Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gurmukh's class

I forgot to talk about the other yoga event I attended over the weekend--Gurmukh's class at the ashram in Millis.

Simply outstanding. Her reputation precedes her, of course; she's kind of a star of Kundalini yoga, and she teaches celebrities out in Los Angeles at her Golden Bridge studio. There's a reason she's a star. She teaches kick-ass classes with spiritual underpinnings. When she finally arrived (about 25 minutes late) the sea of yogis parted as this tiny woman in silky whites approached the stage. A woman sitting up at the front gave her an armful of beautiful roses, tied with a silk scarf. Gurmuckh graciously thanked the woman, asked her name, and asked for the flowers to be put in water. Then she began talking to us about love and coming from the heart, rather than the brain alone. Basically, her message was a kind of combination of the "love thy neighbor as thyself" Bible thing and the Joseph Campbell "what are you waiting for, follow your bliss" concept. Gurmukh talked for about a half hour. I was getting kind of hypnotized, kind of settled-in feeling. And then the yoga began. She said, "I think Massachusetts needs the shakies." And shake we did--for I don't know how long, shaking our whole bodies, arms raised in a seated position, then standing up and shaking and hopping some more (8 minutes). There was more. Much more. And she doesn't let up. She keeps exhorting you to keep hopping, shake harder, shake everything, etc.

At the end of the physical part of the set, we did a meditation with soothing, low male and female voices singing "Hallelujah." I remembered doing this same meditation and set at Summer Solstice Camp in New Mexico last year, and I remembered tears came pouring out of me at the time. I thought, "Hmmm... I'm not crying this time." And then I cried. It just came out, like a release. There were other meditations, a relaxation while Gurmukh's husband played the gong, and dancing. It was late by the time all was done, but the crowd was ebullient. I was exhausted, sweaty, and very mellow.

I recommend anyone who gets a chance to attend any class that Gurmukh teaches. If you don't feel strong enough--the energy will keep you going. I was sore the next day. But I was happy to be able to keep up.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Self discovery

The weather is beautiful to look at- the days are bright and shiny with blue skies, twittering birds, and lush greens as the foliage emerges. But the temperature is still cool to warmish--highs in the 60s. I'm ready for the full-on, 70-80 degree days of summer.

I attended two wonderful yoga events this weekend at the Guru Ram Das Ashram in Millis, Mass. The first was a full moon gong meditation event. We join together and are led through a preparatory yoga exercise set (kriya) and then we lie on our backs, covered with a light blanket or something, and just relax and experience the gong. The gong takes us to different places: some people fall asleep in a deep, dreamless restful sleep; others (me) have a trancelike experience, with some awareness of the surroundings lapsing into little dreams. And I'm sure there are other experiences as well. The whole purpose is to recharge or rejuvenate the parasympathetic nervous system.

After the gong, we are led through a series of meditations to open up the heart and connect with the energy of the (almost) full moon. Then there is time for refreshments and a little socializing before we head for home.

My spiritual name is Ananda, which means bliss. I told it to someone I met there on Saturday. People often smile when they hear my name, and that is a gift to me, but I often think what a thing it is to live up to. But in response, this person told me, "Be yourself."

I have been pondering that since. Be myself. What do I want? And what would truly make me happy so that I can keep body and soul together? The point is, don't ignore the soul. Find your bliss, Joseph Campbell used to exhort. I need to figure this out, now, at this time in my life. It just goes on and on. What a voyage we're on!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

White Tantric effects

I notice that I am feeling the effects of the White Tantric Yoga I attended a week ago. It's amazing. It could have a lot to do with the season, of course. Birds are singing more, daylight is more pervasive, and the greens, yellows, reds, and purples of spring are bountiful. However, it's still cold by my standards. Usually it's in the 50s or low 60s each day, and we've had some dreary, rainy days.

Still I'm feeling energized.

White Tantric is a form of meditation we Kundalini yogis like to put ourselves through as a kind of tune-up. It's a daylong (usually) structured event, facilitated by a woman who leads us by describing the posture and/or mudra or mantra that we have to do for each exercise. This woman then holds the space and absorbs much of our good (and bad) energy. The whole thing actually is led (if that's the right word) by someone called the Mahan Tantra, and that was (is) Yogi Bhajan. However, since his physical body is gone, it's his subtle body that we're counting on (the yogis believe the soul and the subtle body go on after we've passed from our physical and other bodies). So there is often a real sense of the presence of Yogi Bhajan in this event, and there also are the videos he made to continue the practise of White Tantric long after he died. So we watch a video, he tells us what to do and gives us a little spiritual message to go with it, and we do the meditation for (usually) 31 or 62 minutes. Some of these can seem excruciatingly long. If you can't do it or you have to leave to go to the bathroom, you raise your hand and a monitor comes along to take your place. You are never supposed to break the lines. Oh yeah, we're sitting in straight lines facing a partner. Men on one side, women on the other. There are never enough men though, so there are often women on both sides. Also, we're all dressed in white, with head coverings to protect the crown chakra at the top of the head.

