This phrase is often associated with the image of three monkeys covering their eyes, ears, and mouth. Confucius, who is credited as the message’s originator, defined it as a warning to avoid all things evil or distracting that can hinder a person’s development.
Similarly, The Yoga Sutras, as organized by Patanjali, describe the fifth limb of its eight-limb system that is yoga. Through the sutras, we learn that pratyahara means to withdraw your senses. Like a turtle that retracts inside of its shell, pratyahara will teach you to go inside yourself and retreat from the external “noises” that exist around you: the opinions, the interruptions, the distractions, the associations, the influences. Once you detach from this commotion, you can be free to choose the sensations that you wish to introduce into your field of awareness.
As the summer solstice approaches, now is the perfect time for seeking solitude for yourself. Periodically remaining quiet increases your awareness and lets your mind rest.
Your challenge this week will be to receive solitude by spending time alone each day. Walking in nature or watching the sunset or sunrise are good ways to soak up some solo time. Also, consider your speech and how much you talk. Curtail your urge to speak a bit this week to bring more reflection and centeredness into your life.
Or, you can choose to be in solitude with others by practicing the concept of mouna or silence. A good time for this is just prior to or following a meal. Another effective time is the first thing in the morning or the last thing before sleeping. If you live with others, make this “silent time” a period for eliminating the television, computer, or any other device that produces sound. For 10-15 minutes (and ear buds plugged in do not count), try to keep the silence with reading, drawing or writing. Eventually, slowly phase out these activities and find a comfortable place to just be still together. During this time, consider your thoughts and observe what surfaces. This is a great prelude to meditation.
Performed on a regular basis, mouna becomes an important tool for generating increased awareness. The yama of asteya or non-stealing in the form of words, can also be a consideration for keeping the virtue of silence. When you practice silence, your thoughts become quieter, and, ultimately, you will find that you are able to pacify your emotions and soften your personality.
On this the new moon, I would like to introduce you to a process for going within, for moving from your outer world to your inner world.
It is the ultimate quieting technique called the Ritual of the Moon. And it goes hand in hand with our quest for clarity. This technique will release your mind and your body thoroughly so that you can move into the lunar world. Begin the process an hour or so before you would like to go to bed.
Ritual of the Moon
Sit somewhere quiet and reflect on your day. Rethink what has occurred and release any emotional tensions that may have been created. Apply wisdom and compassion as you see yourself as you truly are. Without harming thoughts, re-balance yourself.
Prepare your body for sleeping: take a bath, practice restorative yoga, listen to meditative music or just sit & breathe.
Fall asleep as slowly as possible. This sounds tricky, I know. But the idea is to maintain your self-awareness as you descend into sleep. This won’t happen if you stay up too late and fall into bed exhausted.
As you perform the ritual each night this week, journal your thoughts and feelings. You are learning to form a more meditative mind. One that will cultivate great self-awareness and much health and happiness.
I’ve tried the new moon tilted in the air Above a hazy tree-and-farmhouse cluster As you might try a jewel in your hair. I’ve tried it fine with little breadth of luster, Alone, or in one ornament combining With one first-water start almost shining.
I put it shining anywhere I please. By walking slowly on some evening later, I’ve pulled it from a crate of crooked trees, And brought it over glossy water, greater, And dropped it in, and seen the image wallow, The color run, all sorts of wonder follow.
As we continue on our purification journey, it is important to remember that the mind requires cleansing as well as the body. In our quest to create a clear path, we should seek to avoid all things that are destructive and unhealthy. This is tremendously important for our state of mind.
Mind purification or saucha is a deep subject. In order to begin, we need to remove the congestion and false perceptions.
The first step in this challenge is to view things as they truly are through healthy detachment. As we move through life, negative emotions are all around us and inside of us. This way of thinking can become toxic to our minds. Therefore, we should attempt to detach from negative thoughts and feelings.
Quiet and focus the mind on a negative idea/feeling that you hold onto. Acknowledge this attachment. Then see it as a separate entity – this thought/feeling is not who you are. Place it to the side and see yourself without this burden in your life.
In this way, little by little, we can learn to put aside attachments such as greed, fear and any other unhealthy desires. A mental pathway free of negative emotions leads to keen self-awareness.
