Category Archives: literature

Vasistha in a cold climate

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Days are getting shorter in Lancashire. It’s winter and the Solstice is almost upon us. For those who want to know when the Solstice is – it’s on the 21st December. And Lancashire Yogi is really excited. It’s the end of the days shortening: those cold dark days which appear to be more night than day. And it’s the beginning of the days becoming longer, lighter and slowly but surely…warmer.

‘Lancashire is ordering seeds on these dark nights, and the leaves are being swept up into the chicken wire coop that will ensure a nice crumbly leaf mould for the next year.  Of course, Lancashire Yogi leaves piles of leaves for the hedgehogs to burrow down into.

winter sun

These dark, cold mornings and dark cold evenings make the effort to practice yoga asana a real challenge.  Sometimes it’s just a reading session wrapped in a blanket; sometimes it’s the usual morning practices.

On these dark and cold mornings and evenings, Lancashire Yogi is re-reading Vasistha’s Yoga. It’s an interesting book. Some say that just by reading it you are likely to become enlightened. But Lancashire Yogi likes the story. It’s about a disheartened yogi who is disillusioned with life because he’s realised it’s all an illusion. And if it’s all an illusion – what can or should he even bother with?

It’s a good question: and Lancashire Yogi is spending his morning and evening’s reading the book to get to the crunch point. He’ll keep you posted. 

Namaste

x

Going out, to get inside

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Lancashire Yogi loves this time of year. It’s cold, and the air is crisp and sharp. The sky often open and wide, and stunningly blue.  Nature is either moving into hibernation or has already hibernated. The sap in the trees has long dropped.  And most of the time it’s freezing.   Tree branches are glazed with ice, and grass frozen in spikes.  High above and across the sky, flocks of migrating birds swoop and undulate in perfect motion on their way to a warmer, more welcome climate. Sometimes ‘Lancashire sees the birds spell out goodbyes and farewells in the undulating sweeps and swoops. The occasional vapour trail from a high altitude ‘plane spells out migrations of another sort.

It’s a perfect time to get out of the house and go walking.  Lancashire Yogi likes to take off over the fells and this year is exploring the Wasdale and Ennerdale valleys in Cumbria. The silence is astonishing: it’s almost as if every possible sound has frozen along with the grass and trees. And the silence hangs heavy in these Cumbrian valleys: heavy and deep. The occasional dog bark sounds like an exclamation mark in the silence. A crow on a tree branch, a comma of the frozen pause that has begun.

frozen grass (2)Lancashire Yogi always find that through the process of walking  in nature, he comes back to himself, and finds his centre.  Perhaps he finds his place and along with his pace. The rhythm and pace of his walking are like a metronome guide back to himself, as much as to the destination of the walk. But in many ways, the destination is always only one aspect of Lancashire’s walks in the ‘Lakes.  Somehow the forays are always about walking back to himself, and the destination and scenary are simply an excuse to get back to himself.

And what happens when ‘Lancashire walks back to himself? Intriguingly he makes an astonishing and mindblowing discovery – (as Easwaran says in the Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living) – with all this walking and out in the fresh air, with beautiful views and the senses alive to the environment, ‘Lancashire is not this body that he has.  It’s an experience thing rather than an intellectual observation or analysis. The body is merely a vehicle to pass through the land, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the journey. And if ‘Lancashire is not this body ; then others cannot be their bodies either.  The outer thing we call a body is simply a jacket or outer covering. It suddenly means we can dispense with our sense of difference about others and ourselves. Without identifying people as ‘bodies’ we can see them as people, souls, perhaps, within a vehicle that is simply just helping ‘us’ get through.

The walking thing then brings about something even more extraordinary realisation – often half way through a nice long walk : we are not our mind either. Because as you walk, you begin not merely to observe your surroundings; you begin to start observing your thoughts. And then you begin to wonder, ‘if I am observing my thoughts, who is thinking?’.  If the mind is generating thoughts, and I am observing them, what, or who , is doing the thinking? This perspective means that the you that is observing the thoughts can start responding to the thoughts that are perhaps mistaken or wrong, or unhelpful. And you can begin the process of mind engineering – for example,  tightening a bolt here, loosening a nut there, pouring some oil into the mechanism.  As an aside,  ‘oil’ for ‘Lancashire is repeating mantras. We can watch the torrent of negative or disabling thoughts rush by like a river full of flotsam and jetsam.  And we can follow the flow down stream and away out of our thoughts. And as a guide, Lancashire Yogi finds himself looking around to nature, and observing it’s “is-ness”: where it apparantly has no thoughts and no worries: and just ‘is’.

