25 September 2007

right livelihood

Dzambhala -- Buddhist -- He embodies the power of wealth to benefit beings. He symbolizes "richness" in all its forms and holds the mongoose which vomits jewels for the benefit of beings.

Ganesha -- Hindu -- God of Prosperity

Right Livelihood is one part of the Ethical Conducts in the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddha together with Right Speech and Right Action.

Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

As long as I've been teaching yoga I've had more than a few discussions with yoga teachers about whether it's really OK to be paid for teaching yoga. One yoga teacher tells me that "yoga is really supposed to be taught for free." Uh...really? Where does it say that in the Yoga Teacher By-Laws? Did I miss the fine print somewhere? Actually I do teach for free and that's my karma yoga that I do once a month at a domestic violence shelter and I've been doing that for going on three years now. Truth be told, it's my favorite class to teach.

One of my private students is a business entrepeneur and we discussed Right Livelihood when he gave me advice on starting a yoga clothes business. He rolled his eyes when I told him how some yoga teachers believe that yoga should be free and he said, "I see lots of ads in Yoga Journal so somebody is making money."

Money itself is not good or bad, that's merely a judgment. Money just IS. It's all about how it's used and what it's used for.

Ethan Nichtern, creator of the ID Project and son of David Nichtern, gives a great interview on Buddhism & Money: Does Priceless Mean It's Free?. While he speaks specifically about the spiritual economics of teaching the dharma and what Right Livelihood ought to look like in a market economy, everything he says can also be applied to the spiritual economics of teaching yoga.

In this culture, the reality is that yoga is big business. A yoga teacher is performing a service just like a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, or a "Life Coach." Ethan makes the excellent point that Life Coaches charge upwards of $100 an hour, while a dharma teacher, especially one who has gone through many hours of training in, for example, the Shambhala tradition, is sometimes much better equipped than a Life Coach to help someone. But are you going to pay your dharma teacher $100 an hour? I didn't think so.

It's about the perception of value, what value do you place on yoga, meditation, or the dharma? Ethan said that when he managed a Shambhala center they would ask people to "donate" $25 toward something, but they would say that $25 wasn't in their budget. But two days later he'd go out to dinner with the same people and they would spend more than $25 on dinner and drinks.

I see that all the time at the studio where I teach. Early this year I did a fundraiser for the domestic violence shelter and had a donation box on the desk. The studio also has a small retail section so I would watch women write checks for $100 for yoga clothes, but when the donation box would be pointed out to them they did not have a buck to donate. But 15 minutes later I would see them down the street at Starbucks paying $4.00 for a double shot carmel macadoodle frappawhozit whatever.

One of the best pieces of business advice I ever got was from my first accountant when I started my garden design business. He said, "never give away your services, because if it's free, people won't value it." Ethan says the same thing when he says that teaching the dharma is priceless, but the western capitalist mindset equates "price-less" with "it doesn't have a price."

To paraphrase Ethan, our motivation as yoga or dharma teachers should not be toward the bling, but we also need to get out of the naive "poverty mentality" about teaching.

24 September 2007

buddhist monks protest in Burma

(photo credit: The Buddhist Channel)

How can anyone not be moved by the sight of thousands of Buddhist monks marching in peaceful protest against a military regime? Witnesses reported that the monks marched from their monasteries chanting the "Metta Sutta" (the Buddha’s words on loving-kindness.) The army has been told to be prepared to fire at demonstrators when the command is given and hospitals have been told to clear their wards.

The monks have vowed not to back down. Their alms bowls remain overturned. Which will prevail -- metta or bloodshed?

For the last week, thousands of Burmese monks have marched against the repressive Burmese military regime in cities across that nation. This is the largest public demonstration against the junta in nearly 20 years. As the Alliance of All Burmese Buddhist Monks march, chant, and overturn their almsbowls (patam nikkujjana kamma), refusing to accept donations from members of the military regime, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship offers our full support and solidarity.

Monks Challenge Military Rule

Aung San Who?

Statement by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, USA

There is an appeal to pause and meditate.

The monks of Burma are taking a great chance, trying to transform the the ruling military regime with metta (loving-kindness), quiet courage, and discipline.

They have asked the people of Burma and those who support them, to meditate and pray silently for 15 minutes at 2000 hours this Tuesday, tomorrow:

Will you join them? Thoughts are energy. Can we collectively send our thoughts of metta to Burma, indeed, to the entire world? Can you afford a mere 15 minutes of your time to concentrate on peace and loving-kindness?