The next step is to create more compassion for your mind. As I have reiterated in class many times: “We are here to learn from one another, with one another and through one another…” – a valuable quote from Goswami Kriyananda that defines compassion in a nutshell.
Share the benefits of your practice with those around you – not by trying to get them to do yoga or insisting that they make changes to their lives – but by respecting, accepting and viewing others with non-judgement.
Removing obstacles and living with compassion for self and others provides a clear channel for your health, your joy, and your sense of purpose.
Valentine’s Day is the perfect occasion to delve into the heart of our yoga practice. Yoga is strongly connected with the word “Namasté”. Translated as “the light within me salutes the light within you,” the expression is associated with a specific gesture – the bringing of the hands together so that the thumbs can press toward the heart. We usually use this gesture when we begin or complete our practice, however, this same action may also be used in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), before we begin Sun Salutations, or in balance poses such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose).
This sacred hand position is known as anjali mudra (AHN-jah-lee MOO-dra).
Anjali means “offering” and mudra means “seal” or “sign”. In general, anjali mudra is used as a posture for returning to one’s heart; whether you are greeting someone or saying goodbye, initiating or completing an action. In class, we salute ourselves and each other and give thanks for our efforts, the teachings and the benefits that the practice brings to us. Symbolically, as you bring your hands together at your heart center, you are connecting the right and left sides of your body as well as your active and receptive natures. Therefore, anjali mudra connects us with the true meaning of the word yoga, which is to unify or yoke together.
Today, on Valentine’s Day, honor the light that is within your heart.
Take this opportunity to reflect on the love that you hold deep inside and share that devotion with others.
Today is the occasion of the Winter Solstice. On this day, I usually reflect on the meaning of the season – this period of stillness when the sun stops before it once again begins its ascent. The origin of the word solstice comes from the Latin word for sun, “sol” and the Latin word “sistere” which means stopped or stationary. Over the years, translations of the Latin derivations were converted into old French and then middle English to create the one word “solstice”.
I became most connected with the meaning of the solstice with the help of one of my teachers. David Lipschutz or Swami Enoch Dasa Giri gave a wonderful dissertation on the Winter Solstice back in 2001. I try to listen to the recording each year to remember the significance of this phase in our cycle. This year, I transcribed it so that I could read it again and again (also, I don’t know how long my old cassette player will continue to run). Copying down the words summoned a new intensity and brilliance for the piece. The wonder of its simplicity was fresh and motivating. I would like to share some of my teacher’s words with you.
“You are the light that is returning. You are the sun that has returned. You are the light that grows every day; you are the gift that is to be given. Dedicate yourself afresh to finding that light with delight and being a source from which that light emanates. For there are others near you who are hungry. They have forgotten what is it that they seek. If you wish to be peaceful, give that peacefulness to others. If you want to be loved, give that love. If you want to be taught, teach.
Love, appreciate and accept those around you – especially the ones that annoy you. They are the ones that are waiting for someone or something to reveal their beauty to them because they have forgotten the snows of yesteryear.” –Swami Enoch Dasa Giri
Go in peace, be at peace and share that peace with those around you.
It took me quite unawares. I was nearly finished with my yoga teacher training and had three intensive workshops under my belt. Looking back, that particular weekend was unique. It was when I came into contact with Goswami Kriyananda – the bright eyed guru who exuded compassion and emanated wisdom. He gave a wonderful discourse on karma and his gentle spirit was contagious. All in all, it was an inspiring time and I was open to soaking up the comprehensive training with my mind, body and soul.
The workshop started on Thursday evening and concluded on Sunday afternoon when our shuttle took us back to the Chicago airport. That is when it hit me. I remember looking out of the large motor coach window and feeling as though I was in another world. I am a near-sighted person for whom distant details are not always the clearest. Yet, I was seeing the landscape in HD. The colors were rich and it was as though the vistas were alive – pulsing with energy. I don’t recall interacting with the other students on the drive. This initial phase had me feeling as if I were in a bubble.
After about an hour, we arrived at the O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Now let me set this up for you. It was November 2001, just two months after 9-11 (in fact it was November 11, exactly two months after the tragedy). So, as you can imagine, the lines were long – I mean long. And the people were impatient and hostile. The sympathy and the camaraderie connected with our nation’s trauma had definitely dissipated.
