Monday, May 18, 2009

Yama, Yama, Yama

Recently, I explored the ancient yogic concepts of ahimsa (non~harming) and aparigraha (non~grasping). Today I’d like to explore the remaining three ethical guidelines, or yamas, central to yogic philosophy.

Satya means truthfulness. On the most obvious level, this refers to not speaking lies--certainly its easiest expression. Being truthful with ourselves is infinitely more challenging. Such honesty requires assessing, with a frank and uncompromising eye, our thoughts and feelings, strengths and flaws, and the true motivations for our behavior. Satya also requires making our words true by keeping commitments to ourselves and others. The practice of satya, in other words, carries us toward a life of integrity.

But let us burrow more deeply into satya through exploring its etymological roots. “Sat” is Sanskrit for ultimate or eternal truth. Add the activating suffix “-ya”, and satya prods us toward living in active and conscious harmony with the ultimate truth that underlies life.

Of course, we may differ in our conception of that truth. For me, satya brings awareness that the vast energy that sets the stars to swirling radiates, too, within the individual moments of my own life. Satya encourages me to live with awareness of this truth.

Asteya translates as non-stealing. However, asteya means more than not pocketing an item belonging to another. Asteya refers also to not taking more than our share or more than we need. We steal when we use limited resources cavalierly, and when we buy cheap goods whose low price reflects underpaid workers or disregard for the environment. Yet we also steal when we diminish another. This includes harsh words or actions that rob someone of confidence or crimp their spirit. 

But don’t we also violate the precept of asteya when we don’t live up to our own potential? I think so. By staying small, we steal possibilities that might have been, for ourselves and others, had we not stanched our positive flow.

Asteya teaches about interconnection. It reminds me to give of myself freely and to receive with gratitude that which willingly comes my way.

Brahmacharya is a tricky concept for westerners, as it often refers to the practice of celibacy. However, by once more looking to the Sanskrit roots, this yama becomes relevant to us all. “Brahma” is another name for God, while “char” means to walk. Add that activating suffix “-ya”, and Brahmacharya translates literally as “walking with God”.

How exactly do we walk with God? Through the wise and loving use, moment by moment, of the precious life force given us. Brahmacharya urges us toward practices that enhance our perception of Spirit and our ability to live in accordance with it. Behaviors that numb us to a direct experience of life or extend harm into the world around us then begin to fall away.

Brahmacharya teaches about the conscious use of self. It inspires me to choose wisely.

When most westerners think of yoga, images come to mind of folks coiled into amazingly intricate postures.  However, the Sanskrit meaning of the word yoga is union. The true aim of the various schools of yoga is to bring practitioners toward union with God.

The yamas are one facet of the vast storehouse of centuries-old yogic wisdom. Whatever our spiritual tradition, our practice can be enhanced by bringing the yamas to life. For as we stop feeding the negativity that keeps us spiritually emaciated, we free ourselves to open more fully to a vibrant experience of the Divine.

I wish you all a lovely week. And if you find yourself taking your challenges a bit too seriously, try repeating the title of these two essays in one mouthful. It's darn hard to say, "Yama, yama, yama, yama, yama!" without smiling!

Go on~~try it~~you'll see!


Loanne Marie

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Schedule change

Hello there!

Just a short note to let you all know that I will be posting essays less frequently, at least for the summer. My goal is to post something twice monthly, rather than the weekly postings I've been doing.

With my pared down blogging schedule, I'm hoping to have time to explore other avenues for my writing, including possibly getting it together to write a book.

Have a wonderful summer!

Loanne Marie

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Universal Energy of Love

Today is Mother’s Day, a celebration in honor of the women who raised us. But within this tribute to that most personal of relationships, we can also sense the pulse of the universal. For love is a universal energy, ever-present, humming just below the surface of our existence.

If we are lucky, the women who raise us are clear channels through which such love flows freely and in abundance. Through their ability to manifest love in the particulars of our own small lives, such mothers impart trust in a universal loving presence. Thus they do much to shape a vibrant spirituality in their offspring.

In other mothers, however, the pathway for love has become twisted, emaciated, or clogged with debris. Children of such mothers often have to work harder to find their way to a loving spiritual connection.

Of course, most mothers do not live at either of these extremes. Just like all things human, mothers tend to be a blend of light and shadow, strength and weakness. Whatever model of love we experienced as children, we carry that example into the families we create and into all the significant relationships of our lives. This includes our relationship with the Divine.

