Navarathri – A Time for Sublime Surrender and Inquiry

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

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Navarathri began 3 days ago (nava = 9, rathri = night; the festival of 9 nights), a celebration of Shakti in all Her forms. Although there are numerous stories associated with Navarathri, the most well-known is from the Devi Mahatmyam, where the divine mother is adored in her three main forms: as Kali or Durga the first 3 days, Lakshmi the next 3 days, and Saraswathi the last 3 days.

There is a deep symbolic significance to this, paralleling one’s own spiritual path. A well-known daily prayer from the Brihadarinyaka Upanishad seems to capture the entire significance of Navarathri:

“Asato ma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, mrityorma amrintangamaya”

“Lead me from untruth to truth, from ignorance to light, from death to immortality”

Ignorance of our true nature leads us to believe in the separateness of the ego-self, the mother of all untruths. Veiled by the darkness of this ignorance (of our true nature), entrenched in untruth (of identification as the separate self), we become stuck in the cycle of birth and death (of the present moment being colored again and again by past conditioning, in an endless loop).

Kali/Durga is the primordial form of Shakti that slays egoic conditioning so the past can be left behind and the present can be lived (from death to immortality). Lifting of that egoic darkness of conditioning by Kali simultaneously lets in Lakshmi, who embodies all goodness and abundance (from ignorance to light). Rigorously prepped thus by Kali and Lakshmi, superior knowledge takes birth in the form of Saraswathi, who reigns over subtle discrimation between the real and unreal (from untruth to truth).

In our own paths, bhakti and surrender lead us to ever-deepening spiritual practices and openings, ripening us. The seeker’s Navarathri begins in earnest with letting go of egoic tendencies. Asking, “Is this true?” in a given circumstance invariably leads to seeing that nothing in the transactional world is ever absolutely true. Digging deeper, we are led to, “If this isn’t true, what made me think that?” bringing us face-to-face with our own delusions. As Kali mercilessly slays each delusion as it comes up, Lakshmi blesses us with fortitude and abundance. The pristine Saraswathi finally makes an appearance as we are led to deeply inquiring, “Who is this I..?”

The 10th day of Navarathri is called “Vijayadashmi” (vijaya = victory, dashmi = the 10th day of the new moon), signifying the end of the journey of the individual soul – that which was previously deluded to be the separate ego-self has now come to rest in it’s supreme knowledge of itself as That.

Shakti, through her own Maya, creates the illusion of duality. It is through her playful Maya that we come to believe ourselves to be the separate self. And in this primary belief, we go through endless cycles of suffering, pain and joy, with nothing remaining permanent. It is through her Grace that we are drawn to re-discover our true identity, are led to teachers and teachings, to practices and to openings. And it is through her Grace that her own play of duality is finally seen through.

Happy Navarathri!

The Choice

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Living the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Practices

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In the previous post, we understood the context of the Bhagavad Gita and how we find ourselves on the battlefield of Kurukshetra..

Now let us delve deeper into Krishna’s entry into the war, and the deeper symbolic significance of Arjuna’s choice.

Hindu dharma contains teachings on reality and the nature of existence that are described in apparently disparate ways, from the poignant non-dual (Advaita) discourses of the Upanishads to the stories and narratives of the Puranas, and a host of teachings panning the entire spectrum of philosophies. However, these seemingly contradictory teachings have one common symbolic story – from the undifferentiated consciousness (Brahman, explained in later posts in detail) arise the creator (Lord Brahma), sustainer (Lord Vishnu) and the destroyer (Lord Shiva). For many reasons not elaborated here, Vishnu and Shiva are venerated in mythology much more than Brahma. Both Vishnu and Shiva take many avatars to appear on Earth and other planets/universes to affect changes needed in the ongoing continuity of creation across multiple cycles of time. At the end of a set time cycle (consisting of millions of years), all of creation collapses back into undifferentiated consciousness, the cosmos and its individual constituents going back to their “seed” forms. That state remains beyond space and time. When creation springs forth, the cycle begins again, marking the beginning of time and space.. And so it goes..

Krishna is the most well-known avatar of Lord Vishnu. In the Gita and elsewhere, the Lord declares emphatically that he will incarnate whenever there is a collective descent into adharma (opposite of dharma) to restore the balance of the Universe. In the Treta yuga (the period of time when the Mahabharata takes place), there is a collective descent into adharma, with rampant violence, greed, selfishness, and overall “darkness”. Mother Earth appeals to Brahma to help abate the chaos. He, in turn, beseeches Vishnu to help. And the magnificent, supremely compassionate and all-knowing Vishnu agrees to take not just an ordinary incarnation, but a “full” (“sampoorna” in Sanskrit) avatar, as His own supreme self, as Krishna. And thus, no event in Krishna’ s life is “ordinary”. In his childhood, he is the innocent, mystical boy of Vrindavan that has every creature wrapped around his little finger. In his youth, he is the just and able Yadava king of Dwaraka. In adulthood, he is the powerful king-maker of the nation. In the Mahabharata, he is the politician and as we will see, the quiet, “behind-the-scene” cause of every warrior’s ultimate fate.

