Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The real yogis get right to the point

"That which stands between the individual soul and the universal soul is the ego."

-Swami Chidananda

Read more here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Even Loud, Secular Music Can Heal the Soul

On Monday night Jah and I went to see Grinderman at the Riveria.

At one point I nudged her in the ribs, "He just said Krishna!" and we both laughed with delight.

"He," of course, was Nick Cave - who was as animated as I've ever seen him, and seemed to be feeding off the wild, out-of-control energy of guitarist/bouzouki/mandocaster/etc-player Warren Ellis. Wow, wow and wow. Talk about giving one hundred percent.

I don't know that I've ever seen "old" people rock harder.

I don't know if I've ever laughed that hard at a show.

And I don't know that I've ever seen the band having that much fun at a concert, either.

Afterwords, I felt alive.

And backstage, the band looked spent.

And I felt a little bit guilty.

And alive, and back in touch with my old little-s self.

Some days later, I realized: God and the creative force are one and the same.

And when you block this force, you're causing great harm.

Thank you, Jim!


I also caught up with Cynthia Plaster Caster after the show. She is indeed running for mayor of Chicago as a write-in candidate - and she is hard on crime. Read more here.

Read Greg Kot's review of the show here.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Radio Interview with Buddhist Scholar and Former Monk, Geshe Thupten Jinpa

In the Room with Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama's English Translator from onBeing on Vimeo.

While preparing for sitting practice yesterday morning, I heard "Being" host Krista Tippett interview the Dalai Lama's primary English translator, Geshe Thupten Jinpa.

It was a good start to the day (much better than the endless news cycle about Black Friday, body scans and mayoral races).

As a monk who left the monastery to marry, he spoke of how difficult it is to have an intimate relationship with another person- and how having children can help you learn compassion like nothing else. He also said that the practices from the monastery have helped him cultivate compassion and non-attachment in the householder world. The last gets right to the heart of the age-old question of renunciation vs. being in the world but not of the world. The Bhagavad-Gita says the latter - non-attachment - is just as good (if not better) than the former.

Here're a few quotes from the interview:

“One thing that surprised me a bit was how challenging relationships can be.”

“The fact that he [the Dalai Lama] embodies what he says is what makes his talks so powerful.”

"The fact that murder, etc makes headlines means we don’t expect humans to behave this way. Humans are naturally good."

You can hear the interview here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The best film about male religious.... ever

I finally saw Into Great Silence last night.

The documentary about male monks of the Carthusian order in the French Alps been has been on my to-see list since it was released in 2005.

It was everything I'd hoped it would be, and more.

Here's the back story:

In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready.

Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks quarters for six months filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it s a rare, transformative experience for all.

They spend most of their time alone in their rooms, in contemplation. There are specific times when they get together for meals, mass, and chanting, but most of their time is spent alone. There are also scheduled two-hour walks in the stunningly beautiful countryside, when they may informally speak. But they have zero contact with householders - whom they refer to as seculars. It sounds like heaven to me.

The film, which has little dialog, kept showing a few quotes, including:

"Anyone who does not give up all he has can't be my disciple."


"You have seduced me, I was seduced."


"I am the ONE who is."

How it made the heart melt!

Here is a quote about silence and solitude, from their counterparts in Vermont:

For, as you know, in the Old Testament, and still more so in the New, almost all God’s secrets of major importance and hidden meaning, were revealed to his servants, not in the turbulence of the crowd but in the silence of solitude; and you know, too, that these same servants of God, when they wished to penetrate more profoundly some spiritual truth, or to pray with greater freedom, or to become a stranger to things earthly in an ardent elevation of the soul, nearly always fled the hindrance of the multitude for the benefits of solitude.

Now, of course, I'm a little bit obsessed with the Carthusian Order.

The one in the French Alps only takes men between the ages of 23 and 40.

Maybe next (life)time...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Minimum Standards?

"If you're a yoga teacher, you have no business using the wall for headstand!"

The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop them.


The mind was disturbed. How can people teach yoga-asana to others if they cannot themselves perform the basic postures?