2000 hours Rangoon time
1430 hours GMT
1030 hours New York
0830 hours Chicago
0630 hours Los Angeles
2030 hours Bangkok
2130 hours Kuala Lumpur/Singapore/Hong Kong
2230 hours Tokyo

Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama
September 23, 2007

I extent my support and solidarity with the recent peaceful movement for democracy in Burma. I fully support their call for freedom and democracy and take this opportunity to appeal to freedom-loving people all over the world to support such non-violent movements.

Moreover, I wish to convey my sincere appreciation and admiration to the large number of fellow Buddhists monks for advocating democracy and freedom in Burma.

As a Buddhist monk, I am appealing to the members of the military regime who believe in Buddhism to act in accordance with the sacred dharma in the spirit of compassion and non-violence.

I pray for the success of this peaceful movement and the early release of fellow Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

21 September 2007

feel good friday

Staying with the latest theme of passion and women of a certain age, I am repeating this post (hey, recycling is always good!) from July. Good videos get lost as they move down the line and I've been thinking of Cyndi's version of this song lately, a song written by another vibrant, creative, fabulous woman of a certain age. As a performer and woman, Cyndi has definitely evolved and moved beyond her original persona. Would that a certain pop queen of late do the same....Brit honey, here's a really DOES get better as we age and gather wisdom, it's just gonna take ya some time, but you'll get there!

"Before Britney was a Pop Queen, there were singers like Cyndi Lauper -- yes, I mean Cyndi Lauper who sang "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." I remember being blown away by Cyndi's cover of Joni Mitchell's song "Carey" in a television tribute to Joni. I found the video on YouTube and was blown away again as I watched Cyndi become one with the song...everything comes together in a perfect musical moment. Cyndi has total connection to the music, to her band, to herself, and to the moment. The look on her face when she dances is the way I feel when you hit that sweet spot in vinyasa and you feel like you're the only one in the room and it all comes together, body-mind-spirit."

And if you'd like to read my previous posts about wild women and crones, check out here and here

Feel good on Friday, y'all!

Be peace and be here now.


19 September 2007

look! up in the sky, it's...

Your Power Bird is a Vulture

You are always changing your life and the lives of those around you.
You aren't afraid to move on from what holds you back.
Energetic and powerful, you have a nearly unlimited capacity for success.
You know how to "go with the flow" and take advantage of what is given to you.

yeah, but that road kill gets a little old...

reason, passion, and rasa

This excerpt from Gibran's The Prophet was at the bottom of a friend's email and the words resonated with me. I am sorry to say that for all my spiritual reading over the years, I've never read The Prophet. It was a very popular book back in the day when I was a young hippie chick in high school, but I've always walked to the beat of a different drummer and if someone turned right, I turned left (no pun intended.) There were books that I refused to read because everyone else was reading them, such as the Carlos Casteneda books about Don Juan and the Lord of the Ring books. I think you can guess that I don't read the books Oprah tells me to read. This hippie girl was reading the Beat Poets, Alan Watts, and trying to decipher Zen koans.

So when I read this excerpt I had to dig deeper and read the entire passage. My life up to this point has been a mish-mash of reason and passion. Yes, life needs to be about balance and as yogis this is how we are "supposed" to live our lives. But the older I get, the more I lean toward passion. Not overwhelmingly so that it would make my life spin out of control, but as my teacher Gehlek Rimpoche says, there is nothing wrong with passion -- it's the clinging to it, the attachment to it, that causes our problems. And that's where reason comes in. Knowing when to detach from the outcome, knowing when to let go, knowing how clinging creates our own suffering, and then in that knowledge finding liberation and transformation.

I watched a program the other day with Dr. Christiane Northrup who wrote The Wisdom of Menopause and I loved when she said that the peri- and postmenopausal years of a woman's life can be a re-birth, that during these years a woman can give birth to herself. Unfortunately, many women do not choose to "re-birth" themselves. To me, it's all about having passion in and for life and not being afraid of it. Not running from the sensations of your passions but embracing them and using them to enliven your entire being to keep your life juicy and sweet. Using your rasa to touch your inner soul and becoming a Rasa Devi.

The Sanskrit word rasa has two meanings. Literally it means sap, juice, or fluid. The secondary meaning is extract. In Ayurveda rasa means the vital juice that the digestive system extracts from food to be converted into blood, flesh, bones, marrow, fat, and sperm. In other words, the extract that gives birth to our vital energies. In spiritual terms rasa means Divine Nectar - the taste of enlightenment.

I choose to be a Rasa Devi, resting in reason, moving in passion.



And the priestess spoke again and said:
"Speak to us of Reason and Passion."

