October 31, 2011
What is Grace? Many on the path of Spirituality are seeking it, but do we always recognize it?
Grace is always a positive thing for our Spiritual Growth. There are no exceptions to that rule. And because of that, many people are also assuming that Grace will come in a way that is pleasing to them. And sometimes it does, but we cannot put Divine Visions, moments of Bliss and deep meditation experience in a box of “Grace”, and assume things that are not pleasant are not grace. The more we open to the spiritual Path of Tantra, the more we are always flowing in Grace. The question is, can we see it, and can we accept it in all its forms? Not just the extraordinary, but even when it seems ordinary? Or painful?
Grace can happen as synchronistic moments that point to the next step to take, or that validate something for us. There are moments that are so statistically improbable that one who is consciously expanding his or her awareness can only explain it as Grace, or the intelligence of the Divine Revealing itself.
About 7 months ago, I was laying in bed, thinking about my study of Ayurveda and Vedic Astrology. Thinking about how much I would like to find a way to blend them into my Yogic teaching and my private healing sessions with clients. I began to feel a sense of excitement in the possibility of integrating these techniques together, and as I felt the excitement, the Blackberry on my nightstand vibrated indicating that I had a new message. I reached over to check, and the message was from the Ashram where I did my teacher training inviting me to attend the Yoga Therapy Training Course starting on October 7th, 2011. I smiled.
My initial reaction was this was confirmation and a Divine message to tell me the next step. I felt the “rightness” of it. I felt the same excitement that was present during my contemplation time. Everything pointed to this being the right step, but a small part of me struggled. Doubts began to creep in. Could I afford to take that much time off? What about my clients and students? I discussed it with my partner and a friend of ours. They both said, “Go.”
I began to mentally make my plans, while still struggling a touch. How long should I stay if I go? Should I fly into Mumbai or New Delhi? Is this really the right thing to do? Sometime later that day I received another email. It was from one of my travel email newsletters. The email subject simply said: “It’s time to book your flight to New Delhi.”
This time, I not only smiled, but I had to laugh out loud. I have been subscribed to this newsletter for several years. I had NEVER received an email with this subject line before. And, so that sealed it for me. The Divine intelligence was clearly telling me to go.
Grace can also happen in ways that ask us to look at our attachments and our expectation, or that challenge the status quo. In other words, sometimes we need to have things “Shaken up a bit” in order to grow. This is also grace.
About 5 days before I was supposed to leave for India, someone I had known for over 5 years had a massive heart attack right before my eyes. It happened so fast that there was no real chance to save him. I went through many stages as this unfolded. At first I thought he was being playful. Then I began to suspect something was really wrong. I could not get a response from him. I tried to check his heart beat and his breath, but by this time my own heart was beating so fast that I could not tell if it was me or him. Within a couple minutes of his collapse, I was on the phone with 911, following instructions for chest compressions. No response. The ambulance team finally arrived. Compared to my own state of panic, they seemed to have a rather casual approach to the whole thing. They took over chest compressions, introduced IV’s and asked me to help find a number for his family.
It was pretty clear to me that there was no sign of life. And perhaps they already knew that when they arrived, and thus the reason for their casual behavior. They worked with him for a while, got in touch with his daughter, and then took him out. And then I was left in an empty room, still in a bit of overwhelm.
Over the next several days I made conscious efforts to witness and process what was happening in me. There was sadness at the loss of a friend. There were remnants of panic. Doubts and wondering if I could have done something different that may have changed the outcome.
I also had to witness all of this from the lens of my Spiritual Path and growth. The impermanence of the body. Everyone will die eventually. It was his time. The True Self cannot die. His consciousness just left the body, and will live on. Perhaps being reborn. His suffering with the body and worldly life had ended, but he himself as consciousness was now free. From that perspective, there is no death, only transformation of form.
I thought about the state of my own health, the inevitable end of this body, the loss of loved ones as time moves on. Challenging my possible attachments to others, and my relationship with death itself. And as part of that, my relationship to life as well.
My Tantric path and experience is that nothing happens without cause. This was not a random event, but a Divinely orchestrated moment in my Spiritual Sadhana. I did not see it coming, which made it all the more potent. To experience first hand the transitioning from life to death. To feel the energetic essence moving out of a body, while the body became lifeless. To come face to face with the inevitable impermanence of this experience. To experience my human sadness, but also see through it to deepen my faith in the Grace of God. To realize, once again, that I am not in control. There is a force which is operating behind the scenes that I must surrender to, and my goal in my personal Tantric Sadhana is to lift the veil and reveal to myself directly that Divine Power which is operating the Universe. Or rather, let go of my false sense of control enough, so that the veil will dissolve.
This experience also made the reality of disease and illness forefront in my mind as a headed to India. It made me more interested in learning how to use Yoga as a Therapy to help with diseases. More present to the suffering and pain that is present globally, and more inspired to find some compassionate way to serve others who are wanting to end that pain. That is the result of the flow of Grace.
Grace also presents us with frustrations, and challenges to help us grow.
In 2007, my first time in India, I visited Satya Sai Baba in Puttaparti, India. On the third morning, which I planned to be my last Darshan with him, I went outside to find my sandals were stolen. I was quite shocked and disappointed. I couldn’t believe that in a town that revolves around the spiritual teachings of this man, someone would steal. I told a security guard what had happened and his only reply was “Well. Come back to the afternoon Darshan. Maybe they will be returned.” I doubted that, but I decided to stay anyway. And I am glad I did. My sandals were not returned, but it was the most spiritual inspiring Darshan that I attended with Satya Sai Baba. I felt more Divine Grace and energy in that session than any of the others. My sandals were gone, but I was blessed in the end.
