28 March 2011

A new job

What strange and wonderful magic is at work in my life? Two weeks ago, after my (second lot of) 7 years of long service at the art school fell due, I started looking for another job. I submitted an application for a position at the music conservatorium which was well paid and had great conditions and prestige, but quite frankly I wasn't overly enthusiastic about it. Two days later I saw a job advertised that appeared to be my ultimate dream job; a job where I could utilise and build on my professional skills and experience, a job that accorded with my spiritual practice, a job that fulfilled every single criteria I'd wished for, a job in a working environment so perfect for me that I never thought it possible. I put in an application last Monday, the same day it was advertised. They called me on Tuesday to arrange an interview for Friday morning, which was the day I had taken off work to set off camping (so I didn't have to fabricate an excuse to take time off work for the interview). I knew, without a doubt that this was to be my next job. I wasn't hoping to get it, I EXPECTED TO. I hardly slept for the three days before the interview. I was so excited, so inspired. I could feel something brewing, I could feel the powerful forces at work and the undercurrent of the invisible swell sweeping me along with it. I knew what the outcome of the interview would be and was in awe of the magical process creating the circumstances to bring it about. I was flowing fast in the middle of the whirlwind of change, and my mind was spinning along with it. Inspired and excited by the possibilities of this job, this life change, I laid awake, my heart beating in time with accelerated velocity, my eyes on fire with what I was seeing and feeling. I packed up the car with all my camping gear last night, read up everything I could find about the employer (a college that trains counsellors, art therapists and transpersonal counsellors), wrote down all the ideas flooding into my mind that I could bring to the job, and fronted up to the interview at 9am this morning. I wasn't nervous, I was excited to be so aware of, and consciously participating in this extraordinary manifestation of destiny. The college was exactly as I envisaged it to be - the workplace, the set up, the staff, the state of the college. I was interviewed by the two owners (both of them counsellors and lecturers) and we talked back and forth for over an hour. I think my enthusiasm for what I could do for them was infectious. It felt like a perfect marriage. They ended by saying there were a few more applicants to interview next week and they'd call me by next Friday. I left that interview knowing the job was absolutely perfect for me and I was perfect for them - it couldn't go to anyone else. From there I set off camping. One hour later my mobile phone rang. I got the job. They weren't even going to interview the others. Job hunting is daunting - it can be intimidating to put so much effort into applications and not get interviews, or get interviews and then get rejected over and over. I was honestly expecting to be applying for jobs for at least 6 months before finally getting one way below my current salary. Instead, I get the first job I am interviewed for , it is my dream job, and they've offered me more money than what I asked for. Having worked at the art school for 15 years, saying goodbye to my beloved artists, staff and art students will be difficult. I'll be leaving behind the creative and excitingly edgy world of visual artists to enter the unfamiliar (but deeply fascinating) territory of transpersonal counsellors. Magic is at work....a new life phase begins...

21 March 2011


When practicing yoga at home alone I descend into a quiet zone.
I move in slow motion as if in deep water.
I tune in to the undercurrent, opening my inner eyes and ears from within the quiet zone, and I listen, not for outer sounds but for inner sounds: my heartbeat, energy splashes, digestive processes, lumbar vertebrae grating, neck vertebra clicking, the low hum of my breath flowing through my sinuses or my throat…
And I listen on another level, to subtle messages and vibrations, to intuitive directions...

This inner listening that I cultivate on the yoga mat develops the finer faculty of receptivity – this is a pure form of listening - which in turn calls for finely tuned and sensitive responses.
This listening that is learned, developed and internalised on the yoga mat, seeps into everyday life. The transformation of one’s outer life is gradual and subtle.
Noticing this transferance of what I learn on the yoga mat (or the meditation cushion) from my inner to my outer life, observing it AS IT IS HAPPENING, brings me into direct contact with the metaphysical and mystical processes at work in my life.

One of the exercises I found really useful in 'Wake Up Now' by Stephan Bodian was The Practice of Listening.
I did this exercise in my tent by the sand dunes when I last went away. It was nothing special or mystical, just opening my ears and listening to all the sounds around me. What I discovered was an immediate relaxing of my mind which had previously been contracted around thoughts. I usually don't notice this mental tightness until I consciously release it (much like in the early stages of yoga when you don't realise your shoulders are lifted and tense until the teacher points it out and you immediately soften them).
Listening is pure receptivity.
The ear faculty opens out like a blossoming flower ready to receive and this somehow creates a wide open space in the mind from the inside out - the inner ears relax and sounds just enter unconditionally. No barriers.

So I've been listening more intently and openly in my outer life, pausing to take in the variety of sounds that flow through the air and into my ears. And I am listening more closely to people too, receptive to the feelings and meanings underlying their words and body language, not analysing, but sensing from a shared core of connectedness, relatedness, receptive openness.
This is how my yoga and spiritual practice seeps out into my daily life.

