Today I rode my new-used bike in Prospect Park to go to the bank. As of June 12, 2012 I am officially car-free! The other day to get my feline Bebe’s records, I rode to the Vet in a neighborhood that I would always drive to and suffer looking for parking. Riding on one of the many bike paths to get there was a joy! Bikes create sukha (good space) in Brooklyn!

Getting around on a bike is soooooo much more enjoyable than driving a car. On a late Spring, June day like today, it is positively heaven. There are the smells of fresh mown grass in the park and the sweet scent of trees in blossom all around.

Right now I am sitting at my favorite spot near some water falls right off the path near Long Meadow in the park. There is a new bench (dedicated to Sara E. Campbell, 1975-2010) in the perfect spot to hear the water falling and the birds singing. I am watching a small red cardinal and a red breasted robin forage for food.

At the ashram I felt very connected to the many birds that lived there including two chickens. Crazy Henrietta and baby Chick Chick must have escaped from their coop on the property next door. They must have figured out they were safe at an ashram where all be meals are vegetarian. Safe and well-fed! Besides lots of left over homemade bread crumbs, we gave Chick Chick grain from the kitchen.

There are other ways i have become more green since the return to Brooklyn. I have not bought any paper towels. In the kitchen at the ashram we used cloths for clean up. Throwing a few cloths into the laundry I would already be washing seems much more Earth-friendly. Not to mention more cost effective.

There is still a lot more I can do. One of the biggest personal consumptions I became aware of while living in a tent was electricity. I used very little there: a lamp, a fan, a laptop. Back at home as I was clearing out “stuff” I found a large assortment of no longer used electrical devices and a box of orphaned adapters. I notice how many electrical outlets there are in my home. And how many things are plugged into them. And where does the power come from? Basically oil.

So though riding a bike instead of driving a car is one giant step for the return of green on the planet, I have many miles to go to becoming the deep shade of green that I like.

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Teresa Durga Divadas Schoendorf

Since I have been back in my Brooklyn apartment I have meditated and chanted and done pranayama and asana as a first priority, daily. The responsibility of owning an apartment in a coop in New York City and being on the coop Board can feel very heavy. Before I left Brooklyn last January to live in the ashram I wanted to meditate and chant and do pranayama and asana daily, but I could not. I was not connected. I did not have the inner strength. I did not have the support. I did not feel any power.

In my mind the choice to live in the Bahamas for an extended time was financial and spiritual. I wanted to lower my cost of living–thereby lightening the load in order to be able to deepen my yoga practice. I also wanted to learn how to do service, to understand what it means to do service.

While living in the ashram doing Karma Yoga I realized just how hard it is to do service. I found out in my first Karma Yoga position that doing service can mean giving up control–to someone else who has the power (and the right) to tell you what to do.Yikes! And just how did this person get the power and the right? Because she had given up control to be of service on a larger scale in service of the ashram. No one who lives in the ashram gets paid any money. Everyone from the top down is doing service to keep the ashram running. That means offering satsanga twice daily, offering programs with international lectures and performers year-round, offering accommodations that include two vegetarian meals daily. An ashram is run by people who are doing service as spiritual practice.

I began to understand that doing service meant acting from a place without any thought of personal gain. To “do” not in order to get something like approval or money or favors or goodies. Just to “do” because someone has asked you to “do”. Doing service is about letting go of your own sense of “doership.” It is about “doing” as a part of a spiritual practice, i.e. doing for the the greater good of all. To serve you must rid yourself of all personal preference. It is not about you. It is about what is needed. And when you do this, it is easy. When you stop trying to control and just be with whatever is happening each moment, to the best of your ability, a certain weight falls away. There are no decisions to be made beyond each moment so a lot of thinking subsides. The mind gets quieter. The breath calms. The body becomes more at ease.

Each time I meditate I honor the spiritual initiation I accepted at the ashram. Meditation is in itself an act of surrender. I surrender to each moment to be with whatever is in my own mind,  with loving kindness in every breath–even when the vrittis (thoughts) are running wild!