This trip, I took a day to visit the Shirdi Sai Baba temple in Shirdi, India. For those who do not know, this is the first incarnation of Sai Baba (before Satya). Both of whom are considered in India to be incarnations of God, and Self-Realized Masters. I waited in line for over 2 hours to get into the temple. (This, by the way, is a normal to short time to wait. It is often much longer). As I got into the temple, I was instructed to sit on the floor as they were getting ready to start a special ceremony called an Aarti. What auspicious timing. That lasted 30 minutes, and then there was a stampede to get to the main alter to make an offering. I finally got up, made my offering, which was blessed and returned to me, and as I left, I felt and connected to his energy, and asked simply to be blessed in whatever way was most helpful for my spiritual awakening. Within 10 minutes, while I was bowing to another small shrine with his picture, my wallet was stolen by a pickpocket.
So, both visits to Sai Baba resulted in something material being taken away. It would be easy to be angry. To think horrible thoughts about whoever did it. But, for me, while I admit feeling a little surprised, I was quickly able to see it as Sai Baba’s Grace. It was Grace for me to have a chance to realize I am not in control. Grace for me to have a chance to see how strongly I may be attached. It was not sandals or wallet really being taken away, but my attachment to them being removed. In this case, I was much less attached the second time than the first. I surrendered to what happened, and could only wish that whoever got it was able to benefit from what they had taken from me. Tantra teaches that all things belong to God anyway, and God dwells within all Beings. So the Divine grace was simply redistributing wealth within its own Self.
While in India this time, I spent several weeks trying to get my Blackberry internet service activated. It kept telling me it could not process my request. I called customer service, spoke to the shop owner, went to this office, and that office, and was finally told it was a problem with my handset. Further conversation with “an expert” revealed that it was because my handset was registered with another provider, and thus it would just not work. I surrendered, gave up, and decided “well, I guess I am just not supposed to be distracted by this while I am in the ashram.” I let it go.
9 days after my last attempt, and having been told it wouldn’t work, my Blackberry internet service activated without notice. I received a text message saying it has been activated for one month of service. There were only 5 days left at the ashram when it happened. It came just in time to allow me to use it to research my final paper on the internet using my phone. What I could not accomplish with the assistance of multiple people, and hours of my time spread out over three weeks, happened unexpectedly in a flash, without any “doing” on my part 9 days after I gave up. I also checked my prepaid balance. I was not even charged for the service. To me there is only one explanation.
While many may explain these things away as “coincidence”, or “bad luck”, or “good luck”, or even “blame it on India”, to me these are all examples of Divine Grace. Grace offers us the experiences we need to grow Spiritually, and most of us need to let go, surrender and see new perspectives on the nature of Reality a lot more than we need a blissful vision of God. We must learn to trust that we will get the exact experiences we are needing, and not necessarily the experiences we are desiring.
What we begin to realize when we grow spiritually is that Grace is always happening. The real change that happens is learning to surrender to “what is”, and ending the struggle against what life brings us. When we can do this, then everything that happens is for our growth and for our good, even if it doesn’t initially feel that way. We learn to flow with Divine Grace.
As I was feeling inspired to write this blog this morning at breakfast the following quote was written on the board in the Dining hall of ashram:
“Through the practice of yoga you can learn to smile at circumstances, you can learn to see every stressful situation as a challenge, or an opportunity to learn, give, serve and love.” – Swami Niranjanananda
To me, another moment revealing Divine Grace.
(Written October 19th, 2011)
I took some time to sit in nature this morning, which conveniently is the grounds of the Ashram itself. Today is also a day of silence, where only a few people running the Ashram are speaking. In my own silence, I witnessed Nature all around me, expanding my awareness into it, smiling into it, and welcoming it.
Birds chirping and flying about. A small field where yellow butterflies dance across blades of grass. Various trees, standing strong, silent and still. The sun in the sky and a light mist of fog still blanketing the mountains which are not too far away.
Again, I am reminded of the power of nature, even in its peaceful play. I reflect on the stillness and the silence which lays beneath Creation, supporting it like the ground where seeds are planted, only this stillness is the ground of Consciousness itself, and the seeds are the Divine thoughts which have arisen within it to bring about the current experience.
I feel into the pulsations of Creation, and am again reminded that nothing in nature is rushing. Nothing in nature is forcing or pushing. The grass is not trying to grow any faster or slower, it just grows. The sun is not racing to get through its day.
Nothing in nature is wanting to be anything other than what it is. The tree is not wishing it was a bush, or a flower. The birds do not aspire to be anything other than birds.
Nature is the ultimate example of WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”). Even the creatures which camouflage themselves are simply expressing as their nature, exactly as they are. The challenge is to be still long enough to see it.
Everything in nature is peaceful, accepting of its nature, and spontaneously expressing that nature, without any hesitancy or desire to change.
Nature can teach us a lot about our own selves. We are a part of nature, yet our minds pull us out of sync and cause us to rush, to force, to resist, to chase after and to hesitate. When we become still as Tantra Yoga teaches us to do, and connect into the Nature of all Creation, and seek to discover that same Nature within our own being, then we too learn to accept life as it is. We too learn to acknowledge our own nature, and express it without apology. We too learn that there is no need to force. There is no where else to be other than where you are right now.
