Category Archives: karma

A bit like Nebuchadnezzar..

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Just occasionally over the last couple of months, Lancashire Yogi has been feeling a bit like Nebuchadnezzar. Ok, that’s probably a bit extreme. Lancashire’ hasn’t been trolling around in a deranged, animalistic state in the wilds of Lancashire. And he certainly hasn’t appeared like the depiction by William Blake – on this page…But it certainly has been a strange old time and he has been hither and thither, physically, spiritually and mentally.

It’s a bit extreme to say that Lancashire Yogi feels like Nebuchadnezzar.  You can read his story in the Book of Daniel.  He was a powerful ruler of Babylon in Biblical times.  Nebuchadnezzar features in Daniels story, as he is called upon to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams.  Daniel of course tells the powerful ruler that he will experience great success and also great failure.

Daniel interprets quite a few of the ruler’s dreams, culminating in a dream which Nebuchadnezzar has about an enormous tree which Daniel interprets as a sign that the King will go mad for a period of seven years, mainly because he is a proud, vain glorious man.  True to form, the King is brought down low by circumstances, chance, fate, coincidence, god, energy levels etc.  Nebuchadnezzar is cast out into the wilderness through fate/chance/coincidence etc and lives like a wild animal for a period of seven years. He loses his mind and his humanity. After seven years he returns to his former life, with his mind intact and his status restored. However as a result of his experiences he is full of humility, humanity and reverence for life, love and the spiritual life.

Sometimes, Lancashire Yogi thinks that life, the universe and karma throw stuff at you and you can do a couple of things – you either respond by running towards things, or running away from things. The consequences of both tactics are always interesting but equally challenging.  What has been interesting is that over the last few months Lancashire Yogi has been working on the concept of emptiness.   It’s a Buddhist concept and essentially means realising that everything is neutral, empty of potential. It is only us who put labels and meaning onto things, and we bring these labels and meanings to things as a result of our own experiences and perceptions. This is what Lancashire Yogi thinks is karma.  We perceive things in such a way that they then become the reality that we had perceived.

The more Lancashire Yogi has been working on seeing the potential of everything, or emptiness – the more and more that life has thrown at him. It’s a wonder often that he didn’t run out of the house into the woods and start living a life like Nebuchadnezzar.

However what he has found is that the practices of yoga have helped to manage this overload – and hopefully avoid the pitfalls that became Nebuchadnezzar.

Now he’s back from his hithering and thithering; and he will be trying to provide a regular update from hereon in.

Namaste

What you see is how you are

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Patanjali wrote in his fourth yoga sutra: “Vritti sarupyam itaratra” which is translated by Iyengar as (outside of yoga – at other times), “the seer identifies with the fluctuating conciousness”, Taimni  translates this as “in other states there is assimilation (of the seer) with the modifications of the mind”  Swami Satchidananda translates this as “at other times, the self appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications”. Desikachar translates this as “in the absence of the state of mind called yoga, the ability to understand the object is simply replaced by the mind’s conception of that object”. Geshe Michael Roach’s translation suggests that the seer of the object follows the form of the turning of the mind.

All of these translation suggest that outside of yoga the mind can be turned by whatever one sees, hears or feels. The objects outside of us can, if we let them allow our mind create a false conception of them.

This can be summed up a bit by the paraphrased version of ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’.  The paraphrased bit is “what you see is how you are”. It’s also summed up with the great english phrase: “laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone”.   Lancashire Yogi knows that if you conceptualise something as good, because you feel good, it will probably be good. But all of a sudden it becomes bad. And then you feel bad.  The great cycle ride up Pendle Hill and the gorgeous views across the Ribble Valley are suddenly spoiled by the down pour of rain. How can that be? The view is still the same, the trip was too, and Pendle Hill hasn’t shrunk.  It’s just our conception of the rain that changes our mind which then labels the experience. It’s “ruined the day”, or become an inconvenience. How awful!  We could be singing in the rain as we bomb down Pendle Hill, rather than complaining about it.  What an amazing end to a great day!

The trick of course, is to maintain a mind that is neutral and objective – seeing, hearing and feeling things as they just are, not how we think they are or how we feel.

Yoga practice can help you do this.

Meditation is the “Royal Route” to this but meditation is a hard thing to start in this crazy, 24/7 world where our minds and bodies are facing demands all, or most of the time.  So the best thing to start doing is yoga asana – the postures.  Find a class, or get a book as a starting point and start some of the simple postures first.

After a while of practicising the postures – you might find that you are ready to meditate. Sitting quietly doing nothing is very very hard for most people to do, and in reality meditation is simply not just sitting quietly with an empty mind, doing nothing.  Meditation is hard work.  So the suggestion is to repeat a mantra or find a nice piece of poetry or scripture and recite it, slowly learning it as you go.  Lancashire Yogi reads the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras. But one of his favourite pieces is the Prayer of St Francis which you can find here.

