What Does the Moon Think?

A little while ago, whilst sitting in meditation, I was thinking…

I have this marvelous space for meditation. It’s in the corner near the bed with a low writing table to my left so that when I sit down to practice all manner of witchy yogi things, I’m enclosed and low to the ground, thus facilitating a baseline sense of security. My meditation table in front of me is long and nearly as low as my writing table. The blue wood surface is covered with images of importance; murtis (deity statues), photographs, gemstones, malas…

I have back pain in the upper back, somewhere in the neighborhood of my shoulder blades. This pain is probably from restaurant work, wherein I heft trays laden with food to and fro. Sometimes, this ache makes sitting tall and straight a challenge, so I recently contrived a seat against the wall near the bed, still within energetic reach of my meditation table and all of the meaningful accouterments thereupon. It is fortunate that from this vantage I may view pictures of my Teacher, my Guru and a stone Ganesha on the wall.

I’m reminded of my recent visit to Kashi Florida, the ashram where the Teacher of my Heart studied and where I just went on retreat during Durga Puja – the culmination of nine nights of celebration in honor of the Divine Mother. Temples abound in Kashi Florida; you can’t go to lunch without walking by several sacred spaces and, in truth, the entire field of houses and green is sacred, holy ground.

While I was in Kashi, I had a different sense of myself, as though self-awareness mingled with a dream. I ambled into a treeline and appeared on the other side at a yoga studio in the jungle; green and welcoming like the small shala, which means home abode of Yoga. I might find the path around the Ganga pond and peer into a thick ring of bamboo sheltering the large golden Buddha, an expanse of crystal at his knees. Perhaps I enter a home residence and, walking through the kitchen, find myself in the theater of study where Ma Jaya taught, teaches still, before a tall glossy black Kali who summons me to her feet.

In the midst of these spaces, ideas don’t so much encroach. To-do lists crumple and burn like parchment on hot coals. My what-might-have-been mentality, which haunts the corners of my mind like newly made ghosts, decays into the rich dark soil that feeds the jungle shrubs where The Mother dances, just off the path to the dining hall. I can feel that space now, evoked by the writing, and errant thoughts float away like petals cast onto the quiet surface of water. Each question of my mind is answered with another question made more sacred for the asking; why was all of that running around so important? What was bothering me so?

Oh, yes, thinking in meditation.

Back home again, my work is to continue to remember that feeling and freedom and bring it through my own life. Is this really even work, come to think of it? It is the only work that matters, I have decided.

Dear Reader, unless you are brand new to my posts, you are well aware that my work has confounded me and made me feel misplaced. I have had ideas about myself that I am not always sure how to align with my reality, so I flail around and make decisions  without all of the necessary information.

It was upon these ideas about myself I was contemplating whilst trying to meditate with my back against the wall. My small white dog made herself comfortable at my shins, not unlike the large crystal mountain range below the Buddha in the bamboo garden. Here I’m breathing into my heart, submitting my thoughts to the churn of that space in spite of the pesky protests the mind sees fit to produce.

As though from on high, a thought unoriginal to the low mind illuminates the moment; The Moon has no idea of itself and there is nothing else like it in the cosmos. There are other moons, how many does Saturn have? But none like ours… there is not another like ours. It shines radiant and full or collapses into the thinnest sliver, finding in its own darkness a well of renewal and replenishes us all with its draw on the tide.

This new train of thought is bright, like moonlight without the competition of garish streetlights. I am emboldened, thinking of the Sun, which has no idea of itself, either, but is simply bright and burning as a constant service to us all.  And there are stars, each unique in its combustion and placement, not a one contemplates its future or its distant, molten past.

Closer to Earth, I think of the black cat I adore. She sleeps unself-consciously, never doubting for a moment that she will be nourished with food and love. She does not question the path that lead her to me, or me to her; she has no idea about herself perhaps other than Love and being Loved as a feeling of wisdom in the language she speaks. My little dog at my shins dozes without the intrusion of ideas, just simple awareness of our nearness.

Granted, who am I to know what the Sun and the Moon are thinking? Who am I to say what the Cat knows? I don’t know, except that I know myself to be a disciple of the Sun, I am the Moon’s daughter, the Cat and I are Sacred Companions. I am learning that ideas are vastly different from inspiration; ideas can be unyielding, inspiration can expand and contract, like the breath, so it is life giving and sacred. An idea may only be acted upon, inspiration moves through us and we act of its behalf. I think, more than anything, ideas come from the outside in, from points of reference. I think inspiration is a gift from the inside out, like a heart beat’s cosmic reverberation.

