March 27, 2019

The World is a Waiting Lover

Audio and Transcript of a dharma teaching by Marc Gafni for the Circle of Venwoude in Holland through Skype (Easter 2012)

The Story of Krishna

We’re going to finish with a holy story that I will read you from my heart, from the mirror of the heart. It’s the great story of the goddess Radah.

You know that many mortal women make love to Krishna, and Krishna is the sensuous God, the child, the lover. He was often caught stealing butter. He would walk among the villages in the hot, moist, Indian land, and he called the women to join him for an afternoon of lovemaking. Age didn’t matter, the rolls of the belly didn’t matter, gray hair or black hair didn’t matter, curve of the breast didn’t matter, marital status didn’t matter. Krishna loved all women and all men, and Krishna wanted to be loved in turn.

Stream Audio here and read further below:

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New book by Sally Kempton explores the transformative power of Shakti

shaktiHow do you live a life of spiritual awakening as well as outer abundance, inner freedom as well as deep intimacy? How do you serve the world selfessly, yet passionately celebrate your life?

A new book, Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddess of Yoga, provides a much needed and immensely valuable perspective.

The sages of Tantra have known for centuries that when you follow the path of Shakti—the sacred feminine principle personified by the goddesses of yoga— these gifts can manifest spontaneously. Yet most of us, women as well as men, have yet to experience the full potential of our inner feminine energies.

When you know these powers for what they are, they heighten your capacity to open spiritually, love more deeply and fearlessly, create with greater mastery, and move through the world with skill and delight. In Awakening Shakti, you will learn how to recognize and invite:

  • Kali, bringer of strength, fierce love, and untamed freedom
  • Lakshmi, who confers prosperity and beauty
  • Saraswati, for clarity of communication and intuition
  • Radha, who carries the divine energy of spiritual longing
  • Bhuvaneshvari, who creates the space for sacred transformation
  • Parvati, to awaken creativity and the capacity to love

With a wealth of meditations, visualizations, mantras, teachings, and beautifully told stories, Awakening Shakti provides a practical guide for activating the currents of the divine feminine in every aspect of your life. [Read more…]

Would Jesus, Krishna, and Buddha have been best friends?

Note: The following dialogue transcript is taken from the conversation between Marc Gafni and Dada conducted in December 2012. The entire dialogue is currently available for a very limited time at the Imaginal World website.

We need to actually grow up to higher and higher levels of consciousness. The way we do it is we have to tell the story. We need to teach about levels of consciousness. People don’t even know they exist. There are clear and distinct stages of consciousness. That needs to become part of our vocabulary.

We need to being looking at where are we on the map. Where’s my people? Am I egocentric? Ethnocentric? Worldcentric? Cosmocentric? That’s just one simple way of talking about levels of consciousness. It’s really easy. Every one of our holy listeners, who are awesome and thank you and deep bow, can get that.

Egocentric: my felt sense of concern is me and my people, my family, people who help me survive.

Ethnocentric, which is a leap of consciousness: I have expanded my circle of care and concern to those in my circle, my country, my tribe, my religion.

Worldcentric: I actually have a felt sense of caring and concern for actually every human being in the world.

Cosmocentric: I’m even wider and more expanded. I have a felt sense of care and concern for every sentient being, for the cosmos, for past, present, and future, and I’m awakened to the divine in me and I’m acting as a divine agent catalyzing and taking the responsibility for this whole story that we’re in, because you started the story. You were there at the Big Bang. Where else could you have been? Because it’s your story, step up, take responsibility for it, play in it, in all the ways you can in your life.

Those four levels of consciousness, ego-, ethno-, world-, and cosmo-centric: that’w what I mean by levels of consciousness. it’s just a simple way to talk about it. We’ve got to grow up, and we need to wake up.

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Marc Gafni and Dada Nabhanillananda

On December 4 at 9 a.m. PT, Dr. Marc Gafni will be in dialogue with Dada Nabhanillananda, known as the Yoga Dude — a teacher, yoga activist and musician, on his free Imaginal World teleseminar series, “Creating a World Based on Love.” Marc and Dada will explore Unique Self enlightenment and diverse facets from Marc’s award-winning new book, Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment. Tune in as well for special offer of a one-time-only curated set of Marc’s wonderful teaching resources.

