A poem for learning nonattachment from a cat

Bukowski

I love the Beats. A couple of years ago my partner brought me this book as a present from City Lights when he was in San Francisco. Bukowski clearly has an admiration for cats, but he doesn’t see them as sweet, cuddly little love bugs. He sees them as sometimes grouchy, mischievous, interloping, existential thinkers and great hunters of the wild, which they also are. Bukowski’s cat don’t give a F(*&! what you think of them!

This poem illustrates well the cat’s nonchalance in contrast to the poet’s attachment.


the devious good of rescuing the suffering

once very thin and nervous
like a starving musician
I fed him well
and he has gotten fat
like a Texas oilman and not so
nervous
but still
odd.

asleep in bed I will awaken
and his nose will be touching my
nose and those
yellow great eyes
P O U R I N G
down into what’s left of my soul
and then I will say —
off, bastard!
get your nose away from my
nose!
purring like a spider full of
flies he will walk off a
little.

I was in the bathtub yesterday
and he came walking in
high on his feet
tail flicking
and I am in there
smoking a cigar and reading the
NEW YORKER
and he leaped up on the edge of the
tub
balancing on the slippery ivory
curving
and I told him
sir, you are a cat and cats
don’t like water.
but he went around to the faucets
and he hung there with his black feet
and the other part of him was
head down
sniffing at the water and the water was
HOT and he started drinking it
the thin red tongue
bashful and miraculous
dipping into the hot water
and he kept
sniffing
wondering what I was doing in there
what I found so good about it
and then that fat white fool
fell in! —
we all came out of there
wet and fast;
cat, me, cigar and NEW YORKER
spitting, screaming, sputtering, soaked
and my wife ran in
MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENED?WHAT HAPPENED?
I spoke through my unraveling cigar:
a man can’t even have a little privacy
in his own bathtub, that’s what!
she only laughed at us
and the cat was not even angry
he was still wet and fat
except for his tail and very sad and
he began licking
himself.
I used a towel,
then I walking into the bedroom
got into bed
and tried to find my place in the
magazine.

but the good mood was broken
I put the publication down
and stared up at the ceiling
up into space where God was supposed to be
then I hear it:
MEEYOWW!

the next stray cat who comes to my door will
remain a
stray.


yoga sturasNonattachment is one of the central teachings of yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali begins:

1.1 Now the teachings of yoga.

1.2 Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.

1.3 Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.

1.4 Otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness.

In other words, we can begin to identify with the things we think. The things we think can come to define us. Similarly, the Bhagavad Gita teaches that we can come to identify with the things we do. This kind of attachment is a source of our suffering, blinding us to the fuller truth of reality. The Sutras teach that effortful practice (abhyasa) along with detachment (vairagya) are the keys to clarity. Work hard at what you do for the sake of the work itself; don’t be attached to the outcomes or what you think the outcomes should be. This lesson is the heart of karma yoga, the yoga of action.

Celebrate National Poetry Month

I’ve been practicing, studying and trying live yoga since about 2000. In all that time, I have never learned more about myself and about how this glorious practice works its magic than since I started teaching it full time.

Like many of you, I started doing yoga as part of my exercise routine. And like many of you, I discovered immediately, after that very first class, that yoga offered something more than a great workout. I left class feeling relaxed and invigorated, not exhausted; open and expansive; strong, but also soft, receptive.

Yoga speaks to my heart through the language of my body the way that poetry speaks to my heart through the language of words on a page. It asks me to slow down, acknowledge the rhythms of natural things, and observe what’s happening right here, right now.

This month, in honor of National Poetry Month, instead of writing one big newsletter, I will be posting daily poems and commentary on my website, with a weekly digest going out through email on the weekends. You can subscribe to the blog here, or follow my Facebook page.

Today, I give you one from Hafiz with the reminder that you don’t have to travel to exotic places to feel the wonder of nature, and experience the divine within you.

My back yard.
The Place Where You Are Now
by Hafiz

This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.
Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and the sky,
The Beloved has bowed there –
Our Beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming.
I could tell you a priceless secret about
Your real worth, dear pilgrim,
But any unkindness to yourself,
Any confusion about others,
Will keep one
From accepting the grace, the love,
The sublime freedom
Divine knowledge always offers to you.
Never mind, Hafiz, about
The great requirements this path demands
Of the wayfarers,
For your soul is too full of wine tonight
To withhold the wondrous Truth from this world.
But because I am so clever and generous,
I have already clearly woven a resplendent lock
Of his tresses
As a remarkable truth and gift
In this poem for you.
~Hafiz

Celebrate your inner strength on Hanuman’s birthday

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A beautiful interpretation of Hanumanasana from the book Metamorphosis, by Emanuele Scanziani.

