Days for Girls recently sent a batch of our feminine hygiene kits to Nepal. We think of the girls who received those kits, their families, and all the people of Nepal as we hear the increasingly dire details of the devastating earthquake that shook their country early today. Closer to home, we are saddened that the spate of police brutality that has shaken many other parts of our country is now bringing people out into the streets of Baltimore to raise their voices in anger and protest at the recent death of Freddie Gray. Our city, our nation, and our world are badly in need of healing today. How do we mourn the dead? How do we comfort the living? How do we help rebuild broken cities and countries? Please join us tomorrow as we explore these questions, and as we send prayers for healing, comfort, and peace to all those in need: Sunday, April 26, 4 p.m., Ruscombe Community Health.
Here is a simple way to connect with nature this Earth Day and beyond:
Tree puja is a simple daily ritual, taking only five minutes around sunset. It involves meeting your plant every day, whether it is a large tree in the garden or a small pot on a kitchen windowsill…
Every day at sunset, light a small candle or an oil lamp in front of the tree, place a flower there, light a stick of incense and pour a small bowl of water at the base of the tree. Along with these offerings, a prayer of thanks and gratitude can be said to the tree. Then for ten seconds close your eyes. Become that tree. If the tree is unhealthy, feel the sickness of the tree and say a prayer for it’s wellbeing, “May you become strong and healthy. May you nurture life.”…
This is the beginning of your connection with nature, not just admiring the tree, but feeling a connection with it…That is the spirit of ecology…Although tree puja looks simple it has a deep meaning because it is worshipping Mother Earth, the source of all nourishment and life.
---from Upasana: In the Presence of the Divine
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children: that the
Earth is our mother? What befalls the Earth, befalls all the sons of the Earth. This we know: the Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the Earth, he does to himself.
--attributed to Chief Seattle
This Wednesday is Earth Day. Join us this Sunday, April 19, 4 p.m. Ruscombe Community Health Center, as we celebrate this wondrous creation that sustains us and that depends on us to cherish and sustain it.
This is the season of miracles. A man rises from the dead, seas part, a monkey god leaps across mountains. And in our own back yards buds appear overnight on trees and bushes, green stalks press up from under dried leaves, what appeared dead and lifeless just yesterday is suddenly colorful and vibrant. Miracles are easy to miss, though. The resurrected Christ walked the earth for just a little while, the waters of the Red Sea closed in again as soon as the Israelites had passed through them, the delicate spring flowers soon wither and die. We need to be open to seeing the miraculous when it presents itself, yet we spend most of our days on automatic pilot, walking by without turning our heads to see what is right in front of us if we were to just look.
Presence and stillness are two of the most important gifts our yoga and meditation practice offers us. When we slow down and become quiet, we begin to notice the miraculous way the breath moves, the heart beats, the senses connect us to the outside world, the mind creates coherence from the multiplicity of sensory impressions we take in. We begin to sense the miracle of creation and recognize that we are part of that miracle. Gradually, we learn to carry that awareness out into the world. Sadhana (spiritual practice) prepares the mind to see God in everything, every moment of our lives.
How often are you aware of the miracles around you? What keeps you from awareness? What helps you stay aware? Come explore with us at this week's Sunday sadhana, April 12, 4 p.m., Hill House, Ruscombe Community Health Center.
I recently cared for my mother during the last days of her life. I was fearful and reluctant to take on that responsibility. I have never thought of myself as the kind of person who was good at this kind of thing. I am not comfortable dealing with bodily functions. I am not naturally inclined to sit patiently with someone and be a comforting presence. I also had real concerns and fears: What if I hurt myself trying to move or lift her? What if I were alone with her when she entered her final moments? What would I do if she couldn't breathe or was in pain? With all of these doubts swirling through my mind, I took a deep breath and decided this is what I needed to do.
I was at home with my mother for 10 days. Being there was not always easy, but for the most part my fears did not materialize. And in return, I experienced many wonderful moments during that time. I was privileged to help Mom connect with her closest friends and family members so that she could say her good byes. I watched her soften and let go of defenses she had built up over a lifetime. And I was able to be with her during her final moments and ease her transition from this life.