You can check it out and sign up here:

http://www.imaginalworld.com/love/marc/invite/

Acharya Nabhaniilananda normally called “Dada”, is a senior meditation instructor of Ananda Marga, an authority on Yoga philosophy, a published author and a popular musician. In 2011 his song “The Love Remains” was a finalist in the prestigious Song of the Year International Songwriting Contest.

Dada was born in New Zealand in 1955 of English parents. During his early life he studied classical music and poetry. At the age of 11 he started composing music for the piano, and his teachers had high hopes of him becoming a concert pianist. However, during his time as a University student he developed a deep interest in Eastern mysticism. In 1975 he left his native land for Australia, and later Nepal and India where he studied the disciplines and philosophy of Yoga and Meditation within sight of the Himalayas, and was ordained as a Yoga Monk in 1979.

Dada plays melodic folk rock in the style of Simon & Garfunkel or Cat Stevens. He sings about spiritual experiences and ecological or human rights issues, and derives many of his ideas from myths and legends of different cultures. His early musical influences include folk singers Donovan and Don Mclean, and 70’s bands Yes, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Genesis & Santana. Dada’s immersion in eastern mysticism adds a deeper dimension to his music, giving it a lasting quality.

Dada has been recording and performing since 1984, and has played on every continent save Antarctica. He frequently appears at ecological protests or alternative festivals where his songs and audio-visual presentations about the environment are always well received.

Daily Wisdom: Individual Love

From Sally Kempton’s “What is Love?”:

Individual Love

All of us, throughout our lives, constantly do what I did project onto other people and things the feelings of love that actually come from within. “It was the music,” we say. “It was Ned (or Sarah, or Jeannie). It was the surf! It was my teacher’s presence!” Yet the yogic view is that all of our experiences of human love are actually glimpses of the Great Love. (“God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,” Rumi wrote. “It hides within these, till one day it cracks them open.”) It is only when love gets filtered through the prism of the human psyche that it begins to look specific and limited. It becomes veiled by our thoughts and feelings, and we start to think that love comes and goes, that we can feel it only for certain people, or that there’s not enough love to go around. We can’t help doing this.

Our senses, mind, and ego, hardwired to give us the experience of separateness and distinction, set us up to think that love is outside us, that some people and places and things are lovable and others are not, and furthermore that love has different flavors: mother love, romantic love, love of movies, love of nature, compassionate love, sexual love, love of the cozy feeling of being under the covers at the end of a long day.

[Read more…]

Daily Wisdom: The shadow is “the person you’d rather not be”

Photo: spatulated

In today’s Daily Wisdom post, spiritual teacher and writer Sally Kempton offers her perspective on shadow work, one of the five principle practices in World Spirituality (called “lighten up.”)

Jung, whose work was influenced by his reading of Eastern sources, called the shadow “the person you’d rather not be”— the opposite of your conscious personality. He coined the term “shadow” to describe qualities that some yogic scriptures categorize as the kleshas (literally, causes of suffering). These are qualities that a key yogic text, the Bhagavad Gita, rather dauntingly describes as “demonic.” In other words, all the selfish, primitive, egoic, violent, lazy, entitled, aspects of yourself. [Read more…]

Free feeling: Using emotions for liberation

Laughter

Photo Credit: greekadman

 

By Sally Kempton

Practice can change your relationship to emotions, so that instead of being swamped by certain feeling states, you can hold them, contain them, see into their essence, and ultimately, use emotions in the service of your liberation.

Many years ago, I walked into the kitchen of my guru’s ashram, and found him shouting at the cooks. Force- waves of anger were bouncing around the room, almost visible to the naked eye. Then, in mid sentence, he turned, saw us standing there, and smiled. The energy in his eyes went soft. ‘How did you like the show?” he asked. Then, chuckling, he slapped the head cook playfully on the back, and walked away. The cooks giggled, and went back to work, galvanized by the energy he had injected into the afternoon.

