August 29, 2010

Anusara Yoga Immersion III with John Friend

I started my journey with John Friend at Immersion One in San Francisco this past January.

photo by Mario Covic

Fresh and excited, I entered the room and immediately was overcome by the sweet synchronicity of hundreds of people with shared vision. You could feel it. Steady flames, lit with the embrace of this empowered reality, danced, expanding and contracting to the beat of the Universal. Sensitive to subtle vibration I closed my eyes and felt a shift take place before the first word was spoken. Enmeshed in the hidden threads that weave us all, my inner resonance tuned in to the greater, heavier vibration of the whole. It was ‘a momentary hit of the highest’ as John says – an invitation to see beyond the veils, if only for one breath.

At the risk of sounding both cliché and grandeur I can look back now over the past eight months and say with sincerity that this community, this method, this awakening to depth has changed my life. Something akin to fierce paradoxical loyalty and total openness to the serpentine nature of the path edges the gap of the midline, the space of infinite creative potential, a little wider, for a little longer…

Immersion III in Park City for me carried the flavor of familiarity, third time around, which was deeply restorative. The physical location of the immersion alone was enough to scrub the edges of my frenzied and over-traveled being smooth. Soft, rolling mountain hills, fresh air, blue sky and five days of perfect sunlight hugged the studio space in sweet embrace. The Shop, the venue for immersion III, is an incredible manifestation of shri. An old building gutted and revamped leaving no detail in shadow – gorgeous bronze, brown and turquoise floors under vaulted ceilings with artful fans and lighting fixtures, contained on all sides by large windows and doors that invited sun-splashed leaf and mountain views. Murtis of all shapes and sizes held the space alive.

John seemed well rested and totally lit up. We covered serious material interspersed with the usual hilarity and good-natured laughter. Each day interwove lessons in the Bhagavad Gita. As we moved chapter by chapter, eavesdroppers on the famous conversation between Krishna (the Divine) and Arjuna on the battlefield of life, we remembered once again that bhakti (devotion, love) is the highest teaching. In exploring the Chakra system of the subtle body we learned about balance and interconnectedness, tuning our central channel between sky and earth. Shiva-Shakti Tantra and, of course, the Anusara Principles of Alignment brought application and immediate practicality to some initially difficult subject matter. Anodea Judith, a woman I admire for her insight and contribution, was a very welcome addition along with the ever-charming Manoj.

Heart Chakra

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells Arjuna, to never let the fruit of action be the motivation. To move dharmically through life is to set a course of intention for the highest, riding the space in resonance between effort and grace, ever in childlike wonder for what arises along the way. On the tail end of Immersion III with John in Park City I take a step back to asses the intrinsic fruits of the path which delightfully and wholeheartedly sit in a space of integration.

Which is really the theme of this piece. Integration. Between January and now I’ve completed 100+ hours of training with John and nearly 100 with Sianna Sherman and Kenny Graham. I’ve spent time weekly studying the scriptures of Tantra with my teacher Christopher Wallis and delighted in time with Douglas Brooks and many others.

We learned this week from John in the Gita that at the end of cycle, whatever you’re feeling or thinking will take you to the next level. Abhinavagupta adds that it’s not just that moment of transition, but everything up to that point – an accumulation of experience that lifts the bar. Cycles are accumulative, and like a spiral each revolution comes back around one octave higher than the last. Far from a cycle coming to a close as these first immersions end to clear the way for teacher training courses I see ever expanding continuity. It’s a beautiful thing.

photo by Mario Covic

Back in January it would have been hard for me to believe just how deeply integrated the teachings would become for me – not just integrated, but embodied. I don’t yet teach yoga, but I have had the opportunity to teach hoop dance workshops around the country this summer – and it’s through teaching others that you discover the pith of what brings you there (to the mat, to the hoop) over and over – your Big Why, as my dad says – that which gets you fired up.

For a long time now I’ve finessed and cajoled a concept of the dance that began first in the ineffable. For me the hoop has always been a mystical experience first – one that ushered in rapid transformation and empowerment. I knew early on that it was exactly that experience – the lighting up of individual expression – the radical acceptance of self and other as is, that was to be my central message in the hoop. Little by little, workshop by workshop, over time pieces and parts, bits of the matrika, the skillful language to express what is inexpressible started to link up, to tune themselves into resonance and the spiral continues on.

In Salt Lake City the weekend before Immersion III began, I had two days of hoop workshops ahead of me and I sat in the cool morning air and journaled the sun awake.

To be in flow is to harmonize with the intrinsic patterning in nature – to ride the midline between effort and grace so that we fall back as dancers into relationship with that which dances us. Our innermost self, when allowed to shine forth is expansive, free and self-empowered. You realize that by acting on the present moment, by aligning our dance in flow, we are in a position of infinite potential…a potential that leads to freedom.

What began to emerge months ago was a template for understanding reality. Not just in dance but in all arenas. Metaphor and magic, philosophy overlaid technique, the metaphysical and the physical. My dear friend and teacher asked me early on in my studies of Tantra, “is it what you expected it to be?” And my answer, “It’s everything I’ve ever known on the deepest level of my being, now I have the words to describe it.” It’s like that.

Spiral Dance

I find myself teaching, walking, being Tantra, teaching yoga, living yoga, practicing skill in action as it says in the Gita as I move through life. This may not surprise you, but it blows me away because it shows that what was once entirely intellectual knowledge has begun the long journey down to the integration of the heart.

The last day John brought everyone to seated, eyes closed. A moment of quiet meditation erupted into smile and song. The Beatles, ‘All You Need is Love’ finessed stillness to dance. And it’s true, really. In Anusara Yoga we go the highest first, arms open in wonder, integrating the detail down the downward pointing triangle, the whole experience of reality, both the “good” and “bad”. Dharma is whatever enhances and affirms the sacredness in life. It is harmony. Out of harmony, we learned, you gain insight, revelation and knowledge in the highest. You find joy in the freedom.

The Bhagavad Gita reminds us that at the end of cycle, whatever you’re feeling or thinking will take you to the next level. We learned that in the absolute realm, there is no word for love. Love is the feeling between things. It’s the relationship of sharing joy (ananda), so as I/we move on to what awaits on the next octave, as we spiral the dance deeper and deeper into the fires of transformation, of yoga, we remember in relationship – with the hoop, with each other in community, with the teachings – that all that integrates spirals from pure being (from contrary compliment back to the One) into the heart. We are the rainbow bridge uniting heaven and earth, the tuned guitar string on which the Universal plays her sweet songs.

Dancing around and around again…

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