Krishna tries his best to avoid the war of Kurukshetra. He appeals to Duryodhana, to Dhritharashtra, to Bheesma and others in vain. Finally giving up on peace efforts, he returns to Dwaraka.

Duryodhana and the Pandavas spend many months getting their armies banded once the war is imminent. Since Duryodhana is the reigning king of the most powerful kingdom in Bharat (India), he is able to gather a much bigger army, often through threats. Eventually, it is time to ask for allegiance of the Yadavas. Krishna’s brother, Balarama, is one of the cousins’ gurus. He has taught them warfare, particularly mace-wielding. Duryodhana and Arjuna’s brother, Bheema favor the mace as weapons and excel at it. Krishna and Balarama lord over the powerful Yadava army.

Duryodhana and Arjuna arrive at Dwaraka (Krishna’s kingdom) simultaneously, walking in together into Krishna’s palace where he is lying down, pretending to be asleep. Duryodhana stations himself by Krishna’s head, impatient and fidgety, while Arjuna stands humbly by his feet, head bowed and in awe to see his friend and revered guide resting. Krishna opens his eyes and sees Arjuna first. Knowing why they are there, he gives Arjuna the choice between him (Krishna) and his army (including the formidable Balarama). Arjuna doesn’t even blink an eye and immediately picks Krishna. Duryodhana is elated to have the undefeated Balarama and the Yadava army.

Symbolically, this “choosing” is that critical point in our own paths where oneness with God is the single, most desired goal (even at the cost of losing everything else). This is the beginning of the end of identification as the separate egoic self. “Mumukshutvam” is the quality of burning desire for that Supreme knowledge. This fire is all-consuming, to the extent that in every moment of a seeker’s life, the quest for God is singular and uncompromising. According to Shankaracharya, this burning desire is one of the quintessential qualities of a seeker.

This poignant episode from the Mahabharat had haunted me for years. I had always wondered what I would do if I were in Arjuna’s desperate situation. In the face of near certain defeat (his army was considerably smaller than Duryodhana’s) and near certain death (Duryodhana’s army boasted of some of the greatest warriors of the day), would I pick Krishna (who would not fight) or his army (that would be very helpful)? Did I have what it takes to throw away everything and surrender to the Lord, my beloved Ishta? All through the years that this came up in me, I did not know what my choice would be.

About two years ago, I woke up early as usual, finished my meditation practices and sat in the kitchen with a cup of coffee. It was still very dark on a cold January morning and the house was still, with at least an hour before the others would stir. I sat listening to my favorite kirtan playing softly, gazing at the picture of Krishna on the altar, lost in ecstatic bliss. Suddenly, I felt his divine presence in the kitchen and was simultaneously swept into a magnificent vision – all I could see were Krishna’s beautiful feet and lower legs swathed in yellow silk, all bathed in a brilliant, dazzling light. In that instant, I knew. I knew without a doubt that not only would I choose my beloved Krishna, but I already had. He was showing me this in the vision, erasing any self-doubts I had had. I saw that through the most trying times in my life, I had rested knowing I only needed (and wanted) Him. The knowing bestowed through the vision was intuitive, a certainty that comes from a totally different place than secular knowledge.. And since then, I have felt what Arjuna must have felt standing by Krishna’s feet as He slept.

Everything that follows in the Bhagavad Gita is a result of this critical incident – Arjuna’s Grace-infused decision. The great choice.

The Great Churning

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

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The Bhagavatam (also called Bhagavata Purana) is one of the most loved texts in Hindu dharma. Written by the great sage Veda Vyasa, it drips with devotion and sublime knowledge. It is indeed one of the most beautiful examples of Bhakti (devotion) expressed in poetry. The Bhagavatam consists of innumerable stories of the various avatars of Lord Vishnu, each story steeped in deep symbolic significance.

One well-known story from the Bhagavatam is the one of the churning of the milky ocean. Vishnu agrees to help the devas (good forces) when they approach him after being defeated by the asuras (evil forces). He asks the two parties to churn the great milky ocean, which thus churned, would produce the nectar of immortality. The party that consumes this nectar could then permanently defeat the other. However, this churning would need to be a collaborative effort for the mission to be successful. The devas and asuras agree to set aside their differences temporarily. When the day comes, Vishnu directs them to a favorable spot in the ocean, brings the great mountain Meru to the agreed upon spot to serve as the axis, convinces Vasuki the king of snakes to function as the rope, and Himself assumes the form of a turtle, perching under the mountain and stabilizing it. Thus begins the enormous effort to churn the ocean using Meru with Vasuki wrapped around it, the devas and asuras rhythmically pulling each end of the great snake to disperse the waters and reveal it’s treasures. As the teams tire out with the excessive effort, Vishnu Himself takes up the churning on both sides with his yogic powers. Vasuki begins spewing deadly poison from being used as a rope, this poison threatening to consume the entire cosmos. At this juncture, Lord Shiva, the great yogi and ascetic graciously steps in and consumes the poison, effortlessly holding it in his throat chakra (and comes to be known as Neelakantha, the blue-throated one). Eventually, mystical objects and phenomena begin to arise from the ocean, including Airavata the celestial elephant, Ucchaisravas, the flying horse, gems and treasures. Vishnu distributes the “gifts” equally to both parties. The churning continues until the radiant Mahalakshmi arises from the churning waters. Dazzling and beautiful beyond description, she ignores the amorous advances of the devas and asuras, choosing Vishnu as her husband. She disappears into his heart and lives there as his Shakti for eternity. Finally, Vishnu himself takes the form of Dhanvantari, who comes forth bearing the much-awaited nectar (amrita). Vishnu then takes the form of Mohini, the bewitching damsel and tricks the asuras by distributing all of the nectar to the devas. A war ensues between the devas and asuras, and the devas (aided by the nectar of immortality) win back their heavenly abode.

