- by Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati (Switzerland), From YogaMag November 2001
After the hard month of sincerity I was looking forward to an easy time with simplicity. In regard to the previous ITIES simplicity meant not to complicate or overdo the study and practice of the ITIES. Simplicity implies spontaneity.
Simplicity in regard to life itself meant a simple yogic lifestyle - I use italics as it is such a wide concept. I think I do lead a simple life, trying to do with the minimum of consumer goods required in Western Europe and by a teenage son.
I do consider myself a simple-minded person. My interaction with people is spontaneous and honest. If it gets complicated, I withdraw. So with this view of myself and the lifestyle I lead, I was very confident about the month of simplicity.
Yet, as I soon found out, the test was not to be simple, as comes easily to my nature, but the challenge was to live up to the reactions of others. Simplicity in our society is equal to stupidity. It takes great humility to accept the mockery and sneers with which simplicity is met in the world today. Scheming and doing things in a twisted way is the more accepted way of interacting. At work, I realized that simple, unpretentious interaction is considered as silly or even stupid behaviour. Gossip, behind-the-back plotting and manoeuvring are the tricks and methods that are accepted, highly regarded and rewarded.
The test for me therefore was to keep on being simple, and above all to accept in all humility the judgement of others. Not wanting fortune or fame, or career or a smart car is an attitude that is considered by many as downright stupid. I got hurt, laughed at in many ways, taken advantage of without even noticing because I did not know the game that was being played, or if I did, I refused to play it.
So, the month of simplicity was anything but easy. It was the first time I had to defend quietly an ITY in the face of the social environment I live in. It was a painful experience and an incredible challenge to humility. I could see that for others a month of simplicity might be completely different, might imply giving up ambitions, cutting down on luxuries, relating more frankly with friends and colleagues.
For me it meant upholding an idea, an ITY, I believe in. Of course, this is based on the values and priorities I have set in my life. Simplicity is one of these values, and at the same time living simply gives me space and time to work on other values. Simplicity is an incredible energy-saving and stress-preventing ITY.
Is nothing else but
Mindfulness in constant
Practice - for the
Love of all.
Inside, outside, this and that
Come together once again,
Inspired by the only
You and all are simply one.
As we begin to anticipate and see signs of life returning to normal, I've been reflecting a lot about the changes my family and I made over the past year and a half, and which of those changes constitute growth that would be worth carrying forward and integrating into our post-pandemic life.
Although we have been largely limited recently in our ability to explore the outside world, we have undoubtedly (if not relentlessly) been exploring our inner world: our anger, frustration, sadness, feelings of helplessness, fear and anxiety, grief, sense of injustice; and yet, in the face of these, we have also explored our empathy, humility, sense of community, service to others, and appreciation of new, simpler joys in life.
This prolonged period of adversity and constant inner adjustment throughout the pandemic has caused many of us to rise to new levels of global and self awareness, inner independence, inner freedom, and inner joy, though we may not quite realize it yet.
What happens when you have been working outside in the heat of the peak of summer, sweating, thirsty, aching and then finally at the end of the day you are invited to move indoors into a cool, air conditioned room? Suddenly life seems so comfortable and easy! Yet, if you had worked the whole day in that air conditioned room, you would not have appreciated the break from the heat so much, nor would you have gained that same strength which suddenly made life out of the sun seem so easy.
In Yoga, we are constantly learning how to deal with our own inner heat: our anger, our greed, our endless desires, our jealousies, our arrogance, all the raw, unrefined inner qualities that burn us from the inside out and can make ordinary life seem so uncomfortable.
The pandemic has burned many of us. No doubt it has been a humbling experience for humanity. Definitely I wish that it had never happened and, at the same time, part of being an aspiring Yogi is to always try to find the silver lining, to find something that we can learn, and to use the adversity as a launching pad for self-transformation. I'm not saying that we always succeed, but I think we do succeed more than we give ourselves credit for just by going through the natural process of life.