Power, I am discovering, comes from letting go, from surrendering to what is happening in my life–in each moment. And to having an attitude to be of service to the duties that are being presented. We think we have chosen. Actually, it has all been chosen for us in order to help us awaken to who we really are: eternal existence, knowledge and bliss.

PS The first coop Board meeting of the 2012-13 term went very well. I followed my own directive as the new President and presiding chair to begin with a moment of silence (my heart was pounding in this moment and I had to gather all of my strength to focus on the Om Tryambakam mantra). I facilitated by keeping order and listening to the other members of the Board, only speaking at the end of discussion on each issue. We accomplished what we needed to and ended only 10 minutes over the hour time frame we had established. Jaya! (Victory)

Peace

ALL WORDS IN SANSKRIT ARE LINKED TO EXPLANATIONS

One full day back. I need every practice I have learned at the ashram: morning meditation, kirtan, Japa, being mindful of my thoughts and words and choosing actions carefully, pranayama, asana and sangha (via Facebook now that I can no longer attend satsanga in the Temple).

Leaving Paradise Island on the boat at 8:30AM went smoothly–even with the ton of bags I was carrying. I was supported.  At the last minute I was able to leave some books to be mailed to me in Brooklyn. Swamiji was not present at the morning staff meeting due to the mantra initiation he was leading for the current TTCs (yoga teacher training students) in the Temple. Parvarti led the meeting and remembered it was my last day so that I got my parting Om Tryambakam chant from everyone to protect me on my journey back to Brooklyn.

Though my flight was delayed I enjoyed the extra time to just sit at the airport. I was able to get a gift for my young neighbor who took care of the Bebe for two weeks last month when my tenant was out of town: a Bahamian wood carving of a cat! I don’t know what I would have done without the help of Alicia, Joyce and Ed. They were there for me on all fronts: Ed took photos of my crashed car and sent them to me, Ed and Joyce held the keys to my home and helped to arrange for housekeeping while I was gone and Alicia lovingly visited Bebe every day when the tenant was gone. With neighbors like these it is hard to imagine leaving Brooklyn! My heart overflows with gratitude.

Gratitude is a practice I had started long before the Ashram and another one that was strengthened by the experience of living there. It is amazing to me the little things that I have taken for granted. Doing tapas and living in austerity as one does in the Ashram puts it all into perspective. Much more is in perspective now. Like where I seek support: in the many Names and Forms and practices that honor Brahman. Like where I feel support: I am much more attuned to energy in general and notice (often, but not always, without judging) how someone is responding or reacting to me. This carries into email as well as non-verbal exchanges. As soon as I feel judgement or a lack of kindness or a demand from someone I take a breath and notice. Then when I am really in my own center I look to see the suffering of the other person. Maybe they are stressed by something and feel a need to control. My heart goes out to their discomfort. Sometimes just the breath and a lack of resistance to “what is” shifts the energy. If the energy does not shift and I am able to, I remove myself from the situation and their presence if it continues to be disturbing to my peace. Then I look inside myself to see where I am in judgment or stressed–because, as Advaita Vedanta teaches, what is without is also within.

Sometimes you have to deal–like I will tonight at the the Board Meeting where I will again preside as the coop President! I plan to start the meeting with a moment of silence while I silently repeat Om Tryambakam three times for protection for the new coop Board to journey through this first meeting of the new term!

OM 

As the last days are passing here at Sivananda Ashram the satsang lectures continue. There have been some interesting points of view for me to evaluate and to see what comes up. And what comes up are the still unresolved feelings and beliefs around the car crash. Not surprising! There  is quite a bit of work to be done to clean up the mess, and I find myself more than slightly annoyed and distracted. Though I decided not to pursue any legal recourse over the harm done to my property for reasons I explained earlier, my mind, heart and pocketbook still feel the pain. (See https://soundyogatherapy.com/2012/05/13/life-lessonsquestions-the-car-crash-and-yoga-ethics/The honest truth is that I have been feeling a large resentment toward a whole community of people who I feel have let me down.