My experience this last time (I've done it possibly 20 times? Definitely more than 15.) was a little different. The whole thing seemed much more laid back and easier than most. Everyone was commenting on it. But at the very end, I found out I had been hurting my partner with the mudra- gripping her too tightly. Since we had our eyes closed at this point, I didn't know, and she didn't tell me until after it was all done, when she lashed out at me. My spirits sank and I felt that old familiar guilt and shame. I wanted to crawl in a hole, and I should have been jumping for joy.

We talked it out and both apologized, but I still felt bad, going home, that night, a lot of tears, which I realized were tears of grief for other losses in my life. I asked myself what Yogiji or my father would have told me. They both would have said that I didn't know I was hurting her, it wasn't intentional, and there was nothing I could do about it now since it was in the past--so don't feel bad. I took a hot bath at home and began a 40-day meditation on Yogiji's picture. The next day I also began doing the Bound Lotus (an adjusted version) meditation for 40 days. I talked to a few people and felt better.

Today, a week later, I feel fine. I feel energized, and I'm really into these 40-day meditations. I'm not drinking any alcohol for 40 days and I'm exercising more and (hopefully) eating less.

Today doing Bound Lotus I could almost touch my toe. (In Bound Lotus your arms are crossed behind your back and your legs are crossed as your feet sit on your thighs and you are supposed to grab your big toe with each opposite hand. I just do an amended version of this, with a scarf looped around my foot, one side at a time.) I am feeling lighter by a few pounds, and more energetic. White Tantric works, even if you have challenges with your partner (or yourself).

Now if the weather would only improve!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dreaming of mothers

It's almost Mother's Day, an annoying holiday for some, especially those who: A. no longer have a mother living on the planet; B. have grown children who are geographically or otherwise unavailable on Mother's Day; and/or C. think of the holiday as a sentimentalist's fabrication which unfortunately still tugs at the heartstrings, despite a cynical view of the whole idea. I guess all of the above apply to me. I want to turn off the radio or TV whenever there's a Mother's Day advertisement-they're so patently, saccharine-soppy, even when they attempt at humor. How can you not want to tear up-or throw up-when you see or hear these promotions?

That said, I had a dream last night about my mother--who's been gone almost two years now (I can hardly believe that). In it she was old, like she was before death (so often we dream about family and loved ones at different times in their and our lives). I was touching her face lovingly and talking about how soft her wrinkled skin was. It was a very sweet moment. Of course that's all I remember of that dream. I value each moment I can spend with my deceased parents in this way.

I had been thinking about her a lot this week-- possibly because of the emphasis on Moms from the commercials. But it came to me that after my Dad died, she was really thrown for a loop, and despite her physical and emotional disasters (a major stroke, the loss of her husband, cancer) she showed an ability to laugh and keep up like I wouldn't have expected. One side of her body was basically paralyzed after the stroke. She lost some mental ability also-- the words she tried to push past her tongue just wouldn't come, or would get mixed up with other words, and her face, smoothed strangely by the stroke, would look baffled and annoyed by this trick her brain or tongue played on her.

And yet, confined to a nursing home, she still had her humor and was cheered whenever I came to visit her. We didn't have to talk about much or do much. Often I just sat with her watching old movies in black and white on her TV, holding her hand. My brother said she'd lost so much weight that holding her hand was like holding a handful of finger bones. But she had a sweet smile, and when she turned it on me I felt love and forgiveness for whatever wrongs either one of us had ever done to the other. I also felt she was a trouper: she had always depended on my father and told me she expected to "go before him." Yet she hung in there, attending the AA meeting she started at the nursing home, going to bingo and other events she'd previously scoffed at.

Some might say (and I think it) she was a captive with little choice as to her behavior in that institution and with he physical limitations. But she made some choices. She insisted on not having her hair pin-curled like so many of the other little old ladies around her. Instead it was cut relatively short and blown out, giving her a surprised, windblown look. She started the AA meeting at the nursing home on Sundays. And she held onto one of the traditions she had with my father: at each meal, her dessert was ice cream with maple syrup.

I miss her, I loved her, I'm past the rancor I used to have for her. I hope to visit her again soon in my dreams. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.