|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - Feb 2017|
In the Mind’s Garden
by Joanne Sullivan (Divya)
This is not a silence diary. I recently tried to do a 21-day silence here surrounding Mauni Amavasya, the annual day of silence, a day my teacher, Swami Veda Bharati, loved. Though I was silent most of the time, I did speak a few times. There was a stretch of 10 days before and 10 days after when people were invited to do a silence. 14 other participants did a silence for varying numbers of days. They came from Egypt, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, South Africa, the United States and India.
Our group did a wonderful 12-hour akhanda japa of the Saumya mantra in Swami Veda’s upstairs initiation room the day before Mauni Amavasya. According to Swami Radha, “several of us said that it was the most impactful part of the retreat. Each of us spent at least 3 hours in that practice.” It did indeed create a powerful peace.
In 2000, Swami Veda wrote of the Saumya mantra “This particular observance has the purpose of bringing about peacefulness within each mind, radiating first into the personal family, then into the entire Guru family AND then into the larger global family.”
Some also did a daily fire practice which can have a magnifying or deepening effect. Though we did not speak with one another I felt close to the others in our small group and it felt like a warm shawl was wrapped tight around us. It was still winter outside.
I came away with a gem: contemplative walking in Swami Veda’s Manana-Vatika, the Contemplative Garden. The garden is lined with trees planted by children from the Yoga and Youth Retreat of 2014. Each child had named his or her tree. “Connecting to Mother Earth” is an interesting article about the birth of this garden. It also offers possibilities for a valuable process you may want to try with children. The graceful garden walk itself has soft lines and invites you in. It sits with the little Kali River on one side, the Meditation Hall on another, and the ashram cows on another.
My son had asked me why I was doing a silence, did I have a particular purpose or goal in mind. I said “I just want my practice back.” What was once a natural discipline had faltered and I had been trying unsuccessfully to pick up the pieces; illness or ennui (and samskaras) had deterred me.
During those 21 days, I occasionally checked emails and read the news —something I would not recommend. It sort of has you straddling 2 worlds or modes of being instead of just diving in. Maybe next time.
Looking back, I had not taken time to prepare myself for this potentially life-changing event which may not avail itself again soon—or even in this lifetime. I wish I had read the recommended readings on silence a few weeks in advance and taken time to internalize them. There were other practicalities that I had not addressed beforehand. I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed at 4 a.m.—prime practice time—stitching my comforter. The batting was coming out and it was cold. Then too, my pants were loose so I did some makeshift alterations with needle and thread to keep my winter pants from falling down. Then there was the day the pressure cooker shouted “BEANS!” all over my kitchen. And would you believe it happened again 2 weeks later? I have finally learned how to clean the whistle and spout of a pressure cooker.
I have lived here for 13 years. These are some of the glories of living in the foothills of the Himalayas. You don’t think you can possibly do your laundry in a bucket. Or give up the movies or visits with family and old friends or the luxury of central heating. But these inconveniences are negligible when I think of what I have traded my old dependencies for—a sanctum sanctorum where I can do practice. It is so much more than what I left behind.
Sometimes the silence was a deep presence and sometimes it was difficult— and at times a bit raucous. Yet I loved the rhythms of the day. The power was in the gentle rhythms. The day became like lush rolling green fields that let grace in. But I had difficulty as I often do with keeping a schedule. The parts of the day that informed the practice and let me in so gracefully remain with me still:
Sitting with Swami Radha and our small group upstairs in Swami Veda’s Initiation Room for the same hour each morning
Contemplative Walking in the Contemplative Garden - it’s a place of power.
The subtle body practices each afternoon guided by Swami Radha.
These afternoon practices often went deep. Swami Radha knows how to stand aside and let divine forces teach you. She has been trained as an initiator and leads silences in other countries as well. This coming August she will guide the annual silence retreat in rural Minnesota under the auspices of The Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Also, the sequencing, the build up to the more subtle practices was important. The variations on relaxation and on the 61-points exercise were, each in their own way, instructive. I recall in 1971 the first time Dr. Arya taught us the progressive relaxation. I do not remember his exact words but the gist of what he said is that this was the first of a succession of increasingly subtle practices (he gave a number --20-something) which led to yoga nidra and ultimately to conscious dying. He said that yogis, at the time of death, don’t die. There is no break in consciousness; one is fully aware at the time one leaves the body behind –even in the face of severe illness or challenging external circumstances.
I have felt the shakti, the grace of a master’s blessings. No matter how often I feel carried along like a baby rolled tight in Mother’s blanket, no matter how often I clearly feel a guiding presence, the force of habit of the mind that thinks it can think rudely intrudes and says it knows better. So when Swami Radha asked me to join in with the contemplative walk, I balked. I offered reasons why I shouldn’t do the contemplative walk.
“Oh, it will be so clumsy with my cane.”
“I will disturb others with the sound of the cane hitting the ground.”
“My balance is terrible.”
“I don’t like it.”
Swami Radha’s inimitable manner is strong, gentle and reassured. She is almost always gracious. But she is no shrinking violet. Her reply was “You can do it.”
This meant “do it.”
So I begrudgingly arrived at the first contemplative walking session and joined in. Was I surprised! This practice has really turned me around. Once again, the mind that thinks it is smarter was wrong. The contemplative walk was just right. It has become a core practice for me. It turns out that there were two others in our group who also balked at the idea of the contemplative walk and who came to love it.
Swami Radha is an interesting person. I remember when Swami Rama’s towering presence called our attention to her way back in the early 1970’s. The contrast of this mountain of a man alongside this very petite young woman might have made her look as big as a dot. In his powerful voice he said “This little girl is very strong!”
