Tag Archives: Zen

Who Am I? The YogaZen of Ramana Maharshi

Until very recently I’ve been in the midst of a meditative fustercluck.

Long story short, what used to be a consistent sadhana practice has become a unsure, experimental and twitchy mental movement that cannot seem to settle on one type of practice.

 

Mantra? Zazen? Open eyed? Close eyed? Chakra? Expansiveness? One-pointedness? Breath? Nothingness? Candle? Flower? Up? Down? In? Out? …Are some of the ideas popping into my mind multiple times every minute after I sit. Perhaps there is lesson in this, dear reader: If you have found a practice that works for you, just stick with it. Don’t bother with all this confusion. All paths lead to the same destination in the end, anyways.

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These have become my favourite types of flowers — psychedelic succulents that love the sunny rocks. Totally unrelated to spiritual philosophy. Or are they? Sacred geometry abounds.

 

Over the last week, I had the pleasure of spending four nights in Satsang, listening to the spiritual teachings of a man named Ramana. His guru, Papaji, was a direct discipline of the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi.

 

I am still in the afterglow of the teachings – this came at the right time for me. Something within the teachings of Ramana Maharshi (as conveyed by Ramana) speaks to me. I have found that when something resonates on a deep level, the messages received don’t even seem profound – we simply remember the place of Truth, right where it’s always been. Since the Satsang evenings, my morning and evening sadhana has been — get this — a consistent process! That is not to say the sensations and experience has been consistent (recall the impermanent and transient in all constructed things), but the process of withdrawing the mind and observing my thoughts has stayed remarkable consistent. 

 

Ramana Maharshi was very spartan in the realm of philosophy. It is said that a disciple, unsure of how to practice, approached Ramana Maharshi asking for direction, advice, and techniques to go deeper in meditation. The response: “Close your eyes… and go within.”

Later on in the same darshan, another pupil spoke up. He wanted to perfect the skill of maintaining mindfulness and awareness of God when moving about in the world, not in meditation. Could he offer any tips, tricks or suggestions? The repines: “Open your eyes… and go within.”

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A bed of Russian Poppies in the flower garden at SSCY.

 

From my very limited perspective, it appears that the teachings of Ramana Maharshi are at the blurry crossroads between Yoga and Zen philosophy. He has a pure, minimalist approach that brings to mind the complete lack of abstraction seen within Zen, but seems to use Yogic terminology in his discourses. I think it would be more correct, though, to say that Ramana Maharshi doesn’t really fit into a “philosophical compartment”. 

 

Here’s another gem, passed along to you from Ramana:

“I have three words, and I have two words, and I have one word.

Make No Effort.

Do Nothing.

Stop.”

 …Just think about that for a minute.

 

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Our lives are perpetual doingness. What if, for just half a second, we discard aversion and desire — even releasing the desire to be calm and slow the mind? A chill dinner under the Maple tree at SSCY.

You might want to know – what exactly is this process of withdrawal I mentioned above? It’s as minimal of a “process” as I’ve ever done. Sit. Close the eyes. Watch the thoughts. Eventually, after a few minutes, the mind will slow down — even if only a tiny bit — due to the lack of external stimulation. After one thought ends, and before the next begins, there is space. It might only be for half a second before being trampled by the mind, but take note of it between thoughts. Try again. Being very soft, very patient. Become that which is perceiving the mind thinking.

Remember –> Make No Effort. Do Nothing. Stop. Striving and pushing to slow the thoughts is an action, a doingness. Abandon doing. Choosing to follow the motions of mind (i.e.; becoming lost in thought) is also action, is also doingness. Strange – to try and focus is to make effort, and to engage in thought is also effort. So, where lies the stopping of effort?

Therein lies the fun, the play of this meditation. It is bringing awareness to the non-thought realm — consciousness/Self — and that’s it.

It is not about stopping thought. Adyashanti’s Zen teacher once said to him, (~)”If you are waiting for your mind to stop thinking, you’re going to wait forever.” The mind creates thought. That’s what it does. Trying to change this reality is a recipe for frustration. By coming to the space the perceives thought, that which perceives the sense of I, we engage in total non-doingness. The perceiver simply… perceives. There is no aversion, no desire here. Just beingness and Truth. This is the Self. 