During yoga practice tonight I was quietly receptive, listening...
I followed the week 31-35 sequence, but as I am still menstruating, I didn't do the Headstand and Shoulderstand poses. These inversions make up almost a third of the entire practice.
I made up for the omission by soaking myself in the other poses and adding a few of my own to the sequence (the ones below in italics).
After gently stretching in Uttanasana and Dog Pose I picked up the sequence after the inversions, swapping the first two poses around by doing Supta Padangusthasana before Jatara Parivatanasana.
I didn't attempt Chakrasana tonight because my neck muscles hadn't been flexed and stretched and made pliable by the Shoulderstands, so better to be safe than sorry.
I did the two Navasanas then Ustrasana, the Virasana backbends and all the seated forward bends spending lots of quiet quality time in each of them.

I noticed Iyengar's instruction to do "all the Padmasana cycle at one stretch", which I think means doing the 5 Padmasana (Lotus) poses on one side then changing the cross of the legs and repeating them all on the other side. My attempt at Kukkutasana was lame tonight, I couldn't slide my arms through my legs - I hadn't bothered pulling up my yoga pants or sloshing water on my arms to slide them through - and the outcome matched the effort. I didn't bother trying to do Kukkutasana on the second side.

Likewise with Garbha Pindasana, no arms through the legs tonight. Instead I laid on my back, squeezed my Lotus knees in towards my body, wrapped my arms around the outside of my legs and clasped my hands, working gently but deeply to stretch open the area at the back of my thighs and hip joints. I was alert but relaxed in this intense pose, watching and listening for the internal messages, squeezing my legs in, deepening the stretch til I reached my edge. After sitting up, I noticed a lot was still going on, so I stayed seated in Padmasana for a few minutes, curious about how much I could sense happening in my physiology if I remained still and quiet. Surprisingly Supta Garbha Pindasana had stimulated and energised my heart area (not the back of my thighs), it was buzzing all over the place.

Upavista Konasana, Parivritta Upavista Konasana, Akarna Dhanurasana (got both legs straight without falling over tonight), Baddha Konasana, a modified Marichy 3 then Ardha Matsyendrasana.
After the extended intense twists of the last two poses I needed to unravel in a Dog Pose which naturally led to Plank, Chaturanga and a difficult slide up into Upward Dog Pose. Stretching open my front body I started gently with my knees on the floor and shins lifted, before lifting up into the full pose.
Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Parsva Dhanurasana then Setu Bandha and three really good press ups into Urdhva Dhanurasana, each back-arch deeper and longer and more intense than the last.

I finished with Uttanasana, firstly the easy version: legs apart and holding elbows, then the classic pose: feet together and hands holding ankles. Then I placed my hands flat to the floor before moving into my favourite variation with the forearms behind my knees, hands holding elbows then gradually sliding the arms down the back of the shins - this draws the torso into the thighs while stretching the lower spine open.
Total practice time: 1 hour and 40 minutes before I finally laid down for Savasana.

Opening my eyes after Savasana, I checked in to observe the changes.
It felt like I'd had an intravenous shot of Truth - my eyes were fiery but focussed like laser beams, and every pore was wide open and listening - not an unusual post-yoga state when I practice alone, when I’m not afraid to explore deeply, when I stay calm inside the intensity, when I listen with the pores of my skin and the cells of my body, and when I tune in to the massive core of inner space.

I am so lucky to have learned how to practice yoga from genuine teachers who are themselves deep sea explorers, so grateful to Glenn Ceresoli, Julian Male, Darrin McNally, Simi and David Roche and to their teachers, Shandor Remete, BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.
After 2 years of self-practice and no classes, the teaching is coming from within, and the learning curve never ends.

18 March 2011

Intimate with all things

In the chapter about Hakim Sanai in 'Meetings With Remarkable People', Osho describes the path of the meditator as a kind of desert - it has its own beauty; immense silence, infinity, coolness, it is full of solitude, no distractions.
But it lacks richness and variety.
The path of love is like a garden - it has variety, flowers, colours, beauty, life, fullness.
The inner being of a meditator becomes like a desert, the inner being of a lover becomes like a garden.
Two different paths.
It’s interesting to ponder to which path we are drawn, how we most naturally express our spirituality, how we relate to the world…

For a long time I think I was a meditator, now I seem to be a lover...

Yet I do swing between relatedness (the lover?) and solitude (the meditator?).
My interactions with others are deeply authentic and real (the lover?), yet I prefer to be out in the bush alone, or home immersed in exploring my inner universe (the meditator).

This is silly. Why try to define which path I tread – they all lead inwards, to the heart.
They are not separate.
Why do I keep falling into forgetfulness?
Why do I see anything as separate to the whole?

'To be enlightened is to be intimate with all things.'

That is all that matters.

There’s no need to define which path one treads, or what makes us different, or unique.
Its more important to realise (and feel) what joins us as one.

Recent events have cracked my heart open, and the essence oozing out is mixing intimately with the essence of all things.