And he answered, saying: Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite. Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody. But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction. Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing.

And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house. Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both. Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows-then let your heart say in silence, "God rests in reason." And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, then let your heart say in awe, "God moves in passion."

And since you are a breath in God's sphere, and a leaf in God's forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

17 September 2007

100 days

One hundred more days and I lose myself in Ma India for the third time. These pictures are only three out of the 500+ pictures I took during my first two trips...

the vibrant colors of flowers from a flower seller's cart in Pondicherry...

the joy of a man dropping flowers onto another man in a flower warehouse in Chennai...

and finally the children...children that have nothing compared to many American children, yet they have everything that is important...

These are some of the images that are burned into my mind ever since I returned from my first trip in 2005. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about Ma India, the good and the bad and the ugly. Some days I wake up thinking about her, and some nights I go to sleep thinking about her. I can't explain it, it's just the way it is. For those of you who have been to India, and love it as I do, you know exactly what I'm talking about, there is no need for explanation. As Louis Armstrong said about jazz, "if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.”

I long for that very early morning in Chennai at the end of December when I take my first step outside the airport, and hesitate, stopping to drink everything in with all my senses, the sights, the sounds, and yes, even the smell of South India -- a damp, cloying smell mixed with a bit of green and smoke and diesel fuel that attaches to my skin like wet cloth -- and then step into my freedom.

Yes, freedom, because I feel free and light in India. I've just read the book Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney and she describes for me how I feel when I go to India, a solo woman traveler of a certain age...

I was alone, finally, with no one to protect me. I wanted to sing for happiness -- a rare, raw, immediate sort of happiness that was directly related to my physical situation, to my surroundings, to independence, and to solitude. The happiness I felt that morning had nothing to do with the future or the past, with abstractions or with my relationships to other people. It was the happiness of entering into something new, of taking the moments simply for what they were, of motion, of freedom, and of free will. I loved not knowing what would happen next, loved that no one here knew me. I felt coordinated and strong, and the world seemed huge and vibrant. It was a relief to be alone...

My happiness was a feeling of physical lightness, of weightlessness, like drifting on air...

To prepare for her trip up the Nile, Mahoney read the Egypt travel journals of Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale. She writes that she recognized in Flaubert's notes (written about 1850) the same kind of happiness she felt. She quotes Flaubert as he witnesses the Nile:

I felt a surge of solemn happiness that reached out towards what I was seeing and I thanked God in my heart for having made me capable of such joy; I felt fortunate at the thought, and yet it seemed to me that I was thinking about nothing: it was a sensuous pleasure that pervaded my entire being.

Mahoney quotes Florence Nightingale's reaction to a Nile sunrise:

It looks. . .so transparent and pure, that one really believes one's self looking into a heaven beyond, and feels a little shy of penetrating into the mysteries of God's throne...

This is the sunset taken from the top of a temple in Rameswaram and just beyond the horizon is Sri Lanka. That night, as I stood at the top of that temple and stared into the limitless expanse of ocean, I began to cry as I imagined the monkey god Hanuman leaping from rock to rock to rescue Sita. Like Flaubert, I also thanked God. . .and Buddha and Shiva and Kali and Tara that I was "capable of such joy." Such profound joy and pleasure that it indeed pervaded my entire being.

Finally Mahoney describes Flaubert and Nightingale as neither having "any desire to fit the tediously cliched expectations that society had slated for them"; that they both "prized solitude"; and both traveled Egypt during periods of "considerable personal uncertainty and self-doubt", agonizing "over how they would use their talents and answer their natural impulses."

I am a woman of a certain age who travels alone, relishing my aloneness. After traveling around the sun over 50 times, India was the first country overseas that I visited and it will be my last. I also do not suffer tediously cliched expectations gladly.

Ma India, I'm coming home.

16 September 2007

i've been published...

...well, kinda sorta...

Sindhu AKA Flower Girl of Flower Girl's Rural India blog asked me to write about something that I experienced in India. She started a Travelogue section of her blog and I am honored to be the first one! I wrote about my most favorite India memory so far, the time I spent in Rameswaram. Please read more about my adventures in Rameswaram by clicking on "Kannen" or "Rameswaram" in the tag cloud.

Sindhu's blog is one of the first entrants in my Blog Hall of Fame, so check her out.

Thanks, Sindhu, for asking me to post to your wonderful blog!

making the world a better place

The Jane Goodall Institute

We have a choice
to use the gift of our lives
to make the world a better place...

Jane Goodall

She has always been one of my inspirations.