I think ideas are meant to be guideposts until we can listen from the inside, thereafter to answer and call forth inspiration through the art of our practices, so we can see the path that leads into the treeline, and follow that narrow trail of rich Earth all the way home to ourselves.

 

 

 

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Rethinking The Great American Eclipse

This is the day before the Great American Eclipse and let me tell you something – I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of seeing articles on it and talking about it, too. I read horoscopes and Vedic astrology and like any decent new age kid I follow The Hood Witch, Mystic Mamma and Serpentfire on Instagram, so I kinda already know everything about all the woo woo of this eclipse in Leo. Just saying.

Right now I’m over it all. There is an expectation in the air for this eclipse, like we’re collectively going to be able to release dogmas that have held us back from being our best, brightest and most enlightened selves. We’re going to break through or jump over this eclipse portal to be somehow different and better than before. It’s like 2012 all over again without the hysteria and subterranean fear of aliens no one wanted to talk about until after it was over.

This eclipse portal and all its fetishized implications, the least of which is that this country’s leadership will somehow come under the control of someone with some sense, makes me feel like an under achiever. There’s lots of internet chatter, which I have resolved to henceforth ignore unless it’s in regards to this blog or my Etsy shop, about this eclipse aligning us with our true purpose, our dharma, our raison d’etre. I’ve heard that before and now it’s just starting to piss me off.

Maybe it’s because I have a cold and feel like an under achiever, because all I want to do is drink ginger tea and eat noodles, but I feel pissy about this topic of dharma and purpose. Does this mean that in my pissy-ness I will neglect my practices, that I won’t do my mantra or that I’ll say to hell with you all and those damn cardboard glasses that make everyone who puts them on look like ALF?

Of course I will do my practices, but I’m not doing them with any certainty that lightening will crack open the sky and I’ll have a clear vision of my own raison d’etre – eclipse or no. In fact, I’m not so sure about that whole reason for being anymore, at least not in the great sweeping sense of finality that has made me feel like a desperate yogi on the lookout from some outpost on the edge of the world. Maybe we’re not supposed to have the one, explicit unchangeable thing that we are – poet, doctor, lover, priest, garbageman, physicist…. What if the work isn’t to discover what we are but, instead, to peel away everything we are not.

I spent six years thinking, decidedly, that my purpose on this planet was to teach yoga classes. I fell in with a crowd who I let convince me that “job” and “calling” must coincide and I’ve been miserable ever since. By the time I wrapped that up a few months ago, I felt strained resentment for the “profession” and annoyance at the decidedly shiny happy people who insist on yoga #everydamnday and never ever admitting to feelings of sadness, frustration or anything below the acceptable baseline of utter joy.

Sometime around my first year of teaching yoga I did Rod Stryker’s online workshop on The Four Desires, which is a book about helping the aspirant uncover the fundamental intention of their soul and purpose for walking upon this Earth. The book talks about intention, decision and the four aims of life which are the investment of oneself equally in duty, wealth, pleasure and the pursuit of liberation. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much me #everydamnday

Upon further contemplation and a few years under my belt, I am given pause at the audacity of someone implying I must qualify my existence with an acceptable statement of intent.  All of the stream of consciousness writing I did during this online workshop with The Four Desires left me feeling as confounded as reading about the implications of this eclipse we’re looking at tomorrow. If there is work to do, I don’t know what it is. If there are special maaracas I am supposed to shake, then I don’t know where they are. If I am supposed to be something more or different than myself after the moon dances in front of the sun tomorrow afternoon, I don’t know what that looks like.

Dear Reader, have you ever practiced puja or prayers in which you left offerings on your meditation table or altar? Perhaps a bouquet of flowers or a small cup of water in front of a picture of the Black Madonna or Jesus? Have you ever removed the pits from dates and left them before a statue of the Buddha? Have you ever dared to leave dark chocolate before an image of Kali?

Well, I have (or variations thereof), and sometimes I wondered if there was something else I was supposed to do other than leave the milk, the oats, the water or incense. Should I do something more than leave an offering? Ought I to say a special mantra specifically designed for aspirants on the spiritual path to say while making devotionals? If so, I don’t know what it is and am confounded by that, too.

Then, like lightening opening the sky, one night it struck me that it’s not my job to know what to do with the offerings. I hand it over for a reason…. I give over the chocolate, the flowers, the water, the flame and I set it down. Setting it down is part of the practice. Perhaps, for some of us, it is the hardest part of the practice. But by the very virtue of being the one leaving the offering, I am not the one who has to know what to do with it.