During the week I read bits and pieces from a library book called ‘Alchemy of the Heart’ by Michael Brown.
The language is a bit new-agey (instead of the word realise, he always writes real eyes – which is so annoying that I’ve changed it in my translation below) but some of his insights rang true with what I am experiencing, helping make sense of these intense feelings that make me “intimate with all things”.
(I instantly hook into other people's thoughts that validate my own experience)

Here's an excerpt:

“The quest for enlightenment leads us to believe there is a state of being outside the one we are experiencing right now that can in some way liberate us from the discomfort of our current experience. It leads us to believe there is a destination, a point of arrival, that once attained is the answer to all our unhappiness.
Enlightenment, just like many 'spiritual paths' is the wolf called 'the pursuit of happiness' wearing sheep's clothing.

Through embracing the fullness of our moment-to-moment feelings, whether they are familiar to us or not, we awaken to the realisation that the heart is the means and the portal through which we commune authentically with our vibrational essence.

By consciously interacting with our life experience through felt-perception, we are able to peer more deeply into the timeless face of what life truly is, and so into our own authentic identity.
This is when we realise that it is not some state outside our current experience that we have been seeking. Our authentic quest is to BECOME INCREASINGY INTIMATE WITH THIS EXPERIENCE - the one we are already in.
This is when we realise it is INTIMACY that we seek, not enlightenment.
(the capitals are mine)

To appreciate the magnificence of our experience, in this moment, no matter what expression life's face show us, is to be enlightened.

In this experience, when we encounter any emotional, mental or physical turbulence along the winding pathways of our eternal journey we do not react outwardly - we respond inwardly.
Our response is to allow what is happening, feel it as deeply as possible, and embrace these feelings as a wink in the vocabulary of God that is as yet unspeakable to us.

We do not have to adopt any strange practices, call ourselves by a spiritual name, or enter any behaviour that demands inauthentic attention. Our spirituality is not in anything or activity we do. It is in consciously engaging the invisible felt-resonance running through the entirely of our being.

Our spirituality is in our conscious and consistent response to our heart."

After work tonight I plan to do some yoga, have dinner, then learn how to play Ring of Fire on the guitar (wth a bit of improvisation on the simple chords). I've been listening to Ed Kuepper's rendition, melancholy and raw compared to the original upbeat Johnnie Cash song:

Love is a burning thing
and it makes a fiery ring
bound by wild desire
I fell in to a ring of fire...

I fell in to a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
and the flames went higher.
And it burns, burns, burns
the ring of fire
the ring of fire.

The taste of love is sweet
when hearts like ours meet
I fell for you like a child
oh, but the fire went wild…

I fell in to a burning ring of fire.....[etc]

Written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore
Recorded by Johnny Cash on 3/25/63
Number one - County Chart; Number 17 - Pop Chart

Love...and fire...and wildness..
A smouldering heart.

15 March 2011

Wandering thoughts about change

Wandering the hills this morning I let my thoughts wander freely too.

I was thinking about walking, why I walk, where I walk, and how it has changed over the years.
I hiked regularly through Horsnell Gully for over 10 years, its quite a work out for most people, climbing up those hills and then down through the steep rocky waterfall into the gully. But after so many years the Horsnell Gully walk had become too easy and it barely rated as a hike for me.

A year or so ago, Gandys Gully became the new challenge. The first few times I walked the trail, it was tough - its a longer, harder, steeper, more rugged hike. But after one year of hiking up here regularly its become a pleasant stroll, although the steep trails would probably cripple most people for weeks.
Soon I’ll be looking for new hiking challenges.

Change is approaching
And it has come about organically, naturally, with no effort.
What once was new, has served its purpose, grown old, and withered away.

I can relate this to yoga.
I picked up the Light on Yoga sequence at week 19 - 21 and did that sporadically for a year or two. Then I decided to take on the increased challenge of the week 22-25 sequence. When I started on the week 26-30 sequence last year I never thought I'd be able to do Padmasana in Sirsasana. Throughout this progression I had no ambition to go further, or get better, or work towards anything. I was just doing a sequence for no reason at all really. But I’d noticed in the past few weeks that week 26-30 was feeling a little stale. Was I just getting bored with it?
Or had it served its purpose, grown old and withered away?
Even though there are still poses I can't do (like Lolasana) the need to move on to the next level felt imminent.

This is change.
And it has come about organically, naturally, with no effort.

I can relate this to my work.
I've been at the art school for 14 years, with a one year break in 2003 at the end of the first 7 years. I love the art school, the students, the staff, the job I do. It's never boring and new challenges arise every day that test my tolerance, my equanimity, my kindness, my self esteem, my humility, the integration of my spiritual practice. Yet I have been feeling dissatisfied, stale, over it, as if it is time to move on, to confront new personal challenges, to grow and live this life more fully.
This change is not being forced upon me. It is happening naturally.
Something is withering away, but hasn’t quite died yet. I am still hesitant about changing jobs, the time is not quite here, the process of dying off has begun but death is not yet complete. I can definitely feel it coming. I trust the universe knowing that deep below the surface a tender new bud is forming.
It is emerging organically, naturally, with no effort.

