May all sentient beings…

IMGYogaHandsOffer1May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.

May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.

—The Four Limitless Ones from Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chödrön—

In honoring the 49 lives lost this past Sunday during the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, as well as the survivors, family members, friends, and the community-at-large, I offer the Four Limitless Ones chant and carry it with me throughout these days in my heart, my words, and my actions.

“To move from aggression to unconditional loving-kindness can seem like a daunting task. But we start with what’s familiar,” says Chödrön in Comfortable with Uncertainty. She offers a formal seven-step practice to awaken loving-kindness.

The first step in the practice involves starting with awakening loving kindness for yourself by reciting the first line from the Four Limitless Ones chant. From there, each step involves awakening loving-kindness for others starting with those who spontaneously come to mind, to friends or neighbors, to those individuals you feel neutral about, to those you dislike, and so on and so forth.

In practicing awakening loving-kindness you allow your heart to open to acceptance and understanding. Understanding can go a long way in bridging differences among people, in bringing communities together, and in promoting peace.

 

 

 

Enter stillness to practice listening

IMGtreesBerkshires2On a stretch of highway near Great Barrington, MA, I was called to stop at a dirt road framed by trees (pictured above). On one side a cemetery hid in the shade and on the other a green, grassy lawn stretched into the sunlight. The road felt majestic like the trees were tall knights guarding a secret passage. And the road’s existence itself felt hidden, especially to me as someone who wasn’t from the area but rather enjoying an extended stay one hot July.

Very few people traveled the road. It was quiet. Surrounded by these tall, beautiful trees I felt an invitation to be still, to listen.

When I look at images from my time on this small stretch of road, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by David Wagoner, Lost, from Collected Poems 1956-1976, Indiana University Press.

It begins,

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.

Reading the poem alone brings a sense of stillness and calm but above that it captures the knowingness of the trees and what exists in the space of the present moment. 

Read the entire poem on the Writer’s Almanac site.

Pensive

Find a meditation buddy

Adriana-Yoga-2868For the first time this past weekend, I sat in meditation with my family members. An impromptu session of yoga turned into a seated ten-minute meditation practice. I guided the group in, which consisted of my siblings, mother, and oldest nephew. Each individual has had their own meditation practice in one form or another but we had never sat down together as a family to meditate. As I sat in silence, I experienced a sense of awe and joy.

Meditating in a group feels different than meditating alone, it isn’t better or worse, just different. The collective energy of the group sets the tone for the practice. And sharing in challenges and observations can often provide insight. Sometimes sitting in silence with others helps keep the practice consistent and provides a counter balance to what often seems like a very solitary exercise.

Some participants in a meditation group I guide on Thursdays at the Women’s Project have shared that they find it easier to meditate in the group sessions rather than on their own. I’ve also noticed that the two practitioners who join in the sessions most often plan their afternoon activities together and often show up together.

To keep the meditation motivation going, find a buddy, sit, breathe, and relax into what is without judgement. Then allow space for for tea and talk afterwords.

Buddy

Meditate wherever you are

IMG_Commit2SitDay1b

Sunset meditation: Canoa, Ecuador

When I first began meditating, I lived in a studio apartment in New York City. The only space that was truly quiet was the bathroom or the closet. The open living space had stuff, clutter, and two cats. So I would close the bathroom door, light a candle, close my eyes, and sit quietly.

At the time, I had no instruction. I had yet to seek out guidance on how to meditate. I just did what I thought meditators do, sit quietly. I’d soon realize it was more than that and just that.

I thought I was doing it all wrong in an inappropriate space so I moved my meditation seat next to the bed. I’d roll off my bed and onto my cushion in the mornings. The cats and clutter and stuff were behind me and around me. Sometimes my cat Puddy would sit on top of me or the cats would brawl in the living room or there would be sounds of construction coming from the building going up next door.

Eventually I sought formal instruction. I realized that the conditions to meditate would never be perfect. That as much as I attempted to situate myself in an ideal setting, it would never be just so. If I waited for the perfect conditions to arise, I’d likely never meditate.

What I knew was that I had an innate desire to meditate. I craved the opportunity to sit in silence. That desire was stronger than any of the distractions or obstacles that surrounded me at the time. While there has been an ebb and flow in my practice and varying degrees of intensity, the desire is always there like a flame that never goes out.

Today I meditated in union with thousands of others as part of the Real Happiness 28 day challenge guided by Sharon Salzberg. Salzberg says, “if you are breathing, you can meditate.”

I hope you’ll consider joining in and meditate wherever you are.