Previously, my little family of 4 was always on the go. My kids were enrolled in everything and we were always out of the house. At the time, I thought that I was helping their development and socialization, running from gymnastics to music, to soccer, to art class, to swimming, to play cafes, to playgrounds, to playdates - and definitely there's no doubt that these activities are good for them. But, the more I reflect back after being mostly at home with my kids over the past year and a half without much help and my husband at work most of the time, I realize now that we went out so much because I didn't know how to just be home with the kids in harmony and joy. If we were home for too long, they would become antsy, and things would start to get chaotic. So we would go out! Let someone else lead that class while we just have fun!
But no, this was a luxury mostly lost to us for the past year and a half. I had to face many difficult moments and days at home with my kids. I was burnt out from constantly remaining in one role day-in-and-day-out, momming 24/7 and being constantly interrupted no matter what essential task I was trying to accomplish. I became exhausted. My ability to concentrate whittled away. My anger surfaced. My frustration surfaced. But I didn't want to be angry. I wanted to enjoy these precious years with my kids at home while they are young. So, that became the platform for finding patience, giving up caffeine, letting go of a certain amount of organization, having less, doing less (and mostly just what is essential), learning to flow with what is instead of what I want, and finding joy in the simple, mundane, every day moments of life. I still have moments I'm not proud of, but they are much fewer and farther in between, and the intensity of the emotion is much less. That inner fire doesn't burn me like it used to.
Now, I feel like my inner environment is able to more closely match the simplicity of the outer routine. I have gone through the withdrawal of having less and doing less, and have found the way to increased peace, gratitude, presence, and joy. I don't need to have as much or do as much to feel content and satisfied with life. I am able to appreciate and find joy at home and in the simple things: in the garden, doing art with my kids, sitting and reading books, bath time, going for a drive, making food, watching a show, family trips to the grocery store, even comforting my son during a mild tantrum (awwww). We cuddle, we snack, we nap, we sing, we dance, we explore, we sit, we play.
The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes, the less we have, the happier we are. The more we have, the more we want, we crave, we need. The fire burns and the mind will not let us rest from our pursuit of fulfillment. Now that I have discovered the link between simplicity and santosha, or contentment, I don't want to slide back into my old ways once all is accessible again. Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to life opening up again, connecting with community and doing more. But I will be doing it in a more measured and mindful way. A simple life is more than enough.
- by Sannyasi Gyanhira Huberman
Sannyasi Gyanhira is a Board Member of the Living Yoga Society. She has spent over 3 years studying in Ashram with her Guru Swami Niranjanananda and now resides in Vancouver BC. Sn Gyanhira is mother to two blessed, happy, and energetic little boys, ages 2 and 4 years old and in 2017, founded a small business called CommUnity Maternity Shop. On the website of this shop, Gyanhira creates a blog called the Yoga of Motherhood Blog where she writes about the naturally yogic nature and sadhanas of motherhood.
- By Caitlyn Borowsky, Student & Karma Yogi
What have we been up to so far this Spring at Niwas?
Planting, dreaming and preparing Annapourna Garden.
We began this season with planting onion seeds in mid-February followed a few weeks later with a variety of flowers. So far, we are grateful to be nurturing four types of onions, three varieties of lavender, viola, lupins, ornamental oregano, two varieties of snap dragons, portulaca, asters, chilli peppers, and petunias. On the Piscean New Moon we sowed the seeds of basil and tomatoes, which will become delicious Niwas tomato sauce in the last weeks of Summer.
In addition to planting and tending to the seedlings, we are thoughtfully setting the garden and ourselves up for success for the growing season. We are not only tending to the Land in anticipation, we are also tidying up our own actions and energies to make space for the manifestation of abundance and beauty, so we may spend this next cycle offering from a place of simplicity and full-hearted love.
We are preparing the garden beds to hold and nurture new life by clearing the remnants of last year’s crops and using those remnants to feed the compost which will cycle back to the Earth. Currently, 'Niwas feels much like a space of transformation, regeneration and preparation. Personally, I am am feeling Spring’s frequency of optimism and opportunity, especially as I walk through Annapourna Garden, hearing and dreaming of the possibilities that are on the horizon.
