keep our bodies regular by keeping the lungs moving, the bowels moving, and the feet moving. We can create rhythm directly with the breath by making it slow, smooth, and even. And we can harmonize the mind with regular use of a rhythmic affirmation, mantra, or prayer. This steadies the mind and enlivens the spirit.
But the real secret of yoga practice is to be mindful of the transition points between activities. For example, learn to watch your transition from sleeping to waking, when taking your first bite of food, when arriving at work, and when returning home. Mark these transitions with special practices or prayers, and observe the effects of each change. In yoga practice, tune in to the effects of each posture as you release and relax the pose before beginning the next pose. Especially mark the transition from the end of your yoga session back to your daily activities. Be mindful as you fall asleep at night.
In breath work we can watch the inhalations and the exhalations, but the key is to watch the transitions between the inhalations and exhalations. The most important practice is to eliminate any pause or holding of the breath during these transitions to make the breath as smooth and continuous as possible. “No bumps, no breaks, no pauses.” “Slow, smooth, flowing, continuous breath.”
With mantra, the effort is to merge each sound into the next in order to close the gap between sounds. This continuous sound creates a steady harmonizing rhythm deep in the mind-field.
Even when the entire world becomes stressful and chaotic, we can keep our inner rhythm strong, thus living in the world yet remaining undisturbed. Our song, our rhythm, becomes stronger than the crazy noise of the world. The world may even begin to hear our song and join in, harmonizing. This is yoga practice. This is healing.
So “you there, wake up!”. Wake up and begin singing.