Monday, September 26, 2011

Whether you are going or staying by Daikaku

Whether you are going or staying or sitting or lying down,
the whole world is your own self.
You must find out
whether the mountains, rivers, grass, and forests
exist in your own mind or exist outside it.
Analyze the ten thousand things,
dissect them minutely,
and when you take this to the limit
you will come to the limitless,
when you search into it you come to the end of search,
where thinking goes no further and distinctions vanish.
When you smash the citadel of doubt,
then the Buddha is simply yourself.

-Daikaku

About the Poem:
Whether You are Going or Staying is a Zen poem believed to be written by Daikaku. Daikaku is the formal title that was given to the Chinese monk named Tao Lung. In 1246 he arrived in Japan and his intention was to teach about Zen practice. This poem sounds like it offers simple advice… you are the Buddha discover yourself. Or the world lives inside yourself therefore you take from the world what you create. Sounds simple and is the focus of many meditative studies but there are probably very few of us who will ever achieve such a meditation. I chose this poem this week because as part of the Yoga Teacher Training which I am involved in at the moment we must study and practice meditation both on and off the mat. Not a novice to meditation I thought the task would not be difficult but I find myself leaving the still meditations (sitting in a quite room by oneself in Lotus position until a time period or some awareness is achieved) in favor of the moving meditations (while running or doing yoga). I used to be quite found of “sitting” and found some peace in doing so but now it seems that it is when I move I find my peace. The change in myself brings up many questions in my mind and meditative poetry such as this week’s selection reminds me that it really does not matter if I sit of move as long as I contemplate myself and find myself.

Read more about Daikaku at this website:
http://www.dailyzen.com/zen/zen_reading0207.asp

Read more Zen poems at this website:
http://www.viewonbuddhism.org/zen/zen_poems.html


About the Photograph:
I took the photograph in the Shelby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota Florida in July 2011. This is a small area of the garden that has a bench for those who wish to sit and be one with nature. 



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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Karma Yoga

Yoga Teacher Training is not all asanas (although the majority of it is). There are also philosophical discussions about the different limbs of yoga which involve meditation, karma yoga and much more. One of the first philosophical discussions that my class had was… what is karma yoga and how we achieve it in our daily lives. I am sure there is not a person reading this blog who is not somewhat familiar with karma regardless of their religion. Generally we all think that it is along the lines of the “golden rule”… treat people the way you want to be treated. If you are good to people then you will have good karma and in turn people will be good to you. Very general way to think about karma yoga but the simplicity of this definition makes it easier for many (me included) to live it each day. So now we have a general idea of what karma yoga is let us turn to good old Wikipedia for a little broader look at Karma Yoga…

Karma yoga (Sanskrit: कर्म योग), or the "discipline of action" is a form of yoga based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Sanskrit scripture of Hinduism. Of the four paths to realization, karma yoga is the science of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is an intrinsic part of many derivative types of yoga, such as Natya Yoga.

[...]

The word karma is derived from the Sanskrit kri, meaning 'to do'. In its most basic sense karma simply means action, and yoga translates to union. Thus karma yoga literally translates to the path of union through action. However, in Vedantic philosophy the word karma means both action and the effects of such action. Karma yoga is described as a way of acting, thinking and willing by which one orients oneself toward realization by acting in accordance with one's duty (dharma) without consideration of personal self-centered desires, likes or dislikes. One acts without being attached to the fruits of one's deeds.

From the above excerpt of Wikipedia’s explanation of Karma Yoga we can unite with others through our actions which must detached from the ego, or in other words you help others just to help not to gain anything personal. While we might not do this every day I believe that each one of us has performed karma yoga at least once in our life and most likely it has happened when you were not thinking about it. As part of our yoga teacher training we are to perform karma yoga. One example that the instructor gave was at the end of the night we would all clean the studio as part of our “karma yoga.” While I am all for leave the place as you found it I cannot help but wonder if by telling us to clean the studio negates the idea of karma yoga. We are not cleaning because our will wants us to help we are cleaning because we are told that we are good people if we do. Something about that setup seems out of alignment with the idea behind karma yoga.

Here is the best example of Karma Yoga that I have experienced in the last couple of months… When we arrived to Sarasota I went up to the front of the boat to drop the anchor. As it was dropped it became stuck on the windless (a device with gears and lots of power that with the touch of a button drops the anchor) so I reached my hand down to pull of the chain. The Windless was not finished moving and caught my hand between the gear and the chain. When I was able to get my hand free it looked as though I broke my fingers on my right hand. We rushed to shore to get to the hospital but we did not have a car nearby so Norwood asked a mother and her children who were walking by if she could drive me to the hospital a mile away so I would not have to wait for a cab to show up. With little hesitation they took me to the hospital and made sure I was able to get help before they drove away wishing me luck. There was nothing for the woman to gain from helping me, she did not think about it she simply acted. The effect that experience had on my life was profound. I will never forget that family and because of their kindness I felt a renewed faith in humanity. It was not necessary for her to drive me, I could have walked, it was after all only a mile. But she did it without worry, hesitation or concern for what it interrupted in her day. To me this was an excellent example of karma yoga. Yoga Journal has an article about Karma Yoga which you can read here.

Whatever karma yoga is and however we really achieve it, I think that if we all just go back to our general “golden rule” theory the world, even if it is just our immediate world, will become a better place.

~Namaste

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Monday, September 19, 2011

The Secret of the Sea by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Sarasota Bay
Originally uploaded by Amanda's Weekly Zen
Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me
As I gaze upon the sea!
All the old romantic legends,
All my dreams, come back to me.

