Friday, March 31, 2017

The Notion of the Cave

Cave along the shore of the island of Capri, Italy
What is it about a cave? Rocks, crevices, gems, creatures, critters, shadows, hidden, secret, intimacy with the earth.... What's not to fantasize about?

I like the notion of a cave when it pertains to yoga, personal enrichment, and love. Here is why: Yoga can easily be associated with the cave since many monks, Buddhist or Zen or Christian, have taken refuge and solace in a solitary existence in caves. This includes refuge in its proper sense for Tibetan monks. The cave is a shelter that one takes by necessity. Whether forced or self-prescribed, a retreat of several years or decades brings about clarity and divine wisdom. Ancient holy texts are preserved in caves, and living beings feel called to caves as if they too will become a living text. Meditation is a regiment dictated by cave walls, and many a brave soul have felt beckoned and heeded the call. A cave serves as a cocoon for the seeking soul. It is a womb matrix in which the person develops clearer insight, and the world outside no longer appears the same; its materiality loses its veneer of importance or dominance. The connection to the divine that resides within grows deeper as if the compact space of the rocky walls hinging above were compressing insight into the monk's third eye, and the vastness of the soul opens up.

In Western literature, the cave or grotto may be a magical place where lovers may lie together. I am thinking of the idyllic scene in the story of Tristan and Isolde: these two lovers, innocent and true, accidentally drink the potion of love that was prepared for the young bride so that she would fall in love with King Mark; however, by accident, Tristan, faithful servant to the King, and Isolde drink of it. In the grotto scene, Tristan and Isolde are finally able to take refuge alone together. The affect of this grotto or cave is amplified by the literary details of its depiction, details which point to the intent, honesty, and purity of love. It is a brief moment in time where love can find understanding between the two, a moment rendered all the more precious when the heavy symbolism of Tristan's sword is laid between them once Tristan learns that the King is pursuing them.

The cave is not always an idyllic place of soul-searching, utopic retreat, or divine pursuit. It is also portrayed in Western literature as a threatening hole where cyclops or beasts or bats dwell. Then, there is the problem of getting lost in them, and being forever swallowed up by the earth. There is also the famous example of cave experience where the prisoners are tricked by the shadows that fall upon the rocky walls, and are conditioned to doubt and fear the reality outside given the limited view they have in Plato's cave.

Yet the lesson of the prisoners in Plato's cave is not unlike the lesson of the various monks who have taken retreat in caves or cave monasteries over the centuries. In Plato's allegory of the cave, the prisoner needs to do whatever it takes to make his way towards the entrance of the cave in order to fully see the light and reach the mind-opening experience that exists beyond the cave's shadows. Yet most people do not reach for this. Likewise, most people do not purposefully go live in a cave to meditate for months and years on end. Yet they, like Plato's freed prisoner, have to some significant extent realized that this world is made up of the illusory. Simply put, it is fascinating that monks have intentionally chosen the cave and walked away from the distractions of the world. In choosing cave dwelling, monks trade possessions for contemplation. They trade clamor of too many voices and opinions for peacefulness, and they exchange stress for simplicity. The intimacy of the cave allows them to focus on the abundance of inner experience - mystical, spiritual, universal - as it unfolds and speaks inside. The silence of the cave is what attracts myth, what makes it more real than the world outside, and what speaks to the awe we feel towards monks who continue to follow a notable calling.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Musical Balm for the Soul: Beautiful Mantra

I would like to share a beautiful mantra with you. This song magically brought me lots of healing as I began my own practice at home - magically because I have no idea what it is saying, but its words in Sanskrit melody carried me as I began to slowly blossom anew, growing stronger as I healed, taking concepts we were learning from Gopi Kinnicutt and Keli Lalita at Yoga Mandali in Saratoga, and bringing it home to my mat for my own expression. This mantra song was on repeat as I moved through poses that became like puzzle pieces as they seamlessly began to click together. I had known the poses, but I had never realized how naturally one could flow into the next once one begins studying sequencing.

To read about the difference of between mantra and prayer, see this wonderful post by White Hindu. Mantra works with sound vibrations, and can be very life-changing, as she articulates very well.

With mantra, the sound vibrations matter
All I know is that I found fresh physical healing with this song over time, and could not go beyond it to find any other song with the same affect. 2016 saw me endure 3 major surgeries (one of which was 8-hours long, life-saving, drastic, and complicated), one minor surgery, three sedated scopes, 5 CAT scans, a barium enema, several painful anal exams, an ostomy, countless needle pokes, pain meds, x-rays, 4 ER trips, and a total of 40 days in the hospitals in my hometown and at Memorial Sloan Kettering in NYC. I needed some healing and restoration to transition into a new body and life. In this same year, I had been unable to hold and carry my newborn for 4 months of his new life, and if I were to hold this strong, growing boy in the future, I couldn't let my abdomen remain as compromised as it was. My surgeon at MSK would warm me that my stomach was like sliced cheese, cut in three ways; I didn't want another complication such as a hernia. I was on longterm disability due to all this, so what better time to delve into the study of yoga - for personal enrichment, yes, and hadn't I been saying (due to all my experience in the hospitals) that I wanted to help people? Maybe getting Reiki level 2 certified was not enough... I needed more. Yoga gave that to me - through its ancient philosophy, the yamas and niyamas, the mantras, the unity with others in song and om, and the unity and peace with my own body that I found in the months of the 200 hour training.  

Gratitude was the meditation theme my partner and I chose for our final teaching exam. It is still a hard concept to put into words. But here is a short list of major themes: Gratitude for my son who saved my life, gratitude to God for bringing him just in time, gratitude for the inner peace that is deepening, the sense of humor that is growing, and the body that supports my mind, my life, and allows me to still be here for my now 14 month-old son... and see him grow into a man. Gratitude for so much love shown to me, and so much love before me in his smiling eyes.

This is my son in the summer of 2016, during the time between major surgeries and stays in NYC hospital.
So much love to keep Momma focused and marching forward.
I am also deeply grateful to Karen Score at Yoga Mandali for inviting me to do a by donation class on April 9. All proceeds will go to cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. 

I hope you enjoy this beautiful mantra:

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

LIFE Photo: Yoga Undercurrent

Elements of a darling LIFE photo 

A moment. 
A present once appreciated, once moved through. 
The flash of an old camera to capture the innocence, the daring, the trying. 
Qu'est-ce que la photographie?
A dated camera.

A logo. 
A magazine.
Pages of cultural heritage, frame by frame, issue by issue. 
A large-sized magazine. 
Très professionnel.

An era passed. 
A way to make any era classic. 
Hearkening back to the days of Charlie Chaplin. 
Varying shades of grey.
C'est de la qualité.

In a hat. 
Innocence and strength. 
Flexibility and pose. 
Open mouth, raised hand: conquerer of all hearts. 
Quirky and authentic 
Qu'il est mignon!
Precious skin.

Hand to foot. 
Leg extension. 
And beyond the pose: youth.
A present lived, a present continued through image. 
Yoga through photography. 
Yoga through... Life. 
Strength: physically and attitude-inally. 
A return to natural exuberance.