This happens in relationships.
We tend to hold on to the people in our lives, friends, acquaintences, lovers, even though in our truest heart, we know we have grown and changed and no longer connect with them as we did in the past. Sometimes these relationships just die off naturally and the time comes when it feels better to release them than to hold on to them.
There are no regrets, there is no sadness.
As we ourselves change, and the people around us change, its inevitable that we grow apart.

When two people truly grow together, it is an extraordinary process and a rare gift.

More often than not, people grow apart but agree to support each other from afar on their solo journeys.
Why is it so hard to accept moving on? Going solo? Who said we have to stay married or stay friends when it is no longer nurturing our higher aspirations, when it is actually hindering our journey?
We are all travellers, meeting and parting.
Everyone we meet is a teacher and travel guide.
We ourselves are teachers and travel guides.
And life is one big travel adventure.

"When the fruit is ripe, it will fall from the tree of its own accord"
What a poetic description of how change naturally occurs.
Something grows, then ripens, then it reaches a tipping point when it is so plump that it has no choice but to drop, and finally die away.

Compare this lovely organic process of change with the other kind of change.
The sudden kind.
An unexpected death, the loss of a job or partner or parent, the sudden diagnosis of an incurable illness, or devastation of home and belongings by fire, or flood.
Trauma. Catastrophe.
The ground is swept away from under your feet and you are left stark naked, in shock. Nothing organic about this process. There's no time to get used to the abrupt change that has suddenly altered the course of your life, no time to integrate, absorb, prepare, or build a new structure in place of the old. Devastation rips away the padding of what was known and exposes us to the extreme elements of life.

Change...sometimes it's a beautiful process where something ripens, then withers away allowing space for new possibilities. And sometimes its just a devastating force completely out of our control.

12 March 2011

Week 31-35 details

Tonight, my first real attempt at the Week 31-35 sequence from the LIght On Yoga series, and I notice that there are a lot of extra hip twists than in the Week 26-30 sequence.

My hips were aching deep inside the joints after the practice tonight, not a pleasant feeling. Which makes me wonder if its doing good or doing harm, I honesty can't tell. It feels good to get some movement into the lumbar spine and hip joints, and to open up facet joints that have deteriorated from over-use, but I could be wearing them away even more.
It felt like a very long practice, but really it wasn't.

I spent a good 15 minutes warming up gently, doing some stretches and Supta Padmasana. The practice proper started at 6pm and finished with the last pose at 7.30pm. After that I did some Pranayama and Savasana peeling my dead body up off the mat just before 8pm.

Saturday night, not a big night out, but a big night in.

This was not a warm bath kind of practice like I experience in safe, led classes at the studio.
It was more like two hours spent cutting my way through dense jungle while staying alert for snipers. This is a strange way to describe a yoga practice, but you probably know the feeling....
It happens at home alone when you brave the deep unknown territory of yoga practice.

I really pushed the boundaries with the initial Sirsasana (Headstand) sequence doing every single variation, including the Padmasana in Sirsasana on both sides, the twisted Padmasana in Sirsasana, as well as Pindasana. It wasn't until the final two breaths on the second side of Parsva Urdhva Padmasana that I discovered (or remembered) mula bandha. Once I connected the base chakra to the crown chakra and found the connecting channell, my body just naturally adjusted itself and aligned into the pose from the inside out.

After 12 minutes standing on my head, the pressure was building up. After unlocking my legs and raising them up to Sirsasana I pressed firmly into my forearms to lift the weight off my head for a couple of breaths, jus to squeeze every ounce of juice out of this pose before I finally came down.

An 18 minute marathon in Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) followed...the new additions in the shoulderstand sequence are the twisted Padmasana variations and lowering the legs into Setu Bandha, then Eka Pada Setu Bandha at the end.
After doing Urdhva Padmasana in Sarvangasana and lowering the lotus legs in for Pindasana, you then have to twist to the left and the right sides for the Parsva variation. My hips and lumbar spine didn't allow for too much of a twisting movement because the lower spine is curved over, a dangerous position for me.
Iyengar instructs to take the left knee (remember I am in Shoulderstand with legs in Lotus here) over to touch the right ear eventually lowering the knee to the floor! I think I used to be able to do this, but for now, my lotus legs won't even release down very close to my face for Pindasana (due to lower back restriction) so when twisting my hips and legs to the side, my thighs are horizontal to the floor instead of vertical.
Still the Lotus twist is a challenge even with the thighs horizontal and I was happy to simply hold the pose at a safe edge and breathe in this very foreign position.

When I tried to move from Sarvangasana to Setu Bandha in Sarvangasana, I couldn't drop my legs down to the floor safely without threat of injuring my spine. I tried twice, then I tried lowering one leg at a time to the floor from Sarvangasana, but neither foot would quite reach the floor and the backbend placed too much stress on my lumbar (not to mention my supporting wrists). So I laid down on my back and lifted up into Setu Bandha from the floor, then did the Eka Pada variation from there.

