Happy Birthday Sharon Gannon


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When Padma ( this is how we affectionately call our guru Sharon Gannon) enters a room, she likes to greet everyone by making eye-contact and bowing gently, her face lit with a smile. This can take a while (like during this Jivamukti tribe gathering where hundreds of yogis come to learn from her). All the chitter-chatter stops and silence fills up the room. The atmosphere clears up. It is magical to be part of that.

Every year, at their home in the Wild Woodstock Forrest sanctuary, Sharon Gannon and David Life teach daily classes in August. It is my favorite time of the year.

Last year, on August 18th, she was just about to greet us her natural way and stopped. And gave us a short teaching instead:
« You know things happen in life and you adjust accordingly…It’s a good thing. It’s like rivers. Rivers are master adjusters, adapters. They are steady and flow. When they have to go around something, they go around something.
Sometimes, they get very intent on reaching their goal, they just push everything…. So there’s it that.
Isn’t it annoying when the teacher speaks cryptically? » [laughter] ~ Sharon Gannon

This world is a better place because of this gentle and mighty river!
Please join me in showering my guruma with love and abundant blessings to celebrate her birthday

IN THE LIGHT OF LOVE


FOTM-Placeholder-Cosmic-Snake_2Focus Of The Month – July, 2017


Om purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udachyate
purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavashishyate

That is whole. This is whole. From the whole the whole becomes manifest. From the whole when the whole is negated, what remains is again the whole.

Yajur Veda and the Isha Upanishad

Yoga practices are magical practices. Magic happens when there is a shift in perception—what you thought was real drops away to reveal a more expanded enlightened reality. Yoga practices, fueled by a sincere intention for Self-realization, will transform habitual ways of seeing – of relating, to ourselves and others. Our thoughts, words and deeds are all interconnected with our relationship – it is what life is about. But, to the enlightened yogi, there are no “others.” In the yogic state of samadhi, the boundaries that separate you from God, as well as the world around you, the world of otherness, all dissolve. It takes some heavy-duty magic to accomplish a shift in perception like that!

The word perception means “to see.” But it means seeing with more than just the physical eyes. It means more than just to understand, but “to realize.” The English word “understand” implies a duality, as if you’re standing under something. But to really realize something is to immerse yourself and have a complete experience of it—to become with that something. And what is realized, or perceived, during samadhi is the one-ness of being. Otherness disappears as you see your own Self in others, revealing that only Love is real.

The chakras are doors of perception into new dimensions of reality. The bija mantras are the passwords or keys that open the doors to each one of these chakras, to each one of these worlds. Bija means “seed” in the sense of a potency or distilment, where something very large is compressed into something very small, compact and essential. Having something in a compact form is very good for traveling! That’s what we are doing in life. Our souls are journeying, traveling through dimensions of reality to our true home.

All of the yoga practices are purification practices that help us lighten our baggage so our travel is smoother. The system of asana has been very particularly designed to help purify our bodies, which are made of our karmas that come from our relationships. Yoga gives us the tools to purify our perception by removing the only dirt that really is: ignorance or avidya. That ignorance is caused by misperception, not being able to see or perceive ourselves, others and reality clearly.

We purify our perception through the only cleanser that is known to have the most wondrous results with absolutely no side effects. It’s like Clorox bleach without any chlorine. It’s like the most incredible detergent that doesn’t pollute any water system and doesn’t wear out the clothes in the washing machine. The magical cleanser I am talking about is love. When you can truly love others and yourself you can love God. Forgiveness of others and ourselves, as well as letting go of blaming, complaining and explaining, is necessary to allow love to work its magic.

Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati described yoga as “the state where you are needing nothing.” You realize that you are a holy being—that you are whole. Eventually, as the dawning of this wholesome yogic enlightenment appears, you find yourself letting go of selfish tendencies and less compelled to blame others or see yourself as the victim of any type of abuse or circumstance.

Because we carry in our bodies our unresolved karmas, sometimes negative emotions can arise during the asana practice. Emotions such as fear, jealousy, anger, vengeance, cynicism, doubt and lack of faith are the results of karmas or actions we have done in our past that were not guided by love. These dark emotions are obstacles that cloud our vision and can stop us from feeling connected to our eternal true nature. We can address those troubling emotions through love and start to shift our perception away from disconnection and toward stability and joy—in other words towards sthira and sukham.