As adults, our task is to clear our own channels. If we want them to run freely, we may need to modify what was given us~~perhaps only a little, maybe quite a lot. Whether our job is large or small, though, we have the resources available to assist us. Spirit is ever at the ready to help us heal.

In addition to the specific spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, and communal worship, you might find any of the following helpful in this endeavor.
  • Imagine a loving energy filling your heart center for several minutes each day. You might envision this as a light of whatever color you find healing. Sense it pulsing and growing stronger with each breath. 
  • Commit to a steady practice of loving~kindness meditation.
  • Devise an affirmation that embodies your specific intent, such as “I open willingly and gratefully to Love.” Repeat it often. 
  • Place images of the Divine Feminine throughout your living space, such as pictures or statues of the Blessed Mother or Kuan Yin. You might add pictures of your own mother and other women who taught you love. Offer prayers for the healing of your heart as you feel love’s blessings flowing through you. 
  • People your life with those who offer a healthy model of love. Value these relationships, and absorb their glow.
  • Choose activities that enrich and nourish your heart. Make wise choices concerning books and movies. Spend time in nature. 
This Mother’s Day we will, of course, honor the specific women who birthed us, and all women who were instrumental in shaping us, then and now. Without their profound influence, we would not be the unique persons we are today.
But we can honor, too, the universal force of love itself. We can commit to opening to that love more fully. And we can do our part in extending love’s flow, to our own children and to all those we come in contact with, as we walk this earth. 

I’d like to close by honoring my own mother. You are woven through me like a thread in a complex tapestry. Each time I love, you breathe again. Each time I pull back from love, I touch you also. Your channel was so clear, and ran more purely and steadily than most. Your lessons resonate in me still, and I am grateful for them all.

So, to all who mother~~in any way~~blessings to you, and Happy Mother’s Day!

Loanne Marie

For another take on Mother's Day, particularly relevant if your relationship with your own mother was difficult, see Mom Quilt.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Yama, Yama

I was running late. A session with a client had gone over, and I now barely had enough time to get to my hair appointment. 

As I rushed to the car, a fierce wind whipped a bag of cough drops from my hastily closed purse. As they landed on the pavement, I stomped down just as the wind lifted them again. Thus began a rather silly dance across the parking lot, though its humor was lost on me.

Finally in the car with cough drops secured, I found myself behind a woman driving with excruciating slowness. Until, that is, she came to a complete stop in the middle of the road, for no reason I could fathom. As I passed, I flashed an irritated look her way.
I arrived home, burst through the door to grab the checkbook I’d forgotten that morning, and immediately began grumbling about the wind, which had battered me again between car and kitchen. 

And then I saw my husband’s face. And I stopped.

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term that is translated simply as non~harming. There is nothing, however, simple about living this tenet. Ahimsa is one of the five yamas, or ethical precepts, delineated in Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga. 

Non~harming means more than abstaining from physical violence. Ahimsa entails refraining from all types of harmful thinking and behavior. Mahatma Gandhi described the practice of ahimsa as aiming toward, “complete freedom from ill~will and anger and hate, and an overflowing love for all.”

No easy task. In the ten minutes between office and kitchen, I’d missed the mark three separate times. I had chosen annoyance and spewed it through my own psyche and out into the world around me. I hadn’t been aware of this choice. It was only as I watched the initial joy on my husband’s face at my unexpected arrival home fade into something a bit more guarded that I realized what I was doing.

Disregarding another yama is what had led me astray. Aparigraha translates as non~grasping. On a basic level, aparigraha refers to not accumulating possessions or holding onto them too tightly. However, non~grasping can also refer to how we hold attitudes and beliefs as well.

I’d had my agenda, you see. I knew the wind shouldn’t blow so wildly, the woman oughtn’t to drive so slowly, and I mustn’t be late for my appointment. I was attached to the way I believed things ought to be, disgruntled that life was not conforming to my expectations. In each instance, I harmed myself a bit and offered unpleasantness to the world around me.

Living the yamas brings us to a profound truth. As we free ourselves from negativity of whatever ilk, we are better able to touch life as it is. Its rich textures, its small miracles, and the face of Spirit become more palpable, less obscured by our own projections. As we grow in acceptance of what is, we engage more harmoniously with our environment. Whatever we find is ours to do, the yamas will point us toward the most effective and graceful internal approach to the task.

So, what did I do once I woke up to my options? With full awareness, I looked into my husband’s eyes, greeted him warmly, and apologized for grousing. We embraced for a few moments. And then I was out the door again.

Incidentally, I arrived for my haircut on time~~and with spirit intact!

I wish you well over the coming week as you greet what life brings your way.


Loanne Marie