There is a much deeper symbolism to this story from the standpoint of spiritual practices and progress along the path of yoga. Below is my interpretation of amritha-mathanam (churning the ocean for amrita) from this angle. It is said that the Atman (soul) hovers around the mother after conception, waiting to enter the fetus. Around month 6 of pregnancy is when it “enters” the fetus, forming the subtle chakras and nadis “top down”. The sahasrara (crown chakra) is the first chakra to be formed, where there is only Brahman/Supreme Consciousness/Oneness, with no individual “I”. It is when the anahata (heart chakra) is formed that the “I-ness” emerges (ahamkara), that gets denser and stronger as the manipura (navel chakra) and swadishtana (sex chakra) are formed. Finally, that soul completes formation of the base/root chakra, the muladhara (complete individualization), becoming dormant as the latent Kundalini. The chakras lie along subtle channels along the spine, the central sushumna flanked by ida and pingala. The ida and pingala channels criss-cross around the sushumna like the well-known symbol of medicine, the caduceus. In most of us, the sushumna remains closed, with all energy supplied for sustenance through the ida and pingala (that correspond to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems). These two channels represent the sun and the moon, and driven by separation, all opposites that we are continuously prone to – pain and pleasure, likes and dislikes, dark and light, heat and cold, etc. The sahasrara represents devas ruling over the kingdom of “heaven” (Oneness), while the muladhara represents asuras ruling over “hell” (separation or loss of knowledge of Oneness).

When the spiritual aspirant realizes that the devas have “lost” the battle (that there is something more to human life than material gains), he/she calls to his/her inner guru (Vishnu) to help regain the “kingdom of heaven”. And so the churning of the ocean of consciousness begins with the devas (sahasrara) and asuras (muladhara) at the two ends of the great snake (sushumna), yogic practices resulting in gradual opening of the sushumna. As a result, the latent Kundalini residing at the root chakra awakens and begins the ascent up the sushumna. The manipura is the “middle ground”, the anchor of consciousness (the navel is where the fetus is joined with its mother through the umbilical cord; it is said that during astral travel, what keeps us in the body is a cord attached to the navel). The manipura (literally, “city of gems”) is thus “churned” by the devas and asuras (opposing tendencies that are responsible for all inner conflict). The ego represents Mount Meru, the anchor that is used to churn the ocean. This anchor is held steady by the tortoise underneath, the inward drawn mind. Anyone that has practiced yoga will know that all sorts of subconscious tendencies and pain are brought up into conscious awareness with continued practices; this is the poison spewed by the great snake in the churning process. In yoga, Shiva represents inner silence and awareness. Thus, poison spewed up with continued yoga practices is consumed by Shiva – when we let go of the churned up stuff, it is Shiva (inner silence) that consumes it, leaving no trace of these karmic tendencies and burning up conditioned patterns that keep the illusion of the separate self strong. All sorts of “gems” (siddhis/latent abilities) and insights come up in the churning, for example, Airavatha the celestial elephant (intuition) and Ucchaisravas the celestial horse (inner strength). Now, in the Bhagavatam story, Vishnu distributes these gems among the devas and asuras – exactly what happens on the spiritual path; if these siddhis produce attachment, the asuras in us can begin to use them for purposes far from divine. On the other hand, if they are let go of, we get closer to the kingdom of heaven. Importantly, even deep insights and knowledge must be given away to gain entry into the kingdom of heaven. Nothing can be kept or owned for oneself. Goddess Lakshmi represents the inherent bliss and beauty that is present in all of creation. She cannot be “had” by either the devas or asuras; thus, she chooses Vishnu, the sustainer of the cosmos, for she is the essence (Shakti) needed for all sustenance and creativity. As the churning continues, Dhanavantari finally makes an appearance with Amrita, the nectar of immortality – not merely the amrita that trickles down from the crown from the nectar cycle, a well-known phenomenon among yogis, but the nectar that gives back the devas their kingdom of heaven (Oneness). Immortality is that state where one is beyond all dualities and pairs of opposites. Not driven by past conditioning and with no fear of the future, the immortal yogi resides in the eternal present.