I imagine this state of non-doingness — which, by the way, underlies every moment of our life — to be a gentle balance. I imagine a razor sharp katana sword, delicately balanced on a finger. The breeze slips over and under the blade without upsetting even the subtle balance on the sword. Within this meditation, space is discovered, not so much held as much as regarded. This fine blade of of awareness is not perturbed by the thoughts created by the mind. Like a river dwelling plant that bends with the strong current to remain steadfast at the root. We regard the current, noticing its pull, but staying steadfast at the root.

 

There’s another method to noticing that which perceives thought. Ramana Maharshi was a master at Self Inquiry. Going within, the practitioner of Self-Inquiry will question the arising thoughts to try and seek any truth within them. (Hint: There is never absolute reality within thought form.) Try it yourself. As thoughts arise, ask:

– Where did this thought arise from?

– Where did that thought dissolve into?

– What is the “I” this thought concerns? Where does the “I” reside?

These questions cannot be answered by mind. Mind cannot understand that which has no concept. The doingness of thought cannot comprehend the state of non-doingness. Thus a silence may be found in the period after a question – in the case of the water plant, this silence is the firm rock to act as our anchor in the strong current of mind. These questions lead into the maha-question, the basis of Self-Inquiry: 

– Who Am I?

 

Who Am I, when asked piercingly and ceaselessly, is said to be the water which erodes the “egoic mountain” of “me, I, and mine”. To go deeper into the power of Who Am I and self-inquiry in general, I highly recommend finding a Ramana Maharshi book to dig into. For me to try and explain any deeper would be a bastardization of a beautiful revelation.

 

So, let us go forth and meditate. May we all achieve clarity and consistency with our practice, and may our efforts be effortless.

 

Peace.

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Full Moon & Solstice Weekend: Finding Spirit in All Places

A reality has become apparent: Life is beautifully busy at the Salt Spring Center of Yoga.

This isn’t the “hectic busy” of the working parent or the swamped university student. This busy is more like… fullness, and wholeness — the full, plump belly of a satisfied lifestyle. This is the type of busy in which I know I will not have time to write a blog today, because I can’t miss Qi-gong and still want to attend the Yoga Philosophy class. After a long day working the earth under the island sun, the internet is but a distant thought.

I’d love to be writing long rants and discussions about aspects of yoga psychology and such, but in order to balance my time here at the Center, I’d like start smaller little blogs — with lots of pictures. The following are scattered photographic highlights of my last week.

A little buddy who chilled with me for a while under a bush in the meditation garden.

A little buddy who chilled with me for a while under a bush in the meditation garden.

Being outdoors most days brings a plethora of gifts from nature. While working in a flower bed, this medium (3ft) garter snake casually slithered up to see what was going on. He was a mellow snake, allowing me to lay down on my belly with only 40cm or so between our eyes. We hung out for a while. I grabbed my camera and came back, but of course he didn’t enjoy being approached by the mysterious electronic device. Snake energy is radical — very Shiva. It amazes me that these creatures are eternally on their bellies slithering through the dust and the muck, yet I’ve never seen a dirty snake. They are always pure and clean.

The view of Fulford Harbour from the top of Mt. Maxwell, Salt Spring Island.

It hasn’t gotten old yet – every time I see the ocean, I get this trippy sensation: I’m on a freakin’ island! (Obvious prairie origins of author become apparent here.) Something about this place being physically isolated from the mainlaind is awfully romantic. No one can simply wander onto Salt Spring island. There needs to be an intention of some sort: I am going to that piece of land over yonder. Perhaps that factor helps to create the island wide sensation of community I feel here.

A big pile of wood, chopped by the finest artisan wood workers on the island.

A big pile of wood, chopped by the finest artisan wood workers on the island.

Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. Two full days of splitting some gnarly trees — with a full gamut of sledgehammers, sledgeaxes, wedges and axes — was a great exercise in mindfulness. Also great anger therapy. There’s no room for anything but total concentration when swinging a 20lb sledgehammer for a few hours, unless you want to sprain your spine or pop a toe.

A most excellent wood burning sauna.

A most excellent wood burning sauna.

Chop wood, feed stove, heat sauna, enjoy sauna. Working without attachment to the fruits of one’s labour is a key aspect of Karma Yoga, which I dare say I was practicing as I chopped wood a few days ago. However, had I known the wood supply was going to fuel the healing warmth of the sauna, I might have been pretty attached! I capped off my Saturday with a late night sauna. It was glorious. When I emerged to cool down, I was greeted with a massive and luminous full moon.

The massive June full moon lighting up the midnight sky.

The massive June full moon lighting up the midnight sky.

My wee camera had no hope of capturing the majesty of the silhouetted cedars and silver clouds. Use your imagination — we’re at a yoga center on a big island at midnight, staring up at the stars and moon, the internal body warmed by the dry sauna, and cool air tingling the skin…  And then imagine all the other people on the planet reverently enjoying that same moon. Wow. What an incredible way to kick off the summer. Whatever you were doing on the 21st, happy solstice to you. And a happy full moon to you, too. 

Quick update: Vandwelling construction completed (perhaps).

You might be wondering, “where is that yogi with the nice dharmic musings? He seems to have been replaced by a tradesman or something.” The answer is: He’s been running around like a decapitated chicken getting his life in order before the trip. These posts reflect the flow of my life  – sometimes spiritually oriented, sometimes otherwise, but always conscious of spirit.

After a few fun days of small scale construction, I feel like the woodworking is over.

The result is simple to the point of being spartan, which I feel is completely necessary given the square footage I am working with. Have a look for yourself.

One side of the shelf, cut to slide under the bed frame overhang.

One side of the shelf, cut to slide under the bed frame overhang.

Shelf sits flush with bed frame. Bottom storage space is only accessible when trunk is open

Shelf sits flush with bed frame. Bottom storage space is only accessible when trunk is open

Door opened. Half wall on mattress side means I can reach in to access storage space without having to open the trunk. Up to 30lbs can be supported on the extended platform. This should be great for outdoor cooking.

Half-wall on mattress side means I can reach in to access storage space without having to open the trunk. Up to 30lbs can be supported on the extended platform. This should be great for outdoor cooking.

Latching hook-and-loop fastener will not pop open on bumpy roads.

Latching hook-and-loop fastener will not pop open on bumpy roads.

The finished product - mattress on bed frame with rear shelf. (Note that the window covers slot in nicely in the space between the bed and the passenger's wall)

The finished product – mattress on bed frame with rear shelf. (Note that the reflective window covers slot in nicely in the space between the bed and the passenger’s wall)

On a different note…

It’s been really fun playing with saws, drills, plywood and nails over the last few days. I am disappointed that floor space is disappearing so fast, as I would love to spend more time building random stuff for the van. Seeing as I have less than a week until I need to leave, it’s probably time to start concentrating on fitting my life into the remaining available space.

I’ve been very van-intensive lately. One of my hopes with the creation of this blog was to contribute another set of resources into the vandweller community. My forays through blogs and websites made me realize that — despite the proclamations all over the ‘net stating that the population of vehicle-residents are larger than expected and ever-increasing — my experience has shown me this is a tiny little niche, albeit with an amazing collection of individuals who all want others to succeed. I am in a position in which I can be sharing my adventure — I own a digital camera and laptop, I have internet at my home, I have a bit of extra time to develop a resource — something that, given the small scope of this community, and the lack of funds and resources of many within it, could be very helpful.