Along comes Kathy White, long time student of Byron Katie. Katie is a non-dual (Advaita), consciousness guru. Her story in becoming who she is now is extreme. The result of her “awakening” is her ability to accept what is happening exactly as it is and remain completely peaceful. Her students attest to this fact. Now doesn’t that sound nice?

At the end of last night’s satsang Kathy gave us a page titled: Judge-Your-Neighbor Workshop. She had already explained that in The Work (as it is called by Byron Katie) there are four essential, starting questions related to each and every belief around any stressful situation in life. For example, in regards to feelings around the car crash I write:

I am angry at (name of person) for breaking his agreement to take care of my car.

Next I ask myself these questions:

1. Is it true? Yes. He did not take care of the car. He crashed the car due to his own negligence and then he refused to make any reparations. Only a yes or no answer is allowed here which keeps you from falling back into the details and complexities of the story in your mind–but of course more beliefs arise as you can see in what I just wrote. Each of these beliefs may need to be dealt with separately, eg, I am angry at _______ for being negligent. Or: I am angry at _____ for refusing to take responsibility for his actions, etc.

2. Is it absolutely true? Only to be answered if you answered Yes in No. 1. Doubt about having absolute knowledge and wisdom may start in No. 1 or it may not.

3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? You list all your feelings and attitudes, eg I blame, get angry, feel disgusted and judgmental, am deaf to any excuses or explanations, only want reparations paid NOW!

4. How would I be if I did not have this belief? Eg. I would be open, supportive, able to hear and to listen to his story, generous about finding a solution together.

Doing The Work with the worksheet has helped me get clear about my feelings and beliefs. I actually emailed the person asking him if he would speak with me to share his thoughts and feelings and to hear mine. Whether or not he responds is not the point–and I really doubt that he will respond. Writing the email asking only for dialogue without any agenda, allowed an opening of the tight space in my heart. With this opening I began to look at promises I have made to myself or need to make. And how I may be being negligent in life by taking obvious risks and not taking care of myself responsibly. And how I might take better care with myself.

I may not be taking good care by putting trust where it does not belong. Or by having unfounded expectations. Or by not asking directly for clarification. This is hard stuff. Most people –myself included–do not like to be held perfectly accountable or to think things through. Most people do not care to strive for such clarity. It takes time and effort between people. It is rare in life to find people who are willing to take the time and spend the effort for such honest, clean and clear communication.

As I grow in my ability to care for myself by keeping promises to myself, by being responsible to myself for my well-being and by paying the dues I owe to myself when I make a mistake, I will be more able to see in others the level and quality of care a person is able to enact in a relationship with me. Those who have learned that self care is an essential part of loving others begin to offer freely, and more selflessly, yet with boundaries that are appropriate for themselves. I know as I grow in my own self care I will be able make better choices about with whom and in what way I entrust my life (and my “stuff” such as a car) to others.

Life is a process we are all learning.

Om shanti

When I left Brooklyn last January 11th I knew I was taking an incredible journey just by the act of committing to being at Sivananda Yoga Retreat Center for over three months. It turned out to be over four months and now the journey is winding back toward life in Brooklyn.

I say “winding” because the path as I have experienced it in these past months has not exactly followed the original, outward intention I set, to do Karma Yoga for three months. It has followed the intention I held within myself to “re-group and see what appears”. There have been some remarkable appearances.

The Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course was and continues to be life altering on a daily basis for me. Just the aspect of 28 days of such a rigorous discipline of schedule and activity opened the mind to let go of much of the unnecessary. To further connect through the lineage of Swami Sivananda by mantra initiation has brought wisdom and knowledge of the master into my work in Sound Yoga. The openness to the receipt of a new name for myself has given me a support and inner strength through the Hindu Mother Goddess Durga beyond what I could imagine possible.

The Path took me to these places. The Path or Self does that, I am beginning to understand, when the mind  begins to let go of all of the thoughts, beliefs and patterns that we believe to be our life and our self.