All through this churning, it is the inner guru/light (Vishnu) that is responsible for the spiritual aspiration, for planting the idea of churning the great ocean, for “doing” the churning, for stabilizing the ocean as a tortoise (withdrawing the mind within itself like a tortoise, as explained in the Bhagavad Gita, 2:58), bringing up the gems and finally coming up with amrita as Dhanavantari. This inner guru also takes the form of Mohini to help the aspirant along the way to detach from lower, asuric tendencies and to favor the higher, deva-like ones. In all of this, it was never the individual seeker “doing” anything; he/she was under the illusion of Vishnu’s own created illusion (Maya), simply believing that he/she was the doer.

On with the churning!

Sri Vidya Sadhana – the confluence of Tantra, Yoga and Vedanta

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Tantric Practices, Yoga Practices

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The path of sadhana is always mysterious, twisting and turning in proportion to our surrender and the always present element of Divine Grace. How I was led to Sri Vidya Sadhana is one such mysterious tale. Even though japa and mantra sadhana have long been among my daily practices, tantra had never held much appeal for me, perhaps because it has been so distorted from it’s original teachings, particularly in the West. However, since beginning Sri Vidya Sadhana, the pristine teachings of Tantra have drawn me into their fold to such an extent that what I thought were “my” paths (yoga and Vedanta) have exploded into much greater understanding.

A year ago, there was a subtle but definite resistance to dissolving the I-sense. In meditative practices, often my focus remains on this I-sense, which easily dissolves into samadhi or transcendence. But for several days in a row, I noticed a definite “barrier” that stopped short right at that I-sense, rigid and unyielding. One particular day, this wall brought up such frustration and longing that abandoning practice, I lay down sobbing. By then, I had had many peak experiences of energy movements, visions, deep insights and ecstatic bliss, but still, there were times when old and nonserving patterns came up in daily life in the form of attachment to “I” and “mine”. As I bitterly wondered what the use was of such mystical experiences if there wasn’t a meaningful change from within, it was as if an outside thought appeared in my mind. It was a gentle suggestion to take up Sri Vidya Sadhana. I had no doubt that this thought was planted by my beloved guru, Mahavatar Babaji, for this is precisely how he has worked to lead me along the path. As I researched Sri Vidya, I was astonished to see that this great practice could be obtained through deeksha (initiation) in the lineage of Babaji himself, further strengthening the knowledge that surely it was his wish. In the time since that initiation, this practice has been transforming my life in radical ways.

Shiva represents consciousness. By himself, Shiva is inert. Shakti is creation; She provides movement and dynamism to Shiva. Neither can create without the other; thus, Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanariswara – half Shiva and half Shakti. Shiva is the “nothing” while Shakti is the “everything” – yet, the nothing and the everything exist simultaneously, inexorably entwined. Yoga is the path of Shiva, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti become as though separated in the process of creation. The purpose of yoga is to bring them back together (yoga = to join). Tantra is the path of Shakti, starting with the viewpoint that Shiva and Shakti exist together, and that the most effective way to experience Shiva is through Shakti in her infinite manifestations (tantra; tanoti = expansion, trayoti = liberation). While the yogi renunciates in order to know Shiva, the tantric embraces the totality of life experiences knowing them to be Shakti, the Divine Mother Herself. Not one aspect of life is shunned away from – everything from the subtlest to the grossest experience that arises is seen to be Her. The traditional practice of tantra lies in the effective use of mantra (name) and yantra (form) to know the nameless and formless Brahman. While Advaita Vedanta sees all of creation to be an illusion, the tantrik (from the point of view of the embodied jiva) sees creation to be very much real, a play of the Divine Mother on the fabric of immutable consciousness that is the Divine Father. Shakti is simultaneously seen as being benign and beautiful as well as ferocious and terrible – there is no aspect of creation that it is not Her. Tantra teaches one to see Her beauty and to love Her in Her infinite forms no matter how depraved or heinous. By expanding the limited mind beyond the dualities of good/bad, beautiful/ugly, right/wrong, like/dislike, the tantric arrives at the same place as the adept yogi or the Vedantin – Oneness; seeing that Brahman is the nondual reality, in and through the mirage of duality.