This way of thinking, where we as an individual do our best to enhance the lives of others and even the Earth herself, is quite new in a culture that is based on the assumption that the Earth belongs to us, and that to be happy, we must take from others. Fear causes us to feel that if we give we will lose – that there will be less for us. Through the practice of yoga we become fearless and daring. Instead of feeling incomplete, motivated by the need to take from others to feel whole, we might dare to ask, “What can I do for others? How could I live in such a way that my life enhances planet Earth?” This kind of shift in perception can be a huge turnaround, freeing us from cultural conditioning that may have been distorting our perception of reality for many years, even lifetimes. But selfless actions motivated by love are the kinds of actions that will lead to samadhi, living liberated, as a jivanmukta living in the light of love as joyful whole, holy beings.

Essay by Sharon Gannon


PRATYAHARA: WHERE WE PUT OUR ENERGY


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Focus Of The Month – June, 2017

Yama-niyama-āsana-prāṇāyāma-pratyāhāra-dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhayo‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni.
Restraint, Observance, Seat, Breath Control, Sense Withdrawal, Concentration, Mediation and Ecstasy are the eight limbs of Yoga.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras II.29

In the practice of pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, we draw the senses inward to bring attention to the inner world instead of expending energy exclusively on the outer world. What we perceive in the outer world is just one part of our whole consciousness. Pratyahara provides a bridge from the outer practices of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama (from the gross) to the inner practices of dharana, dhyana and samadhi (to the subtle). The energy freed from focusing outward, freed of the desire to act and to collect information can be wisely channeled instead to the realization of who we really are, which is pure consciousness.

Where do we put our energy most of the time? We give our precious attention to the outside world, invariably, through identification with sensory inputs as well as identification with conditioned personality. For example, take our self-image, how we want to present ourselves to the world. How do I look? How do people see me? How do I want to be perceived? This kind of behavior exhausts a lot of our energy throughout the day. Pratyahara, as a practice, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves or that we shouldn’t embrace beauty. It means to be aware of how much attention we give the outer image and to reduce the energy wasted in creating it. Satsang is a potent and helpful yoga practice in this regard. To be surrounded by people who are interested in yoga and self-realization instead of sticking to a carefully crafted outer image supports us to liberate ourselves from false identification.

To be able to turn the focus inward we need to minimize outer disturbances to the extent possible. What do we feed our minds all day? Information from news media, television, emails, social media, magazines and advertising, all of which trigger our emotions and tell us what we need next. What is our strategy to deal with all this information? Some may turn to alcohol, drugs and gossip. We talk and think more in an effort to digest all that input. Unfortunately, it only makes things worse. We should rather make an effort to calm our mind! We have to be able to digest what happens to us and everything that we say and think and do. Choose that which gives you less new things to deal with. As a practice, write down what distracted you during the asana or mediation. What made concentration difficult? By putting it into words you can realize what you are chewing on while you wanted to focus on something higher than your daily distractions. Then you start getting a sense of what is really important to you and what kind of external sensory input you would like to minimize.

To understand what is happening during the process of pratyahara, for me the philosophy of Samkhya is very helpful. We get an exact breakdown of how the human being functions, what has an influence on our behavior and how we perceive the world. We all know our five senses, referred to in Sanskrit as buddhendriyas. There are also the karmendriyas or “senses of action” (talking, grasping, moving, eliminating and procreating). These are almost always immediate, unconsciousness, automatic, spontaneous, and learned reactions to the sensations. I see something I like, for example, a brownie. For others, it would be a cigarette, a steak, a sexy person or a new pair of shoes. I see the brownie, I want to have the brownie and my hand grasps the brownie. To understand why we act like we do, we need to observe the connection between sensation, mind and action. Then we have the chance to change something. Being aware of what drives us to action makes it easier to let it go and calms down our lives. Conscious behavior reduces distraction and increases the ability to concentrate. Focusing inward we discover the three parts of our mental activity. The dominant parts are the thinking part, the mind (manas) and the part having an opinion, our ego (ahamkara). The pure observing component (buddhi) is slightly hidden, but always present. Through training the mind we can interfere and stop our prompt action. We then have time to reflect and act consciously. Do I need the brownie? Am I hungry? Do I need more sweets? What did I eat all day? What are the ingredients? What are the consequences for me and for others? Does my action lead to more suffering of others? What are my ethical and moral beliefs? How do I want to act, instead of just react? Addressing these questions will lead to different behaviors, which are based on a freely made decision, with hopefully less ego involved. Selfless and nonviolent behavior reduces the dominance of the ego and brings more peace to the world and to the mind.