Tomorrow, March 31, marks Hanuman Jayanti, an important Hindu religious festival honoring Hanuman. Half monkey, half man, Hanuman is a pivotal character in the Hindu epic Ramayana, known for his bravery and selfless devotion to Lord Rama, whom he served throughout most of his life. As a symbol within the faith tradition, Hanuman stands for the power of devotion to discipline the unruly “monkey” mind and guide us into right action.

Tomorrow, in my Noon Body Strong Flow class at MBS Yoga, we will honor the spirit of Hanuman Jayanti with a strong practice focused on building the strengths that Hanuman represents: focus, determination and strength. We’ll hear some of Hanuman’s stories and learn a little more about this important figure while we practice the yoga pose named for him. We are in no way even approximating a true Hanuman Jayanti celebration, but we can acknowledge the celebration and offer in our own way something to the intention of the day.

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Focus is the reward

 

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Benny was my mom’s dog. He came to me with some pretty bad habits: peeing wherever he wanted, barking at everyone, and biting people, mainly the ones with red hair! So when I got him, I took him to obedience school. He was already 7 years old, but I was sure we could break him of these lifelong behaviors.

We both learned a lot at obedience school. One thing I learned was that Benny’s obedience was pretty much up to me — I was the one that was going to have to learn and practice how to be a dog’s master. Seven years later, Benny is just as bad as ever.

I failed obedience school, but Benny did learn one thing: how to focus. The game was for me to hide a treat in one hand and reach my arms out to each side. Benny’s job was to keep his eyes on ME, not the treat in my hand. If he could, he got the treat. He was really good at it! In no other task could he focus his attention and concentrate like he could in this one.

In yoga, you may find yourself going for the treat, the calendar pose reward at the end of all that work. But the real reward comes from learning how to stay centered and focus.

Yoga offers a complete set of practices to help you do that. What I love about the asana practice we do in class is that it anchors the mental effort in the physical body. In balancing poses, and in transitions from one pose to another, you’ve got to activate and fix your mind to your core, to the deep muscles that stabilize and ground you while all the “action” is going on in the periphery. Physically, energetically with your muscles, you have to pull yourself IN. In the body, you draw the abdominal muscles IN. You gently retract the limbs INto the sockets that connect to the torso—hips and shoulders. Plugged into your center, you can make any transition, from a strong, side stretching backbend to a twisted, forward bending balancing pose.

Here’s a little clip of a sequence that requires a LOT of focus. It’s speeded up to double-time, and I still falter, but you’ll see what I mean.

Focus on the breath

Meditate copyYoga teachers often instruct our students to “focus on your breath.” But what does that mean exactly? This guided meditation walks you through observing several different qualities of the breath. Learning how to notice these fine qualities helps attune your perception of your own physical self right here, right now. Plugging into how you actually feel physically in your body opens the door to deeper inquiry into the self.

Revisit your resolutions this spring

Pay Attention lotusSpring is bursting out all over! It’s hard NOT to notice all the new growth—purple mountain laurel that smells like grape kool-aid, red bud trees, yellow jasmine and orange trumpet vine. Next will come the open fields of Texas bluebonnets and Indian paint brush.

Last December I led a workshop on setting resolutions that stick. Spring is a great time to return to those forgotten intentions of the new year. What have you been paying attention to? What ideas or beliefs have been germinating underground without your conscious attention? Those grow, too, just like the bluebonnets you forgot all about on the side of the road.

Attention has a lot to do with intention. Buddhists often use the metaphor of watering seeds to describe the process by which ideas come to take root and blossom into reality. What you pay attention to, what you feed with the energy of your thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious, will grow. Vision-boarding or dream boarding can be a fun way to unearth or remind yourself of forgotten or neglected dreams. I’m starting my own dream board online at www.DreamItAlive.com. I’m just getting started, but you can track my progress and start a dream board of your own there!

Also, stay tuned for a vision boarding workshop this spring!

Fall into abundance

I love Fall. It’s a time of year when it’s hard not to notice the turning of the earth, the days getting shorter, sometimes cooler. As the prelude to winter, I think Fall can trigger melancholy in people. But I associate fall with my garden. Here in hot South Texas, Fall is the most abundant growing season for root veggies, greens of all kinds broccoli, cauliflower. I look forward to fall for planting seeds. When summer’s flowers have fallen, my garden keeps giving. 

This year I started helping manage a community garden on the East Side. The Eastpoint S.O.U.L Garden (SOUL stands for Sutton Oaks Urban Learning) has 17 raised beds serving residents in what has traditionally been a food desert in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The garden gives me many opportunities to pay attention. Here are some images from the past few weeks.

Tonglen: Giving and receiving to develop compassion

Meditate copyReturning to the topic of compassion and cultivating our capacity to give and receive it… I recorded this guided tonglen meditation earlier in September, in the wake of Charlottesville, after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, but before Irma, Maria, and two major earthquakes in Mexico. The earth trembles for our compassion. Tonglen is a powerful practice that uses conscious breath work and imagery to inspire empathy and compassion, something we all need to practice. Give it a try.