So here we are on the precipice of this magnificent celestial event, and if you’re anything like me you might have cultivated all sorts of spiritual expectations and psychic implications around it. It’s okay, as you can see, clearly I have too. But I’ve been doing some writing today, and I’ve been doing the one practice I have clung to during the maelstrom of information, astrological guidance and implicit warnings regarding the path of the moon’s shadow passing over our great nation.

That one practice to which I have clung is the silent mantra, which is a great tool for overcoming the shadow of negative thinking that stretches across the mind during times of transformation and change. Sometimes, negativity manifests as expectation. Think about it – has doing something awesome ever made you feel like crap? No, it hasn’t. But any wall of expectation you built around the awesome thing you did might have made you feel like crap. If it didn’t then you’re more enlightened than me, so…..call me, tell me your ways. Because if I write and publish a book and it’s anything less than a run away best seller, I’m going to feel like a failure. See, isn’t that crazy? That’s what I’m talking about.

I see the real potential for this eclipse to leave folks deflated and a little depressed, like the wake of a few weeks into the New Year, because I’ve seen a lot of talk regarding the expectations of this eclipse. There is a heightened sense of something, and even though we don’t know what it is or even if it’ll be good, at least it’ll be different.

Make your expectations like an offering to the Sun – set them down and let ’em go.

At the eleventh hour, when I’ve had quite enough of all this talk of dharma, transformation and upheaval, I’m going to suggest you do whatever it is you’re gonna do and to the best of your ability, let it go. Get grounded before you stare into the sun, set your feet firmly on the path to which you committed and hold onto your practices with both hands. If you’re doing that, then you won’t have a free hand to hang onto expectations and projections so, whether this eclipse is just a really cool astronomical occurrence or a major astrological event that ushers in a time of peace and prosperity, you’ll be receptive and present.

Also – this is what everyone I’ve seen so far looks like wearing their eclipse glasses….

alfglasses

 

 

Jaded Primitive

I am doing a Mary Oliver sadhana (practice). I totally made it up, but I like it. I like Mary Oliver.

I remember being in class with Laura at Dragonfly Yoga Studies, where I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training. I was one of my first few classes with her in late October before the January training began. Class was hard and intense and I believed that if ever there was a human who could help me become an effective yoga teacher, it was Laura.

I felt insulated and regimented in the hour and fifteen minute class, in which she played no music or tried much of anything fancy, just deep and real instruction. I learned to lean into the discipline of the practice and found satiation there, even with the open wound I carried around with me, my heart still tender from a loss.

She read a poem as we went into savasana, which Mukunda Stiles calls relaxation and absorption pose. Typically known as corpse pose, I stretched out on my back and felt the heaviness of my body rest into the Earth. I felt wrung out from the practice, but also lustrous on the inside like I had been polished in some important way.

The poem she read, In Blackwater Woods, tore through me like a million tiny stallions breaking free of their pens. I had never heard of Mary Oliver before that poem cut channels to my heart from the hard rock shaped by life….

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment…

I felt myself crumbling a little bit when she enchanted the poem over us. Then she began to chant some mantra I had never heard in my years of self-study. It rang through the room and burst through my eyes. She walked around smearing essential oil on our heads like a priestess anointing initiates.

…Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

I remember the feeling of her fingers, coated with lavender essential oil, pass through the tracks of my tears. I needed this poem and the poet, too, who took me to the edge of lying down and allowed me to bow deeply to my heart.

It is six years later and I have learned that Mary Oliver is one of the unofficial poets of the yoga community. New teachers come along, fresh like I was when Laura held me in her voice, and are smitten by the imagery of this artist’s work. I began to feel like a cliche, at once moved by something that is old hat to the disenfranchised. I watch new teachers make the same discoveries and wonder how I didn’t see myself, silly and new, falling in love. I sometimes feel the rigormortis of cynicism stiffen my mind that rested so easily in corpse pose those years ago.

The Mary Oliver practice is one I devised to brighten my practice of writing and mindfulness. Her work is one of the mysteries, nature and something primitive the mind isn’t advanced enough to understand. Her poetry silences thoughts not unlike Rumi or Ramprasad, but different.

Since my perspective of teaching yoga has changed in the last few months and so has my perception of my other work, like writing. I finished a longer work of fiction which I am allowing to “rest” as Stephen King suggests in his book “On Writing”. Six weeks is the minimum length of time one should step away from the story before attacking it for the second draft.

I’d just gotten my legs back under me to finish this book, which has absolutely nothing to do with yoga, by the way. I’d hate to lose momentum, especially since it’s so damn hard to gain through the discouragement and loneliness of writing.

The Mary Oliver practice consists of writing a poem a day for 40 days. The poem is inspired by something I encounter that lends itself to a feeling, memory or insight. When you see the moon, dear reader, what do you see in your inner landscape, illuminated? When the band of merry raccoons dance around the pool, who are you reminded of? Make a poem out of this.