This week we will observe Holy Week in Christian tradition and the beginning of Passover in Jewish tradition. Central to both these observances are stories of people going where they do not want to go. Jesus did not want to make the journey to Calvary, and his apostles did not want to go with him. Moses did not want to lead his people out of Egypt and his people were often reluctant to follow him as they travelled the long hard road through the desert. Similarly, in Vedic tradition, the Bhagavad Gita centers on the story of Arjuna’s overcoming his reluctance to go to war in fulfillment of his dharma.
I suspect that these stories are so prevalent in our spiritual literature precisely because they represent situations in which we so often find ourselves. From the small obligations we are asked to attend to in the course of our daily lives to the selfless and sometimes even heroic paths we are called to walk upon at times, our lives are filled with places we do not necessarily want to go and things that we don’t necessarily want to do. How we respond is up to us. Saying no might make us feel happier and safer for awhile but can also keep us locked in the captivity of our own small self-centered world. Saying yes might feel riskier and less comfortable but can ultimately lead us on the path toward growth and liberation.
When in your own life have you been called to go where you did not want to go? How did you answer? Where did your answer lead you? Come explore with us at this Sunday’s sadhana, 4 p.m., Hill House, Ruscombe Community Health.
Our monthly study group meets before sadhana this week, beginning at 2:30 p.m. We are beginning a new book this month, Karma Yoga Book 7: A Guide to Sadhana in Daily Life. Join us at sadhana, study group or both.
Two weeks ago, we sprinkled colorful petals from our flower havan on the snow outside the door at Ruscombe, where they served as a beautiful reminder that spring and rebirth would soon be here. Last week we marveled at the snowdrops that had sprung up in place of the petals and the snow on which they had rested. Yesterday—the first day of spring—we woke up and looked out the window to once again see snow-covered ground. I listened with amusement yesterday as everyone—including myself—lamented the return of snow when spring seemed to have taken hold so firmly earlier in the week. Nature invariably moves in this way, particularly during times of seasonal change, yet we always seem surprised and a little indignant at the Indian summer heat of autumn or the late season snows of spring.
We humans seem to be programmed to expect smooth sailing along the road of life. We often believe that our lives should be one straight walk from the cradle to the grave, unimpeded by obstacles or setbacks of any kind, when in reality life is much more like a dance in which we are constantly stepping back, winding around, and weaving through unexpected challenges and difficulties. In choosing how to respond to these challenges we define who we are. Do we give up in frustration as soon as things do not go our way? Do we rage against the unfairness of life? Do we sink into depression or turn to addictive behaviors in an effort to escape? Or do we face reality, keep moving, and do our best to determine what our new path will be?
Today marks the beginning of Navaratri, the nine-day festival of the goddess in her three forms of Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati that is celebrated in the spring and fall of each year. The first three days of Navaratri are dedicated to Durga, the remover of obstacles. How strong is your inner Durga? How do your yoga practices help you deal with the challenges and setbacks in your life? Come explore with us at a Navaratri sadhana, Sunday, 4 p.m., Hill House, Ruscombe Community Health.
We are in the midst of Lent, the 40 day period of prayer and fasting in Christian tradition which many people equate with “giving things up.” Many of us who came up in Catholic tradition especially can probably recall giving up candy, or going to the movies, or watching TV during Lent while our parents observed fasting and abstinence practices that included eating only one full meal a day, not eating between meals, and foregoing meat twice a week. Christianity is not alone in setting aside periods of prayer and fasting. In fact, they are part of every major religious tradition. Interestingly, though, these periods of austerity are often framed by feasts and celebrations. Since at least the Middle Ages, Lent has been ushered in by Mardi Gras—Fat Tuesday—with its feasting in anticipation of the lean days of Lent. And Lent ends with Easter, again the occasion for joy and celebration.
In recent American culture (not so much Irish!), St. Patrick’s Day has provided another respite from Lent for those observing its practices. In what has become an annual ritual, Archbishops proclaim dispensations from Lenten fasts on St. Patrick’s day so as not to interfere with the celebrations. St. Patrick’s Day is known primarily as a day to party. Aside from the vagaries of human nature that pull us away from discipline and toward creature comforts, might there be a spiritual lesson in occasions such as St. Patrick’s Day or the Hindu feast of Holi, celebrated on March 6 this year, in which breaking social taboos is excused with the words, “Don't be offended—it’s Holi?”
