Saturday, April 24, 2010

Earth's Hope

"When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the last sound in fear of what my life and children's lives may be--I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water and the great heron feeds.  I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief.  I come into the presence of still water.  And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.  For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."  Wendell Berry

     August 20, 2008, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversay in typical Travers' style with all the hoopla such festivities will incur.  After the vow renewal and reception with family and friends, we found ourselves headed for Kona, Hawaii.  What we remember most about this beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was the water teamming with sealife--coral reef, sea turtles, dolphin, ...  Having lived in land-locked Indiana since 1995, we spent much of our time enjoying the beauty of the water through boating, snorkeling, and what not.  It was a special time on the water, where we would find ourselves recognizing the beauty of the earth surrounding us.

     In the Northern Pacific Ocean there is what is called the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a slow moving, clockwise spiral of water currents created by a high pressure system of air currents.  It is an oceanic desert with only tiny phytoplankton living there, no big fish nor mammals, including fishermen, can be found in this area.  However, if one were to go there, they would find in the water with the phytoplankton millions of pounds of trash,  with an estimated 90% of it being plastic.  This is the largest landfill on planet earth; floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean -- two large masses of trash.  The Eastern Garbage Patch floats between California and Hawaii and is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.  The Western Garbage Patch floats from Hawaii to Japan.    The plastic in the Pacific Garbage Patch outweighs the plankton by a ratio of six to one.  Of the 200 billion pounds of plastic produced in the world ten percent ends up in the ocean.  Plastic does not biodegrade, it merely breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, remaining in the ocean.  It is estimated that over one million birds and marine animals die each year from consuming or becoming caught in the plastic and debris of the Pacific Garbage Patch.  When standing on the beaches of Hawaii and looking out to sea, I can tell you that you would never realize the damage we have brought to the Pacific Ocean.   If the "supreme reality of our time is ... the vulnerability of our planet," as stated by President John F Kennedy, we, the human race, must find a way to live in harmony with the earth rather than "fouling our own nest." (President Richard M Nixon, "What a strange creature man is that he fouls his own nest.")

     The practice of yoga is the practice of "being" with the reality of what is.  Regardless of whether the present moment is painful or pleasant, we focus our attention to what is happening in the now.  This may be difficult for us because when we stop and see our past choices, we may become aware of the unconsciousness that accompanies many of our daily activities.  For instance, have you ever sat down to see who has been on facebook, began playing Farmville, and realize two hours have passed by?  Perhaps you are driving to Target, your cell phone goes off, you begin talking to your spouse, and suddenly find yourself in a parking space at the store, but no recall of the actual drive there.  Maybe you start tossing the spoiled food in your fridge out, plastic packaging and all without a thought as to what could be recycled.  When we become aware of how much of our lives are lived on automatic pilot, we can make a change in our habits towards awareness of our choices and actions.  Through this awareness, we are able to make choices which are nonviolent towards others and the earth, which is the essence of change needed to bring healing to our earth.  As Margaret Mead stated, "never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully (conscious) committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  So as committed citizens to protecting our earth for our children's children's children (bearing in mind the Native American Proverb, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."), we must bear witness to what is happening around us and throughout our planet.    It is important to work on diminishing our capacity for apathy, distraction, laxity of attention, hyperactivity, which all decrease our awareness of our choices and their effects on the world.  We must bring clarity to how we live each moment, enabling us to serve others and protect our earth.  When we realize our interrelatedness to all life on this earth, how the dying of marine life in the Pacific Garbage Patch is directly related to our choice of automatically using plastic bags at the grocery store rather than reusable ones, we may begin to chose a vitality and clarity of action, which will protect the earth.  As Wendell Berry tells us, "The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility.  To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope."

With hope that I can begin to make a more conscious choice in what I use and how I use it and how I ultimately dispose of it, I take a step towards living each moment in awareness, which ultimately will bring healing to our planet.

May you find gratitude and peace in every moment.
Namaste, Joan

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology.  We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through using it."  President Lyndon B Johnson

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We are more...

"My religion is based on truth and nonviolence.  Truth is my God.  Nonviolence is the means of realizing Him."  Mohandas K Gandhi

     I am lying at the base of a tree and looking up at the long trunk through the branches to the blue sky above.  This is a new way to look at the tree, oriented lying below it and looking up.  It takes a moment of quiet, focused awareness of my breath and allowing the sounds of nature to soften my perceptions.  I begin to look at the branches and try to notice where they begin at the tree's trunk.  I ponder where do the tree's roots begin from the trunk under the ground.  The edges of the branches and the roots are blurred into the trunk; flowing into one another.  The interconnectedness of the parts of what I think of as a tree becomes apparent in my struggle to find where the tangled roots and uplifted branches become separate from the trunk.  I realize that the names I have for the parts of the tree do not indicate the complexity of what actually is a tree. 