After such a long time inverted, the counter poses are grounding but cruel: Jatara Parvatasana (an intense twisted abdominal hold), Supta Padangusthasana (more abs, but not so intense), and Chakrasana which was pleasantly easy - I rolled over and out of it with my elbows and forearms left on the floor, lifting them up to bring me into Dog Pose; from there a sweet little jump through, and two more abdominal poses followed: Paripoorna and Ardha Navasana (Boat poses).
Next came a couple of welcome back bends to ease open the front body and stretch the muscular tension out of the abdominals: Ustrasana (Camel), then Virasana in preparation for Supta Virasana and Paryankasana.

45 minutes into the practice I reached Janu Sirsasana and the half way mark - and it was absolute relief to get to this pose. I spent 10 breaths on each side trying to regain some degree of mental stability and physical integrity. The inversions had taken me beyond my limits, leaving my nervous systme a bit on edge. The abdominal poses had further challenged my body and core strength which simultaneously challenged my mental and emotional stability.
Janu Sirsasna provided a safe place to restore and recover.
Quietude and equilibrium returned over the next few seated poses - Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, Triang Muka, Krounchasana, Marichyasana 1, and then finally some silent, timeless space inside Paschimottanasana.

On to the padmasana sequence...Baddha Padmasana, Yoga Mudrasana, Parvatasana (sweet relief to stretch the arms up after being bound behind my back for 10 minutes), then Kukkutasana.
Now I was getting serious...
I walked to the kitchen and got a bowl of water (no spray bottles) to douse my arms and legs in water so I could slip my arms through my Lotus legs (which brought back lovely memories of all those lovely sweaty Ashtanga practices at the shala).
And it worked. Sort of.
I got my slippery arms through to just below my elbows but not quite far enough to bend them up for Garbha Pindasana (the bones and joints of my lumbar spine won't allow that much curvature).
It works better to swap these two poses in the sequence: Garbha Pindasana first, then Kukkutasana (same as in the Ashtanga sequence). As soon as you lift into Kukkutasana and balance, the legs slide down the arms. Its much easier to work at slipping the arms through as far as they will go in Garbha Pindasana before losing most of it in Kukkutasana.

Upavista Konasana is pure relief for the legs and hips after all the Padmasana work. I had to look up the instructions for the next pose Akarna Dhanurasana - I knew it looked like a bow and arrow and had a picture in my head of the bent leg pulled back ready to fire. When I looked it up in Light on Yoga I found that in the final pose, both legs are straight. You pull one leg back first, hold it for a few seconds, then straighten it upwards into the final pose.
I gave it a go, struggled on both sides and got a rudimentary replica of the final pose on the first side and a fall over sideways on the second side. Funny and frustrating at the same time, but a good pose to work on over the next few months.

Baddha Konasana, Marichyasana 3, Ardha Matsyendrasana.
Followed by another set of backbends: I did Salabhasana (Locust) and Dhanurasana (Bow) , then limped to the finish line with Parsva Dhanurasana.
I'd barely made it.

What a marathon this practice was. It felt like 4 hours.

I stood up for Uttanasana, the final pose, (a final bow to silent applause?) and just hung there for a while, in a yoga haze. Then I sat in a half padmasana and counted heatbeats for Nadi Sodhana Pranayama: inhale left for 8 beats, hold for 4, exhale right for 8 and hold for 4. As my heart slowed down the length of the inhales, exhales and retentions slowed down. Much prefer to use heartbeats for counting than an arbitrary count imposed on the body. Heartbeats connect the breath organically to the body.

I made an effort to get up, turn off the lights and find a couple of blankets for a good long Savasana - very necessary to allow all the changes to be absorbed into my physical psyche.

And how did I feel when I finally got up and went about my business for the night?
Electrical nerve shocks were pricking my lower spine and hip joints, my eyes felt burned out (probably from the extended inversions), I was temporarily crippled, and exhausted.
An hour later I was normal again...just tired...and I slept very lightly.

I've definitely moved on to the Week 31-35 sequence now and look forward to exploring it and fleshing it out more, but I probably won't describe this practice in such detail as I dip into it over the next few months.

My period started after tonight's practice so no inversions for a few days.

11 March 2011

Saturday - walking

Some pictures from my walk up through the ridges and gullies behind Adelaide this morning:

Tucked into the cairn (the little mound of rocks) near the ridgetop is a plastic box containing a note book. Hikers who find their way to the top of Gandys Gully write their name and the date in the book. Its a friendly landmark connecting all of us travellers who wander the hills but never meet...

Friday - headstands

Coming home tonight, tired and brain-dazed from a work week in front of a computer screen, the only yoga I felt like doing was restorative poses to soothe my ruffled feathers.