The Awakening of Possibility and Opportunity
Although nothing truly dies in Nature, Spring does bring about a tangible experience of vitality and life compared to the quietude of Winter, where activity is slower and beneath the surface. We see new life emerging everywhere, from the fresh tips on the fir trees, geese making their way back home, and all of the onion and lavender seedlings thriving towards the Sun. We hear the various melodies of birdsong among the treetops where silence once hung, and we smell the aroma of pine sap beginning to ooze to the surface of their bark. The potentiality of this new growth would not be possible without the offering of what has come before.
At 'Niwas this regeneration is witnessed most tangibly via…compost! Last years' pea shoots, buckwheat stems and oat straw have been broken down and mixed with a generous amount of cow dung all winter to become a vibrant heap of nutrients for this years crops. This regenerative re-cycling shows us the opportunity of letting go of what has served its purpose and to utilize the breakdown of this ‘death’ to fuel what is to come, what is to be birthed and brought to life.
Today, in Annapourna Garden there is a sacred sense of vacancy and as I walk along the dormant strawberries and hibernating garlic, the crunch of fallen pinecones and the last remnants of snow beneath dirt covered boots treading where bare feet will soon dance again awakens a sense of joy and optimism within me. At first glance, the garden plots may appear bare and empty but if we take a moment to truly listen, we can sense the vast possibilities that await. Those rows of bare dirt and rotten leaves will soon be transformed into an environment bustling and blooming with calendula, cabbage, tomatoes, honeybees, pumpkin, foxgloves, lupins, chili peppers, and bushes heavy with raspberries and groundcherries. This is what I think of when I imagine explaining what 'Niwas feels like. A home for opportunity and growth and abundance for all living beings, not only reserved for Yogis but also for the insects, the dark eyed juncos and crows, chipmunks, goats and the plants themselves.
- by Swami Yogatirthananda Saraswati (Switzerland), From YogaMag November 2001
Starting the month of sincerity meant putting into practice what I had seen in the preceding three months about serenity, regularity and absence of vanity. It is not enough to have insights and understanding if the ideas do not become part of everyday life. If this training in the ITIES is to have any meaning, it definitely implies the sincerity to live according to a new understanding. Sincerity comes after absence of vanity, because sincerity is the hard work after lofty ideas.
But how to live sincerely? For me, it meant harmonizing thought, word and deed. To make thinking, speaking and acting one unity. The tool, the path is sincerity but the result also is sincerity. Sincerity is a constant effort to strive for and reach this unity of thought, word and deed, but once achieved, the resulting sensation and satisfaction is one of sincerity.
The mind looking for facility often encounters conflict. If thought, word and deed coincide and constitute one harmonious entity, then there is smoothness or flow. For instance, I want to write a letter and I do not do it because it is difficult or unpleasant. The result is uneasiness, conflict or even guilt. But if thought is followed by action, no matter what, without intervening thoughts, without prevarication, then there is no conflict, no waste of energy. Sincerity makes the action follow the preceding thought or word. Sincerity implies honesty because to think one thing and to do another is dishonest.
I became aware of the monkey mind, the image so often given in books on yoga or meditation. The mind is like a monkey jumping here and there. And while the mind jumps around, the gap between thought, word and deed grows. If the monkey mind were still, the letter would be written immediately. A synonym for sincerity is artlessness. The jumping of the mind is artful and crafty, but to harmonize thought, word and deed it takes 'only' a sincere will.
In order to stop the jumping mind and to unite thought, word and deed, it is necessary to know the thought, to control the word and to adapt the action. I saw that behind the thought there was a desire, and by using the SWAN theory, by writing down Strengths, Weaknesses, Ambitions and Needs, I could tell that the ambition was the desire behind each thought.
I also looked differently at the first sloka of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras - 'Yoga anushasanam'. I quote now from a talk by Swamiji on 'Mind and Mind Management' in Aix-les-Bains, France, 1997: "The word yoga means awareness of the inner personality which is manifesting in the outer world. Anu means subtle, shasanam means to rule, to govern, to be in control of. Therefore, according to Patanjali, yoga is a form or method of governing the inner nature. It is a method of directing the inner nature harmoniously so that it can manifest externally."