We learn to separate our Authentic Expression from the conditioned mind which pulls us away from it, rejects it, or puts a spin of expectation and attachment into it. And then we gracefully embrace our Authentic Nature, allowing it to express, and accepting it. If we are a squirrel, we will store nuts for the winter. If we are a bird, we will fly and eat seeds and insects. If we are a musician, then the very core of us drives us to play, to write music, to sing and to feel the music as life itself. If we are a dancer, then we must allow our bodies to move and express what words cannot say. If we are a linguist, then we must explore the nature of language and communication through words. If we are a mother or a father, then we must be the fullest expression of love and nurturing to a child. The list goes on and on.
Everyone has a Nature which should be uncovered, refined and expressed. If we can look past the mind stuff which distracts us and carries us away from it. If we can look past the mind stuff which judges our innate expressions and pushes it into submission. If we can look past the mind stuff which tries to twist and control our Authentic Nature for its own purposes and agenda. Then can we fall into the rhythm of Nature and Creation. Then can we just be, and not resist or be attached.
And when we surrender into that level of freedom, the ground on which Creation rests becomes more obvious, more apparent. And then, we discover the stillness, the silence and the peace that has always been supporting life, and we discover that this peace and stillness and the freedom, joy and bliss which arise within it are our very Nature. Always shining and pulsing beneath the surface of experience. Ever present, even when the external world fades away. It is the ground of all experience. It is Consciousness Itself. God. The Divine Essence. This is the real “Nature”. Not the birds, oceans and trees, but the cause of all of life, which is Consciousness Itself.
Like waves arising on the ocean, various forms and experiences arise within Consciousness. And then they return to Consciousness, like the waves which crash and return to the sea. No matter how big or small the wave, the nature of the ocean itself does not change. Just so, the nature of Consciousness, from which all experience arises, never changes.
Authentic, spontaneous expressions arising and dissolving over and over again within this Ground of Consciousness create the flow and rhythm of life. This is the experience of Tantric Nature. Awakening yourself to this experience and aligning yourself with this Reality is the work of Tantra Yoga.
(Written October 17th, 2011)
In an Ashram setting, certain rules and regulations are expected. In Part 1, we talked about the ways this experience can show you your attachments, your expectations and your habits.
Following the Ashram lifestyle will likely follow in a few different paths. You may find yourself getting into the routine, and allowing the new lifestyle to simply become your “norm”, adapting your expectations to the meet what will happen. A level of adaptability is a good quality, and shows flexibility and a less attached mind.
You might also adapt in a way where you “try to fit in”, and thus are really more forcing a match, perhaps even becoming attached to it, or using the lifestyle as a way to shift your awareness away from dealing with the life you have or had outside of it.
You may also adopt this new lifestyle, and have a genuine epiphany of the value that it brings to your life, your happiness and your spiritual growth, in which case you may stay in it or continue to return because it feeds you so deeply.
You may also rebel against the structure of it, and revolt or simply get out of it as quickly as possible. This could be a way of avoiding developing a deeper awareness of yourself, or perhaps it just feels too restrictive.
Any number of situations could happen, but a common theme in a conscious experience will be that is takes you out of your normal experience, and it churns your heart and mind. Like the churning of butter, the Ashram experience has the potential to separate out that which is important to your from that which is not, and taking what was into an entirely new form. To allow your deeper longings, desires and values to float to the top to be savored for their richness.
A traditional Ashram is designed to remove temptations from sensuality in all forms. Simple food, conservative dress to prevent body parts being exposed, and many activities focused on daily living and spiritual practices. Reduce temptation and occupy your mind so it won’t wander. This approach comes from the notion in Yoga that we need to reduce our desires and cravings, because they are distractions from our spiritual life.
The basic idea of them being distractions to our Spiritual Nature is fair enough, but Tantra also says that we should not repress our desires. We must acknowledge them and make peace with them in some way or another. In the Ashram, this may mean witnessing and contemplating our desires without being able to act on them. Allowing ourselves to witness what happens within our bodies, minds, awareness and our energy when we are not able to directly touch into the object of our desire, be that a big juicy steak, a beer, the smell of our favorite perfume, or an erotic encounter. It gives us a chance to explore the nature of desire itself as an energy that arises within us, and to make peace with it. To see it for what it is. To see that even the most urgent of cravings can be witnessed and moved through. We will not die if we don’t get what we are desiring.
But something else can also happen in this isolation and simple life. We may also have a longing arise which is new to us. We may connect with a new way to appreciate the ways we naturally wish to enjoy life. We may realize the value of having private time alone. We may come to appreciate a simple moment to be naked without having to quickly change so as not to offend roommates. We may learn to appreciate the freedom to speak to a loved one on the phone without having to keep our voice quiet, or feeling we have to censor our conversations.
We may also, in the restricted living, have a deep longing arise which connects us to a deeper sense of purpose. Some part of us that finally is ready to scream to be heard, that wants to live with greater purpose, joy and fulfillment than before. To live in a way that the Ashram life itself will not allow, because it has to express itself in the world. But it could not find its voice in the noise of worldly living. It needed the silent, contemplative space of the Ashram to direct your awareness in deeply enough to see it.
No matter what you come away with, a conscious Ashram experience should reveal deeper layers of yourself as both a human being and a spiritual being. It should churn up your values, showing you what is most important to you. It should help you better understand what you need to feel fulfilled and joyful. And perhaps, it will reveal ways you can more deeply align with a a joyful sense of purpose in your life.