I said as much to the student - who stayed away from the wall, and did the headstand without it.

A couple of days later, the same thing happened; another student in class, also a yoga teacher, could not perform the headstand without using the wall.

And I thought, not for the first time, "How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?"

In other words, How can you teach what you haven't yet mastered?

Perhaps it is part of a larger dumbing-down of yoga.

Or perhaps there is something wrong with me - and my ideas about the study and teaching of yoga.

Today, while watching a video of Boodiba's Viparita Dandasana exits, I saw an ad for a week-long yoga teacher training course. Oy!

And then I saw an ad for a mail-order yoga teacher training program that boasted that it has trained over 1,000 teachers. Vey!

And I thought, What does it take to be a yoga teacher these days?

And I recalled a conversation I had earlier this year, with Lino Miele:

When I asked what makes a good teacher, he said. "Gray hair. Experience makes a good teacher. Guruji was always repeating that yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory. You can read hundreds and hundreds of books, but it does not make you a good teacher. You have knowledge from your life and your body, and then you can teach.

"Instead of wanting to be students, people want to be teachers right away. I am against it. This is not a job. This is a passion. Tradition is important. Whatever my guru taught me, I am teaching you.

"He taught me how to act, how to be with people. How many people had the chance to speak with our guru, eat with our teacher, live with our teacher? Otherwise it becomes 'Bla bla bla.'

"Everything I know, my guru taught me."

When asked what makes a good student, he said, "Constant determination towards the practice, and being with the teacher. The teacher will take care of the student. How can you be a student without a teacher, if you practice on your own all the time?

"The student must respect the teacher all the time, and listen to what the teacher says."

Then I recalled a conversation I had with Lino back in 2008:

“A teacher becomes a teacher after many years of being with the teacher,” he explained. “They do not get up in the morning after two or three weeks and become a teacher after doing a teacher training, only because of their flexibility. That does not make you a teacher. Traditionally your teacher should tell you to teach. It takes many years to reach that point. You don’t become one because of your practice. Teaching means to share.”

And I recalled yet again the words of Chandra Om:

“You cannot teach what you have not personally experienced. You cannot teach spiritual knowledge unless you have some yourself. You cannot straighten out another until you have straightened yourself, so you really have something to say. Teaching is information passing through you--that’s why it’s not about you, or your personality. You’re transmitting your personal environment. Once you’ve cleaned up your own self, you give up your personality and ego and who you think you are, so God can pass through you and use you, so your lower self does not get in the way.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