I found here all the ingredients of sincerity: the will to know the desire behind each thought, the will to choose the right word and the will to act in harmony. This is of course difficult; it requires absolute honesty and no fear in the face of unpleasantness, of personal weaknesses and shortcomings, of age-old behaviour patterns. While trying to live in all sincerity I felt I was getting to the question of the attractions and repulsions underlying behaviour.
The letter that needs to be written, but still remains in the head and not on paper, is just one of many examples. Pleasant/unpleasant, good/bad, these pairs are a hindrance, an obstacle to sincerity; they come in between thought, word and deed. Yoga offers, of course, all the necessary tools to avoid the pitfall of opposites. So do the four main points for a yogic lifestyle recommended by Swamiji: practise a minimum of half an hour's sadhana every morning and evening, commune with nature, vibrate positively, and be aware of the internal as well as the external environment.
The result of the month of sincerity was to write down everyday desires, with the following aim: To become aware of desires; putting the resulting thoughts into words, in order to accept them without judging them; to check which accepted desire/thought I acted upon, which desire reappeared day after day, or which desire disappeared; if a desire persisted and there was no action following then there was conflict, either inner conflict or conflict with others.
The coming and going of desires, the fleeting nature and very often futility of desires was strengthening the sankalpa in a wonderful way.
The month of sincerity was a difficult month. The beginning was so very clear - harmonize thought, word and deed and you will live sincerely. But I was surprised to find myself among the SWAN theory and Patanjali. I felt I had missed the meaning of this month and gone astray. For the first time, I felt the need to check with what Swami Sivananda had said, and found reassuring confirmation: "Let your words agree with your thoughts. Let your actions agree with your words. Let there be harmony among your thoughts, words and actions."
To think, to speak, to act -
To know the time
To speak your thought
To act upon your word.
To know the wish
That willed the thought
Which spoken out
Will lead to action.
To find the unity of all,
To consciously create
The harmony of all - No more.
To know Thyself. Walk on, In all sincerity.
Continue reading article here: ITIES 4-6: Sincerity, Simplicity, Veracity (yogamag.net)
This pandemic has been hard on everyone. Now, we are learning that it has been particularly hard on women, and mothers. Motherhood is beautiful and joyful, yes, yet it also brings big, new challenges every day as our children continue to grow and calls for much personal transformation to meet those challenges. Yet, I have found that oft times discussing the challenges is a bit taboo, since we are supposed to be "selfless, loving mothers," a flat characterization which can make us feel guilty if we are perceived as "complaining" about the tough bits of it. Especially since we know that so many other mothers are undoubtedly facing similar challenges, and yet we don't hear them talking about it. Now, throw in a pandemic that disproportionately affects women and mothers (as well as our elders and others), and the challenges can become greatly amplified.
As you know, I am a woman, and I am a mother. So, let me start by saying that even if you feel you haven't been able to be the parent you wanted to be over the past year, you are not alone. It has scarcely been possible. This pandemic has brought so much suffering to so many people in so many different ways; yet, at the same time, it has also brought a multitude of lessons and opportunities. Opportunities not so much to change, but to find acceptance of one's limitations and those of the situation. Opportunities to soften our rigid perspective. Opportunities to transform our suffering into softness.
We all know that parenthood is a total blessing filled with so much joy, love and connection. We are so grateful. But that is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the challenges. I think we need a safe space for this right now.
Parenthood comes laden with a multitude of simultaneous pressures. I don't need to tell you what they are, you know. Yet, this is precisely what makes it the Yogic practice and lifestyle that it is. The pressure creates the opportunity. In Yoga, the analogy often given is that of a diamond. A diamond endures tremendous pressure from all sides, in the same way that parenting on top of work and everything else can feel like teetering on the edge of overwhelm a great deal of the time, especially when you have little littles. Yet, that pressure transforms a simple hunk of coal into a strong, precious and beautiful diamond. Simply through the transformational power of pressure. Swami Satsangi-ji of Rikhiapeeth has also said that sometimes all one needs to do in life to evolve is endure.