 

 

Music and Mantra: Being with Sound

BuddhaMantra
As you go about your day, you may have words you repeat to yourself as a reminder, as a way to boost your confidence, or perhaps as words you live by. Sometimes you may find yourself repeating a mantra or something said in a yoga class. Thoughts or phrases you return to can have a powerful effect on your perceptions and behavior. Mantras especially can serve as a way to calm the mind, allow for healing, and open the heart to acceptance, self-love, and compassion.

Centering

A yoga class often begins with the chant of om, or aum, as a centering practice. A root or bija mantra, om represents beginningless time, it sets off an internal vibration, releases energy and prepares us for the physical practice. In meditation practice, a mantra purifies and focuses the mind and prepares us for the silence that follows.

Mantra derives from the sanskrit root word man, which means “to think” and the suffix tra, which means “instrument” or “tool.”

Nourishing

In “The Radiance Sutras,” Dr. Lorin Roche defines mantra as an instrument of thought, speech, sacred text or speech, a prayer or song of praise. He says classic meditative mantras can feel like sounds of nature or the hum of electricity while other mantras can be nourishing like food. When we return to mantras throughout our day, they can serve as a source of energy and fuel, a way to release burdensome thoughts, and a way to focus the mind. According to Roche, what matters is finding the sounds you love so much you want to be with them.

Understanding and offering compassion

In the space of the silence that follows mantra chanting, you may find insight and understanding. In “Teachings on Love,” Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “To bring about harmony, reconciliation, and healing within, we have to understand ourselves.” Mantras carry meaning in them that with practice can help us learn self-acceptance but it begins with deep listening and allowing for openness in the heart. Mantras may also carry a wish for peace and healing in the world. The words can be infused with love and compassion for others as an offering.

Invitation to explore and be with sound

The workshop Live Music, Mantra, and Movement is an invitation to explore the healing and heart-opening sounds of mantra followed by movement and meditation. As a bonus, we’ll have talented singer and songwriter Diane Lutz sing mantras during the flowing asana practice.

A certified yoga teacher, Lutz was introduced to eastern philosophy and meditation at a young age. As a musician, she was magnetically drawn to chanting during her teacher training in 2010 when her journey began exploring the healing powers of mantra and kirtan.

For Lutz, chanting mantra helps to clear her mind from “chatter” and creates a great foundation for meditation.

“I find myself occasionally waking up chanting in my mind, which is such a pleasure to wake up to instead of, again, the “chatter” of my noisy mind,” says Lutz.

When she recites mantras she notices where the mantra resonates most within the body whether in the head, throat, heart, navel, etc.,

“I like to imagine that clearing of the energy in the space where I feel the sound as if the resonation is breaking up anything that may be blocking that space or blocking the flow of energy,” says Lutz.

During the workshop we will practice deep listening, tuning in to the powerful vibrations evoked from chanting then allow the mantras to resonate throughout the body through a flowing asana practice set to Lutz singing. We’ll follow the movement with silent meditation.

On how to get started with the practice, Lutz says, “Just start! The beauty of mantra is that it can be done anywhere…. all you need is your voice.”

She adds, “For my particular situation, being a stay-at-home mom, I am drawn to chant around 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. It’s nearing the end of a full day with the littles and it helps provide me with the energy I need and the patience I desire to enjoy the last few hours of the day with my kids.  My almost 4 year old has started sitting next to me and humming along from time to time.  Perhaps we all need it.”

Register now for Live Music, Mantra, and Movement with Adriana and Diane, being held Sunday, October 25, from 2pm-4pm: http://tinyurl.com/otkpwgn.

Originally posted on Yoga in the Heights blog.

Start where you are

Adriana Rambay

Photo Credit: KatalinaStudio

When you are at a loss about where to begin any practice, start where you are. Start where you are, and then again, start where you are. Each time you return to make an effort to change a habit, to shift a perspective, to be more open, start in that space of acceptance. Accept all of you including all of your stuff–that baggage that weighs a ton packed with emotions, fears, anxiety, stress, regret, pain, sadness–all of it.

Starting where you are means letting go of the desire for things to be perfect both externally and internally. There are the little things that get in the way like the quality of space, timing, sounds, and degrees of comfort. Then there are bigger things like people, priorities, work, and all sorts of obligations and wanting–lots of wanting–that everything big and small is in perfect order before you begin.

But one of the biggest obstacles to starting where you are is the inner critic and judge that watches your every move waiting to pronounce the whole effort a failure. In the worlds of meditation, yoga, and writing I’ve encountered techniques that guide you to “get out of your own way.” Even after practicing how to get out of my own way, I still need practice at getting out of my own way.

Getting out of your own way involves letting go of expectations, the word “should,” the word “must,” and certainty. It means launching into the light of the unknown.