So that's where scary Bhairavasana gets its name

1 Aashutosh One Who Fulfills Wishes Instantly
2 Aja Unborn
3 Akshayaguna God With Limitless Attributes
4 Anagha Without Any Fault
5 Anantadrishti Of Infinite Vision
6 Augadh One Who Revels All The Time
7 Avyayaprabhu Imperishable Lord
8 Bhairav Lord Of Terror
9 Bhalanetra One Who Has An Eye In The Forehead
10 Bholenath Kind Hearted Lord
11 Bhooteshwara Lord Of Ghosts And Evil Beings
12 Bhudeva Lord Of The Earth
13 Bhutapala Protector Of The Ghosts
14 Chandrapal Master Of The Moon
15 Chandraprakash One Who Has Moon As A Crest
16 Dayalu Compassionate
17 Devadeva Lord Of The Lords
18 Dhanadeepa Lord Of Wealth
19 Dhyanadeep Icon Of Meditation And Concentration
20 Dhyutidhara Lord Of Brilliance
21 Digambara Ascetic Without Any Clothes
22 Durjaneeya Difficult To Be Known
23 Durjaya Unvanquished
24 Gangadhara Lord Of River Ganga
25 Girijapati Consort Of Girija
26 Gunagrahin Acceptor Of Gunas
27 Gurudeva Master Of All
28 Hara Remover Of Sins
29 Jagadisha Master Of The Universe
30 Jaradhishamana Redeemer From Afflictions
31 Jatin One Who Has Matted Hair
32 Kailas One Who Bestows Peace
33 Kailashadhipati Lord Of Mount Kailash
34 Kailashnath Master Of Mount Kailash
35 Kamalakshana Lotus-Eyed Lord
36 Kantha Ever-Radiant
37 Kapalin One Wears A Necklace Of Skulls
38 Khatvangin One Who Has The Missile Khatvangin In His Hand
39 Kundalin One Who Wears Earrings
40 Lalataksha One Who Has An Eye In The Forehead
41 Lingadhyaksha Lord Of The Lingas
42 Lingaraja Lord Of The Lingas
43 Lokankara Creator Of The Three Worlds
44 Lokapal One Who Takes Care Of The World
45 Mahabuddhi Extremely Intelligent
46 Mahadeva Greatest God
47 Mahakala Lord Of All Times
48 Mahamaya Of Great Illusions
49 Mahamrityunjaya Great Victor Of Death
50 Mahanidhi Great Storehouse
51 Mahashaktimaya One Who Has Boundless Energies
52 Mahayogi Greatest Of All Gods
53 Mahesha Supreme Lord
54 Maheshwara Lord Of Gods
55 Nagabhushana One Who Has Serpents As Ornaments
56 Nataraja King Of The Art Of Dancing
57 Nilakantha Blue Necked Lord
58 Nityasundara Ever Beautiful
59 Nrityapriya Lover Of Dance
60 Omkara Creator Of OM
61 Palanhaar One Who Protects Everyone
62 Parameshwara First Among All Gods
63 Paramjyoti Greatest Splendour
64 Pashupati Lord Of All Living Beings
65 Pinakin One Who Has A Bow In His Hand
66 Pranava Originator Of The Syllable Of OM
67 Priyabhakta Favourite Of The Devotees
68 Priyadarshana Of Loving Vision
69 Pushkara One Who Gives Nourishment
70 Pushpalochana One Who Has Eyes Like Flowers
71 Ravilochana Having Sun As The Eye
72 Rudra The Terrible
73 Rudraksha One Who Has Eyes Like Rudra
74 Sadashiva Eternal God
75 Sanatana Eternal Lord
76 Sarvacharya Preceptor Of All
77 Sarvashiva Always Pure
78 Sarvatapana Scorcher Of All
79 Sarvayoni Source Of Everything
80 Sarveshwara Lord Of All Gods
81 Shambhu One Who Bestows Prosperity
82 Shankara One Who Gives Happiness
83 Shiva Always Pure
84 Shoolin One Who Has A Trident
85 Shrikantha Of Glorious Neck
86 Shrutiprakasha Illuminator Of The Vedas
87 Shuddhavigraha One Who Has A Pure Body
88 Skandaguru Preceptor Of Skanda
89 Someshwara Lord Of All Gods
90 Sukhada Bestower Of Happiness
91 Suprita Well Pleased
92 Suragana Having Gods As Attendants
93 Sureshwara Lord Of All Gods
94 Swayambhu Self-Manifested
95 Tejaswani One Who Spreads Illumination
96 Trilochana Three-Eyed Lord
97 Trilokpati Master Of All The Three Worlds
98 Tripurari Enemy Of Tripura
99 Trishoolin One Who Has A Trident In His Hands
100 Umapati Consort Of Uma
101 Vachaspati Lord Of Speech
102 Vajrahasta One Who Has A Thunderbolt In His Hands
103 Varada Granter Of Boons
104 Vedakarta Originator Of The Vedas
105 Veerabhadra Supreme Lord Of The Nether World
106 Vishalaksha Wide-Eyed Lord
107 Vishveshwara Lord Of The Universe
108 Vrishavahana One Who Has Bull As His Vehicle

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Best Film About a Woman Religious since Maria Luisa Bemberg's I, The Worst of All

This melodramatic trailer does not do justice to the amazing film by Margarethe von Trotta that I saw at the Music Box today, about the life of Hildegard of Bingen - an 11th century Benedictine abbess and mystic who truly was a holy mother and yogi.