The sustained practice–but not completely sustained for that might have made a difference—did loosen a few screws, I admit. One day I was overwhelmed with the desire to see someone from nearly 50 years ago! After some struggles, I acknowledged that that was then, this was now and let it go—sort of.
Then there was food. I had been enjoying a modest discipline regarding food for 10 months and many of my old food impulses had fallen away. They roared back.
I’m still riding the high seas with that one but have not given up. Many years ago, in the early days of Swami Rama’s U.S. ashram, one of the residents was having a painfully difficult time. We were a small group then. He would say to us “Don’t let her give up.” When you have met a master like Swami Rama who exudes love and who defies the impossible (and Swami Veda too, for that matter), you have a healthy regard for your obstacles yet you never give up.
I wasn’t going to write about this silence because I felt that I had failed. But as time passes, I see how it has changed me. I do feel more peaceful most of the time.
“When you walk it should be like you are dancing.”
In 1971, Dr. Arya (later Swami Veda Bharati) demonstrated the walk of the swan and the walk of the elephant as tools for decision making at important junctures in your life.
During these 21 days, I did the contemplative walking style which I had first learned here at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in 2004 during a course on sati-patthana-sutta, the Sutra of Mindfulness. In the Yoga-sutras of Patañjali (YS.I.20) mindfulness is referred to as smrty-upa-sthana, and it is an element of The Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation. Contemplative walking caught my attention at that Sutra of Mindfulness retreat here, but it fell away from my daily routines. I totally forgot about the experience of mindfulness that contemplative walking can give you. I even avoided it—until now.
This practice has increasingly strengthened my balance and physically reduced weaknesses in the feet, ankles, knees, upper legs and scapula that I had not realized were there. One day I wrote down some reflections after the contemplative walk practice:
Each and every one of us has his/her own song with its variations. Sometimes a lullaby, sometimes a marching band.
When I do the contemplative walk, I inwardly bow first. I leave all else behind. I use a cane for strength and balance. Most people do not need this. The practice can allow one to put into action and even to experience the truth of these important words of Krishna to his disciple Arjuna on the battlefield:
16. What is action, what is inaction? Even the wise are confused in this matter. Therefore I shall teach you concerning action, knowing which you will be freed from the foul world.
17. One should learn of action; one should learn of action that is opposed to right action; one should learn of inaction. The reality of action is deep.
18. He who sees inaction in action and who sees action in inaction, he is the one endowed with wisdom among human beings. He is joined in yoga, a performer of complete action.
— Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita 4:16-18, translation by Swami Veda Bharati with Commentary by Swami Rama
The contemplative walk is moving without moving, no effort, the way a breeze carries a leaf aloft. What and Who meets me is stillness at the heart of action.
At its best, in the contemplative walk, I seek no meaning and no solution in this practice. Yet in the relinquishing of those things, He/She finds me. And I am only only only the turn of the wheel. Not the wheel itself, and, in truth, neither the turning nor the becoming. All is left behind. In so doing, a footprint, a gait, a want is erased, no trace. And someone else is there. I am home.
The goal? There is no goal. Not to intrude upon what IS nor to follow. If you bend with each breeze you are only the bending. It is good to bow and to bend. Bamboo bows deep---all the way to the ground and it doesn’t snap or break. The strength and turgor of bamboo is in the bowing. Yet like a good poet, best not to snatch at the first next line. Wait. No need to rush to meaning or to grasp. No need either to let the wind define you nor to defy the wind. The curve of the earth abides and all its endless skies. Try not to make meaning too fast. This is how meditative walking speaks to me.
Contemplative walking can ease up attachments. It slows everything down and allows you to observe what you are up to. This can free you to all options. Normally when we walk we are in a bit of a hurry to get from point A to point B. There is little awareness of the process or tone of being or of an unconscious intention. There is nothing wrong with finding and asserting one’s will. But I get lost when I am willful. It feels sometimes like contemplative walking takes me closer to the core. It is good to come closer to the core, to the source of will for a little while each day. Most days now, I do contemplative walking for 20 to 50 minutes. It is quieting, clarifying, strengthening and creates peace within and without.
Today in the contemplative garden a monkey walked right alongside of me for a few seconds. There was plenty of room for him to be elsewhere but there he was. My gaze remained a foot or two in front of my feet and I saw him with peripheral vision. There was no intrusion, no emotion, no surprise. Little by little, the practice gives way to a steadfastness.
I feel that contemplative walking allows you to slow things down enough for you to see, to be an impartial witness to what you are doing, feeling, intending, thinking—and it can let you move dispassionately in that direction or another.
So the question I have now is:
Does it refine the kleshas and vasanas, the old habits of mind and being? I think maybe yes.
(Pictures by Jay Prakash Bahuguna. Picture of Swami Radha and Ma Sewa at Sadhana Mandir by Kathryn Dopkins.)
“Contemplative Walking” is a chapter in Swami Veda Bharati’s book Night Birds. Night Birds is available in Kindle at Amazon. It is also available for purchase in book form from Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust and The Meditation Center.
For inquiries about purchasing the booklet “Contemplative Walking” by Swami Veda Bharati, please write to Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust at [email protected]
To read “Contemplative Walking” by Swami Veda Bharati, please use this link: http://bindu.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8:contemplative-walking&catid=134&Itemid=301
For a power point presentation of Contemplative Walking, please use this link to download: http://yogaineurope.himalaya-yoga.nl/ppt/Contemplative_Walking.pps. This power point presentation is not identical to the booklet/chapter “Contemplative Walking,” but has content from the booklet/chapter.
In 2018, Mauni Amavasya will be on January 16.