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Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’


 

yoga exercise abstract

     Meditation, in all its various colors, has hit the mainstream.   It used to be just the hippies and alternative people who flocked to a room somewhere back in the 60s and 70s to learn transcendental meditation. I was one of them. My friend was one of the “alternatives” and invited me to a session that he was attending. Sounded interesting. I was given a mantra and taught how to relax my mind and silently repeat that mantra over and over again. When my mind wandered, gently bring it back to that nonsensical word and continue to silently and effortless repeat it. We were taught to practice that for 20 minutes twice a day. I did, and have been for years. Now it’s 30 minutes once a day about 5 times a week. During my college years I lapsed and had intermittent on/off periods during my high driving career years. But for a number of years now it’s been a regular practice, not “TM” but rather insight meditation has taken its place. That practice has made a major impact on my patience level, sense of peace and contentedness, clarity of thought and abiding sense of internal joy. Medical research now proves the physical and mental benefits of an ongoing meditation and mindfulness practice. Dozens of articles have been written about it and books extolling its benefits include its step-by-step process. But few have the emotional impact and first person case study that prominent neurosurgeon Dr. James R. Doty’s has in his memoir Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. Wow is the superlative that comes to mind.

     Dr. Doty is now a professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University. But, as he tells it, it’s a fluke that he actually attended college at all, not to mention become a successful and prominent neurosurgeon. He doesn’t use the word fluke he calls it magic and weaves a compelling tale of being a young boy and meeting a woman in a magic shop who seduced him by promising the ultimate magic trick that would change his life. He was to spend his 12 weeks of summer vacation with her learning the trick. And if he practiced the trick, even at home, he could have anything he wants in life. That would be truly amazing since he came from a very poor family with a drunken father who couldn’t keep a job and bedridden, clinically depressed mother who had to continually pack up the family and move when they got evicted from apartment after apartment for not paying the rent.

     The trick, as Dr. Doty relays, was learning to meditate and then manifest his dreams. With regular practice and a deep, sincere desire for those goals to materialize along with visualization and the trust that they would – his life could change. Would change. This book tells that story of how his dreams came to pass. Along the way he shares the step-by-step process that this woman, Ruth, taught him. His abiding hope is that others will learn the way too.

It’s a profound read that is hard to put down.

 

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Pogo

His dreamy eyes (I call them goo goo eyes) look at me as though he’s known me forever.  His heart bursts open with uninhibited love every time I walk through the door, jumping for joy to see me.  For years I’ve wondered what made this little dog choose me to be his mom when he had his pick of contenders.  I ask him that question repeatedly and all he does is look deep into my eyes, smile and wag his tail.

In June Pogo and I will celebrate nine years as a family.  June 9, to be exact, the day before my birthday during a fateful evening walk around the neighborhood.  I’d been hearing stories of a little brown dog that showed up, sneaking around at night devouring food left outside by sympathetic neighbors.  But he’d let no-one touch him.  Until June 9.  When we laid eyes on each other for the first time.

Then he jumped all over me like he’d been searching a lifetime for ME!  I sat down in the street and the little guy smothered me with affection, rolling upside down in my lap, covering my face with sloppy kisses.  If he could speak he’d have screamed, OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY!!!  I FOUND YOU!

Deep in my soul I think I know where Pogo came from.  Now for the back story…

More than 10 years ago my neighbors’ house burned down, the tragic result of a living room candle flame gone awry.  That fire stole much of what those people held dear — from photos to wedding presents to pets.  They lost a cat and a dog in the tragedy, rendering themselves numb and the rest of the neighborhood.

Miniature schnauzer in car, seatbelted

I was traumatized too, not only because such a horrible thing instantly wiped out a lifetime of collections for my friendly neighbors, but because their dog and I had a special bond.  Spike was my walking buddy.  He was a precious miniature Schnauzer with a giant personality and feisty spirit.  Everyday he waited for me to pass his house during my walks so he could accompany me home for hugs and treats.

Hans on St. Vrain Trail, Colorado.

He had this quirky little trot as we made our way to my house.  In the middle of a run he’d lift his back right leg and hop on the remaining three until we reached the corner.  He did this often enough to inspire me  to check into his health only to learn that the vet was as perplexed by the behavior as we were.  He never found anything wrong with that leg. It was just a “Spike thing” I suppose, a trait that endeared him to me even more.  In fact, Nanette often teased me that she’d know exactly where to look should Spike “forget” to come home sometime.  My heart was broken when my little friend was taken from our lives and I mourned his loss for months.

Fast forward a year or so to my historic walk around the neighborhood that lucky evening on June 9, when Pogo and I met.  From that day on we’ve walked the neighborhood together just about everyday.

And for the first few months as we’d pass Nanette’s and Spike’s now rebuilt home, Pogo would pick up his back right leg and hop to the corner.

And now you have the whole story.  No kidding

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Pogo

Pogo is thrilled to be back in our neighborhood to explore his old haunts, no longer tethered to a leash.  It’s not necessary at home;  the woods are familiar territory since the days he eked out a life before choosing me as mom.  For a month the little guy was lost, or abandoned, and became quite successful at rooting out small furry ground creatures and bugs.  He considers the wooded neighborhood his backyard and leads the way on our walks announcing every car, person and animal before they barely come within view.  He’s fiercely loyal and protective of me and our bond runs deeper than any other relationship I have.

Not Bow - but looks as beautiful as she was

It’s always been that way with animals and me.  When I was nine my best friend was the collie around the corner, Bow.  She’d wait for me on her front yard and then together we’d crawl into our fort among the bushes and tell each other secrets about our day, some of which made me cry.  I’m convinced she understood my tears, her chin resting on my knee cooing her soft soothing sounds of compassion while she stared sadly into my eyes.  I always felt better afterward.