That moment changed my understanding about emotions. The clarity and fluidity with which he had shifted from intense anger to good humor was only part of it. More interesting, I felt, was the fact that he had been using anger as a teaching tool. Was he really angry? I don’t know. All I know is that he seemed able to ride the wave of his anger with perfect easiness, and let it pass without a trace.

[Read more…]

Meditation for Life: Awareness, Inquiry, Realignment, and Return to Self

Shiva Meditation

By Sally Kempton

Cross-posted from Patheos.com.

Meditation makes you more self-aware. That’s one of its biggest gifts, even though we don’t always like what we see. When meditation is really working, it has a way of showing you unknown parts of yourself—pockets of your psyche that are beautiful and sublime, but also parts of yourself that are not so tasty. In fact, there will be periods when your life seems to bristle with situations that seem designed to reveal your most embarrassing reactive patterns and unskillful ways of coping. And I’m not even talking about big crises, just about the normal irritations of life.

Maybe you get the flu, or your back goes out, and you realize how cranky you feel when you’re physically uncomfortable. Maybe you notice the impatience in your voice when you talk to your teenager. Or, as happens regularly to a friend of mine, the moment of truth can come from a co-worker asking you pointedly if you would be acting so prickly if you’d meditated today.

The gift of meditation in these situations is that you have resources that can let you shift out of these patterns—sometimes right away.

[Read more…]

Resonance and Dissonance Between the World’s Great Religions (By Sam Alexander)

Methodist Church By Sam Alexander

Religion. The very word strikes fear in the hearts of your average citizen…or boredom, or maybe confusion. My Uncle Joel, a Chemistry professor at UC Berkeley, kept a scrapbook of clippings he said proved religion to be the root cause of humanity’s ills. And who could blame him? The traditionalist mindset holds tight to its religious construct, sure he is right and others wrong, convinced his life depends upon it. Wars are fought, atrocities excused, fear promulgated year after year, all in the name of a god. Humbug.

It’s understandable that culture heaves a deep sigh of relief as the modernist mindset deconstructs the traditional religious myths. The archeologist, the geologist, and the historian of religion all play their part in unraveling the context of meaning which has sustained humanity for 4000 years.

[Read more…]

A World Spirituality Guide to How to Survive being Home for the Holidays, by Sally Kempton


By Sally Kempton

Your roots are showing.

Your relatives have the power to push your buttons like no one else. But they can also illuminate your path to personal transformation.

If you think you’re enlightened, go visit your family. Ram Dass, the influential American teacher of spirituality, said that back in the 1970s. For Anne, who called me recently to confess her fear of an upcoming family Christmas, this is more than an ironic quip.

Each Christmas, fifty of her family members—siblings, and step-siblings, spouses, children, grandchildren and assorted step-children—show up en masse at her father’s ranch in Montana, each harboring a personal grievance, grudge or secret rivalry with at least one other family member. Ann’s mother can’t even say hello to Ann’s sister without making a comment about her weight. Two of Ann’s cousins are Scientologists, another a Christian who believes that Scientology is a cult. Even the yogis in the family disagree with one another’s life choices. Ann’s sister-in-law left her teacher and still blogs angrily about him. That teacher happens to be Ann’s teacher, which is just one more complication in the family stew.

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Inner Revolution ~ by Sally Kempton

Sally-Kempton-100x100

Feel like all hell is breaking loose? You might be experiencing a radical transformation that could change your life for the better.

Step by Step
These are the seven steps of radical transformation.

The Wake-Up Call
You realize that something needs to change.

Holding Uncertainty
You search for methods to help you change, explore teachings and avenues, all the while being willing to live with the insecurity of being in a process of identity-shifting.

Asking for Help
You approach teachers and mentors, and you strongly appeal to the power of grace itself.

Grace, Insight, and Awakening
Grace opens the situation, creating a breakthrough, inner shift, which may manifest as new gifts or insights.

Honeymoon
Enjoying the new situation, you live in the breakthrough. It may feel like being in love.

The Fall From Grace
You lose touch with the new gifts, experience the consequences of over-confidence, and a sense of dryness or loss of contact with your Source.