And then, finally Lancashire Yogi finds that actually, there are no boundaries between him and nature, and probably, well, everything.  There is a sense that he, and everything are all interconnected. He feels this particularly as he moves through the Cumbria landscape, through the valley, in the shadow of the fells, with the water of the lakes beside him. And if he is interconnected with everything, and indeed, all of us are interconnected – then to put up barriers and create degrees of separateness must surely be an illusion for some reason or other. And if everything is interconnected perhaps we need to cherish life and living things, and value our place in the big scheme of things.

Yes; Lancashire Yogi loves walking and loves walking at this time of year. However walking at any time of year is a good way of coming back to yourself: a sort of going out to get inside.  If you are feeling physically, mentally or soulfully cooped up – why not get up and go for a walk – just wrap up warm and enjoy.

The days are getting shorter at the moment. We are heading towards the Winter Solstice: where the sun is at the lowest point on the horizon at midday, as a result of the earth tilting on its axis. The Solstice is not a time for sadness though, even though it is the shortest day in the year.  From the Solstice (the 21st December, this year), the days will start to lengthen again. And although most will be rightly celebrating the Christmas and New Year; the Solstice is surely worthy of celebration as it is the beginning of the days slowly becoming lighter and a pointer towards Spring and Summer even in the cold, dark, often snowy days of Winter.

Namaste

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

Bisy Backson

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Lancashire Yogi has had a very busy summer.  He has been here, there and everywhere. Sometimes the world just seemed to have been pounding on his front door wanting attention. And LancashireYogi has of course, responded to the pounding door, by flinging it open and galloping off down the path to join the crazy business of the busy people and the busy world.  But now the summer is slowly coming to an end, and a hint of autumn is in the air Lancashire Yogi finds that things are quietening down to a degree.

In the Winnie the Pooh books,   Rabbit is the busy, busy character in the stories, and who is always rushing around, with little time for the hundred acre wood, nor for others who see him as a blur as he rushes by, to busy to stop and chat.  As a consequence of his busy-ness, Rabbit feels supremely important, and considers that the whole world revolves around him and his busy-ness.  However he is trumped by Christopher Robin who,  when Rabbit goes to visit him, finds that Christopher has gone out for the day and has left a note, written in school boy language that he is “Bisy” and will be “backson”. Translated into adult speak, Christopher Robin is busy, and will be back soon.  In Benjamin Hoff’s “The Tao of Pooh” – he describes the “bisy backson” as a character who is, like Rabbit, always busy, always rushing, seen in a blur, hard to keep up with, always in a rush.

The price we pay for busy-ness is often of a loss of ourselves and a skating over of the deep reality of life. We can miss so much when we are going at a hundred miles an hour.  Wordsworth summed it up :

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon”
 
So, it may have been busy this summer, but there have been a number of things that have helped Lancashire Yogi keep his feet firmly on the mat.
  • An asana yoga practice that has been regular, sure and steady
  • Use of breathing and yogic breathing – particularly the full yogic breath
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Resorting to the words of the great thinkers and seers (Patanjali’s yoga sutras, hatha yoga pradipika, bhagavad gita….)

Lancashire Yogi also found himself often in the garden, on the vegetable patch, in the forest and on the fells. Somehow, nature has been a great restorer:nature moves at its own pace, forcing patience and calm on those within it. There’s no time for schedules, timetables, project plans nor targets.

So, if you find yourself caught in the hurley burley of the mad, mad world, remember that a saving grace is yoga practice, and time spend in the natural world can replenish, rejunvenate and ground you.

Namaste

 

Mindful or mindless?

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Lancashire Yogi enjoys mindfulness practice. He is heavily influenced by the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn whose book ‘Full catastrope living’ explains the practices very well. Years ago, the Yogi worked with some mental health researchers to look at the value of mindfulness meditation for people who were experiencing anxiety and depression. The results were impressive. Simply just paying attention to what you are doing, seems to bring an enriched experience and a fuller and more total sense of whatever it is you are doing. In short, there isn’t much time to dwell on ‘stuff’ or be depressed or anxious.  Lancashire Yogi doesn’t shave much but his experience of shaving is a safer, more accurate one when he is totally absorbed in the shave. If not, and he is thinking of half a dozen other things he’s likely to cut himself, and create a very unbalanced cut. Attention, and total immersion are the watch words of mindfulness.