While the energy and peak experiences that come with a practice like Sri Vidya Sadhana are numerous, the real fruit of an effective sadhana is what happens in day-to-day life. Gradually, the distinction between “mundane” and “spiritual” falls away – there is no aspect of life that is not spiritual, be it working, playing, sleeping, praying or meditating. The effects continue to grow and expand daily, beginning with surrender. While bhakti has been a strong element in my sadhana, the type of surrender that Shakti demands and gets is in a league of its own. The more I become drawn in to Her, the more childlike I feel myself becoming, relying on Her for everything. As a young child feels, there is a constant longing for communion with Her, to sit in Her cosmic lap and to be schooled by Her. There is the strong impulse to give up everything to Her as an offering – the body in fasting and breath in pranayama, limitations, pain and selfish desires as incense, and deep-rooted vasanas (samskaras) as flowers.. nothing can remain as “mine”, not even the sadhana itself. There is an intense growing need to burn in the inner ritual fire of bhakti and austerity, to let it hone and chisel my being as it will and leave behind nothing. What happens with such longing and surrender is that there is increasing acceptance of everything to be Her Grace, be it external such as a routine situation (like a traffic jam when already running late or the loss of treasured relationships) or internal, within the mind/emotion (like an old unforgiven hurt that surfaces to cause anger or pain).  Surrender is the fastest path to equanimity, acceptance and love, in that order. The Divine Mother is so compassionate that all I need to do is ask, and She gives more than I ask for. I ask for clarity to look at my limitations, and She grants it along with compassion for myself and others so I may understand that such limitations are universal and that I may behave with tolerance. I ask for Her love and She shows me in a thousand different ways every day that love shines bright all around. I ask for courage, strength, wisdom.. and it is done, showing up in unexpected ways. Most of all, I beg Her for knowledge of Brahman, and She patiently points me to myself, again and again.

As someone that adores the clean logic of Vedanta, the austerities of Yoga and the esoteric inner rituals of Tantra, Sri Vidya Sadhana is the practice that beckons to me, probably picked up from a distant lifetime and guided by the benevolent guru. In the growing understanding of the dynamism of the Sri Yantra, there is an intuitive seeing of the Bindu that remains still in and through all of creation (represented by the intersecting triangles) that is in constant motion. This experiential seeing steadily chips away the veil of separateness and expands one into fulfilling the destiny of evolution – to realize first-hand the divinity within.

 

Want To Beat Heart Disease? Deal With Your Emotional Issues

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health, Yoga Practices

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The following post appeared originally on Mindbodygreen.com on March 4, 2014.

(Last week, two studies were published simultaneously: one, a meta-analysis of the association between outbursts of anger and acute coronary syndrome (that includes heart attacks) and the other a scientific statement from the American Heart Association to include depression as a risk factor for heart disease. These two recent studies provide  further evidence regarding the need to address and ameliorate emotional issues.)

As a cardiologist, my main job is to see people with heart disease and to counsel them on treatment and prevention. What many people don’t realize, however, is that there’s an intimate connection between emotional health and heart disease. Most patients of cardiovascular illness have deep-seated psychosocial issues that have never been addressed.

Despite these data however, while almost every cardiologist understands the importance of lifestyle changes (exercising, quitting smoking, and following a heart-healthy diet), very few of us address an essential component for heart health, which entails healing the emotional heart.

The physical heart lies in the vicinity of the heart chakra (also called the anahata, which means “unstuck sound”), an important area worked on in yoga and most spiritual traditions. Chakras are energy centers that are said to resemble wheels; there are innumerable chakras throughout the body, of which seven are best known.

Each of these chakras corresponds loosely to a nerve network that supplies vital organs. The heart chakra, corresponding to the cardiac network, is considered to be the seat of emotions. The accumulation of guilt, shame, resentment, hatred, anger, hostility, anxiety and similar qualities results in “closing off” of the anahata, a constriction of energy flow and resulting in heartache—both emotionally as well as in the form of heart disease.

An extreme example of this intimate heart-anahata connection is the “broken heart syndrome,” caused by sudden, extreme stress in the form of shock, grief or sadness that results in a sick heart. These patients present with symptoms and signs of a typical heart attack, but have no “physical” cause (say, blocked coronary arteries) to explain them.

Not only do these negative qualities distort our perception of life events, but they also make us incapable of living fully in the moment. Although most of us would agree that hanging on to nonserving emotional patterns is undesirable, we have never learned how to effectively let go of them, which must occur at the heart level and not the mind. It’s not enough to reason away these patterns, since they reside at deeper energetic levels.

As with all other lifestyle changes, this process takes willingness, commitment, consistent effort, and practice, and broadly involves the following:

1. Cultivate silence.

In order to notice our behavioral and emotional patterns, it is essential to “step out” of the mind. Inner silence provides this much-needed space and distance, and is cultivated via a regular meditation practice.

2. Get curious.

Inquiry into the nature of our psyche throws much-needed light upon our deeply embedded issues. We can begin the process of inquiry by asking, Where in my body is this feeling? In the response, we can begin to notice that there are three parts:

  • The actual feeling
  • The mind story about it (for example, “How could she do this?” or “Wish I had never met him!”)
  • The label of the feeling as anger, sadness, grief, etc.

Once this ability to notice is developed through practice, we can then ignore the stories and labels and focus entirely on the felt-sense.

3. Let go.

This all-important step is developed simultaneously with inquiry. Without cultivating effective ways to let go, inquiry can remain incomplete, resulting in further confusion and pain. With further cultivation of inner silence, we can ease into the next phase of inquiry by asking, Where in time is this event that causes this?

In the response, we will be transported back to the time of the original event. The next step is crucial, and involves asking, Where is it now?

In the response, it becomes clear that the past does not exist any “where.”