She went into the cloister at eight (as a gift from her family) and took her vows at 16. She was under the guidance of a spiritual mother in what to me looked like a guru-disciple relationship. When her spiritual mother passed, she was told to take over as magistra or prioress - but wouldn't do so until the other women voted her in. Later, she receives her own disciple - a young girl who throws herself at her feet and helps her transcribe the visions of "the living light" of God she'd been having since she was three. Along the way Hildegard breaks away and founds a couple of new cloisters, writes many books and musical compositions and an early liturgical drama, and travels to preach - unheard of for a woman at that time.

Back in 1990, when I saw Maria Bemberg's film I, the Worst of All (about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz - below - the Mexican woman who became a nun in order to have freedom to learn), I viewed her thirst for knowledge and run-ins with patriarchy through the lens of feminism, and it resonated with me.

I viewed the new film through the lens of yoga, and what resonated was the guru-disciple relationship, the life of work, study, healing, music, prayer and meditation - what an amazing ashram Hildegard created! - the rebellious idea of following one's inner intuition, and direct experience of God as the "living light." I also loved that they were women, and not men in loincloths on mountains somewhere. To me, it was all about yoga.

I also loved this quote, when Hildegard began to experience doubt:

"The almighty has given you wings to fly. Fly over every obstacle."

And this epithet:

"Blood of vipers!"

It's at the Music Box til Thursday. Timings are here.

A student at last weekend's retreat said she read all about St. Clare of Assisi - who also deserves a film. And my dear sister Parvati just finished a book about Sri Sarada Devi, the wife of Ramakrishna. The holy mothers are there - if you know where to look.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Music, Rebellion and Ageing

Every Wednesday on my way to teach, I walk by the giant eyeball near the Harold Washington Public Library.

Whenever I see it, I smile and think of The Residents, the avant-garde American masked band that makes liberal use of giant eyeballs in their iconology (and are often seen sporting eyeball helmets and top hats). And I think of playfulness and rebellion.

Seeing the eyeball, and thinking of The Residents, also reminds me of the olden days - when music was exciting and came on vinyl and you had to look long and hard to find the good stuff.

I got another reminder of this again yesterday, when I drove by the Rivera and saw that Nick Cave's new-ish band Grinderman is playing there on 11/22, and realized that exciting music is still being made - by and for adults, no less. And I remembered the debauchery of Lollapalooza '94.

But today was another story.

Today, they dismantled the eyeball.

It was fun while it lasted.

Just like youth....

which, as we all know, is wasted on the young.

Monday, November 08, 2010

What a peaceful, healing weekend it was!

The Port for Prayer is a special place that has been absorbing spiritual vibrations since the Franciscan Sisters founded it back in the 1880s. It is surrounded by St. Francis Woods and is super-shanti (peaceful).

Free time was built into the retreat. Some people got massages. Some napped. Others found a quiet spot in one of the many quiet nooks and read. Meandering walks were also popular.

It was a treat to hike in the brisk, clean air. It's so much easier to calm the mind and see God in nature.

We also saw many types of birds, including gray-and-black woodpeckers, tiny chickadees, and bright red cardinals. C. also spotted a statue-in-a-tree.

Many of the retreat attendees walked the labyrinth, which is an ancient meditation tool.

At night we tended a fire (not pictured) and gazed at the stars - and there were many because we were in the country and it was a new moon. We also heard about St. Francis of Assisi. He sounds a lot like a yogi, as he was a mystic and renunciate who helped the poor and is the patron saint of animals and the environment. J. knew all about him after reading about him at our (vegan) supper, which was conducted in mauna (silence).*

Spending the weekend immersed in the holy science of yoga is as healing for the teacher as it is for the student, if not moreso. The student, after all, is also the teacher.

We also spent some 9.5 hours chanting, discussing scripture, doing postures, and practicing breathing, concentration, meditation and relaxation in a warm, comfortable room.

It's a good thing we turned back the clocks and got an extra hour of sleep!

Still, we were tired, and the number-one requested pose on Sunday was pigeon, which has many variations.