I suppose that is my explanation for why I am putting so much emphasis on the conversion of this van into a lil’ home. This, of course, leads me to ask myself why I feel the need to defend this decision to the interwebs…

I am feeling an inner need to have to validate the sadhaka aspect of the silly sadhaka blog persona, as if the Esoteric Police are investigating me for yogic fraud. I’m fooling all of you – I’m masquerading as a meditation and yoga instructor, tuned in the dhamma and locked in self-awareness. This blog is turning on me — beginning to portray to the world who I really am. Uh-oh. What if you find out that I dropped f-bombs constantly when I was drilling the pilot holes for the shelf hinges? Will I be shunned from the zen life if I reveal the fact that I had Arby’s curly fries yesterday? Can I still teach yoga if I go a couple days without meditation?

I am imperfect in all dimensions, most definitely including the spiritual realm. Too my earnest dismay, I am not Shiva. It is only by fully accepting my imperfections that I will ever be able to achieve contentment. Heck, it’s even in the site title – I’m a bit Silly. So let me try to deeply integrate my idiosyncrasies, and let me accept the fact that I enjoy things that might not be completely aligned with an ideal yogic lifestyle. And, dammit, let me write about stuff I find interesting without feeling upset that Shiva won’t follow my blog.

There. I said it. Now, is it OK if I proceed to live a life full of mistakes, awkwardness and glitches?

Spiritual Urgency: Have you felt the burn?

I’ve been reading “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English”, a great book by Bhante Gunaratana. (He has also written “Mindfulness in Plain English”, a classic and essential book for those looking to initiate or energize an existing meditation regime, and the foundational book for the Four Foundations.)

This short book takes the concepts of mindfulness meditation (also known as insight or Vipassana meditation within Buddhist circles) and expands them – via the Buddha’s four foundations – into tools and techniques to develop mindfulness “off the cushion”. It’s worth a read. Anyhow, the author defines a unique feeling he calls “spiritual urgency”:

As we meditate, certain special feelings may arise. One of these is called “spiritual urgency”. We see clearly that pain arises and pain disappears; pleasure arises and pleasure disappears. As we watch this repeating pattern, an insight arises that as long as we take birth in any form, we will continue to suffer. This insight inspires us to accelerate our spiritual practice and find a way to end this vicious cycle of birth and death right now, once and for all.

Ever since I began my journey into spiritual practice, I have been followed by a sensation of immediacy – anything from a gentle inner challenge to an earth shattering, un-ignorable, apocalyptic urgency .When I was previously involved within spiritual community, dedicating much time to meditation and mindfulness, I felt a comfortable level of spiritual urgency. This might manifest as a desire to maintain a sharper mind through my sadhana, or an urge to wake up earlier to meditate longer. I felt a gentle inner challenge to move towards mindfulness.

BUT – all this changed when I came back from my initial stay at the ashram and re-enrolled in university. I was in a different world, with old friends to catch up with, new people to meet, love interests to pursue, clubs and sports, and a plethora of other attractive options. Within half a year, my practice was faltering and inconsistent. [Note: This is not an excuse. Meditation needs no special consideration – it can be done in anyone’s life, no matter how busy/exciting. I dropped the ball.]

This is when I began to learn a profound insight: Once our spiritual urgency has been deeply felt and sincerely followed, we must not turn back.

It’s too late. You are down the rabbit hole. You have realized that the only Truth, and the only permanence, lies within union to the universe. To try and make any attempts towards satisfaction in any other realm – no matter how initially appealing and productive – will never quell the fire of spiritual urgency. They may, perhaps, cover the flames and even reduce the fire to smoldering embers, but eventually whatever distraction placed over top of the True Desire will be converted into fuel for a raging inferno churning upwards into the Infinite.

The thing is, this spiritual urgency is not something suddenly awakened through deep meditation. It is present – and has been present – in every human on this planet. We are all trying to fill this void, whether we know it or not. We’re all on the same path, whether we know it or not. As the old Japanese saying goes, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view of the moon from the top is the same.” The main point separating our universal desire for liberation from “spiritual urgency” is that of awareness. If we happen to be at a point in our journeys where we can recognize spiritual urgency for what it is, then take action now, because rest assured we are destined to keep feeling the inner inferno burn until we take action and deeply integrate spiritual practice into our lives. You now know this path you are on is going to be summiting that mountain over there. May as well get prepared for the hike.