Silence 2

I just came back from a weekend in silence. It’s been four months since the last time, and it was only during the evening of my last day that I noticed how needed this silence was. I suddenly sat down to listen to one of my teacher’s guided meditations, and after that, I didn’t stand up for two hours. I felt how my body and my mind wanted me to stay. To not move, to just be.

When I go into silence, I usually ask my teacher what he recommends me to do. This time, he recommended listening to his lectures and continue studying the Gita. The rest of the time, I know I benefit from not occupying my mind with anything else. This means reduce the use of social media to zero (I have to confess that I posted something Facebook on Saturday because I felt I would otherwise forget), no texting, no reading, no radio, no nothing.

I always go into silence with the purpose to slow down, to rest, and to observe what happens. I have learned not to have any expectations, not to have any goal other than to spend time with myself. To be honest, nothing extraordinary ever happens, but some small moments of clarity, of awareness do happen, and I treasure them. I notice better where I keep being stuck in my life, and I decide which way to go. I always come back with some keywords for myself to remember in my everyday life.

Back home, as I sat down to eat breakfast with my kids this morning, I kept thinking how much information we fill our heads with. One thing I like about being in silence is that I never get to know any personal detail of the people I share the guest house with. We meet and greet in the common areas with a smile, but we don’t ask each other the usual questions. We don’t need to. We know why we are there. Some of the most emotional moments I have experienced while being together with my sangha, in silence.

The world is not a perfect place, we humans create quite a lot of trouble around us, and nature has its own force that sometimes hits us quite hard. Life is constantly changing, and we naturally have a tendency to worry about what the future might bring. Every generation has experienced some sort of common fear, my generation is experiencing the fear of the consequences human impact has on the environment. I have been worried about this for some time too. Wondering what should I do, and often feeling bad conscience for not doing more.

What I think now is that we should be careful of what we fill our heads with. It is, of course, important to stay informed with what is happening around us, but how much information is too much information? And what do we do with this information? I believe more and more that each and everyone of us comes to this world with a set of attributes that we can use for the benefit of the whole, but not necessarily to the scale of a Hulk or an Iron Man saving hundreds of thousands of people with super powers, stunts and action.

Most of us can only be everyday heros, maybe even unseen everyday heros if we start living a life of clarity where we know our worth, where we know where we can invest our energy, and we do it, totally. We only have so much time and energy granted each day, and we all have different roles to play, so lets play well the roles we have been assigned and let others play their roles too. Stay informed and do your little (or big) to make a difference, but stop filling your mind with negativity and worry. None of them are known for helping solve any problem. Choose what you read, what you listen to. This doesn’t mean that you ignore the suffering around you, but the more negativity we fill ourselves with is not proportional to the more good we can do. Stop comparing yourself with others neither to feel ‘better’ nor to feel ‘less’. Do your part and feel thankful for being able to do so.

Yoga: from doing to living (session 1)

If you’re reading this post it is either because you already are a yoga practitioner or because you are curious about the practice. Take a minute to close your eyes, feel your breath, and ask yourself, what is my motivation to practice yoga? Why am I interested in yoga?

For some, yoga is associated with physical activity. Practicing yoga means to move the body, to strengthen and/or improve flexibility, maybe also to have a time in the day or week to unwind and simply spend some well-deserved self-time. There might even be the wish to slow down and reduce stress.

The physical activity that we call yoga in this side of the world is called asana in the Yoga tradition and it can be part of the practice of yoga, but it is not THE practice of Yoga. Practicing asana can be a very good way to start bringing our attention inwards by paying attention to our body and our breath. In order to achieve this, we benefit from approaching the asana practice with an open mind towards ourselves, with curiosity and without judgement. By paying attention, we will discover what are our strengths – physically, mentally and maybe even emotionally- and what are our challenges and limitations.