But more often, Lancashire Yogi finds himself drawn to mindlessness. He’s not talking about going out and getting blind drunk or losing himself to drugs or some other mind altering substance. No, he’s refering to an idea which is probably quite similar to mindfulness. And that is the process of having no mind. Cutting all thoughts out; all emotion; all intellect, and just as Douglas Edison Harding (Zen and the art of the obvious) said: “Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down…..There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was ….absolutely nothing whatever! “

The idea of having no mind, of being mindless, is intriguing. No more thoughts, no more angst. The monkey mind turned off.  And another thought occurs to Lancashire Yogi – does the practice of mindfulness lead to mindlessness? In other words, your whole experience of life becomes fuller, richer, deeper… total.

It’s an intriguing thought, and one that is worth exploring. Lancashire Yogi finds that on his way to mindfulness, he is helped through yoga practice, as this itself encourages and creates a state of mindlessness. 

Time to get on the mat.

Namaste

x

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,

Learning from the donkey

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Lancashire Yogi has had a lovely time with his Aikido master, Sensei Ariana Masayume. Lancashire Yogi has had some brilliant Aikido teachers. Most notably the extraordinary Sensei Wasyl Kolesnikov in Oldham .  However Sensei Ariana Masayume has been a consistent influence throughout Lancashire Yogi’s life.  She taught Lancashire Yogi archery, and they have shared haiku across the world. Infact she introduced Lancashire Yogi to the haiku of Basho:

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water-
A deep resonance

Lancashire has a deep affinity with the poetry of Ryokan whose famous haiku is :

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

Made famous by the fabulous Joni Mitchell

Sensei Ariana told Lancashire Yogi an interesting story. She told him that she was in Italy exploring Yantra Yoga and was staying at a farmhouse in Tuscany.  They were doing a lot of building work and a new barn was being built for some prize farm animals.  The builders were transporting the rock and sand for the building from a nearby quarry.  They were using Gianni the donkey to carry the sand from the quarry to the building site.  The owner of the farmhouse had gone on holiday, with the express instructions that the job was to be completed on his return. The builders were panicking a bit. Gianni the donkey was working double time and extra ferrying materials and most of the physical building work was nearly complete.  The night before the owner was due back, Gianni had managed to fall down the well.  Lancashire Yogi thinks that it must have been either a small donkey or a big well.  Anyhow the next morning, the builders could hear the donkey braying away, and finally spotted it stuck down the well.  They were caught – they needed time to finish the building work, and yet, the donkey needed to be rescued. After some debate, they decided to sacrifice the donkey because it would take too much time and effort to rescue it, and they needed time to complete the work. As they started back on the job, all they could hear was the donkey braying.  Their consciences were plaguing them, but then one of them had a bright idea. They would fill the well up with sand and cement, burying the donkey, stopping its pitiful noise and hiding the evidence.  Lancashire Yogi stopped Ariana when she got to this part of the story because he was horrified that an animal was about to be killed, but Ariana laughed and told him to stick with the programme. Anyhow, the builders start tipping sand and cement down the well, and the donkey’s braying gets less and more infrequent, until finally it stops.  The chief builder congratulates the men and they turn to get on with the building work, but then one of them hears a strange sound, so they look in the well, and see the Donkey – Gianni – staring at them. They are all taken aback by this and a bit confused. Until one of them surmises that every time sand and cement has been tipped over the donkey, he has dodged it, trampled it down hard under his hooves and compacted it. He has done this throughout the efforts of the builders, so that eventually he has managed to rise up the inside of the well, on a platform of compacted sand and cement.  Finally, the builders tip more sand down, and watch as Gianni the donkey tramples it down, and rises close to the top of the well. With a light jump, the donkey clambers over the well edge and skitters off into the fields beyond.  Relieved the builders get back to work and just about manage to finish the job.

Sensei Ariana Masayume enjoys telling Lancashire Yogi this story.  As they pause over a cup of magnolia tea, she laughs, and says luckily the owner didnt know about the trauma that his donkey went through. And the builders finished on time. But, she says, for her the real story is that the donkey taught her how to deal with the rubbish that life throws you. You know, Lancashire Yogi, she says, you would think that the donkey might be seeing that its end was in sight. It was trapped in a well, the builders were going to kill it, and they were trying to bury it alive. However the donkey used the very materials that were being used to bury it alive, to rise to the top of the well and escape. 

Lancashire Yogi likes this – he thinks that life may well throw all sorts of difficulties at you as you journey through – but the trick is to turn whatever negativity or difficulties there are into opportunities and solutions.

Sensei Ariana Masayume spent most of her time with Lancashire Yogi reminding him about his Aikido and Ki practices.  Aikido means “harmony, energy way” and alot of their practices were about how you use the energy of the moment to bring about harmony.  Sensei Ariana doesn’t practice yoga, but she does practice Ki work – and the power of Ki is like the power of prana – and the energy that is generated by yoga practices. 

The donkey in the well is a good example of both disciplines in action.