Integration
You bring insight to bear on the contractions that have caused you to lose contact with grace, you apply spiritual insights to the nitty-gritty actions of life, and you experience the ripening of your breakthroughs over time. [Read more…]

Fierce Grace: The Boons of Kali ~ by Sally Kempton

(c) August 2011 By vudhikrai

(c) August 2011 by vudhikrai

“You need to find your Kali side,” I told Annie. You may know someone like Annie. She’s a production manager at a local tv station, a single mom with a busy schedule, and a really nice person. She values yoga as a doorway into peace and well-being, teaches it to troubled teens, and always stresses the importance of equanimity and other yogic virtues — non-violence, surrender, contentment, detachment.

But Annie’s approach to yoga is like her approach to life: she is so conflict averse, that its hard for her even to admit that she has negative feelings. She rarely raises her voice, and she once told me that she can’t remember the last time she felt anger. But at this moment, mired in a family conflict that involves missing money, elder abuse, and shady lawyers, Annie senses that her carefully cultivated tendency to seek peace over conflict is not helping her. She’s called me for advice: she wants to be told how to keep a good relationship with her brother and sister, and still stop them from cheating her mother out of her property. In other words, she wants me to give her a prescription for non-violent conflict from the yogic playbook.

Instead, what pops out of my mouth is, “You need to find your Kali side.” [Read more…]

Falling in Love with the Divine: Devotion & Tantra of the Heart — October 14 – 16, 2011

Falling in Love with the Divine:

Devotion and Tantra of the Heart 

Sally Kempton  &  Marc Gafni

For many contemporary spiritual practitioners, devotion is a missing ingredient in their practice. Yet part of what gives practice its juice and excitement is the living relationship with the personal face of the divine—the Being-Intelligence of all that is—by which you are personally addressed, loved, challenged, and held. Devotion, heart practice directed toward a divine other, or the divine other in a beloved, is a secret of inner awakening, and a key to emotional healing and evolutionary transformation. It’s no wonder that some of the greatest sages and teachers of all time, from Rumi to the Hasidic masters, were also followers of the devotional path. [Read more…]

Finding the Vulnerable Heart, Part Two

By Sally Kempton

Originally posted on Patheos.

In Part One of this series, we began to explore vulnerability as a path, and to look at what it takes to feel safely vulnerable. My meditations on vulnerability began during a conversation with a student named Roberta. Roberta had noticed that she often felt over-sensitive, too open to other people and even the pain of the world around her. In the last article, I discussed where vulnerability comes from, and the different types of vulnerability. Mainly, I tried to distinguish between the vulnerability that comes from weak boundaries, and mature vulnerability—based on real inner strength. That kind of vulnerability, what we might call radical vulnerability, is really only possible for someone who has established both strong personal boundaries, and a deep connection to her own core, the Essence, or inner Self. Here are some conclusions, along with a couple of exercises: one for creating energetic boundaries, the second for deepening your relationship with your own vulnerable self. [Read more…]

Finding the Vulnerable Heart, Part One

 

by Sally Kempton

Originally posted on Patheos.

Roberta approaches me during a break in an urban workshop. Retreats and workshops, she explains, leave her feeling so wide-open that she’ll often find herself picking up other people’s energy and moods. She’d left the workshop the night before, gone out on the street, and felt overwhelmed by the Saturday night energy of the city. Not just the cars honking and the music, but the people who passed her by, and even her own boyfriend.

I look at her—tall and blonde and thin—and asked her if in general she feels vulnerable. She burst into tears. “I want to be open,” she said. “But I feel so raw!” Raw, in this case, is another word for vulnerable. And Roberta’s struggle is a real one.

If you’ve done much yoga, meditation, or even deep psychological work, you may have felt something similar. When I was first spending time around my teacher, the energy generated in meditation would sometimes leave me feeling weepy and irritable, hypersensitive, even overwhelmed. No one had ever told me that the first (and many subsequent) stages of opening the heart could feel like exposing a wound, or like taking the lid off of a Pandora’s box of old, unprocessed griefs and fears.