A practical aspect of the training of the mind is to observe things consciously like a witness. Practice observing without judgments, without words, just watching. For example, watch thoughts arising during the Yoga Practice. We don’t have to stick with the thoughts, we don’t have to describe them and we even don’t have to think about where they come from. We can realize this is the mind thinking a thought, and let go of the thought. This will bring us closer to the buddhi, our intelligence, which allows realizing the higher Self, which is pure consciousness.

The practice of pratyahara shows us, how much influence the culture has, the outer circumstances, our experiences, our personal behaviors and characteristics and, of course, our preferences and antipathies. Going inward reveals a sophisticated vision of our entire consciousness. The ego — or better the “maker of our small self” — can be identified and eliminated, revealing the buddhi, a clear and free perception. As Sharon Gannon and David Life say in Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul, “Through pratyahara we can journey from the outer fixation to inward revelation.”

Antje Schaefer

MATSYENDRANATH, THE FISH



hānan eṣāṁ kleśavad uktam
The greatest obstacle to the practice of yoga is one’s own prejudices based on one’s own preferences.

PYS IV. 28

Once upon a time, the strong, wise, out-of-this-world God of Transformation Lord Shiva was sitting with his companion, the great Goddess Parvati. He was telling her about the methods of yoga he had just discovered. He talked for a very long time, not noticing Parvati was bored. After all, it was she who had designed the whole system of yoga in the first place and hardly needed to be lectured on it! As Shiva continued to talk, Parvati dipped her hand in the river and started to gracefully caress the water, making subtle ripples which went on to become waves. One fish recognized that something interesting was coming from the riverbank and swam over to check it out. That fish, whose name was Matsya, listened to Lord Shiva’s teachings with rapt attention. When Matsya asked him to repeat them again from the beginning, Shiva immediately agreed, not surprised in the least that Matsya was a fish. Shiva treats all souls with equal respect. He determines a person’s eligibility by their sincere desire to know the Truth, not by their age, religion, gender or species.

Shiva renamed Matsya, Matsyendranath or “Lord of the Fishes” (Matsya coincidentally means fish in Sanskrit and Indra means Lord). He instructed him to go on and teach others about Hatha Yoga. That’s how it works. The teacher gives the teachings to the student, and the student’s job is to then become the teacher. And so Matsya was the first student who went on to become Matsyendranath, passing on the teachings to others. Yoga is transmitted from teacher to student in an unbroken lineage that remains today. All of us who consider ourselves teachers of Hatha Yoga are descendants of that Fish, Matsya.

At the beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the author, Swatmarama, acknowledges the lineage as being passed from Adinath (Shiva) to Matsyendranath. Yet most people have trouble believing that the first yoga student was an actual fish! How could that be? A fish could never do eka pada shirshasana or even padmasana! The automatic assumption is that Matsya was a man. At most they suppose he may have had wide-set eyes, scaly skin, or some other characteristic that earned him a fish-sounding name. In India, you can see images of Matsyendranath and he appears to be a strong, long-haired, bearded man with two legs instead of a fish tail.

Why is it inconceivable to us that a fish could have received teachings directly from God and gone on to become a yoga guru? It is because of deep rooted prejudice. We human beings arrogantly assume that we are the only species on the planet endowed with consciousness, intelligence, language and a soul. We think it has always been this way, when in fact, all living beings possess these qualities. Scientists today agree that there was life on this planet before human beings appeared. There was a time when aquatic beings outnumbered all other forms of life on this Earth. The Vedas speak of Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations, and the first avatar was a fish!

I once heard someone tell the story of Matsyendranath and relate it to the biblical story of Jonah and the whale in an attempt to rationalize the “fish” issue. “Jonah,” the teacher said, “was a man swallowed by a whale. He’s inside the whale, which is sort of a big fish. Jonah was a wise and important person in the Bible. Matsyendranath was kind of like Jonah — a man inside a fish’s body. When you see Matsyendranath’s name at the beginning of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, you don’t think of it as referring to a real fish.” This teacher was adamant and to drive home the point and said, “Matsyendranath was a man, a person.” When I heard that, I wondered, are they saying that he was a person inside a fish’s body? And if so, don’t all fish have people inside of them? Isn’t every fish a person, truly, inside? Aren’t all living beings persons? If we define a person as someone with a soul — someone who can feel and think, who cares about their life, cares about their children, cares about their parents, cares about and feels things — then yes, a fish is a person.

