Even in the urban

Reading an interview with Naomi Klein in Tricycle, I was reminded of this quote from Richard Rosen in his book Original Yoga.

Rosen writes,

Again we see the close relationship between asana and the natural world. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine that the world itself is ensouled and practicing yoga; that it, too, is searching for its authentic self; and that humans are playing along, matching the world’s asanas.

Klein had said,

Part of what fuels manic consumption is the desire to fill gaps in our lives that emerge because of severed connections of various kinds—with community, with one another, and also with the natural world.

We tend to think about connections to nature as something you have to get out of the city in order to build. We’ll say, let’s take urban kids to the wilderness. I think doing that is really valuable, and I believe everybody should be able to experience that. But I also think that we have to be able to engage with the fact that we are still profoundly dependent on nature even when we are in urban environments.

She mentions,

I had a yoga teacher for years who was really good at getting large groups of people at the YMCA to think about the earth beneath the concrete, to connect with the fact that animals all over our world were breathing the same air as us. These practices are critical for us to realize that especially in our protected, air-conditioned bubbles, we are dependent on the natural systems that are being destabilized by climate change.

Little city birds are to be treasured.

A challenge for me in moving to D.C. from Sacramento has been adapting to the “air-conditioned bubble” of the apartment house that is now my home. In my unit, I open the windows. They face north, toward an abandoned and re-wilded section of Klingle Road in Rock Creek Park. The gravel-topped roof of the parking garage keeps the treetops out of reach. I hear birds. Occasionally a sparrow, cardinal, mourning dove or white-breasted nuthatch lands to rest.

In other posts, I’ve mentioned the treasure of the garden conservancy Tregaron–amazingly and generously maintained for the public by a private trust–, and Rock Creek Park where one sees white-tailed deer and the stylish-looking black squirrels. Thanks in part to my grandmother, Kay Mergen, a Nevada transplant who had a large hand in raising my brother and me in D.C. in the 70s and 80s, I know to seek the non-human, that wilder things share the city.

Monday night, I left for an evening walk rattled by unexpected news and feeling out of sorts. The sun was setting. I stayed outside in Tregaron through dusk and into darkness, watching the little brown bats darting through the blue-purple sky. Who can watch a bat and not be transformed?

Little brown bats are little. We can hold them in a hand. How do we gently hold the non-human world in our Homo sapiens hands?

A few weeks ago, sitting by the frog pond as evening arrived, Matt, Tucker and I were startled by the POP POP POP POP of what we thought was a tree branch cracking. Before us, about 150 yards away, an entire oak tree smashed to the ground. When we investigated, we saw the tree had been over 100 feet tall. Fresh-wood smell enveloped us.

This morning, one of my students practiced her yoga lesson mostly supine. She’s recovering from a toe injury and an infection. We began in mountain pose, her feet against the wall. Then she entered tree pose lying on her back. As I listened to her breathe, I remembered the Rosen quote, and the interview with Klein.

The world is practicing yoga. When we choose to devote a little time to asana practice, meditating, reflecting on our actions and noticing our breath, we join with it.

Walking Meditation

These past couple of months I’ve been taking my meditation practice outside, experiencing movement, place and mindfulness at once. Walking meditation can be practiced just about anywhere.

Any walk becomes mindful through breath awareness and focus. In walking meditation, we notice surroundings at the pace of the body. The ability to just be, with ease, reduces stress and contributes to mental and physical health.

Stand. Feel the connection of your feet with the ground. Sense the body’s organization, hips aligned over ankles, shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders. Relax the outer corners of the eyes. Keep the chin parallel with the ground as the gaze lowers. Clasp hands in front of or behind the torso or let them swing freely.

Start at a crossing-the-room pace. Then walk more slowly. This may feel off-kilter, as if you are relearning the body’s relationship with gravity. Slip into what meditators call “beginner’s mind,” a perspective of openness and receptivity.

Apply a sense of spaciousness to thoughts as well. Imagine the mind made of baleen, the keratin bristles found in a whale’s mouth. Gather through the senses what nourishes; filter out what doesn’t.

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Metta meditation

There are as many versions of Metta meditation as there are meditation teachers. From lesson to lesson, the instructions I offer vary slightly depending on setting and students.

Here’s how this Metta meditation works.

Four sentences provide a chassis for the vehicle of sharing compassion. 

May you know safety.

May you be well in body and mind.

May you experience contentment and joy.

May you live with ease.

Home-base is friendliness: You’ll call to mind an image of yourself, contented, or an image of someone you love deeply and unconditionally. (In this practice, animals count as people, too!)

You’ll take the mind and the heart on an excursion through friendliness, kindness and compassion. Notice where that feeling abides in the body. Let the feeling spread to suffuse the whole body.

Sequentially call to mind and offer well-wishes from the heart by silently reciting the sentences for:

  • someone you consider a loved one, a friend or family member
  • someone you don’t know well and you appreciate, an acquaintance, a service provider
  • someone for whom you feel neutrally, an attendant, a neighbor
  • someone who presents difficulty for you, toward whom you may react with aversion
  • someone you love…use an unqualified feeling of kindness to bring you back to home-base

Moving through the images of each person is like watching a slide show. Keep a sense of the previous slides of the people you recall even as you conjure the next.

You can conclude the meditation here, resting in the easy chair of the heart. Breathing.

Or choose to conclude with a final image of yourself, at this moment. Know that friendliness is a limitless well into which you can dip your cup to satisfy your own thirst or another’s.

Or conclude with a broad well-wish for the world. (This is how the recorded version ends.)

Ready?

Settle into a comfortable seat. Be sure your posture is awake and alert and carries a sense of sincerity. Support yourself with pillows and blankets. No need to be distracted by discomfort.

Guided Metta Meditation (approx. 10 minutes)

(Mindful) Morning!

Pleased to have “Make It a Mindful Morning” published in today’s

WITHIN OUR MORNINGS, there are moments as expansive as giant soap bubbles we could step into and inhabit. This is mindfulness: that intentional “stepping into” the current of right now, with curiosity, without judgment.

Why bother with mindfulness? After all, by the time the sun comes up there are cats to feed, coffee to brew, news feeds to read and cereal to chew.

Mindfulness, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. Noticing what’s happening in our mind and body, as it’s happening, appears to offer a host of benefits from greater relationship satisfaction to increased focus, strengthened immune system and a more functional memory.

Even better, the cat can eat, the coffee can pour and the cereal can be crunched. Routine activities provide the perfect home base for practicing mindfulness.

Reading the news, on the other hand, will have to wait. But after a few mindfulness moments, when you do turn to headlines, chances are you’ll feel more focused. A mindful morning increases the likelihood of continued mindfulness throughout the day.

How do we measure a moment?

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