We then ask, How does it exist now? In this response, we see that it exists merely as a thought/memory.

When this is clearly seen through, the issue, along with the physical feeling, the story and the label dissolves. Once we’re no longer caught up in the mind as the thought, the thought loses its enslaving power over us.

As non-serving emotional patterns drop away, the anahata finally begins to “open.” Rushing to replace the dissolving negativity are qualities of love, peace, harmony and equanimity. The past is forgiven and we become joyfully rooted in the present, with no anxiety about the future. Healing of the heart finally begins in earnest—from the inside out.

 

Conscious Coupling

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

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The recent announcement of a Hollywood celebrity couple’s divorce has the popular media singing about their choice of words to describe their break-up: conscious uncoupling. Supposedly coined by celebrity marriage therapists, this term is based on the premise that due to increased life expectancy, humans are not meant to stay in one “coupled” relationship for too long (15, 20, 25, 35, 50.. years). Whether there is any truth to this or not, the basic question to ask even before the “uncoupling” is, “What makes up conscious coupling?”

Despite being in committed relationships, most of us remain under the wrong assumption that such a marriage/partnership requires our partners to put in equal (or at least some) effort into it. After all, this is what most relationship gurus advise, what every column and book proclaims. And so, we set ourselves up with conscious and unconscious expectations of what the other person needs to do, simply because we are putting in the effort. When that does not happen, resentments begin to be built up and harbored; these annoyances begin small, like “why can’t he pick up his clothes off the floor?” to “why does she need to talk on the phone all the time?” and gradually permeate every area of life from extended family to raising children to finances to spirituality.  Before long, true intimacy is lost and whether we choose to stay in the relationship or not, we live somewhat separate lives, with no real desire to grow in intimacy.

This cycle stems from the fear of vulnerability, a universal human condition. We are so afraid of being hurt that we close ourselves off to any possible way that anyone can enter our hearts and cause us pain. When we meet someone new and fall in love, it is exhilarating at first and there is every intention to open up to this special person who appears to be the only person that will not hurt us and who will validate us (and in so doing, keep this fear of vulnerability intact).. Like the famous line from a famous movie, we expect the other person to “complete” us. However, when the initial high of falling in love wears off, the effort to continue to validate each other quickly becomes burdensome. And now, there are two quite ordinary humans facing each other in quite ordinary day-to-day things in the quite ordinary way humans generally behave – with obsessive self-centeredness. Everything becomes about “me” and whether or not this “me” is continuously pampered and fussed over.

Conscious coupling (my not-so-original term) is about focusing on one’s own self. Not in the self-centered and narcissistic fashion we tend to focus on ourselves, but to learn to open our hearts to being vulnerable. Relationships are the greatest grist for the mill, from where we can learn to blossom and become fully human and fully divine. Here are some lessons that have come from my own spiritual path that have changed not just the relationship with my partner, but with everyone (all of this applies to a relatively stable relationship free of abuse or danger to ourselves and others in our care):

1. There is nobody that can complete you. You can “uncouple” and “couple” a thousand times, but the completeness you seek is not out “there”. This is because you are already complete; it is just that you do not know it. Seek to find what it is that blocks you from seeing your own completeness.

2. The universe does not revolve around you. And while we are at it, let me also say this – your partner’s world does not revolve around you. Human nature is to be self-absorbed. Thus, his/her universe revolves around him/her just as yours revolves around you.

3. Your biggest “relationship problem” is your expectation. You may want him/her to do what you think is right, but your should/should not is your problem, not his/hers. He/she does not need to be more or less understanding, spiritual, clean, lazy, secure, fat, thin, fit, healthy, loving, kind, yadda-yadda. Let your expectations go and miraculously, your partner will mirror you.

4. Give and you shall receive. Sounds very cliched, but this is the highest truth. Relationships are not a barter. There is no “you walk half way and I will walk the other half”. Be willing to walk all the way.  Forget what he/she must do for you. Give without reservation. Give all of your love, all of your care, all of yourself even if you think he/she is not reciprocating. What he/she does is not your business. The only business you need to stay in is yours. Learn to become okay with not receiving in return. See what happens. It is only when you are willing to stretch your heart and mind that the true beauty, the gift and the miracle of Life can be known. Examine your fear of giving to this person you claim to love. Can fear and love co-exist in reality? Your examination of your own psyche will reveal truths that will become stepping stones to growth, true love and intimacy as a couple.

5. Honor your partner. Another greatly quoted but hardly practiced axiom – do unto others what you would have them do to you. Honor him/her the way you would want them to honor you – acknowledge his/her strength, be gentle about his/her weakness. Laugh at yourself in front of him/her, listen deeply to what he/she has to say, respect his/her wishes, disagree with love and laughter when it is called for. At all times, remain secure in the knowledge that this is a fun and growing experience for you both. There is no need to take yourself so seriously.