Procrastinating a little (or a lot), I sat on my mat and opened up the Light on Yoga sequence to the now dog-eared week 26-30 sequence that I’ve been doing for months.
I felt more like reading a book than doing a yoga practice so I read up on the next sequence in the Light On Yoga series, it's incrementally more difficult, there are a few extra Sirsasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) variations, some backbends before AND after the forward bend marathon, plus a couple of new poses (Upavista Konasana and Akarna Dhanurasana) - I couldn’t even contemplate doing this series tonight but I had to make a start and somehow the Headstand series enticed me in.

I read through the new sequence of Headstand poses and tried to etch them into my memory, then I simply put the book down and started...
First up a simple Headstand for 10 breaths, then I lowered my legs halfway and hung out in Dandasana for 5 breaths, raised my legs up for Parsva Sirsasana (still my favourite Headstand variation) deeply twisting on both sides, I paused for one deep breath back in Sirsasana before I split my legs evenly forward and back and rotated into the twisted Parivrrttaika Pada Sirsasana for a 5 breath hold on each side; back up to Sirsasana for a breath, then one leg remained vertical while the other leg lowered for Ekapada Sirsasana; the next variation is Parsva Eka Pada Sirsasana: one leg stays vertical and the other lowers out to the side. Then Padmasana in Sirsasana - I didn't hold out much hope for getting into Lotus here as I'd launched into the Headstand sequence without any warm up Padmasana work. Needless to say I didn't get my legs fully crossed on the first side but on the second side it was easy so I did the Parsva (twisted Lotus) variation and Pindasana on the easy side.

All up I spent nearly 9 minutes in the Headstands - less than I'd expected, but not nearly as difficult as I'd imagined it to be.

So I pressed on...next up: the Sarvangasana sequence.
As soon as I moved up into a full Shoulderstand I knew I wasn't going much further than this. I hung out there, relaxing as much as one can in a Shoulderstand, doing as little work as possible to stay up in the pose. Not enough core support to attempt the 'no hands' Niralamba variations tonight.
So from here I just went with the flow and followed my intuition into a few more poses that would calm my mind and ease the work week out of my body.
Halasana and Pindasana, Supta Padangusthasana, Cross legged forward bends, Virasana and Uttanasana.

Just a half hour practice tonight, but it felt like a sweet little treat.

I've been doing the week 26 - 30 sequence for a while now - its the last sequence in Course 1 so I think it’s time to move on to the week 31-35 sequence that marks the beginning of Course 2. After tonight's practice, I know I can handle the additional Headstand variations in this sequence, and with a few warm up poses, my legs should soon find their way more easily into the Padmasana variations.

Tomorrow I'll see how much of the full sequence I can get through.

My next weekend camping trip is in 2 weeks’ time....something to look forward to.
Summer is coming to an end, and unpredictable autumn weather is creeping up on us again.
Will I still feel so excited about camping alone when the weather is wet and stormy?
Or will staying home in bed sound more enticing than braving the elements out in the wilderness?

And on another wilderness front, I'm now officially searching around for a new job and applying for my first one next week, a very exciting prospect after being at the art school for 14 years.
Something was dislodged when Mark died that has sent me off wandering, unafraid, into a spiritual wilderness where there is no ground to stand on. I sense my camping trips have been externalising the inner urge to move out of my comfortable, known world, to test my independence, my survival skils and inner security.
The desire for a new work environment is emerging from that same subconscious need to wander out into the unknown desert, to explore new territory and release my hold on the ground that has supported me.

Turning 50 has been a pivotal year.
And I have no idea where life is taking me from here...

Wednesday yoga class

Wednesday night yoga class – another quiet one - it must be pranayama week again.
But where’s the pranayama?

We started with Ado Mukha Virasana and Dog Pose.
Then straight into Headstand, 5 minutes or so in the full pose before doing the Baddha Konasana variation.
Seated Virasana and a long stay in Dandasana while Darrin articulated some of the finer physical points of the pose.
Halasana (Plough pose) and Shoulderstand.

In Halasana, we started with extended arms, hands apart and palms facing upwards. Darrin came over and corrected my overextending arms, my elbow joints were arched above the floor. He made me press the back of my upper arms and my elbows into the floor which lifted my hands off the floor. I immediately had to use different shoulder muscles to maintain this which was a new sensation.
Darrin gathered the class around me to show them the difference in how the upper arms and shoulders work when the arms are not overextended, so not only did I get to be the yoga model demonstrating bad Halasana arms, I got to stay extra time in the pose instead of standing around looking at someone else.
We then did the Baddha Konasana variation in Shoulderstand before curling over into Karna Pindasana.
Pose time finished with a gentle cross legged forward bend (head resting on a bolster) then a passive Setu Bandha chest opener, laying over the bolster with legs extended and rolled up blankets tucked in alongside our legs.
After this we sat cross legged with Jalandhara Bandha in place and just breathed, no real pranayama technique, just lots of reminders to raise the sternum.
I'm not sure what the exercise was all about...
Oh well....

Tuesday - Sadness

Today I start work at 11.30am. It's raining so I can't go out climbing the foothills which is what I'd normally do on my morning off.