For the asana practice to really benefit us, it is imperative to accept our body where it is, and learn to practice – preferably with guidance – the movements and poses that benefit our body and not our expectations towards our body or our ego. It is absolutely not necessary to do extremely complicated and/or physically challenging poses to be an ‘advanced’ yoga asana practitioner. I would even say, on the contrary, if the yoga asana practice becomes another pursuit in our life, something else to ‘achieve’ to the point that we even harm ourselves, we are not practicing it to its purpose. If we practice asana blinded by our expectations and desires on how our body should be like, we are missing the opportunity to get to know ourself better.

Not all yoga practitioners do asana, and personally, I use my asana practice to slow down, to reconnect with my body and to keep it healthy, but the most important aspect of my practice is my daily sadhana. Sadhana is defined as the daily spiritual practice. The word spirituality can make some eyebrows rise since it is often associated to some sort of mysticism difficult to grasp, but in the context of this text and my own practice, it is first and foremost the attitude of constantly improving ourself in order to reach a calm and centered state of mind (Prasad Rangnekar). So sadhana, is the time we spend daily for this purpose. For some, it is a combination of breathing exercises and sitting in silence/meditation, for others it also includes chanting, and for those that want to go deeper in the understanding of oneself through the study of yoga, it also includes the study of yoga scriptures. The one scripture that is most accessible for most of us living in the practical world is the Bhagavad Gita. It contains the essence of the teachings of yoga, the theory as well as the techniques to achieve steady and long lasting inner peace. The study of the Gita is not to be used as some sort of dogma, but to understand our own thoughts, emotions and behaviours in light its teachings. The theory of yoga, if directed as some sort of light towards our inner world, can help us understand why we think and behave as we do, and then, start making some adjustments to live a more skilful and purposeful life. One must apply these teachings to one’s own life and observe what happens. Learning in the yoga tradition is very empirical.

As one advances in the path of Yoga, the line between practical life and the practice of sadhana begins to vanish. On one side, the habit of observing our own thoughts achieved through meditation can be used in everyday life to slow down, to start living life through action and not reaction. As we continue doing breathing exercises, our breath improves and we learn to slow down our mind using our breath. Finally, through the study of oneself in light of the theory of yoga, we learn to accept who we are, see our limitations, and gradually make the adjustments that are necessary to live a more peaceful inner life and thus interact with the external world better following some basic principles.

The study and practice of Yoga is not always a walk in the park, and is definitely no quick fix to all our troubles, but with patience and dedication, I sincerely can say that you start noticing slight changes in your inner world that have enormous positive consequences in the way you interact with the outer world. My advice to finish this post is, keep it simple, keep it clear. Stick to one practice, don’t jump from one thing to another to please the restless mind. Give it time. You don’t need to make any complicated pose, you don’t need any specific object, all you need is the sincere wish to go deeper, patience and guidance.

My daily practice

The mind spreads like a big blanket throughout the day
Covering all the areas of our life that require our attention
Once a day, morning or evening, I unroll my mat
My mat is my space where I can slowly fold the blanket
My mat is the place where I can get a taste of my inner strength
My mat is the place where I create the space to see
That everything I need is inside me
My mat is the place where I pray to God to give me the courage
To meet the world with the right attitude
Allow me to be brave
Allow me to be kind
Allow me to be curious
Remind me to be and let be

We all live in the practical world where quite a lot is expected from us, both by those around us and mostly by ourselves. We often feel we need to be better, stronger, improve is the mantra we all go around repeating in our heads.

The yoga practice – asana and/or meditation- can be a vacation from this. The yoga practice can be the time of the day where we are more curious than expecting. We observe our body, we observe our breath, and with care and patience, we move for our general well-being. We can strengthen, we can stretch, we can refine, but for the health of the body and mind.

We can learn to be kind to ourselves on the yoga mat, we can learn to see our weaknesses and our strengths. We can practice acceptance of the weaknesses, and patience to refine our strengths.

We can learn to calm our minds, and to connect with our inner love. We can touch the inner peace. With practice, with awareness, and with patience we will little by little take with us small pieces of these states of mind to our practical life. From the yoga mat can all good things grow inside ourselves, and like a tree spreading its branches to give shadow, shelter and its fruits, we will also be able to share in the practical world.