15 September 2007

reader warning: yoga rant #2

Time for another yoga rant. Here's my first one on yoga and ageism.

Hmmmmm, let's see...what's been bugging me lately about the state of yoga?

Gum chewing.
Can someone tell me why anyone would chew gum in a yoga class? Maybe I should make people take it out and put it on their nose like my teachers did in elementary school. Not me, of course, because I never got into gum chewing, I was a Three Musketeers girl.

Why someone would sit in a yoga class and chew gum is totally beyond me. I have had to make it a rule in my college yoga class that gum chewing is strictly verboten, and if I see anyone's jaws moving up and down they either have to swallow it or throw it out. Really. I'm that tough.

But those are college kids. What about older adults who chew gum in class? I do a lot of pranayama and meditation in my classes -- how can someone be mindful when their jaws are flapping? Can someone explain this to me because I don't get it.

No yoga mats.
I obviously don't expect someone who has never done yoga to be an expert, but if someone signs up for a class, shouldn't they do a little research on what "equipment" a yoga class requires? Why do people look so shocked when I tell them that a yoga mat is required for a yoga class? Why is it such a big surprise? Not a beach towel, not a blanket, a yoga mat. Is it because maybe they think a yoga class is like an aerobics class? Or is it because despite all the hype and trendiness of yoga in 2007, it's not really as mainstream as we yoga peeps think it is?

Once I had someone ask me "why?" I said for the same reason you don't play football without a football and you don't play baseball without a bat. BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT THE GAME REQUIRES. I'm going to start renting mats. Really.

Over-adjusting aka micro-managing a human body.
For the four year anniversary of the yoga studio where I teach, we had a free round-robin class where the teachers took 10 or 15 minute segments and each taught a portion of the class. The teachers participated in the class while waiting their turn to teach. Only one of the teachers chose to go around the room adjusting.

I'm not a big adjuster. It's just the way I was trained. I've never seen my trainer do a lot of adjustments and he studied with Pattabhi Jois and is also Iyengar trained. He's barely ever adjusted me in the six years I've known him. If one of my students needs to be adjusted, I try to do so first verbally because I want my students to try to feel and intuit for themselves (especially beginners) and if that does not work, I use a light touch, two fingers. I don't crank on people with both hands or lie on top of them like I've seen some teachers do.

I'm doing the practice and I'm noticing how much the teacher is adjusting people. I won't say what style this teacher teaches but I believe that the people who are attracted to this particular brand of yoga are Type A personalities at best and control freaks at worst. Hey, just my two rupees. We all go to the yoga that resonates with us.

So I'm watching her move a heel over two centimeters, or pulling a shoulder back about three centimeters and I'm thinking, "why don't you leave people alone? why don't you just let people flow and feel and enjoy their practice?" The thing was, the students she was adjusting weren't practicing in a way that would have compromised their bodies or injured them, so what did moving a toe a quarter inch accomplish? And why is she fiddling with the wrinkles on the back of a student's neck? I would have yelled, "get off me!"

What she was doing bugged me so much I stopped and started walking around, just watching to see that people were safe, looking for major "unalignments."

I know it was all me, I should not have let her actions bug me, but they did. But why do some yoga teachers feel the need to micro-manage their students' bodies? Every body is different. I have gotten so far away from the mindset that everyone "should" look a certain way in a pose that one of my students says he loves my classes because it's "yoga without rules." Well, not quite, but I want my students to try to fully connect mind/body/breath without the imposition of my ego on their practice or their bodies.

ahhhhhh....rant over. now I feel better....

14 September 2007

feel good friday

This week was the anniversary of September 11. This week I read about Pres. Shrub's plans to bomb Iran. Just when I was thinking that this is no longer my country, I came across this video of the greatest gospel singer ever.

So in the spirit of "feel good Friday", I give you Miss Mahalia Jackson singing "Study War No More."


13 September 2007

happy autumn

I know it's not officially Fall, but the weather here in the Fox River Valley of the Prairie State has been gorgeous. Warm days, cool nights, and while my all-time favorite place to be is near an ocean, I sure do love a Midwestern autumn, or almost autumn.

Here are some shots from my gardens from last year.


enjoy life.

be grateful.

be peace.

12 September 2007

the miniature earth

I saw this powerful video on another blog, but can't remember which one. I've been turned on to so many great blogs lately -- actually more leftie, Democratic, social activist blogs than yoga or Indian ones -- that I can't keep them all straight!

there is no music to this one, no sounds. just listen to the sound of your own heart.

by the way, I know my posts as of late have not been very yoga or India related, but that's life, and life is about change -- morphing, evolving, reinvention. If not, then there is stagnation and death. As Sri Krishnamacharya said, yoga is about life.

but not to worry, I AM formulating another YOGA RANT!

peace to all.