Nor did I realize, until years later, that fielding these feelings of vulnerability is not optional, nor even personal to me, but an actual part of the yogic process. Yoga, after all, is not an escape from life, but a way of taking yourself into life’s pulsing heart. As you do that, you will inevitably meet your own vulnerability. Just as vulnerability and rawness are synonymous, so are vulnerability and openness. In other words, to find your way to true openness of heart, you need to pass through the forest of vulnerability.

[Read more…]

What is My Dharma?

by Sally Kempton

In my late 20s, as a recovering existentialist in the midst of a life-crisis, I came across  he Bhagavad Gita, and read for the first time Krishna’s wordson dharma. You probably remember the situation: the warrior-prince Arjuna, paralyzed by confusion at the prospect of having to kill his kinsmen in a war, begs his friend and teacher, Krishna, for help. Though Krishna’s response touches on every essential aspect of the inner life, from how to meditate to what to expect when we die, the lines that struck me were these: “You are a warrior,” Krishna tells his pupil, “your svadharma, your personal duty, is to fight. Therefore, stand up and do battle. Better your own dharma badly performed than the dharma of another done perfectly.”

Is it possible to read that sentence without asking yourself the question “What is my dharma?” I felt that I’d suddenly found words for a question I’d been trying to formulate my whole life. I made my living as a writer—was that my dharma? I’d just begun serious spiritual practice—was that my dharma? I had a life-long aversion to the conventional rules of society—was that a sign that I was out of line with dharma, or simply that I followed a dharma that was uniquely mine? Was there really, as Krishna’s words seemed to imply, a blueprint for right action, perhaps lodged in my DNA, that could provide my own personal path to truth? Was that the clue to the question that had confused me for most of my life, “What am I really supposed to be doing?”

Years of practice have convinced me that there is such a thing as personal dharma, and that unless we’re in touch with it, we’re out of touch with our real source of strength and guidance. When we are inside our dharma, spiritual growth seems to happen naturally. When we aren’t, we feel stuck and stymied not just in our work and relationships, but in our inner life as well.

[Read more…]

Prayer for Postmoderns: Part 2

Prayer, if you remember to do it, will kindle your sense of the sacred, the sense of being held or taken care of by the universe.

by Sally Kempton

Prayer, as anyone who does it regularly knows, is a path in and of itself. What we saw last week is that the great prayer masters didn’t really care how you pray. The main thing is that you feel connected when you’re praying. Prayer, if you remember to do it, will kindle your sense of the sacred, the sense of being held or taken care of by the universe.

Last week, we talked at length about the Asking Prayer, the prayer of petition. This week, we’ll look at two other forms of prayer, and at the most inward form of prayer. Then we’ll put it all together.

Prayer as Appreciation

Appreciative prayer includes every moment when we say thank you for the beauty in nature, or for the blessings in our life. It also includes every formal traditional prayer, from the Book of Psalms to the thousand names of Allah to the Rig Veda, as well as the highly creative practice of the monk Brother Lawrence, who simply spent the whole day talking to God.

[Read more…]

Bust a Groove!

by Sally Kempton

Change is good. Better yet, change is possible. Here are a few strategies for busting out of painful, negative grooves.

When I was in my 20s and taking my first tentative steps along the inner path, I spent a few months working with a Jungian analyst. I went because I felt stuck. I had a novel to write that I couldn’t seem to focus on, a boyfriend who didn’t seem to love me the way I wanted to be loved, and a general feeling of dissatisfaction with myself. The most memorable thing she ever said to me was about the possibility of changing. She said it one afternoon after listening to me going on about all the things that weren’t working in my life.

“You know what your real problem is?” she asked me. “You don’t understand that it’s possible to change.”

I was shocked. “What do you mean?” I said.

“You think that the way you are now is the way you have to be. That isn’t true. You can change all of it. You can change your relationships. You can change the way you do things. You can change the way you feel.”

There is nothing more radical than the moment you realize that it is possible to reinvent your life. I’m not talking about superficial reinvention, like changing your grunge look for all-whites and mala beads, or even about doing something more radical, such as leaving a regular job to work for Doctors without Borders. I’m talking here about reconfiguring mental and emotional attitudes, shifting your vision of life—the kind of inner shift that turns a pessimist into someone capable of seeing the perfection in everything, that lets an angry person channel rage into creative energy, that makes us happier, more peaceful, more in touch with the love and wisdom at our core.