The Vedantic teachings declare that all is Brahman—there is nothing in this universe but God. God resides in all beings concealed inside their outward form. But nonetheless, the essential nature of all souls is divine. The outer form of any being or thing is not their true eternal identity. I think the teacher who didn’t want us to think that Matsyendranath might have been a “real fish” was not prepared to think that way. Prejudice based on species can prevent us from embracing this idea. I hope the time will soon come when we do not look upon other animals as inferior and that, as teachers, we won’t be ashamed to teach that great gurus might not always appear in human form.

~ Sharon Gannon

Braja Raja – “The Dust of Braja”


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courtesy of the Shyamdas Foundation

When I was a child growing up Africa,  we called all friends of our parents ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’ (in french ‘tantine’ or ‘‘tonton’) which was an honorific and considered respectful. And among the aunties and uncles, there were those you wanted to be related to: Too cool not to be yours. And they actually didn’t care for honorifics. Heartbreaks, delights, anything: you could call them and they would always be there for you. You would never feel uncomfortable around them.

Shyamdas – affectionately and respectfully called Shyamdasji – belongs to that category, as a spiritual teacher. He had dedicated his life to the music, literature, and people of Braj. He spoke Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and Brajbhasha. He was a scholar who insightfully translated and commented many of the songs and writings of saints from the Pushti Marg tradition (Shri Vallabhacharya, Govinda Svami, Raskhan, Surdas and others). His immense knowledge was only surpassed by his joy  – ananda.

Shyamdasji lived in the bhav, mad in love with God and in service. He left his body in January of 2013.

Regular students of my classes are familiar with his voice … and his laughter!

Today, I’d like to share Braj Raja with you.

All these sacred and ancient teachings are preserved and distributed through the wonderful work of the Shyamdas Foundation.

As Shyamdasji would say: “It’s all Hari’s grace

Radhe, Radhe!

Jeanine

The birth of the Christ


December is a special month in our family. I was born in that month and our son’s birthday  is only a few days apart from mine. Then Christmas celebrations.

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Last night, I could not sleep when I went to bed. Totally overwhelmed by thoughts and gratitude.  It is indeed a merry time for those us who feel loved, warm and safe, with more than enough to eat.
But who doesn’t know somebody who is ill this holiday season? Very dear friends of mine are grieving over the loss of their father. Last Thursday, a student shared the story of A., his family is trapped in Syria. That story stayed with me. Christmas can be the hardest time of year for those who are struggling financially, those who are lonely, especially those estranged from close family. And at this one time of year when most human beings are determined to be happy; for millions of animals, Christmas celebrations are the cause of considerable cruelty.
CHRISTMAS is literally “the mass for Christ”, the celebration of the birth of Christ.
It is an awakening, a birthing of the Christ Consciousness  from inside of ourselves.
  • Christ must be lived to be known. In all good actions, in every material and spiritual service, and in the manger of meditation, the immortal Cosmic Christ is born anew. – Paramanhansa Yogananda 
  • The Christ Consciousness is revealed in us as compassion. – Sharon Gannon

When we allow our own light of love to radiate into the world around us, it is Christmas. Christmas is not some grand event happening on December 25th. It is not depending on external circumstances. The word « light » in English,  conveys a sense of not heavy and also illumination, bright. Giving and forgiving makes us (literally) light. Eating a plant-based diet too. Just like meditation unclutters the mind, chanting makes us beam. Yoga practices provide the sincere spiritual seeker with practical means for Self-Realization.

Christ Consciousness refers to the Light, that we are. It is the Self (with capital S), the Atman, it is our Buddha nature- It is Krishna Consciousness.

As the gentle swami Nirmalananda said:  Love alone can dispel present madness of hate. Let your light (of love) so shine before all, as Christ asks us, that there may be ever more bright and radiating light which hatred cannot overshadow. When the heart rules the mind, life has altogether a different quality and dimension.

Let the Love that you are shine and Merry Christmas!

Shine on and Merry Christmas!

Jeanine

Further reading:

Yoga and Christ by Sharon Gannon

The Need to love by Thich Nhat Hanh