The Meek Will Inherit the Earth

Human evolution is now at its most critical crossroad. We are facing a world where converging crises threaten our survival as a species. Within a generation, according to the World Bank’s most recent report, temperatures will rise 3-6 degrees Fahrenheit  and perhaps seven degrees in fewer than 100 years. As oceans rise and food production becomes less dependable, mass migrations will challenge every strategy we know to maintain some kind of stability.

Our inertia in the face of climate change has caused us to sit passively by as the point of no return has come and gone.

Even at the age of 61 many of these cataclysmic changes will happen or at least begin within my lifetime.

If we face these facts honestly we return to the fundamental questions we all ask ourselves. Why are we here and what is the purpose of life? These are the questions that Roy Scranton poses in his sobering essay, “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.”

The Anthropocene is a new term for the epoch in which we now live—an epoch that has seen human beings become a global geological force powerful enough to knock our climate out of balance.

In light of these changes Scranton asks what it will mean to be human as we respond to an unrecognizable world that is hostile to life as we know it? Contemplating our individual deaths and the finality of our extinction as a species is forcing us to answer these questions.

Who will we become and how will we behave in a world that presents humans with precious few options for survival? Scranton answered this question as an Army private on duty in Baghdad reading the Hagakure, an 18th century treatise on Samurai conduct. It’s author, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily…. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way.”

So, how does this relate to yoga? The Hagakure and yoga both direct the aspiring human being to gain mastery of over his or her nervous system. Toning our nervous systems through meditation and conscious action helps us to face death and achieve the freedom of knowing how to live.

Jesus the Nazarene also spoke prophetically when he proclaimed that “the meek will inherit the earth.” I read this as the “cooperative” will inherit the earth.

As yogis the great mysterious creative force that gave us birth beckons us to embrace impermanence, our ultimate death. In so doing we are guided to live lives that transcend our ego driven pursuit of wealth and power. Jimi Hendrix put it aptly, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.”

We are being called to a higher level of existence. We are being called to face our finest hour—the hour when we, as human beings no longer pursue the eternal in the transient—an hour when we will mature and ripen into the god-likeness that is our destiny.

Thanks for reading my work. Please leave a comment. I need to hear what you think.

Here is the link to Roy Scranton’s essay:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/learning-how-to-die-in-the-anthropocene/?_r=0is

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Slower, Softer, Longer

This entry is a sequel to a previous post titled, “Prana Dance.” It deals with how we use yoga asana practice to distribute prana (life force energy) into the cells and psyche of our beings. This may sound abstract and hard to put your finger on, but actually it is the very physical, experiential act of willfully routing energy throughout the nadis or circuits of our bodies’.

One of the best ways to embody this act is by working with an injury or disease condition. I’m working with a couple of injuries now that are teaching me a lot about how to balance energy in my practice in order to promote healing. Injuries can be great friend and teachers if we are willing to listen to them. So, if you have an active injury or condition that you’re working with—listen carefully to the language of sensation. This language will help you sense the proper relationship you must build with that malady in order to heal yourself. Injuries or disease can deliver us from our own inclinations to keep pushing ahead as we unconsciously ignore our need to heal.

If self-healing is a foreign concept to you, consider this. Our bodies’ have amazing innate healing intelligence. Healing is programmed into our DNA. The most common form of healing we experience everyday is sleep. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Rest is repair.” Whether we are stressed out, banged up or suffering with a cold, a good night’s sleep generally makes things better. This restful repair occurs while we are unconscious. We can build on this rejuvenation with conscious awareness of breath and movement in our yoga asana practice.

A normal, healthy body can usually adapt to periods of high intensity exercise or stress. However, when we exceed our limits and sustain injury we need the slower, softer, longer approach to heal ourselves.

To implement this style of practice we must develop a keen sense of tender loving care toward our injuries. After an initial period of rest following an injury we enter what is called the sub-acute stage of healing. This is when carefully applied asana and breath can speed healing.

As we begin to re-engage a damaged muscle, joint, organ or mental aspect we must do so slowly, more softly, and we hold our posture longer. It may sound like a love relationship. Well, it is. This is part of how we love ourselves. Self-care is born of self-love.

Take a common hamstring injury for example. Over stretching causes tearing and pain. As we heal, we may begin to work the muscle(s) again by slowly pushing into a pose up to the border of discomfort. When we reach that border we softly sustain the pose and hold the pose for a long comfortable engagement. The final ingredient to this elixir of gentleness is the massaging breath. With a slow, soft, long sustain like a beautiful piano chord we infuse the pose with the healing massage of the breath. This combination of mindful actions tells the nervous system that this is a safe practice. As the nervous system gets the message, pain decreases and allows us to work more deeply as we continue our recovery.

This approach also serves as a metaphor for how we live our lives. Living with greater awareness, deliberation and persistence will serve to help us reach our personal goals and in our relationship with our planet and its myriad beings.

Working Out the Demons

As I mentioned in my last post, the human body is designed as a conduit for energy flow. Another word for flow is circulation. Energy circulates throughout the mammalian body within tubes like blood vessels, nerve axons, the digestive system and the glands and organs. These tubes, or nadis as the yogis call them, are of many sizes and shapes and have pathways unique to their functions. When everything is flowing freely, we feel well and able to participate in all parts of our lives. When prana flow is decreased through illness, injury, or inadequate nutrition we feel the effects in a variety of ways.

Not only is this true for the physical body, it is also true for the mind. Incomplete recovery from limiting beliefs, attitudes or psychological trauma can continue to live within us, often without our awareness. This residual trauma can live as memories in our minds and in the very tissues of our bodies. In our not so distant past these manifestations of persistent psychological disease were often called demon possession. In a metaphorical sense demon possession is not as far fetched as we may think when we identify “demons” as the forces of stress and tension. These demons can be the beginning of high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease and chronic mental illness often manifesting as depression.

In Amy Weintraub’s ground-breaking book, Yoga for Depression, she devotes an entire chapter to the subject “grief in our tissues” and how to release it. Amy uses two incisive quotes to get the heart of the matter. One of them is from Lama Palden Drolma.

“Yoga practices bring us into a state of ripeness. They purify the energy channels for the free flow of prana. In the process, the sludge is brought to the surface. It’s like cleaning the sewers. The psychological and emotional obstacles get flushed to the surface.”

I have had the experience of “cleaning out the sewers” many times  before and enjoyed yoga’s amazing cleansing power again this very morning.

Since I finished my yoga therapy training I’ve been involved in the slow struggle to build my business as a yoga therapist. As with any uphill battle it can take its toll. All the old stories start rising from impermanent interment to haunt me once again. You know the common lies we all face: I’m not good enough, I’ll never belong, I’m obsolete (if you’re over 55 or thereabouts), the world doesn’t need what I have to offer; the list goes on and on. As Lama Drolma says, it does feel like our minds and bodies become a toxic sewer aching with the trauma of the past.

As I always do when these feelings begin to overwhelm me, I take refuge in my practice. I rolled out my yoga mat like a magic carpet and practiced yoga postures for nearly two hours. All the bending, extensions, twists, and balancing poses acted like an exorcism to rid me of the demons of depression and doubt that were ready to blow down the door of my equanimity. With the powerful assistance of deep breathing and conscious movement I worked the demons out. This practice never fails. It is there for us everyday to massage, tone and cleanse every muscle, organ, gland and cell in our bodies. We can always take refuge in our practice. As we do, we connect with all souls past and present who turn to yoga to cultivate peace, strength and victorious living.

Namaste!