Best wishes,

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?

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A tree fell in Lancashire Yogis patch the other day. He slept through the whole thing. And this got him thinking about that saying: “if a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear?”.

The saying orginates apparantly from a book on physics by Mann and Twiss in 1910. They asked “when a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no animal is nearby to hear it, does it make a sound”. 

Lancashire Yogi thinks this is a bit like a Koan and you’d most likely respond by saying “Mu!” or something similar.  But it’s an intriguing question. And for Lancashire Yogi sums up one of the questions of existence and appearance. Can we assume that the unobserved, unheard, unfelt world functions the same as the observed, heard and felt world? 

When Lancashire Yogi lived with Alan Lee Chew and his family, near Ayers Rock in Australia  he was treated humourously when he talked about things happening back home in England. Alan used to take the Yogi aside and say “look LJ a lot of people around here they don’t believe something exists if they can’t see it: so it’s a bit pointless saying something exists if it’s not right there in front of them – they just think you’re telling crazy stories”. 

Lancashire Yogi was a bit taken aback about this but over time he has heard stories like this from all over the shop. And in many ways he thinks this makes sense.   Reality is only what you see, hear or feel.   Or is it?  It certainly is a start. We tend to believe so much we are told but so much is taken on trust or hearsay. Even the media present ‘reality’, when in fact its simply mediated reality. The test is the objective reality of what you are seeing, hearing or feeling.

But there is another dimension to this. Things are just things of themselves – they are all neutral – they just ‘are’.  But it’s so easy for our monkey mind to put a layer over the neutral reality. Lancashire Yogi’s buddhist friends say that appearances are one’s own mind play. What you see is a projection of your own mind.  Two children are arguing about a flag that is billowing in the wind. “the flag is moving” says one, but the other argues back that it is the wind that is moving.  As the zen master Hui-neng  would say: “its not the wind that moves nor the flag that moves, but your mind”.

Yes the tree did fall. And yes I didn’t hear it. And now it is chopped up as firewood and the remaining part of the tree, a nature tree for wildlife. But the tree that it ‘was’, still ‘is’, in my mind. It lives on and on.

The practices that Lancashire Yogi undertakes (asana, meditation, pranayama and reflection on scripture) all work to bring the mind to a point where the neutrality of the world ‘out there’ is seen in its objective state: with no labels, such as horrid tree, live tree, dead tree, shady tree, the horrid neighbour’s tree, or the tree that doesn’t allow anything to grow under it or the tree that is the source of pleasure and fun when we swung under it. And as for trees, this applies to the world out there and everyone in it.

Of course, like the Koan: ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping’ these questions are there to test our mind and help us explore the nature of our reality and along the way perhaps discover how much of our mind is imposing on the objective world that we perceive through our senses. 

It’s a long, challenging,  and interesting journey but worth it. The focus on neutrality leads to an understanding of ‘potential’ which opens the world up, rather than closing it down and limiting it.  So, to the question, “if a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?” –  could be answered, “maybe, maybe not, maybe it didn’t even fall, or maybe it is still standing”.    Of course, if Lancashire Yogi’s crazed attempts to understand things are a bit off-putting –  ‘If a tree falls in the forest’ is also a great song by a brilliant singer songwriter called Bruce Cockburn which you can hear, here.

Best wishes, and Namaste

x

Sun, sand, and sea

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Lancashire Yogi has been away again. He drifted eastwards to the Yorkshire coast where he spent a few days walking along the beaches of the north yorkshire coast.

In theory he was looking for fossils. In practice it was an excuse to ‘zone out’ and connect with the sand, sea and sun. He wasn’t really interested in finding fossils, and wasn’t looking for fossils, but found some lovely fossils  – ammonites, brachiapods (sea shells) and bellemites.The more you look for beautiful fossils, the less likely you are to find them (unless you are a paleontologist). If you don’t look for them, and breathe in the sea air, and enjoy the warmth of the sun on your back, and smell the sea and feel the sand between your toes…you might just glance down at a pebble on the beach and find that it is a beautiful ammonite.

When Lancashire Yogi was younger, he accompanied his family on a trip to france. In those days Lancashire Yogi was obsessed with yoga and fossil collecting. On this trip, he found himself on a long, wide sandy beach, which his family camped down on. Looking up and down the beach, Lancashire Yogi told his family that he would go looking for fossils and they all stared bemused at him in the bright french sunshine : ‘you’ll never find anything here’ they said, ‘look it’s just sand, for miles and miles, just relax and enjoy the sun’. Lancashire Yogi has always been a great fan of shrugging, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “lets see what I find’ and with that he just walked along the beach for a few miles. About an hour later, the young Lancashire Yogi glanced down at the sand and found one single stone, an ornate spiral of ammonite surrounded by sand. For Lancashire Yogi, even now, some thirty years later, he looks at that ammonite and for him, it is proof that anything is possible.   When the waves of life ebb and flow, you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that are presented to you. You just need to see what happens when you venture out, with a good heart and hope. You’ll be amazed what happens. Life has a funny old way of popping up and presenting you with opportunities and insights.