A poem a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but try it. It is an art of discipline and creativity which are the ingredients necessary for gaining and maintaining momentum, both of which are necessary for spiritual practice as well as artistic endeavors.

If you would like to practice with me I would love to see some of your work – post your poetry in the comments if you’d like to share. If poetry, observation and writing practice bordering on Zen aren’t your thing, you might like to participate in NaNoWriMo with me this year… but more on that later.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

–Mary Oliver (American Primitive, 1983)

Breaking Mala

merry mala 013

Last year I went to Durga Puja, an annual celebration in honor of the Divine Mother, which is celebrated around the world. I was in Kashi Florida with my Swami and friends and we danced around the Ganga with torches, ate marvelous food and generally had a most excellent time.

The previous February I’d made a mala of ebony and skulls. This is when I learned how to make malas. I knew exactly what I wanted in a prayer bead design and I couldn’t find it. I could find ebony malas and there were an abundance of skull malas but nothing that was exactly right. I took it upon myself to learn how to make prayer beads and it was such a gift that I wasn’t able to find exactly what I wanted because now I am a mala wallah.

It is this same mala I have around my neck on Sunday afternoon following Durga Puja, after more delicious food prepared by a certain Swami Rudra Das, when I am packing my things for the return trip home. When I pack for a yoga weekend I am not messing around with a light duffel and make-up bag, not when sequins are called for on Saturday night. I have plenty to track down and stuff into my large suitcase, which I manage well.

Etsy Mala and Halloween 016 Upon appraising the scene I see that I’ve got most everything together. I lean down to retrieve my yoga mat bag and in the leaning over my mala explodes. Now you might say, “Prana Devi, come on now. Malas don’t just explode…” and wag your finger at me like you’ve caught me in a lie.

I say this to you; malas most certainly do explode. Also, sometimes they’ll slide off your neck like a lazy snake and hit the floor. That could happen too. But on this occasion I mean this thing blew off my neck and scattered across the floor like it didn’t want to leave the property when I drove off in my Dodge. I had black ebony beads caught in my hair that I shook out like victory. Skull beads fell out of the hollow of my collar-bone into my yoga mat bag. It was pandemonium and very exciting!

I scoop up what I can find. I place the  sad tassel on the bed with the remainder of the beads and wander off in search of a plastic baggy. A very nice lady is in the kitchen. She looks up to see me tap dancing in the doorway. I explain my situation.

She clucks at me while she finds the bag. She is sorry for me that my mala has broken, she says.

But no! I tell her it’s my understanding that when a mala breaks it is a most auspicious event. I liken it to getting enough coins in a Super Mario game and getting to level up, energetically perhaps, but it’s a good sign. Perhaps whatever the theme of your sadhana (practice) has been while working with that mala has come to fruition or there is new or stronger energy coming in to support the practice in a different way (when I got home I emailed Swami just in case).

I am not the one to ask about specifics of how this works exactly, but it is grand news, if not a little sad that my favorite mala broke.

The lady is excited at this news, too, as she says she always looked at a broken mala as an inconvenience at best. Well now you know. She kindly agreed to place any errant beads left behind in a prayer room in the house, which pleases me greatly.

When I got home I placed the beads in a glass bowl so they may rest. I had another mala to work with and I didn’t know what I was going to do with the broken one. I even thought of making it into something else by using pieces of it for a necklace or bracelet. Then one day I walked by the bowl and beads and felt this urge to re-string them NOW!

So I did. I have a working mala made of ebony beads and skulls that I’m going to take with me to Durga Puja again this year. I’ll dance around the Ganga with torchlight reflecting on the water and I’ll eat delicious prasad when the night concludes.

I was inspired to write this post because breaking is part of a malas job. It holds energy and then lets it go. It’s a tool of transformation if used with that intention. When I make a mala for myself, a friend or to sell in my shop it is with the greatest care for the finished design and the components while I work with them. I focus on crafting meditation tools that are able to stand up to long use, however, they are not meant to last forever.

I am adding a restringing option to my Etsy shop so that folks who have broken malas littering their altar drawer or kitchen window (sunlight is an excellent way of cleansing stones) can see their malas back up and running. If you would like them made into bracelets or another commemorative piece of jewelry we can talk about that too.

If you have purchased a mala from me and it breaks within 60 days of receipt I will restring it for you at no charge and guarantee it for another 60 days following its repair. If your mala breaks after the 60 days the fee will apply to restringing your mala.

