The true power of silence is not how it effects others. It’s how it effects OURSELVES.
I went on a 10 day meditation retreat where everyone was required to take a vow of silence. This included eye contact which is a form of meditation. Interesting.
Apparently Gandhi practiced silence one day each week for years. I’m a far cry from Gandhi but practice this for a half a day on Sundays. In theory, this is not very difficult since I like to be alone a lot anyway. But like a lot of life, things are not what they seem. It is a lot harder when you consider ALL forms of communication – text, email, phone. The people in my life know I sometimes disappear for stretches but always come back with just as much – or more – love to offer than before.
Sometimes we need to think, feel and be with no interruptions.
Yoga is system with eight branches. The physical postures that everyone envisions when they think of yoga are only one. Think about that. That’s only 12.5% of the picture. Of the branches, one is pratyahara. It means withdrawal or retreat. The goal is to make a conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world. If we can cultivate a detachment from our senses, we can direct our attention inwards. It allows us to take a deeper look at what’s going on inside ourselves. One of the ideas here is that our senses should be our servants, not our masters. Refocusing our attention from the outside to the inside can help us more objectively observe our mental habits and identify which ones are interfering with our inner growth. Pratyahara happens naturally when we meditate. Similarly, when we engage in a vow of silence we are in part inviting a quasi-state of meditation. Ideally we get to the point where this become second nature so we live our daily lives in this conscious zone. Powerful stuff.
We might not be Gandhi but we can all start practicing short vows of silence and see what happens.
I will be returning for yoga teacher training next week. One way I assess my life path is through trips to Esalen. Each time I go, I reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed. It’s a long drive there so there’s lots of time to think.
Esalen is special in many ways. Many are drawn to the natural hot springs that perch over the cliffs. It’s an unusual blend of staggering beauty, serenity and human energy that comes from having a lot of naked people savoring sunshine and water together. The grounds are breathtaking. The structures are inspired. There’s much more. But what’s really special is what happens to your head and heart while your there. Not sure what causes this. Some people say Esalen is on a major energy vortex. Others say spirits inhabit the native lands. Whatever the source, Esalen shakes things up. Get ready for recalibration.
A few years ago, an experience there helped shape me. I had a severe allergic reaction. I still don’t know what triggered it. My eyes were so swollen I couldn’t see. My face puffed-up like the Pillsbury Doughboy. No, more like the Elephant Man. Scary. I wasn’t sure how deal with it. I felt uncomfortable and self conscious. The idea of recovering in my room hoping I would heal was tempting. But I knew it wouldn’t pass quickly and couldn’t rationalize hiding out. So I mustered the resolve to continue normal activities. When I showed up to my workshop, the group members didn’t cringe or comment. They were welcoming and loving. They simply accepted me as is. I was deeply touched. This experience helped me learn to not let self consciousness hold me back. I would have missed so much. I also learned the importance of focusing on inner beauty.
I’ll never forgot my first instructor there. He was a chubby fellow who wore interesting outfits and would spontaneously start playing a handmade pan flute during his presentations. I could never figure out what triggered the flute playing. Was it some sort of segue? A dramatic accent? I have no idea. But it was fascinating. He carried a lot of wisdom. I’ll never forgot how his eyes welled up when shared how much he loved his wife. My eyes welled up too but for a different reason. Thank goodness this most unusual man found love! I longed to meet her. And I did from afar a couple of years later when I received an email from her saying that she wanted her husband’s students to know he had recently died of cancer. My heart sank. His bright light in the world was gone.
This trip I will be studying yoga with a Jungian focus on the chakras. Most people don’t realize it but a lot of what is known about the chakra system comes from Carl Jung. Yes, the same guy who’s known for the “shadow self.” Jung gave seminars on the psychology of kundalini yoga after studying The Serpent Power which was the first western interpretation of two central vedic texts on tantra yoga. This should be interesting.
We live in a society that habitually keeps things light while shying away from matters of gravity; especially if it makes us uncomfortable in any way. Inevitably we reach the point a diminishing returns with this approach. If we blindly continue down this path, we do so to our own detriment, short changing our potential for growth and self actualization. Perhaps it’s path of least resistance but not one likely to lead to an authentic life. After all, how can you whole-heartedly understand who you are if there are sides to yourself you’re too afraid to explore? Life’s a mix. Levity and gravity. Light and dark. Joy and sorrow. So let’s try to access and integrate all parts of ourselves and see where it leads. From Esalen and beyond.
The first entry in a blog seems symbolic. It is.
The bodhisattva concept has resonated with me at a deep level since I was first exposed to it. In my own words it’s a fully realized being who has achieved enlightenment but instead of opting in to the long sought after nirvana she/he CHOOSES to remain on the material plane to help every last soul also achieve enlightenment. What resolve. Perhaps to a bodhisattva, harnessing your life energy in this way IS nirvana. How altruistic. Bodhisattvas remind us to be other-focused. We all know we are happiest when focused on things outside ourselves. The bodhisattva is a reminder of this.
I am probably many lifetimes away from even reaching the entrance of the bodhisattva path but want to head in that direction.
How to do that? It’s not a guessing game. There are guidelines to use as a starting point. You must actively work on developing the six dimensions of human character that require perfecting: generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiastic perseverance, concentration, and wisdom. Careful! These words seem simple but to practice them authentically is challenging. For example generosity doesn’t just mean being generous materially. It also means being generous spiritually. Giving others the benefit of the doubt. Showing consideration for other’s viewpoints and feelings; even when they are contrary to our own. The yoga expression “the fullest expression of the pose” is applicable here. It’s one thing to approach these principles in a superficial way. It’s entirely another thing to really honor them in the way we approach the world so they shine through even the smallest gestures.
My favorite Bodhisattva is Quan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion and serenity. She is strong but feminine. Sometimes she is even shown holding a baby which shows the nurturing element.
It’s good to place reminders of bodhisattva ideals around us. for example, all of my employees know that I always name our wifi signals “bodhisattva.” Hopefully it piques their interests and encourages them to learn about it. And, yes, putting little things like that out there sets a good tone for the business. We always want to have a double bottom line, PEOPLE and profit. It is also an indirect invitation for others to help hold us accountable for living those values.
I also have a large cement bodhisattva statue by my doorway. I bought this statue before I knew what it represented. It just called to me. I was driving up the coast near Malibu and it was for sale by the side of the road. I’m not sure if she is standing guard or greeting everyone as they come and go – or both! I know it helps me to look in her eyes as I walk out the door. Its a great reminder of the intention I want carry as I move through the day. I better do my best since I know have have to face up to her when I get home! I’ve had this statue for about 15 years now and keep taking it with me from place to place. I keep hiring the same Russian movers. Every time they see her, the remember her and thing here we go again because she is so heavy. It takes three of them to move her. Her slight frame is misleading but she is as solid as a rock!
I want to walk the path of the bodhisattva. Want to join me?