Our desires are not wrong. Some are distractions, and can truly lead us away from the fulfillment that Tantra yoga promises. Many sensual desires run this risk, which is why they are discouraged in Traditional Yoga. But other desires are meant to be savored and joyfully unleashed, especially when it means expressing the core of our Being in a non-attached way. Especially when it leads us into purposeful, fulfilling living.
Most of us are full of desires that do not serve our greater happiness. But often, we also have suppressed longings and desires that reveal our greatness, our talents, our gifts and our abilities. These are the desires that fuel our life with passion and purpose. These are the desires that make us wake up in the morning excited to be alive.
Tantra teaches us to suppress nothing. Acknowledge all desires, from the darkest to the most bright. The secret is to make friends with them all. To see that they do not define the deeper Truth of who you are, and then with non-attached discrimination choose to fulfill the desires that will best serve your deepest fulfillment, and your spiritual growth.
When entering an Ashram, or consciously walking on a Tantric path, we must make room or the unexpected to arise. A lifestyle which intentionally reduces desires may actually awaken you to your deepest desires of purpose and fulfillment. It may even awaken you to the secret desire everyone has: To know your True Self and to live joyfully from that Knowledge of Self.
(Written October 11th, 2011)
All around us, life continues to move. For most of us, there are obligations that pull our awareness. Tasks that need to be performed. And when we become tired, we have certain ways that we use to de-stress. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us have created a series of “habits” which allow us to engage in life. Certain conditionings are there for almost all of us, and they keep us within particular realm of experience that we find “comfortable”
For instance, if we are a person who is not comfortable with confrontation, we will tend to go out of our way to avoid conflict, even if that means ignoring our own values or needs. We may have certain patterns of relaxing such as going to a particular restaurant, or drinking alcohol. We likely keep our social structure within particular limits as well, such as hanging our with particular friends, and doing particular activities.
I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with this. They are, in fact, in most cases things that you simply enjoy. But it is also easy for us to allow familiarity and routine to become so ingrained that the possibility of deviations becomes uncomfortable, or even terrifying. We can become attached to our routines, needing them to feel safe and happy.
The Yogic teachings tell us that we should learn to become “detached”. We should not expect certain results or outcomes in life. They tell us that most of our pain and suffering come from expectations not being met, or attachments being lost unexpectedly.
The simple reality is that it is challenging to change our habits while living in the environment that has helped to create them. Just as they say that an alcoholic should stop hanging out with friends who drink as part of the recovery, for some changes, we often need to get out of our “social” world in order to allow new possibilities to arise.
This can involve consciously choosing a new habit or giving up an old one. It can also be starting a new yoga class, or taking a workshop that will offer you a new perspective on life. These are ways that we can help cultivate growth, healing and change while we are living our daily lives. But sometimes, either out of personal desire for growth or because we realize we can’t do it in our current environment, something more radical is needed.
For the alcoholic who can’t find sobriety in his or her daily living, they seek “rehab”. For someone on the Spiritual Path of Yoga, we head to a retreat, or to the Ashram.
The Ashram is a place which offers a culture based upon Yogic lifestyle. When “everybody’s doing it”, it is easier to fit in and allow “healthier” choices to be part of your experience. Many Ashrams offer the possibility of regular yoga practice, regular chanting and regular meditations. Most will be based upon a particular tradition and will offer those teachings and practices that are a part of that tradition.
For the conscious Yoga practitioner, the Ashram should not just be a place to “escape”, however. It is not a place to avoid worldly responsibility, although it has been used by some in that way. The deeper purpose of the Ashram is to challenge your conditioning and your habitual ways of living, to deepen your personal spiritual practice, to accelerate your spiritual growth, and to learn alternative ways of creating greater harmony of body, mind and spirit.
While there are some Ashrams in the modern age that are more like resorts, a traditional Ashram offers a simplified way of life. It offers you what you “need”, not what you want. It invites you to explore the question “what is it that I really need to live and to be happy?” For those who undertake this experience, many come to realize we need a lot less that we think we do. Food, shelter, clothing are the basics. A supportive community is also helpful.
While we have grown used to, and even conditioned to expect certain things in life, such as nice cars, the latest iPhone, hot and cold running showers, air conditioning and central heat, regular meals at nice restaurants, and two weeks of paid vacation every year, the reality is we do not “need” any of these things.
For our sense of individual self, or what yoga calls the Ego (Ahamkara), what happens when we are faced with conditions in life that we are not accustomed to? What happens when a person used to living alone in a two bedroom house is suddenly faced with sharing a single room and one bathroom with three strangers? What happens when our usual diet may be modified into a purely vegetarian diet, which is served at strict times, and our coffee and alcohol are taken away? What happens when we are asked to get up at 5am, and be ready to meditate with the group at 5:45am?
For most of us, the short answer is there will be some reaction. Even if we gracefully accept the changes, some part of us is witnessing and aware of what is different than our “norm”. And some people may react quite strongly against this. Without realizing it, the ego may revolt. But what this type of experience does for us, the gift of Yogic Ashram life, is it gives us a chance to see the places we are attached.
Yes, I prefer air conditioning, but when it is taken away, I can adapt. I like my private space, but there are some nice experiences that come with getting to know three other people and sharing space with them.