Namaste

x

Being, not doing or having

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Lancashire Yogi has been re-reading the Bhagavad Gita. He does this most mornings as part of his practice.  But today he has been planting seeds and tending his garden, and in a moment when the sun came out, he downed tools and picked up the Gita to read verses 2.47 and 2.48 again. His teacher Sarah Beck has suggested that he should read this as a contemplation exercise and this is what he did.

Verse 2.47 is Krishna saying to Arjuna: “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction”.  Verse 2.48 follows through with him saying “Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.  For yoga is perfect evenness of mind”

 Lancashire Yogi thinks that ‘being’ rather than doing or having is the key attribute of these verses.  The action in itself is important, rather than the result.  If you have selfish attachments, such as “the reward” and “the glory”, Lancashire Yogi thinks that you will get caught in the web of that attachment.  

If you are attached to the fruits of your work; you will be caught up in them, and by them,  and by doing so, lose yourself in the web of feelings and angst that they represent.  So for example, you will get lost in the thoughts of success or failure or anger or frustration; and these then take you away from yourself.  If you focus on success and then you ‘fail’ – you’ll beat yourself up. And anyway what is ‘success’, and what is ‘failure’? To each person they represent different things; and even to ourselves, ‘success’ in one thing, could be ‘failure’ in another.

The moment one starts thinking about the ‘result’ is the point when one forgets oneself and the intention and inspiration behind the action.  And one stops ‘being’ and becomes focussed on having and doing.  This focus on results is futile really, because ultimately we have no control over ‘the results’ of anything. Krishna is suggesting that an evenness of mind means that one will not get caught up in the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of things and results; because of themselves, nothing is good nor bad; everything is inherently neutral in its own right, and it is only us who put a label on it and ascribe a value to things. The son with the broken leg, is the son whose father berates him for being foolish by breaking it in one moment, but when war is declared and boys are called up to fight, the father is then overjoyed when his son can’t go to war because of his broken leg. The broken leg was the result of an act of folly in one moment but a lifesaver in another. 

By placing a label on things,  such as ’good’ or ‘bad’ we construct a reality that isn’t actually there anyway; and that reality builds into a super reality that controls how we perceive life and ourselves. By thinking ‘good’ and thinking ‘bad’ or ‘success’ or ‘failure’ we limit the potential of every living moment and become coloured, or shrouded by the labels we create and impose on things, including the fruits of our actions. Talk about seeing the world through rose tinted glasses – we put on different shades each time we label something and that shapes our experience until the next set of tinted glasses gets put on.

Lancashire Yogi’s experience is that actually, the achievement of a goal or rewards or fruits of our labour – are not really in our gift anyway. There are so many forces and effects that are happening around us that its amazing that we ever ‘achieve’ anything. It’s not unsual to say you want ‘x’ and then strive for it only to find that ‘x’ doesnt represent what it was when you starting striving for it. Everything changes and nothing is completely in our control. So why worry about the result anyway? Infact there is a compelling argument to say that the more you worry about the result, the less likely you are able to do the work and immerse yourself in it and the related moments.  

Krishna is saying that one should have equanimity or evenness of mind regardless of the outcome of your work – to be alike in success and defeat, or as Kipling would say in the poem, If, “to meet triumph and disaster just the same”. 

These verses are not a call to do nothing but to act, and to act with depth and integrity, in the moment, without worrying or focussing on the outcome, with an evenness of mind regardless of the result. Krishna is saying beyond this, there is nothing more to do but simply to ‘be’, rather than to ‘do with the desire of having’.

Lancashire Yogi loves this. It’s a call to trust in the process and give everything as much as you can from your heart, with passion and love, and in the moment. It’s a call to living a life of depth and love.

Lancashire Yogi has spent most of the day planting seeds and tending to seedlings and plants. He can’t think of a better example for these verses,  as the plants that he has tended to. They simply grow (with some tending) and dont appear to be thinking of the reward or the goal or the outcome. They simply ‘are’ and this is what Lancashire Yogi loves about the plants, and nature. He thinks that this being, not having, is the key to these verses.