6. Give in. This last bit is hard for most of us, particularly if we have become accustomed to being go-getters.   Everything has to be “my” way, and we use every strategy in the book to have it this way. When we see the silliness of it all, it becomes much easier to not have an opinion about everything. Look at your own issues with giving in. Is it so critical that it be your way? Does everything need you in the director’s chair monitoring every detail? What a relief it is to give up control! Give in, let go and watch your life change in ways you never imagined.

There is nowhere more important that Gandhi’s wise words ring true than in mundane, daily life lived in the context of relationships – be the change you wish to see in the world. The world is but a mirror of ourselves. Changing from within changes what we see. If only we learned this art and practice of conscious coupling, “uncoupling” would be unnecessary and redundant no matter how long we lived.

Pain, Suffering and Healing

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

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For many years, I had a condition known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, where the fingers and toes when exposed to cold will turn completely white, numb and in short succession, very painful. It had progressed to the point where, over the last two years, even in the peak of summer, reaching into a freezer at a grocery store would immediately result in vasoconstriction (contraction of the blood vessels due to spasm). While it occurs commonly with autoimmune disease, Raynaud’s can occur in isolation with no inciting cause, as it was in my case. It had progressed to the point where I considered taking medications for it.This past winter and in the middle of the polar vortex that chilled the Midwest (as well as other regions), I rushed out of the house one morning forgetting my gloves. It was a day I needed to get gas in the car in subzero temperatures. Dreading it, I stood by the pump, waiting for the tank to fill. The numbness began immediately. But instead of squirming around as usual, I stood quietly as my being became completely still. From this standpoint of total stillness, I observed the sensation without labeling/rejecting/attaching coloring but simply noticed it all with innocent curiosity. The stories of the mind associated with the pain also came and went. Within minutes, the sensation changed, turning into warmth and gradually faded. Gas filled, I got in the car and drove away without the usual drama of “need to thaw my fingers” that could normally go on for about 30 minutes. It immediately became clear that with every episode, the sensation (pain) was the reality of the moment while the emotional response to it (suffering) was baggage added to it.

That day, I began to ask in samyama, “show me where this comes from”. Two days later, an image appeared out of nowhere while deep in meditation – it was of me standing at a bus-stop on a very cold day with no gloves, nearly 17 years ago. That was the time I had arrived in the US and was living in a small and quaint Northeastern town. Extenuating circumstances had led me there, where I was renting the attic of a kind couple, working three jobs and managing with just enough money for one strategically thought out meal per day (and certainly not for warm clothes). Until then, I had not known temperate cold weather, or the experience of utter, total despair and loneliness, with my beloved family and friends thousands of miles away. Every evening was spent sitting alone in the attic, thinking incredulously about how I had gotten here, from being a star student, high-school valedictorian and role model. Every morning, I waited for the unreliable bus service, sometimes for two hours, with no gloves and fear of frostbite. By the end of that year, the tears had dried and fortunes had shifted; but it became clear now that the pain had never been released.

Thus, the memory that held the belief of Raynaud’s in place was shown when asked. The memory was colored by the pain of loneliness, the sense of having failed,  and the blow of utter and total despair. As the scene came up, it was suddenly clear that it was nothing but a memory that existed no “where”. It was inherently empty. The only thing arising in the present moment was merely a thought about the past. Yet, it had been carried as a deep belief and.. a very real disease.

A week later, I walked a long way to my car in the biting cold, got in and then realized I had forgotten my gloves again. I looked at my fingers – they were cold, but not numb or white or painful. The rest of the winter was spent in awe at this magic of experiencing cold without Raynaud’s.

How much does pain and suffering arise from deeply held beliefs? Is healing as simple as letting go of such beliefs? My humbling experience would indicate that suffering is unnecessary, created by our own selves with circular thinking revolving around the “me”. We continuously seek to push away or resist any sensation that is labeled as pain or unpleasant, and desperately seek what we label to be pleasant. It is this never-ending and exhausting business of labeling, seeking and resisting that creates suffering around all of our experiences. However, as soon as we begin to allow things to just be, the circular thinking around the “me” dissolves. Seen in a spirit of innocent curiosity, it becomes clear that all sensations arise, stay for a while and fade. Stories of why something “should” or “should not” be as it is create suffering and prolongation of the inciting sensation.

Such is the power of surrender.

Miraculous healing? Yes. Impossible? No.

Heal Your Heart 2015 Retreat: May 1 – 3

Written by Matt Bartlett on . Posted in Heart Health, Practices, Yoga Practices

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We are pleased to announce the dates for the 2015 Heal Your Heart retreat. The retreat will take place the weekend of May 1 – 3, 2015. The retreat sessions will begin late morning on Friday and will end after lunch on Sunday.

Here are the details:
Where: Clarkston, Michigan at the Colombiere Retreat Center – www.colombiere.com
When: May 1 – 3, 2015
Price: $250 for single or shared (double) rooms, all meals included
Leaders: Kavitha and Matt

The retreat will include a balanced mix of asanas, breathing practices, meditation, discussion and learning sessions. Retreats are a fantastic way to deepen your practice, as all of these practices become more powerful when performed in a group setting. The beneficial effects of retreats can be felt for weeks and months after the retreat is over.