With each change, there is a choice to “surrender” and look honestly at our selves as to how we feel about it. Or, we can not look, and just complain or find a quick way out. Yoga is an invitation to increase awareness, and any place within our own mind that we are attached, conditioned or resistant needs to be examined.
It is not that it is “wrong” to have air conditioning, nice cars and iPods, but Yoga teaches us that these things should not be the source of our happiness. In the Ashram, many of our external attachments are stripped away, forcing us to see ourselves without our worldly distractions. When there is no Tivo to watch for hours at night and we have to engage our own thoughts and feelings or have an actual conversation with someone else, can we still enjoy life?
From another perspective, the Ashram experience can also heighten our awareness of the patterns that are so strong that we actually import them into the Ashram with us. If we pay attention, perhaps some different personality traits will be magnified. We may feel more strongly the need for approval, our natural inclination towards competition, or maybe feelings of inadequacy. We may see whether we are a leader or a follower. We may notice our selfish tendency to take the largest piece of fruit, to not want to share, or ways we justify not following simple rules and requests. Many other traits and behaviors may make themselves known if we are paying attention.
Within an Ashram, we also have a chance to meet other people, often from all over the world. We have a chance to see other perspectives on life, and to have our own judgements revealed and mirrored to us through other people’s actions and our reactions to them.
We are additionally given the opportunity to allow our deeper spiritual inclinations to be expressed and seen, out in the open, in a supportive environment. We have the opportunity to share our musings on life and to be among spiritually like minded community, which can strengthen our deeper spiritual values, and teach us more about how to live them fully.
The Ashram experience is also a chance to simply see and acknowledge the simplicity that life can be and still contain joy and meaning within it. So much of what our Western culture calls “normal standard of living” is really luxury. We can learn ways to enjoy life more simply, and we can also learn to be more grateful for what we have, and not take it for granted.
Many Yogic practices encourage these types of self reflection and awareness. For those that cannot find the time or resources to stay in an Ashram, then go to a retreat or a weekend workshop. If you can’t find the time or resources for that, then take classes, or make conscious efforts to observe your own habits of mind. Make conscious decisions to try new things, and see how you react. Make conscious efforts to do or try something that you know you are nervous about. Push past your limitations, dissolve your attachments and invite a world of infinite possibilities.
Like most things in life, the Ashram experience is what you make of it. If you import all your old habits, and refuse to be self aware, it may simply be a vacation. For some, an Ashram may be a training ground to learn skills of self awareness and self observation. For others, it may take on even deeper implications. For many, this experience, if they are open to it, can change their perspective on life. Even if the external life doesn’t change much, the inner experience of life can be radically altered.
Tantric Yoga doesn’t ask you to give up worldly things. It seeks a balance between both material and spiritual pursuits. Tantra teaches you can and should continue to enjoy that which you enjoy, but learn to be detached from it. Enjoy it, but know that it is not the source of your true happiness. That way, even when the object of enjoyment inevitably is lost (and it will be), your deeper sense of joy which arises from deep within your own Self will still remain, and nothing will truly be lost.
With enough practice and awareness, the world becomes our Ashram, because we carry the Ashram perspective within our own minds and hearts. Tantra teaches that we don’t need to escape from life to find spirituality. Instead we want to awaken our awareness of the spiritual within our daily life and the world around us.
What have been your experiences of Retreat, Ashram or integrating a more Tantric awareness into daily life?
Written October 6th, 2011
This morning, I set out from Mumbai by train to Nashik, which is the main city near the Ashram where I will be staying for my Yoga Therapy Program. My train, leaving at 8:20am, required me to be up and walking to the station around 7:10am. The previous evening when I checked in at my hotel, I asked the front desk to help me confirm my ticket and see if my seat had been assigned. They told me it was confirmed, but no seat was posted yet, and suggested I arrive a bit early in order to check my seat.
It is amazing to me how something so simple as checking for a seat number can become a potential challenge if you are not familiar with the way in which the locals do it. I found my way easily to the train station. I found the platform from which it was leaving. I even found the posted lists of passengers, but despite my confirmed status, there was no mention of my name or a seat number anywhere to be seen. Seeing my confusion, and overhearing a local man who didn’t speak english likely trying to tell me I was looking in the wrong place, a kind stranger offered to assist me.
He looked over my printed ticket and announced what I already knew: “You are confirmed but there is no seat number.” This is the same thing I know the non-english speaking man was telling me as well. Yes, I know, I thought. That is indeed my entire reason for staring at long lists of names.
The man assisting me then proceeded to reach into his pocket, pull out a mobile phone, load an app, plug in my confirmation number, and within 30 seconds had received a text message which stated my confirmation, along with seat number. He then pointed me to the correct end of the train, and voila, I was in my correct seat.
Moments like these always make me smile. Not only is it wonderful that technology exists, but situations like this remind me again and again that the flow of the universe is always moving towards something positive. It reminds me that a solution always exists to any given circumstance. It reminds me that in moments of confusion, grief, pain, frustration or fear, that if I can simply be still, be present and patient, that the moment will pass, flowing into a resolution.
This same principle applies to anything. The present moment, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant will always flow into another. The experience you are having will inevitably come to end. This principle teaches us to keep our awareness in the present moment, and to embrace and accept whatever is happening. Knowing that the experience will come to an end reveals that the true pain or suffering in the moment is resistance to it. Our pain comes not from what is happening, but from a desire for it to be different. An attachment to a different expectation.