This sort of transformation is the crux of the inner life, the promise of yoga, of meditation, and of the various forms of inner work and self-inquiry we undertake. Yet it’s essential to understand what kind of change we’re really after and also to understand what that level of change requires. We don’t want to limit our own possibilities by expecting too little from our practice. On the other hand, we don’t want to indulge in magical thinking, or in the kind of spiritual bypass that makes us think we can simply meditate our way out of our life issues.

[Read more…]

Finding Your Courage

By Sally Kempton

My understanding about courage was transformed by a conversation with an ex-Special Forces guy I met in the late 1980s.

Scott (a name I’ve given him because I can’t for the life of me remember his real one) had spent 20 years as a covert operative profiled for hyper-dangerous missions. He was a real-life version of a Nelson DeMille character–one of those guys who spent his life sneaking into Soviet embassies in places like Cambodia to steal secret papers. Then the Cold War ended, and he went home to someplace like Pennsylvania. There, he discovered that his formerly hard-drinking parents had gotten sober, joined AA, and wanted Scott to go to Al Anon, the 12-step program for relatives of alcoholics.

“What you have to realize,” he told me, “is that in all my years in the Special Forces, I’d never been physically afraid. I loved danger, and I was really good at it. Guys like me have what the Marine Corps psychologists call throwaway lives, meaning the person doesn’t really care whether they live or die. But when I walked into that meeting, I was so terrified that I couldn’t stay in the room.”

[Read more…]

Meditation for Life: Is It True? Is It Really True? by Sally Kempton

by Sally Kempton

Twenty-five years ago, inspired by Gandhi’s autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, I decided to practice absolute truthfulness for one week. I lasted less than two days. On the third day, a man I was trying to impress asked me if I’d read Thoreau, and I heard myself saying, “Yes,” despite the fact that I hadn’t. A few minutes later, I forced myself to confess the lie. Truth is, that wasn’t so hard. What turned out to be harder was looking at why I’d lied. It was deeply humiliating to my ego to recognize that I had such an attachment to looking smart that I couldn’t admit not having read the book. And once I’d started looking into the motive for that lie,  it started a whole process of inquiry that actually hasn’t stopped since.

[Read more…]

Meditation for Life: Awareness and Transformation by Sally Kempton

Meditation will show you where you need to work on yourself, but your very awareness of an unconstructive mood or behavior is actually the first step to changing it.

By Sally Kempton [cross-posted from Patheos.com]

Meditation makes you more self-aware. That’s one of its biggest gifts, even though we don’t always like what we see. When meditation is really working, it has a way of showing you unknown parts of yourself—pockets of your psyche that are beautiful and sublime, but also parts of yourself that are not so tasty. In fact, there will be periods when your life seems to bristle with situations that seem designed to reveal your most embarrassing reactive patterns and unskillful ways of coping. And I’m not even talking about big crises, just about the normal irritations of life.

Maybe you get the flu, or your back goes out, and you realize how cranky you feel when you’re physically uncomfortable. Maybe you notice the impatience in your voice when you talk to your teenager. Or, as happens regularly to a friend of mine, the moment of truth can come from a co-worker asking you pointedly if you would be acting so prickly if you’d meditated today.

The gift of meditation in these situations is that you have resources that can let you shift out of these patterns—sometimes right away.

That’s why an experienced meditator knows that the moment when you see your own stuff is valuable, especially if you can resist the impulse to kick yourself across the room for not having it more together. Not only does it show you where you need to work on yourself, but your very awareness of an unconstructive mood or behavior is actually the first step to changing it. In other words, the awareness that allows you to recognize your state is also the source of the energy that can transform it.

Most of our more disturbing emotions or behaviors come from areas of the psyche where we have chosen to remain unconscious. In Hindi, the word for these unconscious, immature qualities is kacha, meaning “raw” or “unbaked.” (In one of Rumi’s poems, he compares the unripe soul to a chickpea that needs to be softened by cooking so that it will become a tasty morsel!) All of us are partly kacha, and it’s our practice that cooks us, or if you prefer, ripens us.