We are not really talking about changing ourselves. When it comes to the hard barrier of the ego, when it undergoes tremendous pressure and difficulty from all sides and becomes totally frustrated and completely exhausted, it is at that moment that it throws its hands up in the air and surrenders. And with that surrender, there comes a great softening and openness. And with that softening and openness, we do not so much change who we are through hard work and so on (after all, the qualities of the heart are already within us, we only need to connect with them), but our perception, understanding and expression naturally tend to shift into the realm of the heart. From the suffering of the ego, into the softness of the heart.
Recently, having been home so much with my 3 and 1 year olds over this past pandemic year, whilst also trying to work a new job from a noisy and more-than-often-interrupted home office, on top of running the household with my partner, I had been starting to feel that immense pressure, fatigue, and frustration to the point where I knew that if I did not figure out how to deal with it in a more positive and Yogic way, that it could have a negative impact on my physical, mental and emotional health. So, being the Yoga aspirant that I am, I took time to stop. I just stopped. I rested. I reflected. I re-focused. And I let the kids watch a lot of TV while I did it.
In Yoga, there is a saying, "There is no noise in the marketplace, and no peace in the Himalayas. Both are within you." I thought about this a lot and what it meant for me and how to apply it in a practical way. I couldn't really do much to change my circumstances, they are what they are right now without a lot of wiggle room. However, something could shift within me. And then I remembered a seemingly minor incident that occurred while I was in the ashram during those 3 years of study.
I had been rushing off from one karma yoga activity to another, as I often was. I was literally running to try to get there on time. Somehow, I tripped when I was stepping up onto the curb from the road, stubbed my toe really, really hard taking a decent chunk of skin off, and fell. I looked to my right (feeling a little embarrassed and kind of hoping nobody was watching), and who was standing there witnessing the entire incident unfold was my Guru, Swami Niranjan-ji. Without saying a word, the message was crystal clear, "slow down. don't run." I have even heard Swamiji say before that, if you end up being late somewhere, better to arrive late and relaxed than to arrive on time and frazzled.
This incident suddenly felt so incredibly relevant. As a parent, I constantly find myself rushing all over again. Rushing from putting out one fire to the next, rushing from tidying this spot to the next, rushing from this appointment to the next, rushing to help manage the big emotions of my two toddlers, rushing to make meals and get everyone bathed, brushed and to bed, and then rushed to get everyone up, dressed, diapered and on time for preschool. Rushing, rushing, rushing.
In our tradition of yoga, it is often said that the speed with which you practice the asana does not impact the quality of awareness, meaning that the faster you go, you do not have to become less aware. Likewise, in parenthood, there is a lot to do all the time. We cannot always stop. Sometimes we may need to for a moment, but then we have to keep going again. So, how do we slow down inside and connect with this inner peace and stay there while there continue to be so many simultaneous demands on our attention, bodies, minds, and emotions as parents.
I feel that it starts with a choice. A choice to prioritize my inner peace and happiness. And then, when I feel the coil inside me beginning to wind tighter and tighter, I remember. I remember my inner priority. I breathe through the tension, and breathe the tension away. I choose peace. I unravel my inner coil before it winds tighter. I remind myself that, while this moment is intense, everything is usually pretty okay in general. And I choose peace. I accept the limitations of the moment, and the limitations of myself. I let go of how I thought things should be, or how I wanted them to be. I focus my mind, my attention, my eyes and my ears on what I need to do externally the best I reasonably can without becoming angry or judging myself that I could not do it better. I slow down inside. I let go of the thoughts that begin to sprout in all directions, and let the resulting emotions rise and fall away. I do what I need to do, inside and out. Sometimes I fail. But, then I just try again. Just like I teach my kids to do.
Sannyasi Gyanhira is a Board Member of the Living Yoga Society. She has spent over 3 years studying in Ashram with her Guru Swami Niranjanananda and now resides in Vancouver BC. Sn Gyanhira is mother to two blessed, happy, and energetic little boys, ages 1 and 3 years old and in 2017, founded a small business called CommUnity Maternity Shop. On the website of this shop, Gyanhira creates a blog called the Yoga of Motherhood Blog where she writes about the naturally yogic nature and sadhanas of motherhood.
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