Notes from the “30 Day Mindfulness Challenge”
“The only spiritual life you need is not to react. To be calm [or present, in the moment, mindful…] is the greatest asset in the world. It’s the greatest siddhi, the greatest power you can have. If you can only learn to be calm you will solve every problem. This is something you must remember. When you are perfectly calm, time stops. There is no time, karma stops, samskaras stop. Everything becomes null and void. For when you are calm you are one with the entire energy of the universe and everything will go well with you. To be calm means you are in control. You’re not worried about the situation, the outcome. What is going to happen tomorrow? To be calm means everything is alright. There is nothing to worry about, nothing to fret over. This is also the meaning of the biblical saying, “Be still and know that I am God.” [Exodus 14:14] To be calm is to be still.” Ramana Maharshi
When I began attending week-long and month-long Vipassana meditation retreats back in the ’90s, physical movement like yoga or Qi Gong was discouraged. Instead, practitioners were urged to keep within the prescribed structure of sitting and walking meditation to enable mindfulness and minimize distraction. During this period yoga was rapidly spreading throughout the country and many serious yogin were infiltrating these meditation intensives. The yogin were coming to these retreats already familiar with discipline and enduring challenging situations, through movement and physical exercise. So, it wasn’t uncommon for some of us to be stretching or standing on our heads near our tents or in the restrooms, anywhere out of sight while breaking the rules. To just sit, restricting the body for days on end, presented a different type of obstacle for the yogin–the ego’s innate attachment to the body and the pride from identifying with a highly flexible, finely tuned one.
It took decades before meditation centers like Spirit Rock in California began offering combination meditation and yoga retreats, co-taught with yoga teachers who had gone through their Buddhist studies program. The inclusion of yoga was a welcome addition, yet the integration of yoga into a silent retreat was often not as seamless as one might think. The movement from cushions to yoga mats, the reorganizing of the room, the often-excessive verbal instruction of the yoga teacher compared to the mostly silent instruction of the meditation teacher made these two very similar disciplines feel distantly related. Yet, those experiences inspired me to find a way to more efficiently integrate these two paths with one goal.
For me the most important and pleasurable part of teaching yoga has evolved to focusing on postures and practices that bring instantaneous shifts in consciousness, creating a deeper union between the mind/body and the field of awareness that the mind/body appears within–instead of a mindfulness practice, more of a mindlessness experience. The result naturally allows an integrated meditative state to arise spontaneously, whether standing, moving, holding, or sitting. This experience is created by using specific elements and sequences from Qi Gong, somatic therapeutic modalities, various yoga pranayamas, kriyas, and particular asanas, all of which can elicit an immediate impact on the nervous system and the body’s connective tissue—myofascia. I also weave the open meditation practices of Dzogchen Buddhism and the Shakti Bandha–energetic cultivation and release modalities–found in the tantras of Kashmir Shaivism. In doing so, this causes the active thinking part of the mind to instantly settle and at the same time expand into Shiva consciousness, or as the Buddhist refer to it, the Big Sky Mind.
My role then, as an instructor, is to design the grouping of postures, movements, and practices, to evoke and then point out when this collective state of awareness is happening. Students then may become more familiar with its nature and to recognize, not only their internal experience but also the external collective experience as being one and the same. When this is experienced by each student at the same time, whether in a classroom setting or over Zoom, the energetic nature of the room perceptibly expands—consciousness is experienced as something palpable. We truly are one, we are eternal, in that moment presence is all that is happening. The student is no longer an individual sitting in a classroom having their individual experience but a communal experience of authentic nature as one united field of consciousness that can be felt beyond the senses–but includes the senses. Within this non-dualistic approach, its silent nature is heard, its infinite nature touched…“Namaste” suddenly transcends cliché and is realized as something genuine and boundless.
“Few skills are more essential than the ability to settle your body. If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert, and fully present, no matter what is going on around you. A settled body enables you to harmonize and connect with other bodies around you while encouraging those bodies to settle as well. Gather together a large group of unsettled bodies or assemble a group of bodies and then unsettle them–and you get a mob or a riot. But bring a large group of settled bodies together and you have a potential movement–and a potential force for tremendous good in the world. A calm, settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others, and for changing the world.” “My Grandmother’s Hands” — Resmaa Menakema