     Recently, I was speaking with a distant cousin, whom I had not heard from in quite a long time.  In the course of our conversation, we began discussing book ideas, as aspiring wannabe writers will do.  He announced that he was considering writing an autobiography with the lead sentence of the book being, "I am a musician, who is blind, gay, and both my parents were moderately mentally handicapped."  While he thought this sentence encapsulated the truth of who he was, I began to think about how we define ourselves and hide the complexity of our true identities through our names, roles, ideas, disabilities, abilities, wounds...

     In yoga, we become aware of the interrelatedness of all things.  We  realize a basic unity when there is no more black versus white,  gay or straight, disabled and nondisabled, haves or have nots.  In wisdom, we no longer have just facts and knowledge, rather we see the truth of what our words are pointing towards, giving meaning to our lives.  We must be open to who we actually are rather than who we hope or expect or are told we are. 

     Yes, my cousin is all of these things, blind, gay, a talented musician, and raised by mentally handicapped parents who did the best they could and loved him with their whole hearts.  He is much more than just these mere words.  I would include courageous, whitty, handsome, sometimes happy-sometimes sad, a child of the Most High God, a man who has created a good life for himself and his partner despite great adversity, and so much more...  I look at my cousin and wonder, where does one description of him begin and another end.  How has the sum of who he is come about to create this valued human being. 

     The complexity of who he is, or any of us for that matter, is not immediately apparent upon first sight.  All aspects of who we are (spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental) become interconnected in such a way as to create each of us, each perfect in our own selves.  When we become aware of this interconnection, we may practice a kindness towards ourselves that is based in personal nonviolence.  Nonviolence forces us to find and search for the truth that honors this interconnection of who we are for ourselves and for other living beings.  Living a life that looks beyond our personal labels, roles, names, ideas, allows us to live in peace and nonviolence, inspiring and inviting others to be nonviolent towards themselves as well.  As Gandhi stated, "My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop nonviolence... in a gentle way, you can shake the world." 

     Out of compassion towards myself, I gather up the courage to act with respect, honor, and reverence for my own being and that of others.

May you find Gratitude and Peace in every moment.
Namaste, Joan

(Tree discussion adapted from Yoga for a World Out of Balance, Michael Stone, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2009.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Path Begins

Every yoga class I teach begins with my students lying on their mats and becoming aware of their inhalations and their exhalations.  As they explore their breath, I gently remind them that yoga is the union of our breath with our spirit, mind, emotions, and body.  Often, as I am saying these words, I wonder if they understand what I am truly saying to them.

We live in a world of distractions, where taking time to move inward is often frowned upon if not openly criticized.  We live 48 hour lives in 24 hour periods not taking time to eat nutritionally, to get enough sleep, to exercise regularly.  We spend more time watching television than interacting with family members.  In our distracted, busy, entertainment driven life, it is hard to slow down and pay attention to that which is not fast and flashy.  This distraction makes it difficult for us to settle into ourselves and center, becoming more aware of our breath, our thoughts, our physical body, our emotions at that moment.  We live life in our small little world, with our "eyes wide shut" to the outer world in which we live.

When we take time to be more flexible, patient, sensitive, centered, we can open ourselves to the world around us.  We become aware of the changing of the seasons; the elderly neighbor who has lost her husband of 60 years on Christmas morning; the mother who has sent her only son to war; the  gradual loss of the rainforest; the miles and miles of plastic bags floating in the Pacific Ocean killing the marine life; the sun setting on the horizon with its brilliant colors of pink and orange and deep blue; a baby's chuckle; our pet's warm greeting when we walk in the door.  As our awareness of life happening around us increases, we often feel an awakening to the effects of our actions on the world around us.  Becoming aware that we can make a difference now, we may begin to strive to live in a more respectful and sustainable way towards the world and all the sentient and nonsentient beings living on this globe with us.

In yoga, as we connect our breath to our flowing in and out of our poses, we may allow ourselves to still our body and mind, while releasing the negative emotions and tensions that we may be holding in our body.  In this moment, we can engage ourselves, putting down our defenses that separate us from one another and the world around us.  We may make a conscious choice to accept our interconnectedness with one another and the world, much like the waves of the ocean flowing into each other with a blurring of where one wave begins and another ends.  Just the flow of the waves rising up and expanding, then falling and softening.  So we begin by lying on our mats and becoming aware of our breath.  On the inhale, we feel the expansion, the rising.  As we exhale, we feel the softening, the letting go....

May you find peace and gratitude in every moment.
Namaste, Joan