But the kind of practice that transforms us is not a mechanical accumulation of rituals and focus exercises. It is practice with awareness and practice of awareness that actually changes the texture of our consciousness. Awareness itself, with its clarity, its impersonality, its spaciousness, and its capacity to hold everything within itself, is the fire that will cook or ripen our immature feelings and behaviors. Just holding these feelings non-judgmentally in Awareness—being their witness without either acting on them, trying to suppress them, or getting lost in our stories or beliefs about what is happening—is often enough to change their quality from raw to baked.

This principle holds true for any situation we face, whether internally or externally generated. Because our awareness is a small-scale version of the great Awareness that underlies all that is, when we direct attention non-judgmentally toward something that causes suffering either to ourselves or to others, we are actually bringing that state or mood or behavior into the light of the great Awareness itself.

Awareness not only illumines the dark corners of our psyches but can also transmute the strange energies and raw feelings that dwell there. Then the energy that has been tied up in them is freed to become available for more creative endeavors. We are spiritually ripe, baked, when all our knotted energies and feelings have been freed and re-channeled to manifest as wisdom, power, and love. How this happens is one of the mysteries of Consciousness. What we do know is that the act of turning Awareness toward our inner moods, states, and feelings is the great tactic for setting that alchemy in motion.

Inquire Within

The sages of Vedanta gave the name atma vichara, or self-inquiry, to this act of becoming aware of ourselves.

Vichara is not just thinking about something, nor is it the same as psychological self-analysis. It is a yogic practice or self-reflection in which we hold our attention on inner phenomena in a steady, focused fashion without going into meditation. There are two basic types of vichara. One is the contemplation we do to get in touch with our deeper wisdom, to open the space of revelation, to understand a spiritual teaching, or to touch our Self. The classical inner question “Who am I?” (taught by Ramana Maharshi and others) is an example of this type of vichara.

The other type of self-inquiry is contemplation of what blocks our experience of the Self. When we feel out of sorts, instead of giving way to the feelings or getting lost in the story we are telling ourselves about them, we focus our attention on the feelings themselves. We let ourselves fully experience the feelings. We notice the thoughts that accompany them. We observe the state of our energy, the sensations in our body. At times it can be helpful to trace a feeling back to its source, perhaps to discover the frustrated desire or fear or expectation that may have triggered it. But the most important thing is to keep noticing our inner feelings and the state of our energy until it becomes second nature to notice the symptoms of being off-center.

Only when we can recognize and identify the actual inner sensations of being out of alignment with ourselves can we get back in touch. Without that recognition, we only know that we are uncomfortable, and we have little chance of adjusting our state.

Self-Inquiry in Action

Imagine the following scenario. It is early morning, and you have been up late working on a project that is approaching its deadline. You need to get to the office early to meet with your team to finalize some important loose ends. As you are putting the coffee on the stove, your 10-year-old daughter announces that she feels sick. She has a high fever and a bad cough. She needs a day in bed and a trip to the doctor. You realize that there isn’t anyone you can get to stay with her at such short notice. You will have to stay home and take care of her. Yet if you don’t keep your appointment at the office, your project hasn’t a chance of being completed in time. The thought of what this will mean sends you into a rapid spiral of panic. “Why do things like this always happen to me?” you hear yourself thinking. “My life is so impossible.” Fear, frustration, anger, and despair.

At this moment, you make a crucial yogic choice. Instead of letting yourself careen into acting out of your panic and anger, you consciously pause. You make up your mind to pay attention to your own state and to deal with it before you try to take action.

You take a couple of deep breaths, and then you check in with yourself. You scan your body and notice the rhythm of your breath. You discover that your breathing is choppy—in fact, you are actually holding your breath. You notice a clenched sensation in your diaphragm and stomach muscles and a tightness in your chest. You realize that your heart is also feeling tight and closed and that there are threads of fear shooting through it. Your energy is alternately fluttering and sinking, sometimes rushing through you in waves of panic, sometimes flattening out as depression and a feeling of helplessness. Your thoughts are all about victimization: “It’s so unfair. Why can’t someone besides me take care of things for a change? Why is this always happening?”