Years ago, Lancashire Yogi followed the writings of Erich Fromm. One of his most influential books was called “To have, or to be”, It was a discussion about these two ways of living – one focussed on having (things, status, rewards, goals), and the other on being (self realisation, experience, shared experiences and relationships). It’s worth a read. Lancashire Yogi thinks that Fromm’s distinction between a ‘being’ way of life, and a ‘having’ way of life is compelling, and reinforces the points being made in these verses of the Bhagavad Gita.  They are as relevant now in 21st Century Britain, as they have ever been.

 Namaste

Karma and dandelions

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Living with karma is a bit like holding  a dandelion up to the sky and reflecting on it’s beauty. Of itself, it just is. But to Lancashire Yogi, it’s beautiful and he marvels in its 3-D mandala-like quality. The silky threads of the seeds create the ornate and delicate globe that we know and love as the dandelion clock.

As kids,  Lancashire Yogi and his pals used to pluck dandelions from the ground and shout out “what’s the time?” and with a puff of breath, blow, and some seeds would sail off into the sky,  “one o’clock!”, we’d shout and blow again, some more seeds would sail away.  We would do this until we were left with a bare stalk and a sense of the time according to its scattered seeds.  Of course, it never was that time and we’d rush home to be soundly told off for being late for tea by our mums.

These days, the dandelion is becoming revered again as a medicinal plant and for culinary uses. Lancashire Yogi likes dandelion and burdock to drink.  The leaves are nice in salads.  This year he will be trying dandelion tea.  Home-grown and home-made.  But if you are tempted to try it for any of these uses,  check with a good book or two or online – and if you have an ailment and are on medicine – talk it through with your doctor to check  you arent “messing with the medicine” – or yourself..!

Why does Lancashire Yogi think that living with karma is like holding up a dandelion seed head?  It’s not the seeds theselves, but our action of blowing them and sending them out to find fertile ground and grow in profusion.  Lancashire Yogi understands Karma to be the results of your thoughts, word and actions.  In previous posts he has described karma as having an action like a boomerang. Ok, so he is mixing metaphors here, but stay with him.  Accumulated negative actions, words and thoughts are held by you. You can break the cycle by not responding to experiences that are merely a ‘here and now’  replay back to you of your previous negative actions, words or thoughts. Or you can perpetuate the cycle by responding negatively.  So, if in the past you gossiped badly about someone and when challenged by that person you denied it; some time down the track someone’s going to dish the dirt on you, and when you challenge it – they’ll deny it.  It will likely consume you with anger and frustration. And usually because we are so perfect, or because time has passed by we forget we previously acted this way and feel incredibly hurt. ‘How could they treat me like this?’ we think.  And you’ll want to ‘get even’.

But as Lancashire Yogi understands it,  there’s a way to ‘get out’ not ‘get even’ and that is simply by firstly recognising that you are experiencing karmic feedback, secondly by carefully regreting that you may have created this in the past and then simply not responding negatively in this moment to this situation,  in thought, word or deed.

Now, back to the dandelion.  Lancashire Yogi equates this to the moment when you are holding up a dandelion seed head. You can just admire it’s beauty against the evening sun. Or you can fill your lungs with air and blow a big breath of air to scatter the seeds.

And that’s how Lancashire Yogi sees these moments when karma comes back to him. In the moment when he feels like responding to the shouting man or the gossip, he pauses and appreciates the intricate beauty of karma in his life, regrets where he may have caused this, and then moves on. He tries not to respond by shouting back at the shouting man – or gossiping about the gossip. And in doing so he doesnt blow karmic seeds all over the place to sprout in profusion, and to create a perpetual experience of shouting men and gossips. Of course it’s a continual journey and Lancashire Yogi cannot claim to have cracked it, but he’s getting there, slowly and surely.

Namaste,

What are you here for?

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One of Lancashire Yogi’s favourite heart people says she doesn’t want to come back to earth when she is reincarnated. She wants to go to Pluto. Lancashire Yogi thinks she is divine, and her purpose,  mostly fulfilled for many already,  is to help people come to self realisation and enlightenment. This heart teacher does this hourly.  Lancashire Yogi thinks, if she chooses to comes back she should come back doing more of what  she does now. She’s the perfect heart teacher for many.

But thinking and hoping for your future incarnation is one thing. And relies on a lot of practices and good karma. So rather than thinking about a possible future incarnation or something like that – now you are here: a good starting thought is ‘what are you here for’? 

Lancashire Yogi likes the Bodhisattva vows. These are summed up as vows stating that the practitioner doesn’t seek awakening or enlightenment purely for his or herself: but for the sake of helping to free all living, sentient beings from the sea of samara to the bliss of nirvana.   Lancashire Yogi thinks this is fairly noble and worthwhile.

You can be here to just enjoy, or you may wish to exploit and gratify yourself at the expense of others and the planet; but probably the best reason to be here is to be a better person, and help others to realise their better sides too. 

Namaste