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Spiritual Activism: Skillful Action During Difficult Times

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In the first few weeks following 9/11, I  remember how many of us at the Institute kept up with the news specifically to stay informed on how we could help.  We gathered items needed by relief workers and collected donations for the families that lost loved ones. It felt like the whole city rallied together to support the recovery from this tragedy.  Now, years later, the question, “How can we help?” has largely faded from our minds, but is in reality equally important.  While most of us are not in a position to fight terrorism or negotiate peace in the world, we are all responsible for our own little corner of this planet and the significance of what we can do every day to give birth to peace is a point that has been hammered home in a very violent way.  Peace in the world is dependent upon nothing more than our own combined ability to know peace in ourselves and express it in how we live.

One important aspect of coping with any crisis in life is acceptance.  While it may be impossible for us to grasp why events like 9/11 occur, we can learn to accept them.  It is natural for grief or anger to arise in response to tragedy.  But to become wild with rage or lost in bitterness will simply drain our energy and prevent us from staying present and doing anything truly helpful.  When we accept what comes as a part of a Divine plan or the natural laws governed by a higher power, our own suffering eases, our hearts can breath and we can begin healing or being useful to others.

One of the most powerful things we learned to do in response to 9/11 was to pray.  Our spiritual teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda, reminded us that very evening that we can send our prayerful thoughts to those who passed away and to those who lost loved ones.  In doing so, we open our hearts and express our compassion on a spiritual level where we truly are connected with everyone.  We found praying this way to be a tremendous comfort for ourselves and the efficacy of prayer to comfort and bring healing to others has recently been documented in numerous scientific studies.  Sri Swamiji suggested that we use whatever form of prayer comes naturally in our hearts and put our whole being into it.  I have probably led at least a dozen or so gatherings of people in prayer this way and found it to be without fail a tremendous healing experience for those praying, and I feel certain, for those being prayed for as well.

Another important aspect of living in a time of crisis is to maintain  practices that keep us in good shape–that relieve tension and bring stability to body and mind.  Under the stress of trauma or thrown off balance by the unexpected, we can easily be swept away with fear and abandon habits that keep us strong and healthy.  It can certainly be difficult to discipline ourselves in such moments, but we can recognize the value of caring for ourselves properly and spend even small amounts of time doing deep relaxation, restorative asanas, or deep breathing.  Practicing Yoga or praying with others can be especially helpful, feeling the strength and support of the group.  Restoring our physical and mental balance enables us to make good decisions and be of service to others.  Any practice that quiets our minds–meditation, Hatha Yoga, or even prayer, helps us to let go of conflicting thoughts and feelings, and open our hearts and minds to be guided by the spiritual wisdom that lies always within us.

When we can keep alive even a small flame of peace and equanimity in ourselves, we will have already contributed to world peace.  Establishing peace in ourselves is the only way we can expect to have the clarity to then express it in our daily lives, in the difficult interactions we have, where peace is sorely needed.  Our ability to embody nonviolence and compassion will bring those values more powerfully into the world than any speech we can make.  We have literally hundreds of opportunities every day to make a choice to be loving, to listen and understand others, to give without expecting something.   If we can open our hearts to even a few people we encounter, we begin to live as a light for peace, one step at a time.  I think there is nothing more important for us to do and nothing more fulfilling.

 

Swami Ramananda Signature

 

 

2016-10-15T01:45:23+00:00 April 9th, 2015|Comments Off on Spiritual Activism: Skillful Action During Difficult Times

Mind Wanting More

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Only a beige slat of sun
above the horizon, like a shade pulled
not quite down.  Otherwise,
clouds.  Sea rippled here and
there.  Birds reluctant to fly.
The mind wants a shaft of sun to
stir the grey porridge of clouds,
an osprey to stitch sea to sky
with its barred wings, some dramatic
music: a symphony, perhaps
a Chinese gong.

But the mind always
wants more than it has —
one more bright day of sun,
one more clear night in bed
with the moon; one more hour
to get the words right; one
more chance for the heart in hiding
to emerge from its thicket
in dried grasses — as if this quiet day
with its tentative light weren’t enough,
as if joy weren’t strewn all around.

~ Holly Hughes ~

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2016-10-15T01:45:23+00:00 April 6th, 2015|Comments Off on Mind Wanting More

The Perfect Act

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What is a perfect act? It harms nobody; it brings at least some benefit to somebody. You can use anything and everything to achieve some good purpose. Keep that in mind as your goal. Whatever you think, whatever you say or do, ask yourself: “Will it harm anybody?” The answer should be, “Absolutely not.” The next point is, “Will it at least benefit somebody?”. The answer should be “Yes”. If it is not benefiting anybody, it is a waste. So, no harm to anybody, at least some benefit to somebody.

Swami Satchidananda

2016-10-15T01:45:23+00:00 April 2nd, 2015|Comments Off on The Perfect Act

Teaching Yoga Down Under

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In Australia, the seasons are reversed and cars drive on the left side of the road, but the use of Yoga to address the challenges of human life is the same.  The first workshop I taught there in January explored how Yoga can be incorporated into every aspect of one’s life.

We took time to consider what we value most in this life and what we feel is its overall purpose.  Most of us have only vague ideas of what is truly important to us. Clarifying this can be a powerful way to reflect on the choices we make and help us decide whether we are using our time and energy in harmony with our personal vision.

We then explored how the various branches of yoga can assist us in actualizing our full potential. For example, the practice of Karma Yoga trains us to give our full attention to each action and to consider the well-being of everyone rather than our personal desires.  Raja Yoga develops our will power and self-discipline, enabling us to methodically let go of unhealthy attachments and realize our True Nature.

The practice of Bhakti Yoga can inspire us to put loving energy into whatever we do, and to feel reverence for the Divine Presence that is around and inside of us.  As we develop faith in that Presence, we can humble our limited minds and more fully open our hearts to receive guidance from this deeper source.

Jnana Yoga trains us to become aware of our thoughts but not to identify them as who we are.  If I can see that due to some past experience and the residual fear it left in me, I feel anxiety when I am stressed, I am free to choose how to respond to those anxious thoughts rather than be lost in the swirl of their stories.

The Australian group embraced these teachings with enthusiasm and each thought about ways to integrate these ideas into her/his own life.  We can all benefit from a comprehensive approach to spiritual practice that develops our strengths while exposing our unhealthy tendencies, and from the support of a spiritual community to share the journey with.

Swami Ramananda Signature

 

2016-10-15T01:45:23+00:00 March 30th, 2015|Comments Off on Teaching Yoga Down Under