For me it was another story. The admiration that I had for the rural landscape had somehow transferred to the environment inside the airport. I felt connected, dedicated and full of love for everyone I encountered. The thing that I most remember was the eye contact I sought. I was not intimidated by anyone. For my effort, I was usually rewarded with a small smile or a surprised glance as I intertwined with the lines and lines of people walking in an endless queue.
Finally on the plane, there was a collective sigh. Yet, the waiting was not finished as the captain began to issue reports that we were 30th in line, 20th in line…this continued until we were detained on the runway for an hour or more. When the reality hit that connections would be missed, people starting getting nervous and tensions grew. Many wanted to reach out to their families but due to dead or non-existent cell phones (this was 15 years ago), they were unable to communicate. My phone was fully charged and I felt compelled to pass it around to everyone who needed it. It was my pleasure. I never experienced one iota of selfishness or worry. What was mine was theirs. This giving spirit tranquilized some of the inflamed passengers and a new more uplifting vibe began to circulate.
I was returning back to Texas to see my two young daughters and husband. I was excited to reunite. But I never expected what I encountered. As I came out of security, a bit tired but still floating on my cloud of illumination, I saw my family. Now remember, all throughout that 8-10 hour day, I had experienced an unusual tenderness for complete strangers. So, it is tough to describe how I felt seeing the faces of my loved ones. But one word still comes to mind as I reflect on that event. Beauty. I saw genuine beauty. And love. A profound love that filled me with extreme happiness. I wasn’t just glad to see them again, it was as though I was perceiving them for the first time and they were resplendent.
Of course, this feeling of elation and bliss eventually receded. The joys of parenting took over and my enlightenment or period of samadhi dissolved to pave the way for a householder’s reality. I tried to get it back. But I guess the conditions were perfect for that one true experience.
During that time, and for a significant period, my crown was open and I was truly a part of the whole. I was acting in pure compassion and encountering the authentic nature of things – the way we were meant to see.
I’d like to share this mantra that harkens back to that amazing experience.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, works and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.
We have to dig deep for this week’s challenge. Although happiness is not a simple process, it is ours to generate. Yes, we can allow other people and things to affect us. But, we need to realize that it is our reaction and what we do in response to others and the situations that we are presented with that ultimately determines our happiness.
There is a saying in Sanskrit, “Aham Brahmasmi” which, through my yoga teachings, I was taught meant “I am the creative principle.” Without denying a higher existence, this phrase is intended for us to see ourselves as creators of our own destinies. Through my own attitudes and actions, I believe that I am the one who develops my personality, healthiness, career, social life – all aspects of my self. No one else can determine these characteristics. In the end, all of my karmas (deeds) are going to reflect upon me.
Although we have control over many of our choices, there are some things that we are obligated to and some situations which we face as a society that cannot be detached from or eliminated. Family, jobs, some health issues, even options for food, water and shelter may not be ours to regulate. But our attitude towards these seemingly unfortunate conditions is ours to control. We can cultivate contentment or santosha within despite any unpleasant situations that face us.
I would like to share a story that my teacher, Goswami Kriyananda, told his students over the years. Kriyananda was drafted in the Vietnam War and chose to become a medic rather than fight in the field. As a medic he experienced horrific events – as you can imagine. One such occurrence involved a young soldier that he had to assist after an explosion. As he approached the man, he saw that there was a gaping hole where once the man had a right arm. As he ministered to the soldier, Kriyananda wept and told him how sorry he was that he had lost his limb. The soldier, smiling, replied “That’s not a problem, I’m left handed!”
Our state of health is a large slice of the happiness pie. As we strive to stay healthy, circumstances occur that are beyond our control. This is most difficult as pain and impairment can be devastating. But there are other segments within our lives: mental abilities, friendships, belief systems, dreams, environments and work or career goals that can influence our quality and pleasure levels in life.
Your challenge is to reflect on all the aspects of yourself. Determine which area(s) are lacking in contentment for you and strive to make those areas more fulfilling.
Each day choose one category to examine and write down a number between 1 and 10 to label your level of contentment. Then think about how you can cultivate happiness through change – including your attitude.