We hope that you can join us for an amazing weekend of growth and unfolding. If you would like to attend, please leave a comment below or email Kavitha.

We look forward to seeing everyone there!!

What is yoga, really?

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga Practices

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It is “International Yoga Day”. People are practicing yoga en masse all over the world. Many of my friends and family have reached out to wish me well for this day. Some ask me what I’m doing for this special occasion and this question evokes the same answer every time, “There is no day that is not yoga day!” To see what this means, we must first understand what yoga really is.

Yoga is often misunderstood to simply be an exotic sport. Since its introduction in the west decades ago, it has gradually attained the status of an activity that the “cool folks” indulge in. It is after all what the celebrities swear by, clad in their designer gear and toting their yoga mats for hungry paparazzi. Yoga studios have popped up in most towns, advertising everything from “hot” to “naked” yoga. And it isn’t uncommon for these studios to branch out into selling raw foods and expensive juices, jewelry and “Om” bearing t-shirts, all in the name of “yoga”. Further, there are master businessmen who have “patented” poses (that were perfected and freely given by ancient sages) to attain name, fame and yes, great wealth.

It is not unusual for my colleagues and friends to say that they would love to try out my yoga program, except for their lack of physical fitness and inflexibility. Most participants in my program are shocked to hear on the first day that our sessions may or may not include yoga postures. They listen with fascination when I say that some of the greatest yogis that the world has known were/are unable to touch their toes, let alone twist into pretzels!

What is yoga then? Derived from the Sanskrit root, (yuj = union) yoga is a comprehensive science that strives for union or joining of the mind, body and spirit in awareness. Why would this be important? To understand this, we must discover the nature of suffering and the “connection” between the mind and body.  Although it seems like the body and mind are two different entities “connected” by some third entity, there is no boundary that clearly separates the two. The one “thing” that binds all these seemingly separate parts of ourselves is the sense of “I” or “me”. It is this “I” (or rather, what we mistake the “I” to be) that is the cause of all suffering. We mistakenly assign our identity to the body or mind, both of which are in constant flux. The body will invariably decay and die. The mind is fickle by its very nature and our lives can (and are) governed by our constantly changing beliefs, ideas, judgments, comparisons and the general non-stop commentary that rests only in deep sleep. The root cause of suffering is the war within, stemming from this fickle nature of the mind. It is the result of being a slave of the mind’s many components – thought, memory, projection, intellect and ego. Suffering is translated into the body (because of lack of boundaries between body and mind) and most of us lead lives of struggle due to this (mis)identification with the body/mind and the sense of being separate from everyone else.

While “union” is the popular definition of the word “yoga”, it is a misnomer since “union” would apply to two separate objects (body-mind, mind-awareness, and so on). While this is how it seems for a while on the path of yoga, eventually we come to see that the body and mind are emanations of the one awareness. Awareness is all there is. That which prevents us from seeing this truth is called “ignorance”. The primary cause of this ignorance is the mind and its constant turbulence, which forms a thick veil that obscures reality. Thus, the ancient Indian sage, Patanjali defines yoga as the mastery of the mind’s modifications (“yogash chitta vritti nirodhah” (Yoga Sutras, 1:2). Thus, yoga is the journey through the veil of the mind to finally come to rest in the knowledge of our true identity. The light of this knowledge that banishes the darkness of ignorance is the the sole goal of yoga, and of all life. This knowledge is known as “enlightenment” or “self-realization”.

The paths to this great knowledge of our true identity are many. When we utilize our actions in the world to attenuate our selfish desires (one form of the veil), it is karma yoga. When we use our emotions to rise higher and higher in devotion towards our ideal, it is bhakti yoga. When the various elements of the body and mind  (postures, breathing techniques, meditation, ethical values and so on) are used to thin the veil of ignorance, it is raja yoga. When the intellect with its reasoning abilities are used to penetrate the veil of ignorance, it is jnana yoga. Many other yoga forms (Hatha, Ashthanga and so on) are combinations of the above with a strong emphasis on yoga postures and breath awareness.

Although these seem like unique “paths”, they are merely superficial descriptions. Each of us will be initially attracted to a specific path based on our individual tendencies and desires. Proceeding in one yogic path invariably leads to the others, and all of life (actions, emotions, mental processes, bodily functions, relationships, work and roles) eventually flows into one path with no distinction between life and yoga. We become anchored in our true identity and everything flows from this, saturating every experience with love and beauty.  This is the fruit of yoga.

Perhaps the time is ripe for an “International Yoga Day”, where there is greater awareness of the transformational power of yoga. It must begin somewhere, and yoga postures, beads and juices are good starting points. Yoga moves on its own and transmutes everything in its path. And so we will collectively move past the (mis)identification with the body/mind that drives the desire to attain the perfect yoga posture or look/act spiritual. We will then come to discover the inner sweetness that needs no flexibility of the joints, fancy outfits, studios, patents or lifestyles.