Perhaps these days of raucous celebration serve as a balance. Fasting and “giving up” during periods such as Lent help us overcome raga—attachment. When we become overly attached to our possessions, our pleasures, even our relationships we hinder our spiritual development. But we can also become overly attached to discipline and austerity. When we become obsessed with our spiritual practices to the extent that they interfere with our obligations to those around us; when our own spiritual discipline causes us to become rigid, self-righteous, or judgmental; when we are so busy reaching toward enlightenment that we fail to experience the love and joy in this earthly life, we need to practice a different kind of fasting. Yes we can observe the austerities of Lent, of Yom Kippur, of Ramadan, of Shivaratri and Navaratri. But we can also join in the Mardi Gras parades, throw some color at Holi, and dance a jig on St. Patrick’s Day.
How do you maintain balance in your spiritual life? What challenges you most—too much self-discipline or not enough? Come explore with us at this week's sadhana, Sunday, March 15, 4 p.m., Hill House, Ruscombe Community Health
Now is the moment of magic, when the whole, round earth turns again
toward the sun, and here's a blessing: the days will be longer and brighter now, even before the winter settles in to chill us.
Now is the moment of magic, when people beaten down and broken, with nothing left but misery and candles and their own clear voices, kindle tiny lights and whisper secret music, and here's a blessing: the dark universe is suddenly illuminated by the lights of the menorah, suddenly ablaze with Christmas lights, and the whole world is glad and loud with winter singing.
Now is the moment of magic, when an eastern star beckons the ignorant toward an unknown goal, and here's a blessing: they find nothing in the end but an ordinary baby, born at midnight, born in poverty, and the baby's cry, like bells ringing, makes people wonder as they wander through their lives, what human love might really look like, sound like, feel like.
Now is the moment of magic, and here's a blessing: we already possess all the gifts we need; we've already received our presents: ears to hear music, eyes to behold lights, hands to build true peace on earth and to hold each other tight in love.
We will NOT be meeting for sadhana at Ruscombe Community Health this evening. Our regular sadhana schedule will resume after the holidays.
This Thursday we celebrate the festival of Diwali. Often compared to Christmas in Christina tradition, Diwali is a feast of light. It is closely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity and everyone hopes for a visit from Lakshmi at this time of year. Although everyone wants the goddess to visit, she comes only to those she chooses. Traditionally, one cleans, paints and repairs one's home on the days leading to Diwali to make it as inviting as possible to Lakshmi. It is also said that Lakshmi rides on a blind owl and needs light to find the homes she intends to visit, and so candlelight and colored electric lights bun in homes and buildings throughout India during the night of Diwali. As Swami Satsangi noted at last year's Diwali Puja, however, Lakshmi is looking for more than new paint and pretty lights. She is looking for generosity and selflessness. She bestows prosperity so that it can be shared. she does not give her blessings to those who hoard them and use them only for themselves.
We explored the Prayer of St. Francis last week, which includes the line, "It is in giving that we receive." How have you experienced this truth? What does prosperity signify to you? What connection have you seen in your own life between generosity, selflessness and Lakshmi's blessings?
Day one of our Swara Yoga workshop last weekend fell on St. Francis Day. St. Francis of Assisi is somewhat unique in that he has transcended most of the saints of the Roman Catholic/Episcopal tradition and become beloved among many people outside those traditions. St. Francis's story and his writings provide an abundance of wisdom on how to be in right relation with the Divine, with creation, and with each other. Born into a privileged family, he gave up his wealth as a young man to live a life of voluntary poverty. His cared for the poor and ministered to lepers--those whom society had ostracized. He had a keen sense of appreciation for the beauty and wonder of creation, and has become especially associated with animals. Some congregations, in fact, conduct a blessing of the animals on St. Francis Day. Most of all he had a keen sense of himself as an instrument of the Divine, which manifested in a humility that pervaded all he did. Although he drew many followers he resisted the call to form a monastic order, and when he did finally relent he created an order much different from the wealthy hierarchical institutions of his day. Although he led and challenged when he needed to, he always considered himself one among equals, an imperfect man simply doing his best to fulfill God's will. We speak in Yoga of isvarapranidhana, surrender to the will of the Divine. St. Francis shows us how to put that niyama into practice.
The Prayer of St. Francis is probably the work for which St. Francis is best known and loved:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
What parts of this prayer resonate most strongly with you? Why? Come explore with us at a belated St. Francis Day sadhana, Sunday, 5:45 p.m. Ruscombe Community Health Center.
Tanmayi Christine Garrison co-facilitates Wise Heart Community devotional activities.