My life is filled with stories of serendipity involving animals; most of my pets have happened into our family over the years, rarely invited but always welcomed.  I need them for soul survival.  Never had kids.  Must have animals.  Right now we have five cats and Pogo, my first-ever dog.  Somehow this 25 pound feist terrier didn’t cause the typical allergic reactions that plague Rick around dogs and horses.  Go figure; just one more example of serendipity.   Lucky Pogo and very, very lucky me.  We’re inseparable.

There are a lot of life’s lessons to be gleaned from animals if you’re quiet, observant and receptive.  They’re much more authentic than people, in fact, they have no capacity to be otherwise.  They have a smaller pre-frontal cortex, the brain part that allow us to reason and plan.  They don’t manipulate or have ulterior motives.  They teach unconditional love.  Their emotions, pure and concentrated, ooze out of their being – love, fear, anger, hurt, sadness, joy, loneliness – you just look into their eyes to immediately understand their feelings.

Beautiful Madison, our Persian cat

Rudy & Pumpernickel

Pogo & Willey

Scooter

There are few animals I don’t instantly feel attracted to.  They have an uncanny ability to open my heart wide, drawing me into conversation while the owners stand outside our circle disconnected from our secular communion.  The animal and I become immediate friends.  Humans don’t have the same effect on me.  They’re usually armored with defenses, allowing the approved facade to engage in superficial conversation that rarely leads to any true knowledge of one another.  But animals – the more open you are, the more honest and love filled they become.

Horse and Rider

Horse and Rider (Photo credit: Istvan)

I recently read a book by neurosurgeon and horse trainer Dr. Alan Hamilton called “Zen Mind Zen Horse:  The Science and Spirituality of Working With Horses.”  He too recognizes the spiritual magic transpiring between human and animal once you let down your defenses, open to your vulnerability and invite the connection.  Dr. Hamilton harnesses the energy or chi emanating between trainer and horse to non-verbally communicate instructions for the horse to follow.  And this guy’s a scientist.

James Cameron created Avatars to become divine examples of their human counterparts.  Animals serve as my avatars.  Life’s answers can be found during quiet meditation, interaction with nature and communion with animals.  That’s where my joy is born.

And yours?

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During meditation this morning I started to focus on what it feels like to meditate.  How the process starts, progresses up to that point where I’ve quieted down enough to lessen my loss of focus and just be there.  Then, where is there?

As I start the process of slowing down I notice my mind racing with a million images and thoughts that accompany them, as though I’m in the middle of a collage as it’s being constructed.  It takes effort to focus on the breath – starting with my nose and then migrating to the abdomen where I can feel breathing in and breathing out.  Immediately, an image catches my attention and steals focus until I’m aware of gently re-guiding awareness back to the breath.  Then to hearing.  Then to breath and hearing as those two senses start to dominate.

Notice the blood coursing through my hands and now my feet.  Listen to my heartbeat while I become comfortable residing inside the body and not out.

Outside starts to drift away while the world inside looms large, growing more peaceful with each breath.  I notice a slight smile on my face while my tongue hugs the roof of my mouth.  Distraction comes and goes, more going than coming.  Peace settles within and my body rests contentedly.

And then I’m there.  Here.  Aware of the quiet.  Aware of sounds.  Aware of breath.  Aware of spaciousness.  Inside.  Not at all outside.

And your meditation experience?

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A beautiful quote that captures the essence of Iyengar Yoga by its mastermind BKS Iyengar.  All yoga is rooted in the blend of mind, spirit and body.  But this particular style emphasizes correct physical alignment while contorting the body into prescribed poses.  It aims to use the concentration necessary for correct posture as a tool in teaching meditation.  In order to bend and stretch as required, each pose is deconstructed into its minutiae parts forcing concentration on all nuances of muscle and bone configuration.  And that trains the mind to focus.

Petra's Yoga Poses around the world

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been practicing Iyengar style yoga for 14 years and it’s made a significant difference in my flexibility and attitude toward life.  (Though this gorgeous pose is, sadly, not me.)  It has also enhanced my meditation practice by quieting the mind and tiring out the body, readying it for silent focus on the breath.  And, in all those years, I’ve had just one injury to a shoulder because I rotated my arm farther than my body was ready for.

Recently I’ve branched out to experience other teachers and styles of yoga, maybe because my attitude is one of experimentation these days.  I’ve enjoyed the change and the atmosphere in the different studios, but I’m grateful for my Iyengar training because without it, I wouldn’t know how to properly practice the pose.  And neither do the other students, evidently, as I scan the room and notice poor body alignment.  The teacher may demonstrate the pose correctly, but none explains the process to the students.

A yoga class.

Image via Wikipedia

Knees and thighs are not charged, leg rotations are not accurate, spines are not straight, ham strings aren’t being stretched – the list goes on.  And the teacher says nothing, does not walk the room and adjust the poses.  All students are being left to interpret the instruction on our own.  I’m waiting for injuries to occur all around me.  It surprises me how teachers can teach without teaching.  They demonstrate, they talk the pose through – but none has ever explained flexion of muscle, rotation of limbs, proper knee placement and more.

My suggestion for all yoga enthusiasts is to start with a few series of classes to learn the Iyengar method in order to know how the poses are supposed to be aligned before launching into any other style yoga.  Injured necks, backs, limbs and more are painful, in some cases, long term problems that can be prevented with the appropriate instruction.

What are your yoga experiences?  And how have they affected your life?

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