The next retreat is March 26-27.
Mark your calendars now!

*Legend has it that St. Francis on his deathbed thanked his donkey carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept. Hearing this story makes me weep, too.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Happy Diwali - The Hindu Festival of Lights

There was a new student in class today. I asked her name and she said Deepa, which means "light." Before I could edit myself, the mouth said, "Happy Diwali!" with great enthusiasm.

Up on Devon Avenue this afternoon, I was saying "Shuba Deepavali" to anyone who would listen. Many did, although most said, "WHAT-T?", as they expect English (and not terribly-accented Hindi) to come out of my mouth. And then we all smiled and wished each other Happy Diwali. I ended up getting a 30-gram Lakshmi coin at the usual place - Vitha Jewelers - where we talked about the deities and how they are celebrated during the Diwali holidays. I also had a quarter-cup of chai at Annapurna, which took me straight back to India. And I realized, you don't have to be in India to enjoy India.

* * *

Friday is Diwali, the most popular holiday in India, which means, “Row of lighted lamps" - a reference to the rows of lamps that were lit to welcome the return of Lord Rama after his victory over the demon, Ravana. Or it could be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. Or, in Bengal, the festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali Ma, the dark goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshiped in most Hindu homes on this day.

In Sikhism, Diwali celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Ji and 52 other princes from the Gwalior Fort in 1619., which they celebrate by lighting the Golden Temple.

In Jainism, Deepawali marks Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana.

Lights are displayed to represent the importance of good over evil. Each of Diwali’s five days has special significance. The fourth day is New Years and the fifth, falling on November 7, honors siblings.

From now through Sunday, it is good to buy gold or silver Lakshmi coins (honoring the goddess of wealth) to insure wealth in the coming year. It's also a good time to make investments - as is next Wednesday.

Tonight is a good night to pray to Hanuman, the monkey god who served Lord Rama, and represents courage, loyalty and humility.

Friday night is for Saraswati, the goddess of music, knowledge, wisdom and the arts.

Wednesday is for the five deities, including Lakshmi.

Tonight, you can sing to Hanuman, do the splits (Hanumanasana) and light some candles.

And learn more here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Swing to the Right

C.K.-the-yogi knows that America, Illinois and Chicago get the politicians they deserve due to collective karma, and is not invested in the balloting process.

C.K.-the-female incarnation knows that The Man kept kept the vote from non-property owners, African Americans and women for as long as possible - which means it must have some value - and went to the polls today.

In the new neighborhood, the polling place is right across the street.

In the new neighborhood, there's no gauntlet of large, thuggish male electioneers in leather bomber jackets, "asking" you to vote for their candidate.

Apparently, it was even scarier to vote in the olden days, when the white male property owners pulled a giant, brightly-colored ballot out of the newspaper or picked it up at party headquarters, folded it up and put it under their arm and marched to the polling place. The color let people know who you were voting for (the secret ballot is a recent innovation). Oftentimes, voters got beat up before they made it to the ballot box, and some even died. Apparently, these thugs were hired by the parties to beat members of the opposition until they were too afraid to vote. And prior to paper ballots, these affluent white males got together to vote face-to-face, by tossing peas, pebbles or bullets into a hat.

Here's an excerpt from Jill Lepore's riveting New Yorker piece about this:

The word “ballot” comes from the Italian ballotta, or little ball, and a ballot often was a ball, or at least something ballish, like a pea or a pebble, or, not uncommonly, a bullet. Colonial Pennsylvanians commonly voted by tossing beans into a hat. Paper voting wasn’t meant to conceal anyone’s vote; it was just easier than counting beans. Our forebears considered casting a “secret ballot” cowardly, underhanded, and despicable; as one South Carolinian put it, voting secretly would “destroy that noble generous openness that is characteristick of an Englishman.”

You can listen to the piece here, or read the New Yorker version here.

And if you need a good laugh - and who doesn't, after this election? - check out Garry Meier's hilarious WGN-TV piece linking Halloween and the Chicago elections, here. It's well-worth clicking on the link.