I drink coffee and look at my 'to do' list - this is the wish list that never gets done…buy new hiking boots, sewing repairs to dresses and friends' jeans, type up camping equipment lists, restring guitar, sort out a year of receipts into some kind of order etc.
I decide to do the sewing.
I listen to Joanna Newsom.
And I cry.
The eye of the sewing needle disappears into a blur.

Joanna Newsom's music echoes the music I listened to as a lonely, misunderstood teenager. I am transported back in time and in body, feeling the feelings of that fragile young girl who thought no-one understood her, who spent days, weeks, months alone in her room, listening to Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne and Kate Bush, reading poetry and philosophy, wondering why the outside world was so cruel, desperately wanting to love and be loved, to be protected from it all.

35 years on, I have developed inner security and inner love.
I now know that the outside world is only a reflection of the inner world.

But occasionally sadness seeps up from the underground well of my past, it's a sadness that emerges from my accumulated losses and unfulfilled desires; this sadness seeps up, spreads out and expands to encompass the losses and suffering of all human beings, our yearnings for elevation, for love, for freedom, for living out the fullness of our potential…it is the sadness of falling short of what we know is possible.
This sadness for our tender existence overwhelms me at times.

Keeping busy with work and activities masks my deeper wounds and prevents me from really feeling and understanding the sweet, soft sadness of the soul.

3 March 2011

Wednesday night yoga class

After 12 years of regular Iyengar and Ashtanga classes, followed by 2 years of solitary self practice, doing a weekly yoga class again is pure indulgence.

Darrin’s class starts at the rather inconvenient time of 7.30pm, so I refrain from eating dinner or snacking after work. This means I have to eat enough at work during the afternoon to sustain me through until 9pm. Getting the right amount of food at the right time can be a bit tricky during a hectic work day, especially as I'm not in the habit of thinking much about what and when I eat.

If I can leave work on time I arrive home around 5.20pm, feed the animals, walk Buffy, shower, prepare, and leave around 7.15pm for the yoga studio. During these two quiet hours I am made VERY aware of my habitual desire to eat when I get home.
It doesn’t go away, it’s right there in front of me.

Food is a welcome pleasure and reward after a day at work, even when I'm not hungry.
Resisting the desire to gratify a sense pleasure is like sharpening the dull end of my mind into a shiny point of focus. My discipline, equanimity, and commitment to observing the habits of my mind are all tested...the autopilot is disarmed.
This all-day preparation for the Wednesday evening yoga class interrupts the rollercoaster ride of work and family commitments and helps ground me back into the deeper undercurrent.
Wednesdays are now a day of yoga practice in its fuller sense.

The class
Darrin delivered a nicely balanced blend of poses tonight, starting with Uttanasana and Dog Pose, some Handstands with varied hand positions, Pincha Mayurasana, then Gomukasana to open the shoulder joints (kneeling instead of the fully crossed leg position) before going back to the wall for Pincha Mayurasana again. Long holds in Virabhadrasana 1 with the front toes and hands to the wall and the back foot pointing forwards, big focus on lifting the front and back thigh of the back leg and moving parts of it in particular directions (was I tuning out during these intricate Iyengar details again?). Downward Dog then lots of Upward Dog with hands on blocks (focus on upper front thighs again), Bridge pose, Urdhva Dhanurasana a few times before bending the elbows and lowering into Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana twice. The counter backbend poses were Uttanasana (feet apart) with a twist and Supta Padangusthasana, Ardha Halasana on a chair, then a heavenly Savasana.

As often happens we had to leave our mats many times during the class to gather around Darrin for his demonstration of very fine points. This doesn't irritate me any more (well, it didn’t tonight…) I'm sure a lot of students benefit from the detailed explanations and the rest between poses.

There's not much more to say about tonight's class except I was surprised at my body's incredibly open backbends, having not done any for a month or two.

I ponder over why a yoga class feels so self-indulgent these days, even a challenging class.
Perhaps its the sensual pleasure of being fully present in my body from head to toe while being blindly led through a series of poses by someone I trust…a delicious mix of immersion and complete surrender…like relaxing into a warm bath.

The challenge I face on the outside of this class is how to overcome my obsessive compulsive solitude disorder, and learn how to cultivate real friendships with real human beings. Darrin and I have been superficial friends on the yoga periphery of each other's lives for over 10 years now, but I sense a deeper friendship is finally opening up.
True yoga friends are an extraordinary gift.

1 March 2011

Radical Spirituality

My footprints along the beach at Pondilowie Bay mark my long walk to the end of the bay.
An hour later I retrace my steps.
We come, and we go, and leave temporary footprints on the earth.
Until the ocean absorbs all traces of our journey.

How do I feel after the weekend away camping?
The immediate words that come to mind are: clean, clear, pure and calm.
Two days in a tent and all sticky debris that had collected in my eyes, under my skin, in my body, through my aura and in my spirit has been washed away.
Inside and outside I’m washed clean, the same clean I experience after a Vipassana retreat, the same clean I used to feel after surfing.
Although this non-physical feeling of being washed thoroughly clean is difficult to describe, it is a genuinely felt sense.