Sails of silk and ropes of sandal,
Such as gleam in ancient lore;
And the singing of the sailors,
And the answer from the shore!

Most of all, the Spanish ballad
Haunts me oft, and tarries long,
Of the noble Count Arnaldos
And the sailor's mystic song.

Like the long waves on a sea-beach,
Where the sand as silver shines,
With a soft, monotonous cadence,
Flow its unrhymed lyric lines:--

Telling how the Count Arnaldos,
With his hawk upon his hand,
Saw a fair and stately galley,
Steering onward to the land;--

How he heard the ancient helmsman
Chant a song so wild and clear,
That the sailing sea-bird slowly
Poised upon the mast to hear,

Till his soul was full of longing,
And he cried, with impulse strong,--
"Helmsman! for the love of heaven,
Teach me, too, that wondrous song!"

"Wouldst thou,"--so the helmsman answered,
"Learn the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery!"

In each sail that skims the horizon,
In each landward-blowing breeze,
I behold that stately galley,
Hear those mournful melodies;

Till my soul is full of longing
For the secret of the sea,
And the heart of the great ocean
Sends a thrilling pulse through me.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

About the poem:
The Secret of the Sea is from Longfellow’s (1807-1882) The Seaside and the Fireside collection. I chose the poem this week because, with our recent change in lifestyle, the poem has become more personal. After three months of living at sea I can finally appreciate the beauty of Longfellow’s words. Not that the sing song quality of his poetry does not lend itself to beauty but it sings more to the heart when one has experienced the sea personally. For example the beauty that Longfellow paints with the description of the sails have so much more meaning once you have pulled them and caught the wind. Also the last line of the poem is not only melodious it is also a truth. You do not know why the sea holds its attractions for so many until you have sat upon it in a worthy vessel and fell asleep to the sounds of the waves hitting the bough. 

For the most part this poem is pretty straight forward. There is the mention of Count Arnaldos that may stump some (it stumped me). After a quick search online I found out the Count Arnaldos was first written about in 1555 in Cancionero of Antwerp. He wandered the seashore one morning only to hear the songs of the sailor. He was intrigued by the mystical songs and a beautiful ballad was produced from his experience. Longfellow used a few of the lines from the ballad in his own tribute. 

You can read more about Count Arnaldos on these websites:

You can read more about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at this website:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow

About the Photograph: 
I took the photography from shore in July 2011. It is looking out into the Sarasota Bay where many sailors drop anchor for a time and explore Sarasota Florida. It is a popular anchorage that has the best view in Sarasota of the Ringling Bridge. 

 ***

Amanda's Note: Way back in 2004 when I started this blog I intended it to be about my knitting and the poetry and classic novels that I read. As my life changed so too did this blog but one thing that has always remained the same in my life are my reading habits. So in order to bring poetry back to Weekly Zen I have decided to dedicate Mondays to poetry. Come back each Monday to find one of my favorite poems accompanied by one of my favorite photographs. Happy Monday, may you all find poetry today and the rest of the week. 

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Yoga Posture Focus: Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)


Yoga Kath!
Originally uploaded by LollyKnit
Many yoga students and instructors out there know of the benefits of a daily practice. We feel looser, taller, happier and many other things. In our practices, whether they are studio work or home practice we often have a sequence of postures that we go through spending anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes in each posture. Flow is fantastic and there is nothing like the feeling of syncing your breath with the movements of your body. However, in the aim to diversify our practice I wonder how much our postures in our poses suffer. It was not until I began Yoga Teacher Training this month that I realized there are times when I am moving from one pose to another that I let my alignment slide out of whack and often times just breeze by without knowing. For those of us who have gone through Yoga Teacher Training we know that a large portion of the classes are devoted to learning one pose at a time, its benefits, how to correct it and how to teach the pose to another. As I was learning how to perfect my downward-facing dog this weekend I thought to myself how wonderful it would be if I took the time, at least once a week, to devote a half an hour to an hour on the perfection of one pose. To many it may seem boring repeating one pose over and over and holding it, but the benefits are great. After just one hour of focusing on downward-facing dog alone I straightened my knees (I am a bent knee gal in my downward-facing dog) and was able to get my heels even closer to the floor.
Not only was I able to work on my posture in downward-facing dog with more focus I also learned more about the benefits of doing a downward-facing dog (yep there are more benefits than just a place to rest while doing Vinyasa Flow…):

Benefits (from Yoga Journal)
  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Energizes the body
  • Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
  • Strengthens the arms and legs
  • Relieves menstrual discomfort when done with head supported
  • Helps prevent osteoporosis
  • Improves digestion
  • Relieves headache, insomnia, back pain, and fatigue
  • Therapeutic for high blood pressure, asthma, flat feet, sciatica, sinusitis
Downward-Facing Dog Posture Tip
Oh since we are talking about downward-facing dog in this post here is a little tip on how to find the correct space you should have between your hands and your feet while in downward-facing dog...

1) Begin in child's pose.
2) leave your hands (stretched out not relaxed) in that position
3) tuck your toes and raise your hips

When you start in child's pose make sure you do not move your feet or your hands, if you don't you should be in the perfect alignment for a great downward-facing dog.

So my fellow yogis and yoginis I suggest that we add at least a half an hour of posture focus to our practices each week. We all have a pose that gives us a little bit of trouble and by focusing on the one pose we can get closer to what it should be and feel the benefits of that pose much more than skipping it all together in our practice or doing it incorrectly.

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