There is an order to the universe. If we resist it, we suffer. If we let go, embrace what is, and find gratitude for each moment, then we learn to flow with the grace of the universe’s unfolding. We must learn to train our awareness to focus away from suffering, disappointment, pain and frustration, while at the same time accepting what it is, but looking beyond it.
Focusing our awareness into the infinite possibilities, and the deeper stillness and peace that are always beneath this moment’s experience. Learning to tap into the pulsing energy of Consciousness which permeates everything. These yogic and Tantric practices, assisted by various methods and techniques, help us to connect with a deeper intelligence and the grace of the Divine Universe. They help us learn to find a spiritually beneficial joy and detachment to outer experience and expectations, and help us to align our awareness with a deeper reality.
By connecting to these underlying energies and states of awareness, a natural freedom and joy arises, which is independent from and beyond any happiness based upon worldly fulfillment. It is moving closer into your true Nature, which Tantra declares to be Pure Consciousness, Being and Bliss Love. Or Satchitananda in Sanskrit.
This deeper awareness allows us to learn to trust the unfolding experience of life, and experience joy from our Inner Being, no matter whether the outer experience is seen as pain or joy.
When I finally made it to my seating area, after a few people shuffled around, a young woman from Japan joined me in my train berth which seated only 4 people. With a fairly certain and amused thought, I confirmed that she too was headed to the same Ashram. Small world as they say. After we talked for a few minutes, just as the train began to move, two other young women joined us. From Turkey, and both headed to the Ashram.
What are the chances? Yes. This is the final day to go to the Ashram. Yes. This is a likely train to take to get there. Yes, it is likely that we would be more inclined to book a train car with AC. But we all could have just as easily ended up in separate train berths, never knowing of each others existence until we got to the ashram.
Our “chance” meeting provided everyone a sense of safety and relief. Hearing of my previous positive experience at the Ashram, I could see a part of them relax. They were no longer alone to find a taxi to the station. Life once again found a resolution, with no effort on anyone’s part.
There was a time, maybe ten years ago, when I used to think of synchronistic moments like these as magical. That some how the universe was reaching out to me, showing my special relationship to the Divine.
Now I see them as ordinary proof that an intelligence beyond our individual capacity is operating behind the scenes of the unfolding universe. They remind me to surrender, that all is fine, and everything is as is should be. They remind me to continue to be grateful and flow with the Grace of the Divine as it moves through me and the life experience that I am witnessing.
It is not, perhaps, that it isn’t magical is some sense. But perhaps that which many define as magical is really more ordinary that most realize. It only seems magical because we expect life is a different, more limited, way. By opening to the infinite possibilities, by being willing to live in non-ordinary states of consciousness, all that previously seemed impossible becomes possible. Then “miracles” and “sychronicities” become the norm.
The world of miracles IS a part of our natural state. We do not need to do something to bring it about, but rather we need to cultivate a perspective on life which is free from expectations and open to all possibilities. Then the Divine consciousness that is the True Self can reveal Itself to you. Stop believing miracles are rare or even special, and stop believing you are disconnected from the Infinite Intelligence of the Divine. That Intelligence is flowing through you as your own True Self. Then smile into life, and watch as reality begins to reveal Itself.
If you stop and pay attention, what ways is the universe showing you a greater set of possibilities than you are currently experiencing? What ways does the universe try to teach you to trust the flow of life, to surrender and be grateful?
The first time I came to India, back in the Summer of 2007, I came with great expectations of India being a land of great spirituality. A place where everyone would be connected to their spiritual history and a deeper path of spirituality through yoga.
This, of course, was naive. What I quickly discovered, initially a shock and disappointment, was that the majority of the Indian people were connected to their cultural norm of religion, but, much like in the US, their true connection and devotion varied. Just like the many Christians who show up to churches only for Christmas and Easter, there are Indians who only observe major festivals. And their connection to the deeper meanings varies as well.
I was excited to go to the Temples and share in the spiritual connection that has become so important to my own personal path of Yoga. But instead of hundreds of contemplative people, savoring the bliss of the Divine, it was more like a cattle call of hundreds of people, quickly rushing through to offer something to the temple Priest, see the temple Idol, and then rush back to life.
While I can not say that it does not have meaning to them, I feel certain the level of connection it offers varies from person to person. Some doing the “cultural” norm, and others getting a greater connection from it. Just as in our own country we can meet people who have varying levels of faith, from “obligated” to go to church all the way to those who truly feel “spiritually fed” by their church.
It has since amazed me that many Indians I have meet in the US, born and raised in India, have no true knowledge of Yoga, Tantra or Ayurveda. It has been a surprise, but another place where my expectations have been revealed as false.
It has all been a process of acknowledging the reality of the diversity of our world, and also seeing the commonalities among people. Just growing up in India doesn’t automatically make you a great seeker of Self-Realization, although their culture does arguably have at least different, if not more, notions of magical and spiritual possibilities.
During this current trip to India, I have had the pleasure of meeting with a Tantric and Kashmiri Shaivism Scholar who has lived and worked in Varanasi for over 40 years. He has authored many well respected books on Kashmiri Shaivism, and translated many texts from Sanskrit into English. While his professional work is scholarly, he himself is also a devotee to a Kashmiri Shaivite Guru, and considers his personal spiritual path to be most important to him. I do not know without knowing the meaning, how many times I was asked direkt in Sweden on a travel trip.