Leaving the city, I drive north to the tip of Spencer Gulf, then curve around its apex before heading south along the eastern coast of Yorke Peninsula down to Pondilowie Bay, a part of Innes National Park at the very southern tip of the peninsula.
I stop only once during the 4 hour drive to visit new acquaintance who lives in a shack on a remote beach about halfway down the peninsula. I lived in a share house with Ian and a few others about 35 years ago and a chance meeting last year led me to visit him on my way to Pondi last month. He lives off the fish he spears and whatever he can grow in pots by the seaside.
He gets a little work here and there, but not much.
Ian is uncomfortable in our consumer society, he has retreated to the seaside, he builds boats, he repairs boats, he crews on boats, and occasionally he sails to isolated and exotic locations.

But mostly he just bums around the beach shack, trying to survive outside of all the systems that society binds us to…a romantic ideal, but a difficult one to live.

My own wild urges for a liberated life have not dislodged me from the city...yet.

For now, they are finding an outward expression in these solitary camping trips to outback bushlands and deserted sand dunes.
But inner liberation is a raging fire.

Ramana Maharshi said "Spiritual teachings are like a stick used to stir a fire and keep it burning. Once the fire is raging and needs no tending, you can throw the stick into the flames and let it burn as well."
This approach to the spirit is where I am at.

I brought two books with me this time that I hurriedly borrowed from the library on the way.
Wake Up Now by Stephan Bodian and Synchro Destiny by Deepak Chopra.
I read Wake Up Now from beginning to end and said yes, yes, yes to every page.
This gem on page 71 jumped out of the page at me:
"In any discussion of spiritual beliefs, the New Age deserves special mention for its tendency to take fundamental spiritual truths and enlist the in the service of the spiritual ego. Read an author like Deepak Chopra, for example, and you'll find the most profound spiritual principles articulated with utmost clarity - until you get to the part about how you can use the techniques and teachings he espouses to increase your wealth and maximise your longevity. Suddenly the nondual teachings have been turned into a treatise on self improvement, which is fine if what you're looking for is a better, healthier, wealthier you."

There has always been something about Deepak Chopra that made me very uneasy. Someone called him 'the rock star of the new spirituality'.
I have often wondered if he is related to Oprah Winfrey.

Needless to say, I didn't bother with the Synchro Destiny book. Even the title smells like candy floss. What was I thinking! It will go back to the library unopened and I shall breathe deeply, knowing my mind is cleaner and healthier for not being tempted by spiritual candy.

On the other hand, Wake Up Now was a book I needed to read.

Without a spiritual teacher to guide me back to my centre when I veer off course, I rely on the universe to give me just the right book to provide clear directions.

Radical spirituality (as Stephan Bodian calls it) is outside all systems.
Stephan draws upon his long years of study and practice in the many Buddhist systems, especially Zen, also the teachings of the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta tradition.
He believes that spiritual seekers do not have to follow any 'progressive' systems to awaken to their true nature. Progressive systems are those that have practices that support the idea you have to practice continuously, gradually purifying your mind and body to become enlightened. He says we are already an embodiment of the Truth and we need only realise it - which I’ve heard many times. It has always struck me as absolutely true.

Yoga is a progressive system, Buddhist meditation is a progressive system.

The paradox is that we have to explore these systems to get to the understanding that we don’t need them.
I think Stephan himself admits this somewhere in the book.

I've been struggling to maintain a regular yoga and meditation practice over the past two years, not realising that they had past their use-by date.

"The maps used to traverse the journey towards awakening can only take you to the threshold, the precipice, over which you must fall in order to awaken an then you must be 'taken' by the truth itself in a moment out of time."

I sense I have fallen over the precipice. I'm free falling and floating.
There is no ground beneath me.

And this is not a metaphor, its a very real place in which I find myself.
I’m living a ‘normal’ life fulfilling work and family commitments, but simultaneously existing outside of these confines, in an expanded state of awareness.
Most of us traverse the surface landscape of our lives with a sort of tunnel vision, unable to see into the multi dimensional realities that underpin and inform and create the surface. When deep shifts occur in the substrata of our consciousness, crevices open up exposing us to the timeless mysteries of existence, crevices that, when explored, lead us deep down towards the core.
Radical spirituality is when we tunnel into those crevices, following the path that hasn't been travelled before because that path is unique to our own journey.
There are no longer any maps to follow - I am led by the flame in my heart and a deep commitment to truth.

As Stephan Bodian so eloquently puts it…“We move through life on the horizontal plane of time and space. There is a vertical dimension we can awaken to that is always infusing and informing the horizontal. Every moment is an intersection.”

One day in the future I’ll recall this period of my life when I regularly drove through deserted landscapes to isolated places to spend endless days in a tent, alone.
I will remember it as quite beautiful and mysterious.

The most ordinary experiences are aglow with spiritual significance.

And I am living in this mystery right now.

Crossing sand dunes to get to the beach at Pondilowie Bay