The greatest teaching I have received is that I am and my life is, so much more than I imagined. We all are so much more than we imagine. And by surrendering to and embracing a lineage and tradition of gurus and teachers, there is the possibility to be supported and to discover our True Nature within the form of our limited self.

There is no greater gift than such a recognition that we are all on the Path, winding as it is, forever connecting the True Self Home.

Shiva’s Sunset

A few days ago I returned to Sivananda Yoga Retreat Center after almost two weeks in Miami-South Beach style. When I got back  on Paradise Island there was some serious weather hanging around. After dinner that evening, I took a walk with my friend Saraswati to the favorite Atlantis Starbucks across the old Club Med field from the ashram. It was raining lightly then. Upon our return we noticed people milling about when everyone should have been together for satsang in the temple. Soon we realized everyone was huddled in the covered outdoor dining area awaiting evacuation instructions. I packed up my laptop and toothbrush and joined the group. While we were there someone was playing a guitar and a group of us were harmonizing on one of the main mantras, “Om Namah Sivaya”. Around 9 PM we headed off by buses to Atlantis to wait out the storm.

We were dropped off at a main entrance to the mega-casino billion dollar development and left to our own devices. Originally we were told we would be there an hour. We did not get back to the ashram until after midnight.

Having just returned from Miami that afternoon I was a bit more acclimated to the betting and booze atmosphere of the casino– but it was still a shock to be there when I expected to be settling back into my tent at the ashram.

20120516-201752.jpgOne of the Miami Pleasure Shops

Atlantis is one huge place for entertainment of the wandering, unsettled mind. My mind would not have been too unsettled except that I was tired from traveling and I realized I had lost my iPhone on the way back from the earlier Starbucks excursion!

20120516-203044.jpgFavorite Starbucks and a Couple of Favorite Yogis

It was as surreal to walk through the Atlantis casino as it was strange in Miami to see the sex shops and the Larmborghinis. (As you might imagine, the ashram does not promote gambling, sex or fast cars.) What was interesting was my lack of reaction to it all. There was a type of detachment as I walked through the casino and as I moved about the glitzy tourism of Miami. In the past I might has been judgmental or excited. This time it was smooth sailing–even with the bad weather rambling about the island.

Om shanti

PS I found my cell phone the next morning about where I thought I had dropped it in the field. Although it had been out in the pouring rain all night, it started up, re-charged and is working better than ever! Go Apple! Or maybe I should thank Shiva!

Yesterday I took an all-day trip through the Florida Keys. What an amazing part of the earth! And quite a feat of our species to create a way to travel over so much water. We crossed the seven mile bridge and many other bridges to get to Key West. In Key West the journey moved from bus to catamaran for many of us where we went snorkeling over one of the worlds three largest barrier reefs.

The earth is covered over 70% in water. A human body averages 60% water with the brain being over 70%  of this liquid. Water has some very special properties. It exists in all three states: solid, liquid and gaseous. Water is a “universal solvent” meaning that as it travels it takes many things along with it. Having a high density, water is a great conductor of sound, allowing sound to travel great distances, like a whale call across the ocean.

Maybe that’s why during the trip through the keys, I made so many connections. By the time we returned to South Beach I felt I had made quite a few new friends, from all across the globe: Melbourne, Paris, Pittsburgh, LA, somewhere in Sweden. There were many conversations about life and the choices we were all making. There was a general feeling of universality and a sense that since we are all inhabiting the same planet, we have the same concerns.

Along the lines of common concerns, here is a link to a site about the water crisis on our planet:

http://water.org/water-crisis/water-facts/water/

Water is the second most important element to life, a breath of fresh air being the first. Every day here in Miami and on Paradise Island I make sure I keep enough water around to stay hydrated in the heat and sun that I love so much.

I am thinking it’s important now to pay more attention to what is going on with water in the world. Clean, plentiful water for all will enable the connections to expand between us and to continue for a long time to come.

Om shanti

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