Bonus! Care and feeding of your mala:

Please keep it dry to the best of your ability as wetting the cord, whether hemp or silk, will weaken and stretch it over time. Malas are typically worn as a necklace. Wearing your mala wrapped around your wrist for extended periods of time weakens the material. I love to sometimes wear my mala around my wrist for special classes with my Teacher and this is fine. Just be aware that it can cause strain. It is also nice to have a mala bag or box for the storage and transport of your mala. It depends on your preferences.

I am also a fan of sleeping with my mala. I like to place it near my bed or tucked under my pillow. Sleeping with your mala around your neck can be hazardous to yourself and your mala, especially if you are a busy sleeper. Keep that in mind and perhaps make or buy a little satchel in which to stow your mala beneath your pillow. Sweet dreams!

Your mala loves sunlight and moonlight (gemstones have their own preference). Cleanse your mala in the sun or beneath the silvery moon periodically. Repetition of holy names helps keep your mala clear as does taking it to darshan and kirtans 🙂 Have your mala blessed by a holy person if you can; if no holy person is available may I suggest having your cat sneeze on it.

Message me with questions. Is there anything I forgot on mala care? How do you take care of your mala?

shiva moon

Woobie Mala

When I was in teacher training I found a place in India from which I could order all sorts of malas. There is one in particular I still wear all the time. It has Rudraksha, crystal beads, Tulsi, Sandalwood and Lotus seeds all strung like popcorn ’round a Christmas tree. It has a blue tassel, which I am not sure is traditional but what I asked for and what they sent me.

When I ordered these malas I ordered a 27 bead Rudraksha, which is a brown seed sacred to Shiva. I ordered other stuff, too, but these items are what I want to talk about now.

I’ve been making malas since February. Making malas began out of necessity; I had one in mind and couldn’t find it anywhere so I made it. It is awesome, too, and I took it directly to Atlanta and asked Swami to bless it. Since then, it has been broken, re-strung, re-blessed and held with love in the silence of my meditation space.

I don’t take this mala out too much. It is quiet and dark much like the space in which I meditate. I like to feel the subtle energy between the beads and the soft drape of the black tassel. It’s my praying mala.

Not all malas are meant to be kept in the dark. The one from India with all the different seeds on it goes out in public, gets left in the baby’s bed and dropped into my purse when I’m about to teach headstands and don’t want it to fall unceremoniously over my head onto the floor. It’s my teaching mala.

Then there’s the woobie mala. You DO know what a woobie is, don’t you? A woobie is typically a blanket one uses not for warmth or cover necessarily but as something to cling to and rub for emotional support. Woobie.

On the topic of malas and also woobie, I should add for those who don’t know that malas are prayer beads, typically used to count mantras or prayers so a practitioner can keep track of their practices. You know, chant this mantra for 108 times for 40 days and see what happens. See if you can’t transcribe the meaning onto your bones in the process.

Sometimes when chanting it’s a relief to get to the 108th bead, especially if it’s a longer mantra. Sometimes the practice is so grand and sweeping you’ll want to go another round, and another and another. But there comes a time when the mantra doesn’t really stop, but your practice begins to encompass your entire life. Eventually, hopefully, you don’t stop the mantra and the mantra doesn’t stop you. (For more on chanting and kirtan I suggest you listen to anything Krishna Das has to say on the subject.)

If this is so, then why in the hell have a mala to count anything? If 108 times ’round the mala is only the beginning, why bother counting?

This leads me back to the Theory of Woobie. The mala, much like a woobie blanket, is something we can cling to. There is something beyond even the chanting of the mantra, though. After a time of practice I think these malas hold the current of our practices so we can draw on them when we can’t seem to find the resources within.

I’ve found that the mala doesn’t even have to be one on which mantras have been said very much at all. The small hand mala I mentioned earlier, the one made of Rudraksha and with only 27 beads, stays in the same place most of the time. This mala has been known to make it to the top of a harmonium during kirtan, but for the most part it remains draped over a photo.

This mala made it to my upper arm a few nights ago. I wrapped it ’round my bicep and got in bed. I could feel the round grainy texture of those beads pressed gently into my ribs and there it remained all night. Why? I cannot say, but with tender awareness of its presence I drifted into sound sleep.

Counting mantras has been around a long time and they’ve been doing it all over the world. But I wonder if counting mantras is only part of the reason to use malas. I wonder if the malas don’t become some sort of containment unit for Shakti, like She hides in there as an act of Grace. For in our moments of forgetting we may draw on it when our energy is low and when we need sustenance Papa John’s simply cannot provide. Inherent in the design, are malas simultaneously the lasso that ropes us back onto our path and also a conduit for the current we dive into again and again?