In speaking with him, he helps reveal many of the other false thinkings we may have in the west about different Tantric and Yogic practices.
The Traditional approach to Tantra Yoga, which is deeply connected to Kashmiri Shaivism, is about developing the spiritual Self. It is about discovering the deep peace of the Self as Consciousness beyond the impermanent experience of the body and life, while at the same time honoring the Sacredness of the experience of Life.
It is a tradition which emphasizes the development of awareness and consciousness to discover the non-dual reality, the inner silence out of which all life experience arises.
In discussing Tantras history of Sexual practices, he said it is really hard to know how prevalent these practices really were. That they were done is most probable, but how many practitioners, we can’t say. Even the famous erotic temples, he says, have to be questioned as to whether the culture they were created in was simply a highly sexually permissive society, or whether there was a deeper spiritual intention behind it. There is much we do not know.
When I asked him how prevalent the erotic practices are in modern India, his response was “almost non-existent”, and then went on to say, “but most people don’t usually talk about their sex lives.” From other things I have read, I suspect that there are still some who practice, but they are more rare than not, and it is rather secretive.
He did, however convey one story of a friend of his who uses some of the Tantric erotic rituals. This friend had a female consort for ten years, and his sole reason for keeping her was to obtain a single drop of menstrual blood once a month for a Tantric ritual. Interestingly, she finally left him because she was unfulfilled in the relationship, thinking the he only wanted her for her menstrual blood.
The topic of the Kama Sutra also came up. This is often pointed to by many Western Tantric practitioners as a Tantric text, showing the value and power of the sexual practices historically. He says that the Kama Sutra was really just an ancient sex manual, that was primarily used by courtesans to become more refined. It was used to become a more pleasing partner, and to better fit into higher class society, which was their targeted clientele. Because of this, he says, many of the courtesans of that time were actually quite talented artists, musicians and the like, well educated in many aspects of life.
Despite many of the modern western teachings around Tantra as erotic practice, the history of Tantra uses/used the erotic practices in a highly ritualized context for very specific purposes. These purposes were/are to expand Consciousness and connect with the Divine.
To his way of seeing things, the Modern western Tantra has become a type of “sex therapy”. While he does not dismiss the possible benefits of this type of work, he does say that you will not find the current western practices described in the Tantric texts.
We also discussed the fascinating evolution of Yoga and Tantra, which is that all of these types of practices have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Places, such as the west, have taken pieces such as Asana (yoga postures), and called it “yoga”. The emphasis is on physical fitness rather than the original spiritual development that Traditional Yoga speaks of, but it meets the needs of the people.
The same has happened with Tantra in the West, with many variations from “spiritually veneered” sex to deeply healing and transformative practices. There are also, of course, other teachers and practitioners of Tantra in the West that focus more on the Traditional Tantric approaches of Kundalini Yoga, Meditation, etc.
He says these types of Hybrid modern yogas are also showing up in India, because of the popularity in the west. Many more indians are learning of Yoga as a physical fitness system along with basic Ayurveda for a healthy lifestyle.
It is interesting to note that while in the West, most people associate Tantra with eroticism and sex, in India Tantra is thought of as “magic”. It is based upon their cultural history with the subject, which traditionally emphasized understanding the workings of the energies of Creation in order to control or gain power over or through them. This led to practices of Mantras and various other remedies to heal illnesses, and to help fulfill worldly desires.
This type of thinking is still present in India today, and the cultural relationship with the Deities also reflects this. Most average Indian Hindus relate to various aspects of the Divine to help them get the things in life they want for worldly fulfillment. Examples would be Ganesha to help remove obstacles when starting a business, or Laxshmi to bring wealth and abundance. This is similar to the way many other cultures might relate to God through prayer as a request for desires to be fulfilled.
It is the lesser of the population that truly engages these forces for a more spiritually growth oriented purpose. Even the term “good Karma” has been used towards me on several occasions by self appointed guides and rickshaw drivers as a way of trying to get a larger tip or payments for their services. The implication, of course, being that the more I pay them, the more I will be blessed with good Karma. An interesting way to use this, from my perspective.
It is not my intention to diminish the importance of these things culturally in India. No matter the relationship to religion, be it “cultural obligation”, “superstition”, or “deeply spiritual”, I would imagine most people here would feel very strongly about their beliefs in whatever way they are engaging them. My intention is more to reveal the diversity of the Indian religious landscape and culture, in contrast with my preconceived notions, and perhaps similar notions by other non-Indian people, as well as the common desire for most people to seek their own version of happiness.
No matter how it is engaged, the culture of India has generated a primarily peaceful, friendly, and curious people, most of whom will go out of their way to help you, sometimes for a tip and often just because it is their nature. They generally value family, and treat their neighbors with respect. Their religious culture gives them a different perspective on death than in the west. And, most are happy with a more simple lifestyle than what the average westerner may be accustomed to. They celebrate life, and even the crowded, noisy and seemingly chaotic streets are like the lifeblood of their culture, reflecting their passion and their embracing of life.
While there are some cultural changes happening based upon Western influence, there is still a richness here that is wonderful to savor. In Varanasi, where I am now, one can experience the surprisingly gentle noise and madness of the city, and yet just a few kilometers away, on the banks of the Ganges, I am in a guest house which is so peaceful and relaxed. Even in the “rush” of the city, many people are just peacefully going about their day.