11 September 2007

a developed nation?

But we have money for this.

THE Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.

Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.

Debat was speaking at a meeting organised by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. He told The Sunday Times that the US military had concluded: “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” It was, he added, a “very legitimate strategic calculus”.

President George Bush intensified the rhetoric against Iran last week, accusing Tehran of putting the Middle East “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust”. He warned that the US and its allies would confront Iran “before it is too late”.

Today is September 11th.

Peace to all.

09 September 2007

aung san who?

Did you know that a Nobel Peace Prize winner has been held under house arrest for 11 years by her government? Did you know this woman is considered a modern day Gandhi? Did you know that Burma (also known as Myanmar), a country where the population is primarily Theravadan Buddhist, is ruled by a military regime?

Or is the only thing you know about Burma is that "The Bridge on the River Kwai" was built there?

Aung San Suu Kyi is the Asian Nelson Mandela. She has become an international symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

Yeah, that's Jim Carrey in the video, the guy from the movie "Dumb and Dumber" talking about political conditions in Burma, a country on the other side of the world from the USA. He doesn't sound too dumb.

Why am I telling you about Aung San Suu Kyi? Because I believe that we as Americans need to be reminded more than occasionally about what goes on in the rest of the world -- and be outraged by it. Like about what's happening in Tibet and has been happening there since the Chinese marched in. Or about the only Nobel Peace Prize recipient who is imprisoned by her government. Or to be reminded that some of the athletic clothes you buy for your children are made by another mother's child working a 15 hour shift. Think about your own child working in a sweatshop next time you buy the latest Nikes.

Soon we'll be seeing clothes with the 2008 Olympics logo and people will be snapping those up right and left. From the website: "...the Yue Wong Cheong company's Shenzen (China) facility, where 50 different items are produced under license for the 2008 Olympics, included paying workers 50% of the minimum wage, 13 hour days, health and safety problems, and using fake salary slips to hide violations from auditors sent to inspect conditions."

Have we become so insular that we are afraid to look beyond our own comfortable backyards? We get our news in nightly soundbites from the talking heads and then move on to the next thing that captures our monkey minds for three seconds.

Or are we afraid that if we really investigated and examined what happens in the rest of the world on a daily basis it would be too horrible for us to comprehend?

This is a beggar girl and her pup that I ran into in Pondicherry, India. She's holding the rupees that I gave her. I told her to also feed the pup, but I'm reasonably sure the pup is dead by now, and the girl is still living on the street. It's just the way it is. Every day. I would rather be poor in America than anywhere else in the world.

To change the world we must first change ourselves.

Be the change that you want to see in the world.
Mohandas Gandhi

07 September 2007

send a girl to school

There is a program going on right now with CARE -- you can read the email that I received....

This month, you have the chance to take part in an unprecedented opportunity to support CARE's work with women and girls around the world. For every friend you tell about CARE and the importance of girls' education, businesswoman, entrepreneur, and CARE Ambassador Sheila Johnson will unlock $5 of the matching funds she has committed to CARE!

It's easy to participate! Ask your old school friends, colleagues and neighbors — whomever you'd like — to learn more about CARE's education and anti-poverty programs around the world, and you'll unlock $5 for each person you tell. It only costs $49 to send a girl to school for a year in some countries. Tell 10 friends and $50 will be unlocked—that's enough to send a girl to school for an entire year!

As a CARE supporter, you know how dramatically education can improve the life of a child, particularly if that child is a girl. Women with a basic education have lower rates of HIV infection and they earn more money. Their children are more likely to live past their fifth birthdays and have lower rates of malnutrition. In fact, no country has reached sustained economic growth without achieving near-universal primary education for boys and girls.

Every day, CARE invests in girls through our education and women's empowerment programs around the world. We know from experience that once empowered with an education, a girl can bring unimaginable change to her community. Please, tell your friends about CARE and the power of girls' education today.

Use this exciting opportunity as a chance to reconnect with friends old and new. Not only will you educate people close to you about the importance of girls' education around the world, but you will support CARE's life-changing, anti-poverty programs in the world's poorest communities.

Thank you for sharing this unique opportunity with your friends and family, and for all you do to educate and empower women around the world.

I've already told about 20 people about this program, so that's $100.

This is another example of compassion in action where you don't have to spend a dime of your own money. It really doesn't take too much effort to show that you...CARE.