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Consider Being In the Stream September 30, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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 “Yin and Yang

Hidden in the mystery of the Tao

lies the original unity.

This unity contains the duality

of yin and yang.

Yin and yang together

produce the energy of creation

and give rise to all things.

Every atom of the cosmos

contains the yin and yang together.

We feel this harmonious process

In the rising and falling of the breath.”

– (42) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

“When the mind lacks any hindrances, it automatically becomes bright, luminous, and clear. Such a mind is receptive to the development of wholesome states; to concentration, and to the ability to see clearly into the impermanent nature of things.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepole Gunaratana

Yoga Sutra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “The mind can be calmed by regulating the breath, especially with emphasis on the exhalation and the natural stilling of breath [retention that comes with the practice].”

Ever notice when the inhale becomes the exhale, when the exhale becomes the inhale? I don’t just mean on the mat or on the cushion. I mean, do you notice the beginning of the end (or the ending that is the beginning) in your day to day life? It’s kind of like trying to unpack why we react or respond to certain things/people in certain ways and/or where an idea begins, really begins. It’s also like trying to figure out where something went horribly wrong.

“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Sometimes we miss the moment when we actually start to sink, slip, get pushed off center, and/or the moment when our buttons get pushed. Even when we are in the middle of a volatile situation – and we recognize it as such – we may think, “I’m handling this so well. I got this! Look at me behaving like a grown-up and using my words (instead of fisticuffs).” And that right there is the moment we miss. That right there is the moment we actually start to slip or sink, because, more often than not we miss the little slips that mark the beginning of our fall. Instead, we focus on what happens when all the little things come together to make the big thing. We continue on our merry way, without regard for the fact that we have already started moving in the wrong direction.

Contemplative and mindfulness-based practices help in cultivating awareness. We can develop awareness so that we start to notice the little slips and we can also develop awareness around the fact that we are on a slippery slope or have somehow lost traction. One of the best things about the practices, however, is that they can also give us tools to regain traction. These tools are the opposites of what you think – and I mean that quite literally.

Yoga Sūtra 2.33: vitarkabādhane pratipakşabhāvanam

— “When troublesome thoughts prevent the practice (of yamās and niyamās), cultivate the opposite thoughts.”

As mentioned in earlier posts, the yoga philosophy, details five afflicted thought patterns (ignorance, false sense of self, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death), which lead to and/or feed nine obstacles to the practice and to life (disease, mental inertia, doubt, carelessness, sloth, an inability to withdraw from sense craving, clinging to misunderstandings, frustration [from failing to reach a goal], and the [frustration] inability to maintain a clear and present mind). The nine obstacles produce five debilitating conditions (physical pain, mental agitation, unsteadiness or trembling of limbs, abnormal inhalation, and abnormal exhalation) which feed into the five afflicted thoughts and the nine obstacles. It can be a continuous feedback loop – or, more appropriately, it’s the endless cycle of karma.

We don’t always see the beginning of the cycle when we are in the middle of it, neither do see the beginning (or end) of the circle when it is already completed. So, in the Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali offers ways to work the mind and one of those ways is by cultivating the opposites. A similar practice is found in Buddhism, where the five hindrances, also considered obstacles to practice and to life, are defined as sensory desire or greed; ill will; dullness and drowsiness; restlessness and worry; and doubt). Notice the overlap, not only in the impediments (or stumbling blocks), but take a moment to notice that the Buddha also encourages the cultivation and awareness of opposites that is mentioned in the Tao te Ching and the Yoga Sūtras.

“The Buddha taught a four-step approach to working with the mind. You should apply Skillful Effort to:

  • prevent negative states of mind

  • overcome negative states of mind

  • cultivate positive states of mind

  • maintain positive states of mind”

“…sometimes people say that spiritual growth takes ‘effortless effort.’ I’m sorry to disillusion you, friend, but there is no effortless effort. Effort must be balanced.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepole Gunaratana

Another parallel in the practices is the emphasis on the work/effort (karma) required to reach a pristine, clear mind and to tap into our intuitive wisdom. For example, the Taoist concept wu-wei is usually translated as “effortless effort,” but some commentators (and even the Tao itself) highlight the effort. You could even explain the practice as just “doing what we do,” but with awareness – and that awareness allows us to find the way of progressing with the least amount of resistance. It’s kind of like having a certain body type; even if you are born with your desired genes and physique, even if you are born with certain talents and/or have a propensity for certain skills, effort goes into the maintenance of your mind-body and skills. Some things may be easier for some people (at certain times), but they still require effort.

When we overlook the effort that unintentionally produced our current circumstances, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the effort to change course. The teachings dispel the misconception that something magical happens which enables some people to “keep calm” or to avoid snake-bit situations and focuses instead on the action of actively keeping calm and actively avoiding situations that seem to get worse the more we do. When we become more aware of cause and effect, we can be more conscious about how we work our way towards a desired situation or outcome.

“You must remember that it is not some other person or some difficult situation that is causing your problems. It is your own past conditioning.”

— quoted from Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness by Bhante Henepole Gunaratana

Please join me today (Wednesday, September 30th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Today’s playlist is dated 07192020 “Compassion & Peace (J’Accuse!)”)

This come to mind, and it turns out the message fits.

### FIRST, FIND THE FLOW… THEN GO ###