What fascinates me most about this, and the conversation with my new Tantra Scholar friend, is the confirmation of what I have also come to recognize, which is that the teachings of Yoga and Tantra, while rooted in scripture, have evolved over time to meet the needs of the people. Even the history of Yoginis evolving into Goddesses shares this flavor. Thousands of years ago, each village had their own Yogini that they honored and worshipped. As the news of a powerful Yogini would spread to neighboring villages, they too would come to worship her. If they had a powerful experience, they would tell another village. Over a course of hundreds and thousands of years, what started at literally hundreds of thousands of yoginis where narrowed down to a collection Goddesses which became commonly known throughout the country and the region. Today, we have Paravati, Kali, Durga, Laxshmi, Saraswati and several others which have become national and even internationally known, but it was not always this way.
This same type of thing has happened with Various Yoga and Tantric practices. Different practices would arise to meet a certain need. When the cultural needs changed, or when something more beneficial came along, things would fall away and something new would arise in its place. Systems were formed from various perspectives, all because they meet the needs of certain groups, or because a certain teacher saw it in that way. And the evolution of the Yogas and Tantras continues into Modern times. It arises to meet certain needs. And the core, deeper spiritual truths are there as a living, breathing reminder of where these practices came from historically and where they can take us if the Heart longs for a deeper spiritual experience.
Despite my previous great expectations, the larger reality is that all along this historical time line, there were probably only a relatively small group of people truly interested in “enlightenment”. The majority of people, much like today, were more interested in worldly happiness, success, family and good health.
In fact, the Vedic and Yogic teachings address these aspects of “Purpose” (Dharma), “Material Wealth” (Artha), and “Pleasure” (Kama) as being legitimate goals of life. So they should be celebrated and honored as the foundation of happiness. To this, the great Yogis also offered “Moksha” (Self-knowledge or Liberation), as the most important Goal in life. But they also acknowledged that for most, the foundations of happiness through the previous three goals would be needed to tread the path of Liberation.
As a living practice, I feel it is important for us to honor the past traditions, and take from them the deeper principles to help us attain the goals we want in life. I also think it is important to allow their deeper intentions to drive the practices, allowing them to evolve to meet the needs of modern day practitioners. The Practice of Yoga and Tantra is a flowing process of using the practices needed to achieve the growth needed at a particular stage of development. It was not designed, necessarily, to be rigid. Disciplined, yes, but not rigid.
Traditionally, a Yoga teacher would give a student only the practices he or she needed to get to the next stage of spiritual development. Once it served its purpose, a new practice would be introduced. Keeping that in mind, we can also allow our modern practices to evolve with our changing needs as we grow. And when we are ready for the next step, there is a rich history of practices to help us on our path. Whether it is for better health, aligning with life purpose, experience more joy and pleasure in life, or even spiritual growth, the challenge is choosing the right practice and approach for your personal needs, and this is where a Teacher can become indispensable.
I am excited to be part of this modern evolution of Yoga, and to continue to watch as it changes and grows over the remainder of my life. In order to allow it room to grow, we cannot be attached to the past, but I do strongly feel a firm foundation in the intentions of practice is important. If the intentions are understood, then most anything can become Yoga or Tantric Practice, and the personal practice can grow in any number of ways. Without understanding the intentions, you are not really able to direct your practice to a particular goal.
There is no need to re-invent the Yogic or Tantric wheel, so to speak. There are so many beneficial practices already laid out for us. At the same time, modern practitioners need to understand it is not a cookbook approach either. Each person is individual, and will have different experiences from the same practices, and different practices which are needed to progress.
If the birth place of Tantra and Yoga has evolved through many stages and different relationships with this great wisdom, then we can only expect our contact with this wisdom will evolve as well. As yoga and Tantra become more popular in the west, I hope more people will seek to understand the deeper traditions they come from. But we must remember as we explore them, that the scriptures, while full of wisdom, were created by those living the results of their practice. The great wisdom of yoga and Tantra in not locked in the past, but intended to be lived in the here and now. We must awaken the teachings now, through proper practice.
What are you thoughts on spiritual expectations of India, or on Modern day practices of Yoga and Tantra?
Discover the ways that Karma pulls our attention into the world, distracting us from our deeper Spiritual Nature and thus how Karma keeps us search for happiness outside of our own Self. Explore the need to turn our awareness within, so we can directly experience our True Nature and the innate Joy and Bliss which is contained within the True Self.
Learn about the deeper meaning of Balancing Shiva and Shakti (Masculine and Feminine), developing awareness of the Witnessing aspect of Consciousness, and the Power of Consciousness. Also discover the deeper meaning of Goddess worship within Tantric context.
This is Part 4 of a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.
Balancing Shiva and Shakti in Life: Resolving Separation and Duality by Clearing Karmic Conditioning (Video)
Explore Shiva and Shakti as a metaphor for duality. Learn a powerful perspective that can help you shift out of conflict and suffering and empower you to take responsibility for our own experience so you can begin to consciously move into a more joyful relationship with Life and the world around you. Discover how Karma directs your experiences and how learning to become more aware of and witness your reactions and Karmic patterns can begin to free you and help you live more consciously.
This is Part 3 of a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.
Discusses Neo-Tantra, Sacred Sexuality or Western Tantra as a modern tool for erotic/sexual healing and relationship enhancement in context with the fuller Tradition of Tantra Yoga as a Spiritual Path. Discover a deeper understanding of Sexual energy in the path of Tantra Yoga.
This is Part 2 of a 6 part video series on Tantra as a Spiritual Path.