This moment of stopping, turning inside, checking yourself out, noticing how you feel, and observing your thoughts without buying into them is a profoundly significant moment of yoga. It will give you the power to act from a more resourceful, skillful place, rather than simply reacting to the difficulties in the situation. Now instead of blocking your discomfort or trying to distract yourself, instead of overriding your emotions and plunging ahead regardless of how your inner energy feels, instead of letting your strong reactions overwhelm you so that you blow up at your daughter or paralyze yourself with resentment or paranoia, you use these feelings as a signal to stop and return to yourself.

Realigning

Once you have recognized your own state, you can begin to work with it. For this you have a number of different options.

The first step, always, is to bring your attention to the breath. The breath automatically connects the ordinary mind to the deeper Self. When you grab hold of the breath and just follow its rhythm for a moment or two, or take a couple of full breaths, it will eventually center you.

For me, the second step in realigning with my deep center is to bring my attention into the heart. Once I have recovered my wits through a few rounds of steady, deliberate breathing, I drop a sort of inner plumb line inside to the area of the middle chest, beneath the breastbone, and I let my attention rest there until I feel the inner heart space relax and expand. When energy is stuck in the head, your thoughts tend to go in circles and you come up with rote, uncreative solutions to your issues. Once your attention moves into the heart, you are automatically in touch with your intuition. You are in one of the essential centers of spiritual wisdom and awareness. Resting in that seat in the heart, you can do whatever other practice is needed. You can ask your inner intuition what is the best thing to do.

But these are just two of your available options. You have others. You might decide that you need to spend some time soothing yourself, perhaps by replacing your agitated thoughts with a more positive thought. You could practice a few moments of mindfulness, ‘sitting’ in the heart and noticing the thoughts, feelings, and inner sensations as they arise. You could ask yourself a question like “Can you let this thought go?” and then breathe it out, or simply wait for a natural recognition that the thoughts and feelings are simply arising and passing through—and that you can let them go.

Another thing you can do is give yourself a teaching. My teacher used to say that the reason we study spiritual texts is so that they’ll come up when we need them and help us coach ourselves into a more resourceful state.

A friend once told me about a practice she used during a particularly difficult season at her university department. She had a hostile colleague who would interrupt her, question her agendas, and generally harass her. She got through it by reminding herself, “You are in the peaceful mind of God.”

A man with a tendency to lose his temper during moments of frustration works with a famous yogic technique called “Practicing the Opposite” from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. When he notices rage surging up inside him, he takes time to become aware of the thoughts associated with the feelings, and then fills his mind with counter-thoughts like “I have great tolerance and respect for these people.” Even though it isn’t always true, holding the positive thought calms his mind enough to make him less reactive.

For me, a line from the Bhagavad Gita, “You have a right to the work alone, but not to its fruits,” often comes up when I’m caught in desire for a particular outcome. Contemplating this resonant, mysterious teaching helps me detach myself from my fears, my wants, and my expectations so that I can act more objectively.

So once you have paused, checked yourself out, and recognized the way it feels to be out of your center, you have many options for beginning to come back to yourself. As you keep working with this threefold process of recognition, self-inquiry, and practice, you learn to navigate your own rough waters and to find the harbors that are always there.

This moment of stopping, turning inside, checking yourself out, noticing how you feel, and observing your thoughts without buying into them is a profoundly significant moment of yoga. It will give you the power to act from a more resourceful, skillful place, rather than simply reacting to the difficulties in the situation. Now instead of blocking your discomfort or trying to distract yourself, instead of overriding your emotions and plunging ahead regardless of how your inner energy feels, instead of letting your strong reactions overwhelm you so that you blow up at your daughter or paralyze yourself with resentment or paranoia, you use these feelings as a signal to stop and return to yourself.

Sally KemptonSally Kempton An internationally known teacher of meditation and spiritual wisdom, Sally Kempton is the author of Meditation for the Love of It and writes a monthly column for Yoga Journal. Follow her on Facebook and visit her website at www.sallykempton.com.